Countdown to Armageddon
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by Edward M. Lerner
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Hezbollah has obtained an atomic bomb and a would-be martyr eager to deliver it-and that's the good news. The bad news, unknown even to Hezbollah, is that their physicist has also found a way to take his new bomb back to a turning point in European history. Harry Bowen, an American physicist, and Terrence Ambling, a British agent turned historian, are determined to stop Abdul Faisel and prevent the nullification of all Western civilization. Their mission can be accomplished, if at all, only in the darkest of the Dark Ages-- And there, too, time is running out...
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 2010 USA
Filament eBookStore Release Date: July 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [261 KB]
Reading time: 148-208 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
O true believers, take your necessary precautions against your enemies. . . . --The Koran
Lebanon, 1983 (amid civil war)
The village baked under the late-morning sun.
A few small homes, some generations old, clustered around the dusty bazaar. Each dwelling had been painstakingly assembled by hand, stone upon stone. Here and there could be seen a scrawny goat, grazing to the limits of its tether.
Two dhows bobbed on the gentle blue Mediterranean. The young men of the village laughed as they worked, for the breeze was cool and their nets heavy. Ashore, their fathers and grandfathers studied the Koran in the small mosque while veiled women worked in their kitchens or tended to their sewing, smiling at the sounds of children at play.
A young Arab dressed in Levi's, a Grateful Dead T-shirt, and Nikes took a place at the nets, ignoring the gentle jibes at his soft hands and city clothes. There was pride in his friends' teasing voices and unarticulated delight that someone from their little village had gone to college. In the village he was famous; the villagers imagined in their simple goodness that such talent as his must also be renowned in the great outer world.
The visiting youth had not forgotten his roots, or the hard, physical labor of the boats. The lapping of the waves, the rhythm of the work, the honest tiredness and dreamless sleep at the end of the day--they would always be a part of him. Occasionally, as he hauled in the nets, the breeze would bring snatches of a child's happy voice. He liked to imagine it was Leila's voice. Of everyone and everything in the dear, sweet village, he most missed his baby sister.
An eerie, high-pitched whistle, scarcely audible above the crashing surf, gave the only warning of impending doom. The first shells blasted harmless geysers from the unresisting beach, but hidden artillerymen quickly corrected their aim. The fishermen watched in horror as the next three salvos walked up the shore into the defenseless village. The fifth salvo bracketed the mosque, toppling the slender minaret. The terrified screams of women and children filled the gaps between explosions.
Frantically, the village fishermen turned their boats for the beach. Abandoned nets sinking behind them, they cursed as the wind failed them. They cursed again when trucks and armored personnel carriers roared out of the hills toward the village. It was the hated Phalange.
Salvo after salvo pounded the village until the motorized column approached within a hundred meters. Most houses had crumbled by then. Shell-shocked survivors emerged to dig through the rubble with their bare hands.
Using erratic puffs of wind, their desperation, and the skills passed on over generations, the fishermen urged their boats homeward. They stared in disbelief as an antitank rocket collapsed the mosque that had heard the prayers of their grandfathers' grandfathers. They howled at the trucks careening madly through the rubble-strewn streets, as sadistic Christian butchers machine-gunned fleeing women and children at point-blank range.
As their dhows neared the shore, the fishermen came under attack. Machine-gun fire shredded hulls and flesh alike. A few made it whole and alive into the sea, only to be blasted from the water by hand grenades. Corpses bobbed obscenely amid the flotsam. One by one the young men died, the last sounds they heard in this world the maniacal laughter of the accursed Christians.
Images that would not leave sustained the tormented voice. Great gulps of caustic salt water could not silence his cry, nor hours of agonized screaming, nor even absolute exhaustion. The young, city-dressed Arab lay half across a bit of broken mast, his hands, without any direction from a conscious, reasoning mind, clutching the tangled cordage.
The tide dragged him, raving, far out to sea. He was rescued two days later by a passing Cretan freighter. The honest seamen had to pry his fingers from the ropes to which he clung. He wanted to kill these Christian dogs; deranged from dehydration and sunstroke, he could not even stand. His feeble lunge was mistaken for a stumble.
He awoke in a swaying hammock. A pale, unwelcome clarity, if not quite sanity, had asserted itself as he slept. He would have preferred lunacy had it meant that he could forget.
His parents, slaughtered. Grandfather, crushed in his own beloved mosque. His childhood friends shot like so many clay pigeons.
And little Leila . . .
He had watched helplessly as so many children died. Indistinct with distance, every face became Leila's face. Every death, Leila's death--over and over and over.
The sole survivor of a nameless Lebanese town knew one thing to the core of his being. Some day, terribly, he would redeem his baby sister's many deaths in a bottomless ocean of Christian blood.