TEN % MAX
© 2016 John Selby
Published by the WizeWell Media Group
This is purely a work of fiction: all characters, organizations
and situations represent the author’s imagination.
why then, knowing grace
do you bring stones?
blind hostility only shatters and leaves in ruins
the gates of peace which open
but we all know
civilizations come and civilizations go
breathing words like
Donald Claudius Geronimo
and all the while
the patient yet unceasing tide
digs deeper holes
slowly sinking heels
from “Civilizations Come / Civilizations Go”
by B Budd Smith
Mahee came and Mahee went ... let us breathe a soft lament – and continue to hope beyond hope that she shall some day return.
Fifteen months ago, on a hot Monday morning seventy miles north of Kabul, a 4-wheel Afghan gang attacked the convoy taking Mahalena and her U.N. team up to Mazar-e Sharif to guide a peace-keeping circle. Three government reports I’ve been allowed to read conclude that the raiders were after Mahee in particular – she’d never hesitated to openly discuss her reconciliation work, they knew her face from the news and internet.
All the other members of Mahee’s convoy were found dead but her body never found at all – obviously they’d taken her on purpose. As her husband, I was notified by the military to expected a ransom push, but none came.
Time went by. I somehow continued here in New York without her. At this point pretty much everyone who knew Mahee has given up hope. But I’ve not given up hope, I definitely continue to feel her physically alive on this planet with me. Especially late at night as I drift off into a pristine place, I become aware of her lying right there beside me like we used to at the end of a day. My breathing still gets raw and my nose stuffs up with that nasal precursor so familiar to experienced lovers –
That’s how alive she still is for me. I keep part of my awareness constantly on alert to receive a phone call or a text or somebody coming up to me breathless and saying hey, guess what – Mahee’s back.
Running somehow parallel to Mahee’s disappearance into the hands of highly-violent men, ten months ago a woman that Mahee and I once worked with down in Guatemala, Ursula Traeger, unexpectedly reconnected with me. A scientist of the very highest caliber, Ursula showed up out of the blue at my Thursday evening lecture at NYU, impatient to haul me off to a café and spill her new passion – a revised strategy of her life-long goal to use the new psych-tech we were both exploring, to drastically reduce human violence on our planet –
Supported by her new spiritual master in Europe, Ursula informed me that her tech team had already written massive code to drive the land-based dimensions of her vision – all she needed now was a delivery team to coalesce around her software and activate the maneuver.
That night, at the café, I immediately said yes to helping her. All vengeful impulses aside, I’ve known for years that something must be done to free us from our internal violence-prone wiring. Ursula was talking entirely-realistic psych-tech transformation in that exact direction – I couldn’t say no.
To manifest Ursi’s vision at the satellite-broadcast level, I hesitated a few days and then brought onto our team my old roommate from Berkeley days, Theodore Kapelhof. His dad had built the Kapelhof global-media empire, and Ted was now running that whole show. He enlisted his highly-gifted satellite coordinator, plus an essential high-up connection in the White House. He also provided Ursi with additional funding to complete final fMRI tests.
She finished those just before Christmas and now, next week on Easter Sunday (assuming we receive the President’s secret blessing) most of the seriously-violent people on this planet will find themselves permanently touched by Ursula’s brain-restructuring massage.
This whole thing might sound like just another wishy-washy save-the-world daydream fantasy of Silicon Valley kids aiming to be psych-tech heroes. The difference is that our team is seriously experienced in this direction, we’re in position governmentally and tech-wise to accomplish our goal – and together I think we have the nerve to do it.
For a beginning glimpse into Ursula’s creation here’s a short insider account of the Touch Treatment observed while impacting the brain of a criminally-violent Afghani man – Ahmad Rah. Long before his capture, Ahmad had been infamous on both sides as a brilliant and utterly heartless desert warrior – an ultimate tough nut to crack. He also happened to speak good English from the twelve years he’d spent as an orphaned Afghani child in a loving home on the outskirts of London.
In England he’d done his best to acquire the prevailing British mindset and proffered identity – but when he hit puberty a hot rush of native passion started to fire up his bowels as he realized step by step (taking cues mostly from the internet) that his core allegiance was inalterably magnetized in the exact opposite direction. Having observed first-hand the mentality of the real enemy by enduring British public schooling, at seventeen Ahmad found an online sponsor who helped him slip off away to his true homeland in Afghanistan.
For several years he humbled himself – and with his intelligence and personal history rose up within the ranks of the local highland freedom-fighters. Then he let go of tribal boundaries and discovered his ultimate military calling. While still free, Ahmad had been instrumental in orchestrating the elimination of an ever-growing number of rancid non-believers, and thusfar as a prisoner he’d continued to outwit his captors. From their perspective, Ahmad Rah was a strong healthy man of about thirty with plenty of brains, leadership charisma, determination and conviction. He could reason well, act various roles with finesse, and control his impulses for future gain. All he lacked in order to become a positive player in the world was a reversal in religious orientation and perhaps a better sense of humor.
He’d lost the latter early on when his parents and three siblings were murdered before his eyes by a stray American drone. So yes, there was understandably zero laughter to be found in the soul of Ahmad Rah. For several months after capture he’d been interrogated and abused without pity at Khan Oman prison near Baghdad. Then one chilly morning he was taken from his stinky cell and transported in a military helicopter way up north and east into the middle of highland nowhere.
Pushed from the transport, he assumed he would now be shot – that the enemy would eliminate him just as he had once busily enjoyed eliminating them. Instead he found himself being escorted politely to a military vehicle and driven another fifteen miles high up into rough mountains where a brand-new military edifice squatted invisibly in the chilly high desert.
Days and nights slid past. The compound was far more comfortable than the place before: food was better, guards less nasty, several fellow prisoners of high interest. A couple of civilian Americans tried to approach him in a quite respectful manner to administer personality tests – but he knew their purposes were evil and cleverly played them for fools.
Then came the glorious day of March 24 – the day of Ahmad’s spiritual awakening when the sacred breath of Allah unexpectedly came flooding into his heart and transformed his life. Out on the exercise quad during an argument Ahmad had smashed the jaw of a non-believer. Guards tasered him to the ground and dragged him back to his cell. His cell mate was also in a foul mood and they cursed each other –
But then suddenly (as he’d remember later) right at that particular moment something momentous happened. Ahmad suddenly stopped mid-sentence and fell silent, his attention yanked from external to internal fixations because inside his head, he was experiencing an intense tingling sensation – a complex resonant vibration happening in the left side of his skull, unique harmonics and colors down low and deep inside, and now also over in the exact same place in his brain’s right hemisphere.
This vast resonant sensation consumed his entire awareness – a widening smile gently took over his usually-frowning face. He looked across the cell and noticed a similar expression on his cell-mate’s face. Then a bright inner burning sensation flared up in those two locations inside his head. For a moment the fiery pain ceased, initiating a moment of utter tranquility – but on his very next breath an inner pressure began to build in those two cerebral locations, increasing until it seemed his head would explode.
Then came the climax of inner events, which Ahmad would always remember with utter awe because there came suddenly from the exact center of a vast empty space, an almost audible inward snapping sound … and Ahmad experienced a flash of infinite light and pure orgasmic ecstasy – followed by a blank total loss of any awareness at all.
As Ahmad felt consciousness returning, he first became aware of the sensation of air flowing in and out of his nose. His experience expanded to include the languid enjoyable movements in his chest and belly as he breathed. And then with a soft intensity he would always yearn to remember, he experienced a great flush of some totally-positive infinite emotion – that sacred experience of pure spiritual love radiating outward in all directions from the inner center of his heart.
With a flash Ahmad realized that this inner sensation could only be the holy touch of Allah moving within his body and embracing his soul – a spiritual blessing radiating throughout his mortal being. All his old hateful thoughts seemed to have disappeared entirely, all his reflexive ferocity dissolved … this was surely a unique blessing from God Almighty, whose healing presence seemed almost palpable in the room.
As if in a vision a very pretty Western woman with blond hair and short dress revealing naked knees entered with tea and delicious cookies. Ahmad felt Allah smiling upon him as he smiled back to the woman. He even felt a slight flush of sexual attraction toward her and was not ashamed because he knew in his liberated heart that he was a good man whose every thought and movement was being guided by God’s loving presence inside his mortal mind.
Just one day before Ahmad’s tech-provoked awakening but operating within quite different spiritual vows and intentions, a solitary European trespasser sat hidden on a granite outcropping overlooking a small box canyon north of Morro Bay. The intruder was busy gathering data, visually inspecting a hideaway estate nestled a hundred feet below him.
There were no other houses on the entire coastal slope of the ridge – this was back-country rancher territory. The morning sun felt hot on the man’s skin. He could hear a small spring gushing from the base of the cliff and see it flowing languidly through a garden into a swimming pool, then overflowing under a newly-constructed main building and reemerging on the front side of the building where it went rushing through miles of steeply sloping grassland until it finally flowed into the ocean way down below, a few miles south of Cambria.
He zoomed professionally with his iPhone camera to capture the large main structure – a two-wing modern log-cabin fortress with high-fenced back yard. Then he pivoted to video three smaller buildings off to the left side, plus a 4-car garage, gate-house, and 2-mile private drive coming up to the place. Two new black SUVs and a big Ford pickup were parked in the circular drive in front of the main building. Nothing unusual about any of that – but why the electric-wire-topped 8-foot security fence surrounding the isolated retreat, why the guard house and high-security entry gate down below, and why those twenty-one satellite disks over to the left, also inside the high fence and aimed intently up toward the heavens?
Already somewhat informed regarding the answers to those questions, the intruder continued with his video surveillance. Except for some hazy photos through fog shot from a small plane the day before, this footage would be his first solid documentation of the layout of the compound.
Feeling a bit exposed on the cliff at the top of the coastal ridge, he glanced over his shoulder down to the east half a mile where an old ranch and vineyards operation could be seen, spread out way below. Failing to note any movement down there and feeling time pressure in case someone came out for a swim in the compound under surveillance, he returned his full attention to the video work at hand.
That was a mistake – he should have looked a bit more closely at the west-facing kitchen window of the old ranch house because someone, a woman, was looking right at him through field glasses. She disappeared and just a minute or so later, stomping fast down the steps of the old ranch-house with 30-30 rifle in hand, came Chris Hadley, hoping to hell that the lone spy his sister had noticed way up there was just some idiot trying to get photos of nephew Jack’s fancy new buildings for Town and Country or some such. If so, a quick bullet over the guy’s head would high-tail him off the property.
It took Chris three minutes to get his horse saddled and less than ten at a fast lope up the cow path to where the steep climb started. The original Hadley ranch had been 10% vineyards and 30% percent alfalfa farmland with all the rest of the thousand acres, up and over the higher ridges to the west, nothing but wild rugged grazing land. Selling part of that high-range section two years ago to a rich city-slicker nephew (referring to Jack Hadley – me) had enabled uncle Chris and aunt Marci to expand the vineyards considerably – but Chris had from the first worried about the sale, not quite trusting his nephew who’d gone off and become a fancy-talking east-coast professor.
There was barely a trail over the highest rocky ridge, and Chris came out right behind the man with the iPhone camera. Looking just like he was, a wild cowboy on a black horse, without thinking Chris cocked his gun and fired a shot over the guy’s head to scare away the trespasser, just as his dad used to – another Hadley family tradition.
But this time tradition back-fired. With a smooth quick movement of his right hand the interloper reflexively pulled out a .38 pistol and fired. Chris felt the bullet tear into him as he fell back off the horse, crashing down and rolling off out of sight.
Late-March weather was dismal in New York, the lingering sunlight nothing more than a faint smear between wet buildings. Entirely ignorant of events transpiring on the family ranch in California, I was half-way through my last lecture of the day at NYU, standing in front of a large class explaining the amygdale’s recently-discovered neural potential to influence the prefrontal lobes in modulating various types of classic fear reactions.
Just by chance, through a high open window, my whole class could hear gently-stringed harmonics of Georg Philipp Telemann being practiced in the next building. I made a quick comment on the neuro-chemical effects of such music on the frontal lobes, then returned to my theme. On most days I was known for enthusiasm and light jokes, even when considering serious topics. I taught because I loved to teach, like my father before me. But today my focus was totally serious – I glanced at my watch – time for action.
First I looked up at my audience a moment in silence, then bent forward slightly as if a jab of pain had suddenly grabbed my solar plexus. I seemed to almost instantly recover, but my students could probably detect that my tone of voice had become noticeably quieter. Then a few moments later I paused and looked out over the crowd of eager faces and said nothing at all – and they could tell that I was caught in some inner painful focus. And indeed, before the lecture was finished I told them I had to excuse myself, blaming an attack of the stomach flu for my sudden demise.
But rather than heading across town to be genuinely sick in my apartment, my car and I made a happy beeline for La Guardia airport – with me almost instantly seeming to recover. I hated to deceive people but a definite higher purpose was pushing me. I was still living entirely alone after Mahee’s disappearance, no one in New York was likely to discover I’d taken off for Spring Break a few days early – perfect.
Stuck in late-afternoon traffic, impatiently wanting to get up in the air with Teddy on our mission, I switched on the radio to check on the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. At least for my team’s present aims, the violent news made me smile with satisfaction: a totally nutted-up world situation would be ideal for this particular Easter holiday.
My phone rang – I got jolted. Was that Ursula calling from Basel, or maybe Teddy from somewhere above reporting a change in plans? No, I saw the name on my phone – it was my aunt back on the family ranch.
“Marci,” I said, a bit impatiently.
“I hope I’m not disrupting you.”
“I’m on my way to the airport.”
“Oh, you’re coming for Easter early?”
“No, Europe first, got some business things to get done with Teddy.”
“Oh – well that’s what I’m phoning about.”
I tensed. “What’s up?”
“So – I just happened to see a man up there this morning on your ridge, spying on your property. You know how Chris is, he went out with his rifle to chase the guy away – and now Chris’s down at the hospital with a bullet hole in his shoulder and the sheriff’s department running all over the ranch place on four-wheelers trying to find the shooter.”
“But – how is Chris?”
“Tough old goat. Bullet didn’t ruin anything serious – but he could have been killed, I was watching with my binoculars and – you aren’t doing anything illegal up there, are you? The sheriff’s asking questions.”
Somebody honked behind me. “Marci – there’s nothing illegal, this isn’t the sixties.”
“What if the police get a search warrant?”
I hesitated – then made up my mind. “No need for that, I’ll phone the woman in charge there, Cynthia – she can let them in. All they’ll find is a few nerds working on broadcast software, nothing to hide except from our competitors.”
“I understand – and of course it’s not you, Jack. I just don’t trust your wheeler-dealer partner.”
“Theodore is one of my best friends, he’s coming out for Easter. Just – let the cops in. But tell them we want our peace over the holidays. Damn, that’s one hell of a thing, Chris getting shot.”
“Sheriff Walden was asking – do you have any idea why someone would sneak around taking video pictures of your buildings – and why he’d actually shoot someone when he got caught?”
“No. Absolutely no idea at all,” I lied.
“I worry about you. Ever since your Dad died and then that Guatemala woman took you over – ”
“ – She didn’t take me over.”
“She made you quit Berkeley and move way out there to New York.”
“She had important work at the U.N.”
“I just think you should come back to California, forget her and find you a good woman. And please, make peace with your mom.”
“Marci, you’re a good heart but you’ve got no idea what’s happening. We’ll have a real holiday this Easter, I’ll be busy right through Sunday noon, then there should be, well – lots of time for everybody to finally relax and enjoy the feeling of just being alive.”
“Ah, now you sound almost like your old self, talking that way. You know I just want the best for you.”
“Well thanks. And I just want the best, for the whole world – talk to you in a few. Gotta fly.”
The back wheels of Theodore’s company jet touched the runway so gently that Teddy barely felt the landing, nor did he cease non-stop talking on the phone, patiently laying out new company policy to an underling on a merger he was pushing through. He had Woody Guthrie singing gritty Dust Bowl Blues on the stereo at the same time he was making a raw capitalist move – the juxtaposition pleased him. He was also at the same time thinking through in the back of his mind the entire sequence of events planned for the next five days. Plus he had CNN and Fox News running without sound on multiple wall screens, keeping an eye on the Near East.
Multidimensional cognitive juggling was Theodore Kapelhof’s habitual forte – it kept him so busy he usually managed to avoid the darker regions of his mind. He spent much of his time in the air, running his family’s hefty media-communications empire with great finesse from high above, picking up colleagues for max-altitude meetings and occasionally inviting women for a romantic rendezvous in the clouds –
Five minuets after touchdown he paused to shift gears, tuning into his breathing as I came aboard right on schedule. I guess I was sporting an unusually-tense expression. “Hey, Jack – what’s up?” Teddy fired at me. We’d been roommates at Berkeley and I’d once romanced his now-dead sister. He and I’d gone off in different circles after graduation and didn’t always see eye to eye, but we’d remained friends – and were currently tightly engaged with Ursula’s project.
I walked across the thick carpet of the jet’s office and picked up a solid hand-made crystal ball that Teddy always kept atop its rosewood stand on whatever desk he was using at the time. The near-perfect sphere was the size of a hardball; I held its considerable weight in one palm, then in the other. The ball had been a birthday gift to Teddy from his sister Dianne the year before she was killed. I gazed into the crystal a long moment, then resolutely put it back on its stand.
“Something just slightly crazy happened,” I muttered, and proceeded to tell Teddy all I knew about the shooting out at our hideaway base in California.
Teddy barely reacted, not one to show emotion, but his thick dry lips puckered in serious rumination. “This needs personal attention,” he said in his New Jersey accent ...