Morning came early, especially for Sarah. She had set her alarm for five o’clock. While depriving her of sleep, it gave her time to scribble some notes in anticipation of discussing prophecy with Thor. And then there was the promise she had made to sew his Admiral’s stripes on his dress uniform.
In the morning’s shower she sang her favorite Sound of Music song, "I Have Confidence." It seemed to fit the occasion and her mood. She relived the last twenty-four hours in her mind: chartered jets, mind-numbing prophecies, carriage rides in the park, a thoughtful dinner, their reception at the theater, the play, and then...the moment. The words she had dreamed of hearing since she was a little girl had been spoken.
Moving on to humbler things, she strolled downstairs with needle and thread. Her knees nearly buckled as she walked past the couch. The image of him sitting there saying "I love you" stirred her all over again. It had been a night to remember.
Entering the small kitchen, she found coffee, filters, and a couple of mugs. With the pot dripping away, she tiptoed through the library toward Thor’s slightly open door, knocking softly as she peeked inside. It wasn’t yet six. He was still asleep.
Sarah found his dress uniform in the closet. Turning to leave, she stopped. He looked so peaceful. Before Thor awoke, Sarah hurried out of the room. Sitting at a table in the adjoining library, she began sewing, pondering how she was going to deal with all of this. She was putty in his hands, and she was sure he knew it. While Sarah was a virgin, she wasn’t a prude. What had been easy, or at least easier, to avoid in the past was now problematic. She no longer wanted to say no.
Last night his hands had never strayed lower than her neck. No clothing had been loosened. Yet it had been an hour of seductive indulgence. She smiled when she remembered that it had been Thor who’d sent her off to bed.
Finished, Nottingly rose from the library table and made her way to the kitchen where she poured a cup of coffee. She remembered that he liked it black. Tapping on his door, coffee in hand, she said, "Thor, time to get up."
Sarah walked over to his bed and sat down beside him, shaking him gently. "Thor," she touched his bare arm.
He smiled and began to stir. Eyes closed, he reached over and wrapped his arm around her waist.
"Come on," she said. "We’ve gotta get your lazy bones out of bed."
He opened his eyes, giving her a look that suggested other possibilities.
"Sorry, sailor. It’s already six o’clock."
Thor sat up, rubbed his face, and made an effort to pat down his hair, not wanting to scare Sarah away.
"You look fine," she said. "In fact, you look better than fine, but you’ve got a show to do. I made some coffee." She offered him the mug. "I’ve also made you an admiral; I sewed your stripes on your jacket. Now, what else can I do?"
"Good morning," he said. "I was hoping last night wasn’t a dream. You’re prettier than I remember."
"Thank you. And thank you for last night." The words seemed so inadequate. She simply smiled, stood, and walked out of the room.
Thor took a giant gulp of coffee and moved to the edge of the bed. To his surprise, he felt stronger. Some of the pain had subsided. He was able to place more weight on his injured right leg. The caffeine would soon kick in and he would be as good as new, excuse the broken arm. It was going to be a marvelous day.
Twenty minutes later, Adams was scrubbed and clothed. Once again he asked Sarah to do the honors with his tie. He liked feeling her standing behind him, breathing in his ear, both arms wrapped around his neck.
They found their limousine waiting downstairs. Pulling away, they began the short drive back down Fifth Avenue.
"Have you decided what you’re going to say?" Sarah asked. After all, it had been her job to brief him.
"Yes. It’s important to be honest with folks. I’m going to tell them the truth about what happened. But don’t worry. I’ll be discreet when it comes to our intelligence."
"What if they ask you about your promise?"
"Figuring out why they’re so crazy?"
"Yeah, that one," she said. "I don’t want to lose you to a pack of zealots off on some fatwa." She knew what Muslims did to those with the courage to reveal the truth about Islam.
"I need to learn more before I start sharing things like that publicly. Our dinner discussion was just between the two of us."
"Good," Sarah replied. "Now, you know they’re going to ask you about the President and her strategies."
"I’m prepared. I’ll respect the office while disagreeing with her policies if I have to. What’s she gonna do - demote me?"
"Not likely. It wouldn’t be in her interest." Then she paused, batting her lashes. "What if they ask about us?"
He rubbed his chin. "What would you like me to say?"
"Oh, the three words you used last night would be fine with me, but are you ready for a public announcement?"
"As much as I’d like our relationship to be private, that isn’t going to happen. So why not share how we met, how thinking of you gave me the courage to press on, even how I’ve fallen head over heels, drooling-dog-out-of-control, totally and completely in like with you." He winked as she punched him teasingly in the side.
Anwar Abu and Aymen Halaweh were back at it. They had completed their first "city conditioner," and a half-dozen additional trucks were scheduled to arrive this morning. They had even managed to find a number of young volunteers at a nearby mosque to clean the ugly beasts. Although they were eager to serve Allah, they quickly found that trash was a dirty business.
At the appointed time, Abu and his pal entered a private office and closed the door. Omen was notorious for his anal desire to stay on schedule. It was four o’clock in the afternoon in Baghdad when the phone rang, precisely seven A.M. eastern.
Anwar pushed the button. "Hello."
"How are things progressing?"
"On schedule, sir," Aymen responded. "The first of the large systems is operational. My calculations show that without refilling the particulate bins, we can disperse enough confetti to dust ten square blocks."
Just in case there were others listening, they’d agreed to call it confetti. That sounded somewhat less threatening than "anthrax spores."
"No. That’s not enough," an angry voice shot back. Kahn Haqqani’s words sent shudders down Aymen’s spine. "We need ten times that much, boy. Not buildings, not blocks. We want to infect whole cities. I thought that was why you trashed our crop duster idea and turned to garbage."
"It was, sir." Aymen beseeched Allah for the courage to respond. "Each truck can carry enough confetti to do fifty square blocks, and I’ve designed it so that we can refill the powder storage bin."
"Well, now you’re talking, boy. All we need is to find some brothers to refill your trucks, right?" Haqqani asked, demanded, and ordered, all in the same breath.
"Yes," Abu jumped into the fray. "We think we have an answer for that too, at least with your help and approval."
"Go ahead," Omen said.
"The average city block is about a hundred meters long. I’ve measured them. The trucks will be going around 40 kilometers per hour. With stop lights and stop signs, they should be able to cover a ten-block section in around thirty minutes."
Worrying about traffic signs and lights seemed hilarious to Kahn. They intended to kill a million people, and the kid was concerned about getting a traffic ticket.
"At the end of each ten-block section, we will need to have ten trash cans waiting to be picked up, each filled with the particulate." It had been Aymen’s calculation, but it was Anwar speaking. He wanted to share in the glory. "Lowe’s sells thirty-gallon plastic trash cans. We’ll need one hundred of ’em for each city."
"Actually, we’ll only need eighty per city," Aymen corrected him, "because the first batch for each truck will already be in the bin. These thirty-gallon cans, filled to the brim, are still light enough for two men to lift. Anwar and I have done it."
"More importantly, properly washed they are static free."
"And they come with lids to keep the powder dry, sir."
"Good, gentlemen." Omen knew that eliminating the static charge from the powder was as important as it’s being dry and the proper size. "I will get the particulate delivered in the quantities you need. A volunteer in each city will fax a grid recommending how he proposes handling each section. Review it, Aymen, and see if the places they designate for replenishment fit within your calculations. We’ll handle the rest."
"Yes, sir. Now, if I may ask, when will we get more trucks?"
"You should have six delivered before noon, your time. Six more will arrive in the late afternoon. I have arranged for a third set for midnight. The final five will be at the warehouse before daybreak. I assume you have found additional space to store them, out of sight?"
Anwar Abu was all too eager to answer. "The Americans will do anything for money. I rented the whole building, all four warehouses. With the damage we’ve done to their economy, they were vacant."
Kahn deflated him. "You’re good - at spending our money, that is." Actually, it wasn’t his money. Even with their "business" interests, most al-Qaeda funding came from the Saudis. The Iranians and the Iraqis were benevolent, too, but they endowed other clubs.
"Son," Omen Quagmer took over, "I can do the calculations on particulate requirements. Fifteen hundred gallons per truck means thirty-six thousand gallons all together."
"That’s right, and we’ll want one liter of confetti for each truck. That’s more than enough to cover the area required, but I’m not exactly sure what kind of yield we’re going to get, especially if it gets humid. I know that’s a lot. Is it too much?" the Palestinian engineer asked sheepishly.
Omen knew that making anthrax was easy. It’s called an "oldie-moldy" in the trade because, like the bubonic plague, it’s particularly easy to grow. Everything needed to cultivate the little buggers is readily accessible from mail-order catalogs. And a plant sufficient to produce the required amounts fits quite nicely in a standard garage.
"We are very, shall I say, motivated these days, young man. Nothing is impossible now. You convert the trucks. We will arrange for the supplies." Omen was clearly feeling the heat, and it wasn’t just the desert sun. Quality might suffer, but he would deliver the goods.
This morning they had awakened in each other’s arms. The President craved the reassurance and wanted the attention. Like all insecure people, she needed to feel loved.
The nation’s Chief Executive was dressed in her favorite black nightie, sitting up and smoking a cigar. The Secretary of Defense was nude. Lying face down, only her bottom was covered by the satin sheets. For variety, they had spent the night on the traditional four-poster in the Lincoln bedroom.
"How can you smoke that rope in the morning?" Susan asked in a muffled voice. To keep from suffocating, her head was buried in a pillow.
"It’s my victory stogie, Suzzi."
Ditroe hated being called Suzzi, but what was she to do? Complain to her boss? "And what are we celebrating?"
"I think I was good yesterday. The Couric interview went just like we planned. We’ve regained the momentum. Even the day’s little setbacks can’t stop us now."
"Little?" Ditroe said, turning on her side and bringing the covers to her chest. There wasn’t much to hide, but she suddenly felt underdressed, exposed, in the presence of a woman who would call the poisoning of thousands "a little setback."
"Oh, in the big scheme of things, Suzzi, it was nothing." She took another big puff from her cigar. "So, what do you say we go another round? You were pretty good last night, too."
"No. I don’t think so. I’m not feeling very good at the moment." Ditroe coughed. "I’m going to shower and then head to the office." Susan walked around to the President’s side of the bed, taking the covers with her. She found her teddy and robe on the floor.
"If you’re still here sucking on that thing in fifteen minutes, don’t forget to turn on the Today Show," the Secretary said, covering herself the best she could. "Your pal, ‘Colonel Doolittle’ is scheduled. You may want to hear what he has to say."
"Why?" the President asked as she watched Susan climb back into her teal robe, slipping her teddy into its pocket. "That boy will be yesterday’s news soon enough. He’s got no staying power, no political instincts. The media will chew him up and spit him out. You watch."
"I hope so, for your sake, for our sake," Ditroe corrected herself. "But I’ve got a bad feeling. I had an analyst study his National speech. That boy’s got an agenda," she added, fastening her robe. "And his poll numbers are sky high. Last night they showed him and his girl-toy gallivanting down Fifth Avenue. The crowd went nuts. He looked like JFK riding down the streets of Dallas, although I’ll admit, the end result was a little different."
"Yeah, he got shot before he went on the drive." The President took another deep drag on her long cigar, rolling it between her fingers as she removed it from her mouth.
"You know, out of uniform he actually looks like JFK, only bigger. Even she, the little tramp, looks a lot like Jackie. Doesn’t dress as well. She shows way too much leg for my taste."
"If I had legs like hers, I’d flaunt ’em too. So would you, my dear." Madam President smiled as she checked out Ditroe’s, at least what she could see of them through the crack in her robe.
Susan pretended to ignore the President’s comment. She didn’t appreciate having her legs dismissed. "If we want to push your peace initiative, we’re going to have to deal with those two."
"Listen, the sheeple want peace. They don’t want war. Not really. And as soon as we abandon Israel, we’ll have peace. The Muslims will have no reason to come after us anymore, especially once we complete our Saudi pullout. They’ve even promised to lower oil prices." She looked up at Susan. "How’s that going, anyway?"
Forgetting for a moment that she was still in lingerie, the Secretary of Defense tried to answer professionally. "Oil prices have gone up, not down. But our troops are mostly out. We have a few hundred advisors left. We’ll have the tanks and personnel carriers gone by the end of the month. And if you’ll recall, the remainder of our A-10s and C-130s left a week ago to rescue Adams. So we’re ahead of schedule."
"Good. We’re golden just as soon as we’re out of the Middle East."
"There’s nothing but crazies there anyway, Madam President."
"We had no business being the world’s policeman. Let ’em settle their own scores. That’s what I say."
"You know I’m loyal. No matter what, I’ll stay by your side."
"Good, then hop back into bed."
Susan turned on the TV instead.
Blaine Edwards was in the hospital, positive he was going to die. He had IVs in every flavor imaginable pouring their life-saving juices into each arm. But he was all alone this morning.
Having tried to finagle a double dose of antibiotics from every doctor in town, he had developed a reputation. The nurses were avoiding him like the plague. They disdained complainers and found him both rude and chauvinistic. Without the attention, he was miserable. The world was a happening place, and he was missing it. Blaine was in limbo. The network took a dim view of anchors who walked off sets during the airing of special reports. It made them look bad.
Sitting alone, Edwards had darn near worn out the nurse call button. He couldn’t understand why they weren’t swarming all over him. He was a celebrity. He didn’t know that they’d disconnected his ringer during the night. The light still blinked; they just ignored it.
In agony, Blaine was forced to watch a rival, a woman well beneath his stature, sit in his seat and deliver the morning news. She’s such a tramp. I’m sure she’s doing the boss. Why else would she have been considered for the job, much less my equal.
With sparkling green eyes, glistening lips, perfectly coiffed blonde hair, and a polished delivery, Trixi Lightheart read the news. For Blaine, this was a fate worse than death.
"FOX News has just learned that four more buildings have been hit with deadly doses of anthrax. In addition to the Prosperity Building and our own headquarters here in Washington, spores have been discovered in office buildings in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and New York."
She was speaking from their facilities in neighboring Baltimore. It would be months before their Washington studios would be habitable again, if ever. There were millions of spores suspended in the air and billions more clinging to every surface - floors, furnishings, equipment, walls, and ceilings.
In fact, depending on how well the metabolic process of the living bacteria had been suspended following the breeding process, the buildings might never be habitable again. They had become festering petri dishes. Worse, they couldn’t even be torn down. The very act of dismantling them would spread the lethal pathogen.
"Between the six business centers, an estimated twenty-five thousand people have been exposed. Experts fear that the final number could be many times that amount." The recently promoted anchorwoman concentrated on maintaining a stern, professional demeanor. Although she was thrilled to be sitting in Edwards’ anchor seat, she knew that any hint of a smile would hamper her career. And she had a lot invested in it. Plastic surgery didn’t come cheap.
"Healthcare professionals are concerned because the people working in these buildings have now gone home to their families carrying millions of spores on their clothing. Some have gone out to dinner, to the theater, or shopping, dispersing anthrax with each step."
Trixi Lightheart turned right and began to read off of the teleprompter screen that covered the lens of camera two. "A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control predicted this morning that the situation may deteriorate. Preliminary reports indicate that this particular airborne strain of anthrax is more effective in its killing power and less receptive to antibiotics. Considerable expertise was displayed in weaponizing these spores, the CDC said. At two to three microns across," she explained, "less than the width of a human hair, the spores are small enough to embed themselves into their victims’ lungs."
Blaine Edwards squeezed his call switch with such force the red button popped out and fell to the floor. Angered, he flung the remaining portion toward the doorway, forgetting that it was secured to the ceiling by a cable. It swung back as fast as it had been thrown, bruising his lip. In agony, the enraged former anchor began to scream. He was dying and no one cared.
Less than fifteen minutes after they’d left the Plaza Hotel, Adams and Nottingly arrived at Rockefeller Center. It was mobbed. Thousands had gathered to see America’s hero and his princess. They were waving and hoisting signs suggesting all manner of things. The flags around the ice rink fluttered joyfully in the background, adding to the spectacle.
Sarah had called JT and asked for an update. He had told her that Omen Quagmer and Kahn Haqqani had already claimed credit for the contamination. She had passed on the grim news to Thor.
"Any warnings about pestilence in the Qur’an, Miss Intelligence Officer?"
"No, but I’m pretty sure there’s one in the Psalms," she reported as the driver opened the door.
The Admiral felt compelled to shake a few hands and thank the folks for their support. Someone handed him a bullhorn he had been using to address the crowd.
"We love New York," he told those gathered around him. "Sarah and I appreciate your courage." At the mention of her name they cheered. Placing his left arm on the shoulder of a police officer, Thor continued, "You have suffered more than any other city, and this morning’s news on the anthrax infestation is another bitter pill. It’s about time we shut this pharmacy down!"
Thousands of people burst into a spontaneous roar. He spoke confidently into the megaphone. "We will not stand for this. We have made a promise. We are going to learn why they kill - why they celebrate killing. Within a month’s time, I will report back to you what we’ve learned, and we will put them out of business."
While the first half of that was certainly within Adams’ prerogative, his last statement was not. He had no authority to commit America to anything, especially war, but he had grown angry when Sarah shared that it had been Haqqani’s and Quagmer’s doing. The thought of thousands more dying at the hands of those he’d tried to capture tormented him.
Having said more than he should have, Adams returned the megaphone and with Sarah’s help walked inside. They were promptly escorted into the make-up room where a staffer greeted the guests.
Sarah recognized the man’s voice. He had been the one who had called Thor’s apartment. "I trust you enjoyed the flight, dinner, and show?"
"Yes," she smiled. "We’ve had a lovely time. Thank you."
Her voice sounded familiar to him as well. "When would you like to fly back home?"
Sarah answered again. "Tomorrow, sometime in the late afternoon. Does that work for you?"
"We’re at your disposal. The Admiral is the most sought-after guest we’ve had in quite some time." He hadn’t forgotten the President’s appearance the day before. "We’re pleased that you’ve honored us with your first interview, sir. We’re expecting one of the largest audiences in our history."
"We couldn’t help but notice the crowd. It seemed bigger than usual." Sarah had watched the Today Show and knew that they made a habit of mingling with the folks that gathered outside.
Thor had been quiet until now. He had never been made up before and wasn’t sure he liked it very much. He motioned the make-up artist away and turned in his chair. "I may have overstepped my bounds," he confessed. "I was angered that Haqqani and Quagmer took credit for the anthrax contamination. I’m only an Admiral. I don’t have the right to promise resolution," he said, wishing he did.
"Yes, I know. You were on camera. It was great," the exec smiled. "We always have one outside when the crowd is part of the story. We had no idea you were going to say anything, but you were live on national television. And I must say, you were very well received."
Sarah didn’t know how to counsel him. She knew General Hasler had called him aside warning him about such outbursts following his speech at Reagan National. But she agreed with what he had said. So did the country. By saying it, however, he had put himself squarely in opposition to the President of the United States. That’s an unforgiving place for an admiral to be. It was likely he would lose his job, as would she. The only question was who would be dismissed first.
Thor looked over at Sarah as if to say, now what?
She didn’t respond.
"Sarah. I need your advice."
"I know, sweethear...Admiral. I think you did the right thing. It may have cost you your job, and mine, but...."
"You’re not mad, not even disappointed?"
"No. I’m proud of you. Let’s figure this thing out, like you promised. We’ll do it together. Being unemployed will just give us more time."
The exec turned to Sarah. "Agent Nottingly, with what you’ve just said, would you reconsider? Will you join the Admiral on the show?"
She looked over at Thor, who nodded. "Yes, I believe I will."
"Make-up!" he shouted. "We need another make-up." He darted out of the room. He couldn’t wait to share the good news.
Chairman Hasler arrived at the Pentagon early. He had wanted to see the show with his staff so they would be prepared for any questions that might arise as the day progressed. He knew that Adams had the potential to be controversial. But he had no inkling it would be this bad - or good, depending upon your perspective.
"Mr. Chairman," his administrative assistant interrupted the gathering. "The Secretary of Defense is on the line."
"Put the call through, Judy." The entourage of generals, admirals, captains, and colonels got up to leave, knowing that the Chairman was in hot water. But he motioned for them to stay.
"Good morning, Secretary Ditroe. How may I help you?" General Hasler said into his speakerphone.
"Are you watching the Today Show?" she asked.
"Then you know why I’m calling."
"The President wants you to relieve Admiral Adams."
"I do not think that would be wise, Madam Secretary." Rather than simply refusing the order, the Chairman elected to counsel his boss. "He’s the most popular man in the country, maybe in the world, right now. Firing him isn’t a very good idea, especially for a politician."
"Do you have a better solution, General?" she asked. Ditroe was barely dressed, and her hair was still wet. "The President’s livid."
"Yes, ma’am. I propose commissioning him. Invite him and Agent Nottingly to the White House. Play nice. Ask him to chair a blue ribbon panel to look into all this radical terrorist stuff."
Ditroe wanted to say no. She cringed at the very idea of having that woman’s legs in the President’s presence again. But it was too shallow an excuse, so she searched for a better one.
Uncomfortable with her silence, Hasler shared his rationale. "If the commission fails, you can blame it on him, saying he just wasn’t cut out for such a thing. Even if it succeeds, it’ll take years, and it’s sure to get mired in partisan bickering. His report will be so rife with compromise it’ll be ignorable. You and the President can give it lip service and go on your way. But at least she’ll still be President and you’ll still be Secretary of Defense."
It was a compelling argument. In their arena, Adams would surely prove to be mortal. The power of politics was ultimately corrupting. Given time, they would find his Achilles heel. Ditroe remembered the President’s advice: stay close to your friends and closer to your enemies. "All right, Mr. Chairman. I’ll propose it to the President and call you back with her decision."
In truth, the General had no use for blue ribbon commissions or any other political masturbation. He merely wanted to buy time. If forced to fire the Admiral, he would resign instead, and so would hundreds, maybe thousands, of senior officers. That wouldn’t be good for the nation. For once in his life, Hasler had his priorities straight.
Katie Couric and Matt Lauer decided to do the interview together. It was one of the biggest of their careers. They had their staff hastily arrange for a fourth chair in as casual a setting as possible. They wanted America to see them as sympathetic to, even supportive of, the world’s most popular couple. This morning they would be tossing softballs - nothing controversial.
Sarah was almost disappointed when the make-up artist stopped fussing. She loved the experience. Thor, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to leave. He thought he looked ridiculous, not knowing that everyone endures the same treatment. The glaring studio lights are murder on unprepped skin.
Matt Lauer was gracious as he shook hands and welcomed Sarah and Thor to NBC’s Studio 1A. Katie Couric was responsible for announcing their arrival. She scurried over the moment she was done, sitting down without comment. A professional, she was saving her personality for the show. The lights were raised, and crews dashed back to their positions. Thor could see an assistant director holding up a hand, mouthing five, four, three, two, one as he eliminated fingers. He pointed to Lauer, who introduced his guests. He told the audience the long and short of Adams’ career: enlistment in the US Navy, intelligence training, fleet appointment to the Naval Academy, F-18 Hornet pilot, oldest man to survive SEAL training. Then he recounted his most famous missions, ending with his heroics in Afghanistan.
Couric described Sarah’s past: graduation from William and Mary, a graduate degree in economics from UVA, her work for the National Ground Intelligence Center, and her role at the CIA. The camera showed her holding hands with Thor.
"Well, thank you very much," Adams said, standing up. "It’s been a pleasure being on your show."
The hosts’ faces went ashen.
"Just kidding." He sat back down as everyone smiled, including the crew. "That introduction was so long, I thought it was the interview. My mistake," Thor said with an impish grin. Then he added. "Matt, I was wondering if you’d be available for my eulogy? The way I’ve been living, I may need one soon."
This time even the hosts burst into laughter.
"I thought you were bulletproof." Matt played along.
"Well, I am against death, especially mine. But as you can see," he added, raising his slinged arm, "I’m not bulletproof."
"A hero with a sense of humor," Katie exclaimed. "Maybe that’s why so many are saying you two have brought a smile back to our nation."
Matt and Katie traded questions about the trap, the crucifixions, and the rescue. Thor answered each with disarming humility and heartfelt sympathy for those who had suffered. The heavy lifting over, Lauer inquired, "How did you meet?"
"I was responsible for briefing the Admiral - Captain at the time - on the intelligence we’d collected on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s leadership. I thought he was cute, very sweet. But being in intelligence, I knew he had a girl in every port. So I pretty much just did my job."
"But..." Thor interrupted, "she did give me a good-luck kiss on the White House lawn before the mission. I don’t think that’s required by the CIA."
Katie was next. "We heard you talk about the girl back home on the videos from Afghanistan, and we watched your embrace the day you returned. America feels like we’re part of your romance. You’ve become our prince and princess."
"Katie, I’m no prince. Frog, maybe; I’ve got my share of warts. But I agree with the princess part." He winked at Sarah.
That was enough small talk for Thor. He was on a mission, and it was time to move out. "Katie, Matt, we’re here because the world needs answers. It’s time we understand our enemy and stop deluding ourselves. The terrorist problem is much bigger, and it runs far deeper, than we realize." He had just unloaded both barrels.
"That’s right," Sarah agreed. "We’re going to get to the bottom of this. No matter how unpopular or politically incorrect the answer may be, we’re going to expose the enemy, find what makes the madmen mad, and then figure out what can be done to stop them."
"Admiral Adams, outside this morning, you went one step further," Couric challenged.
Matt leaned forward in his chair. "That was quite a speech you made. It sounded presidential. Do you have any political aspirations?"
"No. I’m not a fan of politics, Matt. I’m no good at compromise. I respect people with character," he said, turning his focus to Couric. "I prefer progress to positioning, Katie, reality to perceptions. I respect people who are willing to intelligently debate an issue. In short, I’m the antithesis or what makes a good politician."
"Sounds perfect. I’d vote for you," Katie exclaimed.
"So would I," Matt volunteered, sounding genuine. "Tough times require tough leaders."
"The most recent polls show you beating every candidate in both parties, including the President. Why not run?" Katie asked the question that was on everybody’s mind.
"Katie, Matt, you don’t know if I’m a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat. Nor does America."
"It doesn’t matter. America needs to feel whole again, safe. We need to smile. You’ve brought laughter back. We’ve seen you under fire, Admiral, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I liked what I saw."
"That’s kind of you, but right now Sarah and I are on a mission. With good intel we have a fighting chance of winning this war."
Matt remarked, "Some are comparing you to a modern-day JFK. Actually, you and Ms Nottingly even look a little like Jack and Jackie."
"In a way, the comparison is interesting. I’ve listened to John Kennedy’s speeches. And while he’s considered a liberal, his convictions were right of today’s conservatives. He was a proponent of supply-side economics. He was right about Communism being evil, right about the need for a strong defense. He recognized that we pay for our freedom with either coin or blood. More than anything, he was right when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Think about that," Thor implored. "Nothing good happens without sacrifice."
Katie, like most in the media, loved the Kennedy quote, but she had never considered its implications. Nor would she today. Instead of discussing the profound nature of what Thor had just shared, she changed the subject. "Yesterday we had the President on our show. What do you think about her plan to solve these problems peaceably by getting out of the affairs of other nations, by no longer trying to be the world’s policeman?"
"I’ve never met a bully who was impressed with capitulation, or one who was satiated when he got his way. Giving the terrorists what they want will backfire, Katie. Israel is our only real friend in the Middle East, the only democracy and, from what I can tell, the only voice of reason. Abandoning Israel will only serve to inspire the bullies. Historically, the ‘peace process’ has invariably led to war. If we capitulate there, we will simply move the battlefield here."
"Some would say it’s already here. Yesterday was a prime example."
"Thank you, Katie, for saying that. It gives Sarah and me the opportunity to apologize. We failed, and we’re sorry. Our plan was to capture the terrorists, but they got away, and more people will die as a result."
Sarah tugged on Thor’s hand, indicating she wanted to say something. "Yesterday morning the President boasted that it was all over, now that the Admiral’s international force had captured Halam Ghumani. But based on this morning’s news, that just isn’t so. There are hundreds of Ghumanis, and they have millions of followers. America spent countless billions trying to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Yet the madness marched on without missing a beat. If I’m going to get fired, I might as well get my licks in.
Trying to lighten the mood, Matt changed the subject. "So, Sarah, is America’s most eligible bachelor accounted for? What do you have to say to the millions of women out there who’d like to be in your shoes?"
Sarah, comfortable on any stage, stood up and pretended to throw punches in the direction of the camera. "I say, put ’em up, girls." Laughing, she ended her pretend sparring session and turned to Thor. "Maybe your question should be directed to the Admiral, Matt. Mr. Bachelor, are you still available?" She put up her dukes again, threatening to KO Adams if he answered poorly.
Instead of speaking, the Admiral stood, grasped Sarah’s clenched hands, and pulled them toward his chest. Then, in a move that melted the cameras, he kissed her on the lips.
"No, I don’t suppose he is," Katie guessed as they cut to a commercial break.
"Halam, my good friend, they want you crucified."
That wasn’t the most pleasant of greetings. Yet its recipient was unfazed. "They’ll not have the pleasure," Ghumani told his attorney.
"I’m good, but I can’t get you out of this place. No one can."
They were whispering so as not to be overheard. The lawyer had arranged to hold the meeting outside. They walked slowly through an open area in the center of a military prison not far from Washington, D.C.
"I believe I can get you life instead of death," the attorney added brightly. "My firm holds sway over a great many politicians here in town as well as many of the most prominent people in the media. They’re beholden to us. We can use them to help shape public opinion, make you look like a victim, and justify your actions. We’ve done that sort of thing before."
"Do what you can to promote our cause. That’s what we pay you for. But listen well." Halam looked his advocate in the eye. "They will not have the pleasure of seeing me tried, because you will help me kill them."
"Kill who?" the lawyer asked nonchalantly.
"All of them. You will help me rewrite history. I’ve had some free time," Ghumani said, stating the obvious while hobbling along. "I’ve been reading the only book in this godforsaken place. I have decided to bring Armageddon to the Infidels."
The attorney was being paid by the Brethren, a group of religious power brokers in Washington. He knew that Armageddon was prophesied to be the last battle fought on planet earth. It was apparent that, with time on his hands, Halam had been reading the Bible. "I thought that battle is supposed to be fought in Israel, Halam, not America."
"That’s why I said we would be rewriting history. You don’t listen very well for a lawyer."
"I’m sorry, sir. What, precisely, would you like me to do?"
Following the Today Show, Sarah and Thor made the short pilgrimage from Rockefeller Center to Ground Zero. A massive depression was all that was left of the mighty towers, of the businesses, of the people. A fading memory for most, it moved the agent to tears.
Adams was on his knees, facing the other direction. On the back wall of the viewing platform, erected so families could mourn their loved ones, he saw a note, now faded and yellowed. "My daddy is Mike Wholey. I love him." The child had glued a picture of her papa to the middle of the page. She’d signed her name in crayon at the bottom: "Megan."
Thor stood and turned to Sarah. "If for no other reason than for Megan, I will learn why those bastards killed her father."
The ride back to their suite at the Plaza was quiet. One little girl had said enough. Upstairs, they settled into the cozy library. Sarah lit the fire, though one was already raging within both of them. Its crackling sounds had become their song.
"Are you ready to go to work?" she asked as she sat down in the chair next to his.
"Give me your best shot." He took a deep breath, distracted. Mike Wholey’s soul was haunting him - as were Megan’s tears.
Somber, Sarah knew she had to press on, to get her man to reengage. Exposing what had killed NYPD’s Mike Wholey and three thousand other colleagues and friends, husbands and wives, dads and moms, sons and daughters, would take more than Adams had to give. He would need help.
"Sweetheart, the reason Megan no longer has a father is explained in this book." She opened her Bible to the beginning and placed her hand over the pages. "It tells who the murderers are, why they kill, and even how we can stop them."
"How?" Adams was eager.
"No. You’re not ready to hear the answer. If I were to give it to you now, you’d either misinterpret the message or rush off half-cocked and make things even worse. You’re a warrior - and an agnostic. To appreciate what this book has to say, you first have to come to grips with its inspiration. And only then will you grasp the causal link between these words and Islamic terror."
Thor looked puzzled. Why is she withholding information. He wanted resolution, now. "If the answer to why terrorists killed Megan’s father is in that book, I want to know. I need to know."
"Yes, I understand. And it is, so over the next fifteen minutes I’m going to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that these words were inspired by God, not made up by men. I’m going to demonstrate that God is not only knowable, but also that he wants us to know him.
"To do that, I’d like start on familiar ground. You know the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, right? We’ve talked about how Ishmael was Abe’s illegitimate son through Hagar, his wife Sarah’s Egyptian slave. Isaac’s birth was a miracle. Sarah was ninety at the time." She smiled. "That’s a good wife’s name, don’t you think?"
"Are you suggesting something?"
"Who, me? I’m not that kind of girl."
The Admiral gave her a sideways look. "So Isaac became the father of the Jews, and Ishmael, the Arabs."
"Well?" Thor implored, pointing to his cheek. "You promised."
"This may take twenty minutes," she scolded him, tugging at his ear. She kissed his cheek anyway.
"A promise is a promise."
"That’s right. Thanks for the segue. A dress rehearsal is like the promise of something to come, right?"
"Then let me tell you a story." Sarah turned to the 22nd chapter of Genesis. "Isaac had grown into a fine young lad, the spitting image of his father when God called. ‘Abraham,’" Sarah intoned in her best godlike voice. "‘Here I am,’ Abe answered.
"God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah.’ Abe was in Beersheba at the time, about twenty miles south of where Jerusalem is today. The Jewish Temple would later be built on Mount Moriah, Thor. Jesus was crucified on its slopes. The Muslim Dome of the Rock is there now."
"Okay. I know that place."
"Then God said something that must have brought Abe to his knees. ‘Sacrifice Isaac there as an offering for the forgiveness of sin.’" She emphasized the phrases she wanted him to remember. "This morning, I heard this really cute guy say that nothing good happens without sacrifice."
"That would be me," Thor smiled.
Raindrops began to pelt the window next to the small table. Flashes of lightning and distant thunder added to the drama.
Sarah returned to her story. "The next morning, Abraham, being the faithful guy that he was, got up early and saddled a donkey. He cut enough wood for the offering and set out with his son. ‘On the third day he looked up and saw it in the distance.’ Mount Moriah. He told his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while Isaac and I go and worship. We will return to you. Abraham took the wood upon which Isaac was about to be sacrificed and placed it on his son’s back.’"
"It’s not a very nice story so far." Thor complained. "Can you imagine being Abe? You’re a hundred and something years old and finally your cute-old-hag-of-a-wife gives you a son. Then God tells you to sacrifice him! What’s up with that?"
"You’ll find out, but for now just imagine the faith required to follow such orders."
The Admiral shook his head slowly.
Sarah loved sharing things with him. "As the two climbed up the slopes, Isaac, ever the trusting and obedient son, asked dear old dad, ‘I see we’ve got the fire and the knife, but where’s the lamb for the sacrifice, pop?’
"Abe answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the offering, my son.’ Yes, indeed he will." Sarah editorialized.
"So he doesn’t sacrifice his son," a relieved Adams said.
"Oh, yes, He does, but Abe doesn’t."
"Huh? Oh - of course he doesn’t," Thor realized. "If he did, how could Isaac be the father of the Jews? Duh."
Suddenly a lightening bolt struck a tree near their corner of the park, rattling the windows and startling Sarah. The crackling sounds of electricity bristled in the air. Thor touched her face.
Regaining her composure, professor Nottingly pressed on. "When father and son reached the place God had told them about, Abe arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and laid him on top of it. Thor squirmed.
"Have you ever seen guys bound and strapped to wood before?"
Sarah nodded, continuing the story from memory. "Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife, intending to slay his son. But as he did, the Lord called out to him from heaven. ‘Abraham!’" she repeated in her pretend godlike baritone. "‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy. You have shown that you love me.’"
Thor looked a little pale. "That’s a tough test, Sarah."
"You want everything easy, don’t you sailor? Easy women, easy God...."
"No. But you made your point." Rain streaked down the window.
"Now for the good part. Abraham looked up, and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. It was the same thicket that two millennia later would tear at the head of another only son, another sacrificial lamb, who would also be bound and laid upon a piece of wood, at the very same place. He, too, would ride on a donkey, endure three days of hell, and be totally obedient to his father, even sacrificing himself for us, bringing mankind back into fellowship with God."
"I get it. You’re saying this was a dress rehearsal predicting how, where, and why Jesus would be crucified. Who wrote this story?"
"Moses," he repeated. He rubbed his chin. "Then I suppose Passover could have been another dress rehearsal. In Egypt, firstborn sons were spared when the blood of a lamb was wiped on the door frame."
"Then Moses leads his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. He writes down their history and starts what becomes the Bible." Tapping his fingers on the table, he added, "If I’m not mistaken, these same guys, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, and Moses play staring roles in the formation of Islam, too.
As if on cue, the sky flashed with lightning; thunder shook the windows again. It was a good day to spend inside with a friend in front of a warm fire. "Like I told you," Sarah said, "there’s a direct link between these words and terrorism, one that will become all too obvious."
"Then, speaking of obvious, anyone who died as described: on the slopes of Mount Moriah, with a thicket of thorns on his head, claiming to be the son of God, saying he was dying to forgive the sins of others...."
"...riding into town on a donkey, being gone for three days and then returning after being bound and laid on an altar of wood," Sarah completed Thor’s improbable list, "would qualify as the fulfillment of this prophetic dress rehearsal. Abraham even called the place ‘The Lord Will Provide’."
He gazed out the window. "Well beyond coincidence, I suppose."
"Yeah, ten billion to one, because only one man claiming to be the Son of God was sacrificed on this spot and in this manner. Actually, the most amazing of all of the Messianic prophecies is Daniel 9, but I want to save that one for last."
"Okay, but why?"
"In that prophecy, Daniel predicted the exact day the Messiah would enter Jerusalem, which in itself is pretty amazing. But he did it over five hundred years before it happened."
"Hey, speaking of Jerusalem, I made plans to visit the guys in Israel. Why don’t you come with me!"
She didn’t know what to say. Sure, she wanted to go, but the words didn’t come.
He reached for her hand. His fingers interlaced hers. Smiling, they searched each other’s eyes - green staring into blue, hazel into sapphire. "C’mon, Sarah. What do you say? The guys are great. You’ll love ’em."
"You know I want to go. It’s my favorite place. And I’d like to meet your friends, too."
"So, what’s the problem?"
He looked so official, still wearing his officer’s uniform. Thor had removed the jacket, but there was little question he was someone to be reckoned with. And who could turn down a man who was willing to smooch on national television? Besides, she thought, I’d be a fool to let him go alone, surrender or no surrender.
"Okay, I’ll go but...."
"Separate rooms." He paused. "Sarah, about last night...."
"Yes, I know I can trust you. It’s me I’m worried about, not you," she confessed. "I’ve never felt like that before."
"Me neither." That surprised her. He stroked her hand. "When we’re done here, let’s talk about how we’re going to handle this, okay?"
"I’d like that."
"So teach," Thor said, returning to the lesson, "Lay ’em on me. The prophecies."
"Okay. Let’s start with his birth."
"O little town of Bethlehem." Thor responded.
"Right, but did you know that Bethlehem was but one of two thousand towns in Israel at the time?"
Sarah opened her Bible to Micah 5:2. "‘But you, Bethlehem, so small among the clans of Judah, from you will come forth one whose origins are from long ago, from the days of eternity.’"
"Based upon the number of alternative towns, the odds that Jesus would be born in the right place are one in two thousand, " Thor figured assigning probabilities to each fulfilled prophecy might be a good way to keep track of their progress. "Y’know, it’s really hard to arrange your birth."
Sarah smiled as she wrote down the number. "God being born into the world as a baby is interesting in itself. Isaiah 9 predicts, ‘A child will be born to us, a son will be given, and his name shall be Almighty God.’"
Looking at her notes, she turned to Isaiah 40:3, reading, "‘The voice cried out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’ How many rulers or kings do you know of that had an advance team proclaiming their mission before they even began their public life?"
"None. There have been thousands of revolutionaries, thousands of rulers, generals, and kings, but I’m not aware of any that were proclaimed in advance. Propagandists follow coronations. They never precede them. So who was this voice?"
"You never went to Sunday School, did you?"
"No. Sorry. But I’m making up for lost time."
"John the Baptist. He’s not only recorded as having done this very thing in the Gospels, but also by Josephus, the most famous...."
"Yes, I know Josephus," he said in a disgusted tone. "His work is respected by historians, but not by the military, ’cause he was a traitor. Anyway, I suppose the odds of having predicted hundreds of years in advance that Jesus would have a publicist proclaiming him to be God, is also better than a thousand to one. Never happened before or since."
Sarah wrote it down. "Jesus was the only religious teacher who claimed to be God, Thor. And he’s the only one eyewitnesses claimed to have performed miracles."
"I suppose you’re right. Moses was a liberator. Confucius and Buddha were just teachers. Muhammad was a messenger, and the founder of the Hindus is all but mythological. None of ’em claimed deity.
"But Jesus did. He said he was the one the prophets had foretold. She thumbed to Second Samuel 7:11 and paraphrased. "Here the prophet Nathan is speaking. He tells King David that one of his direct descendants will be God’s son and have an everlasting kingdom; in other words, he’ll be the Messiah."
"Okay. The Jews were a fraction of one percent of the world’s population at the time Jesus was born, just like today. That would make the odds against any one man fulfilling the bigger part of this prophecy approximately five hundred to one. But let’s be generous and call it a hundred to one."
Thor started to analyze it. "Now the fact he had to come from one of the twelve tribes of Israel is obviously twelve to one. But the odds that he would be able to show that he was a direct descendant of one particular man in that tribe, namely David, is a big deal. If we knew how many folks were in David’s tribe at the time...."
"David took a census," she shared. "There were five hundred thousand men in the tribe of Judah who could handle a sword, in other words, half a million adult males of ‘reproductive quality.’"
"Reproductive quality. That’s pretty clever."
"I thought so." She winked. "And there’s more to this than meets the eye. Not only were both Mary and Joseph direct descendants of King David, at the time of Jesus’ birth, the records to prove it were available in the Temple."
"The same Temple that was destroyed after Christ’s crucifixion?"
"Yep. Jesus was born in the last generation that could actually prove Messianic lineage. If he had been born later, the prophecy would have become meaningless - impossible to verify."
"All right, Miss Cleverness, that would make the odds a person could prove he was a direct descendant of David one in five hundred thousand. But I’m sure you know it’s much more extreme than that. Odds are cumulative, meaning that the likelihood of all of these things happening is 2,000 x 1,000 x 100 x 12 x 500,000. That’s a bunch."
Nottingly reached into her purse and pulled out a tiny calculator. She was prepared. She used the tip of her nail to punch in the numbers. The result was already too big for the display.
"Try this," Thor suggested. "Punch in 2 x 12 x 5."
Thor had already done the math in his head but didn’t think it would be good form to outshine the teacher. "Now add thirteen zeros," he said.
"That makes the odds against these five things happening by chance to any one man, 1 in a 120 followed by thirteen zeros." The number even surprised Sarah. "What’s that, a thousand trillions, a million billions? It’s almost laughable."
"That’s right. A scientist would note it as 1.2 x 1015. Also known as impossible. But I’ll bet you’ve got more."
"How about this one?" she said. "Zechariah 9:9. ‘Your king is coming to you, endowed with salvation, humble and riding on a donkey.’ How many of your revolutionary types came into town on an ass proclaiming salvation?"
"None. So he was a humble guy. A humble God - it sounds like an oxymoron. Let’s say the odds are a measly ten to one that such a person would humble himself this way."
Sarah jotted down another note. "He’ll be betrayed by a friend, Psalm 41. Sold out for thirty pieces of silver, Zechariah 11. The betrayal money will be thrown down in the temple and then used to buy a potter’s field."
"If those things happened, the odds for all of them occurring as predicted would be better than a hundred to one. How do we know they did?"
"Everything we’re talking about was preached by the disciples to the citizens of Jerusalem immediately after they occurred - and there were tens of thousands of witnesses. Many converted from Judaism to Christianity during a time when the Jewish rulers, the Sadducees and Pharisees, would have done anything to snuff out the new faith because it was a threat. All they would have had to do was correct the record - demonstrate that Jesus missed fulfilling any one of the required prophecies. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t.
"Did you know that archeologists have found a bunch of tombs in Jerusalem that date back to the time of Christ? Many have crosses carved into them, proclaiming Jesus to be their savior, their Messiah."
"Crosses, huh. If nothing else, those tombs tell us that Allah’s a liar. He claims that Jesus wasn’t crucified."
Sarah agreed but stayed focused. "There’s even more to it than that. Much of this was recorded by eyewitnesses and passed along in writings that became the New Testament, some within a decade or so of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. They’ve discovered twenty-five thousand ancient manuscripts confirming the accuracy of these accounts."
"Yep. Even secular historians like me know that the Bible was the most frequently copied and most widely circulated book of antiquity."
"The second most prolific is Homer’s Iliad, isn’t it?"
"Yes, but we have very few old manuscripts of that available to us. And the time lapse from the events they describe to the oldest parchment is ten times as many years as for the New Testament." Thor spoke from a position of knowledge. "You’re on solid ground here, Sarah. The Bible is the best preserved, the most accurate and detailed account of ancient history. However, being detailed and accurate doesn’t mean it’s inspired."
"No, but Biblical critics have worked overtime trying to disprove its validity by pointing out historical discrepancies."
"Yes, it’s true. But they all seem to embarrass themselves instead. They said that there was no evidence the Jews were ever in Egypt. Then we found inscriptions proving they were. They said there were no Hittites as described by Moses, but recently we’ve found ample evidence of their existence. The critics even said that there was no historical precedence for Mary and Joseph having to come to Bethlehem for a Roman census. But archeologists have found those records too."
"You do love your history." Nottingly checked her notes and scanned Psalm 22. It described the manner the Messiah would die. "Listen to this, Thor. ‘I am poured out like water; my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax. It has melted away within me. My strength is dried up and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. Evil people encircle me; they have pierced my hands and my feet, yet none of my bones are broken. People gloat and stare at me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ Does that sound familiar?"
Thor looked stunned. "My guys’ arms were all pulled out of their sockets. They said it felt like their hearts had melted, depriving them of the strength they needed to get the others down. Like the Psalm said, fluids poured into their lungs, leaving them so thirsty their tongues were literally stuck until we gave them water from our canteens.
"I’ll never forget it, Sarah. The Muslims encircled my men, gloating, hurling insults at them. Of course, you know they pierced their hands and feet, but did you know they stole their garments too, the SFGs? It happened exactly this way to my men. Who predicted this guy was going to be crucified, and when?"
"David did, one thousand years before it happened. Five hundred years before crucifixion was even invented."
"Good grief." Thor rubbed his head. "Okay then, how do we know he’s talking about the Messiah?" Adams asked.
"Listen to the rest of the Psalm. You tell me if this sounds like your average unlucky schmoe hanging on a cross in Nowheresville. ‘Praise him, all you descendants of Jacob; glorify him, stand in awe, Israel. Those who seek the Lord will praise him. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to him, and all the nations will bow down before him, for he rules over all.’"
"Okay, you win. Sounds like God hanging on that cross. Not the kind of thing you’d expect."
"Oh, it gets better. ‘Those who cannot keep themselves alive will kneel before him. Posterity will serve him. Future generations will be told about him. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn - for he has done it!’ Psalm 22, my dear."
"Goodness. Hard to misinterpret that one."
"Sounds pretty clear to me, too," the beautiful agent proclaimed.
The Admiral loosened his tie. "There are no odds for this sort of thing. A hundred million to one wouldn’t do it. And it’s hard to misinterpret what you just read. Heck, with the Dead Sea Scrolls I can’t even claim the Psalm was later altered to fit the facts."
"That’s why I’m a believer. So what do you think, sailor?"
"It’s like Psalm 102, only worse, in a better sort of way. It’s hard to find a rational answer apart from...." It was hard for him to say.
"I believe God inspired David to write these words so we’d be able to recognize who Jesus was - who he is."
"Recognizing it is one thing. Dealing with it is something altogether different."
Sensing that Thor needed some breathing room, a little time to reconcile recognition and acceptance, Sarah returned to familiar ground. "Why don’t we complete our probability calculation?"
Thor appreciated the gift. "Okay. But I’ve gotta tell you, that Psalm 22 hits pretty close to home. Prior to a week ago, I’d only heard of two mass crucifixions," he said, "the Spartacus slave revolt outside Rome and the one in 70 A.D. at Jerusalem, again courtesy of the Romans. I’ll bet fewer than one in a hundred million people have been crucified, especially with nails in the hands and feet. The Assyrians invented crucifixion, but they tied their victims. It was the Romans who increased the pain by using spikes." Thor agonized over those he had cut to free his men.
"The Prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would die alongside criminals. His appearance wouldn’t be anything special, that he would be truthful and never do anything violent. Yet the empowered would despise him. Isaiah said he would suffer and be pierced for our sins, and by his wounds we would be healed." Sarah read from Isaiah 53. "‘All of us like sheep have gone astray, each has turned his own way; but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.’" With each word, Thor’s heart softened.
"‘Oppressed and afflicted, he didn’t complain or try to defend himself. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.’ Now catch this, ‘After the suffering he will see the light of life; his days will be prolonged.’ He’s predicting the resurrection. ‘By knowledge of him, my righteous one, many will be saved, for he will bear their sins.’"
"That sounds just like that John, what was it, the sports-stadium verse - John 3:16, doesn’t it? I thought you said this was from Isaiah, not one of the New Testament guys.
"It is, Thor. Everything I’ve shared with you is from the Hebrew Bible. It was all written five hundred to fifteen hundred years before Jesus was born. The Prophet Isaiah made his predictions seven hundred and fifty years before any of these things happened. The New Testament writers didn’t make this stuff up. They were witnesses to it."
"Y’know something? I expected this to be a fair fight. Sure, I thought I might lose. But this borders on overwhelming."
Sarah smiled. "In other words, proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Thor took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "So you want odds on a guy never doing anything wrong being executed as a criminal. A thousand to one. That he’d do it for this specific reason, that a guy would be willingly die on a cross to save humanity, is preposterous unless he’s the real deal, but why don’t we give that a one in a thousand chance, too."
Sarah wasn’t done. "The prophets also promised that he would be beaten, that he would be silent before his accusers at his trial, that his bones wouldn’t be broken - like your friends - that they would gamble for his garments, that his side would be pierced, that the earth would shake, the sky darkened, and that he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb. They even said that his body would not decay. All of this happened the way they predicted."
"The last one alone is the whole deal, isn’t it?" Thor observed.
"If he rose from the dead, then he’s God. It’s a lay-down hand from that point on. Frankly, it is anyway, Sarah. I don’t now how I’ve managed to run from this all my life - how anybody confronted with these prophecies could deny...." The Admiral searched for the right phrase, but it didn’t come.
Sarah nodded. "Mankind’s fate hung on that cross. Yet our eternity was born in the empty tomb."
"I suppose you’re gonna convince me of that too."
She just smiled. It had been enough for one day. "Let’s just finish your probability calculation. We’ll deal with resurrections another time. So what are the odds that one fellow could fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies?"
"One in ten on silence at his trial. Knowing the Romans, the same odds on broken bones. I’d say half that on gambling for clothes, and the same for the pierced side, although that was uncommon. And no decay? These guys let their victims hang so long, the birds would peck them to the bone. They’d throw the remains into a common burial pit. Thus a rich man’s tomb and a body that would not see decay, for a crucifixion victim, is a bazillion to one, but let’s just say a thousand to one on each to be ridiculously conservative. But coordinating your crucifixion with an earthquake and darkness in the middle of the day, well, that would take some doing; it’s a million-to-one shot, Sarah. I presume there’s evidence of that."
"The prophecy is in Amos 8. God swears by the ‘pride of Jacob’ - that’s the Messiah - ‘I will never forget their deeds. The land will tremble for this.’ Amos says that God ‘will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’
"Matthew reports the fulfillment. ‘Now from the sixth hour’ - that’s noon - ‘there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.’ Then he says, ‘The earth shook and the rocks split.’ Two Greek historians from the first century, Thallus and Phlegon, both independently reported that a strange darkness blotted out the sun for three hours during Passover in the year A.D. 33 - the year, day, and time of Jesus’ crucifixion."
"Let’s face it. The odds against all of this happening as predicted are astronomical." Thor didn’t need to be a math major to figure it out.
Nottingly added up the score. "That’s 10 x 100 x 100,000,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 x 10 x 10 x 5 x 5 x 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000,000, which is twenty-five followed by thirty-one zeros to one."
"Now," Adams suggested, "multiply that by.... Actually multiply 25 by 1.2, our first figure, and then add the original 14 zeros plus another 31 zeros." He wrote it out. "That’s going to give us odds of one in, wow... 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 that your Jesus could have fulfilled them all by chance. That’s thirty billion trillion trillion trillion, I think. It’s three times ten to the..." Thor started counting zeros. There were an awful lot of them. "Three times ten to the 46th power. If you add in the odds of Jesus fulfilling every aspect of the Abraham-Isaac dress rehearsal, it’s 1056 power. Just to make the odds a crapshoot - you’d have to have...." Again, Thor wrote the incredible number on her notepad: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. "That’s how many people you’d need to have lived on planet earth for it even to be possible."
"Maybe he just got lucky," Sarah quipped.
"A lucky crucifixion. Now there’s a thought."
Sarah chuckled. It was all so absurd, in a majestic sort of way.
"It’s hard to believe there are any agnostics," Thor said. "Not with odds like these. Especially when you combine all of this with what we talked about on the airplane, about the Jews returning to Israel.
Adams tapped his fingers on the table. "Speaking of returning, Sarah, where is that predicted? Isn’t that the rift between Christians and Jews?"
"Isaiah 11:11 is one of many. He says God will return and gather the remnant of his people."
Thor thought about his Jewish friends. "You said all this stuff was from the Hebrew Bible, yet Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Amazing."
"Yes, but when they do, they actually become more complete Jews, by forming a relationship with their Messiah. And when we gentiles accept the Messiah as our savior, we become grafted in to the living tree that is Israel. According to Paul in the book of Romans, Christian roots are Jewish roots. In a way, Thor, I’m an adopted Jew.
"So because the Jewish religious leaders were threatened by Jesus, the Jews have been estranged from their own Messiah for centuries."
"Right. And what’s even more amazing is today, those who accept him are Israel’s greatest supporters. Christians are more committed to Israel than are most liberal Jews - especially secular Jews. Your friends should read this stuff if they want to understand why."
"I agree, but they’re going to find these prophecies real uncomfortable," Thor said.
"Yet with so much at stake, they need to know. The validity of their scriptures, the war on terrorism, the future of their nation is tied to their prophets’ words."
"Maybe even their souls."
"And yours, my dear."
"You’re probably right, but give me time," he added, turning to look out the window. "I’m halfway there, Sarah. I’m no longer an agnostic. There is a God, of that I am certain. These prophecies alone prove it. As for the rest, dealing with the boy from Bethlehem..." Thor shook his head. "I’ve got a lot of old baggage I need to discard - forty years of living in a very different..." he wanted to say "world," but he couldn’t. It was obvious that God had his fingerprints all over this one. He didn’t even know why he was resisting.