It’s late in the evening and the resistance meeting in Al Madinat Aladwa (City of Light) on the planet Al’ard has just finished. As Fatima Zahra, Aziz, and the other members of the resistance group spread out in the narrow streets of the old walled city, suddenly drones appear and start firing stunners at them. They all run for cover. They can’t return to the bookstore where they were meeting; it’s been discovered.
“I thought you said that we were safe from the drones at night!” Aziz declares in surprise. They zig-zag as they run to try to avoid getting hit.
“That’s what we all thought! This is the first time they’ve shot at us after dark!” Fatima Zahra is even more surprised. “They must have equipped the drones with infrared thermal cam…” She falls to the ground.
“Shit!” Aziz bends down and picks up her limp body, then looks in all directions. A man next to him helps him to carry her. From an alley nearby, Khalid, another man from their group, waves at him. The shots from the drones are whizzing all around.
“Si Ali, Si Hamza! Come on, this way!”
Aziz and Hamza duck into the dark alley, Fatima Zahra in their arms. Aziz questions “You know a way out?”
Khalid opens a backdoor and they slip inside. He lives near the meeting place. A few members of their group are already there. Outside in the street the humming of the drones and the whistling of their stunners continues as their friends scatter in all directions. Some of them are left on the ground. The snatchers will be there in a matter of minutes to carry away the unfortunate ones while they’re still dazed. Where they are taken, no one knows; they disappear. Khalid locks the door and leads them up a narrow staircase in the dark; he’s in his own house but he doesn’t turn on the lights. Once in Khalid’s living room, Aziz lays Fatima Zahra gently on a sofa, lies down beside her, and holds her close. No one says a word. Just below they can hear the snatchers’ vans come, load up, and leave.
Aziz breaks the silence. “Someone tipped them off. We have a rat. We’ll have to deal with that before anything else or they’ll get us all.”
Khalid echoes his thoughts. “Si Ali, do you have a list of everyone that was invited to the meeting?”
“We’ll have to wait ‘till Fatima Zahra comes out of her daze. I’ll take her home and we’ll discuss it just the two of us. As the leaders of the group, it’s our responsibility.” Aziz hopes that she knows where the group’s details are, because if only his twin brother Ali knows it will be harder for them to get the info. “We have to find a new meeting place.” Aziz looks cautiously out the window at the street below. “Thank God we’re safe and sound. We won’t know who got caught until our next meeting. May God protect them, and all of the others who’ve been snatched.”
As soon as they’re home, Fatima Zahra starts in. “We were shot at last night, and again tonight, and this time it’s sure that they knew where we were. Somebody’s selling us.”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I think. Do you have a list of everyone that was invited?”
“Ali keeps a list of all the members here somewhere.” She starts looking in possible hiding places. While she’s looking Aziz is following her around as they continue to discuss the situation.
“I was thinking Fatima Zahra, if you get snatched, we’ll lose contact with Ali and Scheherazade. Because only you can communicate with your sister, and only I can do the same with my twin brother, we can do this; if you both have enough, you should split your stash of mind-altering mushrooms with me and tell Scheherazade to do the same with Ali. That way, I can contact him if the snatchers get you.”
“That’s a great idea Aziz. I’ll tell her to do that when we connect tonight.” She’s searching in one of Ali’s writing notebooks and comes across a note addressed to her. “Hey, look at this Aziz!”
My dear Fatima Zahra, things are getting dangerous. If ever something happens to me, look in the box that I promised never to use again. Love, your Ali.
“I know what box he’s talking about, but I don’t know where it is” Aziz tells her with a smile.
“How’s that? I don’t understand?”
“Your portrait in the living room, you told me he promised never to do another painting after that.”
“Of course! His paints and brushes!” She rushes to a storage closet with Aziz at her heels. After rummaging a bit, she finds his paintbox. Inside is a notebook with all of the notes from the resistance meetings, and a list of all the members, their code names, and telephone numbers. Many names are scratched out. “Those are the ones who’ve been snatched. We don’t even know what happened to them! Are they alive? Are they in a secret prison somewhere? I wish there was some way we could find out! Anyway, I know all these people, and I can remember who was at the meeting tonight. If there’s anyone on this list that wasn’t there, we’ve probably found the mole.” She doesn’t even get up from her squatted position in the storage closet before starting to go through the names; there’s only about 20.
“Yes. Asra Hanadi. She wasn’t there tonight, and she isn’t scratched out. All the others were present. There’s the possibility that she got snatched since the previous meeting and Ali didn’t know about it. Now, what to do about it?”
“We mustn’t let on that we’re on to her, hoping that she’ll surface if she hasn’t been snatched. What does she look like?”
“Beautiful, slender, and tall with a dark complexion, a freckled face, brown eyes, and long black hair. She stands taller than a lot of men, she’s about eye-level with you.”
“Sounds like a man-eater.”
“She does have a reputation.”
“Do you think I could pretend to fall for her? Would she believe it?”
“I don’t know. Everyone knows how much Ali loves me. But then, almost anyone can be tempted, that’s the nature of our species, and we could say that she’s a bit narcissistic, so maybe. It’s worth a try.”
“What does she do for a living?”
“Try to guess.”
“Wrong. With her looks she could be, but she’s a PhD in History, and she’s the head librarian at the National Public Library. She also speaks 7 languages. On top of all that she’s a 9th dan Aikido master.”
Aziz laughs, “Now that’s the cliché of a secret agent if ever there was one. Her code name’s Night Flight. I’ll try to call her tomorrow. If she answers I’ll make a date, if she doesn’t, I’ll visit the library tomorrow. It’s the same as on our world, isn’t it?”
“Good idea, just be careful. Yeah, things are mostly the same. Scheherazade and I have figured things only started to differ on the two worlds starting with the moment that you and Ali died each on one of them. We’ve both seen the butterfly effect that it has had on both worlds. That effect increased 10 years later when we girls followed the same fate as you two. Let’s both memorize this list right now, even the scratched-out names, in case something happens to either of us, OK?” They take the list and study it together, Aziz memorizes the names to a tune, that’s how he remembers best.
Fatima Zahra eats a bit of her mushrooms to connect with her twin sister, and she shows Aziz the right amount he should take. She’s on an empty stomach so the effect will be quicker. She then takes all the rest of her stash and divides it in two equal parts in air-tight bags. Then she takes Ali’s jacket and sews one of the bags into the lining, leaving a hole that he can use to open it. She does the same with one of her jackets. Fatima Zahra gets a ringing in her ears; Scheherazade is calling. They connect and update each other on everything that’s happened since last night. They speak without uttering a word, all by telepathy, so even though Aziz is just next to her, he waits patiently until she’s finished.
“I can’t wait to talk to Ali.”
“You’ll get a chance. We have to be frugal with the mushrooms though. It’s more than 4 months till the season when they grow.”
It’s been a long hard day and night. They eat a quick snack and It’s almost daybreak when Fatima Zahra changes the bandage on his head. they crash out dead tired.
It’s the next day, early afternoon. Aziz presents himself at the reception desk of the National library. “May I speak with Dr. Hanadi please?”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, tell her that it’s Ali Elbaz.” The receptionist nods and smiles. His name is celebrated among the intellectuals.
“I’ll be just a minute sir.” She scurries off and returns in a few minutes. “Come this way sir.” She leads him to Asra’s office, knocks softly, then parts as soon as Aziz enters.
“Ali dear, you took a big risk coming here, we agreed never to meet here, for both of our sakes.” She slides up to him and puts her arms around his neck. Her honey brown eyes are gazing down on him because of her heels. Aziz doesn’t have time to reflect before her lips are glued to his. Her perfume is intoxicating and his head is swimming. When she lets up from her deep kiss she questions “Where did you get the bump?”
Everything he had planned to say is gone and forgotten. He ad-libs. “Fell off our spinner when Fatima Zahra swerved to dodge a drone’s stunner. I came here because I was worried about you. You didn’t come to the meeting last night and I tried to call you this morning. Your line is out of order. I just had to know if you were alright.” He doesn’t mention the attack on the group; thinking perhaps he can play her. If he can determine that she doesn’t know anything about the attack, then she’s not the Judas. What a surprise though! It’ll be tricky to handle.
“I’m sorry you were worried about me darling. I didn’t come to the meeting last night because I’m sure that I’m being followed. And then, my phone was stolen yesterday evening on top of that. Most likely the same people who are following me. I was driving my convertible and I pulled over to the side of the road to make a call. Then a guy on a motorcycle snatched my phone. Fortunately, it has a fingerprint lock. I’ll have to buy a new phone now. Say, it’s been more than a week since I saw you, my love. Let’s make up for it! How about we visit my seaside hideaway and spend the afternoon together? Fatima Zahra isn’t expecting you, is she?”
“No, not until tonight. Let’s go then.” He feigns anticipation with a big smile, or perhaps it’s genuine? After all, it’s his brother that got him into this, and it’s his brother’s body. Anyway, it’s necessary for the cause. He’s still not sure that she isn’t the mole, she certainly has one though, an attractive little one seductively placed just over the left side of her upper lip.
He follows her to the parking lot where her convertible sports car is in a big private reserved space marked “Director”. In less than an hour they’re at her seaside bungalow and under the covers in a flash. While they’re lying in bed after their first round, Aziz tries to find out if she’s sincere.
“Do you really love me Asra?”
“Of course, Ali, is something the matter? You don’t seem to be yourself. Your lovemaking isn’t like usual. You know I like your intense way, and today you’re so gentle that if I didn’t see you in front of me, I’d swear you were someone else.”
Aziz laughs inside, of course, he is someone else. I’ll have to pay very close attention to her reaction at my next words. “We were attacked last night by the drones as we came out of the meeting. Fatima Zahra was stunned, but I carried her to safety. We were able to escape with some of the others before the snatchers showed up.”
Asra seems sincerely worried and touched. “Oh my God! I’m so glad you got away! But the drones only shoot at us in the daytime!”
“Until last night. Now they’re equipped with thermal cameras. Our meeting place was discovered, so somebody’s a rat.”
“Any ideas who?”
“Our only clues seem to point at you.”
“Oh Ali, you can’t think such things, I could never do anything to hurt you, or Fatima Zahra either, I know how much you love her.” How could he suspect me! She breaks down in real tears.
Aziz knows a bit about detecting lies, and the way that she’s offended by the idea shows her innocence. He comforts her and holds her close. Now I know a secret, he thinks, but we still don’t know who the infiltrator is.
After a while Asra asks “You said that the only clues pointed to me. What were they?”
“You were the only one that wasn’t at the meeting and whose name wasn’t already crossed off the list of members as having been taken by the snatchers.”
“But we don’t know for sure that all the people you’ve crossed off were snatched, do we? Maybe one of them is the rat.”
“Your right, because no one knows who’s been taken, or where they’ve been taken, or what’s happened to them. These are all questions that our group should strive to resolve.”
“We’re at war, and they’ve got so many advantages on us. We’ll fight though, and we’ll prevail.”
“God willing. Let’s get back to Al Madinat Aladwa.”
As soon as they walk out the door, they’re both hit by stunners from a drone that had been hovering above the bungalow.
They wake up separated, each one in a small dark isolated cell. There are small windows to the outside which show the night sky. All the stars can be seen so it’s far from any city. Aziz opens the lining of his jacket and takes a dose of mushrooms. He waits. Asra meditates and prepares herself for combat. After about an hour Aziz hears a ringing in his ears.
“Ali?” he thinks.
“Yes Aziz, finally we get to talk to each other. I wish the circumstances were better. What happened? Where are you?”
“Asra and I got stunned and taken as we came out of her bungalow. We’re each in an isolated cell somewhere far from the city. At least I may be able to tell you where we are soon.” The effect of the mushrooms lets them talk until morning, when guards come to get everyone out of their cells.
Asra’s prepared. The two guards that open her cell are out cold in a flash, she takes their handguns and their keys and runs for cover. With her combat skills, she’s soon got one of the pistols to the forehead of another guard. Using her hostage, she’s able to get away in a jeep. She leaves the man in the middle of the desert and drives north, using the rising sun as her compass.
Aziz is interrogated, and then taken to the central courtyard with all of the other political prisoners. They’re put in straight lines, men in front and women in the back rows, and a roll call is taken with a loudspeaker. Aziz thinks, Yes! This is exactly what we need! As the roll is taken, he repeats all of the names in his head and Ali notes them. At the end of the roll call they both know who was scratched off the list and was not taken to the prison.
“Aziz, they didn’t call Asra’s name. Are you sure you didn’t miss it?”
“No Ali, she’s not here in the courtyard. But she got hit with me. Do you think she’s with them?”
“Impossible. She must have made a break. Doesn’t surprise me. She’ll certainly contact Fatima Zahra if she makes it back to the city. That woman is something else. Her code name Night Flight is spot on.”