The Afghans don’t know what to do. They hear English, but the man is obviously local. The cognitive dissonance that takes place is unsettling. The Taliban look around them, in every direction, expecting a congregation of English-speaking jinn.
Then the man with the voice of his father, his long dead father, stops in the middle of the road and points at Angell with a bony finger creased with age and tanned with working in the sun. A mindless, wordless scream escapes from his mouth.
A shot rings out from somewhere behind the old man, and he falls dead at their feet. Angell is horrified and frozen in place. The Afghans look at him as if he is some kind of evil spirit himself, for the dead man spoke in English, pointed at him, and spoke the word they hoped never to hear for they knew damned well what it meant. Everyone did. That was the joke, wasn’t it? They all knew. They knew from Turkey to Syria, from Iraq to Iran, and now from Afghanistan to Pakistan. That one word. That curse for all humanity. That term of shirk. That detestable word. The one that sums up in a single sound all that is wrong with religion and with God and the gods and all the ritual and prayers and incantations. The word Qhadhulu. The Abandoner. It is not a word of the jinn, of the devil, of the evil spirits. No. It is the name of God himself. The one who abandoned his people, his creation, his planet. The one the blasphemers and the kafirs are trying to call back to life.
Those thoughts and worse coursed through Angell’s brain like the icy, rushing, poisonous waters of the river Kunar, the boundary between Pakistan and India, between Muslim and Hindu, between Central Asia and South Asia. A frontier that is neither here nor there, but worth slaughtering each other over. In the distance, on the other side of the river, they could see a man stand up from a hiding place, from his “god spot,” and look down at his kill. It is an Indian soldier. He looks down, looks at the men gathered by the side of the truck, and walks away.
Stunned, the Taliban fighters open up on the place where the shot came from. They are far out of range, their AK-47s no match for the reach or the
precision of the sniper rifle across the river. They are panic firing, and their shots are going wild. Angell hits the ground and covers his ears with his hands.
This is never going to stop, he thinks. Automatic weapons fire. The church bells of the twenty-first century.
With all the ringing in their ears, no one notices a pickup truck coming their way down the road from town.
WHEN THE STARS ARE RIGHT
… that cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take Great Cthulhu from His Tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth.
—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Jason Miller is at the observatory on Mount Saraswati, near Leh in the province of Ladakh. The very names of Leh and Ladakh summon up Lovecraftian associations, but these are real places, on the map near the India-China border. Another border, another frontier. This constant crossing of borders—this aggressive liminalism—must mean something, thinks Miller, but only briefly. His attention is concentrated on the astronomers who are showing him their equipment. They think he is an official from the US government, and he lets them think that.
They are excited about some trans-Plutonian space objects they have sighted, traveling in the wrong direction around a distant star. They are losing Miller, who can’t seem to focus on the math, but he takes advantage of a lull in the conversation to ask them a pointed question about the largest known supernova in history—one that exploded in the year 1006— and they become suspicious. They answer his questions politely, acknowledging that the supernova exploded in the constellation Therion— the Beast—and that it was synchronous with the explosion of a volcano on the island of Java that obliterated an entire kingdom and buried the largest outdoor Buddhist shrine in the world under a mountain of lava. Borobudur would not be discovered again for another eight hundred years or more.
He then asks more pointed questions concerning recent supernovae, such as the important SD 2011 Fe—which took place in the tail of the
Great Bear a few months after the assassination of Osama bin Laden—on the night “when the Great Bear hangs from its tail in the sky” according to the Necronomicon. When supernovae from that area of the sky are listed in tabular form it becomes obvious that there is a pattern to them, a kind of cosmic pulse.
This is what Miller was afraid to learn, and it gives him greater impetus to finish his quest for the Book as quickly as possible. That cosmic pulse— he believes—is nothing less than the opening and the closing of the Gate that will allow tremendous sinister forces to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere when summoned by the followers of Cthulhu.
He stays with the astronomers for another thirty minutes or so, to be polite, and says goodbye. They want to invite him to share their lunch, but he begs off: playing the busy government official. His jeep is outside and he is eager to get back on the road. He was on the way to Nepal when he decided to get verification for what he had seen during a remote viewing session. So he hopped the forty-five minute flight between Srinagar and the small airport at Leh. He hired a jeep and drove the few hundred klicks to the village of Hanle and from there to the small observatory. The drive was long and Miller was getting tired of the constant traveling even though he was now in a relatively safer part of the world, replete with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples against mountain backdrops and scattered among small villages and snow-choked streams.
But the detour was worth it. He was getting a better idea of what he was up against and confirmation of his worst fears about the intricate connections that exist between the uprising of the Cthulhu cult and the movement of astronomical objects. He was not a believer in astrology, but he had a healthy respect for astronomy and the effect of meteorites on the development of human civilization. The ancient Egyptians used meteorites as a source of metal for their mummification ceremonies, the rituals designed to resurrect the dead Pharaoh. And it was a meteorite that became the object of veneration in the Arabian city of Mecca. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the Ka’aba in Mecca held 360 idols in proximity to a chunk of meteorite that was believed to have sacred characteristics. Today it is the cornerstone of that shrine, albeit without the idols, and every Muslim in the world turns to face that meteorite five times a day to pray. That the tribe responsible for maintaining the Ka’aba was the Prophet’s
own tribe, the Quraish who originated in Kutha, was a fact not lost on the American remote viewer.
Astronomical events have figured prominently in religious and political history everywhere on the planet. The supernova of 1006 was just one of these events, but astrologers were not charting these objects any longer. Not like in the old days. And the Book was composed at a time when astronomical observations were of utmost importance.
The constellation Therion is known today as Lupus, the Wolf. But Miller preferred the old name, for it summoned up associations with Aleister Crowley, the English magician who called himself To Mega Therion, or The Great Beast, after the same concept in the Biblical Book of Revelations. The Great Beast was ridden by the Whore of Babylon, yet another set of associations with tremendous symbolic potential, pointing to Iraq and Tell Ibrahim, the homeland of the Quraish and the gateway to the Underworld. He would have to discuss all of this with Professor Eco one day. For now, though, he had to make haste to a remote area of Nepal, high in the Himalayas and dangerously close to the border with Tibet, for it would be there that the showdown would take place with the Keepers of the Book.
They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R’lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them. But at that time some force from outside must serve to liberate Their bodies. The spells that preserved Them intact likewise prevented Them from making an initial move …
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
The Afghans are afraid to touch the body of the dead man, so Angell goes over and lifts the body by the arms. He sees the driver standing there, and waits to see if he will help him out. He finally gets the message and crosses the road, lifting up the old man’s legs.
“Listen,” says Angell. “I’ve had it with this shit. I’m going to make a break for it.”
“You can’t be serious, dude. There’s nowhere to go from here. They’ll cut you down in a heartbeat anyway.”
As they’re arguing there is a sound of the vehicle approaching them. That has to be the ride from Garhi Habibullah, the one that will take Angell to Srinagar. If he wants to live, it is now or never.
They place the old man gently on the grass. Still bent over, Angell looks over at the road and watches the Hilux pickup truck approach, waiting for the distraction to give him a few moments’ head start.
That is when he notices something strange about the truck. Or, to be more precise, about its passengers.
The truck pulls up right in front of the Taliban fighters who casually walk over to the vehicle, guns at the ready but not aiming at the men in the
But Adnan, the Kurdish-American spook, is aiming his AK-47 out the passenger window and right at Angell’s driver. The other two men in the truck are similarly armed and have taken the Afghans by surprise. The Taliban attempt to raise their weapons to fire on the Americans, but it’s too late. No one is brave enough to start a firefight they know they can’t win. And the Afghans did not have time to reload after their panic firing across the river.
“Drop the weapons!” shout the CTPT agents in Pashtu. “Drop them!
Now! Do it now!”
There is a slight hesitation in one of the Taliban and Adnan aims at his head.
“Go ahead, asshole,” he says in English. The man drops his weapon. The jingle truck driver raises his hands in surrender and confusion,
looking over to Angell.
“It’s okay. They’re with me.”
The Taliban were caught with their guard down. They saw the truck approach with men inside dressed as Afghans and thought it was their ride. They did not know that their phone calls were intercepted by Aubrey’s people once it was realized that they were being made from the same location as Angell’s GPS. Since the Taliban in question were not observing operational security but using their cell phones along the route into Pakistan, it was a simple matter of isolating those cell phones that were making calls in the near proximity of the GPS signal over a period of time. Aubrey intercepted the last call, made by one of the Taliban guards to the contact in Garhi Habibullah. Adnan and his two CIA colleagues were already in the air when the call was made. They were dropped off outside the town and waited by the dirt road that was used by the jingle truck: spotted long ago by Aubrey’s drone. They commandeered the pickup truck
and put its driver in the bed, tied up and covered with a tarp.
The element of surprise was necessary to keep Angell from being shot by one of the Taliban.
“How ya doin’, guy?” asked Adnan. “Miss me?”
“That’s what I call riding shotgun. How the hell did you know where I was?” Angell held the jingle truck driver by the arm and brought him over
to Adnan who had left his vehicle and was standing over the three other Afghans who were kneeling on the ground with their hands on their heads. As one of the CIA agents held a gun on them, the other tied their wrists behind their backs with plastic cable ties.
Adnan pointed skyward. “A little birdie told me. By the way, the old man sends his regards.”
“Which old man? There are so many.”
Adnan only smiled. He pointed to the driver and spoke to him in Pashto. “You. Down there with the others.”
“It’s okay. He’s not Taliban. He’s Kalash.”
“No shit? Well, it doesn’t matter. He was one of them.”
The driver took his place next to the others and his wrists were tied.
The two CIA men were going through the pockets and personal possessions of the Afghans, looking for identification papers and anything that might be of interest to the other intel guys. They started speaking to their prisoners, in Pashto, Urdu and Dari, asking questions and not getting any answers.
“These are high-value targets, if only because they work directly for the Emir. We should be able to get some useful intel out of them.” “Go for it,” answered Adnan. “You want to take the pickup, or this friggin’ monstrosity?” He pointed at the jingle truck. They would head back to the extraction site with their prisoners. Their orders were to take them back to Karachi for interrogation but they wanted first crack at them in case the Pakistanis gave them any trouble.
“The monstrosity is the right size. We’ve got four prisoners and the four of us. Unless we take both vehicles.”
“Let’s do that. It’s better if we split up anyway. You guys take the big truck, and I’ll ride with the professor here. We better move, though. I don’t want to stand around here too long.”
The driver was dry-mouthed and perspiring heavily. He figured he was going to be executed, and looked imploringly at Angell.
“Look,” Angell said to Adnan. “This one’s not a threat and he probably doesn’t have much intel. Guy went to UC Berkeley for chrissakes. He’s just the driver. This is his truck. How about we cut him loose?”
“You must be joking, man. We can’t just let him go. He could sound the alarm back in town. He’s probably an opium smuggler anyway. Nah, we
take him with us. But once our ride shows up, maybe we can cut him loose then. He won’t be able to do us any harm at that point.”