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.