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Contemporary Fiction Urban Fantasy


The fragrance of mint fills the tent as the “atay” flows down in a meter-long cascade into the small finely decorated glasses, making the tea frothy. Mass Anazar Ibn Ziri, the supreme chief, clad in a long blue robe and turban, pours it in the traditional way; the teapot held high above the glasses. Serving atay is a daily ritual and takes on even more significance when there is a visitor. Several of the clan members are gathered around a fire in the tent and Asra is their guest. It’s sunset, and the heat of the day has subsided. Meanwhile, the sand still holds the warmth, making the night agreeable. The old, rugged leader speaks in Tamasheq, the tongue of the indigenous desert nomads, and Asra’s mother tongue.


“Asra, my dear, it’s so good to see you. You hardly ever leave Al Madinat Aladwa anymore. Your parents would be proud of you; you’re such an accomplished woman. Tell me, what brings you here?”


“Mass Anazar, my dear friend, I’ve fallen into trouble. The government jeep I arrived in is stolen, so we’ll have to get rid of it quickly.” She shows them the pistol she took to escape with. “There will be drones searching for me. I broke out of a prison for political prisoners. Do you know of the snatchers?”


“Yes, we’ve heard of them, but until now, we haven’t been bothered.”


“They got me yesterday evening and I woke up in a prison cell. They must have drugged me after I was hit by the stunner so I wouldn’t wake up too soon. You know of my fighting skills. The two guards that came to get me didn’t have time to think before they were out. I took another guard hostage until I was clear of the prison, then I knocked him out and left him in the desert. I saw some passing clan members and asked them where I could find you. It took me all day to get here.”


“Why did they snatch you? You have an important government job, don’t you?”


“My job won’t help me. I’m part of a resistance group. Do you know of Ali Elbaz?”


“No, we don’t follow the news. We just mind our own business.”


“He wrote a banned book called ‘Nizam Mahfoud - The Power Behind the Throne’, it’s about how the fascist regime came into power. He’s a good friend, and the leader of our resistance group. The snatchers have been grabbing people and putting them in a prison. Anyone who dares say anything against the regime. We have a lot of friends that have been taken. Until now, we didn’t know what happened to everyone, they just disappeared. Ali and I were together when a drone hit us with a stunner. Now I know that everyone’s in a prison, and Ali’s there now with the others. I’m a marked woman. They’ll be searching for me everywhere.”


Anazar pensively strokes his greying beard with his right hand. “Yes, you can’t go back home. Don’t worry my dear. You’re with family now. We won’t let you down.” Where are there keys for the jeep?”


“There aren’t any, it’s a military jeep so you just press a button to start it. There are extra cans of diesel in the back too.”


The chief signals to two young men “Take a camel with you and drive the jeep far away. Dowse it with diesel and set it on fire before you return.”


Anazar needs to think and plan. He drinks his tea and picks up his drum, the symbol of his authority. Placing it between his legs, he starts to play lightly and skillfully with his fingertips, his eyes closed, and head tilted back. Not a word is spoken by the members of the clan as other members from nearby tents come and gather around, beckoned by the gentle drumming. When he’s ready, he motions for everyone to join him as he goes out under the evening sky, where there is room for everyone. The stars are starting to come out. He addresses his tribe with a rifle in his hand.


“You all know Dr. Asra Hanadi, of our own, author of a world-famous study on our people’s history and culture. Her parents are no longer of this world, and she needs us now. We are her family. We will keep her with us and protect her. She has enemies in the government, and her enemies are our enemies. She has friends in a prison here in our territory, and her friends are our friends. They have only been imprisoned for speaking out against the government. Our people has been in rebellion against different dominating powers for almost three thousand years. We fought against Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals and Alans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and finally the French and Spanish. All of these powers came here successively wanting to conquer us. We have always defied the dominators. Today, once again, like so many times before, we will fight the oppressors. We will do everything we can to free the prisoners and ally with them in their battle. I have spoken. If there is anyone who is not with us, you are free to leave, but not to return.”


After a short silence he raises his gun high and fires a shot into the sky. A unanimous cheer goes spiraling up into the heavens. “I will inform you all of your roles as you are needed.” With these final words, Anazar goes back into his tent, Asra and his closest family following him.


When they are all seated, the chief speaks softly but powerfully. “I have a plan. Asra, you will need to contact your resistance group in Al Madinat Aladwa to let them know where you are, where your friends are, and that we’re with you in the battle. I have carrier pigeons guarded in an oasis. We use them to communicate with several of our clan who do business for me in the cities. It’s surer than using modern technology. It takes a pigeon about 5 hours to fly from the oasis to Al Madinat Aladwa, and the oasis is about 5 hours from here by camel. The night is ten hours long now, so I’ll send someone to the oasis with a message addressed to one of my men in the city. He will receive it tomorrow morning at dawn. I’ll write a short note of introduction, and you give your instructions. Tell my man the name and address of someone in charge of your resistance group and the message to give to them. Add any other information you think is necessary.” He scribbles a few words quickly using the Tifinagh rune-like symbols and signs the paper.


Asra writes Fatima Zahra’s name and address for the contact man, then starts a separate page telling her succinctly of all the events since she and Ali were hit by the stunner, signing with her code name “Night Flight”. Even though Asra is Ali’s lover, Fatima Zahra is his still his wife, she loves him, and will obviously be worried about his disappearance. As she’s writing she has another idea.


“Mass Anazar?”


“Yes dear?”


“My possessions are all as well as lost for me. Everything. My condo, my seaside bungalow, my sports car. I can’t even go back to sell them, or I’ll be caught. Could one of your men take care of selling everything for me and clearing out my bank account with my mandate?”


“Yes, that’s a good idea. We’ll send a second pigeon so it’s not confusing.” He scribbles another note, and signs it. Both notes part with two men toward the oasis in the night.


A few weeks later, Mass Anazar’s men have traveled to the city and back several times with legal papers to be signed, moving discretely by taking public busses and shared taxis (taxis that follow a determined route, and which are very cheap) to avoid police blockades. The paperwork has all been settled. All the money Asra gets from selling her belongings, she gives willingly to purchase arms for their fight. Even though all arms sales are forbidden in their country, this is no problem for Mass Anazar; he has connections. They buy anti-drone missiles, machine guns, handguns, grenades, camouflage, tranquilizers, and prepare to attack the prison. They’ve planned ahead to receive all the prisoners and have extra tents and food stored up.


***************************************************


At the same moment that Asra is speeding away from the prison on Al’Ard, Aziz Elbaz is beginning to lose contact with his twin brother on Eorea as the effect of the mind-altering mushrooms fades. At least they had been able to figure out who the rat is, and Ali will be able to get news through to Fatima Zahra, by way of Scheherazade, about what happened to Aziz and Asra.


Most of the inmates know Ali, who they think is there with them, but Aziz only knows the few that were snatched after the resistance meeting the night before last. All of the prisoners are still standing in line in the courtyard after the rollcall when a high-ranking military officer takes the microphone and speaks with authority. “I am sure that all of you know Ali Elbaz. Now that your leader has been caught, your cause is doomed. We also caught Dr. Asra Hanadi, however, she managed to escape this morning. Don’t worry though, the next time we won’t make the mistake of capturing her. You can be sure that she’ll be feeding the worms before long. Resistance is useless. We will make you conform, or you will also end up as worm food. It’s your choice, and you will all be put to the test. Ali Elbaz, break ranks and come forward.”


Aziz joins the officer at the front of the courtyard. The officer is standing next to a metal trash can with a book in his hand. “You all know of this piece of trash!” he holds up the book. “Ali Elbaz, this is the trash that you wrote, and you’re going to burn it in front of everyone!” He pushes the book towards Aziz motioning for him to take it. “Repeat after me! This book is full of lies!”


Aziz is thinking ‘I still haven’t had a chance to read it, everything has happened so fast! I’ve only been in Ali’s body for two days and three nights! And only spoke to him this morning for the first time! What would he do? I’m sure he’d cooperate in the open, and plot in secret. That’s what I’ll have to do.’ He takes the copy of Ali’s book in his left hand and repeats “This book is full of lies!”


The officer bursts out laughing, and as if commanded by remote control, all of the guards laugh boisterously with him. The prisoners remain silent, many lower their eyes to the ground. Next the officer takes a torch out of the metal trash can and lights it. “Hold your book of lies over the flames!” He commands, and as Aziz does as he is told, the flames envelop ‘Nizam Mahfoud - The Power Behind the Throne’ and Aziz’s fingers are nearly scorched as the burning book drops into the trash can. “Now get back in line, you worthless piece of shit!” he snarls at Aziz. “Look at Ali Elbaz, the great resistance leader! He’s not so brave now! You’re all the same!”


The prisoners are herded to the mess hall, and each are given a tray with a glass of atay (the cheapest possible) and harsha, a typical semolina bread. Aziz finds a place at a table where two of the guys he met at the resistance meeting are seated. He speaks softly. “Hey guys, it ain’t over yet. We’ll fight to the end. We’ll find a way. Asra was able to break out, I know her, she won’t give up the fight.” He shows with a smile that he’s not disheartened.


“Are your fingers alright?”


“Yeah, I can still play the guitar, if that’s what you’re worried about!” Aziz laughs, and they laugh with him.


“Hope so! That was some concert you gave us night before last. I can still hear it in my head!”


“Say, I haven’t seen our friend Nadim Nurani, ‘Homeboy’, here, but I thought he had gotten snatched. Was he here before?” Aziz wants to double check to make sure that what he and Ali had figured is correct, and that ‘Homeboy’ is indeed the rat.


“No, he ain’t here. Friendly guy. Wonder what happened to him.”


They continue to chat, and no one notices that he’s not the man they think he is. In the days and weeks that follow, he starts to organize the prisoners. He’s soft-spoken, unlike his brother Ali, but in the current situation, that’s a plus.


Simultaneously, as she’s buying arms with Mass Anazar to prepare their attack, Asra communicates with Fatima Zahra by way of the pigeons, and with their round-about way, they each coordinate. Asra has no idea how Fatima Zahra can get messages to and from the prison, but she accepts that she has a way. For every message, Fatima Zahra has to contact her sister Scheherazade by mental transmission, who in turn speaks with Ali on Eora, and Ali makes contact with Aziz. The stock of mushrooms is running low.


When all is ready, the army of indigenous desert nomads, led by their chief Mass Anazar Ibn Ziri and the fearless resistant “Night Flight”, descend on the prison stealthily in the middle of the night. All of the prisoners know of the attack and are waiting. The guard dogs are tranquilized first, and the mesh wire fence is cut. The guards are no match for Asra’s martial techniques and the whole prison is taken without difficulty. The guards are locked in the cells, and the prisoners and the desert nomads leave together as one army. The first battle has been won.


When they are all far away, under the starry desert sky, they pitch their tents, and Mass Anazar Ibn Ziri gives a speech about their bravery. The nomads all learn Ali’s resistance song “We Gotta Move”, and it resounds to the heavens along with Mass Anazar’s drumming.


When everyone has turned in for the night, Asra slips into Aziz’s tent. “Ali my love! We did it!”


“Yes, there's something in the wind, and it sounds like a revolution.” He answers with a smile as they start to mingle under the covers. 

January 14, 2022 23:27

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