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Death In The Caliphate
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 2

"Of course. Some people, as you said, would rather that we keep fighting everyone until we have the world at our feet. Some people wish we were still crucifying people and hacking off heads."

I stirred in my chair. "Speaking of that, Khalifa..."

"Yes, I know. That, actually, is why I called you, Colin. This business with the Bisarian delegate." Al Sirdardi leaned back in his seat and stared at me. "What do you know about it?"

I shrugged. "Not much more than the average person, I suppose. I’ve been busy arranging logistics for the conference, as you know." I bit my lip, thinking. "He disappeared sometime the night before last, hours after arriving at his hotel. Late yesterday afternoon his body was found in the desert, with the head cut off. That’s about all I’ve been told."

"You’re going to find out more about it," the Khalifa said. "I’m putting you on the job of discovering who’s behind this. Your assistants can carry on the arrangements for the conference. Most of the work’s done already, anyway."

"Me, Khalifa? Why? I assume the police are investigating."

"Of course they are, and they’ll either find nothing, or they’ll get some low level thug pushed in their direction for them to catch. It wasn’t just any killing, you know."

"It wasn’t?"

"No. Last night someone posted a video online, through an untraceable proxy account, naturally." Al Sirdardi poked at the keyboard of the computer on his desk, and swivelled the monitor my way. "Look."

I looked. It was like gazing back twenty years through a time machine. An African man in a flaming orange jumpsuit knelt on the hard-packed sand of the desert floor. A hooded figure in black stood behind him, brandishing a knife.

I had made videos like that myself, once. I remembered standing in the desert, the sun of high noon beating down, the knife heavy in my hand. I could feel the trickle of sweat down my back, the anvil-like heat on the hood over my face, the air like fire in my lungs. I felt once more the mounting irritation as the cowering wretch at my feet stumbled over his lines yet one more time, meaning we’d have to shoot the whole damn thing over again. I could feel my jaw muscles clench as I told myself that he deserved to have his head cut off for being such an incompetent clod. I could feel the old anger, tight in my throat and rising in my chest.

"Colin?" Al Sirdardi was leaning across the desk, an anxious look in his eyes. "Colin?"

"Sorry." I brought myself back to the present with a conscious effort. "Got lost for a minute in memories there."

"Yes, well." The Khalifa had paused the video, and now he started it again. The West African man was speaking, reading off lines in a high-pitched voice. I had greeted him at the airport the day before yesterday, as the very first delegates arrived. He was the only one from Bisaria, and had a somewhat lost air about him, as though he didn’t really know why he’d come and what he was supposed to be doing. "Listen to what he’s saying."

"This is the message," the Bisarian said. Sweat glittered on his blue-black skin. "This against the law and the principles on which the Khilafat was founded. This is your one and only warning. Either call off the conference, or else the other delegates will all share my fate, one by one. We will not permit the Khilafat to stray from the path of purity."

I swivelled my chair away as the hooded figure leaned forward with the knife. I didn’t need to watch that part. The feel of hot blood spurting over my hand, the agonised jerking of the terrified creature – no longer a man, nothing more than raw fear and pain – these were well known to me. I’d felt them many times. I let out a slow long breath.

"Clearly, this wasn’t done by one man," I observed.

"Obviously not. Whoever it is that is out to sabotage the conference."

"Can they do it?" I asked. "Can they actually sabotage the conference?"

"Of course they can. The delegates came here under a guarantee of safety, given by me. By the Khalifa." He paused for a moment to let that sink in. "If something happens to one of them, what dependence can anyone have on my word?"

[ Continue to page 3 ]


Genre:General Horror
Type:Long story
Rating:8.33 / 10
Rated By:5 users
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