Aphelion Issue 233, Volume 22
October 2018
 
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as-Simak ar-Ramih

by L.A. Lyons




Hayya _ala khayr al _amal... And now the good deeds will begin…
The Zafi Call to prayer...


A Red warning light throbs through the smoke and ash, of what's left of the room. In my ear a single note rises to a crescendo overcoming my other senses. My vision is tunnelled, a light fixture dangle in the darkness, sway and then slowly falls, sending a puff of ash up as it lands. Bodies cover the floor like ill filling tiles. I try to get up. Amnesia in my legs. I throw up.

"Warning!" A female voice screeches through the dull drone, "Drive safety measure deactivated. Guaranty of Arrival has been voided, the Arvanout Council are no longer liable for your safety. Your deposit will be kept, with bill of repair sent to your Embassy, as agreed under Section Seven one of the contract. Orbital re-entry, too steep. All Arvanout crew proceed to primary escape pods," continued the mechanical Sirena.

Something moved. I turned to face it. A young girl, with red blood in her blonde hair crouched in the corner. Burnt silk, barely covered her. A harem girl.

"Please, don't." She put her hands up above her crouched frame, "I'm just a slave, wallahi..."

"What?" My voice sounds strange, foreign, I look around again, "What happened?"

"Don't." She won't take her eyes off my right side. "Don't..."

I followed them to the standard issue black MZ-68--I must be a soldier--I pointed the weapon away from her. "I won't hurt you." I took a deep breath in. "Where are we?"

"Please..." she bit her lip--she was pretty.

"I said I would not harm you," I made a gesture to stop her whimpering, "and I am a man of my word." Am I?

A door slid open to the darkness, red strobe lit the corridor beyond. A Janissary in full combat gear moved in stages like a panther in the night. His face covered, his helmet glowed, from the infrared green beams that came from it, licking the room, his weapon raised in a primal pose. He moved the gun over me, and fired two shots, I saw the first round strike her chest, and the other opened her throat in a terrible gash. Dark blood sprayed over her jaw, in my shock all I could do was listen to the terrible gargle she made as she died.

"Clear," he said.

I scrambled back to find cover. "You? You killed her..."

"Report." He reached down, and pulled me up--so strong--"Commander, Report?"

"My head's all..."

He looked me over.

"We have to get to the Command Bridge."

"Where?"

"We have to stop them," he said as her cleared a round stuck in the chamber, "We have fifteen minutes. We will be a glorious martyrs, Commander!"

I walked as in a dream behind the stranger with the large gun, taking a final look at the girl with red in her hair--not pretty anymore.

I grabbed for the wall and vomited "Bozhe Moy..."

He moved with purpose through the silver grey corridor, artificial lights flickered in the dark, light strips on the floor flashed red--the way the corridor curled up and away didn't seem natural--a sign in Arabic, read Labs 37-149/Sec4.

The ship lurched, alarms exploded around us. Shouts came from up ahead. He raised a closed fist and stopped--good, I could use the rest. The adrenaline had died, and I had the shakes. He took a position on one side, and motioned me to the other. I could taste salt on my cracked lips. He raised three fingers then he brought his weapon up. We counted the beat and I burst around the corner.

"Clear," I said.

Six shots rang out behind me. I looked back, as three bodies hit the ground in near unison; a girl and two males dressed in caliphate silk. One young male in grey coveralls stood still alive, he bowed, and slinked passed, stepping into an escaped hatch, a glass panel closed over him. A liquid of some kind filled the chamber. Once it was full, it accelerated up and disappeared.

My fellow martyr took a red pebble from his belt, and threw it into an open door. A woman screamed as two sonic booms, and a cold flame leapt from the room. He moved in, five rounds sounded out, a loud thud, followed by grunts. I raised my gun, the ship or my knees shook.

I could hear my heart in my throat--maybe they could too. I edged closer. White ash floated down on two soldiers on the ground, as they grappled, and jockeyed for position, throwing elbows, and punches, as their fingers reached for eyes. The Janissary on top drew a short Yatackan, and hissed like a snake, as he tried to bring down the dagger on the other man, they both shook from the effort. I turned the gun from one to the other, and back again.

"It's him!" said the man kissing the gilded blade, "Alexiy!"

My gun came up, pulling the trigger as it went. Warm slops hit my face, and I reeled away from it.

My acquaintance threw the dead man off as he staggered to his feet, "Thank you, Alexiy." He took a deep breath. "If she's right, we can use the access hatch on the starboard side, straight to the service lift, and finally finish this." He put a fresh magazine into his MZ-25, and loaded a round.

By the time we reached the hatch, the lactic acid had worked its way into every crevice of my body. The dead man's blood had formed a thin crust over face, I tried to keep my mouth closed, and breathed hard through my nose, trying hard not to ingest the remains of the man I had killed--just because he knew my name. He went down first. I made my way as best I could but got tired, and slid the last couple of metres to the floor. I did a sweep of the area; he did the same but better.

He checked the screen on his arm, "Second corridor, right."

"All Arvanout crew accounted for." The Sirena announced, "The Arvanout council would recommend you abort this orbital approach. Warning The Arvanout Council can no longer guaranty..."

I followed a few paces behind, we turned a corner that lead to a silver cannon perched over a heavy door. I expected to hear gunfire, but none came. He moved to the left side of the door, taking his visor off. I moved across, and took up the right side.

A metal worm reached out from the wall; it leaned in as I got closer, I pulled away, as it tried to follow.

"It's a retinal scan." He leaned forward. "Do it."

"Sergeant. Mikhailov, Yuri, Al Thiba' wa-Auladuha, 146-7829-C3. Code Troubadour?" said a younger Sirena.

"Code Magellan," came his reply.

The worm drew closer, a bright flash left a pattern of Arabic calligraphy in my eye.

"Commander. Volkov, Alexiy, Kafzah Al Thiba', 135-6722-A4. Code Lyre?" said the younger Sirena

"Code Seraphim." The words sounded like they came from a dark well.

The heavy latches released, and hissed as it pressurised the room within. The room turned out to be a bright wide corridor that led to another set of doors.

"Orbit realigning," said the Sirena calmer, the vibrations eased and the warning lights glowed Amber.

"They're overriding the system. We can't let them launch the SEEDS. We have to stop them." He placed his hand on a metal tray on the wall. "We use the service elevator to get above it." The doors slid open. Bright blue light spilled into the room. "Then we attack through the ventilation."

He threw a white, and black pebble into the corridor. They rolled out in opposite directions, and then arced toward each other in an elliptical orbit, as they drew closer each time.

"Good idea to leave now," he said.

"Why?"

"Boom, Bang..."

"Bang, Boom..." came a reply that was familiar.

The elevator could have held fifty men, I went to the edge, and rested on a handrail. I tried to let my mind catch up to everything that had happened. I was a mess, every thought came out of me scattered. The elevator started to rise, I looked out through the glass, a few rain droplets hung there clinging to the glass. Mist, and clouds flew and flittered above us. The ship was a hollow green-grey cylinder, at least a mile high. Blue bands of light ran all along its exterior. A smaller solid cylinder filled its centre. It was covered in Arabic verses from the Quran. The awful thing hung in the air, the way the thing pulsed and pumped, made it look alive. Footbridges ran along the entire length of both structures, in a sparse honeycomb pattern.

Green drones buzzed everywhere. They looked more insect than machine. One of the things settled on the wall, a cocoon slid out, as green beams from the beast scanned over it. After a moment it jumped clear, and fell away three hundred metres before banking to the left. I watched the cocoon return to its original position.

"Are those people in there?"

He shrugged "Frozen people, rich people."

"I don't understand, Yuri..." I rested my head against the cool glass, and closed my eyes, wishing I was anywhere but here, as I tried to think about where else I would be, I kept coming up blank.

I heard him remove the clip from his weapon and reload. "If we let the Alliance and the Caliphate establish a colony on as-Simak ar-Ramih it would void the terms of the Zama Truce, and..." he said, loading a bullet into the chamber, "if we let them do that we all die. Humanity ends. Those fools knows this, but the SEEDS have their own agenda, look at them." I opened my eyes as he pointed to beating heart "The SEEDS want human bodies. Their metal world confines them, so they give them trinkets, and technology with one hand, and manipulate them with the other."

"How can massacring all these people," I looked out at the heart of the ship, what kind of humanity, are we saving?"--What type of person not only agrees to this mission, but also leads it?

"When the at-T‚'ir first came, that was a massacre. When they killed my," he jabbed at his heart with a finger. "That was a massacre. I am sorry this happened to you Commander, but arrogance and greed killed these people. The Empire warned them, the Council warned them, and still they pursued this folly." He grabbed his stomach and winced, "My conscience is clean." He made a slicing motion in the air. "Yours will be too."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I wasn't," he said.

I turned to him "Then what changed your mind?"

"You did, Commander." Blood ran through his fingers to the floor. "It doesn't matter..." he said, "My God, it's almost over." He looked a beaten man.

Somewhere in me a twinge of sympathy grew for him. "Is it bad?"

"Well, it's not as bad as Zama..." he crossed himself, and kissed his hand "that's for sure."

"I don't remember, Zama," I said. I don't remember anything.

He laughed. "You got all the medals." He laughed again. "I got all the scars."

"But we got out..."

"I carry you like little baby," he said, making a cradling motion.

I smiled despite myself. "Maybe we can get out of this one too."

"I don't think so, Alexiy."

He opened the control box, and keyed in commands, it beeped. The elevator came to halt quicker than my stomach would have liked I gripped the handrail tighter. He pulled a metal grill from the wall, and handed it to me, it was heavier then it looked.

Something made a sound on him. "Pisda," he said. "Move, move..."

He dived into the dark shaft. I was right behind him as the explosion dropped the elevator behind us, it screamed as it went, almost sucking us out, I had to hold on to his leg.

"What was that?"

"Cheap Sino-Indian charges..."

The shaft was cold and slippery. A low hum grew louder as we crawled down the narrow passage. After thirty or so metres we could hear people below.

"We have men on route, sir," came a male voice.

"Are we still accelerating?" Another male, gruffer. "Can we abort?"

"We can't, Captain," came a female reply. "We've reached PNR, we're too fast, and too steep."

"Could we..." The gruff voice grew louder. "Can we eject the colony, and the SEEDS?"

"Sir?" said the first voice. "The acceleration, they won't survive."

"Some will..." said the Captain.

"We can do it at 80,000 feet, sir," replied the female.

"Make it happen," said the Captain.

"Allahu Egber..." said the young man.

The ship shook with vibrations that seemed to go up in pitch. Neither the ship, nor the shaft would hold much longer.

Mikhailov, despite his large frame, turned to face me. He pulled out a white pebble. "You breach, I clear.

I looked at him.

"You breach, I clear," he said again with more menace.

I nodded, counted to three, and smashed the grating down, the white pebble followed. A bright flash. We dropped into Command Centre. I counted ten people, almost all had fallen to the ground; Mikhailov moved through the room, two rounds in each person. I couldn't even hear the shots. A young woman still stood, her weapon pointed at Mikhailov. Her hand trembled.

Shoot him, and end this nightmare.

He threw his empty assault rifle down, walked to her, and took the pistol. He looked it over, and then turned it on her.

I turned to avoid her eyes.

"Alexiy?" The way she said my name hurt.

I turned to face her, but I wished I hadn't, the way she looked at me: shock, betrayal, disgust--the way she licked her lips, the way her eyes grew larger, the way she laughed when I--

"Zena?" the name felt harsh in my mouth.

She dug her eyes into me, "How could you do this?"

"Quiet, Caliphate whore," he said as he cocked the pistol back.

"Don't." I drew my weapon. "Don't you do it."

"We have a mission, Alexiy," he said. "Your mission..."

"She knows who I am..."

"I know who you are, too!" he bellowed at me. "Dammit." His voice softened, "She's just a cover."

I felt her eyes on me.

"Where do you think we got the codes?"

I looked to meet her eyes, but she looked away--whatever happened between this woman and me was real, I could feel it, somewhere in me I would remember it. "I won't let you do this. This is madness. I want no part of it. Put the gun down..."

"I can't do that, Alexiy..." he circled until he had her positioned between us.

I had the shot. "I know this isn't right. I know in my core, this isn't right..."

"You have to trust me," he said.

"Only a monster would kill all these people--"

"--There are worst things then monsters!" he roared. "This is something I haven't forgotten! " He jabbed the gun at her.

"Please, don't..." she pleaded.

"Entering atmosphere, warning. Warning, Structural Integrity, failing. The Arvanout Council reminds you that you are liable for all damage, and repair costs," cried the Sirena

"So much sacrifice." He looked at me, "I love you, Alexiy--but I will shoot, and I won't miss."

"Please," her voice caught in her throat. "There are women and children..."

"What about our women?" Mikhailov grabbed her head.

I took a step forward, "They can eject them."

"We can't do that," he said.

"Warning, forty seconds until impact!" cried the Sirena.

She willed her eyes shut, her lips moved furiously, she was praying, I hope she prays for me too.

"What's our altitude? I asked.

She was lost in her verses.

"Zena!" I yelled.

She opened her eyes, "150,000 feet, and falling."

"Impact, thirty seconds!" cried the Sirena.

"Yuri, please..." he looked unsure.

An explosion sent us all to the ground. Yuri drew his weapon as he dropped to one knee.

My bullet tore through his shoulder, Zena got up and kicked his gun away, before he hit the floor. She scrambled for the console, "There are two keys," she said, punching commands into the console, "There are two keys, that have to be turned in unison," she looked at me, "in unison, do you understand?"

"There's only one key here," I shouted back.

"Captain El-Ghazzawy has the other one."

"Who?"

"Him," she said pointing to a man with no head on his shoulders, she started to sob, "Him, damn you..."

I removed the sticky chain from his neck, he stank of excrement. The silver command key attached to a star and crescent was dirtied with his blood, "Here," I said, offering it to her. I tried not to gag.

"There." She pointed with her head. "Second console."

The metal bearings in the command centre shimmered like water. It's coming apart at the seams. I inserted the key.

"93,000 feet." She looked over. "You have to wait..."

Flames disappeared from the windows, a cold rush of air hit the Command Centre as the vibrations eased...

"Commander!" came the shout behind me. He had blood in his lungs; I could tell from the gargle in his voice. I turned to watch him all the while keeping my hand on the key.

"I beg you," he said as blood came from his mouth. "Don't do this..."

I looked at him, and then back to her, "I'm waiting..."

"Impact twenty seconds. Containment failing, probability of singularity: 99.99 percent!" said the Sirena.

"Alexiy!" The noise of the ship was deafening. "Curse your children!"

"Wait for it..." she raised an arm "Bismillah... Now, now, now!"

The ship twisted, and expanded as lions howled from within it.

"Containment locked," said the Sirena in a distinctly different tone, a massive jolt. "SEEDS, ejecting." The ship shook in deep vibrations. "Warning, colony, ejecting."

"Allahu Egber..." she said.

Somehow over the sound of the carnage, two thunder claps roared, and two red roses blossomed on her left breast, they grew to large craters as she floated for a moment. Always so graceful. I caught her as she fell, "Zena..."

She shook in my arms, gasping for air, tears filled her brown eyes, as she looked around, panicked.

"I'm sorry..." I said in a sob.

Then she saw nothing. No more shaking, no more pain, no more fear. Even the tear that rolled down her cheek stopped, dead.

"Impact, twenty seconds,"

I put her down gently.

Yuri was on the ground, a warm puddle under him. I dropped to my knees, and pulled his balaclava off. His scarred face, and cobalt blue eyes shone at me. I wrapped my hands around his throat; he didn't fight me, he just let me squeeze as he pulled me down to him, and kissed my cheek.

"Time," he said, "to join our families, my friend..."

I looked into his eyes, and agreed, my tears fell on his cheek, as he brushed away the ones still forming.

"Impact, Five seconds..."

I put my forehead to his. "God forgive--"


THE END


2015 L.A. Lyons

Bio: L.A. Lyons read Archaeology with Ancient Civilizations at University, but somehow ended up working in the Middle East as a Technology Consultant. Now L.A. stares at blank pages, tidying the desk...

E-mail: L.A. Lyons

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