Death In The Caliphate
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
readers who know the webcomic I draw, Raghead the Fiendly Neighbourhood
Terrorist, will be familiar with the characters of Colin and Rose. It is my
pleasure and privilege to welcome them now to the world of prose fiction.
"I suppose you’re wondering why I summoned you here today."
The Khalifa Abu Rashid al Sirdardi, Commander of the
Faithful, Amir of the World, walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside.
Through the tinted bulletproof glass, the city looked as though it was bathed
in blue moonlight, for all that the noonday sun blazed down on the streets.
"I’m sure you’ll tell me as soon as you think fit," I
The Khalifa snorted. "And why do you imagine I’d have
called you here if I hadn’t seen fit to tell you?"
I kept my silence. He wasn’t really expecting an answer.
Besides, al Sirdardi’s huge office was so luxurious, and the air, after the
heat outside, so cool that I felt almost as though any word I spoke would sink
down into the dark blue carpet on the floor and disappear.
"I see," he said after a brief pause, still looking out at
the streets, "that the delegates have begun to arrive. Is everything all set?"
"My report will be on your desk –"
"I’m not talking about the report." Al Sirdardi slid the
curtain back into place and turned to me. His thick pale hands moved across the
breast of his black camel-hair robe, like blind animals searching for prey.
"You know how important this conference is."
"I know how important it is to you, Commander of the
Faithful," I said.
"Cut that Commander of the Faithful crap, Colin.
We’ve known each other too long for that kind of stupid ceremony." The Khalifa
sat down and stared at me across his desk. "Do you know why this conference is
"Well, it’s obviously necessary to show the vassals that we
have their interests in mind and so we need to take their opinion into account
when formulating our policies." That was the official line, though, of course,
nobody ever uses the word vassal. It’s always "brother nation" or some
such other euphemism. "Is that right, Comm...Khalifa?"
"Not even close, Colin." Al Sirdardi stroked his beard. It
was threaded through with silver now, but he was still an immensely vigorous
looking figure, as befit the Khalifa. I wondered, once again, what hidden
disabilities might lie under that black robe, kept in check by his doctors.
There were plenty of rumours, but they were so contradictory that I suspected
al Sirdardi himself of starting some of them as camouflage. "It’s a whole new
step we’re going to take here – we’re trying to make a new world for
"Yeah. But not everyone can see that, and those who can,
"What exactly do you mean, Khalifa?"
"This isn’t twenty years ago, Colin. We aren’t trying to set
up the Khilafat any longer. We aren’t running around fighting enemies on every
side. We’re a nation now. The first nation among equals, maybe, but a nation
all the same. And nations have their own priorities."
"There’s a time for war and a time for peace," I supplied.
"Right. And this is the time for peace. We can’t keep acting
as though we’re at war, or else we’ll end up at war again, and that is
something I will not allow." Al Sirdardi drummed his fingers on the
tabletop, an old habit of his when thinking hard. "What I am trying to achieve
is a modus vivendi with the rest of the world. I intend to try and find
a common ground on the religious level, a framework of common minimum values
everyone can agree on. If that succeeds, we can then move on to political
agreements. In the end, I want a world under our leadership, true, but a world
where everyone’s willing to let us lead, instead of resenting us and
waiting for an opportunity to strike. And hence this conference. It’s the first
"That sounds commendable," I said neutrally. "Though I can
see that this would lead to certain difficulties with some people."
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