Abdul Walid found himself somewhere in Afghanistan not knowing how he got there, when he arrived or how long he’d been in the country. From the backpack he wore and the AK 47 strapped over his right shoulder, he had obviously been on a journey. Aches and pains from the rigors of that journey wrapped his body in a throbbing shawl of fatigue. He needed to rest. By the will of Allah, he desperately needed rest.
The landscape was a bleak sprawl of rugged hills as far as his eye could travel. Hills coated in every conceivable shade of gray, like everything else in this jagged, devilish corner of existence…including the people.
This backward nation was not exactly Walid’s choice of venue for doing Allah’s work. Nonetheless, his superiors assigned him here for that very purpose.
Walid plopped down on a patch of hard ground close to the summit of a hill he was negotiating. He had already walked himself ragged and for the life of him he could not remember anything recent beyond the past two minutes. It was if he had been asleep on his feet and just woke up. Of course he knew who he was and why he was in Afghanistan to begin with. He remembered every other aspect of his life. He knew his family, his friends…
Abdul awoke to darkness. A bitterly chill wind accosted him like a slap to the face. He realized he was walking and stopped. How could this be? He turned in place, squinting his eyes to adjust them to pitch-blackness. Bright stars speckled a clear night sky. On any other occasion he would have been dazzled by their radiance. Instead, he stood motionless, dumbfounded by the surrounding night, when his last cogent memory was of him resting on a hilltop during midday. I don’t understand. Abdul lowered to his knees, more tired than he was hours earlier…however many hours had passed. His lungs felt seared from his exertion, his legs heavy as blocks of concrete. He would rest just long enough to rejuvenate…drink water from the plastic bottle in his pack…snack on rations…prayer…he didn’t remember doing his evening prayer. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.
When in doubt.
Walid set his food aside, looking every which way to get his bearings. He needed to face East. Had he been any good at reading the stars.
Daytime. Wahid averted his eyes from a sun that suddenly appeared out of nowhere…or seemed to. He staggered sideways before balancing himself, his head swimming in disorientation. He must have blacked out again. From his labored breathing and aching feet, he concluded he had been sleepwalking, just like the previous occasions. How else could he explain the distance he covered?
He was walking on flatter terrain. A mountain range loomed before him. Abdul spotted a familiar sight, and his apprehension regarding these mysterious memory lapses gave way to calm. A small village nestled at the foot of one of those rocky peaks. He quickened his pace.
A group of children ran to greet Wahid. He recognized their eager faces and laughed and played with them as he neared the village. He walked past mud brick structures. Men in keffiyeh head wraps loitered about. Some greeted him with silent nods; others simply stared, not bothering to hide their disdain of the foreigner in their midst, even if that foreigner was Muslim.
He noticed a pair of Burkha-clad women drawing water from a well. His entourage of youngsters melted away now that the excitement of his presence had dwindled. Wahid grinned endearingly. Who could blame the little ones?
Wahid turned to the sound of that familiar voice to see an equally familiar face emerging from the nearest brick hut. A heavily bearded man in dark sunglasses, dressed in olive green military fatigues. Malik.
Happy and relieved to see a comrade, Wahid beamed a broad smile.
Malik did not reciprocate. He approached Wahid hesitantly, looking for all the world as if he was seeing a ghost. “Wahid…what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in America. You’re supposed to be in Chicago!”
Wahid formed his mouth to speak, but could think of nothing to say. He was supposed to be in America? Well, that was certainly another major detail left out of his memory.
Malik glanced up at the sky before gripping Wahid’s elbow. “Come, let’s get to a secure location. I don’t want an American drone to spot us.”
The cave entrance was less than a forth of a mile from the village.
Wahid had been to this tucked away redoubt so many times, he almost considered it a second home. Two Afghan sentries were posted at the mouth of the cave. Two more stood guard twenty yards further in.
Wahid and Malik passed the guards in silence, following a curving halogen-illumined pathway. The cave’s natural features starkly gave way to man-made renovation.
The pair entered a large, brightly lit room replete with computers, printers, fax machines, internet routers, and a large flat screen TV suspended from the ceiling. Smaller TVs rested on desks lined along the wall. Two of the TVs showed an Al-Jazeera news station, the remaining three, BBC, Fox News, and CNN.
A map of Chicago’s downtown area covered one wall. Next to it, a photograph of the city’s tallest skyscraper, the Willis Tower. Next to the picture, were posted interior and exterior schematics of the building.
Eleven men occupied this busy space. All eleven paused with comically gape-mouthed expressions at the sight of Wahid.
Like Malik, none of these men were Afghan. Most were from the Gulf States. There were a couple of Egyptians a Pakistani, even an Indonesian. Different nationalities, all united in their commitment to Allah. All united under the banner of Jihad.
Walid’s heart stirred with pride.
Sheikh Mahmud, the leader, a PhD engineer in his mid fifties, stepped forward. “What is this?” His puzzled gray eyes darted between Malik and Walid, before settling with finality upon the latter. “Why are you here?”
“The operation was compromised,” Walid said. “Khalid and Fodio were picked up by the authorities. I barely managed to get away. I made my way to the Mexican border and slipped out of the country.” Walid’s lips seemed to move of their own accord as he recounted events he had absolutely no memory of.
“Khalid and Fodio…arrested?” Hamza, the youngest Jihadi in the group, shook his head, his face creasing with skepticism. “We heard nothing about this! It would have been on the news!”
“Unless, the Americans are keeping a lid on this, as they say,” Malik speculated.
Khalid was a white European from Germany, Fodio a northern Nigerian.
The two were specially trained to talk, walk and dress like Americans. And because they resembled typical Americans, they were less likely to fall under the type of scrutiny Middle Eastern looking men tended to encounter. The planners in this room had counted on the would-be martyrs’ ability to blend in for this operation. The group’s disappointment was palpable.
“Why would they keep this secret?” Abdullah, a master bomb maker, ridiculed. “They never hesitate to trumpet the arrests of so-called terror suspects across their media outlets!”
As the planners debated, discussed and lamented, a curious sense of detachment fell over Walid. He panned the room with a blank face, taking in every detail. Then he studied his fellow Jihadis…
On the other side of the world in a DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency) facility somewhere in Northwest Nevada, another group of men gathered in a different room, observing live feed of terrorists through the eyes of a terrorist.
Four of the men were military officers, the remaining three, civilians.
One of the civilians, Dr. Jerome Williams, sat, focused on a 32 inch monitor in front of him. Williams was a Howard University robotics professor, currently consulting for DARPA.
Facial recognition indicators buzzed each time a terrorist was featured on the screen. Every one of the men in that distant cave ranked high on more than one government most-wanted list. .
General Allen Murphy blew out an amazed whistle. “I never thought he would’ve made it that far.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense, Jeremy Skelton, turned to the general. He was new to this affair and his bewilderment showed. “Alright, how did you manage to get this man inside so easily? Infiltrating terror cells is no walk in the park. You can’t just make someone like an Abdul Walid cooperate.” He leaned closer to the monitor. “What kind of hidden camera is he wearing?”
“In this case, inducing cooperation from our subject was no problem at all,” Dr. Williams answered cheerfully. “And he’s not wearing a cam.”
Skelton grinned dubiously and looked to CIA Station Chief Thomas Perkins for elaboration. “Ok, I’m all ears.”
“Abdul Walid was arrested several weeks ago, along with two other terrorists,” Perkins explained. “Walid’s companions, a German and a Nigerian were going to blow themselves up in the Willis Tower observation deck, while Walid detonated a truck bomb at a downtown park festival. Two devastating, simultaneous attacks, typical of an al Qaeda operation.”
“Walid wasn’t going to suicide himself,” said General Murphy. His weathered features twisted in a sarcastic sneer. “Apparently he’s too valuable a planner to enter Paradise so soon.”
“Anyway,” Perkins continued. “Walid’s task was to coordinate the attack, make sure everything went according to plan. That’s why we chose him for our special project.”
Skelton’s brow crinkled. “Special project?”
“I’ll let Dr. Williams take over from here.”
Dr. Williams swiveled toward the deputy secretary. “Shortly after his arrest and subsequent interrogation, Walid was turned over to my lab. There, doctors, under my supervision, replaced a portion of his brain with a memory restrictive cybernetic implant. The implant makes Walid deeply susceptible to suggestion.”
“In other words,” Perkins cut in, “Walid is a living breathing puppet, and the good professor here pulls the strings.”
“The implant is connected to his visual cortex, allowing us to see what he sees,” Williams pointed out. “Thus eliminating the need to hide a camera on his person.”
“Skelton paled. “You mean to tell me that…you…turned a human being into some sort of zombie cyborg?”
Williams chuckled lightly. “No Mr. Deputy Secretary. I wouldn’t go that far. He does have awareness, but it’s limited to what I allot him. He knows he suffers from memory loss but can’t attribute its cause. He knows his actions are not his own but can’t pinpoint the reason. Other than those lapses, he behaves no differently from the average human.”
“And with this thing in his head…”
“Mental Interdictive Neural Determinant,” Williams interrupted with a hint of pride. “M.I.N.D. for short.”
The deputy secretary raised a brow. “Clever. With this…M.I.N.D. in his head, you’ve gotten our subject back to his cave. Now what? What’s the end game?”
Williams held up a finger and spun back to his console. He began typing on his keyboard.
“This is a disaster.” Sheikh Mahmud paced across the room, wringing his hands. A vision he cherished of the Willis Tower crowned in a blazing wreath, infidels flailing to their deaths, would yet remain unconsummated by reality.
“There are other targets,” Malik assured the cell leader. “There are always other targets. We will simply lick our wounds and God willing, move on to plan our next action.”
Walid paid no attention to the discussion around him. A compulsion he could not override moved his hand into his pocket. He pulled out an object resembling a bicycle handle grip with a red button on top.
Inwardly, Walid panicked at his action, knowing he could not arrest it no matter how hard he tried.
Hamza noticed first the detonator in Walid’s hand, then the backpack, which the latter never removed.
The bomb maker’s jaw unhinged. “Brother…what are you doing?”
A tear gleamed in the corner of Walid’s right eye, the only sign of distress on an otherwise emotionless face.
One by one the cell members spotted the detonator and their eyes widened in alarm.
Walid raise the device to chest level.
Forgive me, Brothers…his thumb unwillingly pressed the button.
Static instantly filled Dr. Williams’ screen.
Another monitor displayed real-time satellite footage of smoke boiling out of a cave in Eastern Afghanistan.
An over watch drone recorded the same event at a much lower altitude.
A blanket of grim silence settled over the room.
Dr. Williams stretched his neck and turned to the deputy secretary. “Thirteen terrorists down.”
Skelton could barely keep his eyes off the snowy screen. Unsettled, he cleared his throat. “I’m at a loss for words. A part of me is not particularly comfortable with mind control.”
“This might make you feel a little better, Mr. Deputy Secretary,” Perkins stated. “Drones have done an admirable job of killing terrorists. The downside is, too many civilians have perished in drone strikes. A M.I.N.D.-implanted subject can pinpoint targets with much greater precision and eliminate those targets with minimal to zero risk of civilian casualties. As you’ve just seen.”
Perkins’ argument seemed to have sunk in. Skelton nodded in realization. “Do you have more of these M.I.N.D. devices, Dr. Williams?”
“I have an improved version on the drawing board,” Williams gestured toward the static-filled screen “Walid just ‘tested’ the prototype. Once I iron out the kinks, I expect M.I.N.D.s to be in full production within a month. That should give you some time to line up more candidates for future operations.” The professor flicked a switch shutting down the screen.
Skelton regarded the CIA operative. “I think the president will be interested in this new technology.” A smile slowly parted his lips. “Very interested.”