by Alex Shvartsman
The false messiah was a giant of a man. He was seven feet tall, long-haired, broad-shouldered, and olive-skinned, his long beard curled in layers of elaborate ringlets, in the style
depicted on ancient Babylonian tablets. He was dressed in a plain white cotton tunic. He stood in
front of a sizable crowd, his hands raised skyward, his face radiating unnatural calm.
We watched from the café across the street as gawkers rapidly filled the small Jerusalem
square. People of all faiths and walks of life flocked to the spectacle. Ever since Gilgamesh had
shown up claiming to be the divine messenger of an ancient god, he'd been quickly gaining
followers--people always look to those who can make the most lavish promises in turbulent
times. Our job was to expose his miracles for the parlor tricks they were and to knock him down a
"The whole 'meek shall inherit the earth' thing doesn't quite ring true with this beefcake,"
said Abby. "Look at him. He's more Goliath than David."
"That's Christianity," I said. "What this fellow is peddling predates Christ by millennia."
Abby didn't reply. She'd barely tolerated me ever since I took charge of the Coffee Corps
with the help of an eccentric British billionaire. I saw this as saving the organization that was
going to be defunded and dismantled otherwise; she saw it as a hostile takeover.
I tried my best to win her and the others over. They'd work with me, but only because they
believed in our mission. Abby was here, half-way around the world, because she wanted to
neutralize a potential threat and not because of the pile of money we were offered by the Israeli
"What I don't understand is, why Jerusalem?" I said. "He claims to be a prophet of Enki,
who was worshipped mostly in what's modern-day Iraq and had nothing to do with this city."
"Every wanna-be prophet or holy man must come to Jerusalem," said Avi. "This is the
heart of the world, the most important city for many faiths. I'd expect any . . . freelancers to
Avi was our Mossad liaison. He had a Dome-of-the-Rock-sized chip on his shoulder. The
kabbalist-sorcerers in the employ of the Israeli secret service were among the world's best, and
Avi wasn't overly subtle with his thoughts about outsiders like us being brought in.
I would've much preferred to work with people who actually liked me. I missed my days
as an IT guy who stared at lines of code and ate donuts while field agents handled situations like
this. But the world had changed, and these days I was considered the foremost expert on Java
Espresso--the programming language of magic. The Israelis suspected the false messiah was
using this techno-magic to perform his miracles, so they hired the Coffee Corps to debunk him.
We had agents in the crowd whose phones and tablets were loaded with programs
intended to detect any equipment running Java Espresso nearby and to counter whatever spells
those devices were set up to cast. Abby, Avi, and I observed from our vantage point at an
outdoor café table. Abby drank a strong espresso from a tiny cup despite the heat. Avi sipped
from a tall glass of iced mint tea.
The messiah's eyelids fluttered open and he observed the crowd, which now overflowed
from the square into the surrounding streets.
"Children of Enki," the messiah spoke. His voice boomed as though enhanced by a state-of-the-art sound system. It was the first evidence of magic at play and our agents primed their
gadgets looking for its source. They didn't look out of place: hundreds of people were snapping
photos and video of the big guy. "I am Gilgamesh, the eternal hero and protector of mankind, and
I bring you good tidings from your one true god."
I ground my teeth as I ran scripts on my tablet. False messiahs and prophets were a semi-regular occurrence, but this guy took it a step too far by claiming to be Gilgamesh, the hero of the
world's oldest surviving saga. The real Gilgamesh was sort of the original superhero and I'd
admired him as a kid. I'd enjoy exposing this impostor for the fraud he was.
"For too long the greedy and the corrupt have led you astray," said Gilgamesh. "Their holy
books filled with thinly veiled hatred, their divisive screeds causing centuries of discord and war.
But, no more! Cast aside these false godlings, pledge your allegiance to Enki and I will shepherd
you into an age of unprecedented prosperity--not in some hypothetical future that remains just
outside one's grasp for generation after generation, but here and now."
Like most successful charlatans, the big guy was an effective and charismatic speaker. In
the weeks since he had first appeared on the streets of Jerusalem he'd already built quite a
following. In the square there were orthodox Jews, Arabs in Keffiyeh headdresses, and all manner
of people wearing crosses. Most of them hung on his every word, as though he were Warren
Buffett handing out stock tips. You could tell who the newcomers were because they looked a lot
more skeptical than the rest.
"Jesus is the way and the truth," shouted one such man.
The crowd jostled him and some of the believers appeared ready to rough him up, but
Gilgamesh held out his huge palm to stop them.
"Yeshua was a mortal who walked these streets briefly some time ago," he said. "Time
turned his bones to dust and silver-tongued liars turned his life into legend. His god is merely a
fiction, a pale shadow of Enki subverted by cynics." He waved his hand. "Look around. Where is
your Yeshua? Where is the Mahdi, or the Mashiach, or whoever else the liars choose to represent
that which shall never come? I am here now. If their god is all-powerful, why won't he strike me
The man who called himself Gilgamesh seemed to have no trouble speaking over the
susurrus of the crowd, which drowned out all other sounds. He made a fist and thumped it against
"I am Gilgamesh, the eternal hero, returned to this mortal form by the power of Enki, the
one true god. I'm imbued with a fraction of his power so I can offer you proof--proof, rather than
faith--of his divinity."
"Here we go," I said.
Abby nodded. Her eyes narrowed as she studied Gilgamesh. Avi stared at him too, but his
gaze seemed distant somehow, as though he were falling under the big guy's spell. I touched his
shoulder and Avi shuddered. He took a moment to compose himself.
Someone brought a case of bottled water to Gilgamesh, who waved his hand over it. The
liquid turned from clear to crimson.
"Turning water into wine is even easier than walking upon it," he said. "In Enki's name I
can do greater things."
Gilgamesh's acolytes passed the plastic bottles into hundreds of eager hands reaching
toward them. Then a limping, hunchbacked old man was brought before him. Gilgamesh touched
his palm to the man's forehead and spoke guttural words that sounded like no language, living or
dead, I ever heard. The crippled man cried out in surprise and joy as he straightened up and
walked away on his own power.
"Anything?" I asked over the comm in my ear.
"I'm not detecting a thing," replied one of my agents. The others assented.
The next supplicant was brought forward in a wheelchair.
"He may not be using programmable magic at all," I told Avi. "If he is, he's especially
clever about it."
Avi's shoulders slumped. "My people haven't been able to identify the source of his
powers, either," he said. "Those are real sick people, too, not actors. We've checked."
"We should proceed to the next phase," said Abby.
"Hang on," I said. "Whatever his motives, he's actually curing those people. Do we really
want to prevent this?
Abby gave me what I came to recognize as the who put the computer jockey in charge
"We don't know what he's doing to them, or how, or why," she said. "There was a faith
healer in New Mexico back in the eighties who seemed effective. Except everyone he healed later
turned out pregnant with alien hybrids. Including the men."
I frowned as I watched Gilgamesh restore an old woman's eyesight.
"All right." I tapped the intercom. "Phase two. Go."
Our agents in the crowd switched from the passive detection apps to the much more
aggressive programs designed to counteract an opponent's magic.
Gilgamesh appeared to have sensed the disruption, and ceased ministering to the woman.
He faced the crowd, his narrowed eyes seeking the source of the interference. He pointed his hand
and all three of my people began to glow with intense red auras. "Look, children of Enki. There
are operatives among you, who've come to stop me from speaking the truth and spreading the
blessings of the one true god!"
I couldn't see this through the press of the crowd, but my agents later recounted how the
people surrounding them turned on them, jostled them, knocked their phones out of their hands.
The self-proclaimed messiah's followers shoved and tripped my people as they expelled them
toward the edge of the square. It was a miracle no outright punches were thrown, but then their
ringleader did claim to preach a message of peace.
"We have to get at him when he isn't surrounded by a crowd," said Avi.
I slid a few banknotes under my cup and we beat a hasty retreat.
"Where in blazes are they going?" Someone voiced the sentiment shared by everyone in
the room as we watched the drone footage. On our screens the column of over thirty thousand
newly minted worshippers of Enki followed their massive messiah out of Jerusalem. They headed
northward on foot.
We had sought an opportunity to confront Giglamesh for days. His every step had been
monitored both by spy drones and arcane trackers. The messiah had been surrounded by his
disciples at all times. Even when he slept, dozens of them camped out around him, resting on
blankets and rugs, impervious to the unexpectedly cool Jerusalem nights.
The Mossad had sent several agents to infiltrate the ranks of his followers. They failed to
blend in, as though they had been strangers among people who, until days ago, had been their
fellow citizens. A few who managed to penetrate the tightly knit group had failed to return,
seemingly joining the cult for real.
To make matters worse, Gilgamesh's crowds had grown exponentially. His message and
his miracles resonated with the jaded masses despite whatever education and sophistication was
afforded to them by their modernity, as effectively as the messages of Jesus or Mohammad had
appealed to their followers many centuries ago.
"I don't care," said the liaison from the mayor's office. "I'm just glad to see them go."
Planeloads of pilgrims arrived daily and the streets of Jerusalem swelled with people
hoping to catch a glimpse of Gilgamesh. The city government and the police, adept at handling
almost any situation in one of the world's most volatile cities, were overwhelmed. No action could
be taken without endangering the many people surrounding their spiritual leader who had
technically broken no laws.
And then, without warning, Gilgamesh solved their problem for them.
"Gilgamesh just gave an impromptu speech to his followers by the side of the road near
Shilat," said Avi, looking up from his laptop. He was receiving updates from the Mossad farseers
in addition to the drone data.
All heads turned toward him.
"They're headed to Megiddo where, and I quote, they're to 'usher in the new era.' They're
taking the scenic route, passing by the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Haifa to gather more followers,
so it will take them a few days to get there."
"Megiddo?" I asked. "As in . . ."
"Yeah," said Avi. "The Greek called the place Armageddon. The supposed location for the
final confrontation between the forces of good and evil, according to the Christian bible. That
"Megiddo was, historically, a Canaanite city," said the deputy minister of something-or-other. The room was packed with bureaucrats and military brass, and I'd quickly lost track of
most of their names. "Canaanites were among the last cultures to worship Enki. Perhaps we
shouldn't overreact by citing a scare screed written by some disciple from an entirely different
religion centuries later?"
Abby flexed her jaw as she stared at the deputy minister. "Arm-a-ged-don," she said
slowly, enunciating each syllable. "Do you really want to sit back and hope that a creepy fictional
character who claims to be the messiah taking his thousands of followers to what's prophesized to
be the site of the end of the world is just a coincidence?"
There was a murmur of assent. Soon the discussion shifted from what to do about the
procession to precisely how to stop it.
I caught up to Abby on the way out of the meeting.
"Great job in there."
"I only stated the obvious. Besides, someone with experience in dealing with arcane
threats had to show initiative and leadership, and if you weren't going to do it . . ." She trailed off
"Look, I know you aren't comfortable with me being in charge of the Coffee Corps, but
I'm doing my best, and if you give me half a chance I might pleasantly surprise you."
She fixed me with the same glare she'd treated the deputy minister to earlier.
"You've had multiple chances, Kyle. You failed to protect our network from hackers, you
spilled state secrets to the world at large, and the minute they let you out of prison you picked up
right where you left off, causing a submarine full of people who'd dedicated their lives to
protecting the world from the Deep Ones to sink in the South Pacific. So forgive me if all I expect
from your so-called leadership is more of the same." She made air quotes when she spoke the
When I didn't have an immediate response, Abby stomped off.
I wished there was a way to prove my good intentions, to wear my heart on my sleeve. It
stung to have people I worked with, people I respected, treat me as a dictator thrust upon them
by luck and circumstance. Best I could hope for was to prove my worth and my vision for the
Corps on missions like this one.
Even if it meant a head-on confrontation with a messiah.
The Israelis set up a road block on a patch of highway outside Tel Aviv where collateral
damage could be kept to a minimum. Police in riot gear stood behind a row of tall rectangular
shields made of see-through polycarbonate. Their shield wall made them look like Roman
legionnaires, but instead of swords and spears they were armed with batons and pepperball
launchers. Armored vehicles behind them brandished water cannons. There were no real guns, nor
any obvious presence by the IDF--the Israeli Defense Forces. The government was concerned
with the optics of using deadly force against unarmed civilians regardless of the ancient deity
those civilians worshipped.
Twelve men clad in unseasonably warm tunics and fur hats--the traditional garb of
European orthodox Jews--stood in front of the police line. They were the kabbalists working for
the Mossad, an equivalent of the battle sorcerers employed by the U.S. government and, from
what little we knew of them, twice as dangerous.
My team and I were set up behind the police vehicles, as a backup line of defense. There
was some debate as to whether to utilize us at all. I was told the rabbi in charge of the kabbalist
unit was actually the one to sway the decision makers to include us; Gilgamesh was like nothing
any of us had faced before and they felt it couldn't hurt to have an outsiders' perspective, even
once it became clear the big guy wasn't using programmable magic to fake his miracles.
When the column of Enki worshippers appeared in the distance it was like a scene from
some zombie movie. A teeming mass of people steadily advanced toward the blockade like a
battering ram approaching castle walls.
I zoomed in on the live drone footage and found Gilgamesh. He was situated near the
front of the column but not quite at the front--any attack against him would hurt a hundred or so
people who walked shoulder to shoulder ahead of him.
When the column's vanguard approached the barricade, the lead kabbalist stepped
"Stop!" he shouted, his voice magically enhanced in a manner not dissimilar to what
Gilgamesh himself had been using. "By the order of the Knesset you're to disperse."
A young woman in a flowing dress advanced to stand directly across from the kabbalist.
She spoke in Hebrew; my software displayed the English translation onto my screen.
"What right do you have to impede us? We broke no laws. We're merely exercising our
"You may challenge the Knesset's decision in the courts at a later date if you so wish,"
said the kabbalist, "but for now you must follow my instructions. The one who calls himself
Gilgamesh is wanted for questioning and is to come with us."
The woman ignored the kabbalist and addressed the policemen behind him. "You can
choose not to be complicit in this act," she told them. "Have we not learned from the past? The
rich and powerful of their time had arrested Yeshua of Nazareth much like your leaders are now
trying to arrest the messiah himself. Do you want history to remember you alongside the Roman
soldiers who drove nails into the flesh of a man whose only crime was to worship in his own
The policemen, used to angry crowds throwing rocks and firing bullets at them, shifted
uncomfortably as they observed the placid worshippers. Peaceful protest wasn't something people
in the Middle East were accustomed to.
The kabbalist must've sensed he was losing the argument. He ignored the woman and
focused on Gilgamesh as he chanted in Aramaic. The other kabbalists joined the chorus and soon
Hebrew characters made of flame glowed in mid-air before them.
I'm not sure what spell they were going for because Gilgamesh raised his palms and a gust
of wind extinguished the flames, blowing embers of the erased letters in the faces of the
A battle of magics ensued. It wasn't flashy, as neither side used physical spells. The
kabbalists didn't want to hurt the people around Gilgamesh and he seemed to exercise equal
restraint. Our equipment showed the powers used by both sides were off the charts, but whatever
spells the kabbalists tried seemed to have little effect on the messiah.
Despite previously appearing cool and comfortable wearing their garb in the scorching sun
the kabbalists were now sweating profusely. One of them fell to his knees, panting.
"Their magic should be having a greater effect," said Abby. "It's as though they're
somehow using the wrong frequency."
As she said this, something clicked for me. I zoomed in not on Gilgamesh but on some of
his followers, and their facial expressions were familiar to me.
"They're cultists," I blurted out.
"What?" Avi and Abby asked in unison.
"The control Gilgamesh has over them is exactly like the mental manipulation of the Old
Ones." I turned to Abby as I pointed at the screen. "Do you see it?"
She frowned. "I see what you mean, but this is nothing like the tactics of the Old Ones."
"Neither was their using computer hackers against us." I typed furiously on my laptop,
bringing up information. "What do we know about Enki?" I asked, scanning the text. "He's the
god of seawater, associated with both the oceans below and the constellations above. He's
supposedly slumbering deep underground; his temple is described as the 'house of the watery
deep,' and he's depicted as a man covered in fish scales."
Avi gaped at the screen over my shoulder. "Are you saying--?"
"Enki is a Deep One!"
Abby stared at me, and for a second I thought she'd challenge my conclusion. Instead, she
grabbed her tablet and began loading an array of programs the Corps used to keep the Old Ones
at bay in New England. She shouted for the others to do the same.
The Coffee Corps may not have had any experience confronting messiahs, but it's been
successfully defending our corner of the world from the threat of the Old Ones for decades.
Things weren't looking good for the kabbalists. Although Gilgamesh held off using
outwardly offensive magic, he did something to sap their energy and strength. One by one they
slid to the ground, until the line of riot police parted and their Mossad minders half dragged them
to safety. With the kabbalists out of the way, the policemen brought their cannons and pepper
spray to bear on the advancing cultists.
The column shifted and dozens of children stepped forward. Some were as young as four
or five years old, others in their early teens. Mothers carried babies toward the front of the line.
The children advanced toward the shield line, their expressions serene.
The line of hulking, armored policemen shuddered and began to retreat.
We activated our software.
An amalgamation of spells and incantations from dozens of Earth cultures, recited
flawlessly and with incredible speed by computer programs, slammed into Gilgamesh and he
screamed. It was an unearthly sound full of pain and rage, stripping away the calm, authoritative
demeanor he projected onto his followers.
The mob of unwitting cultists surged toward the police blockade, threatening to trample
the children in their vanguard. Their faces reflected the pain and rage of their puppet master and,
despite having faced the tentacled servants of the Old Ones in the past, it was the scariest thing I'd
The police opened with water cannons, powerful jets beating back the human tidal wave.
"Switch to the deprogramming mode," I ordered.
This was an untested, brand new suite of software that Coffee Corps developed under my
leadership. Having recently faced increasingly devious threats from human cultists, we've designed
countermeasures. Drinking coffee regularly fortifies one's mind from the corrupting influence of
the Old Ones, and while we didn't quite know why that worked, we'd attempted to program spells
that would replicate the effect. The program our scientists and arcanists developed wasn't as
powerful as real coffee, but it worked well enough on the test subjects. Combined with cult
deprogramming techniques, it freed a number of poor souls from the influence of their eldritch
masters by activating the same chemical interactions in their brains as consuming coffee would.
But that was in a lab. We were about to field test it for the first time, on thousands of enthralled
Again, I half-expected Abby to object, but she loaded the deprogramming app, as did the
rest of my agents. We activated the new software and it was as though thousands of sleep-walking people had buckets of ice water dropped on their heads.
The surge came to a halt, with Enki's followers confused and disoriented at first, then
running to escape from the policemen and their jets of actual water. People screamed and ran in
all directions, trampling over each other. It was utter chaos.
It took the police and the government officials the better part of an hour to restore order.
By the time things calmed down a little, Gilgamesh was gone.
The Coffee Corps didn't have enough equipment or manpower to fight him and run the
deprogramming mode on his victims at the same time. I made the call that would save the lives of
those victims, and the villain was able to escape. But that was all right. We knew where we'd find
The IDF didn't mess around. They provided all the equipment and manpower we could
possibly want. Veteran commanders who had never faced the supernatural followed our
outlandish instructions without question.
"Gilgamesh ordered his followers to go to Megiddo," Avi shouted over the noise of the
helicopter as it carried us northward. "Hundreds have gathered there already."
It was amazing how many people listened to Gilgamesh despite the government
broadcasting the false messiah's true nature non-stop since we'd successfully thwarted him at Tel
Aviv hours earlier. Many people simply dismissed the warnings as fake news and redoubled their
efforts to get to Megiddo, evading hastily gathered patrols and sometimes forcing their way
through in open confrontations.
Gilgamesh had a head start on us. We had to prepare our forces, and Megiddo was only
an hour's drive from Tel Aviv. Israel is a small country, barely larger than New Jersey, and it's
easy to get somewhere fast when you're not walking alongside thousands of enthralled cultists.
Fortunately, it's easier still when you're riding in a convoy of military helicopters.
We watched the drone footage of the fools who willingly converged on Megiddo even
while they were outside of Gilgamesh's range. They gathered on the bald patch of igneous rock
the size of a football field, which contained a dilapidated waist-high stone structure built of
boulders. From the bird's eye view of the drone its outline looked like an uneven rectangle etched
into the ground by a giant toddler.
"What in the world is that?" asked Abby.
"It's a harrat," shouted Avi. "They're ancient gate-shaped rock formations found all over
the Levant." He leaned closer to the tablet, squinting at the cultists who crawled over the harrat's
outline like ants. "I didn't know there was one in Megiddo."
The cultists lined up along the edges of the harrat and linked arms. Gilgamesh stepped
forward and gesticulated wildly. Without sound, I couldn't tell if he was casting spells, issuing
orders, or preaching to his followers.
"You might consider authorizing a missile strike before he completes whatever ritual that
is," Abby said to Avi.
"We're four minutes out," Avi replied. "How long does a ritual take?"
"No idea," I said. "We don't even know what he's trying to do."
"I bet he's trying to raise his master," said Abby. "If he succeeds the loss of life will far
surpass the head count for the cultist party down there."
"I say we stick to the plan." I rested my hand on Avi's shoulder as he was about to contact
the command center. "Those people down there are deluded or enthralled, not evil. If we see them
as collateral damage, if we look at them from above and deem them insignificant, then how the
hell are we better than Enki and the other inhuman things we oppose?"
If my words didn't entirely sway Avi, they at least stayed his hand long enough, and then
the point was moot as our three Black Hawk helicopters hovered over Gilgamesh and his
followers and released their payload.
It was indeed a ritual. Gilgamesh stood encircled by alien characters hastily scratched in
the dirt. He shimmered with an unhealthy jade glow as he spoke. His words were still inaudible to
us, drowned out by the rotors.
His followers stood with their arms interlinked, facing inward. Their expressions were
blank--even the spectacle of three helicopter gunships arriving overhead didn't make any of them
And then it rained coffee.
Instead of bullets or missiles, the helicopters sprayed gallons of strong, brewed black
coffee over the site. It fell like a midsummer shower over the harrat, soaking Gilgamesh's fine
white robes, and drenching the human link-chain around him.
We activated the deprogramming software and broadcast the spells it generated from the
helicopter speakers. And although they, too, were partially drowned out by the noise, their effect
combined with the coffee was enough. The people below appeared confused and disoriented like
the ones near Tel Aviv. Their chain was broken and most fled in different directions away from
Gilgamesh ignored the helicopters, the fleeing people, and the coffee rain. He continued to
chant. And then the earth shook with a mighty heave and the dirt and rock inside the harrat
collapsed into blackness.
The false messiah looked up at us for the first time and shook his fist in triumph. Although
the ground around him had given in he remained standing on the inky black surface of the huge
portal he had just opened. All around him nightmarish beasts were crawling out.
Before I had the chance to switch from the deprogramming software suite to something
we could use to fight this threat, the three helicopters opened fire.
Guided missiles exploded on contact with the surface of the portal, releasing the bulk of
their energy downward and through wherever the portal led. Bullets from the machine guns
mounted on the sides of the helicopters ripped into the monsters below, blowing chunks from
them as though they were nothing more than plush toys.
A missile landed at Gilgamesh's feet and pulverized the evil god's emissary in fractions of a
With Gilgamesh gone, the portal shuddered, flicked in and out of existence several times,
and finally disappeared for good.
We remained on site for hours, making certain no monster managed to escape through the
portal into our world. The IDF rounded-up the unfortunate would-be cultists, deloused them with
our deprogramming software, and administered first aid.
By nightfall we were exhausted, and ate a quick meal at the makeshift camp. Afterward,
Abby pulled me aside.
"The researchers agree with your hypothesis," said Abby. "Enki appears to have been a
Deep One who went rogue. He tried and failed to gain foothold in this area thousands of years
ago. The ancient people somehow managed to stop him and, apparently, he chose to try again
now. Lucky us."
I nodded. "I'm more interested in how effective the modern weaponry was against his foot
soldiers," I said. "All this time we've been doing everything we could to stop the Old Ones'
incursions into our world. Could it be that our technology has advanced to the point where we
can defeat them without magic?"
"No way," said Abby. "Enki was a third-rate Deep One, acting alone through a cultist or
an avatar--whatever Gilgamesh was--who attempted his ritual while drawing on the life forces of
only hundreds of worshippers instead of the tens of thousands he had intended. A ritual we
interrupted before it was complete. Who knows what he could've summoned otherwise? Perhaps
even Enki himself?"
She smiled at me. "You did all right for a desk jockey. Perhaps I should give you that
chance to prove yourself, after all."
I felt like I had earned more praise than that, but this was a step in the right direction. For
now, that would have to do.
Despite being exhausted by the long, eventful day I reached for my laptop. The logistics
plan for dismantling every harrat in the Middle East and beyond wasn't going to write itself.