The Catalyst

Many people have asked me to expand What If… into novel form. I have decided to do it, but it is a long process. I have to work on the book between my regular job, family life, and my other activism activities. Then there are the wasted hours that I work on the book where I decide that I do not like the direction I went with the story and erase it.

That brings us to here. When I originally started, I thought that I needed a catalyst that would bring America into a Christian frenzy. I decided to use terrorist attacks to accomplish this. Ultimately, I decided that it complicated the story too much and forced me to keep track of several fronts, physical and emotional. I also realized that I did not need a catalyst. A look at modern politics and social norms proves that a catalyst is unnecessary to send people over the religious edge.

I hated to delete the work that I had done with the terrorist attacks, though. After reading through the chapters a few more times I realized that they could work alone as a short story. I liked the way the story read and I did not have the nerve to hit the delete key. The only drawback was the cliffhanger at the end.

I changed a few details to help the story stand on its own, but I could not make too many changes – I did not want to rewrite another story. Consider the piece I have removed from the novel as an expose on religious fundamentalism in fictional form that does not have far to go to be non-fiction.

I hope you enjoy the chapters that I removed from the novel. Once the novel is done, it will be a true expansion and in line with the original short story.

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I – GENESIS

“And he made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies.” – II Samuel 22:12 (KJV)

Ahmad was scared. He knew that martyrdom awaited him in Heaven and that Allah would be pleased with his actions. He had been training for this day for years. He had been waiting for and dreading this day from the moment that Rahman Al-Sa’ud told him what was going to happen. The date was picked and the coordination was complete. They would strike a blow to the Great Satan – the infidel America.

Ahmad had picked up the truck last week from a Budget Truck rental in Fresno, California. He rented the truck for two weeks and drove it up to the house in Santa Rosa. The house, paid for by unknown financiers, housed 8 people. Ahmad knew all of them well and all of them were involved in the plan.

Each one had their task. For some, it was simply insuring that their identify remained hidden. Others had to secure explosives and detonators. Others had to arrange for transportation out of the area for the survivors after the deed was completed. Others were to remain around to draw the attention of law enforcement agencies, so that their leaders would not be caught.

Ahmad drove the truck down US-101 from Santa Rose and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Hasan was in the passenger seat to help should anything go wrong. Ahmad knew what Hasan was really there for. Hasan was picked to ensure that Ahmad carried out the mission – that he did not back out. Hasan had orders to kill Ahmad and complete the mission if it looked like Ahmad did not have the courage of Allah to kill the infidels.

Ahmad knew that Rahman Al-Sa’ud would be pleased with him because he would carry out the mission. Ahmad was scared, yes, but he was ready to meet Allah and be rewarded for carrying out his mission against the infidel. The Qur’an was clear, as Rahman Al-Sa’ud had read many times, that the infidel must die and that killing the infidel was a great service to Allah.

Ahmad was ready for his reward and was ready to die for Allah the Merciful as the Golden Gate Bridge faded away in his rearview mirror and he turned left onto Lombard Street.

Traffic was heavy this Saturday, as Ahmad turned left onto Van Ness Avenue and then right onto Bay Street. The streets were full of tourists visiting local attractions and locals going to their places of employment.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fahad and Hamad left their apartment in Riverside, California early in the morning. Their path would keep them off the freeways as the headed into Los Angeles. As they left Mission Boulevard and Bellegrave Avenue they thought about their mission and reflected on this day that they would fulfill the will of Allah. Both Fahad and Hamad wanted to become martyrs, but Bilaal did not want them to die on this day – he needed them to come back to Riverside after they completed their mission.

Fahad was saddened that he was not going to be a martyr on this day in such a glorious fashion, but Bilaal had told him that his day would come, that he would die gloriously for Allah while killing infidels. Before Fahad had even realized it they were already on SR-142, Carbon Canyon Road through Chino Hills.

Fahad noticed that Hamad, who was driving, was sweating profusely. Fahad reached over and touched Hamad’s hand, reassuring him. Hamad turned and faced him and gave him a weary smile. Fahad was ready to kill Hamad at any moment if he thought that Hamad could not complete the mission.

The rest of the drive was more complicated as they drove on surface streets toward their target. Fahad gave Hamad directions, but it was unnecessary, as Hamad had memorized this route many times over on his map, and he had driven it three times in their car.

As they continued down Washington Street, the areas of Commerce, Maywood, and Vernon seemed to blend together and time seemed to disappear. They drove casually and without haste. They did not need to be stopped by police for speeding or violating a traffic law. Any officer that stopped them would be a threat to their mission. Fahad was prepared to kill an officer that pulled them over, but it would waste time and they did not want to be late for their fate. They did not want to disappoint Allah or Bilaal.

As they turned onto Olympic Boulevard they both sensed an increase in each other’s tension. Fahad looked at Hamad and made sure he still looked confident. Hamad was sweating badly, and murmuring prayers, but he continued to drive and did not do anything that gave Fahad the sense that he would not complete his mission.

* * * * * * * * * *

Umar was on his own for his mission. Muhammad knew that Umar would complete his mission. Umar was dedicated to the cause and was ready to die for Allah and kill the infidels.

Umar had inspected and re-inspected the truck several times. Muhammad and Umar had worked on the truck in their garage for months – being very careful not to prematurely detonate their device and explosive mixture.

Umar left the garage mid-morning and began his drive westbound on Interstate 30 from Rockwall. Umar had avoided rush-hour traffic and the freeway was mostly clear. Umar checked his watch and knew that he might arrive early, but that was okay – he could park in the parking garage and wait for his designated time. If he timed it correctly, he should get there at the right time or close enough that he would not have to park.

Umar did not have to go through downtown, as he had plenty of time. Umar had driven this route many times before and knew that the best route was to take the Interstate 635 loop. Taking the outer loop took him an average of forty minutes every time he drove it. Umar had given himself fifty-five minutes to drive the route today.

Traffic was a little heavy from people going back to work after lunch, but it was not heavy enough to affect Umar’s drive time. As Umar continued on the I-635 he chanted verses of Sura 9 of the Qur’an to ease his mind and to help him to prepare for his martyrdom.

“But when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush.”

“Fight those who believe not in God not the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

“Go ye forth, lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of God. That is the best for you, if ye knew.”

Umar looked up and was amazed that he had driven so far in what seemed so little time. He exited Interstate 635 and went south on SR-121, International Parkway.

* * * * * * * * * *

Aziz had lived in this city all of his life. His parents were immigrants from Jordan. He was raised in American schools, wore American clothing, went to American movies, and had American friends. Aziz even had a Christian American girlfriend: an infidel.

Aziz had been a Muslim all his life, just as his parents were. When he was nineteen and attending college he met Imam Husayn and the Imam took him deeper into the understanding of Islam and into a deeper respect for Allah and the prophet Mohammed. Aziz learned about the evils of the Great Satan and of the infidels and he wanted to do something about it.

The Imam told him to keep leading his life as a normal Muslim-American and to not let anyone know what he was doing. The Imam introduced him to important people in the movement to teach the Great Satan a lesson from Allah.

Aziz found it difficult at times, but he was able to maintain the illusion that he was a normal American that loved the American way. The Imam thought the relationship with the Christian woman was a great touch in ensuring this image would perpetuate with his family, friends, and any law enforcement officers.

Aziz found it hardest to deal with his family. His parents and siblings were not devout Muslims and they had betrayed Allah by buying into the ways of the infidels. Aziz often felt tortured sitting in their living room watching American television with his family. He felt the urge to vomit many times sitting in theaters watching sex scenes on the movie screen with his friends. The closer that this day came, it became easier to control the disgust, as revenge became his motivator to keep up the illusion.

The city reminded him on a daily basis just how foul the infidels were. AIDS was rampant in the city and whores stood on many street corners on the “north side of the tracks,” as the local boys would say. The county had to build a new and bigger jail to house all the criminal infidels from the city. Drugs were everywhere.

Aziz wanted to destroy this city, but alas, it was not his target. Gallatin would stand as he drove his truck westbound on the US-31 through Hendersonville and closer to his target.

As Aziz merged onto Interstate 65 south, he reflected on his upcoming martyrdom. He was saddened that his family would not understand why he was doing this when the FBI concluded its investigation. Aziz had no doubt that the FBI would figure out that he had done this. He was hoping that they would not connect the dots back to his Imam and back to his great brothers across the Middle East that were funding and leading this campaign to ruin the Great Satan and destroy the infidels.

Aziz marveled at the skyline as he merged onto Interstate 24 east. Aziz was impressed with the beauty of the city. It was a shame that such a beautiful city was the home to so many infidels. Aziz regretted that the city had to be damaged, but it was necessary to bring the infidels to their knees and ensure the integrity of Islam and the message of the Prophet in the future.

The infidels had invaded the lands of the Prophet and disgraced the holiness of his homelands. The presence of the infidel’s military in the lands of the Prophet, their unwavering aid to the Jews, and their sexually immoral decadence that filled the televisions of his wavering brothers in the homeland was tantamount to an invasion.

It is the will of Allah to kill unbelieving invaders and to show no mercy. Allah would be merciful to those that fulfilled his will and for those only.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tariq left Union City eastbound on Interstate 78 and then northbound onto Interstate 95, the New Jersey Turnpike. Tariq came into the United States only four months ago. His travels took him in a round way to Mexico City. The point was to avoid going through US Customs. Tariq purchased a car in Mexico City and drove the long route to Acuna, Mexico, just south of Del Rio, Texas.

In the dark of night, Tariq joined Mexican nationals and crossed over the border west of Del Rio. Once inside Texas, Tariq separated from the Mexicans and headed to the US-90, where he was able to stop a car and kill the driver. Tariq then headed north on US-277 to the US-377 and then to Interstate 20. From there the rest of the drive would be easy on regular Interstate highways to New Jersey. Tariq ditched the stolen car just outside Fort Worth and purchased a new car with cash from a “buy here, pay here” local dealer in the Sansom Park area.

When Tariq made it to New Jersey he rented a small apartment in Union City. Every day he left the apartment in the morning and returned just after four in the afternoon. Tariq was not working, but he wanted his neighbors to think he was. During the day Tariq was making his preparations, but he was not moving any materials during the day – that work was done during the early hours of the morning with the help of his brothers in the area.

Tariq was familiar with the war on infidels. Tariq was born in Jordan and he had helped in the fight against the Jews in Israel. Tariq had killed many Jews in his life and he knew that his knowledge of explosives and the bombs he had built had helped others kill many more Jews and other infidels around the world.

Tariq had decided two years ago that it was time for him to become a martyr and let some of his younger brothers take over as bomb-makers. Tariq would make one more bomb.

* * * * * * * * * *

Qasim woke up early Saturday morning shaking and laying in a pool of sweat. His nightmares had become worse and more severe as this day had come. His only consolation as he sat in bed shivering from the combination of fear and cold air hitting his sweaty body, was that this was the last time he would have nightmares. He would sleep no more.

He walked into the kitchen of the Leesburg, Virginia apartment to see that Salim and Yasir were already awake. The three of them had been here for two years. They had moved to Leesburg two years ago from Miami on the orders of their contact. They did not know why they were ordered to Leesburg until three weeks ago, when the final order came in.

The last three weeks they had been consumed with preparations. They were excited about their task and ready to finally do something. They had lived among the infidels for so long in disgust that their hatred for them had increased tenfold. The television was a showcase of infidel immorality: full of sexual escapades, love triangles, gratuitous violence, skimpily clad women, vulgarities, and ultra-liberalism.

Even their Muslim brothers in America had become liberal and had caved into the evils of the Great Satan and the infidel inhabitants. They were ashamed of their brothers that had done such. It was hard to recruit brothers in America because so many had become tainted by the ways of America and surrendered to the culture.

Qasim knew in his heart that he was doing the right thing and he was sure that Salim and Yasir felt the same way. Qasim sat down at the table with his brothers and they enjoyed their last breakfast together in enjoyable silence.

After breakfast Yasir began clearing the table and putting the dishes in the sink. Qasim lightly grabbed his right arm, “Leave them, my brother. Allah has better and more noble things for you today than the work of a woman.”

The three of them loaded into the truck and began the drive toward their meeting with the Prophet and Allah. They drove southbound on SR-267 for almost twenty-nine miles until they reached Interstate 66. Interstate 66 would take them almost to their final resting place – where they would ascend to Heaven in the glory of Allah.

* * * * * * * * * *

The drive down Bay Street seemed to take forever as Ahmad took all his effort not to race to his destination. It was vital that Ahmad and Hasan avoid police detection and they made sure they were not suspicious. In the back of the truck were boxes and furniture to make it appear that they were moving.

The boxes were full of cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX). Ahmad knew not to ask how Rahman Al-Sa’ud got the RDX – it was not his business. Ahmad was not involved in the mixing of the RDX with the other chemicals and projectiles. Ahmad was not an explosives expert – Ahmad was a warrior, a warrior that would die a martyr in the name of Allah.

Ahmad reached the end of Bay Street and made the left turn on The Embarcadero. The Embarcadero was packed with traffic, but the target was close by. While Ahmad and Hasan were ready to become martyrs, they were patient and waited with the flow of traffic as their target grew nearer and nearer. Only 3/10 of a mile to go and they would meet Allah face-to-face and receive his great rewards for doing their part in killing infidels and striking a blow to the Great Satan. They were ready.

Ahmad stayed in the right lane as their target approached on the right. There were metal posts alongside the street, not to prevent attacks, but to prevent vehicles from striking the many pedestrians that lined the streets.

People were lining up for tickets for fairies to Alcatraz and boat trips under the Golden Gate Bridge. There were a lot of families lined up at the ticket booth for Underwater World. Musicians and other performers had drawn crowds at the front of the pier. Faces were smiling and laughter was heard.

Groups of tourists gathered around their flag-waving tour guides. The keen ear heard foreign languages. Children ran around their parents giggling and laughing as their excitement grew about going into Underwater World or riding the big boat under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ahmad veered the truck onto the sidewalk between the metal posts and began to speed up. Even in the cockpit of the truck he could hear the screams of people as the truck began barreling down on them. The truck rocked and swayed as he ran over men, women, and children whose vacations were interrupted by chaos, destruction, mayhem, and death.

Ahmad left a trail of bodies and blood behind him as he stayed on the gas pedal and continued toward his final resting place and his ascent to Heaven with Allah and the Prophet. As the pier came into full view, Ahmad turned the vehicle right. The truck bounced and threatened to tip over as he went over the steps, but it stabilized and he continued down the pier, throwing more bodies to the side and leaving a trail of utter destruction behind him.

The San Francisco 911 operator boards lit up at once as frantic calls from cell phones and businesses came in seconds after the truck had struck the first person. 911 operators looked around in bewilderment as the board continued to light up. Frantic callers were reporting that a truck had lost control and was driving down the sidewalk and onto Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The dispatchers realized quickly that the number of callers and their descriptions were indicative that this was not a simple traffic accident – this was a major traffic accident with a lot of injuries and deaths. While the 911 operators dispatched fire, paramedic, and police units to the scene, the watch supervisor picked up his phone and dialed the number to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The operator at the EOC picked up the phone and listened to the watch supervisor. She turned to her companion and told him to activate Mass Casualty procedures immediately. Within seconds, all across the city, pagers beeped and cell phones rang as EOC personnel and emergency managers were called into their offices and to the EOC.

People across the city heard the sirens all over the place and wondered what was going on. Sirens in such a large city are not uncommon, but to the keen observer, it was clear that something huge was happening: so many sirens at once were not common.

Ahmad stopped the truck and looked at Hasan. Hasan smiled at him and said, “I will see you alongside Allah, my friend. Peace upon you.” Ahmad just had time to notice all the angry people on the pier running toward the truck, hands and fists in the air, screaming, before he pressed trigger device. The time was 12:17 PST.

Pier 39 is a major attraction along the Fisherman’s Wharf. It is full of restaurants, shops, attractions, and it is home for many harbor seals. Pier 39 was obliterated in nanoseconds as the RDX and combined chemicals did their job. The projectiles included in the mixtures, a hodgepodge of nails, screws, ball bearings, and anything else they could fit into the packages, ripped apart flesh, wood, metal, and anything else in the way. The fire and explosion demolished buildings and incinerated human flesh in seconds.

Boats parked in the marina next to Pier 39 rocked and swayed for a few seconds before they burst into flames and then began taking on water as holes were punched into them by flying shrapnel from the device and debris from the pier. People were blasted off surrounding piers and thrown for hundreds of feet in the air: some of them slamming into boats and buildings and others, landing in the water.

Along The Embarcadero cars were flung off the street and flipped into and on top of other cars and onto the sidewalks – some being thrown into the parking garage across the street. Buses toppled and people were thrown across the street – many of them on fire. Cars exploded and fires began raging in the street. The shockwave and wall of fire was doing what the design of the bomb wanted it to do – to do major damage in a large area.

What seemed like an eternity was only a few seconds. The sound of the blast was heard for miles and many people in the city saw the explosion out their high-rise windows. Glass shattered in windows for blocks around Pier 39, causing more casualties.

It was only a few minutes before the first fire and ambulance assets began arriving at the scene from the initial 911 calls. It wouldn’t take long before everyone realized that this was not a major traffic accident, that something terrible had gone wrong.

San Francisco Paramedic Tim O’Connor stepped out of his ambulance and stood perfectly still. He could not believe what he was seeing. Around him were bodies, body parts, burning cars, and debris, some of it still falling to the ground. The water was strewn with debris and floating bodies, most dead, but some yelling for help. Fires burned everywhere – on the street, in the parking garage, in buildings alongside the Fisherman’s Wharf, on boats in the water, and on people laying in the streets and parking garage.

As Tim began walking toward the nearest victim that appeared to be alive, he noticed several bodies hanging on the parking garage and pieces of flesh dangling on the few light poles that had survived whatever happened here.

He bent down to check out the victim he had walked to when he looked to his left and noticed that Pier 39 was gone.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hamad slowed the truck down near South Peck Drive and began to make the right turn. Hamad pulled the truck over to the curb only one hundred or so feet after the turn. He turned to Fahad and gave him a weak smile, “My friend and brother, this is a momentous day for Allah and the believers. I only wish I was not so scared. I am afraid to kill so many, even if they are…” The last thing Hamad saw was the flash from the gun that had appeared in front his face.

Fahad pulled the body of Hamad across the bench seat to the passenger side of the truck and pushed his body to the floorboard. He then pulled himself into the driver’s seat and stared at the body of Hamad, “I am sorry my brother. You have done your part and I hope that our father will not know of your cowardice and shame to our family. I will fulfill our fate and meet Allah face-to-face and mourn for you and miss you.” The truck pulled away from the curb and continued driving north on South Peck Drive.

Half a mile later Fahad made the right turn onto Wilshire Boulevard and began looking for his designated place to park the truck. It then dawned on him that he would no longer be able to complete the mission as planned. He could not leave the truck here with Hamad’s body on the floorboard – it would not go unnoticed. Fahad must alter the mission and complete it on site instead of remotely.

Sixty yards after the right turn Fahad stopped the truck in the middle of the street. He looked around at all the tourists, shoppers, motorists, and at the people eating in the restaurants. The front of Planet Hollywood stared back at him – a symbol of the Great Satan’s greed. Fahad heard the honking of horns behind him and he looked in his rearview mirror. Cars were beginning to back up behind him and it was clearing out in front of him.

He saw the lights first and then heard the siren of the motorcycle police officer coming up beside him. The officer stepped off his motorcycle and approached Fahad’s door. Fahad began to panic and he could feel his heart begin to beat strongly and quickly in his chest. Fahad moved his gun closer to his right hip, but left it on the seat.

The police officer motioned for Fahad to roll his window down and Fahad complied instinctively without thinking about what he was doing. “Sir, you’re blocking traffic. Is there a problem with the truck?”

No sir, there is nothing wrong with the truck.” Fahad paused and looked around at the street and then over to his right side where the gun lay and then he thought about the triggering device under the bench seat. “The truck is where it should be. The Great Satan will pay for its greed today and I will help bring that punishment. Today the infidels will die.”

Officer Ellsworth stepped up the stepladder of the truck to talk to Fahad and noticed a body on the floorboard of the passenger seat. He registered what Fahad had said and his internal alarm bells began ringing. Ellsworth reached for his gun and jumped off the stepladder. He pointed his gun at the driver and called into his radio, “7 Mary 15 requesting immediate backup at Wilshire and Peck.”

The driver looked at him and smiled and reached down under his seat. Ellsworth had never had to fire his weapon and he didn’t want to do it today. Ellsworth saw the motion to the floor and shouted, “Show me your hands! Let me see your hands!”

The driver wasn’t listening to him and he was beginning to panic. Ellsworth watched as the driver came up and was holding a gun. Ellsworth realized that this was turning bad, quickly, “Put the gun down! Drop the gun!”

The driver failed to comply and Ellsworth fired. The driver fell over to his right and out of Ellsworth’s view, “7 Mary 15, shots fired, shots fired, request immediate backup!”

Ellsworth could just make out the voice of the dispatcher sending more units his way as he approached the stepladder. Ellsworth could feel the adrenaline rushing through his body and he noticed that his hands were shaking. It was difficult to hold his gun as he pulled himself up to look inside the truck’s window.

Fahad felt the bullet hit his left shoulder and felt the intense and searing pain run down his left arm, up his neck, and down his left flank. He fell to his right side and gasped. He held the detonation device in his hand and struggled to hold onto it as his strength was sapped away from him quickly. He could feel the warmth of the blood running down his arm and abdomen and knew that it was a serious wound. He had to complete the mission.

Fahad looked to his left and saw the police officer’s head come into view in his window. Fahad hoped that Bilaal would not be too upset that neither he nor Hamad would return as Bilaal wanted.

Fahad mustered all the strength he could and depressed the button looking forward to standing next to Allah in all his glory and reaping the great reward of his martyrdom by killing infidels of the Great Satan.

Officer Ellsworth looked inside the cab of the truck and saw the driver hunched over. His bullet had hit the driver in the left shoulder and it looked like the bullet may have exited the driver’s chest. The driver was gasping and shaking.

Ellsworth noticed that the gun was still in the driver’s right hand and he took the time to look at it closely. He could hear the approach of sirens when he realized the gun was not what it seemed. It was some kind of triggering device. Realization dawned on Ellsworth’s face as the driver turned to him, smiled, and pressed the trigger. Ellsworth never felt his death, but realized for a few nanoseconds that he was going to die. The time was 12:23 PST.

The explosion decimated five city blocks along Wilshire and up side streets like Dayton and Camden. The lunch rush crowds along the street, in the restaurants, and shops were slaughtered as the bomb ripped apart the truck and sent fire and shrapnel in every direction.

The wall of flame slithered down the street relentlessly, swallowing people, cars, buildings, and everything else. The shockwave preceding it knocked people over and toppled cars, preventing people from having even a remote chance of escaping the wall of flame hurtling toward them. Screams were muted as flames engulfed victims.

Patrons inside Planet Hollywood watched the scene unfold in front of them as the officer walked alongside the truck. They heard the shot and several ducked below their tables. Others strained their necks to get a closer look. They watched as the officer stepped up on the stepladder and looked into the cabin of the truck.

Several patrons were trying to quiet down those that had screamed and were talking – trying to hear what was going on and to get a better look. Several tourists retrieved their video cameras and began videoing the unfolding action on Wilshire Boulevard.

All they saw was a flash. The heat and flames from the blast combined with the shattering glass seared and tore flesh as the shockwave threw bodies, tables, and chairs to the back of the restaurant. The front of the building collapsed immediately. The kitchen staff heard the explosion and had time to realize that their death was imminent. The explosion ripped through the kitchen and secondary explosions from gas lines fueled the ferocity of the detonation.

All along Wilshire Boulevard and side streets the decimation was absolute. Buildings fell and debris flung through the air for blocks. Windows shattered miles away and many people living tens of blocks away swore they felt an earthquake as their windows rattled.

The plume of smoke was seen as far away as Santa Monica beach, LAX, and downtown Los Angeles. For those lucky enough to survive the initial blast, many asphyxiated in the thick and toxic smoke that permeated every inch of street alongside Wilshire Boulevard. Others continued to die throughout the day as buildings finally succumbed to their weakened structure from the blast and fires.

* * * * * * * * * *

Airport traffic was thick this Saturday and Umar was patient. He drove the truck with the flow of traffic and used his turn signal to change lanes. Umar wanted to be in the farthest left lane when he accomplished his mission. There was only one terminal on the right and three on the left. He ideally wanted to enter from the South to be closer to the three east terminals, but the southern route was too unpredictable when it came to traffic.

As Umar pulled closer to terminal C, he prepared himself mentally for his task. Umar pulled the truck into the unloading zone on the southbound side across from Terminal C and sat in silence.

Umar looked around at all the infidels going into and coming out of the airport terminals. He watched the greedy Americans in their fancy cars and glitzy clothes. He watched scantily clad young American woman scurry about and showing their legs as they reached into their trunks to retrieve their luggage. He watched couples kissing and hugging in public in front of the terminal.

Umar was repulsed. At this moment this place was the epitome of abomination to Allah and these people were the worst of the infidels. As Umar felt his stomach tightening and his blood pressure rising from his disgust at the display in front of him, he closed his eyes and began to pray. Umar finished his prayer and depressed the button on the trigger device and embraced martyrdom with all of his heart. The time was 14:37 CST.

There are four terminals along International Parkway at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport: A, B, C, and E. The blast ripped through terminals A, C, and E on the east side of International Parkway. The Sky Bridge connecting terminals B and A toppled to the street. The tightness of the street squeezed the shockwave and wall of flames and pushed them faster along in the north and south direction.

Cars were flung along the street and into the air. As heat, flame, and glass entered the terminals people screamed, but the screams did not last long. The inside of terminal C incinerated in a heartbeat as flames continued up escalators and into security areas.

Terminal A and E fared a little better being at a cattycorner angle to the truck, but the damage was immense, nonetheless. Flames and debris entered the terminals and decimated the people inside. Carpet, chairs, plastics, luggage, and ticket counters erupted into flame from the heat blast, which continued to fuel the rampaging flames.

As rescue workers started to arrive a few minutes later they were greeted by the greatest carnage they had ever seen. Many found it hard to get their feet moving and most had no idea where to begin. The chain of command had not materialized and no one was talking to each other. The scene was utter chaos.

The chaos was exacerbated an hour later as the roof over the ticketing area of Terminal C collapsed, killing many rescue workers.

* * * * * * * * * *

Airport traffic was thick this Saturday and Umar was patient. He drove the truck with the flow of traffic and used his turn signal to change lanes. Umar wanted to be in the farthest left lane when he accomplished his mission. There was only one terminal on the right and three on the left. He ideally wanted to enter from the South to be closer to the three east terminals, but the southern route was too unpredictable when it came to traffic.

As Umar pulled closer to terminal C, he prepared himself mentally for his task. Umar pulled the truck into the unloading zone on the southbound side across from Terminal C and sat in silence.

Umar looked around at all the infidels going into and coming out of the airport terminals. He watched the greedy Americans in their fancy cars and glitzy clothes. He watched scantily clad young American woman scurry about and showing their legs as they reached into their trunks to retrieve their luggage. He watched couples kissing and hugging in public in front of the terminal.

Umar was repulsed. At this moment this place was the epitome of abomination to Allah and these people were the worst of the infidels. As Umar felt his stomach tightening and his blood pressure rising from his disgust at the display in front of him, he closed his eyes and began to pray. Umar finished his prayer and depressed the button on the trigger device and embraced martyrdom with all of his heart. The time was 14:37 CST.

There are four terminals along International Parkway at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport: A, B, C, and E. The blast ripped through terminals A, C, and E on the east side of International Parkway. The Sky Bridge connecting terminals B and A toppled to the street. The tightness of the street squeezed the shockwave and wall of flames and pushed them faster along in the north and south direction.

Cars were flung along the street and into the air. As heat, flame, and glass entered the terminals people screamed, but the screams did not last long. The inside of terminal C incinerated in a heartbeat as flames continued up escalators and into security areas.

Terminal A and E fared a little better being at a cattycorner angle to the truck, but the damage was immense, nonetheless. Flames and debris entered the terminals and decimated the people inside. Carpet, chairs, plastics, luggage, and ticket counters erupted into flame from the heat blast, which continued to fuel the rampaging flames.

As rescue workers started to arrive a few minutes later they were greeted by the greatest carnage they had ever seen. Many found it hard to get their feet moving and most had no idea where to begin. The chain of command had not materialized and no one was talking to each other. The scene was utter chaos.

The chaos was exacerbated an hour later as the roof over the ticketing area of Terminal C collapsed, killing many rescue workers.

* * * * * * * * * *

President Eric Tanner made an announcement at 15:55 EST. President Tanner entered the pressroom slowly and methodically. His facial expression seemed distant and distressed. As he stepped behind the podium, several members of his cabinet filed in behind him, each looking as glum as the others. Tanner placed his hands on the podium and cleared his throat.

“My fellow Americans, it is with great sadness that I must report that the United States is under attack by unknown forces. Explosions have occurred in San Francisco, Los Angels, Dallas, and Nashville. It is obvious that these are not accidents. I am pleading with all Americans to return to your homes immediately. If you are already at home, please stay inside. Watch your local or cable broadcasters and stay tuned for emergency information as we make it available. I have mobilized the National Guard in every state to respond to this emergency and I have brought all military forces to DEFCON-2 until we can establish the method of attack and who is behind the attacks. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by these horrible attacks. I cannot imagine what the loss of life will be. I can assure all of you that the United States will find the attackers and we will punish them. In the meantime, please return to your homes and stay put.”

Unfortunately, the President’s warning did not come soon enough…

* * * * * * * * * *

From Interstate 95 Tariq took the Lincoln Tunnel over to Manhattan. This was an easy drive for Tariq. His target was not far now. Tariq made the left turn onto Dyer Avenue toward 42nd Street. A right on 42nd Street, a left on 8th Avenue, a right on 44th Street and his final right on Broadway and he could see his place of martyrdom.

As Tariq passed 43rd Street he watched his victims with great satisfaction knowing that they would all be dead. Times Square was full of locals and tourists. All of them were watching the big screen TV in front of them. They were watching the work of his brothers across the United States. Tariq smiled at knowing that these people would die in their greatest moment of grief for their fellow infidels and during their greatest moment of realization that their country was being brought to its knees by the will of Allah.

Tariq drove the truck another fifty feet or so and stopped. He took one final glance around at the crowds, with their necks strained to look up at the big screen television showing the destruction brought upon the infidels by Allah and his martyred brothers and he depressed the triggering device.

Tariq didn’t understand why he was still seeing the crowds. Was he dead? Tariq heard the blaring of horns behind him and realized that something had gone wrong with the triggering device. Tariq turned on his flashers and stepped out of the truck. He waved to motorists behind him to go around, hoping that if he pretended to be broke down that he would not raise as much attention with angry drivers while he sorted this out.

Tariq opened up the back panel of the truck and climbed in. The truck was full of furniture and boxes, giving motorists behind him the appearance that Tariq was moving. Tariq squeezed between a wall unit and mattress to the boxes in the middle that contained the bomb he had built. He immediately saw the problem when he opened up the box holding the triggering unit.

One of the wires from the remote receiver to the triggering device had come loose. Tariq did not have the tools he needed to reattach the cable, but now it was not necessary. Tariq opened the case of the triggering device and depressed the override switch that he had installed. The time was 16:03 EST.

Thousands were gathered in Times Square. The big screen television had drawn them in from blocks to watch events unfold across America as bomb after bomb was detonated and news came in from local affiliates. The images were horrifying and captivating at the same time. The crowd was subdued and quiet, but crying was heard everywhere you went, long sighs of desperation were heard and felt.

The devastation on the screen was impressive. The bombs had taken their toll on people and structures in every case. The decimation of Fisherman’s Wharf and the scenes of floating bodies in the water were horrific and as new film was shown on the big screen the gasps and sounds of horror-stricken people filled Times Square. Traffic was slow as drivers strained to look out their windows to get a view of the big screen.

Nobody noticed the truck that stopped to the right and nobody noticed when the driver exited the truck and opened the back. Trucks that parallel park to empty their contents for local shops and restaurants were not an uncommon scene in New York, or any major city for that matter.

Distance, in an explosion, is key to how one reacts. The father away you are from the explosion, the more reaction you are allowed. When nuclear weapons were the scare many people would often say, “I hope I’m at ground zero and that I’m incinerated instantly. I don’t want to survive and go through the horror and agony of a slow radiation caused death.”

They can say that, but people try to survive. Many die because they do nothing – too scared to move or they are followers and don’t know what to do because no one in their area is leading. Many resort to stampeding and running in the same direction as everyone else, not really sure if it’s the safest thing to do or not – possibly running deeper into the danger. Many follow their routine instead of looking for alternate routes.

Many die in building fires because they follow the routine of going out the way they came in – the main entrance. Forgetting all the EXIT signs they saw along the way – they must maintain routine, and besides, the doors have large red writing on them that say an alarm will sound if they open it. We don’t want to break the rules – even when our lives are in danger. We are cattle to our death.

For those within Times Square, they did not have to worry about the Cattle Syndrome or make the decision of whether they should duck and cover or run for their lives. They were incinerated instantly. Many people a couple of blocks down Broadway and 7th Avenue had a few seconds to realize their life was about to end. Some started to turn and run, but they never made a first step before they were thrown into the air and engulfed by flames and heat and shredded by flying debris.

Along the side streets of 42nd and 43rd Streets the scene was different. The heat, flames, and shockwave were barreling down Broadway and 7th Avenue with an almost liquid viscosity, but down the side streets it seemed to take forever. People were running away from the wall of fire and fragments that were coming at them. They had time to run, they had time to think that maybe they could make it. Several smarter people dodged into doors of buildings lining the streets and made their way to the backs of those buildings. Most people remained in cattle mode and kept on running in vain.

As they were running they could hear the short-lived screams of people behind them as the wall of fire reached them. The could hear cars, trash cans, bricks, glass, paneling, fire hydrants, and other debris clashing together and gnashing like teeth – ready to grind them and be swallowed by the consuming fire.

The wall of flame and debris finally died down at 9th Avenue and settled into the four-way intersection of 9th and 43rd and 9th and 42nd. In the opposite direction the wall of fire and debris settled down just before 5th Avenue.

Broadway and 7th Avenue did not fare as well. The fluid-like nature of the fire roared like water from a flashflood up and down Broadway all the way to 49th Street to the north and to 37th Street to the south.

Buildings were crumbled and fires raged for city blocks. The smoke and debris filled the air and made it impossible to see; visibility was less than one foot. Bones littered the roads with the other debris, the flesh and muscle scorched off in the intense heat. Cars continued to explode up and down the streets as the fires continued to burn.

As the roar of the explosion began to die down the distinct sound of screams and cries for help was heard up, down, and across the streets that were devastated. These were silenced by the loud crash of buildings continuing to crumble and cars continuing to explode. The sound of approaching sirens could be heard.

As rescue units began to arrive and the smoke began to lift, making visibility about ten feet, the destruction became more obvious. The debris and bodies that littered the streets was horrific enough, but knowing that a sixteen square block area of New York city had been devastated struck at the very hearts of responders and most of them found it hard to enter the area – struck dumbfounded and impotent with the knowledge of the vastness of the devastation and the realization that they were but a single person, a fragile crumb on the table of humanity.

For hours after the blast, buildings continued to crumble and fall, causing more fatalities and injuries. Rescue efforts were hampered by the falling buildings, continued secondary explosions, and falling debris from the taller buildings. Fires were raging in many buildings and threatening to spread to surrounding areas.

The city of New York was left with no choice – the people in the affected area were on their own as the city’s fire fighters struggled to control the fires on the outlying area of the blast – trying to prevent them from spreading to the rest of the city.

* * * * * * * * * *

As they crossed over the Potomac River and Theodore Roosevelt Island, Qasim could see their target like a giant spire reaching toward the heavens. Qasim was reminded of the spire of a mosque every time he saw it, and this angered him, that the infidels would create such an object as to resemble anything on a sacred mosque.

Interstate 66 ended and Constitution Avenue began as they continued to drive west. A right turn onto 14th Street, US-1, and they were there. They parked almost center to the Washington Monument between Madison and Jefferson Drives. The National Mall was so long and to their left they could see the Capitol Building – the infidel government.

Qasim had pleaded with his contact to destroy the Capitol Building or the White House, but his contact had refused him. The contact had told Qasim that his brothers around America were going to strike the physical bodies of the infidels and that his job was to strike their souls.

Qasim was not disappointed though, as he looked around the National Mall. There were picnickers, joggers, walkers, tourists, and lots of buses. Cars were everywhere along Constitution and Independence Avenue. Behind him was the National Museum of American History and to his left was the Smithsonian Institute. Nearby was the Department of Agriculture.

What pleased Qasim the most about this location was the presence of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in front of him on Independence Avenue. They would not only strike the infidels of the Great Satan, but he would damage a symbol of the Jews. Smiling brightly, he turned to Salim and Yasir, “It is time, my brothers. I will see you with Allah on this glorious day.”

Salim removed the triggering device from the glove compartment and handed it to Qasim. As they had planned, all three of them would help in the deaths of the infidels and the destruction of their monument. Each of them put a hand on the triggering device as their thumbs overlapped on the trigger. “Die in peace my brothers and become martyrs in the name of Allah as his will,” Yasir said as the three of them depressed the trigger. The time was 16:09 EST.

* * * * * * * * * *

Massachusetts Representative Danny Cushing was sitting on the west steps of the Capitol building with his aide. They liked to come out here and enjoy the view of the National Mall as they discussed business before going home. Of course today was not a regular business day, they had come in as soon as the attack on San Francisco and Los Angeles had occurred. It was important for them to be in their office.

They usually watched the tourists walking along the pathways toward the south visitor receiving facility and at the service kiosk located at the Maryland Avenue and 1st Street roundabout. They almost did not come out here today because of what had happened during the last hour across the nation, but Cushing said the fresh air would do them some good.

Noticing that the National Mall was not as busy as normal for a Saturday, Cushing figured this was due to the fact that most people were still in homes and hotels watching the news unfold across the country.

“I’m telling you Danny, it’s those god-damned Muslims that are doing this,” espoused Cushing’s Aide, Will.

“You may be right, Will. I don’t believe it’s any of the anti-government groups in the US. I just don’t see them having the resources to accomplish something this big. Of course, to be honest, I didn’t think any of the known terrorist groups that we track had these resources, either.” Cushing paused and thought back to some of his intelligence briefings, trying to wrap his mind around what was happening.

“I think we’ve underestimated most groups worldwide. Those raghead bastards are responsible. I bet we’ll see them on ACN tonight dancing around, firing their guns in the air, and burning American flags in the streets of Baghdad, Tehran, Gaza, Damascus, and Cairo!” Will was fired up. Cushing had flinched at Will’s use of the word “raghead,” but he let it slide because of Will’s current emotional state.

“Will, I know that, but what can we do about those countries? They’re not democracies and we have no authority over those people. All we can do is sit here and watch them on the news and wish we could smack them around a bit. All I do know is that whoever is responsible is going to…” Cushing fell silent as a bright flash filled his view at the end of the National Mall.

Cushing stared in astonishment as the flash turned into flame. The Washington Monument disappeared behind a thick rolling ball of smoke and flame that was advancing eastward down the National Mall.

Cushing and his Aide stood up and began to take in the details of the event. Cars were being blown ahead of the advancing flames along Constitution and Independence Avenues. They could make out the ant-size figures of people in the National Mall being engulfed by the advancing storm of fire, smoke, and wreckage.

He became aware of screams all around him and he noticed that the few tourists at the kiosk and along the pathways had turned to look and were screaming. Many of them were beginning to run in the opposite direction. Cushing’s Aide began to turn and he grabbed Cushing’s arm. Cushing stood his ground, “I need to see this, Will. Leave if you must.”

Will, with a resigned look on his face, began to turn around when the shockwave hit them and threw them to the ground. Cushing could feel the heat in the shockwave and knew immediately that this was a powerful explosion. As he was getting to his feet his heart was racing and his eyes were tearing up. He felt helpless to do anything for all the people down there.

At first he was glad to be on the steps of the Capitol Building because of the advantage point and being able to see everything that was unfolding. As the death and destruction moved father away from the detonation point and he witnessed so many people dying, he was wishing he was back in his office – but he must stay and view this – he must not run.

Cushing wanted to soak it in, as fearful as he was, so that he would remember. He wanted to see what these animals were doing to his country. He needed to know the details so he could use them to motivate himself for future action against these barbarians. He knew that these attacks would send his country in a new direction, that war was coming.

The wall of flames, billowing smoke, and rubble stopped just short of the 4th Street crossover of the National Mall. In front of it was a pile of cars, people, and other wreckage. The smoke was thick across the National Mall and only the tops of some buildings could be seen. He could not see the tops of some of the Smithsonian Institute’s many buildings along Jefferson Avenue.

He knew every inch of this skyline from years of sitting out on these very steps enjoying the view that he was now despising to see. He knew that the tops of many of the Smithsonian buildings should be visible at this point and he arrived at the correct conclusion that they had toppled.

He could also tell from his vantage point that the Washington Monument was gone, as he was able to view that area between the wisps of smoke. He could just now make out the sound of approaching rescue units as their sirens strained to pierce the dense smoke. The air was full of floating debris and some of it was fluttering down on the steps of the building.

Cushing reached down and grabbed a piece of paper that had fallen near his feet. He looked at it and fell to his knees and began to cry uncontrollably. As he pulled his fists to his face, the paper fell beside him – a paper from a child’s coloring book with a dinosaur that had been almost completed by the child that was coloring it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mike Fulton and his wife Deborah were watching the events unfold on the living room television. They were huddled together on the couch in tears as the scenes of destruction and death played out in front of them. Several times Deborah had covered her eyes and sobbed heavily as Mike consoled her.

Their children, Amanda and Thomas, were in their rooms. Deborah has asked them to leave the living room because she did not want them seeing the footage coming in to the American Cable News (ACN).

Amanda, 13-years-old, left the living room but did not go to her room as she was told. She was standing in the hallway listening to the reports. She was old enough to understand what was going on, but she did not grasp the full consequences. She knew that many people had died and more were dying and she felt a great sadness.

Thomas, 10-years-old, had obeyed his parents and went to his room where he was sitting at his desk coloring. Every now and then he glanced out into the hallway to see his sister standing there and he would frown. Thomas didn’t like it when Amanda disobeyed their parents, but he would not tattletale on her. Thomas could hear bits and pieces from the living room television and he knew his parents were deeply upset at what was going on.

All Thomas knew was that there had been a fire and a lot of people died in San Francisco. He didn’t know why his parents didn’t want him to watch. He knew his Mom was crying and he wanted to go to her and comfort her.

Amanda could hear her parents talking in the living room, “Deb, we really ought to let the kids watch this. They need to know what is happening. This isn’t gratuitous violence in a movie – this is reality. They have the right to know that people are dying.”

“They’re so young and fragile. I don’t want them to see this. What are we going to tell them? How are we going to explain this to them?” Deborah sobbed a little bit harder as she thought of her children and how this would affect them.

“I know one thing, “ Mike interjected, “that this will be easier to explain if they can see what we are trying to explain.”

Deborah looked over at Mike and smiled at him. She knew he was right, but as a protective mother she felt obligated to protect her children from images of horror. Her mind and her heart were torn over this issue. Mike, always the logical one, was usually right when it came to these issues. She envied his ability to put aside his emotions and approach something logically and rationally.

Deborah was not someone that disowned reason and logic, for she had used them to leave mainstream religion, but her heart was still very spiritual. Deborah had been a Taoist for over ten years now. Mike, an Atheist, had never criticized her for her religious beliefs and had often helped her do many of the things she wanted to that revolved around her beliefs. Mike had been a great supporter. As she looked into his eyes she could see his concern and compassion, but she also saw his conviction that the children should be watching this with them.

“As we watch this, it will be easier as we can console each other and gain strength from each other. If we isolate them from this, it will be much harder to console them. This is something we should be doing together – something we should be sharing as a family,” would be the last thing Mike would say on the issue, she could see that in his eyes and posture.

Mike made his opinion known, but he never battered you with them. He gave you time to let it soak in and make your own decision. Deborah decided that Mike was right and she called to Amanda and Thomas to come out into the living room.

As they came into the living room, with Amanda in the lead, Deborah felt her heart sink. This was going to be tough on the children, not just because of their age, but because they would have a hard time understanding the full implications of what was going on.

Deborah supposed that such naivety might be beneficial for them to a degree, while Mike and her, being fully aware of the ramifications of what was unfolding in front of them, would have to deal with every aspect of it.

“Your father and I have talked about this and we think it would better if you guys watched this with us,” as she waved them over to join Mike and her on the couch.

Amanda settled in next to her father on his left and Thomas cuddled up with his mother on her right. “I need to fill you guys in on what has happened so far before you watch any of this,” as he muted the television. “There has been more than one attack today. A bomb went off in San Francisco and Los Angeles in California. Another bomb went off at the airport in Dallas and another one in Nashville. Just a few minutes ago another bomb went off in New York City.”

Amanda looked at her father and he immediately began to doubt his decision as he saw the pain and suffering in her welling tears. He couldn’t help but to think how innocent she was. His firstborn child always held a special place in his heart – she was Daddy’s girl. He loved his children equally; there was no doubt about that, but the fact that Amanda was a girl made his heart pang a little more. He knew it was slightly sexist of him to think that way, but to hell with political correctness and the women’s movement – she was his daughter and his little baby girl.

Thomas, on the other side of his mother, looked at Mike with his big blue eyes and smiled at his Daddy. Mike knew that Thomas was trying to be a big boy and not cry and that saddened him a little. Mike had gone out of his way to teach Thomas that it was okay to cry, that boys didn’t have to be super macho. Thomas was good at hiding his real emotions on any issue, but he still gave off signs that Mike and Deborah had learned to read over the years. Thomas was upset over this, it was clear by his posture and body language, but he struggled to maintain his composure.

Mike reached across Deborah and grabbed Thomas’ hand, “It’s going to be okay. America will get through this and life will go on. A lot of people have died today and we’ll probably go to war because of this. It’s okay to cry for the deaths of so many people. This is a very sad moment with all those dead…”

Deborah looked at Mike and saw that he had started to cry. Thomas stood up and went over to hug his daddy. As Mike embraced his son he began to sob harder, “All those people…”

Deborah turned to her left and embraced Mike and she felt the arms of Amanda reach around the both of them. Thomas began to cry in Mike’s arms and Amanda’s tears had turned into sobs. The four of them remained on the couch embracing each other, a means of comfort and consolation in the arms of the ones that they loved.

“Daddy, the President,” Amanda stated as she pointed at the currently muted television. Mike wiped his eyes and grabbed the remote and pressed the mute button, returning the volume to the television speakers. Mike turned the volume up slightly, since there was no longer a reason to hide the voices of newscasters from the children anymore.

“We’re switching now to the White House pressroom where President Tanner is giving a press conference. I’m sure we are going to hear more about what is going on,” introduced the newscaster on ACN.

The President walked into the room and stepped behind the podium. Secretary of Defense Abita came in behind him and stood to the President’s left. Both looked very somber. The President stepped closer to the microphone and began his speech.

“It was with a heavy heart that I have witnessed today’s events across the United States. I must plead again with all Americans to return to your homes and stay inside. In the event of another attack, we do not want a lot of people on the streets. If you live in major cities, please go home. This is a sad day for America, but we will not let this deter us from our freedoms.”

The President continued, “You can rest assured that the perpetrators of these attacks will be dealt with severely. FBI specialists are in route to the attack scenes as I speak. I have received authorization from Congress to place ten billion dollars into a special account to be used by any agency in the investigation of these attacks. Congress has assured me that the ten billion dollars is only the beginning and if it takes more it will be authorized without objection. I want to thank the Congress for the quick and decisive action in this great time of need in America. This is the time…”

The sound of the explosion was clear on the television. The camera shook as newsmen dropped to the floor. Mike and Deborah watched in astonishment as the President and Secretary of Defense were rushed away by Secret Service personnel and chaos began in the pressroom.

“Jan, I don’t know if you can hear me or not, but that was clearly an explosion that we just heard in the pressroom. Obviously the explosion was not in the White House, but it may be close by. Secret Service personnel took the President and Secretary away. Jan? Are you there? Can you hear me?” The newsman was trying to stand back up and regain his composure.

The ACN newscaster was brought into a side panel next to the live shot of the pressroom, “Bob, I can hear you. We heard the explosion over here and saw the President whisked away. Are you okay, Bob? Are you injured in any way?”

“No, no, I’m fine. It looks like everyone in here is okay. There may be a few bumps and bruises, but as you can see the explosion was not in the White House. I’m going to see if I can get outside and find out what’s going on. Jim, if you can follow me outside, we’ll see if we can find the source of that explosion.” The cameraman picked up the camera and the image jostled back and forth as he followed Bob toward the back of the pressroom. Several Secret Service personnel had stepped into the doorway.

“Please, stay in the pressroom until we can ascertain what is going on. For your safety and the safety of the President, please return to your seats. The Press Secretary will be in to give you a briefing as soon as he can.” The Secret Service personnel clearly had no intention of letting anyone out of the room.

“Bob, this is Jan, we’re going to cut over to our local affiliate, who has a cameraman near the Capitol Building. I hope you can see this feed.” The view on the screen flicked over to a camera that was bobbing up and down, clearly on the shoulders of the cameraman. The image was fuzzy and intermittent lines of static rolled across the view.

The cameraman was talking as he was walking, “I can’t believe what I am seeing. Almost the entire National Mall is in ruins. The smoke is still pretty heavy in the area. There are fires raging all alongside the Mall and cars are everywhere. They’re all burning. Oh my God, all the people in those cars, I can see them, they’re on fire. There’s a large pile of debris over there, it looks like a large pile of cars, and as you can see there is still debris falling from the air, I hope I’m not hit by anything. The smell is incredible, it’s burning my nose and my eyes are watering from the acrid smoke.”

As the scenes were sent live to living rooms across America, the cameraman continued to speak, “I can only see about 100 feet or so, I’m going to try… to try and get a little further in and see what’s going on. Emergency crews are beginning to arrive, I can hear their sirens, but the sound of the fires is deafening… I’m recording because I don’t know if anyone is getting this live or if you can hear me… Oh no, look at all those people, there are bodies lying around everywhere, oh, this is horrible, they’re on fire some of them. I can’t tell if anyone is alive or not, no one is moving, there’s no movement anywhere except falling debris and fires.”

Cuddled together on their couch, the Fulton family watched in absolute horror as the scene played out in front of them. Washington, DC had been hit, and it looked like it had been hit hard. The voice of the cameraman faded away as the images took over as the primary stimuli. It was if their ears had shut down and their eyes were their only source of input. The images resonated through their minds and reverberated over and over again, on a continuous loop of emotional torture.

The television screen showed firemen and police running across the cameraman’s field of vision – none of them seemed to notice him. He continued walking westward in the National Mall, walking around burning cars and bodies. To his left were piles of debris that were obviously once a building, smoldering and flaming up as combustible material continued to burn under the rubble. The video continued to feed as the cameraman came to a large crater in the ground. The crater wasn’t too deep, but it spread out over tens of feet in an ovular shape.

The cameraman continued his walk westbound over another street and the view that came into focus stuck the very hearts of Americans more than any death had – the Washington Monument was severed from its base and lay in pieces west from the foundation. The face of the monument was scorched black and around the monument was the wreckage of the day.

The voice of the cameraman slowly came back as the initial shock of the moment allowed all their senses to begin working again completely, “…obviously that crater was the impact point of the bomb, I’m walking through more debris now, and as you can see the Washington Monument is down and in pieces. Everything here is blackened and singed. There’s a horrible stench in the air, I think it’s the smell of burning flesh, it’s permeating my clothes and getting into my nose and it’s horrible, absolutely horrible, I think I’m going to try and veer to the left here and see what I can find…”

A police officer appeared in front of the camera, “Sir, you need to leave. We don’t know if there are any other bombs. Please leave the area. Turn the camera off. Turn the camera off,” as the officer shoved his hand in front of the camera and the signal was lost. Static filled the screen for a second before it switched back over to the ACN newscaster, Jan, who was joined by a male newscaster at the desk.

“As you can tell, it’s rather chaotic in DC and the police are asking, well forcing, people to leave the area until they can secure it. I can’t blame them, I hope that our affiliate’s cameraman is okay and makes it out of there. We’ll try to establish contact with him as soon as we can. This has been just an absolutely horrific day that started on the west coast and worked its way to the east coast. Six major cities now have been bombed and we expect the death toll to be very high. We have field reporters on the scene at all of the cities now, and we’re tapping into the feeds of our affiliates across the country to keep everyone on top of what’s going on. Let’s go to our reporter in Nashville. Susan, can you hear me?”

Mike pressed the mute button on the remote and turned back to his family. He felt nothing but pure love and joy for his family right now – they were alive and well and in his arms. They were safe and secure. He felt a tinge of guilt at the satisfaction he felt from being alive and being with his family, guilt from knowing that families across America tonight were grieving the loss of their loved ones and suffering. The Fulton family embraced and cried as the television screen continued to show images of death and destruction across the United States.

* * * * * * * * * *

Byron sat at the bar of the T&A Cocktail Lounge in Susanville watching the news. The bar was full of patrons that needed a place to come and watch the news. Most of the patrons were not drinking or eating, but watching the television sets around the bar and listening, with a few whimpers now and then.

Byron had lived in California all his life. He has seen the destruction of earthquakes, like the Northridge quake in January of 1994 and the Landers/Big Bear quake in June of 1992. The Northridge earthquake killed 57 people and injured more than 9,000. The Landers quake only killed one and injured just over 400 people. But none of the damage he had seen on the videotapes from those events compared to what he was watching unfold in California and across the nation right now.

This was something different. This was something that would make the California earthquakes seem like sissies in his book. Byron was angry, but he didn’t know who to project his anger at. Byron figured that whoever did it was probably not American. If this was a foreign attack, then he was going to sign up and join the military – he wanted to kill the bastards that did this.

Byron looked around the room at all the residents of Susanville that had come here to seek solace in the company of others. Some of them he knew were here because they couldn’t afford televisions, and this was just as good a place as any to watch the television. Most of them, he assumed, were here because they didn’t want to sit at home and watch this – they needed to be around other humans, to share in their grief and sorrow, and to share in their anger, which flared up once in a while as a vivid image popped up on one of the television screens.

The loudspeakers that normally played music were off. The bartender and waitress were sitting on the customer side of the bar watching the televisions. The customers, who weren’t really customers now, stared transfixed, almost hypnotized, at the visions flashing before their eyes. Several would reach back and massage their necks from the muscle tension that comes with looking up at a screen, but most just sat there – numb, still, as if they were paralyzed by what they saw.

Byron thought it was almost comical, but held his laughter – he didn’t want to appear insensitive. His mind was wandering now, not really focused on anything, going from random thought to random thought, when he came back to reality as a sharp pain pierced his right arm.

He was knocked off his chair and sent flying through the air toward the wall. Byron hit the wall with a lot of force and was winded. He had no idea what had hit him or who had thrown him. He looked up expecting to see a large man who wanted to fight him. Instead his eyes opened wide with horror and bewilderment and his hands shot up to protect his face from the oncoming wall of fire and smoke.

* * * * * * * * * *

Byron sat at the bar of the T&A Cocktail Lounge in Susanville watching the news. The bar was full of patrons that needed a place to come and watch the news. Most of the patrons were not drinking or eating, but watching the television sets around the bar and listening, with a few whimpers now and then.

Byron had lived in California all his life. He has seen the destruction of earthquakes, like the Northridge quake in January of 1994 and the Landers/Big Bear quake in June of 1992. The Northridge earthquake killed 57 people and injured more than 9,000. The Landers quake only killed one and injured just over 400 people. But none of the damage he had seen on the videotapes from those events compared to what he was watching unfold in California and across the nation right now.

This was something different. This was something that would make the California earthquakes seem like sissies in his book. Byron was angry, but he didn’t know who to project his anger at. Byron figured that whoever did it was probably not American. If this was a foreign attack, then he was going to sign up and join the military – he wanted to kill the bastards that did this.

Byron looked around the room at all the residents of Susanville that had come here to seek solace in the company of others. Some of them he knew were here because they couldn’t afford televisions, and this was just as good a place as any to watch the television. Most of them, he assumed, were here because they didn’t want to sit at home and watch this – they needed to be around other humans, to share in their grief and sorrow, and to share in their anger, which flared up once in a while as a vivid image popped up on one of the television screens.

The loudspeakers that normally played music were off. The bartender and waitress were sitting on the customer side of the bar watching the televisions. The customers, who weren’t really customers now, stared transfixed, almost hypnotized, at the visions flashing before their eyes. Several would reach back and massage their necks from the muscle tension that comes with looking up at a screen, but most just sat there – numb, still, as if they were paralyzed by what they saw.

Byron thought it was almost comical, but held his laughter – he didn’t want to appear insensitive. His mind was wandering now, not really focused on anything, going from random thought to random thought, when he came back to reality as a sharp pain pierced his right arm.

He was knocked off his chair and sent flying through the air toward the wall. Byron hit the wall with a lot of force and was winded. He had no idea what had hit him or who had thrown him. He looked up expecting to see a large man who wanted to fight him. Instead his eyes opened wide with horror and bewilderment and his hands shot up to protect his face from the oncoming wall of fire and smoke.

* * * * * * * * * *

The final attack came at 16:13 EST. The attack was perfectly coordinated, so that a series of small bombs went off at the same time. Law enforcement and military units across the United States were concentrating on major cities, while small-town citizens were glued to their television sets at home and in community gathering places.

The series of bombs detonated in fast food restaurants, hospitals, parks, shopping centers, bars, and other places where small town citizens were gathered to watch the attacks or were trying to go about their business. All of the bombs went off at the exact same time in small towns across America.

As reports kept coming in to the news and government, there were 83 small explosions in small towns across the states. These were not truck bombs or suicide bombers. The blast radius of the bombs only took out small buildings or severely damaged larger ones. All of the bombs detonated inside the buildings, so that the blast debris was blow outward through doors and windows out into the streets of Main Street, USA.

The President, now at NORAD, held a news conference that night. If he looked distressed earlier, he looked absolutely distraught now. The bags under his eyes were heavy and he seemed to age in a few hours. He walked slowly to the podium and just stood there staring at the camera. He looked down at his papers, sighed, and then returned his stare back to the camera. You could see his pain.

Finally collecting himself, he began to speak, “My fellow Americans. It is with great grief and sadness that I speak to you on this night. Today, unknown forces attacked America. The loss of life is unknown at this time, but we know that it will be high. America has seen terrorism before, but we were never prepared for this incident. No attacks have occurred since the last bombs went off at four thirteen this afternoon.”

After a few seconds of pause, the President continued, “I am not relaxing because of this. I have ordered the military to remain at DEFCON 2 and every law enforcement agency under my control is investigating this heinous crime against America. My administration and I will not rest until the terrorist criminals behind these acts are brought to justice or killed in the process. When we find out who did this we will not rest until retribution is handed to them in the form of a gavel or a bullet.”

The President seemed to gain a bit of composure and some color to his face – his anger was replacing his sadness, “My heart goes out to those that have lost their loved ones on this day. My only consolation to offer you on this night is my promise that justice will be done, that those responsible will pay dearly for their actions today. Please try to remain in your homes for now as best as you can. I ask for your patience as we sort through this. I have ordered the National Guard of all states to assist in rescue operations in all affected cities. It is my hope that with the help of local, state, and federal assets that we can get to the affected areas and locate as many survivors as possible. Tonight I ask that you pray for those that have perished and for those that have survived.”

“I have personally talked to the mayors of every city affected, as well as the governors of each state. I have assured them that help is on the way. In addition to the National Guard units that have been mobilized, I have directed the commanders of every military base in the states to send help to areas affected in their specific states and surrounding states. It is my intention to stay here at NORAD for a few more days to help in the coordination of this effort. My administration is doing everything humanly possible to get through this and to locate the perpetrators of this atrocious crime against America and against humankind.”

“Leaders of many countries have called to offer their condolences and their assistance. For now, I have asked that they simply send us their prayers. Until we assess the damage and know for sure that the danger of additional attacks has passed, I do not want to put any foreign leaders or foreign forces in harm’s way. Americans are resolute and we will get through this. Americans have been through tough times in our history, from the Revolution, Civil War, and two world wars. We will persist. We will remain. We will survive. We will have our revenge. May God bless you and these United States,” and the screen went back to a split view of footage from the different scenes, now glowing red and orange in the dusk, and commentators, trying to figure out what happened, but mostly scaring people even more.

It was November 1st: the day that changed history.

II – EXODUS

“We walk this earth but a brief moment in time. Amid our suffering and pain, however great or small, let us continue to learn how to celebrate life. Let us continue to grow in our capacity to love ourselves and each other. And let us continue to move toward the goal of a just world community.” – Rev. Tim Haley

With every tragedy there is an increase in Fundamentalism during the days and weeks following the event. This is recognizable at every level of government. Most people expected the increase and most people understand why it happens. In the face of tragedy people need reassurance and they seek it in their churches. People want to know “why” and will accept any answer – even the wrong one – in order to have their assurance and to be comforted in their time of pain.

The post tragedy religious fervor started small, but it increased so rapidly that it became a giant blur. Expected were typical comments from survivors about guardian angels and God’s protecting hand over a single person while thousands of others were ignored. This is a survivor’s way of getting past survivor’s guilt – putting the blame of their survival on God.

Americans needed hope in this time of despair and when survivors were found it was a “miracle,” perpetrated by God himself. American television audiences, glued to their TV for any tidbit of retaliation and vengeance, needed these miracles and needed to see the Hand of God in the tragedy. Americans wanted to hear something good and they needed reassurance.

The Fulton family was not immune from the need to hear something good. They, like every other American, were glued to their television set on Sunday watching the latest developments around the country. The American News Channel had brought in every major terrorist specialist they could get their hands on. Everyone had a theory about who did it and why, but no one had any concrete facts yet.

Because of the religious fervor that was already taking hold just 24 hours after the terrorist attacks, the news channels also had religious leaders giving their version of events.

“Being Sunday, many people across America went to their churches today. Our local affiliates across the country are reporting a major surge in church attendance today. As one affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska put it, “There are no empty parking spaces at any church in America this morning.” Psychologists have an explanation for this post-trauma behavior, and we’ll talk to one later this morning. In the meantime, we wanted to talk about how the religious community is helping after the attacks and how religious people are coping. For our discussion, our guests are Rev. James Matthias of the American Christian Council (ACC) and Rev. Jeremiah Potters of the North American Baptist Association (NABA).” The ACN newscaster turned to his left to face Rev. Potters, who was in the studio.

Rev. Matthias was a guest via satellite, and his face was on a television screen between the ACN newscaster and Rev. Potters. “Gentlemen, thank you for talking to us today. Rev. Matthias, I’d like to start with you if I may. How is the religious community coping? What are you seeing happen in the churches of America?”

Rev. Matthias seemed to ponder the question for a moment, “As you stated in your introduction, most religious people are going to church today. Christians are going to church to renew their faith. In times like these, faith can be tested, and there will be some that stray from God after these attacks. We can pray for those people and hope that the see the error in their judgment. The place to go to seek comfort and answers is in church. Our fellowship with each other can give us strength, and we can pray to God for comfort and to help us through the grieving process.”

“Rev. Potters, same question.” The newscaster turned to look at Potters in the studio.

“Rev. Matthias is correct, it is important for people to go to church and renew their faith in this time of crisis. Through prayer and our Lord Jesus Christ we can find solace and comfort to help us deal with this tragedy. While our churches open their doors for those seeking the comfort that comes with knowing God is watching us, it is unfortunate that it takes an event like this to get people in those open doors.” Potters paused for a moment, looked as if he were going to say something, and then shrunk back into his seat.

“May I interrupt here for a second?” asked Rev. Matthias.

“Yes, go ahead reverend,” replied the newscaster.

“Rev. Potters has touched on a subject that I think we both agree on. Too many Christians in this country are Christians by name or title only – they are not Christians by their actions. All these people that are returning to their church this morning, while a great thing, is also a sign of what we are talking about. They go to church when it is convenient to them. People need to go to church at the convenience of God – not themselves. I hope that Christians across America continue to go to church and renew their faith in God and his son, Jesus Christ.” Rev. Matthias smiled broadly into the camera as he finished his statement.

The newscaster turned to Rev. Potters, “Rev. Matthias mentioned there were some people that would leave their faith because of this. Why do you think that happens?”

“People want to blame someone for these acts, and some blame God. Some blame him directly and others blame him for “allowing it to happen.” Of course the first reason is misguided, God did not do this to America. The second answer, that God allowed it to happen, is, in my opinion, more accurate. That is not a reason to hate God, but it is a reason to get closer to God. People have to understand why he allowed it.” Rev. Potters stared at the newscaster with intent, as if daring the newscaster to wade into the murky waters of Potters’ statement.

The newscaster was spared having to ask the obvious question, as Rev. Matthias spoke up, “These attacks on America are horrendous and we are praying for all those affected by this heinous crime. As Rev. Potters alluded to, it is obvious that God has removed his hand of protection from America. How can anyone deny this in this time? 13-year-old girls can get abortions without parental consent, teenagers are having sex and the schools are promoting it by handing out condoms, homosexuality and lesbianism are rampant in the country, drugs are everywhere, Atheists and their ilk are dismantling our very religion and destroying our democracy, and there are other reasons for God to be angered at our behavior.”

“I agree completely with Rev. Matthias,” interrupted Rev. Potters, “The very fact that these things are happening in this country without most Christians speaking up against them, has guaranteed that God’s protective hand has been removed from this country. We are a Christian nation and our Christians are theologically lazy. They do nothing about abortion, homosexuality, teen sexuality, sex on television and in movies, violent video games, drugs, and other afflictions of this nation. We have become a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.”

The ACN newscaster interrupted, “Are you saying then, gentlemen, that God did this to America?”

“No,” replied Matthias, “God did not do this. God removed his protection from America and that allowed it to happen. This is a sign for all Christians to renew their faith and renounce the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is time to reclaim America in the name of Christ and stop the destruction of our government and religious background by the influx of non-Christian groups, especially Atheists, Humanists, and so-called liberal faiths, that are dismantling our Christian roots slowly through the hands of activist courts and judges.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Potters interjected.

“Is it the fault of the groups that you mentioned that this happened?” The newscaster was clearly unnerved by the answers of Matthias and Potters, but he maintained his professionalism.

“Yes. But they do not deserve all the blame. They have turned this country into Sodom and Gomorrah, but America’s Christians deserve some of the blame, too,” replied Matthias.

“That’s true. The Christians in this nation sat in their pews and did nothing to stop this hostile takeover of our Christian country. They let it happen. Christians across America are Christian only on Sunday and they forget their covenant the rest of the week. This type of lazy Christianity has allowed this to happen, so they must burden some of the blame. However, that does not remove the blame from those that have turned from God and embraced a life of sin, as abominations in the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ,” finished Potters.

“Gentlemen, I’m sure this will be a topic of debate after this. I thank you both for coming and being guests on the show.” The newscaster turned back to the main camera and continued with a recap of the day’s events.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Fulton family sat in their living room aghast at what they had just heard from Matthias and Potters. Both the reverends were prominent figures in American Christianity. Mike had given Deborah a look of utter disgust as the two were bantering back and forth. Deborah had cringed many times during the conversation as it unfolded in front of them.

“Mike, are they serious? Surely they can’t blame these attacks on non-Christians?” Deborah pleaded.

“Honey, they are dead serious. My parents are probably at home singing “hallelujah” and praising Jesus’ name after watching those two morons going back and forth.” Mike was not laughing while he said this – it was not a joke to him at all.

Christian Fundamentalists of the extreme kind raised Mike. Mike’s parents home schooled him all his life and prevented him from enjoying the world around him. His parents, John and Trisha, would only allow Mike to hang around with children within their small group of home schooling parents. Mike was not allowed to go out on dates with girls.

Mike had never watched a movie that was not Christian. Mike had never heard music that was not Christian. Mike had never read any schoolbooks that were not from the Christian home school company that produced them. Mike had never read any fiction unless his parents approved it, and all of those books were Christian books.

Mike began to question his parent’s beliefs while reading apologists books that his parents gave him. Apologist books set out to prove Christianity and disprove arguments against Christianity. Mike noticed when reading these books that the apologists didn’t do a very good job of dismantling the arguments against Christianity. Mike felt that the arguments against Christianity were sounder and he began leaving the beliefs he was raised with.

When Mike turned 18 he left his parent’s house against their wishes. Mike’s Dad had threatened Mike with physical abuse if he left. Mike’s parents wanted him to go to Bob Jones University, but Mike had other plans.

Mike joined the Navy to get the GI Bill and pay for a college of his own choice. During his four years in the Navy Mike read as much as he could. He went to bookstores and bought school textbooks to get the truth. Mike read up on the sciences and learned what scientists were actually saying instead of what his Christian home schoolbooks wanted him to think.

Mike was amazed when he read all the facts about the Theory of Evolution. His home schoolbooks had tried in vain to debunk the Theory of Evolution. His parents believed that Satan had planted dinosaur bones in the ground in order to make man stray from God. As he learned more and more, he moved further from the foundation that his parents had tried to brainwash into him.

Mike moved from liberal Christian to deist by the time he was 20. He continued to do research and study. Mike read books that argued from both sides of the theistic debate. Mike read the sacred texts of many religions. He enjoyed the poetic prose of the Koran and Vedas. He enjoyed the lighthearted nature of the Bhagavad-Gita and others. In all his readings, he could not find god or any proof of a god.

Mike left the Navy when he was 22-years-old. Mike used the GI Bill and went to Jacksonville Community College to help him on his basics and to be sure that he had advanced beyond the primitive education he had received from his parents.

During Mike’s time at JCC he met Deborah. Deborah was a Taoist that was raised by Buddhist parents. She understood Mike and listened to him when he talked about his past. She had a great compassion and a deep empathy for Mike.

Even though Mike was two years older than Deborah, they both graduated from JCC the same year. They had been seeing each other for two years and decided that they wanted to continue the relationship. Deborah was going to the University of North Florida in Tallahassee and Mike decided to go there as well. They found a place in Tallahassee and moved in together while they continued their education.

During his time at UNF Mike completely left theistic belief and declared himself an Atheist. Deborah was supportive of his move and he supported Deborah’s Taoism. They loved each other deeply and in their junior year, Mike asked Deborah to marry him. Deborah accepted immediately and they agreed to get married after they graduated. They wanted to make sure they were employed and settled in wherever they were going to live before they married.

After graduation Mike got a job in Huntsville, Alabama almost immediately. Deborah was able to find a job in Huntsville as well, and they moved there during the summer after graduation. They settled into their new home and jobs and everything was wonderful. Their relationship had flourished even more and their love for each other was unquestionable. They complimented each other in everything they did.

During the years after leaving home, Mike had contacted his parents intermittently to give them updates to his whereabouts and give them a good phone number and address. His mother had never talked to him on the phone. His Dad was short and curt and said he copied down the information, but Mike suspected that his Dad never actually wrote down any of his phone numbers or addresses.

Mike called his parents to let them know he was getting married. It was during this conversation that Mike told his Dad that he was an Atheist and she was a Taoist. Mike’s Dad hung up on him. Mike decided then that he would never call his parents again. They only loved him when he was under their control – they loved him conditionally – he had to be a Christian and one that agreed with everything they did.

Mike didn’t need or want that kind of love, especially since he was now experiencing the kind of love that he did want and need – an unconditional love without strings or requirements. Deborah loved him no matter what his personal beliefs or philosophies were and that kind of love inspired him to return the same to Deborah.

Deborah’s parents attended their small wedding in early December. They were married in a small ceremony in their backyard with a Justice of the Peace. In attendance were Deborah’s parents, a few friends from their work, and some of their neighbors.

Deborah and Mike considered themselves lucky when it came to their neighbors. To their right were Shawn & Cassidy Pierce, Unitarian Universalists. The Pierce family had become instant friends overnight. They did everything together it seemed. Mike and Deborah had attended the local Unitarian Universalist church with them a few times and they enjoyed it when they went. When it came to liberal religion, both theistic and atheistic, the Unitarian Universalist fellowship or church was the king of the mountain.

Deborah knew what Mike had running through his mind as soon as he said what he did about his parents. “I’m sure they are, baby. It’s sad, really, to know that there are people out there that think like that. I wish their god would come down and give them a reality check.”

“That would be something, wouldn’t it? But we both know that will never happen. What I’m more concerned about is how this kind of talk will affect America. So many people are in desperate need of comfort and blaming someone else brings that comfort for many. We can blame the terrorists for doing it, but people can’t put a finger on that blame – it’s in another country or region. They can, however, put a finger on those people here that are getting the blame.” Mike paused for a moment and wrinkled his nose like he always did when he was thinking.

Mike continued, “I hope this kind of rhetoric doesn’t incite anyone to do anything. These two idiots should be ashamed of themselves. Don’t they realize that so many people idolize them and consider them to be a direct authority of and from God? This kind of talk can cause those people to take action against those that they are blaming. I won’t be surprised if we start hearing about gays being beat up or something worse.”

“I hope you’re wrong, Mike,” Deborah sighed. Deborah turned her head to look at her children sitting at the dining room table. They were drawing and coloring together, one of their favorite past times. Deborah was worried about how things would go tomorrow when they returned to school. She was sure that Madison County would cancel school because of yesterday’s terrorist attacks, especially since one of the small town bombs went off in Alabama, in a small town called Grove Hill.

Grove Hill sits at the intersection of the US-43 and US-84 approximately 72 miles by the crow north of Mobile. The local television stations, while covering the attacks around the nation, were focusing more on the attack in Alabama at the Deaver’s Motel in Grove Hill.

Deborah and Mike both agreed that school should be cancelled until students had more time to absorb what was going on and begin to deal with it. Madison County had been quiet – there was no mention of closing or staying open. Mike had suggested that the kids stay home no matter what Madison County decided. Deborah agreed, but she was worried about their attendance record.

Mike has assured her that, attendance aside, he doubted much work or learning would be accomplished at school next week as the minds of the children and teachers would be focused on the attacks. By the end of the conversation they agreed to see what happened before they made their final choice. A lot of it would depend on how the children acted today.

“You know,” said Mike, “this is going to cause an uproar among a lot of groups. I suspect by the end of the day there will be a lot more guests on new shows everywhere debating what those idiots said today. Let’s hope the voice of reason is the dominant opinion on this matter and this is quelled before it gets out of hand.”

“No kidding. It’s hard to be optimistic about it, though.” Deborah had turned back to look at Mike and there were tears in her eyes.

Mike reached his hand over to Deborah’s cheek and caressed it gently. She pulled her hand to his on her face, grabbed it, and leaned her head into his hand, using it to support her weight, a weight of great emotion that made her head feel heavier than it ever had. She began to cry more openly as she felt the warmth of Mike’s hand on her cheek.

Mike moved in closer and embraced her, letting her relax her head on his shoulder and absorbed her tears. It was hard for Mike not to begin crying himself. The images of yesterday’s attacks, and today’s video of the aftermath and collection of the dead, were enough to wrench his heart until it exploded.

* * * * * * * * * *

At the headquarters of the American Christian Council that night the mood was much different. The ACC had moved its headquarters from Jackson, Mississippi to Baltimore, Maryland five years ago. They wanted to be closer to Washington so they could use PAC money to lobby for their beliefs.

Rev. Matthias came into the boardroom where his council members were already seated and waiting for him. As Matthias entered the council members stood up. Everyone remained silent until Matthias sat down and the council members followed.

Rev. Matthias looked around the room at the faces he had known for so long. The council members of the ACC were Christians of his own mindset – determined to spread the literal word of God to the world and fight against the enemies of Christ.

Matthias handpicked these men after years of working with them. Some of them came with him from the old Jackson headquarters. Some of them came from state offices of the organization and others from local affiliate offices across the nation. Matthias was firm in his belief that in order to successfully lead his organization, he could not have dissent in his council. Every member was picked because they totally agreed with the goals and mission of the ACC.

There were fifteen members of the council, including Matthias. They voted on every issue, but Matthias always had the overruling vote on any issue. Matthias felt that by giving the council the ability to vote on an issue, it made them feel like they were a more intricate part of the process than they really were. In the long years after creating the ACC, Matthias had only overruled a vote twice. This emboldened his confidence that the board was with him in all his views.

Matthias opened up his folder as he acknowledged each member of the council, “Gentlemen, let us open with prayer.”

The entire table bowed their heads and closed their eyes as Matthias led the council in prayer, “Jesus, we pray in your name as we meet here to discuss the future of Christianity is this land. We ask for your guidance as we return America to its Christian foundation. We ask that you reach into the hearts of the non-believers and touch them, Lord, and lead them to your holiness. We ask for strength in these times to continue to bring your message to the world. We pray for our politicians that they will lead with the Bible and with Christian integrity, Lord. We pray, Lord, that you embrace those Christians that perished in the terrorist attacks by non-believers, Lord, and take them into your loving arms and welcome them to Heaven. We ask you, Lord, to guide our politicians to strike justice at those that did this and to help eradicate those that would speak against you and support such atrocity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

An “amen” was heard from all the council members as heads were raised and eyes were opened. All the members turned their head toward Matthias. Matthias ran his finger over a paper in his notepad and mulled over the topics he wanted to discuss today.

“I’m sure all of you saw my interview last night with our friend in Christ, Rev. Potters, on ACN. I think the interview went very well. It was good to hear Jeremiah agree with me and to know that the NABA agrees with us,” Matthias paused for a moment of reflection.

“While the events of yesterday are unfortunate and we grieve for those lost at the hands of non-believers, we must admit that this presents a unique opportunity for us. Church attendance was up today across the nation as Christians renewed their faith by seeking solace in Jesus. We need to take this opportunity and run with it – to ensure that this level continues and increases. We must speak out to Christians everywhere and let them know that their churches are here for them,” Matthias observed the nods of heads around the table and continued.

“We must also take advantage of this opportunity to rally Christians everywhere in spreading the word to the non-believers. We must strive to promote Christian ideals from the Bible in every aspect of American’s lives. We must strengthen our resolve to rid this nation of those that seek to destroy Jesus and the church.”

“God has sent us a message, that he has removed his hand of protection from this nation. Now is the time to renew this country’s faith in Jesus and reclaim this nation under the Christian flag. Tonight we must discuss strategy in how to accomplish this. I open the table up for discussion,” Matthias concluded.

The council member to Matthias’ right spoke first, “Sir, I think all of us agree that the best strategy for returning this nation to the glory of Christ it to continue our campaign to get our politicians into higher government offices. Perhaps now is the time to introduce a presidential candidate that embraces the word of God as revealed through the Holy Bible?”

Another council member interrupted, “I agree with that, but in order for a president to be effective, he must have a House and Senate that will support him. As it stands now, we can only count on roughly 40% of both to support any religious initiatives with any conviction. Most of the House and Senate will vote “aye” in order to pander to their religious constituents, but as we all recognize, political reasons are not the reasons to vote for such legislation. We need to increase the numbers of Bible-believing members in the House and Senate.”

A council member at the end of the table spoke up next, “I agree wholeheartedly, but there is another way. We can use the idea that politicians will pander to their religious voters to our advantage. These politicians are willing to vote this way because they know that the Supreme Court will find the legislation unconstitutional. Perhaps the best route to take is to ensure that the Supreme Court will not find such legislation unconstitutional.”

The rest of the table leaned forward slightly as they listened intently to the council member speak, “We don’t need a majority legislative body to return this nation to the glory of Christ. All we need is a president that has accepted Christ as his personal savior and knows that the Bible is the literal word of God. Then we need a Supreme Court that will back this president up.”

Matthias cleared his throat and everyone turned their heads toward him, “You are correct, my friend. The Supreme Court has been the hand of Satan for a long time. They have ruled consistently against the word of God. They have allowed abortions to continue, they have removed prayer, the Bible, and God from the public schools, they have removed the Ten Commandments from courthouses across this nation, and they have consistently ruled against the word of God.”

“In order for this to work,” continued Matthias, “the timing must be perfect. It does us no good to have a president that embraces God if the Supreme Court rules against him. It will be hard to accomplish. We never know when justices are going to retire. They’ve been speculating about Rogers’ retirement for years and he is still on the bench.”

“Sir, if I may,” interjected a council member to Matthias’ left, “perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to embolden Christians across America to reclaim this country. If the Christian community would rise up from their theological laziness, then politicians would have no choice but to notice. So many Christians remain silent on the moral issues of this country. If we can raise these Christians up and get them involved then they would accomplish these goals for us. They would vote for candidates that embrace the Bible and Jesus. They would increase the percentage of legislators that agree with our godly principles. They would cause a large amount of pressure to change the demographics of the Supreme Court.”

“What if we didn’t have to wait for a justice to retire?” The question came from Matthias’ right and all heads turned to the council member that spoke up. “Do we not have authority from God to slay the non-believers? Does not Deuteronomy advise us to take the non-believers before the council and have them stoned? Is not Deuteronomy clear that when the non-believers come among us and try to de-convert us that we are supposed to…”

Matthias cut the council member off, “James, I agree with you, Deuteronomy is clear. However, we cannot assassinate justices. The assassination of a justice would not be seen by the public as a right afforded to us by God under his laws.”

“Yes, but what if the public were behind this? The momentum is started now. These attacks have given us a window of opportunity to renew Christ in this nation. The non-believers have attacked us and non-believers across the nation are helping to destroy this nation and remove God from all aspects of our lives and government. This is an opportunity that we cannot let pass. If we can get Christians across the nation to take the battle for Christ to the street and spread his glorious word, then we can change the very landscape of America and return it to its rightful place under the glory of God,” James looked around the table at his fellow council members and then returned his eyes to Matthias.

“If we can accomplish that, then there’s no reason to assassinate anyone. As I said before, all we have to do is get Christians in America to rise up and the change will come with that rising,” came from the council member that spoke earlier.

Matthias looked around the table for any sign that others wanted to speak. No one around the table looked as if they wanted to add anything, so Matthias spoke, “The very idea of returning this nation to its Christian roots hinges upon the people in this nation. No matter what course of action we take, it will rely on Christians everywhere to embrace it and to be our soldiers in this war to reclaim America.”

Matthias continued, “We must renew our efforts to educate America’s Christians in the evils that are plaguing this nation. Now is the time to effect change in this country. We must take advantage of this attack on America and encourage Christendom to rise again and reclaim America as a Christian Nation. It is time to encourage politicians to bring forth change in government.”

Matthias began to speak louder, “We must end abortions and this so-called “right to choose.” There is no right to choose when it comes to life that God has granted us. We must end the use of drugs and alcohol that are destroying the very fabric of our nation, as it destroys the temple. We must end the advances by non-believers to rid this country of God and Christ. We must return prayer to the public schools. We must rear our children in the Bible and restore the morality and will of God back into this land. We must enforce biblical law and abide by the wishes of our Lord as commanded in his Holy Word. We must end the immoral teaching of evolution to our children, teaching them that they are accidents without moral consequence.”

Matthias, slamming the table with his palms, “We must reclaim America for God and return this country to the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The rest of the table erupted in clapping and enthusiastic cheers. The council members stood up from their chairs as they continued to clap and cheer. As Matthias stood up he allowed himself a smile. Matthias knew he could count on these men to support this effort to reclaim America in the name of Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *

Deborah and Mike woke up earlier than usual Monday morning to watch the early news to see if Madison County had made any decision about the schools. School closings were at the top of the hour and Madison County was included in the list. Deborah let out a sigh of relief.

“Might as well let them sleep in and enjoy the day off,” Mike said.

“Yeah, but Amanda will probably wake up, anyway. Her internal clock is better than any alarm clock,” Deborah giggled. Mike laughed with her as he got up to turn of the kid’s alarm clocks.

“At least you don’t have to go to work today. Are you going to be okay at home today with the kids? I can call in sick if you want me to,” Mike asked as he came back into the living room.

“Yeah, hon. I’ll be fine. I didn’t even think about it before, but what if work opens back up before the schools start again?”

Mike snorted as he realized that he hadn’t thought of this, either. “Well, I’m sure Cassidy wouldn’t mind watching them for us. Besides, she’d be great for the kids if that happened. You know how she is, a typical Unitarian.”

Mike and Deborah laughed a bit. The Pierce family had been great friends since Mike and Deborah had arrived in Huntsville. As Unitarians, they had accepted Mike’s Atheism and Deborah’s Taoism without flinching.

The Pierce children were great for Amanda and Tommy, too. Melody, their 12-year-old daughter was Amanda’s best friend and the two of them looked out for Tommy. Their 15-year-old son Zack didn’t hang out with Tommy, but he was nice to him when they were visiting.

Mike suspected that Zack liked Amanda, but that he was afraid of the two-year difference in their age. While Mike thought that Zack would be a good boyfriend for Amanda, he was also apprehensive about the age difference. Two years wasn’t much in the scheme of things, but there was a difference between 13 and 15, especially in the maturity area.

Deborah felt the same way, but she was willing to capitulate that Amanda was a lot more mature than her age. Mike agreed logically, but Amanda was still his Daddy’s girl and it was hard for him watching her grow up.

Deborah interrupted Mike’s thoughts, “They’d have a good time over there with Zack and Melody and Cassidy will make sure they’re cared for emotionally while we’re at work. I’ll call her today and ask her about it.”

Mike left the living room and headed into the bedroom. As Mike got dressed for work he kept going back to what Matthias and Potters had said last night. Would Christians in America embrace those words or speak out against them? Mike was worried, but at the same time he had hope that most Christians would speak out against their comments.

Mike and Deborah had a lot of non-Christian friends. Deborah’s co-worker was Jewish and one of Mike’s office-workers was a Sikh. And then there were the connections with area Atheists that Mike had made. There was Andrew Hollingsworth and Michelle Huddle, two students at UAH that were Atheists. Mike knew that Andrew liked Michelle, but he wasn’t sure if Michelle felt the same way. The few times they had dinner together Michelle hadn’t let on that she had nothing more than friendship interest in Andrew.

Also in this group were the agnostics Jack and Carol Powers. Then there were Roger and Faye Jenkins. Roger was a deist and Faye was an agnostic. All of them had dinner together once a month to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded individuals. It was nice to get together as a group and enjoy the freeness of conversation that comes with hanging out with people like them. Mike always left the dinners feeling intellectually stimulated.

Mike finished getting dressed and went into the kitchen. Deborah and Amanda were in the kitchen making hot tea and talking about the day ahead.

“Hey, Daddy! Good morning,” Amanda practically yelled.

“Good morning sweetie. Couldn’t sleep in, huh?” Mike rubbed her head with his hand.

“Nah. Once I wake up – I’m up. I heard you guys laughing earlier,” Amanda saw her Dad’s reaction on his face and spoke up quickly, “No, it’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m not tired and was rested, so I needed to get up anyways. I hate to oversleep.”

“Well, I’m sorry we woke you, anyway. I wish I had just half your ray of sunshine in the mornings. I don’t suspect the roads will be as packed as they usually are on Monday morning, so I can leave a little later than I normally do. You two want to sit on the back patio with me while I finish my coffee?”

The three of them walked out the back door onto the patio and sat down. The sun was already peaking over the mountains (Mike insisted on calling them foothills) and a fog was lolling about over the lakes. The air was chilled, but not cold. There were a few sparse clouds in the sky as it began to brighten for what looked to be a beautiful day.

“Every time I come out here in the morning I can’t help but smile. This is such a beautiful place. Who could ask for a better view?” Deborah sat back and sipped her hot tea as she soaked in the beauty of the morning.

“Yeah, I’m glad we moved here. This house is good for us and the view is awesome, too. I wish I didn’t have to go into work and could stay home with you guys. I know we’re not going to get much done today. Everyone will be talking about the attacks, and who could blame them. I’m sure we’ll hear about “lost productivity” at the end of the week.” Mike laughed and Deborah joined him.

Amanda hadn’t laughed and with Mike’s comment she looked down at her lap, “I wish you could stay home Daddy. Can’t you call in sick? How come Mommy’s work let her stay home today? What’s wrong with your boss? Doesn’t he have any heart at all?”

Deborah looked over at Mike and forced a smile. Mike sighed and looked to Amanda, “Baby, I wish I could stay home. I’d love to. You know that. Mommy’s work depends on patients showing up for their therapy, and most of the patients called in and cancelled their appointments. My work is different. There are a lot of businesses that depend on us.”

Amanda never looked up at Mike as he talked to her. Her head stayed down staring at her hot tea. Deborah reached over and placed her hand on Mike’s hand. Mike looked at Deborah and shrugged.

“I’m sure Daddy will call during the day to check on us, won’t you?” Deborah smiled at Mike and nodded her head in Amanda’s direction.

Mike took the hint, “Of course I will. I’ll tell you what. If things look like we’re not going to get anything done today by noon, I’ll see what I can do about coming home early. Is that okay?”

Amanda finally pulled her head up and looked at Mike, “Yeah, that would be nice. I understand that you have to go to work, I really do. I just, well, you know – it’d be nice to have you here today, that’s all. If you can come home early that would be great.”

Mike stood up and walked over to Amanda and put his arm around her, “I can’t promise anything sweetie, but I will try. Okay?”

Amanda nodded yes and she hugged Mike back. They hugged for a long time before Amanda finally loosened her grip around Mike’s neck. Mike kissed her forehead and walked over to Deborah. “I guess I better head on to work.”

Deborah stood up and gave Mike a hug and kiss. Mike stroked her hair gently as he stared into her eyes. “I’ll see what I can do to get home early.” Mike gave her another hug and turned toward the door. “I’ll see you guys later. Have a good day.”

Deborah and Amanda waved as Mike walked into the living room. As Mike shut the door he stood there for a second trying to regain his composure. It was moments like these that he wished he were a millionaire that didn’t have to work. Capitalism was great, but at moments like this it really sucked.

Mike walked to Tommy’s room and checked on him. Tommy was still sound asleep. Mike kissed him on the cheek and walked out to the garage. As Mike started his car he sighed and felt a surge of anger rise in him. He was angry at those responsible for the attacks and he felt angry at religion right now. Mike knew that whoever did this was religious. These people had turned his life upside down and made it difficult to go about his daily activities.

He felt bad about leaving his family here and going to work knowing that they would be dealing with the emotional issues by themselves. He fought to control his anger as he pulled out of the driveway.

The last thought Mike had before heading down the road was that he had never heard of an Atheist suicide bomber.

* * * * * * * * * *

Deborah and Mike woke up earlier than usual Monday morning to watch the early news to see if Madison County had made any decision about the schools. School closings were at the top of the hour and Madison County was included in the list. Deborah let out a sigh of relief.

“Might as well let them sleep in and enjoy the day off,” Mike said.

“Yeah, but Amanda will probably wake up, anyway. Her internal clock is better than any alarm clock,” Deborah giggled. Mike laughed with her as he got up to turn of the kid’s alarm clocks.

“At least you don’t have to go to work today. Are you going to be okay at home today with the kids? I can call in sick if you want me to,” Mike asked as he came back into the living room.

“Yeah, hon. I’ll be fine. I didn’t even think about it before, but what if work opens back up before the schools start again?”

Mike snorted as he realized that he hadn’t thought of this, either. “Well, I’m sure Cassidy wouldn’t mind watching them for us. Besides, she’d be great for the kids if that happened. You know how she is, a typical Unitarian.”

Mike and Deborah laughed a bit. The Pierce family had been great friends since Mike and Deborah had arrived in Huntsville. As Unitarians, they had accepted Mike’s Atheism and Deborah’s Taoism without flinching.

The Pierce children were great for Amanda and Tommy, too. Melody, their 12-year-old daughter was Amanda’s best friend and the two of them looked out for Tommy. Their 15-year-old son Zack didn’t hang out with Tommy, but he was nice to him when they were visiting.

Mike suspected that Zack liked Amanda, but that he was afraid of the two-year difference in their age. While Mike thought that Zack would be a good boyfriend for Amanda, he was also apprehensive about the age difference. Two years wasn’t much in the scheme of things, but there was a difference between 13 and 15, especially in the maturity area.

Deborah felt the same way, but she was willing to capitulate that Amanda was a lot more mature than her age. Mike agreed logically, but Amanda was still his Daddy’s girl and it was hard for him watching her grow up.

Deborah interrupted Mike’s thoughts, “They’d have a good time over there with Zack and Melody and Cassidy will make sure they’re cared for emotionally while we’re at work. I’ll call her today and ask her about it.”

Mike left the living room and headed into the bedroom. As Mike got dressed for work he kept going back to what Matthias and Potters had said last night. Would Christians in America embrace those words or speak out against them? Mike was worried, but at the same time he had hope that most Christians would speak out against their comments.

Mike and Deborah had a lot of non-Christian friends. Deborah’s co-worker was Jewish and one of Mike’s office-workers was a Sikh. And then there were the connections with area Atheists that Mike had made. There was Andrew Hollingsworth and Michelle Huddle, two students at UAH that were Atheists. Mike knew that Andrew liked Michelle, but he wasn’t sure if Michelle felt the same way. The few times they had dinner together Michelle hadn’t let on that she had nothing more than friendship interest in Andrew.

Also in this group were the agnostics Jack and Carol Powers. Then there were Roger and Faye Jenkins. Roger was a deist and Faye was an agnostic. All of them had dinner together once a month to enjoy the fellowship of like-minded individuals. It was nice to get together as a group and enjoy the freeness of conversation that comes with hanging out with people like them. Mike always left the dinners feeling intellectually stimulated.

Mike finished getting dressed and went into the kitchen. Deborah and Amanda were in the kitchen making hot tea and talking about the day ahead.

“Hey, Daddy! Good morning,” Amanda practically yelled.

“Good morning sweetie. Couldn’t sleep in, huh?” Mike rubbed her head with his hand.

“Nah. Once I wake up – I’m up. I heard you guys laughing earlier,” Amanda saw her Dad’s reaction on his face and spoke up quickly, “No, it’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m not tired and was rested, so I needed to get up anyways. I hate to oversleep.”

“Well, I’m sorry we woke you, anyway. I wish I had just half your ray of sunshine in the mornings. I don’t suspect the roads will be as packed as they usually are on Monday morning, so I can leave a little later than I normally do. You two want to sit on the back patio with me while I finish my coffee?”

The three of them walked out the back door onto the patio and sat down. The sun was already peaking over the mountains (Mike insisted on calling them foothills) and a fog was lolling about over the lakes. The air was chilled, but not cold. There were a few sparse clouds in the sky as it began to brighten for what looked to be a beautiful day.

“Every time I come out here in the morning I can’t help but smile. This is such a beautiful place. Who could ask for a better view?” Deborah sat back and sipped her hot tea as she soaked in the beauty of the morning.

“Yeah, I’m glad we moved here. This house is good for us and the view is awesome, too. I wish I didn’t have to go into work and could stay home with you guys. I know we’re not going to get much done today. Everyone will be talking about the attacks, and who could blame them. I’m sure we’ll hear about “lost productivity” at the end of the week.” Mike laughed and Deborah joined him.

Amanda hadn’t laughed and with Mike’s comment she looked down at her lap, “I wish you could stay home Daddy. Can’t you call in sick? How come Mommy’s work let her stay home today? What’s wrong with your boss? Doesn’t he have any heart at all?”

Deborah looked over at Mike and forced a smile. Mike sighed and looked to Amanda, “Baby, I wish I could stay home. I’d love to. You know that. Mommy’s work depends on patients showing up for their therapy, and most of the patients called in and cancelled their appointments. My work is different. There are a lot of businesses that depend on us.”

Amanda never looked up at Mike as he talked to her. Her head stayed down staring at her hot tea. Deborah reached over and placed her hand on Mike’s hand. Mike looked at Deborah and shrugged.

“I’m sure Daddy will call during the day to check on us, won’t you?” Deborah smiled at Mike and nodded her head in Amanda’s direction.

Mike took the hint, “Of course I will. I’ll tell you what. If things look like we’re not going to get anything done today by noon, I’ll see what I can do about coming home early. Is that okay?”

Amanda finally pulled her head up and looked at Mike, “Yeah, that would be nice. I understand that you have to go to work, I really do. I just, well, you know – it’d be nice to have you here today, that’s all. If you can come home early that would be great.”

Mike stood up and walked over to Amanda and put his arm around her, “I can’t promise anything sweetie, but I will try. Okay?”

Amanda nodded yes and she hugged Mike back. They hugged for a long time before Amanda finally loosened her grip around Mike’s neck. Mike kissed her forehead and walked over to Deborah. “I guess I better head on to work.”

Deborah stood up and gave Mike a hug and kiss. Mike stroked her hair gently as he stared into her eyes. “I’ll see what I can do to get home early.” Mike gave her another hug and turned toward the door. “I’ll see you guys later. Have a good day.”

Deborah and Amanda waved as Mike walked into the living room. As Mike shut the door he stood there for a second trying to regain his composure. It was moments like these that he wished he were a millionaire that didn’t have to work. Capitalism was great, but at moments like this it really sucked.

Mike walked to Tommy’s room and checked on him. Tommy was still sound asleep. Mike kissed him on the cheek and walked out to the garage. As Mike started his car he sighed and felt a surge of anger rise in him. He was angry at those responsible for the attacks and he felt angry at religion right now. Mike knew that whoever did this was religious. These people had turned his life upside down and made it difficult to go about his daily activities.

He felt bad about leaving his family here and going to work knowing that they would be dealing with the emotional issues by themselves. He fought to control his anger as he pulled out of the driveway.

The last thought Mike had before heading down the road was that he had never heard of an Atheist suicide bomber.

* * * * * * * * * *

President Tanner sat in his office at NORAD looking over the latest information from the attack sites. There was so much information coming in that was bad. Tanner looked at his Secretary of Defense. Abita looked very tired. He had bags under his eyes. Tanner felt bad for Abita, knowing that he hadn’t got much sleep last night. Tanner didn’t get much sleep, either, but he knew Abita got a lot less than he did.

“Did you get any sleep last night, Carlos?”

Carlos Abita was a former Army general. He was used to not getting sleep. But this was different. This wasn’t a loss of sleep because of maneuvers or an aircraft accident where a few of his soldiers had died. This was a catastrophe the likes he had never seen or dealt with before. Carlos was loosing sleep over this because of the emotional toll, the logistical toll of making sure military units were getting what they needed to assist the affected states, the military toll of making sure that assets were on standby for a retaliatory strike.

“I got an hour or so last night on the couch in my office. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and I were in late night talks about military readiness. We have assets around the world on high alert waiting for your orders, sir. Once we find out who did this we only need your command to disseminate justice,” Abita said.

Tanner noted to himself that he needed to make sure Carlos got some sleep today. He needed Carlos to be rested before things got rolling, “The directors of the CIA and FBI will be here in a few minutes. Hopefully they’ll have some information for us. I want you to get some rest today. I need you at 100% once things get started.”

Carlos nodded, “Yes, sir. If you give me an order to get some sleep, then I’ll do it.” Carlos smiled at the President, who laughed in return.

They were enjoying the much-needed light moment when the President’s secretary knocked on the door and opened it, “Sir, Connors and Phillips are here.”

“Very well, Jeanne, please let them in,” as the secretary opened the door wider and motioned for the two men to enter the office.”

“Good morning, gentlemen.” Tanner rose up from his desk and walked to the center of the room. They shook hands as Tanner motioned for them to have a seat on the couch. “What do you have for me?”

CIA Director Connors spoke up first, “My guys were up all night going over as many recorded conversations as we could. Intercepted phone calls from known terrorist groups and individuals. We were keenly interested in the post-attack chatter over these circuits.”

Connors opened up his folder and flipped a few pages, “Most of the post-attack chatter seems to be speculative. A lot of the terrorist groups around the world are guessing as to who was involved. Based on this, we think we can safely eliminate these groups as the perpetrators. If they don’t know who did it, then they are probably not the ones who did. Of course we are considering that one of them did and they are hiding the fact because the circuits are compromised, even as unlikely as that is.”

Tanner, who was taking notes, looked up from his legal pad, “What are the odds of a compromise? Do you think they know we’re listening or that we know their cell phone numbers and frequencies?”

“Sir, it is a possibility, but as I said, it’s unlikely. Even if they knew we had their cell phone numbers and can easily track them, and they changed phones, the frequencies are limited, which means we’d stumble across their conversations anyways. As I said, we have taken this into consideration, so we are not dismissing these groups 100%. All I can say for now is that we are 80% sure that these monitored groups are not involved.” Connors waited a few seconds to make sure the President didn’t have anything else to add.

“With no mention of responsibility from any of the known groups, it left us with two options. We’re dealing with a new group or the attacks were state-sponsored, which of course would be nothing short of a declaration of war by such a state.” Connors let that soak in for a second before he continued.

Connors continued, “Because no group has claimed responsibility as of yet, and we have no hard intelligence pointing to any group, we’re really desperate for the FBI to come up with something that can help us link something back to a group or state.”

Tanner nodded and turned to Phillips, “Well, I guess that’s your queue to give us what you’ve got at the FBI.”

Phillips already had his notepad open. He removed two stacks of paper and gave one to Tanner and one to Connors, “This is a summary of the field reports that we’ve received from our agents at the sites as well as a comprehensive analysis of what those reports mean.”

As Connors began flipping through the pages, Tanner set his aside, “I’m really not in a mood to read, just give it to me straight and I’ll read the gory details later.”

“Very well, sir. We got lucky in San Francisco and found a large section of the truck that ran onto the pier. We were able to get a VIN number and trace it back to a Budget truck rental in Fresno. Security cameras from the facility did not get us anywhere, as they only keep 72 hours of tape at the facility. However, we were able to get the renter’s name, which we assume is faked. However, the copy of the driver’s license at least gives us a picture of the individual. The sales rep said the picture on the license was an exact match of the individual that rented the truck.” Phillips coughed and took a sip of water as he flipped through some of the papers.

“We ran that photo through our database and came up with this man, Ahmad,” Phillips showed them a photograph of an Arabic man.

“Well, to be honest, we saw that coming, didn’t we? I knew it was an Islamic terrorist group,” Tanner interjected.

“Yes, sir. I think that was the consensus with everyone involved. What took us a bit longer was figuring out who Ahmad was tied with. When we looked into the fake name he used to rent the truck, it led us back to a house in Santa Rosa. When talking to neighbors we were able to ascertain that there were eight men of Middle-Eastern origin living there.”

Phillips continued, “Anyhow, the details are all in the report, so I’ll skip to the important part. Through the lease and other aspects of the lives of these eight individuals, we were able to identify six more of them. All of them are Iranian. Now this is where we get really close to the idea that this attack was state-sponsored. All of them were former officers in the Iranian Army.”

“Good grief, Phillips. Are you sure?” Connors was clearly unsettled by this latest bit of information.

“Unfortunately, yes. Now we never made the leap to state-sponsored terrorism at this point, as all of them were ex-officers and were not active. However, when taken with information ascertained from Los Angeles and Houston, this information is reinforced. Again, in those cases, everyone we were able to get information on were Iranian and those that we had files on were all ex-military from the Iranian Army,” Phillips concluded.

Tanner shifted in his seat and leaned closer to Phillips, “What about Tennessee, New York, and DC?”

“We haven’t gotten anything from those sites yet that we can use to identify those responsible. The team in Tennessee found bits from the truck, but nothing has come back from it. The New York team is tracking down a lead now, but the lead officer told me this morning that he doesn’t think the lead is that promising,” Phillips said.

“Why are bunches of Iranian ex-military doing this, that’s the question I have?” Tanner’s facial expression had changed to a more somber one as he took all this information in.

“Sir, we honestly don’t know at this point. This is where the CIA is going to have to help us. I’m going to give everything we have so far to Connors and see what he can find out internationally. We need to know if this is an independent group that is based on a friendship formed in service, or if the Iranian government is officially, or unofficially for that matter, involved in this incident,” Phillips concluded.

“I can assure you sir,” opined Connors, “that as soon as we can get an answer to you, we will. I will bring Phillips’ information in and we’ll run with it.”

“I think it would be a good idea if we started working a lot closer. I’ll have NSA setup a secure direct line between our offices. Do you agree to bypass the middle-man on this one and let’s talk directly to each other?” Connors was looking directly at Phillips.

Phillips nodded, “Yes, and I also think it would be a good idea to get our anti-terrorism departments coordinated and working together as well. If we can pool our intelligence and manpower together we’ll get to the bottom of this a lot faster.”

“Gentlemen, do it. I want this solved and quickly, but I don’t want speculation, either. Prove it to me, guys. I want to know that before I send our forces after these guys that I’m not killing the wrong people,” Tanner had stood up from the couch and started walking back to his desk.

Connors and Phillips gathered their belongings and headed toward the door, “Good day, Sir. We’ll keep you abreast.”

* * * * * * * * * *

When Mike arrived at work there were a lot of empty spaces in the parking lot. He had expected as much. A lot of the departments in the building supported internal departments only, and weren’t as necessary. Unfortunately for him, his department directly supported the customer base, so he had to go in. He still hoped he’d be able to leave early and get back to his family.

Mike took the elevator up to his floor and walked down toward his office. Several people were already in and most of them were huddled together talking about the attacks. Mike decided to avoid that if he could. If he was here, he wanted to work so he could get home. Talking about the attacks would only prevent him from getting his work done.

As Mike entered his office, he noticed that Vasu was already there. Vasu was the Sikh that worked with Mike. Vasu was reading something on his computer screen when he looked up to see Mike enter. “Hello, my friend. It is good to see you.”

“You, too. You and your family doing okay?” Mike hoped that the question didn’t sound like he was concerned, even though he really was.

“Yes, yes. Saturday was horrible, as I’m sure you’ll agree. By Sunday things calmed down a little bit in the house, but many tears were shedding. It took a great effort this morning to leave the house. My wife is having a hard time with this,” Vasu concluded.

“I know what you mean. Deborah seems to be holding up, but she’s trying harder for the sake of the kids. I just hope she doesn’t keep too much of it in – she needs to let all of it out, not just little bits here and there,” Mike responded.

“How about your kids?” Vasu inquired.

“Tommy’s trying to be the little tough guy, but he’s let some of it out a few times. Amanda isn’t even bothering trying to hide her emotions. She’s been crying from the beginning and has become clingier to her mother and I. I had to practically bargain with her this morning to come to work. Like you said, though, it was tough this morning. I wanted to call in sick and hoped that work would shut down, but alas, such was not the case. Hopefully we can knock all this out and get out of here early.” Mike sat at his desk and turned his computer on.

“Yes, that would be nice. I think I would like the same.” Vasu returned to his computer where Mike saw that he had been reading the news. Vasu closed the window and opened up something related to work and he began typing away.

Mike straightened up the papers on his desk and setup a priority for all the work that he needed to get done. Anything that could wait until tomorrow he filed on the bottom. When Mike was finished he stood up and stretched, “I’m going down to get some coffee before I get too into this work. You want anything?”

“Yes, a glass of ice water would be most refreshing, thank you.” Mike laughed a bit, as he always enjoyed the way Vasu talked. Mike gave Vasu a thumbs-up sign and headed out of the office.

The break room was only a little way down from the office. As Mike entered the room there were two of the guys from accounting getting some coffee. “Those god-damned Muslims are the trouble makers. They just need to go over there and obliterate all those countries. Turn the desert into a giant mirror with a nuclear bomb – that’ll teach those bastards.”

Mike was disturbed, but he kept his mouth shut. “What about that guy down the hall? Do you think he’s a sympathizer? I mean all the Muslims like each other, right? I bet he’s at his desk right now smiling inside knowing that all those Americans died. That stupid blue rag he wears on his head. We should send all the stupid ragheads back to where they belong.”

Mike knew at once whom they were talking about. Mike cleared his throat and the two men turned around to look at him, “Just for your information, Vasu is not a Muslim, he’s a Sikh.”

“Same difference. He’s still a raghead,” the one on the left stepped a bit closer to Mike.

“That just goes to show you how ignorant you are, that’s all. A Sikh is a follower of Hinduism – not Islam. But I wouldn’t expect a bigot to know any better.” Mike turned around and walked out of the break room before either could respond.

As Mike walked back to his office he was fuming. What a bunch of arrogant, pompous, ignorant, racist, twits! He believed that racism and bigotry were the offspring of ignorance, and this was a prime example of it. It was amazing how many people thought that people like Vasu were Muslim. All they had to do was talk to these people and get past their fears and bigotry.

To hear people talk like that scared Mike. Was this a ramification of what Matthias and Potters were talking about last night? How will people react in the long-term to this? Mike was just as certain as the two men were that it was probably radical Islamic Fundamentalists involved in this, but that doesn’t mean that all Muslims are guilty.

Heck, if that were the case then the Christians would be just as guilty by association from the Crusades, Inquisition, witch hunts in Europe and America, and the slaughter of millions in South America. Mike never blamed Christians for those acts, and he never blamed Muslims for the acts of the radicals. Every religion had its radicals. Even the Hindu religion had a problem with extremists engaging in acts of terrorism in India.

Mike began to wonder if he was reacting this way because of their comments in general, or because the comments were about Vasu. Vasu was his friend and Mike liked him a lot. They disagreed on a lot of issues, as Vasu was conservative, but Vasu was a good man. Mike had met Vasu’s wife Asha a couple of times and she was just as good of a woman.

As Mike entered his office door he realized that he never got his coffee or Vasu’s water. Vasu looked up, “Did you forget something, my friend?”

Mike didn’t know if he should tell Vasu about what happened or not. He was sure that Vasu had been the subject of discrimination before and probably the butt of many racial and religious jokes. Would Vasu be appreciative of being informed that such a mindset was present in some workers here, or would he be offended, perhaps even scared knowing that people were associating him with the attacks because they mistook him as a Muslim.

Mike decided not to tell Vasu, “Yeah, the coffee pot was empty. I started a new pot. While doing all that I forgot about your water. Sorry. I’ll run back down and get it.”

“No, no. Please, don’t worry about it. Wait until you go back down for the fresh pot. I can wait.” Vasu was one of the most polite people he had ever known. Mike acknowledged Vasu and returned to his desk.

He tried to get some work done, but to no avail. He was still fuming over the incident in the break room. This on top of the emotional turmoil from the weekend and the hardship of leaving his family this morning, and it set the mood for zero work accomplishment. After a couple of hours of getting nowhere, Mike finally decided he’d had enough and was going home.

“I’m out of here, Vasu. My mind is too distracted and I can’t get any work done. I might as well be a paperweight sitting over here. I’ll forward my extension to my cell phone, so don’t worry about answering it.” Mike gathered up his stuff and started heading out of the office.

“Mike,” Mike turned back to Vasu, “please tell Deborah and the kids hello from Asha and I. Be safe my friend. You’ll be here tomorrow?”

Mike nodded yes, waved, and headed out the door. Mike stopped at the break room. He didn’t know why he stopped there. He felt like he was back at the scene of a crime. He felt uncomfortable. Mike turned away from the break room and headed home for the day.

* * * * * * * * * *

III – REVELATION

“Know always that joy and sorrow are woven together; one cannot be without the other. If you love, know that sometimes your love will bring you tears; if you grieve, know it is because at some time you were willing to love. Do not be afraid to die today. But expect life!” – Elizabeth Tarbox

Since the incident four weeks ago in the break room, Mike hadn’t heard anything else at work, but he had seen a few people give Vasu some weird stares. Mike never mentioned the incident to Vasu and he never mentioned the weird looks that Vasu was getting. Mike figured Vasu hadn’t noticed since Vasu had not mentioned anything.

Deborah had been shocked to hear what had happened in the break room. She couldn’t believe that people could be so ignorant. Deborah had insisted that Mike ask Vasu and Asha to come over for dinner one night, but Mike wasn’t as enthusiastic. Mike had reiterated that Vasu knew nothing about the incident, and that Deborah’s sympathy dinner was unnecessary since the sympathy wasn’t needed. Deborah had still insisted and Mike had caved in to her argument, but he had never asked Vasu at work and Deborah had never brought it up again.

The kids went back to school a week after the attacks. Deborah had gone back to work that Wednesday, so Cassidy had kept the kids for the last three days of the week. Mike was pretty sure that Zack and Amanda had grown closer that week because of the increased emotionalism in everyone. There’s nothing like a disaster to bring people together emotionally.

The first few days back at school were hard on the kids. The teacher talked about the attacks a lot, and the kids talked about it every chance they got before school, at recess, during lunch, and after school. Amanda said she was tired of talking about it.

As of yet there had not been any retaliation that they knew of. The media was monitoring the “hot spots” around the world where they thought retaliation might come, but nothing had happened. Mike was sure that the administration would not retaliate without letting the public know about it. Americans needed retaliation.

They met with their dinner group last week at a restaurant in Madison. Andrew and Michelle said that they had seen a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment at the school since the attacks. After they heard Mike mention what happened with Vasu, they said they had seen the same thing. Andrew had made the comment, “Most Christians in this country couldn’t tell the difference between a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.” Everyone had laughed, even though there was probably more element of truth to his statement than he intended.

The death toll from the attacks continued to rise as missing were confirmed dead. Cleanup would take years in most places. The constant barrage of news about the attacks had numbed Mike and he rarely watched it anymore. Mike only watched the first ten minutes of the 10 o’clock news each night and that was it. Mike figured that if retaliation was happening or had happened during the day, it would be at the top of the hour.

The Powers were at the dinner and Jack told everyone that he noticed an increase in the number and ferocity of hate mail that he got. Jack ran a web page for agnostics and was an avid debater on web pages about religion. Since the attacks, he had said, the hateful email was more ferocious and spiteful. He said a lot of the email blamed him personally, for being one of the reasons that God had let this happen to America.

Of course this comment had led to a discussion about Matthias and Potters’ interview and the subsequent debates and conversations that had unfolded across America. There really wasn’t too much of a debate over the issue. A few prominent public figures spoke out against what they had said, but only a few. Polls that were conducted showed that 67% of Americans agreed with what they had said. Those kinds of numbers scared the hell out of Mike, and the rest of the table agreed.

Michelle had commented that perhaps that number would die down as we got father away from the attacks and people began to settle down. Mike suspected that the numbers were actually higher, but that there was a contingency of people that did not vocalize the opinion they held in their minds. It was this same reasoning that had led Mike to believe that the number of Atheists in America was higher than most polling indicated. Mike was beginning to doubt that assessment since the attacks.

Mike remembered Thanksgiving, and how religious it had been this year. Every year the politicians pandered to the religious groups and participated in religiously orientated Thanksgiving events, but this year had been extra religious. Mike knew it was going to be that way, since Thanksgiving fell only a few weeks after the attacks.

Like Michelle had voiced at the November dinner, Mike was sure the increased religiosity would decrease. Mike and Deborah still held out hope that it would still die down. Perhaps after Christmas things would begin to die down. Of course, there was always Easter in the spring, and that could be another rallying point to continue the increased religiosity. Well, at least there weren’t any major religious holidays during the summer, perhaps that would be when things would begin to die down and get back to normal, or at least closer to normal.

In the meantime, they had to deal with Christmas. The “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs were more prominent this year than past years. It seemed like every yard had a sign in it proclaiming such. Maybe it was just Mike, but he swore that department stores weren’t as decorated as they usually were. Deborah had made the comment that Santa seemed to disappear this year. Sure, Santa was still at the mall for the kids, but the plastic Santa figures were hard to find when looking at decorations around the city.

* * * * * * * * * *

On December 17th it finally happened. Mike was watching the news when the ACN broadcaster announced breaking news. A map of the Middle East came up with the picture of a reporter and the words “reporting by phone” under his name. “ACN reporter Tim Randall is in Tehran, Iran on the phone. Tim, what can you tell us?”

The phone connection was full of static, so Mike had to concentrate to hear what Tim was saying, “Bill, I’m in my hotel room in Tehran and there have been several explosions in the city. At first, my colleagues and I thought it was a localized event, but the fires and smoke are in several places. We have counted eleven distinct explosions, but we’re not sure if any of those are secondary. As we look out the window we can see five fires across the city as we look south. Our producer, Janet, is heading upstairs to get a look at the north side of the city. As soon as she gets back I’ll let you know how many fires are burning on that side.”

“Tim, you’ve been in Iran for a few years now. Can you tell what buildings are burning from your location? Are they civilian areas or strategic areas?”

“Bill, I’ve lived in the suburbs, if you will, of Tehran for those years, and we moved to the hotel after the attacks on the US. We did this for safety reasons primarily, and secondarily because we felt that the hotel would give us a better vantage point should anything happen here. Of course as you know, we’ve got reporters around the world in places we felt might be the place of retaliation for the attacks. During the time that I’ve been at the hotel I’ve had to re-orientate myself. I say that because I don’t want to sound like an expert and have people think that I’m absolutely correct on where these explosions have occurred. Based on my experience and my view, my best guess, and I emphasize guess, would be that these fires are raging in strategic military locations,” Tim concluded.

The ACN newscaster held his left pointer finger to his ear and glanced down for a second. He nodded slightly and then looked back at the camera, “Tim, on this side of the ocean we’re all thinking that this might be a strike by America as retaliation for the attacks in November. Has anything been happening on the ground recently that would lend credence to that belief?”

A few seconds passed before Tim responded, “Of course we’re thinking the same thing here. As for anything concrete on the ground lately, no, nothing that we’ve seen. Of course Iran has always had an anti-American sentiment, especially among the civilians here, but nothing has increased lately. We haven’t seen anti-American rallies here in a while. After the November attacks a lot of civilians gathered in the streets and celebrated, but that was occurring around the Middle East, so it’s clearly not an indicator of direct guilt.”

“Deborah! Come in here quick, there’s something happening in Iran!” Mike yelled across the house. Deborah came running in from the kitchen and sat down next to Mike.

Deborah asked, “What’s going on?”

“Explosions in Tehran,” Mike said.

Tim continued, “Of course there are other possibilities here. This could be a strike by Iraq. We all know the history of Iran and Iraq. The Iran and Iraq war ended a long time ago, but the hostility was still there. Iraq is still angry at Iran for harboring deserters during Operation Desert Storm back in the early nineties. Iran never returned any of Iraq’s armament, especially air force jets, that abandoned their posts and fled into Iranian airspace.”

“Another possibility is a strike by the Israeli Air Force. The Israelis have insisted for a long time that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. American intelligence agreed that Iran was trying, but they disagreed with Israel on the amount of progress made by Iran. There is one more possibility…”

Bill interrupted, “Sorry to interrupt you Tim, but President Tanner is speaking from the Oval Office.”

The screen switched to President Tanner sitting at the president’s desk in the Oval Office, “My fellow Americans, it is my duty to announce to you that I have ordered American forces to attack the country of Iran in retaliation for the attacks on our country. Most of the terrorists involved in the attacks were ex-members of the Iranian army. Iranians recruited the non-Iranian terrorists identified here in the United States. Several of these individuals are known by Israeli intelligence officials for their involvement in terrorism in Israel.”

“We were aware of the Iranian connection just a few days after the attacks, but we could not prove that the Iranian government was directly involved or if the terrorists were freelancers that all met each other during their service in the Iranian army. The evidence of the Iranian government’s direct involvement came just two weeks ago.”

“At that time, I ordered carrier groups and Marine units into the area. Our Kuwaiti friends have graciously allowed us to use their country as a launching point for amphibious and other assault units. In addition to carrier groups and support units in the Arabian Sea, Air Force units from Diego Garcia and units throughout Germany have been mobilized to engage in this assault.”

“The initial assault began about two hours ago with amphibious units landing Marines in Bushehr and Bandar-e-Abbas, proceeded by Naval tomahawk missiles. The Marines are on the ground and have control of the beaches and most of the city of Bushehr. I have been told by my military commanders that casualties are very light at this point.”

“Military air units have started bombing runs across the country attacking military units and other strategic targets. The Iranian Navy was destroyed immediately by American Naval units and the covert action of Seals and Delta teams in the Arabian Sea and at Iranian Navy bases along the coast of the Arabian Sea.”

“The decision to send our forces into harm’s way and to invade Iran was a difficult decision. I contacted the Shah of Iran last week to inform him of the evidence we had that his government was directly involved in the attack on America. The Shah refused to admit his country’s involvement and other contacts in the government refused to hand over everyone directly involved. I contacted the Shah several times in an attempt to resolve this conflict without the use of military assets, but the Shah refused to budge.”

“I would like to thank the Saudi government for their involvement in diplomatic efforts with Iran, but even the efforts of a fellow Islamic country would not cause the Shah to yield. We were left with no choice but to attack their infrastructure and invade the country in order to remove the Shah by force.”

“After discussion with leaders around the world today, I can assure the American people that the world is behind us. Several countries are supplying Special Forces to work alongside ours and the British Navy is working with the American Navy in the Arabian Sea. British RAF bombers have staged in Diego Garcia and are flying with our B-52 units. Turkish forces have reinforced the Turkish-Iranian border to prevent Iranian forces and individuals involved in the attacks from fleeing the country. Turkey has also given us permission to use their airspace, which has allowed air assets from Europe to help our forces on the ground. I have asked the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to assist in the same manner. I have also advised these countries that we expect them not to take advantage of this situation to attack other areas of Iran, especially those countries with long-standing disputes with Iran, such as Iraq. It is my hope that these countries will help us in this effort.”

“I contacted the Secretary General of the UN just over an hour ago to inform him of our actions, and he has offered his best wishes for our forces. He advised me that the UN Security Council will hold an emergency session tomorrow to discuss the action in Iran and he will call for a vote of support in our endeavor. I have also been informed that our NATO allies will vote tomorrow on whether or not to come to the aid of America and assist our forces on the ground and in the air. As I already stated, the British are fully involved with us, and the Spanish President has formally granted permission to launch air units from bases in Spain. I wish to extend a warm thanks to all the countries that are currently assisting us in eradicating this menace that attacked us and killed thousands of our citizens.”

“I’m sure you are with me in offering our prayers to our forces on the ground. We wish them the best of luck and send them to war knowing that their cause is a just one. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our military families as their loved ones enter into harm’s way. We will make every effort to keep our military safe and keep casualties at a minimum, but we also recognize that casualties are inevitable. Please know that the sacrifice these young men and women are making for our country is a noble one. They are fighting for peace and they are fighting to bring terrorists to justice. Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America,” the screen went black for a few seconds before it switched back to the ACN newscaster.

Mike muted the television, “Well, it’s started. So Iran was the culprit. I would have never thought it would be Iran. I was figuring a terrorist group, not a country. What were they thinking? Surely they had to know that we’d figure out it was them. Iran should be a military pushover. They’re using antiquated Soviet military equipment that’s no match for American military assets.”

“Let’s hope the military people planned this right and that casualties are low. Even with the attacks on the minds of Americans, a lot of casualties will be bad. I’m not sure Americans, even after the attacks, are willing to sacrifice a lot of our military to take these guys out,” Deborah said.

Mike looked at his watch. It was six o’clock in Alabama. How far ahead was Iran? They were what, ten hours ahead of New York? Maybe eleven hours? Mike was guessing, but if that was correct, it was roughly early in the morning in Iran. Why would they invade a country in the morning? Weren’t we better equipped to do this at night? Mike supposed that it didn’t really matter, because once we were committed, we couldn’t pull back during the day and then regain all that we had when it became night again.

“I wonder why they attacked in the morning. If I’m right, Iran is twelve hours ahead of us. That would mean it’s six in the morning there, and the attack began at four in the morning. I guess I’m just thinking aloud, I’m sure the military commanders had a good reason,” Mike stated.

“Thinking aloud or not, it’s still a good question. But right now I’m more concerned about world reaction. I know Tanner said that world leaders had called after the attacks to offer their condolences and sympathy and that he’s talked to leaders today, but just how many did he actually talk to? What about the rest of the Middle East? How will Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and others react to this? I’m wondering how this will affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. Surely the Israelis have to be watching this very carefully. And what about Iraq? Will they stay on the sidelines like the President has asked? There are a lot of variables here that frankly make me a bit uncomfortable,” Deborah responded.

Mike sighed slightly and rubbed his forehead, “I guess we’ll cross those bridges when we get there.” Mike stopped and nodded at the television as he hit the mute button again, returning volume to the TV.

“I’ve just been told that we have footage from the Marine invasion of Bushehr from an imbedded reporter with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. We’re going to run this unedited. Like you, we’re seeing this for the first time as well,” the newscaster said as the screen switched over to the film from Bushehr.

The scene was almost serene as Marines landed on the beach. The background was full of explosions and the sky lit up now and then in a blazing red and orange. Marines were setting themselves up on the beach as more amphibious units landed. Mike recognized the LCAC units coming ashore with equipment as LCM’s continued to stream in from the sea. There was also the sound of helicopters and jets overhead and the cameraman tried to film these, but all the view showed was black sky accentuated by flashes of red and orange.

The camera panned to a group of Marines setting up a mobile command post and then others unloading trucks from an LCAC that had stopped just beyond the beach. Marines were running past the camera in full gear with weapons loaded and in their hands ready for action. No one was firing their weapons and it appeared that no fire was coming in on the Marines while they were landing on the beach. Mike figured that the flashes were from the city as the Navy, Air Force, and Marine air units hit military and strategic targets.

Mike’s thoughts were answered as the cameraman panned to his right to get a view of the city. Several fires were blazing in the city and more explosions were seen within the city and the sound of the explosions came to the camera a few seconds later.

The camera stayed on the city as more explosions occurred and the sound of helicopters and jets continued overhead. A larger explosion occurred to the left of the screen near the outskirts of the city and the lights went out across the view. The cameraman then swung the view back to the beach and the Marines. Marines were continuing to disembark from LCM’s and running up the beach toward their destination. Another LCAC came onto the beach with equipment.

As Mike and Deborah watched the footage on the screen they were totally silent. Mike sat in total awe as the scene unfolded in front of him. He was amazed at how quick the Marines were and how efficient they were. His thoughts led him to the individual Marines as he watched them cross in front of the camera. His heart panged for them and he felt an urge to cry as he watched these men and women step into harm’s way for his country.

He looked over at Deborah and noticed a tear running down her cheek. Apparently Deborah was thinking the same thing. Mike reached over and grabbed her hand and stroked her fingers with his. Mike felt Deborah squeeze his hand and he squeezed back. Deborah never took her eyes of the television. Mike stared at Deborah for a few seconds and smiled on the inside as he watched her. He returned his eyes to the television as the two of them watched history unfold in front of them.

Iran was under American control before Christmas. American casualties up to that point were light considering the amount of action seen by all the units. 213 American soldiers and airmen had lost their lives and 654 had been wounded. Most people were impressed with the low casualties, as the Iranians had put up a fight. The Iranian Army did not buck and run like the Iraqi Army did in the early nineties. They stood their ground and fought. And they died.

The Shah and most of the leaders of Iran were killed in the first hours of the war. The Shah apparently had refused to leave and was killed when several Tomahawk missiles hit his compound. When word began to spread about his death, the rest of the country began to topple with greater ease.

President Tanner declared a military victory over Iran on December 22nd. The celebrations across the country were shown on television as Americans cheered in the streets and waved American flags any chance they could get.

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