Charles Taylor sat rather uncomfortably at the conference table, watching his host probe the Internet at a monitor built into the surface of the table at which they sat. Charles also had a monitor in the surface of the table right in front of him. His was blank. His hosts monitor blinked with changing screens. The mouse and keyboard also appeared to be part of the flat table surface. Impressive technology, tastefully applied.
"You can go ahead and ask questions." said his host. Bertram Felix Underhill. Man of mystery, a shadow in the Christian underground. Controversial. Frightening, in the flesh. The man radiated confidence and authority, a charisma that bordered on madness, or so it seemed to Charles.
"Well, Mr. Underhill...." Charles began.
"Whoa." said his host. The man looked up at him, the first real look since a quick glance when Charles was escorted into the room. "Call me Bert. We don't like to stand on formalities here." His eyes quickly moved back to the monitor, reflecting the changing light as the screens flickered within the table surface.
"OK. Bert. A friend at my church knew that I was seeking a new position. Some kind of ministry. He put me in touch with some people, who hustled me onto an airplane and now here I am. Wherever 'here' might be."
Bert nodded, tapped a few of the places on the table that served as buttons, and looked up again. This time the light of the monitor faded. "Yes. We have to keep a few things secret, even in a ministry. We are a mission with a mission, and not everyone would understand our work."
His words, and the fervor of their delivery, did nothing to put Charles at ease.
His host tapped another button, and a man in a dark suit appeared out of the shadows.
"Leonard, Charles. Charles, Leonard." said Bert in an off-handed manner. The man in the suit nodded, and Charles nodded in return. "Leonard, do we have a novice cell in Omaha?" The man nodded once again. "I have emailed a little matter to you. Have it take care of by our newbies. It's a chance to cut their teeth."
Leonard nodded again, and faded once more into the shadows.
"I have been going over our prayer network." explained his host. "I have a number of people who read most of the prayer requests around the world. At least, those that get posted onto an Internet site."
Charles leaned forward. This was more like it. Up until this moment he wondered what he had gotten into. Prayer, ministry, taking care of people. Being like Jesus. Yes. That was what he wanted. Christian men of action.
"Leonard is going to see to a woman's needs." continued Bert. "She is apparently being beaten by her husband, though she has never expressed that outright. Her husband is a prominent businessman in Omaha, and a pillar of their church. However, her frequent prayer requests for healing have flagged some of our first level operatives. Our front line prayer ministers, you might say."
"Someone is going to see to her medical needs?" Charles offered.
"Oh, no. She has access to that, and insurance better than most people." Bert said. "No, our newest cell is going to help her husband adjust his attitude. He seems to fail to understand his responsibilities. They are going to make a very clear argument for a significant change of behavior. A very real repentance. He should be able to walk again in about six weeks. My people are very well trained."
Charles had to close his mouth consciously. It had gaped open at this statement.
"He will hardly miss the one finger." his host mused. "Just enough not to forget, after the leg heals."
Charles tried to swallow, but found he was running a bit dry. Rather parched. His host made a gesture, and another man appeared out of the shadows. There seemed to be quite a few shadows, and a surprising number of men waiting in them. This man placed a glass of water in front of Charles, and faded again into the darkness.
Charles looked at the glass for a moment, then shrugged and picked it up. It was cool and refreshing, and cleared his head a bit while quenching his thirst. He was in a bit of shock, then. That made him feel better, knowing that. A bit better.
"Your friend recommended you to us for several reasons." said Bert. "Your zeal for the Lord. Your frustration with small opportunities for real ministry. Your skills in computers applied to satellite telecommunications. All fine qualities, and qualities we can use here."
"Where is here?" Charles asked again. "I was brought in a private jet with covered windows. I came out of the plane after several hours of flight, and went straight into a limousine. A limousine in a hanger, a limousine with windows so dark as to render no view. I haven't seen any sign of where you have brought me. It is starting to make me uncomfortable."
His host smiled. He looked.... patient. Patient, in the same way a crocodile is patient. "We have reasons for our secrecy. Most especially for the level of work I have in mind for you. I will show you the mission, and you can decide how you would like to proceed."
Charles sighed. He was in deep, and that made him uncomfortable. He was also curious, perhaps a great deal more curious than frightened. There was also a sense of excitement. A notion that he might be able to make a real difference in the world. A hope to really be like Jesus, to follow Him in a mighty work.
He nodded. Bert touched a few of the buttons in the table top. The screen in front of Charles came on, displaying a map.
"Somalia." said Bert. "Years ago aid for Somalians, humanitarian aid, was captured by warlords and used by them to secure to cooperation of starving people. A gift of generosity, much of which was in the name of Christ, was turned into a weapon and a mode of torture and domination."
The screen flickered. Another part of the Earth was presented to Charles.
"Uzbekistan." said Bert. "The recent earthquake caused a great deal of death, injury and deprivation. The government of Uzbekistan has refused the entry of humanitarian aid, claiming they can care for their own people. However, that particular part of the state has been in partial rebellion for the better part of the last year. The man managing the government aid is dragging his feet, manipulating resources to starve out the people who are seeking greater freedom."
Charles nodded. He had heard a bit about this on television. He felt a moment of shame that he had paid only the tiniest bit of attention to the problem.
"I have resources in place to remove this man." said his host. "Him, and his little army. I have everything but the eyes in the sky that the big boys have."
Charles looked up. He felt a thrill, and a moment of guilt. "You plan to kill him?"
"Oh, more than him. There is some risk, however." said Bert. "To remove him and his forces, and make a large enough impact, we will probably destroy most of a town."
"Everyone?" asked Charles.
"Yes." said Bert. "Men, women, and children. Churches, Mosques, and schools. Our prayer warriors are already praying for them."
"And you want me to hijack a satellite to aid in this?" asked Charles. He could not keep the incredulity from his voice. "Why a satellite? You said you had your resources in place."
"Accuracy." said his host. "Precision. And, to let the world know we can do it.You can do it, can't you?"
There was something dangerous in the way he said it. Charles nodded, and took a long drink from his glass. Suddenly he wanted something much stronger than water.
"I thought you could." said Bert. Bertram Felix Underhill. "The question, of course, is will you?"
Charles could not lift his eyes from the screen in front of him. Twisted and burnt bodies, many of them small and delicate, danced across the screen. No, that was his imagination. It was just a satellite image of a distant land. Mangled little bodies. Charred. Broken.
"I need time to think." he said. He could hardly hear his own voice.
His host, his captor, made a small gesture. Charles was aware of a man suddenly standing by his side.
"Show our guest to his room." ordered his host. "See that he is not disturbed. He needs to pray, and wait upon the Lord. See that his meals are brought to him, and that his needs are met."
Charles stood, and followed the man from the shadows toward the door.
"We are praying for you." called his host, as he stepped from the room.
Praying for you. It had never sounded like a threat, before.