Adnan would wait to phone Aubrey about their new mission until they were far enough away from Yazd. He would use one of the burner phones and then smash it by the side of the road. He had two more, provided by his faithful driver Sangar.
They were provided with more bottles of water, flat bread and dried food to eat along the way. They were not intending to stop for any reason, except to get gas if necessary. The trunk had two spare jerry cans of gas, but the drive ahead to Birjand was more than 400 miles. From there it was another 250 miles to the border. Once they got to Afghanistan, they would leave their car behind in Iran as they were going to be met by Adnan’s contact. Sangar would drive the car to a town close to the border crossing and wait in Iran for instructions.
All proceeded without any problems all the way to Birjand. The 400 mile trip took almost ten hours, and by the time they reached the city Adnan decided it was okay to call Aubrey using a special number and coded system for communicating key information that had been provided to him for emergencies.
They stopped outside a small market on the outskirts of town, legs shaky and rattled from the long drive in a car with questionable
suspension, and Sangar went inside to get more bottled water and the lay of the land. Adnan made the call to Aubrey with Angell in the seat next to him.
A series of clicks replaced the usual ringing sound, and Aubrey was on the line.
After an exchange of codes Adnan said, “Blue. Package sent airmail to the east coast.” Blue was Adnan’s coded designator, and “airmail” meant they were traveling by land. East coast meant Afghanistan.
The “package” of course was Angell.
The rest of the conversation was unintelligible to the “package.” Angell understood all the words, but not the sentences made up of those words. It was like a page from some Surrealist’s novel. It was totally out of context for what was happening. And in the end Aubrey did not ask to speak to Angell. He couldn’t, for Angell didn’t know the “language” they were using, a fact that was not lost on the multi-lingual professor and which made him smile in spite of the fact.
“Aubrey sends his regards,” Adnan finally told him. “He regrets not being able to speak with you personally. He thinks you’re very brave to continue with this mission in view of everything that has happened so far.”
“I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
Adnan smiled a little ruefully. “I guess not. It’s not like you can pick up your toys and go home,” he said, gesturing around at their environment.
“So, what’s next?”
“They’ve been monitoring our progress through the GPS chips. They know where we are, they just didn’t know why. Now they do. They’re going to do their best to provide ground support and arrange for an extraction team when we’re ready. We still have bases in Afghanistan, and they are contacting them now to see what options are available.
“When I told him what crossing we’re going to use, Aubrey about shit his pants.”
“No worries. It’s all good.”
Somehow those pleasantries did nothing to assuage Angell’s anxiety. And rightly so, as it turned out.
A few miles away, Jason Miller sat in his car and got a phone call from one of his spotters.
“They are outside Birjand. Still heading east. Still the three of them.” “Do not engage. Just keep me informed if they change their itinerary.” He rang off, and then sat and thought awhile.
They were obviously heading for a border crossing into Afghanistan.
But which border crossing?
He pulled out a map and studied it for awhile. There were a few possibilities, legitimate crossings, some of which were hairier than others. And then, of course, there were the unofficial crossings: smuggler’s routes through dangerous terrain. They wouldn’t be able to take their car into there. Even a jeep would have problems negotiating some of those passes. They would have to walk. Did they have that kind of time?
He didn’t think so.
They would use a regular crossing, and there were only two within striking distance of Birjand.
Miller closed his eyes and began the deep breathing exercises that he used to initiate the remote viewing process.
He began, as always for this mission, with an image. The image was a kind of eidolon, a word he picked up during an informal meeting with Umberto Eco in Turin a few months earlier. Eidolon was Eco’s suggestion as a term for the meditative symbol Miller used in his remote viewing sessions.
Miller had presented his government credentials to Eco’s assistant with a request for an urgent meeting. This was shortly after his desertion from the remote viewing team when he traveled to Europe incognito to begin researching secret societies and obscure religious denominations in the Levant. He came across Eco’s work in semiotics and realized that this was the type of perspective he lacked. Eco had introduced the science of symbols to a wide audience with his novels, but he was at heart a philosopher who understood the relationship that exists between symbols and the things they represent, as well as symbols taken in and of themselves. This opened Miller’s eyes to the possibilities of remote viewing taken to a whole new level, a transcendental plane where the symbol stream flowed beneath the surface world of material reality. It was
the missing link, as far as Miller was concerned, and he wanted to talk to Eco directly. Hence the subterfuge, since Miller was no longer an employee of the federal government.
At first, Miller tried to convince Eco that he was there because he was tracking a terror group and that Eco’s knowledge of secret societies— especially those with a political motivation—would be of assistance. Eco, however, saw through the charade at once and became impatient.
“Mr. Miller, I am an academic and a writer. I do not consort with the type of individuals I write about in my books. You understand that, I think?”
Eco’s English was impeccable, if highly accented and a delivery that was sometimes halting. Miller replied by saying “Yes, Dottore. It’s in the realm of the information you have already gathered on secret societies and cults that I need your help.”
“Foucault’s Pendulum, you mean? Young man, that book is about a hoax. It’s about the careful cultivation of a hoax, a fantastic story about a secret cult that does not exist. It’s fiction, and even in the novel it is revealed to be fiction, almost from the beginning. Do you know how many people write to me every day from all over the world with more information on this non-existent cult? Do you realize how many people take it seriously, believe in the existence of something I made up? And now, here is a member of the American intelligence community asking me for … I believe you call it ‘deep background’ … on something that has no substance whatsoever and therefore cannot have even a shallow background much less a deep one. It’s insane.”
“Doctor Eco, I am not here about the specific secret societies mentioned in your book, but about a genuine cult. One that we have reason to believe
“Is about to destroy the world? Something like that?” Miller was silent in the face of Eco’s irritation.
“This obsession with cults and secret societies is one of the first steps towards fascism. You understand that, don’t you? Conspiracy, paranoia, secret enemies, hidden plots … The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion … I mention that text in my novels … that was a hoax, too, and people believed in it so strongly they invented the Holocaust.”
“Sir. What if there was another such text, one with the power to inspire thousands … no, millions … of followers worldwide. Another Protocols, but one that deals specifically with a kind of religion. One that is at the heart of all religions, all belief systems, and has the capacity to produce another Holocaust, but one of even greater proportions …”
“Then I would say it doesn’t exist,” the philosopher said, interrupting him.
“Perhaps. But for the sake of argument, say there is a text that not only includes religious concepts and images but which goes beyond that to embrace modern ideas about consciousness, genetics, space travel …”
“Like von D niken? Zecharia Sitchin? Pauwels and Bergier?” Miller nodded.
“Yes, essentially. But those were non-fiction accounts …” “Just barely.”
“Agreed. But imagine a scripture, a religious text, a received document, which incorporated all this material in a coherent, or at least consistent, fashion?”
“Well,” said Eco, leaning back in his leather chair that creaked under his weight. “There have been inventions of this type. All sorts of ‘space gospels.’ Insipid things.”
“Yes. But the one I am describing has an ancient pedigree.”
“Such an origin would argue heavily in favor of its being accepted by a great many people, unfortunately.”
“This is what is happening now.”
Eco leaned forward with renewed interest. “Do you have a copy of this text?”
Miller just shook his head.
“I am looking for it. Which is why I need your help.”
The old novelist looked at Miller for a long time. He was a large man with a round face, mustache, and glasses, and dressed in a fine suit of European cut. His novels had all been bestsellers, which argued for his competence where the manipulation of images and symbols was concerned. In a sense, his novels were proof of the power of semiotics, demonstrations of that discipline in very tangible forms. Eco was a conscious practitioner of the art, and this was the type of expertise that Miller wanted to access.
But he was no dummy.
“Who are you really, Mr. Miller?” “Sir?”
“Who do you work for? It isn’t CIA I don’t think. It must be one of the other ones, the ones that get very little publicity and hence no novels written about them.”
“I thought so. Are you one of Hal Puthoff’s boys? Over at SRI?”
Eco had put it all together: Miller’s intelligence credentials, his interest in secret societies and cults, and especially his direct approach to Eco himself. This was not a regular CIA dangle; he had been through enough of those before. This man, this Jason Miller, had an intensity about him that suggested something even darker, more clandestine. All his talk about a terror group and then suddenly an esoteric text … the name of Hal Puthoff came immediately to mind. Science, the military, intelligence, and the paranormal.
Puthoff was one of the pioneers of research into PSI back in the 1970s, out of his office at what was then known as the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. He, Russell Targ and many other luminaries of the time were investigating paranormal phenomena, including even Uri Geller (the famous spoon-bending Israeli psychic). But their chief program, the one that got all the CIA funding, was remote viewing.
You couldn’t make this stuff up. Eco knew all about the program, and its continued existence for decades indicated that some of what he had written about government involvement in occultism had a basis in reality, which made the whole story at the heart of Foucault’s Pendulum even more delicious. At least, to him.
“I did not work for Puthoff, sir. That was before my time.” “Of course, of course. But I am on the right track, correct?” Miller nodded, swallowing.
“Very well. I have a proposition for you. You tell me how remote viewing works and I will tell you everything I know about whatever it is you’re asking me. Do we have a deal?”
And there it was. Miller explained how it worked, how he was taught and then the personal modifications he made, and Eco suggested the use of an
eidolon: an image, an idol or a two-dimensional symbol, which contained within it the “spiritual” aspect of the thing represented by the symbol. He cautioned Miller not to be too literal-minded about his choice, but instead to let an accumulation of ideas and images form to create a perfect gateway to the part of the brain that controlled remote viewing. And, most importantly, to share the eidolon with no one else. Not even Eco himself.
In return, Miller spoke about his personal mission to find the mysterious book before the terror groups did.
“It was composed, according to what we have been told, sometime in the eighth century by an Arab who may or may not have been a Muslim. It is not a particularly Islamic text; in fact, it was written in Arabic originally but contained much that was not in that language, suggesting an earlier composition. Its philosophical context is definitely pre-Islamic and polytheist.”
Eco raised an eyebrow. Something was nagging at his memory. “And what does this text actually say? What does it do?”
“Well, we don’t really know. We only have bits and pieces. We know from the chatter …”
“Intercepted communications, mostly between members of various guerrilla and terror groups that we collect from phone calls, text messages, emails, social media postings …”
“Yes, please. I understand. Go on.”
“Well, the chatter indicates that the book contains a set of instructions for, ah, making contact or communicating with, ah, forces that exist … well, elsewhere. It posits the existence of a gate, which we assume to mean a theoretical construct that would permit access to other modalities of …”
Eco, by this time, was smiling incredulously. “What?”
“I’m very sorry my American intelligence operative friend, but what you are telling me is very funny.”
“Well, I admit that it strains belief but we are talking about a kind of religious or occult text …”
“No, no, no. You don’t understand. I know the book you are talking about. I know it very well!”
“Certainly. There is even an obscure reference to its theme in Foucault’s Pendulum.” He began pulling out books and papers from a stack next to his chair. “This is not my office, unfortunately. I am only here for a short while. Ah, here …”
“But … I read that book. Carefully …”
“Not carefully enough, I am afraid,” he said, passing a copy of the book over to Miller with his finger pointing at a passage. It was a reference to the word Cthulhu.
“What is that?”
“Ah, you have never heard of it?” “I don’t think so.”
“It is a reference to the stories of an American writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He created what is sometimes—erroneously—referred to as the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ and …”
“Wait! What did you just say?” “Lovecraft, he …”
“No, no. The other word. How did you pronounce it?” “Oh, you mean Cthulhu. Ku … tu … lu.”