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Yasin Rahman must battle to the death against an invisible assassin, and another wearing a focus gem.

 

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is a multi-chapter novel.  Previous Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12

 

LOCATION: PERSEUS ARM OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY

YEAR: 4097 HIJRI – 565 UNITED ARMY CALENDAR

United Army Squad 3690 of the UA Starburst, in order of rank:

  1. Yasin “Cutter” Rahman – Captain. Combat strategy master.
  2. Weili Menco Zhang – Corporal. Xeno-geographer. Calm and cool in battle. Carries a lasgun and a tekpi (trident).
  3. Ammar Abuzaid – Master Sergeant. Botanist and combat trainer. Oldest member of the squad. Quran hafedh.
  4. Bilal Mustafa – Fleet Officer. Xenobiologist, married to Rowaida.
  5. Rowaida Ali – Fleet Officer. Ship’s pilot, mechanic and fabricator, married to Bilal.
  6. Samir “Smasher” Sufyan – Specialist. Drone tech and explosives expert. Carries an ax. Multiple awards for valor, but also repeated misconduct violations.
  7. Ami Abdulghaffar – Specialist. Medic and psychotherapist.
  8. Amina Quraishi – Private First Class. Computer tech and AI diagnostics. Hijabi. Silat expert. Fearless.
  9. Hisham – Private. Grenadier, plus supplies & requisitions.
  10. Summer – Private. Riflecarrier and food services.
  11. Tarek – Private. Riflecarrier and janitorial. 18 years old.

* * *

Excerpt from The Life and Death of Yasin Rahman, By Dr. Ami Abdulghaffar:

It astounds me that there are people who commit violence in Yasin Rahman’s name. Have they learned nothing from his sacrifice?

* * *

Icer

Rahman heard the words coming out of Colonel Bakri’s mouth: “We want you to assassinate the president of NewMalaysia…” But his brain couldn’t make sense of them.

He stood as if hit by an icer. It was a new weapon the crabs had gotten their hands on recently. It looked like a rifle with a cone affixed to the barrel, and sent out a wide-dispersal energy wave that caused a man to freeze in place, or, if he was off balance, to fall over, but still frozen like an iced cincau. The crabs had surely not developed it themselves. Technological innovation wasn’t their thing. Rahman had heard that they’d purchased from the Marachanda A one of two genetically similar peoples – the other being the Marachanda B – occupying separate planets in the Marachanda system, and locked in a perpetual state of warfare.

Rahman had seen an icer only once, in a battle out in the deepity deeps, a few light years from a blue-white supergiant star that was part of the Double Cluster. He was a corporal back then, part of a cluster of ships attacking a crab mining colony. UA command wanted to preserve the mine and the orbital processing station that accompanied it, so the UA soldiers had been boots-on. Rahman himself was on the orbiting station, moving wing to wing with his squad, engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

When a crab stepped out of concealment and fired the icer, every soldier in Rahman’s squad was immobilized, including Abuzaid, Zhang, and Smasher. Except for Rahman himself. Two years before, the UA had saved his life by building him an artificial nervous system, and apparently it immunized him against the effects of the icer. He proceeded to battle alone, fighting desperately to keep his squadmates from being further harmed. He dragged them all behind a bulkhead and made a stand, fighting until a semicircular mound of crab bodies lay before him. All his squadmates survived that battle, and Rahman was promoted to lieutenant, and was given the green crescent – the highest medal for valor.

Now, however, standing before Colonel Bakri, he felt like he’d been hit by an icer again, but this time it had worked. He stood motionless as Bakri continued to talk, apparently taking Rahman’s silence for assent:

President Hena Khan

“The President’s name is Hena Khan. She is the granddaughter of Helmy Kham, who was President when you joined the UA. You will be alone on this mission. You will receive no support from the UA, whether tactical or human. If you are caught, we will disavow you, and you will certainly be executed by the civilian government. There is a network of monitoring satellites that blanket the surface of NewMalaysia. The system is called Cornea. It’s run by an AI, and not only can it identify an individual bumblebee buzzing around a flower anywhere in the world, it has a highly successful track record of analyzing and predicting human behavior patterns, in order to track fugitives. If you succeed in killing President Khan, planetary law enforcement will attempt to activate Cornea. However, the UA owns the system, and we will inform them that it is down for routine maintenance. We can get away with this for perhaps six hours. By then you must be already off-planet and well away.”

Colonel Bakri took a small glass marble from his pocket and held it up. It was white, with tiny blue occlusions. Rahman had seen these before. They were disposable data drives, meant to be used once and destroyed.

“This contains complete schematics of the presidential palace, along with Khan’s daily routine, and what is known of her itinerary for the next seven days. It will also give you information on her diet, sleep patterns, and known health conditions, most notably high blood pressure. Download the data to your brain drive, then destroy the marble. It’s quite fragile.”

Bakri threw the marble to Rahman, who caught it reflexively.

Top Secret

The act of moving seemed to break the spell, and Rahman was finally able to speak. “You’re insane. I’m not going to assassinate the leader of my own homeworld. Even if I was an assassin, which I’m not. Why would you even want that? The UA is sworn to protect humanity and the worlds under its aegis, isn’t that the mission statement? What kind of night-drunk warp is this?”

He dropped the marble to the floor and stepped on it. It crunched beneath his heel, crumbling as if it were made of sugar. Bakri was right about it being fragile.

The colonel half rose, and reached for his sidearm. Then he relaxed and waved a hand, dismissing Rahman’s act of defiance. “She is a traitor. She has been working in collaboration with the crabs, just as her grandfather did. Do you remember the firebombing of Bornaya? That city is nothing but glass now, as far as the eye can see. Her grandfather engineered that in order to eliminate his political opponents. And Hena Khan has followed suit. We know for a fact she has been in secret contact with the Imperium. This is all classified, you cannot speak of it. It would cause civil war if people knew. We can’t just arrest her, for the same reason. She needs to be eliminated in a way that looks either like an accident, or the work of a lone nutcase. Some night-drunk wacko acting alone.”

Rahman stared at Bakri. He’d never heard of any of this. But if Bakri was telling the truth, he wouldn’t have heard it. This kind of information would be top secret. He just wished he had some way of knowing if Bakr was telling the truth or not. Not that he would take the job anyway. He wasn’t an assassin. But just to know if he was being lied to and manipulated to his face.

Lie Detector

Abuzaid once told him that in the old days they had ways of telling if a person was lying or not, even without brainwave scans and empaths. Rahman peered at Bakri, trying to discern these telltale signs. But it was useless, he could detect nothing.

As if in response to Rahman’s intent, his artificial eye adjusted its focus. It was an odd sensation. His field of vision split down the middle. His right eye’s vision remained normal, but on the left side, Bakri was magnified. Rahman could see every wrinkle and fold in the man’s ruined face. Data appeared at the upper left of his field of vision:

Respiration – 15 bpm – upper normal.
Heart rate – 80 bpm – upper normal.
Blood pressure – 120/80 – upper normal.
Perspiration normal.
Conclusion: moderate systemic stress. Inconclusive.

SubhanAllah! His eye was a lie detector! Rahman had to stop himself from grinning. He’d been through a truth exam himself, when he joined the UA, and he remembered that they always asked a few control questions to determine a baseline.

“Colonel… are you Muslim?”

Bakri stiffened, as if offended by the question, but then he relaxed and answered. “Yes, of course, alhamdulillah. I was born on NewMalaysia. South Selangor, born and raised.”

The bio indicators remained steady, and even declined a bit. His eye concluded: Truth

The colonel was telling the truth. Huh. The man was a Southie. “That’s rough territory,” Rahman observed.

“You have no idea. Do or die from the moment you can walk.” – Truth

How About This

Now that he had a baseline, Rahman wasted no time. “At least show me the respect of telling me the truth. Is the President really a traitor?”

“Absolutely. We wouldn’t lie to you.”

All the bio indicators spiked. The eye reported: Deception

And her grandfather?

“Like I said, treason runs in the family.” – Deception

With his magnified vision, Rahman saw beads of sweat break out on Bakri’s upper lip. He snorted in derision. At the same time, he felt bitterly disappointed. He hadn’t really known if the colonel was telling the truth about the mission or not, until now. He’d always believed the best about the UA, or at least he’d always wanted to. Now his illusions were shattered. The organization he belonged to, and fought for, was corrupt in some fundamental way, even if Rahman did not know the actual reasons. La hawla wa la quwwata illah billah, as his mother used to say.

Seeing Rahman’s reaction, realization dawned on Bakri’s face. He sat back in his chair and let out a bitter laugh, shaking his head at his own stupidity.

“It’s the eye, isn’t it?” the colonel said. “It’s bio-analyzing me. I didn’t think it would be online for several hours more, and I didn’t read the briefing on it in any case. I tend to forget about such things, since I have zero implants.”

“Is anything you said true?”

Bakri set his hands flat on the table and leaned forward. His expression was grim. “You want some truth? How about this: This highliner is part of a fleet of one thousand ships. We carry the most formidable weapons of any surviving race in the Perseus arm. The UA takes exception with how Hena Khan is running NewMalaysia. The specifics don’t matter. The point is that if you do not kill that woman within one week, this fleet will rain down fire and death on NewMalaysia. They will burn that warping planet to the ground.”

Truth, Rahman’s eye concluded.

The Wrong Man

Rahman was shocked. Destroy NewMalaysia? A planet with a population of billions? It was unthinkable. La ilaha il-Allah. Finally he stammered, “But – but you said you’re Muslim. And you’re NewMalaysian. You have family there.”

“It’s not up to me!” the colonel shouted, his face turning red. “Get it through your night-drunk skull. I am a pawn here as much as you are.” – Truth

Rahman’s eyes darted around the big empty room as if looking for answers. “You have the wrong man,” he said finally. “I’m not an assassin. I’m a soldier. I’m not qualified for this.”

“I thought you might say that.” Bakri took a small e-link out of his pocket and pressed a button. “Send in Gem.” He faced Rahman matter of factly. “An assassin is coming in here to kill you. You may fight back with your knife only. No guns. Can’t have you blowing a hole in the hull. I’d rather you only disable him, not kill him. But he will not hold back, I assure you.”

Rahman dipped his chin, studying the colonel. Was the man crazy? The eye reported: Mild Deception. Inconclusive. So there was indeed someone coming to kill him, but Bakri was not telling the whole truth.

Rahman darted forward. The colonel began to reach for his sidearm, but before his hand reached it Rahman pressed at his side with a nanoknife one millimeter from the jugular vein. At this range he could see every individual striation of the colonel’s pupils, and smell his cologne, which somehow reminded Rahman of the scent of a rainy summer night on NewMalaysia. “One more question, Colonel. If I take this mission and succeed, what happens to me?”

The colonel glared at him. “You and your crew will be given a long range suicide mission. It’s a real mission, but no one has ever returned from it alive. A handy way of ensuring your silence.” – Truth.

Bone and Gem

A door to the side opened, and two men slipped through. Rahman knew that he was only supposed to be able to see one of them, as the other wore a skin-tight refraction suit that covered every centimeter of his body. This was the deception the eye had detected. Bakri was trying to trick him.

The assassin’s suit was bone white, and Rahman saw the air around it shimmer as the man moved. He’d heard of these suits, but never seen one. Anyone wearing one was supposed to be nearly invisible. Rahman’s artificial eye must be able to see through the light refraction effect.

The putatively invisible man carried no weapons, as they would have been visible. His hands were formed into stiff blades, with which he would no doubt chop or jab, attacking Rahman’s vital points, such as the kidney, liver, spine, base of the skull, jugular vein, brachial nerve, diaphragm, or throat. Rahman pretended not to see him, and the man slipped behind him at a distance, moving slowly so as not to make any sound.

Rahman backed several steps away from the colonel, forcing the invisible assassin to take a wider arc to get behind him.

The other assassin – Gem – was plainly visible, and in fact would be hard to miss, as he was a hulking giant who stood close to two meters tall, with muscles like small boulders. He was a Hindu focus priest, with a forked black beard and long black hair, and an eight-pointed emerald – a focus gem – implanted in his forehead. He carried a pair of curved swords that he kept in constant motion, weaving in intricate patterns, thrusting, slashing, and circling.

Rahman flexed his jaw, activating his skinsuit, which took no more than a fraction of a second to roll up over his face and head, and down over his body. It would seal cuts and counter viral and chemical attacks. His vision slipped out of truth-telling mode, though he could still see the light-refracting assassin.

Knife Only

Rahman drew his nanoblade. He possessed other weapons as well, but Bakri had said knife only, and Rahman did not doubt that if he violated the terms of the fight, he would be dealt with harshly.

The white-robed assassin, who Rahman thought of as Bone, had been creeping up behind him. Rahman had pretended not to notice, but he sensed and saw the man’s movement out of the barest corner of his peripheral vision. The man was now two steps behind him, surrounded by a field of shimmering air, and with those weapon-like hands ready to deliver paralyzing blows to Rahman’s kidneys, spine, or neck.

Without warning, Rahman took one rapid step backward and shot out a thunderous back kick, leaning forward and putting his hip into it. His heel connected with Bone’s solar plexus, driving the air out of his lungs explosively as the “invisible” assassin’s body jackknifed and flew backward.

At that instant, Gem attacked. The giant assassin charged forward with both swords in motion. Rahman was barely able to right himself after his kick, parry the first sword attack, and sidestep away from the whirling blades. The Indian stayed on him, pivoting smoothly and coming with a thrust from one sword followed by a slash from the other. The two blades formed a spinning wheel of death, so that Rahman could not penetrate to launch his own attack.

At close range the man reeked of attar and sweat. The man’s hair flew as he moved. Rahman felt like he was fighting some kind of wild beast. Seeing an opening, he thrust low with his nanoknife, thinking to slash the hulking Indian’s calf. To his surprise, the big man parried the thrust with one sword and aimed a slash at Rahman’s neck with the other. The assassin was not playing around. His intention was clearly to kill. Rahman barely avoided the counter, and darted back out of range. Rahman was very fast, much faster than a normal human, but this man had the advantage of the focus gem.

Rahman knew in theory how the gem worked. It allowed the wearer to focus his entire attention, his entire mind, on one single task. In those moments, the person might forget even his own name. There would be no awareness of pain or fatigue, no doubt or fear, no distractions.

The initiative shifted to Rahman. He thrust again, and again it was blocked and countered, and again, and each time he barely avoided the deadly replies of the swords. Bakri had told him not to kill the assassins, but you could throw that instruction out of the viewport. Rahman would do whatever it took. He feinted low and attacked high, aiming for the man’s neck. Gem twisted away at the last instant and the slash caught his right triceps, the nanoknife driving fully into the flesh, severing the muscle and striking bone. At the same instant, the Indian brought up his other sword and slashed across Rahman’s ribs, cutting him deeply.

The Only Way

Rahman stepped back, his chest heaving. The Indian’s right arm hung uselessly at his side, pouring blood. The man dropped the sword from that hand and kicked it away. Rahman, meanwhile, had not yet begun to feel the pain of his wound, while the skinsuit had already stopped the bleeding.

Leaping forward, he pressed the attack. The big Indian had only one sword now. It was all the man could do to counter each blow. But counter he did, and as Rahman thrust at Gem’s heart, the man parried the blow and lashed out at Rahman’s knee with a kick. The kick connected, and Rahman stumbled. The Indian came over the top with a decapitating strike, but Rahman turned the stumble into a roll and escaped.

Back on his feet, Rahman found himself limping. The pain in the knee was agonizing, but he could bear it for now. Even with one sword, and even though Rahman was faster, Gem was too good.

Behind him, Bone moaned. Rahman risked a quick glance and saw the man slowly climbing to his feet. Rahman knew he could not fight both of these killers at the same time. He had to finish this big Indian, and there was only one way to do it. He bellowed, “Satria Malay! Allahu Akbar!” and darted toward the big assassin. When he was two steps away he threw his knife at the man’s belly, and leaped high, ignoring the explosion of pain in his knee.

He hated to give up his weapon. This was an all-or-nothing move. If it failed, he was done for.

The Indian barely managed to parry the knife. He then turned his attention to Rahman, but it was too late. Rahman’s leap carried him toward the assassin’s head like a cannonball. He lashed out with a fist, putting all his weight, momentum and power into the punch. His fist connected squarely with the focus gem, and it shattered. The huge Indian screamed and toppled backward. His head struck the ground and he lay flat on his back, twitching, his eyes open and staring at nothing.

Rahman, down on one knee where he’d landed after his leap, heard the slightest patter of a footstep behind him. He snatched up his fallen nanoknife and rolled to the side just in time to avoid a kick aimed at the back of his head by Bone. The veiled assassin aimed another kick at Rahman’s throat. Rahman slipped to the side, brought up his knife and sliced off the killer’s foot, his molecular knife passing through flesh and bone as easily as if it were rice pudding. Blood spurted from the stump as the man shrieked and collapsed to the ground.

Must Be You

Rahman deactivated his skinsuit, removed the collar and placed it around Bone’s neck. Reaching through the invisibility field made his hands and arms tingle. He squeezed the collar to manually activate it. The suit covered the man’s body in less than a second, and automatically sealed the amputation wound. The assassin lay on the ground, fully visible now in the black suit, clutching his leg and moaning. He would survive.

Rahman stood wearily, painfully. The cut on his side ached, his knee was wobbly, and he’d split a knuckle on the gem. Blood dripped from his hand. He turned to Bakri, who still sat at the table in the center of the room. His expression was one of fascination and vindication.

“That,” Bakri said, “is why it must be you.” The colonel removed another marble from his pocket and tossed it to Rahman. “I brought a backup. Upload it and destroy it.”

“I don’t want to do it,” Rahman said dully. He felt hollow. He had not eaten an actual meal in many days, since before the battle of Breena Five. The autodoc had told him that he must eat soon, but instead he’d just fought for his life. His limbs felt like lead, and his mind was beginning to fog.

Two Alternatives

“You face two alternatives,” Bakri said. “One, you complete the mission. Your family is safe and your crew is happy. Two, you refuse. Your world – our world – will be bombed, and the President will be killed anyway. Maryam Munir will die, and your man Abuzaid will be prosecuted for treason. Make your choice.”

Rahman was beaten and he knew it. He touched the marble to his skinpad and received a prompt for access to his braindrive. He uploaded the data, then dropped the marble and crushed it.

Colonel Bakri stood. “We will be in orbit around NewMalaysia in three days. From there you’ll have one week to kill President Khan. Utilize whatever methods you must. This mission is off the books. It doesn’t exist. This meeting never happened. We never talked. I don’t know you, nor do Colonel Sani or General Aurangzeb.” He strode out of the room, taking the side door.

A moment later the front door opened, and several medics rushed in. They loaded the two fallen assassins onto hover stretchers and took them away. Another medic, a young Chinese woman, approached Rahman. “Sir, let me take you to the autodoc.”

Food First

Rahman waved her off and walked away, limping and clutching his side where he’d been slashed. Outside the conference room, he found Abuzaid pulling up in an open-topped two seater hovercar. He’d never been happier to see anyone in his life.

Amid exclamations and questions about what had happened, the gray-haired sergeant helped Rahman into the

car, insisting that Rahman must go to the autodoc.

“Food first,” Rahman said. “Take me to the mess hall.”

“No need.” Abuzaid indicated the small storage compartment behind the seat.

Rahman’s hand was still bleeding. He drew his nanoknife and cut a tiny piece out of Abuzaid’s skin collar, and slapped it on the back of his hand. It immediately spreads over the wound, sealing it. He took a disinfection wand from a pocket of his uniform and waved it over his hands. Only then did he reach back, painfully, to discover an entire pot filled with a triple serving of rice, green beans and curried chicken.

He said a heartfelt, “Bismillah!” and began to eat hurriedly, ravenously, then looked up at Abuzaid in surprise. “This is real food! Real meat. Not shaped algae. What did you do, raid the officer’s pantry?”

Abuzaid grinned. “I know. And guess what else?” He pointed to the buttons on his shoulder. “I’m a Master Sergeant! And, they moved Maryam Munir to a top-shelf autodoc, like the one you used. They even have a full time attendant watching her.”

All Alone

Still shoveling food down his throat, Rahman nodded. The triumvirate had kept their word, and wasted no time about it. Watching him, Abuzaid’s grin faded away. The elder man studied him, then said, “Captain, I’m no fool. Such things don’t happen for no reason. Someone obviously hurt you, and something was asked of you. Whatever it is, I’m with you. You’re not only my captain, you’re my friend and brother.”

Rahman ate, and considered. He’d been informed explicitly that if he told anyone about the mission, he’d be executed for treason. He was all alone on this. Just him, and Allah watching over him. Whether Allah would help him or curse him for this damnable act, he did not know. He prayed for the former, but feared the latter.

“What are they making you do?” Abuzaid repeated.

Rahman did not meet the man’s gaze. “Nothing,” he replied. “Nothing happened, and they didn’t ask me anything. We just got lucky, I guess.”

By Faith

Abuzaid let out a sigh and pulled the car over to the wall, stopping to let traffic pass. He turned to Rahman. “Fine. But think about this. How many battles have we survived, when we should have died? How many have fallen, while we press on? It wasn’t luck or skill, Cap. We’ve come this far by faith alone. Iman, tawakkul in Allah, and Allah’s mercy, nothing else. We can’t turn away from Allah now. He never failed us, never will. This life is confusing and muddled by nature. That’s the definition of dunya. It’s disturbing and strange. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But faith itself is the only answer to dunya. We’ve come this far by faith. Don’t turn away now, don’t turn back.”

Abuzaid had always seen more deeply into Rahman than anyone else. Rahman set his tray down, wiped his mouth with a sleeve, then leaned toward Abuzaid. He gripped the old man’s face, and kissed him on the forehead. “I hear you, akhi. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now take me to see Maryam Munir.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Abuzaid started up the hover car and swung out.

Rahman picked up his tray and began to eat again, letting the delicious food – real food! – revitalize and restore him. Abuzaid’s words had struck his heart like an arrow of light. It was just what he needed to hear. Though he’d accepted the mission Bakri had given him, he would complete it his way. We’ve come this far by faith. He would hold to that faith, and Allah would see him through.

* * *

Next: All That Is In The Heavens, Part 14 – NewMalaysia

 

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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post All That Is In The Heavens [Part 13]: By Faith Alone appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

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