Prelude to the Apocalypse – Mohammed

Rome, Italy

To his neighbours, Aharon was a hard-working office clerk. He was pleasant, polite and kept himself pretty much to himself. Occasionally, he would disappear for a week or two, ostensibly to go on holiday, but there was nothing remarkable about the man who would often hold the door open for those who lived in his apartment building.

The truth was, his name wasn’t Aharon, it was Mohammed. As an agent of the VAJA, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Intelligence ministry, he was a committed and supposedly merciless sleeper agent who had been inserted into Rome nearly seven years earlier. His documents and his history, though forged, were the best the Iranians could produce. He was not placed there to steal secrets, but to be ready to strike against the infidels if the time was ever deemed right. That time was now. When he had first been chosen for this mission, Mohammed had despised the Italians and their flawed God. His disdain was so great that he knew he would willingly volunteer his life if it became necessary.

Mohammed knew there was a real chance that he would one day be called upon to sacrifice himself. His chances of surviving and once again returning to his family in Iran were slim, and he had reconciled himself to the fact that he would likely die a martyr for Allah and his holy prophet.
Time passed, and, if he was honest with himself, he knew he had almost been corrupted. Living amongst the westerners had rocked his belief in the cause. Despite his training, he had not expected to find normality in Rome. His indoctrination had not prepared him for the reality of inserting himself into a community filled with normal, everyday people. Some might pray to a different God, but Mohammed struggled to get past the fact that the evil he expected to find wasn’t as pervasive as he had been led to believe. If anything, those who lived in Rome were no different from the people he knew back in Tehran. As the years progressed, Mohammed developed friends, a network, even the occasional love interest. He knew it was all potentially a distraction from his mission, but he told himself that it was all part of the cover he needed to establish. His trainers had encouraged him to settle into the role, to become what the Italians expected to see. By becoming bland and ordinary, he became invisible, all in the service of Allah.

The Italian External Intelligence and Security Agency was good at routing out the insurgents in its midst, but it couldn’t find all of them. So deep was Mohammed’s cover that only three people knew of his real identity, and they all resided in Iran. Despite that, he wasn’t technically alone in his mission. There were half a dozen other sleepers who had managed to secure safe, meaningless positions of employment and stability. Two of his fellow agents were married to wives who didn’t know the secrets their husbands carried in their hearts. By not trying to infiltrate sections of the government or military, Mohammed and his ilk were able to go unnoticed, ready to be called upon at a later date. The worst mistake would have been for them to try to infiltrate the Vatican itself. His training wasn’t up to that task. Those guarding the Holy City state were too good at what they did and would have uncovered his deception in an instant.

Every week, Mohammed would take a walk in the Villa Borghese. A pleasant stroll through the park, a way to unwind at the end of a hectic work week. And every week Mohammed would walk past the same innocuous tree. As long as that tree remained unmarked, he was to continue his imposter’s life, free to do whatever his fellow Italians did. For so long he did this, as the weeks passed into months, the months into years. It got to the point where he began to suspect he was forgotten, and that he should accept his new life as permanent. Secretly, in his heart, he was pleased by this prospect. Despite his religious convictions, it was difficult to deny that he enjoyed his time in Rome. The city was a good place to live. He started to think about the prospect of settling down and starting a family. Then, two days ago, his heart sank when he witnessed the pink symbol sprayed onto the tree’s bark. To most people meandering past, the symbol was just random graffiti, but to Mohammed, it had signalled the end of a life that he had started to cherish.

When he saw the symbol, a part of him wanted to reject the mission he had been sent here for. But that part had to be ignored, even admonished. There was no escaping the destiny he had been given, no way to prevent the inevitable that was forced upon him. If he failed to go ahead with the mission, he would be killed by his own side. If he turned himself into the Italians, he would be interrogated and, at best, locked away for the rest of his life. More probably, they would put a bullet in his head. There was no love for terrorists in this part of the world. At least, that was the fear his handlers had instilled in him. The illusion he had lived ended that day and the holy warrior was reborn.
Upon leaving the park, he made his way to the nearest internet cafe. He didn’t rush, wandering almost in a daze. These were his last moments of freedom. He had known what his mission entailed and the personal risk. In front of the anonymous computer, he logged into an email account that he had never before accessed. The account was filled with spam, as one would expect from an average, everyday free email account. Plenty of email traffic went in, but none ever went out. Instead, in the Draft folder was a single unfinished message. He opened it and read the address he would be expected to visit.

It wasn’t hard for him to decipher the hidden message, even though the draft was in code. With the address memorised, he deleted the email and shut down the browser. That night, Mohammed reluctantly turned up at an isolated building and let himself in. He had known where the key was stashed. The inside of the building was run down, as if nobody had lived there for years. It was secured against squatters, whilst being unappealing to those intent on burglary. To any casual external inspection, the property held nothing of any value. Not to a thief at least, with bars covering its dirty windows. No furniture was visible to anyone who might be standing outside.

Making his way into one of the smaller rooms, he entered a walk-in closet and pushed aside the hidden panel there. How long this property had been in the possession of the Iranians was unknown to him, but behind the panel, Mohammed discovered the parcel he was dreading to find. He knew that his life had been for this sole moment, but still there was regret that he would end things so early. The name Aharon no longer had a place in the world.
Within five minutes of entering, Mohammed had retreated from the property, the fear that he would be grabbed by agents of the Italian police retreating with every metre he put between himself and the drop site. He made it home and timidly placed the package he had acquired on the kitchen table. There had been nothing suspicious about him carrying the large package wrapped in brown paper under his arm from his car to the apartment he rented.
Mohammed carefully opened the box. He was surprised by what he found inside. The contents must have been smuggled in perhaps weeks before. Packaging discarded, he looked at the drone that would bring death to so many. It appeared so innocent, with this technology available on a host of websites. Why the capitalists had invented such a vulnerability to their way of life was beyond Mohammed, but he guessed it was all down to the will of Allah.

The encrypted instructions told him what he needed to do. For hours he battled with himself, worried that he couldn’t go through with what was expected of him. His duty won out in the end. The drone was big enough to carry two one-kilogram containers underneath. Although the containers were opaque, Mohammed knew what they contained. One would be full of a fine white powder, ideal for dispersion in the arid environment of the dry Roman morning. The other would contain a blueish grey metallic powder that would never dissolve. Both, when released, would be breathed in by the unwary and innocent alike.
Anthrax powder and Cobalt 60. It was hard to determine which was the deadlier of the two concoctions. The release mechanism would rain almost invisible death along the pre-planned route. Not only would the mixture kill, it would also act as an area denial weapon that could prevent people living in the region for years.

The timing of this couldn’t have been better planned. Tomorrow was Sunday, and the ailing Pope would be on the balcony preaching to the faithful who always gathered. Mohammed would make the most of that opportunity.
Mohammed’s job was relatively easy to perform, but his mind still struggled with what was being asked. Fly the drone back and forth over those travelling to St Peter’s Square, where Catholic worshippers would be standing in awe as they listened to the lies about their false God. Mohammed’s fellow agents would target other areas of Rome, the drones unlikely to raise any kind of alarm so long as they didn’t venture over the Vatican’s restricted airspace. Once his payload was delivered, the drone would be flown out over the Tiber, where it would fall to its doom.
Hopefully, those who saw it dropping its invisible payload would think nothing of it. Drones were frequently used by the news media, internet bloggers and those with more money than sense. Anyone who inhaled the anthrax would be fine, initially. As the days progressed, however, they would develop flu-like symptoms with nausea and shortness of breath. Many would venture to their doctors, and the health system would be rapidly flooded by cases. Whilst it was unlikely that the anthrax would spread to medical personnel, the radiation from the bodies contaminated by the Cobalt 60 would cause many of the doctors and nurses to also fall ill. The hospitals themselves would become no-go areas. Tens of thousands would die, and whole swathes of the Italian capital would become uninhabitable for years to come.

How long before the Italians knew they had been attacked? It was hoped that footfall and the prevailing winds would blow the destructive dust into the Vatican itself, contaminating the holiest of Catholic sites. That would be an added bonus.

By then, Mohammed would be long gone. When his job was complete, his instructions stated he would board an international flight to Canada. There was work that needed doing there as well. That night, by the time Mohammed had managed to get to sleep, he had once again become committed to the cause that his God demanded of him. If only Mohammed had known that his attack had not been officially sanctioned by the Iranian regime, but by the forces of Hell intent on turning the world’s religions against one another. Once again, mankind was being manipulated by forces beyond their control.


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