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Thunder of Heaven appeals to the tens of millions of readers who have already made Tim LaHaye a household name and one of the best ...
Thunder of Heaven appeals to the tens of millions of readers who have already made Tim LaHaye a household name and one of the best selling authors of all time. This book is a return to form for Tim LaHaye whose previous prophetic fiction series, Left Behind, has sold roughly 70 million copies.
Those who have read Left Behind and are eager for more highly charged fiction based on biblical prophesies will embrace Thunder of Heaven for the same reasons that turned Left Behind into the world's most celebrated publishing phenomenons of the last two decades.
In a small warehouse in Howard Beach, a few miles outside the fence of JFK International Airport, Hassan was going over the details with his two partners. He stared into the eyes of Farhat, the young Turkish man who was fidgeting with a set of car keys. Hassan had his doubts about him but kept them to himself. The mission was too important to risk just because Farhat hadn't given himself completely to the cause. Farhat's level of commitment had to be probed. Hassan was afraid that his young recruit was more concerned about his pretty girlfriend back in Istanbul than he was about the mission.
"Farhat," Hassan began, "the time has come. Are you with us?"
"Yes. Why do you doubt me?"
"I don't waste time doubting. I believe. I decide. Then I act."
Farhat nodded and looked over at the third man, Ramzy, a Palestinian on loan from Hamas. With his arms crossed, Ramzy looked uninterested until he spoke up. "Fine. Then we start." Ramzy motioned to several large fuel tanks in the corner of the warehouse. "But what about those?"
Hassan smiled and said, "Don't smoke." He held a sat-fone, the newest generation of digitally encrypted satellite cell phones. He clicked it on and waited until a woman inside the terminal answered.
"Talk to me," said Hassan.
"National Airlines Flight 433 to Denver is boarded, waiting on the tarmac. Clearance has not yet been given. I will tell you when it starts taxiing down the runway."
"I will be waiting," said Hassan. "Remember. We'll need two minutes lead time."
The woman said, "I will make you proud."
After clicking off the sat-fone, Hassan barked to Farhat, "Recite your role in the plan again."
Farhat swallowed hard and spoke, "I wait inside the van. I do not start the engine until I see your text on my Allfone. I have ten seconds to read it before it self-deletes. Then I turn on the ignition. Wait for you and Ramzy. If I see police or security, I turn off the van, get out, and walk over to tell you, but I don't run. If the mission is completed, then we all get in, and I drive exactly three miles per hour over the speed limit — no more, no less — to our destination. Don't run red lights. Obey all stop signs."
"Shore Parkway to I-278."
Hassan put his face close to Farhat's. "One correction," said Hassan. "Not if the mission is completed. Get that straight. We will complete the mission. We must not fail." Then, to put a point on it, Hassan poked a finger into Farhat's chest and said, "Sha-Ja-'a ..." Farhat wrinkled his brow. Hassan smiled. His one-word mandate to Farhat to "have courage" was meant as a warning.
"Allah Ackbar!" Hassan yelled out.
Now they would wait. But not for long.
* * *
Deborah Jordan settled into seat 14A, next to the over-wing emergency exit on the 797 parked on the tarmac of JFK. First class was filled, so she had settled for coach on her flight to Denver. At least she had extra foot room in that spot and no overhead storage compartment above her seat. Too bad, though, that her father's private Citation X jet was getting security upgrades and was unavailable, otherwise she'd have asked for a ride. Not that commercial flights bothered her; she didn't have a rich-kid attitude. She just wanted to get home to her family's sprawling log mansion in Colorado. It was their family retreat. Sure, she loved their New York City penthouse, which was close to her father's Manhattan office. But the place in the Rockies held a special attraction for her.
She studied the slow pack-animal parade of passengers as they shuffled down the aisle and stuffed bags into the overhead compartments. As she put her purse on the floor by her feet, she stuffed her hand into the embossed leather bag and pulled out a small magazine, National Security Review. After buckling her seat belt, she sat back and tried to focus on her reading.
Just then, a man in his early thirties shoved his carry-on into an overhead, took the seat next to her, and flashed her a smile. He wore a golf shirt — too tight, she thought — maybe to show off his biceps, which, she had to admit, were impressive. A chiseled face and something interesting about the nose. It was off-kilter, like it had been broken. Short hair. Blue eyes. Uh-oh. He caught me looking.
The man smiled again. Then Deborah, after tossing a tight-lipped nod in his direction, turned her attention back to the magazine. When the jet was full, an attendant bent over in her direction. There was a courteous smile and the standard question: was Deborah willing and able to activate the emergency exit door next to her if the need arose?
"Absolutely. No problem."
The attendant disappeared, and the man next to her leaned toward her. "You sure about that? I'd be glad to help out."
The grin on his face told her two things. First, he was taking a clumsy stab at flirting. Second, it was a lame attempt at an icebreaker.
"Thanks, but I can handle it."
Still managing a smile, he added, "I'm sure you can. Just trying to be friendly."
* * *
On the other side of the country, LAX airport seemed normal enough. Flights mostly on schedule. A few backups. Although no one seemed to know why, the security status had been raised for the TSA workers screening passengers at the X-ray machines. But then, that had happened before. The security staffers in the dark blue shirts simply increased their number of random carry-on inspections.
Outside on the tarmac, a couple of uniformed airport cops slouched against an LAX Ops police squad car. They talked casually, squinting behind their Ray-Ban sunglasses in the glare of the California sun.
One block outside the LAX perimeter, two men stood on the roof of an apartment building. One was a Muslim ex-military veteran from Chechnya. Next to him was an American-born Arab recruit from the U.S. Army. The location was ideal. It was on the line between Highway 405 and the tall, rectangular airport control tower with the spiked exterior that looked like some kind of giant Lego construction. When everything went down, it would be a short drive to 405, where they could then drop the hammer and merge into the crazy fast traffic from Los Angeles and escape the disaster scene. They would leave behind their signature: an exploding inferno and a mass of fatalities.
She braced herself. Great. Okay, here it comes.
And it did. He nodded toward the publication and said, "So, national security stuff. You work for a defense contractor?"
Deborah had to make a quick decision. Engage? Or activate avoidance measures?
She decided that limited engagement was the safest course. Then she could get back to the article she was reading about "nuclear deterrence in an age of asymmetrical warfare."
"No, not with a defense contractor."
"Military detail then?"
Deborah weighed her answer. "Not exactly." Without looking up, she added, "Technically not."
"Intriguing. Okay. Then you're in one of the academies." He eyed her closer. "Air Force? Naw. I'm Air Force. You don't fit the profile ..."
Deborah tried to keep up the stone face. Profile? What profile is this guy talking about?
"Not Navy. Not reading that kind of stuff. So that leaves West Point, right?"
Deborah didn't realize she was blushing. Her seat partner kept talking. "Wow, direct hit. Oh, sorry. Didn't introduce myself. Ethan March. Formerly lieutenant major, United States Air Force. Now civilian. Glad to meet you, Miss ..." He reached out to shake her hand.
Deborah threw him a side look and offered up a quick handshake and a short explanation. "You're right. I'm West Point."
"One more year."
"Congratulations. In advance."
"Thanks. And you, Mr. March?"
"I go by Ethan. Defense contracting. Until recently ..."
That got her attention. "Which company?"
"Raytheon. Just got laid off. Part of defense downsizing from Washington. Go figure."
Deborah gave a nod, but she still looked underwhelmed by the chatty guy next to her.
Ethan March made a rapid recovery. "I've been lucky though. Been around the block with some of the best."
She couldn't resist. "Oh? Like who?"
"Well, for one, I had the privilege of serving under the great colonel Joshua Jordan."
Deborah dropped her magazine and broke into a grin, which slowly lapsed into laughter.
Ethan flashed a look of disbelief. Then he said with some disgust, "Army. Can't believe it. You folks don't know how to honor a true-blue Air Force hero like Colonel Jordan!"
When she stopped laughing, she explained, "You don't understand. You said you served with the 'great Joshua Jordan ...'"
"Exactly. At McGill Air Force Base."
"Well, Joshua Jordan is my father. Which I guess makes me ... well, his almost-great daughter ..."
Now Ethan was the one blushing.
"Oh man. Plane going down. Mayday, Mayday ..."
Now they were both laughing.
She reached her hand over. "Let's start this again. I'm Deborah Jordan. Good to meet you."
They shook hands again, but this time he held on a little longer.
"I'm honored to be sitting with you. Figure that. Joshua Jordan's daughter."
Pilot Bob Blotzinger, a veteran of twenty years of commercial flying, flicked the little toggle switch, and the green light on the instrument panel lit up. He said, "Check."
The copilot stopped again for a second. Then, after turning around to make sure the cockpit door was closed and they were alone, he asked, "What's the deal with that?"
"The secondary. You know, the RTS?"
"Hey, I'm just the pilot. Ask Northern Airlines. I only work here."
"Come on, Bob. Humor me. Did the FAA really approve the Return-to-Sender defense system or not?"
The pilot gave it some thought and tossed his first officer a tired look. "Okay. This is only what I heard, so don't quote me. Apparently the FAA clears the RTS for installation in commercial jets, right? But then Homeland Security gets involved and says, 'Whoa, wait a minute. This is national security stuff.' So it starts getting complicated. Like it always does. Now you've got a battle between two agencies. So they decide, okay, leave it installed. But each airline and each airport can jointly decide whether the system gets activated. Anyway, the FAA wants to see if having it physically installed jinxes anything in your avionics — which it shouldn't, from everything I know — but that's their compromise."
"But you're not answering me. Are we able to use the RTS or not?"
"No. Not really. Not automatically. Have to call it into air traffic control. Give them the alert. Get their permission first. Ridiculous."
The pilot waved his hand toward the preflight log in the copilot's hand.
"All right. So, sign off on the preflight, will you? I want to get to Dallas."
The copilot tilted his head as he listened in his headset to a message from the tower. He followed that with a nod. "Good news. They've moved us up. We're on deck."
* * *
By the time Flight 199 started taxiing down the runway at O'Hare, across the country, at JFK, Deborah's Flight 433 to Denver was next in line for takeoff. At LAX the Los Angeles to Las Vegas flight was in the same position.
As the Chicago flight rolled toward takeoff, two men hunched together inside the Ulema Salvage Yard in Schiller Park, just outside of the O'Hare perimeter. An Indonesian man shouldered a FIM-92A Stinger missile launcher. His brother stood next to him, reading the quick-text messages from the other cell groups in Los Angeles and New York.
Just outside the Ulema Salvage Yard, the driver of the getaway van, with its engine idling, sat behind the steering wheel. He was watching the two-man Stinger team get ready.
The brother's sat-fone rang. He took the message and seemed electrified. "Takeoff is confirmed for Flight 199 to Dallas," he yelled. "It's coming ..." A few seconds later they could hear the big jet approaching in the distance.
* * *
While Flight 199 was taking off from Chicago, Flight 433 out of JFK was slowly rolling down the runway. The 797 straightened its alignment for takeoff. The pilot eased the throttle forward. The jet started to accelerate. Then the pilot powered it up for takeoff.
As the 797 raced down the runway, Deborah felt the familiar centrifugal force pulling her back into her seat. At that moment her purse tipped over on the floor, spilling the contents. Lipstick, compact, coin purse, Allfone cell, pens. Everything.
For a split second she tried to fight the impulse. But she did it anyway. She quickly unbuckled her seat belt so she could reach down and stuff the contents back into her purse.
* * *
For Blotzinger, this was only his third time flying the new 797. He had eighty-eight souls on board, including the crew and flight attendants, as he taxied the big jet into position for takeoff from O'Hare airport.
Moments later Blotzinger gently lifted the big jet off the runway. Their flight path took them over Schiller Park, but when the jet was directly over Ulema Salvage Yard, the copilot noticed something. A blip on the radar screen — a blip streaking right toward them. Suddenly the attack-warning buzzers went off in the cabin, and a yellow light started to flash.
The copilot blurted out, "Bob, incoming —"
Blotzinger hit the countermeasures button. The flares designed to deflect heat-seeking missiles blew out from the underbelly, but they were not close enough to the Stinger missile to distract it. The missile kept streaking toward its target.
Blotzinger could see what was happening. "Fire the RTS!" he screamed.
The copilot hit the control for the RTS antimissile system while Blotzinger swung the big jet into an avoidance pattern.
Their eyes were riveted to the screen.
But for some terrifying reason the linear blip kept coming, closing in at a blinding speed, heading right for the belly of the jet.
The RTS should have worked. Should have instantaneously transmitted a data-capturing/data-reconfiguring laser beam aimed straight for the guidance system in the missile. Should have reversed the flight path of the FIM-92A Stinger that was streaking toward the jet and turned it around, sending it back to its source.
But something had gone horribly wrong.
The last sound on the cockpit voice recorder was a millisecond-long scream of the copilot when he got a glimpse of the long steel cylinder full of explosives momentarily flashing into sight just before it struck.
There was an unearthly blast. And in one blinding explosion they were all gone.
On the ground a man was walking his dog. He screamed and jumped at the sound of the sky exploding into fire overhead. His dog howled and cowered on the ground. When the man looked up, he saw the fireball expanding in the air. Then he screamed again. He saw the charred pieces of the fuselage, cockpit, and wing assembly falling from the sky all around him and crashing onto the streets and houses of his Chicago suburb.
* * *
Soon National Airlines Flight 433 out of JFK would be winging its way high in the sky over the warehouse where Ramzy nestled the missile launcher against his shoulder. Standing directly below the now-open retractable skylight, Ramzy peered through the clear pane of plastic on the launcher's viewfinder, ready to line up the big 797 jet in its rectangular lines.
* * *
As Deborah bent down to stuff the spilled items back into her purse, Ethan March joked, "No seat belt? Leave it to the Army to ignore flight regulations ..."
At that moment, the cockpit crew heard a shrill warning bell. The copilot pointed to a flashing light on the flight deck. An oblong object on the LCD screen was streaking toward them.
The copilot shouted, "Oh my G —"
The pilot thrust his finger down on the primary countermeasure button. A flare shot out from the underbody of the jet toward the incoming heat-seeking missile in an attempt to detract it. But the missile kept coming.
More alarm bells rang.
The security screen flashed: "6 Seconds to Impact."
The pilot punched the button marked "RTS." A laser beam shot out of a small orb on the belly of the National Airlines jet. The beam struck the missile's guidance system right behind the heat-seeking tip.
Excerpted from Thunder of Heaven by Tim LaHaye Craig Parshall Copyright © 2011 by Tim LaHaye. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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