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Captain Rahman wakes up from a dream to find his body and mind under attack.

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 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16

 

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:

Yasin Rahman was confident, encouraging, and a fantastic leader. He was funny at times, and could even be loving and sweet. He also fell occasionally into depression, and when that happened he kept it to himself. I was ship’s counselor, but he never came to me professionally, and of course if he had, I would not share anything he said.

But I remember a day in Selangor, during that week-long leave we had after the Battle of Breena Five. Rahman, Weili Zhang and I were sitting at an outdoor restaurant table with a caged patio that permitted a view of the street. I’d eaten an entire three course meal, and Zhang had passed much of her food to the beggars who pressed their faces to the wire links of the patio cage. But Rahman had ordered only an iced coffee, and he sipped it as he stared out at the masses of people on the street. The air carried the commingled scents of food, body odor, and bougainvillea. The street noise was a constant roar of shouts, hovercar engines and construction. The beggars left Rahman alone, maybe frightened by that metal eye of his, which I still say made him look like Bionic Basim.

Rahman spoke quietly. I think he was speaking to himself, not to me nor Zhang. In fact, I had the odd impression that he was speaking to someone invisible that I could not see. But I leaned in and was able to hear him as he said, “Maybe I’m not so different from an AI myself. I feel like an automaton, like everything inside me has been eviscerated or melted, and all that matters is my physical form. All that anyone cares about is what I do. As long as I do what’s demanded, what’s expected, the world praises me and promotes me. Even when my men die, they praise me. But no one gives a warp about what I think or feel. Is that what it’s like to be an AI? If so, I can understand never wanting to go back to that.”

It was so unlike Rahman to say something like this out loud, that for a moment I was speechless. I was still formulating a reply in my mind about how such feelings were normal for soldiers suffering from PTSD, and that he needed time away from battle to reconnect with his inner peaceful self, and so on, when Zhang spoke forcefully, which for her too was out of character.

“Don’t ever let me hear you say that,” Zhang said. “Don’t call yourself an automaton, or an AI, or whatever nonsense. How many times have I followed you into battle? How many times have I risked my life on your say-so, because I trusted you? You never failed me. And no matter what you may think, you never failed anyone under your command either.”

Rahman still had a dreamy, distracted look on his face, and it looked to me like he wasn’t listening. Zhang must have seen the same thing, because she seized his wrist and went on:

“Hey! Whether the soldiers under your command lived or died, that was never in your hands. Don’t be so arrogant. Such things are in Allah’s domain. I will tell you how I see you, brother. If your heart were to come out of your chest and become some planetary element, it would be the tallest mountain in the world, or a forest of a thousand trees. That is who you are. Not an automaton. How many battles have we been in that should have crushed us? Where we were outnumbered, wounded, surrounded? Yet we survived. Why? You think it’s a cosmic accident?”

Rahman was staring into Zhang’s eyes now, transfixed, and she continued.

“The fact that we are here, eating, breathing and talking, is the decree of Allah. Allah saved you because He has a plan for you, not to use you as a tool like you think, but as a force for good in the universe. Don’t ask me how I know this, but I do. Allah loves you. And I will tell you something else, my dear Captain. I love you too.”

But just as Zhang said, ‘I love you,“ a man crashed into the wire cage surrounding the restaurant patio. He was lean and feverish looking, with black hair plastered to his forehead, and blood pouring from his nose. Two other men immediately pounced on him and began beating him. The man being beaten shouted something, and his son, a little boy of five or six years, ran into the street, directly into the path of an oncoming hover bus.

Before I could even open my mouth, Rahman was on his feet with his nano-knife in his hand. With a whipping circular slash he cut a hole in the cage, leaped through, and ran into the street at full speed, which in Rahman’s case means he moved so fast that my eyes could not track him. Then the hover bus passed by, engine roaring and horn blaring.

My heart was in my throat. Then I saw Rahman, standing on the other side of the street with the boy in his arms, both of them unhurt.

I didn’t need to be told what to do. Zhang and I went through the hole and saved the father. I kicked one of the attackers in the knee, and Zhang whipped her trident across the other one’s cheek, and they both hobbled away. Why the men were beating the father, I did not know and did not need to. Considering it was the Death’s Kitchen district of Selangor, it could have been anything.

I am quite sure that Rahman never heard Zhang’s last sentence. She did not repeat it, and I did not tell him. Not my place to do so.

* * *

Wake Up Running

Rahman ran. It was all he seemed to know how to do. Running with no purpose, with no enemy behind or goal ahead. He dashed through the forest, leaping over tree roots and thickets. A massive hollow log appeared and he ran through it, the scent of moss and mildew filling his nostrils, his breathing loud in the chamber. Emerging from the log he found a starship resting incongruously on the forest floor. He climbed the aft repair scaffolding and ran across the top of the ship, leaping down on the other side.

Now there was something behind him, and it wasn’t an enemy, but a terror. Looking over his shoulder he saw his father’s workshop pursuing him. As it flew through the air it shed dark mist, and a terrible keening sound came from it. Rahman looked forward and ran for his life.

He was exhausted. Pain shot up and down his legs. His breathing was a nonstop bellows. Sweat flew off him. His head spun. Something fierce and angry rose up inside him, trying to get out.

No, not trying to get out. It was trying to take over.

He woke, gasping for breath.

This Is My Body

He was running. In real life. He stood in the middle of his small private room on the highliner’s D ring, running in place. His entire body was slick with sweat. Yet it wasn’t him doing the running. Somehow his legs and arms were pumping on their own, his muscles burning like acid. He was utterly depleted.

Sayana. This was Sayana’s doing. This is my body, he thought. My body, my body, my body. Will it, he told himself. Just like Sayana had taught him. Will it.

Control of his body returned, and he fell to the floor, gasping, his heart thundering like a highliner’s engine on takeoff.

The psychic assault began. Sayana came up out of the recesses of his brain and seized control of his brain. He felt his consciousness – the part of him that made him the unique being his was – being dragged down into darkness. He lost all his senses, and was plunged into utter blackness.

He understood. Sayana had seized control of his dream and used it to exhaust his body so that he would be too weak to fight her off when she made her play to take over his brain.

Cut Off

What could he do? He was cut off from his own senses and limbs. He was powerless. He didn’t think he could survive very long in this state. This was like a little death, or a prelude to death.

Although… feeling around, he became aware of his own organs. He could feel his own heartbeat, and sense the air rushing in and out of his lungs. The artificial organs were like voids, he could not connect to them, but the others were all right there. It seemed that Sayana had not thought to exclude his connection to these, thinking them unimportant.

He remembered one of Zhang’s many Malay proverbs: Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam biar ke pangkal lengan. If you’re going to reach into the fermented fish jar, you should just put your whole arm in. In other words, if you must perform an unpleasant task, you might as well commit to it fully.

Seismic Shock

Rahman would commit fully. Let Sayana see what lengths he was prepared to go to to hold on to his own body. He reached out with his consciousness, made a mental connection to his own heart, and willed it to stop.

Immediately he felt a seismic shock go through his entire system. He began clawing his way back to consciousness, confident that Sayana would be shaken and terrified. Light came gradually, and sound, and he fought his way toward them, reaching out, seizing them.

He was back. He lay on the floor of his room, his limbs flung out unnaturally. His heart and breathing had stopped, and he could not move. His sight was already dimming, and he knew he was dying.

“What did you do?” Sayana screamed from inside him. “You’ve killed us both, you idiot! This was unnecessary. I would have shared!”

Rahman did not think that Sayana would have shared anything. What he’d experienced, down in the darkness, had felt a lot like death. But if he was going to die, he would do it on his own terms.

* * *

 

Next: All That Is In The Heavens, Part 18 – Abuzaid’s Tale

Author’s Note: Sorry it’s such a short chapter this week. I’ve been overwhelmed with things happening in my life, and now as well I have Covid. I’ll try to keep the chapters coming, but they might continue to be short for a while.

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

 

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 17]: On His Own Terms appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Source: Muslim Matters