America’s prince and princess boarded the El Al 777. They would soon be winging their way toward the most contested place on earth: the Promised Land. The Admiral was on the mend, now able to walk, albeit with a pronounced limp. His right arm and hand were healing.
Yet to his chagrin, he still wasn’t up to being a beast of burden. The slender Sarah was hefting both their carry-ons, heavy cases packed to the brim with books, notes, and even a gun or two. Okay, four. The powers that be had given them a special dispensation.
Thor’s reading list was similar to Sarah’s. Slowly but surely, they were homing in on the enemy, coming to understand the events that had led to the world’s most recent Waterloo.
"What’s your pleasure, oh cute one?"
"How about a back rub followed by an hour or two of smooching? No, wait," he teased, "the smooching should come first."
She shook her fist, pretending to clobber him on the chin. "You’ve got a one-track mind, flyboy. I meant what would you like to do first: relax, read, eat, or grapple with one of the three subjects we planned to cover?"
He smiled. "Grappling sounds good."
"And you, princess, have more energy than any ten guys I met at BUD/S, Stanley included."
"Last week you called me ugly and retarded. Now you say I remind you of ten smelly guys at camp. You’re a tough one to please. I don’t know why I put up with you."
They had given almost as much blood as a suicide bomber. Anwar Abu and Aymen Halaweh were having a time of it. Working day after day, late into the night, inside these revolting beasts had tested their mettle and tried their resolve. As they struggled to install their creations, the dark, dank confines of these monsters haunted them. They had battered and beaten their knees, elbows, and heads into submission. They began to view themselves as martyrs, earning their tickets to Paradise.
Unfortunately, their leadership didn’t see it that way. Half a world away, they salted their wounds with criticism. While each day’s call provided an opportunity to crawl out of the stench-mobiles, it was hardly a reprieve. Impatient, Kahn and Omen began their conversations by chastising their American operatives for delays and cost overruns.
"I’m sorry, but the trucks you’ve given us are garbage. They’re beat up, so worn out we can’t get the access we need. Everything’s rusted tight. And the bolts that aren’t rusted are stripped." Aymen wasn’t having fun. "We can’t even weld our machinery in place. The metal’s too fatigued."
"I’ve had it with the two of you complaining." Kahn wasn’t pleased. "Allah’s got a special place for women who whine."
"We are not miracle workers," Aymen protested in his most masculine voice. "Handling something as small, and deadly, as this confetti is difficult. We’re trying to spread something infinitesimally small evenly over many kilometers. Don’t you see how impossible this is?"
"There are no failures in Paradise. Either succeed or prepare to explain your shortcomings to Allah. Personally." Haqqani liked being able to intimidate others in the name of God. It made him feel superior.
"We will not fail," Anwar returned bravely.
"Weren’t you pleased by Anwar’s success, sir? The office conditioners were effective. They infected far more infidels than you’d planned, thanks in no small part to Abu’s handiwork."
Omen responded curtly. "Did he conceive the brilliant idea? No. Did he raise the capital to make it possible? No. Did he arrange for the manufacture of the insidious disease? No. Did he install these devices? Answer these questions and I will tell you who is worthy of praise."
There was no winning with these people. Quagmer had just made that abundantly clear. If the boys complained, they would be replaced. There was no shortage of disgruntled Muslims in search of excitement.
Trixi Lightheart was having the time of her life. Having clawed her way into the anchor’s chair, she was a happy girl. Off camera, that is. "The death toll from the most recent terrorist attacks keeps rising." She reported, "34,667 people have tested positive for inhalation anthrax." The media’s fascination with body counts and their disdain for investigative journalism were all too evident. It was as if the disease was more interesting than the vermin spreading it.
"According to healthcare workers, half of those stricken may die over the next two weeks. Anthrax is particularly hard on seniors. The majority of those over fifty may succumb."
To a medley of horrible visual images Lightheart went on to chronicle what the victims could look forward to. "The first warning signs of inhalation anthrax typically appear within five days, although the spores can lie dormant in the body for months. The symptoms begin with muscle aches, fever, chills, headache, and a general feeling of malaise."
That sounded bad enough, but she wasn’t through. "As early as the second day, victims awake feeling exhausted, often with a dry, hacking cough. Their sputum is tinged with blood. Then it gets worse. By the third day, those infected endure an acute shortness of breath, nausea, and tremendous pain in their chest as fluids begin to collect in their lungs."
Graphic images of people suffering through each progressive stage of the disease continued to be shown as Lightheart reported the grim news. "Vomiting begins as victims enter their third day. This phase is accompanied by a scorching fever and horribly labored breathing. The body slips into shock if treatment isn’t well underway by this time. Death follows."
America had come to realize it knew precious little about this disease. Experts had thought that it took ten thousand spores to trigger a case of anthrax. They believed it had to be puffed into a breathable cloud to permeate the lungs. Neither factoid was true. Anthrax didn’t have to be inhaled to kill, as previously thought. Simply touching a spore-covered surface was sufficient. Cross contamination was common. No one had a clue how few of the little critters it actually took to bring an unlucky victim down. And then there was the Houdini factor. The spores managed to travel in unpredictable ways - popping up inexplicably in the oddest places. The disease, it seemed, made no more sense than the Muslims spreading it.
On schedule, the El Al jet passed roared over the Atlantic on its Great Circle route to the Holy Land. The dinner dishes were cleared. "Are you ready?" Sarah knew that Islamic terror could not be understood apart from the Bible. Originally based upon an odd recasting of Biblical accounts, Islam ultimately turned and attacked its heritage. This bizarre reversal was at the heart of Muslim militancy.
"We’re gonna discuss the resurrection, right?" Thor returned. "You believe the miracle man rose from the dead after he was beaten to a pulp by the Romans and nailed to a cross."
"Sure. Why not? Up to this point the odds he wasn’t God are a thousand million billion trillion to one. Why not beat death?"
"Speaking of odds, Thor," she said, clearing her throat, "have you ever thought about how impossible we are if God isn’t?"
"Yeah. That’s why I was an agnostic, not an atheist. It’s impossible - about the same odds as Jesus just being lucky."
She shared some of what she knew. "Everything starts with stars, but stars are just gigantic nuclear furnaces, turning hydrogen into helium - the lightest elements."
"Yes, but we’re made of heavier elements. Carbon, for example, is created during the death of second-generation stars. Once formed, these heavy elements have to coalesce into planets and orbit the proper distance from a third-generation star. That process takes up about two-thirds of the time evolutionists say is needed to make the impossible seem possible." Adams loved physics and astronomy. He was a geek with muscles.
"Very good," Sarah said, a little surprised. "Then all of these heavy elements need to bang together in just the right way. Scientists figure the chances against this happening in the precise manner and place it needs to is about one in ten to the sixtieth power. And that’s a problem, statistically. There aren’t that many particles in the entire universe."
"Yeah, but it gets worse," he added. "When the primordial life-form succeeds in beating the impossible odds, it needs something to eat to survive. Typically, it must consume life to live. And it needs a digestive system to process the nutrition once it finds it."
"Then it needs to figure out a way to reproduce itself - within that first generation - or all is lost and we’re back to one chance in ten to the sixtieth power all over again." Sarah looked away, grappling with the immense improbability of it all.
Thor added fuel to the fire. "I think the biggest problem to the It-Just-Happened theory is DNA. It’s a language, a code that tells every cell how it needs to play with the others. There is no way to explain its spontaneous generation." Thor was interested in the development of languages, believing, as did most historians, that the invention of written language was man’s greatest achievement. Was DNA God’s?
"The Second Law of Thermodynamics is another problem for the Abra-Kadabra theory. Without an outside source of energy, things always go from order to disorder. And even with a whole lot of added energy, if it’s not controlled, things just melt down. The Twin Towers is a tragic example." She paused, looking for a better one. "If you were to drop a deck of cards out the window of an F-18, they wouldn’t align themselves numerically in suits on the way down or play a game of bridge. They would simply scatter to the winds. Pulling them back together and organizing them requires an intelligent outside influence."
"I didn’t know F-18s had windows."
He smiled. "Then tell me: how did we evolve from relatively simplistic life forms to vastly more complex organisms?"
"We didn’t. Oh, there’s micro-evolution within species, sure. And that’s entirely consistent with a Creator. But spontaneous generation leading to us - machines more complex than any we can build or even imagine - takes a leap of faith beyond reason."
"Yes, because it requires mutations to be a positive thing. With evolutionary theory they’re the only way viable new species can appear."
"Problem is, mutations are almost always harmful; in fact, they’re usually deadly."
Thor nodded, soaking it all in.
"There are few - if any - transitional species in the fossil record, and there would have to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them for global evolution to be plausible."
"Right, and there’s little evidence of upward or macro-evolution either between differing life forms or en masse from less complex creatures to more complex ones. In fact, the fossil record shows explosive and sudden appearances of all kinds of related groups - like crustaceans, fish, dinosaurs, or birds - but huge gaps between these groups."
"That is the inverse of what the theory requires to be valid."
"Evolution from ooze to humans is irrational. Yet it’s preached with religious zeal. It’s sad how easily delusions are perpetrated."
"You’re going to find evolution a hard nut to crack, Miss Smarty-Pants. Too many isms depend on it. Marx credits Communism’s rise to Darwinism. His theories were essential to the early success of Nazism. The secular humanists all preach it, ’cause without macro-evolution they don’t have a leg to stand on."
"Funny boy," she laughed. "Bottom line? It takes a greater leap of faith to believe that we happened by chance, the haphazard offspring of the big bang, than to believe that there’s a God who created us."
"Like I said, that’s why I was an agnostic, not an atheist. In fact, the big bang theory itself only makes sense in the context of a Creator. The universe is otherwise missing ninety-nine point five percent of the energy or mass needed to make the laws of physics work."
He looked into her eyes. Enough small talk. "Now, since you think Jesus was the creator of the universe, tell me about the resurrection. Why did he come here? Why did he have to be crucified?"
Sarah interlaced her fingers and stretched. Easy questions, hard answers. "One can make, buy, or steal most anything - anything except the most important thing. Love. It’s like nothing else."
"So I’ve noticed."
She smiled. "It can be given away and you’ll never run out; it can be received and you’ll never have too much." That made him smile. "But it cannot be forced on anyone or taken from them against their will. Even God can’t force love. It requires choice."
Sarah swiveled in her seat. "Man was created out of a spirit of love. And God wanted his creation, us, to love him in return. But he knew that required the option not to love him."
"I’m with you so far."
"In the Garden of Eden, that lush land between the rivers - the very region that historians like you regard as the cradle of civilization - an option was provided. A tree was planted, the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.’ It stood there providing man with a choice. That made him neither lapdog nor robot. We’re told that on one fine day, perhaps a week, perhaps a hundred million years, after God breathed his spirit into Adam, he and his bride chose poorly. With a little demonic encouragement, they disobeyed. They chose not to love their maker."
"That’s what unleashed hell’s fury? Bad fruit?"
"No, silly. Adam and Eve turned their backs on God. Hell is simply what happens when we distance ourselves from him. If you want to know what that’s like, go visit Auschwitz sometime, the Gulags in Siberia, or the killing fields in Cambodia. According to the Bible, that’s all hell is - separation from God, nothing more, nothing less."
"Having read the Qur’an I can assure you that Allah’s rendition of hell is far more colorful. A certain terrorist training camp in northern Afghanistan serves as proof," he suggested.
Nottingly pressed on, trying not to remember. "We all have a choice to make: love God or reject him."
"Is that why God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?"
"Yes. It proved that he loved God. And as you know, with the story of Abe and his sons, God, the ultimate storyteller, choreographed a dress rehearsal."
"God’s sacrifice of his own son," he acknowledged.
"Right. Now think about what followed - the resurrection. Why would the Apostles make up a story like that? I mean, if it wasn’t true, why take the risk? No other religion claims that their founder beat death. How do you start a religion saying, ‘Follow him - he was just crucified?"
"You mean the Apostles didn’t get to share in the plunder of raiding caravans or conquering villages, like Muhammad’s clan?" he joked, lightening the mood. "They didn’t do it for the booty?"
"No," she answered, darkening it again. "They got to be imprisoned, flogged, boiled, stoned, and crucified instead. And they did it without complaint because they knew they were going to be with the risen Jesus. All but one, John, died a martyr’s death, and they say that even he was boiled alive in a vat of oil."
"Tough assignment. But you say there were no deserters? No one who said, ‘Come on, fellas, he’s dead. Let’s get on with our lives’?"
"Nope. Well, initially they were scared spitless. Wouldn’t you be after your leader was tried, beaten, and crucified? But then something happened. These guys went from cowering in fear to being willing to do anything, no matter the risk, to speak out about this guy, insisting he was God. Every single one of them was instantly transformed. How do you explain that?"
Thor was silent. He had studied human behavior under siege. None of this made any sense, unless....
"Their own people, the Jewish religious and political leaders," she continued, "had convicted Jesus of blasphemy. The Romans had ripped the skin from his back with their whips, spit on him, jammed a crown of thorns on his head, and nailed him to a cross."
She let that image sink in. "Sure, he was a nice guy. Sure, he did some pretty cool miracles, including bringing a fellow back to life. Sure, he said some remarkable things. Sure, he predicted exactly what was going to happen to him. Sure, every important aspect of his life had been foretold centuries before. But he was dead. Hope’s once-bright light had been snuffed out. There was nothing left to do but go fishing."
"But," Thor realized, "it’s an entirely different story if hope returns."
"You bet. It transformed their lives, and they in turn transformed the world. It’s a simple story," she shared. "God became a man to show us what he’s like and to restore his relationship with us."
"This is starting to make sense," Adams thought out loud. "If you’re God, you’d want your creation know you and know that you love them. There’s no better way to do that than to become one of them."
"And what else do you need to do if you’re God?"
"How would I know? I didn’t go to Sunday School, remember?"
"You need to build a bridge, a way to cross the divide from our sinful world to his perfect one. His death paid the toll." Sarah had shared the Gospel. "He made us a promise. He said that he’d meet us on the bridge, take our hand, and lead us to the Promised Land."
‘"Anthrax is good, but atoms are better.’ That’s what Mr. Ghumani told me. And then he instructed me to call you, Mr. Quagmer. Halam said you’d understand."
"And what am I paying you for this delectable tidbit?" Omen didn’t like lawyers.
"The usual. He needs a good lawyer, and we’re as connected as they come. He’s in denial, you know. He told me that the Americans wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing him tried. I think you should talk to him."
"Sure. I’ll just ring him up in prison, and chat long enough for the Feds to figure out where I am. That would be smart, wouldn’t it? Now lose this number, pal," Quagmer said, hanging up. He turned to his compatriot. "Have I ever told you how useless I think lawyers are? If they’d been around in the seventh century, Muhammad would have put a fatwa on their sorry butts."
"What did your ‘pal’ say?" Kahn asked.
"Only that Halam said atoms were better than anthrax."
"Now you’re talking." Haqqani jumped to his feet.
Quagmer was less excited. He knew that the problem the boys were having trying to make anthrax behave was nothing compared to working with nuclear devices. Unstable atoms had to be controlled until the last possible moment, and then they needed to misbehave all at once - when they would do the most damage. "To succeed, we’re going to have to work together on this one, Kahn. And we’re going to need help. That Pakistani nuclear expert, Bashiruddin Mahmood, was Halam’s friend, not ours. He doesn’t trust us. He says we’re not Muslim enough."
"Yeah, but we’re nowhere without him. We’ll need the Russians, too, and either the North Koreans or the Chinese. Do you have Mahmood’s number?" Kahn asked. "And since you’re the accountant; how much sympathy can we afford to buy?"
"No, just his email. Sympathy? We can afford plenty - low ten figures. But first, we’ve got to decide what we want to do, what we can do."
"We have three choices." Kahn had studied all the really neat forms of mass annihilation. "First, there’s the really cool stuff - bombs sitting atop ballistic missiles - nuclear fission!" His eyes widened.
Both American and Israeli intelligence sources had known for years that al-Qaeda was looking in all the likely places for suitable nukes. They had met with unemployed Soviet scientists and nuclear security personnel from impoverished Uzbekistan all the way to Siberia. Many, if not most, were willing, even eager, to trade anything they had for dollars. But putting the whole package together had proved a formidable challenge. One needs a delivery vehicle, a firing mechanism, triggering codes, and, of course, weapons-grade plutonium, all wrapped in a shiny bomb casing.
"You know Iraq’s mobile launchers aren’t going to help us blast America. They don’t have the range. Halam wants us to blow up Washington. He wants to die a martyr and take down the American government with him. And that means we don’t have the year or two we’d need to finish overthrowing the Pakistani junta."
"Yes, but nothing says ‘hello’ like nukes atop missiles."
"Forget it, Kahn. Set your sights a little closer to earth."
"Why? The new Iranian missiles have a three thousand kilometer range. Combine that with what Castro said when he was last in Tehran and we’re in business."
"I remember. Fidel told the Ayatollah, ‘Working together, we can bring the Americans to their knees.’"
"I suppose, but how are we going to work with the Iranians sitting here in Baghdad?"
"We’re not," Kahn admitted begrudgingly.
"Well then, our next-best option is to use the Russian suitcase bombs," Omen suggested to a slightly less-dejected Kahn.
"That is, if we can get them to work. They’re old."
This was an area where entrepreneurial Russians and zealous Muslims had been able to do business. With their nuclear security measures leaking like a sieve, the Soviets had managed to lose track of 134 mini-nukes. Rumor had it that some twenty of the misplaced suitcases had found their way to al-Qaeda. Informants in the sleazy underworld of the Russian mafia had claimed bin Laden had paid $30 mil for them, throwing in a couple of tons of opium as a tip. Although American intelligence had paid handsomely for the news, they’d ultimately laughed it off, not trusting the sources. Funny thing, though; they’d been right.
"Of the twenty cases, the best we can hope for is that one out of every two or three will actually work," Omen told Kahn.
"I thought that was why Halam had Mahmood here. Wasn’t he supposed to be recharging the triggers?"
"I’m told he did some good, but that he didn’t have the right equipment. Something to do with the life of tritium. It has to be recharged every six years for the bombs to be reliable."
"But he also said that even a partially detonated weapon could do a lot of damage if it went off in the right place." Kahn was persistent.
"Let’s use ’em, but in clusters so we’ll be more certain they’ll light."
"What are you suggesting, Omen?"
"I say we put six sets of three together. Mahmood rated each bomb when he was here. We could put the one he said was most likely to detonate, based upon the condition of the tritium trigger, with the least likely. Then the second most with the second least, and so on down the line."
"I see. If one of them fails, another in the group will fire, igniting both. That means we could obliterate six or seven cities."
Omen rubbed his belly. "Or, at least bruise ’em real bad. But Halam likes doing things in twelves. What can we use to smack the others?"
"Dirty bombs! They’re like the nail bombs we strap to kids; only they’re nuclear."
"I’ve heard you and Halam talk about these things. How do they work?"
Kahn clapped his hands. "All you do is take some regular explosive, TNT or C-4. You wrap radioactive debris around it - the kind of stuff they discard from nuclear reactors is best."
"Then we’d be recycling in a way."
Kahn smiled. "There’s no nuclear explosion. The radiation is spread when the lead containment vessel is shattered. Put in the right place, though, a dirty bomb is nasty enough to make a bunch of people real sick. Some will die right away. Others will take awhile, succumbing later to one form of cancer or another."
"Slow, kind of like your crucifixions were supposed to work."
"No, actually, more like Chernobyl," he said. "Our nuclear waste is Russian, and it’s loaded with Strontium. It’ll contaminate everything. The cities will be doomed for decades. It can’t even be washed away. They’ll have to demolish every building that comes in contact with it." Haqqani played with his long, straggly beard.
"And thanks to Halam, we have plenty of spent nuclear fuel. He had it stockpiled in a cave somewhere on the island of Jamaica, didn’t he?"
"Yep. So, Mr. Logistician, how do we get it into America without being noticed? For that matter, how do we deliver any of this stuff?"
"I’ve got an idea," Quagmer said, thinking about Jamaica. "It just might work. What do America’s largest cities have in common?"
"Umm, well, they’re mostly on the coast, either the Atlantic or the Pacific. Come to think of it, others are on the Great Lakes."
"Yes indeed," the chubby little terrorist muttered. "Sailboats."
"But who do we know that knows how to sail?"
"Who did we know that knew how to fly?"
The triple-seven skittered to a bumpy landing, taxiing for what seemed like an eternity toward Ben Gurion’s Terminal 2000. The late-afternoon sun prepared to make its daily descent into the Mediterranean. As the shadows lengthened across the tarmac, they hefted their carry-ons and they scurried (limped, in Thor’s case) down the gangway. While buses awaited other passengers, notoriety had its rewards; they were escorted via private van to the terminal’s VIP quarters.
Passing a bronze bust of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, their escort turned and asked, "I wonder if he’d still be proud of us."
"Sure he would," Sarah replied cheerfully. "Anyone would be proud of what you’ve built here."
"But at what price?" The man turned and looked at Nottingly. Strain and frustration were etched in his face. "I was a soldier. I was trained to kill. But not like what’s happening now. Last night, we killed a little boy. It was an accident, of course. He was riding to school with his terrorist father, a leader in Hamas. Our rocket killed them both. It’s hard. We’re all so very tired of war. Our children, their children. We need to find a way to live in peace."
Inside the VIP lounge, they were offered food and drink and told to relax. Customs was handled by others. As they waited, they wondered if their escort’s sentiments were as prevalent as he had made them sound.
The brisk air of an early spring evening greeted Sarah and Thor as they walked out of the customs lounge and into a private parking lot behind the terminal. Adams expected to see Isaac Newcomb’s smiling mug; he didn’t expect a crowd of familiar faces. But there they were, all four of his Israeli brothers in arms. Yacob Seraph, Moshe Keceph, and Joshua Abrams were still bruised and bandaged, but mobile, more or less, in their matching wheelchairs. Those fortunate enough to have them were accompanied by their wives. The Admiral was considered family.
Thor dropped his bag, let out a half-laugh half-shout, and threw a broad hug around Isaac. His arm hurt. He didn’t care. The others wheeled themselves closer and got their own greetings in, laughing.
"Hey! Who’s watching the country, anyway?" Thor quipped. "All the tough guys are here at the airport."
"Not to worry," Yacob teased. "If the Palestinians give us any trouble, we’ll announce you’re here, and they’ll all run away, screaming."
"Well, I hope so, ’cause I’m the only military resource Madam Presi-dent wants to send Israel - and that’s just so she won’t have to look at my ugly face on the network news. I don’t think she likes me very much."
"That’s okay, Thor," Moshe chimed in. "We like you. You c-can come to all our c-crucifixions."
"Absolutely," Joshua agreed. "If America won’t send a division of Marines, Thor Adams will do nicely."
"Are you saying the American Commander-in-Sheets is a patsifist?" Yacob asked in mock horror.
Thor laughed. Yacob sometimes stumbled onto a good one.
All the while, Sarah hung back, sporting a silly grin, not wanting to interrupt the male bonding ritual. But she was never far from Thor’s thoughts. He did a crisp turn and held out his hand. "It is my pleasure to introduce Miss Sarah Nottingly, CIA Bureau Chief and my, um...." Thor fumbled about for an appropriate word, trying to strike a balance between "traveling companion" and "love of my life," but he couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t get him slapped.
Isaac let him suffer for a few seconds, and then said, "Ah, yes, the infamous Ms. Nottingly! I’m afraid the whole world knows your smile by now, thanks to Cap...oops, Admiral Adams’ greeting at National Airport a couple weeks ago. Welcome to Israel, Ms. Nottingly."
"Thank you. And please, it’s just Sarah."
"I’m not here in an official diplomatic capacity," Thor explained. "But Sarah is scheduled to meet with the Mossad on Tuesday. They want to figure out what went wrong. She, as some of you know, helped plan our little excursion, but please, don’t hold that against her."
"I’ll be taking her in to the office," Joshua shared. His wife frowned. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her husband escorting Nottingly; it was just that every Mossad spouse had grown weary of the agency’s headquarters being referred to so benignly.
"Do you think we could arrange a tour while we’re here."
Yacob Seraph burst out laughing. "What is your expression? Be real! I’m afraid you’ve got all four of us as your guides."
"T-transportation is all arranged," Moshe added. "We have a van all w-week. It belongs to the Prime Minister." All four soldiers knew him personally. Israel is a small nation.
Isaac said, "Headquarters figured we weren’t going to be of much use in our condition, so they gave us light duty - escorting VIP tourists."
He didn’t mention that all four would be heavily armed, or that the van was armored, with bullet-resistant glass and a mine-deflecting steel bottom. Nor did he say that this had been their first and only assignment since returning home, other than mending in the hospital, studying Islam, and talking to an army of reporters.
All four "tour guides" had been cleared for weapons readiness at the Mossad rifle range. After all, no one knew if they could lift an Uzzi, never mind fire one, within such a short time of having spikes driven through their wrists. The Israelis were under no illusions about the emotional baggage their guests had brought into the country, without even declaring it through customs.
The hotel was in Jaffa, a trip of a few kilometers and a few thousand years from Tel Aviv. They had decided to save Jerusalem for the morning. The Israelis wanted the Admiral to see it washed in the day’s first light. They wanted him to love it as much as they did.
A dinner reservation was made for later that evening at one of their favorite restaurants. There was just enough time to check in, freshen up, and relax for a moment.
From Sarah’s ninth-floor window, she surveyed the fading rays of the sun as it dipped slowly beneath the Mediterranean horizon. Looking in one direction, she could see the twinkling lights of Tel Aviv, a city as modern (and as tacky) as Los Angeles. In the other, the dim outline of Jaffa’s harbor brought to her mind the misadventures of Jonah. This was where the Prophet had started running away from God 2,800 years ago. He had been told to go to the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, and turn them from their wicked ways. But you can’t get to Nineveh from here, not by boat anyway.
The man in the adjoining room, she feared, had been running, or at least limping, from God too. But he was close; it wouldn’t take an encounter with a big fish to get him to see the light. Sarah had a funny feeling that Thor Adams, like Jonah the Prophet, had been chosen by the Almighty to do something important - to deliver a message, perhaps.
Sarah had seen daylight through the chinks in his armor even before the long flight to Israel. But her Thor was a military man. He had an open mind but wanted to see concrete evidence, indisputable fact, proof. He wasn’t about to commit to anything he didn’t understand. That wasn’t how he was built. But God, she knew, didn’t work that way. He wanted people to choose him, to take a leap of faith, even if it was but a small step into the light. He would provide ample evidence, but he wouldn’t make it so black and white it would all but force someone to capitulate.
And God had plenty of competition. Anybody could announce, "Thus says the Lord...." The monotheistic Jews, Christians, and Moslems all claimed to have the last word concerning God’s revelation. Not to be outdone, followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and a plethora of others - including the oh-so-popular atheist faiths of Communism and humanism - all purported to be the true path to enlightenment. But whether they espoused one God, many gods, or no god bigger than themselves, their inspired writings all described, directly or indirectly, the object of their worship. Even atheists, whose actions proclaimed that they thought they were supremely important, had scriptures, and they varied from believer to believer, ranging from the Communist and Humanist Manifestos to People magazine. Man is a religious animal. He will always find something to worship.
Sarah reflected that religions all seemed to have one thing in common: they described how man could approach God or become godlike - whatever they took that to mean. Usually, it was what you did, how you acted that made the difference, whether that was being part of the Muslim’s Jihad, achieving the Buddhist’s tranquil state of enlightenment, or booking a week in atheist heaven, the ski lodge in Telluride.
Christianity was the lone exception, though many of its own adherents, those immersed in the politics of the pulpit, had lost sight of that fact. With Christ, God approached man, not the other way around.
Her hope for getting through to the once skeptical and now engrossed Thor Adams, strangely enough, was a principle she had come across in a freshman-level physics class. It was called Occam’s Razor, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate." In layman’s terms: when two competing theories make the same prediction, the simpler one is better.
To Sarah, it meant that in matters of faith, you could demonstrate truth by testing scriptures mathematically. If it could be shown statistically that it was true, then it probably was. The best solution was the one it took the least amount of faith to accept.
The contrary would hold true as well. If things didn’t add up, if there were serious inconsistencies, and the need for revisionist history, then the scheme was probably false - no matter how many adherents subscribed to the doctrine’s methods and rituals.
Since the world’s great religions invariably claimed to have prophets - Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, et al, for Judeo-Christianity; the same list plus Muhammad for Islam; Lenin and Marx for Communism; and folks like Kant, Huxley, and Darwin for secular humanism - it was only reasonable to put their words to the test.
A weary Sarah lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. A pithy quote from a nineteenth-century scholar popped involuntarily into her head: "There is a point beyond which unbelief is impossible, and the mind in refusing truth must take refuge in a misbelief which is sheer incredulity." Sir Robert Anderson, she thought. They don’t write ’em like that any more, Bobby. She smiled as she drifted off to sleep.
Startled awake by a loud knock on the door, Sarah hurriedly finished getting ready, enduring the catcalls of the five military men waiting impatiently in the hallway. Those with wives were more understanding.
"C’mon, S-sarah. We’re hungry! Is she always this slow, Thor? What’s she d-doing in there?" Moshe was obviously a bachelor.
"A minute forty-seven, gentlemen," Sarah announced as she opened the door. "That wasn’t so bad, was it?"
Thor looked her up and down. "Worth the wait."
The Keren was a beautiful four-star restaurant in a restored nineteenth-century house on Rehov Eilat, between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The group was escorted to a large table in the back. Isaac ordered a domestic Sauvignon Blanc to start things off. The menu was intriguing, but it was the conversation that held promise.
Over crabmeat with feta cheese, "lost bread" and hyssop, and a foie gras with vanilla sauce, the chatter explored the entire gamut of etiquette no-nos, roaming from Israeli politics to American, and from Judaism to Islam. The conversation, if not polite, promised to be lively.
The participants were all over the map, religion-wise. Sarah was a Christian. Evangelical, no apologies. Thor had recently migrated from agnostic to believer, but he didn’t know in what, exactly. Moshe Keceph styled himself a secularist, kissing cousin to atheist, socialist style. This put him in the same class with a great many Israelis. But like them, he was plenty curious and open to divergent views.
Isaac and Josh were simply "Jewish," though from opposite ends of the spectrum. Isaac was "Reformed," which meant he took matters of faith with a grain of salt, a wink, and a shrug, but he’d wear a Yarmulke if the occasion called for it. Joshua (Yeshua, to his mom) was pretty much of the orthodox persuasion. He swallowed it all, including the two thousand years of baggage that had accumulated along the way. Not just the Law and the Prophets, but the Talmud, the Targums, the Midrash, and the Mishnah. You could study for a lifetime and not get to the bottom of it. The Jewish mind had managed to turn monotheism into a mountain of minutia.
But he was far from being a Black Hat, an ultra-orthodox Jew. The members of these rival sects, the Shas as they are called politically, turned most Jews’ stomachs, refusing to pay taxes and expecting the government to support their indulgences. Yet they were unwilling to serve, especially in the Israeli army. They reminded Sarah of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time - arrogant, self-serving, money-grubbing hypocrites.
And then there was the soft-spoken Yacob Seraph, that rarest of Jews, a true believer. Yacob took the Jewish scriptures, the Law of Moses - or Torah - the Books of Poetry, and the Prophets to be God’s word. Period. The wisdom of the Rabbis, the commentaries, were all very nice, but they weren’t any more scripture to Yacob than Matthew Henry’s commentaries on the Bible were scripture to Sarah Nottingly.
As the main course arrived - saddle of lamb with lentils; ragout of veal offal with white-bean puree; lamb carpaccio; shrimp served with plump raviolis filled with mullard, goose liver, and bacon (or as Isaac called it, "short cow") - the conversation turned to what was on Thor’s mind.
"What makes them so crazy, my friends? What is it about Islam that breeds terrorists like rotting garbage breeds flies? Oh, I know all Muslims aren’t terrorists, but why are most all terrorists Muslims?"
"While I’ve studied Islam," Yacob said, "I know the most about the Arab branch, especially the Palestinians. For them it’s jealousy. They covet what we have. It’s an old family feud."
Sarah picked up on it. "Ishmael," she ventured. "Father of the Arabs."
"Bimbo," Yacob said.
"That’s Bingo, you idiot." Isaac laughed hysterically at Yacob’s disastrous attempt at American slang. Sarah simply smiled and shook her head.
"Four thousand years is a r-real long time to h-hold a grudge."
"Yeah, but that’s how this all started. Y’see, Sarah - Abraham’s Sarah - was barren, we’re told, so she offered her husband a surrogate, Hagar, her Egyptian slave," Josh began. "But her plan backfired. Once Hagar was pregnant, she started in with the flaunting and taunting. That made Sarah not so much fun, yes? So Hagar ran away. That’s when an angel told her that her son’s descendants would be, and I quote, ‘wild asses of men.’ Remind you of anybody we know?"
"Can’t be," Thor chuckled. "Our terrorist pals are just misunderstood. I heard it on the evening news. It’s not their fault. They have to kill women and children because...well, I don’t know why, do you?"
"It’s more than jealousy," Sarah noted. "The feud’s ancient history, fellas. Get over it, already."
"They c-can’t," Moshe answered. "Islam has rekindled old hatreds. It’s all based upon a revisionist v-version of our Bible. But their adaptation is nothing but self-serving n-nonsense, and we know it."
Isaac chimed in. "That bugs ’em. Especially now that the Dead Sea scrolls confirm the precision upon which our scribes went about documenting these events. In a rational world, that find alone would have destroyed the illusion of Islam."
"‘Illusion?’ ‘Self-serving nonsense?’" Adams repeated. "Isn’t that a little harsh? Mistaken, maybe, but...."
"Admiral, all we’ve done since we were last together is study Islam. It’s worse than you can imagine," Josh revealed. "It’s wholly responsible for terrorism, the common denominator, motivating Muslim militants. It’s why they honor suicide bombers. Allah, my friend, is as warped as his Messenger, as disturbed and violent as his followers."
"Strong words, Josh. I assume you’ve come up with something that justifies such an extreme position." Sarah shot back. "It’s inconsistent with every nation’s official view of things - including yours," she added, playing devil’s advocate.
"Over the next few days, we’re going to shatter some illusions. The peace-loving-Islam myth is one of them. We’ve been duped."
"And it’s a powerful deception, one that serves far too many," Yacob added. "Corrupt as it may be, Islam is the source of Arab power. They’ll stop at nothing to perpetuate the myth."
They all sat silently for a moment, chewing on their food and their thoughts. They were happy to be back together, especially in these surroundings, but they were still hurting.
Isaac got something off his bruised chest. "We want to offer our sympathy for the recent anthrax killings. Muslims. Disgusting."
"Do you know something we don’t?" Sarah asked. "I mean, Omen Quagmer accepted credit, but we have no proof."
"We know these people better than you do. We’ve had more experience with them. They’ve made a career out of killing us. I’ll make you a wager. If it’s not militant Muslims, I’ll...I’ll kiss Yasman Alafat’s ugly butt on the Temple Mount."
"Ugh," Sarah squirmed. Suddenly she’d had enough to eat, although she knew the Israelis had to be hungry. Watching their ravaged hands fumble with their silverware was painful.
Isaac changed the subject. "Anyway, welcome to Israel, my friends. Our Promised Land. After millennia of dispersion and persecution, we’re still a nation, and we’re back in our homeland. Met any Babylonians lately? Assyrians, Philistines, or Phoenicians?" He smiled.
Thor looked up. "I think there might be a few million Arabs who’d differ with your claim to having the title deed for this little patch of ground. No offense, but what right do you have to it that they don’t? You lived here for thousands of years. They lived here for thousands of years."
Moshe bristled. "We b-bought this place with our b-blood, Admiral. The H-holocaust...." His emotions were clearly getting the best of him. He could say no more, nor did he need to.
"The Arabs sided with the Nazis," Joshua reported. "They cheered, as they do today, when we were slaughtered."
"I mean no disrespect," Thor said softly, "but the Holocaust was only the price of admission. It caused the British to honor a broken promise. Without having endured that trial, I doubt world opinion would ever have shifted enough for you to return. But that’s not the same as being entitled to it. And it’s a long shot from being able to hold on to it, outnumbered a hundred to one."
"You’re right," Yacob agreed. "It’s not our historic occupation of Judea, and it’s not our suffering. It’s not what we’ve done since 1948 to develop the country, to make the desert bloom. It’s not even our love for this land that entitles us to it - no doubt the so-called Palestinians covet it too. What gives us the right to live here is that God gave it to us - to Abraham, to Moses. He gave the Arabs land too. And they’re living in it."
"Won’t hold up in court." Thor tested them. "Some folks don’t acknowledge his sovereignty, or even his existence. What then?"
"Then," Moshe retorted, "it’s the law the r-rest of the world abides by: ‘p-possession.’ We’re here. The Arabs have done all they could to d-drive us into the sea. They attacked us in ’48, in ’56, ’67, and ’73. Truth is, they attack us every day. They’ve just g-gone from all-out war to non-stop terror. Y’know, Admiral, your nation’s c-claims to California and Texas are much weaker than our c-claim to the West Bank."
"Possession is ten-ninths of the law, right?" Yacob observed. "And speaking of law, did you know that UN Resolutions 181 and 242, as well as Olso I and II, are illegal? They both violate the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. It says, ‘A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force, or if it violates the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.’ The UN charter says that no right can grow from an injustice, i.e., you can’t attack us and terrorize us as the Arabs have done and expect to be rewarded for it."
"Admiral, everybody wants what they call Palestine for different reasons," Isaac said. "Assad thinks it’s Southern Syria. Mubarak sees it as a land bridge to the rest of the Arab world. The boy-king in Jordan sees it as a means to rid his own country of the dreaded Palestinians. The bevy of princes in Saudi know that their support for Palestinian martyrdom is a life insurance policy, keeping their people from killing them. Saddam Hussein used it to unify Islamic rage, to keep America from coming after him. Didn’t work out all that well."
"And America wants to give it away to win the undying affection of these despots, so we can keep filling the tanks of our SUVs," Sarah added.
"And we only want it ’cause it’s ours. It has been our home for four thousand years. Our enemies have attacked us and lost, that’s all." Yacob was feeling his oats.
"Well, not always," Sarah said. "You’ve lost to some fairly formidable enemies. First, the Assyrians. Then the Babylonians."
This was Adams’ beat. "Followed by Alexander the Great and the Greeks, only they weren’t bearing gifts. The ultimate bad boys, the Romans, came calling next. As I recall, you guys yanked their chain one too many times. Titus’ sent three legions. They reduced this place to rubble. Judea went desolate for centuries. Hardly anybody lived here."
"But as we left, someone must have said, ‘I’ll be back.’"
"No. God." Yacob had studied his prophets.
"And here we are. Six million Jews against a billion Muslims, all armed to the teeth and determined to eradicate us. I’d call that a miracle."
"Whether you’re a math major, history buff, or soldier, it’s hard to explain the lopsided victories any other way." Thor was preaching to the choir.
"No farce on earth is sufficient to evict us." Yacob grinned. "Looking at recent history, I’m surprised they even try." Even the skeptics, Thor, Isaac, and Moshe, military men through and through, knew that winning four wars in succession, outnumbered as they were, was unexplainable.
The dinner dishes were cleared. Isaac informed the overstuffed celebrants that dessert was coming as the waiter refilled their wine glasses.
"What do your scriptures have to say about gluttony?" Thor ventured.
"I don’t know. But they do say we should respect our elders."
To which Sarah replied, "Happy fortieth, old man." She leaned over and gave Thor a kiss as his dessert arrived with a lone candle.
The wives smiled. Yacob’s Marta and Joshua’s Beth could see love in Sarah’s eyes. These two were going somewhere. Isaac’s wife had wanted to join her husband, but with both her parents and his in America, babysitters were few and far between.
"Okay," Yacob said. "Enough frivolity. Let’s get down to business. The way I see it, the real miracle is not that we Jews are back, but that the prophets said we would be. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share what they said would happen to civilizations in this part of the world. I don’t have the scriptures with me, but I know the scenarios well enough...."
Sarah held up a finger and dove into her purse. She still had her compact Bible with her, right next to her 38. "Would this help?"
"Thank you." The first two thirds of the Christian Bible is identical to the Hebrew Bible. Yacob was in familiar territory. While most Jews didn’t know their own scriptures as well as many Christians did, Yacob was an exception to the rule. He started flipping pages.
"Before you begin, Yacob, why don’t we review the ‘prophetic’ support for the world’s other basic belief systems. I’d like to start with Communism. After all, for all practical purposes, that started here, too."
"That’s a strike out," Sarah jumped in. "They preached world domination, that religion was the opiate of the people, that folks could be made more responsible, more charitable, and tolerant through indoctrination. Although, I’ll grant you, they’d call it education. They even said that their economic solution would triumph over capitalism."
"The best p-place to examine the failure is right here in Israel, at a Kibbutz. You’ll be spending a night at m-mine. Most everything w-we predicted f-failed to materialize," Moshe confessed.
"Moshe’s right. Communists dropped the bat," Yacob misspoke. "They hurt a lot of people. Hellish violence, just like our Muslim fiends. Deplorable conditions, too. Human wrongs, not rights. It was a bad idea."
Yacob’s wife, Marta, corrected him. "Friends, Yacob, not fiends."
"Speak for yourself."
She did. "The secular humanists have struck out, too. Their desire to normalize behaviors that historically destroy nations is as faulty as their strategy to attain peace through appeasement." Marta, like most Israeli women, was bright and articulate, although she, like her husband, may have had a little too much to drink. Marta was seated next to Sarah. The two were becoming friends. They had bonded while the boys talked about their adventures.
"History condemns them, which must be why they feel the need to revise it." Adams explained. "They can’t deal with the fact that the most ‘enlightened’ century, the most liberal, was also the deadliest."
Marta, having finished her dessert, toyed with her husband’s. "Humanist philosophy penalizes success, rewards failure, and tries to redistribute wealth rather than create it. It’s about politically correct rhetoric rather than intelligent debate, multiculturalism rather than patriotism, tolerance rather than truth."
"It’s nothing but a self-inflicted death swirl into the abscess." Yacob took another swig of wine.
Sarah pushed her glass away. "In America, all of the Great Society programs have failed. Costs have spiraled out of control. And ultimately they have done nothing to bridge the gap between rich and poor." She held strong opinions.
"All right then, what about the great Prophet?" the Major asked. He looked around. "Any takers on how many prophetic predictions the Allah-Muhammad combo made or what percentage they got right?"
Josh sneered. Moshe raised his eyes heavenward. Yacob answered, "Zero, zipper, zilch."
"Calling Muhammad a prophet is like calling China a republic. It’s nothing but political positioning," Joshua added. "We’ll prove that while you’re here, sir."
"That brings us to us," Yacob smiled. "Our prophets were confident enough to allow us to judge them by their predictions."
"Foretelling the future is a gutsy move," Isaac said.
"Yes. And there are thousands of prophecies to choose from." It was Joshua’s wife this time. Beth was sitting across from Sarah. "One of my favorites is the story of Nineveh."
Yacob picked up on it. "Assyria: the first nation to force Israelis into captivity." Three of the five men involuntarily reached up and touched their noses. They were still smarting from the fishhooks. "It was at the height of Assyrian power that the Prophet Nahum denounced them - about sixty years after they had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, thirty-seven hundred years ago."
Thor dove in. "The Assyrian capital was up the river apiece from Babylon, in present-day Iraq. It was well defended, with a seven-mile wall a hundred feet high and fifty feet thick. They had food and water to outlast a twenty-year siege. And they needed it. They were holy terrors - kind of like Muslims today. They had more than their share of enemies."
Beth grabbed Sarah’s Bible away from Yacob. "The Prophet not only said it would go down easily, but that they would deserve their fate." She read from the book of Nahum, skipping from passage to passage: "‘Nineveh, you will have no descendants to bear your name. While the Lord will restore the splendor of Israel, you will be laid to waste.’ Nahum told us that God is slow to anger, but, if a nation is bad enough, long enough, ‘the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.’"
Marta grabbed the book and read. "‘Your river gates will be thrown open. Nineveh is like a pool and its water is draining away.’ So God’s explaining how it’s going to happen. And then why. ‘Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!’"
"Sounds like G-Gaza," Moshe quipped.
"Sounds to me like Muhammad’s rise to power, which is probably why," Isaac explained.
Sarah politely requisitioned her Bible from Marta. "‘You will have many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses.’"
"You sure he’s not talking about Afghanistan?" Thor interrupted.
Sarah ignored him. "‘You are evil, for you have enslaved nations and used sorcerers and witchcraft. Nineveh will lie in ruins."
Yacob, retrieving the book from Sarah, continued the account. "‘All your fortresses are fig trees with ripened fruit. When they are shaken, they will fall into the mouths of the eater.’" He took a bite before his wife had a chance to eat the last of his dessert. "‘The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies. Fire has consumed your bars, for you are drunk,’ like somebody else I know," he said, ribbing his wife.
With Yacob distracted, Beth stole the Bible. "‘Fire will devour you, O king of Assyria, while you sleep.’ Nahum goes on to say, ‘Nothing can heal your wound - your injury is fatal. Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?’ That sounds like Islamic terrorists, for sure - especially here in Israel."
"Okay," Thor said. "An easy kill, fire, flood, drinking, and no recovery. So what happened?"
Yacob answered. "Half a century after the prophecy, the Medes destroyed the city so completely that it was totally lost until archeologists unearthed it in the 1840s. There was evidence of arson.
"Funny thing, though. Folks had been trying on and off for years to breach the defenses and couldn’t. But in the spring of 612 B.C., heavy flooding in the Tigris valley broke down a section of the city’s wall, flooding the town and opening the gates for attack - exactly like we just read. Remember ‘Nineveh is like a pool?’ Yet the Assyrians, ever confident, kept on drinking and partying, according to the Medes. They were ripe for picking. Prophecy fulfilled."
Thor provided the analysis and then did the math, which surprised him. "One chance in sixty-four hundred of getting it all right."
"That’s why I’m a believer," Yacob said. "The prophecies are so detailed, and in many ways so unexpected, the arithmetic proves beyond any reasonable doubt that our scriptures are inspired."
Sarah glanced at Thor; her smile silently preached, "I told you so."
"There’s more to these stories than just predictions and history," Beth said. "There are also moral lessons. God is telling us that there’s a limit to his patience. He allows nations to reap what they sow."
"Sometimes he even takes care of business himself. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind," Yacob shared. "Their behavior became so deviant, God torched ’em."
"They’ve been found," Thor said. "Near the southern end of the Dead Sea."
"History, not symbolism," Yacob reminded the Admiral. "What they found matches the Genesis account perfectly: five cities near each other on the plain, dated right around the time of Abraham, 2000 B.C. All were destroyed in some kind of cataclysm - you know, walls knocked down, people buried in the rubble, not ordinary battle damage. And get this. There’s sulfur everywhere - brimstone - like Moses said."
"Moses and Muhammad," Josh observed. "They covered a lot of the same territory, but as far as the archeologists are concerned, only our scriptures have history you can dig up."
"Speaking of prophecy and Muhammad," Thor said, "I’m sitting here with three distinguished members of the intelligence community, Mossad and CIA. Tell me, smart people, just how is Muhammad’s fan club going to attack us next, and what can we do to stop them?"
Isaac was an expert. "To stop them, you must undo everything you’ve done thus far. Your nation’s knee-jerk reactions have been worse than foolish. They’re counterproductive."
"He’s right, Admiral," Yacob agreed. "Our intelligence is the best in the world. And it’s based on profiling. Your government, in refusing to profile, has declared that the rights of those who wish to kill are more important than the rights of those they want to kill."
"Thor," Sarah said, "Terror is a manifestation of Islam, just as the S.S. was a manifestation of Nazism. Jihad is to Muhammad as blitzkrieg is to Hitler."
Moshe explained it this way. "When a thief b-breaks into your home and kills your w-wife and son, you need to k-kill him before he murders you and your daughter. A c-crime has been committed, sir. On 9/11 Muslims c-came into your home and did this v-very thing. But your nation seems afraid to go after the real m-murderers - you’re even afraid of accusing them of the c-crime."
The Major picked up where Moshe left off. "Why do you suppose civilized nations prosecute criminals and defend themselves when attacked?"
"To keep their people safe."
"Right. And to identify the murderers, to successfully prosecute them, what do you need to prove?"
"Sherlock Homes would say means, motive, and opportunity."
"The means was our Bible. Without it, Muhammad wouldn’t have been able to form a sewing circle, much less start a religion. Islam’s credibility comes entirely from the Judeo-Christian scriptures."
"Yeah. That’s what I said back in Afghanistan. It’s obvious."
"The m-motivation for killing is even more obvious. When we infidels called Muhammad on the c-carpet for the absurdity of his pronouncements, he got p-pissed."
"Sir," Josh interjected, "if you were to put the Qur’an in chronological order, you’d see that Muhammad started off as a wannabe Jew. In Mecca he prayed facing Jerusalem; he worshiped on our Sabbath. Most every character in the Qur’an comes from the Torah."
Yacob was eager to contribute. "The moment Muhammad was forced out of Mecca, his revisionist ‘scriptures’ were exposed to Jewish scrutiny. Our brothers in Yathrib were insulted, and that changed everything."
The Major pulled rank. "For example, there were over a hundred quasi-peace-loving verses ‘revealed’ to Muhammad when he was hanging with the Meccans. They were all abrogated - cast into oblivion, in Allah-speak - when the Yathrib Jews defied the Messenger. In Qur’an 9:5, Allah says, ‘Fight and slay the infidels wherever you find them. Seize them, beleaguer them, using every strategy of war.’ Hate is a powerful motive, my friend."
"And you gave them the third thing - opportunity." Josh rubbed his bruised chest. "By refusing to acknowledge who the murderers were, and failing to ascertain why they killed, you have made your family vulnerable. To use Moshe’s example, it would be like leaving the thief in your home with your daughter while you go and consult with the criminal’s friends and neighbors. While they confuse you with talk of peace, they tell one another that you had it coming. In their eyes, the killer was justified because their Prophet commanded him to terrorize you. Given the chance, they’d all slit your throat."
"That’s a p-problem. The murderer has a billion neighbors, and they’re taught to hate you. So what do you do? Do you brick up your doors and windows with the k-killer inside? How many bricks will it take before you’re worn down and l-living in the dark? Or, I know, why not invite the murderer’s largest benefactor over for a tour of your r-ranch? Tell him you like his plan to reward m-murders and abandon your friends."
"Okay boys. I get the point. We can’t wall ourselves in any more than we could’ve prevented World War II by sealing our borders or randomly profiling non-combatants."
The Major agreed. "What would have happened if you had sent your fleet to South America and your planes to South Africa rather than to Germany and Japan?"
"We’d be eating sushi and sauerkraut," Thor guessed.
"If you want to get serious and stop terror, then you need to take the battle to the source," Isaac concluded.
"That’s not so easy. America doesn’t have a leader capable of understanding these things, which means we’re condemned to fight this foe on our soil," Thor acknowledged grimly. "So how do you suppose they’ll attack next?"
"They’re p-probably going to make you s-sick and then blow you to pieces." Moshe surveyed his battered hand. "Anthrax and nukes."
"Swell. Mind if Sarah and I stay here with you for a while? Suicide bombers seem a lot less menacing."
"Yacob smiled. "Me Ka’aba es su Ka’aba." His Spanish was no better than his English.
Thor sighed. "Do you think they can make enough anthrax to take the battle beyond mailboxes and office suites?"
"Sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they find a way to infect whole cities. You guys have already caught them studying crop dusters. Why do you think they did that? Seen any terrorist farmers recently?"
"You really believe they’re gonna try to spray anthrax on us like it was a pesticide - infidel poison? You think they’re going to drop it on us like it was confetti in some twisted tickertape parade?"
"Yep. Stock up on Cipro. You’re gonna need it," Isaac prophesied. "But that’s the least of your problems."
"Dirty bombs first, fission next." Yacob guessed.
"From what I’ve read, ‘radiological dispersion devices’ as the call them, aren’t all that lethal." Thor raised an eye, checking Isaac’s expression.
"If they use americium from smoke detectors, or barium from enemas, no. But cobalt 60, used in food processing plants, and cesium 137, used in X-ray machines, would kill a lot of people."
"Those elements are prevalent and available in America, sir. In fact," Josh warned, "your own Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that 835 devices containing radioactive material disappeared over the last five years."
"I don’t suppose you’re making this up just to make me feel better."
"’Fraid not," Josh continued. "Many contained cobalt 60, which is a gamma-emitter. It’s highly radioactive, with a half-life of five-point-three years. It’s especially lethal, permeating the skin and causing immediate cell damage, ionizing fleshy atoms. The rays weigh nothing and travel at light speed. Those who come in contact with cobalt 60 get cancer, mostly leukemia. Their immune systems will fail. The only good news is that it won’t last long, so it has to be used right after it’s stolen."
"But that’s nothing compared to what would happen if they got their hands on strontium 90," Isaac said. "It’s a beta-emitter with a half life of twenty-eight years. Beta rays are like light - they have both wave and particle properties. They’re ideal for dirty bombs because they can be contained within relatively light aluminum vessels. Gamma-emitters like cobalt need several centimeters of lead to control the radiation."
"And how would they get strontium?"
"Russian power plants. It’s a byproduct of fissionable uranium dioxide 235. They also produce plutonium," Yacob said. "Which is why energy-rich Arab nations are having the French and Russians build nuclear power plants. The first was Pakistan, followed by Iraq, Iran, and Libya. Anyway, a core reactor will have two hundred and fifty one-centimeter pellets per assembly and two hundred assemblies per core. The fission process of radioactive isotopes creates new substances like strontium. A measuring-cup load of this stuff would contaminate a city beyond salvation."
"The good news is, it’s a s-suicide mission. Would-be t-terrorists exposed to the isotope apart from its shielding wouldn’t live l-long. And the best materials are the hardest to h-handle. At 300 REMs they’d lose their hair and screw up their blood, hemorrhaging internally. At 600 REMs it would be all over. Eighty p-percent would die a miserable death."
"And as bad as all this sounds, sir, if they get their hands on a real nuke - fission - a million people could die. Especially if they put it in just the right place." Yacob looked down at the table.
Isaac explained another problem. "The two fissionable isotopes are uranium 235 and weapons-grade plutonium. They have half-lives of millions and billions of years. You could make a pillow out of the stuff and it wouldn’t affect you. That makes ’em hard to detect."
"But they can’t just waltz in here with it, can they? We have detection gear at critical points of entry. It’s not like they’re going to paddle up the Potomac and surprise us."
Moshe, the hardened warrior, looked pale. Unwilling to make eye contact, he seemed to be searching for something in his espresso cup. "I pray you’re right," the atheist mumbled.