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A New Kind of Zeal

 

 

A New Kind of Zeal

Michelle Warren

 

Published by Michelle Warren

Distributed by Shakespir

Copyright 2013 Michelle Warren

 

Discover other titles by Michelle Warren:

A New Kind of Zeal 2: The Price of Redemption

A New Kind of Zeal 3: The Crux of Salvation

 

Statement:

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of a character to a person living or dead is a coincidence, apart from those clear characters of inspiration from two thousand years ago. Likewise, the organisations, positions and places explored do not represent any current reality today, but rather represent a fictional future.

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favourite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author.

Thank you for your support.

For Aotearoa

 

Aotearoa/God Defend New Zealand^^1^^

 

E Ihowā Atua,

O ngā iwi mātou rā

Āta whakarangona;

Me aroha noa

Kia hua ko te pai;

Kia tau tō atawhai;

Manaakitia mai

Aotearoa

 

English translation

O Lord, God,

of all people

Listen to us,

Cherish us

May good flourish,

May your blessings flow.

Defend

Aotearoa

 

God of Nations at Thy feet,

In the bonds of love we meet,

Hear our voices, we entreat,

God defend our free land.

Guard Pacific’s triple star

From the shafts of strife and war,

Make her praises heard afar,

God defend New Zealand.

 

 

[]TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE: Kerikeri

CHAPTER TWO: Ninety Mile Beach

CHAPTER THREE: Parliament

CHAPTER FOUR: St Peter’s Cathedral

CHAPTER FIVE: A Storm on the Horizon

CHAPTER SIX: Lawful Use of Force

CHAPTER SEVEN: Days Bay and the New Zealand Church Council

CHAPTER EIGHT: An Empty House

CHAPTER NINE: Kaitaia

CHAPTER TEN: The Governor General

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Darkness

CHAPTER TWELVE: The Tide

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Whangarei

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Prism

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Wenderholm

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Judgment

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: The Hospital

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Risk

CHAPTER NINETEEN: Unease

CHAPTER TWENTY: Takapuna

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: The Light

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Auckland

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: A Political Threat

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Precipitation

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: Hell’s Way

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: A Nation or One Man?

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: National Security

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Mount Ruapehu

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Dissonance

CHAPTER THIRTY: Water and Stone

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: The Plan

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Petone

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Mount Victoria

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: The Procession

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: The Coronation

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Crisis

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: Grace

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: Fury

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Rest and Peace

CHAPTER FORTY: Victory in Defeat

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE: The Culmination

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO: New Ideas

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE: The Breath of Life

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR: Aroha

REFERENCES

Next in the Trilogy, A New Kind of Zeal 2: The Price of Redemption

Connect with Michelle Warren

 

 

[]CHAPTER ONE: Kerikeri

It was hot – a humid, muggy kind of day.

Tristan tugged at the straps of his backpack, and shook sweat from his eyes. The midday summer sun was getting to him, now – even despite the odd shade from totara and pine trees. He had been walking for over two hours, after that mad salesman had dropped him off after Black Bridge Road. Heading back to Auckland, that guy had been – and there was no way Tristan was hitching a ride back there.

A junction was ahead: Kerikeri Road, to the right. Kerikeri? No – surely he could make it further than this. Taking a deep breath, Tristan forged ahead – crossing the junction, watching for cars, darting back into the ditch as needed. Where did he want to go first? Whangaroa Bay? Doubtless Bay? It didn’t really matter. Just somewhere away – somewhere out there, to get away from it all.

The tar seal was starting to melt on the road – he could smell the fumes, and grinned. Where could he score a joint on the way? Wouldn’t be far, he was sure. The thought carried him, one step at a time – but after another thirty minutes of slogging and sweating, he lost interest, crossed over to the left side of the road, and starting thumbing for a ride.

Now he was walking backwards, a little uphill and around a bend. A car just about caught him – he swore, stumbling against a tree. Someone tooted at him – he swore at them. Then he noticed the Ute had pulled up at a parking bay a few metres ahead.

Tristan slowly walked toward the car. It was an old red Holden, and there were fishing lines strapped in the back.

“Sweet as,” Tristan said, speeding up to catch the car. The driver’s door opened, and Tristan reached out a hand.

“Hey, mate.”

“Kia ora, ‘mate.’” The Maori man grasped his hand in greeting. “Need a ride?”

“Where are you headed?”

“To Ninety Mile Beach.”

Tristan grinned. “‘Ninety Mile Beach’? More like ‘Ninety Mile Rip,’ by now. Mind if I borrow one of your lines? Go fishing?”

“Sure. Why not? Still enough beach, and the warmer water’s bringing more fish.”

His brown face was smiling – with a slight wrinkling around the corners of his eyes, and light silver dusting his short black curls. Tristan held his warm brown gaze – but then, suddenly, he started. The man was wearing a dog collar.

“No way,” Tristan said, before he could stop himself. “You’re a priest?”

“My name is Rau,” the man replied. “Rau Petera, of the Ngapuhi tribe. And you are?”

“Tristan Blake, from…never mind.”

“You look like you need some help, Tristan Blake – still want that ride?”

Tristan cast his eyes up and down the man before him. “I don’t know,” he said. “What about that collar?”

Rau’s brown eyes stayed on him. “Makes you nervous, does it?”

“Nervous?” Tristan laughed. “You have no idea!”

Rau’s mouth twitched – and then he pulled the collar away, and unbuttoned the first two buttons of his white shirt.

Tristan studied him, as Rau stretched out his hand again.

“Want a ride?”

“Okay,” Tristan replied.

“Hop in then.”

So Tristan dumped his backpack in the back, with the fishing lines, and let himself in the left passenger door.

 

Rau pulled out from the side of the road, and started driving around the curves. Tristan closed his eyes fleetingly, grateful for the air-conditioning – and then felt a prod.

“Here,” Rau said. “Have some coke.”

Tristan looked at the half drunken bottle now in his lap. “This is yours?”

“You look like you need it more than me.”

“You’re drinking coke?”

“I’m an Anglican priest, not a monk.”

Tristan sprayed the coke in his mouth – and turned to see Rau smirking.

“Besides,” Rau said, “you’re helping my diabetes.”

Tristan watched him, while he drove – and then tried to shake himself into thought again.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Ka pai,” Rau replied. “Got family, boy?”

Tristan shifted uneasily, and didn’t reply.

“My whanau’s in Kerikeri,” Rau said.

“Yeah?”

“My wife and two teenaged kids. And then there’s Auntie Ngaire, and three of my cousins…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tristan said, “I get it – the whole tribe.”

Rau cast him a sideways glance, as he continued to drive, and Tristan stared out of the window.

Soon they reached Kaeo – and Rau pulled up again, still on the main highway.

“Want some food?”

“How about a beer?” Tristan smirked.

“Not on my watch. Kai?”

“Sure – whatever you’re having.”

Tristan watched as Rau crossed the road – and shook his head. A priest – seriously? What weird twist of fate was that?

The empty coke bottle had fallen between the seats. Tristan reached down to pick it up – and as he sat back found Rau again at the driver’s door.

“Here,” Rau said, tossing him a paper wrapped parcel, “fish and chips.”

“What?” Tristan chided, as Rau sat himself back in the driver’s seat. “Won’t we get plenty of fish later?”

“Depends how good you are! Personally, I’m not hedging my bets.”

Rau was smiling at him – and Tristan, despite all of his best efforts, found himself liking the man.

Rau continued to drive – and Tristan ate, and passed him food.

“Where’s the tomato sauce?” he complained.

“You Pakeha and your tomato sauce,” Rau replied.

“Enjoying our potato chips, are we?”

“You got me, boy. But try a hangi someday – snapper, and kumara: that’s real kai.”

Tristan broke apart a piece of fried terakihi – and passed it to Rau.

“Fish and chips, fish and chips,” he sighed. “All I ever see is fish and chips.”

“Tired of fish?” Rau asked. “Your mother not giving you beef or lamb?”

“How old do you think I am, man?”

“Twenty?”

“I’m twenty-six. Fresh fish sure is better than army rations, but now I’m finally out of it I’d rather have a good juicy steak.”

Rau’s eyes glanced at him again and then back to the road.

“The Army?”

“Five years.”

“Why’d you leave?”

Tristan stared at the road ahead. Screams were suddenly surrounding him; bloody young faces filling his vision. He sucked in a breath – and quickly shut the memory down.

“Let’s just say Peacekeeping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Rau lapsed into silence – and Tristan watched him warily. “You got a joint, mate?” he asked.

“No,” Rau said quietly. “I don’t.”

“Then how about your religion? Wanna try it on me now?”

Rau frowned – but still remained silent. With gratification, Tristan spoke into the silence.

“It’s 2030,” he chided, “and where is humanity at? The world’s a crock! Temperature’s rising, food’s disappearing, people are fighting, and lunatics are still preaching.”

Rau’s face grimaced, but Tristan found his own words becoming a torrent.

“The Middle East is still where all the action is,” he said, “still! A brawling desert! We tried to help: we came this close to a nuke!” He pinched finger and thumb together, only one millimetre apart. “A nuke, in the Holy Land: my God! You have no idea how close we came to World War Three…”

Tears were pricking at Tristan’s eyes now – he blinked them furiously away, as always.

“So preach it to me, priest: God exists, right? God loves us? Yeah, right.”

Rau was still silent. Then he pulled over again on the side of the road.

“Listen, mate,” Tristan quickly said. “Thanks for the ride, and everything – I’ll just get off here, and hitch another ride, okay?”

He went to open the door, eager to get out of Rau’s face – but then, suddenly, Rau’s hand was on his shoulder.

“Hey,” Rau said. “Where are you going?”

Tristan’s body stiffened. The priest’s grasp reminded him of something! A distant memory, shoved away for so long. Rau’s eyes were on him – he looked away, shaking his head.

“Hey, man,” he said, “it’s got nothing to do with you. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I know,” Rau said – and Tristan was drawn to his eyes: somehow he could not avoid him, as he continued, “but how about that fishing?”

Tristan frowned at him. He hesitated, and then he continued. “What kind of fishing?” he asked.

“Only the best! You’re looking at a Snapper champion.”

“No way.”

“2005 – caught myself a whopper: a three-foot fish.”

“2005? Twenty-five years ago? Forget that.”

“Beat my record, and I’ll give you the Ute.”

Tristan stared at him. The Ute? Surely he wasn’t serious. “You’re bribing me?” he asked.

Rau shook his head. “Not a bribe – a prize.”

Tristan tilted his head thoughtfully: what was the priest up to? “Think I couldn’t get a car if I wanted one?”

Rau shrugged. “I guess your cash is stashed away.”

“Getting pretty worthless, cash.”

“Commodities are worth more.”

“Missed out on the quarter acre section,” Tristan said.

“I’ll bet you can sleep in a car, if you have to.”

Tristan frowned at him. “But why?” he asked. “Why would you offer me your car? Not to mention the petrol. Petrol’s getting as rare as hens’ teeth.”

Rau smiled. “Food’s getting scarcer here as well. Fish well, and live well.”

Tristan considered the offer, vacillated, and then finally lifted himself back into the passenger seat.

“Fine,” he said. “Have it your way.”

Rau pulled out once again onto the road – driving hard around the bends.

“You’re crazy,” Tristan said.

“Aren’t we all?” Rau replied.

They passed north through Whangaroa Bay, and Doubtless Bay – and soon they were heading northwest, beyond Kaitaia toward Ninety Mile Beach.

 

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWO: Ninety Mile Beach

The Waipapakauri ramp was before them.

Rau smiled. Sandy dunes rose up on either side of the Ute, with the long yellow grass still growing within. Straight ahead, Rau could see his first glimpse of the damp brown sand of the beach, and the sparkling blue ocean beyond.

He took in a deep breath of salty air. At last – back to his favourite spot! He had waited months for this moment.

Alongside him, on his left, sat the Pakeha: Tristan Blake, from…Rau didn’t know where from. He had no tribe, of course, being a New Zealand European – but seemed to have no whanau either.

Rau turned to him. “Are you ready for this, Pakeha?”

Tristan seemed to shift in his seat, peering through the windscreen at the driveway ahead. “You bet I am,” he said. “Lay it on me.”

And Rau gladly hit the accelerator.

The Ute jerked forward, through the sand ramp and suddenly out, onto the wide expansive beach beyond. The vast dark blue ocean was before them, glimmering, and the wide, bright blue sky embraced them from above. Rau breathed in deep, and broke into a wide smile.

“Whoa!” Tristan cried out. “Stop the car!”

Rau quickly hit the break – was the boy hurt? But now Tristan was leaping out of the Ute: now he was standing on the sand, stretching out his arms wide, gazing north. The sand stretched on and on, as far as the eye could see.

“Wow!” Tristan cried. “What a beach!”

Rau leaned through his window. “Easy, mate!” he said. “You’re in the middle of a highway.”

“What? Oh, yeah.”

Rau could see the shimmering image of a distant bus, rapidly approaching. Tristan slipped back into the Ute, and Rau drove them closer to the water’s edge. Waves rose to a metre, and then crashed on the shore – and beyond the layers of white froth smothering the sand, the deep blue sea extended far out, unhindered, to the horizon.

“Wow,” Tristan said again.

“Different from the Middle East, eh?”

“So…beautiful.” Tears seemed to form in Tristan’s green eyes. “I’ve never seen it before.”

Rau watched him. “Not everything in the world is war and famine, my friend.”

There was something about Tristan’s face, in that moment – something in his eyes that drew Rau to him. Peacekeeping, in the army? No – this boy was far from at peace. His talk of World War Three, his camouflaged memories: joints, and beer.

“Come,” Rau said, “let’s get to it.” And they got out of the Ute.

Rau reached into the cargo tray out the back, but also watched Tristan. He was kicking off his shoes, now, and wandering up to the water – dipping his toe into a broken wave. Rau gathered the rods and bait, and joined him at the water – feeling the familiar northern warmth on his face, with the gentle sea-breeze. The sun was still high in the sky.

“I never knew it could be like this,” Tristan said, gazing out to the horizon.

“Like what?” Rau asked, laying lines and bait down alongside.

“I don’t know…kinda free.”

Rau nodded, and smiled – and now Tristan was kicking some water in his direction.

“Hey,” Rau said, “think I’m afraid of a little salt water? I’m a fisherman! Here – show me what you can do with a line.”

And he tossed a rod to Tristan – who caught it, fumbled, recovered, and then cast the line far out beyond the waves.

“Not bad!” Rau said. “Try it again – this time with some bait.”

Tristan wound the line in, attached the mussel Rau passed to him onto the hook, and cast out again. He had some skill, Rau noticed – and then Rau cast out his own line, alongside him.

“I’ll catch it!” Tristan insisted. “First fish, biggest fish: you name it.”

“Whatever you say.”

“How many fish do you catch?”

“Depends.”

“I reckon…”

“Yes?”

“I reckon I could stay here for a while.”

Rau looked at him – young face, blonde curls, white as: and utterly alone.

“Then you stay here for a while, Pakeha,” he said. “See what your home Aotearoa has to offer.”

 

An hour passed, in the lazy summer’s day. Rau stood next to Tristan, both with lines cast. Tristan had caught two small kahawai and had been forced to throw them back; Rau had caught a foot long silver-grey trevally.

“I began at Kerikeri, as a boy,” Rau said, winding his line in a little. “Nice fishing in the river – beautiful rainbow trout.”

“Kerikeri – ‘The cradle of New Zealand.’” Tristan looked at him. “You meet any of those missionary jokers?”

Rau smirked at him. “How old do you think I am, boy: two hundred?”

“I dunno – some of your ways seem as old as the hills.”

Rau smiled. “Forget the Army, mate – you should take up tourism instead.”

Rau spotted Tristan smiling. At last, a smile! “Ngapuhi welcomed the missionaries,” he explained. “Some of their families still live amongst us today.”

“And the Anglican Church.”

“Ae.”

“Ministers, and dog collars, and all that preaching. I’ve sure had enough of all of that.”

“Enough?”

Rau searched him. He was hesitating! There was more to this young man again: more than the army.

“What is it?” Rau asked.

“My…” Again he hesitated.

“Spit it out.”

“I guess it’s a waste of time hiding it from a priest.”

“Hiding what?”

“My father’s in the church.”

Rau looked at him. He had a father?

“Where does he attend?”

Tristan grimaced, and then seemed to be forcing himself to continue.

“He’s the Anglican Bishop of Wellington.”

Now Rau stared at him. The Bishop of Wellington? The Right Reverend Mark Blake was this young man’s father?

“I know of the man,” Rau said, and Tristan shrugged.

“I’m sure you do.”

“He recently became the head of the Church Council of New Zealand.”

Tristan was staring at him. “Great,” he said.

“Why…?” Rau quickly changed his question. “When did you last see him?”

Tristan grimaced, paused, and then continued, “About nine years ago.”

“University?”

“Not exactly. I went to Victoria.”

“Then…why…?”

Tristan’s green eyes were on him: his expression a strange mixture of grief and indifference.

“Let’s just say things took a turn for the worse after my mother died.”

Rau frowned at him. What kind of turn for the worse?

“Grief can sometimes change a man,” he offered quietly.

“That’s for real.” Tristan grimaced, shrugged his shoulders again, and turned away.

 

Soon the sun was beginning to lower in the mid-afternoon sky. Waves were crashing around their knees.

Rau shifted his feet in the water, and glanced back. The tide had risen enough to lap at the tires of the Ute.

“Look,” he said to Tristan, pointing to the grassy dune edge of the beach beyond. “Won’t be long until there’s no room for us left.”

“We’ve only been here two hours,” Tristan said.

“That’s all we get now,” Rau said. “Low tide: that’s all. The tide moves fast. Better move.”

Rau waded with his rod back to the Ute, and picked up this bait now from the bonnet. He heard Tristan splashing behind him.

“Where shall we go next?”

“Further up the beach – north.”

“Why?”

“There’s a camp ground.’”

Rau shifted the Ute into reverse, as Tristan got in, backed away from the water, and then began to move forward over the sand.

“Full tide is coming,” Tristan said, his voice tight. “What happens then? Does this place really turn into a rip?”

“We’ll get washed away well before ‘full’ tide.”

“What? When?”

“I’d give it an hour.”

Rau looked ahead – to see the last bus coming their way. He was pushing it a little, he knew, and fleetingly closed his eyes to murmur a few words of prayer.

“The camp ground is twenty kilometres further up – we can stay there for the night.”

“What about your family?”

“They know they can’t stop me fishing.”

Rau smiled, and drove – and sensed Tristan’s discomfort at his side.

“Have a little faith, mate,” he said – and Tristan scowled.

“You’re crazy.”

“Maybe. Or maybe I’m just inspired.”

They continued on – the bus passed them, on the right, and soon left the beach. They were alone.

“What happens if we break down?” Tristan asked.

“Then we go for a little walk. And maybe a swim.”

 

Tristan fell silent, as Rau kept driving. But then Rau saw an unusual sight, far up ahead. What was that – a gathering?

“Strange…” he murmured.

“What is it?” Tristan asked.

“People.”

“People?”

Rau drove to the eastern border of the beach, and parked the Ute in front of a rock, next to an outcropping of yellow grass.

“What are you doing?” Tristan demanded, as Rau opened the driver’s door. “We’ve got to get outta here! Where the hell are you going?”

“These people shouldn’t be here.”

“They must know already: they’re locals, aren’t they?

“Come, or stay – it’s up to you.”

Tristan’s stare was upon him: Rau heard his harsh breath and ignored it, as he got out of the Ute and went ahead.

 

A few people sat on the sand – a handful. Rau wandered up to them, and extended a hand.

“Kia ora!”

“Kia ora,” a Maori woman replied, taking his hand – rising to her feet. “Kei te pehea koe?”

“Kei te pai.”

“I’m Anahera,” she said, “of Ngati Kuri.” Her face was round, her eyes warm and sparkling brown.

“I’m Rau, he replied, “of Ngapuhi, from Kerikeri.”

“Welcome,” she said – and she pressed her forehead to his, and her nose, and he returned the hongi to her.

“Are you fishing?” Rau asked. “The tide is coming.”

“Ae,” she said, “we are fishing.”

“Any catch?”

“Not yet.”

“But I think that will change soon.” Rau turned to the new voice.

 

It was a Pakeha man. His face was a little hidden in a white hoodie, his eyes, on Rau, dark brown – yet he smiled in greeting.

Rau extended his hand to him. “Kia ora.”

“Kia ora.” The man shook his hand, but did not rise.

“Been here long?”

“Not so long. I’m Joshua.”

Rau glanced over the hoodie framing his face. Was he hiding? No – not exactly hiding. And yet, not exactly visible either.

“Where are you from, Joshua?”

“Kaitaia.”

“True.”

“I’ve been hoping for a big catch.”

Now Tristan arrived, standing alongside Rau. He stretched out a hand to Joshua.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Joshua replied, now shaking Tristan’s hand. Rau watched him, as the dark brown eyes moved to the boy.

“What are you doing here?” Tristan asked.

“Fishing.”

“Figures.” Tristan shifted on his feet. “The tide’s coming in, he reckons,” he said, gesturing to Rau.

“Oh, yes?” asked Joshua.

“The tide! It’s going to wash us all away!”

“So how important is the fishing to you?”

Tristan was staring at him – and now Joshua rose to his feet. Rau could see him more clearly now: white face, dark brown eyes, brown curls, white sweater and jeans rolled up to his knees with bare feet.

“Let’s go,” Joshua said, and Anahera quickly followed him. The men also stood – two Pakeha, and two Maori.

“Coming?” Joshua asked Rau, his eyes lingering on him – and Rau frowned, surprised.

“It’s dangerous.”

“There is still time.”

Rau searched him, now. Joshua seemed strangely confident: strangely certain. Who was he? Rau found himself drawn to him.

“Why not?” he said.

“You’ve got to be joking!” Tristan’s voice protested. “You don’t even know the man!”

“Come and fish,” Rau replied to him, smirking at him – gesturing him to follow. But Tristan shook his head.

“Forget it, mate!” he said. “I’m looking for higher ground!”

“Fine,” Rau said. “Have it your way. I’m going.”

And Rau grabbed his fishing line and bait from the Ute and followed Joshua, across the sand and back into the rising sea.

 

The water was getting cold – the afternoon sun dropping further in the sky. Waves splashed around their thighs. Rau shivered a little – he had left his jacket behind in the Ute.

Joshua stood beside him, quiet.

“Where’s your line?” Rau asked.

“It’s okay,” Joshua answered. “I don’t need my own line.”

He gestured to Anahera, and the men – who had all cast their lines out.

“These are your friends?” Rau asked.

“Yes.”

“Family? Whanau?”

“Yes, Rau: they are my whanau.”

There was something about him: Rau couldn’t put his finger on what it was.

“You can have my line if you like.”

Joshua looked at him – and then smiled sadly, and nodded. “Okay.”

Rau handed over the line – and then the bait.

“Use this worm,” Rau said. “Sometimes they like this the best.”

“Thanks,” Joshua said. “But I think crab would work better here.”

“No, seriously – use this: it will help you.”

Joshua’s eyes were on him. “Tell you what: let’s try no bait, shall we?”

“No bait?”

“Just to see.”

And he cast the line, with empty hook, deep into the ocean.

Puzzled, Rau looked out to the water. “Why would you cast with no bait?”

“I have my reasons.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Just wait and see.”

Rau shifted on his feet, in the deep water. His hands were empty – he had no line. Joshua held his line now, with empty hook, cast into the sea. Rau glanced up the beach at Tristan’s dark form – he was pacing backwards and forwards, eying the Ute.

“Do you want to go to your worrying friend?” Joshua asked. “Or stay here?”

Rau looked at him. “I’ll stay here,” he said instinctively.

“So you will,” Joshua said. “After all, here you are.”

And now Joshua reeled in the line – and caught on the end was a three-and-a half-foot snapper.

Joshua released the fish from the hook and lifted it struggling into Rau’s arms.

“Highest quality snapper,” Joshua said with a smile. “I take it this will beat your three-foot record?”

Rau stared at him, mouth falling open. “How…”

Joshua returned his rod to him, as his friends also started reeling in a catch.

“Does it matter how?” he asked, his eyes dancing. “Isn’t it enough that it happened?”

Rau held his brown gaze. “Friend,” he said, “the tide is coming in fast. Do you need my Ute?”

Joshua’s face brightened. “Thank you,” he said. “But I’ll need you to drive us.”

Rau tilted his head. “You seem familiar,” he said. “Do I already know you?”

“Maybe you do,” Joshua replied, “Rau Petera.”

Rau frowned – but now Joshua had turned away, to his other friends.

Rau put his line under his arm, and began to struggle to drag the fish out of the water and up the beach, leaving a large trail behind that would soon be swallowed up by the tide.

Tristan’s stare was upon him again.

“Are you quite done?” he asked.

“Not quite,” Rau replied, and then presented the fish.

“What the hell…” Tristan said, staring at it. “No way!”

“What can I say?”

“Beginner’s luck!”

“It wasn’t me.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was Joshua. He used my line, without bait – and caught it straight away.”

Now Tristan was staring at him. “You’re crazy.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Some freak of nature.”

“Maybe.”

“Shows how easy it can be to catch a massive one!”

“Shows how little you know about fishing.”

Tristan scoffed at him. “Well go on, then!” he said. “What’s your explanation?”

And now Tristan suddenly stood up on a mound of sand, raised his hands to his face, and shouted out at the top of his lungs.

“Hey – it’s a miracle! Biggest fish in Rau’s life – that proves it: there must be a God!”

Rau stared at him, and then quickly stooped to toss a shell in Tristan’s direction – but now Joshua was standing in front of Tristan.

Rau watched as Tristan shifted awkwardly before him – but then met his eyes.

“You a believer, miracle man?” Tristan asked.

“You could say that,” Joshua replied.

“Wanna catch me a great white shark?”

Joshua held his gaze. “You want a predator?” he asked.

“Food is food,” Tristan said, “whatever the source.”

“But not all food tastes as good.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“What if I gave you the choice?”

Tristan frowned at him. “I…” he began, and then closed his mouth again.

Joshua seemed to be searching him – and then he spoke. “Your friend has given me his Ute,” he said.

“What?” Tristan cast a foul look at Rau. “What did you do that for?”

Rau shrugged. “He beat my record,” he said. “Fair is fair.”

“Fair?” Tristan cried. “That Ute had my name on it!”

“Beat my record, and it’s yours again,” Joshua said.

Now Tristan straightened, a strange fervour in his eyes. “Beat your record?” he said. “Catch a bigger snapper? Then it’ll be good bye to your ‘miracle.’”

“Try it,” Joshua said, smiling slightly. “See if you can win. Join us.”

Surprised, Rau looked between Tristan and Joshua. Join him? Tristan? And yet a new expression was forming on his face: some form of purpose.

“Fine,” Tristan said, “I’ll join you! What the hell – I’ve got nothing better to do.”

And he grasped Rau’s rod, and launched himself toward the ocean.

Joshua suddenly seized his arm. “Full tide,” he said. “It’s coming.”

“Now you care about full tide?”

“I do.”

Tristan saw his eyes – he stiffened, and jerked his arm away.

“To hell with your care,” he said.

“Do it in the morning.”

“I’ll do it now!”

“In the morning, Tristan.”

Tristan seemed to sway for a moment, as if locked in Joshua’s gaze. Then he shook himself, and stood.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll be back at it in the morning.”

And he threw the line down, and returned to the Ute.

Rau now held Joshua’s eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked. But Joshua only smiled.

“I am myself,” he replied. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

And he bowed his head, and returned to gather his friends to the Ute.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THREE: Parliament

The Right Honourable James Connor sat at his desk. A photo of his wife and daughter was the only thing sitting between him and Patrick Clarkson, and right now he was grateful for his family’s distraction. Pam looked particularly elegant in the photo – a nice flowing floral summer dress showing off her figure, still slim in her fifties. And Rachel’s smile looked just like her mother’s, her jeans and floral shirt fitting in early thirties.

As for Patrick? Well, he was the spitting image of a typical politician: tall and thin, with wrinkled lines of worry in his face.

“…and have you even read the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee yet, Jim?”

James gazed at Patrick’s thinning hair.

“Honestly, Pat – tell me I’m not getting as grey as you.”

Patrick shook his head, while James glanced fleetingly at the reflection in his family’s photo frame. He still had a head of hair! Still miraculously some brown, amidst the grey. Worried lines, yes. A bit of extra weight on board.

“Jim, for crying out loud, you’re the PM! Now’s not the time to talk about hair.”

“And you’re the Leader of the Opposition, but I’m not holding that against you.”

“We’re due in the Chamber in fifteen minutes! Come on, Jim, we’ve been at this for years. I’m starting to get worried…”

The air-con was failing again in the Beehive, at the peak of Summer.

“Damned Global Warming,” James muttered under his breath, sweat dripping down his face. He rose to his feet.

“Come, Pat,” he said. “Let’s walk and talk.” And he grabbed a folder of notes from his desk, and left his office.

They entered the lift from the ninth floor, waited for the door to close, and then turned awaiting the opposite side door to open.

“You know what I’m talking about, Jim,” Patrick said. “Things are heating up overseas.”

“Literally or metaphorically?”

The lift opened, and James stepped out into the round hall area. He was hit with more heat from the greenhouse effect of the windows, and glanced briefly outside, to the wide pavement and gardens. The sun was shining, and they were suffering.

“Literally and metaphorically, Jim: you know that!”

He walked with Patrick around the circumference of the round hall to the over-bridge, and through to the checked black and white tiles of the First Floor Foyer of Parliament House.

“The Com’ Security Bureau,” Patrick whispered into his ear, as they moved toward the Debating Chamber. “They’re going too far with their surveillance, but boy, Jim, what are you going to do with their findings?”

James cast him a sideways glance, nodded him to his seat to the right of the Chamber, and then sat himself down, four seats forward, on the left: the traditional place for the leader of the Government – opposite Patrick, the Leader of the Opposition Party.

Other ministers were starting to file in. James glanced alongside and behind his own seat, to his own members of the New Conservative Party. Politics in New Zealand had changed over the last ten years: intensified, and diversified. Patrick, across the way, led a party quite different from the Labour party of old: shifting more and more left, into the new Socialist Party. James watched him for a moment, as he gathered his papers. Patrick, his friend of old, scared him a little now: or rather his strengthening party line scared him.

James Connor glanced to his right, to the Christian Conservative Party, now allies, and across to the corresponding Clean Green Party, allies of his own rival and with increasing power in the current heating realities.

It was time. Connor stood, with everyone else in the Chamber, and the Speaker walked in, following the Serjeant-at-Arms. The Serjeant-at-Arms laid down the golden mace, the staff symbol of authority, on its stand on the table, and the Speaker moved to stand before his Chair. Then he prayed the traditional prayer:^^2^^

“Almighty God, humbly acknowledging our need for thy guidance in all things…”

At this point Connor’s thoughts drifted away, only to return with the familiar ending words.

“…grant that we may conduct the affairs of this house and of our country to the glory of thy holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, the honour of the Queen, and the public welfare, peace and tranquillity of New Zealand, through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

“Amen,” Connor muttered, with the rest, and then the Speaker sat, and all the Members of Parliament followed.

Connor caught a flicker in Clarkson’s expression. He knew what he was thinking, and waited to hold his gaze. The Queen: still reigning, at one hundred and four years of age. What use for such a monarch? But their entire political system acknowledged her authority, though, in practice, her authority remained to protect the integrity of their democratic freedom.

Connor remained a monarchist, in this sense: in the sense of their continuing Constitutional Monarchy.

Sure enough, Clarkson glanced at him: smiled ever so slightly, ever so condescendingly, at the words of the Speaker. We need no Queen, his eyes said. We need no Lord. James held steadfastly his gaze, unshaken, and Patrick looked away.

The Speaker’s voice lifted again.

“I call on the Government Order of the Day Number One.”

The Clerk, sitting in front of the Speaker, spoke: “The International and National Crisis Surveillance Bill, Third Hearing.”

“Mr Speaker,” Connor said, rising to his feet.

“The Right Honourable Prime Minister James Connor.”

“Mr Speaker, I move that The International and National Crisis Surveillance Bill be moved a third time.”

Just one last time, James thought to himself, to get this thing through. The wheels of democracy moved slowly.

“The question,” the Speaker said, “is that the Motion be agreed to.”

“Mr Speaker.”

“The Honourable Martin Hanks.”

James sat, to allow for the Minister of Defence, who was now standing.

“I would like to thank the Foreign Affairs Defence Committee for considering the bill and attending hearings. The Committee recommended the urgent implementation of heightened surveillance, both off shore and on shore, in times of national crisis.”

“Mr Speaker.” It was, predictably, Clarkson.

“The Right Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Patrick Clarkson.”

Hanks dutifully sat down, to allow Clarkson to rise to his feet.

“Mr Speaker, I have challenged this bill at first and second readings, and I challenge it again here today.”

“Mr Speaker,” Connor interrupted.

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said.

“I call on the Right Honourable Patrick Clarkson to continue.”

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said, glancing across the House to the other Members. “This bill, if passed, makes legal unprecedented invasion of privacy into the personal lives of New Zealanders…”

“Mr Speaker,” Connor quickly said, rising to his feet.

“The Right Honourable Prime Minister James Connor.”

Clarkson was sitting, as Connor continued. “Must I remind the Leader of the Opposition that this bill only applies to times of national crisis?”

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson promptly replied.

“The Right Honourable Patrick Clarkson.”

“Does the Prime Minister consider New Zealand to be currently at a time of national crisis?”

Connor stared at him. He clenched his jaw, in rapid thought. And then he rose to his feet.

“Not yet,” he said. “But if you gain power, our situation may deteriorate rapidly, and I want New Zealand to be ready.”

Shouts went up in front of him from the Socialist Party, and, alongside Connor, equally loud laughter.

“Order!” The Speaker said. “Order!”

“Mr Speaker!” Clarkson responded, jumping to his feet. “The Prime Minister would have us all vote in a military state! New Zealand! We are talking about New Zealand!”

“Order!”

Back off, Connor thought, as he countered the attack. We need this.

“A military state!” he said. “What does the Leader of the Opposition call the state of Communist Russia, a walk in the park? Perhaps the Socialist Party should look more closely at their own policy suggestions, before engaging in a lover’s quarrel over ours.”

Again, Connor achieved the reaction he sought: anger, but greater laughter. They had a majority, surely: surely the same majority would carry them through.

“I will have order!” The Speaker said, and Connor sat down, eying Clarkson, as he also sat opposite from him.

“Members,” the Speaker said, “this debate has concluded. I now call for the Party Vote.”

Connor rose to his feet, with Clarkson, and Hanks, and all the other Members of Parliament.

“I’ll ask the Clerk for the Vote,” the Speaker said.

“Those in favour, seventy-seven,” the Clerk said. “Those opposed, forty-three.”

“Members, the Ayes seventy-seven, the No’s forty-three. The motion is agreed to.”

Connor took a deep breath, and let it silently out. It was done! At last! The first step.

The rest of the Chamber proceedings were relatively incidental. Connor participated, but was constantly looking at Clarkson. His old friend looked disgruntled: more so than usual in defeat.

The session came to a close. The MPs rose, the Speaker left, following the mace, and the MPs were free to leave.

Connor sat down, to gather his papers, and found Clarkson standing over him.

“Jim,” Clarkson began, and Connor frowned at him.

“Patrick,” he said, rising to his feet to lean into him, close to his ear. “Why such a fight over this one? You know as well as me what is happening overseas: you know we have to keep a close ear to the ground.”

“I know the danger, Jim,” Patrick said, “but how far will we let that threat drive our own response?”

“I expect purism from the Christian Conservative Party, Clarks, not from you!”

“Jim, I’m serious about this!”

The Chamber was emptying. James relaxed a little, and spoke more directly.

“You know the intel,” he said. “The Communications Security Bureau…”

“Of course I know it, Jim! But does that give us the right…”

“The right?” Connor exploded. “Can’t you see what’s happening over there, Clarks? The United States is losing control. Economic collapse – they can’t get themselves out of this one. China is growing in strength, but imploding at the same time: they can’t feed their own workers. Russia seems to be clawing their way back to communism. Are you trying to be like them, Patrick? And the Middle East – for crying out loud! I knew it from Intel and also heard it confirmed straight from a young retired Army officer’s mouth. He witnessed it himself, Patrick: we all came this close to a nuclear Holocaust! This close!”

He brought his finger and thumb together, only one millimetre apart.

Patrick grimaced at him. “I know that much is true,” he said. “Add religious fervour onto famine, and you have a toxic mix.”

“You would say that,” James said, tongue in cheek. “Fervent atheist that you are.”

“And what are you?” Patrick chided. “Not exactly a faithful follower yourself. When did you last go to church?”

“Last Easter, if you must know.”

“Easter, and Christmas – part of our culture, that’s all. Christ and Santa Claus, as though they might save us.”

James grimaced at him. “You are full of contradiction, Patrick,” he said. “Here I am trying to save us, and you say, no, I have no right!”

“What kind of salvation is intel, Jim, at the end of the day? Look around you.”

He gestured around the House, and then to Connor’s own seat. “Who knows who might be listening to you, right now?”

Now Patrick grimaced, shook his head, and gathered his papers.

“At the end of the day, I’d rather die a free man than a prisoner of a national or international State.”

James watched, as Patrick left the House, and then looked around the Chamber: at the plaques commemorating all the wars New Zealanders had fought in. Might those very plaques have bugs fitted behind? Was anything sacred anymore?

James wandered out of the House. He had a multitude of papers to attend to, yet now, in this moment, he wandered through the First Foyer, down the steps to the courtyard, and glanced to his left, across the street, to an aging St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral.

Was anything sacred anymore? The thought lingered for a moment in his mind. Christ, and Santa Claus; and international destabilization, of economies, and of political systems. And weapons of mass destruction.

James gritted his teeth. No, the only thing sacred, in times of crisis, was survival: survival of his people; survival of their way of life.

He turned, on his toe, thrust himself back up the steps of Parliament, and launched himself back toward the Beehive.

 

 

[]CHAPTER FOUR: St Peter’s Cathedral

It was ten thirty on Sunday morning, at St Peter’s Cathedral, Wellington.

The old aging Cathedral, St Paul’s, had merged across the road with a smaller church, St Peter’s, to become a new Cathedral.

The Right Reverend Bishop Mark Blake sat on the left side of the pulpit, just before the choir stalls. He was dressed in a bishop’s appropriate dress: a purple cassock, covered by a looser white tunic, with red overlying, and finally a black scarf lying flat over both sides of red. A large solid rimu cross hung from his neck – and he held in his hand the wooden bishop’s staff.

In front of him, at the pulpit, the Dean of Wellington Cathedral, the Very Reverend Eun Ae Choo, was preaching. She wore a simpler dress: white tunic, over a black cassock, with a black straight scarf on both sides.

“The world is facing substantial challenges today,” she said, “yet we are still blessed here in New Zealand. We still have food in our oceans, and water, though crops are sometimes failing, and livestock. Compared with many of our neighbours, we still have more than we need! There is much to thank God for.”

Blake glanced over the many empty wooden chairs in the nave. There was only a scattered attendance, as usual for an ‘ordinary’ Sunday – perhaps only fifty present.

“We should aim to be a source of peace, in a world passing through times of trial,” Choo continued. “Consider our readings today:^^3^^ the Gospel according to Matthew, Verse Nine from Chapter Five, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’ And the First Epistle of John, Chapter Three, from Verse Sixteen, ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.’”

Blake looked up at the picture of Christ on the cross, deep in the inner sanctuary, behind the altar. The tiles were fading. Some had even fallen off, though loving hands had applied glue to somehow persevere.

Choo’s voice continued:

“‘Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.’”

In actions and truth? Blake prayed silently to God. We pour out church funds in food packages, from farm to City Mission, while your temple breaks apart and numbers continue to dwindle.

“This is God’s command, as John says,” Choo continued, “‘To believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commands us…And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.’”

The Spirit. Blake stifled a grimace, and looked up at Choo’s aging Korean face: radiant with faith in her own words. Why such faith, when presented with such gritty realism? The world’s challenges presented a multitude of threats, unprecedented in history: famine, the threat of war and global catastrophe – what exactly did Choo see to rejoice in? Why such childlike devotion?

 

“And now let us affirm our faith, in the words on page four hundred and ten of the New Zealand Prayer Book,^^4^^” Choo said, and Blake went to his feet, at one with the choir to his left and the congregation to his right.

“‘We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty…We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…’”

We believe…Blake frowned, and searched for his daughter. Where was she? He thought he saw her, two-thirds of the way back. What was she doing? Earphones? Surely not playing that wretched tini-pad again.

“Let us pray,” Choo said, and now Blake dutifully went to his knees, with choir and congregation.

“‘Lord Jesus Christ,’” he prayed, into the lapel microphone clipped to his scarf, “‘we thank you for the universal Church, and for our Church here in Wellington. We pray for the world, and for our nation, that you might provide for our needs: bring us food, and health, and peace. We pray for our leaders, that you might guide their decisions. For your love and goodness…’”

“‘We give you thanks, O God,’” all the people responded.

Now all stood together, and Choo moved away from the pulpit, walked up between the choir stalls, bowed at the altar, and then moved behind the altar: behind the silver cup and silver plate with white wafers on top.

She lifted her voice with a smile.

“‘The peace of Christ be always with you,’” she said.

“‘And also with you,’” the people responded.

“‘The Lord is here.’”

“‘God’s Spirit is with us.’”

“‘Lift up your hearts.’”

“‘We lift them to the Lord.’”

Blake had heard the same words several thousand times before. Choo spoke them as though they were new every time: as though they held new and special meaning. Her passion was a mystery to him.

“‘All glory and thanksgiving to you, holy Father,’” she prayed. “‘On the night before he died your Son, Jesus Christ, took bread; when he had given you thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this to remember me. After supper he took the cup: Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins…’”

It was almost over. Blake stifled a sigh.

“‘We break this bread to share in the body of Christ,’” Choo proclaimed.

“‘We who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread,’” the people answered.

“‘Draw near and receive the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in remembrance that he died for us. Let us feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.’”

Blake rose to his feet, and walked between the choir stalls. On either side the choir watched him, each one dressed in white tunics overlying red. He led the procession, and the choir was poised ready to follow as he knelt at the railing before the altar: before Choo, the priest of Christ.

Choo held the silver plate with the wafers of bread in front of him: her priestly black scarf and white tunic making way for Communion.

“‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for you.’”

Every man needs a minister, Blake justified to himself, even a Bishop.

He took the wafer, closed his eyes, and took it to his mouth. It dissolved quickly, as always.

Choo was before him now with the silver chalice: the wine.

“‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for you.’”

He sipped from the wine: the port was strong on his tongue.

The deed done, Blake now rose to his feet, turned, and walked back down between the lines of the choir now waiting for communion. He glanced at their faces: young boys and girls, and older men and women. Some looked bored. Others were murmuring words of prayer, while waiting for their turn. The congregation now began to line up on both sides, joining the queue.

Blake sat down, and waited. The choir, in time, returned – and now the choirmaster stood before them, lifting his hands.

“‘I Was Glad’” It was so familiar: Hubert Parry, 1902.^^5^^ Psalm 122, ‘I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.’ Blake enjoyed the music: the sophistication of melody and harmony, not like that wretched hip hop rock Selena was constantly pumping into their home. Noise! Why did the world love constantly listening to that racket? A little pop, maybe, to relax to, but nothing beat the classics.

Soprano voices lifted, beautifully blended with alto, tenor and deep bass. Blake was glad the church had brought women and girls into the choir: the diversity of the voices was a joy.

Finally Communion was finished.

“‘Go now to love and serve the Lord,’” Choo said brightly. “‘Go in peace.’”

“‘Amen,’” the people replied. “‘We go in the name of Christ.’”

The choir sang another song, and Blake processed down the aisle of the church, with Choo following behind. Briefly Blake paused to shake a few hands, and then he quickly moved down the side of the church, behind the choir stall, to the Robing Room. Let Choo handle all the pastoral care – that seemed to be her forte.

He peeled off his black scarf, red chimere, white tunic and purple cassock, placed them on his hangers, straightened his white shirt and black trousers beneath, and strode back into the corridor and down to the front entrance, hoping for a quick escape with Selena.

“It was wonderful to serve with you today,” Eun Ae Choo said, standing in front of him, grasping his hand in a shake.

“Thank you, Very Reverend Choo,” he said quickly. “Always a pleasure.”

“Would you like to join us for Sunday lunch?”

“No thank you.”

“We’ve managed to grow oranges in our own yard,” Choo said. “My husband has been giving out bags full down our street.”

“I’m very happy for you,” Blake said. “Keep up the good work.”

“Would you like oranges?”

“No thanks.”

“Tofu? We’ve managed to grow…”

“No. Sorry, must go: I need to prepare for the next Church Council meeting.”

He pulled his hand away, and searched fervently for his daughter. Where the devil had she got to?

Blake found her outside, down the front steps of the church, milling about on the street – almost spilling over across the road into the Parliament gardens.

“What are you doing?” he asked curtly. “I told you before, we have to get away quickly.”

Her white face turned to him, framed with long curly black hair: her blue eyes cold.

“Whatever,” she said, shrugging. She was with some other youth – Blake glanced quickly at them then looked back to Selena. Her earphones were still in.

“Get these out,” he said, tugging them away from her ears. “Honestly, Selena, you’ve got no respect! No respect at all!”

He carried the tinipad and earphones with him, striding toward the car, ignoring her protestations as noise in his ear: at least this way she would follow him.

The car-park was deserted. Most were forced to use public transport these days: trains, trams and buses. Blake strode to his 2025 hybrid Mercedes: they were going cheap now – he had seized the chance.

“Get in,” he said.

“Go to hell,” she said.

Fury filled him, and he controlled it with iron grip. “Get in, or you’re walking home.”

“Fine!” she said. “I’ll walk!”

Blake looked back now, to see a young man waiting: blonde, jeans, spiked hair.

“I’ll bet he wasn’t in the service.”

“What’s it to you?”

“That’s not going to happen, Selena: you’re only sixteen.”

“So?”

“Get in now.”

She scowled at him, and Blake stared at her. Who was this person? Who was he living with? He remembered Selena as a child: gentle! Obedient.

She was staring back at him – and then, finally, she complied, getting into the back seat. He opened the driver’s door, tossed her tinipad onto the front seat, closed the door, and quickly reversed out of the car-park, narrowly missing the young man in his haste.

 

 

[]CHAPTER FIVE: A Storm on the Horizon

Tristan Blake stood on Ninety Mile Beach, at low tide.

It was just after lunch time. The sun was high in the sky, beating hard on Tristan’s face, but a light sea breeze eased the heat a little.

He took a deep breath. The breeze, yes: the breeze would keep the warring memories of heat at bay.

Rau’s rod was in his hand. Tristan pressed a worm onto the hook, and cast far into the ocean. It was low tide! Shallow water! Maybe a waste of time. But, even so, he was spurred on.

Joshua sat on the sand near him. He was sitting with Anahera and the others, but right then he was closest to Tristan. The others were eating lunch: fish, cooked over an open fire, but Joshua was not eating.

Tristan watched him, out of the corner of his eye. Who was this man? Why did Tristan feel so irked by him?

A few clouds were gathering on the horizon: dark clouds.

“Looks like a storm’s coming,” Joshua commented to him.

“Hmmm?” Tristan said, pretending not to be watching him.

“A storm.”

“Oh. Well a little storm never hurt anyone. Might bring in the fish!”

Now Joshua was playing with the sand. Tristan couldn’t help himself: he looked. Joshua smiled up at him. He was doodling: drawing figures.

“What’s all that?” Tristan said, and Joshua shrugged.

“My thoughts.”

“You think in stick figures?”

Joshua’s smile widened. “No,” he said. And then he rose to his feet, and stood next to Tristan, looking out to the horizon.

The grey clouds were deepening. “Thunder,” Joshua murmured.

“You reckon.”

“And heavy rain.”

“Let’s see if you’re more accurate than our weather gurus.”

Joshua smiled to him. “What would you say, Tristan?”

Tristan searched the clouds, took a deep breath, and sighed.

“Thunder and rain,” he said.

“You don’t like the rain?”

Tristan shrugged. “Too much of it in Wellington, I guess.”

“Some nice days too?”

“Yeah, some nice days. I remember…”

His mind suddenly, unexpectedly, went back. They were down the beach, at Days Bay! The sun was shining, bright and clear – it was his seventeenth birthday.

Did he want to remember? No! No. And yet his mind was betraying him.

His mother was there – green eyes, smiling. It was warm, but not too hot! The sea was sparkling…She reached for his surf board, ready to try it herself – laughing, splashing the water.

Selena was there, too! Seven years old, her long black curls jumping against her back as she ran around her huge sand castle adding shells – her wide blue eyes were looking at him, now: she was grinning!

And…and…his father…

No. Tristan blocked this memory decisively, before it could form. His father: he wouldn’t think of him.

Joshua’s eyes were on him. Tristan shook his head again, shaken. Why had he just thought of all that?

“What happened?” Joshua asked.

Tristan shuddered, and looked away again to the dark clouds on the horizon.

“What always happens,” he muttered. “Life intervenes.”

“You mean death,” Joshua murmured beside him. “Death intervenes.”

Tristan smiled sadly. “Yeah,” he said. “I mean death.”

Joshua was quiet for a moment. Surprised, Tristan glanced at him. A cloud had somehow crossed Joshua’s face, for a moment: the familiar smile was gone. His expression almost frightened Tristan in its sudden intensity.

“What is it?” Tristan breathed, before he could stop himself. Joshua seemed to be struggling, almost in a trance, as if seeing something else. And then his eyes found Tristan’s again.

For a moment, in those brown eyes, Tristan saw a sudden strange vast expanse: an ocean, and, in that ocean, in that moment, a strong swift current of grief.

“What do you see?” Tristan whispered.

Joshua’s eyes lowered from him, and then, momentarily, drifted closed. When they opened again, and lifted to Tristan, the grief had gone.

“I see many things,” Joshua said.

“What kind of things?”

Joshua smiled again. “Things that others are better off not knowing.”

Tristan searched his face. It was a gentle face, unassuming – thoroughly ordinary and, simultaneously, thoroughly strange.

“You like talking in riddles?” Tristan said.

“Sometimes,” Joshua said. “But with good reason.”

“Let me guess,” Tristan said. “Everything you do has good reason.”

Joshua tilted his head to him, with that same smile, and then backed away.

 

Tristan stayed at the water’s edge, with Rau’s line. The water was steadily rising – it wasn’t long until it was climbing to his knees, and starting to approach the edge of the shore again. He caught a light green-blue speckled kahawai, but nothing more.

Rau now stood alongside him. “Time to give it up, mate,” he said.

“Just give me a few more minutes.”

“You have a lifetime to beat him, you know.”

“Whatever.”

The clouds were approaching fast. The light had dimmed, and Tristan could hear rumbling in the distance. He frowned, and glanced at Rau’s brown face.

“You know,” he began, “your friend is…strange.”

“Strange?” Rau smiled. “Is that all you have?”

“He…he seems to know nothing, and then suddenly knows everything.”

“What do you mean?” Rau’s head tilted thoughtfully.

“I swear he just saw something: something important.”

“Saw?”

“In his mind’s eye: he saw it. It was bad.”

Tristan swallowed. Rau was frowning now, obviously trying to read his expression.

“What do you think he saw?”

“You…you don’t think he saw the end, do you?”

Rau seemed to laugh, but then quickly swallowed his reaction.

“The End of the World?” he said. “You believe in that?”

“Doesn’t take much to believe in that now, does it?”

“I guess not, but…we’ve been waiting for that for two thousand years.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Apocalypse, when Christ comes again. Our back is against the wall, and, hey, presto.”

Tristan stared at him. “You see what I mean?” he said. “You people are crazy. You’re actually looking forward to the End of the World.”

“Not exactly – it’s Christ we’re looking forward to.”

“Why?”

“Because he’ll make everything right again.”

Tristan frowned, studying him. “Everything right?”

“No more pain, or tears, or suffering, or death…”

A deep pain seized Tristan’s chest at the words. He turned quickly away, and stared hard at the horizon: fighting the sudden torrent.

“No more tears,” he whispered. “No more death. Wouldn’t that be nice to believe.”

Rau was silent beside him – he actually believed it! Tristan suddenly envied him. Oh, to have faith! Oh, to have hope, even in the face of utter disaster in this life.

“What did he see?” Tristan murmured to him. “Who knows? Maybe he saw his own death, his own mortality: his own destiny into nothingness, like the rest of us.”

“I don’t think so,” Rau said. “I don’t think he’s afraid of death.”

Tristan glanced up again at Joshua. He was smiling, joking with his friends, helping to gather up the remains of the fish.

“Maybe you’re right,” Tristan said.

 

Rau was tugging gently on his rod now, and Tristan surrendered it to him. So be it: they would be travelling on, with Joshua, for now. Yet curiosity still pulled at him.

He strode up to Joshua, and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey,” he said. “What was that thing you saw?”

Joshua’s brown eyes were on him: Tristan made himself remain, as Joshua studied him.

“I saw many things,” Joshua finally replied. “Many things that hurt. But there is one thing I can tell you.”

“What?”

“I saw your mother.”

Tristan stared at him, and then tears suddenly came. He stood, flushing, in front of Joshua – and Joshua’s hand came to his arm.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua murmured.

Now Tristan’s eyes were blurring. “It’s not your fault,” he whispered, trying to blink – trying to see.

“I know,” Joshua said.

“I…” Tristan stuttered. “I…” Say it? Actually speak of love? No! He could not! He would not. Much easier to think the other! Much easier to say the other.

“I hate him,” he said. “I hate him.” The tears were clearing.

Joshua’s eyes were on him: quiet, gentle, walking amidst Tristan’s sudden searing pain. “I know,” he said, “but it wasn’t his fault, either.”

Tristan arched back, suddenly, terribly, wanting to hit him.

“What do you mean?” he cried. “What do you mean?”

The eyes were still on him! Kind, but firm. “You know what I mean,” he said.

Tristan stood, stiff, before him. The light now was growing dim: the dark clouds moving over his head. He felt a little rain falling on his face.

Joshua’s face darkened again, for a moment.

“I don’t understand you,” Tristan said. “What are you on about? But…but your words seem so real! And there’s more! Something you’re not telling me.”

“Some things are better not to know,” Joshua whispered. “Not until their right time.”

A burden was in his eyes – a frightening burden. But then it was gone again, as quickly as it had arrived.

He smiled, and turned, and joined the others – and Tristan’s gaze followed him.

“Well?” Rau asked, at his side.

“Strange…” Tristan murmured. Then he shrugged his shoulders, and turned away.

 

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER SIX: Lawful Use of Force

Connor sat in Select Committee Room Three, in Parliament House. Around him, to either side, were four of his Party, and across the large desk from him sat Clarkson and his representatives. To the left of Clarkson was one Member from the Clean Green Party, and to Connor’s left was a Member of the Christian Conservative Party. Between them sat a Member from the Maori Party. And, at the other end of the desk, sat Police Commissioner Derek Peters, and a Ms Kiri Rakena – she was at the computer carrying all the public submissions for the matter at hand.

Connor glanced briefly up at the wooden carvings of the Maori ancestors, hanging around them on the walls. Then he brought his mind quickly back to task.

“As Chairperson for the Law and Order Select Committee,” he said, “I want to start by thanking you for your attendance.”

Clarkson was grimacing – Connor ignored him.

“We are here to debate The National Lawful Use of Force Bill and The Extension of Maximum Sentences Bill.”

Alongside him, the Minister of Law and Order, the Honourable Chin Ho, stood.

“I am presenting these bills to the House,” she said, with slightly clipped English, “in light of growing tensions in New Zealand. It is vital we maintain control, and I consider these law changes essential for sustaining peace in our land throughout the challenges ahead.”

“What challenges are you talking about?” Kiri Rakena asked, from the computer. “The public haven’t been informed of challenges…”

“We’ve been warning the public of the implication of climate changes for years!” Tracy Harrison said, from the Clean Green Party.

“Sure, the temperature’s rising,” Rakena said, lifting her brown hands to animate her words. “It’s getting hot! We’re having more droughts. Some farms have packed it in. But most of these submissions are asking what the Government is doing to help.”

“The Government is taking stock of the situation…” Connor began, bristling at the words.

“By trying to control the public,” Rakena said.

“Exactly!” Clarkson said. “That’s the Government the public voted in!”

Connor glared at Clarkson, whose face looked annoyingly bright, (grabbing the chance for more votes!), and turned back to Rakena.

“The New Conservative Party supports individual efforts…”

“…by not lifting a hand to help,” Rakena said. “A lot of people have written here that they are finding ways to help themselves: growing food in their own sections, sharing with their neighbours…”

“This is precisely the threat I am talking about!” Connor said, rising to his feet and jabbing a finger at Rakena, staring at Clarkson. “People are growing their own food and sharing! A few oranges here, a few apples there, sure! But what if this becomes the economy of the future? No declarations, no tax: no government!”

Clarkson rose to his feet in front of him, his eyes steadfast on Connor.

“Sit down, Right Honourable Prime Minister,” he said. “You are the Chairperson of this debate, not the Dictator of it.”

Fury filled Connor at the words – his temples throbbed, staring at Clarkson’s gaze. How dare he? Yet he heard truth in Clarkson’s words, took a deep breath, and sat down – gesturing to his right, to the Minister of Law and Order.

Chin Ho stood again.

“New Zealand faces new threats,” she began. “There is rising dissatisfaction with the current situation. More people are hungry. More people are stealing. Inflation is rising. Violent crime has increased. Transport is limited, jobs are out of reach. An entire redefining of our society might be ahead of us: the risk of civil unrest is high.”

The Maori MP stood, Rawiri Heka.

“Perhaps a redefining of our society is what is required.”

Connor looked at him: at his greying hair and the aged lines in his warm brown face.

“Any redefining of our society must be mediated through a democratically voted-in Parliament,” Connor said. “That is why we are here! That is why we have been given the luxury of debating the issues. We have freedom right here, now, to determine our own fates.

“But what happens if neighbourhoods develop their own food supply, their own economies, their own job structures – their own leadership? Destabilization! Local economy, local law, local politics – tribal wars. Do we really want to return to the Dark Ages?

“We must retain central leadership. We must retain order, and national cohesion, or we will be lost.”

There was silence. With satisfaction, Connor saw he had gotten through. Then Richard Holm, of the Christian Conservative Party, stood.

“But what is the purpose of central leadership?”

Connor frowned at him: Holm was usually a reliable supporter of the Conservative Party.

“What do you mean?”

“What is your goal?”

Now Connor rose happily to his feet.

“What is our goal?” he said, gesturing to his other Party Members. “Our goal is a happy, safe, independent, productive New Zealand.”

“That’s our goal too,” Clarkson said.

“And ours,” Harrison said, of the Clean Green Party.

“The devil is in the detail,” Holm said, and Connor sent him a warning glance.

Rakena shifted on her seat, as if uncomfortable, and then Commissioner Derek Peters rose to his feet.

“I represent the Police at this Committee,” he began, “and I can tell you this: crime is definitely on the increase in New Zealand. There were twelve thousand three hundred and four cases of serious violent crime last month alone: that represents an increase of three hundred percent compared with 2025, and six hundred percent compared with 2020. Theft also has risen dramatically: the police do not have the resources, as things stand, to deal now with theft – we are struggling to fully respond to all cases of violent crime. There have also been a number of political demonstrations that might have deteriorated into civil unrest.

“The Police support both bills presented today. In our view, the Police need the authority to implement increased force if it should be required.”

Connor nodded at him, and looked around the faces at the table. Clarkson was silent – he seemed convinced by Constable Peters. Maori MP Heka also was silent. Harrison, of the Greens, was slowly nodding.

The only two looking uncomfortable were Holm, of the Christian Conservative Party, and Rakena, representing the public.

“Just what kind of increased force are we talking about?” Holm asked.

Peters’ eyes lingered on him, and then returned to Connor.

“Whatever force is required.”

“Meaning?” Rakena asked.

Peters shifted on his feet. He was a respectable looking man, Connor thought: perhaps early forties, with tidy short brown hair – his police uniform pressed, and his eyes firm but also somehow kind.

He looked at Rakena, and bowed his head to her.

“Only what is required, Madam, and no more. At present, the police are able to use force to contain danger: to prevent greater harm. This bill only seeks to expand this application: the force must be clearly used to prevent greater harm to our communities, nothing less.”

Connor saw, in Rakena’s face: the Constable had won her trust.

“…and so, Mr Speaker,” Connor said, standing at his seat in the House of Representatives, “I would like to thank the Law and Order Committee for considering the bills, and attending hearings, and I now move that the National Lawful Use of Force Bill, and the Extension of Maximum Sentences Bill, be moved a third time. I commend the bills to the House.”

“This debate has concluded,” the Speaker said. “I’ll ask the Clerk for a Party Vote.”

The Clerk now stood, in front of the Speaker.

“Ninety-four votes in favour,” she said. “Twenty-six votes opposed.”

“The motion is agreed to,” said the Speaker.

Connor nodded his head, and beat his fist in victory. Another step! Another step toward securing the safety of New Zealand. Soon they would establish stability! Soon he would safeguard their freedom.

 

 

[]CHAPTER SEVEN: Days Bay and the New Zealand Church Council

It was another Sunday – after church.

Mark Blake was glad to be home. Climbing the internal steps from the garage to the hallway, he wearily made his way to the kitchen and dumped his Mercedes keys on the table. Selena was somewhere behind him, scurrying away to her bedroom – he let her be.

Mark kicked off his shoes, and wandered into the lounge. Before him, through tall and wide windows, was a massive expanse of Lower Hutt and the Hutt River to the left, and Wellington Harbour to the right. The day was clear, the water of the harbour sparkling in the distance, while a slight wind whistled around the house. He drew in a deep breath, and sat down on the leather couch – reaching for the paper.

On the front page was an article, ‘Parliament passes bills giving unprecedented power to police,’ with a photo of James Connor smiling, in front of the Beehive. Mark studied his face for a moment: James Connor! He had actually made it to Prime Minister! Mark remembered their debates at Grammar. Oh yes, things had been different back then…Mark had been different. What had he argued for? That’s right: for social care.

The poor!” he had said to James, at seventeen: full of idealism and purism. “Democracy is made to protect the weak!”

No, no,” James had replied, “you’re missing the point, Mark: your faith is filling you with gushy sentiment. Democracy is for the rich.”

Mark had stared at him, in that moment, wondering. What had he said? Oh, yes:

It is to enhance the rich to lift up the poor.”

James had laughed. “Forget about politics, Mark: you should be a priest!”

Mark had stared at him, in that moment. A priest? A priest…He had thought about it, prayed about it: he had done it.

And now he was the Anglican Bishop of Wellington.

For a moment he felt a sharp deep pain in his chest. Tossing the paper aside, he rose to his feet and wandered over to a table, next to the TV. There was a photo, still in an old frame, of Teresa: of his wife.

She looked young. Mark remembered the day – one of his best memories, and now one of the most painful. They had been down the beach, at Days Bay: a perfect day. Tristan and Selena had been there. Tristan had actually managed to surf! Mark remembered his own laughter – his son’s joyous enthusiasm. Selena had built the biggest sand castle Mark had ever seen: or at least the one with the prettiest shell decorations. And Teresa…

Mark held his breath now, at the memory. Teresa…her smile, for him, holding the camera: her radiant happiness, before…before…

Clenching his teeth, Mark shoved the photo down on the table: face down.

“I’m going out!” he called out, half choking, to Selena. “I’ve got another Church Council meeting!”

“Whatever!” her sixteen year-old voice replied – and he grabbed his shoes, and his keys, and hurried back down to the garage.

 

The New Zealand Church Council. They usually only met every three months, but lately, with the increasing demands, everyone involved thought they’d better meet more regularly.

Mark was hungry. He hurriedly ate a muesli bar from an emergency packet he kept in the glove box, and stepped outside onto the deserted car park. Once again, his was the only car.

This time the meeting was at the Glen Road Baptist Church, in Kelburn. Mark wandered into the hallway, and then into the Auditorium. The Baptists often had a modern style of church – and there was the tiny cross, on the pulpit, at the front.

“Right Reverend Bishop Blake!” a voice said, and Mark turned to the grinning older face. He looked rather homely, with a knitted brown vest and white shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows.

“Murray!” he said, reaching a hand to him.

“Welcome to our humble abode.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘humble’…”

“I know you wouldn’t say ‘fancy,’ either.”

“Perhaps not…”

“Good to see you, Blakey.”

Mark almost choked on his familiarity, but accepted it: Pastor Murray Simon was the head of the Baptist Council of New Zealand.

Murray turned him toward a meeting room – and there were seated eight other ministers: representing Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, and others. Mark acknowledged them all, and then sat at the head of the table.

“Welcome, everyone,” he said. “Thank you for coming again.”

“Shall we open in prayer?” Murray Simon asked.

“By all means: go ahead, Murray.”

Murray bowed his head, and Mark glanced at all the others present, doing the same, before he followed suit.

“Precious Father,” Murray prayed. “Thank you for your goodness. Thank you for your love. Thank you for bringing us all together here safely this Sunday afternoon. We pray that you might guide our meeting: help us to know what is right – give us your wisdom. We pray for New Zealand: that you might protect us, and lead us, in Jesus Christ’s name.”

“Amen,” everyone said, and Mark followed suit.

“Thank you,” he said to Murray, and now he turned to the others.

“What do we have to report?” he asked. “Who would like to go first?”

The Catholic Priest, Andrew Stead, lifted his hand.

“Yes, Father Andrew.”

“We’ve noticed in our parishes,” the young man began, “there’s a lot of fear.”

“Fear?” the Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Robyn Peer asked.

“Well…they’re wondering if this is the beginning of the End.”

Glances passed between the ministers present. Mark looked at Murray, who was smiling slightly, and shook his head.

“Honestly,” Mark said, “a bit of heat, and people are already talking about the End of the World? People have speculated about that for almost two thousand years. The End is in God’s hands – let’s talk about today. How are the churches doing across New Zealand?”

“Well,” began the Pentecostal minister, Luke Davies, “I want to praise God for everything that is happening in the Fullness of Life Churches across New Zealand. Our attendance has gone up three hundred per cent! God is giving us healings, and prophecies…”

“Good for you,” Mark muttered, and felt Murray’s nudge, and looked at the amused warning in his eyes.

“So – the Pentecostal churches are thriving,” Mark said. “And you, Reverend Robyn: how is the Presbyterian Church managing?”

Robyn shrugged her shoulders. “Much as it has before.”

“Sounds like the Anglican Church,” Mark said.

Now Murray was wandering around the table, as if thoughtfully in prayer. Mark looked up at him.

“And you, Murray? How is the Baptist Church doing?”

Murray tilted his head, and looked directly at Mark.

“We’re doing well, Mark.”

“How so?”

“At least in this congregation…people are struggling more, but they’re also helping each other more. Food is more difficult to get – but we seem to be more grateful for the food we do get.”

He sounded like Choo, the Dean of Wellington Cathedral: even looked like her, in that moment. Something in the eyes – something Mark did not understand.

“Curiously,” Murray continued, “for us it is almost as though less is more.”

Mark stared at him. “Less is more?” he said. “Sounds like an ad for losing weight!”

Murray held his gaze steadfastly. “Exactly,” he said.

Mark felt uncomfortable. He decided to look away, to the less challenging face of Father Andrew.

“And how are your finances holding up, Andrew?” he asked. The young man, blonde wavy hair, blue eyes, looked a little flustered – Mark wondered why the Catholic Church had not sent a more seasoned representative to the Council.

“Finances?” Andrew said. “What do you mean?”

“Offerings, Father: offerings! Are they falling off for you, as they are for us? Staff cuts, buildings wearing down, congregations dwindling – no perceived relevance anymore.”

The young man’s face looked bewildered. “What?” he said. “No, Sir…”

Surprised, Mark searched him. “What do you mean?”

“Offerings?” Andrew continued. “I can’t give you a figure, but I’m sure they’ve increased. More people are coming to church: they’re looking for hope. Some people need more help, and other people are giving more. The rich are lifting up the poor.”

Oh, damn, Mark thought, before he could stop himself. The boy sounds just like me thirty years ago!

“People are afraid – but they’re also excited,” Andrew said.

“Excited?” Mark asked.

“Well, yes, Bishop. We believe Christ is coming again soon.”

Now Mark stared at him. A hard lump formed in his throat – for a moment he couldn’t breathe. Then he swallowed the lump.

“Amen to that!” Murray’s voice sounded, in his ear.

Mark forced himself to look each minister in turn. Were all expecting Christ’s imminent return? No: not all. In that moment Catholic, Pentecostal and Baptist were united – could it be possible? There it was. But others were wondering: others doubted. Robyn looked particularly perplexed.

“No one knows the time or the place of Christ’s return,” Mark said mechanically, “but, in the meantime, here we are. How to manage with the resources we have? That is the question.”

“No arguments there,” Murray said – but there was something in his eye.

The meeting continued, talking about this and that: nothing really of any great consequence, Mark thought. He dutifully continued as Chairperson, in his role – and was glad to finally draw the meeting to a close, one and a half hours later. Andrew prayed – some set Catholic prayer: Mark hardly noticed the words. Then it was over.

The ministers filed out of the room: but Murray did not let him escape so easily.

“Mark,” the older man began, and Mark nonchalantly looked at him.

“Yes?”

“Something going on with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your mind seems in a different space.”

Every man needs a minister: even a Bishop.

Where had those words come from? His own words, suddenly in his heart: suddenly pressing. He resisted them.

“No,” he said. “Nothing’s wrong, Murray: everything’s fine.”

Bullshit, his thoughts now betrayed him. Nothing’s been right with you for nine years. Not since…since…

Grief threatened to overwhelm him, but with an iron fist he thrust it aside. Control! Control. It was the only way: the only way to survive.

“Thank you Murray,” he said clearly, ignoring the eyes. “See you again next time.”

And with absolute control, he straightened his shoulders, turned, and walked out the door toward his isolated Mercedes in the car-park.

 

[]CHAPTER EIGHT: An Empty House

Selena lay on her bed. Her long black curls were thrown erratically across the pillow – her white blouse was dishevelled.

Her room was a mess. School books were falling off her desk. Maths was boring, music was a tedious farce: English felt like primary school kids playing with words. The teachers gave her assignments: she swept them aside and looked for something more stimulating.

Real music: that was the thing. Words of real life: the meaninglessness, the rage. She listened, through her earphones, to the heavy beat, in unison with her heart: searing tones of pain – talk of death.

Her father was gone: off to another pathetic church meeting. What was it with the robes, and the four hundred year old music? Why did he keep dragging her back there? She hated it: talk of the body and the blood. She hated the faces: drugged with the ‘Spirit,’ or, even worse, showing nothing at all.

She stared up at the ceiling. So many hours she had spent there, just staring: like a prisoner in her own home. Where was he? She didn’t care. Working here, working there: working everywhere. He brought home food – he paid someone to cook, and clean. What else was there? Apparently nothing. Apparently no one.

Her mother had gone. Selena had spent many years imagining that she was still there with her, in her room: imagining what she would have said. But once she had turned twelve, she had run out of inspiration. Her mother was dead. And Selena had never experienced her as a teenager: she simply had no idea what to say to herself anymore.

Grief was a numb companion. And then there was nothing at all: nothing but anger, and this toward him. A perpetual, escalating anger, growing year after year after year.

The anger now was her closest ally.

She stared at the ceiling – and then, suddenly, felt seized.

Go.

Go?

Now’s your chance.

Excitement filled her, as refreshing as it was new. Could she leave? She could! She could use this imprisonment: she could turn it to her own favour!

Quickly she thrust herself off her bed, down the hallway, and into the kitchen and lounge. Where was her father’s wallet? On him, of course. But where would he stash other cash? She searched, and went downstairs: she found his study, the bookcase, and found some cash hidden inside a book. A hundred bucks! That should be enough, to get her off this hill, into town. Alex would meet her! Alex would get her out of this hole.

Selena grabbed a key and her sandals, tugged her skirt down, and set out through the back door.

 

It was quite a walk, down the hill, to catch a train to Wellington Central. Excitement pressed her forward quickly, and she reached into her pocket for her phone. The network was down: again! Crazy! But surely soon it would come back on, and she’d get through to Alex.

Eyes were on her as she walked – she ignored them. A brisk breeze embraced her, lifting her black curls – she drew in a deep breath, invigorated.

 

Half way down the hill, there was a gathering crowd. Surprised, Selena looked around. The police were there! Something had happened…

“What do you mean the petrol ran out?” a man cried out: short, and stumpy. “You’re on a hill, idiot! Don’t you know how to use the brakes?”

Selena saw: a red car had smashed into a wooden fence.

“It slid!” another man shouted: tall, and muscular. “The gas ran out, the thing spluttered, and before I knew it I was sliding backwards…”

“Train not good enough for you, like the rest of us?”

“Don’t blame me if you can’t get a decent job!”

“Arrogant prick…”

The solidly built driver was almost throwing fists – but then the police officer, dressed in blue, stepped in. His face looked tired – his forehead was creasing into a frown.

“That’s enough,” he said.

“Oh, yeah?” the driver said. “Who says?”

“I do,” the policeman said. “I’m Constable Stevens, and I’m putting you under arrest.” He waved a badge in their direction.

“I don’t think so!” The driver said. “From what I hear, there’s no money left to imprison all the criminals.”

The officer grimaced. “That’s not your problem.”

“You bet it’s not!” the driver said. “This joker’s my problem!” And he gestured to the property owner.

Now Sevens stepped to his bike, and pulled out his baton and handcuffs.

“Just get onto the bike.”

The driver smirked at him. “What’s the matter: no money for a car?”

“I don’t have time for this!” Stevens said. “Get onto the bike now! I’ll take you to the station, and then I need to move onto the next call.”

The driver looked at him, at the baton, and at the bike. A strange expression came over his face. Then he put his hands out to be cuffed.

“Sure,” he said.

Selena frowned. She glanced down the hill – could she quickly pass? Get away from the commotion? She shifted between her feet, uncertain, while Stevens cuffed the driver’s hands, and escorted him to the back of the bike.

Stevens sat on the front of the bike. Selena waited for him, watching while he fired up the bike, reversed, and shifted the bike into gear to move forward – but then, suddenly, something changed. Selena felt it, before she saw it: the car-driver! From behind, he was thrusting his cuffed hands over Stevens’ head, dragging the chain tight around his neck.

Selena gasped. The driver – he was smirking, foolish man! Stirring trouble, but not trying to murder! Yet he jerked Stevens back, by the neck. The bike swerved, and fell on its side.

When Stevens rose, rage filled his eyes.

Selena swallowed. “Take it easy,” she whispered. “Don’t do anything rash.”

The driver was still on the ground, trapped a little under the bike. Stevens grabbed his baton, lifted the bike away from the driver, and now he began to beat him.

Shocked, Selena stared at him. He was the police! Charged to protect the public! Selena glanced at the fence owner, but he also was staring, and now was backing rapidly away.

The driver was unconscious! His head was bleeding. Stevens was still beating him!

“Stop it!” Selena screamed. “You’ll kill him!”

Stevens stopped. As if stunned himself, he stared down at the man lying still beneath the bike. He fingered his own throat, and stared at his baton. Then he looked at her.

Terror filled Selena. What was he going to do? Desperately she fumbled at her cell-phone – but who would she call? The police? An ambulance? There was no network! There was nothing…

She longed to run, and glanced quickly up the hill. Should she go back? Should she run back to Dad? To home? Conflict tore her heart: was that really her home? Was her father really safety?

The officer was approaching her. She saw regret in his eyes! She saw an apology trying to form on his lips. But it was too late. Her arms were wrapping around herself; her body was starting to shake uncontrollably.

“Mum…” she sobbed. “What the hell is happening? Mum…”

And now she ran, down the hill, on and on and on.

 

A train was waiting, at the station below. Selena couldn’t think about where it was going: only thrust herself on board – only had to leave where she was. A lady appeared asking for a ticket – Selena gave her the one hundred dollar note.

On the train, she stared out of the window. It was all a blur. She didn’t know where she was going. Her body felt numb. Her heart felt numb. She randomly jabbed at her cell-phone.

The train arrived: at Central Wellington Station. The lady was in front of her, telling her to get off. She obeyed.

On the platform, Alex stood waiting for her. Selena saw him: she almost collapsed. His arm came around her shoulders.

“It’s okay,” he whispered.

“How did you…?”

“You called me.”

“I…” She started to sob: couldn’t control herself.

He grasped her hand – and led her after him.

“Where are we going…?”

“Somewhere where you’ll be safe.”

“Is anywhere safe anymore?”

“Yeah – some things can make us strong.”

He had taken her out of the train station. Now he led her down one street, through another, and down another. Selena felt she was constantly about to fall, but he dragged her on and on – until suddenly they were standing before a door.

Selena stared up at it. It had strange symbols above it: somehow familiar feeling symbols.

“I don’t know,” Selena whispered. “I don’t like this place.”

“Rather go to church?”

Selena shuddered. Church? No. Her father…But this place?

“Where do you want me to take you, Selena?” Alex asked. “To a pub? Give you alcohol? Speed? Addiction is weakness. This is the real strength.”

Selena stared at him. She stared at the door.

“What is this place?”

“You know what this is.”

You know.

“What do I know?”

Alex shook his head, and then gestured around them. “You know it all, Selena: you’re a smart girl. Politics is impotent. The police are the real criminals. Education is control. And, worst of all, religion is lies.”

“God…” Selena whispered. “God…”

“There is only one god,” he said – and he pointed to the symbol.

Cold chills seized her body. She knew what this was, and it was not God. But who was God? Who was he, but an absent, indifferent, neglectful father? What did he know? What did he care?

“Who will be your god?” Alex asked: and, drawing in a deep breath, legs wobbling, she reached out, and thrust herself through the door.

 

[]CHAPTER NINE: Kaitaia

Rau woke up.

He was lying in his tent, in a black sleeping bag – across from Tristan, who was snoring.

Surprised, Rau shook his head and then remembered: Kaitaia! They had all travelled the night before – and now here they were, in Joshua’s home town, camping.

The tent was stuffy. Rau dragged himself out of his sleeping bag. What time was it? Ten o’clock! Quickly he reached across to unzip the tent door, and crawled out onto the red rug beyond.

The sun was on him. Rau rose to his feet, stretched out his arms, and looked around.

His old silver-green two-man tent sat on flat yellow grass, sandwiched between other tents. Across to the left Rau could see the white office, and a few brown cabins. To his right was a long row of parked campervans. Rau remembered, now: this camping ground was just down the road from Kaitaia Domain.

Rau searched, and found Joshua sitting on a slight grassy hill, under a pine tree – just down from the campervans.

“Good morning,” Rau said.

“Good morning.”

“You’re not at home?”

“I visited my mother last night – she knows I’m staying here with all of you.”

Rau noticed he had changed his clothes – now had black jeans on, full length, with sandals and a T-shirt that said, ‘I love Kaitaia!’

“Where did you sleep?”

Joshua gestured – to the one-man tent next to Rau’s site.

“Oh. Just the clothes on your back.”

“What else do we need?”

Joshua smiled, and Rau studied him. Why was he lingering with this Pakeha? Why hadn’t he returned to Kerikeri early this morning, as expected?

“It’s Sunday,” Rau muttered, half to himself. He wasn’t booked to preach, but had expected to attend.

“Church?” Joshua asked.

“Well, yes.”

“You are a priest.”

Rau searched his gaze. What would Joshua’s response be to his priesthood?

“I am a priest,” Rau said, without shame. “Is it that obvious?”

Joshua’s smile widened. “It is to me.”

“Why?”

“I have a feel for these things.”

Rau frowned. He was actually feeling perplexed by this man – a feeling he had not experienced in a long, long time. Joshua seemed to enjoy avoiding direct questions – maintaining a deliberate sense of mystery. But was there anything else to him? Anything of real substance?

“Stick around,” Joshua said. “See what you think.”

Rau stared at him – and then Tristan was by his side.

“Hey!” Tristan said. “Nice shirt.”

“Thank you,” Joshua said, tipping his head slightly. “Glad you like it.”

“Good fishing at Kaitaia?” Tristan asked. “Still need to beat your record.”

“You tell me.”

Rau watched Tristan smile at the challenge. “Okay,” he said. “Watch this space.”

The others were stirring now, from tents – the four from Ninety Mile Beach, surrounding Joshua. Anahera was there, too – sitting a little apart, quiet and attentive.

Rau cast his eyes back over the campground. Some people were still sleeping, in their tents: resting on Sunday morning. Some were already up, set up on collapsible chairs outside their tents, reading a book. Others were throwing balls to each other, along the lanes. Rau noticed the campground was particularly full. On some sites, two tents had been set up – and a lot of people were pouring out of them.

“Just like Kerikeri,” Rau murmured.

“Busy?” Tristan asked.

“Packed. Not just in the campgrounds, either. Did you see, on the way here?”

“Yeah.”

“Tents in the parks, and along the streets.”

“Something big going down?”

Rau frowned. “People can’t afford rent anymore.”

Joshua stood, and started walking along the lane of campervans.

“What’s he doing?” Rau asked.

“Don’t know,” Tristan replied. “But I’m going to find out.” And Rau watched him wander after Joshua.

Rau trailed behind. Right now, in Kerikeri, his congregation would be singing hymns – their Vicar leading them in prayer. Rau instinctively began to hum ‘Amazing Grace,’ though he felt a sense of irony. ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found’? He was feeling an increasing sense of being more lost, the more he followed this man.

Joshua glanced at each campervan as he passed each one. Closest to them on this lane were the best powered campsites – plush with pines and pohutukawa, they were the larger sites, more expensive, with large new, mostly hired vans. Rau had never used one. Joshua paused for a moment, looking at one particular van – the largest, the family still within. Then he moved on.

Around a corner, to the left, was a more hidden lane – much smaller sites, a few weeds, and old campervans: permanent residents. Joshua stopped here, looked around, and then saw something.

“Over here!” he said – and guided his friends to a picnic area. “Let’s have some food.”

“Great idea!” Tristan said. “What are we having?”

“Brunch,” Joshua said – and now he was looking straight at Rau.

“Brunch?” Rau said, and then he realized. “My fish…”

“What does everyone have?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve got avocado!” Anahera said. “Lots, at home!”

“Go and get it,” Joshua replied.

“Meat?” one of the men asked. “I’ve actually still got beef, fresh from the farm.”

“Go. Bring it back.”

“And bread,” another said. “I have a friend who owns a bakery.”

“I have cheese.”

“Bring it all!” Joshua said. “Bring it all, and let’s have a feast. Time for a barbeque!”

The friends dispersed. Rau wandered toward the campground’s kitchen, and Tristan again was alongside him.

“So what are you bringing, mate?” Rau asked, and Tristan shrugged.

“I don’t know – I don’t have anything.”

“Just in it for the kai?” Rau smiled gently.

“You can talk – you’re only getting the fish he won for you.”

Rau growled – Tristan was too quick off the mark! “I know,” Rau quickly replied, “but isn’t that the same with us all?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tristan said. “He knows we’re away from home.”

“Each one should bring what he can…” Rau murmured. “This all seems so familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it! He seems like the closest of friends and the strangest of strangers, all at the same time.”

Tristan shrugged. “Why let it bother you? Why not just have a good feed?”

“Because there’s more to life than a good feed, boy! Don’t they give you food in the Army?”

Tristan grumbled next to him, and Rau shook his head. “Sorry,” he said.

“Forget it,” Tristan said. “Let’s just get that fish.”

And he strode quickly into the kitchen.

By the time Rau reached him, Tristan had already wrestled the plastic covered fish out of the large deep freeze unit and onto the floor.

“This thing weighs a ton!” Tristan said. “Gimme a hand!”

Rau bowed down, and lifted the snapper from below.

“No, that’s the heaviest part,” Tristan said. “You’re an old man – let me do it.”

Rau sighed, and let Tristan take the heavier weight. They struggled with the fish, out of the kitchen and toward the barbeque area, sometimes having to put the fish down to warm their freezing hands.

Finally they reached Joshua, and laid the snapper at his feet.

“Done,” Tristan said, and Joshua smiled at him.

“Good work.”

“It’s still frozen,” Rau said.

“So it is.”

“This fish is far too big for just us to eat.”

“You’re right.” Joshua’s eyes were now wandering over the entire campground, before returning to Rau. “It is far too big just for us.”

“You mean to feed everyone?”

“Why not? We have too much for ourselves.”

“I…” Rau looked at his face, and then nodded. “I agree.”

 

The others began to return. Anahera had brought some more ingredients, along with avocado: olive oil and butter, salad leaves and tomato, as well as plates, knives and tongs. The farmer laid down ten pieces of beef steak fillet. Another had laid down ten bottles of wine. Another brought twenty packets of buns.

“Looking good,” Joshua said. “Shall we get started?” And he rubbed his hands together and reached for the tongs.

Rau stood back, and watched as Joshua’s friends all hovered around him and helped prepare the food. Anahera directed a lot of the food preparation, but the farmer joined Joshua barbequing the meat.

Tristan stood over the snapper. “What do I do?”

“Cut some fillets off the thickest part, first.”

“The thing is frozen…” Tristan touched the skin. “No, hang on – it’s starting to thaw.” And he began to cut.

 

The sun was rising in the sky – it was maybe eleven o’clock when the first fillets were cooked.

“Time for communion…” Rau murmured. Anahera was gathering a bun, and salad and avocado, and a steak and snapper fillet onto a plate.

“Who first?” she asked Joshua, and he pointed to the old campervans nearby.

“There.”

Anahera looked at him, nodded, and then walked over to a campervan. Rau watched her, from a distance. She hesitated and then walked up to the van and knocked on the door.

“What d’ya want?” a man’s voice yelled out. “I’m busy!”

“We have lots of kai!” Anahera said. “And we want to share it!”

The door opened, and a dishevelled older European man stood before her: overgrown grey beard, wearing singlet and shorts.

“Food?” he said. “I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks!”

“Here!” Anahera said, offering the plate. “There’s more over here, too!” And she gestured back toward Joshua and the barbeque.

The man’s eyes moved over their group, and their food – Rau noticed his gaze settle on the wine.

“You got grog?”

“Ae, but…”

“I’m in! Just wait, lassie.” And he disappeared then reappeared, dragging up some trousers, tossing on a shirt and stepping down onto the ground.

Anahera returned to her plates, preparing another – Joshua gestured to another of the old campervans, and she wandered back to the next neighbour. In the meantime, the older man ambled up to Tristan.

“Give us a drink, mate?” he said. Tristan looked over his face – Rau could see his disdain.

“I don’t know,” Tristan said. “You look like you should give it a rest.”

“Wanna put a drink in front of an old man and then stop him?” the man said – and he started pressing in to Tristan.

Rau quickly blocked his way. “Take it easy, mate,” he said. “This one has nothing to do with it. What’s your name?”

“Frank.”

“Where are you from?”

“Where does it look like, joker? I’m stuck here – I’ve been here all my life. Who brought the grog?”

“I did.”

Joshua was behind him. Frank turned to him – looked at him.

“You wanna give an alcoholic a whiff of our quality Kaitaia produce?”

“This wine won’t do anything for you.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“It’s low alcohol.”

“Yeah, right – not from our vineyards.”

“This wine is special – from my father’s vineyard.”

“Give it to me, and I’ll show you how special it is.”

Joshua held his eyes, smiled slightly – and then handed him a bottle.

“Joshua!” Rau exploded, before he could stop himself.

“Rau,” Joshua calmly replied. “Watch and learn.”

Face full of glee, Frank tore off the foil wrap of the bottle, popped the cork, and took a swig. Then he quickly spat the wine out.

“That’s sh…”

“Highest quality Kaitaia grapes,” Joshua quickly interrupted him.

“To hell with the grapes!”

“Keep drinking.”

Frank took another swig – and then started to scull the whole bottle.

“What the hell is this stuff?” he said, midway through the bottle – dragging his sleeve across his mouth.

“Not what you’re looking for.”

“The grapes…The taste is different. There’s something about them.”

“Good,” Joshua said. “I thought you’d like it. And what about you? What have you got?”

“I’ll show you. Come into my mansion.”

“Okay then.”

And Rau watched Joshua follow Frank into his campervan.

Tristan nudged him cheekily, from the side.

“Whad’ya reckon?” he said. “Think Joshua will try some real home brew?”

“I doubt it,” Rau said, shifting awkwardly.

“I’ll bet that Frank has marijuana growing out of his toilet.”

“You might be right.”

“I might score a joint later.”

Both Rau and Tristan watched the entrance of the campervan for any movement – and Frank emerged first.

He seemed perplexed. Rau watched him closely – what had happened? What had Joshua said? He seemed lost in thought. Then he marched down to the barbeque, and reached for the tongs.

“Step aside,” he said to the farmer. “I’ll show you how to barbe like a real man.”

Joshua emerged from the campervan. He was standing high on the step, looking across the gathering people. Rau was impressed with the numbers Anahera had reached – the growing crowd.

“Amazing what some kai will do,” Rau muttered, and Tristan laughed.

“Kaitaia, eh, mate? ‘Plenty of food’?”

“You’re more intelligent than you look.”

“Whatever.”

Rau’s eyes were on Joshua, still – and now Joshua was looking toward the lane of the expensive campervans.

“Good luck,” Rau muttered under his breath.

Joshua moved forward, received a plate of food from Anahera, and then wandered toward the first large campervan.

He knocked on the door. There was no answer. Joshua knocked again – still no answer.

“Are they away?” Rau asked, but Tristan shifted on his feet beside him.

“No way,” he said. “Just ignoring.”

“But why?”

“They want their space. It’s a big city thing: bloody Aucklanders.”

“Hmmm.”

Joshua paused for a moment, and then wandered to the next campervan. He knocked – there was no answer. He tried again – again no answer.

He turned, and looked straight at Rau – as if contemplating his next move. Then a door opened.

A woman stood there, in her thirties – hair immaculately tied back, brow furrowed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“We have some extra food,” Joshua said. “Would you like some?”

“No thanks,” the woman said. “We have enough food.”

“You are welcome to join us.” He gestured across to their crowd. She glanced across to Rau and Tristan, and then looked back at Joshua.

“No thanks.”

“We have some excellent Kaitaia wine.”

“Is that what this is? Are you selling wine?”

Rau smiled to himself with irony, and watched as Joshua continued.

“No,” he said. “I’d like to give you a bottle as a gift.”

“What for? Are you expecting me to buy a crate later?”

“No – we have enough money.”

The woman looked at him. “What do you mean?”

“What do you do?”

“I’m an account– none of your business.”

She looked about to close the door in his face, when a child appeared: a girl, eight, quite beautiful and vivacious.

“Hello!” the girl said.

“Hello!” Joshua said brightly. “What’s your name?”

“Jesse.”

“Wanna play?” Now Joshua looked back at her mother, as Jesse started pleading with her.

“I’m Joshua,” he said. “Join us.”

“Fine,” she said, “just for a short time. I’m Claire. She needs some time out of the van, anyway, but then we’ll need to go to work.”

Claire stepped down out of the van, and hesitantly walked over to the growing crowd.

“Kia ora,” Rau said to her.

“Hello,” she said coolly back. She was wearing a tight knee length skirt, and matching jacket, and walked awkwardly down the unsealed lane with black high heels. Jesse, wearing jeans and T-shirt with sneakers, quickly started running around the crowd and food.

Joshua moved on to the other campervans and knocked on doors. Some doors remained firmly closed. Others opened, and he introduced himself – but no one was interested. Rau heard him wishing each one well – and then Joshua returned to Rau.

“Not much chance getting community out of an Aucklander,” Rau said.

“Over one million people live in Auckland,” Joshua replied. “Think they’re all the same?”

Rau shifted on his feet, silenced – and then Joshua took his place in front of the crowd.

“Kia ora!” he said, raising his voice. “Nice to meet everyone!”

“Great,” Rau heard Claire mutter from nearby. “Here comes the sales pitch.”

“Help yourself to the food,” Joshua said. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”

“Too much like my grandmother,” Tristan said.

“We have wine – enough for everyone, low alcohol and great taste.”

Rau noticed others looking, from around the camping ground: some through windows, others outside their tents. More began to gather in curiosity.

“Now,” Joshua said, “I’m just wondering: how many of you are living in a tent?”

A shout went up – hands went up.

“Living straight off the land,” he said. “Good. How about a campervan?”

Claire didn’t bother to lift her hand, but Frank did with great enthusiasm – and others, who had joined the crowd from his lane.

“And who’s staying in a cabin?” Joshua asked.

A few were joining, from the cabins further away. Anahera gestured them in, and began to offer them food. Claire was grasping Jesse’s hand, seeming about to leave, when Joshua spoke again.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Tent, campervan or cabin – does it really matter, at the end of the day?”

Now Claire looked at him – now she became very still. Surprised, Rau watched her – and saw Joshua notice her attention.

Joshua wandered up to Frank’s campervan – he slapped his hand upon it.

“Which is more important?” he asked. “The box, or the person who lives inside the box?”

Rau glanced quickly at Frank – Joshua had his attention too, now: he held a wine bottle affectionately to his side, but he was sober.

Claire also was looking at Frank – and now her face became cold and hard. Joshua wandered up to the wealthy campervans – he stopped next to Claire’s, and turned to the crowd.

“If I hire this campervan,” he said, “I get a microwave, ultra-high definition digital TV with one hundred and forty channels, blue-ray disc player, and a deluxe shower head. Cream spray and jet stream!”

He gestured toward Frank’s campervan. “While that one down there is rusting with the basics.”

Claire stormed up to him – Rau hovered close behind.

“Get out of my way,” she said through gritted teeth. “My home and my life are none of your business!”

“Keep working like this,” Joshua quietly replied, “and your daughter won’t even know who you are.”

Claire stared at him – Rau saw tears well up in her eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispered, and Joshua’s face softened.

“I do know,” he murmured. “You know it too, Claire. Love doesn’t need all the extra trappings. Don’t sacrifice the cake for the icing.”

She stared at him, suddenly silenced. She looked around herself, suddenly aware of the eyes of the crowd.

“I have to go to work,” she said. “I have to go to work!” And she reached out to grasp Jesse’s hand, and walked quickly down the lane.

“What is it with money?” Joshua cried out, across the crowd. “It promises to be our dearest friend, but then it becomes our harshest master! Is money really what life is all about? What if we spend all our lives trying to get more and more of it: what will we sacrifice on the way?”

The crowd was silent, listening to him. Rau could see they were thinking about Claire – unable to stay to listen: unable to even rest while she was on holiday. Joshua had stopped speaking – and now the people began to murmur to each other. Rau glanced at Tristan, to see him munching on some fruit.

“Did you even hear what he said?” Rau asked, and Tristan shrugged.

“Too much money isn’t exactly my problem.”

Rau smirked. “True. And yet…” He gestured to others in the crowd. “He seemed to reach them.”

Joshua joined him, and Rau pulled him aside.

“You question money, Joshua?” he said. “You – a Pakeha?”

“Does my skin colour matter?”

“Your people hunger and thirst after money – that has always been the white man’s way.”

“You’re wrong, Rau Petera – my people were not always this way.”

Rau was struck by his brown eyes, now – a new intensity.

“And what is it with colour?” he asked. “We’re all human, aren’t we? Aren’t we all brothers and sisters? Same vulnerabilities? Same needs? Same weaknesses?”

Rau frowned – suddenly aware of the state of his own heart.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Joshua said. “Rich, poor, Pakeha, Maori, from Auckland or Kaitaia – we’re all in the same boat: the same waka.”

“You’re right,” Rau said. “One massive waka. The past…”

“Shouldn’t have happened the way that it did.”

“No. But the British – they didn’t realize what they were doing.”

“No, Rau – they did not. Just as the Maori didn’t realize it, until it was too late. We all lost our way. Time to find it again.”

Rau lingered on his face.

“I feel,” he said, “something changing within me.”

Joshua’s smile was radiant. “Good.”

“Brothers and sisters,” Rau said, “ae! Brothers and sisters.”

“Different, and yet together as one.”

Joshua wandered past Rau, now – and began to talk with some of the newcomers. Rau watched him for a while – and then wandered up after him, to introduce himself to another.

A young Maori man stood before him – muscular, with the black spiral koru moko of Tainui tattooed on his face and shoulders.

“Kia ora,” the man said.

“Kia ora,” Rau replied.

“I am Tane, of Tainui – from Waikato.”

Rau raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I am Rau, of Ngapuhi, from Kerikeri. What brings you here?”

“I am visiting whanau.”

“Have you had some kai?”

“Ae. Quite a feed you have here.”

“Ae.”

“And who is this man who speaks so boldly?”

Rau smiled quietly. “Joshua Davidson is his name.”

“I like his words. They are very…”

“Maori?”

“Yes.”

“And yet, not only Maori.”

“He is a leader – not like the usual Pakeha leaders.”

“Perhaps.”

“I would like to hear more from him.”

Rau looked at him. “Then join us.”

Tane glanced at Joshua, and then turned back to Rau. Now Rau grasped his hand.

“Join us.”

Tane’s dark brown eyes held his. “All right, Ngapuhi Kaumatua,” he said, “I accept.”

Rau pressed his forehead and nose to him, in a hongi, and Tane responded – then he wandered back away into the crowd.

 

[]CHAPTER TEN: The Governor General

Mark Blake was at a meeting at St Peter’s. It was almost over.

Gladly Mark looked around the faces of the Anglican Vicars of Wellington: young, old, men and women, some worried, some at peace. They had called the meeting, concerned for the rising tensions in their parishes. They had shared their concerns. So far as Mark was concerned, they had got it off their chests – and now it was time to move on.

“We can handle a little heat,” he said. “Don’t you worry: back to business as usual.”

They looked at him, rose to their feet, and dispersed. Eun Ae Choo lingered for a moment, looking at him. What was that expression on her face? She seemed questioning – almost perplexed, about to say something. Then she also moved on.

Mark gathered up his papers, rose to his feet, and wandered out of the meeting room. He strode down a few steps, and then along into the cathedral.

There a solitary person sat, in the middle of the congregational chairs. She was wearing a green blouse and matching half-length skirt. Mark glanced at her, glanced quickly away, and then gave a double take. It was the Governor General! What was she doing here?

Her middle aged face was lifted up, her eyes fixed on the mosaic of Jesus on the cross: her expression surprisingly similar to that of Choo – perplexed, and questioning. Mark hesitated, and then wandered up to her.

“Right Honourable Anita Mayes,” he began, offering a hand to her. “Can I help you?”

She smiled formally at him, rising to her feet. “Bishop Blake,” she said. “Good to meet you.”

“Forgive me if I am intruding.”

“Not an intrusion.”

“Indeed?”

“I am…contemplating a few things.”

Mark politely waited, while she cast her eyes back over the cross and then back to him.

“Please join me,” she finally said, “if time is permitting.” Surprised, he also glanced at the cross, and then back at her.

“Very well,” he said. “I have some time.”

He sat next to her, and now both were facing the cross – side by side looking at it.

“I confess,” Mayes began, “I haven’t been to church in a while.”

“Life can certainly get very busy,” Mark graciously offered.

“I had a few moments, so thought I would seize them.”

“Good idea.”

Now Mark was feeling perplexed: where was this conversation heading?

Mayes became silent for a few moments – and then she spoke again.

“I have some concerns for our country.”

Mark shifted slightly, next to her. “Oh, yes?”

“Will you keep my words confidential?”

Surprised again, Mark glanced at her. It had been a long time since someone had actually confided in him as a priest. He frowned slightly, at his own sudden awkwardness – he took a slight breath, fleetingly closed his eyes to God, and then offered himself.

“Very well,” he said.

Mayes now rose to her feet, shifted herself into the aisle, and began to pace, glancing from time to time at the closed glass doors. Mark also rose to his feet, moving out to the aisle, leaning against a seat: available to hear her as she paced.

“Our country is struggling,” Mayes began. “Crops are failing, food is more scarce, petrol is escalating in cost and diminishing in supply – you know all of this.”

“Yes.”

“Crime is up, and understandably so: there is escalating theft, disputes are leading to violence – the police, now, in some cases are succumbing to violence. I am a lawyer, Bishop Blake, but I’m not sure the Law is enough: I fear the Law is beginning to fail the people.”

Mark stared at her. The Law failing the people? How could she say such a thing?

“The Law is vital,” he said. “It provides safety: it provides the necessary external stop-gate, to stop us when we lose control.”

“I agree with you,” Mayes said, now looking steadfastly at him. “But what happens if the whole country starts to lose control? What happens if the law-keepers start to lose control? What happens if even the law-makers start to lose control?”

Mark swallowed. He looked away from her gaze, and began to wander up the aisle himself, toward the cross.

“We are all, after all,” Mayes voice continued, drifting over him, “only human.”

Now Mark stood at the steps leading to the inner sanctuary. He looked at the face of Christ: there seemed sorrow in his expression – he’d never noticed that before.

Mark felt fear, standing there. Mayes’ words pricked at his usual comforts: the status quo – ‘business as usual.’

“What are you suggesting?” he spoke, into the inner sanctuary.

“I don’t know what to suggest,” Mayes replied, behind him. “That’s why I am here. That’s why I am wondering: what do you suggest, Bishop?”

Pain penetrated his chest. Where did it come from? Why was it there? The Governor General of New Zealand was asking for his guidance – why now? Why now, after all these years? Why now, at the very time when he was least able to give it, after…after…

“I don’t know what to suggest either,” he whispered, staring at Christ – and then he found some strength again for his voice. “We have what we already have. We should use it well.”

He turned back to Mayes.

“I agree we should use our system well,” Mayes said. “My role is to ensure our democracy stands: to ensure, under the authority of our Queen, that our processes are not corrupted.”

“The Queen is the sovereign of the Anglican Church also,” Mark said. “Both Church and Government answer to her.”

“Does not the Church answer to Christ?” Mayes asked, with a wry smile.

“Insofar as the Queen herself answers to Christ,” Mark quickly replied.

“Indeed,” Mayes said. “And that is why I am here. In our constitution, both Queen and Government answer to Christ.”

Mark looked at her. “In word,” he said. “But in action? In reality? That is the question.”

Mayes silently gazed at him. “Each person’s faith is their own affair.”

“I can respect that,” Mark said, “when the scope of one’s faith only influences oneself.”

Mayes smiled slight. “Very good,” she said. “Now you are certainly speaking as a bishop. My decisions could have enormous impact on our entire country.”

Mark held her forthright gaze. What specifically was on her mind?

“I signed a bill two weeks ago,” she said. “I did not want to sign it.”

“The National Lawful Use of Force Bill,” Mark murmured thoughtfully.

“Yes,” Mayes said. “I was wary of the bill – but I was obliged. I signed, and now the bill is an act: now it is law. Do you see what has happened since, Bishop?”

“Yes,” Mark replied quietly. “I see.”

“Escalating violence in the streets. The police, now, have been given the legal power to inflict more force. Two men are dead…”

Now a shadow crossed her face. “I am a lawyer, Bishop,” she said. “Those men were innocent. We have deliberately avoided a death sentence in New Zealand for over forty years – we have maintained a system of due process. And now this new bill, which I signed into law, has thrown due process out of the window.”

Mark had seen the articles: one of the men had been killed by a policeman on Mark’s own hill!

“The police are not villains,” Mayes said. “They are under strain, like the rest of us. We have given them too much power.”

And now her eyes were set upon him.

Mark shifted uneasily under her intensity.

“You have the greater power,” he said. “You are the Governor General: your signature is required for all changes of law. You represent the Queen.”

“I do,” Mayes said. “But my power is limited, Bishop. I am compelled to follow due process: the Queen is compelled to let democracy have its way. Parliament, voted in by the people: Parliament determines the law – Parliament voted this law change in. The Queen tips her hat: the Governor General upholds the true democratic process. Democracy decided, Bishop: but democracy made the wrong decision.”

Now Mark suddenly realized why she was there. He flushed, and turned slightly away.

“You know who holds the real power in this country, Bishop,” the Governor General’s voice said.

“The Prime Minister,” Mark replied, staring at a hanging on the wall: at Christ, and his disciples handing out bread and fish.

“Is it not the Priest’s role to inform the Head of State?”

The next hanging was Christ, before Pontius Pilate.

“To inform?” Mark asked under his breath. “Or to be crucified?”

“You know James Connor,” Mayes said. “You both went to school together.”

“Oh, yes,” Mark said, and laughed, turning to her. Shrewd! She had done her homework! “I know James Connor all right! But tell me, Governor General – just what message are you asking the Bishop of Wellington to bring to the Prime Minister of New Zealand?”

Now her face flushed, and Mark saw it, and was satisfied. His own actions were his alone – it was inappropriate for her to manipulate the pieces as in a chess game: even if it was due process!

“You misunderstand me,” Mayes said. “I am not putting words in your mouth. I am imploring you, Bishop: for God’s sake, stop James Connor before it is too late.”

Mark stared at her. Tears pricked his eyes. In that moment, he was with her: in that moment, he suddenly saw what he had failed to see for so long. The great threat to the essence of freedom: dictatorial takeover. A rising Caesar…

Your faith is filling you with gushy sentiment,” James had said. “Democracy is for the rich.”

“Talk to him,” Mayes implored him.

Democracy is to enhance the rich to lift up the poor,” Mark had replied.

“Talk to him,” Mayes said.

“All right,” Mark said, “I’ll talk to him.”

 

It had been a long time since Mark had ventured into the Beehive. He stood next to security, pulling out his wallet, taking off his belt – surrendering them to be X-rayed. Something beeped in his pocket, as he walked through the machine: darned keys! He obediently lifted up his arms to a guard, who passed a scanner down both of his sides, lingering on his pocket.

“What’s in here, sir?”

He removed the keys, and the guard was appeased.

“Have a good day, sir.”

“Thank you,” he replied – and moved left through the glass doors.

There he paused briefly at the reception desk, informing the lady that he was expected. She made a quick call, and then nodded him on up the curving stairs to the reception hall: the long windows looking out to the Parliament grounds and St Peter’s, off to the left.

There Connor was waiting for him.

“Mark!” he said, stretching out his hand, and Mark received its enthusiastic shake. “It’s been too long!”

“Too long indeed,” Mark muttered wryly. “Good to see you, Jim.”

“Good to see you, too!” James said. “The Bishop of Wellington himself: fancy that! Come – we’ll have lunch in the staff cafeteria.”

And Mark followed him around the round circumference of the hall, into the small lift, and up.

 

The cafeteria was virtually empty. Surprised, Mark glanced around the empty chairs and tables.

“The Government running out of food too?” he asked, and Jim grinned.

“Don’t you worry about that. What’ll you have?”

“Ah…just standard coffee’s fine.”

“Not cappuccino?”

“If you’re having it.”

“Cappuccino it is, then!” And he ordered two cups, and sat down.

Mark cast his eyes over James’ face. He had aged, certainly – greying, amidst the brown hair. A bit of a middle-aged spread, despite the food shortages. Suit pants, light business shirt with sleeves still buttoned, blue tie loosened a little. In all senses, very average looking.

“How’s Pam?” Mark asked, and James smiled.

“Good as ever. The garden’s a bit more of a challenge for her.”

“And Rachel?”

“Working hard, at North-East Hospital.”

Mark braced himself, and in came the obligatory questions.

“How’s Selena?”

Mark shrugged. “Doing all right, I think.”

“At Grammar?”

“No,” Mark said, shifting uncomfortably. “She wanted to go to Hutt High.”

James eyebrows shot up. “How’s she doing there?”

“Top of the class. I’m sure she’s bored, but she has to sleep in the bed she made for herself.”

James was smiling – and then he tilted his head.

“I saw Tristan.”

Now Mark swallowed. Connor had seen his son? How? Mark had lost touch with him for years.

“Where?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

James’ expression looked a little puzzled. “You don’t know?” he said. “He retired from Army service.”

Mark stared at him. Army service? How long…? He could have been killed! When did he…?

“What?” he said, resisting hard the impulse to shoot to his feet.

“Mark, you don’t know?” James said. “He was in the Army for five years. Part of our Peacekeeping force, in the Middle East. He told me face to face of the atrocities there – the escalating conflict, and how close the rebels came to securing a nuke…”

Mark’s whole body went cold. His son, in the midst of a potential third world war?

“So he’s back?” His voice sounded muted to his own ears.

“Yes, he’s back.”

“Where?”

James looked perplexed. “I don’t know, Mark – he’s not my son.”

The pain was back: deep, in his chest – all-consuming. Where was Tristan? Was he safe? Was New Zealand even safe anymore? Was anywhere safe?

Somehow the thought stirred him again into his original purpose.

“James,” he began, and James looked at him.

“Yes?”

“What do you think about everything that’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Jim: New Zealand! Everything is changing. We’re not like this – little old New Zealand, friendly country, beautiful, great get away: that’s who we really are. Self-sufficient. What’s gone wrong?”

James held his gaze, glanced away, and then returned.

“Mark, the world’s going to pot. Capitalism isn’t working for the States – they’re deep in the New Depression. Communism gives me the Heebie-jeebies. Religious conflict, too – check out the Middle East: that might be the end of us all. What’s the solution?”

“Well,” Mark began, “what about getting back to the basics?”

“The basics?” James said, with a laugh. “Here are the basics: there is no food. There is no petrol. Our economy is being turned on its head. The threat? That we return to the Middle Ages: isolated tribal conflicts. Warring, across our nation. Is that what you want? We must maintain centralized control.”

Mark stared at him, and frowned. The Middle Ages were a time of faith…

“Centralized leadership, yes,” Mark said, “to serve the country’s interests. To cultivate harmony…”

“You haven’t changed,” James said. “Still the idealist! Hold onto that.”

Mark flushed, and persevered. “Centralized control only makes sense if it serves the interests of the country.”

Now James paused for a moment, and then continued. “We must maintain unity.”

“Unity through freedom.”

“Sometimes freedom is a luxury we can’t afford.”

“James!” Now Mark rose to his feet, in dismay.

James stared up at him. “Sit down, Mark,” he said quietly, but Mark remained standing.

“Jim, you’re starting to sound like a dictator.”

James’ expression did not change. “The Prime Minister is charged with the responsibility to ensure the security of the nation.”

“The Prime Minister is voted in by the people: is chosen by the people.”

“Once every three years.”

“The PM serves the people, Jim: not the other way around!”

“Sit down…”

“If you’re losing sight of that, maybe you should resign!”

“Sit down, Mark – now!” James exploded, thrusting himself out of his seat.

Mark stared into his face: flushed and angry. Had Connor unwittingly become a tyrant? Had he really?

“Everything I do is to serve the interests of New Zealand,” James said. “How dare you imply otherwise?!”

Mark frowned, remaining on his feet. “Taking greater control always looks bad,” he said quietly. “You’re a politician – you know that.”

“I do know that, Mark, but does that prove guilt?” At this Mark smiled sadly, as Connor continued.

“The people on the street have no idea of the bigger picture out there,” he said. “The powers that be are organising, Mark – internationally, they are organising! Even Clarkson refuses to see what is in front of his face: he is too consumed by his increasingly communistic ideals. The international scene is ripe for complete conquest: do you not see it? The Government has the most accurate Intel. If we don’t remain united, we will fall – and all the nations with us.”

“Fall to what?” Mark asked.

“To global totalitarian rule.”

At this Mark swallowed, and sat back down, and James also sat.

“Do you actually have evidence for this?” Mark asked. “Or is it only your deepest fear talking?”

“I have evidence,” James said. “They are hidden, but poised. They have food. They have petrol. They are listening to us – but they don’t know yet that we are also listening to them. Our only defence is true self-sufficiency: and we can’t maintain that unless we remain a cohesive whole! Our country must not fragment or we will be assimilated, as surely as a tsunami sweeps up everything in its path.”

Mark grimaced. He considered James’ words. And then he spoke.

“James, I have known you since high school,” he said. “We have debated, we have argued – we’ve even had the odd punch up. I can see you’re genuinely concerned for New Zealand, and you’re trying to protect us all.

“You have some kind of faith, behind what you are doing, don’t you? Some kind of driving morality behind your actions?

“I say this to you now: for Christ’s sake, in all your efforts to save us, don’t become the very thing you fear most – don’t succumb to becoming a Hitler.”

James’s eyes were on him. He heard him. With gratification, Mark saw it: he was actually listening.

“I don’t want to become a Hitler,” James said. “But what if the future of New Zealand requires it?”

Mark stared at him, disturbed. Did the end justify the means? Surely not! Surely not…

“What is a future built on control,” he replied quietly, “but the worst kind of imprisonment?”

“I don’t have the answers for that,” James said. “I’m a politician – you’re the priest.”

James rose to his feet, smiled slightly, and bowed his head to him.

“It’s been good to see you again, Mark,” he said. “Stay in touch.”

Mark nodded, rising to his feet – shaking his hand again. But there, in the Beehive, as he sat back down in the deserted cafeteria, he had a sense of dark foreboding.

 

[]CHAPTER ELEVEN: Darkness

Selena sat on her bed.

Her room was dark – silent: empty. She leaned heavily sideways against the headboard of her bed, and stared out of her small window. There was light out there, somehow – early summer evening light, in the sky over Lower Hutt – but no light inside.

Books lay on her desk, abandoned – useless. They couldn’t help her – nothing could help her.

Inside her, something stirred – something deep: something horrible. It gripped her – it gnawed at her.

Go, it said.

“No,” she whispered, gripping onto her duvet.

Do it.

“No,” she repeated – and then, suddenly, it took her: a flame, sweeping through her body – decimating her soul.

She rushed out of her room, into the bathroom – she pored over the toilet, retching.

Why bother protecting him? The voice now pounded in her ears. He never protected you!

“Leave me alone!” she gasped. “Go away!”

Her stomach heaved – and now there was blood. Horrified, she began to shake, and it pressed closer.

You chose me, it said. You chose me!

Selena clung to the toilet, and began to sob. “God!” she cried, “God!”

God? It laughed. Why would a god bother to save a wretch like you?

Her head was spinning – she tightly closed her eyes. God? What did she know about God? Old music, old clothes, fancy words – so far away! So far, as to be pointless! So far, as to be impossible…

Her father…she still loved him! She still loved him, but he was so far away! So far away…

What’s the use of his love? The voice said, penetrating her. Impotent father! Does he care for you? No! Only for his wife! Only his wife.

Selena wrapped her arms around herself, and began to tremble.

She is lost, and he discards you like shit!

Selena tried to cover her ears, but the voice became louder.

Show him what he has done.

She stared into the toilet – at the blood.

“He doesn’t know,” she whispered.

Show him.

Show him? Tears filled her eyes – no more innocence! No more childhood! Only hatred! Enemies! Enemies…

Bring him to our side.

A cold calm now came over her body. To her side, yes: no more God – no more religion.

She reached for the toilet paper, and cleaned herself. She rose to her feet. There was no going back, now – no going back.

She had already chosen her own fate.

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWELVE: The Tide

Mark sat back on his couch.

The evening was still light outside. Sparrows were chirping. A few clouds hovered over Lower Hutt, beyond the windows, and the Harbour was quite still.

He put his feet up, and closed his eyes momentarily. Selena was in her room, no doubt studying. They had eaten dinner quietly together. Now was the time to finally, finally relax.

Mark reached at once for the remote, the paper, and his cup of tea.

The News was on Channel One. Fleetingly Mark glanced at it, and then at the paper in his hands: more bad news of attacks in the streets – this time two more in Lower Hutt, and five in Upper Hutt, not to mention the nine in the city centre.

“Crazy,” Mark muttered to himself.

“…and in Kaitaia,” the woman’s voice drifted over him, from the TV, “a different kind of story. Campers had all their Christmases come at once, when they awoke last Sunday to a feast. A mysterious man invited all the campers of Kaitaia Kauri Camping Ground to indulge in brunch: many there had not eaten so well in years.”

Mark glanced up at the TV, to see an old man in a singlet with a grey beard sidling up to the young reporter.

“Best grog I’ve ever tasted!” he said. “And it didn’t even make me drunk! That’s saying something…”

“The news,” Mark grumbled to himself. “Where’s the decent reporting these days?”

“Not to mention the biggest snapper we’ve ever seen,” a young man said into the microphone, “right, Reverend Rau?”

Now a Maori minister was stepping rather reluctantly into view. Mark frowned. He recognised him: Reverend Rau Petera! Mark never forgot a face. He had met him at the national AGM.

“What is this?” Mark muttered. “Some kind of church initiative up north?”

“Not my doing,” Rau said directly to the audience. “The man beat my record.”

“Sure did,” the young man said, and Mark rolled his eyes.

“But who is this man?” The reporter asked, and now the young man was looking straight into the camera – as if looking straight at Mark.

“I don’t know,” he said, smirking slightly. “God knows we need help: maybe he’s the Messiah!”

Mark stared at him – and promptly dropped his cup.

“My God,” he whispered, rising to his feet, “Tristan!”

Vaguely he heard the cup shatter on the floor as he rose to his feet and went to the TV screen. Tristan! He was a man! How old would he be now: twenty-six? Yes – twenty-six.

Mark dropped the paper, and hastily reached around for a pen and paper. Where? Where…Kaitaia! He was in Kaitaia – in the campground. Which one? Kauri Campground.

He grabbed the laptop, sitting on the table, and dragged it open – searched for the campground, found the number, grabbed his cell-phone, went to call…

His phone was dead.

“Damn!” he said. He reached for the charger, watched the TV – made a mental note to find Rau Petera’s cell-phone number. Selena had emerged. Mark could hear her rummaging in the kitchen.

“There was steak, and bread, and cheese,” Tristan continued happily to the reporter.

“But where is the man?” The reporter asked, turning back to Rau.

Rau hesitated. He glanced around the campground. And then he spoke.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He has a habit of suddenly disappearing.”

Now the reporter looked directly at the camera.

“And so,” she said, “mystery man, or guardian angel? Either way, the people of Kaitaia Kauri Campground are feeling pretty good partying tonight. Think I’ll try some of that steak! Ka kite ano!”

“Thanks, Julia,” the anchor woman said, though the article was actually a few days old. “Ka kite.”

“What a load of crap.” It was Selena’s voice, from behind him. Mark was still staring at the screen.

“Well,” he muttered. “Reporting’s not what it used to be.”

“Not the reporting!” Selena said. “A guardian angel! Like shit!”

Like shit? Mark turned to her. “Young lady, we don’t…”

But her expression stopped him cold.

Her face was white. There were dark shadows around her eyes. The eyes themselves almost seemed a different colour from her usual blue – darker, almost black, as though…

Mark stared at her. “What happened to you?”

“Like you care.”

“I’m asking you a question.”

“And I’m not answering it.”

Mark cast his eyes over her – and then spotted something new on her hand: a tattoo.

He grasped her arm, and looked at it. It was the symbol of an eye, and the number 666.

“Shit!” he said, staring at her. “That’s not funny, Selena!”

“Who’s laughing?” she rasped.

“Quit it with the demonic act! What is it with you? You’re a good girl!”

“See where that got me!”

“What do you mean?”

Her eyes were fixed on his, now: empty – her soul chilling him, a pit of darkness.

“My God,” he whispered. “What I have done?”

“Bugger all,” she said. “You’ve done bugger all.”

“It’s that Alex, isn’t it?” he cried. “That damned boy in the car-park.”

“And why not?” she asked. “It sure as hell was never going to be you.”

Mark stared at her, dismayed – and then mechanically let go of her arm.

“What have you done?” he asked, forcefully controlling the shaking of his body: his tone unnaturally calm.

“You know what I’ve done.”

His vision blurred. Suddenly sweating, he swayed – and then struggled to emerge again, as if through choking smoke.

“You know what I’ve done.”

Her voice was hard: set. Her hand came onto his shoulder – and now, suddenly, a creeping, drowning presence was upon him.

“Get away from me!” he cried, seizing his body away. Desperately he grasped for the cross hanging around his neck: his bishop’s cross. “Get away from me.”

Selena laughed. “Christ?” she said. “You are grasping to Christ now? You haven’t trusted in him for years!”

Mark stared at her – and shook his head, as if from a daze.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh yes I do.”

“I have more faith than you think.”

“No you don’t.”

“More than you think!”

“No. Not since her.” And she pointed.

Mark followed her point – to the photo of Teresa, and young Tristan, and young Selena herself. Pain engulfed him.

“Don’t,” he whispered, knowing what she sought: knowing what she was about to unleash – the very thing he had fled for nine years. “Don’t.”

But she did not obey his plea.

“You killed her,” she said. “You killed her.”

His body stiffened – at first numb at the words.

“It was an accident,” he said mechanically. “An accident.”

“You were at the wheel.”

The tsunami of his heart was threatening to break, now: so close! So very close…

“It wasn’t my fault!” he pleaded, his voice fading. “The brakes failed!”

“You were speeding.”

“A hundred and ten!”

“A hundred and twenty-four.”

The image was in front of his eyes, now – the image he had fled for nine years. 124 kilometres per hour, and then the car suddenly spun out of control…

“How the hell do you know that?” he whispered. “How do you know?”

“You were reckless, and you killed her.”

The tsunami reared up – and now it crashed, within his heart, sweeping all his defences away.

He cried out – and now his nails were pressing sharp into his palms, hurting his palms, while Selena’s torturous words continued.

“You’re a shell of a man,” she said, “denying for so long your own responsibility! Hiding away! Forcing your children away! You stole their mother from them! You stole her away!”

“Shut up!” he cried out, shoving her back one step. “You’re not my daughter! Get the hell away!”

“You’re weak!” she continued. “Insipid! Full of deceit! You love the show, with your flowing robes: pretending to follow your God.”

Pretence? Was it all pretence? Agony consumed him, but somehow, somehow, he could still see: her words, so full of painful reality, were not actually fully true.

“You’re wrong,” he whispered. “I don’t like the show. I don’t like deceit. I follow because I still believe.”

“You may still believe,” she said, “but you no longer trust. Was it you who destroyed our family, or was it God?”

And now the most hidden part of him, the most concealed response, was unleashed.

“God!” he cried out. “God! How could you take my wife?”

“How dare he?” Selena said.

“How could you?” Mark cried out, clenching his fists. “How could you? For faithfulness you give a curse! A curse!”

He was a bishop! A bishop!

Hatred swelled in his heart. It frightened him: hatred for God? What kind of slippery slope was that? And yet it beckoned him. Selena’s face was before him – her dark eyes, fixed on him.

“He betrayed you,” she said, and Mark desperately, desperately fought the tide.

“No,” he said.

“You gave your life to him in service, and he betrayed you.”

“No!” he cried. She couldn’t say that! It couldn’t be true! “No.”

“He has abandoned you, Mark Blake – as surely as you have abandoned your own children.”

Her words were knives to his heart – and yet, in that moment, he could not deny them.

“No…” he whispered. But he felt himself suddenly, thoroughly, defeated.

Selena knew it: Mark could see it in her face. She had an eerie aura of satisfaction about her. She straightened, turned, and walked away. And he was alone.

In agony he slumped onto the floor. Just out of his reach was his cell-phone. The campground was written, there, on the table. Tristan! Tristan…

“Help,” he pleaded, into the air.

Every man needs a minister. The words returned to him. A minister? A minister? But who? Eun Ae Choo’s face appeared before him. Eun? Yes – yes, it could be her. She could help! She could understand.

He fumbled his way back to his cell-phone – there was some charge? He could call her! He went to dial, but then his eyes fell again on the photo of Teresa.

Agony had its way.

It’s your fault! A voice said inside his head. You killed her! And God stood back and let you do it.

“No!” he cried, and he threw his cell-phone to the ground, smashing it to pieces. “No!”

The cross was still around his neck. He dragged it off, and stared at it for a moment. What did it mean? What did it even mean? Nothing! Nothing, anymore. He threw it to the ground, after the cell-phone.

All that was left now was his wife.

In pain, Mark reached for the photo, in its frame, and enfolded it in his arms. He sank down against the wall, to the ground. He closed his eyes. And now he began to cry.

“Teresa!” he sobbed, desperately returning, in his mind, to a time past. “Teresa! I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry.”

And he pleaded with her, in his heart, for forgiveness, and forgiveness never came: and he was locked, in the past, without resolution – without reprieve.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, weeping. And night time fell, but no rest came.

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Whangarei

Tristan stood under a kauri tree.

They were in Coronation Reserve. It was February, now – damned hot. He was sweating again. What’s more, they were edging closer to Auckland, and Tristan still was keen to avoid the big city. The Army! The past. Quite frankly, he could do without it.

In front of him was a view of the city of Whangarei – a nice small city, scattered houses, with the harbour beyond. Bush surrounded him and sheltered him a little from the mid-day heat – but the air was stuffy.

In front of him, Rau was arguing. Tristan was intrigued, watching him. Who was that other guy: some kind of Maori activist? He had joined them, in Kaitaia – Tane, that’s right: that was his name. Tattoos face and arms, probably over chest as well: a solid man. Not to be messed with: at least not if you were not army trained.

“He’s the one!” Tane now said to Rau. “Descended from Potatau Te Wherowhero, and descended from King Henry the Seventh.”

“Tane,” Rau replied, in that familiar gentle but directly challenging tone, “you say this from Tainui, here in Whangarei? That Joshua is descended from the first Maori king of Waikato? Why should this bring joy to the ears of Ngapuhi? In this very place the northern tribes defended against the southern tribes.”

Tristan stared at him. What was he talking about? Maori wars, before the British came? Who cared?

“You are not understanding me, Reverend Rau,” Tane replied, with some sarcasm in his voice. “The issue is much bigger than our petty tribal fighting. This one man can finally unite Pakeha and Maori! He is descended from both sovereign lines! Maori and Pakeha!”

What was he on about? Some weird mixed blood leader? Tristan almost laughed: Joshua hardly presented this way.

Rau was grimacing. “You are saying he is a king.”

“Is he not?”

“A king – from up north?” Rau questioned. “A King of Kaitaia, perhaps. We already have a Queen of the Commonwealth.”

“I have no interest in a King of Kaitaia,” Tane replied, “I only have an interest in the Treaty of Waitangi. I only have an interest in our land, and our people. Te Wherowhero desired peace and justice!”

“That was a long time ago.”

“So was the Treaty!”

“Joshua has no desire for power.”

“Love, law and faith – these were the words of Te Wherowhero, Kaumatua. Don’t you see it? Don’t you see that Joshua is the same?”

Rau was frowning – and then his eyes found Tristan.

“Let me guess,” Tristan said, low enough for Rau alone to hear, “he thinks Joshua is this Te Whero guy back from the dead.”

Rau grimaced at him, and Tristan grimaced back – then he left them both, and wandered further along the track past some tall reaching Kauri.

Another man was there – European. He was wearing grey suit trousers with a blue business shirt, the sleeves still buttoned at the wrists. He shifted with the heat, and Tristan joined him.

“Wicked day.”

“Yeah,” the man said.

“You live here?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Ah…it’s a long story.”

The man stretched out his arms, and yawned. Tristan couldn’t help himself: he had to ask.

“What are you doing wearing a suit in a park, in the middle of one of our hottest days?”

“I’m working,” the man replied.

“Here?”

“No! Down Central Ave.” He gestured down toward the city. “This is my lunch-break.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m an optical engineer.” He seemed a little deflated.

“Tristan Blake,” Tristan said, reaching out a hand to him. “Nice to meet you.”

“John Robertson,” the man replied. “Nice to meet you too.”

Tristan thought that would be the end of it. John was gazing out across the houses, to the water of the harbour, and Tristan shifted to move on – but then, suddenly, Joshua was there.

“There must be something more to life than this.”

Surprised, Tristan looked at him – but Joshua was talking to John. The stranger looked astonished – his tired green eyes looked over Joshua, his jeans, and now blue T-shirt. John looked about the same age as Joshua: maybe mid-thirties.

“Sorry?” John asked.

Now Joshua was looking out to the hills, lifting his face to the sun.

“Life,” he said. “There must be something more to it.”

“Yeah,” John said. “That’s just what I was thinking.”

Joshua stretched his hand out to him. “I’m Joshua.”

John reached for the hand – but then, suddenly, on taking the hand, something happened. John stiffened for a moment, staring at Joshua. Tristan looked back to Joshua, to his intent gaze – the eyes, fixed on John, revealed nothing to Tristan.

John was shivering – in the heat. He held Joshua’s gaze. Then Joshua released his hand – and John seemed to breathe normally again.

“So it is true,” John said. “What that Maori man was talking about.”

“True?” Joshua said, smiling slightly. “What is ‘truth’?”

“Amen to that,” Tristan muttered, but John was frowning.

“It is true,” he repeated, and Joshua glanced at Tristan. He bowed his head, to Tristan, and to John, and then moved away.

John was frowning after him, and Tristan laughed.

“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “He’s really weird at times, but I’m certain he has a good heart.”

Now John’s eyes came to him. He looked in a slight daze, but now shook his head.

“You don’t see him…?”

“See him? What do you mean?”

“I…I’ve never experienced this before…”

Tristan searched him, now feeling a little worried. What had Joshua done to him?

“You look like you need a proper minister,” he said to him. “There.” And now he pointed out Rau. “That one, on the left: he’s a good guy. Go and talk to him.”

“Him?”

“He’s an Anglican priest: Rev Rau Petera. Talk to him. I have a feeling he’ll understand.”

John followed his direction, wandering back down the track – Tristan watched him, shaking his head. That Joshua! He must have given him some kind of psychic thing, like he had done about Tristan’s mother. Spooky! Weird. Rau would handle it.

Sure enough, Rau stretched out his hand.

“Kia ora,” he said.

“Yeah, hi.” John shook his hand.

“Kia ora,” Tane said.

“Hello.” John looked a little awkward with Tane.

“How can I help you?” Rau asked gently.

John seemed to be hesitating. And then he spoke to Tane.

“Joshua,” he began. “You said he is a king. You’re right.”

Rau stared at him, now, while Tane broke into a wide smile.

“What are you saying?” Rau asked.

“I…” John seemed to be struggling to spit the words out. “I just know it. It doesn’t make any sense! But I know it.”

Rau’s brown eyes, gentle and curious, searched John’s face. “Brother,” he said, “did Joshua himself show you this?”

“Yes.”

“Then…maybe you should hang about with us for a while.”

John frowned. “Take time off work?”

“Hard, is it?” Rau asked.

“Well…kind of. I own my own business.”

“Time for a break, then?”

John stared at him. He glanced back at Tristan. He searched for Joshua, and found him.

“I…I’ll need to sort some things out.”

“We’ll be here for another few days, that’s all.”

“Okay,” John said, suddenly nodding. “Okay.”

And he suddenly set off, back down the track, toward the city.

Tristan now wandered up to Rau.

“What was that about?”

Rau seemed a little perplexed. “I’m not sure.”

“Joshua is the king,” Tane said, smiling widely. “It is as I suspected: our true leader has come. I will spread the news amongst the Iwi.”

“What?” Rau asked. “Wait a minute: I don’t think you’ve got it quite right…”

But now Tane was setting off down the same path, after John.

Tristan laughed again. “Mad!” he said. “You’re all mad! But it’s all very entertaining, and that Joshua: he’s a hard man to pin down!”

Rau’s face looked about the most confused Tristan had yet seen it – and then Rau’s cell-phone rang.

Tristan watched as he pulled it out of his pocket. “Oooh,” he said. “So you have got some toys up your sleeve.”

Rau answered his phone, and then his gaze fixed on Tristan: a strange mixture of amusement and concern.

“It’s your father,” he said.

Tristan stared at him. His blood went cold. “What?” he said.

“It’s your father,” Rau repeated gently.

Tristan longed to push the phone away – but he couldn’t avoid Rau’s offering. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the phone, turned his back on Rau, and answered.

“Hello?”

“Tristan?” It was his father’s voice.

Tristan swallowed hard. He turned to stare out at the view: to try to focus far away.

“Dad?” he choked.

“Where are you?”

“Whangarei…”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m…” Tristan shook his head in irony. “It’s hard to explain. I’m just hanging out for a while.”

“Can I meet you?”

“Meet?”

“Yes. Can I meet you, Tristan? I can come to you.”

“I…I’m not sure where we’ll be…”

“We?”

“I…I’m hanging out with some mates.”

“You don’t mean that guy from Kaitaia, do you? The one on the news?”

So – he had seen him. He had heard his throw away comment, made for him: the one about the Messiah.

“Umm…” Tristan stuttered, and then he pulled himself together. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m hanging out with them for a while.”

His father was silent, on the other end of the phone. For a moment Tristan thought he had cut out. Then he spoke again.

“I’ll find you, Tristan,” he said. “I’ll come and meet with you. Is that okay?”

Tristan hesitated. Was it okay? No way! And yet, part of him wanted it. Part of him needed it.

“Okay,” he said – and then his father was gone.

Rau’s eyes were on him: warm, and concerned – just like a minister.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tristan automatically replied. “Okay.”

But now the sweat was dripping from his face.

 

[]CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Prism

John ducked under some pohutukawa trees. He moved quickly down the track, away from Coronation Reserve, and then onto the road below.

What had just happened to him? What had just happened?

His heart was pounding hard. He groped around himself, for something to hold onto, but couldn’t find anything: only the open space – open air, and streets ahead of him, to criss-cross on the way back to Central Avenue.

Joshua…His eyes were before him again: brown eyes, but that didn’t matter. Behind the eyes was an ocean, somehow – vast, stretching John’s mind: so big! Like…like glimpsing the entire Universe in one moment. Too much! Drowning! And yet…utterly wonderful. Overwhelming, and…and wholly alien.

John shuddered. In that one moment, everything had changed. In that one moment his mind had felt turned inside out.

“Wait!” a voice cried out behind him. “Where are you going?”

John stared out ahead of himself, mechanically following the same route he had followed so many times before, back to work.

“Wait!”

A strong hand was on his shoulder. He halted, and the Maori man was there again: the big one, with the tattoos.

“Kei te pehea koe?”

“Sorry?”

“How are you?”

John swayed a little, on his feet. “What?” he gasped. “Oh…I’m all right…”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to work.”

“How can you go back to work?” The man asked. “You’ve just found our king!”

John stared at him. “Our king?” he whispered. “I have no idea what that means.”

The Maori face furrowed, as if in disappointment. “Never mind,” he said. “I’m spreading the good news! At last, the true King of Aotearoa! A new age is coming! Let’s see what those reporters do with this!”

And he passed John, and disappeared amidst the streets of Whangarei.

Sweat started to drip into John’s eyes. His trousers were clinging to his wet legs. Wearily he weaved his way through the streets, and finally found his office again, on Central Ave.

Reaching for his keys, he unlocked the door, moved to his desk, turned the fan back on, and sat.

In front of him were prisms, and lenses. He had developed a new kind of lens: thinner than the traditional plastic, and lighter – cheaper, too. Business had really started to pick up, until global warming had started to take a greater hold. Now materials were scant – it was expensive to bring them in from overseas. John was beginning to explore local solutions: alternatives to plastic, with refractive properties – perhaps even a new form of shatter-proof glass…

“You help people to see again.”

John started, and looked up. It was the other Maori man – the one with the gentle eyes.

“My name is Rau Petera,” he said, extending out his hand again.

“I know,” John said, before he could stop himself: accepting his hand, rising again to his feet. “That other man Tristan told me: you are a priest.”

Rau smiled, nodding. “Very pleased to meet you, Mr …”

“John,” he said quickly. “John Robertson, but just call me John.”

“John.” Rau’s expression looked thoughtful.

John searched his face. What was he doing here? Had he followed him? He must have followed…

“I…” Rau looked like he was trying to find the right words. “I found what you had to say very interesting, up in Coronation Reserve.”

John shifted a little awkwardly on his feet.

“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry about that.”

“Sorry?” Rau asked. “Why?”

“Well, for butting in…”

“No need to apologise.”

“It’s just…”

“Yes?”

The brown eyes were upon him. John almost felt he was being tested, in that moment. His awkwardness escalated. Should he speak? Should he share what was suddenly burning in his heart?

“I don’t understand it,” John said, “but…there’s something about him. Something unusual.”

“No argument there,” Rau said, suddenly grinning. “‘Unusual,’ ae.”

“No, it’s more than that.”

“More?”

Again, the eyes were upon him. John swallowed. He sat back down at his desk. He lifted a prism.

Suddenly inspired, John raised the prism into the yellow sunlight streaming through his window.

“Look,” he said.

Rau moved, to stand on John’s side of the desk – as John held the prism to the light, with a blank white page behind it. The light shone through the prism, and then dispersed: into all the colours of the rainbow.

“It’s like…” John struggled to spit the words out again. “It’s like Joshua is the prism.”

Rau was still, beside him: silent. John quickly looked at him – what was he thinking? But the face was still warm.

“Very good,” Rau said, and John shrugged.

“Not really,” he said.

“Why do you say that?”

“I really have no idea what I’m talking about.”

“I think that’s what makes it so good.”

The brown eyes were dancing, in that moment. John found himself smiling, and then he shook himself and returned to his prisms.

“What will you do now, John?” Rau’s voice asked.

John’s hands began to tremble, as he reached for his other lens designs.

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

Rau reached over his hands, to take up one of the prisms.

“You say Joshua is like one of these?”

“Yes.”

“Haven’t you been trying to focus light all your life?”

John swallowed. He knew what Rau was trying to do: he wasn’t sure he could follow.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “This office is my life.”

“I can see that,” Rau said.

“I can’t just up and leave.”

“But how can you stay, now?” Rau asked. “Finding a real life prism?”

“He…” John struggled again: why was it so hard to say the words? It wasn’t that it was hard to speak: it was that the perceptions were so very indescribable…

“He makes me feel tossed! Like a boat on a massive wave – I have no idea where I’m going! No idea whether I might be crashed on the rocks…”

“Lost,” Rau murmured, and John quickly nodded.

“Yes! I thought I had my life sorted, and now it’s all up in the air again! Lost!”

“I get you,” Rau said, his face changing again into that same thoughtful expression. “I was the same, but now…”

“Yes?”

“Now, suddenly, I’m starting to feel found.”

John searched him – a strange growing certainty in his eyes.

“What do you mean?” he asked, and Rau broke suddenly into a wide grin.

“I’m starting to get it.”

“Get what?”

“Him.” Rau’s face was radiant now. “I’m starting to get him!”

John could not understand him, and was worried, for a moment, that Rau might break into some kind of Maori karakia. Instead Rau leaned over to him.

“What about you?” he said. “Don’t you want to get him, too?”

The ocean behind the brown eyes of Joshua was before him again. What did it mean? Huge! Alien. Should he run? Should he stay away? And yet, such colour! Like light, dispersed: all the spectrum of life. Such compelling light…

He looked down at the papers on his desk.

There must be something more to life than this. Joshua had spoken his very thoughts. But to follow meant to shut the door of his business: to shut the door on his life! To follow meant to risk everything.

“If you don’t do this,” Rau said, “you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

John trembled before him. “It’s easy for you,” he replied. “You are a man of faith. I’m not.”

“He is beckoning you: can’t you see it? He is inviting you.”

“I know,” John said, “but I don’t know the man! I don’t know him, and you’re asking me to give up everything.”

“I’m asking you to gain everything, John! To gain everything, sometimes you have to first let go of what you already have.”

John rose to his feet. He wandered around the walls of his office – he began to pace.

“A sudden shutting of the doors can spell death to a business!” he said. “I’ve built this place up for fourteen years!”

“I know it’s a big ask.”

“What did you give up, to be here?”

Now Rau shifted slightly. “Okay,” he said. “You’re right – it’s easier for me right now than it is for you. But just wait, until my Vicar starts asking more questions. Why the extended leave? Why the sudden Sabbatical? Wait until she has to talk it over with the Bishop…”

“What then?” John asked. “Will you also need to give up what you already have?”

Rau looked at him. Now he swallowed. John was grateful to see some human frailty in his eyes – some doubt.

“My fathers have been priests for generations,” he said, “ever since Samuel Marsden first preached the Gospel to the Maori, on the coast near Kerikeri, in 1814.”

“That’s quite a legacy.”

“My father lived just long enough to see my ordination.”

“I guess you don’t want to lose all of that, do you? Your family’s reputation?”

“Mana…” Rau’s face clouded. “My whanau’s mana…”

John fixed his eyes on him, now: now the test was suddenly unexpectedly reversed.

“Would you be willing to give all that up?” he asked. “If that’s what it took to follow Joshua?”

Rau frowned. “Would I give it up?” he pondered. “I suppose if God required it…”

John was impressed by the sudden resolution in his eyes. “I would give up mana for God,” Rau said. “I would choose a new path, different from the old, if God required it.”

John nodded, beginning to understand him. “Then you are faithful to the God you believe in, Reverend Rau,” he said, “but I don’t share in your faith. My parents went to church at Christmas and Easter, that’s all. We never spoke of God. Why would I suddenly risk everything to follow this Joshua?”

Rau’s eyes studied him – they searched him, and John purposefully held the gaze. Then Rau smiled.

“Because there’s more to life than this.” And he gestured around the office.

John stared at Rau. He glanced around his office. He heard the words: his own words, Joshua’s words, and now Rau’s words. He agreed with them.

“All right,” he finally succumbed. “I’ll come with you.”

What was he doing? Shut up his business: what was he thinking?

“Come now,” Rau said, his smile widening, “before you change your mind.”

“I’ll come now.”

And John gathered up his papers tidily into a drawer, turned off the light, grabbed his keys, and moved to the door.

 

[]CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Wenderholm

Tristan wandered across sand. The beach was beautiful: much smaller than Ninety Mile, but more hidden away. The ocean sparkled in the sun. To his left, up ahead, there was an opening into an estuary, which led to the Puhoi River. Tristan saw a few people kayaking, approaching the entry and splashing themselves in water.

It was Wenderholm.

Tristan climbed the grassy hill, abutting the beach, and stood at the top.

In front of him was grassland, stretching out to both sides, and behind this was the river. In the distance, to the left, tents were set up. Barbeque sites were scattered across the park. They were only thirty minutes’ drive, now, from the North Shore of Auckland.

A large crowd of people were gathered together on the grassland. Tristan looked at them, and then beyond again. The river was tidal! Now days, surely, this whole area would flood with high tide. Curiously, the grass was green – it still seemed to survive.

Joshua was down there, in the middle of the crowd. Some of the people seemed to cling to his elbow – some looked scared, and he seemed to take their fear away. Maori, European, Pacific Islander, Asian, Indian – all were there.

Tristan still found the man strange. There was certainly something about him, no argument there. He was compelling, though Tristan couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was. His words seemed to reach to the heart of the person – whoever that person happened to be. They seemed to reach to the heart of the crowd.

“Why worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow?” Joshua’s voice asked, floating up the hill. “Worrying’s not going to fix anything, is it? It’ll just give you an ulcer, or angina.”

“Or worry lines!” some girl called out, and others laughed.

“Look at today, not tomorrow. See? It’s a beautiful day. Each day is a gift given to us – we should use it well.”

Rau was climbing the hill now, with that new man, John. They stood next to Tristan, and Tristan sighed.

“You know he’s an insatiable romantic,” Tristan said, and Rau smiled.

“That’s one of the things I like about him.”

“He seems to just trust that everything’s going to be okay.”

But John was shifting slightly, beside them. “That’s not it,” he said. “It’s not just blind optimism.”

“Then what is it?” Tristan asked.

John frowned, looking at Joshua. “I’m not sure,” he said, “but he’s not blind. He sees it all.”

“Exactly,” Rau said. “He’s a romantic, but his romanticism is built on reality.”

Tristan shifted slightly, suddenly uncomfortable. “What do you mean?” he asked. “You’re losing me.”

John’s green eyes turned to Tristan. “He sees it all,” he said gently, “the good and the bad.”

Now the image was there again in front of Tristan’s eyes: explosions! Screams. The rifle was in his hands, firing – bodies were jerking, in front of him, bleeding: dying…

Tristan gasped, and fell back a step. John’s eyes were still on him – and then his hand came to Tristan’s shoulder.

“It’s all right,” he said.

“He sees it all?” Tristan choked. “How?”

“I don’t know,” John said. “But he does – and he’s good. Not just a romantic: he is actually good.”

Tristan’s eyes drifted again to Joshua. He was moving, from person to person – grasping hands, murmuring words, smiling at faces. He was good? Yes – good. Tristan could accept that: he already had.

Tane was close behind Joshua, following him everywhere he went. Behind Tane, a large group of Maori had gathered. Tristan looked between them and Joshua. Was Joshua their king? In a way he did look like a king, in that moment. Like a politician? No – more like a king. There was something in his air – something beyond a voted in leader of the State. Certainly many people seemed to already love him. The only thing that was missing was the royal wave…

Tristan’s mind drifted for a moment, to another time. When were the kings? In the medieval times, before the Age of Reason…before computers, and cars, and nukes…

“Tristan.”

The voice was strangely familiar, trying to drag him back to reality.

“Tristan!”

Tristan jerked back to the present – and now stared. His father was standing in front of him! His face! He hadn’t seen his face in nine years! How had he found him? How had he moved so quickly?

“Dad!”

His father had aged. His short black hair was quite grey, and there were permanent lines across his frowning forehead. The blue eyes now scanned over his face, and the frown softened.

“Tristan,” Mark Blake said again, his voice more gentle, “you have become a man.”

Mark extended a hand to him – and Tristan, a little awkward, took it. He had never shaken his father’s hand before – not as an adult.

“It’s been too long,” Mark said, and Tristan shook his head slightly, still in slight disbelief.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Tell me what’s been happening! Connor said…”

“Connor?” Tristan interrupted.

“You know – the PM! He told me…”

“The PM?”

“…that you’d been in the Army! The Army, Tristan – I had no idea!”

Now Tristan swallowed. Memories threatened again – but somehow he kept them at bay. What would a Bishop think of Army duty? Tristan didn’t know. He searched his father’s face, but couldn’t find any clue. All Tristan saw there now was concern.

“I was in the Army,” Tristan said, “but I pulled out.”

“Why?”

“I…” He grimaced slightly. Tell him? Tell his father? “I didn’t like it.”

Mark was silent, scanning him. Tristan saw compassion in his blue eyes. It hurt him. It reminded him of how things had been, before…before his mother…

“It must have been hard,” Mark said.

“Yeah,” Tristan replied.

“Good to be out?”

“Yeah. But not normal.”

Now Mark’s eyes seemed to moisten. He nodded. Then his gaze wandered, over the crowd, and Tristan breathed a little more freely.

“What’s going on here?” Mark began, straightening beside him. “Who is this ‘Joshua Davidson’? Everyone seems to know him – that’s how I found you.”

“Oh,” Tristan said. “Yeah, he’s becoming quite a celebrity.”

“A celebrity?”

Reporters were on the outskirts of the crowd – Tristan could see them now. He peered more closely. Were those international cameras? Surely not.

Mark became silent again – and then glanced around Tristan.

“Reverend Rau Petera!” he said. “Fancy seeing you here!”

Rau now shifted awkwardly on his feet, and quickly extended his hand.

“Right Reverend Blake,” he said. “Good to see you.”

“Bishop Andrew know that you’re here? Checking it out for him, are you?”

Tristan would have grinned – now the cards were turned! But then he suddenly realized Rau might be in a sensitive position.

“I’m on leave,” Rau replied.

“On leave?” Mark said. “And you’re spending it here?”

“We were in the neighbourhood,” Tristan said wryly, and his father’s eyes came back to him.

“How did you two…?”

“I hitched a ride up north.”

“I see.”

Mark’s eyes shifted again over the crowd. Tristan caught a brief glimpse from Rau, who seemed a little stiff. He smiled slightly at him. There was more silence. And then Mark spoke again.

“What exactly is he doing down there?” he asked. “Shaking hands like the Queen?”

Tristan smirked – how similar their thoughts suddenly were.

“Something like that,” Tristan said, and Mark laughed.

“The Governor General would have something to say about that.”

“I’ll bet,” Tristan said. “Maybe he should run for Parliament, then?”

“No point: Connor’s totally ruling the roost there.”

“I don’t think it’s his thing, anyway.”

“Wise man.”

“Think he’s more the social worker type.”

“As long as everyone’s paying their taxes, he can do as much nice stuff as he likes.”

Tristan was surprised at how easily their conversation flowed, after so long. Mark even seemed to be smiling, though there was something else behind his eyes: some kind of hidden tension.

“Where’s Selena?” Mark asked, and Tristan straightened in surprise.

“Selena?” He hadn’t seen his sister in nine years! Would he even recognise her? She had only been seven when he had left home.

Mark’s eyes were searching the crowd – and then fixed on Joshua himself.

“What on earth…?” And now Mark was striding forward, down the hill.

Tristan impulsively followed him. There was a girl, in front of Joshua! Long black curly hair, blue eyes – could it be…? Maybe sixteen, the right age – quite beautiful! But her face – she looked white: deathly white! With black shadows under the eyes.

“What’s wrong with her?” Tristan breathed. What was she doing in front of Joshua? He had her hand – what was happening between them? Something! Something big…

Their father was about to intervene. Tristan grasped his shoulder.

“Wait!” he said. “Just wait for a moment.”

Mark hesitated, under his touch – they were a few metres away. Tristan hastily searched Selena’s face – her eyes! There was some kind of conflict – some kind of struggle.

“Help!” she cried, and seemed to be clinging to Joshua’s hand – but then, suddenly, her expression hardened, and she actually scratched his face.

“Selena!” Tristan cried – and now Joshua was grasping her head, muttering words over her Tristan could not hear.

Selena screamed. The sound sent chills up Tristan’s spine. He impulsively moved forward, to protect his sister, but his father made it first.

“Get off my daughter!” Mark yelled, and he dragged Selena away from Joshua. Tristan stared at her, staggering back. Her face! It was hard! Dark, somehow: eerie! Not the sister he had known. He felt sick, looking at her – sick to his stomach.

Mark was standing now before Joshua. Tristan stared between them – between his father’s anger, and Joshua’s calm response.

“What the hell are you doing?” Mark asked. “What did you do to my daughter?”

“Nothing,” Joshua calmly replied. “There was no time.”

“You made her scream!”

“No,” Joshua said. “It wasn’t me who made her scream.”

“What are you?” Mark asked. “Some kind of cult guru?”

“I am not,” Joshua replied.

“I know who you are,” Selena’s voice said: hard – unnaturally deep, making Tristan shudder. “I know who you are!”

Joshua’s eyes were fixed on her, now: fixed firmly. Tristan had never seen him look like that before. The crowd were pressing in, watching. The cameras were running.

Selena laughed – loud, and shrill. And then Joshua spoke.

“Darkness can never coexist with light,” he said. “And one day, every dark corner will be lit up, like the brightest day. There will be no secrets, on that day. There will be no hiding place. Only truth; only honesty – only goodness will survive.”

He walked easily past Mark, and brushed past Selena. Her back arched and she fell to the ground, screaming again. Tristan shivered, in the February heat.

Joshua was gone – again, he had disappeared. The ground was damp. The tide was coming in.

Tristan was perplexed by Joshua’s words. But then he looked at his father’s face, and there he saw utter fury.

 

The crowd dispersed.

Tristan stood on the hill. Behind him, seawater lapped half-way up the grassy mound. In front of him, the grassy plain was flooded.

Joshua stood in the water, up to his knees, in the middle of the plain. The current was quite strong – Tristan could see he was standing hard against the tide.

Tristan gazed at him. His words, an hour ago, had changed – over Tristan’s sister, Joshua had suddenly changed his entire focus. The water had entered; the people had left. Tristan’s father also had left, with his sister, angrily telling Tristan he would be in touch.

Everyone loved comfort, and gifts. They were not so keen on exposure, and judgment. Was that what Joshua had meant, with all of his talk of darkness and light? Certainly his words had sounded like a threat – had he intended them that way? Or had he just made a great mistake, in front of international media?

A figure was approaching Joshua, now: it was John. He lingered, around Joshua: he struggled with the current, but remained. And now another figure, more solid, appeared: Rau.

Tristan hesitated – and then he also walked down the hill, and into the water. What was he doing? He wasn’t sure. But somehow he needed to know – somehow he needed to ask.

The water was cold, to begin with. He pressed through, one step at a time. Once or twice he almost fell over – and then, determined, setting his eyes on Joshua, he recovered.

Soon he was next to him.

Joshua’s face was eclipsed, somehow: impossible to read. John looked a little sad; Rau, cautious.

“What now?” Tristan said, and Joshua held his eyes steadily.

“What do you mean?”

“Well – I think that was a real PR blunder, you know? If you want popularity…”

“Do you think I care about popularity?”

Tristan searched him. “No,” he said, realizing the truth of it clearly as he said it. “I guess not.”

Rau was shifting, now, in the water. “Joshua,” he said, “the people weren’t expecting…”

“Weren’t expecting what?” Joshua interrupted him.

“Truth is truth,” Rau continued. “It’s all in how we say it.”

“How we say it?” Joshua asked. “Or how we don’t say it?”

“My sister,” Tristan said, his heart suddenly pounding hard, “what did you do to her? What did you say to her, to make her react that way?”

“That’s enough!” It was John. Surprised, drawn out of himself, Tristan looked at him. His expression had become fervent – even a little fierce. “You’re both missing the point!”

“The point?”

“What if what Joshua said was true?” John asked. “Then he must say it! He must! For all of our sakes.”

Now his eyes fixed on Tristan. “He didn’t harm your sister!” he said. “You shouldn’t be accusing him – you should be asking him what is wrong with her, and how she can be helped!”

Fear filled Tristan, now – though he couldn’t entirely explain it. Fear. He glanced at Rau, who was silenced. And then he looked at Joshua.

Now there was sadness in his face – a faraway look. He turned his back to them for a moment – he cast his eyes in the direction of the ocean. Then he returned, to look at them.

“My words stand,” he said. “Like them or not, they will come to pass. Full tide is coming – and I have come to teach people how to swim, before it is too late.”

“Full tide?” Tristan asked. “What kind of tide?”

“If people are not ready, it will sweep them away: a tsunami unlike any before.”

“You mean to warn us…”

“I haven’t come to judge the World, Tristan Blake: I have come to save it.”

Tristan stared at him – and suddenly tears welled up in his eyes: uncontrollable tears.

“Save it from what?” he cried. “Global warming? An asteroid? Weapons of mass destruction?”

“Do you think I mean a literal tsunami?” Joshua asked. “Yes, there will be flooding. Yes, there will be war, and famine – these things have always been there. I’m talking about a more fundamental threat than these.”

“What?”

“The darkening of the human heart.”

Now Tristan was silenced. He remembered his sister’s face: white, with dark shadows.

“Explain,” he said.

“The times ahead will test the heart of humanity, unlike any other times before or to come,” Joshua said. “Power is escalating, and so is desperation. Each will need to choose, whether to aspire to the greatest good, or to succumb to the deepest evil. There will be no middle ground.

“The light will come: the darkness will be exposed.”

“When?” Rau asked. “When will this all take place?”

“When?” Joshua repeated. “That is not for you to know: it’s only for you to be ready.”

“The light,” John said. “It is already here.”

“Yes.”

“And the greatest good?” Tristan asked. “How can this be achieved?”

Joshua smiled sadly at him. “Only light can overcome darkness.”

John was looking at Joshua now.

“I am the light,” Joshua said. “I am also the boat, for the tide. Don’t miss the boat! Turn on the light.”

Tristan had no idea what he meant – but, once again, felt certain that all of his words were true. Light, darkness, flooding waters, desperation – disaster was coming! It was only a matter of time.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Judgment

Mark Blake stormed into the Beehive.

“Where’s Connor?” he demanded of the receptionist. “I have to see him now.”

“Sir!” The security guard called after him. “Sir – you can’t just barge in…”

Flushing, Mark straightened – and then stretched his arms out, for the metal detector to move up and down his body.

“Clear,” the guard announced, and then he moved away.

The receptionist was hurriedly on the phone. Mark clenched his fists, and unclenched them, and forced himself to wait quietly. Finally she was off the phone.

“He will see you,” she said, “up the stairs.”

And he strode up the stairs, two at a time.

Connor was at the top. “How can I help you, Bishop?”

“I have some information.”

“Information?” Connor’s eyebrows shot up, now in genuine surprise.

“Where can we talk that’s private?”

“Probably no-where on the surface of the planet.”

“Then come over to St Peter’s – I can’t imagine anyone’s dreamed of putting bugs there.”

Connor hesitated, looking over Mark’s face – then he nodded.

“All right,” he said.

 

Mark strode into St Peter’s, with Connor in tow. They were alone, amongst the congregational seats.

“How can I help you?” James asked wryly, sitting down on a chair.

Mark stared down at him. “You won’t believe where I have just been.”

“Where?”

“Wenderholm.”

“Where?”

“Thirty minutes north of Auckland. I just arrived back this morning.”

“And you are pulling me out of a meeting to tell me this, why?”

“That man Joshua was there.”

Now James stared at him. Then he laughed.

“You mean that guy on the news? Sounds like he could singlehandedly replace our social welfare fund: so much the better.”

“I thought you were afraid of fragmentation.”

Now a shadow passed over James’ face. “What do you mean?”

“He’s prancing around like a king up there.”

Connor frowned – and then he smiled again.

“No matter,” he said.

“No matter?” Mark repeated, exasperated.

“Let him act like a king. A little bit of shaking hands never hurt anyone. Heck, it’s probably good for the morale right now – might stop some of these altercations in the streets.”

“James…”

Connor’s eyes were dancing. “Let them hope, Mark! Let them have their warm fuzzies. He will reach his natural boundary, and then the thing will die out as quickly as it started. In the meantime, less violent crime! I’m all for that.”

Mark frowned at him. “You treat faith as though it is a game,” he said. “You always have.”

“People will dream,” Connor said, “and then they’ll see the dream is false, and they’ll turn back to reality. This Joshua is our friend, Mark. Why waste time making him our enemy?”

Mark shook his head at him. “You are a bloody enigma, James!” he said. “All this talk of your fear of political takeover from overseas, and here’s someone in our own backyard acting like a king! What do you do? You just shake it off!”

Connor was grinning, now, from ear to ear – his enjoyment filled Mark with irritation.

“Joshua Davidson is a piece of entertainment, Mark,” Connor said, “nothing more! A bit of light relief – a bit of distraction, before we then have to look at the threat of World War Three once more directly in the face.

“Thank you for the comedy: much appreciated! But now, really, I must get back to work.”

Mark grumbled, and ushered Connor through the glass doors – he paused for a moment, watching his high school friend hurry down the steps, across the road and back into the Parliament grounds. Then he turned back into the sanctuary.

The church now was totally empty. Mark was grateful that it was – now, at last, he had space.

Fury filled him. Why so strong? Fury. He strode up the aisle, hesitated for a moment on the steps at the pulpit, and then thrust himself toward the inner sanctuary, standing before the altar and the tiled Christ hanging on the cross.

“How dare he?” he cried out to God. “How dare he?”

The image was before him: Joshua, over his daughter – Selena screaming. As if that wasn’t bad enough, what about the words he had said? Those outrageous words!

Darkness can never coexist with light.”

Those words had penetrated Mark as a knife. Darkness? Darkness? Was he saying that Selena was dark?

Only goodness will survive.”

It was Judgment. Judgment! Joshua Davidson was passing judgment on his daughter! How dare he?

“He pretends he is a king!” Mark declared, shaking his fist in the direction of Christ. “He pretends to know the state of our hearts! He doesn’t know! Only God knows!”

And Mark stared at the altar – the table of communion.

“Only God can judge, not any man! Only God!”

And yet, with his outpouring, Mark felt no relief: instead, he suddenly felt exposed. He trembled, and found himself leaning heavily against the railing: the place where people knelt, and placed their hands out, to receive communion.

“Bishop?” It was Choo’s voice.

Mark stared up at Jesus’s face, on the cross. “Yes…?” he answered faintly.

“Do you need help?”

Help? He? He was the bishop! Who could help him? A sudden surge of wilful determination coursed through him – he straightened his shoulders, and turned.

The Dean’s face looked thoughtful – her eyes gentle.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Wrong?” Mark replied. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“Only God can judge?”

“Instead of that man! That’s what I meant. That man, up north.”

“Joshua Davidson.”

Mark frowned at her – and then looked behind her. Other ministers had gathered: why? Oh, yes – yet another Church Council meeting. He had forgotten. The Baptist pastor, Murray Simon, was there, in his usual casual shirt. The Catholic Andrew Stead, young and naïve. The others, as usual.

“We may as well deal with this right now,” Mark said, gesturing them into the choir stalls. “What do we do about Joshua Davidson?”

“Bishop,” Choo murmured quietly. “This is a place of forgiveness, not judgment.”

“You’re wrong,” Mark quickly replied. “Communion is all about judgment. Our sin is judged first. Only through judgment can we be forgiven.”

He had silenced her, though her eyes were not silenced. The other ministers awkwardly took seats in the choir stalls. Choo shifted in discomfort, but complied with his gesture – she also sat down.

“This Joshua Davidson,” Mark began. “Have you seen him on the news?”

Murray’s eyes were on him – his warm older face still smiling.

“I have seen him. He’s helping the poor.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“He’s prancing about making judgments, as though he’s God.”

Now Murray’s smile faded slightly. “What do you mean?”

“Making judgments!” Mark snapped. “I saw him myself! I went up, to see! He…” And now, suddenly, he didn’t want to continue. Selena! No – he was not about to divulge about her.

“What judgment?” Murray asked.

“Never mind what,” Mark said. “The point is, he’s saying things he shouldn’t be saying.”

“I suppose we all do that?” Young Father Andrew said.

“Yes, yes,” Mark muttered. Darned purist! “We all do things we regret. But some of us do worse things than others. He is doing worse things! Anyway, forget I said anything. What other business do we have today? We should move onto that.”

“Perhaps we should move into the meeting room?” Choo suggested.

“Yes, yes, all right: let’s move into the meeting room.”

And he complied with her, and followed her out of the cathedral, into the corridor alongside and into a meeting room.

The meeting proceeded. Mark chaired it, as always. They talked about this and that – the talk bored him. And then, when it was over, Murray was there, again, in front of him.

“What do you have against this Joshua character?” he asked.

“What we all should have against him,” Mark quickly replied.

“What did he do to you?”

“Nothing.”

“Why were you there?”

Mark shifted awkwardly. “To find my son.”

“Your son?” Murray looked astonished. “You’ve met with him?”

“Yes.”

“What was he doing there?”

Now Mark had to avoid his eyes. “I really have no idea,” he muttered.

Murray shifted, and now he was sitting on the table, looking down at him, almost like a grandfather enquiring after his grandson.

“Is Tristan following Joshua?”

Mark swallowed. And then he looked directly at Murray.

“What if he was?” he asked him. “Would that change your mind, Murray? What if you saw what I saw: thousands of people gathering around Joshua, hanging off every word that he said – international media lapping it up, as though he was Jesus Christ himself. Would that actually start to bother you?”

Murray frowned. He glanced away for a few moments – muttered some words under his breath, as if in prayer. And then his gaze returned.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think that would depend.”

“On what?”

“On who he actually is.”

Mark stared at him, bewildered. And then he laughed.

“You can’t be serious.”

“How’s that?”

“The man is a fraud, pure and simple. A deceiver. A liar.”

“Then you have nothing to fear.”

Murray’s eyes were steady on him, challenging him – and Mark steadily held them in return. Fear? What did fear have to do with anything? Nothing! Nothing at all.

“I am not afraid of the man,” Mark said. “I fear the deception.”

“I don’t think so,” Murray replied. “I think you fear the truth.”

Mark stiffened at the words. The truth? No! The truth was his friend, not his enemy: the truth was his foundation.

Darkness can never coexist with light.”

Joshua was the darkness, not Selena! Joshua was the enemy.

Only goodness would survive.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: The Hospital

The cell-phone was ringing.

Frustrated, Rachel Connor laid the patient notes she was reading on the ward clerk’s desk, and reached into her white coat pocket for the phone.

“Hello?” she said.

“Rachel!” her father’s voice replied.

“Dad,” she said, “I’m just on a ward round. Don’t you have meetings?”

“I’m just about to head back in.”

Rachel glanced up apologetically to her consultant, Dr Nigel Watts. He grimaced at her, and then gestured their House Officer, Sally Ng, to follow him.

“What is it, Dad?” she asked.

“You won’t believe what just happened.”

“What?”

“Mark Blake just called me to St Peter’s.”

“The Cathedral? Why?”

“He’s afraid there’s a king taking over in Wenderholm.”

Rachel shook her head, feeling a little dazed. “What?”

“Do you know Wenderholm?”

“Yes, I know Wenderholm! What are you on about?”

“A king, Rachel: a king! We’re about to be taken over by the Northerners! Hold ‘em off, will you? They should hit you first, there in Auckland, before they make it to Wellington.”

For a moment, Rachel thought he was serious. Then his florid laughter filled her hearing – and she also laughed, with him.

“Had to share the joke, darling,” he said. “Just too funny! Sorry to interrupt! Better get back to work.”

“Yeah,” she said, “you and me! Just keep any other jokes until tomorrow, eh, Dad? I’m on call tonight.”

He had gone – and she closed the phone away.

Watts and Ng were busy, in Room B. Rachel decided to leave them to it, and moved into Room C.

There she went to the first bed, on the left. Alongside her, a medical student suddenly appeared, ready to jot down notes. Rachel noticed his keen young enthusiasm with a pang of nostalgia: how quickly those days had passed.

“Good morning, Thelma,” Rachel said, reaching out a hand to the elderly woman. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“A bit better, thank you, Doctor Connor.” Her dyed light blonde perm framed her polite smile.

“Good! How’s that chest?”

“Not bad.”

Rachel reached with her stethoscope to listen to Thelma’s heart and lungs, through her blue nightie – the crackles she had heard the previous morning were almost gone.

“Sounding much better!”

“Does that mean I can go home?”

The House Officer, Sally, was suddenly there. She passed her the electronic chart – and Rachel cast her eyes quickly over it as Sally spoke.

“Temperature’s been down for twenty-four hours,” she said, “and O2 sats are back to normal.”

“I think so!” Rachel said brightly to Thelma, and turned to Sally. “Good work. Discharge her today, with ten days of oral antibiotics.”

Thelma’s face lit up, her hazel eyes bright.

“I hope I never have to see you again,” Rachel said with a smile, and Thelma nodded.

“Me too!”

And Rachel reached for the small bottle of disinfectant in her pocket, and moved to the next bed.

Here lay a young Pacific Island woman, only in the twenties. She was dying of stomach cancer. Rachel sat on the edge of the bed, and reached to take the woman’s hand.

“Good morning, Mary,” she said.

“Good morning, Doctor Rachel,” Mary replied, her voice weak.

“How is your breathing?”

“A bit better.”

Rachel lingered on her face. This lady’s sister, and aunt, had also died of the same stomach cancer. Her brown eyes were brave – lit, somehow, with her Christian faith.

“Has your pastor been in to pray for you?”

“Yes,” Mary said. “I’m still hoping for healing.”

Rachel looked over her wasting body. Mary was well known to their team – she had already had surgery, but the cancer had regrown and now had spread to her liver and lungs. From time to time fluid would build up around a lung, stealing her breath – she would return to hospital, and they would take out the fluid with a needle to give her relief.

Rachel was certain she could only have a few weeks left to live – and yet what to say? Rob her of her faith? A faith Rachel herself could not share?

She listened to her chest, looked at her chart, and patted her hand.

“Keep up the good work,” she said – and with hidden grief, and disinfectant, moved quickly to the next bed.

Here a middle-aged Israeli man sat, reading the paper. He looked up at her, and smiled – he was wearing a blue kippah cap on his head, with a Star of David.

“Greetings, Doctor Connor,” he said

“Greetings, Isaac,” she replied.

Rachel moved to his side. “Would you mind?” she asked, and he shrugged, reaching to remove his cap.

“Go ahead.”

She pulled back the dressing on his scalp – a tumour growing there had been removed, and the following red infection was beginning to settle.

“News from the Middle East?” she asked, as she replaced the dressing.

“Tensions,” Isaac sighed. “As always.”

“Is there hope for peace?”

She found his brown eyes, as he replaced his kippah.

“There is always hope for peace,” he said, “with the Lord.”

Faith, again, but of a different kind. Rachel smiled sadly at him. “Shalom,” she said, for him.

“Shalom,” he said back, tipping his head to her with respect.

Moving now to the sink to wash her hands, Rachel turned to Sally. “One more day of IV’s,” she said, “and then he can go onto orals too.”

“Okay,” Sally said.

Now Rachel wandered across the room to the foot of another bed. Here a young Iraqi man had a continuing infection in the bone of his shin.

“The osteomyelitis is getting worse,” Sally said quietly in her ear. “We’ve given five days of IVs.”

“And the temp?”

“Still spiking.”

“Blood cultures?”

“They’ve finally grown multi-resistant staph.”

“Shit.”

Rachel looked at the young man. Was he even twenty? His body was well toned, wearing black Adidas shorts and a green sports shirt – but his face was beaded with sweat. Rachel glanced at his chart – twenty-one. Just. A notice was above his head – gloves to be used with any contact. She reached for some gloves, and drew back the dressing from his wound. Pus was draining directly from the bone.

“Vancomycin?”

“We’ve run out.”

Rachel swallowed. She covered the wound again, and smiled at the man. What was his name? Abida.

“Can you fix me, doctor?”

Rachel felt her smile fading. What to say? What to say?

“Maybe surgery will help,” she said. “Let me talk to my consultant.”

His young eyes were fixed on her, she knew, as she washed her hands and left the room.

Rachel hurried into the corridor, taking a deep breath – but then Abida’s parents were in front of her: mother and father, olive faces creased with worry.

“What are you doing for our son?” his father asked.

Rachel swallowed again. “I’m sorry,” she began, struggling to find some form of comfort. “He has a resistant infection – the antibiotics we’re using aren’t working very well.”

“Isn’t there something else you can use?”

“We…” Grief threatened her. “We don’t have anything else.”

The medical supplies were restricted, now, from overseas! All imports were drying up.

“Can’t you do something?” Abida’s mother cried. “He’s getting sicker! Can’t you see that?”

She was grasping at Rachel’s arm, now – pulling her back toward the room. Rachel stared at her, and then shook off her arm.

“That’s enough!” Rachel exploded. “What do you want from me, a miracle?”

They stared at her – and now her consultant was also there, staring.

Rachel flushed, and fleetingly closed her eyes. Then she opened them again – girding herself again.

“Look, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry. Here’s Dr Watts – he’ll be able to help you.”

But she knew there was nothing more he could offer.

The frowning parents wandered back to their son, with Watts – and Rachel retreated to the work bay. Sally sat down alongside her, with the charts – and Rachel threw her stethoscope on the table, staring at it.

“I hate this job,” she said.

“You’re not God,” Sally said, and Rachel closed her eyes tightly again.

“Tell that to the patients who are dying.”

Time was pushed – always pushed. Rachel opened her eyes, sighed, and then rose to her feet. “Radiology meeting,” she said.

“I’ll be there soon,” Sally replied, “just after I check the bloods.”

“All right.” And Rachel strode down the corridor and out of the ward.

 

The sun was shining outside. Rachel gazed longingly out of a window, to Lake Pupuke beyond. Across the other side of the lake was North Shore Hospital – she had worked there once. Here, she worked in the newer hospital – ten years old, serving the increasing population on the North Shore. ‘North with Interest,’ the staff all called it: North-East Hospital. Budget cuts, sixty hour weeks, medication tightly controlled: she needed a break – that’s why she had exploded.

In front of her, she noticed a gathering of people by the lakefront. Strange…what was going on? No time to check it out – even her lunch-break was filled with beeps on the locator.

 

Rachel reluctantly left the sunny view to enter into the dark radiology room. A large screen showed the images of interest waiting to be discussed. She cast her eyes over some of them: maybe sarcoidosis, for the first, on chest X-ray? Maybe leukaemia, on bone scan, with the next?

Watts sat down next to her – his grey curly hair framing a smirk.

“Interesting episode on the ward, Rachel.”

“Whatever you say,” Rachel muttered. “That’s what you get with multi-resistant staph.”

“Shift him to the single room.”

“We’re getting a few cases now.”

“I know. We must contain them. If we get an outbreak, we’re stuffed.”

“All right.”

The radiologist began to talk through the X-rays. Soon they were looking at Mary’s chest X-ray. Half of her left lung was white.

“Progressed,” the radiologist said. “The fluid is beginning to build up again.”

“So I see,” Rachel said.

“How is she clinically?”

Rachel smiled sadly, considering her. “Better than she was when she was first admitted.”

“She’ll need another tap soon.”

“Yes,” Rachel sighed, “and another, and another.”

“It helps her,” Nigel said. “It’s all we can do.”

“I know,” Rachel said. “It’s all we can do, and yet she still prays and hopes.”

Nigel was looking at her – she could feel his eyes, as she stared at the X-ray.

“Have you told her what her prognosis is?”

Rachel swallowed. “Who am I to tell her how much time she has left?”

“It is your responsibility, doctor.”

She avoided his grey gaze. “While she lives, there might still be hope.”

“She is dying – there is nothing else.”

“All right!” Rachel exploded again, now staring into his lined face. A fourteen-hour day, and this as well? “I’ll tell her to her face she’s dying!” she said. “I’ll strip away any shred of hope she has! Is that what you want?”

Nigel’s face hardened slightly – then he softened.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll handle it.”

“And what will you say?” Rachel asked. “You’re an atheist! How will you comfort a Christian?”

Nigel smiled sadly, and Rachel instantly regretted her words. He had a heart! He knew their impotence.

“I’ll tell her the truth, Rachel,” he said. “It’s all we can do. Even your agnosticism should tell you that.”

Rachel swallowed, and moved her eyes from him to the new films: the CT scan of Abida’s leg.

“The patch of osteomyelitis is also growing,” the radiologist said, and Rachel nodded.

“I know.”

“Surgery,” Nigel said. “Talk to the orthopods.”

“I already have,” Rachel said, feeling her voice dull. “They won’t take him.”

“Shift him into the side room,” Nigel said. “I’ll talk to his family again later today.”

“All right.”

The radiologist continued, presenting different films, and Rachel felt herself sinking into oblivion. Doom and gloom – that’s all they had to offer! Soon broad spectrum antibiotics would run out, and then…then…

Sally suddenly burst into the room.

Her Chinese face looked alarmed, her short black hair thrown back from her face. “Rachel!” she said. “I need to talk to you!”

“What is it?” Rachel said, thrusting herself out of the seat.

“I…” Now Sally’s brown eyes drifted to Watts, and then returned to Rachel. What was in her expression: bewilderment? “I just need to talk with you,” Sally said.

Watts was on his feet now. “What are you on about, Sally?” he asked. “Did someone die? Spit it out.”

“They’re…” Sally hesitated. “I think they’re…”

“What?” Rachel asked.

“Spit it out!”

“Oh – you’ve got to come!” Sally grasped Rachel’s arm, and started to pull her after her.

“We’re in the middle…” Watts’ voice quickly trailed off, and now Rachel found herself dragged back down the corridor and toward the lift.

“Something’s happening,” Sally gasped, on the way. “I don’t get it – something weird. Abida and Mary went down to see this guy.”

Now Watts was behind them – caught up. “What?” he exploded. “How dare you let our patients go down to that freak show…?”

“What freak show?” Rachel asked. “What are you talking about?”

“You knew about this?” Nigel said, as they ran after Sally. “I’ll have you up before the Medical Council…”

“I saw the people outside,” Sally panted, entering the lift. “I heard the stories. But they did it themselves – it wasn’t me! They went down there.”

The lift doors closed, in front of them. Rachel shifted uncomfortably, in the sudden silence. The lift descended. Then it opened again, at the entrance foyer.

Just outside the entrance, on the yellow grass, in front of the lake sparkling with the sun, was a large crowd of people – even more than those Rachel had already seen out of the window.

“What’s going on?”

Sally was searching for someone – and then, suddenly, she found her.

Mary was standing before them, at the edge of the water. Her brown face was lit up – alive. Her breathing was easy. She looked, somehow, well.

Rachel stared at her. “Mary…” she stuttered. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard about the man,” she said. “I thought he might heal me.”

Confused, Rachel searched through the gathered crowd. What man? Her eyes returned to Mary – but Nigel now was reaching to take her pulse.

“Come upstairs again,” he said. “You’re unwell – the fluid is building up again…”

“It’s gone.”

“Come upstairs – we’ll examine you again.”

“You can examine me, but it’s gone.”

“You mean you can breathe?” Rachel asked, and Mary smiled at her.

“I can breathe. And the pain has gone.”

Tears pricked Rachel’s eyes – she quickly blinked them away.

“Mary,” she said quietly. “Can you please come upstairs? Let us examine you. Let us do another X-ray.”

“Yes,” Mary said. “I can do that for you.”

Sally took Mary’s arm, and escorted her back into the hospital. Rachel met Nigel’s grey eyes.

“Surely you’re not thinking…” Nigel began.

“I don’t know what to think. Maybe it’s just hope! I don’t know.”

“Placebo effect!”

“Maybe.”

Nigel grimaced. “A fluke, or whatever,” he said, “Come on, Rachel – we’re scientists. We study hard science, not delusions.”

“I know that, but…”

And now Abida was before them. He was standing. He was walking. Now he was running, and jumping – grinning wildly.

Rachel stared, while Nigel tried to catch him.

“Hey!” Nigel said. “You should be in isolation!”

Rachel reached out to the covered wound on his leg.

“Gloves!” Nigel said, and Rachel hesitated. The dressing was still soaked. She reached into her pocket, found a pair of gloves, put them on – and pulled away the dressing.

The wound was gone.

Now Rachel began to shake hard.

“How did this happen?” she whispered. “Who did this? Who did this?”

Nigel reached for the leg with his bare hands – stared at it.

“I must be going mad.”

“If you’re mad,” Rachel said, “then all three of us are losing our minds.”

“It’s gone!” Abida cried. “I’m cured! I’m cured!”

Nigel now took Abida’s arm, and led him strongly back toward the hospital – but Rachel searched fervently around, now, for the man.

The crowd was in her way. Rachel pressed through them. She emerged, at the front, to see a man with his hands on an elderly lady’s pained shoulder – he murmured some words over her, and now she was freely using the shoulder.

Rachel stared at him. Who was he? European, in mid-thirties: wearing blue jeans and a faded grey T-shirt.

“Who are you?” she breathed. “What are you doing?” And his eyes, brown, settled on her.

The crowd somehow melted away as he took her arm and led her alongside the lake.

“I’m Joshua,” he said, and she frowned in confusion. Joshua? A normal name?

“I’m…I’m Rachel,” she stammered.

“I have something to show you.”

He pulled out a piece of paper from his right jean pocket.

“Here’s a map of DNA,” he said. “You’re familiar with it?”

She nodded, struggling to focus her mind: looking at the paper as he unfolded it. “I did a Master’s in biochemistry, before I changed to Medicine.”

“Do you know what this is?”

She stared down at his jottings – a DNA sequence, different from her own short-hand, but understandable.

“I’m not sure…I don’t recognise the specific gene.”

“This is the sequence for aging.”

Rachel frowned. Aging? The aging gene? That was only theory, wasn’t it…?

“Do you have access to the human genome?” Joshua asked.

“Yes.”

“This is it,” he said, “the sequence for aging. This is the cause of aging for the entire human race.”

Rachel began to shake hard as she stared down at the sequence – and now Joshua turned over the page.

“And this,” he said, gesturing to another sequence he had drawn. “Do you know what this is?”

“No,” she said.

“This is the original design.”

Rachel swayed, peering down at the code. “What do you mean,” she asked, “the original design?”

“The original design for that sequence of human DNA,” Joshua said, “before it was changed to this.” And he turned over the page again.

Rachel stared into his brown eyes. “What are you saying?” she whispered. “That this is the elixir of life? That with this gene no one would die?”

“No one would die from old age.”

Rachel trembled before him, as he continued.

“Of course,” he said, “you yourselves can’t change the code of everyone who lives right now…”

“But the next generation…”

“If you chose to, you could start manipulating the genes of the next generation.”

She felt her jaw dropping, in front of him. The page was lying in her hands – the page of his jottings. With this, she could change the world.

But even as she considered it, she felt a new growing weight: a new growing understanding.

“I can’t use this,” she whispered. “I don’t have the authority! I don’t have enough wisdom…”

He lifted the page from her hands, and put it back into his back pocket – and now his brown eyes found her again.

“You’re right, Rachel,” he said gently. “None of you have the authority to use this.”

She searched his eyes, as he touched her arm.

“Do you know what would happen, if you made people immortal, right here, right now, as things stand?”

Rachel shook her head. “What?”

“A multitude would die, Rachel: not of old age, but of starvation.”

Dismay took her. Yes! Overpopulation!

“There is a time to live and a time to die, Rachel – do you understand this? You, a doctor? Do you understand?”

A time to die? Rachel reached instinctively to grasp his arm.

“Show me,” she whispered. “Help me to understand it. You just healed…”

“We have the power to give life and to take it away.”

“To take it away?” Fear suddenly gripped her.

“Are you afraid of me now?” Joshua murmured, grasping her arm in turn, “When you were so relieved by my healing before?”

Rachel cast her eyes up and down him – he looked, to her, an average kiwi bloke, and yet he held, in his hands, life and death.

“I don’t know,” Rachel whispered. “Should I be afraid? Who are you?”

Joshua’s face broke into a sad smile.

“That is the whole question,” he said, “that you, and everyone, must answer.”

Rachel struggled, and grasped for understanding. She suddenly felt in a different world! Like a baby, thrown into the water – everything was changed, just in a few moments.

“Are you…” she whispered, “…are you some kind of alien?”

Joshua’s smile widened, and brightened with humour. “I am alien to you.”

“Are you – safe?”

His expression clouded a little. “That all depends: what do you mean by ‘safe’?”

“Are you kind?”

Now sorrow suddenly filled his eyes – a deep, piercing sorrow: a grief that grasped her heart, and would not let her go.

“Are we kind?” he murmured. “Which is the kinder act, Rachel: to give you the DNA code for eternal life, or keep it away?”

Rachel reached out to touch his face – suddenly, strangely, felt like a child next to him: suddenly, strangely, felt embraced.

“I don’t know,” she whispered, and he nodded.

“Don’t be afraid of me, Rachel,” he murmured. “I am driven by love, not by evil – by a kind of love you can’t yet understand. But even love, sometimes, must act strongly – and be mistaken for evil, even while it is seeking a much greater good.”

Rachel now grasped his other arm. “So you are good, then?” she pleaded. “Not only powerful, but good? There is hope?”

Joshua touched her face, and suddenly tears were filling his eyes. Tears! He was human! “Yes,” he whispered, “there is hope. But you will see for yourself just how high a price goodness must pay in its outworking.”

She searched his face: what was he saying? She searched his eyes. But now he turned away, back into the crowd. He healed them. And it was time for Rachel to return to the hospital.

She walked back through the hospital doors, and felt for the stethoscope around her neck – but her methods now seemed like sticks and stones compared with his healing: her purpose seemed, now, like a faint shadow of his purpose.

For a moment she vacillated – and then she walked straight to the Human Resources Office, reached for a form, and signed her name.

Annual leave. It was time to take some rest.

 

[]CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Risk

John sat against a pine tree.

It was late. The sun had set, on the long summer day. Darkness had settled. The park was almost deserted – the lake quiet and calm, sparkling under moonlight and starlight.

John’s eyes fleetingly closed. Such a day! John had never seen anything like it! Joshua – he had healed so many people! So easily, in his stride – so easily! He healed, like…like…

Trembling, John shook his head at the thought. No: that was impossible. And yet, what had happened that day? What wondrous thing had they all just witnessed?

Someone was now sitting beside him. John opened his eyes, to see Rau. His Maori face was radiant, in the moonlight: his eyes lit with a kind of joy John did not understand.

“Areruia,” Rau said. “I have seen the coming of the Lord.”

“‘The Lord’?” John whispered. “Which Lord?”

“There is only one,” Rau replied, smiling gently. “Only one, who has this kind of authority over us.”

John swallowed, and shifted slightly on the ground. The Lord? John knew no Lord. And yet…and yet…

“Did you feel him?” Rau asked. “Did you see him?”

Somehow John’s hands were wringing, in his lap. “I…I was too afraid to look.”

“Look at him now,” Rau gently invited him. “Look at him, now.”

John raised his eyes, to search for Joshua. Where was he? Off by himself again – John knew it. There he was, at the lake’s edge – dipping his hand in, splashing the water, making little waves.

“So human,” Rau murmured. “Do you see it? So human. And yet so…”

“Divine?” John interjected. “You might as well say it: I know who you think he is.”

Rau held his gaze. “All right, then” he said. “I will say it. Yes, divine. I believe this is the Christ, come back again to save us.”

The words felt like lead in John’s stomach. He thrust himself to his feet – he clenched his fists, and began to pace backwards and forwards.

“You can’t say that!” he said to Rau. “You can’t claim this is the Christ!”

“Why not?” Rau asked. “In Wenderholm, you were declaring his authority! How much more so is his authority declared now?”

“It was different in Wenderholm!” John said. “We were alone!” Tears filled his eyes, and he rapidly blinked them away. “We can’t hide now! Not with everything he’s done.”

Rau’s hand came on his shoulder, from behind. “Don’t be afraid, John,” he said. “What can people do to us, with Joshua on our side?”

“What can people do to us?” John repeated, heart pounding. “People can kill us, Rau! People can kill us! He knows that!” Now he gestured in Joshua’s direction. “He feels it.”

John glanced back at Rau’s eyes – to find a strange resolution there.

“I don’t care,” Rau said. “I’ve been following Christ all my life: I’m not going to stop now.”

“Even if they crucify you for it?”

Rau’s gaze was steadfast: strong. “Even if they crucify me,” he said. “I’ll die if that’s what it takes.”

“What about your family? Your wife? Your children?”

Rau swallowed, but his gaze remained. “Whatever it takes.”

John admired him, in that moment: saw the truth of his conviction. Truly he believed – truly he followed. But John did not share in the same faith.

“What do you see in him?” Rau asked. “Why do you follow?”

John looked again to the man standing alone at the water. “I see someone I don’t understand,” he said. “Someone greater than I am – someone with great power, and heart.”

“And the source of his power?”

“I don’t know.”

“Not God?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

Rau’s face looked perplexed, gazing at him. “How can you not believe in God, watching what you saw today?”

John shifted again on his feet. God? What was God? An old man in the sky? Childhood fairy tales: Christ and Santa as one?

“God is for children.”

“Not only for children!” Rau protested. “Christ was the most adult of adults!”

“Stories of an ark bouncing on the water,” John said. “A flood, and a dove. Pretty stories, for children.”

“Unless you become as a child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”^^6^^

“Exactly. Heaven is for children. Real life is for adults.”

“Then who is Hell for?”

Surprised, John turned to find Tristan standing next to him. His face, under the starlight, looked pale: his green eyes a little haunted. John frowned at him – and now Rau’s hand went to Tristan’s shoulder.

“Are you all right, mate?”

“I don’t know,” Tristan whispered.

“What’s going on?”

“Today…”

“Yes?”

Tristan was trembling now – and tears filled his eyes. “He fixed them!” he said. “He fixed them.”

John searched Tristan’s face. What was wrong with this young man? What had he seen, in his life? Some horror – some source of great shame.

“Isn’t that the point?” Tristan asked. “Isn’t that what we need? Someone to care? Someone to fix us?”

“You mean someone to save us?” Rau murmured. “A Saviour?”

Rau’s arms went around Tristan now – a strong Maori embrace. Tristan was actually crying. John felt uncomfortable – he backed away a little. Then he heard footsteps approaching.

“Where are they?” a woman’s voice called out. “Where have the patients gone?”

John looked at her. She was a slim woman, maybe in her early thirties, like him – wearing a white lab coat, and a stethoscope around her neck, under straight brown hair. Fear struck his heart – she was a doctor.

“Ah…” he stuttered. “I guess they’ve gone home.”

“Home?” She said, her face breaking into a pretty smile. “Don’t tell me you’ve emptied out the whole hospital!”

“Have we broken some kind of rule?” John hurriedly asked.

“No!” she said. “It’s up to them! It’s their bodies. They didn’t sign out, though.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

She looked at him, for a moment – then glanced at Rau, and Tristan, and looked back to John, shaking her head a little.

“Sorry,” she said, “that’s not why I came.”

“No?” John asked.

“No. I came to…” Now she seemed to be struggling a little – her blue eyes seeming conflicted. “I had to finish being on call first.”

“Busy?”

“No.” Her expression was wry. “Quiet. And now I’m finished, and…”

“Yes?”

“I was wondering if I could help.”

Surprised, John glanced at Rau and Tristan. They were silently watching her. Their eyes met his, seemingly wary. Could she be trusted? But they did not speak.

John returned to her light face.

“How would you like to help?” John asked. “Joshua seems to have things sorted.”

“Oh, yes!” she said, seeming a little flustered. “I don’t mean treating patients.”

“What, then?”

“I could record them for you.”

“Sorry?”

“I could record the healings. The diagnoses, the results, and the outcomes. I could document them all – publish them all.”

Now fear consumed John. Publish them? Make them known to the entire world?

“I don’t know,” he gasped – but now Rau stepped forward.

“I think it’s a great idea.”

“Really?” she said, smiling widely.

“Tell everyone. Join us.”

Now the woman extended her hand, but it was to John. “I’m Rachel Connor,” she said.

John hesitated – and then he received the hand.

“John Robertson,” he said. “Nice to meet you, Dr Connor.”

Tristan was nudging him, now – and John complied.

“And this is Tristan Blake, and our leader, Rau Petera.”

Tristan brightly received her hand: he was clearly taken by the beauty of her enthusiastic eyes. And Rau now also was warm, in reception.

John nervously watched her. Documentation? She was a scientist. What place did a scientist have amongst them?

But then Joshua was there. He smiled. He extended his hand.

“Rachel Connor,” he said to her, “you are very welcome.”

“Thank you,” she said to him.

“Documentation,” he murmured. “An interesting idea.”

“I just thought…”

“Do as you wish,” he said. “Verify our proceedings with your science, as you see fit. I will not get in the way. But…”

“Yes?”

“You will find in time there are realms science has not yet thought to touch.”

“Realms we cannot touch, or have not yet considered?”

Joshua’s smile widened. “Both,” he said, “because both are inherently linked.”

She looked intrigued. Joshua had drawn her – John was certain, in that moment: he had purposefully called her. She followed: happily followed.

And John, also, in that moment, felt a rising interest in her.

 

[]CHAPTER NINETEEN: Unease

James Connor stared at the Beehive staff cafeteria TV screen.

“What the hell…?”

The same damned young reporter was back, with more yarn to spin.

“Joshua Davidson strikes again!” she said into the camera. “Next on the agenda? Healings! Lots of them. Who needs a public health system, when Joshua is coming to town?”

Connor rose to his feet. “Great,” he said. “Who needs fiction with reporting like this?”

People were surrounding the report, jostling against her – trying to get air time.

“My foot!” One elderly woman said. “It was crook, and he fixed it! My GP didn’t have a clue.”

“And my head!” another younger woman said. “Terrible migraines, now gone!”

“Pity about the delusions,” Connor said – and he switched the set off.

There was a sudden silence in the cafeteria: an uncomfortable silence. Surprised, Connor glanced around his MPs – they had been watching!

“Back to work, people!” he said. “Happy hour is over.”

Connor walked out of the cafeteria, and made his way toward Parliament House. There, in the First Floor Foyer, as expected, Clarkson joined him.

“Jim,” he said, as they made their way to the Debating Chamber. “Seen the news lately?”

“Tell me you’re not talking about that Joshua,” Connor said. “I’m about up to here with all the stories.”

“I like his style.”

“What?” Connor glanced at his grinning face, and sighed. “Of course you do. Silly me.”

“He’s emptying our hospitals!” Clarkson said. “Nice social policies.”

“‘Policies’?” Connor said. “That’s a new one.”

“Food to the poor, healing to the sick: sounds like he’ll put us all out of a job!”

Connor gave him a double take. Put them out of a job? That was a bit close to the bone! “Planning for retirement, Patrick?”

“Maybe he could take my job!” Clarkson’s eyes were dancing.

“Yeah, right,” Connor said. “He can have it!”

And they arrived in the Chamber.

What was on the agenda? Ah, yes: the ‘Emergency Reallocation of Public Funds’ bill. All rose, for the Speaker. He prayed. All sat, the announcement of the bill was made, and then Connor rose to his feet.

“Mr Speaker,” he said.

“The Right Honourable Prime Minister James Connor.”

“I nominate that the Emergency Reallocation of Public Funds bill be read a second time.”

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said, rising opposite Connor.

“The Right Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Patrick Clarkson.”

“I’d like to ask the Right Honourable Prime Minister whether now, finally, with the help of one Joshua Davidson, public funds might actually be excess?”

Laughter spread across the House.

“Public Health pollution must be down,” Tracy Harrison said, of the Clean Green Party, rising to her feet.

“I understand crime is falling,” Rawiri Heka said, of the Maori Party.

“Hope seems to be rising,” a Christian Conservative Party MP said, standing. “Morale hasn’t been this high in our country for many years.”

Connor rose again quickly to his feet. “Point of order, Mr Speaker,” he said. “We are not here to discuss Joshua Davidson.”

He fixed his eyes on the Speaker. The older man looked between Connor, Clarkson, Harrison and Heka, and then nodded.

“Right Honourable Patrick Clarkson, withdraw your last statement.”

Clarkson was smiling from ear to ear. “Mr Speaker, I withdraw my last statement.”

“The question is that the motion be agreed to,” the Speaker said, and now the Minister of Finance rose to his feet.

“Mr Speaker, I would like to support the Emergency Reallocation of Public Funds bill.”

Clarkson rose to his feet.

“Mr Speaker, I would like to ask for more information regarding the powers rendered by the bill, and I ask where the funds might be allocated should the need arise…”

Connor girded himself: this one, as expected, would take more of a battle of wits. So be it.

The debate continued. The vote was taken. The Government coalition with the Christian Conservative Party was still in the majority. The bill was passed on to the Finance Select Committee, for consideration.

The Speaker left the Chamber. Satisfied, Connor followed quickly behind.

As he made his way back to the Beehive, Connor began to remember Mark Blake’s words.

I thought you were afraid of fragmentation.”

Connor shook his head. Fragmentation? No. There was no such threat.

He’s prancing around like a king.”

A king. That thought struck more fear into Connor’s heart. A king? But again, no. There was no evidence of such a thing. Only a man, only a little mass delusion – food, and care. Nothing more. In many ways, the man seemed much more a priest than an actual king.

No wonder Blake was threatened.

Smirking, Connor walked across the alleyway, and around into the Round Reception Hall. Yes – let the priests work out their own quarrels. He had no interest in matters of God.

He caught the lift, rose to the ninth floor, and entered his office. It was vital they nail this bill: time to prepare more information for the Select Committee.

Sitting at his desk, he reached for the bill’s folder – and then heard his cell-phone ring. Half-distracted, he reached for it, and answered.

“James Connor.”

“Dad?”

“Rachel!” Happily he looked at her photo, on his desk. “Unusual time for you to call.”

“I’ve taken some time off work.”

“Oh, yes? Everything okay?”

“Umm…” Her voice sounded hesitant, and then she continued. “Have you seen the news?”

“Yes, yes – how can I miss it? Joshua Davidson’s face is planted everywhere.”

She paused – and then she continued again.

“He was outside our hospital.”

“Yes?” His eyes were drifting over the folder – he reached inside.

“I saw him.”

Now Connor stopped, and focused fully on her. “And?”

Again, a pause. Connor frowned. “Rachel?”

“I think the healings are real.”

Chills went up his back. “What do you mean, Rachel?”

“Dad – I think they are real.”

Panic threatened him – he forced it down with iron grip.

“Rachel, you’re not allowed to say that kind of thing. You’re a doctor. You’ll lose your job.”

“I’m a scientist as well as a doctor,” she said. “And as a scientist, I have to acknowledge what I see.”

Connor’s vision blurred for a moment. He blinked furiously, and focused hard on her image.

“Rachel,” he said. “Just keep this to yourself, okay? Keep it to yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s something going on with you. Don’t tell anyone. I’ll get Mum to visit you, or something – we’ll help you out.”

“Dad, I’m not mad.”

“We’ll get you some help.”

“Dad!” Now her voice rose, and was strong – he had never heard her speak that way before. “You have to listen to me!” she said. “The healings are real! I’m a doctor – I know what I’m talking about! You have to listen.”

Connor began to sweat. “But how can they be real, Rachel? What are you saying?”

Again, her voice paused. And then…

“I don’t know what I’m saying, Dad: I don’t know how to interpret the evidence. I’m just saying that the evidence is here. And…I thought you should know. You’re our Prime Minister.”

A sudden burden weighed on his chest: heavy, a little frightening.

“Rachel,” he said. “Did he make any mention of being a king?”

“No,” Rachel answered.

“Do you think…?” Now he hesitated. Surely the phone was bugged. “Do you think he’s dangerous?”

He heard her shifting, on the other end of the phone. Then, again, she spoke.

“No,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

Now Connor was silent. He stared at her photo – at her beauty: at her smile.

“Keep me posted, Rachel,” he said, feeling now a deep sense of conflict. He was using her! Using her as an informant. And he knew she also would know it. “Let me know if you find out more.”

He heard an almost inaudible sigh – and then, for the last time, her voice.

“Have a good day, Dad.”

“Okay,” he said. “Have a good day, Rachel.”

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY: Takapuna

Rachel sat on the grass, at Takapuna Beach.

She was on the edge of the bank, her legs dangling over: her feet just about touching the water below. It was high tide.

Behind her, on the grassy bank, under plush pohutukawa trees, thousands had gathered around Joshua. Rachel knew the reporters were there, also: New Zealand reporters, and also international.

In front of her, the ocean sparkled. Rangitoto was beyond: the dormant volcanic cone laden with the biggest pohutukawa forest in the world. Pohutukawa – the New Zealand Christmas tree. The bright red spindle blossoms were still out, set against the olive green oval leaves – they were here, in Takapuna, and Rachel thought she could make out a little red amongst the deeper green of Rangitoto.

The sun was high in the deep blue sky – it was a beautiful, warm summer day.

For a moment she glanced again at her cell-phone. ‘Keep me posted,’ her father had said. What was he on about? ‘Dangerous’? Why was he afraid? One thing was sure – she wasn’t about to keep reporting to him, like an agent. No need, anyway: the media were already everywhere.

She quickly put the phone away, and eyed the water at her feet. Now she tentatively dunked in a toe.

“Don’t be afraid,” Joshua’s voice said, drifting over her from behind. “Hard times are coming – but they are only the beginning of something brand new, and fresh. They might hurt! Like a mother hurts, when she is giving birth: she pushes, and pushes, and strains! But then comes the brand new baby! A wonder! A miracle. Joy comes in the morning, like the blossoming of the pohutukawa…”

Rachel’s vision misted, for a moment. Childbirth. Then she turned, to look at Joshua. He was standing on the bank, quite high up – his voice was carrying easily. The people were standing, or sitting, or lying on the grass – some looked like they were sunbathing: eyes closed, arms and legs stretched out. Children were running around, darting between people, playing.

“A new time is coming,” Joshua said, “when there will be no more pain, or suffering, or grief – no more hunger, or sickness, or war…”

Rachel’s eyes found Tristan, now, in the crowd. He was standing very still, in front of Joshua: he was listening carefully.

“There will be no need to fight anymore,” Joshua said. “No need to struggle on. There will be peace – real, full, complete peace.”

Rau was standing, near Tristan – his face radiant, as usual.

“That new season is coming,” Joshua said. “It won’t be long. But to reach it, we must learn to fight in a different way. Not with fists, or physical weapons: not against an enemy out there – an enemy who is really our neighbour. No, we must learn to fight the true enemy: the shrewdest combatant. We must learn to overcome the voice of evil in our own hearts.”

Rachel tilted her head, pondering him. The voice of evil? Our own hearts?

“There are different kinds of fighting,” Joshua continued, “just as there are different kinds of love. There are different kinds of allies along the way. Some allies provide weapons of warfare for the fight. Some provide soldiers. Some allies provide strength, beyond our own strength – knowledge, beyond our own knowledge. Some allies are so strong, in the war that our only course of action is to join them – to become one, in the fight, with them.”

John was standing there, next to Joshua – Rachel suddenly saw him. He was standing very close to him – almost touching him.

“There is one Ally,” Joshua said, “who is much greater than the rest: one Ally who can overcome the grip of the enemy, as surely as a tsunami wipes out everything in its path. What will happen, when that Ally comes? What will happen, when the flood comes?

“Every soldier needs to listen to his commanding officer, for the time when the ultimate weapon is dropped. Every soldier needs to take shelter, to survive while the enemy is taken.”

Now Joshua paused – and then he continued.

“Who is that great Ally?” he asked. “That is the question we all must answer. When is the flood coming? No-one knows but the Ally himself. Where is the shelter to hide?”

He paused again, and fixed his eyes on John.

“That shelter,” he said, “is me.”

 

Muttering started in the crowd. Joshua himself was a shelter? How could a man be a shelter for a flood? Rachel heard the people starting to argue a little, amongst themselves.

“I don’t get it,” a young man said, close to her. “What’s he talking about?”

“A tsunami!” a woman said, opposite him. “There must be a tsunami coming! We should get away from the coast!”

Rachel looked down at her feet, dipped in the sea. The water was calm, and unmoving. A light sea breeze lifted her hair a little from her face. No – he wasn’t talking about a literal tsunami: she was certain of that. But what about his talk of war? Wasn’t that a little dangerous, in these tenuous times?

She glanced again to the reporters – the cameras, filming him. Had he meant a literal war? A literal weapon? She didn’t think so. But what might others think? Surely he knew the potency of his analogies – surely he knew what the impact might be of his words…

Joshua’s eyes were moving over the crowd – and now Tane stepped forward.

“You are our shelter,” Tane said. “Our safety, for the storms ahead.”

“I am,” Joshua said.

“Then we will follow you!” Tane said. “You are our Leader – you are our Great Ally.”

And he broke into a Maori karakia.

A few other Maori gathered around him, men and women. Tane was leading them – and now they began a waiata: they sang to Joshua, and Joshua, and the entire crowd, listened. People began to rise to their feet.

Rachel watched them, and her vision misted again. She shook the water off her toes, and rose to her feet. Aotearoa, New Zealand! Maori and Pakeha as one! This was her home.

The waiata, soaring, and deep, came to an end. Then Joshua, in traditional response, began to sing.

Rachel stared at him, astonished. He was singing their National Anthem!^^7^^

“E Ihowā Atua,

O ngā iwi mātou rā

Āta whakarangona;

Me aroha noa

Kia hua ko te pai;

Kia tau tō atawhai;

Manaakitia mai

Aotearoa”

 

What was going to happen to them? What would become of little old New Zealand, in the much bigger world scene? With Joshua, in that moment, everyone began to feel safe.

 

“God of Nations, at thy feet,” he sang,

“In the bonds of love we meet,

Hear our voices, we entreat,

God defend our free land.”

 

Voices joined in, now – thousands of voices, as one, with Joshua.

 

“Guard Pacific’s triple star,

From the shafts of strife and war

Make her praises heard afar,

God defend New Zealand!”

 

The song had become a prayer – the voices, lifted up, had become united.

With tears, Rachel trembled. What was happening, all around her? A new hope! A new passion! Joshua continued the National Anthem – he knew all the words, and the people followed him.

 

“Men of every creed and race,

Gather here before Thy face,

Asking thee to bless this place,

God defend our free land.

 

“From dissension, envy, hate,

And corruption guard our state.

Make our country good and great,

God defend New Zealand.”

 

Then, when it was finished, a cheer went up – a loud, sustained shout of joy.

God defend New Zealand.

Something had changed, in that moment: Rachel felt it. Something had changed – and now there was no going back.

Tane and the Maori group gathered now tightly around Joshua – Joshua pressed foreheads and noses, exchanging a Maori hongi with them all. Others then flooded after them to Joshua – Pakeha European, Pacific Islander, Asian, Middle Eastern: people from all over. They loved him – maybe they even worshiped him. Rachel had never seen anything like it.

And the cameras were there, as well. Set back a little, watching: the World.

Rachel swallowed. What would happen to little old New Zealand? What would happen?

Rachel hesitated – but then she moved. She didn’t want to be on the outside, anymore: outside of the circle of the cameras, watching. She was a part of this movement – she was safe, within it.

Quickly she joined the people – and moved in closer, to be with Joshua.

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: The Light

John sat at the waterfront.

It was late. Many of the crowd had left. Some had stayed on – and set up tents, on the grassland. A few, John noticed, were still trying to text their friends or family – struggling with the unreliable network.

John looked out across the sea. Rangitoto, the volcanic cone, was a dark shadow now. Stars, and moon, lit up the dark sky.

What had happened, that day? Something remarkable; something historic. Joshua had spoken, and the people had listened. They had heard him. They had seen him. They were following him.

The water had receded, from the base of the grassy hill. A little sand was exposed, now. John sat on the edge of the grass, looking down at the sand – seeing a few tiny crabs scamper away. Then he noticed someone sit beside him.

It was Joshua.

John looked at his face. He was tired. It was late. John smiled at him.

“Quite a day,” he said.

“Yes,” Joshua replied. “That’s for real.”

“They really listened to you!” John said, and Joshua smiled sadly.

“They listened, but they don’t really understand,” he said. “Not yet.”

John searched him – the brown eyes, full of hidden meaning.

“The metaphors,” John said. “A tsunami. A war.”

“Big things are ahead.”

“I get that, but…but what did you mean by the great ‘Ally’?” Now John trembled. “What did you mean by the ‘ultimate weapon’?”

Joshua’s face deepened in sadness. “Anyone who wants to find the truth will find it, John.”

“What truth?” John asked.

The brown eyes were on him. “Do you really want to know?”

John swallowed. He glanced again across to the dark shape of Rangitoto. The volcano was dormant now, as all the forty plus cones on which Auckland was built. Dormant, now – but explosive only five hundred years ago. They were due for another eruption…

Do you really want to know?

Fleetingly John closed his eyes. Then he opened them again.

“I’m afraid,” he said.

“I know,” Joshua gently replied. “But you don’t need to be afraid. Not if you stay with me.”

And now Joshua took John’s hand.

Discomfort filled John, at the physical touch with another man – but John knew Joshua meant nothing sexual in the act. It was something else Joshua sought: an entirely different kind of intimacy.

Something flooded over him, like a rushing tide: like wind, which passed right through him. And then, suddenly, in a haze, John saw a massive white sun rising behind Rangitoto. Light filled the sky, and the land – light that passed over and through everything in its path. Joshua’s hand gripped him tightly – John shook hard, as the light passed through his own body: through his own soul. He cried out, as he felt his body being changed: as he felt his soul being changed.

“What is it?” he cried. All of his hearing was somehow filled by the light. All of his smell, and taste, and touch, was consumed by it. The Light wholly owned him – the Light was wholly joined to him.

“Not what,” Joshua said. “Who.”

And now Joshua let go of his hand.

Agony took him. Darkness rose up in his heart: darkness that could not exist in the light. Hatred, selfishness, murderous rage – where did it come from? Why? It was a purging! A purging, from the depths of his soul! It arose, and it was too strong, and he couldn’t control it: couldn’t overcome it. He couldn’t hide it: it was totally exposed, in the Light – it was fatal, in the Light.

Confused, dismayed, he groped around for Joshua. He was dying! He was dying. Joshua’s hand returned – and now John saw, in a haze, the darkness, creeping, as a disease, from John to Joshua: infecting Joshua.

“No,” John gasped, desperately trying to pull back his arm. “No!”

But Joshua’s grip was stronger on him than his own retreat. The darkness spread to him, and John found himself relieved. Bewildered, he saw that his body, his own soul, was lit.

Joshua’s face, in the haze, contorted. He looked ready to vomit. He turned his face into the Light, stretched out his arms, breathed deeply – his hand still grasped John – and then the darkness was gone.

All that was left was Light. John reached his right hand out to touch it, even as he still gripped onto Joshua with his left. The Light felt tangible – physical energy: warm, sweet, fragrant, musical; all the colours of the rainbow combined…And, beyond this, more…

Trembling, John reached further into the Light. Who…? Who…?

“Atua,” Joshua said. “God.”

“God…?” John gasped. God? No! It couldn’t be…

And then the vision disappeared.

Darkness surrounded him. It was night-time. The water was still, in starlight. Rangitoto was silent.

John pulled his knees up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around them. He was a child, now! Only a child.

Joshua was next to him. John felt himself beginning to cry – overwhelmed. Joshua’s hand was on his shoulder – only a human hand.

“It’s all right,” Joshua murmured. “You’re safe.”

“Safe…?” John whispered. “What does that even mean?”

“I am the Bridge,” Joshua murmured gently. “I am the Way into the Light.”

“The Ark,” John muttered, trembling. “The Ark, for the Flood.”

“Children trust,” Joshua murmured, “and so do the most adult of adults.”

“You said you would teach us to swim.”

“Faith is the swimming, John,” Joshua said. “Trust is the way for all of humanity to survive.”

John stared down at the sand at his feet. Faith? Not only an empty faith – not only trust for the sake of trusting. A specific faith – a specific trust. Trust in the one worthy of trust.

“Father,” he whispered – a child, trembling, in Joshua’s midst. Joshua’s arm came around his shoulders now.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I am gentle, you see? I am gentle, and you can rest here with me.”

John closed his eyes. The vision had been massive to him – overwhelming all of his senses: overwhelming his body, and his heart. What was that Light? Who was the Light?

“I am the way,” Joshua murmured to him. “Rest, John: it’s late. Rest.”

And his hand came to John’s head – then Joshua rose up and wandered away, and John missed him, and was alone.

 

The moon reflected in the ocean water: a pale reflection of what John had just seen. He gazed at it – for a long time just stared at it. Then he was joined by another.

“Are you okay?” It was Rachel.

John glanced up at her pretty face – straight brown hair, and blue eyes. How could he possibly, possibly begin to explain what had just happened to him?

“I…” He gazed at her face, gave up on the effort, and looked away again to the ocean.

Rachel sat down next to him. She was silent – he appreciated her sensitivity. He began to appreciate her presence, too. Then he spoke.

“Joshua,” he whispered. “He…he just showed me something.”

“What?” Rachel naturally asked.

“I…I find it hard to describe.”

Her pretty face broke into a gentle smile. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “He’s quite an enigma.”

He smiled at her. “Yes,” he said, “but he’s so much more again.”

“What?” she asked again. “Try to find the words.”

“Why?” John asked, lightly joking. “So you can write them down? Part of your research?”

“Maybe,” she said, a little playfully – looking strangely the child alongside him.

“Quite the scientist.”

“Reality brings me joy.”

“Yes…” John murmured, looking again across the ocean. “I think we might have that in common.”

He was holding her hand. How had that happened? He started, and looked at her face, and began to stutter an apology – but she shook her head, and slipped her fingers between his.

This touch was very different from that of Joshua.

Flushing, he looked at her. He felt like a school boy – he had never been involved with a woman. She withdrew her fingers, grasped his hand, and then turned, shoulder to shoulder, with him, looking out across the ocean.

“Tell me,” she said, “what did you see?”

And suddenly his words began to flow. “I saw light,” he whispered, “rising up, as the sun, over the horizon. Powerful light; personal light. The source of life; the threat of death. I was consumed, and then…”

“Yes?”

“Joshua saved me.”

He looked at her, now – grasping her hand strongly, now fully adult. Her eyes looked perplexed: the eyes of a scientist.

“What do you say to that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Does science have a place here?” he asked, “in the realm of the unknown? In a realm beyond what we ourselves can see? Does science have a role to play?”

“I do have a role to play,” she whispered, “as a partner in the quest for truth.”

John’s heart pounded, at the words – he saw her: suddenly wanted her.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

Desire filled him – but not only desire. Impulsively, he pulled her to himself – kissing her, embracing her. Her arms were around him, now! Her kiss was for him!

He pulled back, suddenly embarrassed, looking around them – but no-one had noticed, in the dark. Only one was watching. It was Joshua himself – smiling knowingly.

Science, and…and what? He looked again across the ocean.

“What was the Light?” Rachel asked, and John struggled again.

“I…find it hard to say.”

“Energy?”

“Yes, but more.”

“More?”

He swallowed, now, and then spoke. “Spirit,” he said. “I think it was spirit.”

“Spirit…” her face looked thoughtful. “Spirit, and science. Together? Why not? If spirit, is energy – if spirit is light.”

“More than energy,” John said. “More than light.”

“More?”

“I…” He struggled, painfully, to confess what was rising up within him. “God,” he finally said. “I think it was God.”

Rachel’s eyes were on him. “God?” she said, and he began to writhe.

“I’ve never believed in God!” he said. “Not since childhood! I’ve never seen him! But now! Now…”

He felt himself surrendering his final defences – surrendering in the fight.

“I saw him” he whispered to Rachel. “I saw him, with my own eyes.”

“Evidence…” Rachel murmured thoughtfully. “Empirical evidence.”

“I can’t explain it, but I saw him, and felt him, with all of my senses. It was overwhelming, and…Joshua was the only way to stay.”

Rachel was silent, alongside him. Then she pulled out a notebook, and a pen.

“Are you serious?” John asked, nudging her. “I was joking when I mentioned your research before.”

“You saw him,” Rachel said.

“I know, but it was a vision, you know? Not my physical eyeballs?”

She shrugged silently. “I’ll take down the information as it happened,” she said. “The reader can decide what to do with it.”

“A true scientist,” John muttered. “The facts, pure and simple. The devil is in the interpretation.”

Rachel smiled wryly, looking down into her notes – and John described for her, now, point by point what he had seen.

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Auckland

Sweat dripped down Tristan’s face.

It was another hot day – steaming. He backed away from the melting tar seal of the road, through the packed crowd of people, to under the overhanging shelter of a bakery.

They were on Karangahape Road, in the centre of the city of Auckland. People were pressed into him on all sides. Where was Joshua? Tristan could just see him, across the street. He was with some women who were wearing tight miniskirts and heavy makeup. Prostitutes? Joshua was talking to prostitutes, at a time like this?

Tristan looked around – and saw Rau, a few feet away.

“Hey!” he called out. “Bro!”

Rau glanced his way, and smiled, and Tristan inched his way toward him.

“What’s with Joshua now?” Tristan asked.

“All part of the territory,” Rau said.

“Wadaya mean?” Tristan asked, staring hard at him, grinning from ear to ear – and Rau shook his head.

“You know what I mean. He’s talking with them.”

“Got something to say?”

“Always. There is always something to say.”

Rau’s warmth silenced Tristan. He glanced again to Joshua – he was gesturing the ladies forward. They hesitated, looking around at the people – but then they joined the crowd.

A car was struggling to slowly make its way through the bodies. Behind the car was a large float.

“Come on,” Rau said, grasping Tristan’s shoulder, “that’s our ride.”

And, a little bewildered, Tristan followed him – pressing between people, to the float.

Somewhere ahead of them was music playing: another car, maybe, with a stereo. Anahera was there, sitting on the outer edge of the float. John and Rachel were there, too, and a few others, on the other side. Rau pressed him forward, and Tristan awkwardly joined the team, sitting on the edge of the float, dangling his feet over the edge.

“What am I even doing here?” Tristan asked, and Rau patted his shoulder.

“You are following him, like all these people are following him,” Rau said.

Tristan stared into his face – and then Joshua arrived.

He stepped up onto the elevation of the float. Tristan looked up at him: he looked so ordinary! Wearing tidy jeans, now, full length, and a smart short sleeved white shirt. A roaring cheer went up – almost too loud for Tristan to bear. And then the float began to move, slowly, slowly, behind the car.

People steadily made way for the float – for Joshua. Tristan watched the faces, as they passed – they were captivated by him. Many stretched their hands out to him, and Joshua stretched over to take them. Many cried out their need, and Joshua called out his comfort. The scene reminded Tristan a little of the Pope – except that Joshua held no formal position, wore no formal robes, had no formal training, but was utterly adored.

 

Was he like Lady Diana had been? Tristan remembered reading about her, in a history book: The People’s Princess. What was Joshua: the People’s Prince? No, more. He had fed them. He himself had healed them. He had even claimed to be their shelter, for the coming war to come.

Maori voices were raised, ahead of them. Tristan stood up on the float, now, balancing on the lower level – he looked ahead. Yes, there they were: a huge Maori gathering, walking in front, in traditional dress – feathers, beaded skirts, tattoos. Sometimes they were breaking into a haka! Sometimes performing a karakia. Sometimes singing waiata.

Tane was there. His voice was raised, in the group – declaring something in Maori. Tristan knew he was proclaiming Joshua to be the King.

Tristan sat himself down again – and noticed Rau was quiet, next to him. The Maori Anglican priest was praying. Tristan let him be, and looked up at the European Pakeha faces watching them.

The float turned now, left, into Queen Street.

Now more shouts went up. “Joshua!” they cried. “Joshua!” Whoops and whistles sounded – New Zealand flags were waving in the breeze. Ticker tape suddenly appeared, thrown from the footpaths – descending all over the float. Tristan laughed, and reached out to grab some red streamers. What would be next: fireworks?

Hands were waving, and clapping – voices were raised, singing. The float moved steadily on, down the main road of town. Tristan had never seen such a display – not for over fifteen years. It was an utter extravagance, carried off by a city that could not afford the transport. People must have walked there! Walked for miles! They had walked, Tristan knew, for the hope. They had walked, he knew, for their future.

The float turned left into Customs Street, to still more cheers, and streamers. Along they went, down the road, along Fanshawe, and then they turned left into Hobson, where the road had been partitioned off.

Now the parade was over. Now the people could return home. Tristan glanced back down the street, toward Fanshawe Street. Yes, the masses were moving – catching buses, catching trains, catching ferries, and walking. A few of the rich could still buy petrol for their cars – as they had all just travelled.

Joshua stepped off the float. His face was bright, his eyes looking full of purpose. But there was something else there, too – some hidden sadness.

“Sir…?” Tristan began to ask – and then he turned, and found a group of people waiting for Joshua.

The police were there. Tristan swallowed – were they going to arrest him? They did not. Only murmured a few words: only watched. And now two other men stepped forward.

One was dressed in a dog collar: tall, and slim. “Joshua Davidson,” he began, “I am the Right Reverend Richard Barker, the Anglican Bishop of Auckland.”

Joshua tipped his head to him. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

“I was wondering if you could please explain to me what just happened here.”

Joshua smiled, and shrugged. “The people have spoken,” he said.

And now the other man stepped forward – tall and thin. Tristan suddenly recognised him.

“Sir,” he said, “I am Patrick Clarkson, the Leader of the Opposition Party.”

“I know who you are,” Joshua said. “I am a New Zealander too.”

“I understand what you’re trying to do here, and I salute you for it.”

“Thank you.”

“Helping the poor, healing the sick, giving the people their voice: I support all of these things.”

“Good.”

“But do you realize what people are saying about you?”

Joshua didn’t flinch from Clarkson’s gaze: quite the opposite – Tristan noticed Joshua seemed to grow in strength.

“What are they saying?”

Clarkson became silent – and now Bishop Barker spoke.

“Some say that you are the Christ, returned to us: the one filled with God’s Spirit – the same one great high priest that we should all follow.”

Joshua was looking at him. “And what do you say, Bishop?”

The older man’s face clouded with sadness. “I don’t know,” he freely admitted. “None of my years as a minister have prepared me for this.”

Joshua laid a hand on his shoulder. “Then you are close to the truth,” he said. “Keep searching for it. Keep watching. Keep seeing.”

Barker looked perplexed, at the words – and Clarkson again stepped forward.

“Priest or not,” he said, “the people are starting to claim that you are our king.” He fixed his eyes directly on Joshua again. “Are you our king?”

Joshua held his gaze, once again – and Tristan watched the same familiar sadness fill his expression.

“That is what the people say,” he replied.

“Sir,” Clarkson said, “I am a politician. In a democracy, people choose their leader: not so in a monarchy. A monarch chooses himself.”

Joshua smiled slightly. “Natural strength prevails,” he said.

“Are you saying that you are stronger?”

“That is not what I am saying.”

“Then what are you saying?”

Joshua looked at him, paused, and then spoke.

“There are different kinds of leadership,” he said, “and different kinds of kingdom.”

“Then you are a king?”

Joshua took a deep breath, and then released it. “I am,” he said.

Clarkson’s face flushed – and Tristan swallowed. Joshua was directly calling himself a king, now? Where might that lead?

“You don’t understand,” Joshua said. “Your idea of a kingdom is different from mine. I’m not talking about a political kingdom – rather a spiritual one.”

“Do you mean to do away with politics?” Clarkson asked him.

“I do not.”

“Do you mean to override Parliament?”

“No.”

Now Clarkson looked more appeased. He tilted his head thoughtfully.

“How can you claim to be a king, and not participate in any way in politics?”

“Political parties have their own form of power,” Joshua said, “and God has his form of power. We should give to our politicians what they already possess, and to God what he already possesses.”

Tristan was impressed with his words – and Clarkson seemed intrigued.

“You are curious,” he said. “Communistic, surely! Left wing! And yet, you let the status quo be?”

“A time is coming when everything will be turned over,” Joshua said, “but that time has not yet come.”

“The voice of the people – the power of the people.”

“No,” Joshua said. “The power of God, over and through the people.”

Clarkson was silenced – and Barker spoke.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”^^8^^

“Yes,” Joshua said, “I see that you mean it.”

“‘And love your neighbour as yourself.’”

“Love God and people,” Joshua said. “That is the right way. That is the only way.”

“And when we fail?” Barker asked. Tristan watched the same intensity appear on Joshua’s face: the same deep sorrow.

“When you fail,” he said, “I will carry it for you – I will see you through it. But you must hold onto me, or you will be lost. Darkness cannot coexist with light. Darkness will not survive.”

Clarkson had lost interest – he was turning away. But Barker’s expression held Tristan captive: his jaw was dropping – his eyes were fully engaged.

“Are you the Christ?” he whispered. “The one we have been waiting for?”

Joshua gazed at him – seemed to search him – and then he answered.

“Who is the Christ?” he replied. “Each one must decide for themselves. But don’t tell anyone your thoughts: not yet. The right time hasn’t come yet.”

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: A Political Threat

The House was in session.

James Connor shifted in his seat. Clarkson sat across from him. Connor fixed his eyes on Clarkson, but neither one spoke. Around them, the Clean Green Party and the Maori Party were debating the finer points of the Global Warming Land Protection Bill.

Clarkson went to rise, and Connor briskly shook his head.

No! He mouthed – but Clarkson was already on his feet.

“The Right Honourable Patrick Clarkson.”

“Mr Speaker,” he began, “I urgently request the debate regarding the Global Warming Land Protection Bill be postponed, in favour of debate regarding Parliamentary action in response to a current crisis in New Zealand.”

The Speaker hesitated, and Connor shot to his feet.

“Point of order,” he said. “There is no crisis. I ask that the Right Honourable Patrick Clarkson kindly sit down, and let the House debate the issue at hand.”

Now the Speaker looked at Connor, and then at Clarkson.

“Right Honourable Clarkson,” he said, “please state the nature of the current crisis.”

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said, glancing at Connor, “I ask that I be allowed to present evidence directly to the House, to allow the representatives to decide for themselves whether they perceive a crisis of sufficient enough severity to warrant immediate debate.”

“Very well,” the Speaker said, “present your evidence.”

Shit! Connor thought, sitting heavily down. Don’t do this, Pat – you’ll force my hand!

Clarkson now pulled into the central area of the House a TV, with a memory card attached.

“I present a recent high profile parade down Queen Street in Auckland.”

And he pulled out a remote control.

Joshua Davidson was now on the screen, on the float, waving. In front of him, a Maori activist was shouting out in Maori, and a Maori group behind were praying and singing. A huge crowd had lined the streets, waving to Joshua, and now the Maori leader was calling out in English:

“Joshua is our King! Descended from King Henry VII, and from Potatau Te Wherowhero of Tainui! He is the King of Aotearoa – the King of New Zealand! All follow the King!”

The image froze, on a close-up of Joshua’s face – the quiet smile.

The House was silent. Connor’s eyes drifted shut, for a moment. The Speaker was silent. Connor looked at him – the Speaker seemed lost for words. Then, finally, he spoke.

“The debate for the Global Warming Land Protection Bill is postponed. Now follows general debate regarding the promotion of a new king, Joshua Davidson.”

Connor grimaced, and looked across to Clarkson.

Well? He thought. Begin.

Clarkson rose to his feet.

“Mr Speaker,” he said, “the Communications Security Bureau brought to our attention the imminent parade in Auckland, and so I attended the parade myself. What I saw astounded me as a New Zealander.”

“Explain, Right Honourable Clarkson,” the Speaker said.

“A ticker tape parade for a king, Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said. “Last I checked we already had a monarch: is one not enough?”

There was muttering in the House – and Connor shot to his feet.

“Mr Speaker.”

“Right Honourable James Connor.”

“There’s no accounting for what Aucklanders will get up to sometimes, Mr Speaker,” he said. “It is a different world up there, next to the rest of New Zealand. I say, allow them their delirium. It will quickly settle, in light of reality.”

Clarkson’s eyes were on him. “Mr Speaker,” he said, “the security of New Zealand is at stake here.”

“New Zealand is secure, Mr Speaker,” Connor quickly replied.

“A self-proclaiming king…”

“He is not self-proclaiming. Someone else was proclaiming it for him.”

“He proclaimed it to me.”

Now he had the full attention of the House.

“‘A time is coming when everything will be turned over,’ he said. ‘Not the power of the people,’ he said, ‘but the power of God over the people.’”

Clarkson fixed his eyes on the Speaker. “A theocracy, Mr Speaker,” he said. “Joshua Davidson wants to set up a theocracy.”

Muttering increased, now, in the House. A Christian Conservative Party Member, Stephen Gates, rose.

“Mr Speaker,” he said, “do we not already exist as a theocracy? Our national anthem states ‘God defend New Zealand.’ You, Mr Speaker, open our sessions with prayer to God. The Queen is the head of the State and of the Church of England…”

“The Queen’s role is only as a figurehead,” Tracy Harrison said, from the Clean Green Party. “We function as a democracy, pure and simple.”

The Maori MP rose, Rawiri Heka. “The Treaty of Waitangi is an agreement between Maori and the British Throne.”

“The Treaty would be obsolete, if we became a republic,” Harrison said.

“We are not a republic,” the Speaker said, “we are a constitutional monarchy. The Queen has authority, but stands back to oversee the democratic process.”

“Much like God,” said Gates of the Christian Conservative Party.

Clarkson’s eyes were on Connor again.

“‘The power of God over the people,’” he repeated. “This Joshua is a religious extremist.”

“Let him dream,” Connor said, “even if the dreams should be extreme.”

“We can’t let this movement continue to grow!” Clarkson said. “What might happen, if he begins to gain a substantial minority?”

“He already has a substantial minority,” Gates commented.

“True enough!” Clarkson said. “And, Heaven forbid, what if he moves across New Zealand? What if he gains a majority? Our entire constitution would be on its head.”

“Order,” the Speaker said.

Connor stared down at his desk. On the shelf below, half hidden amongst his papers, was a small photo of Rachel. He had seen her on the news – sitting at the bottom of the float, with Joshua above. She had not informed him of the parade – he had been informed by others. Why had she joined in? Was she deliberately challenging his authority? Not as a father, but as the Prime Minister of New Zealand?

Connor knew this must not be the case. He knew there must be some other meaning to all this: some other reason that had captivated her so thoroughly. And yet, she had not called: she had not explained. And he remained the Prime Minister.

“Mr Speaker,” Clarkson said, “I ask the Right Honourable Prime Minister: has he received any international response to our national developments with Joshua Davidson?”

Connor swallowed. That very morning! That very morning, the calls had come in.

He rose to his feet. “Yes, Mr Speaker,” he said, “I have received multiple warnings from our allies overseas.”

“Warnings?” the Speaker said.

“They are not comfortable with Joshua Davidson’s claims. They are also uncomfortable with our growing political instability. We are a test case – potentially the first country to have democracy fold, in the current international climate.

“We are being watched…and not only by our allies.”

“What do you mean?” Clarkson genuinely asked, and Connor looked at him.

“There are those with increasing power, internationally, who function outside the current political constraints. If we should fall, they will act. We will have no defence.”

Clarkson was silent, now. Connor looked over the House – from the Speaker, on his left, across the Opposition, in front of him, to the Clean Green Party, forward right, to the Christian Conservative Party, to his right, and then to his own MPs. He took a deep breath. Then, with trembling hands, he set forward a paper.

“Mr Speaker,” he said, “in light of this crisis, I move that a new bill, the Death Sentence Bill, be now read for the first time…”

Suddenly the House was filled with noise: voices raised loud.

Clarkson was immediately back on his feet. “Jim!” he cried out. “This is over the top!”

“Our national security is at stake!” Connor said, clenching his fists under his desk. “Where did you think this would lead, Patrick?”

“We should arrest the man!” Clarkson said. “Arrest him! Put him away!”

“It won’t be enough!” Connor said. “Activists can have more influence in jail than free!”

“He’s not a political activist!” Stephen Gates said, the Christian Party MP. “He’s more like a minister…”

“Ministers don’t generally have ticker tape parades for themselves,” Tracy Harrison said.

“Point of Order, Mr Speaker!” Connor tried desperately. “I am not asking for a bill for Joshua Davidson’s death: only a general bill allowing for the Death Sentence in New Zealand. He would undergo a trial, if the police deemed it necessary…”

“The police won’t touch him,” an Opposition MP said. “They’re too frightened of the crowd’s response.”

“Jim!” Clarkson’s boring gaze was on him. “You can’t do this! This isn’t what New Zealand is – this isn’t who we are anymore! We’re avoiding the Death Sentence with good reason!”

Connor swayed slightly, on his feet. Sweat began to drip down his brow. The Death Sentence? What was he doing? He didn’t want this! Yet the threat! The danger of standing back and doing nothing…it was a danger he could not accept.

But what if…what if Rachel got caught up in it all?

“Mr Speaker,” he said quietly, “I commend this bill to the House and to the Law and Order Select Committee.”

The Speaker stood, his face a rigid mask. “The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those who of that opinion say Aye…” Connor’s faithful MPs supported him with a firm response of ‘Aye’.

“…Contrary, No.” Now a loud barrage of ‘No’ filled the House.

“The Noes have it,” The Speaker said. “The Death Sentence Bill has failed to pass the first vote.” He looked relieved.

Connor thumped his folder of papers onto his desk. He had failed, and so easily! Even with his own party’s support! He would have to try again, and keep trying. Parliament must choose to allow the Death Sentence in: there must be due process. Democracy must stand.

If not, they all would be lost.

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Precipitation

Mark Blake stood at his lounge window.

Wellington was spread out before him, at his feet. Clouds were gathering over Lower Hutt to his left, wind chopped the water of the harbour straight ahead, and, a little in the distance, to the right, the central city of Wellington was still.

To his right, on the little coffee table, the photo of his wife Teresa, and his young family, was turned over on its face.

On his TV a perpetual replay was running of the procession down Queen Street in Auckland – of Joshua Davidson on a float, waving like royalty: a Maori company leading the way, proclaiming him as king.

Mark clenched his teeth. A king! How dare he? All the talk of judgment was bad enough, but now? Actually parading down the centre of Auckland? How could that even be possible?

He frowned. Why had the man not been arrested? Why had Connor not acted in response to this provocation? Mark would have thought he would be the first to act – yet, not. Was he afraid of this man? Were the police themselves actually afraid?

Mark remembered the earlier reporting – healings, outside North-East Hospital, on the North Shore in Auckland. Healings! Surely they were false – surely set up testimonials, to stir up public support. Surely the man was a fraud!

And yet, what if…What if…?

Mark trembled. How would it be, if this was Christ returning right now? How would Mark be? Exposed, vulnerable: a wretch. He had rejected him! He had rejected him.

This was a mistake he must not make.

Mark reached now for his Bible, sitting on the couch – and turned to the gospels. Jesus was descended from King David, of Israel. He emerged, amongst the people. He fed them, and healed them.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”^^9^^

Fleetingly Mark closed his eyes. Joshua was acting in the same way – offering the same comfort. But was this enough to prove his identity?

“Truth,” Mark murmured, opening his eyes. “What truth is he teaching them?”

Mark flicked through a few more pages.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”^^10^^

Mark trembled. “Show me,” he whispered. “Show me.”

“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus said, “what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”^^11^^

Tears pricked at Mark’s eyes – he kept turning.

“A time is coming,” Jesus said, “when all who are in their graves will hear the Son’s voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”^^12^^

“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”^^13^^

“Crossed over,” Mark whispered, reaching to lift Teresa’s photo up again, off its face, “from death to life.”

He gazed out through the window, at the choppy waters below and then to the sky above. There were a few light fluffy white clouds, but the sky was still blue. How would he know, if Joshua was the Christ? How would he really know?

“Give me some kind of sign,” he prayed. “How can I know he is the one? Give me some kind of sign.”

He kept flicking the pages of the Bible – what would define Jesus most? What was the most defining feature of his life? Then Mark found what he was looking for: Lazarus. Jesus’s friend died – and then Jesus raised him from the dead.

“I am the way and the truth and the life.”^^14^^

Mark swallowed. A resurrection. If this man Joshua actually brought someone back from death, how would Mark be able to deny him?

There was movement behind him, and then Selena’s voice.

“‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign,’” she quoted,^^15^^ and he grimaced, fixing his eyes on a ferry on the Harbour.

“None will be given but the sign of Jonah,” he continued paraphrasing. The sign of Jonah – the death of Christ, his burial, and then his resurrection. Joshua’s death? That wasn’t going to happen – and certainly not a resurrection. But a resurrection of another? Yes – that would be the real test! A contemporary Lazarus…

“‘Watch out that no one deceives you,’” Selena continued to quote, behind him, “‘for many will come in my name, claiming “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’”^^16^^

Mark swallowed again. Was he being deceived?

“‘You will hear of wars and rumours of wars,’” she continued, “‘such things must happen, but the end is still to come. If anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’”

The clouds in the sky were lit with the sun – it was a radiant day. How did the Bible depict the second coming of Christ? In the sky! Visible to all! Unavoidable! Wonderful, for those who want him, and terrible for those who do not.

“This isn’t the Second Coming of Christ,” Mark murmured to himself, exploring the clouds. “In the Second Coming, there will be no doubt – and there will be no hiding place. No…” And now a kind of wonder struck him, as he reached up to finger the window pane between him and the sky. “It’s almost as if…” He gasped, now, in realization, “It’s almost as if this is the first coming…”

“No,” Selena’s voice quickly interrupted. “Not the first coming. He has already come.”

“Of course,” Mark continued in wonder. “He has already come: the true Christ has come, and he will come again. But this Joshua…it’s almost as if he is a ‘type’ of Christ: a picture of Christ, for a new people – an expression of Christ, two thousand years later, for a new generation.”

The thought began to stir hope within him. Could it be? Could it be that this new one was actually the same as the old?

“There’s nothing new in what he is doing,” Mark said. “Nothing new in what he is saying. It’s all been done before! It’s all been said before…”

“What use is there for a new expression?” Selena chided. “No! You must do away with him! You must sweep him aside!”

“What use?” Mark responded, breaking into a wide smile. “The same use as for the old expression! The old expression was once new – once fresh, and relevant, and alive. Why a new expression? We are a new people. The same truths need to be communicated in a new way – the same truth! Life giving truth! To all the nations.”

Now Mark turned to face Selena directly. “He isn’t overriding Christ!” he proclaimed. “He is communicating Christ! He is portraying Christ! He is embodying the same person – imparting the same God. A picture of the truth – a picture that bows down to the reality. What Santa is to St Nicholas, Joshua is to Jesus: and both bow down to Christ.

“Why?” he continued. “For understanding! So that a new people can understand, and can respond: so that a new people can be shown how to live.”

The realization filled his heart with joy – but Selena’s face was dark: her eyes almost black.

“To live?” she spat back at him. “What use is this ‘understanding,’ in a pursuit for life? Is Joshua really seeking to give true understanding? Is God really seeking to give life? He sets his people up to fall! He grants life, only to bring about death!

“You know this already, Father! You were at her side when she died!”

Now Mark was thrust back nine years – now, before his eyes, he saw again the unbearable. The car was upside down! They were trapped! Teresa was hanging, next to him, suspended by the seat belt. She had been knocked out! Still breathing, but bleeding! Her head – it had smashed the windscreen! A gash was there, in her head: pouring out blood. The airbag had failed to fire.

“Oh God,” he whispered. “Help us! Help us!”

He reached for her belt, but his left hand was trapped between the seats! And his right arm was broken – hanging down toward the shattered windscreen.

“Save us!” he cried. “Save us!”

Voices were outside the car – hands were trying to open the doors, but they were jammed.

Mark stared at Teresa’s face. Something was wrong. Her face was swollen. She was twitching. And then she stopped breathing.

Desperately Mark tried to reach her: he could not.

“Get us out of here!” he screamed. “Get us out – she’s dying!” But the hands could not help.

In the distant Mark could hear sirens wailing – but it was too late.

“At least let me die too,” he whispered to God. “Please! At least let me die too!”

But his prayer was not answered.

 

Now Mark looked into the dark eyes of his sixteen year old daughter.

“Does God really care about us?” she asked. “I don’t think so, father.”

He struggled to respond. “He kept me alive for you,” he whispered. “He kept me alive for you!”

“And in this also you failed,” she said – and her words were knives to his heart, because he knew they were utterly true.

“Joshua is deluded,” Selena said, turning to the window – looking at the sky, with a smirk. “He believes he is a king! He believes he is a god. But we know better than that now, don’t we father.” Now her eyes fixed hard on him. “We know there is no God.”

Mark stared at her, and his heart flooded with agony. No God? No God? It couldn’t be true! All of his life he had invested into God! All of his life, he had followed him! He was the bishop! The Bishop of Wellington. And yet, now, in this moment, he swayed on his feet – now he began to falter.

“You killed her,” Selena said, and Mark tightly closed his eyes, clenching his fists. “You killed her with your reckless driving. You killed her, not God – and now this Joshua is an imposter who needs to be swept away.”

Now he felt Selena’s touch to his shoulder. Agony consumed him – and darkness filled his heart.

“Kill him,” Selena said, “and do away with the lies forever.”

A strange stillness came over him. Mark opened his eyes. He could feel nothing, now: nothing at all. He stared out of the window, to the sky: he swayed.

“Kill him,” Selena said again – and Mark struggled.

“I can’t kill,” he whispered. “I’m a priest.”

“You know how to do it,” Selena said. “You know who has the authority to kill.”

Mark glanced now toward the central city, in the direction of the Beehive.

“Oh my God,” he whispered. The weight of betrayal was crushing him. “Oh my God, I can’t do this.”

“You must do it,” Selena said. “Joshua is leading our whole nation astray.”

“He has done nothing wrong…”

“He has committed the ultimate sin,” Selena said. “He is putting himself forward as God. Blasphemy.”

Blasphemy. A battle raged in Mark’s heart now: an intense battle. Was Joshua innocent? Was he guilty? Blasphemy was serious – perhaps the most serious spiritual crime to commit. And yet, was he a picture of Christ? Had he come from God?

“There is no God,” Selena said. “Joshua is deceiving them all, as you also were deceived. False hope! False expectations! He is leading us all into death – he is handing our nation over to international conquest.

“Do we have a king? There is no monarch but Elizabeth. Do we have a priest? There is no God.

“Better that one man die than a whole nation perish!^^17^^ Do away with him. Do away with him, and set our nation free.”

Better that one man die…Mark now felt himself girded – felt himself strengthened with resolution. He was here for a reason! He was here for such a time as this.

It was time to act – to save his nation.

 

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: Hell’s Way

Rachel stood on the waterfront of Lake Rotorua.

Black swans swam up to her, on the blue water. White bird poop was everywhere, on the pavement. Abandoned water planes and children’s water riders tipped up and down with the gentle waves – no one had the money to ride these anymore.

Rachel looked up to the bush laden Mokoia Island, in the centre of the lake. The sky was a little overcast – even threatening rain – but the view was still beautiful.

Behind her a crowd of people, as usual, were gathered around Joshua, on the dry grassy field. Rachel glanced back at them and remembered childhood days, when markets, and fairs and circuses, had sat on that field.

John was a little further along the pavement – throwing dry grass meaninglessly at the swans. He noticed her watching him, and wandered over to her.

“Nice day,” she said.

“Not bad.”

“There’s a wonderful track around the lake, just up there.” She pointed ahead, and he looked up.

“Down there?”

“Yes.”

Now a mischievous smile lit up his face. “Wanna go?”

“Now?” Rachel glanced back at Joshua. He was busy taking people’s hands. Would he mind? Probably not – not for a few minutes.

“Okay,” she said, and he took her hand, and led her down the track.

The lake was blue-grey, to their left, as they entered into the track – ducking under branches, brushing past ferns. They emerged onto a car-park, no longer used, and then beyond – where the lake gradually transitioned into white milky water.

“Sulphur,” Rachel said, and drank in the smell.

“Wow,” John said. “Stinky.”

“I love it,” Rachel said. “It reminds me of my childhood. It’s not as bad as it used to be!”

And they kept walking further around the lake.

A flock of gulls suddenly took flight, over the white waters. Near their feet, small bubbling mud pools gave off steam. John paused, for a moment, looking into the depths of the mud: frowning a little. Rachel watched him.

“What is it?”

“Don’t know,” John said. “Must be hot in there.”

“Boiling,” Rachel said. “This is a thermal area – underground heating. Sometimes the pressure builds up, and there are actual eruptions! Happened in Kuirau Park, years ago: a little steaming water lake exploded!”

“That’s New Zealand, eh?” John said. “Made from the enormous pressure of two tectonic plates pushed against each other, and volcanic eruptions everywhere.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Rachel said – and she squeezed his hand.

They wandered a little further around. Now they were climbing over wooden bridges, built over white silica deposits covering the ground. They came to a viewing platform – and wandered entirely over vast expanses of white sinter terraces, gazing out at the wide outlook of the steaming white lake.

“Wow,” John said again, and Rachel squeezed his hand. “See what I mean?”

She stood there silently with him, happy – and John also, she knew, was happy. Then they heard a voice from behind.

“Mind if I join you?” It was Joshua – he was grinning. Rau was behind him, and Tristan, and Anahera, and the crowd of other people.

Rachel blushed – but John was still holding her hand.

“We’re moving on,” Joshua said. “Rau and Tristan are staying with these people, but I want you both to come with me.”

“Where?” Rachel asked, and Joshua’s gaze intensified.

“To Hell’s Way.”

“Excuse me?” John asked, and Rachel broke into a grin.

“Hell’s Way!” she said. “It’s just around the other side of the lake! Follow me!”

And she led them forward.

 

Now they stood outside the entrance into Hell’s Way. The old business that Rachel had visited as a child was now deserted. A run down gateway stood at the entrance: red paint flaking, with the words ‘Hell’s Way’ carved into the wood.

“Let’s go,” Joshua said, and he quickly walked forward through the gate onto the track.

Rachel looked at John, who was glancing tentatively back at her.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he said.

“Joshua says to go.”

“Then we should go.” And John took her hand, and moved forward.

The track was bare, the air hot. Rachel glanced to both sides of the track – there were little mud pools, bubbling away: cute, and smelly. She remembered the path well. Joshua was well ahead. A few Maori children were playing around the track – a few Maori men and women were sitting quietly, still dressed in their traditional beaded skirts and feathers, with tiki and moko, watching them.

Rachel was surprised, seeing them – it was almost as though she was looking back in time.

She began to feel uncomfortable. The mud pools up ahead were much larger. She noticed the protective railing was falling away: the wooden structures were rotten.

Joshua was standing next to a big steaming pool, up ahead. He seemed to be swaying over it.

“John!” Rachel quickly said. “What is he doing?”

“I don’t know,” John replied, releasing her hand.

“He almost looks…” Surely not! “Suicidal…?”

“No,” John said. “It’s something else.” And he quickly went to him.

Rachel watched, from a greater distance. What was Joshua doing up there? Didn’t he know he would die, if he fell in? Boiling water! Didn’t he know they would not be able to save him?

His face was intense, staring down into the water. John had a hand on his shoulder, as if ensuring his safety: as if ensuring he wouldn’t slip.

A child suddenly ran past Rachel – she quickly reached for him. There were other pools, weren’t there? Surely the children were not safe here.

The little Maori boy laughed at her – he pushed her away. But now he was slipping! Falling!

A hot pool was beneath him – deep, steaming water. He was clutching at her, brown eyes wide with terror, crying out something in Maori.

Rachel hurriedly reached to catch his arm.

“No!” she cried, and somehow grasped him, and somehow threw him back up. He was safe! Relief filled her.

But now she was slipping.

Panicking, she clawed at the ferns – but the leaves broke. She was sliding, down, down.

“Rachel!” John’s voice screamed – and his face was above her, white, panicking. “Rachel!”

He thrust his arms down toward her, but could not reach her.

She fell, down, down – and then she hit the water.

Agony took her. Burning! She screamed, but now the burning was filling her lungs!

“Oh, God!” she bubbled, desperately thrusting her hands up in the air. But the water engulfed her – the burning swallowed her up.

Images were flashing before her eyes: her mother, kissing her goodnight; her father’s face of pride, at her graduation.

Daddy, she moaned, I’m dying…

His face faded, sinking into darkness – and then, suddenly, she felt torn away.

Her body was beneath her, now. Horrified, she stared at the back of her head: her body, floating in the steaming water. She was dead! Drowned.

But then, suddenly, there was a movement. Joshua was at the edge of the hot pool, despite John’s strange cries of ‘No!’ He was in the water, gasping! He was dragging her body up the bank.

He had her on her back now. Vaguely, Rachel wondered: CPR? Would he do CPR? He didn’t. Instead, he called her name.

“Rachel.”

She felt seized. What was it? Someone pulling at her.

“Rachel.”

There was a light – a light, far away, in the opposite direction. Should she go?

“Rachel.”

The voice was calling her back! Calling her back into her own body.

No…

“Come back,” his voice said. “You’re not ready! It’s not your time yet.”

She succumbed – she let go, and was drawn back.

“Rachel.” Now she heard the voice with her own ears.

She opened her eyes – and Joshua’s face was above her.

Stunned, she stared up at him. Where was she? Oh, yes! She had fallen! She had slipped into the boiling pool.

“Oh, God!” she choked. It had burnt! It had burnt! But she didn’t feel the burning now.

She reached down to clutch at her own body. The clothes had been torn off. She was naked, but in that moment she didn’t care. Her eyes passed over her skin – surely third degree burns! Over her entire body! Surely soon to be fatal! But her skin was normal. She could feel touch. There was no pain. Not even any redness.

Perplexed, she stared at her skin, and then looked up at Joshua. His hair was wet. His arms were bright red, and his legs. He was trembling – Rachel could tell he was in pain.

“You need morphine,” she instinctively said, but he smiled slightly, and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I’ll be all right.”

Rachel stared at him, suddenly realizing what he had done. She stared at John. John’s eyes were wide: with fear and wonder.

“I…” She gasped, and continued. “I was dead…”

Joshua rose to his feet, and swayed slightly. John was next to her, now – taking off his shirt, giving it to her. The Maori people were watching! The little boy came forward, tears in his brown eyes – he reached out his hand to Rachel, and then to Joshua. A woman quickly came forward, with a cloth, and wrapped it around her, and said something to her in Maori.

Rachel stood – and then looked at Joshua.

“You need to go to hospital,” she said – and he smiled wryly.

“‘Physician heal thyself’?” he said – and he wandered a short distance away.

A young Maori lady came, now – she handed Rachel some clothes.

“Miss,” she began, “you can have my shirt and shorts.”

“Thank you,” Rachel said.

“You saved my brother!” she said. “I saw it! I saw what you did! And then…”

She glanced at Joshua, and then back to Rachel. “I saw what he did, too.”

“What did he do?” Rachel asked – wanting to hear the young woman’s perspective.

Her brown eyes widened, as she held Rachel’s gaze.

“He saved you, miss,” she said. “You were a gonna. Children die here all the time.”

Tears filled up Rachel’s eyes.

“Why don’t you set up boundaries?”

“We can’t,” she said. “They don’t work. The children are too small.”

“Then why do you stay here? Why don’t you move out?”

“Where else would we go?”

Rachel gazed at her – and then saw Joshua approaching the Maori people. He was still in pain – and yet he spoke with them, in Maori. She didn’t know what he was saying – but after he spoke, they rose to their feet, and followed him out of Hell’s Way.

Rachel hesitated for a moment. She looked back down at the boiling hot pool. She shuddered – and then wrapped her arms around herself.

John was watching her. She looked at him, and he swallowed.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“What just happened?”

“I…” She shivered. “I died.”

His green eyes intensified. “You actually died?”

“The water came flooding in!” she said, shuddering. “It was terrible! Into my lungs! I was above my body, looking down, and then…then…”

“Yes?”

“He saved me. I heard his voice – he called me back into my own body.”

John’s jaw dropped. He stared at her. Then he looked after Joshua.

“Do you understand what this means?” he said, and Rachel frowned.

“What?”

“It means…not only does he have the power to heal: he has the power to bring the dead back to life.”

Rachel struggled with his words. “I wasn’t dead for long!” she said. “Just a few minutes! And yet…there was something about his voice. And…” Now she trembled. “My skin is normal, John.”

“You didn’t just come around.”

“There’s no water in my lungs. My skin is normal. While his skin is burnt…”

Something came over John’s face, now – a sudden understanding beyond what Rachel could see, and a sadness that came with that understanding.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said – and Rachel, gladly, left the steaming hot pool behind, and followed again after Joshua.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: A Nation or One Man?

James Connor stood in the House of Representatives.

“…and so, Mr Speaker,” he said, “I move that the Death Sentence Bill be read.”

Perseverance! Perseverance.

“Right Honourable Prime Minister,” the Speaker said, “you have used your authority to present this same bill twice already, though Parliament has voted and discarded it twice before.”

“I understand that, Mr Speaker.”

“You understand that I will not give you a fourth chance?”

“Understood.”

“Very well.” The Speaker turned his face to the entire House. “The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those in favour say, ‘Aye.’” Again, Connor’s faithful MPs complied with ‘Aye.’ “Those against say, ‘No.’” And, again, a barrage of ‘Noes’.

“The Noes have it,” the Speaker said, once again. “The Death Sentence Bill will not be read – and will not be presented again for at least twelve months.”

Swallowing, Connor held the Speaker’s resolute gaze – and sat down. Across from him, Clarkson’s eyes were rejoicing. The Speaker moved on to other business of the day – Connor barely heard it. He had failed. Joshua Davidson would not be removed.

The Speaker eventually drew the session to a close. Connor silently gathered his papers, stood, and moved out of the Chamber. Clarkson was happily alongside him.

“The people have spoken,” he said, and Connor smiled grimly.

“The people have spoken.”

He made his way steadily through the Foyer, and on, into the Beehive. The people had spoken – but what if they should choose Davidson? What if they should choose to override their own state? Clarkson was afraid of him, wasn’t he? Even he, with his communistic ideals – what would he do with a king?

Connor made his way to the lift, and rose up to the ninth floor. The people had spoken – by supporting Joshua, and forcing the police to stay back; by prevailing with a no death sentence mentality. But did the people really know what they were doing? Did they? How could they possibly know what the consequences might be of their short-sightedness?

The lift doors opened. He walked along the corridor. Parliament had tossed out his bill, like the hot potato that it was. He felt a little humiliated, but what leader could persevere without handling a little humiliation along the way? What surprised him now, as he approached his office, was that he also felt relieved. The decision was out of his hands. The people had decided – their representatives had decided. That option was over.

He entered his office and went for his desk, dumping his folder and reaching for the photo of Pam and Rachel. Now the relief filled him entirely. At least she would be safe! At least his political process would not touch her.

He replaced the photo on the desk, turned, and lowered himself into his chair.

Mark Blake was standing in front him.

“What the hell…” Connor jerked in surprise, and then rose to his feet, stretching out his hand. “Mark!” he said. “What are you doing here?”

Mark shook his hand curtly, and then leant forward over his desk. “Connor,” he said, “we need to talk.”

Surprised, Connor stared at his face. He looked strange! As if he had suddenly aged ten years – taut lines across his cheeks and forehead, and his eyes! Something strange in his eyes.

Mark straightened, strode to Connor’s door, and briskly shut it. Connor instinctively looked around himself, identifying the security button’s location. Mark felt a little dangerous – almost capable of pulling out a weapon. Connor had never seen him like this before.

The dark eyes were intense, now, on Connor.

“Joshua Davidson‘s power is growing,” he said, and Connor grimaced.

“I know,” he said. “But I can’t seem to do much about it.”

“What do you mean you can’t do much about it?” Mark said. “You’re the Prime Minister, aren’t you? You have ultimate power.”

Connor frowned at him – that didn’t sound like Mark at all.

“I don’t really have ultimate power,” he said. “You know that, Mark! I’m the servant of the people.”

“Bullshit.”

Now Connor’s skin pricked. This wasn’t Mark! Not the Mark he knew.

“What’s going on with you?” he asked, and now Mark’s fists slammed on the desk.

“Deal with him!” he demanded. “Get rid of him!”

“I don’t know how…”

“What are you, Connor – weak? Full of talk, but impotent in the outworking? You have all the power of New Zealand at your fingertips – are you too frightened to use it?”

Connor flushed hard, as Mark continued. “‘Democracy is for the rich,’ you say, and then you go pandering to that idiot Clarkson! The people are trampling all over you! Soon Joshua will be right here in Wellington – soon his power will be infiltrating the Beehive itself. Soon there will be no Parliament: he will make it all obsolete. What are you going to do? Just stand back, and let it happen?”

Sweat pricked on Connor’s face – he felt Mark’s stare penetrating into him.

“I’ve tried,” he said, “and I have failed.”

“You mean the bill for the Death Sentence?” Mark said, laughing. “That’s child’s play.”

“The political process…”

“Who cares about the political process?” Mark said. “Soon there will be no politics at all! Only rule! Only slavery!”

Connor swallowed hard, but persevered.

“We are a democracy!” he said. “Freedom! Freedom of speech! Public choice!” He still believed in it! Even now.

“The people have spoken, Mark – I’m not going to get in the way! New Zealand doesn’t believe in the Death Sentence – they have chosen! So be it.”

“So be it,” Mark spat, now pressing his face close into Connor’s. “No Death Sentence. But that doesn’t mean no death.”

Connor’s body stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“You want due process?” Mark said. “I’ll give you due process. This isn’t a case of criminal law: this is much bigger than that. We are at war. Not a war of physical weapons, but a war for the minds and hearts of all the people. This man Joshua isn’t a criminal: he is an enemy of the state.”

At this, Connor looked away. Mark was talking his language now, and he knew it: this had been the very threat Connor had feared all along.

“If Joshua Davidson is allowed to continue, our whole nation will fall. One man, Connor! One man. Isn’t it better that one man die, than an entire nation perish?^^18^^”

Connor closed his eyes as Mark continued. “He is a religious extremist,” Mark said. “He must be contained.”

“We live in a free society,” Connor whispered. “Freedom of religion for all. If I kill him, our society has already fallen.”

His body was shaking.

“If you don’t kill him, you won’t even have a society anymore!” Mark said. “Joshua Davidson will conquer Parliament: who knows how many already follow him? Those who resist will fight – there will be civil war. We’ll be thrust back into the Dark Ages – and the entire world will be watching, seeing the utter incompetence of your leadership: to not carry out the one act of execution required before it was too late!”

Now Connor sat heavily down on his chair, staring at the photo of Rachel.

“You know what you must do,” Mark said.

“The Army,” Connor said.

“You are their superior officer,” Mark said. “They answer directly to you.”

Connor swallowed. “I don’t know where he is.”

“Even with all your intel?”

Connor grimaced. “He doesn’t use electronics. And he tends to disappear, just when you get a location on him. Crowds of people, and then, gone.”

Now Mark was silent. Connor glanced up at him, and was surprised to see Mark in sudden conflict – his face twisting in some kind of struggle.

“Mark…?”

The conflict settled – the hard dark gaze returned. “I know how to find him.”

“How?”

“Rau Petera follows him: he’s a priest. And…there’s another who will help you. In secret, not in public: you must do it in secret. No one must know.”

“Who?” Nervously Connor avoided looking at Rachel.

“Tristan Blake.”

Connor stared at him again – now surely Mark had gone mad.

“Your son?” he cried. “You would incriminate your own son?”

“Whatever it takes,” Mark said coldly, “to deal with the enemy.”

“But Mark…”

“He is ex-Army,” Mark said. “He’s there with Davidson. He’ll know how to get the job done. Privately, Connor! No links! No civil war. A whole nation of suspects.”

“Mark…”

“It’s an easy solution.”

“‘Easy’”

“He will handle it discreetly, Connor! It will be just another job to him.”

Connor frowned. Tristan Blake? Connor still remembered his face – the shadow of memories, as he recounted what had taken place in the Middle East. Where was he now – following Joshua? Seriously?

“Why would he execute him?” Connor asked, and Mark’s eyes now were black.

“Because you will order him to do it.”

Grief filled Connor, now: unexpected, deep, gripping grief. Did he want to execute this man? He did not. He seemed innocent! Good, even! Good. But the rising movement he was causing was indeed a threat: an intolerable threat.

Should he do it? Should he execute his powers as head of the state?

He swallowed, fleetingly closed his eyes, and then made a decision.

“All right,” he said, “find Tristan. Start the ball rolling.”

 

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: National Security

Tristan stood on Mt Ruapehu.

Behind him, a small group had gathered around Joshua. They had come a long way, trekking from here and there, mostly from Taupo, but also from closer towns and villages. He had led them all this way, up the mountain. Behind them rose the rocky slopes of Ruapehu, to the many tipped peak. There was no snow, or ice: it was summer. The temperature was rising.

In front of Tristan, the valley was spread out before him: desert-like turf, or at least the closest thing to a desert you could find in New Zealand. Dry land, all the more so with the rising heat. Even so, the view was majestic.

It was a clear day. To his left, in the far distance, Tristan could see a single peak: Mount Taranaki. To his right, close by, was the single cone of Ngauruhoe, and next to this the rugged peak of Tongariro.

“Ready, mate?” Rau asked, appearing at his side.

“I dunno,” Tristan said, looking dubiously up the mountain. “Am I?”

“Got to put your heart and soul into a hike like this,” Rau said.

“Think I’ve done my dash with the training bit. Happy to let my fitness slide for now.”

Rau smiled gently. “Heat getting to you?”

“Always.”

“We’ll see you on the way down.”

“Stay safe. Remember, you’re not as young as you used to be.”

Rau bowed his head slightly to him, with a twinkle in his eye, and then turned to follow after Joshua. Tristan could see John and Rachel, further up – holding hands.

“Damn,” Tristan muttered under his breath, “she’s taken.”

 

The group headed slowly, on a diagonal course, up the face of the mountain. They were headed for the Crater Lake. Ruapehu was unpredictable – there were still rumblings from time to time, though the last actual eruption of rock and ash hadn’t happened for over a year.

“Take it easy,” Tristan muttered under his breath, looking at the diminishing back of Rau. “Don’t get blasted.”

To the left of the hiking group was the chairlift, no longer operating: abandoned from lack of use.

“Joshua wouldn’t have used it anyway,” Tristan said to himself, “purist that he is.”

A seven hour hike! That was what they had just committed to! After that big stretch from Turangi. Joshua had left Rau’s Ute at Taupo, and had gathered new people to himself, inviting them to come with him all the way up the mountain.

“Good luck,” Tristan said. And then he turned away.

What to do now? Walk the walk down the mountain, back to Turangi? Wait for them there? If he stayed there in the sun, he would get more burnt than he already was, and for no good reason. But he wasn’t yet ready to leave.

 

Sighing, he found an outcropping of rock and sat underneath it – reaching for his water bottle and taking a swig. Joshua…what to make of him? Tristan still didn’t know, even now. He remembered the first time he had met him, up on Ninety Mile Beach. That fish! He had been determined to beat him, back then: what had happened to that determination? It had melted away, somehow: dissolved away. Joshua’s faith…somehow Tristan had learned to live with it.

Tristan threw the water bottle backwards and forwards, between his hands.

Looks like a storm’s coming,” Joshua had said, as they had stood, side by side, on the beach – as Tristan had tried to beat him fishing.

A little storm never hurt anyone,” he had replied. “Might bring in the fish!”

Tristan gazed at the water in his hands, now. “Such a mystery,” he muttered. “You are always such a mystery.”

 

He rose to his feet, emerging from the shelter of the rock – and then looked further down the mountain. There was dust, being thrown up into the air: dust, from Bruce Road! It had to be a car! Keen to get a lift, Tristan headed down, almost slipping on the gravel in his haste, toward the deserted car-park.

The car came closer and closer. Excited, Tristan waited for it to arrive. It was a newish Merc! Extravagant, but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

He wandered up to the driver’s door.

“Hey, mate, I was wondering if you could give me a…”

His words were cut off, as the door opened and the driver stepped out.

It was his father.

A little bewildered, Tristan stared at him. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I found you,” Mark replied. “Thought I’d give Rau a call.”

“Joshua’s not here right now…”

“I didn’t come for Joshua.”

Tristan frowned at him. Something was up: it made no sense.

“Why would you come again? We’re on a mountain, for crying out loud.”

“Can’t I see my son?”

“Haven’t seen him for nine years – except once.”

“Time to fix my mistakes.”

Mark’s eyes were hard to read. Tristan eyed the Mercedes, with air-con, with some longing – but resisted the temptation.

“Why are you here?” he asked again. “I don’t believe it’s just a social visit. A hot mountain isn’t exactly your style.”

Mark smiled – then nodded, and shut the door of his car.

“You’re right,” he said, moving toward Tristan. “There are other reasons why I have come.”

Tristan eyed him warily, now. Something about his posture seemed suspicious – Tristan found his trained instinct kicking in.

“That’s far enough,” he said curtly. Looking surprised, Mark stopped.

“What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Good, because you shouldn’t be,” Mark said. “I’m not the enemy.”

Tristan cast his eyes over Mark’s face. Something had changed. Something was wrong with his manner.

“You want to explain that?” he asked.

“I don’t need to explain it,” Mark said. “You already know what I’m saying.”

Now Tristan swallowed. He looked away, and then looked back.

“Explain it to me.”

Mark’s eyes were fixed on him. “You have served our nation for five years.”

Tristan grimaced. “What of it?”

“You were trained to defend us, whatever the cost.”

“So?”

“You need to defend us now.”

Tristan directly held his gaze. “Defend us against what?”

Mark continued unfazed. “You must defend us against him.”

Now Tristan found his cheeks flushing. Defend the country against Joshua? What was his father thinking? Tristan laughed, and turned away from him.

“That’s a good one, Dad,” he said. “Defend our country against the only person who knows how to provide enough food, and heal the sick. Heck, I even heard rumours he brought someone back who died…”

Mark was silent. Surprised, Tristan glanced back at him. He looked white, for a moment – then the red colour flooded back into his cheeks.

“Lies!” Mark said. “Rumours. That’s how a man like him gains power.”

“Power?” Tristan said. “Oh, I’m sure he’s not interested in power.”

“How else do you explain the parade, and the float? He is gathering support – gathering power.”

Tristan laughed again. “More like gathering need.”

“He claims to be a king, Tristan!”

“A king?”

Tristan paused now, thinking back. A king? Had Joshua ever made such a claim?

“Oh,” he said, “you’re thinking of that joker Tane, and all his radical ideas. Some Maori king back from the dead, eh?”

“Joshua himself said it.”

“I’ve never heard it.”

“He wants to take over.”

“I don’t think so.”

Mark’s eyes were darkening. Tristan frowned – what was his problem?

“I don’t get it,” Tristan said, “What do you care? You’re a priest, not a politician…”

And then Tristan began to understand. “Oh, now I get it!” he said. “It’s the stuff he’s saying! Something about light, and shelter – some people think he’s actually Jesus Christ. I’ll bet that’s really touching your buttons…”

“Never mind about that,” Mark said curtly, “that’s not important. What is important is your mother.”

Now Tristan felt the familiar pain: his mother! Pain, in his chest – pushed away for so long, though not so much now, after Joshua.

“What about her?” he asked.

“Think this Joshua would have stopped her from dying?”

Tristan shuddered. “I don’t know,” he whispered – and now Mark was striding closer to him, his face pressing in.

“I do know,” Mark said. “He couldn’t have cared less.”

Tristan frowned, and found his hands somehow writhing. “I don’t think that’s true,” he said.

“Think Joshua is God?”

“I don’t know!” Tristan said, feeling confused. “God? I don’t know…”

“What use is a God who would let Teresa die?”

Mark’s words felt like a bombardment. Tristan shook his head, and turned away: sweat now starting to drip down his face.

“I don’t know anything about God,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“This Joshua Davidson is claiming to be God.”

“What?” Tristan turned again to him. “Honestly, Dad, where do you get your facts from?”

“A shelter for the war to come,” Mark said. “He himself, the shelter! Faith in him, to survive the storm! It is a claim to divinity, Tristan, pure and simple! Surely you remember enough of the Bible to see that?”

Tristan stared at him, and then looked away. Shelter. Storms. Faith.

I am the way, the truth and the life.”^^19^^

Could it be? Could it be that Joshua was actually claiming to be God? Could it be that he, Tristan, had missed what was in front of his face all this time?

Bewildered, he shook his head – and Mark was there.

“See it, Tristan,” he said. “This man is the worst kind of liar.”

Tristan struggled to focus on the dry turf on the horizon.

“Even if he is claiming such a thing,” he struggled to explore, “why bother fighting him? Why the fear?”

“Because he is leading our entire nation astray.”

It was a different voice. Tristan turned to look – another man had stepped out of the passenger door. He stood now in front of Tristan.

It was the Prime Minister, James Connor.

Tristan stared at him. “Sir…” he stuttered, and instinctively, wearily, provided a salute.

Connor nodded. “It’s all right,” he said, “you’re not on duty.”

What was he doing there? The Prime Minister himself, on Ruapehu in summer? He was even wearing suit trousers and long sleeves, though now he was rolling them up.

“Can I help you, sir?” Tristan asked, and Connor smiled sadly.

“That’s what I’m hoping, soldier,” he said.

Tristan glanced between Mark and Connor. “Just what exactly is it you want from me?”

For a moment neither spoke. And then Connor began.

“This Joshua Davidson,” he said, “is a real concern to us, Lieutenant Blake.”

“Sir?”

“We have serious concerns for the national security of New Zealand.”

Tristan frowned. “How so, Sir?”

“We fear that if this Joshua movement continues, it may result in civil war.”

Now Tristan felt a heavy weight in his chest. Civil war? In New Zealand? The flashes were suddenly before him again: blood, screams, explosions…

“We can’t have war here,” he whispered. “Not here.”

“We are safe,” Connor said, “if we remain strong – if we remain united, and together. We stand alone: we stand together. But Davidson is starting to divide us – starting to create a movement in the opposite direction of everything we believe in.”

“What do you mean?”

“People are starting to follow him as a king. You saw the parade, Tristan! You saw their devotion! Does he mean to visit Wellington?”

“Yes,” Tristan said, instinctively.

“What will happen when he reaches the Beehive?”

Tristan frowned. The Beehive? Joshua? What were his plans? Did Tristan even know?

“Some are calling for his leadership, Tristan: many people! Hundreds of thousands, maybe even a million – what will happen?”

Tristan stared at him, and then turned away. What would happen? Why hadn’t he thought of this?

“Do you want him to take over, Tristan?”

“No,” Tristan said. “No.”

“What if half our nation wants it?”

Tristan swallowed. “Then we’ll be in trouble.”

“You’re right!” Connor said. “We’ll be in big trouble! There’ll be no going back! It’ll be too late!”

Chills went up Tristan’s spine – he suddenly realized why they were there.

“The police can’t control such massive crowds,” Connor said. “Our nation is in trouble! The Army must act.”

Then call up the Army! Tristan thought, but stopped himself saying it. The Army? Form an actual military state in New Zealand?

“We need a simple solution,” Mark said.

“What kind of solution,” Tristan quietly asked, his back still turned.

“We need you,” Connor said.

Tristan stared down at the rocks at his feet. His vision blurred in the heat. He blinked furiously, and his vision returned.

“You need me for what?” he asked.

“You’re right beside him,” Mark said. “You know where he is. You know where he will be. You’re an insider.”

“You want information.”

“No,” Connor said. “We need more than information.”

Tristan closed his eyes tightly – could this be happening? It wasn’t really happening, was it?

“We need you to contain him for us.”

“‘Contain him’?” Tristan asked.

“Contain him,” Connor said, behind his back. “Privately, securely: we need you to eliminate this threat.”

Body stiffening, Tristan stared up the mountain. Where were they? Could he still see them? Could he still see Joshua, and John, and Rachel, and…and Rau…?

He stifled a sob. Eliminate him? Eliminate Joshua Davidson? How? Where? When?

“We will provide the weapon, when the time comes.”

All of Tristan’s memories suddenly came over him, like a flood – all of the memories of the last few weeks: all of the memories of the last five years. Like a flood, converging, as one, until he could see nothing else but blood.

“Do you have a joint?” Tristan whispered, and Connor patted him on the shoulder.

“We can get you a joint,” he said. And Connor turned, with Mark, and returned back to the Mercedes.

 

The car drove away: pushing up dust, winding down, down the mountain. Tristan swayed, and fell down to the ground. What had just happened? What had just happened? The Prime Minister himself had just asked him to kill Joshua! The Prime Minister himself!

Dismayed, he groped around – but he had lost his bottle of water. Kill Joshua? How could he do such a thing? Joshua was his friend, wasn’t he? His friend?

And yet, his father’s eyes – and yet, the Prime Minister’s words:

What will happen when he reaches the Beehive?”

The words plagued him now. Who was Joshua Davidson? Did Tristan even know? Did he even know who it was he had been trusting all this time?

We’re in big trouble.”

New Zealand couldn’t falter – not like the rest of the world! Not now – not his home.

The threat needed to be contained.

Tristan found himself hardening again: he found his army training coming upon him. Civil war? He would defend his nation, against the threat: he would defend his home, always.

It was just a matter of when, and how.

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Mount Ruapehu

Rau stood on the top of the mountain.

His knees were aching, his body drenched with sweat – but he didn’t care. In front of him was Ruapehu’s crater lake – green-blue, and beautiful. Still active! Still steaming! Dangerous, and vibrantly alive.

Rau turned – and stretched out, as far as the eye could see, was Aotearoa. The single distant peak of Taranaki was to the west, the smooth cone of Ngauruhoe and rugged edge of Tongariro to the east, and the brown turf of the Iwi Tainui, the tribe of the Waikato, was expansive before him. This was the land of the Maori king! Rau smiled, remembering Tane – he had stayed in Taupo, to spread the news of Joshua to his own tribe.

This was the heart of the North Island – of Te Ika-a-Maui, the great fish of Maui, as his people had named it in legend.

Tongariro…Rau recalled another legend: the priest of Arawa, Ngatoroirangi, had feared death, on this very summit. Why? Rau pondered. Surely he hadn’t yet known the One – the One greater than death.

Rau cast his eyes again across all the land.

“Areruia,” he said. “Oh, Lord, you are majestic, over all the Earth.”

He breathed in a deep breath, breaking into a karakia: worshiping. And then he turned.

Joshua was there. He was away from the rest. The others were wandering around the crater lake – all but John, who lingered close to Joshua.

Rau wandered across the rocks to Joshua. His back was toward him – his hands straight up, his face lifted to the sky. Rau could hear his voice – prayer, he was certain, though the language was strange to him: melodic, and unknown.

Rau hesitated, now, behind Joshua’s back. He shouldn’t interrupt him. What was happening was sacred, somehow: a joining of Joshua to the divine.

He felt, in that moment, exposed. He felt shabby, and sorely in need of a bath. Did it matter? It was disrespectful, coming so unclean. He turned to leave – to allow Joshua privacy – but then Joshua suddenly turned: suddenly grasped his arm, and looked into his eyes.

Rau gasped. Light flooded over him – light was penetrating through all of Joshua’s being.

“Master,” Rau whispered, sinking to his knees. “Master…”

The light was searching him, within – searching the fullness of his soul, uncovering him. He trembled, and clung to Joshua’s arm – he felt his hidden shame exposed, he writhed, but the light was stronger: the light melted his shame away.

“Atua,” Rau breathed. “Te Wairua, Te Tamaiti: Tapu!” he cried. “Tapu!”

The light was sacred! The light was God.

“Ae,” Joshua whispered, grasping his hand, pressing forehead and nose. “The Spirit is tapu, Rau. But Atua is here – and through me, you can touch the light and live.”

Rau closed his eyes tightly, and now heard Joshua’s voice murmuring words gently over his head: strange words, unfamiliar and melodic. He still felt the light, now fully within – now saturating him fully: now owning him fully. There was more! As Joshua murmured over him, Rau gasped again: and now, suddenly, his spirit was taken by love.

He found himself weeping: crying, as a child. Love! Divine love! Life-giving love. There was no hesitation: nothing was held back.

His soul was swept up by the love – swept wholly up into oneness: swept wholly up into joy. He was caught now, in ecstasy – caught, in full completion: he had found now, what, in all his life, he had trusted he would one day find. He had found Atua: he had found God.

Rau swayed, on his knees, with eyes closed, still clinging to Joshua with tears. He began to speak the same words as Joshua – he began to worship, with all of his being.

Joshua held him. And then, as the light began to fade, he opened his eyes.

Joshua’s face was above him. His brown eyes were also filled with tears – his face lit up with joy. Human! Only human, now – only human. But, for those moments, Joshua had also been divine.

“Master,” Rau whispered – and Joshua tipped Rau’s head between his hands, as a mother to a child, and kissed him on the forehead.

“It’s all right,” he murmured. “You are safe, with me.”

Rau reached again to grasp his hand strongly. “As the pikorua twists together for eternity,” he said, “You are One.”

“Yes,” Joshua murmured. “Like a pounamu twist, we are One. And you also can be one, Rau, with us.”

Rau gazed at him – and Joshua smiled back at him. Then Joshua tipped his head, and rose to his feet. He glanced briefly at John, and then moved away.

Rau remained on his knees. He held, in his mind’s eye, what he had seen: the Light! The Light, around and through Joshua. He held in his heart, in his spirit, what he had felt: the Light and the Love! One heart! One spirit.

He stayed, bathing in the warmth of the sun – bathing in the warmth of the Spirit. And John wandered up to him.

His face looked white. Rau smiled at him.

“You saw it too.”

“Light!” John said. “And…and love…”

“Personal,” Rau said. “Not just a force: God is personal.”

“A ‘person’?”

Rau glanced sideways to Joshua’s back, and then returned to John.

“Open your heart to him,” he said. “Trust him. And then you will know. Then you will fully know, and be fully known.”

John was reading his eyes.

“God himself is light,” John said. “God himself is love.”

“Yes, John,” Rau said. “Come closer to his light. Come closer to his love.”

John glanced toward Joshua, and then looked back to Rau.

“Closer…” he murmured. “I never knew this could be.”

“You did know it,” Rau murmured gently, now rising to his feet. “As a child you knew it.”

Tears filled John’s eyes. “Yes,” he said, “as a child.”

“Know it again.”

John’s green eyes widened, and Rau searched him closely. This brother, from Whangarei – what would it take for him to return to a childlike faith? What would it mean for him?

John’s face broke into a tentative smile.

“I should trust in him,” he whispered, and Rau reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder.

“Yes, John,” he said, “trust. Trust in what you have seen with your own eyes.”

Rau could feel John’s body trembling, under his hand – he showed such vulnerability, in that moment! Such exposure.

“It costs to trust,” John whispered, and now Rau patted his shoulder.

“Ae,” he said, “it costs.”

“He will take everything I am.”

“Yes,” Rau said. “Everything.”

“My life will be changed forever.”

Rau fixed his eyes on him. “Forever, my brother.”

John seemed to hesitate – and Rau waited for him. Each one must decide! Each one must choose for themselves. Then resolution came into John’s eyes – light came into John’s eyes.

“I’ve decided,” he whispered. “It’s done.”

“Haere Mai,” Rau said. “Welcome!” And he embraced him, and now felt John accept his embrace.

“Thank you,” John said, leaning on him a little. “Thank you.”

Rau turned now, to look over the rest of the group. Joshua had joined them! He was talking with them. He was gathering them, for the descent.

“Time to go,” he said, and John’s face looked a little sad.

“Time to go,” he agreed – and Rau led him back, across the rocky mountain, to Joshua.

 

By the time Rau finally reached the car-park, at the base of Ruapehu, his knees were killing him. Grinning to himself, he imagined Tristan’s words:

Old man…”

Where was Tristan, anyway?

Rau looked around the rocky terrain – the brown turf in the distance, the shadow of Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The sun was beginning to set, in the west – ducking behind the jagged rocks of Ruapehu to his left. The light was beginning to dim into twilight.

Tristan must have left already – headed back to Turangi. Rau shrugged – he sure had a story to tell him, when they met again! Light, and Love! What would the boy do with that one?

Gladly Rau considered him – and then joined Joshua, and John, and the group, to set up camp at the base of the mountain.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Dissonance

Tristan stood still.

They had made it to Upper Hutt, in Wellington.

In front of him Joshua had gathered another new crowd – on the grass in Maidstone Park. He was speaking to them, as always. Tristan couldn’t take in the words he was saying, but he could see the faces in the crowd: wide eyes, full of hope – full of expectation for the future.

They were close now to the city of Wellington: only twenty-five minutes’ drive away from the Beehive.

Chills went up Tristan’s spine. He turned his face away from Joshua and the crowd, toward the bush.

“Oh, God,” he whispered, “what the hell do I do now?”

He had joined them all again, at Turangi – he had joined them, as though nothing had happened. He had acted in friendship as though all was well: a spy! Shit! A spy – how the hell had that happened?

He had acted the part well enough – but Rau had known something was up, surely! How could he not?

Tristan glanced at his friend, now, to find Rau was already watching him. Quickly Tristan tried to look away, but now Rau was wandering up to him.

“You all right, mate?” he asked. Tristan looked reluctantly at his Maori face – the warmth, the gentle wry smile: the genuine concern. Something had happened to Rau, up Ruapehu! That aura of faith, that joy, that sun in his eyes, had intensified ten times. Tristan had grown accustomed to it – had even grown fond of it. But now that light made him want to writhe.

“I’m all right,” he muttered, keeping his face turned away. “Just hanging out for a joint.”

Rau’s eyes were inquisitive. Tristan tried to avoid him – but could not.

“Why?” Rau asked. “Why now?”

Tristan swallowed. “Just memories,” he said. “My house is ten minutes’ drive away – just down the road in Lower Hutt.”

Now Rau’s hand came to his shoulder, and Tristan forced himself not to flinch.

Don’t touch me! He thought. You have no idea what’s going on.

“Your father’s house?” Rau asked, and a sudden sharp pain seized Tristan’s chest. He closed his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Rau,” he whispered. “Please leave me alone.”

Rau was silent. Tristan opened his eyes again, to see the gravity in his face. Then Rau bowed his head respectfully, and moved away.

Tristan watched him, surprised at the intensity of his own regret. He moved a little away from the group, and lowered himself to the ground, against a maple tree. The leaves were beginning to change into yellows and oranges.

His father’s house…Now another torrent of pain took him. His mother! She had died, here – not five minutes away! His father had driven her, from Lower Hutt, for dinner – while Tristan and Selena had stayed at home, Mark Blake had driven her.

Tristan suddenly remembered now that night, nine years ago. The phone had rung – his parents were in hospital! He had grabbed Selena, and rushed there, in the valley – he had seen his father, with a cast on his arm, sitting ashen white, and…and the body of his mother. The sheet was over her, with blood! Blood, on the sheet…

He pulled his knees up to his chest – wrapped his arms around his legs, and squeezed his eyes shut, hiding his face in his knees. He was feeling it now? Only now, on the eve of his decision to kill, he actually wanted to cry for his mother?

He had never felt it! Never felt it, until now…

A kind of darkness surrounded him: a stale, stagnant smell of death. He shuddered, and fought it, and staggered to his feet. He looked outside of himself – and Joshua was standing there.

Bewildered, Tristan stared at him. They were alone. Why had he left the others? His white face was close.

Tristan suddenly remembered again – the time on Ninety Mile Beach: Joshua’s words.

“You said,” Tristan whispered to him now, “that it wasn’t his fault.”

“No,” Joshua quietly replied, “it wasn’t his fault.”

“Then whose fault was it?” Now agony consumed his heart, as he continued. “Was it God’s fault?”

Joshua’s expression shifted – the cloud had come again! The intensity.

“Do you need someone to blame?” he asked.

“If I did,” Tristan said, “would it be you?”

Now Joshua was struggling again: the same struggle Tristan had seen in him on the Beach! The trance – seeing something else.

“If it was me,” Joshua whispered, “would that take the guilt away?”

Suddenly Tristan felt an urge to touch him – an urge he could not explain, to know what Joshua knew: to see what he saw. In that moment he vacillated – and then Joshua grasped his arm.

Light wrestled with darkness within him. Tristan cried out, pushing Joshua away, staggering back – and stared at the man now on his knees before him. Joshua’s face was ashen white – like his father’s face had been on the night of his mother’s death. His gaze was far away – and great sobs erupted from within him, until they were gone.

“Darkness,” Joshua whispered. “It’s everywhere! In everyone. It can’t coexist with light! But I am the scapegoat.”

Tristan trembled. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll carry it,” Joshua said, now looking up at him, from his knees. “All of it!”

“Carry what?” Tristan whispered.

“The guilt!” Joshua cried out. “The rage, the hatred, the crimes: the darkness! I have to get rid of it all!”

Tristan swallowed as he continued.

“The light has to have its way!” Joshua said. “Don’t you see? Love must have its way! I’ll deal with the darkness, for anyone who will give it to me – I’ll carry it, so that they can choose to live in the light.”

Tristan was locked in his gaze – locked, neither for nor against this man whom he knew to be innocent. A scape goat? What did he mean?

Joshua rose to his feet. His normal colour seemed to be returning to his cheeks. He smiled, and turned away – and Tristan choked.

“Joshua,” he said, reaching out a hand, before he could stop himself. “That vision, with me, on the beach…” A steel fist felt clenched around his heart as he continued. “Was that…was that…?”

He couldn’t bring himself to state the deep fear rising in his heart. Had Joshua actually seen his own death, at the hand of Tristan?

Joshua hesitated, and then turned to him, meeting his eyes with an unreadable gaze.

“Some things are better not to know,” he repeated his same words said on the beach, “not until their right time. But…” And now he grasped Tristan’s shoulder, with steadfast gaze. “…do what you have to do.”

Joshua quickly left, and Tristan stared after him. What did that mean, ‘Do what you have to do’? Did he know? Chills again rose up Tristan’s back. Had Joshua always known? Even more, was Joshua actually telling Tristan to kill him?

“So weird!” Tristan whispered, and he felt confused. What had just happened? What was the light? He didn’t know. Tristan had that same sense, as on the beach: there was more! More Joshua was not telling him: more to find out. But Tristan had no time to look.

 

He wandered away from the gathering – away from the crowd, and the park, toward the streets. Then he found himself wandering toward the centre of Upper Hutt.

“Hey!” A voice called to him, from behind: he ignored it, but it persisted, and now a hand was grasping his shoulder. “Tristan!”

He let himself be turned – and it was Rachel. Her face was too inquisitive, but pretty. Tristan hated himself for the thought, and promptly discarded it.

“Oh,” he said, “it’s you. What’s up, Doc?”

“Where are you going?”

“Ah…I don’t know.”

Her brow furrowed – and her eyes, now annoyingly doctorly, moved over his face.

“You don’t look right,” she said, and he smirked.

“Is that the best you have?”

“You look…” She hesitated, and then continued, “stoned.”

Tristan laughed at her. How ironic was that? “I wish!” he said, but now her eyes were looking further.

“What’s wrong?”

He trembled, against his will, and closed his eyes. His mother was there: her body, the sheet. Those screams, from overseas! War! Never far from him. And now…now his damned father, and the Prime Minister of New Zealand himself, were asking him to kill a profoundly innocent man.

“Everything’s wrong,” he whispered, swaying on his feet – and he felt her hand on his arm, steadying him.

“Tell me,” she said, and he shuddered.

“Can’t.”

“Tell me.”

“Can’t! Can’t.”

Her hand was firm on his arm – he opened his eyes to her physician’s gaze.

“PTSD,” she said, and he shook his head.

“What?”

“Trauma. From war.”

He stared at her, and then swallowed. “I’ve been asked to do something,” he said, “and it’s the one thing I can’t do! For so many reasons, I can’t do it! But I must! I must.”

She frowned, looking at him.

“Are you suicidal, Tristan?”

Tears filled his eyes. “No,” he said. “I’m too afraid to die.”

“Then what…?”

Her face was trustworthy – her eyes were trustworthy. He found himself wanting to tell her, though he knew he must not: wanting to reveal the terrible conflict of his heart. But then there was another voice.

“Tristan!”

This one he didn’t recognise. He turned, surprised, to see a girl, maybe sixteen, striding up to him.

She had long black curls, and blue eyes. White skin. She seemed familiar…and then, suddenly, Tristan realized who she was.

“Selena!” His sister! The last time he had really seen her, she had been seven! Apart from that time with Joshua. She was a young lady! Short skirt, cream blouse. And yet…there was still something wrong…

Her blue eyes were dark – almost black.

Tristan swallowed, and found himself lost in the eyes. “Come with me,” she said. “We have lots to catch up about.”

She wasn’t surprised to see him! Why not?

He glanced back at Rachel, and shook his head to clear it again.

“I guess that’s it,” he said, and Rachel smiled sadly, concern in her eyes.

“I guess that’s it,” she repeated, looking at Selena and then back to Tristan. “Keep safe.”

Safe…As Tristan followed Selena, he felt himself slipping more deeply into darkness, and death. Safe? Was there anywhere safe anymore?

Stay with me, and you will be safe,” Joshua had said – but his words were fading quickly away.

“Follow me,” Selena said, “and we’ll get you sorted.”

And he blindly followed, and left Joshua behind.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY: Water and Stone

Mark stood on the bank of the Hutt River, in Lower Hutt.

At his feet, the river flowed: a quiet, dark current. The wind had lifted – now he fought hard against it, to stand his ground.

Joshua was coming – Mark felt it in his bones. The time was near.

Tristan…Mark swallowed, staring into the dark water. Tristan hadn’t contacted them, since that meeting on Ruapehu. How would he act? Would he obey?

A crushing pain gripped Mark’s chest. He gasped. Tristan might obey, now? Like this? Nine years later? Dismay filled him – but then he gritted his teeth, and clenched his fists, and willed the pain away. It was necessary! Whatever the cost, even if his son should be compromised, Joshua must be dealt with.

Mark turned his back on the river, walked down the bank, and strode across the large deserted car-park beyond. He passed his Mercedes, without bothering to pay for parking, and weaved his way through a few streets, finally reaching St Luke’s Anglican Church.

The Church Council of New Zealand: he had to get them on his side.

The church was quiet – warm tones, with light streaming through the windows: an empty wooden cross behind the altar. There was a time when Mark had loved this church, years earlier, before tragedy had struck and meetings had taken over. Now that time was over.

He strode down the aisle to the ministers waiting, sitting in the pews.

Murray rose to meet him. “Mark,” he said, extending a hand, smiling.

Mark curtly nodded to him, and to Andrew Stead, and to the others.

“Thank you all for coming,” he said. “This is an emergency meeting.”

He moved briskly to the front of the church to address them, with his back to the cross and the altar, next to the pulpit.

Murray was watching him – and then sat down. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Mark looked over the faces before him. The Church of New Zealand must be united: must be one, against this imposter!

“Joshua Davidson,” Mark began. “He’s almost here. We have been slow to act, as the Church – we must act now.”

“What do you mean?” The Presbyterian minister Reverend Robyn asked.

“This man is putting himself forward as Jesus Christ.”

Now he had their attention.

Young Father Andrew looked stunned. “What?” he asked.

“You heard me,” Mark said. “Everything he is doing is the same.”

“Shouldn’t we all be aspiring to be like Jesus?” Murray asked, and Mark grimaced at him.

“Not if it means inviting people to trust in us for their salvation, instead of in God. That is not acceptable! I’m sure you’ll all agree.”

They were silent – and then the Pentecostal minister, Pastor Luke Davies, spoke.

“Jesus is our Saviour,” he said, “no one else. If someone else is claiming to be Jesus, he must be deceived! It must be Satan, not God.”

“Agreed,” Mark said. “This man is speaking the words of Satan, not of God. If he truly has powers, they must be Satan’s powers, not the power of God.”

He quickly looked over the faces. Reverend Robyn looked troubled, but she was silent. Murray also was quiet, obviously thinking. But now Father Andrew spoke.

“Aren’t we waiting for Christ to come again?” he asked.

“Don’t be a fool,” Mark said. “If Christ had truly returned, we would all know it.”

“Would we?” Murray asked. “‘I come as a thief in the night.’^^20^^”

“‘Be ready!’” Andrew quoted. “‘Be ready.’”

“‘Watch out that no one deceives you,’” Mark quoted easily, “‘for many will come in my name, claiming “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’”^^21^^

“Hmm,” Murray said. “So, tell me, Mark, has he actually said that he is Jesus Christ?”

Mark stared at him, and flushed a little. “I’m surprised at you, Murray,” he said. “Have you actually looked at what he is doing? Have you heard what he is saying? A claim to divinity need not be overt – it can be subtle: discreet, but clear.”

“Like Jesus,” Andrew said.

“‘Darkness cannot coexist with light,’ Davidson said. ‘Only goodness will survive.’”

“True,” Murray replied. “But I don’t see the claim to divinity.”

Mark fixed his eyes on him. “Just because you don’t see it, Murray, doesn’t mean it is not there.”

Murray shifted in discomfort as Mark continued: “Have you watched the news? He talks of safety, for the tsunami to come – he says he himself is the boat for the flood. He talks of a coming war, and the dropping of the ultimate weapon – he says that he himself is the shelter for when that weapon comes.”

Murray swallowed, and Mark knew he finally had him. “Clearly the tsunami is God’s Judgment. Clearly the great weapon is also Judgment. He is presenting himself as the Saviour of the world! He is putting himself forward as Christ.”

Andrew’s eyes seemed to be fixed on the cross, behind Mark’s back. His lips were moving, as if in silent prayer, and then he spoke.

“What do you want us to do?”

Satisfied, Mark looked across their faces. “Firstly, we must take a clear message of his blasphemy to our churches, across New Zealand.”

“Certainly,” Murray said. “But those who attend church are already attempting to follow Christ. This man seems to be trying to reach those who do not yet know him.”

“Which makes his deception all the more powerful,” Mark said. “And that is why we must stop him.”

“Stop him?” Andrew said. “How?”

Mark smiled slightly. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I have that part sorted.”

“Sorted?” Murray asked.

“Yes,” Mark said. “It’s sorted.”

Andrew was frowning, but remained silent. And now Reverend Robyn spoke.

“What are you planning?”

Mark looked at her older face: her grey hair, and glasses.

“I’m going to bring about justice,” he said.

“Whose justice?” Murray asked – but now Mark quickly brought the meeting to an end.

The ministers wandered back out of the church, but Murray lingered, as always. Mark suppressed a sigh, as the warm eyes returned to him.

“What are you up to, Mark?” he said, and Mark smiled again.

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

Murray frowned. “I don’t know who this Davidson is,” he said, “but if we are to stop him, it must be through conversion.”

“You do things your way, and I’ll do them my way,” Mark said.

“We are not the judge.”

“Neither is he.”

“Our job is to fight for the minds and hearts of men and women – not to condemn them.”

Mark held his eyes with a steely gaze. “Each to his own, Murray,” he said. “You take the high way, and I’ll take the low way – someone has to act, when our backs are all against the wall.”

Murray’s eyes moved up and down Mark, now – he looked perplexed: concerned. But Mark knew there was nothing Murray could do: Mark’s heart was iron! His mind was decided.

“May God bless you, Mark,” Murray said – and then he nodded his head, and backed away, and was gone.

May God bless you. Mark gritted his teeth at the words, and glanced back at the cross. Blessing? Mark shuddered. No! No blessing – only hatred! Only retribution.

“Justice,” Mark whispered, looking at the wooden instrument of Roman execution. “Someone must pay.”

His heart was girded: strong and resolute. Then he turned.

Tristan was there – with Selena. Mark stared, and then smiled. Fate! It was meant to be: the means for the execution walking in, just at that moment!

Tristan’s young face looked bewildered, in the church. His eyes fixed on the cross – he seemed to tear up. What was he thinking? Some memory from the past? Could it be, Mark thought with nausea, a memory of childhood faith?

“Don’t worry,” Mark said. “Your childhood days are over now.”

Tristan’s face twisted with some kind of pain – but Mark’s own heart was too hardened to care.

“Is he here?” Mark asked. “In Wellington already?”

“Yes,” Tristan choked. “He’s here.”

“Are you ready?” Mark asked.

“No,” Tristan whispered – but now Selena moved forward, and took his hand. Tristan’s body stiffened as she said something into his ear.

“If not now, then soon,” Mark said. “We must meet with Connor, to make the final arrangements.”

“The final arrangements?” Tristan moaned.

“The time, and place. The weapon.”

Tristan was swaying on his feet, now – he looked like he might vomit.

“Harden up,” Mark said. “You’re army, not some schoolboy. Why do you think I chose you?”

Now Tristan’s eyes somehow met his – and, for a moment beyond his own control, Mark was chilled by what he saw in them. Death! Death.

“You have no idea who I am,” Tristan whispered. “You’re using me, using my training: nothing more. That’s all this will ever be.”

Regret threatened Mark’s heart – he thrust it aside.

“So be it,” he said. “Do what you must do. The Beehive, in three days: One pm. Connor will be free.”

Tristan’s face flushed – and then turned to iron. “All right,” he said, “the Beehive, in three days.”

Mark nodded, and strode back down the aisle of the church.

 

The wind had lifted a little. Mark wandered across the pavement to cross the street, when he saw the small gathering in the council gardens.

“Joshua’s here!” someone cried. “He’s coming! He’s coming!”

Tristan and Selena were there now, next to him. Selena laughed – loud and hard.

“‘He’s coming,’” she mocked. “‘Let’s all go and worship him!”

Tristan hit her lightly across the head. “Shut up,” he said – but then she grasped his hand, and he shuddered.

Mark frowned at the gathering crowd. Joshua was closer than he thought! Tristan hadn’t said where – he didn’t need to say. In fact, the less Mark knew the better.

“Wait here,” he said to Tristan. “Catch up with Joshua again – join his crowd again.”

Tristan grimaced, and nodded. “All right.”

“You’ll need to know where he is at all times.”

“I think he’ll be hard to miss.”

“He disappears – it’s those private times: those are your best chance.”

Now Mark laid a hand on Tristan’s shoulder. “Just get the job done, and get out of there. No one will ever know. Deal with him, and then you’ll get to have your own life back again.”

Tristan grimaced at him, and shook his head. “You really have no idea, do you,” he said. “You’re asking me to murder an innocent man in cold blood.”

“You’re army!” Mark said.

“It’s not the same!” Now, for a moment, Mark thought Tristan might hit him. “For God’s sake, Dad – what the hell has gotten into you?”

Now fury filled Mark – his temples throbbed; his vision turned dark. He shoved Tristan back.

“You also have no idea about me,” he said. “You ran away.”

Tristan’s face hardened. “Why do you think I left?” he said. “You turned into a bastard!”

Mark felt his hands clenching now into fists, as Tristan continued with the unbearable words.

“You killed her, and then…”

“I hate you.” Mark said. He coldly unclenched his fists, and watched the colour suddenly drain from Tristan’s flushed face. “I hate you, and I never want to see you again.”

It was said. It was done.

Tristan looked dismayed. Mark stared at him, furiously fighting the tide unleashing itself in his heart: no! It was enough! It was time to move on.

“Fine,” Tristan eventually said, “if that’s what you want.”

“That’s what I want,” Mark said. “Meet with Connor, get the job done – and that’ll be the end of it.”

Mark turned his back on him, now – he walked away, across the road, through the streets, back to the Hutt River car-park. Why had he parked so far away? He wanted nothing to do with church now – wanted nothing to do with family now.

“It’s almost over,” he whispered into the air. And he opened his car door, sat inside, and drove back home.

 

Tristan was left, outside St Luke’s. The wind was blowing again. It was cold. Drops of rain were starting to fall on his bare arms.

He stared at the place where his father had stood.

I hate you.”

My God, Tristan thought, had he actually said it?

I never want to see you again.”

It couldn’t be, could it? One parent dead, the other rejecting…?

Selena was there, pulling flowers from the garden – pulling off the petals one by one, and then dancing around the small gathering, throwing the flowers over them. So sarcastic! So bitter! What had their father said to her? Had he even said anything? She had only been seven, when their mother had died.

You killed her.”

Why had he said it? In the heat of the moment! In the heat, he had said it! But he regretted it, now! He regretted it.

“I’m so sorry,” Tristan whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

Joshua’s followers were gathering, here in Lower Hutt: here, in his home. Tristan would wait – he would join with them again. He would join – and then he would carry out what he must.

 

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: The Plan

Connor stood waiting in the Reception Hall, in the Beehive.

Autumn had finally come – and Connor was relieved for the cooler air. Through the tall windows, outside in the Government Gardens, he could see: maple leaves, and others, were beginning to change colour, to oranges, reds and browns – and the leaves were starting to fall to the ground below.

He checked his watch: 12:57pm. Was Tristan still coming? Would he dare? Mark had informed him of the meeting.

Joshua was in the Wellington district. Connor had seen the reports of his activity in Upper Hutt, and then Lower Hutt. He was breathtakingly close now to the centre of political power for all of New Zealand! Tristan must act! And he must act soon.

And yet, as he stared out of the windows at the trees, and glanced in the direction of St Peter’s, Connor had his doubts. An execution? The thought made him suddenly want to vomit. This man, Joshua, seemed innocent – Pam had even talked about him with great enthusiasm. He was giving the people hope! He was giving them what they needed! She had implored him not to do anything rash – but Connor could not head her words. He was the Prime Minister – he had a duty to act.

Someone was walking up the stairs – yes, it was Tristan!

Connor stretched out a hand to him. He suddenly remembered their last meeting, on Ruapehu – Tristan had looked bewildered by their request: a clear request of betrayal.

“Hello, Tristan,” Connor said, and the young man grimaced, his eyes a little distant.

“Hello,” he said.

“Let’s get out of here.”

“All right.”

Connor led him down the steps, and away – through the Parliament Gardens and beyond, weaving between the streets and down towards the waterfront.

“I hope you’ve thought about our request?” Connor said, and Tristan laughed slightly.

“Request?” he said. “Sounded more like an order to me.”

“Yes,” Connor said grimly – it was his own responsibility, and he’d better accept that. “It was an order.”

“All right,” Tristan said, his voice sounding heavy. “I’ll do it.”

Connor glanced in both directions – surely on the street was the safest setting, with no audio monitoring – and then he looked to Tristan.

“You’ll need to pick up the weapon.”

“Yes,” Tristan said.

“It’s a CZ pistol.”

“Really?” Tristan said. “Not army edition?”

“Certainly not,” Connor said. “There must be nothing linking Parliament to the incident, and also nothing linking you to the incident.”

“The ‘incident,’” Tristan grimaced. “You mean the ‘crime.’”

“No,” Connor said, “I don’t mean the ‘crime.’ This is a national duty, Tristan, for both of us. We are not criminals.”

“You reckon,” Tristan said, and Connor smiled sadly.

“I do reckon,” he said,

They continued walking, up Waterloo Quay. The sky was overcast – it looked like rain. Tristan was looking at the clouds, shaking his head – then his eyes returned.

“Where?” he asked.

Connor gave him a key – to a post office box. “This parcel hasn’t been posted.”

“Understood,” Tristan said.

“Use gloves, of course,” Connor said. “Leave no trace.”

“No.”

“It will be a random act.”

“With no prints?”

“Unless you want to set up one of the others?”

“No,” Tristan said, and Connor nodded.

“No,” he agreed. “I couldn’t advise that.”

Wellington Harbour was ahead of them – the water dark, between the wharf and the coast.

“When you’ve finished,” Connor said, “dispose of the weapon.”

“Of course.”

“A bin should do the trick,” he said. “Nothing too extravagant – nothing too planned.”

“All right,” Tristan said.

They continued walking in silence for a few minutes. Connor wondered about the young man. How would he fare after this task? But he was army – he should have the necessary emotional distance to carry it off.

He hesitated – and then continued.

“You will stay with Joshua?” he asked. “With his inner circle?”

“Yes,” Tristan said faintly. “I will stay.”

“How…” Connor made himself continue. “When will you execute him?”

Tristan’s eyes fleetingly closed then opened again. “Soon,” he said, “when the time is right.”

“He’s very close,” Connor said. “You’d be wise to do it before he rallies up support here in the city centre.”

“I know.”

“If he brings on the same kind of following here as in Auckland, we might lose our chance.”

“Yes,” Tristan said, “I know.”

“So you will do it soon, then?”

Tristan’s eyes were on him, now, even as they walked.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll do it very soon.”

Connor was set at ease. They wandered up to the waterfront, silent – Connor watched Tristan’s eyes wander across the calm water.

“I’ll return now,” Connor said, and Tristan shrugged.

“All right,” he said.

“Good luck.”

Tristan laughed slightly. “Good luck?” he said. “Luck has nothing to do with this.”

“Confidence,” Connor admired – and he shook his hand. “Goodbye, Tristan – all the best.”

“Bye,” Tristan said – and Connor left him.

Following Waterloo Quay around to Bunny Street, Connor took a deep breath and released it. Relief! It was done! The task had been handed on: now it was just for Tristan to execute the plan. The end of the problem! The end of their national crisis.

Better for one man to die than a whole nation fall.

It was time.

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Petone

Rachel stood next to the waterfront.

They were in Petone – in Hikoikoi Reserve, off Marine Parade. A strong southerly was blowing off the harbour. Joshua stood with his back to the harbour – the breeze lifted his brown curls, and his voice across the crowd.

Behind him, Rachel could see across the choppy water all the way to the ferry terminus, on the right, and the high-rise buildings of the central city. Mount Victoria was across the water to the left. Beyond the high hill was Wellington Airport – and, beyond this, was the entrance to the harbour: the way to the South Island.

Would Joshua go there next? She wondered. Why not? Picton, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin…there were many more people to meet.

In front of Joshua, there in Petone, was quite a large crowd. Many were actually following him progressively down, from Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt, but Rachel also noticed a lot of new Maori and Pacific Island faces. She was sure most of these would continue to follow him, into the city centre. Where would he go? Rachel smiled sadly, looking toward the Beehive. He wouldn’t get much of a reception there.

Her own home was across the other side, further west, to her right, in Churton Park. Would she go back? Would she visit her father? She couldn’t tell – was just taking one day at a time.

“Keep following!” Joshua called out to the crowd, from behind her. “Keep persevering! Don’t lose heart, even when things get hard! Don’t be afraid, even when war is at your doorstep.”

Rachel looked at him again. Joshua – such an ordinary looking guy! He was still in those jeans, even now! He had a cream long-sleeved cotton shirt on, with the arms rolled up to his elbows, and was shivering a bit in the breeze – Rachel was sure he wasn’t really noticing his body was cold.

How had he managed to stir up so many people? Rachel knew how. He had reached the heart of them: he had given to them, and offered into their deepest hopes and needs.

How many were there now? Ten thousand? His voice lifted on the wind – everyone heard him. Rachel looked around the different coloured faces: they represented so many nations in the world, now – all mixed up in a melting pot, which was the new society.

“This age will not last forever!” Joshua said. “Birth pains! Birth pains. A new time is coming – but that time will cost! There will be fighting – brother will rise against brother, father against son, daughter against father: all will be divided! Each must decide! Each must decide, before the time comes: before this age is ushered out, and the next age is brought in.”

“What are you saying?” A Pakeha European man asked. “Aren’t you bringing peace?”

“Yes!” Joshua said. “Peace! But peace always comes with conditions, and a price – peace always demands some form of allegiance. Where will your allegiance lie, when the testing time comes? Who will you hold to, when the battle is before you?”

A Maori man raised his voice. “Kaumatua,” he said, “Aotearoa has seen war before.”

“Ae,” Joshua said, “we have!”

“Are you wanting to bring war to our land again?”

“No!” Joshua said. “I have no desire for war! But sometimes a battle is necessary, to achieve the higher ground.”

“Are you telling us to get weapons?” A Chinese lady called out.

“No!” Joshua said. “You yourselves must remain innocent! Be pure, as God is pure! If an enemy hits you, don’t hit him back! Don’t give evil for evil: overcome evil with goodness!”

Rachel felt moved by the words – stirred into greater goodness.

“And what if we fail?” It was a voice Rachel recognised – she searched, and found him: Tristan! He was still with them.

Joshua’s eyes moved to him – he was silent for a moment, smiling sadly: that same knowing smile.

“If you should fail,” Joshua said, his eyes moving over the entire crowd, “then come to me, and we will fix it together. I will make it right! I will carry it! A loving father forgives, when a child fails – if that child turns back again into the light.”

His eyes moved again to settle on Tristan. “God is not a father of retribution,” he said. “God longs to forgive, and to heal. If you follow me, you become my whanau – my family.”

Tristan looked stricken by the words. Rachel watched him, concerned – something was going on between them! So often she had experienced this from Joshua: some hidden deeper meaning.

“Come to me,” Joshua said, “and I will give you peace! Learn from me. Love one another. Care for one another. Search for God, and you will find him. God is greater than humanity – God is our beginning and our end. Search for him, find him, and live.

“I am the bridge,” Joshua said. “I am the bridge, between you and God! I am the doorway into light, and away from darkness. Walk across the bridge! Enter through the door! Soon I will open the door for you…”

Now his expression changed – now his gaze became distant.

“Soon I will burst open the way!” he said. “But I can’t make you walk through it! You must choose! You must choose to walk through the door, into the light! Into true life: life here, and into the next age, now and forever.”

“What do you mean?” an Indian man asked. “Are you talking about a spiritual life? Which god do you follow?”

Joshua looked at him, and smiled. “One God,” he said. “One God, the creator of all. One Spirit, the source of life for all.”

“Isn’t that arrogance?” the man asked. “We Hindi have many gods – we choose our own gods.”

“You may choose whatever gods you wish,” Joshua said. “That doesn’t mean they are fit to save you. What is the truth? Choose carefully. The End is coming soon: who will still be standing when the tsunami is upon you?”

The Indian man tilted his head, watching him. Rachel glanced back at the Harbour. A tsunami? It was a chilling metaphor for those who lived in Wellington: for those who wondered about ‘the big one’ – a massive earthquake offshore, and a vast tsunami to quickly follow…

Another European man spoke, this one with an English accent.

“Joshua!” he said. “How can humanity possibly know any truth about a ‘God’ with any certainty?”

“How much certainty do you need?” Joshua asked.

“That’s not my point,” the man said. “We cannot know! We are only human. Each person defines truth for themselves – there is nothing more than this.”

Now Joshua’s face turned grim. “Reality is reality,” he said, “and truth is truth. Is it not true?” He smiled wryly. “Humanity reads the truth – humanity does not define it. Men and women see truth as a grey haze – but they are not blind entirely.”

“Impossible!” the man muttered, but Joshua continued:

“Use your vision,” he said, “don’t throw it away! Use what vision you have. Use it with humility – use it for good. Use it to search out truth: use it to find the way.”

“But what is the right way?” a Russian woman called out.

“I am the right way!” Joshua said. “Listen to what I’m saying: I am telling you the truth! I am the way into life – and not only life here: life forever, in the next age. Hold onto me – don’t let me go! Hold onto me, trust in me, trust in God – and you will live.”

Rachel gazed at him, captivated – but now others were stirring in the crowd.

“Sir,” a Korean man said, “you seem to be quoting Jesus Christ.”

Joshua looked at him, and smiled. “You’re right,” he said, “I am. And you’re not far from him.”

“But…how can that be?” His gentle face was thoughtful, exploring – and then another spoke out.

“You are quoting Jesus Christ,” this young man said, “and it’s unacceptable! Stop now, repent, or you’ll go straight to Hell!”

Joshua looked at him. “Do you want me to go to Hell?” he asked, and the man straightened, looking unsettled.

“No.”

“Neither do I want you to go to Hell.”

Their eyes held – Rachel was surprised at Joshua’s words, and so was the young man.

“Never mind Hell,” someone else said, “it’s just wrong! You can’t put yourself forward as Jesus Christ!”

A few other cries went up, in support of this.

“And, anyway,” someone else said, “what is all this talk of allegiance, and war? What are you planning?”

“Yes,” others said, “what are you planning?”

“Are you planning a coup?” That voice was different. Rachel searched around – there was a young man, in the crowd: suit trousers, shirt, and tie. Rachel recognised him! He was one of her father’s MPs – the Minister of National Security: the Honourable Trevor Bates!

Now the crowd melted away – and Bates walked up to stand face to face with Joshua.

“Is that your plan?” he repeated – and now Rachel noticed there were police officers standing behind him: about ten! A lot, with their stretched resources. What was her father up to?

“Are you about to march into Parliament?”

A ripple of voices spread across the crowd. Joshua march into Parliament? Surely not.

“That is not my plan,” Joshua said, holding his eyes.

“Your ways threaten our democratic state!”

“My ways are not a threat to you,” Joshua said.

“Talk of a monarchy!” Bates said. “Talk of a battle ahead. Listen carefully, New Zealanders! This man is stirring dissension in our peaceful land! He is stirring war!”

Rachel saw Joshua swallow at this, but he still held the minister’s eyes.

“The monarchy is real,” he said, “but not as you understand it. You yourself have your own queen, and she sits back and protects your freedom: why should you be afraid of me?”

“I am not afraid,” Bates said, “I am taking action.”

“I have committed no crime,” Joshua said, looking at the police. “Let anyone who has been following me testify against me, if I am lying.”

The police looked amongst themselves, and at the crowd, and at Joshua, and did not move. The MP glanced at him, and then back at Joshua.

“You are bartering,” he said, and Joshua shook his head.

“I am gifting. There is no gift duty.”

Bates grimaced. “You are familiar enough with our law.”

“I am – I have not broken it.”

“If you continue this way, our tax will be turned on its head: parliament will fall – the government will have no power.”

“I have no desire to overturn the government’s power,” Joshua said. “My power is of a different kind entirely. The power of secular rule, and the power of God: each to their own.”

Bates shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

“Very well,” he said, “you have committed no crime yet. Make sure it stays that way.”

And he turned his back, and walked away, muttering to the police officers as he went.

Rachel frowned. Parliament: what were they thinking? Her eyes drifted across the water of the harbour again, toward the Beehive, and then her phone rang.

Embarrassed, in the silence, she reached to turn it off – but she saw it was her father, and opened it.

“Dad?” she whispered.

“Rachel,” Connor said.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“Joshua is going on.”

“What do you mean?”

“Stay away from him, Rachel.”

“What?”

“Just stay away from him – it’s not safe.”

He had gone. Rachel stared at the phone in her hand – and then looked up at Joshua.

“Don’t be afraid!” he was saying again. “The battle is coming! Be ready! Know where your allegiance lies.”

Suddenly, with a chill, she understood his meaning.

“My God…” she whispered. “Where is all this leading?”

Her allegiance: where did it lie? With her father? With the government? With New Zealand? There should be no conflict! There was no conflict – Joshua had said it himself! But they did not understand: they would force a choice! They would force a choice…

“Oh my God…”

Would she leave, or would she stay?

She looked at Joshua – at his plain face, and his casual clothes. Did she believe in God? She didn’t know! Still didn’t know, despite everything she had seen – everything she had experienced. But she did believe in Joshua. Not exactly a divine belief – a human belief. And yet, he was more than human somehow: greater than normal humanity.

Joshua was someone she aspired to – someone she wished she was like.

Would she leave, now? Leave, out of fear?

“No,” she whispered.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said to the crowd.

“I won’t,” she said, “I won’t be afraid.”

And she chose, in that moment, to stay: she chose, in that moment, to keep following.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Mount Victoria

John stood at the top of Mt Victoria.

The temperature was dropping. John shivered, and drew his jacket closer around him. The sun was setting, across the harbour to the west – blood red colours, across the sky, and reflected in the water.

It was beautiful. He took a deep breath, drinking in the view – Petone, across the water to his right, darkening into twilight, with the faint flickering of lights of the houses, and the majestic view of the city of Wellington in front of him: a multitude of lit high-rise buildings, the waterfront marina, the ferry terminus, and somewhere, behind those buildings, the Beehive.

The crowd of the day, flooding the high hill, had gone. Autumn was settling in – it was too cold to stay out at night. Leaves littered the ground, crunching underfoot.

Now only a handful remained.

John wandered over to Rachel. She was sitting on the stone wall, enjoying the view, her white face reflecting the red hues.

“Lovely,” she said, and he smiled gently, admiring her high cheeks and full smile.

“Yes,” he said. “It is.”

Her blue eyes moved to him, becoming more serious.

“John,” she said, “do you think Joshua’s in danger?”

John swallowed, glancing away to the darkening water of the harbour.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“My father…”

John shook his head curtly, moving back a step. “I don’t want to think about it.”

“We’re so close!” Rachel said. “So close to the seat of power.” And then she glanced across the wall.

Tristan was sitting on the other side, on the grass. His back was to the sunset, and the view of Wellington. He was looking into the darkness – toward the airport, and the exit from the harbour: toward the South Island.

John climbed over the wall, lowered himself to the grass, and wandered over to him.

“Mind if I join you?” John asked, and he shrugged.

“Whatever.”

John sat next to him, on the grass, and stared out at the same view. The sky was darkening, now – all he could see was pitch black.

Tristan was very quiet. John noticed his body was stiff – cold, surely: he was only wearing shorts, and the T-shirt and jacket.

“Nice evening,” John offered, and Tristan shrugged again, and said nothing.

“What are you thinking?” John asked. Tristan grimaced, and laughed.

“More things than I’d like to say.”

“It’s a beautiful view over there…”

“Not to me it’s not.”

“Why?”

Tristan took a deep breath. “Maybe ask Rau,” he said. “Tell him I said it’s okay. It doesn’t matter anymore! It doesn’t matter.”

And Tristan rose to his feet, and wandered a little distance away.

John frowned after him, and then looked around for Rau. Where was he? And where was Joshua? He walked around the stone wall, past the magnifying glasses for the view, and down the hill a little.

There was Rau, sitting on the grass, also smiling into the fading red.

“Must do some fishing here sometime,” Rau said, and John sat next to him.

“That Tristan,” John said. “Something’s up with him.”

Rau’s face frowned. “Ae ,” he said, “something’s been wrong ever since we came here. It’s his whanau.”

“His family?”

“It’s private.”

“He said you could tell me.”

Now Rau glanced sharply at him. “He did?”

“Yes – he said it didn’t matter anymore.”

Rau stared at him – and then rose to his feet. “Where did he go?”

John gestured vaguely in the right direction. “Somewhere over there.”

“It’s not like him,” Rau said – and he headed off after Tristan.

John looked after him – and then searched around again. Where was Joshua? He wandered around the hill, and couldn’t find him. Disappeared again. Maybe he needed privacy, too. John walked back up the hill to the top, but then heard a sound, under a cluster of maple trees. Something was happening – some tussle, and a groan.

He rushed under the trees, to find Joshua. He was sitting taut up against a trunk, his head lolling against the bark. Blood was smeared across his forehead – his hair was matted, with blood and sweat. On the ground, his hands grasped and released dead fallen maple leaves – his body was writhing in pain.

“What is it?” John gasped, rushing to him. Was he wounded? Where was the blood coming from? John searched his body – through the shirt, front and back.

“Do you need Rachel?” he said. “I’ll get her! I’ll get her…”

There was no wound in his chest! Relieved, John started searching his scalp – had he been assaulted?

“No,” Joshua whispered, grasping his arm, “that’s not it…”

Agony flooded John. He gasped, and sank on his knees. “Master!” he cried, and Joshua jerked his hand away.

John sagged on the ground next to him. The pain was gone, for John, but not for Joshua! It continued! Some kind of torment John couldn’t understand! Physical, but not actually physical – emotional, or…or…

“Spiritual,” Joshua whispered. “It’s spiritual.”

“Spiritual?” John breathed.

“The spirit,” Joshua said. “Life or death! Life or death…”

And he crushed dead leaves in his grip.

John stared at him – blood on his forehead, and no source. What was that, spiritual?

“I have to face it,” Joshua whispered.

“Face what?” John asked, with chills.

“The end.”

Tears pricked at John’s eyes, and he blinked them hurriedly away. “Don’t say that!” he said, and now Rau was there.

His eyes moved between John and Joshua, and then he quickly knelt.

“Master,” he whispered. “Tristan’s gone. What must we do?”

“Stay safe,” Joshua gasped. “Stay safe!”

“What’s going to happen?”

“We’ll gather,” Joshua said, “in the Gardens. We’ll all gather. So many, Rau – there are going to be so many! Everyone will be there!”

“But – that’s good!” Rau said. “Your time has come.”

“Yes,” Joshua whispered. “My time has come.”

John stared at him, with sudden dull pain, as Joshua continued.

“We’ll march toward Parliament.”

“But, Master,” Rau said, “they won’t accept you there.”

“You’re right,” Joshua said, and his eyes found John – and terrible grief threatened John’s heart. “They won’t.”

“You’ll die,” John whispered, suddenly knowing – suddenly realizing the truth of all he had feared.

“No!” Rau said. “Not you! Not you! You don’t need to die.”

Joshua’s face contorted before them. “You don’t know what you’re saying,” he said.

“You can live!” Rau insisted. “You have the power to live!”

“I have the power to give life, and to give it away…”

Tears flooded John’s eyes now. Was it true? Was Joshua going to give his life away?

“Tristan,” John whispered. “Where is he?”

“Gone,” Rau said, glancing at him – and now he grasped onto Joshua’s shoulders. He didn’t feel the pain – not as John had felt it! He didn’t feel Joshua’s pain – only his own.

“Don’t go!” Rau said. “We can find another way!”

“No,” Joshua said, grasping onto his arm. “There is no other way.”

“We can save you.”

“I don’t want you to save me.”

“We can protect you!”

“Rau!” Joshua’s voice was suddenly strong, suddenly commanding – he was grasping both Rau’s arms now, even shaking him. “This isn’t you – you know better than this! You know better!”

Rau fell back from his grasp. John watched him swallow – watched him shake his head. Then he spoke.

“Let me die instead,” Rau said. “You are my whanau.”

“No,” Joshua whispered, his head lolling on the trunk again. “No.”

“I…” John saw tears flood Rau’s eyes. “I’ll stay with you, until the end.”

Now Joshua’s eyes met Rau’s – now a deep, sad intensity overrode the pain for a moment.

“Oh, Rau,” he whispered, “do you really believe you are strong enough to die for me? You’re wrong! You’re not yet that strong. Tomorrow, Rau! Tomorrow you will pretend you never knew me.”

Dismay filled Rau’s face. He stared at Joshua, and shook his head.

“It can’t be!” he said, and Joshua grimaced.

“It is,” he said – and Rau rose to his feet. He stared at John, and back at Joshua, and then he turned, and ran away.

 

John sat himself up against the tree trunk, alongside Joshua, amongst the dead leaves – and tightly closed his eyes. Joshua was heaving, next to him – heaving with his terrible battle.

“It’s Tristan, isn’t it?” John said. “Tristan’s going to do it.”

“Yes,” Joshua said. “He’s going to do it.”

“How?” John asked. “How?”

Joshua grasped his hand – and John saw a picture now of his death: shooting! Shooting.

“Oh God,” John whispered, and he clung to Joshua’s hand, and the pain flooded him again, but this time he could not let go.

“It’s not the death I fear,” Joshua whispered, his head now sinking for a moment onto John’s shoulder, “it’s the reason for the death.”

“The reason?” John whispered.

“The darkness!” Now Joshua sobbed, and the sound cut John to the heart. The pain now was tangible – physical, throbbing: overwhelming.

“What is it?” John breathed. “What darkness?”

“All of humanity,” Joshua whispered. “The darkness, everywhere! Of all of humanity gone wrong.”

John squeezed his hand more tightly, and saw a vision. Joshua was there! Hurting! He was in the middle of a street, surrounded by angry faces. There was something on his head! Some terrible weight, bearing down on him – pressing into his head, crushing him.

Darkness was smothering him – darkness was penetrating into his body. Images flashed, in rapid sequence – felt, and seen: experienced, to the depths, though they were not his own. Murder, rape, hatred, fury – all took physical form: all were disease, stealing away his life.

Tristan! John felt him, through, Joshua: his pain! His anger! His hatred! Mark Blake – John didn’t know the man, but Joshua knew him! Joshua saw him, and felt him, and was penetrated by his fury. John trembled – he himself was there! His own darkness, of a more subtle shade: darkness that added to the weight. And now there were many – countless faces, countless people, from countless nations, burdening him, burdening: darkness! Darkness!

“I am the scape goat!” Joshua cried out. “I am the scape goat!”

The darkness was too great! It was crushing him! It was beginning to kill him…

“Oh, no!” John cried. “God!” And the vision was gone.

Joshua was there, now: human! Human, and in agony – waiting to die, to save all of humanity from fatal darkness.

“Oh, dear God,” John whispered, sinking down on his face at his feet. “Master! I’m so sorry! Forgive us! Forgive us!” And he prayed for him, and prayed – and he knew Joshua’s bloodied face was pointed to the sky, as Joshua cried out to God.

“Oh, Father,” he cried, “help me! Help me.”

Grief filled John. He stayed on his face, in the dead leaves, at Joshua’s feet. He drifted in and out of sleep. He prayed. Nightmares took him, and he jerked awake, only to find the real nightmare was still to begin.

“Oh, God,” he prayed, into the leaves. “Save us! Save us.”

And Joshua’s hand came to his head – trembling, but strong.

“We will save you,” he whispered. “We love you – we always have.”

Darkness took him – though he fought sleep, it took him against his will. And then came morning.

 

The sun was rising. With utter dread, John lifted his face.

Joshua was still there. He had washed his face, and hair – he had brushed off his clothes.

“I’ve found my strength again,” he murmured. “I’m ready now. His light is stronger than the darkness.”

John rose, swaying, to his own feet – and Joshua’s resolute firm gaze fixed upon him.

“Time for my Coronation Ceremony,” he said, and John shivered.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Will you stay with me?” Joshua asked, and John nodded.

“I will,” he said, “I’ll stay until the very end.”

Joshua broke into a smile, and John held his breath, lest the smile disappear. “I know you will,” Joshua said, “and you will see for yourself, in the end, that the light is stronger, John. Don’t be afraid! Trust! Even in the darkest night, trust!”

John held his brown gaze, swallowed, and nodded. His choice was made! It was already made.

“I will trust,” he said – and he straightened, and brushed off his own clothes, and moved up the hill behind Joshua.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: The Procession

Rau stood in the Botanic Gardens.

Many thousands had gathered now, with Joshua, from all over Wellington region. Word must have gotten out! Of the five hundred thousand in the region, Rau was sure now a hundred thousand must be there – covering the pavements, spilling across grass: pressed between redwoods, oaks and pine trees, and flowering plants. More were watching from the road.

Police were scattered around the crowd – Rau noticed they looked a little nervous. Politicians were there too, he was sure of it – wearing suits, in the cool day.

Rau stood close to Joshua – and looked for John and Rachel, finding them also close by. Where was Tristan? He hadn’t seen him since the night before, on Mount Victoria! Hadn’t seen him since…

And now Rau remembered, though he longed not to, Joshua’s words.

Do you really believe you are strong enough to die for me? You’re wrong!”

Was Joshua truly going to die that very day? Every day was vulnerable – every day was precious. Rau looked at him, now: standing before the crowd, arms stretched out.

Tomorrow you will pretend you never knew me.”

How could it be? In that moment, Rau was certain that he would protect him – that if someone was to pull a gun, he would step in the way. He loved him! He loved him as friend, as brother – as precious master.

“I’ll never betray you,” he whispered. “Never.”

“Decide!” Joshua called out to the crowd. “Who will you follow? Who will you trust? Decide, for time is running out!”

“What decision?” A woman asked, in a business jacket and skirt. “I am Tracy Harrison, of the Clean Green Party. What are you doing here? Where are you going with this?”

“I’m going to my own kingdom,” Joshua said, and Rau shifted on his feet. Did he have to be that direct?

“Your own kingdom?” Rau recognised this was the Leader of the Opposition himself, there in the crowd: Patrick Clarkson. “We don’t believe in your kingdom – we believe in our own!”

Now a few angry shouts went up. “Let him speak!” some said.

“No way!” others argued. “He’s talking about a kingdom, here! He can forget it!”

Rau glanced quickly to John, who was also looking at him, his face grave. Danger…

“You won’t be able to come,” Joshua said, “where I am going! I have to go first, and then you can follow.”

“Where to?” Clarkson asked. “Parliament? We’re ready for you, if you try it!”

Rau stared at his face. What did he mean, ready for them?

Joshua continued, unabated.

“I’ll go first, but follow me now!” he said. “Follow me, as far as you can – and then no further. See what you must see – see it for yourselves.”

And he moved down the driveway of the gardens, toward the street.

 

Rau quickly followed him. What would happen now? John and Rachel were behind him, and the crowd pressed in, close to them. They were packed! Rau felt himself jostled forward, and now they were on Salamanca Road.

“Stop shoving!” someone called out.

“He’s moving away.”

“Follow him! Don’t lose him!”

Voice after voice shouted out, and Rau’s ears rang with the din. He kept walking – kept pressing forward.

“Joshua!” someone called. “Where are you going?

Rau stumbled on, and forced his way through more bodies – until he could see Joshua again. The road was clear, ahead of him – there were no cars. He walked into Bolton Street, and the crowd followed – but there was someone there in the front, talking with him.

“Sir,” the man said, “I am Rawiri Heka, of the Maori party.”

“I know who you are,” Joshua said.

“Please tell us what your intentions are.”

“My intentions have always been peaceful.”

“We understand that, Sir, but you seem to be bringing a hundred thousand people to…to Parliament.”

Joshua smiled wryly at him. “Isn’t this country a democracy?”

He continued walking, and Heka stood aside to let him pass. Clarkson somehow was there again.

“Stop this!” he said. “Or your actions will be interpreted as an act of war!”

“An act of war?” someone cried out. “How stupid is that?”

“The joker thinks he’s a king!”

“Don’t insult him!”

“Well what do you think, that he’s a king? Your majesty!”

Rau noticed out of the corner of his eye: someone performed a mock bow, but the crowd kept pushing, and then others were falling over him.

“Hey!” he cried out. “Get off!” And he shoved the others aside.

Now a fist fight quickly started. Rau stared, but couldn’t stop it – he was being pushed forward.

“Joshua!” he cried, but Joshua was too far ahead.

Now the police pushed through the crowd. “Enough!” an officer said. “Stop it!”

He pushed the two apart, and the crowd continued to swell.

They were on The Terrace, pressing down to Bowen Street. Rau swallowed. Why did Joshua have to go to the Beehive? Why did he have to make such a bold statement?

“You know where he’s going!” someone called out, with a laugh. “He wants to take over Parliament!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” a woman said.

“That’s it!” another man said. “Time for Joshua to rule! I choose Joshua as king!”

A chorus of voices joined in, and the words quickly became a chant.

“We choose Joshua as king! We choose Joshua as king!”

Now the shoving became stronger.

“Shut up!” other voices said. “Can you believe it? Royalists, in our capital city! God save the Queen!”

“Joshua is King!”

“Don’t be stupid!”

And now real fighting began. Rau’s heart pounded – the police officers again slipped within the crowd, to separate the fighters: but punches landed on the officers, and now they were pulling out their batons.

“God,” Rau whispered in prayer, “help us.”

“We’re coming in peace!” Joshua’s voice drifted over the crowd. “Don’t fight! What can you achieve with fighting? Only bruises! We haven’t come to fight, only to show.”

And he kept walking, and the crowd seemed to calm down.

They reached Bowen Street. Joshua turned right, and now they could see the Beehive through the metal rail fence, on their left. Rau stared at the brown ten story structure. From there the Government ruled! Joshua seemed to be looking at it, thinking, but the front entrance to the Parliament buildings was still five minutes’ walk away.

A peaceful demonstration, Rau thought to himself. That was what this was! Nothing to fear.

Joshua walked on, and turned left into Lambton Quay. The first gate was locked – he walked past it. But Rau looked through it, and the sight chilled him: there, gathered in the Parliament grounds, was the Army.

Rau hesitated. The crowd swept past him – they hadn’t yet seen the sight. Rau continued to move forward, but found himself easing away to the outside of the crowd.

Joshua was walking up Molesworth Street – and now he stopped outside the other gate.

The Army was waiting for him. They stood at attention – perhaps two hundred officers. They reached for their rifles, as one man, and laid them ready against their shoulders.

Rau was in Molesworth. He hurried past the gate, and to the other side. St Peter’s Cathedral was just a little further, on the right! A refuge! A refuge, if they should need to run.

“What’s going on?” someone called out. “Our Army in our Parliament gardens?”

“Stay back!” an Army officer called out, from the front row, rifle ready.

“You can’t do this!” someone else said. “We are New Zealand citizens! We have a right to enter our own Parliament grounds!”

“Stay back, or we will fire!”

“Like hell you will!” A tall young man angrily stepped forward. “Stuff this for a joke!”

And he thrust himself through the gate.

“No!” Joshua cried, but the army response was swift. The officer drew tall, his rifle ready, and shot the man.

A ripple of shock passed through the crowd. Joshua quickly moved forward, lifted the man in his arms, and stepped back – laying him on the ground. Rau saw Rachel there – but Joshua laid a hand on her arm, passed a hand over the man’s chest, and prayed.

The man was well. Astonished, Rau stared – but the crowd started to explode.

“Look!” someone cried. “It’s a miracle! Joshua has come from God – quick, follow him! Parliament’s going to fight him, see? Parliament’s going to attack him with the Army! Fight! Fight for Joshua! Fight!”

“No!” Joshua’s voice cried, but the woman ran forward, into the army, and she also was shot.

Now the crowd lost control. They swept forward, pressing, pressing through the Parliament black gate. Some of the army was smothered, other officers were firing – and now the police were starting to beat many in the crowd.

“Do you really believe Joshua is Jesus Christ now?” A voice spoke into Rau’s ear.

Rau shook, and looked up. It was Mark Blake, the Bishop of Wellington. His face was hard – his eyes intense, set upon Rau with accusation: with blame, and with imminent punishment.

Rau swallowed. The crowd had lost control! They were being killed! Their own people were being killed. Was this was he had expected? No! He had expected peace! He had longed for peace.

Was this Joshua really the Christ?

Rau looked at Joshua. His face was pale, his voice raised – his words were achieving nothing. Rau believed in him! He still believed. But as he looked at Mark Blake, as he felt the bishop’s stare, as he remembered his family, and their humiliation if he should be excommunicated from the church, he felt his throat constrict. It was all over. There was no going back, now – not for Joshua. Rau’s only hope was to return up north, and pretend nothing had happened.

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t believe he is the Christ.”

Tomorrow you will pretend you never knew me.”

Never knew…Rau suddenly realized his meaning. Not the simple ‘knew’ of ordinary acquaintance – the true knowledge! The true knowledge of his identity.

He had done it! He had pretended Joshua was not Christ, when he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he was. A picture of Christ! A representation of Christ.

He had betrayed him.

Blake’s face broke into a knowing smile – a smile of satisfaction. Rau felt his vision blur. He had denied him! The one he loved! He had denied him.

Pain filled his heart, but so did fear. What would happen now? What would happen? He couldn’t bear to stay and find out – couldn’t bear to watch Joshua die.

He ran away – and Blake’s smile seemed to follow him, everywhere he went.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: The Coronation

Rachel stood inside the gates of Parliament.

In front of her, four people lay shot on the ground. She rushed toward them, to help – to check their pulses – but was shoved away by army officers.

“Stand back!” they ordered.

Rachel stared at them. “I’m a doctor, for Christ’s sake!” she said. “Let me pass!”

But they shook their heads. “No exceptions.”

The four extra shootings, after the first, seemed to allow the Army to gain back control of the crowd. They were surrounding the people, now: ushering them back, back, out of the Parliament grounds, back onto the street.

Rachel found herself pressed, by a wall of army officers, back, back – she almost stumbled, but somehow kept her footing.

“Our army is supposed to protect us!” someone called out in fury. “Not bloody Parliament!”

“Parliament is us, bloody monarchist!” someone else yelled.

The black iron gate was in front of her. A few people tried to clamber over it – they were shoved down.

“Back!” the army officers called out, lifting their rifles in aim. “Or we will use force!”

Rachel stared at their faces: hard, focused – oblivious to killing, even their own, in their task. Four lay dead! One had been saved by Joshua – only one…

How the hell had that happened?

Through the gates, Rachel saw a movement behind the army officers. A suited man was walking to the Hill Street gate – his walk, his greying hair: was it…? Rachel pressed herself through the crowd, to the right, further and further, and finally reached the edge of the crowd.

Army officers were spread across Molesworth Street, holding the people back. Rachel looked between their shoulders. The intersection was right there, between Molesworth, Hill and Aitken: St Peter’s Cathedral was there, on the right corner.

Joshua stood in the intersection. Rachel’s heart pounded in fear. He was alone – isolated out by the Army. Black jeans. She suddenly noticed his white shirt: ‘I love Aotearoa,’ fading in the sun.

His white face was unreadable.

“You can’t kill him,” Rachel instinctively whispered to the army officers. “He has committed no crime.”

“We’re the Army,” an officer replied, “not the police. We act in times of war, to establish national security.”

“We are not at war!” Rachel said – and now Joshua’s eyes were on her.

War…

“He’s done nothing,” Rachel said. “He’s a pacifist, for God’s sake! You can’t kill him! It would be an act of murder, if your actions were unprovoked! You would be held to account – taken to court…”

They were shifting uncomfortably on their feet – Rachel knew that they heard her: she knew they agreed with her.

“He is a New Zealand citizen,” she said. “You must protect him: you know that.”

Rachel’s eyes quickly moved over the street. John was there – John! He was standing a few metres away from Joshua, to his left – close to Aitken Street, on the right, in the intersection. Oh, John! Loyalty! Exposed, with Joshua, but somehow not at risk. He was watching! Rachel could see the fear in his eyes, but also the gritty determination: he was staying! He was staying, and no one was going to move him.

Rachel smiled grimly at him – he smiled grimly back at her. Then she looked over the rest of the intersection. Where was Rau? She couldn’t see him anywhere. Had something happened to him?

Someone was standing on the steps of St Peter’s, on the right corner. Rachel noticed now: the Army didn’t move him either. She peered at him – he was wearing robes! A black scarf, over red and white! Anglican robes! Rachel vaguely remembered him – the Bishop of Wellington! What was his name? Mark Blake! He was a friend of her father’s!

He stood quietly, watching the crowd – and now a Korean woman was rushing down the steps, wearing much simpler robes: white, over black. Rachel had met her one Easter, when her family had attended church: the dean of the Cathedral, Eun Ae Choo.

“What’s going on?” she cried, looking across the crowd – looking through the bars. “Are those people dead?”

“Joshua Davidson killed them,” Blake said, pointing to Joshua. “He is destroying our nation.”

Rachel stared at him. The bishop himself was blaming Joshua? Where did he think his words might lead? The bishop and the dean: shouldn’t they be acting to diffuse the situation? Proclaiming some kind of blessing from God, or healing words, or forgiveness, or something? Blake’s face was hard, and Choo’s forehead was furrowed – she was whispering something, lips moving: prayer! Maybe she was praying for God to guide her! At least she was praying.

Rachel tried to look to her left, down Hill Street – who was the politician? He would represent the people – surely he would act!

The man finally emerged on the street, opposite the steps of St Peter’s, facing Joshua in the intersection. It was James Connor.

Rachel pressed against the army officers. “Let me through!” she said. “That’s my father!”

“No exceptions,” the officer said – but now, suddenly, she dove between their legs.

She was through! On her knees, on the road – there was nothing but space between her and Joshua! But now she felt the tip of a rifle to the back of her head, stopping her from rising to her feet.

Joshua’s eyes widened – and he stretched out a hand.

“No,” he said, “she’s not the one you want.”

The rifle left her head, letting her stand, but now she felt it prodding the small of her back.

“Leave her!” her father’s voice called out. “That’s my daughter!”

“She’s a rebel,” the officer called back. Rachel flushed, looking at her father. His face was taut, now – his forehead creased with burden. This was the Prime Minister of New Zealand! This was his nation! Going to pot!

“What the hell are you doing?” Rachel cried out to him. “The Army, Dad? What are you thinking?”

Now the officer was forcing her down to her knees again – now the rifle was again at the back of her head.

“Leave her,” Joshua’s calm voice said. “No one else needs to die today.”

Rachel’s body shook hard. She stared at her father – he stared back at her. Then his eyes shifted to Joshua.

“You are a curse,” he said, spitting at him, “a curse that is bringing our people to ruin!”

Joshua faced him – but did not speak. Confused, Rachel searched his face. He was innocent! He was good, not evil! How dare Connor accuse him, and blame him, when Connor’s own actions had precipitated the riot?

“You’re a bastard!” Rachel shouted out to him. “An incompetent bastard!”

And now she felt a blinding, sharp, painful blow to the back of her head.

She fell, gasping, on her face – her vision blacked out, though she heard her father’s voice.

“Stand down, officer!” he ordered. “I am your commander!”

A hand was on her head. The pain disappeared – her vision returned. Confused, Rachel looked up – Joshua was standing over her, his face breaking into his familiar smile. He reached out a hand – he pulled her back to her feet.

“Don’t argue anymore,” he said quietly to her. “Don’t fight them. You’ll get yourself killed.”

He had always said it! Don’t fight! Don’t use weapons! Overcome evil with good! Swallowing, Rachel nodded and stepped away, with her back to the iron gate.

Someone else had appeared, next to her father. Rachel searched her – was that the Governor General? Yes! Anita Mayes! Surely she could stop this! She held the most power in New Zealand: she was the guardian to ensure the diplomatic process went forward unhindered!

“Right Honourable Prime Minister James Connor!” she said loudly. “Do you really think this is legal?”

“The nation is under threat, Right Honourable Governor General,” Connor replied. “I have taken the necessary actions to ensure our nation’s survival.”

Rachel looked at his face. She longed to hate him, but found, in that moment, she could not. He was the Prime Minister! He was responsible! He was afraid! He had acted in good conscience – could it be true? It was true. He had acted for New Zealand’s interests.

Blake now shifted, on the steps of St Peter’s. “Connor!” his strong voice called out. “Do something! Deal with this man, before it is too late!”

Rachel stared at him. What did he mean by ‘deal with’…? Connor moved – with a grim face, he made a gesture to the crowd.

Rachel looked to her right, to the crowd, contained by the army – and now Tristan stepped between the officers.

He was carrying a rifle.

Rachel swallowed. “Oh my God…”

Tristan’s face was hard – his eyes distant: far away…

“Tristan!” she whispered. “What are you doing?”

She had known! Had known something was up with him, but hadn’t acted! She should have sectioned him, or something: kept him safe!

“Tristan!” Connor cried out. “Why now? Why like this?”

“Now!” Tristan replied, his voice hard. “Here! A public act, ordered by the Prime Minister himself! An army weapon, so no one can hide!”

A lead weight was in Rachel’s stomach, now: a terrible twisting in her gut.

“Oh my God.” Connor had organised the assassination of Joshua.

A girl was with Tristan – a strange girl, flitting about, dancing, even! Dancing, and singing some strange chant! She looked sixteen – she was dancing around Joshua, now! Laughing, an eerie laugh – laughing at him.

“King Joshua!” she called out, mocking and bowing before him. “Your majesty!”

Rachel instantly hated her. She longed to vomit, watching her. There was a black intensity to her eyes – an aged calculation to her actions. She appeared young, but in fact seemed very old: hard, bitter; conceited.

“Witch,” Rachel whispered.

She was carrying something: what was it? Round, made of some strange grey metal Rachel had never seen – ancient symbols; an ancient pointed design.

“Your majesty!” she said, bowing – and she put the thing on Joshua’s head.

It was a crown.

Rachel stared. Joshua’s face turned a sickly shade of grey. His brown eyes fixed on her – she saw a sudden kind of agony. His head tipped back, he clung the crown firmly to his head, and began to stagger.

“What is it?” Rachel whispered, and then she cried out. “Poison! The girl is poisoning him! Get that thing off him!”

But now John was shaking his head – stretching his hand out toward Rachel.

“No,” he said. “Don’t!”

Rachel stared at him. John’s eyes were full of tears – his face contorted. Rachel wanted to rush forward, but knew she must not! Something was happening! Something she did not understand – something she could not possibly comprehend. John knew! John understood. She had to trust in that, now! She had to trust.

She remained still, clenching her fists – and now Blake’s voice sounded, strong and hard, over Joshua’s head.

“Kill him, Connor!” he said. “Do it now!”

“Not yet!” John cried. “Not yet! It’s not the right time!”

Joshua was groaning, now – still staggering, still trying to keep his footing, his face pointed up to the sky: his hands still clutching the crown to his own head.

Tristan was staring at Joshua, now: he was staring – his body was shaking.

“Kill him!” Blake cried out. “Kill him, and we will all be safe! Kill him, and we will all find our peace!”

“The scape goat…” Tristan whispered. “Oh my God – the scape goat…”

Rachel thought the rifle might fall from his shaking hands.

“You can’t kill him!” Choo cried out, from the Cathedral. “Killing is a sin! This man is innocent! He is innocent!”

“Enough!” Blake said to her. “I’ll dismiss you for disgraceful conduct! You’ll never work in the church again!”

Choo was staring at him. She looked about to tear off her robes, but then a strange calm came over her. She stepped apart from him and retained her robes, grasping them firmly.

“Don’t kill him!” she called out to Tristan. “In the name of God, I say to you: this is a crime! This man is innocent!”

Rachel felt tears pricking her eyes: a woman of God! At last, a true bold Christian voice! Blake shoved her, and propelled her back into St Peter’s. At least she would be praying! Rachel thought. At least someone would be praying.

“Kill him!” Blake repeated. “Execute him! Do it quickly!”

“Prime Minister!” The Governor General cried out. “Our state is a democracy! We have a Law! We have a court system!”

“To hell with the Law!” Blake said. “This is about our survival! Our survival, as a people – even as a race! What are you waiting for?”

He was staring at Connor.

Rachel saw reluctance in her father’s eyes, now: with relief she saw it – reluctance! He wasn’t evil! He wasn’t a tyrant! He actually didn’t want to act! He didn’t want to execute!

“Do this,” Mayes declared loudly, “and I will use the powers invested in me to dissolve the Government! This is not your role, Connor! You are way out of line here!”

Connor’s eyes moved over the crowd, and the Army – his gaze passed through the iron gates to the four dead bodies beyond. Then he straightened with new resolution.

“Let the people decide!” he said. “This won’t be my responsibility! Let the people decide!”

“Connor!” Mayes cried out. “You call this due process?”

“People of New Zealand!” Connor called out. “What is your decision? This man, Joshua, has stirred up our nation! Four are dead! We are fighting each other – we are divided! We are all New Zealand. What should we do? Let the people decide!”

There was silence – and then a response.

“Oh, to hell with it!” someone cried out. “Get it over with! Get him out of the way, so we can all go home.”

“Kill him?” Connor asked. “How many say ‘Yes’?’”

“Oh, you can’t be serious,” Rachel muttered under her breath – but now a swell of anger overrode her thoughts.

The girl was moving, next to Joshua – she was straightening, her dark eyes hard: she was adult – she was ancient.

“Kill him!” she commanded. “Kill him!”

“Just kill him!” the people cried. “Get it over with! Kill him!”

Others struggled! Others shouted for his life! Rachel raised her voice, loud and strong.

“No!” she cried. “Kill him, and it will all be over! We will never be the same again!”

Joshua’s eyes were on her, now! He was suffering. His grey face was sweating, and bleeding! Bleeding…

“Hematohidrosis,” she whispered. “Rupturing, from the stress…”

Tristan stood before Joshua. Rachel watched, as Tristan looked at Joshua’s staggering form and saw the blood – Tristan’s face contorted. Joshua was looking at him, now! His eyes were clouded with pain, but gracious! There was no anger! No resentment! No fear! Rachel was drawn into his expression. It was love! Tristan saw it, too: looked stricken by it! Love.

Joshua reached out a hand to grasp Tristan’s shoulder – his body stiffened. He fell to his knees, his back taut, his face pointing to the sky.

“Father!” he cried to God. “Don’t hold it against them! They really have no idea what they are doing!”

Blood dripped down his face. The crown fell off his head, and now he stretched his arms out wide.

“Where are you?” he cried, to God – and his face now contorted with terror! “Oh, God, Daddy – I can’t see you! Darkness! Darkness…”

Rachel’s eyes filled with tears – she blinked them furiously away. Joshua! Joshua…

Tristan was rigid. Dismay flooded his face. Then he stepped back, gathered the rifle, and fired.

Rachel choked. Bullets landed in Joshua’s chest – many bullets! They jerked his body backwards – they threw him to the ground.

She rushed forward, now – she rushed to him. He was lying on the ground, his body jerking with pain – gasping. She tore away his blood stained white shirt, to find five bullet wounds – two to each lung, and one to the heart. The bullets hadn’t emerged! His body had stopped them.

“Oh, God,” Rachel breathed, shaking. “No…”

She reached for his neck – his pulse. Still there, but faint! Fading rapidly! He was bleeding, badly! Bleeding, from the chest – gasping for breath: bleeding from the heart.

Rachel took off her own jacket, and pressed it into his wounds. Pressure! But she knew it was useless. His heart had been penetrated! And his lungs! There was no way he could survive.

He grasped her hand, now. Rachel sobbed, as he met her eyes – as he struggled, on his last breaths.

“It’s finished!” he gasped. “It’s sorted!” And his face broke into a sudden beautiful smile.

Rachel grasped him, crying. “Don’t go!” she said. “Don’t go!”

Peace filled his eyes – and then his head fell back, and his hand fell from hers.

He was dead.

Rachel sank to the ground next to him. Resuscitate? Resuscitate? She crossed her hands over his chest – she began to pound his heart. But then she felt a hand to her shoulder.

It was John. His eyes were filled with tears – overflowing tears. He held her gaze, and shook his head.

“It’s over,” he whispered “Don’t try to bring him back.”

She stared at his face – she began to weep. She shrank back away, from John – away from Joshua’s body. And then she looked at the crowd.

They were silent.

“Enough!” cried the Governor General’s voice. “By the power invested me, as the representative of the Queen, I now announce that the current Prime Minister has acted outside of his jurisdiction!

“I am dissolving Parliament! The Queen will rule directly, until time permits to allow for an election – until democracy is effectively established again!”

Democracy…Freedom, choice: they had gone! Fear had ruled – corruption had acted.

Joshua was dead.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Crisis

Mark stood on the steps of St Peter’s – and stared down at the street.

The Governor General had just dissolved the Government! Connor was standing there, next to Mayes – his face white, and rigid. The people were shifting about, muttering backwards and forwards. Mayes was ordering the Army, now! Ordering the Army to dismiss the people – to send them home. They were dispersing – in only a few minutes, most of the people were gone.

Tristan had fallen to his knees – thrown the rifle down, away from himself. He was staring at the ground. His eyes – Mark swallowed – looked haunted.

Selena was there! What was she doing? Smiling! Smiling, circling the body, holding the crown. Her eyes lifted, and now she was looking directly at him: her black eyes penetrating.

Chills crept up his back. He tore his eyes away from her – tried to find some kind of refuge in the other woman, kneeling next to the body. Was that Rachel, Connor’s daughter? Surely not! She had tried to save him – a doctor, that’s right! A doctor.

Another man was there, also – someone Mark did not know. He wanted to avoid looking at him – but somehow could not. He was sitting very close to the body – he was crying. Mark had never seen a man cry like this before. His entire body was shaking hard – gripped, immersed in some terrible tragedy.

Mark felt numb. He didn’t look at the body – he could not. And yet, he couldn’t leave it, either.

Choo was beside him. “One of us should go to him,” she said quietly.

Mark swallowed, and could not answer her.

“You dismissed me,” she said. “It has to be you.”

Mark stared at Rachel, the doctor, on her knees – the one who had tried to help.

“I’m not fit,” he whispered to Choo. “I just murdered him.”

His body began to shake – slightly, only the earliest tremors of a catastrophic explosion. Selena was there now! Selena’s voice was whispering in his ear:

“Look at him,” she said. “Look at what you have done.”

She took his hand – she led him down the steps of St Peter’s Cathedral. She led him where he dared not go, but where he no longer had the strength to resist.

The body was there, now, at his feet. His eyes moved, against his will, over it. There was blood! He was standing in it! It was soaking into his purple tunic, and into the red and white. The white shirt was torn from the chest. There were bullet holes! Five! Five, to his chest.

And…and the face…

Mark contorted, as he looked at the face. It was peaceful.

“He was innocent!” Tristan’s voice wailed behind him. “We just killed an innocent man!”

But there was more – Mark knew, so much more!

“The scape goat,” Selena whispered into his ear. “You know who this is!”

Mark looked down to his feet – his robes, soaked in blood. He looked at the man’s face.

“Joshua,” the crying man next to him said. “You know his name is Joshua. You know him!”

“Even the name is the same,” Selena whispered – and Mark ran.

Away from the body, away from the grieving man, whose presence was so true, away from his son, wretched, on his knees after his crime, away from…from the One

Joshua…‘The Lord saves!’ Joshua…

Mark ran up the steps of St Peter’s past Choo, thrust his way through the glass doors, and emerged into the nave. He was standing in the aisle, between congregational chairs.

The cross was before him – distant, in the inner sanctuary. Jesus, on the cross…

Mark’s shaking intensified. He forced himself to approach the cross – one shaking, unsteady step at a time. What had he done? What had he done?

The glass doors sounded behind him. Who was it? Which one? The accuser? The faithful friend? Choo? Which one would reach him first? Which one would try to dictate his fate first?

“You know who I am,” Selena’s voice said. “You know what you deserve.”

Agony crashed upon his heart – more than powerful enough to sweep his life away.

“I know,” he whispered. Hell whispered to him: torment, judgement – an eternity of retribution. “I know.”

“An eye for an eye,” Selena said. “Death for death. There is no grace – only justice! Only judgment. Only the Law.’

Now she was behind his back – now she was putting something into his right hand.

“Why be a hypocrite?” she asked. “Death for death! Execute justice! Execute judgment.”

He looked down, and found himself holding Tristan’s rifle. With horror, he stiffened, staring at it – and then he looked up again at the cross. He was half way down the church – only half way to the inner sanctuary.

The door sounded behind him again. He turned, with pain, to look – and saw Choo’s face, suddenly changing into dismay.

“Mark!” she whispered, tears suddenly filling her Korean eyes. “No!”

Her tears unleashed his – his eyes filled, and he blinked the tears away, and his eyes filled again and again.

“Everything I am,” he whispered, “is lost.”

“No!” she pleaded. “There is always a way back!”

“Not always,” he said. “There is a point of no return.”

Her face was kind; her eyes forgiving. He regretted dismissing her – at least this crime could be undone.

“Maybe you’ll get my job,” he whispered, smiling whimsically – and then he left her face behind, and turned back to the cross.

The rifle was heavy in his hand. He gripped it, awkwardly but tightly – he walked closer to the cross. Death! Death…

The door sounded: painfully pricking his heart – interrupting his melancholy.

“Leave me alone,” he called out, his voice resonating all around him in the cathedral and behind his back, without turning.

“Selena!” Tristan’s voice sounded, loud, authoritative. “Get that rifle off him now!”

Her voice resonated laughter. “Get it off him yourself!”

Mark heard loud determined footsteps walking down the aisle – Mark turned, and raised the rifle to point it at Tristan’s chest.

Tristan stopped short, staring at him: Mark’s own gaze locked with his.

“You’re not going to shoot me,” Tristan said, his eyes filling with tears. “I know that for certain.”

Mark’s eyes also filled with tears. “You’re right,” he said, “but…” And now weeping threatened to overpower him. “…don’t make me kill myself in front of you.”

Now Tristan’s eyes widened in grief-stricken terror, and it was agony to Mark’s heart.

“I’m so sorry,” Mark whispered to him, “you’ve seen too much already! I’m so sorry, Tristan, but…even protecting you isn’t enough to keep me alive anymore.”

Tristan began to weep – and Mark hurriedly shook his head.

“Leave,” he whispered. “Leave.”

“If I leave, you’ll kill yourself!” Tristan said.

“I’ll kill myself anyway!” Mark said. “Please, Tristan: leave!”

Dismay filled Tristan’s face. His eyes moved, to Selena, and back again to Mark.

“She did this!”

“She did this?” Mark laughed with pain. “No, Tristan! Life did this! And…and I did it. I’m so sorry!”

“Selena…”

“She’s too far gone, Tristan. But you – you can still live.”

Tristan’s eyes held his. He was strong, in that moment! Mark was relieved to see it. He was strong. Tristan swallowed – and then he nodded.

“All right,” he said.

“I…” Mark choked on the words – they cost him: they hurt him. “I love you.”

How much he had failed him! How much!

Tristan’s face contorted, with tears, and, somehow, he found a sad smile.

“I love you too,” he whispered – and then, swiftly, he turned, and walked down the aisle, and out of the doors.

Mark fleetingly saw Choo. She was on her knees in the last row, her lips moving – her eyes open, her face stricken. Mark smiled sadly at her, and then he turned again to his purpose.

He was almost there – at the altar! Before the cross. He had arranged the execution of Joshua! He had demanded his death.

The scape goat…All of Mark’s anger! All of his hatred, he had poured over Joshua’s head! All of his guilt! All of his rage, at…at…

And now, Mark trembled. His rage at whom? At God? Yes! All of his rage at God, he had unleashed upon Joshua! When…and this admission was agony…when he had known all along Joshua was an expression of Christ. When he had known that Joshua was seeking to open a way to God.

Mark had betrayed him: the one he had vowed to follow – the one he had vowed to serve.

He had killed a son of God.

Mark sank to his knees now. He had reached the communion rail – he leaned heavily over it, his right arm hanging loosely, clinging to the rifle: his blood stained robes spread out over the polished wood.

“Hypocrite,” Selena said, and Mark tightly closed his eyes.

“I have sinned,” Mark whispered, and Selena laughed.

“You have sinned?” she said. “By killing a son of God? Without doubt. But why should we be surprised? After all, you killed her!”

Selena’s grip was on his shoulder – and then, suddenly, he was thrust back into the memory again: the car, upside down. Teresa, trapped! Her face, dripping blood! Her breathing, stopping…

Agony took him – his voice was thrust up into a scream – but then, suddenly, Selena’s hand was forced away.

Mark clung to the railing, trembling as he saw the man, the one who had loved Joshua, grip Selena’s shoulders with both of his hands.

“Get out!” he ordered, his eyes fire – a kind of pure rage Mark had never seen.

Selena’s face contorted, and her voice rose to a shriek.

“Who do you think you are?” she shouted, “John of Whangarei? If I can kill Joshua, I can kill you!”

“Get out!” he said again. “I don’t care about my death anymore – only his death! Only him! Leave now!”

Mark stared – she was screaming! Screaming under this John’s hands, as she had screamed under Joshua! Her body jerked. Mark stiffened, with her – gripped the rail, without resisting – and then, suddenly, she collapsed.

Bewildered, Mark watched as John caught her body. She was stirring, now, in his arms! She was staring up at his face! Her eyes were blue – wide, as they had been as a child: afraid! Tears flowing…

He longed, now, to rush to her – he longed to care for her. But he could not.

Choo was there. John lifted Selena across to her arms. What had just happened?

“Maybe I should have been Catholic,” Mark muttered, “or Pentecostal, or something…” Some kind of evil spirit? A demon? What did he know of this? For a strange moment, he imagined asking Father Andrew, or Pastor Luke. Then his own guilt descended back upon him, like a black cloud.

He buried his face in his arms, over the railing. The rifle was still in his hand. It was a comfort, somehow – his own control over his own fate: his own power to undo his own guilt.

A hand was on his shoulder again – a very different kind of touch.

“You didn’t kill her,” John’s voice said, and his words were agony to Mark.

“I was speeding,” Mark whispered, lifting his face from his arms, looking up at Jesus’s face – the sad expression – on the cross. “I was speeding, and I killed her.”

“You were speeding,” John murmured over him, “but the rest was a terrible accident.”

An accident. Grief flooded his heart. An accident?

“If I’d been going at the right speed…”

“…she wouldn’t have died,” John finished. “But God wants forgiveness, not condemnation! God wants forgiveness!”

Mark felt weeping threaten him. “What do you know about God’s forgiveness, ‘John of Whangarei’?” he cried out. “What do you know about God’s Law? Have you even stepped in church twice since you left childhood? What do you even do in Whangarei: herd sheep?”

Tears filled John’s eyes, now – the grieving man.

“I know as much about it as anyone!” he cried. “Maybe it’s you who knows nothing!”

Mark shifted uncomfortably as John’s words continued to pour out.

“Joshua chose to die!” he said. “He chose to die, to carry all of our mess! Don’t you get it? You’ve been in church all your life! I saw him die! I saw what he was doing!”

Now John grasped his arm

“All the crap that goes through our heads, and our mouths, and the ridiculous things we do sometimes,” he said, “onto him! So we could be free of it! So God’s anger at us could be relieved! So some kind of justice could be done! So…” And now John hesitated, as if he was considering his own words. “So we could be fixed.”

Mark gazed at him for a moment. “‘The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,’” he quoted, “‘and by his wounds we are healed.’^^22^^” Mark enjoyed John’s ignorance of the old, even as the new was thrusting Mark into utter humility.

The cloud re-emerged: it was still deep – it was still dark. Mark took a deep breath.

“Even if I was innocent of her death,” he said with pain, “or even forgiven of her death,” How the pain intensified with the thought! “I killed him! I killed Joshua!”

This was the bottom line. He rose to his feet, now, holding the rifle – leaving John behind, entering into the inner sanctuary where John was not free to follow.

The altar was before him – wooden table, sacred, covered with white linen for purity. In ancient times the priests had sacrificed animals, to carry the evil of people – to save the people from judgment from God.

Someone had left a silver chalice and plate on the white linen. Wine was in the cup, and white wafers on the plate: the body and blood of Christ – the lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world.

Behind the altar was the cross. He was very close now. Mark stood at the foot, looking up the fading tiles, to Jesus. Sorrow…sorrow, for the sins of the world…

Mark felt his face contort, as he lifted the rifle and pointed it at the head of Jesus.

“It’s as though I shot him myself!” Mark said. “I did! I handed him over! And…and…” How unbearable to actually say it! “…and that makes me Judas!”

The dark cloud descended. It filled his feeling, his thought, and his body – the deepest part of him. Judas – the one who had betrayed Christ to his enemies, with a kiss! The one who had handed him over to be crucified.

Mark had believed! And he had betrayed. He had believed, and he had executed the one he had professed to love.

“I am Judas,” he whispered. “My God! My God…”

Judas had killed himself.

Mark had been pointing the rifle at Christ. Now he drew it down, and turned it backwards, toward himself. Through the mouth – that must be the way. Upwards, into the brain…

He swayed slightly, his heart pounding. He felt afraid of death – but that fear was not enough. It was right – it was fitting. A second Jesus; a second Judas, offered at the altar. John from Whangarei could not begin to speak to the depth of his understanding.

But then there was another interruption.

Mark felt he might go mad. Quiet, please! Solitude, in the last moments before his death. But God would not give him solitude.

Rau Petera was bursting into the inner sanctuary.

Mark stared at him. His Maori face was wet with tears – his eyes red. He was still weeping, even now, as he grasped Mark’s blood stained robes and gazed into his eyes.

“Don’t be like Judas,” Rau implored him. “Be like Peter!”

“Like Peter?” Mark breathed. Peter was the one who had denied three times even knowing Christ! The one who had denied him, and had wept with remorse, and had returned, and had later died for him.

“Be like Peter!” Rau pleaded. “Come back! Come back!”

Mark found himself grasping for Rau’s arms – found weeping erupting from within him. They had both failed! They had both failed! Mark could see it so clearly now in Rau’s transparent face – he had denied him! He had left him to die! Rau’s regret was flowing continually in his tears, Mark could see – he had known him, and had left! But he had returned. Seen his body! Returned to the altar – returned to his position.

Mark sagged down to his knees now before the priest of Kerikeri.

“I was worse than you,” he choked. “Much worse.”

Rau’s warm brown face was over him. “I was closer to him,” he whispered. “I knew him, without a doubt, and still I denied him.”

The rifle…Rau was touching it! Mark’s body shook hard.

“Don’t,” he pleaded.

“Let it go,” Rau murmured over him.

“You don’t know what I’ve done.”

“Tell me.”

“I convinced Connor to kill him.”

Now he had confessed it. Rau’s face contorted, but then he shook his head.

“What else?”

“I played on his fears!” Mark writhed. “Manipulated him into it! I hated God…”

Now Mark closed his eyes as everything began to pour out.

“I sped, and Teresa died, and I blamed God, and then I shut out my children…” He trembled. “Tristan was in the Army – I never knew! He could have been killed! And Selena…” He began to sob. “Useless father…”

Rau was pressing his forehead to him, now – murmuring a prayer in Maori. Mark clung to him, vulnerable, eyes still closed. The rifle was gone! Mark was afraid, but didn’t want to die – Rau’s words soothed him. He felt something stirring, in his heart – something new: something spiritual, that felt like…like love…

“God loved us so much that he gave his son,”^^23^^ Rau murmured. “This is Christ’s body, given for you. This is Christ’s blood, given for you.”

Mark opened his eyes, to look up into Rau’s.

“Christ’s body and blood?” he whispered.

“Given for you,” Rau said, “for the forgiveness of sins.”^^24^^

His eyes were offering, inviting. Mark trembled. No death, but a road to forgiveness? That would mean facing the full grief of everything he had done! That would mean living with it, day by day, until…until one day the grief was finally gone…

Grief…but no burden. No judgment. No condemnation. No hatred, no anger, no murder, no neglect, no…sin…

Rau was turning to the altar, now – and he returned, with the body and the blood of Christ.

Mark reached out his hands, and Rau placed a wafer in them.

“The body of Christ, given for you.”

Mark closed his eyes, and took it to his mouth, and swallowed it – and received it. Christ’s death, for him! To carry his guilt! To carry his darkness.

“The blood of Christ, given for you.”

Mark received the silver cup, and drank from it – the strong sip of alcohol warmed his chest, even as he felt another kind of warmth penetrating through his whole body.

Rau’s hand was on his shoulder now.

“The blessing of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with you now, and forever more.”

“Amen,” Mark whispered.

It was finished.

Peace. On his knees, Mark felt peace – a kind of peace that wholly filled him: a kind of peace he had never known.

“And you?” he murmured gently, looking up into Rau’s face. “Will you receive communion from me?”

Rau smiled sadly. “I would,” he said, “but I’m not yet ready.”

Mark tilted his head, looking at him. “Not ready?” he said, surprised. “But…you just helped me…”

Tears filled Rau’s eyes again. “I’m willing,” he whispered, “but I’m not yet ready.”

In humility, Mark reached up to touch his face. “May God bless you,” he said, “for the right time.”

“For the right time,” Rau whispered – and Mark rose to his feet.

Rau bowed to the cross, and then turned and stepped out of the inner sanctuary. Mark watched him grasp John’s hands – both men cried freely with each other.

“Tristan,” Rau said, and John glanced up at Mark.

“Go,” Mark said, and both Rau and John quickly walked down the aisle and out of the church.

Mark hesitated, for a moment, in the inner sanctuary. He looked at the altar, with the left over wafers and wine. He wandered up, murmured prayer over the emblems, and took them into himself – sacred! They were not to be randomly discarded. That was their tradition, and he agreed with it.

He looked up to the cross – to the eyes of Christ.

“‘By his wounds, we are healed,’” he murmured – and a new kind of joy filled his heart, like the glory of a very first sunrise seen on a clear, fresh morning.

He bowed to the cross, his heart and tradition as one, and turned, and walked out of the inner sanctuary. Then he saw Eun Ae Choo, sitting with his daughter. Selena’s face was hidden away in her shoulder.

Eun Ae’s eyes were filled with tears. He went to her. He took off his bishop robes, before her – down to his normal shirt and trousers beneath.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was a fool to dismiss you.”

She bowed her head graciously. “Then I am reinstated?”

“So far as I’m concerned, you never left.”

She smiled sadly – and now his eyes moved to Selena.

Eun Ae moved her arm, from around Selena – and Selena lifted her feet to the chair, wrapping her arms around her legs. Mark was drawn, now, to her – drawn to protect her, as he had felt before…before Teresa had died.

Eun Ae stooped to lift Mark’s robes from the ground, and he grasped her arm.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “You’re not my servant – I’ll deal with them later.”

“No,” Choo said, “it’s all right – I’ll deal with them.”

“Joshua’s body,” Mark said. “He might still be outside.”

“We’ll give him a service?”

Mark took another deep breath – guilt! Could he attend Joshua’s funeral? And yet, yes…

“If God wishes it,” Mark said.

Eun Ae walked to the side of the church, and slipped out of sight into a changing room. Then she appeared again, and walked down the side aisle and out.

 

Selena was in front of him. Mark’s full attention now was for her.

Her face was buried in her bare knees. The green shirt was dishevelled, her long black curls thrown around her legs. She was shivering.

Mark sat himself next to her. “Selena…”

She didn’t respond. Sadly Mark laid a hand on her shoulder – she flinched.

How long had it been? How many years had they lost?

Nine. Nine years…

Mark wanted to hang his head in shame – but he lifted his face back to the cross, prayed for her under his breath, and tried again.

“Selena,” he murmured, “I’m here for you now.”

“Don’t,” she gasped.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” she moaned. “It’s my fault.”

“No,” he breathed, “not your fault…”

She stiffened now – she lifted her head, and her face was contorted. Her teeth were gritted together, as she started to dig her nails into her arms.

“My fault!” she said. “It’s my fault! It’s my fault, it’s my fault…”

And she dug and dug, until she was bleeding.

Mark reached to grasp her hands – to grasp her arms. She fell off the chair – she started to hit him. Mark held her to his chest – held her, and started to rock her, and started to sing to her, as he had done when she had been hurt at seven. She struggled against him! She fought him! Mark felt her adolescent rage! But he knew there was more – knew to look deeper.

“Oh, Selena,” he whispered with tears, “I’m so sorry! Mummy’s gone! Mum’s gone…”

Now her voice lifted into a wail, and her fighting ceased. “I know Mum’s gone!” she cried. “But where’s Daddy? Where’s Dad?”

The words were a knife to his heart – a knife he knew he must endure.

“I went away,” he whispered, shaking hard. “I had to go away! I’m so sorry, Selena! But now I’m back! Now I’m back…”

She lifted her head from his chest – she looked into his eyes. She was sixteen – the blue eyes intelligent, insightful, and haunted with agony.

Mark touched her face. “My beautiful daughter,” he said, and she closed her eyes tightly, shaking her head.

“I don’t believe you,” she whispered.

“I was a fool,” he said. “A fool to leave – I didn’t even see.”

“I…” She choked, and opened her eyes again: held his eyes again. “I hated you.” The blue eyes filled with tears and pain. “I hated you, and I became Satan incarnate, and…and now I want to die.”

Now tears filled his eyes. How similar they were!

“I know you want to die,” he said, reaching to stroke her black curls, “but I want you to live.”

Her face contorted with her struggle. “Please,” she whispered, “don’t preach to me!”

Pain seized him. “I won’t,” he whispered.

“I couldn’t stand it…”

He wanted to cry. “I won’t!” he insisted. “I promise.”

“I don’t need you to be a priest right now.”

“I know…”

“I need you to be…”

“Dad.”

The word made her stiffen. He reached to hold her face in both hands – to press his forehead against hers.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

Sobs began to erupt from within her. “I’m so sorry, Daddy!” she gasped – and he felt her pain as his own.

“It’s all right!” he murmured. “It’s all right…”

Her face was in his shoulder now – her head lolling on his chest. Torment! Her voice was rising to a wail – he ached with her agony, but he remained.

“It’s all right,” he kept murmuring to her. “It’s all right…”

Her fingers were digging into his arms now – he closed his eyes tightly, but still held her: and now he began to rock her again. The song came to him again – one he had sung around the time of the accident.

She straightened, suddenly – she looked into his eyes.

“Dad?” she whispered.

“Selena,” he whispered back, “I’m going to look after you now.”

She trembled. “Really?”

The tears pricked his eyes again. Fatherhood! He hadn’t grasped it! He hadn’t understood it.

“I’m here now,” he said, and a kind of painful wonder lit up her face.

She touched his face.

“I’ve missed you, Daddy,” she said – and then, suddenly, she curled up on his chest.

Mark looked down at her black curls.

Daddy…

This was another deep truth he had locked tightly away.

“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered – and Selena closed her eyes, and soon Mark found she was actually sleeping on his chest.

Mark sat there in the first row of the church, holding his daughter. What had happened to her? Some terrible thing: isolation, desperation – evil! But it hadn’t finished there! It wasn’t over! There was still time.

He trembled, carrying her – he stared at the cross. He murmured over her, drawing her closer – and closed his eyes to pray for her.

 

Selena stirred. She was in a haze – almost in sleep.

Something had happened to her. What was it? That man, John, of Whangarei – he had pulled her! He had grasped her shoulders – he had felt just like Joshua!

The light! The same burning light – it hurt! She clung to the light, and the darkness couldn’t stay! And…and then, suddenly, with a scream, he was gone.

Emptiness swallowed her. She was alone! But…but, no: not alone. Someone was there – home was there.

Her head was on his chest, now. He was praying! Light! Light…

Daddy,” she whispered, still in sleep. “Daddy…”

I’m here,” he whispered, “I’m here.”

The light was stronger than the darkness! Stronger! She tried to touch it, but sleep was taking her – she was so tired! So very tired…

 

“Sleep,” Mark whispered over her, stroking her hair. “Sleep, my beautiful girl.”

“Sleep?” Selena whispered back, shifting in his arms – hiding her face in his neck.

“Sleep,” Mark murmured, shifting his arms around her. And she obeyed him, and sank straight into a deep sleep.

In wonder Mark gazed down at her. In wonder he gazed at the cross. Then, suddenly, he remembered his other child.

Carefully he lifted Selena in his arms, rising to his feet, and walked down the aisle.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: Grace

Tristan sat next to Joshua’s body.

Blood was on the ground – blood was in his mind. He lifted his hand, sticky with it – he laid his hand on Joshua’s shoulder. He groaned.

Death. It was everywhere! Death. Touching Joshua did nothing now! The lit eyes were closed. The warm smile was gone.

“What have I done?”

A hand was on his shoulder – and then the strong arm came around his shoulders. Tristan glanced erratically up, to see Rau’s face.

“Oh, God!” Tristan pleaded – Rau! Pain twisted his heart – did Rau know? Rau was holding the rifle!

Rau drew him into his arms. Bewildered, Tristan felt his control fall utterly away. Grief owned him! Grief consumed him. He sobbed – hard sobs that shook his entire body: pain that consumed his entire soul.

Rau was rocking him. Tristan clung to his shirt, and hid his face in his shoulder.

“Houhanga a rongo,” Rau whispered over him. “Be at peace, Tristan. ‘By his wounds, we are healed.’”

“I killed him!” Tristan pleaded. “I killed him!”

“We all killed him” Rau murmured. “Be forgiven – be at peace.”

Rau’s hand moved over his face, while Tristan still hid. He was murmuring over him still, in Maori! He was praying for him! Tristan tightly closed his eyes. What did he know of God? Nothing, he thought: nothing but the agony of life. And yet Rau’s words soothed him – Rau’s care began to heal him.

Tristan found himself stilled. He didn’t know what it was – something spiritual? He didn’t know. Some kind of trust – some deep kind of love. Something he had never known before.

Rau asked nothing of him. Only held him – only murmured over him: only loved him.

Tristan’s hand was being grasped. He stiffened – sticky! Joshua’s blood! He was passing it to Rau! He tried to pull back, but Rau grasped him more firmly.

“It’s all right,” he said. “We’ll carry it together.”

And now Rau was pulling him to his feet.

Tristan stared at him. He felt strong now! He felt…that he could survive what he had done.

Rau smiled gently at him, and the smile reminded him of Joshua. Tears filled Tristan’s eyes – he cried, and did not stop himself. And then he stepped back.

Rachel was there, sitting next to Joshua. Rachel. Tristan searched her face. She was avoiding him, he knew. She was angry. She was keeping watch over Joshua’s body – protecting his body…

“I’m sorry,” Tristan whispered, and she shook her head and looked further away.

John was standing behind her. Tristan met his eyes, face to face, over Joshua’s body. John! He looked upset, and yet…and yet gracious too.

“What do you say to me?” Tristan asked – and pain flooded John’s face, and Tristan felt his pain and did not block it.

“You did what you had to do,” he said, and Tristan wrapped his arms tightly around himself.

“I shouldn’t have done it!” he cried. “My God! How could I do it?”

John’s face softened – and now his hand came to Tristan’s shoulder.

“How could you not?”

Tristan was seeing Joshua again: staggering, clutching the crown to his head. Darkness! Darkness, surrounding him! Darkness, killing him…

Tristan moaned, and spoke. “I still shouldn’t have killed him.”

“You’re right,” John said, “but it still had to happen.”

Tristan reached out now, and grasped John’s shoulder in return.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and John nodded, with tears.

Tristan looked down at Joshua’s face. Joshua: kind, insightful – seeing what others did not see; being what others were not. What was it about him? A light – a light, frightening sometimes: a power greater than it should be, suggesting something more – suggesting something much bigger, or even someone much bigger.

I am the boat for the coming tsunami: with me, you will be safe.”

What had it been, that darkness? What had he been carrying, in his last moments? Tristan couldn’t comprehend it – not as John did: couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of what had just taken place. But he remembered the person: the words, the eyes, the face…the smile…

Ninety Mile Beach…The storm had been coming, on the horizon: that smile had suddenly gone! The intensity had come.

What is it?” Tristan had breathed. “What do you see?”

Some things are better not to know – not until their right time.”

Now Tristan stared at the dead blood stained face. He had known! Dismayed, Tristan suddenly realized it: he had seen his own death, after all! And…and he had seen Tristan pulling the trigger…

Tristan swayed, and sagged down to his knees beside Joshua’s head. What kind of death was this? What kind of life? Living with one’s own murderer: embracing one’s own death? Joshua had loved him! Even knowing what he would do, he had loved him.

Tristan remembered those last moments, now: he remembered them with agony. Joshua had grasped his shoulder! Had fallen to his knees in front of him!

Father!” he had cried out to God. “Don’t hold it against them! They really have no idea what they are doing!”

The darkness! As if drowning! As if drowning…And then, the shots.

Tristan reached a trembling hand out to Joshua’s chest now – to the bullet holes – and tears filled his eyes.

“I’m so sorry!” he cried to him. “My friend! I’m so sorry!” And he wept.

The images of war were before him again, now! Screaming! Death! His rifle, shooting! Shooting, as though…as though they were not human beings he was killing…He shook, and regretted – his hand remained on Joshua’s bullet holes, as his eyes closed. Death! Death!

“I’m so sorry!” he whispered. “I’m so sorry!”

The scape goat! The scape goat. He felt no terror, now! No fear. He could look at the images! He could feel them! He knew he was carried – the boat, for the tsunami! He was carried – and grief filled him, and the grief was good, and right.

But there was a final image: the hardest to look at – the hardest to resolve.

It was his mother.

He saw her, now – her body, on the stretcher. Her face, dead, dripping blood, like Joshua’s…He saw her, and cried, and…and saw his father, sitting next to her: shoulders sagging, face in his hands.

It wasn’t his fault.” Joshua was before him again, on Ninety Mile Beach.

What do you mean?” he had cried.

You know what I mean.”

Not his fault…Tristan realized it now, painfully, clearly: he had blamed his father for his mother’s death! He had blamed him! Had cut him off – had joined the Army, in his fury.

I hate him,” he had said to Joshua…

Now there was no hatred – only regret! Such regret, for all of his life! All of his life…

He moved his hand from Joshua’s wounds to his forehead, and closed his eyes.

“Forgive me,” he prayed. “My precious friend, forgive me.”

And then he opened his eyes.

Someone was standing on the other side of Joshua’s head. Tristan looked up, from the leather shoes, up the grey trousers, to the creased shirt, and then to the face.

Mark Blake held his eyes. There were no bishop robes – only the simple clothes of an everyday man. His face was transparent! Vulnerable! Tears were in his eyes! Grief passed between them: grief, and deep regret.

Mark’s hand was reaching for him now – reaching! Tristan found himself pulled up and into his father’s arms, over Joshua’s body.

“I’m sorry,” Mark whispered into his ear, and Tristan shook in his arms.

“I…” Tristan stuttered, and couldn’t find the words! “I was wrong…”

“So was I.”

“I…I loved her…” His heart twisted, now: such agony! Such agony, to lose her!

Mark was drawing back from him, now – grasping his hand. Joshua’s blood was sticky between them, but Mark didn’t flinch. He was crying, now – his eyes were wet, but also filled with a new kind of strength.

“I loved her too!” Mark said. “So much, Tristan! I loved your mother so much!”

And Mark’s body shook, and Tristan grasped his other hand, and folded both arms on his own chest.

“She was beautiful!” Mark said, and Tristan nodded with tears.

“Beautiful.”

“I shouldn’t have sped…”

Tristan quickly shook his head. “Oh, Dad,” he whispered, “when I had my car, I was speeding all the time…”

Mark laughed gently – a laugh, even as he cried. And…and his eyes were changing, to an expression Tristan hadn’t seen for nine years.

“Stay with us, Tristan,” Mark said. “Come back home.”

Tears filled Tristan’s eyes – tears that would not stop.

“Home?” he whispered.

“Where will you go now?” Mark asked. “Now that Joshua has gone?”

Tristan hadn’t been able to think about it. He stared into his father’s eyes – into his sudden familiar love.

“I killed him,” he whispered. “I killed him, and he forgave me.”

“So did I,” Mark whispered.

“I pulled the trigger – I should go to prison. I’m willing to go to prison.”

“Maybe so,” Mark said, “but where is your accuser?”

Tristan looked around himself. Rau was standing aside, with John – both were quiet. The crowd had left! The Army had dispersed – he had acted as one of them! The police, also, had gone. Who would they arrest: their own prime minister?

Connor was there! Tristan saw him, standing far away, in Hill Street – watching, still looking shocked. The Governor General had left. A minister was standing on the steps of St Peter’s – an Asian woman, holding back, and praying.

Rachel…even Rachel’s anger seemed to have eased, to be replaced by the deepest of grief.

Where is your accuser? Selena was lying on the ground. She had seemed to be sleeping. Now she stirred, and rose to her knees – now she pored over Joshua’s face, reaching out to touch it: looking confused. Tristan remembered how her eyes had been: black as death, bitter, evil.

The accuser was gone.

“Home?” Tristan whispered, looking back into his father’s face. “Give me some time! I think I need more time…”

“I’ll give you time,” Mark said gently – and Tristan released his hands, and stepped back, and he felt a strange sense of peace, and it was good.

Mark now knelt next to the body. Tristan watched him. He stiffened, as he suddenly remembered: his father had been on the verge of suicide! How had he come back? Tristan now glanced at Rau, and at John, and then back down to Mark.

He was reaching, to touch the face – to touch the bullet holes.

“‘By his wounds we are healed,’” he murmured – and then he unbuttoned his own shirt, leaving himself naked, shivering in the Autumn air, and laid it over Joshua’s chest and head.

“Reverend Rau,” he said, looking up again, “let’s arrange his funeral.”

“His family!” Rachel suddenly said. “Where are his family?”

“We are his family,” John replied. “He always said so.”

“His mother,” Tristan said, with tears. “He had a mother, in Kaitaia.”

“I will find her,” Rau said. “I will bring her down. His father has passed on. But, Bishop Blake…”

“Yes?” Mark asked.

“No one will attend a funeral service – they will be too afraid.”

Mark swallowed – Tristan saw the understanding in his eyes.

“Very well,” he said, and called over the other lady minister who had been waiting. “We’ll make it a private burial. We will bury him here, Eun Ae – in the burial ground of St Peter’s.”

Her face broke into a sad smile. “I’ll make some calls,” she said.

“Thank you,” Mark said.

Tristan watched his father rise to his feet again. He quickly reached to unbutton his own shirt for him, but Mark laid a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m all right,” he said.

Selena was sitting quietly next to Joshua’s dead body. Tristan reached out a hand to lay it on her head. She was hidden away, and yet…and yet she was Selena again…

“What happened?” he murmured, and Mark’s gentle voice replied.

“More than you need to burden yourself with.”

“Will she be all right?”

“I believe so – now that I’ve finally worked out what to do.”

Mark reached down to her, to lift her to her feet – he murmured a few words in her ear, and she shrank away with him from the body.

Tristan was almost alone, now, with Joshua – soon he would be buried! Soon he would be fully gone.

Only one remained now: Rachel.

She was gazing down at Mark’s shirt, resting over Joshua. Her face was contorting with the finality of the gesture. Then Tristan watched fury enter her eyes – and she turned to look at Connor.

“Don’t,” Tristan whispered. “Don’t make the same mistake I made…”

But she was rising to her feet, now, and leaving Joshua behind – and there was nothing he could do to stop her striding toward the shocked man.

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: Fury

Rachel strode toward her father.

Anger filled her – fury owned her. Joshua was dead! Joshua was dead, and her father had killed him! It was his fault! His fault!

Connor was standing alone. His face was pale – she didn’t care. In that moment, she hated him! She hated him for what he had done.

“How dare you?” she cried, pressing her face into his. “You bastard! How dare you?”

He looked bewildered at her onslaught, and struggled to speak.

“I…I didn’t know what to do…”

“So you chose this?” Rachel said, jabbing her finger back toward Joshua. “You’re a murderer, Dad! A murderer!”

“The people chose it!” Connor tried to defend. “They chose it!”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Rachel said. “It’s your fault! You set them all up…”

“No,” Connor whispered.

“You killed an innocent man! You’re corrupt! A dictator of the worst kind – killing anyone who gets in your way!”

Connor was shaking hard, now – tears were forming in his eyes, his forehead creasing into many strained lines.

“I’m not a dictator,” he whispered, “I believe in democracy! Democracy!”

“Bullshit!” Rachel said. “It’s your kingdom, that’s all! Your kingdom, and curse anyone who resists.”

He was silenced – she had silenced him! But now another was there – Mark Blake! Still without his shirt.

“No,” he said. “If you must blame someone, blame me.”

Rachel stared at him. “You?”

“I forced him to do it.”

Connor was staring at Blake now. He stared, and shook his head.

“You have destroyed our nation,” he whispered. “You have destroyed me!”

Blake’s eyes widened. “James,” he said, “this wasn’t your fault – it was much bigger than you.”

“Much bigger than me?” Connor cried. “What’s going to happen now, Mark? Our constitution has been dissolved! The Queen to rule – how? With the Army! A military state! Brother will fight brother!

“Our army isn’t big enough, Mark! War will come! Civil war. Our nation will be divided, and then…” His eyes clouded with utter dread. “Then we will be conquered.”

Blake frowned at him. “James,” he said quietly, “there’s nothing we could do to stop this.”

Connor swallowed. “I listened to you!” he said. “I should have followed my own judgment!”

“You’re right,” Blake said, “but now it is done.”

“Done?” Connor cried. “How easily you dismiss it! You took me to Hell, Blake! You took me straight to Hell!”

Blake’s face drained colour, and now Connor looked back to Rachel.

“Hate me,” he said. “Do whatever you like. We’re in trouble now! We’re in trouble – and there’s no going back.”

He gave a sideways glance to Blake then turned on his heel to walk back into the Parliament grounds.

Rachel frowned, now confused. She looked at Blake. Had he led her father astray?

“Don’t hate him,” Blake said. “His hands were tied.”

“Did you tie them?”

Blake took a deep breath and then released it. “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

Rachel’s anger grew again – now against this man before her. “Then you were the one?” she asked. “Who led him to public disgrace?”

Mark straightened and swallowed. “Yes,” he said. “What you’re saying is true.”

Rachel stared at him. Who was he? The Bishop of Wellington – the friend of her father since high school. She knew him! She knew him. Regal robes, high and mighty position.

“You make me sick,” she said, “bloody ministers! Hypocritical, standing up there preaching and then leading us all astray…”

Blake’s face flushed, but he remained silent as she continued.

“…always thinking you’re better than we are, always judging, always condemning…”

“I’m not condemning…” Blake said, and Rachel scowled, jabbing her finger again back at Joshua.

“Oh, yeah?” she asked. “What do you think you did with him?”

Blake fleetingly closed his eyes and then opened them again.

“You’re right,” he said. “I did condemn.”

“You stand up there at the altar, as if God himself is speaking through you,” she said, “when it isn’t God! What is your voice, but the pathetic mutterings of a twisted man? You’re not a child of God – you’re twice the child of Hell I am!”

His eyes widened – she had reached him! She had caused him pain – at least some of the pain he had caused her! But now another voice was intervening.

“Rachel!” It was John – his voice strong, and penetrating. She looked at him – he was shaking his head, his gaze intense.

“Don’t do this,” he said. “This isn’t what he saved you for!”

What he saved her for?

Rachel remembered, then, the boiling water – Hell’s Way! Agony! Agony, and death, and…and life again…Joshua, burnt! Burnt, having saved her…

Shame filled her: she was hatred, when he was love! She was bitterness, when he was forgiveness…

She turned, weeping, to run away – but Blake was grasping her arm.

“Wait,” he said quietly, and she shook her head.

“Please let me go,” she whispered.

“You’re right about me,” he said. “Everything you said was right.”

She trembled. “But everything about me is wrong.”

“That’s why he did it,” Mark said. “You do know that, don’t you? That’s why he died for us.”

She stared into his eyes. That’s why he died?

“I can’t bear to be saved,” she whispered, “not if it means that he should die! Not if it means that he should be shot!”

The memory was there again: that terrible crown, and his suffering! His body jerking back with the bullets! She couldn’t save him! She couldn’t save him.

“I’m a doctor,” she said, “but he was the real healer, not me! He was – and now he’s dead, and…and I hate us all…”

Mark’s face was drawn with grief – and she tore herself away, and ran, and heard the sound of his voice behind her back.

“Rachel!”

 

Pain drove her, through the streets of Wellington. She ran, and ran – her heart heaved in her chest, but she could not stop.

The waterfront was before her: Wellington Harbour. She stood on the edge of the water – she stared down into the depths.

His face, on his death! “It’s finished!” he had said. “It’s sorted!” He had even smiled! But she fought his offering. They weren’t worth it – none of them were! They weren’t worth it, if this should be the cost of their salvation!

She sank down to the water’s edge, dangling her feet over. Did she want suicide? No – no. Only some kind of peace, some kind of resolution – but it never came.

“Love…” She whispered into the water. “What’s the use? It costs too much! Too much.” Life cost too much – humanity cost too much! And yet…and yet she knew Joshua would not see it that way: she knew he had not seen it that way.

He had been more than she could ever be. Why had she not died, or any one of them? Why him? Why him?

“It’s a travesty,” she whispered, and terrible grief threatened her heart – and then someone lowered himself to sit beside her, dangling his leather shoes.

It was her father.

Connor sat shoulder to shoulder with her, at the water’s edge, staring down into the water. He reached over – he took her hand. He squeezed it.

“You followed me?” Rachel said, and he shrugged.

“Got nothing better to do,” he said, and Rachel elbowed him, and he actually smiled.

“What the hell just happened?” she asked, and he shook his head.

“I don’t know!” he said. “I’m out of a job! I…” And now he released her to bury his face in his hands.

Rachel looked at him – at his shoulders sagging. She laid an arm around him.

“Maybe it’s good to be out of that job for a while.”

“Maybe,” he whispered into his hands.

“I shouldn’t have said the dictator thing.”

He shrugged painfully. “You’re not the first.”

“I…” She considered him, considered Joshua – considered the whole situation. “I love you.”

He lifted his head from his hands, and looked at her.

“I’m scared, Rachel,” he whispered, “I really don’t know what’s going to become of us now.”

Rachel held his eyes – his fear. Joshua’s words were with her then! The tsunami! The war. Fear! And…and trust…

“Maybe it’s not up to us,” she said. “Maybe none of this has been up to us.”

“Resorting back to our church days?” Connor said with irony. “Blake getting to you now?”

“He said something.”

“Oh, yeah,” Connor replied, “I’ll bet.”

“I…I basically called him a bastard, and…and he agreed.”

Connor stared into her eyes, and then he suddenly laughed. “He admitted he was a prick?”

“Well, he didn’t quite put it like that.”

“No kidding!”

“But…he took the blame, Dad.”

Now guilt filled Connor’s face. “You know I don’t agree with that.”

“I know.”

“But…maybe there’s some hope for Blakey after all.” And his face broke into a wide grin.

 

Rachel sat with him at the waterfront for a long time. She knew John, Rau and Blake would be moving Joshua’s body – she couldn’t bear to watch. Instead she sat, with her father, talking about nothing – and feeling, at the same time as him, everything.

His arm was around her shoulders now – she leaned against him. Neither spoke of what had happened to Joshua – neither could.

The water was there – deep, and still. Father and daughter stared down into it. There was no resolution, but at least they were together.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Rest and Peace

John stood in St Peter’s Cathedral.

Joshua was there – his body lying in an open wooden casket. John stood next to him, in the aisle, before the pulpit – facing the cross. He laid his hand on the white linen over Joshua’s chest – he trembled a little. Under his hand, under the linen, were the bullets – still in Joshua’s body.

John lifted his eyes to Joshua’s face. He was clean, now – no stains of blood. His brown curls fell loosely around his white face. The vibrant eyes were closed – the tender voice was silenced.

Grief gripped John in his chest. He reached his fingers to Joshua’s face – he was at peace now! It was finished! It was done.

Tears filled John’s eyes – his vision blurred, but he didn’t care. The tears fell down his cheeks, and onto Joshua’s body.

A woman’s hand took his. A little surprised, John looked up at her – standing on the other side of Joshua. This was his mother! Dear God, his mother! Her brown eyes held his – her brown hair framed her light brown face.

“Madam…” he whispered, “I am so sorry…”

Her hand tightened on his! Tightened, while his body was flooding with regret! While her eyes were flooding with tears.

“It was meant to be this way,” she whispered.

“Meant?” John choked.

“From the beginning,” she said, “he was different! From the very beginning…”

John swallowed. “You knew he was going to be killed.”

Her face contorted with grief. “I knew,” she whispered, “I just didn’t know when.”

Astounded, John began to weep – but now Rau’s hand was on his shoulder.

John tightly shut his eyes. Pain was engulfing him, now! The vision, on Mt Victoria! Joshua, in agony, under the tree! And then, just outside! Staggering, under the crown – staggering, under the darkness. The evil was smothering him! And then, the shots – then, his body thrown back, choking…choking, and dying…

John groaned, and choked – and Rau’s arms drew him away, to a chair.

“You were there,” Rau whispered. “You felt it all.”

“I couldn’t leave him,” John whispered back. “I knew! I knew how bad it would be, but…I couldn’t leave him…”

Rau was silent alongside him. Where had he been? John didn’t know – caught somewhere in the crowd, surely.

Rau grasped his hand, now – lifted him again to his feet. He was the leader! John had known it for a while: Rau was their leader.

John watched him. Rau cast his eyes over the Cathedral. Reverend Choo was standing at the pulpit, preparing for the service. Mark Blake was standing near her, in his full regalia. John would have resented those robes – but now, suddenly, he realized, looking at his face: he was wearing them out of respect for God. It had nothing to do with Mark himself. It was their way! Richness and beauty, worn to express the richness and beauty of God.

Rau turned, then, and looked to the back of the church. Tristan was there: standing next to a back chair, arms wrapped tightly around himself. He had come! John admired him – that took courage. What pain was in him! What regret! He couldn’t come closer – but he remained, as always he had actually remained.

Rau moved down the aisle, to speak with him. John watched, as Rau said a few words – even gently punched Tristan in the arm, his face breaking into a grin. Tristan managed a sad smile, but still shook his head. He couldn’t do it! Rau let him be.

Sadness filled Rau’s face, as he walked back up the aisle – a sadness that seemed to reflect Tristan’s own. And then John suddenly thought – where was Rachel?

He had last seen her arguing with Mark Blake! He remembered…

Everything about me is wrong.”

She had run! She hadn’t come back.

“Where are you?” he murmured, with fear – and then he turned.

 

Eun Ae Choo began the service. John listened to her Korean voice – gentle, as she recited the set words.

“We have come together to remember before God the life of Joshua Davidson, to commend him to God’s keeping, to commit his body to be…”

Now she hesitated, and Mark looked at Joshua’s mother. “Buried, or cremated?” he asked quietly, and more tears filled her eyes.

“Buried,” she whispered.

Eun Ae continued. “…to commit his body to be buried, and to comfort those who mourn with our sympathy and with our love; in the hope we share through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”^^25^^

Her brown eyes were alive, though also sad – her Korean face reflected joy, though also grief. John was surprised at her – so very different from himself, and yet, in those moments, wholly one.

Now Rau was standing tall, next to Joshua, facing the congregation – facing John, and Tristan.

“Hear the words of Jesus Christ our Saviour,” he said, “‘Ko ahau te aranga, me te ora: ko ia e whakapono ana ki ahau, ahakoa kua mate, e ora ano: e kore ano hoki e mate ake ake ake nga tangata katoa e ora ana, a e whakapono ana ki ahau.’”

Joshua’s mother began to cry, with the words John did not understand, and Rau began to translate:

“‘I am the resurrection and the life,’” he said, quoting Jesus, “‘even in death, anyone who believes in me will live.”

“The boat, again,” John whispered, “for the tsunami…”

He began to tremble, then, looking again at Joshua’s face. Would he live? Would Joshua actually live? He had faith in God – would that faith be enough to raise his spirit into Heaven to be with God?

A resurrection? God raising Joshua’s spirit? Yes – John could bring himself to trust in this.

He sank down to his knees, in the church – he closed his eyes. Faith, in death, was painful! Why was it so painful?

“Set your troubled hearts at rest,” Rau continued – and John knew he was looking at him. “Trust in God always; trust also in me.”

Trust…John took into a trembling breath, and let it out again. Trust.

“‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’”

John could trust that God would not let Joshua perish.

With relief he looked up, still on his knees. Rau was smiling gently at him, as he continued.

“God our Comforter,” he said, “you are a refuge and a strength for us, a helper close at hand in times of distress. May your Holy Spirit lift us above our natural sorrow, to the peace and light of your constant love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

John rose to his feet. He could trust in that light, and love, for Joshua, though not for himself. Joshua would be safe! Joshua would live.

“Our Father in Heaven,” Rau began to pray, “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven…”

Here John’s mind drifted again, into his own grief – into his own exhaustion. His eyes drifted closed – he swayed a little on his feet.

“…Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.”

“Amen,” John whispered instinctively – and now Eun Ae’s voice sounded again.

“Now, therefore, Joshua Davidson,” she began, and John’s eyes opened with new tears. This was it! This was the end. “We commit your body to be buried, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”

His mother’s voice lifted now into an open wail, and John’s grief rose up in sobs to meet hers.

“…in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“Amen,” his mother and John said, as one.

It was over.

John stood, still and stiff, as Mark now walked up to the coffin. He looked at Joshua’s face – his own face contorted.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” he murmured, “for they rest from their labours.” And then reached down, lifted the lid of the coffin and placed it over Joshua’s body, sealing him in.

John stared at the coffin. It was being lifted, now! Mark himself was lifting it, onto his shoulder, and Rau. John rushed forward to help them. The three struggled with the weight! They struggled! And then suddenly Tristan was there. He glanced across at John, with a grief stricken frown – he lifted the coffin onto his shoulder also.

They carried Joshua down the aisle, through the glass doors, down the steps to the street – they turned to their right and passed through a gate, and were in the little private graveyard, alongside the cathedral.

A fresh grave had been dug out – with a large heap of soil alongside.

John swallowed, looking at it. The four men lowered Joshua’s coffin to the ground – and then lowered it, heavy, into the hole. Another man was waiting, wearing a suit – he leaned over the coffin: he sealed it shut, with hammer and nails.

Eun Ae was there, at the foot of the grave: Joshua’s mother was standing next to her.

“We have entrusted our brother Joshua into the hands of God,” Eun Ae said, as the man reached for a spade and began to throw the soil back down over the grave. “We now commit his body to the ground.”

Soon the coffin was covered – soon it was buried.

“‘The Lord is my shepherd,’” Rau said, “‘therefore I shall not want.’”

“‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,’” Joshua’s mother murmured, “‘I will fear no evil.’”

“‘Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,’” Mark said.

“‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’^^26^^” It was Tristan.

Surprised, John looked at him. Tristan? He searched his eyes. The words were familiar to him – where from: another funeral? John saw it in him: his mother’s funeral. Did he believe? Not a full belief, and yet…and yet, somehow, in that moment, a partial belief: in that moment, somehow, a trust for Joshua’s wellbeing with God, and the wellbeing of his mother.

It was over.

The funeral director moved his hammer and spade away from them – he left them in privacy. Eun Ae moved amongst the men, gently grasping each hand – and then she also moved away. Mark looked at each one in turn – he smiled sadly, grasped Tristan’s hand, and led him away.

All that were left now, at the grave, were Joshua’s mother and John.

She looked at him – she touched his face. “You were his brother,” she said, and John cried.

“I don’t want to leave him,” he whispered.

“Then stay,” she said. “It is the Maori way.”

“Stay?”

“Stay here.” She gestured to the grave. “Stay, and keep watch over his body.”

“If the Army find out,” John whispered, “they might take his body away.”

She nodded – and then she smiled sadly. “Don’t worry, John,” she said, “he is safe in Atua’s hands now.”

John watched her bow her head, and then move away from him, through the gate and out.

 

He was alone.

The grave was there – fresh, and silent. John gazed down at it. Other graves were there – old graves, with large engraved tomb stones. Joshua’s had no expensive stone – only a simple wooden cross pressing into the soil over his head.

John sat himself down next to the grave. It was next to the tall white stone wall, which hid the graves from the outside – he leaned against the wall. The stone chilled his back – he shivered, and closed his eyes. Joshua! He remembered him – he slipped quickly into a restless doze, remembering him. Time passed, he couldn’t tell how long. One time he awoke it was dark, and cold! He looked up to see Mark Blake – he was laying a blanket over him, and had brought him some food.

John wasn’t hungry. He left the food on the plate, on the ground – he fell back into sleep.

Exhaustion had its way with him. Dreams, and nightmares, wrestled in his heart – dreams of Joshua alive, and the light in his eyes; nightmares of his staggering, his cries, his body jerking back into death…

He woke again – another morning had come. Joshua’s mother was there.

“It’s all right,” she said, “I’ll look after him.”

John frowned, and felt his body’s needs. She sat, and he rose, and stumbled out through the gate. His legs were stiff! They hurt! Mark was there, without the robes – the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up.

“Come,” he said, grasping his hand – and John stumbled after him. Mark led him back into the church, and down the side aisle – into the changing rooms. Robes were hanging up! There were toilets, and showers…

“Am I allowed in here?” John whispered, and Mark smiled gently.

“You are now,” he said.

Mark had arranged a change of clothes. Surprised, John stared at them.

“Why are you doing this?” John asked, and Mark laid a hand on his shoulder.

“I can’t fix what I did,” he said. “I can’t bring Joshua back. But I can help his followers.”

Tears filled John’s eyes. “Thank you,” he choked, and Mark patted his shoulder.

“Get ready,” he said, and John obeyed him.

Refreshed, John walked out of the robe room.

The Cathedral was silent – empty. John wandered down the side aisle, toward the glass doors, but then he hesitated. He instinctively turned, and slipped between the chairs into the centre of the church – into the central aisle.

The cross was far away, in the inner sanctuary – a tiled picture of Jesus painted hanging there. John gazed at it, and wandered closer and closer – up the steps, toward the railing: toward the table before the cross.

Someone shifted with discomfort, near him. It was Mark, sitting in a wooden chair on the inside of the railing, near the table.

“Should I not be here?” John whispered. Mark opened his mouth, and closed it again. His eyes passed over John, and then moved to Jesus on the cross.

“The veil has been torn away,” he murmured to himself, and John did not understand him. Then Mark rose to his feet and ushered him in.

“Come,” he said – and John entered into the inner sanctuary.

The table was there, with white linen – a silver cup and plate, with wine, and wafers.

“I never understood Communion,” John murmured, reaching tentatively out to touch the silver. “Not really.”

“Neither did I,” said Mark, his voice sounding wry.

John lifted his eyes over the table, to the cross – up, up, to the picture of Jesus hanging there.

His eyes, his face…

“He looks sad,” John murmured quietly.

“He’s carrying the sins of the world,” Mark replied.

“Sin is such a judgmental word,” John said, with some pain. “It makes it sound like God hates us – like he wants us to go to Hell. Like he wants to punish us.”

“No,” Mark said, and his voice was choking – and John quickly looked at him.

“What is it?” John asked.

“Something I didn’t understand before,” Mark replied.

“What?”

“The love.”

“Love?” John asked, and he shrugged slightly. “What does it even mean? It’s a cliché – all the doorknockers use it.”

Mark was silent – and then he rose to his feet, and wandered closer to John, standing side by side with him. Mark’s eyes went up the cross, and John followed his gaze – back up to Jesus.

“That’s why he did it,” Mark whispered, “to show us! To show us what God’s love actually means.”

John frowned, gazing at him. “A man, hanging on a cross?” he said. “I don’t understand.”

“What about a man shot?” Mark asked. “Do you understand that better?”

Grief gripped him again – hard, stinging. His body, thrown back! Bleeding, bleeding!

John gasped, and now Mark was grasping his shoulder.

“You know why he did it, John,” he said. “You told me, in this very place! All the ‘crap,’ you said – he died to take it all away! He died for God to forgive us, and fix us.”

“All the darkness,” John whispered, staring up at Jesus’s face. “So much darkness!”

“He has carried it all,” Mark said. “‘It is finished.’”

John reached up to touch the bottom of the cross. “I think I get it,” he whispered. “I think I’m starting to get it.”

“You get it for all the darkness of the world,” Mark said, “but do you get it for yourself?”

John frowned. “For myself?”

Mark walked now behind the table – he lifted the silver cup and plate.

“That’s what these mean, John,” he said. “That’s why he gave them to us. They represent his body given for us, so that we could live. And when we eat and drink, we take into ourselves what he has done – we trust in it, and we confess our own darkness, and we live. No more darkness! No more guilt. Time for the light! Time for goodness, and fullness of life – eternal life, here first, and then forever.”

John looked at the bread and wine – the body and the blood.

“Do I have to eat bread and drink wine,” he asked, “to be safe? To be right with God? To live forever? Do I have to eat these to live?”

“No,” Mark said, “these are symbols. In our hearts and minds, we need to know it! In our hearts and minds, we need to receive it. These symbols are one way, but there are others…”

“Other ways…” John murmured, looking at the silver cup and plate. “If he was here right now, how would he express this? What would he use?”

“To place the truth into your body – to place it into your mind and heart?” Mark said. “Such intimacy, John! To offer one’s own body and blood to save another – do you see it?”

“I do,” John said, “but it’s not our language! It’s not our way.”

“Then find it in your language,” Mark said. “Find it in your way. Find it, John – and then pass it on.”

John gazed at him, and then came the familiar tears. “Who am I?” he asked, “to find it? It’s not my body – it’s not my blood! It was his! His…”

And grief took him again, and he ran – away from the altar, away from the cross, out of the Cathedral and back into the graveyard.

 

The day passed slowly. John sat with Joshua’s mother next to his grave – he sat, and thought about Mark’s words, and remembered the sad face of Jesus on the cross, and remembered the pain of Joshua’s death. He had died for everyone – John knew that! He had died to carry the dark thoughts, and actions, of everyone! But how to explain that, to a nation in upheaval? How to put it into the right words…?

And how to explain the tragedy of the death – the finality! The scape goat, gone: the injustice, with no resolution.

Twilight was upon him. Joshua’s mother had gone. John’s vision was fading, his stomach was groaning.

“Eat,” Mark’s voice said. “You haven’t eaten since he died.”

“Can’t,” John whispered. Mark’s hand was offering food to his mouth – John obeyed him, but choked on the crumbs. Mark was sitting with him now, offering him water – John swallowed. He sat against Mark for a while – he felt faint. Mark offered him more water, more food – John followed.

 

He sank into sleep. It was a new kind of sleep – strangely new. He felt in a different place. He breathed, and turned, and rested, and then heard a voice.

“John.”

Was he dead? He felt relief – dead? Could that be the resolution?

“John.”

He shifted, on the ground. The ground! It was still there, but he felt different! He struggled to follow the voice – and then felt a hand on his shoulder, and gasped: it couldn’t be!

“John.”

John opened his eyes, and looked – and Joshua’s face was before him. His hands were grasping his arms.

John stared at him. His smile! Oh, dear God, his smile – so wide! Joy in his eyes! Joy in his face! John trembled, and reached out to touch his face – such a vivid dream! Such a wonderful vision – the yearning of his own heart! The longing of his soul. It had never happened! The death – it had only been a nightmare.

John sank against him, and laughed, but then cried. No! No – the death had happened! It was this that was not real! This that he could not trust…

He straightened, on his knees – he drew back, but now he was being shaken.

“John!” Joshua’s voice said. “John!”

Surely another face was about to appear – Mark’s face! Surely it was another shaking his body.

The face remained – the eyes changing to intense purpose. His hand was being grasped – he was being lifted to his feet, and moved a few steps, next to…to the…

The grave had been disrupted. The soil was sitting again in a pile alongside the grave – the coffin was open, with the lid on top of the soil, and…and the body was gone.

“My God,” John breathed, “the Army – they must have come! Stolen the body.”

“While you were sleeping?” Joshua’s voice murmured. “And they left you to sleep?”

“They don’t care about me,” John explained to the one he was certain was only in his mind. “They only care about you.”

“They’ll care about you soon,” Joshua said, and John stared at him. Those were words John’s mind would not have created.

“What do you mean?”

Joshua was smiling again, a wide grin, and for a moment John didn’t fight it – for a moment he allowed himself to believe he was actually there. He reached in wonder to touch his face again, as a child – and then there were running footsteps.

John turned to look – and it was Rau. His face looked stunned – he was staring at Joshua! As though he was there! And then he fell to his knees before him.

“Master!” he said. “Ariki!”

“Rau,” Joshua said, laying a hand on his head.

Rau began to sob, and John couldn’t understand why – surely it was all a dream! Surely all of it a vision.

“Do you love me, Rau?” Joshua asked, and Rau’s face contorted in pain.

Joshua’s face turned back to John. He was grasping his hand again – and, with his other hand, he was unbuttoning the clean white shirt he was wearing.

“Look, John,” he said, and he drew John’s fingers in between the unbuttoned shirt edges. There were bullet wounds in his chest! Cavities, and yet healed! Scars, healed…

Joshua pulled his fingers over the scars – into the cavities.

John stiffened, and was jerked out of his daze. Dear God – his bullet wounds! His wounds, still there – real! Real…He could feel them! He was touching them…

And now Joshua reached into his clean jeans pocket, and pulled out the five bullets. He reached for John’s hand – he laid them on top of his palm.

John swayed, staring at them. They were disfigured bullets! Used! Crushed. They were out of his body now! They had been removed.

John’s wonder shifted in that moment into terror. He was alive? Actually alive? Not only a spirit, even – physically back?

Shock filled him. He was sinking! Sinking back to his knees. Joshua caught him, and lowered him gently to the ground.

“My God,” John whispered, “Master – you’re alive? You’re alive?”

“I am,” Joshua murmured over him, “and now you must tell the others.”

“Tell them?” John breathed.

“Tell them,” Joshua said, “and I’ll catch up with them soon.”

He stepped back away, glanced again at Rau, and then suddenly disappeared.

John was fixed to the ground, on his knees. He stared up at Rau, whose face was serious.

“I’m dreaming,” he said, “I have to be dreaming.”

Rau shook his head. “No,” he said, “I knew this would happen.”

“You knew?”

“It is written.”

“What did he mean, asking you if you loved him?”

Rau’s face clouded – and then he turned, and ran away.

 

John was alone. He noticed, now, the early morning light. He noticed the fresh cool of a new day. The soil was tidy, in the pile! The lid of the coffin was neatly placed on top, upside down – the nails all pointing straight, through the lid, as if unused.

There were no signs of any disruption in the graveyard at all.

Had it been a vision? Had Rau himself been a vision? No, Rau’s grief – it had been real! And…and the bullets were still lying in his hand…

John trembled, now, looking at them. Five bullets. He was dead, but now alive! Buried, but now back again!

The injustice of the death had been undone.

Something thrust John onto his feet, now – a sudden surge of hope. Life had overcome death! Light had overcome darkness!

It was finished! It was over! And now…now there was no going back.

John placed the bullets safely in his own right pocket, and strode out of the graveyard.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER FORTY: Victory in Defeat

Rau sat outside St Peter’s.

He was away from the graveyard! Away from the cross, and the altar. He sat against the wall of the church, his face in his hands. Shame! Shame. Their beloved friend was alive! Joshua was alive! And…and Rau had denied him…

“Do you love me, Rau?” Joshua had asked – and his words had been agony to him.

From his place, Rau could see across the road – into the intersection where Joshua had died, through the black iron gate into the Parliament grounds beyond, to the Parliament buildings, and the Beehive. There were still Army officers, patrolling the ground! There was no functioning Parliament now – only the Governor General, and an emergency council: only the Queen of England, ruling direct.

Rau shifted his eyes over to Molesworth Street. There he had denied him! There, he had run away.

“Whakama,” Rau whispered, “I have brought shame upon my whanau.”

Generations of priests! And he had failed them all. When the ultimate test had come, the peak of ministry choice, he had failed.

His mana was lost – he had brought humiliation to his own.

Pain filled him – but this was not the greatest pain. Not only had he brought shame to his whanau in Kerikeri – he had brought shame to his whanau here! He had brought shame to Joshua! He had brought shame to God.

He buried his face back into his hands – but now someone was sitting beside him.

“Rau.” It was Joshua’s voice.

Rau writhed in his presence. “Master,” he whispered into his hands.

Joshua’s arm was around his shoulders now. “Rau,” he said, “look at me.”

Look at Joshua’s victory? Look at his love? Look at his goodness, when Rau had missed it all? He had fled! He had abandoned him, at the peak of his offering!

Rau lifted his head, to look at him – and shame flooded him, while Joshua’s eyes met his.

“Do you love me?” Joshua asked, and Rau moaned with his confession of the truth.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“My whanau need your help,” Joshua said.

Rau tilted his head, looking at him. His whanau? The others?

Joshua grasped his hand, and searched his eyes.

“Rau,” he repeated, “do you really love me?”

Rau swallowed. “Yes,” he said.

“Then take care of all my whanau.”

Joshua’s eyes were finding him – and then Joshua grasped both of his arms, and lifted him to his feet.

“Rau,” he said, and Rau held his eyes. “Do you love me enough to take care of all of these?”

He gestured around the Parliament grounds, and Wellington, and beyond – Rau knew, to all of Aotearoa. Tears filled Rau’s eyes, now, and a profound, deep love suddenly filled his heart.

“Ae,” he whispered, sinking to his knees. “I love you, Master. Aroha! Aroha.”

“Then take care of my Iwi, Rau,” Joshua said. “My body and my blood are given! My tribe is born.”

Relief filled Rau – painful, releasing relief. He was back! Joshua was back! And Rau was back. Released! Released to lead! And…and there was more…

Joshua’s eyes were changing – from intense purpose to deep, girding grief.

“One day,” he said, “some men will kill you, Rau, because of me.”

Rau gazed up at him from his knees – and the words, intended to warn, were also freedom to his heart. Joshua’s face was close to his – Rau pressed his forehead up to Joshua’s; his nose to Joshua’s.

“Amine,” he said. “E te whanau, we are the body of Christ! We are bound by the love of Christ.”

“Amine,” Joshua whispered – and he lifted Rau again to his feet.

Rau noticed John, now, coming around the corner of the church. John was gazing at Joshua, utter wonder in his eyes, like a child. Rau could see his thoughts – he really was alive! He really was.

“What will happen to him, Master?” Rau asked, and Joshua’s gaze became far away.

“He will still be here,” he said, “until he sees the end.”

“The end?”

“The end is coming,” Joshua said. “The tsunami! The war. Birth pains! And then, the next age. Light will overcome darkness – only those in the light will survive. He will see it! He will know it.”

Rau looked at John. He would be alive, until the end? Surely the end was coming fast! Surely there was little time.

Rau looked back to Joshua – but he had gone.

John ran to Rau, and grasped his hands. “Can you believe it?” he said. “It’s actually real! He’s actually alive!”

Rau smiled at his new discovery. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I believe it all right.”

“We have to tell everyone!” John said. “This changes everything!”

“Wait.”

“We have to tell everyone!”

“First things first, John: wisdom! Wisdom. Don’t rush in just yet.”

John gazed at him – listening to his voice.

“Don’t rush in,” he said, and Rau gestured to the Parliament grounds. John looked at him, and then broke into a grin.

“I’m telling Mark Blake!” he said, and he rushed into the church.

Rau rushed after him, into St Peter’s. Mark was there, between the choir stalls, behind the pulpit, wandering backwards and forwards, with his hands clasped behind his back. Rau was sure he was praying.

“John,” Rau whispered – but he couldn’t stop John’s younger exuberance.

“Mark!” John called out, launching himself beyond the pulpit. “Mark!”

Rau hastened his step – the Right Reverend Mark Blake’s response to news of a resurrection of Joshua Davidson: this Rau had to see!

Mark turned, and looked surprised. “John!” he said. “I see you’re revived?”

John was grinning from ear to ear. “Not me!” he said.

Mark’s eyes were set on him – Rau watched his gaze pass over John’s face, and body, with a flicker of bewilderment followed by a dawning thought.

“Don’t tell me,” he said wryly, and John slapped him on the arm.

“He’s alive!” he said. “He’s alive!”

Rau closely watched Mark’s face – how would he respond?

“Alive?” Mark asked, with complete control. “Who?”

“Who do you think?” John said, and Rau thought he might start jumping up and down on the spot. “Joshua! Joshua’s alive!”

Mark’s blue eyes widened slightly – and then came to rest on Rau.

“Alive?” Mark asked, and Rau nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “We both saw him, together.”

“The grave!” John said. “Come and see!” And he grasped Mark’s sleeve, and tugged him down the aisle.

Rau made way for the bishop, and then followed after them. Mark was allowing John to drag him – he cast his eyes back at Rau, questioning, but then forward again to John.

They returned to the graveyard – and now Mark stood next to the empty grave.

His eyes moved over the mound of dirt, the lid resting on top, and the open empty coffin lying in the ground. He stared at John, and at Rau. Then he tipped his head back, face to the sky, and erupted in resounding laughter.

“Hallelujah!” he cried. “All over again – he is risen! Victory! Victory!”

And now his eyes came to settle on Rau, his face lit up as Rau had never seen it before.

“The sign of Jonah,” Mark said. “The only definitive sign: dead, in the grave, and risen again!”

“Yes,” Rau said quietly. “Death swallowed him up and spat him out again.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” John said happily, “but I know he’s alive! And I’m going to tell everyone about it!”

He turned, to move toward the Parliament buildings – and Mark caught his arm.

“Wait, my friend!” he said. “Think about what you’re doing.”

“No need to think!” John said. “Time to tell!”

“How are you going to explain this?”

“No need to explain it.”

“That works for Israel two thousand years ago, but here?”

John smirked at him. “What part of ‘back from death’ do you think people won’t understand?”

Mark was smiling at him, now – Rau knew his thoughts! The arguments! The endless debates! John had forgotten, Rau saw – had instantly forgotten that he had once been a sceptic! But then the conversation was interrupted.

Tristan walked into the graveyard.

Curious, Rau wandered up to him.

“Kia ora, mate,” he said, and Tristan smiled in memory.

“Hey, old man,” he replied. “How are the knees?”

“They’ve got a new lease in life.”

“True…?”

“Got something to show you, I have.” And now Rau ushered Tristan over to the empty grave.

Tristan’s eyes settled on the open coffin – they widened.

“Oh, boy,” Tristan said, looking at Rau. “That’s a biggie.”

“Yes,” Rau said, straightening now to his full height, “and so it begins.”

Tristan stared at the grave. “I missed out on that darned fish!” he muttered, and Rau bowed his head.

“He dodged the bullets,” Rau said.

Tristan’s eyes suddenly widened further, shifting again to Rau. “My God,” he whispered, “you’re right! He beat me! He actually beat me, and I’m glad! He’s won! Thank God…”

And relief flooded his face.

Joshua’s mother was walking in, now – looking at the grave, lifting her voice with joy. Mark was quietly smiling. Selena had appeared, and was hiding behind Mark. Tristan was studying Rau.

But John – John’s face was lit up.

“Careful,” Rau warned, but John would listen to no warning.

“There’s someone I have to tell!” he said. “Someone before all the rest.”

And as he launched himself out of the little gate, Rau knew he was headed out to find Rachel.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER FORTY-ONE: The Culmination

Rachel stood on Molesworth Street.

The iron bars were in front of her – the Parliament gardens behind. The Army were still in there – patrolling, now, backwards and forwards. They reminded her uncannily of the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace.

The New Zealand flag was at half-mast – and, alongside this, at full mast, was the British flag: the Union Jack! The flag of the Queen.

The Governor General now was in absolute power over the nation. The Army had been stationed at key locations across New Zealand, and the police were working closely alongside. Everyone had seen the shootings at Parliament! Everyone knew now they must not resist.

Her father had entered into the Beehive, to gather his belongings. Rachel waited outside the gate. Why was she there? She had known she must come.

People had died there. What had happened to their bodies? Surely the Army had made the necessary arrangements. And…and Joshua had died there.

Rachel wandered over to the intersection now – the place where he had died. She crouched down to the ground. His blood was still there! Swallowing, she reached out to touch the stain on the concrete. Gone! He was gone.

She lifted her eyes now to look at St Peter’s. Had they taken his body there? Had they given him a service? Even buried him? She had missed it all! The one funeral she absolutely should have been at – she had missed it!

She wanted to visit him now – to see his grave. And then, at that moment, someone emerged from a gate alongside the church.

It was John.

His eyes quickly found her. His face was lit up with joy! How could it be? Actual joy! He rushed to her – he lifted her off her feet, away from the ground: away from the place of death.

“Rachel!” he cried. “Have I got something to tell you!”

Rachel frowned at him – her head started to hurt.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “It’s only been a few days since he died.”

“Yes!” he said. “And everything’s okay now!”

“What do you mean?”

“He came back! He came back!”

Rachel stared at him. Delirium. She reached to grasp his arms, now back on her feet.

“Oh, John,” she murmured, “it’s okay! It’s okay…”

“I saw him!” he said, his face radiant.

“In a vision,” Rachel said.

“I touched him!” John said. “He put my fingers on his wounds.”

“What?” Rachel shook her head, to clear it. “What are you saying?”

“I saw him, Rachel!” Now his face was very close to hers. “I felt his body, as surely as you feel mine now.” And he reached, and grasped her fingers, and slipped them through his shirt, to his chest.

Rachel’s heart suddenly pounded fast. She tried to draw her fingers away, but John was holding her hand on his chest.

“Where did you go?” he asked.

“Away!” Rachel said. “I had to get away!”

“Why?” John asked. “Why for so long?”

There was a new strength to him – a kind of fire, a passion, a certainty: risk taking! Daring…

“I couldn’t bear his death,” she whispered, and now his hands were taking her face between them: now his eyes were looking at her lips.

“He’s alive,” he whispered, and his face lit up into a majestic smile. “He’s alive.”

“It can’t be,” she whispered back, and his fingers were moving through her hair.

“That’s kind of the point,” he said with a grin. “That’s the beauty of it.”

“Five bullets. Oh, John!” She sobbed, and now his expression changed to compassion – now he gently kissed her forehead.

“It’s all right,” he whispered. “It’s over now.”

He was reaching into his pocket – he pulled out something.

“Five bullets,” he murmured gently – and now he reached for her hands, and laid them onto her palm.

Rachel stiffened. The five bullets! Deformed! Used!

“John,” she gasped, “what have you done?”

But now he was curving her fingers over the bullets – now he was drawing her hands onto his chest, over his shirt.

“Nothing,” he whispered ardently – his eyes wholly genuine. “I promise, Rachel, on my life: I didn’t do anything to his body. He gave these to me.”

Rachel stared into his eyes. Was he really saying it?

“Where’s the scientist now?” John said. “Rau and I both saw him – we both felt him! The grave is empty. He gave me these bullets…”

Now Rachel began to feel a deep panic rising up from within her, but now John was breathing over her.

“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

“Evidence.”

“I’m giving you the evidence.”

“Give me more.”

“I am more evidence!” His warm breath on her face was quickening! Quickening. “I was dead, with him! And now I’m alive, with him…”

Her body was aching for him; her soul was aching for his words. He was transformed! From agony, to ecstasy!

“Stay with me,” John whispered. “Give me your mind. Give me your science! Join with me, and we can make this miracle known to the world.”

“Give me everything you have,” Rachel whispered. “Tell me everything you know.”

“Everything,” John whispered. “I’ll give you everything.”

And their mouths were together – their passion joined.

His strength was within her – his certainty! His faith! Stronger, than her horror! Stronger than her fear! His love was inside of her – stronger than her bitterness! Stronger than her hatred.

Her certainty she gave to him! The death! Certain death! His certainty he gave to her: he was alive again! Joshua was alive.

They kissed: their hearts were one. And then John was reaching for her left hand – even as he kissed her, even as her eyes were closed, feeling his heart, feeling his passion, she felt his fingers reaching for hers.

“Marry me,” he whispered into her ear – and on her finger was a greenstone ring. “I found it just now, in the church.”

Rachel gazed at him. “We only met a short time ago…”

“That doesn’t matter,” John said. “We both know it is right.”

“So soon…”

“There isn’t much time.” He grasped her hands again to his chest. “It’s going to get dangerous, Rachel! Love means loyalty! Love means commitment! Until death! Until death.”

There was no other way, with him! His entire being! Body and soul, and…and spirit…

“He owns you,” Rachel whispered, “more than I! Always, he will own you more than I.”

“Yes,” John whispered. “Always.”

“My love for him will never be as strong.”

“I understand.”

“I don’t get God! Only Joshua.”

“Understood. But I have to ask you, Rachel.”

“What is it?”

“Look with your eyes! Listen with your ears! Think, with your mind, and feel with your heart.”

“My heart?”

“Search for the truth, Rachel – be a good scientist! Search for the truth, even where you didn’t expect to find it! Even if it surprises you – even if it shakes everything that you believe!”

Her heart was pounding hard, captured, as he continued.

“Show courage, and join with me!” he said. “Be my wife.”

Rachel gazed at him. She glanced down at the ground, at the blood left there. She glanced up at the church. And then she looked back to John.

His eyes were lit – vibrant with purpose and love. Suddenly he had emerged, overnight! Suddenly he had become the one she could marry.

“Stay with me,” she whispered. “Stay with me, and join with me: be my strength – be my light.”

“I will,” John whispered over her. “I will stay. And stay with me! Stay with me, and join with me: be my wisdom – be my love.”

Their mouths were one, their bodies drawn together. His ring was on her finger.

They were whole.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER FORTY-TWO: New Ideas

James Connor sat in the Prime Minister’s office, in the Beehive.

The office had been made obsolete. Connor could still not fully grasp the reality that Parliament did not actually exist anymore. Instinctively, he wanted to attend meetings, and join the House of Representatives: how could it be that the House was actually shut up?

The Governor General of New Zealand had only acted this way twice before – the most recently over a hundred years earlier!

Connor was humiliated – but, more importantly than that, he was worried.

Quickly he gathered up his papers, and his personal items. The photo of Pam and Rachel! He drew them all together into a box, and headed down the corridor.

The Beehive was deserted – an eerie reality. Connor knew the Governor-General was busy in Parliament House – he also knew the New Conservative Party was quickly trying to reinvent itself, for the rapid election. What would Patrick Clarkson do now? Now was his great chance. Communism – would he secure communism? Connor shuddered at the thought.

The Clean Greens, and Maori party – not much threat there. But what about the Christian Conservative party? Might they suddenly rise up, in this climate of religious extremism? Might they suddenly become a power to be reckoned with?

Connor stepped into the lift, and turned around. Joshua Davidson…He swallowed. Tristan had shot him, in public! In public, for all to see! Connor had never intended that! Never wanted it. Tristan had secured Connor’s dismissal! On purpose, Connor was sure! On purpose. And yet, Connor couldn’t blame him. And yet, Connor actually agreed with him.

Joshua Davidson was dead.

Connor emerged from the lift, and wandered out to the Round Reception Room. He could see the Army, guarding the Governor General’s quarters – the New Zealand flag at half-mast! The British flag at full mast. Humiliation! Shame. Utter uncertainty for the future.

He walked down the steps to the exit – and walked past the security guards, on the way out. Clarkson was outside, in the gardens – looking busy, gathering support! Connor let him be. His time was over, now! It was over.

The black iron gate was in front of him. Here, four New Zealanders had been shot dead! It had been his fault! Connor’s own fault. The blood of those citizens was on his hands. And…and the blood of the other New Zealand citizen.

Rachel was waiting for him, outside the gate. She was sitting on the ground, near the place where Joshua had died. He wandered over to her.

“How about a trip to Stewart Island?” he asked – surely the furthest most place from Wellington. But there was something strange in Rachel’s face.

She rose to her feet – she stood before him. Her eyes were bright! Quite beautiful, in that moment – she reminded him of Pam.

“Ah, Dad,” she began, and he frowned, perplexed.

“Yes?”

“I have two lots of news to tell you.”

“Fire away.”

Her face was a little flushed, almost as if…

“Don’t tell me you’re in love,” Connor said. “Impossible! After all the hell we’re going through…”

“Not impossible,” Rachel said, smiling wryly, “only improbable.”

Connor stared at her. “You look stunning, Rachel,” he said. “If it was any other time but the impending demise of our nation, I’d be really happy for you!”

“I’ll accept that,” Rachel said, grinning – but then her expression changed: became serious. “There’s something else I need to tell you.”

“What – you’re pregnant?”

She hit his arm. “No! Come on, Dad – I’m a grown woman.”

“Spit it out, then.”

“It’s about Joshua.”

Now he shifted on his feet. “What is it?”

Her expression was unusual – he couldn’t quite place it: intrigue? Some kind of intrigue.

“There’s going to be talk,” Rachel began. “There will be new ideas.”

“What kind of new ideas?”

“Well…” She hesitated, and seemed to make herself continue. “Some people are saying that they have seen him alive again.”

Connor dropped his box. The frame – had he shattered it? Quickly he stooped to check. Rachel was standing over him, now: her voice firm.

“I’m going to write it all down,” she said, “so that everyone can decide for themselves what they think.”

“Have you converted to this new religion?” Connor asked, reaching to turn over the frame.

“No,” Rachel said – the frame was still intact! Not shattered! Pam and Rachel were still smiling into the camera. Connor quickly picked it up, and his box, and rose to his feet again to face her.

Her eyes were bright. “I haven’t converted, but I’m open to it! I’m open, and I’m going to write about it, and…and I’m going to stick with it.”

Connor’s eyes drifted down, now – he saw: there was a ring on her wedding finger. He swallowed.

“Shouldn’t I be giving you away?”

Tears filled her eyes now – and she was taking his hand.

“I love you, Dad.”

The words hurt, but he smirked. “All I can say is, thank goodness I’m not the Prime Minister anymore.”

“Agreed!” she said quickly.

“Which one is he?” Connor asked, and Rachel smiled sadly.

“The one who was crying, next to Joshua. His name is John.”

“Fitting,” Connor said. “Someone’s got to match that fire inside of you.”

She was smiling – and crying at the same time. Connor smiled sadly at her.

“What should we expect from this movement?” he asked, and she shook her head.

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

Pain filled him now: deep pain. She was going! She was leaving. She was choosing a dangerous path!

“You will if you come with us.”

Connor gazed at her, and then laughed. Beautiful! Kill Joshua, and then join him. Why not? Lose his job as Prime Minister, and join a King.

“I’m sorry, my precious girl,” he said, “but even my mind can’t cope with that many twists and turns within one week!”

She was grinning – and he grasped her hand now.

“Rachel,” he said firmly, “make sure that John chap keeps you safe, okay? I love you! And if he gets you into deep water, he’ll have to answer to me.”

Irony filled her face, and he enjoyed it, and he pulled her into a hug.

“Go now,” he said. “Be with him. Find out what’s going on with that Joshua – do what you must, Rachel! Do what you must.”

Her arms squeezed him, she released him, her face shone – and, as he moved away from her, toward his car, he was glad for his wife, and a shelter at home. Rachel must choose her own path! And who knew what bizarre twists might be ahead with this Joshua Movement.

“Besides,” he muttered under his breath, “I thought you said there were going to be new ideas…”

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER FORTY-THREE: The Breath of Life

John wandered down the side aisle of St Peter’s.

There was a meeting taking place, in one of the side rooms. John could hear Mark’s voice, rising up above the other voices.

“Yes, I know, Murray!” Mark said. “I was totally against the man! What can I say: ‘God works in mysterious ways!’”

“‘Mysterious ways’?” Murray said, “Mark, I’m seriously concerned you’re developing some kind of multiple personality disorder.”

John poked his head around the corner – was he serious? But the older man’s face was warm, and smiling.

Mark laughed. “Can’t blame you for that one, Murray.”

“I still think this Joshua is an imposter!” Pastor Luke said.

“Yes, yes,” Mark replied, “and tell me, what do you know about demonic possession?”

“Demonic possession?” Luke explored. “Well, the person has to submit to Christ to be delivered.”

“Apparently not,” Mark said.

“Not?” Father Andrew asked. “A person can be exorcised by a priest, by God’s Spirit, but faith is important…”

“I don’t think this one had faith, though I might be wrong.”

“Who was it?”

“My daughter.”

The room was silent. John stood very still, in plain view – and Father Andrew spoke again.

“Does she need prayer?”

“Always,” Mark murmured. “I will always pray for her.”

“And the exorcism?”

“Already done.”

“By which priest?”

Now Mark turned, and looked straight at John. “By which priest?” he murmured, rising to his feet toward him. “This priest.”

And he reached out his hands, and grasped John’s between his own.

John flushed, but held Mark’s eyes – his gratitude.

“Join us,” Mark said, and John shifted a little awkwardly.

“I don’t know…”

“That’s all right,” Murray said. “You are free to come and go as you please.”

John bowed his head, and looked amongst the faces. So diverse! So many different churches.

“Diversity makes as stronger,” Mark said.

“I agree!” John said. “As long as we follow the same Master.”

“Yes,” Mark said brightly, “as long as we follow the same Master.”

John shook the hands of the ministers present – he held their gaze. And then he moved toward the door.

“You still have that project to work on,” Mark said, smiling – and John remembered. Then he wandered out of the room, down the side aisle, and into the church.

 

The altar, and the cross, remained.

John wandered up to the inner sanctuary. The silver cup and plate were still there. The blood of Christ! The body of Christ.

He pulled out the five bullets from his pocket. Death – a symbol of death, but not of life…

He heard raised voices, now, in the meeting room alongside – he heard one voice: the familiar voice of his beloved friend.

He laid the bullets on the altar – and then Joshua was alongside him.

“The body and the blood,” John murmured to him. “What should I do, Master? What new symbol can we make?”

Joshua passed his hand over the bullets, and they were repaired – and now they were gold.

“The bullet is the sign of my death,” he said, “and the sign of your life.”

“Like the cross…” John murmured. “But how can we take it into our bodies and hearts?” he asked. “Your offering into us, like the bread and wine?”

Joshua breathed over him. “Breathe deep, John,” he said. “God’s Spirit is the breath of life. I gave up my breath for you – I give God’s breath for you.”

John took in Joshua’s deep breath. It was for him, now! Cleansing; bringing life.

“Not new,” John murmured, and Joshua smiled.

“No, my beloved friend,” he said. “Not new at all.”

And then he was gone.

John laid his hand on the cup, and the plate – over the wine and bread – and breathed deep. The love of God! The light of God! He knew them, now! He felt them! He housed them. He longed to share them.

Breathe deep…

It was time to pass the breath of life on.

 

 

 

[]CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR: Aroha

Rau stood on the steps of St Peter’s – and then moved into the graveyard alongside.

Joshua’s grave was still empty. The soil was starting to slip into the empty coffin. Soon the coffin would be full – soon the grave site would have no worth.

Rau considered it. What was the message to bring, now? What the message had always been. The witness of Joshua alive again; the witness of Christ alive again. There was no grave to visit – no tomb to visit. There was the record, in the living witnesses – and, in time, a written record, for generations to come.

Do you love me, Rau?”

“Ae, my precious Master,” Rau whispered. “Aroha!”

Then take care of my Iwi.” And Joshua stretched his arms out to embrace all of Aotearoa.

Rau considered the Land of the Long White Cloud, and he smiled. This was his land! This was his home. This was his calling: all coming together as one.

“E te whanau,” he said, “we are the body of Christ!”

And he moved himself forward, away from the grave, and out through the gate.

Parliament was before him. The Army still marched inside the gates.

One day some men will kill you because of me.”

Was he ready to take the risk? Was he ready to pay the price? Here he had run away! Here he had denied Joshua!

Breathe deep,” John had said to him. “God’s Spirit is the Breath of Life!”

The hongi! The breath of God.

“He gave his breath away,” Rau murmured in the direction of the guards. “He gives us his breath today.”

Rau took in a deep breath – and then he moved forward.

“Kia ora!” he called out to the guards. “Kei te pehea koe?”

Some of the soldiers glanced at each other, but others responded.

“Kei te pai,” they said.

“You fellas ever have time off?”

“Ae,” some said.

“Well, how ’bout we catch up over some kai later?” He had their attention now. “I’ll just be over here, see, on the other side of the gate? Boy have I got some news to tell you!”

He smiled, and moved to set himself up outside the gate, near where Joshua had died. The guards were watching, and Rau was pretty sure a camera or two wouldn’t be too far behind.

“Ariki,” Rau murmured to God. “My life is in your hands.”

 

Across the intersection, on the other side of the place where Joshua had died, Tristan stood on the steps of St Peter’s. He looked at Rau, standing at the iron gate – he smiled.

“Not wearing a dog collar now,” he said quietly. “We’ve both come quite a way from Kerikeri, my friend.”

Now he lifted his voice out to him.

“Hey, you – joker!” he called out, and Rau turned to him. “I hear you’ve got some news to tell!”

“Got that right, mate!” Rau called back. “Where’s your whanau?”

Tristan grinned at him. “You are my whanau, mate!”

“Then what are you doing over there?”

Tristan hesitated, glancing at the Army. Go along for the ride? Still go along, and risk death? Joshua had moved on, but Rau was now standing up to the mark: taking his place! Taking the lead.

Tristan’s father appeared alongside him, now – his whanau! His other family.

Mark was smiling quietly, looking at Rau.

“Here or there?” Tristan asked him. “What would you say?”

“For me, the answer is here,” Mark said, gesturing to the church. “For you, the answer is different.”

“Does it have to be one or the other?”

“No – it can be both.”

“Both?”

“You belong to both whanau, Tristan: both worlds.”

Tristan gazed at him, and tilted his head. For nine years he had lost his first family – now he had gained them again: father and sister! Yet there was another whanau drawing him now: another family.

Rau’s eyes were on him – his face was lit.

“Come on, boy!” he said. “Want a ride? How about that fishing?”

“Where are you headed?”

“Dunno – I’m not driving! Let’s find out together!”

Tristan broke into a wide smile. “Okay!” he said. “I’m in!”

And he strode down the steps of the church, across the street, and joined Rau on the other side.

 

###

 

Next in the Trilogy:

[]A New Kind of Zeal 2: The Price of Redemption

 

 

Three months have passed since Tristan Blake confronted Joshua Davidson, between the Beehive and Saint Peter’s Cathedral. The Governor General Anita Mayes has taken direct control of New Zealand, sending the humiliated Prime Minister James Connor to the back benches of the New Conservative Party. Rachel Connor has taken up work at Hardwater Hospital in Wellington, while John Robertson, her husband, is spending more and more time in the Cathedral. The Bishop, Mark Blake, has been laid off for improper conduct, but the Anglican Archbishop has chosen to reinstate him.

Selena Blake is reconciled to her father, but hasn’t begun to come to terms with her part in the events of Joshua Davidson.

Alex Kensington remains hidden, disguised behind all the others. He is the key: the mastermind behind Joshua’s demise. But the driving force behind Alex is the spirit of his father: a man who will never be appeased until he achieves, through Alex, total control of New Zealand.

Rau Petera has good news to bring, on the shores of Oriental Bay. But Aotearoa is uneasy: independence has been taken under siege. A new election must take place, formed by the Governor General, but Alex’s father Kensington is moving into position.

Who will rule New Zealand? What forces, in the struggle for independence, might win?

 

[+ Click here for A New Kind of Zeal 2: The Price of Redemption+]

 

 

[]Connect with the author, Michelle Warren:

For Michelle’s Blog, click below:

 

http://michellewarren.kiwi/michelles-novels/a-new-kind-of-zeal/

 

 

I’d love to see you there!

 

 

[]REFERENCES

God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa

 

Thomas Smith, Timoti Karetu and Thomas Bracken. 1878, 1979 and 1876. ‘Aotearoa/God Defend New Zealand.’ Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-anthems/god-defend-new-zealandaotearoa: accessed 22 December 2013. Used with permission. Also ‘God Defend New Zealand.’ Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Defend_New_Zealand: accessed 22 December 2013.

 

Chapter Three

 

Speaker R M Algie and Bishop Eric Gowing. Wellington: New Zealand Parliament, 1962. House of Representatives. ‘Prayers.’ New Zealand Parliament, http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/about-parliament/how-parliament-works/ppnz/00HOOOCPPNZ_141/chapter-14-business-of-the-house#footnote_4: accessed 22 December 2013.

 

Chapter Four

 

Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

 

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989.

 

Hubert Parry. I Was Glad. London: Novello & Co Ltd, 1902.

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

Mark 10:15 Paraphrased.

 

Chapter Twenty

 

Thomas Smith, Timoti Karetu and Thomas Bracken. 1878, 1979 and 1876. ‘Aotearoa/God Defend New Zealand.’ Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-anthems/god-defend-new-zealandaotearoa: accessed 22 December 2013. Used with permission. Also ‘God Defend New Zealand.’ Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Defend_New_Zealand: accessed 22 December 2013.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

 

Chapter Thirty

 

Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

 

Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

 

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989.

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine

 

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989.

 

1ref_ Thomas Smith, Timoti Karetu and Thomas Bracken. 1878, 1979 and 1876. ‘Aotearoa/God Defend New Zealand.’ Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-anthems/god-defend-new-zealandaotearoa: accessed 22 December 2013. Used with permission. Also ‘God Defend New Zealand.’ Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Defend_New_Zealand: accessed 22 December 2013.

2ref_ Speaker R M Algie and Bishop Eric Gowing. Wellington: New Zealand Parliament, 1962. House of Representatives. ‘Prayers.’ New Zealand Parliament, http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/about-parliament/how-parliament-works/ppnz/00HOOOCPPNZ_141/chapter-14-business-of-the-house#footnote_4: accessed 22 December 2013.

3ref_ Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

4ref_ This copyright material is taken from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa’ and is used with permission. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989, 410-429.

5 ref_ Hubert Parry. I Was Glad. London: Novello & Co Ltd, 1902.

6ref_ Mark 10:15 Paraphrased.

7ref_ Thomas Smith, Timoti Karetu and Thomas Bracken. 1878, 1979 and 1876. ‘Aotearoa/God Defend New Zealand.’ Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, http://www.mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/national-anthems/god-defend-new-zealandaotearoa: accessed 22 December 2013. Used with permission. Also ‘God Defend New Zealand.’ Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Defend_New_Zealand: accessed 22 December 2013.

8ref_ Mark 12:30-31. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

9ref_ Matthew 11: 28. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

10ref_ Matthew 21:31 NIV.

11ref_ Matthew 6:25, 27 NIV.

12ref_ John 5:28-29 NIV.

13ref_ John 5:24 NIV.

14ref_ John 14:6 NIV.

15ref_ Matthew 12:39 NIV.

16ref_ Matthew 24 NIV.

17ref_ John 11:50 Paraphrased.

18ref_ John 11:50 Paraphrased.

19ref_ John 14:6 NIV. Kenneth Barker, ed. The NIV Study Bible New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.

20ref_ Luke 12:39-40 Paraphrased.

21ref_ Matthew 24: 5. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

22ref_ Isaiah 53:5. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. NIV ®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

23ref_ John 3:16 Paraphrased.

24ref_ This copyright material is taken from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa’ and is used with permission. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989, 410-429.

25ref_ This copyright material is taken from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa’ and is used with permission. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989, 827-841.

26ref_ Psalm 23. This copyright material is taken from ‘A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa’ and is used with permission. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Genesis Publications, 1989, 841.


A New Kind of Zeal

On a hot humid day, Tristan Blake is trying to hitch a ride past Kerikeri. It is summer in New Zealand, 2030: the temperature is rising, and Tristan is looking to get away from it all, after retiring from Peace-making army duty in the Middle East. An old red Holden Ute pulls up on the side of the road, and a Maori priest, Rau Petera, invites Tristan on a ride to Ninety Mile Beach. Keen to fish, Tristan agrees: but there on the expansive sand, trying to escape the rising tide, Rau and Tristan stumble across Joshua Davidson, from Kaitaia. Rau follows Joshua into the rising sea, and Joshua catches Rau a record snapper with no bait. Now Rau and Tristan find themselves driving Joshua on a once-in-a-lifetime road-trip down the centre of the North Island toward the Beehive in Wellington. Joshua is reminding Rau of someone: he is finding a new kind of faith. But Tristan is being thrown into increasing confusion and dismay, when he finally realizes what he must do to end the growing threat of Joshua.

  • Author: Michelle Warren
  • Published: 2016-09-28 05:35:23
  • Words: 88810
A New Kind of Zeal A New Kind of Zeal