The First Mate watched intently as the first cargo containers swung away from the ship. The Captain, a seasoned sailor from South Africa, content that the unloading was proceeding as usual, nodded and returned to the bridge. He would only return later, to ensure that the load was taken off evenly, not all from one side, which might cause the remaining load to capsize his ship. The Mate, a Pakistani by birth, waited patiently for one certain container to be lifted from the 4000 his ship had hauled across the Pacific to this pier in California.
Inside that particular container was one weapon, and a man who had volunteered to press the switch which would detonate it. A radio control had been considered, but a true believer would set the device off with no possible chance of failure. No matter what happened, he would activate the bomb if anyone tried to open the container, wherever it was. Even if intercepted far out to sea, damage would be done to the American economy. The First Mate switched channels on his walkie talkie to that which the martyr was monitoring. "Are you ready?" he asked quietly. "Yes, I am ready" came back the reply. The Mate was surprised at the mans calm voice. After 8 days inside the container, he was not sure he himself could have stayed so composed. "Soon now, my friend. Allah is with us today."
The gantry crane worked smoothly, expertly. One aluminum box after another lifted gently away from the top of the stack, and glided down to a line of waiting trucks. Smaller cranes unloaded the containers into an enormous holding stack just beyond the area the trucks used as a street to access the dock. Later they would be reloaded onto other trucks, which would pass thru the Security Gates and their neutron detection equipment on their way to the thousands of stores and malls and factories where the contents would be unloaded. But not today. Today the target was the Port itself. Long Beach was the busiest port in America. A nuclear blast here would disrupt Americas economy as no other event had. As the yankees themselves liked to say, they would be hit where it hurt most.
Five miles down the coast, three men watched intently from the balconey of their top floor hotel room. The one in the middle, who was known only as "Paul", gripped a set of binoculars which he had purchased only the day before at a nearby sporting goods store. The man to his right steadied a camcorder. The entire world would soon witness the event, if it pleased Allah. The entire top layer of containers were off, and the crane operator began on the next layer, working from the port bow across and aft. The weapon and its switch were 3 rows back, on the port side. The Mate readied his radio.
The crane began to lift the container. He could easily see the cresent shape spray painted on the end. Paul whispered to his companions, "Cover your eyes". The First Mate pressed the key on his radio as the container lifted. When it was at its highest point, he quietly spoke, "Allah is Great, now my friend". The man inside the shipping container did not hesitate.
The flash was much brighter than expected, but disappointingly small. From the hotel balcony, the men could clearly see the fireball diminish, replaced by an angry red ball of flame, which rose quickly, darkened to a boiling grey and climbed skyward, dragging a column of smoke along into the familiar mushroom shape. The War against the Great Satan had started at exactly 8:15 in the morning, here on America's west coast.
Ali, the driver, was the first to speak. "Allah be praised, we have destroyed them."
"Remember the Martyrs" replied Hassan, who was the local contact, the man who had rented the hotel room and made the living arrangements.
The tallest of the three, a man known only as Paul, remained silent. He carefully analyzed the scene thru binoculars. Dense dark smoke shrouded the dock 5 miles away up the coast, and thick dust obscured the entire port facilty. Steam rose from the water of the channel and mixed with the smoke and dust. A gentle breeze from the ocean slowly pushed it all northeast, even as the mushroom cloud faltered and lost its definition, becoming just the upper portion of a pillar of smoke. The heaviest fallout has already begun to fall from the stem of the mushroom, Paul knew from his training. The worst of it wont even make it outside the Port perimeter security fence. But he knew enough would reach the city to cause panic and hysteria.
"Bring the car around to the side entrance, Ali." he ordered. "We must be driving before the media begin reporting this as an attack." He watched the cloud climb. The cap of the mushroom was already twisted into a mere wisp of lighter colored haze, the column leading back to the point of detonation grew darker as it neared the ground, as it was now fed by fires which had broken out among the wreckage. Poking thru the ground haze Paul could now see the tops of the tall gantry cranes. The blast hadnt even knocked them all over. Not surprising he thought, they have little surface area for a blast to push against. As if on cue, one crane closer to Pauls vantage began to crumble, one leg after another buckling, til the boxy section at the top slowly lowered towards the dock. Another victim, Paul thought with satisfaction. The collapse only appeared slow from this distance.
Paul scanned the beach below the hotel. People were calmly gathering in small groups, pointing and looking to the northwest, trying to understand what the flash and mushroom cloud could have come from. Just then the sound of explosion reached them. A low hollow boom, as if someone had struck a large drum in the next room. Rather anticlimactic, Paul thought to himself, and wished for a moment he could have put on a better show for the beachgoers.
"It really wasnt very big, was it, Sir?" asked Hassan. "Did it not work?"
"It worked perfectly. The martyrs aboard the freighter detonated it exactly when we planned. The gantry had lifted the container as high as it was going to be when it went off. Maybe 25 or 30 meters above the water." Paul continued to scan the devastated area around the dock, looking for indications of damage. "But sadly, the bomb was only an old Soviet artillery shell. Only 1 kiloton. The Hiroshima bomb was 20 times larger. We would have been watching from much farther back if it had been one of those. Are you disappointed?"
"If I could I would cover the whole city with fire. Destroy them all. Let them all feel the pain our people have felt for so many years."
Paul scowled, "Your people are from a town in Lebanon, north of Beirut, untouched by any of the fighting. Your father sells cars. You have lived in Los Angeles since you started college here. Your people have not felt pain." Before Hassan could argue, Paul continued, his eyes still peering thru the binoculars. "You have assured me that this room has been paid thru the week." Hassan nodded. "Very well, you will remain here for 2 days at the least, 4 days if possible. Speak to no one. Do not leave the room. Watch the Television news. You will know when our remaining attacks have occured. Only when we have completed our attacks may you leave this place. Otherwise you might be caught and interrogated."
"I would die before I would tell them anything Sir!" Hassan insisted.
"You dont know anything, Hassan. Nothing important enough to jeopardize this operation, we've been very careful to make sure of that. Otherwise I would kill you myself right now. But you may have accidently overheard something, and you can identify my face. If they have a picture of me from some random traffic camera it could prove to be a problem. And they are very clever, dont deny them that. You wouldnt know you were helping them even if you led them right to me." The smoke was thick and roiling black over the docks. The Container Port of Long Beach was in flames at dozens of spots. Mostly burning diesel from the thousands of semi trucks parked there waiting to haul the shipping containers away. And the flammable cargos from tens of thousands of ruptured containers. Paul could now make out the bridge of the container ship which had delivered the deadly cargo. The front half of the ship was completely gone. Probably not vaporized like the gantry crane, but blasted down into the muddy bottom of the harbor. The stern of the ship was slipping slowly into the water, and a few containers floated nearby. Another ship which had been unloading farther down the wharf seemed practically untouched, but broken loose from the dock and drifting a bit.
"It will take them hours to even understand we have used a nuclear weapon on them, and that this wasnt a mere industrial accident. By the time they react I will be well on my way to the East Coast. Remain here til you are certain we have used the other devices. Then go out and find an opportunity to martyr yourself, as we will have done. If nothing else, crash your car into a crowd at one of their temples, or some of their police. The Strength of the Prophet is with us. I must go now." The smoke from the truck fires obscured the damage to the dock area, so waiting here was of no further use. He would see more by watching the televised coverage on his laptop from the car. He had two days to reach a vantage point for the next attack, and flying was now out of the question. At least he could sleep in the limo for the next two days, he hadnt gotten any rest at all in the prior 3 days, worried that one of the other weapons would be compromised.
The long black limouisine pulled away from the hotel without drawing attention, and within minutes was on the Interstate heading east. By now several helicopters circled the base of the billowing oily black smoke coming from the container dock. The traffic reporters had their cameras trained on the burning trucks. Occaisionally a human figure would briefly appear below the smoke, then as quickly become shrouded. The flashing lites of dozens of police and ambulances began to converge on the site. People could be seen on hundreds on apartment balconies, peering into the smoke which drifted lazily over their area.
Office of Gen Swaggart, Chief of Staff - United States Air Force - Pentagon Bldg - Washington DC
The General sat behind a huge mahogany desk, his feet up on a large leather hassock. His jacket hung on a tree near the door. He was calmly chewing a sandwich. "Sit or stand Major, I'm briefing the Secretary of State in 10 minutes downstairs, I havent had time to take a **** today, so only new info, no disclaimers, you have 5 minutes while I eat dinner. Go."
"Yes sir" Major McCaffery opened his notebook, adjusted his glasses, and began speaking as he aligned himself onto a red leather chair. "We've had time to look closely at the kids video from down the beach. Epicenter was clearly the container being lifted. Ground Zero is far too hot to go near, but we've gotten good shots from the helicopter footage taken before we closed the airspace. We're certain the fireball was less than 100 yards in diameter. The dock is barely cratered. That makes the yield less than 2 kiloton, most probably 1 kiloton, which is smaller than most Russian backpack or demolition warheads. Best guess is it was an ex-Soviet artillery shell, 152 or 203 millimeter. Probably stolen during the collapse." The Major took a long breath, turned a page and continued. The general was almost finished with his sandwich. "3 Islamic splinter groups have taken credit already, all 3 are wanna-bees or financial front groups, none have the savvy to pull something of this scale off. Thats the technical opinion, you may have better intel in that regard." The General popped the last bite into his mouth and glared at the Major. "Casualties were fairly low considering, " the Major swiftly continued. "The crane operators, several hundred drivers and longshoremen working the container yard, obviously the crew of the freighter, some of who may have been involved... " Another page turn. "Fallout damage may be minimal. Early readings show the hottest area is around the crater, and the area to the northeast, mostly inside the Port Facility proper, and much of what landed outside fell on parking lots, streets and freeways. Fortunately due to the heavy smoke, not many police or EMTs entered the hot zone before we were able to seal the area off. The downwind area was evacuated fairly quickly, less than two hours. A lot of cars drove thru the heavy fallout area, but none lingered in the area for more than a minute, so total radiation exposure dosages will be low. Basically, except for a few dozen unlucky bystanders who were outside watching the cloud as it went over them, we wont lose a significant number of civilians to radiation. Almost all the victims will have been killed by the blast and resulting dockyard fires."
The Major closed his notebook as the General rose and strode to his jacket. "Counting radiation deaths in the next year or so, and the dockworkers, total deaths likely between 1000 and 1500. All civilian. Perhaps another hundred from heart attacks and accidents caused by the evacuation."
The General slipped into his coat, "And we're sure the fallout missed the hospital?"
"Yes sir," the Major answered. "By less than two blocks. But we have people taking continual readings, and we are very sure the hospital is safe."
"Anything from the lab yet on the bomb material?" the General asked as he straightened his tie and walked towards the doorway.
"We should be able by noon tomorrow to tell you what year the weapon was made and in which Russian factory." the Major stated flatly.
"That still wont tell us who brought it here.That will be the million dollar question."
Without another word or look back the General was gone, without a dismissal.
"Who brought it here?" the Major thought to himself. "Who would be willing to bring down the sort of wrath we will surely drop on their heads? No one is that crazy."
WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG