Theta Force methods were bizarre, by the Army standards Templegard knew. Tim had explained the method they were now practicing as his own interpretation of something Williams had said about the advantages of psychic nakedness: one day they’d been listening to the Beatles sing Revolution Number Nine and both had heard a woman’s soft voice in the background say, “If you become naked”. Marty had said, nodding in agreement, “She’s a psychic.” Tim admitted he was just guessing what Marty meant.
Templegard found it easy to maintain his erotic concentration shield while naked in a hot tub with three naked female Theta officers as they attempted remote sensing—seeing things as if being there—of the Kremlin. It was Templegard’s first attempt. He got nowhere. His mind wandered.
What am I doing here? Do they seriously believe they can leave their bodies and fly into the Kremlin, and that I can, too? The notion seemed suddenly preposterous. It must all be a cover operation for something totally different. Is the president aware of the sham? He has to be. Why would he assign a non-psychic to spy on psychics?
It felt surreal. He couldn’t begin to guess at what was really going on. Like a detective, his mind flitted back to where this all started—maybe in thinking back over it, he would see some clues to penetrate this farce…
It had all started with the monkey test. His mind went back to the morning of that fateful day...
Shortly before dawn, he had woken up briefly but had decided to go back to sleep and catch a few more winks. He found himself dreaming of the same woman again. Sometimes she was a girl and sometimes a woman, but always with the same beautiful face.
This time she was being taken away by Roman legionnaires, one on each arm, coming toward him across the plaza. Venice! He didn’t know her but he recognized her—was he dreaming? Yes, he must be dreaming…
The woman locked eyes with him, imploringly. As he passed the trio, he kicked out at one of the guards, which woke him up.
It was dawn. He switched the alarm clock to the off position and got up. He was scheduled for more tests today and thought with relief, at least this is the last day of this stuff.
Soon he was at the lab, playing one of his favorite games and thoroughly enjoying himself. His drill sergeant had called it the Haunted House from Hell. He hadn’t been back through this particular combat course in years and they had made many improvements. Like a kid with a new videogame, he darted and spun through the interior infiltration course, blasting every target with inhuman efficiency.
None of the other tests was particularly enjoyable. For the hundredth time, his brain robotically wondered why they were testing him at this time, while his disciplined mind, having thoroughly contemplated the question and come up blank, once again ignored the thought.
He checked in for the last test. “Number forty-five,” he said as he approached the receptionist, who got more attractive the closer he got. Somehow the eyeglasses that had made her seem mousy now made her seem vulnerable and sweet and approachable. What a lovely face, he thought to himself.
“Go right in,” she said, appreciating his attention. Templegard was ruggedly handsome. He had a cleft chin, was built like an Olympic swimmer, and moved like a dancer. His tousled hair and neat stubble, and the twinkle in his eye, suggested a more complex personality that eluded pigeonholes. Women found him interesting, and vice versa.
“Forty-five, doc, wire me up,” Templegard announced as he entered the lab.
The lab tech’s vibe was subtly hostile but easily read by someone who has lived in harm’s way most of his life. “No wires, lie down here.”
The man positioned sensors near Templegard’s head. “The first part is easy. Think of a monkey. Visualize it in vivid detail, hear it, smell it.” Templegard did as instructed. The monkey’s smell was not offensive. It was a spider monkey, the kind that had attached itself to him in Mexico once and would not tolerate being peeled off until it pooped on his arm to indicate that the love affair was over. He pictured it green because he had once heard that if you paint a monkey green, or advertised its extreme difference in any regard, the rest of its tribe would tear it apart.
“Okay, got it. Now here’s the hard part; very few people can do it, and it’s never one of you supermen. Try not to think of a monkey—”
“And it knows,” Templegard interjected.
“No—well, yes,” the lab tech replied with surprise. “It will know if your brain is producing the same pattern as when you were thinking of the monkey.” He looked up at the monitor where a small monkey image was growing slowly larger. “There, it has caught you thinking of a monkey. You’d better try to stop that, I’m about to start keeping score.”
The monkey image kept growing, although Templegard could not see it as he was engaging a program in his mind that he had not had occasion to use for many months.
“Few have the talent for it, and it’s never you macho men,” the lab tech gloated.
“I take it your distracting is part of the test conditions,” Templegard murmured from his deep concentration, abruptly silencing the lab tech. A few moments later, the monkey image began to diminish on the screen and the lab tech suppressed his reaction. When the image disappeared entirely from the screen, the tech looked at a one-way mirror on the wall and nodded pointedly.
Although Templegard’s conscious mind was unaware of it, his inner psychic self—the part of him that remembered all his previous lifetimes—sensed a familiar man with a strange voice who had just sat bolt upright at his writing desk, nearly half a world away in the palace of a former shah.
The man had been jotting a note giving orders but something had stopped him. He felt around inside him and as far away as his senses could reach, in deep concentration. A moment later he had it: one of his ancient enemies was stirring.
Templegard’s conscious mind remained blissfully unaware of this. His inner psychic self took it in impassively.
Ed Templegard had a big day tomorrow. He’d be meeting the President of the United States, for the second time. They’d met before in a ceremony when he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, along with Tim Shannon and Olivia Rodriguez, for saving most of their unit. Olivia got hers posthumously.
It was hard to get to sleep because he was so jacked up about the meeting, his mind jumping from subject to subject despite his powerful self-control. He’d been told nothing about the purpose of the meeting, and his hunch was that the intermediaries themselves had no idea what it was about either. They had put him through all those tests, some involving shooting, which he enjoyed and aced, and some that he couldn’t make sense of at all. Has to be another secret mission. The thought excited him a lot. He wanted nothing more than to do something positive and essential for the human race, which sorely needed it. He had felt that way as long as he could remember.
His last secret mission had been to investigate the one terrorist group that did not seek publicity. Even now, no one knew the name the group called itself, let alone the name of its leader. He was lucky to escape after only a few days of torture with what little information he had gleaned. It was pretty thin: size of the main body he tracked, about ten thousand; all angry young Mideast men, heading toward Tehran; sophisticated weapons and electronics; blue turbans.
Now that Tim Shannon headed the new secret Theta unit, maybe he asked for me, and that’s what these tests are about.
He finally fell asleep and found himself dreaming. He had been a lucid dreamer all his life, except when he drank too much. In this dream, he relived a scene from his childhood:
He saw the street he’d lived on, a tree-lined wide suburban street, and himself, at about six years old. He was about to break up an uneven fight. A boy who looked about thirteen was tormenting one smaller and younger than Eddie. He had seen both boys around the schoolyard but didn’t know either of them.
Without a moment’s thought about it, he moved forward to intercede. Something inside just made him do it, though he didn’t feel anything in particular. Moving quickly, he jumped and kicked the taller boy in the thigh. “Oww!” the boy yelled. Feeling his kicked muscle cramp up, he involuntarily released his hold on the smaller boy, who ran away. So did Eddie. The older boy hobbled after them and quickly gave up, cursing.
Far away behind a big tree, Eddie and the lad flopped down and caught their breath, leaning back against the comforting willow. The smell of oleander filled the air. The younger boy sat forward to look Eddie in the eye.
“You don’t even know my name, why’d you do that?” he asked in a somewhat challenging way, as if it broke some moral code. As Eddie searched around in his mind for the answer, the young boy added, “Save my ass, I mean. Oh, and my name is Earl.”
Eddie didn’t really know why he did what he did so when he opened his mouth, he didn’t know what would come out. “I’m Eddie and… I guess I’m a protector,” he said. Hearing himself, he laughed. But Earl seemed to get it, for he nodded and sat back thoughtfully.
“You gonna be a cop or sumthin…?” he asked more quietly a minute later.
“Sumthin…” Eddie agreed amiably.
Earl’s head jerked. “How’d you know to kick him in the thigh? I wouldn’t have known to do that. But he wasn’t able to chase us then.”
“My dad says I have an instinct how to fight right,” Eddie confided.
Earl thought out loud. “I wish I had that. But it sounds impossible. How could you be born knowing how to do something that smart?” Quiet for a moment, he came back with, “Maybe you learned it in another life.”
Eddie laughed. What a funny thought.
“You know that kid’s gonna be out to get you now, and he won’t stop until he gets you,” Earl added, sounding guilty.
“For sure,” Eddie agreed.
Templegard’s interest in the dream was piqued because the conversation between Earl and Eddie hadn’t actually happened. In reality, the younger boy had run one way, and he had run another.
Templegard had decided early in life to have an iron will and use it to squash out all the fear that ever arose within him. Snuff it right out. He had exercised that strategy in the dream. Instead of letting fear in, he would make a plan for whatever might happen. This was becoming a key part of his system of life, though at age six he didn’t know it in those terms yet.
Looking back and seeing how he had been molded by his early experiences, Templegard mused about what he could learn from the dream as the image of it slowly became fuzzy. He realized he now had the ability to think and reflect while still in a dream state. He didn’t remember having that ability before. Maybe he had always done it but now he had gained the ability to be aware of it.
He saw now clearly, as if considering some other person, that whatever happened to him in life, he would use each experience to create new rules for himself. One such experience as a child was having bad nightmares that scared him awake, so he taught himself to concentrate as he was falling asleep to know when he was dreaming; this way, he would not be afraid because he’d know it was only a dream. Then he discovered that he could do anything he wanted to do in the dream, like flying, which he loved to do in his dreams. These moments of clarity in self-observation often came to him when he was awake, and recently they had started to occasionally come to him during lucid dreams, often time-hopping across his life.
The fuzzy dream image morphed and in his next dream he saw himself in Paris. He recognized the white dome of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica high above. He was at an outdoor café sitting with that same familiar girl again. He felt something on his head and reaching up he felt a special hat; he recognized it from old war movies and documentaries as a military garrison cap from World War Two. The girl looked very French today, wearing a peasant blouse and a pleated skirt.
This was the same girl who had appeared in his dreams from childhood on. He didn’t recognize her from any of his classes or the neighborhoods he had lived in, having been moved around a lot as an Army brat. She was his best friend in his dreams. She was so pretty and nice. She smelled like some kind of flower. He was pretty sure he loved her. He had felt that way all his life, and wished he could meet somebody that sweet in real life.
He reached across the table and held her hand. She looked at him and his heart swelled. He knew she loved him too.
THE NEXT MORNING
Templegard didn’t let his emotions run too high, so as to not let his guard down. But hell! Here he was talking to the President of the United States! The two of them alone in a rowboat on a lake at Camp David—except for the frogmen he saw in the lake and the snipers all around the lake, ready to take him down if he presented any threat to President Gomez.
The president, a middle-aged Latino with bright eyes, looked like a kind schoolteacher. He had just been re-elected to a second term.
How did I get to be here? Templegard had fought well in Afghanistan the last few years with Shannon’s Raiders, but so did thousands of other guys and women. The memory of successfully spying on an unheard-of Mideast terrorist group and surviving torture at their hands flickered across his mind again. He suddenly remembered and understood.
“The monkey test,” he said to the president with a question in his voice.
“Yes,” President Gomez laughed. “How come you were the only one to pass it? I tried to see if I could avoid thinking of a monkey, and I decided it was impossible.”
Templegard explained his trick. He could block out anything by having an erotic fantasy with extreme concentration.
“How did you come up with that?” The president wanted to know.
“I was being tortured, sir.”
President Gomez, feeling regret about putting such fine young men in harm’s way, quickly went on to disclose the mission. Templegard would be spying on US Army trained psychics including his former commanding officer, Tim Shannon, now a General. West Point alumni rumor had it that Tim and his team had very recently unearthed a Nazi plot, after almost 100 years of everyone thinking that Nazis had been wiped out.
Nazis! Somehow connected to that rich guy they call Mr. Brain. Although Templegard didn’t believe in psychic powers, he always forced himself to leave an open mind on everything until he had real proof, ever mindful of Herbert Spencer’s admonition about contempt prior to investigation. He quickly saw why the monkey test was necessary.
“So, sir, you’re saying that to keep them from unmasking me as a spy, I have to have continuous erotic fantasies?” They shared a laugh, although the president nodded in agreement. “What am I trying to find out, sir?”
President Gomez showed him pictures of a man. About forty, sandy hair, big rangy body, a kind-looking smile, Templegard noted. “Colonel Martin Williams,” the president said, “head of security and training at Theta. Maybe a more powerful psychic than the rest of Theta combined. Disappeared. No one has any idea where he is, if he’s alive, whether he left of his own volition or what.” His eyes became urgent. “Williams is too important. You’ve got to find him and bring him back.”