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A Tree in the Desert


Prologue

 

    As fiction comes closer and closer to the possibility of truth, tension mounts with increasing wonder. Where does one end and the other begin? Then there is the question whether the two could ever merge, or would a tumultuous event take place? 
   If only the human enterprise were all that was in play in the events of the Cosmos, both historically and at this present time on Earth, where would be our hope for the future? It is in the spiritual realm that the deciding fate of Creation rests, though certainly influenced by human choice. It may seem at times we are but pawns in the epic struggle between good and evil. It certainly appears the human endeavor is influenced by spiritual forces of good (God’s Spirit and angels) as well as spiritual forces of evil (demons). We are not alone in the struggles of life—those within and those without. 
   A Tree in the Desert is Book Two of a four-book fiction series, The Babylonian Conspiracy. This book portrays a clash between traditional cultural norms amidst the onslaught of global terrorism. Three major forces rely almost entirely on human enterprise, with spiritually oriented episodic events struggling apart from each other, but eventually working together: Mohammed striving for peaceful jihad, the Directory for a new world order, and government agencies, primarily the CIA and the military, fighting the terrorist threats against national security. It will take a venture into another time before the issue is resolved (in Books Three and Four) when the final enemy is confronted.  
   In this story, the struggle rages in our present timeline, with events of magnitude occurring centuries, even eons before. In many episodes, conversations occur between people on Earth and spiritual beings, even with God. No claim is made that those words have Divine Origin. Quite the opposite, they are words of the author, who has attempted to represent what he thinks God might say or intend for one of His spiritual hosts to say in the context of the given situation. Words from malevolent spiritual beings carry the same disclaimer. Some or even much of what is said may not conform to the reader’s spiritual or intellectual inclination. But it is offered with the hope that when such events occur in the life of the reader, the words heard will be ones easily understood. 

 CHAPTER ONE 
The First Response 

   Strife in the Middle East is an old story. What was happening in the United States was new and evolving into a never-before-told account. 
   The year is 2017. Terrorism had entered into the life of every citizen. For some in the fight against terrorism, conventional methods must be cast aside. The Directory took the lead. 
   Responder in America Twelve aspiring “agents,” young men with no family attachments who had honorably completed a two-year enlistment in the armed forces of the United States, had been selected from a long list of applicants to serve in a corporate “security project.” 
They were assigned to a six-week survival school at a several-hundred-acre cattle ranch in West Texas, where they were allowed no communications with the outside world. They were isolated, and if anything happened to them, there was no one to be informed. The few social contacts required cover stories to protect their identities. 
   They became proficient in martial arts, expert marksmen with a multiplicity of weapons, accomplished technicians with explosives, and given the capability to eliminate “targets” by the latest assassination techniques. Behavioral psychologists, who could spot a character flaw that might put an assignment in jeopardy, placed them under constant scrutiny. They were constantly quizzed on hypothetical situations they might someday face. In the end, six would receive a special team assignment, and the remaining six would be individually assigned to corporate security details to serve as a backup for the team. 
   Their final exam required a psychological interview. They had no time to prepare for what awaited them. 
   “How do you feel about killing people who cannot defend themselves from you?” 
The interrogation room suddenly seemed very small to the agent sitting across the table from his questioner. Looking down on the table top, he replied, “I could do it if that was my order.” 
   “But what if it were a woman or a teenager?” 
   The agent hesitated. He shifted his weight in his seat. He thought, I would rather not have to answer this one. But he gave the same answer as before. 
    Forty-five minutes later he felt drained and alone. 

***** 

   In an upscale New York City nightclub, seven guests in a private dining room were not interested in the scheduled floor show, although each claimed a gourmet palate for good wine and tender steaks. 
   Dressed in black business suits, they represented a wide range of ethnicity and national origin. They sat at a round table beneath, and dimmed chandelier and scattered floor lamps among leather upholstered lounge chairs. The room was windowless, with a single entry door and one door on the back wall for the private windowless washroom. The guests shared little conversation other than occasional low-voiced words. 
   When the three waiters served the last round of after-dinner drinks and left, an air of serious contemplation pervaded the noiseless room. 
The senior member, the only one with graying hair and mustache, gently tapped his knuckles on the table. 
   “Gentlemen, since this is our first meeting after survival school training, I want to offer some background information and ground rules. What I tell you is not recorded in any electronic program or on any hard copy. You will not take notes and must trust your memory for the necessary details. I am always available for any question you might have, but only through established channels which will be explained later. 
   “Please hold your questions and comments until I’ve completed my presentation. Then we will hear from each of you in turn. You are all known to each other in a limited sense. For the time being, we will keep it that way. 
   “Our employer is the American Directory. You have been informed of their operational objective and have agreed with their principles. We are charged with specific assignments having to do with the global terrorist threat steadily becoming evident in the United States, especially since the New York Fed robbery which happened under threat of a nuclear bomb planted in Washington, DC. The specific assignments for which you have been trained involve methods to eliminate certain individuals and groups that pose threats to the Directory’s plan to establish a new world order. 
   “We, along with similar groups in the other two Directories, have been given the combined designation of ‘Responder,’ with different code names for the individual cells. 
    “Our code name is ‘Avalanche,’ and your name in the Directory will be ‘Agent’ plus the two-digit number on the back of the envelope in front of you. Each Agent in Responder will have a different number. I will be your Chief Agent. 
   “Please do not disturb the envelope until asked to do so. In it, you’ll find tickets for travel to our next meeting when we’ll plan our first mission, plus five thousand dollars in cash. During this time, you will plan a quiet exit from any remaining business, family, and social contacts. You knew this would be necessary and Directory resources will be available for each of your personal needs.” 
   There was a stir in the seats, but the faces gave no clue to the thoughts behind them. One agent seemed particularly uncomfortable. 
   Justen Taylor, Agent 14, a Muslim whose name did not betray the inner man, shifted his weight in a chair that gave a feeling of constraint he did not like. In fact, he was concerned more about the restrictions that would be placed on his life. For him, this arrangement with Avalanche had too many unknown factors. 
   He thought, Would they fall in line with my long-held secret aspirations for a jihad of terror? Or will I be pushed into another realm of uncertain ambitions? I will soon know. Then I’ll make my move. 
   “If there are no questions, you can now remove the envelope inserts. Your agent number is to be memorized and never recorded for others to find. You will always be contacted by your personal number. 
   “As you leave, please place your empty envelopes in the basket on the table next to the doorway. I’ll dispose of them after ensuring all have been returned. You’re free to go.” 
The six agents removed the contents from their numbered envelopes, placed the papers in their jacket pockets, and left the room after depositing their envelopes in the basket as directed. When Justen Taylor walked into the darkness of the night, he called a familiar number on his cell phone.
   “We need to meet. I’ll be at your office early tomorrow morning.” He did not know his life was under a microscope. Nothing in his past was hidden from Avalanche. His most recent cell phone conversation became another entry in a file that held his many secrets. 
   Chief Agent Bradley Hanson breathed a sigh of relief as the last agent left the room. He waited with a cell phone in hand, then speed-dialed a number he knew was waiting for his call. 
   “They just left. No real problem. One who you know sparked some concern, although he tried to hide it. He said nothing, but his facial expression and eye movements gave clues he was not in complete agreement. We’ll be watching all of them until the next meeting, but this one should receive particular attention. We know he is a Muslim, but his talents made him useful. He won’t be easily replaced. We’ll have to play this one close to our vest. I’ll give you a complete report when we meet tomorrow.” 

***** 

   Hanson met with the American Executive Committee at lunch the next day. “Agent 14 turned out to be more of a problem than we first thought. We brought him on board with a question mark. Because of his specialized skills, especially with the Arabic language, we felt he was one we wanted. There were some blank spots in his background check we ignored for expediency. We came close to paying dearly for that slight indiscretion. 
   “After our meeting last night, we had him under observation as he walked to his car in the parking lot. With the use of long-range audio monitors, we heard his call to arrange a meeting with a person on our target list. The call was also traced and recorded. Needless to say, he never kept his appointment. I have a replacement in line and he will be ready for the meeting in two weeks for our first assignment. I don’t believe Agent 14 had the opportunity to pass on any sensitive information, but we have his contact under surveillance. Actually, he is high on our target list; we probably should move him to the top. 
   The three Regional Directories offered no objection to bringing Responder online in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Prime Directors, sitting as the Directory Executive Committee, would manage the program.  Without the knowledge of Directory members, they also instituted a plan to bring Responder into the Middle East and North Africa.