3LBE #16
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Jihad Over Innsmouth

by Edward Morris

 

A cold, black, liquescent fear laps at the edges of my heart as I approach the first gate in the long Caliph’s Maze of Airport Security. Some darker force is trying to sway me unobtrusively away, to make me renege my retainer’s oath, cut my losses and run headlong to South America with the dwindling remains of my bank account.

Should I die on my quest, a first-class seat in Paradise awaits me. In my time, I have lived through every hell Shaitan could possibly devise right here on Earth, moving behind newspaper headlines which even Al-Jazeera fears to run. Enquiring minds want to know, but some truths are better left to the darkness at the center of the universe, to be drowned out by the skirlings of the blind piper and his retinue of idiot flute-players.

But the oath I took goes deeper than the contract I signed with the old black man in Oakland last week. It is one our folk call fatwa, and is not to be broken. Come flood or djinn or plague of insects, I will board this plane.

I carry no arms upon my person. I’m simply afraid of Americans. This is a very hot land for me now. Every time I have to fly, I expect Justice Department agents in sober black suits and Agent Smith shades to surround me, barking on their surveillance headsets that I am under arrest for any one of a thousand occupationally hazardous reasons which I foreswore tabulating long ago.

No minions of the law shew themselves in the crowd. My fear settles back inside me and changes shape. For myself, I merely offer a silent prayer to Allah that my limited human perceptions somehow interpreted the recent stars incorrectly. If not, as the American GI’s I ‘consult’ with, put it, I’ll be in a world of shit.

They know they can batten down all the iron hooks of their ‘Patriot Act’ upon me for any number of ‘moving violations.’ If he were here, Dad would tell me I’m just being paranoid. But Dad’s in Gaza, on a contract of his own.

In any case, your William Burroughs writes that perfect paranoia is perfect awareness. In my line of work, selective application of that idea holds the potential to save one’s life. Under that lens, I realize that if They (definition subject to change without notice) felt like taking me out of the game, they could have done it by now. I can only assume I’m still in their good graces and travel at will, until a harsh and bracketed detainment at this pestiferous little airport, followed by an unspecified hitch in the Tombs, wherein New York’s Finest would perform upon my habeas corpus certain interrogation methods never proscribed by the Geneva Convention.

I’m afraid of Americans. But I keep forgetting that I’m an American, too. It seems an unlikely thing to forget, but one way or another, I’ve been a nomad all my life.

Under my real name, Hassan Sabbah al-Gazi (just call me Han, as people have since my sixth-grade year, the year of those ubiquitous Star Wars movies), I became a naturalized citizen when I was eleven. Dad moved us over here from Jerusalem after things got a little tense between himself and a false friend in the Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service. Our people have long sworn that Mossad eat what they kill. But my father, in disappearing, was actually doing the operative a favor (albeit one of a nature that would never hold up in court.) But that’s another tale, for another day.

I approach the gate. A petrified-looking Lebanese guy with a chicken chest and a fake badge puffs up in my face at the first metal detector. The Marines have a wonderful idiom for his sort, an “empty uniform”. His is hanging on him like a drop-cloth! I stifle a laugh.

“Sir,” he barks in heavily-accented English. “Could you please remove your shoes?”

I drop to one knee, hands where he can see them, and do so, handing them up. He inspects them, then looks as though he may presently swallow his chin. As he reaches for his radio, I stay his hand so quickly he doesn’t anticipate the motion. Amateur. I address him softly in Arabic.

“Look, effendi, you push on the back and the heel fills up with air.” I show him.

He looks again, and groans at my Reebok pump gym sneakers that are probably almost as old as he is. “A thousand pardons, cousin. My boss, you understand, he asks that we—”

I sigh. “Yeah, yeah. You’re just doing your job. No worries.”

He scutters back to the X-ray conveyor, takes a long look at the screen, and hands me my bag. “Shalom aleichem, habibi. Safe journey.”

I bow with my right hand over my heart. “Asayem aleichem shalom, cousin. Don’t work too hard.”

“Not possible.” He chuckles and waves me through. I start looking for Gate 11.

• • •

The thought of hitting Boylston Street in Boston around dinner time makes me salivate. De gustibus est non disputandem, especially after the Swanson frozen fare in first class. From what I hear, the Combat Zone has been strip-mined of most of its red stoplights and dive bars, so further recreation is probably best left out. I wish I had time to hit the old MTA Pneumatic Railway tunnels down there and see if there are any new leads for me on the corkboard in the lobby of the other Pickman Gallery.

But there’s no time to schmooze with the denizens, let alone the citizens. I am to meet with my contact in Boston Common an hour after we land. Transportation has been arranged. We will drive much further north from there, along a particularly fierce section of the Massachusetts coastline. Most maps have forgotten our destination, simply listing it as an unincorporated township on a dead, played-out reef. But the old brain-cases living on Supplemental Security in Arkham and Kingsport still call it Innsmouth.

Innsmouth. I can taste the word in my throat like raw calamari. My skin goes hot as my sweat goes cold. The word, and the memory of the word, fills my nostrils with the smell of cold boom town gone bust, mine-dumps leaching sulfur into the water table, sad rotting houses covered over with Z-Brick, with living denizens and permanently bolted doors.

The word smells like Kreutzfeld-Jakob’s Disease, leprosy, cannibalism, and a hundred other kinds of runoff from inbreeding that science does not yet wished to name.

I’m going back. The mere thought makes me better understand, in this moment, the Hakkagure of the ancient Japanese samurai. It is the same with those of my faith who ply my trade. Behave as though the flesh is dead. Then… and now more than ever… one does not lose his mind when confronted with the dark.

In place of fear, my thoughts turn to wrath as Gate 11 looms large, just down the way a bit on the right. Several screaming children twine around me like cats for a moment. I consult my watch. I know I’m not late.

Wrath. The denizens of Innsmouth deliberately flout my faith. The Prophet teaches us that Man evolved from clots of blood. Our learned men of this age teach also that somewhere between blood clot and H. sapiens sapiens, we crawled out of the sea. This is not to be doubted.

But Innsmouth follows an infidel faith. Their own Shaitan, whom Islam has called Dagon since Babylon, has performed a miracle of fish unto any and every hard-luck sailor dumb or amateur enough to steer his tired old Downeaster Alexa into the waters off the town’s own Devil Reef.

Since the 1920s, decapod mating patterns in that part of the Bay, and migratory patterns of just about every aquatic species that ever turned a buck, have climbed steadily with no spike in sight. Of course, the corporate fisheries were in there first. But the fish are so thick you could practically walk on the water like Yeshua. Dagon apparently shares and shares alike.

By hypothetical evidence, (which, being based in the supernatural, can neither be proven or refuted in court) rock-ribbed Protestants in every hamlet for miles around Innsmouth, are slowly being swayed to the notion that there might be other fish in the sea. To harvest said fish, their mad TV preacher boasts, you must devolve back to the blood clot, to drown beneath the waves of our own DNA, to crawl back to the womb and die.

The Prophet cast out Dagon with all the other false gods. My business with the debased tornado-bait of Innsmouth is nothing more or less than jihad. One may work full-time during Ramadan for such a purpose, it is written. I just hope it’s over with quickly.

My contact is a rich writer from Bangor, only a few years my junior. Mr. Bachman is to outfit me with the necessary ordnance and artifacts. Dick also holds a private pilot’s license. All the paperwork has been taken care of through my Oakland liaison.

When did they start calling this section ‘Business Elite’, I wonder? Was ‘First Class’ too classist for these people? These funny, half-blind, blissfully oblivious, cell-phone-babbling, off-in-their-own-little-world Americans? It’s their world. We’re all just living in it.

Long might some of them live to think so. I sigh, stepping hurriedly on board. The pilot looks like a whippet with an elaborate mop of gray hair, prescription shades and a thick mustache. He grins a set of teeth like the white keys on a piano.

“Welcome aboard! Happy holidays!” He briskly shakes my hand. I notice a bead of cocaine-colored snot twinkling just beneath his right nostril. Pilots are all alike. In Arabic, I tell him he’s an idiot and he’s going to get us all killed. He smiles and nods and herds me in.

I slide up through Coach, glancing at the seat number on my ticket. C-4. Very funny, Boss. You want me blown up that bad, do you? Freak. I can’t help but chuckle.

The intercom speakers blare into life, “GOOD MORNING. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.” I part the curtain and venture into ‘Business Elite’, my eyes slightly ahead of me.

“FLIGHT 180 WILL BE DEPARTING LAGUARDIA IN JUST A FEW MINUTES. YOUR—”

“Oh, shit.” I look down fast. A soccer mom two seats ahead glances back at me like I’m about to pull out a box-cutter. Right now, she’s the least of my worries.

We Sufi have a kind of prayer for times like this. No matter what the Creator hands you, be it a hundred dollars or two broken legs, you smile as broadly as you can and say Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another? And you laugh. Thus, the worse something gets, the more important it becomes to deflect it.

But… my God… if… the man — if such he can be termed — whom I was hired to find in Innsmouth… and kill… is seated… right beside me… on this plane?

I had committed the photograph to memory before I’d rolled a hashish spliff with it and smoked it to the head. This is a spot-on match. This is a practical joke. This is…

Why, this is going to be a long flight. I smile, grit my teeth and sit down, trying not to look at him. But to hear him slurp and slobber over that sushi box, sucking on his mucilaginous webby fingers, a green rill of wasabi wending its way down his vestigial chin—

My mind spools out its quiet dossier, calming my restless hands that want to make my shoelaces into garrotes. Reverend Irving Waite, in the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. The false prophet I have been promised ten million U.S. dollars (half up front), and flown all the way from Oakland, to smear from the skin of Space and Time. You can hear about something until the teller is blue in the face.

But seeing it sitting beside you is another matter entirely. He looks something like the jazz singer Mel Tormé, if Mel were to commission a bust of himself as a horror-movie latex appliance by Tom Savini. As the Marines say, he stinks like low tide took a shit in his pants. And then there’s the reaction-time thing. Lovely dinner company.

I have been charged to end this creature. At present, I must somehow summon up the ingenuity to sit still for a two-plus-hour flight and act as though I had no idea who he was. I shove my bag under the seat and give up.

“How’s the sushi?” In my head, I’m humming an old family chant to harmonize body functions. My sense of smell cycles down to almost nothing.

Waite’s long, peeling head swivels like a newt’s. His eyes are all wrong. I knew an autistic kid once, in Jerusalem, a beggar’s son, whose eyes were almost that shade of gold. But the cataracts in Waite’s eyes (or whatever they really are) make the effect somehow more alarming. The tail of a shrimp hangs from his thick lower lip until he sees me looking and snaps it back.

Most people would assume the black patches are squamous melanoma, flaking and coruscating at the sides of his wattled neck. Said neck, like his head, is home to alarmingly random patches of scraggly nicotine-colored hair.

Anyone would think the Reverend is taking chemotherapy. I know better. He’s getting ready to go join the Eternal Family Reunion out on Devil Reef. He’s getting ready to grow gills, and use them.

He’s getting ready to clot.

“Ehhh.” The Rev rumbles back in a voice like a shovel over wet cement. “Tastes… two days… old. I c’d…get better’n this at home.” His metabolism is probably so slowed-down by now that he took this long to register my presence.

That’s an article of his faith too, you see. With immortality comes icthyic serenity, and thus their human shells are swallowed in Devonian slime. I smile and nod.

“I’ll bet you could.” The conversation is left dangling.

To the left of us, in C-2, some punk kid is asleep with his shaven head against the window, blocking the view. He’s dressed fairly nice for his sort, in an all-black suit with no tie, a rack of hoop earrings and a stud in either nostril. He looks exhausted.

A crewcut flight attendant, who looks and swishes alarmingly like Dr. Smith from the old ‘Lost In Space’ TV show, pops up .”Would you care for a beverage, after we get rolling?”

“Green tea. No sugar.”

“Very good, Mr. Sabbah.” He blinks at Waite. “And we’ll bring your clam juice for you, too, Reverend. I’ll check on him—” he jerks a thumb at Punkboy, “Later.”

Behind and above us, the tastefully-concealed speakers drone on, “PLEASE DISCONTINUE THE USE OF ALL CELPHONES DURING THE TAXI PERIOD. FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, CROSS-CHECK AND AISLE CALL, PLEASE.”

Waite pushes his sushi box aside. Dr. Smith twinkles it away and flips the old bastard’s tray table up for him, trying not to make a face at Waite’s personal BO of fish and unknown precious metals. (He does well. Very professional.)

“…Muuhokay.” the Reverend replies too late. Dr. Smith is long gone.

Reverend… I shudder in the leather seat as we begin to taxi and the pilot tells us over the loudspeakers that we will be first in line for takeoff. Reverend of what, a shithouse?

I have a whole file cabinet on this fool. He’s the titular head of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. No union lobsterman or fisherman on that part of the coast will hear a word spoken against him. His kooky theo-sophicical crossbreeding of Aleister Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard has cranked his books to the top of the New York Times best-seller list for weeks on end. Until very recently, his arena “revivals” packed in the faithful deeper than the wildest dreams of Billy Graham.

But Waite isn’t on the “revival” circuit any more. He looks like hell in a Bundt pan. I wonder about his game plan. My employer in Oakland, Mistah Thotep-if-you-please, is exactly right. Now’s the perfect time to strike, before Waite passes on the racket that he’s apparently running by remote control these days.

Two rows behind us, a baby is crying very loudly. Something tells me again that I’m in for a long flight. I could sit still for days, if that’s what it takes. I have done so, in the cold plains of Kyrzgstan and Outer Mongolia and the nearly nameless nightmare countries close to the top of the world, teasing my kills, waiting out every querencia. But give me a chance when we land, and Waite will be going to that great big fish-hatchery in the sky.

I look out the window at the obscenely gibbous moon over the desolate hubbub of Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers were, as we ascend above the pollution and the clouds. As always when I see that dry socket in the earth, I do my level best to cry (though the actual act is, in my case, impossible), and beg Allah’s forgiveness upon us all. I haven’t been able to cry since my last op in Afghanistan. My tears are on the inside.

From somewhere, in-flight Muzak blithely murders the entire Dave Matthews band. I unfold the little screen from my armrest, find my remote, turn it sideways, punch a few buttons and wait for In-Flight Tetris to download, trying not to think about the thing in the seat beside me.

In the name of all that is holy, why isn’t Waite on a private jet? He could afford a fleet of Lears with the “donations” from his “crusades”… and oh, how apropos the latter word is.) I could snap his neck right now. But Innsmouth folk are quite hard to kill by ordinary means. It would take several tries, and attract too much notice. Do I speak from experience? I wish I didn’t.

What are the chances that he’d be flying on Christmas, anyway? I’d thought to get a leg up, slip into Innsmouth on Greyhound under cover of night, and get this over with. I could be in the Caymans the next morning smoking ganja on the beach. But Allah has more in store for me than the easy road.

At the front of the cabin, the screen now glows with a brown-and-green map of our journey. The speakers whinge on once more.

“THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING. WE HAVE LEVELLED OFF AT THIRTY-SEVEN THOUSAND FEET. WINDS ARE AT TEN MILES AN HOUR, VISIBILITY IS MODERATE TO LOW WITH OVERCAST SKIES AND LOW CLOUD COVER. WE WILL BE ARRIVING IN BOSTON IN APPROXIMATELY TWO HOURS’ TIME. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.”

Dr. Smith bobs up from the forward flight attendants’ area pushing a cart. I set Tetris on level 10, wait again, and bow over the steaming blue earthen mug of tea he hands me. Thankfully, I can’t smell the clam juice he sets before Waite, professionally folding the Reverend’s tray table down once more and placing the cup there in one quick move. Bleh.

The kid in 4-A’s awake now. His voice is a throaty rasp. “Excuse me, boss. Next time you come by, could I get a cup of coffee?”

Dr. Smith nods immediately. “We’ve got French roast, cappucino, and—”

The kid grins an endearing, crooked grin. “Black. In a cup.” Dr. Smith nods briskly, and retreats to the next row. The kid shakes his head. “Well, you can’t beat this. They just shoved me in first class. Gotta love PriceLine.”

“Ah.” I sip my tea, flip the screen down into my armrest and turn it off with the remote. Conversation is always preferable on a long flight. “The luck of the draw. Why are you flying on Christmas?”

The kid shrugs. “Why not?”

That’s fair, but I’m bored and curious. “Were you in the military?” His hair has the look of being perpetually cut short by choice. I surmise that we could swap soldier-stories the entire flight.

“Nah. They wouldn’t take me.” He slapped his knee. “Game leg and 4-F. You?”

“A bit. Not in America, though.”

Waite is looking at the kid as if he wonders how he might taste. The kid ignores him completely. “Where did you do your service?”

“Mmm. All over the Middle East. I was a consultant, you might say. I’m done with that now, though.”

He nods. “My sisters put it like that, too: ‘I’m done.’ I guess I can understand that. Maybe I’m better off.”

“What do you do now?” I ask. Beside him, Waite appears to nod off like a chicken with its head placed beneath its wing.

“I write comic books. Creator-owned projects are going the way of the dinosaur, but… there are all sorts of ways around that.”

He names a few he writes for. You’d know them. You’d know his name, too, if you’re seriously into that sort of thing. I nod. “Do you know Grant Morrison?” That’s just the first name I think of. “I used to read Doom Patrol sometimes, when I could keep up with—”

Dr. Smith passes back by with the kid’s coffee. “Here you are, sweetie.”

“Thanks. Yeah, I met him once.” The kid beams. “What a neat guy. I remember staying up with him ’til four in the morning at the Hyatt in San Francisco talking about whether or not Rod Serling was right and the past really is inviolable.”

“Ah—” My compulsive reading pays off sometimes. “Serling got that from Jack Finney. Do you know of him?”

The kid frowns. “Didn’t he write Time and Again?”

“Yes. Also, a book of short stories called—”

I stop. The back of my neck is alive with a chill. The kid looks unfazed.

“Yeah.” He answers the question I didn’t ask. “I felt it too. Hmm…”

A visor drops over his face. I know that visor very well, from those strange, strange days in Afghanistan in the Eighties before the shit hit the fan and we were airlifted out. I saw it every time I looked in the mirror to shave, back then, on the few cold mornings in Kandahar when anything but a dry shave was available.

I wonder what hell this kid has been through, to heighten his senses like that. “I thought it was just me—” he begins. Then, out of nowhere, Reverend Waite stands up and steps into the aisle. The next few minutes are the only time in my life I’ve ever been sorry to have been born an Arab.

Things are falling into place, changing, switching perspectives like angles in a haunted house. I will myself to concentrate on what’s really here.

There’s a choked gurgling sound over the loudspeakers. The plane banks hard right and down. In the row in front of us, a blue-haired old lady with a portable oxygen tank and a tube in her nose screams at the top of her lungs, clutching her chest.

Waite cocks his head at her, his cataracted eyes burning bright. She goes limp in her seat, hands flopping in opposite directions, the life leaving her like the filament breaking in a light bulb, that quick. The kid shrinks back in his seat, frantically searching his pockets while trying to keep the rest of him still.

“Hey!” The young woman beside her in that row yelps indignantly. “Hey, what did you—” Then I see her jerk forward and hear her sudden silence. The seat to the old lady’s right is empty. The passengers across the aisle are panicking, and simply don’t see.

From Coach and Business Elite alike, more screams and herd terror-babble ramp up as the plane begins to vibrate. Wild lightning rattles through the seas of clouds outside. Turbulence shakes everything with Loma Prieta-scale force. Tray tables bounce. Drinks spill hither and yon. My tea flies toward the front of the cabin like a rocket-propelled grenade.

I turn around. In the front row of the Coach section, where the curtain has been yanked aside, a young girl with her hair dyed three different Crayola colors claws at her seatbelt, eyes bugging out. Beside her, her boyfriend is still asleep.

A grossly fat yuppie with Jimmy Carter-parted hair and crooked tie abandons both his seat and his common sense, and charges me with his briefcase as a weapon, bellowing “Allah this, motherfucker!” His loafers pound the aisle.

The only friend of Allah on this plane is sitting perfectly still, yawning. The yuppie observes my unthreatened expression, but fails to process and charges on — until we both notice Rev. Waite standing in the aisle, alive and alight, not a bit groggy.

The yuppie freezes in his loafered tracks like a fat, tame deer in a jacklight. Waite grins at him with small, sharp teeth. One webbed hand comes up, palm down, fat sushi-gummy fingers splayed. He croaks something that might once have been a word.

The yuppie makes a noise no human being ever should, then collapses backward into seat D-5, knocking over an old man’s martini glass. The old man screams, almost scooting into the lap of a snotty-looking little princess who pushes him away. “No!! Ew, I—Help!”

The yuppie rolls onto the floor, not looking like he wants up. Or like he’s breathing. Waite folds his arms. The look on his jowly face says, Next? But the imperious son of a bitch isn’t even going to say anything.

My faith teaches that in times of common disaster, every believer is the executor of Allah’s law. I’m just waiting for these fools to quit flogging it and play their hand.  Once more, the cockpit speakers crackle. For a time, nothing comes out of them.

“Phn’glui mgl’whnaf Cthulhu Ryl’yeh wgah-naghl fthagn.” They’re testing the mics. My Dad taught me that, in debased Atlantaean, the phrase was their answer to our Alif lam-mim. This book is not to be doubted.

But they’re quoting the Necronomicon, not the Koran. The Necronomicon is Not To Be Doubted for all the wrong reasons. Even hearing it makes me want to pick up a sword and start cutting heads. Beside me, the kid’s playing possum. Smart.

Waite grins, taking a deep breath through the gill-slits in his scabby throat. “Today shalt thou be with us in Paradise.” he croaks. No one on the whole plane has a problem hearing that.

The speakers are still on, ringing with dead silence over the whine of the engines and the rattle of the wings. Every passenger is in panic mode, too confused to really listen.

“Citizens of America, please do not attempt to thwart the Beloved who are now flying this Boeing 767 aircraft.” The voice from the speakers is burbling, staticky, full of the wrong inflections. “There will be one refueling stop over the Bermuda Triangle. Please to remain still and no one will be harmed until cabin is depressurized.”

A knot of people, all ages and sexes, attempt to storm the cockpit, taking turns pounding on the door. A similar knot makes for the back, every commuter wanting to be the first one to hide in the lavatory. The flight attendants, Dr. Smith included, attempt to direct traffic and mostly get plowed under. The baby is wailing grand opera. The Devil commands.

“Your government sank the nuclear sub U.S.S. Burnside off Devil Reef in Massachusetts and then lied about it in the news. Our people are dying down there. You elected the ones who do this thing to us. Sacrifice must be made to Dagon and Great Ktulu-ili-mo’ku to repay for then. R’lyeh surfaces this night off the Forbidden Atoll. Draw near and know.”

Even when I was seventeen, I spoke better English than these guys. I shake my head and move toward the kid, and he pushed me deliberately away with great force. The move is made to look random. He really is playing possum. I take my cue.

The world narrows down for me. There is no one else on this plane but myself and my adversary. A cheap Skilcraft pen has fallen onto the seat from the kid’s pocket. I reach for it, not understanding what I see out the window.

It’s like the Northern Lights are going on outside just for us, a fantastic rainbow stereopticon flicker-play, a spectral phantasy above the clouds. Mists of unknown hue swirl around the plane, faster and faster. All I can think, over and over, is Kill the head and the body will die...

I take two steps diagonally behind Waite, yank his head back and shove the pen up his nose with a brutal Hapkido palm-strike. The sound the pen makes when it hits cartilage is like a boning knife meeting a rack of lamb. Just for chuckles, I tear out both the Reverend’s gills with my bare hands, cutting my palms up quite badly in the process.

I feel his essence surging and lapping around me, seeking to gain a foothold as its body dies. I’m humming a different chant now, focusing my energy into my pelvic floor and pushing the intruder out through my feet. “No one in my body but me,” I snarl. My teeth chomp down hard.

Waite slumps to the floor, leaking black ichor all over my gym shoes. But it’s not quite Game Over. There’s one more infidel on this plane. I smell It. I just hope it doesn’t smell me.

Shoving my way through the throng, I reach the cockpit door. It was never completely locked. Fools. I kick it in.

A trembling, scaly thing mans the controls. It looks like it belongs in a carnival jar of formaldehyde. Three extremely leaky bodies in white shirts and gold epaulets clutter the floor. The creature looks hungrily out the window, snuffling up the last of the pilot’s cocaine, rolling it around on toothless gums with one webbed finger.

It sees me and gets to its feet. I move on it, then— PONK. The coffeepot connects with its head, and the critter goes down. “God go with us, friend,” the punk kid says from beside me in a good accent. The thing starts to get up. The kid kicks it boredly in the head with one Doc Marten boot. It makes a hrrumping noise and goes down again.

“Put your jaw back in place, and blink,” he instructs me. For the first time, I really notice how careworn his face was, distantly pondering the terrors it must have witnessed as he speaks again. “I grew up in Arkham. I saw shit like this going on at my high school, man. These guys musta thought they were dealin’ with a buncha amateurs. Now you—” He waits. “I figured you were in some kind of Black Ops, since you didn’t have a million war stories for me.” His eyes plead. “Can you fly?”

I’m already frowning at the altimeter and sitting down. “Leave that to me.”

Doctor Smith pops up behind us, looking relieved, holding a first-aid kit. My bloody hands grip the tiller. All the other flight attendants break into a ragged cheer. Then the passengers began to cheer, too.

I wonder how loudly they’d cheer if they knew my family trade. We’ve been assassins since the Crusades.

We Sabbah follow the Sufi path. What that means to those with our calling is simply a hunger for clipping spooks. Especially big-money spooks like the one who just got done bleeding cod liver oil all over my sneakers. Then again, for ten million dollars I could buy a lot more gym shoes. C’est la guerre.

Without asking, the kid sits down near the cooling clay of the co-pilot and grabs the radio. “Mayday, mayday, mayday,” he rasps, “This is Flight 180. I have no idea where we are, but we got a good pilot. Tell me what’s up…”

My money will be in the bank by the time I land this bird, take three showers and hunt for a bottle of emotional bleach. After that, as I promised myself, I’m done.

At the thought, my tear-ducts decide to start working again.

“So do not become weak, or sad,
and you shall triumph if you are indeed believers.”

Koran 3:139

 

 

Edward Morris - A transplant to Portland, Oregon, Edward was a 2005 British Science Fiction Association Award nominee, also (briefly) considered for the 2005 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. His second novella, Journey to the Center of the Earth, will be out in Interzone #209. His work has also appeared in the late and lamented Oceans of the Mind, Neometropolis, Withersin and a blistering streak of recent similar publications. Visit him online at his blog


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ISSUE #16

January 2007

FICTION