Star Crossed: Part Seven

When the shuttle left the boarding station, it traversed the densely populated coastal region known primarily for its exceptional agriculture before entering the semi-arid heartland. As it approached its final destination, it passed through the rugged country of the high plateaus created by the meeting of two great mountain ranges. High elevations, barren steppes, fertile basins, and endless rivers gave the region a distinctive beauty. The shuttle’s last stop was to be the city of Onruk, sprawled along the shores of the Tsenï delta. There, he would find his target. Travelling amongst so many Valdevians was unnerving to say the least; keeping the symbiote in stasis was the only way they could both avoid detection. The hypnotic mantra repeating in a loop deep in the recesses of his consciousness was the only thing keeping it in a slumber. He had to keep himself calm and concentrate on the refrain; intense emotions could break the hypnosis. It was made clear to him that the target will be well guarded, hence the need for subterfuge. He painstakingly visualized his plan of attack and drew his snare around the target. Much like a spider, he wove his ever-expanding web with every bit of information he would receive about his victim’s life. Every new thread giving him yet another vantage point to explore for his final coup de grace. As the shuttle made its final approach to safely land at Onruk, he took a few moments to compose himself and let the stinging pain produced by the countless little tendrils of his new disguise, digging deeper into every pore of his body, wash over him. He was here at long last. 
His eyes, she couldn’t look away from them. His laboured breathing, the fine sheen of sweat clinging to his face and slowly dripping down his beard, it all seemed so surreal as if time itself came to a standstill. Her hand still trembling, she moved closer to him, desperately trying to school her face into impassivity as she lowered her gun to her side. I’m sorry was all she could think as she watched him take his last breath. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, she thought when he finally closed his eyes. A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked up to meet the hardened and terrifying eyes of a man who bore a strange symbol cut into the very skin of his forehead. She felt uneasy, almost as if he was staring into her soul and could read her most intimate thoughts. I mustn’t let him see, she reminded herself under his probing glare. His face soon broke into a satisfied smile, cupping her face with his hands he said with something close to glee in his voice, “You came to us as a seeker and now you have proven your willingness to embrace the path of true enlightenment. You are ready at last to become a true acolyte.”
She forced herself to smile as the older man produced a strange looking knife from his belt and started cutting into her forehead. Rivulets of blood soon ran down her face, turning her vision dark brown. She could feel herself tensing up with every cut, fear surging through her entire being and drowning her in a sea of terror. She was screaming, her lungs burning, but couldn’t hear any sound. There was nothing more than the deafening silence punctuated by the sickening sound of skin ripping as the old man’s knife carved its way across her forehead. NO! NO! She was fighting will all her might to escape his grip. She was thrashing, screaming, biting, kicking, she was a mad woman fighting for her life. Ya Rab, Rescue me! she implored. Her screams finally broke through the silence, shattering the old man’s face into a million shards each one embedding itself into her face; but her mind could not register the pain and agony this should elicit, instead she felt herself suffocating. I’m dying, she thought. WAKE UP! Something yelled at her from the depths of her mind. WAKE UP! She suddenly found herself seating upright on a bed in a dark room.
Where am I? Who am I? Confusion draped her mind like a blanket. She was desperately trying to find her way out of the fog that threatened to drag her back into obscurity. Breathing hard, drenched in sweat, and clenching the blanket laying haphazardly across the bed, she forced herself to take deep, long breaths to calm her racing mind. Soon, light started creeping into the room, gentle and warm at first, followed by the arrival of a young nurse. “Are you alright Zaya? I heard you scream,” the nurse said as she approached the bed and gently touched her shoulder. Still haunted by the sensation of the knife cutting into her skin and the warm blood gushing from it, she flinched away from the touch. “It is alright Zaya, you are safe. Do you know where you are?” the nurse asked. She shook her head and closed her eyes, trying to remember. One single thought overshadowed all the others, more of a memory really. The scent of flowers, a female voice in the distance, melodious and soothing, the  laughter of a child running into strong and welcoming arms: mother, father. She held on to this echo from the past and slowly made her way back to the surface, out of the fog and into the light. Zaya, I’m Zaya. Everything started falling into place one by one, like the pieces of a puzzle finally coming together.
“I’m at the Dadali Medical Center on Valdeva Prime,” she said with a sense of relief.
“Very good Zaya. Can you tell me what happened? What woke you up?” probed the nurse. 
“I don’t know….I can’t really remember. Sorry.”
“It is alright Zaya. You are undergoing an extremely gruelling treatment, your mind is still very fragile,” said the young nurse while gently laying Zaya back into her bed.
The old woman closed her eyes as she listened to her young student’s impeccable recitation. She was wearing the traditional blue and gray cloak of Valdevian master poets. Her hijab, adorned with drawings of blooming southern flowers, hugged her gentle face. Wisdom and nobility radiated from her as she basked in the melodious voice of her pupil. The dark grey color of her skin tone contrasted with her veil’s subtle tinges of pastel. Despite her advanced years, Tonbaya Sowen still bore a striking resemblance to her daughter. For many years her presence brought Jorran unbearable pain; she was a constant reminder of what he had lost. His self-imposed exile to Kilwa was the only solution he could conjure up to salvage his strained relationship with his mother-in-law. He knew no one was suffering more than her from the absence of her only child, that her pain was that of a mother.
He had tried at first to remain close to Zaya’s family, but he soon found himself consumed by his own sorrow. If his wife’s family allowed him to take her so far away from them, to a station on the fringes of Alliance space, it was out of respect for Valdevian culture which held bonded pairs in high regard. Once a year, her parents made the long journey to Kilwa in order to see their beloved daughter still lying unresponsive in her regeneration tank. Every year his heart clenched with sadness and guilt as he watched his mother-in-law gently reciting Zaya’s favourite poems to her unconscious daughter. When she finally woke up from her coma, Jorran sent a private message to his in laws asking them to keep this news to themselves, citing safety concerns. His unannounced return to Valdeva Prime, Zaya in tow, took her parents by surprise.
“Salamu aleikum my son. Do come in,” said the master poet.
Jorran was so lost in his own thoughts, he didn’t notice the student’s recitation coming to an end. Since their return home, Zaya’s parents often visited the Dadali Medical Center to bond with their child anew. They were patient, kind, and above all else understanding of their daughter’s unusual condition. She no longer remembered them and couldn’t return their affection. Jorran knew all too well  just how painful that was. Despite all this, they remained the devoted and loving parents they’ve always been to her.  
“Wa aleikum salam mother. Forgive the intrusion,” he responded. 
“No need to apologize, Maryam was almost done with her assessment. Please come in and take a seat,” Tonbaya said as her pupil stood up to take her leave.
“Jazak’Allah Khair Odanji. I hope my performance was worthy of your teachings,” said the young woman.
“I am glad to see my efforts have not been in vain,” answered Tonbaya with a faint smile on her lips.
“I am honoured Odanji. Wa aleikum salam,” Maryam said before exiting the pavilion.  
“I am on my way to visit Zaya. Would you like to join me?” asked Jorran.
“It is very kind of you to invite me along. But I do not wish to intrude on your time with Zaya. You are also mending your relationship with her. You both need time to get reacquainted.”
“I assure you mother, you are not intruding. I know Zaya would love to see you as well. Please, do me the honour of your company.”
Tonbaya gave her son in law a warm smile and nodded. Jorran could clearly perceive the deep sense of affection emanating from his mother in law, but guilt quickly overtook his initial happiness. I’m sorry, he thought.
“Enough of that Jorran. I can sense your guilt from here. You have nothing to feel guilty about. You have suffered just as much as us. Let us no longer dwell on the past and embrace instead the blessing Allah has bestowed upon our family,” Tonbaya said.
“You are right mother. Alhamdulillah for all things,” Jorran replied. 
They both walked out of the pavilion and slowly made their way toward Jorran’s shuttle parked at the very end of the sprawling garden surrounding the Institute of Arts. 

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Star Crossed: Part Six

The soft morning light hit the Masjid’s beautiful dome. Bouncing off its reflecting surface made of millions of crystals, the light passed through its towering prism-like minarets producing a breathtaking display of soft and warm colours encasing the entire structure. It was surrounded by a massive garden dutifully maintained by the botany guild and sectioned off into smaller parcels, each one showcasing a different style of landscaping. The masjid stood at the centre of this lush and intricate maze like a mesmerizing coral gently swimming in a sea of greenery. Four small pavilions were scattered around the garden, embodying various approaches to Valdevian architecture. These ornate buildings provided shelter from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Reserved for quiet contemplation, they were also a productive space for those committed to the memorization of the Holy Qur’an. The fruit orchard located near the eastern pavilion offered an exceptional view of the surrounding mountains and their renowned beauty.

The glaciers of Genci, standing proudly at eight thousand feet above sea level, served as a majestic backdrop to the city of Onruk. From the heart of these mountains flowed the endless stream of clear blue waters that gave birth to the Batsyang river. As it coursed through the valley bellow foaming and frothing, the watercourse bifurcated along the way into several smaller distributaries driving the precious water further into the confines of the vale. The tumultuous peregrination of the one so often referred to as the mighty flow in Valdevian folklore ended when it poured its sweet waters into the massive repository of the Tsenï delta. Onruk meandered along the shores of this river like a snake slowly stretching into the aptly named valley of thousand lights.

The isle of Sanog stood like a lone sentinel in the middle of the delta. Its shores battered from all sides by powerful tides were carved over time into steep jagged cliffs. A strange spectacle, known to attract many wildlife enthusiasts, unfolded every year in these escarpments as thousands of oürdans converged to the shores of Sanog. These massive bicephalous birds travelled immense distances to complete their annual migratory journey from the woodlands to the delta. The giant cracks, crevices and holes found in these cliffs offered the perfect shelter for their nests, and the Tsenï’s rich waters an irreplaceable source of nourishment for their offspring.

The interior of the Isle was covered by tall grasses and odd rock formations said to have been made by a long extinct hunter-gatherer culture. The Dadali Medical Center was the only structure built on Sanog. The extensive complex occupied a large terrain divided into various departments offering highly specialized care. Valdevian architecture always sought to blend into its surrounding environment, to never eclipse the natural wonders of their many worlds. This need for balance permeated much of Valdevian life: from their artistry to their politics. A subtle push and pull between need and duty; between the necessities of societal existence and the sacredness of all life. Much of the rocks used in the construction of Dadali were mined from deep within the valley. From afar, their natural greenish hue gave the impression that the center was indeed an extension of the surrounding grasslands. This optical illusion was further enhanced at night when, due to an enzymatic reaction unique to this valley’s flora, every plant and fungi emitted a bright bluish glow. The ambient bioluminescence shimmering on its well-polished exterior walls merged the contours of Dadali with the glowing tall grasses of Sanog; rendering the medical centre practically invisible to the naked eye from a certain distance.


Zaya was lying on a small bed held in suspension in the middle of the room, her mind still swimming in a haze of confused thoughts, partial images, and elusive recollections. The Memory Regression Chamber was deliberately kept bare, with the exception of the bed and three large probes affixed to the ceiling. Since her admission to the Dadali Medical Center two weeks ago, she underwent daily treatments to rebuild her fractured memory. Her mind was said to have been splintered in such a way that it seemed beyond repair at first; like a mirror pulverized into millions of shards floating in a vast sea of nothingness. Valdevians being a race of telepaths however, understood better than most the intricacies of the mind. A meticulous reconstruction of her shattered inner world was undertaken; every round of this intense therapy attempting to reclaim from the void a little more of her lost memories. The process was not without pain, however. Every session left Zaya exhausted and disorientated, her head spinning with a deluge of disjointed images while unbearable pain coursed through her entire being. During the memory regression process the room was always kept dark, which only added to her post-therapy confusion.

“Take long and deep breaths Zaya,” said the all-too-familiar voice.

She could feel the bile rapidly making its way up as nausea gripped her once more. Light crept back into the room when the previously darkened windows turned translucent. Clenching her fists, she forced herself to look at the landscape coming into view. Her eyes drifted toward the halo of vivid colors shining brightly around the little masjid situated on the other side of the delta. Transfixed by its beauty, she slowly regained control over her racing mind and serenity gradually overcame the dread and confusion. Her thoughts were once more turning toward pleasant memories of a small cloister garden, the sound of water gushing from a fountain, the smell of flowers….and Jorran.


The advent of The Great Reformation led by the Seven Enlightened Sages changed the very foundations of Valdevian life. This cultural and spiritual revolution triggered the extensive transformation of their society from a loose federation of warring clans, prone to raiding neighbouring systems, into a largely pacifist civilization. One entirely dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and the establishment of lucrative trade relations. This elevation of intellectual pursuits above all else, as the noblest of all endeavors, contrasted drastically with the prior social order organized along a strict caste system. Where once birth dictated one’s life and place in society, at the detriment of their talents, the reformation weakened the hold of this stringent hierarchical system over Valdevian society. One could now be born into a certain caste and yet find their calling elsewhere: sages becoming merchants, traders taking up the mantle of fighter, builders becoming sages, or warriors turning into farmers.

The sciences and the arts grew exponentially under the tutelage of rich patrons from the trader caste, turning their civilization into a technological juggernaut. In this post-reformation society, a particular disdain was often levelled against the warrior caste seen as the relic of a less evolved and violent past. With their superior technology and shrewd mercantilism, Valdevians who were once nothing more than a minor civilization in their native galaxy, became over the centuries a prominent power not to be ignored. They expanded their settlements to many systems, acquiring vast new territories and spreading their influence throughout the galaxy.

Three hundred years later, the writings of Brenya, a sage hailing from a little-known order, gained traction amongst certain clans of the warrior caste. He bemoaned the loss of what he called the true Valdevian spirit and railed against the prevailing mercantilism. He was particularly incensed by the abandonment of the social strata and customary interactions inherent to the caste system. His philosophy spoke of a return to the glory of traditional values through an ascetic warrior ethos. The current culture, he believed, promoted indulgence in excess and luxuries rendering the Valdevian soul feeble and prone to debauchery. Soon, many warrior clans found in Brenya’s teachings a renewed sense of identity and dignity.His followers called themselves Kadoj Brenya, the devotees of Brenya, and lived their lives according to the sage’s radical philosophy.

Two centuries later, the Kadoj splintered from the rest of Valdevian society and made the Lhail system their new home. Amongst them were those who settled in the mountains of Scatorr and whose dedication to the tenets of Brenya was unparalleled. Taming this savage and inauspicious land was, for the most fanatical of Brenya’s devotees, a testament to their faith. Unlike the rest of the Kadoj, the warrior clans of Scatorr adopted an extremely austere lifestyle prohibiting all luxuries and adhered to a strict code of conduct based on a literal interpretation of Brenya’s tenets. Rigorous self-discipline was for them the only path that could lead to a transcendental state of perfect existence.

Islam reached the Valdevian territories eight hundred years after The Great Reformation when Alduvian Da’ees en route to the Nadji homeworld crash landed on a small planet located in the Tenva System. From there, this new religion spread and quickly gained followers amongst the Valdevian population. As it grew and became the main religion, many reforms were undertaken. The last remnants of the caste system where finally abandoned. The predatory mercantilism, responsible for the staggering prosperity of the Valdevians, was also forsaken as it was deemed anathema to the core precepts of Islam. The Kadoj’s relationship with the greater Valdevian civilization was always difficult and tense. Their brethren’s newfound faith only widened the gap between them. They perceived the Valdevian mass conversion to Islam as yet another proof of their kin’s rejection of traditional Valdevian values. In response, the Kadoj banned all proselytism by Muslim da’ees on their territory, and even went so far as to exile those amongst their people sympathetic to the message of Islam. Eventually, a tenuous rapprochement occurred between the two entities, leading to the establishment of better diplomatic relations. For most Valdevians however, the Kadoj remained their misguided brothers and sisters still attached to backward ideals and in dire need of guidance.


The Tallinns belonged to a minor clan who made the Western plateaus of Scatorr their home. While small, the family took great pride in its lineage. They were amongst the first ones to have settled in the rugged and inhospitable mountains of Scatorr. The Book of Rectitude, containing all the writings of Brenya, rested on a prominent altar in their family’s home, serving as guidance to generations of Tallinns and molding them into true devotees. Torean Tallinn and his mate from the Maygare of the Eastern plateaus had three children, the youngest being a little boy named Jorran. As was the tradition, he endured from a young age the harsh training undertaken by the warriors of Scatorr. He was a vivacious child with a sharp and inquisitive mind who longed to see more of the galaxy. In his teens he joined the rangers who patrolled the southern border of the Lhail system. More than once, he watched from afar the alien ships travelling to and fro the neighboring Valdevian system; a deep yearning rising within him each time.

It is during a joint military exercise many years later that he finally had the chance to visit Stariia, the closest Valdevian planet to his home system. While Valdevians where far more technologically advanced than his people, he found them to be too dependent on their devices and lacking the raw warrior instinct and discipline of the Kadoj. He was nonetheless impressed by their capacity to adapt rapidly to change and their incessant curiosity that led them to continuously learn and innovate. A part of him felt strangely at home in this society where his desire to question and to learn new things was not met with disapproval and scorn but was rather encouraged and even welcomed. He started sneaking alone into the streets of Stariia, away from the prying eyes and ears of his fellow Kadoj.

Giving free reign to his overwhelming curiosity, he visited as many of the markets, libraries, houses of knowledge, and masjids as he could without raising suspicion and drawing attention to his frequent disappearances from their barracks. Raised as a devout Kadoj Brenya, he knew very little about the religion of the Valdevians; mostly he heard it came from a distant galaxy and was foreign to everything his people held dear. He asked as many questions as he could on all sorts of subjects and engaged in, at times, frustrating debates on matters ranging from warfare to politics. He quickly realized the severe gaps in his general knowledge and just how little he knew of the world outside of his Kadoj upbringing.

During one of his clandestine excursions, he stumbled upon a group of people offering a recital in one of the city’s public gardens. They all wore blue cloaks adorned with green bands and were reciting Valdevian poems to a growing crowd of enthralled spectators. He later found out that these were young apprentices studying to become master poets. A young woman wearing a light blue veil suddenly took the stage and started reciting The Morning Blossoms of My Beloved’s Heart, a classic of Valdevian poetry revered even amongst the Kadoj. Her melodious voice rose above the sound of water gushing from the fountain serving as centrepiece to the small cloister garden where he stood mesmerized by her recitation. His heart beating wildly, he continued to walk toward her, trying to get as close as possible to the young woman. A deep sense of longing invaded his heart as his mind reached out to hers of its own volition. Embarrassed by this inexcusable breach of decorum, he desperately tried to reign in his wandering mind, but it was too late. The recitation came to an abrupt end as the young poet stood still, her eyes locked onto his. Despite his efforts, his mind stubbornly continued to reach out to hers. A lifetime of self-discipline and strict training melted away as his entire being called out to this woman he had never met before. Somewhere in the inner recesses of his soul he knew what was happening; half intrigued and half horrified he surrendered to the inevitable.


Tonbaya Sowen, hailed from a long line of master poets whose achievements shaped Valdevian poetry. The Sowen committed themselves to the teaching and preservation of Valdevian traditional arts, of which poetry was the crown jewel. From a young age, they honed their talents to take up the mantle of master poets. Tonbaya was said to have been exceptionally talented and rose to prominence when she was still a mere youth. She found her mate in Arneda Briin, a young botanist newly arrived from the Tenva system and seeking to join the botany guild. A few years later, they were blessed with the arrival of their only child; a daughter they named Zaya to commemorate Tonbaya’s great grandmother, an illustrious Valdevian master poet. Much like her mother, Zaya took to the arts as a child and showed great promise. Under her mother’s tutelage she thrived and soon joined the prestigious Institute of Arts on Valdeva Prime. She brought honor to both the Sowen and the Briin with her rapid ascension to the highest ranks of apprenticeship. When time came for Zaya to embark on her own search for a mate, her mother had high hopes she would find him amongst the many orders of scholars or the artisan guilds. But, the destiny of Tonbaya’s daughter laid elsewhere.

While a political and economic rapprochement with the Kadoj was deemed necessary and desirable, most Valdevians looked upon them with a mixture of disdain and pity. Their continued rejection of Islam and their attachment to a lifestyle reminiscent of pre-reformation Valdevia further cemented this condescension toward the Kadoj. When Tonbaya Sowen learned that her daughter found her mate amongst these people, she was devastated. Both the Briin and the Sowen have been devout Muslims for countless generations. The idea that their child should be bonded to a Kadoj Brenya was inconceivable for her parents.

The bonding process at the heart of all Valdevian marriages usually takes months during which both parties gradually reach a level of harmony, eventually becoming bonded pairs for life. Both minds would find themselves being pulled inexorably toward each other like two halves desperately trying to become one. Thus, Valdevian courtship was not just a matter of getting to know each other’s proclivities and temperaments; it was also a period of adjustment where both parties forged a telepathic link allowing them to become of one mind and one heart. It is said however that in some rare cases when two minds are completely compatible and in sync, they immediately gravitate toward one another and form an instant bond; as was the case for Jorran and Zaya. Valdevian tradition always held these types of bonded pairs in the highest regard, even when it involved the Kadoj.

Both families begrudgingly accepted the situation, insisting however upon certain conditions. Zaya’s family demanded that Jorran not only embraces Islam but also dedicates the next two years of his life to an intense immersive Da’wah program. Both Arneda and Tonbaya were weary of having  in their family a son in law still beholden to the precept of Brenya. The Tallinns, for their part, insisted on Jorran maintaining the traditions of his warrior clan in his new household and passing it along to his progeny. This meant that Zaya was to abandon her apprenticeship as a poet to embrace instead a career in the military, since all Tallinns must be born of a Valen Sventor or a warrior womb. For Jorran and Zaya, this entailed a great deal of change, each abandoning their previous lives to build a new one together. While their relationship with their respective families was polite and cordial, they knew that centuries of disagreements and mutual disapproval would not simply fade away.


A handful of patients strolled quietly through Dadali’s topiary garden, taking advantage of the beautiful late summer weather. Zaya was seating on a stone bench carved from the same greenish rocks that made up most of the medical centre. The specialists had warned her that while she may never completely recover her memory, details of her personal life were most likely to be the first to resurface. To finally remember her past with Jorran, her parents, and parts of her childhood was a beginning she hadn’t hoped for when she first arrived here. But now, she was cautiously optimistic. She felt Jorran’s mind long before she even saw him approaching the bench, as if their bond was getting stronger a little bit more every day.


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Narratives Are About Power, And They Matter.

Originally published in September 2016

Troublesome Thirties

In August, I had the pleasure of publishing an article in Islam and science fiction called Should a Muslim narrative matter in science fiction? The main idea behind this article was to discuss how, at its best, science fiction as a genre possesses an uncanny ability to offer insightful social commentaries. It presents itself as an interesting and creative outlet to tackle some of the most controversial social, political, and economic issues plaguing mankind. By often taking place in an ever shifting and evolving context far removed from our own reality, it allows people to take a step back, and in doing so disentangle themselves emotionally from the subject matter; thus offering individuals the necessary space to reconsider and revisit the topic from a different perspective.

Fast forward to a month later and parts of my article were quoted in an article published on IO9, a well-known hub for all…

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Star Crossed: Part Five

He ran endlessly through the pitch black jungle, leaping effortlessly over the massive detritus of mangled roots littering the forest floor. Using his bio-sonar to navigate in the dense wilderness surrounding the Cluster’s outpost, he could hear in the distance the terrifying sounds of the carnivorous creatures that infested the lowlands. Only a few more clicks separated him from his camouflaged jumper. Blowing his own cover to protect another agent was probably the most reckless thing he’s ever done. Running for his life while trying to avoid the Cluster’s acolytes and the ravenous local wildlife was certainly not how he originally planned on ending his mission, but strategy demanded this sacrifice of him.

The grove of old Socoma trees keeping out of sight the clearing where he hid his jumper finally came to view. These giant trees, resembling wooden towers sculpted from obsidian, often grew to unimaginable heights in close proximity. Linking their boughs to one another, they formed intricate domes of lush verdure serving as nests to swarms of colourful songbirds. As he ventured further into the grove, the enchanting melodies emanating from the canopy came to an abrupt end replaced instead by a suffocating silence. The birds watched him closely, monitoring his progression through their territory, remaining vigilant to a possible attack from this bipedal creature now so close to their breeding ground. Finally reaching the clearing, he hid momentarily behind the colossal root of an aging Socoma, waiting to see if his pursuers were still hot on his trail. Reassured that the acolytes had lost his trace along the way, he approached cautiously his camouflaged jumper and gave a verbal command to uncloak the small ship before  running toward it.

His race was soon cut short by a searing pain suddenly ripping through his right thigh. Aware that the acolytes found him again, he continued limping toward the jumper, desperate to avoid capture. Blood was now dripping the length of his leg leaving a long red trail behind him. Dragging his useless limb and clenching his teeth to keep from crying out in pain, he continued staggering toward his ship. He could sense movement all around him, the Cluster’s acolytes were in intercept mode which explained why he was still alive. He couldn’t allow himself to be captured; he had seen first hand how the Cluster deals with its enemies. Despite his years of training in counter-interrogation measures he already knew he would eventually break. Coming to grips with his increasingly dire situation, he decided to make one last stand. Retrieving a small weapon from his shoulder holster he turned around and shot two acolytes advancing on his position. As the two lifeless men fell to the ground he continued shooting, trying to take accurate shots and make the most of his limited ammo.

The remaining acolytes immediately retreated behind the tree line to take cover, waiting for their prey now pinned just a few steps away from his jumper to run out of ammunitions; time was after all on their side. Knowing that they would rather see him dead then to risk having him escape, he decided to force their hand and provoke them into an all out attack that would certainly result in his death. He continued hobbling toward his ship, getting dangerously close to it, almost reaching its port side. Just then a new pain far more intense than the previous one hit him right in his back. Crumbling immediately to the ground, he struggled to take painful breaths while slowly crawling toward his ship. A crimson stain soon bloomed on his shirt as blood seeped from the gaping whole in his sternum. His pursuers now stood all around him with their weapons drawn as if they still expected him to put up a fight. His breathing turning more ragged and finding himself unable to crawl any longer, he laid on his back painfully gasping for air.

An older acolyte, with a purity seal crudely cut into his forehead, crouched by his side trying to assess the severity of his injury. He could feel himself getting lighter as life ebbed from his body; he knew he would die soon and that thought filled him with a strange satisfaction. The world seemed to be tilting around him as the edges of his vision darkened. Amongst the many faces staring back at him, he recognized one whose eyes were filled with a sorrow she hid behind a well-practiced mask of indifference. She held a tracker pistol in her slightly trembling hand, no doubt the one she used to blow a whole in his chest. You did good kid, he thought smiling faintly at her before closing his eyes for the last time.


Jorran starred intently at Zaya, trying to detect any signs of distress on her face as she sat silently listening to General Satang. Since the arrival of the army intelligence ship on Kilwa, the entire staff was on edge. Their presence brought back painful memories of the war that left no one unscathed; a conflict that had almost ripped the very fabric of the alliance apart. The climate of fear and distrust that permeated life in those days still lingered under the semblance of normalcy of the postwar era; a buildup of resentment and frustrations waiting for an unfortunate spark to ignite it all. The last time he saw General Satang his life shattered into a million pieces and he became a wounded soul adrift in a world of sorrow. He could still remember the General’s empty words meant to convey sadness on behalf of the State and promises of continued support as he stood over a cryogenic tank containing Zaya’s badly injured body. That image still filled his heart with an incredible pain. Closing his eyes briefly, he took a deep breath to steady his mind, focusing once more on the General’s words.

“You can imagine how pleased we were to hear of your recovery, Lieutenant Briin. I must say however that Commander Tallinn’s decision to not immediately inform Army Intelligence of your sudden improvement is perplexing to say the least,” said the General.

The large vein pulsating in his neck betrayed the anger lacking from his deceitfully relaxed voice. Citing security concerns, Jorran asked both Dr. Tolmen and the psychogeneticist to refrain from sending to headquarters any reports pertaining to Zaya’s case. While he knew the Doctor honoured his request out of loyalty to his friend and commanding officer, the young psychogeneticist obviously didn’t have any such reservations. From the moment Zaya woke up, Jorran knew that her past would eventually catch up to her. He tried to delay the inevitable for as long as he could. The General was well within his right to launch an official complaint and report Jorran’s actions; some might even qualify his insubordination of dangerous and reckless. But, the latest attack on Zaya’s life rekindled his trepidations about her past relationship with the General. More than ever Jorran was convinced that he needed to remain vigilant.

“After reading your medical file, to which the good Doctor gave us access to with great reluctance, it seems you suffer from a rather serious case of memory loss,” said the General while glancing briefly at Jorran before returning his gaze to Zaya’s impassive face. “What exactly do you remember, if anything, of your life in the military Lieutenant Briin?” he asked.

“Nothing. I don’t even know who you are,” answered Zaya in a shaky voice betraying her mounting frustrations at being questioned about a past she could no longer recall.

“Not even a little? Maybe some names or faces from your previous missions?” he insisted.

“I can’t remember anything from my life, not even what I desperately want to recall.”

A gentle yet sorrowful feeling enveloped Jorran as she said this. Sometimes, words only got in the way, cumbersome and too clumsy to really express the depth and essence of one’s true feelings. This however was a purely Valdevian moment between the two of them; two bonded souls sharing a private instant to which the rest of the world was oblivious. This was her way of saying I’m sorry for not remembering you. 

“General, the Lieutenant hasn’t completely recovered yet. She is still struggling. As you already know, she’s been seeing the station’s psychogeneticist since she regained consciousness, and even the therapist doesn’t know how to reverse whatever damages Zaya’s brain sustained. We are taking it one day at a time and trying not to overwhelm the Lieutenant in the process,” interjected Jorran in an attempt to dissuade the General from persisting in his current line of questioning.

“I can appreciate your current predicament Commander. Lieutenant Briin is your wife after all and you wish to protect her. But in her present state, without any memory of her previous life, she is a liability we cannot afford.”

“What exactly are you saying General?” asked Jorran inching forward in his chair; his enlarged black pupils narrowing dangerously as fear and anger coursed through his body. This was a thinly veiled menace, he thought to himself.

“Do not forget yourself Commander. I suggest you take a deep breath before you do something stupid. I’m simply referring to the fact that while she might not recall her past, there are those who would still see her as a possible threat. After all, was she not just targeted by an assassin? Who is to say there are not more attempts in the works?” said the General in a taut voice.

“What did you get her involved in, Satang? You never told me exactly how she got injured or what was the nature of her mission. How can I protect her when I don’t know where the danger is coming from?” asked an agitated and angry Jorran.

“Information pertaining to Lieutenant Briin’s work with Army Intelligence is on a need to know basis, Commander. All you need to know for now is that Zaya was one of our greatest assets and her work was without parallel.”

“What kind of work was I involved in, General?” asked Zaya.

“I’m sorry Lieutenant, but in your present condition I cannot take the risk of discussing your previous work with you. I’m sorry, I know this not what you want to hear Lieutenant, but it is for the best.”

“Best for whom exactly? It is obvious that I was involved in something so secret that even Commander Tallinn couldn’t find any information on it. I don’t know how close we were, but I have a feeling I was working directly under you. If I was, as you claim, one of your greatest assets, then I’d like to think that I’ve gained at the very least some of your respect. I feel like a sitting duck General, I have no idea who I am or what I’ve done in the past. If I am in eminent danger, then keeping me in the dark as you are doing now makes me an easy target and a liability to anyone who is close to me,” she said glancing briefly at Jorran before returning her determined gaze to the General.

The general slumped in his chair, sighing deeply and shaking his head. Jorran could see the warring emotions dancing on Imahan Satang’s face. While his name never came up in the public commemorations dedicated to the heroes of the war: the men and women whose hard work, commitment, and sacrifice eventually tilted the balance of power in favour of the Intergalactic Alliance; those privy to classified information knew all too well that General Satang was the real architect of the Alliance’s final victory. Very little was actually known, outside of the official state narrative, as to what eventually led to the defeat of the Shadow Cluster. Despite the Alliance throwing all of its military might at this elusive enemy, its heresy spread across the Allied worlds like a virulent infection, turning a segment of the population into fanatical followers devoted to its victory over the Alliance.

At first, the cluster acted in great secrecy, proselytizing discreetly, cautious of attracting any unwanted attention. Its influence grew quietly, gaining followers in every world, every field, every strata of society, soon even reaching the highest echelons of power. By the time the danger posed by the Cluster’s growing power became all too apparent, it was poised for a complete take-over of the Intergalactic Alliance and the destruction of everything it stood for. The Cluster’s machinations threatened to rip the very fabric of the Alliance apart. The wave of violence it unleashed and the ease with which it seemed to find and strike at its fiercest detractors generated a mounting paranoia that culminated in a collective hysteria. In the end, war became inevitable when several worlds finally split from the Alliance and committed their resources to the Shadow Cluster’s cause.

“I assure you Lieutenant, you not only have my respect but also my deepest gratitude. You might not remember what you’ve done for the Alliance, but I do. Your sacrifice saved us all. Commander Jorran, while I cannot share with you the details pertaining to Zaya’s previous work with Army Intelligence, I have every intention of helping you in keeping her safe. I’ve taken the liberty of reassigning you temporarily to Valdeva Prime in….”

“What?” yelled a stunned Jorran interrupting the General mid sentence.

“I realize that you hold me responsible for Zaya’s terrible injury, and in a sense you might be right. You think that I do not care for her, that I simply wish to neutralize a possible liability. But, you’re wrong about that Commander. I came to admire Zaya’s dedication and devotion over time, she was an excellent agent and my protege. I can understand your obvious frustration at being kept in the dark and being reassigned without previous consultation on my part, but time is of the essence Commander. We have to get Zaya out of this station immediately before she is targeted again. The moment I became aware of her awakening, I feared for her life. That is why I’ve made some arrangements before coming here. You can resent me all you want Commander, but this is the only way Zaya’s safety can be ensured. Valdeva Prime has always been a stronghold of the Alliance, the cluster made very little inroads amongst your people. The Lieutenant will be safer there and I’ve already admitted her to the Dadali Medical Centre. She will be seen by some of the best Valdevian Doctors in the Alliance, and they’ll have the advantage of possessing an intimate knowledge of the Valdevian mind. I’ll assign a security detail to ensure Zaya’s safety at all time. It is imperative she regains her memory,” said the General, his voice laced with urgency.

“Why?” asked Zaya softly.

“Because the Shadow Cluster is far from defeated, Lieutenant. It will strike again and we need to be ready.”


Star Crossed Part Six


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Should A Muslim Perspective Matter In Science Fiction?

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Storytelling has always been an integral part of human traditions. Every story serves as a medium to convey ideas, pass on values and norms, or invite audiences to ponder and reflect. Some of the greatest stories ever told were intended to be a reflection on the world we live in. Both Huxley’s Brave New World, and Hugo’s Les Miserables—although belonging to wildly different genres—are perfect examples of stories examining the human condition with perspicacity and creativity. Science Fiction particularly has produced over the decades stories that allow an incredible level of range and variety, while taking place in an ever shifting and evolving context. This fluidity in storytelling is what makes this genre an interesting vehicle for tackling complex and challenging ideas.

While Muslims are often consumers of science fiction, their impact as producers of new sci-fi material is unfortunately negligible. However, one could easily argue that many of the contemporary anxieties experienced by Muslims fit perfectly into the themes that have always been staples of the genre. Politics, class, warfare, marginalization, and surveillance are topics that could be revisited and reimagined through a uniquely Muslim perspective. The personalization of stories to reflect the lived experience of Muslims could broaden the realm of science fiction regarded too long as a mostly Western phenomenon.

George Orwell wrote 1984 to depict the dangers of a totalitarian government. Horrified by the exactions of totalitarianism in Spain and Russia, he used storytelling to address the control such a government would exert on its citizenry in order to maintain and increase its power. In his novel, propaganda and surveillance are two pervasive themes. Both are used by Orwell to construct a claustrophobic setting in which every action, every thought is carefully controlled and managed. His depiction of a dystopian authoritarian society was such, that elements of his story bled into our own vocabulary. Doublethink, Big Brother, and Newspeak are constantly used today in reference to overt government propaganda and surveillance.

For many Muslims in the West, anti-Muslim rhetoric and intrusive government surveillance are very much at the forefront of their anxieties. Much like Orwell used science fiction to voice his trepidations about communism, Muslims could also use it to bring their own experiences to a wider audience in order to dispel misconceptions, and question the vehement discourse of Islamophobia. As a community often subjected to a narrative that demonizes them and depicts them as the ultimate “other” this type of storytelling could help bridge the gap separating them from mainstream society. When a reader delves deeper into the world created by a writer similarities become evident between their two worlds, and understanding starts to emerge. As a genre that often confronts preconceived ideas by proposing alternatives to the established narrative, science fiction is perfectly positioned to challenge the discourse of alienation, and marginalization levelled against scores of Muslims daily.

Military science fiction, as a sub-genre of sci-fi interested in the future of warfare, often discusses the moral philosophy that justifies war as a necessity. It also examines the evolution of weapons, and the usage of technology for military purposes. Vonnegut, Heinlein, Haldeman, and Scott-Card, have all tackled in their stories the logistical complications and emotional effects of warfare. While in Starship Troopers, Heinlein approaches the topic as an almost philosophical thesis on the virtue of military service and absolute allegiance to the state, Vonnegut and Haldeman use storytelling as a way of coming to terms with their own experience as soldiers.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut examines the impact of war on the lives of soldiers. Beyond the senseless loss of life, he explores the guilt experienced by those who survive it. Unable to deal with reality, his main character Billy Pilgrim, conjures up a whole new world far removed from reality. Vonnegut exposes with tact the burden carried by so many soldiers long after the war ended. They often continue to be plagued by sorrow and guilt throughout their lives. By humanizing soldiers, he creates a story questioning the very narrative that presents war as a necessary evil. In The Forever War, Joe Haldeman discusses, through the journey of his reluctant hero William Mandella, the futility of war. He skillfully depicts a conflict sparked by economic need and maintained for centuries through sheer stubbornness. While the soldiers no longer remember the real purpose of the war, they continue fighting and dying for the supposed safety of their world. War becomes the status quo to be maintained at all cost.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the changing nature of “warfare” as it pertains to the war on terror. From the very moment it began, the established moral and legal traditions meant to legislate armed conflicts were relentlessly challenged. The war against terrorism was said to be a “fundamentally different kind of war from more traditional armed conflict.”[1] The primary argument presented to justify this shift in the fundamental moral principles of warfare, claimed that this conflict differed from all other. Hence, new rules and legal considerations must be applied.

“The contemporary advent of terrorism, however, compromises all of these features (Shanahan 2005). Wars are not fought on conventional battlefields, but rather in urban centers. The combatant/non-combatant distinction has become blurred, at least insofar as combatants are no longer readily identified; certainly, they commonly lack military uniforms. But the distinction has been blurred further insofar as civilians often provide material support for combatants through positioning, sustenance, communication, and so on. Are such civilians combatants? Can they be justly targeted? Not only do civilians, whether willing or unwilling, become complicit in some of these cases, but civilians on the other side become targets. In fact, this is one of the hallmarks of terrorism: the targeting of civilians.”[2]

Storytelling offers an opportunity to explore this changing nature of warfare as it pertains not only to the war on terror, but war in general. With advances in technology, traditional warfare takes on another flavor. While ground offensives and airstrikes are still widely used, “clean wars” via drone attacks are rapidly becoming the preferred method of killing. In the past six years, more than two thousand people have been killed by US drone strikes.[3] The reasoning used to justify the increase in these types of attacks is that drones are precise, effective weapons capable of reducing inadvertent casualties. It allows nations to embark on what is for all intents and purposes a war, without ever having to contend with public displeasure triggered by the death of soldiers.

The prevailing ethos in warfare these days seems to be one that rests on the idea of spatial and group-based exceptionalism. In other words, certain territories and groups are said to exist beyond the confines of normal moral and philosophical concerns. Preemptive wars, torture, and assassinations without due process, become legal in this new framework. Questioning this idea of a new, cold, and detached warfare, provides writers with an opportunity to create bold, imaginative, and insightful stories. Vonnegut and Haldeman presented through their novels a passionate plea against war. Muslim writers could, through their own stories, invite people to ponder on the implication of killing machines that can be operated from thousands of miles with terrifying efficiency. They could question the very morality of the concept of “clean wars”, and illustrate why having soldiers calmly and dispassionately hit their targets from a safe distance, without ever having to preoccupy themselves with conventions, or rules of engagement, is a moral predicament that urgently requires an answer.

[1]Allhoff, Fritz. (2009), The War on Terror and the Ethics of Exceptionalism, Journal of Military Ethics, Vol. 8, No. 4, 265-288

[2] Ibid, p.266




The Passenger: Part 4

So many years had gone by and yet the longing remained the same. Going home would entail facing the consequences of her decisions. Abandoning everything expected of her to embrace a life full of uncertainty, danger and precarity was a decision her family, and especially her mother, was not likely to forgive. The distance and the years, she feared, might have done nothing to dull the betrayal they felt. In Ennedian society, nothing was more important than striving toward a higher social standing. This was a never-ending endeavour passed on like a baton through the generations, in the hopes of one day attaining the coveted title of Prime and becoming a resident of sector I: a citizen with inalienable rights.

The Ennedi system was the birthplace of the oligarchy. This was where the first families amassed incomparable wealth and soon formed a powerful oligarchy rivaling the Ruling Assembly in power and influence. The most powerful families even possessed their own militias often tasked with ensuring the rule of law in the remote holdings of their employers, where the authority of the Ruling Assembly was symbolic at best. While most of the oligarchs had long abandoned the far-flung cradle of their ancestors to relocate instead in more prestigious systems, the entire Ennedian culture remained beholden to their elitism and continued to serve their interests. In the four planets that made up the system, one’s personhood was the direct by-product of their residency. While members of the oligarchy lived in their lavish fiefdoms sprawled across the system, the rest of the population was divided into two groups: The Vassals and the Derelicts.

The Vassals formed the bulk of the Oligarchy’s cadre and lived in special sectors built to accommodate the various professional groups. Vassals ran the system with a dedication and efficiency bordering on religious devotion. They served primarily as bureaucrats, technicians, maintenance workers, and intelligence experts. While the bureaucrats and the intelligence personnel lived in what was known as the core, the technicians and maintenance workers lived in the periphery; a group of sectors enwreathing the neighbourhoods of the core. Residents of these areas enjoyed different statuses granting them certain rights and protections. The most powerful Vassals, known as primes, lived in Sector I and where the only ones in Ennedian society, outside of the Oligarchs, to enjoy a full citizenship with inalienable rights. Thus, the true endeavour of any child born to the lower echelons of the Vassal class was to strive toward a higher sector of residency by improving their professional status, and hopefully one day becoming a Prime.

The Derelicts on the other hand lived in overcrowded shanty towns and where considered non-citizens devoid of rights. Unlike the Vassals, they lived in great precarity with very little options available to them for labour. The luckier ones often found work as grunt soldiers for the militias of the Oligarchy, while the rest toiled in the mines and the main ore processing centers of the system. Their lives where ruled by scarcity and misery, and five bloody uprisings violently suppressed taught them to begrudgingly accept their condition. Any attempts at unionizing or advocating for a change in the citizenship scheme of Ennedian society were met with fierce brutality.

Yet, Leila Diallo abandoned what should be sacrosanct to her as a native of the Core and chose instead to live the only kind of life available to the poor masses bereft of rights and status. She came from a long line of bureaucrats who took pride in their work and was expected to pursue the family tradition. Instead, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday she walked into one of the many recruiting centers found in Abiya City and signed up to join the army. It has been ten years since her family saw her last. Her messages had remained unanswered and her pleas for forgiveness most likely unheard. She stood silently at the console contemplating how many jumps it would take from her current location to reach her home system. But the course already plotted by Kal, blinking silently while awaiting her approval, brought her back to reality.

“Kal, take us to Tuva,” she said before seating down and staring into the black.

“Understood Captain,” replied Kal, initiating immediately the first jump.

She could feel Commander Rafiq’s eyes on her. He stood silently a few steps behind her seat, waiting for her to decide between family and duty. Whatever choice she made, she knew he would respect it. She was yearning for home and reconciliation, but much like Rafiq she was honour bound to do her duty. She could never forget Oponea, especially now that she knew Jalil the Butcher was still alive. She could still remember his eyes staring back at her from a child’s face. Leila could still fell the hatred that radiate from them as he plunged that dagger into her gut. She closed her eyes desperately trying to keep under control the bile threatening to assail her.

“We won’t be the only one’s looking for him. But we need to catch him first, captain. No matter what it takes,” said Commander Rafiq before taking a seat near Leila.

“I know Commander,” she answered, her voiced filled with sadness.


From the main viewport of his ship’s bridge, Mahdi looked at the scorched and barren land stretching for miles all around him. Carcasses of disabled ground pounders, wrecked armored vehicles, and rusted rocket launchers stood there as a solemn reminder of the rampage that ushered in a new world born in the fires of war. Wearing his usual black turban, he contemplated with disdain what became of the future once awaited by all. This lingering sorrow invading his thoughts took him back to those nights spent in the refugee camps of Naeva, listening to the songs of the few remaining Durodani elders. They were like so many other things a remnant of the past; the guardians of traditions, myths, and stories that have lost all meaning in a world now bereft of sense. Oponea was the sacrificial lamb that brought sanity back to the galaxy. An entire world burned beyond recognition and where the viciousness of war crystallized into a moment of pure insanity; a juncture where all transgressions and savageries became permissible.

He was one of the very few who survived the siege; a child of Oponea the martyr. The man he once was perished as he helplessly watched a deluge of high-energy blast bombs set ablaze everything and everyone he held dear. Mahdi had died there, his entire being consumed by the same inferno that ravaged his world; leaving behind a mere husk clinging to life out of spite and hatred. His eyes filled with unshed tears as he remembered the faces of all those he lost. For too long despair, anger, and guilt had taken his heart hostage; becoming the prisoner of a past that refused to be forgotten. He now existed for the sole purpose of being a living memory of what so many were eager to erase. “Let us not dwell in the unpleasantries of that awful war. It is time for us all to move forward,” had once said an oligarch when questioned on his involvement in the conflict. Unpleasantries, that is how he referred to what took place in Oponea. Much like they did with the destruction of their deadly armadas that terrorized the galaxy and brought death and sorrow to almost every world, the oligarchs were determined to purge from memory all the painful reminders of the conflict that stemmed from their arrogance and greed. The war might be over for them, but not for Mahdi. An unexpected message rekindled the flames of vengeance. He entered the coordinates in his ship’s computer and waited for the AI to plan the course to his destination.

“Course to Tuva plotted,” announced the AI.

Five jumps were all that separated him from finally cleansing himself in the fires of retribution and putting an end to his everlasting torment. This is what he survived for: revenge at long last.


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Signs And Portents: Part One

Life can be so fleeting. One moment you are fighting to survive, desperately holding on to the tiny dying embers of your soul, and the next you are floating in an ever-thickening mist. Exactly at what moment does one die? When does the very essence of your soul escape your reach forever? Is this what it is like to taste the bitterness of death?

Where am I? What is happening?

His mind was still reeling from the shock of suddenly regaining consciousness and finding himself submerged in the freezing waters of a subterranean ocean. The remote-control unit of his pressurized suit clearly indicated the direness of his current situation. He couldn’t feel anything, couldn’t help but sense the disconnect from his own body. He was nothing more than a broken, injured corpse, sinking helplessly into a deep and dark alien ocean, while being kept alive by his suit to experience the full horror of his ordeal. As his fear and confusion spiked, he started desperately struggling against the powerful tides taking him deeper into the darkness.

No please, not this! I need to get out.

A faint light shining from above caught his eye, and hope blossomed in his heart. Getting out from this place was the only thing he could think about. Somewhere in the midst of his muddled thoughts, he could hear a little voice telling him to calm down and remember his training. But a sheer feeling of terror overrode all rational thoughts when the faint light disappeared just as mysteriously as it materialized. Amidst his wild thrashing, the presence of the figure observing him from the mouth of the crater overlooking the ocean went unnoticed. Eyes wild with terror, he looked again at the panel indicating the rapid depletion of his oxygen supply. The cold was starting to seep through his suit, brought on by the failure of its environmental system. Soon he will either freeze to death or suffocate. Hope was fleeting again, quickly replaced by a deep sense of despair. He was now crying in earnest. “Ya Rabb, please help me!” he cried out. But death would have its due. He was being dragged into a world of stillness and obscurity foreign to all human life. As he sank further into his icy tomb, his cries gave way to a quiet resignation. Taking a deep, shaky breath he started reciting verses of the Quran asking for mercy and guidance.

“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” he said, quietly reiterating his faith in God for the last time.


Date: 2115

Location: Bayt al-hikmah (space station in low Earth orbit)

“Students, students please take your seats. This is no time to socialize and chatter about your ill-spent vacations.  Need I remind you that you are all expected to be on your best behavior on this momentous occasion? You are about to embark on your apprenticeship and become seekers of knowledge. I will not allow you to shame our illustrious institution with your usual antics, especially you Rashid. Now, take your seats at once and quiet down.”

As a flurry of young men and women quickly moved toward their designated chairs, Ayman Yassin adorned with his official vestment as head master kept a watchful eye. He had spent the last five years teaching these young people, guiding them and preparing them for the most important journey of their young lives. He thought of them as his children and couldn’t help but be as nervous and anxious as they were. The path to knowledge is difficult and trying little ones. May your journey be a blessed one, he thought.  The increasing chatter in the room roused him from his reverie and he moved promptly to the front of the hall. The ceremony was about to begin.

“Silence,”  reiterated Ayman.

As his voice resonated throughout the hall the voices fell silent. Smiling to himself he felt extremely proud of what he and his fellow mu’allimun had achieved. Five years ago, when they first came to them, these children were barely ten years old. They were filled with the innocence of childhood, undisciplined, and unfocussed. Yet here they were now wise beyond their years, attuned to every command, and moving as a single body. They are no longer children, he couldn’t help the lingering sadness he felt.

“In a few minutes, you will find yourselves in the presence of some of the greatest minds of our Ummah. You will have the honour of joining as novices an order dedicated to the search for knowledge; an order that seeks to enlighten mankind and improve the human condition. As your teachers, we have done our best to prepare you for this journey. We have taught you the discipline, the focus, and the humility required of a talib. Each one of you will become the protégée of an ‘alim under whose tutelage you will become scholars in your own right. Make us proud,” said Ayman with great emotion in his voice.

On these young faces looking back at him, Ayman could read an array of emotions: sadness, joy, fear, doubt, excitement. This is something he knew all too well, and understood just as much. Once upon a time, he sat there looking at his own teachers delivering a similar speech. He remembered how an overwhelming sense of excitement and paralyzing fear gripped him all at once. This is what being a talib meant, constantly teetering on the edge between bliss and utter dread. The imposing wooden doors at the back of the hall opened, and a procession of teachers and scholars entered each wearing their robes of honor indicating their status and their ranks. Much like Ayman, the teachers of the institute wore cloaks trimmed with green threads at the front, while the scholars’ robes of honour were embroidered in golden fabric. The atmosphere was crackling with a nervous energy, and Ayman could sense the anxiety emanating from his pupils. One by one, the cortege greeted him and moved toward the stage to take their seats.

Mu’allimun, ‘ulema, members of the majlis, we welcome you. We are honored by your presence,” said Ayman.

“It is we who are honored to be your guests brother Ayman. Are your pupils ready to begin their apprenticeship?” asked one of the scholars.

“Yes, they are respected ‘alim,” answered Ayman.

“Let us begin then. Salamu Aleikum. My name is Abdul Ghani Hassan, I am an ‘alim in the science of usul al-fiqh. I stand before you today as a representative of the assembly of scholars, the majlis ul ‘ulama. For the past five years your teachers have endeavored to prepare you to take your place in our midst. They have taught you the four most important qualities a young novice must possess. What are they?”

“Discipline, focus, piety, and humility,” the students answered in unison.

“Indeed. You were recruited at the tender age of ten by the institute because each and every one of you had displayed extraordinary abilities. Becoming an ‘alim however requires not only intelligence but also commitment. Our work is at all times guided by the ethics, the rules, and legislations set by the majlis ul ‘ulama in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet, the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Once fully trained it is within a scholar’s power to improve the human condition through his or her work; thus, becoming a force for good. Or one could choose to exploit the knowledge acquired to his or her own advantage, and in the process lay waste to many lives. Thus, becoming a scourge upon the world. This is why it is vital that we instill in you the values in which your work must always be rooted. It is our responsibility to help you avoid the pitfalls of arrogance that could lead to your ruination. Each one of you will become the protégée of an ‘alim for the next six years. They will be your greatest teachers and harshest critics. They will push you to your limits and will expect nothing but perfection in return. Your journey as seekers of knowledge has just begun, and it will only end the day you take your last breath. Use your apprenticeship wisely, and may your path to knowledge be a blessed one. We ask Allah to preserve us from our arrogance and ignorance.”

“Ameen” reverberated throughout the hall.

“Brother Ayman, as the head master of this institute will you do us the honor of calling forth your pupils so they may receive their robes of apprenticeship?” asked Abdul Ghani.

“It will be my pleasure,” answered Ayman. He stood in front of his students and began the final stage of the ceremony.

“Once your name is called, you will come forth and receive your robe from your designated ‘alim,” he said before calling the names of his beloved pupils one last time.

“Anas Marwan”

A young man seated in the last row stood up and moved toward the stage with confidence. Despite gaining somewhat of a reputation as a loner over the years, and often displaying a disconcerting amount of disinterest in his education, Ayman knew that underneath all that bravado laid a rare genius. He had seen Anas surpass all expectations when he bothered to put some effort into his work. In fact, he was convinced that the problem with young Anas was due to one simple truth; he had outgrown the institute a long time ago.

“Anas, may I present to you one of our most respected scholars, sister Safia Mahmoud,” said a smiling Ayman.

The whole room erupted in loud gasps and murmurs. Safia Mahmoud was not only a scientist of great repute, she was also an alumna of the institute. Over the years, she rose to fame as a pioneering figure of the deep space exploration program. Never before had she expressed the desire to take a young novice under her wing. Her work was deemed too important to be entrusted with those still undergoing their noviciate.

“Salamu Aleikum Anas. I’ll have the privilege of tutoring you through your noviciate. You are to become from this moment on a novice in the field of Molecular Biology,” she stated.

Anas was taken aback by her statement, and gave Ayman a puzzled look.

“I’m sorry ‘alima, there must be some mistake. I wish to specialize in the field of Cybernetics and not Molecular Biology,” said Anas.

“I am aware of your interest young man. I assure you, your talents in cybernetics will not go to waste,” she said coldly.

Before Anas could reply, his old head master intervened.

“Anas, one of the key elements of your noviciate is to trust your designated scholar’s judgement. There is more than one path that leads to knowledge,” he said before giving his pupil a long look discouraging him from further argumentation.

“Yes, of course. My apologies ‘alima,” said a confused Anas.

Once all the students received their robes of apprenticeship, Abdul Ghani Hassan stood again to address the crowd.

“As a representative of the majlis ul ‘ulama, it is with great pleasure that I announce the official start of your noviciate as future scholars. May Allah guide you in your  future endeavours.”


Date: 2130

Location: Tekrour City

Tekrour City was the very first human settlement established on the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. The surface of this Jovian moon was marked by vast lava plains formed billions of years ago when Ganymede was still geologically active. Molten Rock flowed beneath its surface and formed lava tubes where it left colossal hollow chambers as it receded. These caverns chiselled into the bedrock offered the necessary protection against harmful radiation, while also serving as a natural insulator. The largest of these caverns was terraformed to house a settlement inhabited at first by the scientists and other support staff of the space exploration program. When the expansion of human presence throughout the galaxy was finally sanctioned by the authorities, Ganymede attracted its fair share of colonists eager to start a new life among the stars. What was initially a mere settlement grew within the span of a few decades into a bustling city.

Aslan Sadulayev, on his way back from a brief vacation on Earth, was just about to clear the customs area of Tekrour city’s spaceport when a young port agent approached him.

“Salamu aleikum Efendi. Are you assistant chief medical examiner Aslan Sadulayev?” asked the agent.

“Wa aleikum Salam. Yes, that’s me” he answered perplexed.

“May I see your credentials?” said the officer.

“Of course,” Aslan responded before retrieving his Ident-Card from one of his jacket’s many pockets. “What is this all about?” he asked anew. He was starting to feel somewhat uneasy.

“Please come with me,” said the officer.

“I don’t understand what is going on here. I’m just coming back from Earth,” said an obviously annoyed Aslan.

“Sir, I’m just following my orders. I’ve been asked to escort you, so please follow me,” reiterated the officer haughtily; walking away before Aslan could protest any further. Jerk, Aslan thought irritated by the man’s sternness but deciding nonetheless to follow him as instructed. Their stroll through the port took them to the very edge of a boarding bridge still connected to a transport ship. The officer gave a nod to two security personnel guarding the entrance to the ship who immediately stepped aside. The interior of the ship was that of a standard transport freighter: cramped and a little worn out. Aslan followed the officer to the main cargo hold. While the ship’s passenger compartiments were empty, it’s hold was crawling with security personnel. He immediately recognized Tekrour City Law Enforcement personnel by their distinctive uniforms. They were in the process of cordoning off a section of the hold with bright red biohazard tapes. Two law enforcement bots were hovering over the area recording every single detail, while a third was keeping a quarantine field in place. This is a crime scene, Aslan thought to himself. The customs officer walked in the direction of a woman standing near the crime scene perimeter, giving orders on her handheld communicator.

“Harbourmaster, this is Dr. Aslan Sadulayev from the office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” said the officer.

“Shukran Ali, you may return to your post. Salamu Aleikum Doctor. I am Maryam Abdallah, harbourmaster of Tekrour City Spaceport. This ship is the Matahari Terbit bound for Earth. It left Rijl al-Qanṭūris six months ago with a full load of passengers and cargo. Ganymede was the last port of call on their schedule before their final destination. It was supposed to stay here only for an hour, the time to unload some passengers and cargo, before resuming its voyage. However, our port personnel found a body during their inspection. Of course, we immediately initiated the emergency protocol and contacted law enforcement,” the harbourmaster explained.

“I’m sure the Chief Medical Examiner’s office will send someone to examine the body. I can’t just step in and…”

“We were told by your office that an assistant chief medical examiner was already in our premises. They expect you to take charge of this case,” she said before he could finish his sentence. 

“That is not how it works harbourmaster. I must be given clear instructions by my office on this matter.”

“Feel free to contact them,” she said calmly.

Aslan moved away from the crime scene and retrieved his communicator from his jacket. “Dial office,” he instructed.

“Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, how may I direct your call?” said a female voice a few seconds later.

“Morgue,” said Aslan. My vacation is not over yet, no way I’m getting saddled with this, he thought angrily.

“Morgue here”

“Kawthar, this is Aslan. Is there a reason I am being asked to process a crime scene while still on my vacation?” he asked hotly.

“No need to rip my head off, I was more then willing to go there and do it myself. But, the chief is the one who decided otherwise. Something about you being already on the premises,” Kawthar answered, clearly annoyed by Aslan’s hostile tone.

“Fine, just transfer me to his office,” said an exasperated Aslan.

“Patching you through. Good luck.”

“Dr. Abdourahman here,” said a booming voice.

Aslan took a deep breath to get a hold of his emotions before addressing his superior.

“Salamu Aleikum Dr. Abdourahman, this is Dr. Aslan Sadulayev. It seems that a body showed up in one of the ships at the spaceport. Apparently the harbourmaster is under the impression that I’m to process the body, but as you know I’m still on my vacation, Sir. May I ask who has been assigned to the case, so I can reassure the harbourmaster someone is indeed on the way?”

“Wa aleikum salam. Yes, I am aware of that Aslan. But Kawthar isn’t nearly as experienced as you, and according to the harbourmaster the body seems to be displaying some unusual and worrisome characteristics, hence the quarantine protocol. I need someone with experience on this one, and since you were already there coming back from Earth…”

“Sir, with all due respect, the harbourmaster has probably never seen a dead body before. She’s most likely referring to the effects of rigour mortis and… “

“Let me stop you there Sadulayev. Maryam Abdallah was deployed on Mars during the Hima virus outbreak. That woman has seen more dead bodies then you and I combined. She is not some hysteric, this is someone whose judgement and wisdom I trust and respect. You will do well to show her the deference she is due. Am I making myself clear?” asked the chief medical officer in a taut, controlled voice.

“Yes, of course,” replied a defeated Aslan.

“Good. We’ve already dispatched a forensics unit, they should be there by now. I expect a detailed report of this case first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Understood, Sir.”

Aslan walked back to the crime scene and joined the harbourmaster supervising the ongoing work. She was discussing with an inspector of Tekrour Law Enforcement, no doubt charged with investigating the suspicious death. “It seems you were right harbourmaster. I am indeed assigned to this case. I’m going to take a look at the body now with your permission,” he said. Both the harbourmaster and the inspector nodded their heads in acquiescence. Just then Aslan saw the forensics unit entering the cargo hold with their specialized bots in tow.

“Right here guys,” he said waving to his colleagues.

“Salamu aleikum Aslan. I thought you were still on your vacation,” remarked a young man with a mischievous grin.

“Very funny Daoud. Let’s get to work,” replied a less than amused Aslan. “First things first, lets’ put one of our bots on quarantine duty, and expand the field to encompass that entire section of the hold. A level 2 quarantine should suffice for now. Set up a decontamination station as well just in case we need one,” instructed Aslan.

“What are we dealing with here?” asked Daoud.

“No idea. The harbourmaster believes that the corpse is displaying some unusual and worrisome characteristics,” he replied mimicking the chief’s voice as he repeated his words. “Let’s just get it over with, alright?”

Sensing Aslan’s frustration, Daoud tried sounding conciliatory.

“Ok. No worries, I’m on it.”

Now wearing a biohazard suit, Aslan entered the quarantine field and moved closer to the stacks of crates hiding the body from view. He walked behind them and approached the cadaver now in his direct line of sight, before quickly coming to a complete halt.

“My God….what is this?”



Mu’allimun: Teachers

‘Alim/’alima/ulama: Scholar (masculine)/(feminine)/(plural)

Talib: Student

Majlis: Council

Majlis ul ‘ulama: Council of scholars

Usul al-fiqh: Branch of Islamic knowledge pertaining to Islamic jurisprudence

Ameen: Amen


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