From a graduate course seminar given by Saad Idnn Ibrahim, Sunni Lecturer and Fulbright Scholar at the University of California Los Angeles, United States, Western Alliance, A.H. l455, or A.D. 2028.

“—students today will wonder at the speed with which Shi’a Islam spread across the world. The hordes of white-robed Iranian Martyrs took Jerusalem in 2012, Istanbul in 2013, Mecca in 2014, Europe in 2020, Central Asia in 2021 and by 2022, Shi’a Islam ruled over subject populations from Tanzania north to Samarkand, from Britain east to Indonesia, all voices singing Allahu Akbar—God is Great!

“The mullahs and ayatollahs of Qom say it is the Spirit of Muhammad, newly reborn in the Second Husain. The nations of the surviving Western Alliance point to the fifth column of foreign “guest workers” in Europe, who rose up and deposed democratic, socialist and fascist governments alike. The Hindus say little and profess a belated neutrality, hoping the Council of Mullahs will not emulate the Moghuls. The Chinese say the barbarians have finally shown their true colors. The black Africans are too preoccupied with starving to blame anyone. The rest of the world rejoiced that only a few radioactive craters pockmarked the Holy Land, Arabia, Iran, Europe and the former states of the Soviet Union.

“What is definite is that just as the Martyrs held sway over the largest empire since Alexander’s, the discovery of the Translight stardrive by the Baha’i heretic Megum Ben Ahmed in 2014 gave the mullahs something to do with the captured rockets of Baikonur cosmodrome. They used the Russian Energia heavy-lift rockets to throw massive cargos into space, relying on subject peoples for technicians, contracting with the Western Alliance for specialists only when they had to. But their desperation to spread the Prophet’s Call to other planets can be seen in their hiring of female Western experts—so long as they wore the chador.

“In 2022, eleven QomDrive starships left Earth orbit for the nearer habitable stars, seeking to spread the Prophet’s Call to new lands. One of these was The Sword of Islam, a ship run by a Harvard-educated Shi’ite and crewed mostly by Western-trained Iranians, Afghanis and Iraqis. It carried a Shock Brigade of Martyrs from the dregs of Yemen, Sudan and Libya, a colonizing group of farm peasants, and a small complement of contracted Western and Asian technicians. The eight hundred humans aboard The Sword of Islam are now known to have been the spark for what has become known as The Draconis Incident . . . .”



“Female! Where are you bound?” called a harsh, guttural voice in Yemeni-accented Arabic.

Helen Sarkissian adjusted her chador robe, then turned to look down the First Deck hallway she’d just entered. The voice belonged to a dark-skinned, hawk-nosed man, clad in white robes and a soiled turban. The pits of some former disease pockmarked his sallow face. His brown eyes carried hatred. Helen stilled her fear, raised her hand and opened it to show the Pass Key given her by Captain Hohshemi Talaghani.

“Martyr, I am on the Prophet’s business, sent by Captain Talaghani to run new linguistic programs on the infidel computer. Up on Second Deck. May I have your leave?”

The man grimaced, showing rotten teeth. “You may, if you accept my escort. The Holy Koran forbids females to go abroad without a man.”

Damn! Helen bit her tongue, then nodded demurely. “The escort of any Sword of Islam does me honor. Will you precede me?”

“Of course!” The Shock Brigade officer—the glitter of two crescents on his neck wrap indicated a sergeant—rustled past her in dung-smelling robes, leaving her gasping for breath. God! How could they run starships and not care for basic hygiene? She followed three paces behind, just as her UC Berkeley instructor in cross-cultural anthropology had taught her.

Only . . . he’d never warned her what it would feel like to be one of just eight Western women stuck aboard a ship run by Medieval religious fanatics. Fanatics who saw women as good only for birthing babies, planting crops, doing heavy labor, and tending to the husband’s every whim. The only thing that kept her from going crazy was the presence of twenty other contract specialists from the Western Alliance and Asia. Still, she missed her mother, she missed the memory of her murdered father, and she missed their home in the Armenian-American community of East LA. No longer could she hear the chanted rites of the Armenian Apostolic Church, rites which her priestly father had performed at home for the family. The memories forced her back to the core question. Was a trip to the stars worth putting up with the Shi’a?

She hoped so—for she had bet everything on the chance to be the first human to talk to Aliens and only the Shi’a had Translight starships. Helen picked up her pace as the Shock Brigade officer walked quickly up the ramp leading to Second Deck.

It had been two weeks since they’d left Earth orbit in The Sword of Islam. Two weeks of gradually increasing oppression, of dark glances from brown-skinned men, of curious yet fearful looks from the heavily robed and veiled Shi’a women the few times she’d seen them while going to market in the First Deck suq. Then there was the outright hatred from the omnipresent mullahs and khatibs who flowed out of First Deck’s mosque to every corner of the ship, like rats seeking the last kernel of corn on a doomed plague ship. Two weeks in which the mullahs had tightened the screws on where she and her fellow Westerners could go, where they could exercise, when they could leave their purdahed quarters on light-gee Sixth Deck, when and where they could talk—the Shi’a clergy controlled everything except the nightmares that stalked her dreams. Her nightmares were her own.

At the top of the ramp her step lightened and she looked up, squinting in the bright light. “Martyr, will you slow your pace? I am unused to fast walking—living on Sixth Deck does not make you stronger.”

The white-robed Martyr looked over his shoulder with a scowl, then headed for the ship’s technical stations. “Follow!”

She followed as best she could, still getting used to a world where her feet pointed down at the ship’s outer skin, while her head pointed up toward the lighter gee areas. So long as the titanium tube of The Sword of Islam rotated about its inner Drive Tube, that long did they have weight. But spingee was something she’d experienced in low Earth orbit aboard the Freedom/Goddard Space Station—in company with her lover Bill Mabry and her roommate, Mariela Santini. The Shi’a might possess the wonder of faster-than-light star travel through the stolen secret of Translight, but they could only make gravity the same way everyone else did—by spingee.

Ahead, the Martyr turned left down a feeder hallway that curved visibly. Helen followed to a part of Second Deck she knew well. They stopped before a red-striped slidedoor. The Martyr turned to glare at her.

“Beyond lie the Western infidels. Are you of the faith?”

“No,” she said. “But I respect the Prophet.”

“As well you should!” he yelled, spittle dripping from qat-stained lips. “Females!” He turned from her in disgust, disappearing down a green hallway painted with the golden lances of verses from the Koran.

“Males,” she muttered to herself, then faced the admit panel. She touch-keyed in her access code and stepped inside.

“Helen!” yelled Mariela, looking relieved. “I was expecting you twenty minutes ago. What kept you?”

“Bad luck.” Helen stripped off the chador, flung the robe into a corner of the entry alcove, and stepped up to hug Mariela. “Had to get a Pass Key on First Deck, then a damned Martyr forced me to accept his escort.”

“Oh.” Mariela hugged her back. “Well, at least he didn’t claim you for his harem.” Her roommate turned and led the way into the noisy bedlam of Technical Support.

She stepped into the big square room, a place nearly filled by the giant horseshoe of control boards occupied by her fellow First Shift colleagues. Mariela continued over to her own Ecosystems station, on the left side of the room. Friendly voices interrupted their conversations to welcome Helen. She returned their hails with a smile, a laugh or a shrug, all the while telling herself she was safe, safe among colleagues who weren’t crazy Shi’ites.

 As Mariela sat down at her work station, she said something teasing to curly-haired Ethan Lancaster, the refugee Scot from Edinburgh who handled Astrophysics. Helen walked past the Cray 7 supercomputer pillar in the middle of the room and sat at her station on the right wall, next to Willard Rustow, their Shift Boss, a former NASA executive and the one who represented them all before the ship’s Council of Faqih jurists. Willard stared moodily at his Remote Analysis readouts, ignoring Helen’s late arrival. Well, she could ignore him. She checked out her fellow Shifters.

Against the far wall, Jane Sawyer leaned back from her Computers station, her manner one of moody relaxation. The Toronto native spared Helen a nod and a brief smile. Next to Jane sat Esperanza Luna from Rio de Janeiro. Dark-eyed Esperanza glanced back from her Microbiology-Botany work station, a tremulous smile filling her Latin features. As for Bill, who sat between her and Esperanza . . . he looked up from his Fusion Systems board, smiled welcome, then turned to talk with Jane and Esperanza. Helen smiled at the three of them, then focused on her own Linguistics work station, wondering just why Williard was so acting so distant.

Overhead, the air conditioning outlet chilled the back of her neck, making her shiver after the heat of the ship hallway. The air held the scent of magnolias—an artificial odor, but better than the reek of oil. Helen leaned over her work station’s three touchpanels, keyed in her Basque-to-Arabic transliteration program, and waited for the holotank to come alive. As she waited, she pondered things far removed from her research project. Like what she’d gotten herself into . . .

On First Deck below, in the Command Bridge of the ship, college-educated Shi’a like Talaghani and his officers tended to critical functions like Astrogation, Security, Communications, Life Support, Weapons, Translight, Faith, the TAL transatmospheric landers—and the horses. Horses! Helen shook her head, still amazed despite two weeks in transit. Hawks she’d expected. But horses? It was crazy, even if the horse dung added to the fertility of the Third Deck Farms. But the Shi’a were determined to ride their horses across the soil of any world orbiting 40 Draconis, the same way that Muhammad, Ali, Hassan and Husain had done in the First Call.

Her holotank flickered, then filled with the red columns of her transliteration program. She keyed in a self-check routine, where one algorithm checks another. It gave her time to worry.

Helen recalled a Cal-Tech friend’s warning. He’d said that once they were out of Earth orbit, Helen’s indentured labor contract would be worth about as much as a pile of dung. She hoped not. She looked forward to finding Aliens. Would the principles of semiotic analysis apply? Would they even speak in phonemic sounds, like humans? So many questions, so many unknowns. Including her Muslim masters. She had not expected the disdain she’d encountered, even from the educated Shi’a of Command Bridge.

Willard stirred beside her. “Helen, Talaghani has complained to me about you and Bill swimming together in the Gymnasium pool. True?”

Damn all spies! “True. But we were very careful. We—”

“Weren’t careful enough!” Willard interrupted sharply. “You know al-Sadr has these khatib preachers running all over the ship looking for transgressions to the Shari’a religious law. Co-ed swimming is a violation. No more such trips.”

“Okay, Boss.”

Willard persisted. “Helen, if the mutawain religious police had caught you, they’d have beaten you with those batons they carry.”

“Understood. I’ll try to make your life easier.”

Willard eyed her, his face unusually tense for a man adept at jovial supervision. “Acquiescing is not enough. Things are unsettled in Command Bridge and in the Mosque. I need your willing cooperation. Do I have it?“

She ground her teeth, but then nodded as she noticed the tired tone in his voice. “Sure, Boss. Sorry to be a problem. It’s just hard to adjust.”

He nodded, then turned back to his own work station. “Agreed. Remember, we’re hired employees here. We observe company rules. Now let’s get to work.”

Damn, damn, damn! What kind of life was this where you couldn’t jog, couldn’t go out in the halls without covering every inch of bare skin, couldn’t go to your Lab or run any machine without a male escort? And what kind of life was it when the men of the Shock Brigade leered at you because, in traditional Muslim culture, any unescorted woman was considered a prostitute?

At least she had Bill. And wonderful Mariela. They meant the world to her. But did Bill value more than the fun sex? Did Mariela love her for more than being the right gender? Helen touched the control surfaces as the diagnostic routine ended, then brought up a stored analysis program. Maybe work would take her mind off the harsh realities of life aboard the Sword.

The matched cognates of Basque and Egyptian Arabic appeared in the holotank. The looping red lines consituted her assigned duty. Which was to transliterate Basque into the native Farsi of Talaghani and the other Iranians, while deducing lessons of automatic translation that might be useable if The Sword of Islam encountered Alien lifeforms at 40 Draconis. What Talaghani and the Martyrs might do if they ever met other people frightened her. Frightened her badly. How can you communicate with the Alien if you can’t even deal with other humans?

She bent forward, aligning her eyes to the electro-optical perceptor stations so she could blink in program changes as her fingers changed values on the touchkey panels. The blessed complexity of linguistics analysis and glottochronology almost wiped out the memory of the hawk-nosed Yemeni Martyr . . . .

Captain Hohshemi Talaghani watched the Armenian-American woman on his spy screen monitor, hearing the voices of the Western infidels on Second Deck. He wondered idly whether the blonde-haired linguist would ever learn proper respect. It did not pay to defy any Martyr, even half-educated ones like the Yemenis. And while the Council of Mullahs in Qom had decreed The Sword of Islam would accept such irregular females, they were essential only until they reached the new Paradise of 40 Draconis. A light tread interrupted his Command Bridge privacy.

“Captain Talaghani! Why do you look upon infidel women?” said the croaking voice of his co-commander, mujtahid Ali Sayyid Muhsin al-Sadr. Hohshemi looked up at the white-turbaned Iraqi.

“Security,” he said. “It is my onerous duty to gaze upon the Western infidels to be certain they do not sabotage the Call. Do you suggest I am less than faithful to my harem and the Koran?”

Al-Sadr’s black eyes glittered dangerously. “No . . . But it seems you often observe those of Second Deck, even when they are off-duty.” The white-turbaned, second-rank mujtahid looked around the horseshoe of workstations which encircled Hohshemi’s Command dais. “What if one of these were to cast faithful eyes upon the uncovered females and beardless males of Second Deck? They would be corrupted!”

Hohshemi glanced at his brown-robed officers, their backs to him as each man bent to his duties, then back to mujtahid al-Sadr. “Do you suggest the efforts of you, the pasdaran Revolutionary guards and the mutawain faith police are ineffective? Or that I would allow my officers to be seduced from the Call by the mere sight of a female!”

Al-Sadr turned expressionless as he gathered up his robes, then took his seat beside Hohshemi, Faith wedded to Command. “Of course not, Captain. The Koran’s word is all-powerful. Only man is weak.”

Turning away from the last in a series of prickly arguments he’d had with the poorly educated village-born mujtahid from southern Iraq, Hohshemi looked at the front wallscreen’s rainbow colors, aware of the humming tension that lay over his Bridge. He called to his second-in-command, Lancer Tahir Nanbullah, sitting below the screen.

“Astrogator, how long until Breakout?“

The swarthy Afghan turned and gave a black-bearded nod of respect. “Two weeks, three days, four hours and seven minutes, Struggle Leader.”

“At what distance will we be from the star?”

“Four light-hours,” Tahir said.

Hohshemi nodded thanks to his fellow Harvard graduate, both members of the class of ’08, before the Western Alliance realized just how foolish it was to educate the leaders of the Hijra. Tahir’s blue eyes—a relic of Soviet foolishness in repeating the British errors of a previous century—looked at him with full faith. Ever since they’d saved each other’s lives in the taking of Zanzibar harbor, each trusted the other like a brother. Hohshemi glanced sideways at the impassive brown face of al-Sadr, then back to Tahir.

“Any evidence of Drive Systems interference by Second Deck?”

“No, Struggle Leader,” Tahir said, frowning slightly. “Only the normal Fusion power plant maintenance functions and plasma field checkouts. They seem to be complying with their contracts.”

“That,” interrupted al-Sadr in a harsh tone, “is a judgment made by the Faith, not by technicians such as yourself.”

Tahir looked irritated, then gave the ceremonial chest-slap of a former Martyr commando. “So it is, Faith leader. I only report my observations.” Tahir turned back to his Astrogation boards.

Hohshemi tried not to frown. The uneasy alliance on Sword between illiterate Shock troops from the hills of the Mideast, the inflexible mullahs assigned by Qom, and the few educated Hijra members like himself, Tahir and the rest of the Crew, did not need internal dissension. Particularly not when they carried the insidious seed of Western infidels next to their heart, much the way Husain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, had been betrayed by the rich Ummayads of Damascus on that last fateful journey across Iraq. Hohshemi tried never to forget the lure of materialism, of things made by man, of heresies that mocked the Book. Ever since that first day at Harvard, when he’d been laughed at by the whole class for going out into the hallway to prostrate himself, face Mecca and say his mid-day prayers, Hohshemi had never forgotten that materialism and greed ran the West. Or that money was their god. He turned to al-Sadr.

“Faith Leader, there is nothing to worry about,” he said. “The Farms feed us. The women work the fields and give birth—already we have six new sons added to the Call—and the landers are ready to plant the colony.”

Al-Sadr squinted at him. “You are certain there is a planet on which to plant the Call?”

“Of course!” he said loudly, drawing side glances from the First Shift officers who ran critical ship functions. “The captured Hubble telescope clearly showed several Jupiter-sized objects affecting the star’s transit, while its spectrum indicates a low rotational speed—further evidence it has shed much of its mass into a planetary accretion disk.”

Al-Sadr put elbows on his chair arms, folded palms together, then rested his chin on clenched fists as he peered at the front wallscreen, where the colors of QomSpace flickered like a thousand rainbows. “Then it only remains for us to maintain discipline and Faith until we arrive. True, Captain?”

“True, Faith Leader,” Hohshemi said. He looked down at the monitor screens protruding from either arm of his padded Command chair. Each reported on a critical function aboard The Sword of Islam.

So far, all had gone well—except for the tendency of the horses to jump too high in the lighter gravity of Third Deck. The hawks flew well. But he missed his three wives back on Earth, in his ancestral home of Isfahan, especially Mahtoob, his first wife. She had gone to live with the wife of their eldest son in Hamadan, taking his picture with her. Fadhila and Laila had stayed in Isfahan, promising to weave him a new prayer rug of colors most glorious. He sighed. Most of the Bridge Crew had also left behind wives and families, trusting to the providence of Allah. For now, 40 Draconis lay before them, the reaching of it a challenge not unlike that faced by the first Believers who had spread Allah’s Call in great jihăds across the known world of the seventh century A.D. Now, one-quarter of Earth’s people bespoke the Shahada daily, acknowledging there was but one god, Allah, and that Muhammad was his Prophet. Hohshemi and his Crew were the Hijra, the new Migration patterned after the Prophet’s first example, but this time going out to the stars.

Allah-willing, the Call of the Prophet would be planted on a new world.

Ali al-Sadr sat beside Talaghani, feeling terribly afraid.

He never let anyone know he was afraid. Afraid of space, afraid of the constant threat of contamination from the infidel dhimmi of Second Deck, afraid of his fellow mullahs, afraid of the tarika secret societies represented among the Martyrs, afraid of . . . too many things. He remembered his years of study at Faiziyeh theological college in Qom, his later study in Teheran at the Hussaineh Ershad center, and his brief service in Oman before being called to serve the umma, the body and world-state of Islam. He should have been comforted by those memories. He should have been consoled by the knowledge that the Koran, the Hadith sayings, the Sunnah Traditions and the Jaafari Laws of the Imamate in Kerbala held sway over one-third of the world. Five times a day the Umma of Islam repeated the Shahada while facing Holy Mecca. The two Great Satans of godless Russia and immoral America had been thrown back and defeated. This was the time of redemption. Of doing what earlier followers of Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib had failed to do on the Plains of Kerbala thirteen hundred years ago. Still, Ali felt afraid. Still, he questioned his own worth. Even his prayers to Allah lacked conviction.

To the right of Ali, a Syrian crewman looked up from his Communications board. “Captain, we are receiving a QomSpace signal from Kerbala. Do you wish to hear it privately?”

Talaghani glanced briefly at Ali, then to the Syrian. “Hafez al-Siba’i, put it on the main screen, with sound. I have no secrets from the umma.”

Hafez nodded his turbaned head, then reached out to the touchboard. Ali sat back in his unpadded chair, eyes lidded, wondering what new orders awaited them. On the front screen, rainbows cleared. A black-turbaned ayatollah looked out at them, a scowl on his face. Shirazi! His superior in the Council of Mullahs. Black eyes blinked, then tight lips moved.

La ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah!

Ali waited as Talaghani replied to the Shahada salutation, using Farsi-accented Arabic.

“Indeed, there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah,” repeated Talaghani, all his attention on Shirazi. “Ayatollah Ahmed Mahdi Hasan Shirazi, marja-yi mutlaq of all Islam, greetings from The Sword of Islam. I Submit. What is your command?”

Shirazi looked briefly at Ali, the mutlaq’s black gaze chilling him, then fixed on his co-commander. “Captain Hohshemi Muhammad Talaghani, the new crescent moon is sighted in Qom. Ramadan is begun immediately. Ensure the piety of your crew and . . . the dhimmi Servants.”

“Immediately.” Talaghani looked to Ali. “Will the Faith Leader issue the necessary instructions for fasting?”

“Yes.” Ali fingered a control on his chair’s armrest; a preset signal went to Faith Command and the adjacent Mosque. Talaghani nodded seriously, then turned back to Shirazi’s dour image.

“Your command is obeyed. Tomorrow is Friday shiptime and we will observe a penitential taaziyah march about the Mosque of Fatemah before prayers—with the help of mujtahid Ali al-Sadr. Is the Umma of Islam well?”

Shirazi’s face turned blank at the Captain’s mention of the pan-Islamic governing body of their world-state. “It is well. New Martyrs have sacrificed themselves in Malaysia, in Banares at the Mosque of Aurangzeb, and in Stockholm during demonstrations against the Scandinavian immorality. China and Japan have offered to build new mosques in their capitals. The Western Great Satan continues its infidel broadcasts to the other dhimmi, exhorting them to defiance of the Second Husain. But matters other than the start of Ramadan compel me to contact you.” Shirazi paused, his mood turning even more dour. Ali leaned forward in his chair, unable to control his fear and his curiosity.

“One of your brother ships, the Shatt al-Arab, has destroyed itself,” Shirazi said. Ali’s mouth went dry. “Fragmentary reports indicate the dhimmi aboard her attempted to reach the QomDrive Tube. Their attempt set off the Jinn Protector built into each Drive.” Shirazi blinked once.

Talaghani cried out, striking his forehead with his hand, then slapping his chest. Ali and the Bridge crew emulated his pious actions, a trifle later than their Captain. Ali felt great fear.

“Allah curse them!” Talaghani said, his eyes filling with tears. “What of the others?”

“Safe,” Shirazi said, now looking at Ali. “Faith Leader, be alert. Watch your infidels closely. Some of them may seek martyrdom to their heretical beliefs. Take whatever steps are necessary to control the situation.”

Ali slapped his chest with the flat of his palm. “Your command is my obedience. Should we chain them to their stations?”

“Hardly,” Shirazi said, his tone dry as sand. “Even dhimmi need to relieve themselves. But watch every action, their every word. Even mild rebellion must be suppressed.”

Beside Ali, Talaghani raised his palm. “Pardon, Ayatollah Shirazi. We have . . . unavoidable need of these Servants until we arrive at 40 Draconis. May I monitor mujtahid al-Sadr’s actions, in case they cause the very action we seek to prevent?”

Shirazi sat back in his wooden chair, a huge wall picture of the Second Husain the only backdrop to his image. “You may. But be careful that pragmatism does not degenerate into heresy. And mujtahid al-Sadr—”

“Yes?” he said, struggling to control his voice.

“Additional orders for you and Faith Command are encrypted at the end of this signal. Decode, understand and Obey.”

“In the name of Allah, I will!”

Shirazi turned back to Talaghani. “Captain, the Prophet’s Call must be spread outward. Do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of your mission. Remember—God owns you body and soul.” The image disappeared from the screen, to be replaced by the rainbow colors of QomSpace. Talaghani turned to Ali, his dark brown face somber, only his wet eyes showing animation.

“Faith Leader, will you give a memorial sermon tomorrow at the Mosque, in honor of our fallen brothers?”

Ali felt puzzlement. Talaghani seemed truly pious, truly overcome by sorrow for the followers of Caliph Ali. Not the Western-trained—and perhaps contaminated—technocrat he’d come to know during the last few weeks.

“I will,” he said. “I will also issue orders restricting the dhimmi to Second Deck, their living quarters on Sixth, and the between-decks transport elevator that connects the two. Do you recommend other restrictions?”

Talaghani turned forward to face his brown-robed Crew, who’d sat nearly silent during their talk with Ayatollah Shirazi. “None yet. Let us honor the First Husain’s martyrdom tomorrow, be watchful, and trust in Allah’s providence.”

Ali nodded agreement, then sat back in his unpadded chair as the Crew continued with their duties. Though he sat motionless, his eyes swept over them, his mind listing the scientific specialities of which he knew so little.

Ecosystems on the far left of Talaghani. Then Life Support, followed by Farms, Library and Translight Drive directly in front of their Captain. On the right of the horseshoe, turbaned men with full beards sat stiffly before their consoles. Tahir at Astrogation, the Pakistani Fazlur Ali Haq of Astrophysics next to him, his fellow Iraqi Mahmud Jalal Arif at Security, the Egyptian Sunni believer Jamal Abdel Islambuli at Computers, and the Kuwaiti Yusuf al-Rumaihi at Weapons on the far right end of the horseshoe. A mixed lot, with some of them from mawali client peoples, though all but Haq, Islambuli and the Turk Kemal Nursi of Farms were fellow Shi’ites.

It had been a hard job these last two weeks, compiling dossiers on them, on the other Shift Crews, on the five hundred Shi’a peasants and villagers of the suq, on the dhimmi infidels, on the two hundred Shi’a Martyrs belonging to the Shock Brigade, and on the several score Sunni believers from places like Algeria, Indonesia, the new Moro nation in the former Phillippines, Turkey, Morocco and the Sudan. They all belonged to the Umma, all except the infidels. Yet too many of them knew things Ali did not. Technical things. Scientific things.

Ali knew only the suras of the Koran, the Hadith, the Sunnah, the Shari’a religious law, and a life spent in the small village of Al Qurnah far to the south of Baghdad. His first recollection was a suq poster of Saddam Hussein, he whose memory was now dust. He who had made war on Qom and on holy Iran. And lost. He who had invited the bombs of the Great Satan, then had chased the Shi’a into the southern swamps, after which he’d attacked Believers inside the Great Mosque of Kerbala. An evil, evil man. Co-equal with that was a memory of sitting at his father’s feet in their walled garden, reciting from memory the sura passages of the Koran. Each day he studied. Each day he memorized. Each day he came closer to the heart of the Prophet. Eventually, his drive to go beyond being an itinerant khatib preacher, then a simple mullah, then first among the learned ulamă scholars of his province, next an imăm prayer leader, and finally a high-ranked mujtahid student of the famed Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim of Najaf and Qom—all this had taken him away from his village. Away from his home. Away from his four brothers and two sisters. To places beyond the holy shrine cities of Najaf, Khazimayn and Kerbala. It had taken him to the stars and the abode of Jinns.

Ali closed his eyes.

He did not sleep. He did not relax his stiff posture in the Command Bridge seat. He still listened to the subdued voices of the Crew, Talaghani’s succinct commands, the whisper of air circulation pumps and the high whine of far away compressors. His skin felt dry within his jellaba robe. His lips felt cracked. But he would not eat nor drink until this evening, after the stated time of sunset aboard this unnatural dwelling place.

Alone, afraid, Ali wondered what Shirazi would order him to do. Or not do. Or expect, without clearly spelling out what he must do. Vagueness seemed to reign these days, even among the ruling theologians of Qom and Kerbala. It made for much danger, even for one devoted to Allah.

 Ever so slowly, his fingers found and removed Shirazi’s message cylinder from his armrest. He gripped the cylinder tightly. It, at least, was real. It would be read later, in his office at Faith Command beside the Mosque of Fatemah. Until then, until First Shift stood down, Ali would remain beside Talaghani. Ever watchful. Ever alert. Ever ready to push the backup Jinn Protector button that rode on his right armrest, inside a code-protected housing.

The Westerners of Second Deck would try to steal the secret of Translight from the Umma. He felt certain of that. And when they tried, Ali would be ready. As Shirazi had warned him to be ready.

Martyrdom he did not fear. Ali feared only that he would not recognize the necessary signs. That he might be misled by the superficial reassurances of technology and science.

He prayed silently to Allah for wisdom.

ZAMAN 9.1.4

Ten Horde Eight stood beside the River Lustrous, on the planet NewHome, under a white-star daylight, all four legs trembling with the excitement of the moment. Their new settlement, their Commune, rose before him, a complex of gray metal domes, silvery spires and earthen ramps, with the deep-buried bunker of the Creche at its center. Beyond the settlement fluttered the long-leafed trees that filled the river valley which he and Six Calm Nine, the Travel Chief of the Swarm, had chosen jointly. The bright gleam of the leaves, the whisper of the blue river waters, the feel of the wind on his hide, it all excited him. Excited him so much his blood chemicals rose, alerting the Friends who clustered on his spine.

The Friends stirred, alerting to the Threat which the blood of their symbiote told them now threatened the group, the People of the Swarm. Ten Horde Eight calmed his rib-mouth breathing, slowed his four hearts and began the muscle relaxation technique every Swarmer knew from the first hatching out of the egg sack—the technique that calmed the unthinking Friends of the Swarm so that they would not prematurely Attack. Excitement was all well and fine, but it would not do if a Friend inflated, detached and floated over to harass Six Calm Nine, who stood at the head of the group gathered for the dedication of the newly finished Commune Center.

After all, he still hoped to romance her and make her his LifeMate.

She glanced at him from where she stood facing the group of Attached pairs and singleton Swarmers, her green hide a perfect match for the genespliced grass they’d sown between the buildings. With a tilt of her blocky head and ripple of her overlapping hide plates, she fixed all four of her eyes on the assembled crowd, ignoring him, ignoring the Scent of Romance he’d been trailing these last sixty light cycles every time she came near, instead choosing to Attach with the assembled colonists, Techs and Guardians. Which was proper, he reminded himself. As Travel Chief, she had ruled the Ship during the long passage out to NewHome. He, as Settlement Chief, was subordinant to her until the Commune was fully built, the crops planted, the local plant life genespliced or removed from the vicinity, and confirmation assured that the Swarm colony could exist on its own. Once entrenched, the Ship and its crew would return to OldHome, returning only now and then as supplies were needed.

“My fellows,” Six Calm Nine said in a relaxed Middle Tone accompanied by hide ripples and forehand gestures that conveyed half the meaning of any Swarmer communication, “we are Landed. We are Built. Our Commune Center is now completed. And . . . the Creche stands ready to accept the first Egglings. Are there any Pairs ready to Hatch?”

At the mention of children, all the Attached couples rubbed hide plates against each other and their Cords of Attachment pulsed with common fluid. Ten Horde Eight felt his hearts beat faster as the hope and desire that had grown during the voyage filled his senses with the image of younglings, of ones like himself and Six Calm Nine.

“We are ready.” A Comtech pair clapped forehands against their chests, then kneeled on the grass, their long bodies identical in color with the genespliced grass.

“So soon? You must have been resourceful aboard Ship,” she whistled in Low Tone, conveying amusement at how this Attached couple had anticipated the need for children on their new colony world. “But no matter, we all understand. My Children,” she said, switching to the formality of High Tone, “go forth to the Creche and deposit your Egglings. Watch over them until they Hatch. Then join us in the Commune Center. There is much work to be done before we can bid farewell to the Ship.”

Accompanied by whistling, hide-rippling and spike-tail flaring from the rest of the crowd, the Comtech couple ambled off side by side to the Creche bunker, their multiple leg pairs moving in stubby syncopation, their spine crest of Friends fluttering in the light wind, and their Cord of Attachment firmly linking them together. They would give birth as an Attached pair, watch over the new hatched younglings as a pair, and work duty shifts as a pair, attached by their Cord and their love for each other.

For a moment, a brief moment, one of Six Calm Nine’s eyes flicked toward him, toward Ten Horde Eight as he stood at the rear of the crowd. The look she conveyed in that brief moment told him she had noticed more than his Scent of Romance. For it conveyed the hint of love now stirring . . . 

Copyright retained by T. Jackson King 2009