Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Illuminoimia Ch 6: The Black Magician

In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction. Today, The Omnivore continues a serial-fiction experiment: Illuminoimia. 

Everything You're Afraid Of Is True.

We return to Charles Brin who is on the run across the Middle East, trying to parlay his stolen atomic weapon into something that will help him survive against his own rogue government. He accidentally makes contact with someone far stranger ...
Previously On Illuminoimia

What's The Frequency Kenneth?
Chapter 6: The Magician
September 16th 2012, Latakia, Syria (off the Mediterranean)
Imaad al-Sahhah waited near the back of the Al-Bustan cafe. To the south, across the Al Orouba causeway, was the almost preternaturally blue Mediterranean sea. The American (“John”) would enter in exactly three minutes. If he didn’t, Imaad was told, it meant something really, really bad had happened. Imaad drank. He drank water because the American had told him that if he smelled alcohol on him, he would not pay. He also drank water because it was highly probable he would have to kill people in the next few minutes.

He wore a new suit. It did not quite fit--but it made him look reasonably distinguished. He had dried it over and over in the laundry so it would look at least a little worn. He flirted with the waitress--no doubt a daughter of the owner--and he was friendly and a good tipper. He had been there for two days, sitting at a table near the back (but not at the back) pretending to write letters to his “daughters” so she would smile at him like she knew him.

This was so that when the people who were meeting the American scouted the cafe he would look like a regular if he and and ‘John’ had gotten there first. When a tourist came in on the second day--and had a very light lunch, taking in the view of the restaurant rather than the view of the sea, Imaad decided ‘John’ was right. They had been scouted. She took her bag after a good hour and adjusted her sunglasses and left. There were no real European tourists in Syria these days--even in a resort town like Latika. It was a shame--but it was the case.

Four days before, ‘John,’ with Imaad in tow, had met with two men back in Libya. Imaad had found them: they were mercenaries. They were the kinds of men who would work for anyone. Imaad had told the American that, when they convoyed with him into the desert to do whatever it was he had planned they would probably kill him. The American had said that was just perfect.

He had told them to surrender their cell phones and any GPS devices or radios before leaving. He had driven in front and they were to follow him. They had smiled greedy smiles and nodded. Imaad had watched them leave, a bad feeling settling in his gut.

‘John’ had returned, hours later, covered in dust and sweat, driving their vehicle. His hatchback and whatever had been covered in the back of it was gone. Then they had gone to an Internet cafe--there were many in Libya these days--and he had bought two spots and had Imaad stand behind him to ensure that no one “tailgated” to look at his screen.

Imaad did not understand everything the American did--but he understood enough: the man was hiring criminals in Russia (the ‘Kraken botnet’ was one of the terms on the encrypted chat) to send spam emails to a vast number of addresses. The American was very specific about some of the terms that would be used. The American paid a surprisingly large sum of money for this service. Then they found a fishing trawler in the Benghazi port and they fled across the sea to Syria: a place where, today, one could go without much identification. Running on no sleep, coffee, and a supply of pills, the American had purchased Imaad’s suit, scouted the cafe, and set them up.

Imaad had asked who they were meeting and the American had been cagey: “A black magician,” he said.

Two hours later, with Imaad still “writing letters” and had moved his gun under his folded jacket when the “inside man” arrived and sat behind him in the very back. This was the spot Imaad would have wanted--but ‘John’ forbade it: it would look suspicious no matter how much he looked like he fit in. Then, not too long after ‘John’ entered and sat away from the counter--but not near the door--and the cafe was small.

The ‘Black Magician’ came in next--and Imaad decided this was bad. The man ( whoever he really was) had an air about him that Imaad did not like. He was heavyset and his suit was expensive and exquisitely tailored. He wore sunglasses like ‘John’ did--but these were expensive aviator glasses and the man had the look of one wearing sunglasses not to hide his face--but because he does not like the light.

Imaad could see small glittering accessories--the tie clip, the cufflinks, the ring. All of these were painstaking. Imaad was not exactly an expert in these things but he recognized the difference between a man who wore a suit such as the one John had purchased--and a man who wore a suit because it told people he was not to be fucked with.

This man who was meeting ‘John’ was not to be fucked with, Imaad thought. This was not a man who went out in the field with guns. This was not a man who sat in dirty cafes and traded secrets for a living. Whatever fish ‘John’ had hooked it was a bigger one than he had expected. The Black Magician sat then for moments as John entered--and waited, silent but impatient, for him to cross the room.

Imaad had very good hearing that he had jealously guarded despite firing fully automatic weapons. He was not close to the men--but with the silence of the road outside he could hear them.

“Before we start,” said John, “If I’m not at an Internet terminal in just a few minutes the location of The Package goes out to every potentially interested party within three thousand miles of it. Are we clear?”

The man smiled--it was predatory: “They used dogs,” he said. “They used probes. They used cardioplate crossoffs. They used teepers. They used bribery. They used stiktyes. They used intimidation. They used torment. They used torture. They used finks. They used cops. They used search and seizure. They used fallaron. They used betterment incentive.”

He paused--maybe for breath. “They used fingerprints. They used Bertillon. They used cunning. They used guile. They used treachery. They used Raoul Mitgong, but he didn’t help. Much. They used applied physics. They used techniques of criminology.”

John, despite himself, looked unnerved. Imaad definitely did not like that.

“What what the hell,” said The Black Magician. “They caught him. After all, his name was Everett C. Marm, and he wasn’t much to begin with, except a man who had no sense--” he wiped at his mouth with a monogrammed handkerchief “--of time.”

John shifted slightly--the weight change of a man ready to  move quickly.

“Harlan Ellison--one of your celebrated American writers,” said the Black Magician. “You may tell anyone you like anything you like--it makes--” he folded the handkerchief--”no difference to me.”

“Good,” said John--but it didn’t sound good. “Maybe I will.”

“Maybe,” said the Black Magician. “You are still playing, though--and you have reached me. So that is impressive. I did not know the Keys you used were still taught by your agency.”

“They,” said John, “Are not. I,” he paused, “reverse engineered them. But it worked. So I want to talk.”

The Black Magician nodded. “Right now,” he said, “there are drones performing grid-sweeps looking for you. There is a team standing by with trauma interrogation experts. These are medical doctors--allopathic surgeons--who have been fully trained but never taken a hippocratic oath. Their speciality is in creating maximal survivable trauma with the intent being to induce hardened subjects to talk within seconds.”

He said this simply and plainly. “They are very good at what they do--but--” He held up a slightly pudgy hand as John had started to speak. “They are not what I would be afraid of.”

The American eyed him. “Your greatest wish,” said the Black Magician, “once they had you, would be for relief--yes: For death. You would want it as soon as possible and it would come only when The Package was recovered. You would not lie to them. At least that is the promise of their techniques.” he shrugged. “Typically, to my knowledge, they are correct in these matters. A kill code would be the last thing that you would want to use. But they are not what you should be most afraid of.”

John blinked, he sat back. Imaad could not see his face--but he could read the body language: ‘This I have to hear.’

“On their staff--in addition to the soldiers and the surgeons--is a Resurrectionist. A specialist in reviving the dead and, temporarily, recovering higher brain functions--enough for questioning but also, of course, enough for fear and pain. This man will be integral to ensuring that you are available for questioning following even a ‘successful’ suicide.”

“Uh-huh,” said John.

“Oh, of course,” said the Black Magician, “if your brains are truly splattered on the wall they cannot work. It is mostly medical science … mostly. But a panicky bullet to the mouth? From your small caliber handgun? If The Resurrectionist is there within the first ‘platinum’ minute of your death? It may not be enough. Choose your timetables wisely Charles.”

The American--Charles--shifted. Imaad could see the fear in him start to blossom.

A high altitude drone with a 1.8 mega-pixel camera makes no sound, cannot easily be seen with the naked eye, and can read the lines on your face. Traditional predator drones are low-flying and propeller driven. They make a buzzing sound. Imaad thought he heard a faint mechanical whine on the salt-scented breeze.

“Okay,” Charles asked, seemingly making a decision, “you got my signal so I think you know things. What are you? Private intelligence?” The Black Magician made no move at all. “No? Soviet--no--”

“You cannot read me, Charles,” said the Black Magician. “I know things that have been forgotten about cold reading. And I know everything that will ever be remembered about it as well. As to who I am? It’s complicated--I am a ‘neutral’ in the terms you would think of them. I responded to the Keys for Magus-level communication because, in truth, that is my title and my occupation--even though I know you were looking for an operative with a specific SCI security clearance by it. I came to see you,” he said, “because I perceive there is a fly in the ointment of the firmament--that there is a tiny--but growing crack--in the cosmic egg. That crack might be you.” he said.

“Okay then. Tell me this--” Imaad thought Charles was grasping at straws now--hoping for some kind of leverage--”Why do they want The Package. Why is the US doing this at all?”

“What do you think The Package is?” asked the Black Magician.

“It is an un-coded thermonuclear bomb slightly over the 1.2 MT range. A state of the art increase over the B83. I would guess, if I had to, that it is sterile: that the fusion and fission signatures will not trace back to the American government--although there are precious few who know how to make one of these so that seems like a lot of work for nothing--”

The Black Magician nodded: ‘correct on all points,’ his expression said.

“It would have been taken by an Al Queada arm. The idea that they could move it out of the country without detection is absurd so it would have to be moved within the country--which doesn’t make sense--”

“No--and you are right,” said the Black Magician. “It was not intended for use within Libya.” He raised an eyebrow didactically, challenging Charles to think harder.

“A change of hands then,” guessed Charles. “They get it--someone else swoops in--then there’s no chain of custody?”

“Very good. And then?”

“Then what?” he asked. “Then Tel Aviv? They’d never get it in there--it’s hot. I don’t know … The Kingdom? Start a total war?”

The Black Magician nodded--they were good guesses. They were not correct.

“Tell me where it is,” said the Black Magician, “and I will tell you what it was going to be used for. That is better leverage than you might think.”

Charles shifted back. “My ass,” he said. Imaad could see the change in attitude: the American was gauging whether he could go for his gun or not. Imaad shifted to the side, his hand on his coat--and under that his own weapon. He would have to take the man in the back as soon as it was clear there was no other option. How many people were outside?

And he thought he heard the hum again … a drone?

The Black Magician laughed. “Very well--no, of course not: you do not trust me and you are wise not to. I will, instead, tell you where it is. And then I will tell you the secrets--and then I will go.”

Charles was perfectly, perfectly still.

“It is in a magic cave in Al Marj desert--buried in a car in a cave in the hilly region. It opens,” said the man theatrically, “with the words ‘iftah ya simsim.’” He smiled at his joke. The American might not get it--but Imaad did. In English it was ‘Open Sesame.’ “Buried with the car is a dead man,” said the Black Magician. “And the Americans will find it using Magnetic Anomaly Detection looking for the metallic body of the car rather than the radioactive signature.”

Charles: “Very good. Good reading. Decent guesses. There are two dead men and still I’m not giving you any coordinates.”

The Black Magician nodded. “Very well. This is what it is for. It’s intended target is not Tel Aviv but Jerusalem. It is not because the people who have started this chain of events think it will start a war--although it will--but because they have a specific intent.”

“What intent?” Charles asked. Imaad could see that he was starting to panic--whatever he had hoped for, this wasn’t it.

“That would take some telling,” said the Black Magician, “and we do not have time--” he stood “--but I will tell you this: It is intended to carry out the Abomination of Desolation in a very specific manner. ”

“The Abom--what the fuck?” Charles stood. Outside there was movement. Imaad could see it through the windows--but barely. One or two vehicles had stopped. The inside man, behind him, was stepping past, to the side of the Black Magician, his eyes on Imaad, warningly. Imaad did not move. There was no point.

“Shit-shit-shit.” Charles was moving away--up to Imaad. “Fuck--we’re made. Fuck.” He looked at the gun in his hand. He was clearly thinking about using it on himself. He looked at it with dread.

“Remember,” said the Black Magician, calling across the cafe, “Everything I told you.”

They heard the drone then--and entry was almost immediate. It was very quiet until Charles started shooting. Imaad assumed they would be covering the rear exits but there was little choice but to retreat. One of the men had a shotgun that fired some kind of electrical stun bolt. The first one slammed into the wall and, after that, Imaad was caught by an incredibly accurate burst from a modified M14 rifle and Charles Brin put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

In the extraction vehicle, before the Resurrectionist could get him awake, Charles’ account sent messages containing the GPS and 8-digit grid coordinates of the bomb to everyone he could think of: maximal havoc.

It turned out that, despite the quote from Repent Harlequin Said The Tick-Tock Man that the Black Magician had quoted, Charles Brin’s sense of timing was pretty good after all.

Continue to Chapter 7: True Names

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