“Do you want anything, Mr. Samson?”
“Get out,” Ben Samson said. “Please.”
His housekeeper, Rose, left.
At 7:00 p.m. the computer monitor cast wan light over the rumpled high-end sheets, the pile of technical and religious books in the center of the king-size bed, and the bottle of cough medicine on the bedside table: the remnants of sleepless nights and distressed days. Ben stared at the picture of the smiling young woman on his screen. The nineteen-yearold stood beside a group of Northern Iranian village women wearing niqabs.
He offered money, he promised what they asked for, and his contacts assured him she would be safe. But a different faction showed up at the end. A more fanatical and incorruptible schism that sealed her fate, along with the fate of every other nonbeliever in the dusty village. The US State Department sent Ben a sanitized version of the clip, but he got a raw copy through backchannels.
They shouted, “Allahu Akbar!,” when they placed the knife against her throat.
They chanted, “Allahu Akbar,” when his sweet, young daughter convulsed on the ground.
They repeated, “Allahu Akbar,” when the line of bodies bled out in slow motion. “God is great.”
Ben, a forty-seven-year-old billionaire computer company owner, gripped the sides of his chair as the gurgling sounds of an animal he didn’t recognize keened from his lips.
His only daughter. The light of his life, whose hand he had held until he’d put her on a plane to take her to this country to help children as a nurse without borders. He still felt her hand in his.
His sweet, young daughter, Sophia, who wished to help those in need, slumped on the ground. God. Is. Great.
Ben’s ex-wife, Kari, who since their divorce hadn’t spoken ten words to him that didn’t concern Sophia, wouldn’t answer his calls, emails, or texts. Her lawyer told him, “She says to tell you you’re a murderer. I told her that kind of language is not helpful right now, and she reminded me I’m not being paid to sing ‘Kumbaya.’ ”
After he watched the video, he sunk onto his bed in his luxury condo and stayed motionless for more than twelve hours, though at some point someone had turned down the bed. He didn’t remember who. Maybe Rose. His mind cycled on the horror he had witnessed. How could these men want to kill an innocent in the name of their faith? How did his daughter’s death honor their prophet? How could these men, whose names he refused to speak or think to himself, interpret their holy scripture in a way that compelled them to enslave, rape, and kill young women because they did not share the men’s religious values and beliefs?
Also, thanks to the internet, although Sophia traveled under a different last name, they had found out her identity. They had killed her knowing her status as the daughter of a hated Western industrialist and capitalist. They had killed her as an example. In fact, one of the men had said in Arabic (subtitled in English), “All your Western money is powerless against Allah. Allah laughs at your corrupt and decadent wealth.” They had tweeted this message and posted it on social media. Never mind that some of those men had taken bribes from the businessmen they hated.
Ben’s mind spun in unfettered agony. He could not escape its allencompassing pain. The idea of joining his daughter in death became a distraction, an obsession as he staggered to his feet and opened the sliding door leading him out to his penthouse balcony sixty-seven floors above the bay in Bellevue, ten minutes from Seattle. He should be in Santa Barbara closing a deal, but he didn’t care.
Ben stepped toward the railing with nothing on his mind but relief from his overwhelming sorrow. The winter sea wind snapped at his collar, and the bracing shock broke his reverie. In that moment, a small tendril of doubt worked its way into his brain.
The name gave him his rationality back, tinged with something else. A rage, elemental, an anger born of action but one of cold calculation. A light entered his brain and illuminated the future with such clarity that its provenance was undeniable.
In a moment, he saw what needed to be done and the path ahead. He saw why he had immersed himself in religious and technical books following Sophia’s death. He was the only one who could pull it off, and it would take months if not years to succeed.
No half measures. No balanced moral thing, but rather an imperative of his soul. He stepped back from the railing, retreated into the bedroom, and collapsed at his desk. The light from his monitor competed with the rising sun. He opened a new encrypted file and typed, “The Divinity Protocol.”