making of magic squares and jadwal to which they put obscene and blasphemous use. Or a worshipper of the Old Gods, A’ra and Hubal, Azizos and the daughter of Allah, Manat. Or perhaps a devotee of Qos, he of the shrine of black basalt whose cult was known—and suppressed—at Wadi Hesa. Indeed, the madman’s descendant—in another thirteen hundred years—will unleash a tidal wave of apostasy and violence on the earth.
Today, however, the madman is alone and wailing before the Grand Mosque.
His words are gibberish, a kind of poetry, rhythmic syllables of an ancient tongue which was old when Moses—Peace be upon him—was a priest of Aton in Egypt, learning Egyptian magic. In the shrine of the Grand Mosque, in the shadows of the crypt, the head of the Baptist moves. The crowd grows larger. The Caliph’s men are moving slowly towards the madman, uneasy about arresting someone who may have been touched
by God. Their scimitars flash in the noonday sun.
A single, strangled word escapes the lips of the muttering madman and sails like a winged curse above the heads of the faithful. Three syllables that strike fear into the souls of the ulama. They retreat a step before him, and the Caliph’s men do likewise.
In that moment, in the sight of God and man and the Grand Mosque, the madman’s left arm is ripped from his shoulder in a shower of blood and gore and terrible, terrible pain.
The hand that ripped it cannot be seen. Not in sunlight, nor in shadow. The blood drips on the stones as the crowd stares, uncomprehending, before it retreats in horror.
The screams can be heard in the deepest recesses of the mosque. The head of the Baptist can be seen to shiver in its reliquary, its jaws struggling against age and death and memory to open, to give voice to the eternal, to the black well of terror at the heart of the human condition, to the Dreadful that has already Happened.
The madman’s severed arm is nowhere to be seen. It has vanished, as if into the air itself. Something can be sensed, something … Another violent twist of invisible force and his right leg disappears and his body falls to the dust and gore beneath him. His screams have become so loud and penetrating that they are no longer heard with human ears. He is being devoured, slowly, before the eyes of the faithful in the square, before the
Grand Mosque. The scroll of papers in his left hand has fallen and its leaves are being blown by an invisible wind to the four corners of the Caliphate. His mouth is stretched wide in a rictus of pain and terror and the faithful begin to scatter, to flee from the jinn who have possessed this madman and caused him to be torn asunder before their unbelieving eyes. His left leg disappears into the craw of some unseen Beast and his torso flops helplessly on the ground as, finally, his remaining arm is chewed to the shoulder and all that is left of the seer, the prophet, the madman is his head and what remains of his shredded abdomen. As his head is swallowed up into the maw of the voracious monster his last word finds its expression in the lips and jaw of the Baptist—Peace be upon him—as the head rattles in its reliquary of gold and silver, screeching in a voice rusted shut with disuse over seven hundred years of death and hollow prayer:
The “Manson Family” Fort Meade
April, 2014 C.E./1434 A.H.
The viewer collapses into his chair. He rips the electrodes from his head and chest and screams for water. He is shaking, perspiration dripping from every pore and soaking into the chair and the floor of the air-conditioned room in the basement of the secure location at Fort Meade.
His handler rushes into the room and shouts for the medic who is always on call.
It is the year 2014 and the location is the headquarters of the Remote Viewing team that had been tasked with locating the author of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: Osama bin Laden. They are what is left of the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station which was officially disbanded in 2006, but whose most fanatic members—those calling themselves the “Manson Family” because of their obsessive and alarmist mentality—have regrouped under other operational names, other black budgets, in order to continue a new search for a new threat: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and now head of the notorious Islamic Caliphate, or ISIL. This search has made use of every possible means, every conceivable tool, in order to accomplish its
mission. No matter how strange. No matter how unorthodox. And that includes the seeming witchcraft of remote viewing.
The rooms where the viewing was taking place were thirty meters below ground. The walls were a meter thick, reinforced concrete. The lighting consisted of racks of long fluorescent bulbs behind wire mesh screens in the ceiling. Doors were made of titanium steel. Soundproofing was everywhere. Desks were bolted to floors. Its inhabitants referred to it as ‘Spahn Ranch’—the infamous headquarters of the real Manson Family— and it tried very hard to live up to its reputation. Guards were posted at every doorway. They were armed. Heavily armed.
Back in the 1970s, this operation was captioned variously as GRILLFLAME, or the fantastically-suggestive STARGATE, or any one of half-a-dozen other cryptonyms. Military personnel with high level security clearances were trained in the art of spying on the enemy using only their minds.
It was not a new art, and hardly a science. It had been used by the Nazis during World War Two to locate enemy submarines, and the Soviets were rumored to be using the same methods during the Cold War. In the 1980s, the operation had been terminated even though the remote viewers had claimed some impressive wins. No matter; to a newly-Christianized American government the whole thing smacked too much of demonolatry, and with the demise of the Soviet Union and the removal of the Berlin Wall, STARGATE went the way of all other forms of HUMINT—Human Intelligence—until the events of September 11, 2001.
With the pressing need to find Osama bin Laden and others members of Al Qaeda the remote viewing program came back on-line. Due to all the cutbacks at CIA and the firing of literally hundreds of field agents that began in the immediate post-Watergate era, agents on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran were few and far between. Domestically, the FBI had virtually no agents who could speak and read Arabic fluently, far less anyone with knowledge of Farsi, Urdu, or any of the other languages of the Middle East. Until Homeland Security could come up with the expertise it needed—and could cultivate the kind of in- country espionage networks that had existed throughout the region during the Cold War—other means had to be found for spying on the enemy.
Basically, remote viewing is the simplest form of intelligence-gathering one can imagine. One needs a human brain capable of thought, and at most a sheet of paper and a pencil. That’s all. If the Pentagon needs to know what kind of resistance to expect at a given location anywhere in the world, the remote viewer is tasked with nothing more than coordinates: longitude and latitude. The viewer then relaxes and enters a kind of mild trance state during which time he or she “sees” the location mentally. The paper and pencil are there to facilitate imaging: the viewer may start to draw general outlines of what is seen, or specific characteristics that seem important or especially clear. At the end of the session the drawings are analyzed for their intelligence value. If there are no drawings, the viewer may be speaking aloud into a recorder, describing what is seen and heard in the trance state.
While most missions of this nature were concerned with military and intelligence targets, once in awhile something totally off-the-wall would occur. Sometimes teams of remote viewers were sent on a “mission” and their results compared; in that case, often the viewers were seeing the same location but at different angles, some from high altitudes and others from underground. There was never any satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon.
“What the hell was that?”
The viewer has been revived, his veins pumped full of drugs so he can be debriefed before he collapses again and his memory conflated with dreams, fevers, childhood memories, nightmares. He is holding a plastic cup of cold water and his nervous trembling is causing the water to spill, unnoticed, onto his lap. They have caught his voice on digitized tape and run it through their computers, but what he saw—what the viewer actually “saw” in his heightened psychic state—has to be described, orally, for the analysts. The papers on which he was drawing his vision are a scrambled mess of ruined architecture, dead bodies, alien landscapes, and cartoonish monsters. Nothing makes sense. They are looking for Al-Qaeda’s infamous new leader and imam, not for gothic horror.
“It was … it is Damascus,” he manages to get out.
“Damascus? That’s not possible. Damascus is locked up tight as a drum. Assad hates al-Baghdadi and ISIL and the feeling is mutual. There’s no way al-Baghdadi is in Damascus. Not yet, anyway.”
The conversation swirls around and over the head of the remote viewer, who is shuddering from some nameless dread. Exotic names, like al-Nusra and Peshmerga, Al Qaeda in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Daesh.
“Yeah, but al-Baghdadi would try to take advantage of the momentum and infiltrate his people into Damascus. They already have Raqqa, and Fallujah in Iraq. There are entire towns that are going over to the rebels …” “I don’t see him leaving his cave and traveling to Damascus. Too risky.
He’s always been better with audio and video tapes to Al-Jazeera…”
The agents stopped in mid-sentence as the viewer spoke up, looking into the middle distance as if he was still in the trance.
“It wasn’t … it isn’t … today. It was … some other … when …”
The look of terror on the viewer’s face is making the debriefers uncomfortable. His grammatical degeneration adds to this sense of unease, as if his vision had given rise to a kind of aphasia. This isn’t particularly scientific. A remote viewer is tasked with a simple mission and he or she simply goes into a light trance and follows the suggestion as far as it will take them. Finding lost ships. Locating hidden missile bases. Weapons caches. Secret agents on the run. Of course, there had been “accidents” in the past; remote viewers seeing alien landscapes, UFOs, ghosts … but those were anomalies, predictable side effects from the strange process of psychic traveling through space and—it seems—time. One of them, one of the “accidents”—the superstar viewer Jason Miller—had simply gone off the deep end after one such session. Disappeared without a trace. Collateral damage, according to some. MIA, according to others. His case was legendary among the Family. He tested the highest of all the potential RV recruits; aced the Zenner cards, demonstrated some limited PK ability, and did that famous real-time RV feed on Tora Bora when they were close
—so close—to finding and killing OBL the first time.
But Jason Miller up and left one sunny afternoon and, with all his spycraft intact, melted effortlessly into the void.
“You were looking at the future?” one of the debriefers, a man in a uniform with no indication of rank or service, suggests.
The viewer shakes his head.
“No … not the future … the past. Long … long ago. Men in turbans.
Scimitars. John … John the Baptist …” “Jesus!”
The viewer looks up, sharply.
“No. Not Jesus. John the Baptist. His head. In a cage. In a mosque.
The debriefers look at each other, alarmed. Their viewer was clearly losing his mind. He would need to take some time off. Even worse, the session had been fruitless.
“Okay. Go on. John the Baptist was talking to you.”
“Not to me! To … to … I don’t know. But there was a man and … and he
… it was horrible.” He swallowed, and took another sip of cold water.
“He was shouting to the people in front of the … the mosque. And then he … his arms … they were gone … they were there, and … they were gone
… there was blood … so much blood… he was being … eaten … by something, something I couldn’t see … no one could … see … ”
“What was he shouting?” “What did he say?”
“Did you understand it?” “What language was it?” “Can you write it down?”
The viewer began shaking his head back and forth, back and forth, and silently weeping. He knew what was happening. He saw it happen to a Spec-4 named Brewer who had begun drawing weird animal shapes, like bats that were flying underwater, relentlessly and without stopping until they pulled him off duty and sent him to a special facility to reacquaint himself with his mind. He saw it happen to that lieutenant in the Air Force who had been selected due to her unnatural ability at Blackjack, who kept clawing at her throat and mumbling words in a language that no one at Fort Meade could identify. He remembered how, in the weeks after that incident, linguistics experts were called in to interpret her ramblings (without knowing their source, of course, or the conditions under which they had been obtained) but to no avail. The language spoken had elements that seemed to be Gaelic or Celtic in origin, but other words were clearly Indo-European. “Perhaps proto-Sanskrit,” suggested one scholar, but even he was not convinced of the theory.
These examples stood up and trembled like ghouls in the graveyard of the viewer’s memory. He knew what had happened to the Air Force lieutenant. She was in the psych ward of a VA hospital, in a special secure
wing reserved for spooks who went crazy in the field. He knew that Brewer was no better off. All in all, of the seven remote viewers who had begun with this mysterious special program the previous year—a mission they referred to as “Cielo Drive,” another Manson reference—only one was still left.
The previous casualty was Captain Danforth, who had blurted out the weird phrase “the Ishtar Gate! Close the gate! Close the gate!” before lapsing into a vegetative stupor about three weeks earlier. He didn’t want to go there. He didn’t want to become another RV statistic like Brewer and Danforth and Miller and the three others. He had to be careful of what he said, of what he sounded like. His career—hell, even his life—hinged on how he handled the next few moments.