‘Armageddon Rhapsody’ by Adriaan van Garde

sc june 18

And they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-magedon (Book of Revelation).

 

“Have you ever seen a smiling robot?”

With that question my grandmother opened a gate to a world I had not been aware of, a world in which she had played an important role. It all began during my last visit. When I arrived nothing indicated that my opinion about my gran needed a total re-evaluation. As usual she greeted me with enthusiasm and asked me for a big granny hug. As usual I did what she asked, with loving feelings, because I liked my grandmother very much.

It was my gran who had taken me in when my parents died. She was already living on the island then, where most things happened a lot later than on the mainland. Thanks to the help from her excellent robot she still lived in the old house, despite the ongoing deterioration of her muscular functions. If she had been younger the process could have been stopped, but because of her age she was beyond repair as her robot said. She didn’t complain, she had seen enough, she told me.

“Gran, robots can’t smile, you know that,” I answered. “Now tell me who this woman is and what she is doing with all these soldiers.”

I was looking intensely at the picture that was on her side-table for the first time. I had never seen it before, of that I was sure.

My grandmother sighed. “I guess it’s better to tell you the truth. After all, it’s a long time ago and all people involved are dead now.”

Her words set off a chain of deductions that led me to the only possible conclusion.

“That woman was you?” I exclaimed. “What were you doing there?”

“See that extremely handsome guy to the right of me? That was David Buffet, our president at that time, surrounded by his generals.”

I was stunned. David Buffet surrounded by his generals? Was this picture taken at the most important event in the human history, the day the earth stood still? And had my gran been there? With the Antichrist of all people. How was that possible? Why had she never mentioned it before? I asked her.

“Well, as if Armageddon is something the world likes to talk about.”

She was right. Even in the school history books you couldn’t find much about it. There were some spectacular books with wild theories circulating, but everybody knew that they were another conspiracy theory at best. It was as if humanity as a whole had decided not to talk about it, as if the whole world was ashamed. If my gran hadn’t taught me about Armageddon, I would never have heard any detailed information about it.

“You don’t know much about that period in our history, do you?”

Without waiting for my confirmation, she continued: “The first thing you must realize is that it’s not because of the all-out war situation that we don’t talk about it, but because of the radical change in our history. We lost our independence that day.”

What was she talking about? Losing our independence, that was redneck talk. She must have seen my bewilderment.

“Ah, come on child. Stop thinking and listen to my story. It’s probably the last chance I’ll get telling someone.”

I made protesting noises, and not only because I was already sixty-one myself, but she continued.

“Armageddon day was of course the result of a long build-up of tension between the Islamic and Christian world. When the Islamic states had eradicated Sunnite jihad resistance in the twenties of the previous century, they had first followed a course of education and civilization, mainly as a way to cope with the enormous population growth. Did you know that?”

I confirmed that I knew that part of history.

“Good, so we can go straight to the final days before Armageddon. History had seen its share of fundamentalist maniacs, on both sides. But still, just when we needed peace-keepers most, both sides got a leader that wanted to bomb the other side into the stone-age. The Caliphate promised to conquer Jerusalem and kill all Jews and Christians, while the Christian alliance promised to wipe out Islam completely.

I was a beginning reporter for GWN at that time. An enormous military force was building up around Jerusalem. My boss was looking for a correspondent that would stand a chance to interview the leaders of both camps. Because of my good looks he thought that I was best suited for the job. Abdel Saïd and David Buffet both had a reputation of being a womanizer. My implants could do most of the work, so I didn’t get an old-fashioned camera crew. However, I could get an android escort, but I doubted if that would be of any help.”

Grandma stopped to see if I had any questions. I didn’t want to interrupt her story, so she went on.

“So there I went, to Amman. Considering the fact that the world was on the brink of war, the last war maybe, travelling still went rather smooth. People were very helpful and in no time I was on my way to the headquarters of Abdel Saïd. There were military forces as far as the eye could see. The most unnerving were the rocket launchers. Intelligence had told us that they were so-called TADMs, containing small nuclear warheads. The number I saw was enough to bring about the much-feared nuclear winter. But there had to be a lot more of them, so it was not winter I should fear, but a straight-out ice-age.

When I arrived at the headquarters a rather handsome, young general received me. My implants told me that he was an android. I didn’t get time to contemplate the impossibilities of androids in leading positions, as he told me that Abdel Saïd had already left to lead the final battle against heresy. I asked if I could follow him, but that was out of the question.”

Grandma stopped again. She grabbed my hand and asked for a drink, a small glass of port. I looked at the android that was in the room and he shook his head in denial. Then grandma cursed like I had never heard from her before. Quickly he brought a tiny bit of port in a small glass.

“There, you see. We have nothing to say about our own lives anymore.”

“But gran, it’s because of your health, you know that.”

She looked me in the eyes and shook her head in disbelief, but she didn’t comment. After a sigh she continued.

“I was disappointed of course. And I realized that I had to hurry to be in time to meet our president. I went to Tel Aviv as fast as I could. Everything went very smooth again, GWN clearly had a lot of power at that time. But when I arrived at the headquarters, Mr. Buffet was gone too. I was tired to the bone and at the brink of crying. But then I got permission to follow him and witness the Apocalypse.

You may think that the Apocalypse was not something to look forward to, but I didn’t mind. I would be meeting the most handsome man in the world, which was all I could think of. A captain escorted me to the point where the president would personally lead the battle against evil. Again there was nothing to be seen but soldiers and military equipment. And again there were TADM missiles by the thousands. I had to supress the gloomy feeling of doom.

It was at the end of the morning that I arrived in the field headquarters. The captain led me to an underground shelter, where I was met by several generals. The president would arrive any moment. I was becoming more nervous with every minute that I had to wait. My knees were shaking and I was sweating all over my body. I thought back of the first time I was in love and realized that I was in the same sort of mood. Oh god.”

Grandma took her glass of port and swallowed it in one gulp. She then gave me the glass and pointed to the cabinet. I hesitated, but since the android had left the room I went to fill her glass again, this time with a decent amount of port. I filled a glass for myself too.

“Do you think I was silly then?”

I didn’t know what to say. I could hardly imagine the situation she had been in, let alone her feelings. It must have been overwhelming. Grandma took another sip before she went on.

“Just when I was noticing something weird about the seven generals in the shelter, the president came in. Oh Bonnie, you can’t imagine what happened to me then. I got warm all over, I felt butterflies in my stomach and I stammered like a schoolgirl in love. Which I was, actually. Apparently he felt the same for me, because when he shook my hand, he said something like ‘Pity we didn’t meet before. In other circumstances I would have asked you to join me for a diner’. It took some time to get hold of myself. But then I started the interview.

The president answered with his usual references to the Book of Revelation. Of course I asked him if he could bear the responsibility of unleashing a destructive force that surely would mean the end of humanity. Then he admitted what many already had said about him. That he was the Antichrist. That he had orders from God himself to set in motion the final battle that would lead to the days of resurrection. That we would die here and now but wouldn’t have to wait very long to find eternal life. That he was looking forward to it.

Finally he asked me if I was prepared to be on his side, when the moment of the Apocalypse was there. Being rather religious myself at that time I couldn’t turn down his offer. What’s more, I rejoiced it. If he was right I would witness an event that was predicted in the Bible, the final event even. What more could a Christian wish for? So I said ‘Yes’. He offered me his arm and together we walked outside. When we arrived at a small platform, he let go of me. He addressed his generals and sent all but one away. After that he stepped onto the platform.

As soon as the soldiers saw him they started to cheer. I got tears in my eyes, it was so overwhelming, you know. David, the president, then spoke for about eight minutes to tell them that the final hour had come. His speech seemed to stem straight from the Book of Revelation, but I didn’t mind. What bothered me were the looks of his seven generals. Not only did they all look the same, they were also an exact copy of the general I had seen in the other camp. My implants confirmed my suspicion, they were androids as well. I wondered how androids could be generals.

The crowd was cheering again. If I remember well, the president had said that his generals soon would signal the start of the final battle. He stepped down from the platform and addressed his remaining general. He ordered him to give the signal for the final battle. The general didn’t obey however, but asked for a pause, as there were signs of white flags between the troops. The president became angry and shouted that the time for negotiations was over, that the Apocalypse had to be unleashed, it was the will of God. Therefore he should start with the nukes right away. Oh my, what a moment that was. I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes.”

Grandma took a sip from her port. Her cheeks had gained some color again, the port no doubt. I didn’t try to stop her, but swallowed my drink in one gulp instead. Her android came to ask if everything was okay. She looked at him and only said ‘oh, you…’, after which he made himself scarce. Grandma asked for ‘another shot of port’. I wondered if it would be wise to give in to her wish, but she was clearly enjoying this moment, so I filled our glasses again. She went on with her amazing story.

“The general took the president aside. My implants helped me to hear every word, however. He told him that ARC had designed their type of androids with a purpose. With the strong demand in both camps for androids that could manage the complex operations of a large-scale war, ARC had seen its chance to get them in every possible position in the government. It had been more difficult in the Islamic camp, but in the end Abdel Saïd seemed to trust androids more than human generals. So not only high-ranked staff members, but even the generals themselves had been replaced by the new type of androids, both in the caliphate and in the countries of the Christian alliance.

Of course these androids had the three laws disabled that prevented doing harm to living creatures, since they couldn’t work on the preparations for war if these laws were active. However ARC had done this in such a way that the three laws would immediately become operational again as soon as someone would order the start of the Apocalypse. So from that moment on the Apocalypse was off.

The president stood thinking for a while. He then looked at me and gave me a wink. He stepped onto the platform again and held another speech, a great speech, truly a speech of biblical stature. He ended with the conclusion that the time for the Apocalypse had not yet come. That God had wanted to test us and that he apparently was satisfied. So they all could return home to their loved ones and live in peace again.

It was silent for a while. Then a gulf of cheers rose from the ranks of the soldiers, which was twice as loud as before and filled with relief. I couldn’t help but feel relief as well. The president raised his hands, making the victory sign. The cheering continued for several minutes. When it finally died down, I could hear the same sounds in the distance, where the enemy was. The president came down from the platform. His face was weary and he had the posture of a beaten man.

Suddenly he looked at me. His face brightened and he straightened himself. He walked towards me and offered me his arm again. Together we left.”

Grandma fell silent.

“Wow, I said, what a story.”

I picked up the photograph and looked at the president, my grandma and the generals, who indeed looked very much alike.

“So you were there when…”

Grandma seemed to wake from her memories.

“So I was there when our freedom ended, yes. It was an Apocalypse after all.”

I wanted to say the she was unfair because under the android administration so much evil had disappeared, but Grandma raised her hand.

“I know,” she said, “but still it doesn’t feel right.”

This was how most old people felt, I realized. For the younger ones, like me, living in a world without war, pollution, diseases, poverty and violence was an everyday reality. We didn’t have the feeling of loss.

“So, did you have dinner with David Buffet?”

Grandma smiled. “Not right away, first we had sex in his headquarters. I stayed with him for a few weeks, because he could use all the support he could get stepping down from office. I can’t say I am sorry. He had a godlike body, but he wasn’t a great lover. Soon other girls drew his attention and I went my own way.”

I thought about my grandmother making love to the Antichrist. It was a strange and incomprehensible vista. Suddenly a question sprung up.

“Grandma, what about that robot smile you mentioned?”

“Oh that. You know, when we left the platform, I turned my head to give the general a last look. I could swear that he was smiling at me.”

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