More seconds. She heard an approaching roar. Then, in a flurry of leaves, broken branches, shingles, and small rocks, a hot windstorm picked her up like a doll in a child's hand and hurled her against a tree trunk. All around, a maelstrom of banging, thudding, shattering, falling things exploded in her ears. Stunned, the breath knocked out of her, Lora gasped for air, tried to focus her eyes, tried to stop the world from spinning.
A more profound stillness settled around her.
No, Lora's body screamed: that thudding was her heart; that salty iron taste her blood; that grit on her lips, that smell, was the dirt covering her face. As if proving further her survival, excruciating pain blasted her mind, and she let out an involuntary screech.
Her mind struggled against the shock and pain to gain control over her body. She had to discover what had just happened. The world steadied, her eyes focused, but nothing made any more sense than an abstract painting of complex and intertwined lines, patches of color, gray images, black holes. Then, as a strange image suddenly clicks into an obvious picture, she realized her head was upside down and, through the tangled branches of a shrub, she was watching an angry, roiling, red and black mushroom cloud climbing above Manhattan to blacken the morning sky.
Sound gave up its paralysis in an eruption of distant screams, cries, howling dogs, the metallic crunch of shattered cars, and breaking things. Almost with regret, Lora recovered full consciousness. She was sprawled upside down in a twig dogwood shrub with one leg against an oak tree, her dress suit bunched around her chest, and her shoes gone.
Asteroid, it's an asteroid. It's hit New York. It can't be anything else. After all, her mind spun out as if to defy the horror emerging in her mind and the pain and nausea of her body, Joy and John eliminated major international wars-against all odds, they succeeded. Their peace has lasted for almost a century.
My God, this can't be an attack.
Lora tried to reorient herself. Mark and I had breakfast . . . about 9:15 we locked our apartment . . . headed for our Institute in Manhattan . . . garage being remodeled . . . car parked on Graham Street . . . walking toward the car . . . .
MARK! Where's Mark?
She tried to right herself, and gasped from another rush of pain. Her right arm was twisted behind her. As she bent and twisted to get at her arm, she screamed. Her eyes teared, and she bit her lip. It felt like somebody was cutting the muscles of her arm out with a dull, red-hot knife.
Gritting her teeth, Lora rotated her body to disentangle herself from the branches of the bush. Lying on her back, she pushed her body out of the bushes with her legs. Panting, nauseated, she sat up and stared at her right arm. It was broken near the elbow, the lower ulna and radius bones twisted backwards at a right angle. White bones streaked with blood protruded.
I can't wait for help. A catastrophe has happened. I've got to find Mark.
She jerked her eyes from street, to houses, to street, to trees. She finally located Mark leaning against a tree. Christ, his right arm can't bend at that angle.
"Mark. Mark! Can you hear me?"
He's moving. He's alive.
Lora gritted her teeth, gripped the broken segment of her arm, and twisted. Agony made her squeal through her teeth. She straightened her broken arm with her left hand. Dizzy, near vomiting, she held it gingerly as she struggled to her knees, then staggered to her feet. She stood swaying. Finally she checked her body for more injuries. Scratches and punctures, but they weren't bleeding much.
"Nothing serious," she told herself, needing to hear a voice. "Just hold the arm out from your body." She spit blood and probed with her tongue-she'd bitten the inside of her lower lip.
She needed all her strength to lurch toward Mark. "Sweetheart," she called, "can you move? We've got to get to a hospital."
Blood dripped from a cut on his cheek. Mark grimaced and grunted as he struggled to his feet. He stood rocking back and forth like a drunken sailor. With his good left hand he felt around his ribs, and yelped. "Besides my arm," he moaned, "I think some ribs broke."
Letting his broken arm hang, he shuffled over to her and put out his good hand to help support her. His eyes opened wide when he saw her broken arm. "Jesus, " he exclaimed, "your arm. I've got to get you to a hospital."
Lora leaned against him, happy that they both had survived whatever had happened. She rested her head on his shoulder for a moment to calm herself, then lifted it and looked around for other survivors. No one had been nearby, this late in the morning, and there had been little traffic on their narrow road.
"Our Lux looks okay," Mark said.
The whirlwind had blown it backwards into a telephone pole, but Lora could see no serious damage. As they helped each other toward it, she realized that snow-like grit and ash was falling from the towering black and gray mushroom cloud that now loomed over them. Already it coated everything. What had been a clear, sunny day was now dim and hazy, blanketed in a gray fog. They pulled several broken branches off the car, and Mark managed to brush the debris and fallout from the windshield with his good hand.
Lora suddenly exclaimed, "My purse. What happened to my purse?"
Letting her broken arm hang around the protruding bone and trying to ignore the pain, she limped toward the tree she had been thrown against, and saw her purse had been flung nearby. As she returned to the car with it, she heard frantic whining. She spied a small terrier, its tail between its legs and ears flat against its head, running into one object after another. Each time it fell, got up, and tried a new direction. It was bleeding from the mouth.
Lora pointed at the terrier with her good hand. "The poor thing can't see," she said in a voice that reflected the dog's anguish.
The terrier heard her voice. It headed toward her, but after another crash and tumble, she pleaded, "Here. Come, boy." The terrier stopped about four feet away, trembling, and turned its gaze blindly in her direction. She opened the car door with her good hand, limped over to the terrier, and picked him up by the scruff. She put him on the floor of the car and commanded, "Stay."
Lora laboriously climbed into the car, then rested her broken arm on her lap and her head on the dash. She took deep breaths to steady herself. She heard Mark cry out a couple of times and looked up with fear. He was trying to get his keys from his right pants pocket.
"I'll help you, " Lora yelled.
Mark shook his head.
He couldn't get the fingers of his left hand deeply enough into his right pocket. Gritting his teeth against the pain from his ribs, he bent over and with his left hand pushed up on the pocket under the keys, jiggling them upwards within reach. He raised his right leg to jam the keys against his pants, balanced himself by putting his right foot on the car, then pulled the keys out with a grunt.
Mark carefully maneuvered into the driver's seat, but his broken ribs kept him from sitting straight. "Okay, here," he rasped, trying to angle his body toward her so he could hand her the keys. "I can't start the car."
She inserted the ignition key, started the car, and turned on the windshield wipers. "Can you steer?"
"Yes. But you've got to change gears."
Lora gripped the gearshift with her left hand. "I can. Just yell 'shift,' and I will. This is one time I'm sorry we didn't get a car with an automatic transmission."
Mark headed for Saint Catherine's Hospital in Brooklyn, a few miles away. The terrier remained huddled at her feet, shaking. It moved its head, trying to look around with its sightless eyes. Blood caked around its muzzle.
How sad, Lora thought. It doesn't know what's going on. Then it struck her-Neither do we.
Aside from her first confused thought about an asteroid, she had not thought beyond her concern for Mark, the terrier, and her throbbing pain. Now it hit her like a punch in the face. Almost incoherently, she yelled, "My God, Mark. Jesus. It wasn't an asteroid. It was a nuclear bomb. We've been attacked with a nuclear bomb."
"Shit. Shit." Mark almost drove into a three-car pileup in an intersection. "Jesus Christ, a nuclear bomb! Who could do this?"
Lora moaned, "Goddam, I'm too messed up to even guess who did it. It has to be the worst monster that ever lived."
Mark scowled and his mouth compressed into a thin, tight line. She immediately regretted distracting him, and pointed to the road. As calmly as she could, she said, "First, to the hospital." She saw him try to compose himself and refocus on getting them there.
Mark threaded their car around numerous stalled vehicles, accidents, and downed trees that blocked the streets, several times detouring through gas stations, parking lots, and front yards. They made it to St. Catherine's before the flood of injured reached it, although the ambulances, police vehicles, and walking injured crammed the emergency entrance. Mark parked on the grass in a remote corner of the grounds so that vehicles converging on the hospital would not block their car.
The terrier no longer trembled, and Lora thought it best to leave him in the car. She petted and stroked him with her good hand and told him, "You be a good boy, now. We'll be back."
The hospital was on the fringe of the mushroom cloud, which was dissipating in the light wind. In its place grew an uglier cloud of solid-looking black and gray smoke from the thousands of fires ignited by the nuclear blast. As Lora limped with Mark toward the hospital, she saw virtually no fallout on the ground and parked cars. In contrast to what she knew must have occurred in Manhattan, the hospital building stood untouched. The imposing structure was a mishmash of architecture, the result of years of added extensions. The old, central three-story brownstone structure remained, though, and looking toward it with her back to Manhattan, Lora thought it looked like a church in calm repose against a cloudless blue sky. The air here smelled fresh and felt crisp.
To handle the emergency load, the hospital had augmented its staff with every available doctor and nurse, but fortunately the deluge of human misery had yet to arrive. Frightened doctors and nurses gave Mark and Lora emergency medical treatment within a half hour. Doctors set their broken arms, put them in casts, and tightly taped Mark's ribs. Because of her protruding bones, a doctor wanted to give Lora a general anesthetic before working on it, but she refused.
"Give me a local and do what you can to get me through the next couple of weeks," she told him. "I'll have surgery later, if need be."
Both required many stitches, and afterward they filled prescriptions for pain and antibacterial drugs at the hospital pharmacy.
Worried, their fear showing, all the medical personnel wanted to know what had happened. Mark and Lora could do no more than tell them that the explosion was probably a nuclear bomb, and that they soon would be overwhelmed with patients injured in every conceivable way.
An officious nurse came around with a clipboard and asked them to fill out an information sheet. She seemed oblivious to the horror around her.
"Sorry," Mark said, "neither of us can write." He indicated their broken arms. "What do you want to know?"
Lora answered, "Lora Joy Reeves and Mark John Docker."
She responded, "I'm president and owner of the Joy Phim Democratic Peace Institute, and Mark is my assistant and translator. And my husband."
The nurse continued to ask for personal, medical, and insurance information until Lora put a stop to it. "We have to leave. I'm sorry, but we're running out of time."
Mark interrupted. "You have our telephone number. Give us a call if you need more information."
The nurse nodded, clasped her clipboard to her chest, and said over her shoulder as she walked off, "Have a good day."
Before leaving, Lora used the toilet. She emerged from the bathroom shaking and chilled with shock. She had dared peek at herself in the bathroom mirror. Proud of a beauty that in her late forties had only turned elegant, she now resembled an old woman. Her normally dark brown hair was matted and dirty, with grayish clumps and strands curling outward at odd angles. The cheek she had bitten was swollen, her lips puffy, her eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot. A witch out of a horror movie looks good by comparison, she thought ruefully, regarding the patches of antibacterial ointment and a large bandage that seemed to accentuate the lines in her face.
Feeling as if she was about to vomit, she stood at the entrance to the bathroom and tried to soothe her emotions. For the first time since the catastrophe, she took a real look at Mark. He looked much worse than she did. She had always admired his good looks and strong body, and his prematurely gray hair had only added to his attractiveness. Now he couldn't stand straight, his shoulders were rounded, and his face reflected all his suffering. Somehow he had lost a patch of hair, and one eyelid drooped in a face gray and haggard. There was a large patch bandage on his cheek. With his disheveled appearance and torn and dirty clothes, he looked like an unwashed, homeless druggie. That his one arm hung in a sling didn't help.
Seeing her distraught look, Mark put his good arm around her shoulder in spite of his painful ribs, kissed her on the forehead, and brushed her cheeks with his lips. "We survived, precious. We're alive. I couldn't bear losing you. I love you."
Lora took his hand, kissed it, and looked up into his eyes. "I love you too, honey," she tried to purr. It sounded like a moan.
Outside the hospital, they saw ambulances and police cars backed up to the emergency entrance, and dozens of stretchers deposited on the asphalt holding bloody and mortally injured people. An occasional cry punctuated the hubbub as triage doctors and nurses scurried from one stretcher to another, dividing the injured into those beyond help, those in need of immediate treatment, and those able to wait. A large crowd of injured people stumbled or limped into the hospital, some crying, some moaning, and some appearing stoic or dazed. Some were blinded and helped along by others. Two nurses organized them all, so that the most badly injured who might survive could receive care first.
Fortunately, Mark's foresight paid off; their Lux was not blocked. When they got in, the terrier remained where Lora had left him. He still held his tail tight against his stomach, but he sat up and looked in her direction with clouded, dead eyes. He sniffed her, then licked her hand as she tucked him in between her lap and her sling. She stroked his stomach. Her eyes grew moist. "You poor little guy. You may be permanently blinded."
Mark drove back to their apartment, steering with his left hand while she jockeyed the gearshift. Traffic was now stop and go on a few main roads, unmoving on all the others. Mark had to take a circuitous route along back roads, and detour through parking lots and alleys.
Lora's right arm now only ached and, freed from the pain that had dulled her mind, she gave full thought to the nuclear attack. Its full meaning hit her with the force of a violent slap in the face, but it was infinitely worse than physical pain. My God, our Institute must have been destroyed-all our people were killed.
Tears flowed, and sobs wrenched her body and jarred her broken arm. Physical pain again tried to flood her mind, but could not compete with her anguish. "The bomb exploded about 9:30," she pushed out. "Almost everyone would have been at work-all our department heads and our staff . . . dead. Janice, Bob, Shirley, Ed, Tony-Tony, whose parents are among our best friends. We've known him since birth! And brilliant Betty. And more. So many more . . . dead. Oh, Mark."
The little terrier sensed her grief. In spite of his own misery, he tried to push himself up on her lap and lick her face. Lora held him to her with her sling and cried so hard that she couldn't shift the car. Mark almost stalled when he had to slow down, and finally stopped the car. Freed from having to think of shifting, she mentally collapsed into mourning.
She pounded her fist on the dash, scaring the terrier. "So many good people, so many promising futures," she sobbed, "wiped out. So many families and loved ones devastated. And they were our people. Our people. All those in the middle and top positions within the Institute that we personally hired and nurtured . . ." She shuddered, then screamed, "Killed! All of them!"
Mark's grunt of pain and his touch penetrated her misery. Lora looked up though her tears to see that he had tried to put his arm around her shoulders and pull her close, but his sling had prevented him. He turned sideways and grunted again as he put his left hand on her shoulder and squeezed it.
Her sobs soon diminished to tearful shudders. She put her good hand on top of his and whimpered, "They were our family."
Mark shook his head, and Lora saw his own tears. "We were lucky. Had we not slept late, we would have been at the Institute at 7:30, and dead now, too. Those calls we made late last night to Southeast Asia saved us, made us oversleep. I can't believe our luck."
She felt him squeeze her shoulder again, as though trying to assure himself that she was alive. She tilted her head and kissed his hand. She wept for a few more minutes, then willed her misery to silence. She mourned for her dead no less, but now there was the future to think about. One thought now filled her mind: We have a transcendent duty, a blood obligation to all the dead, not only our own. It focused her energy, overcame her pain and anguish and gave her purpose. She patted Mark's hand, turned her face up to his, and said, "Let's go."
He took his hand off her shoulder and grabbed the steering wheel with his good hand. "I know what we've got to do," he whispered.
"We have a duty," Lora said, her voice breaking. "To ourselves, to our dead, and to humanity. Yes!" she exclaimed, and turned to Mark. "We've almost a full tank of gas. That will give us a start toward our scientific and engineering affiliate in Santa Barbara. But first, we've got to return to our apartment."
As they approached their apartment, refugees, injured, and vehicles of all kinds filled the main roads as people tried to flee the boroughs or the fires and rubble in Manhattan. Almost no one kept to their side of the road. Debris and tree limbs cluttered the streets. Raging fires now engulfed whole blocks. Mark again took to the narrow tertiary roads, and they were glad their apartment was on a small, seldom traveled road, reachable by back streets that few residents of Queens knew about. Even so, they had to detour through lots and, in two cases, backyards, knocking a fence down with their car. On one road no wider than a path, they teamed up with another car to push a tree limb out of the way with their bumpers.
They parked in front of their apartment, locked the car, and rushed inside. Lora put the terrier down and, while Mark got their suitcases, she jabbed the TV and radio on-buttons, looking for news about the nuclear attack. Despite being hungry for news, they had avoided turning on the car radio so they wouldn't be distracted during the difficult drive. They could not afford to damage the car-what they were sure was their only way to get to Santa Barbara, without stealing another car.
TV and radio reception was full of snow and static, and pictures and sound disappeared for minutes at a time. The news they did hear was sketchy, contradictory, and sometimes panicky. On one Gordon News channel broadcast from Philadelphia, the anchor claimed, "The attacks are acts of God for our immorality." As he started screaming, "Sinners, repent!" cameramen forcibly removed him from the news desk. A talk radio station host claimed, "It was the Russians. They attacked us. We have sent bombers over Russia to drop nuclear bombs on them in retaliation."
That's so stupid, Lora thought. We don't have any nuclear bombs anymore. We disarmed the last of them over twenty years ago.
An academic analyst on the KNS TV news channel claimed, "The United States has brought this upon ourselves, for lording it over and exploiting other countries, particularly poor countries."
Through it all, Mark and Lora wept. They tried to focus on packing their survival clothes and supplies. Suddenly Lora screamed, "Listen!" and dropped onto the arm of their easy chair.
The radio reception from Newark NYNU was clear: ". . . confirmed that a nuclear bomb destroyed Washington, D.C. at the same time the one in New York went off. The President of the United States, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President pro tempore of the Senate were all killed-"
"Holy Jesus," Mark cried, gaping at the radio. He leaned on the edge of the dinner table.
Worse was to come.
" . . . Cabinet was also devastated. Killed were the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of the Interior. This leaves George Peabody, Secretary of Agriculture, who was giving a speech in Florida. He was sworn in as President in Fort Lauderdale by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme-" The voice broke down and in moments was replaced by someone with a deep but mournful voice.
"This has just come in . . . Central London, Berlin, Paris, and Moscow also were wiped out-"
"Oh my God!" Lora shrieked. "Our affiliated institutes in those cities must be gone-all our people. Mark, I can't bear it." She collapsed slowly to the floor. She was beyond sobbing, beyond physical pain. She lay trembling on the floor, her good hand covering her face, and wailed.
Mark's face had become a sickly white. He almost fell into the easy chair next to Lora. He put his face into his left hand and bawled. They barely registered the rest of the news announcement.
"Great Britain lost not only its top leaders, but also the queen. Germany and France were also politically guillotined. The President of Russia survived only because he was visiting his mother in Kazan."
Minutes later, Mark wiped his face with the edge of the satin tablecloth, still shuddering with suppressed sobs, and knelt down beside Lora. He stroked her shoulder and hair. When she pulled her wet hand away from her face to hold his, he told her in a quavering voice, "C'mon, precious. We'll have to save some big tears till later. No time."
She couldn't get any words out, but she got herself under control and he helped her get up. She held him lightly, avoiding his ribs, and put her head on his shoulder for a moment before gently pushing away. They both went back to packing what they would take with them.
No one knew who did it. There was nothing but speculation on the radio and TV. "It's Russia," a high government source reportedly said.
"Crazy!" Mark swore at the radio. "It's been a democracy for three decades. We've had no serious conflict with Russia."
A radio talk show host exclaimed, "A rich and powerful secret international organization did it. They used nuclear weapons to take over the world." Others blamed "those evil Islamic extremists," but couldn't agree on who would have organized and led such an attack.
Lora found her voice, although it trembled. "The problem is, without a major international war in the twentieth century, secret and security services in the democracies have atrophied . . . and political acumen about surprise attacks has dulled." She wiped her eyes and face with a tissue and blew her nose into another.
Mark glanced at her and nodded. He piled more folders on the floor.
Once they'd accumulated all they were going to take to the car, Lora pointed to the phone and whispered, "No matter how long it takes, we must do it."
"Yes," Mark replied. "I know, but I hate it."
They began to telephone the surviving families of their department heads, secretaries, and others that they knew personally. Few calls went through, and static and fade-outs made conversation difficult. They tried to console the few they reached. They cried with them and gave them the private telephone number for their affiliate in Santa Barbara, telling them, "Call if you need any aid, or just want to talk."
Only to those who knew the secret of their institute, the husbands and wives of their department heads, did they divulge their plans. All approved. Through their tears, they offered Mark and Lora whatever help they could give.
Lora tried to call their Santa Barbara affiliate, but none of the telephone numbers worked. She tried to eletter and swore when she couldn't get a connection. Mark put his good hand on her shoulder and quietly pointed out that their ecomm hub had been in their Manhattan Institute.
Finally, they each made several laborious trips to the car to load it with what they had piled near their apartment door-food, water, first aid and other survival supplies, camping clothes, important documents and disks, laptop computers, weapons, and all their cash and jewelry.
They secured everything in the apartment for what they thought might be a long or permanent absence. Lora gave the terrier water. He had peed in a kitchen corner. "Why am I doing this?" she asked herself as she cleaned it up, but did it anyway. The terrier's tail was extended now, but still not wagging. She didn't blame him. Mine wouldn't wag either, she thought as she took him with her to the car.
Coughing from the smoke that now hung in the air, they drove the three blocks to where their car had been parked before the explosion and knocked on a number of doors in the neighborhood, asking if anyone had lost or knew anything about the little dog that Lora carried in one arm. Few people answered their doors. Those who did were too distressed to care, or knew nothing about the terrier. Lora gave up after an hour. There was too much at stake to delay any longer. They began what normally would have been a three thousand mile drive to Santa Barbara.
At one time, Lora had consolidated all the scientific and engineering work in their New York Institute. Increasingly, however, she found that much of the research related to their mission was going on in Santa Barbara. The city had mushroomed into the scientific, technological, and computer capital of the world. She therefore set up an affiliated institute there and moved their most important scientific work into it from New York. It's a good thing I did, she thought. Otherwise, we could never do what we intend to do now.
"Let's see," Mark mused. "What routes are we going to take? We've always flown long distances."
Lora reached into the back seat with her good hand and picked up the road atlas. She took their compass out of the glove compartment. "We have all we need," Lora murmured, still subdued by horror.
Mark studied the maps, and asked Lora to help him remember the routes. "We'll catch Route 5 outside of New York to Pittsburgh, and from there Transcon Route 42 through Columbus, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and Las Vegas, to a junction outside of Los Angeles. Then it's a short hop on Route 96 to Santa Barbara. Three routes in all."
So they thought. They didn't realize what a nightmare of back roads, detours, undesignated farm roads, and dangers would be involved in driving anywhere in the aftermath of this national catastrophe. More than once, that road atlas and simple compass saved them from getting completely lost.
They drove three hours on, three hours off, day and night, and made room on the back seat so that their off time could be spent sleeping. Even though they had casts on their right arms, they developed a way of shifting. They took their encased arms out of their slings before they changed places, and while driving they would bend over the edge of the steering wheel, grip the knob of the stick shift with their extended fingers, and shift only when they had to prevent stalling or to get the car moving. It was most difficult for Mark because of his broken ribs. Seeing his tight-lipped grimaces, Lora knew it was painful for him, but he insisted on doing his share of the driving.
They faced urban refugees, traffic jams, blocked roads, suspicious cops and state troopers, and overeager national guardsmen. They had brought their driver's licenses, Institute I.D.s, and federal retirement cards, all with photos, and those got them through roadblocks and state border checks.
Gasoline was scarce. Many gas stations had been vandalized and those they found selling gas were demanding as much as fifteen dollars a gallon. They learned to stop at the first functioning gas station as soon as their tank dropped down to half-full.
The first time they filled up at a combined store and gasoline station, they bought a bag of dog food and a large thermos. From then on they filled the thermos with coffee when they stopped to eat once a day, and drank coffee along the way to assure they wouldn't fall asleep while driving, especially at night.
After they ate they let the terrier out of the car and fed him. During their toilet breaks, they also let him roam around to get used to his blindness. He never explored far and responded to "Spunky," the name Lora gave him. His tail now wagged when he approached them, and he judged where he was going by sound and smell. He had shaken off his misery and proudly held his head high.
"I'm beginning to love the little guy," Lora told Mark.
On their second day on the road, they heard the incredible ultimatum over the car radio. There was no longer any question of who was responsible for the most monstrous slaughter in human history.
I wish he were dead.
Turghun stood staring through the bulletproof glass, his face shining with the light of victory. Beside him, so pear shaped that not even a tailored uniform could be made to hang right, was General Mirzat Zunun, his chief of all combined military forces. By his narrowed eyes and smug expression, he appeared to be gloating already over the coming victory.
It is a wonder he does not crow like a rooster, thought Abul.
On the other side of Turghun towered long-faced and full-bearded Imam Ch'en Hsun. He was the head of China's National Governing Council-in effect, a council of Islamic Sabah clerics-and wore his emblematic toe length, all white, dragon court robe. Always inscrutable, always slippery tongued, always a holy word of Sabah on his lips. Abul did not trust him and had advised his son against appointing him to that powerful position.
Abul dropped his eyes for a moment-they felt almost too heavy to move-and gazed down with disgust verging on horror at the activity on the other side of the glass. A chill spiraled up his spine, competing with the apparent arthritis flaring up in his neck. He felt nauseous. If he vomited, he knew in what direction to spew it all.
Below was a roomful of metal desks topped with Yang computers, Lan consoles, and microphones. There were twenty desks, two for each of the major powers whose cities were to be destroyed. Twenty carefully screened technicians and scientists wearing headphones manned them. Each had a key paired up with that held by the technician at the other desk. The two keys would be inserted within four seconds of each other into key locks on the consoles of the two desks for a specific country. They would unlock the switches that set off a nuclear bomb in one or another of its cities.
Built into the wall in front of the room was a six by twelve foot electronic world map, with China at the center. Twelve red circles marked the cities already destroyed by hidden nuclear weapons. One red, pulsing X indicated the bomb had not gone off in Tokyo. Peking had a blue square around it on the map, as though it were surrounded by protective iron walls.
Security men, with their square, narrow brimmed hats and red and blue pinstriped trousers, stood or ambled around the room along with a supervising general and his aides. Four security men hovered over the Japan desks as two technicians struggled with their unlocked toggles. They kept inserting their keys into the locks simultaneously, and pushing their toggle switches back and forth. Suddenly one of them threw up his hands exuberantly as a row of green lights appeared on his console. He yelled something and everybody stared at the wall map.
In the booth, no one moved. Abul thought he could hear his blood boiling in horror. Maybe it was someone breathing heavily.
It could not be my son. He has not taken a decent breath in years.
The X over Tokyo disappeared. A minute went by. A red circle appeared.
General Zunun turned to Turghun and smiled. His chest swelled up even more, and he stated the obvious: "The second Tokyo bomb worked."
Turghun glanced at him, then at his father Abul for the time it takes to blink, and looked back at the floor below. "Good," he said, as though commenting on the fit of his shoes.
I cannot believe Turghun would do this monstrous killing, Abul thought for the thousandth time. I'm still as sickened by it as when I first heard about his evil plans. Abul had strongly advised against the attack. He told Turghun it must not be done this way. His method-of patience and infiltration and awaiting the right political moment to strike-would work, as it had in China.
Abul rubbed an arthritic hand over his face, each finger feeling its own deep wrinkle, and checked the large black and white wall clock again-9:14 p.m.
Only fourteen minutes have passed.
Further along the observation window, General Zunun's adjutant, Colonel Chi An, sat at a gray metal desk. Different colored phones rested on the desk in front of him. The desk sat on a raised metal platform that allowed Chi An a full view of the floor below.
Abul studied him. Tomorrow Turghun's ultimatum will be broadcast to the world in my name, despite my protests. Then the world will think I committed this unspeakably horrible act. Whether this ends in world victory or not, I do not care. This is not God's way; this is not the way of Sabah; this is not what I taught my son.
"Your method takes too long," Turghun had yelled at Abul, waving his hands as though tormented by flies. "We would all be dead before the final victory. This way, our victory will be fast and complete. We will control the world. Sabahism will be universal."
Abul argued, "Yes, but at what cost? One must kill to take power and consolidate it, to be sure. But not innocents. Not the masses; they could not care less who ruled. And not the wealth and history each major city contains. God wishes us to exploit what the centuries have built, not destroy it. God wants us to educate, convert to the true faith, and uplift the people in his name. You want to kill them like cockroaches, like pouring gasoline on an ant's nest and setting it ablaze."
Turghun had ignored his arguments, and made his preparations. He had the power.
Abul glanced at the two security officers in the back of the booth. Both had their eyes on him; they always did, no matter where he went. Sometimes he felt like pissing on their legs, and excusing himself as an old man.
He had threatened to go to the people. His name was still the power among the people and in the mosques. But Turghun had gradually taken away all his physical authority, all his physical power.
Oh, Abul reflected, I still can make speeches on behalf of God and the book of Sabah. But I first must ask for use of the appropriate facilities, and I have two of these security brutes always standing nearby. No security guard would let him enter a radio or television studio without express permission from his son. He couldn't even make a tape, since he had no recording device, and he didn't know how to use a computer. But he was secretly learning. Soon he would be able to get the word out by eletter or over the esystem.
All Abul's top men were long gone, either dead or transferred out of his reach. His uncle died decades ago. His son was his only living relative. There was not one person he could trust to kill Turghun, not one person around him who would come to his defense if his son tried to kill him.
I'm now a paper caliph.
Abul dropped his throbbing head into his hands. Is this all it means? All my successes, all my triumphs, all my planning for God, all my teaching? I converted billions to the true God; I thought my son had learned the way of Sabahism and would carry on the message of God after me.
I cannot believe how all I have done has ended.
On November 16, 1914, soon after Uighuristan became independent of China, Abul took his first breath on the outskirts of Kashgar, in the small bedroom of a three room, mud-brick home. His mother Niyasam Sabah bore him alone. She cut his umbilical cord after he arrived. She cleaned up both of them.
His mother told him years later that she was breast-feeding him when his father Aisha returned from herding his goats and came into the bedroom. In the dim light from the small window, he glanced at the afterbirth in a pail, the bloody towels, the wet bed, and finally stared at the infant. He approached the bed and leaned over for a good look at his tiny, wrinkled face. He asked gruffly, "Is it a boy?"
"Yes," Niyasam said proudly.
The hard lines of his father's face crinkled into a rare smile. Aisha half bowed and clasped his hands together in momentary prayer, repeating several times, "God be praised."
He put his rough hand on Niyasam's head for a second, nodded, and turned to leave. As he strutted into the main room he threw over his shoulder, "You take good care of Abul. That's what I will name him."
Abul's father husbanded and sold livestock, particularly sheep and goats, and Abul began to learn the trade even as a child. By the age of seven he regularly helped his father tend his livestock and sell them at the market. As was traditional in this part of the world, he also learned from his family about Mohammed and Allah-what Muslims called God-and the sacred Quran. He bowed in the direction of Mecca and said a prayer to God five times a day.
In this most conservative Islamic city, his family was one of the most fundamentalist. They attended the mosque whenever possible and on all Fridays and religious holidays, his father saved ten percent of the family income per year in the hope of taking Abul on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and he enrolled Abul in the Idgah Madrasa, an Islamic religious school at the famous twelfth century Idgah Mosque.
Now recorded in the holy book called The Sabah by his biographers, what happened to Abul at the age of thirteen would transform world history. He remembered that time differently, but he knew such religious myths were important to the faithful.
While on the way home with his father after herding their sheep, Abul fell to the ground with convulsions. His lips turned blue, his forehead oozed sweat, and he foamed about the mouth. Frightened by Abul's convulsions and frightening appearance, Aisha tried to pick him up to rush him home, but his violent shaking made handling him too difficult.
When Abul's convulsions stopped, he shuddered briefly. After a few minutes, he rolled over and pushed himself up to sit on a rock. His mind was still numb; he felt miserable, and he had a dull headache. It was minutes before Abul was able to focus on his father. When he did, he saw that Aisha looked worse than he felt. His father was shaking. Fear for Abul, his only son, lined his face and filled his eyes.
Abul knew nothing about epileptic fits, and such were unknown to his father and most people of Kashgar. At the time he thought it was something he ate, maybe bad lamb.
At thirteen, boyish pranks and jokes, especially on his parents, came naturally to Abul. It was also the way he relieved his fears and released tension. He was a believer in Islam, of course. Through his classes at the madrasa and his father, he was an good Muslim boy. But he was also questioning and iconoclastic, and his questions at the madrasa and his pranks had caused his father and him some grief.
So as his scared father leaned over him and while Abul's lower lip still trembled from the convulsions, Abul joked. That is, he thought he did at the time. The Sabah has him saying, "Father, I have had a holy visit. The angel Gabriel came to me. He told me that God wants to speak to me through him. God said that I would be his prophet. I am in Mohammed's image and must go forth and lead all people to Paradise."
Abul did not talk like that at thirteen. Years later he recalled saying something like, "Father, I saw the angel Gabriel. He said he speaks to me for God. He said God wants me as his prophet. He said I should take people to Paradise."
Abul's black hair was long and curly and framed an angelic, sweet face like a halo. He knew even at his young age that his looks put adults on their best behavior around him. Other boys teased and taunted him for it.
So, when Abul adopted what should have been a comical, saintly look and told Aisha, a simple and religious man, of his supposed revelation, his father gaped at him. He fell to his knees and bowed his forehead to the ground. He surprised Abul by saying, "You are God's prophet. God be praised. Lead us, Abul of God. I believe."
Abul thought his father was also joking, and at any moment would let out a laugh and kick him in the ass as he did his donkeys. Playing out the joke with him, Abul stood, asked him to rise, and said in a high-pitched voice, "Take your prophet home."
Rather than laughing, Aisha stood, bowed, and said, "Everyone must hear."
His father did get the whole family together, to Abul's further surprise. Almost all came: his married sister and her husband, three cousins, his in-laws, and two uncles. All crowded into their small home and gathered before the fireplace to hear about Abul's "revelation." His father described in detail Abul's convulsions and contortions and the color of his face and lips, and explained that this was due to the stress of his communication with an otherworldly being. Then he looked at Abul reverently.
Abul knew his father had him now. This was his way of being sarcastic. He was going to teach Abul a lesson for making a joke about God and Gabriel, for blasphemy, and once he repeated his "vision," his father would hold him up as a bad example and punish him in front of everyone. Abul trembled and chewed his nails. He could not look at his father. He'd not intended that things would go this far, but he felt he had to play it out. He tried to speak in a firm and knowing voice, but it sounded squeaky when he told them about Gabriel coming before him in the image of a man, and what he said to Abul.
No one laughed. His sister told him later that it was because his father brought everyone together with the admonition, "My son is divinely commissioned by God to lead us all."
But his mother was hearing this from Abul for the first time. Now she realized why his father had given him special treatment for the two days before this family meeting. Abul knew she was not dumb. She asked, "Are you sure you did not have dreams or hallucinations? It was very hot that day, and you did not eat breakfast." His sister nodded her agreement.
If his mother had just said, "You're joking," and shook her finger at him, he would have confessed his joke. But hallucinations or dreams? He was not going to admit to those. Abul replied, "It had to be a revelation." He made a boyish exaggeration. "I saw Gabriel as if he were standing here. He was so clear to me." He added what he hoped was his clincher: "But this was hard on my body. It was painful. Father saw this."
Most important, Uncle Hasan believed. Abul did not know it at the time and thought that when everyone went home, that would be the end of it. But, as an important businessman and contributor to the Idgah Mosque, Hasan told Molla Abduvahit Ahmedi about Abul's "visions." Ahmedi knew about Abul's studies at the madrasa and, Hasan told Abul later, was impressed by his seriousness and intelligence. So Ahmedi invited Abul to visit him, and then asked him to describe his "revelation."
Abul was scared. He could not admit to such a joke before Ahmedi. Abul was sure Ahmedi would see him as an evil blasphemer, and he would be kicked out of the madrasa and his family shunned. Stammering, hesitating, face heating up, he retold his story. He did better when Ahmedi asked him to repeat it, but Abul thought at the time, I sound like I've been caught peeing in the fireplace.
Abul's uncle told him afterward that Molla Ahmedi was not impressed, that Ahmedi thought Abul's "intense study of the Quran and the heat of the day caused him to hallucinate a revelation." Abul was only relieved to hear that Ahmedi did not think him a blasphemer.
"Whew," Abul said to himself. "I accept that."
That interview was not the end of it, however. Unknown to Abul, his father and uncle were trying to convert everyone they knew to his "revelation." This went slowly at first, with few converts. But this changed after Abul turned fourteen. While shopping with his mother at the Alpekin food market, the largest in Kashgar, he dropped to the rough ground in the midst of the shoppers. As his body convulsed and contorted in another epileptic fit, a crowd formed a large circle around him. His mother tried to shield his face from the sun and loosen his cotton shirt.
Many had heard about his "revelation" and it had become a local joke. No one laughed, however, when they saw his convulsions. When they ended several minutes later, he lay trembling for a few minutes, his eyes firmly closed, apparently exhausted.
Someone called out, "He has had another revelation." Another yelled, "He has talked to God." Abul heard and realized he was pinned down by his joke like a butterfly to a board. He just could not walk away. He would be the joke of Kashgar for the rest of his life.
Still weak, Abul got to his feet, held out his hands to the crowd, and in a quavering voice (he was really scared by this public speaking) that grew gradually firmer, he repeated parts of the sermon the Molla Aitbayev gave some Fridays, leaving out references to Mohammed. Abul recalled later that he intoned something like, "God has again talked to me through the angel Gabriel. He said, 'God is great. You are my prophet. Lead your people to Paradise. Show them the way. Through them, lead the world to salvation.'"
Gaining inspiration, Abul pointed with a flourish to a wrinkled, bearded man in front of the crowd and said, "Gabriel stood before me like he does. Gabriel told me, 'I speak to you for God.'"
Not bad for a fourteen-year-old, Abul thought years later.
The crowd was hushed, creating a surreal bubble of silence against the distant market hubbub.
Abruptly, the old man he had pointed to knelt and bowed; an old woman followed him, then one person after another until half the onlookers were on their knees, chanting, "Oh Prophet, lead us."
Word spread in the market that the Prophet had come to Kashgar, and was in this very market. People rushed to see Abul Sabah, the supposed prophet, and prostrated themselves. Two men lifted him to stand on a melon table so that all could see him. As the swelling crowd gathered around, many in the front still on their knees, Abul felt a thrill of exhilaration. Carried away, he repeated over and over in one combination of words or another, "I am God's prophet. He asked me to lead you to Paradise. My pain proves it."
Finally his voice gave out. Beyond exhaustion, he plopped down on the table and rolled off to stand unsteadily by his bowing mother. He put his hand on her shoulder, and when she saw it was Abul's, she got to her feet and looked at him in awe. When he croaked, "Home," she took his hand and led him through the silent crowd.
From that day on, she gave Abul special treatment at home, including his favorite meals. His father would not let him work with him. "Prophets do not milk goats," he told Abul while on his knees, bowing.
Abul now took it all seriously. And well he might. More and more Uighurs accepted his supposed holy leadership. He had more public fits, some now contrived, but he knew how to make them look good. He came to believe that what he had thought was a fit, and a joke-what he thought of as play-acting-was really God's way of communicating his intent while making it easy on him. God had put the idea of a joke in his mind. Otherwise, he might have been too scared to speak, or thought he was crazy. God does work in mysterious ways, he thought, but not so mysterious that his methods cannot be divined by his prophets.
Abul now preached Sabahism, as his converts now called it, to large groups that gathered in one rich man's home after another. He had been taught about Mohammed and the faith, about God's teachings. He had read the holy Quran and interpretations of it. He had heard how the mollas interpreted God's words. And it all came together in his head. He just knew what God wanted him to say: God wants the whole world to follow His Will-to be Muslim. If non-Muslims do not accept His Will, force is legitimate to convert those infidels to Islam. Using force to this holy end is an obligation of all faithful Muslims. It is a holy Jihad.
Moreover, all Muslims must be united under one banner, and that is the banner of Sabahism. In unity there is God. In unity there is paradise. In disunity there is hell. In disunity there is Satan's work.
Abul encouraged what his Sabahists were calling the Sabah Hanafi School of Islam. Even though Abul disagreed with the Hanafi School, it dominated Islamic teaching in Kashgar. He was taught this in the madrasa, and naturally he hung his preaching on this hook. This was a practical consideration advised by Uncle Hasan, not a religious one. Actually, the Hanafi School tolerated different ways of interpreting the Shari'ah-Islamic divine law. The school taught that law was what legal and religious Muslim scholars established by agreement, and that agreement was evidence of God's will.
Abul thought this was all wrong, but he never said so outright. Instead, in boyish words, he claimed that God told him through Gabriel what this agreement should be and that those clergy who agreed with him were correct in their interpretation of the Shari'ah.
Abul no longer lived at home, but moved from one rich man's house to another. He had all the money he needed, through donations. He was happy. And he was happier when he discovered another benefit, when beautiful Tillakiz came into his bed for a night, unasked. From then on, he slept alone only when he wanted to.
In a population of about thirty thousand, Abul had converted about six thousand people by the age of eighteen, in spite of the best efforts of the Muslim clerics to counter his teaching. One reason for his attraction was that he gave voice to what many Uighurs believed. The need for unity among Islamic tribes and nations was intensely felt, even preached by the mollas, although none of them claimed they were messengers of God. All of them believed unity was essential against the hated Chinese, English, and Russians, all former colonists or meddlers in the region's affairs. None of them could forget the horrendous murder of hundreds of thousands of Muslims during the Chinese annexation of their country.
Many of his rich converts financed the Sabah School in 1932, purposely built near the Idgah Mosque, and in which he would give sermons on the holy task that God had assigned him. His preaching and his school aroused the hostility of the clerics, especially that of Molla Bahtiyar Ezim, who believed Abul was a danger to the community and Islam-so much so that he decided to act against him.
In August 1933 Abul found out that in their forthcoming Friday sermons in all Kashgar's major mosques, the mollas planned to denounce him as a fake, as a false prophet and blasphemer of Mohammed. He felt helpless. Utterly depressed. There was nothing he could do.
But, the day before these sermons were to be delivered, Ezim denounced Abul before Mamat Abliz, the Chief of Police, and demanded that Abliz arrest Abul immediately after the sermon. A fundamentalist Muslim and friend of Ezim, Abliz gave the order to Captain Abulahat Khair, and added that Abul should be shot "while trying to escape."
Khair had attended one of Abul's sermons at the home of a friend, and had seen firsthand one of his "God induced" convulsions. He'd become a secret and fervent follower of Sabah. He was an exceptionally tall and big-boned Uighur, with a barrel chest and a loud, commanding voice. Although in his mid-thirties and still young for his position, he had a charismatic presence that demanded obedience from his men. With Chief Aliz's order in hand, Khair contacted his friend and fellow convert, Major Turdi Musa, who was in command of the battalion of army troops encamped just outside of Kashgar. Together, without a word to Abul, they made their plans.
Overnight, an army company sealed off the political center of Kashgar. In the hours before dawn, Captain Khair led a police squad of selected Sabahs to the homes of Abliz and the mayor, while Major Musa took care of the seven members of the "advisory" Kashgar Islamic Council. All were summarily shot, including every member of their families. By early morning, Kashgar was declared "The Holy City of Sabah."
Throughout the morning, Sabah volunteers, troops, and police arrested all the writers, teachers, and religious figures who had been critical of the Sabah School or Abul. They were given two choices-convert to Sabah or die. Those who would not convert were tortured to reveal others who plotted against or denied the truth of Abul's prophecies. All but one of the important clerics were allowed to flee to Urumqi, the capital.
That morning, Abul was asleep in wealthy Abduhelil Gohar's house, where at his invitation Abul had been spending the week. About 8:30 a.m., there was a heavy knock on the bedroom door. Abul covered his companion for the night, and said, "Come in."
Captain Khair, Major Musa, and Gohar entered, seeming apologetic. Before saying anything, they looked at his bed, and Khair put his fingers to his mouth. Abul lifted the cover from over his companion's head and told her that she would have to leave. Without a word and with obvious pride, she got out of the bed, threw her clothes on, and, with a nod toward Abul, walked out the open door.
Captain Khair closed the door behind her, and he and the others got on their knees and bowed to Abul. Khair intoned, "Oh Prophet Sabah, you rule Kashgar. Lead us to glory and to paradise."
Pleased but confused, Abul told them, "Stand up and tell me why you are here."
They told him.
He was thunderstruck. He was incredulous. Speechless.
They thought Abul was listening to God.
He thought, I must be God's prophet. What else can explain that I now rule Kashgar?
What he didn't realize at the time was that his life hung on his next words. Khair and Musa believed in Abul Sabah. They believed they had done the right thing for Sabah and Sabahism. But if he rebuked them, if he created doubt in their minds about their actions, they could have transferred this doubt to his holy authority. At the moment they were the real rulers of Kashgar, and they could still rule in the name of Sabah even though Abul had gone to Paradise, killed by a blasphemer. That might be better, since rule of Kashgar would be without his interference.
Abul was too inexperienced in power to think of this at the time. He did feel outrage at their murders. He knew many of those they'd killed. Although he thought Khair and Musa were mistaken about God's way, they were good Uighurs. But, had they asked him beforehand, he would have said, "No killing."
They had not, and the deed was done. And after all, he was now a ruler, with great power to spread Sabahism.
None of this ambivalence showed in Abul's voice when he finally put his hand on Captain Khair's shoulder and blessed him and the others: "All be praised. You have done God's work."
Major Musa let out his breath with a whoosh, and Khair's smile almost cut his face in two. Gohar just looked confused. Letting his own breath out in a gust, Abul thought, Thanks to God, I said the right words.
Fortunately for the conspirators, few in the outside world or the democracies knew what happened in Kashgar. Any large-scale mass murder of this sort, especially of political and religious leaders, normally would have come to their attention, either through their diplomats or foreign reporters. Uighuristan, however, was Middle Asia, deeply recessed from world attention by high mountains and deserts, and it existed on the remote and little explored peripheries of countries like China, India, Afghanistan, and Russia.
After the coup in Kashgar, Molla Ahmedi of the Idgah Mosque was the only important clergyman who remained. Captain Khair and Major Musa had given Ahmedi the choice between death and conversion, and he chose God's Way. They told him what they expected of his Friday sermon, and he gave it: "Prostrate yourselves before the true Prophet, for his name is Abul Sabah and he speaks in the name of God."
With much humility and several bows, Khair also suggested to Abul what he might do afterward. Khair and Musa had taken the lead; Abul could do no more than agree.
The sermon over, Abul strode with his Uncle Hasan through prostrating crowds of worshippers to stand on the steps of the Government Building. He was so nervous, he was afraid his baggy trousers fluttered as though in a wind.
Hasan stood behind Abul. As planned, Musa and Khair arrived to stand on each side of him. Then, before an awed crowd of thousands, Musa declared that Abul Sabah was the Holy Leader of Kashgar. Reverently, Uncle Hasan stepped around Musa and prostrated himself at Abul's feet. In a loud voice that carried to many in the crowd, he offered to take over the onerous task of political governance of the city on the Prophet's behalf.
I did not know he was going to say that. What could I do? I nodded, not trusting my voice.
And a huge cheer erupted from the crowd. Uncle Hasan stood up and, pointing to each of them in turn, appointed Major Musa as General in charge of all military forces, and Captain Khair as Chief of police and security.
Hasan turned to the crowd, opened his arms wide, and proclaimed, "This day is for the celebration of God and his Prophet Abul Sabah. Henceforth, it will be an annual holiday for prayer and thankfulness."
Abul heard that, when the expelled mollas reached Urumqi, the capital of Uighuristan, they told the powerful national Council of Clerics and President Awasy what had happened in Kashgar. Awasy then ordered police forces to arrest Abul Sabah's thousand or so followers in the city, and sent orders out to all army units to prepare to march to Kashgar to fight the blasphemers.
After his formal investiture of power, General Musa explained to Abul the military problem Awasy faced. The country's army units were largely stationed five hundred or more miles east and southeast, along the border with China. They were far from the axis of approach to Kashgar, or that between Kashgar and Urumqi. They had never faced in their lifetime such a rebellion as what now existed.
Musa prepared for battle. Abul had no role in this planning, but he was asked to speak to God on behalf of the proposed military campaign. Thus, with what he believed was God's help, he had a fit while attending prayers at the famous Azna Mosque, with over nine hundred Muslim men present.
Coming out of his convulsions, he declared, "Gabriel again appeared before me in the shape of a man." Abul rose and, reaching his hands out to all there, he proclaimed, "Through Gabriel, God told me that every Muslim who wants to go to Paradise must fight on his behalf and unify the faith under Sabah. He told me to preach that the holy duty of all Muslims is to join in this holy war."
Volunteers flocked to join his crusade, but there was no time to train them. Most had ancient rifles, and were no more than ragtag forces around the core army battalion that had been stationed outside Kashgar. No matter how ill-trained some under his command were, General Musa insisted that they must all march to the capital and capture it before the country's army could pull its units together to attack Kashgar or protect the capital.
Three days after the celebration, General Musa moved out with a force of six thousand volunteers and military men on horses, camels, and on foot. Clothed all in white and riding on a strutting white Arabian horse, Abul was at his side. Molla Ahmedi rode behind them.
They marched along the historic road toward the Tianshan Mountains. Urumqi lay on the other side. The road skirted the lethal and desolate Taklamakan Desert, but even so, the heat prevented them from moving at all during midday. On the way they met small army units at Akesu, Baicheng, and Kuche, all carrying white flags. Abul never had to say a word. He sat proudly on his horse while General Musa dictated terms: For God, join Sabah's army or die. They joined.
At Kurle, about twenty miles before the mountains, General Musa dispatched assassins near dawn. They sent to paradise its mayor, the head of the clergy council, and the colonel in charge of the local army forces. In the resulting chaos, the defending army units surrendered and enlarged Musa's forces by about one thousand trained men.
A few miles farther, the small town of Yanqi lay in the foothills, guarding the pass to Urumqi. When the major in charge of the army unit stationed there saw the size of Musa's forces, he surrendered without a fight. As Musa prepared to enter the pass to Urumqi, he had nearly eight thousand men.
Then he laid a trap.
Throughout the march, General Musa had sent advance units ahead, riding Musa's fastest horses. They killed any couriers they found and cut all telegraph and phone wires to Urumqi, except for those at Yanqi. When Musa's forces reached Yanqi, he had the army telephone operator, under the threat of death to him and his whole family, telephone army headquarters in Urumqi.
The operator yelled into the phone what Musa had written on a pad before him: "Alert, alert! A courier from Kuche has just ridden in to our base to warn us. Sabah forces are on their way and now are only about one hundred miles away. They have about five thousand men."
With pistols held to their temples, local army officers were placed at all available phones to repeat the warning if military headquarters tried to verify the call.
General Musa now deployed his forces in the mountains in three places. He put those with modern rifles among the rocks that hung above a narrow ravine in the pass. At the Yanqi end of the ravine, he placed his best soldiers. Hidden above the entrance to the ravine were most of the volunteers, commanded by his best officers.
President Awasy's army had never fought a modern war and his officers had no more military experience than that gathered while fighting bandits. Moreover, since no large-scale modern war had been fought elsewhere using airplanes, they had no example to follow-they never thought to use the three vintage biplanes still at their small international airport to reconnoiter ahead of their forces.
When Awasy's army of nine thousand troops passed through the ravine in an orderly march, the ambush caught them by surprise. Rifle fire from the rocks above them decimated their ranks, and when officers ordered their soldiers to rapidly deploy forward, they ran into a solid wall of fire from Musa's soldiers, who blocked the ravine. Many of Awasy's troops turned and ran, but by that time Musa's volunteers had filled the road to their rear, and with guns, knives, sabers, and pitchforks, butchered almost all of them. No mercy was shown. By the end of the battle, all but eleven hundred prisoners were dead or wounded.
Abul was not asked and did not want this, but Musa ordered that all the officers among the prisoners be killed, and the rest be given the choice of accepting Sabah as their prophet, or death. The remainder of the day was spent killing the wounded. When Abul found out about this, he told Musa to save those who were only wounded in the arms or legs. Musa said that his order had gone out, and it was too late to change it. He gave all the army weapons and the surviving horses and camels to the volunteers.
At daybreak the next day, Musa's army crossed the mountains and entered a defenseless capital. President Awasy welcomed Abul Sabah as the Prophet on the steps of the Presidential Palace, but at a word from Molla Ahmedi to General Musa beside him, the General had his men grab Awasy and hang him from the balcony outside the President's third floor office.
Abul, frozen in place, could only gape at the ongoing murder. He was glad his jaw did not drop, but he thought, This is-was-the President of Uighuristan. This is an internationally recognized country. Awasy was not a democrat, God forbid, but according to our traditions, the Council of Islamic Clergy appointed him. He was himself a recognized molla. But there he is, shaking and kicking, being hanged in MY name.
Without a word to Abul at the time, but acknowledged afterward, Musa had his men track down the clerics who had been expelled from Kashgar and execute them for blasphemy. Abul also found out that any government official, molla, or professional who informers claimed was involved in anti-Sabah activities, sermons, writing, or teaching, was also executed.
General Musa and Molla Ahmedi had plans for their first evening in power. Thousands of people, with cheer leaders scattered among them, gathered before the Presidential Palace. Some waved their fists, others waved the flag of Uighuristan, as they all chanted, "There is only one God, and Sabah is his prophet. Sabah, Sabah, Sabah."
Abul stood on the presidential balcony from which Awasy had been hung. Looking over the crowd of thousands, he waved his hand and hoped he had a look of revelation and prayer on his angelic face, rather than the disgust he felt.
At the set time, with radio and loudspeaker microphones in front of him, Abul read words written by Molla Ahmedi on a sheet pinned to a Chinese elm bench hidden by the balcony.
"Hear me, the great and holy Muslims of Uighuristan. I am your Prophet of God and I have come directly at His request to unify Islam and bring all under God. All Muslims everywhere must submit to His will and live according to the Quran, as your prophet, with His guidance, has interpreted it. Henceforth, by the will of God, Uighuristan will be a caliphate and I will be your caliph. General Musa will handle secular matters and will be my chief advisor. Molla Ahmedi will lead the Council of Clerics. There is no god but God, and I am His prophet."
General Musa ordered all army commanders throughout Uighuristan to return their men to their camps, and join him in the capital for a military meeting. As, in twos and threes, they entered the capital, Musa greeted them, gave them the best of quarters, and fed them well. Once the fifty-seven top commanders had all arrived, Musa convened them for a staff meeting in the auditorium at military headquarters. Before they entered the auditorium, soldiers disarmed them as "a precaution against an enemy of Sabah being among them."
Once all were seated, General Musa came in from a side door. He was followed by armed men who soon filled the aisle along both sides of the auditorium and guarded the rear exit. After all his men were in place, Musa raised his hands to quiet the buzz of alarm. The air was heavy with the smell of fear.
When he had everyone's attention, he spoke. "My fellow commanders. You now have the great privilege of joining in God's great struggle against blasphemy and the infidels."
Abul was ready, as Musa had rehearsed him. He entered through a side door, stopped at the mark taped on the floor in the exact center of the stage, and, head held high, turned to face them all. He wore a white shirt hanging over white baggy pants that ended a few inches above his ankles, so the hems would not get dirty-he could not bow to God in soiled clothes. A long white cloak was draped over his shoulders. In place of a turban he wore the traditional Uighur four-cornered hat, but it was all white rather than multicolored, as was usual. Molla Ahmedi's assistants had searched throughout the markets of Urumqi for this outfit. It became his public uniform.
After a few moments General Musa, standing at Abul's right shoulder, announced, "All of you are Muslims. Some of you are not Uighur, but that does not matter. What is important is that each of you accepts Abul Sabah as your Prophet, and pledge your life and that of your soldiers to his mission. Each of you must come onto the stage, bow before Sabah, and pledge 'There is one God and Sabah is His Prophet, and I pledge my life to Sabah.'"
One by one, starting with the commander in the first seat in the first row, they obeyed. Only eleven commanders refused, and they were immediately taken out and shot.
Abul had just turned twenty. He was undisputed ruler of Uighuristan.
His next step was to make an announcement to the country that Musa had prepared for him: "My fellow subjects of God. Our holy country is the home of all Muslims, regardless of whether you are Uighur, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tartar, or Han Chinese. In recognition of this, and through his angel Gabriel, God asked me to change the name of our holy country to Islamic East Turkistan. Moreover, He has commanded that all those who refuse to accept Sabah as his messenger must leave the country within one month, without exception. I, Abul Sabah, His Prophet, have spoken."
There followed a mass migration of nearly 250,000 people, mainly Han Chinese, into China. Finally, word of the events in former Uighuristan reached the outside world. An international relief effort was undertaken by the democracies for these refugees. Its operations were limited to China, since Abul would not allow relief workers to cross the border. His government was criticized by one non-Muslim country after another, and the Prime Minister of China recalled its ambassador after formally protesting Abul Sabah's expulsions as barbaric. No other actions were taken. Within a few years a new Prime Minister was elected in China and diplomatic relations resumed.
Abul had no thought of it at the time, but China would be his next conquest.
Now, all knew who did it and why. He told everyone still alive. It was Abul Sabah, 81-year-old Caliph of Islamic East Turkistan and still the shadow ruler behind the Muslim Council governing China. The ultimatum he'd issued to the world from Urumqi was short, without subtlety or diplomatic language. It needed none. A strong voice declared in Uighur, with an over voice translating it into English:
Leaders of the corrupt and Godless democracies. I speak on behalf of Abul Sabah, Prophet of God, Imam in Chief of Sabah, and Caliph of Islamic East Turkistan. We have shown our power with the destruction of your major cities and political capitals. We have in place more bombs that we will explode if you launch any attack on China, Islamic East Turkistan, or any other members of the Islamic Union.
We simply ask that you stand down your military forces, sign a treaty of nonaggression with the Union and China, and accept as an advisor at the highest level an appointee of China's National Council of Clerics.
If you do not accept our terms by 12:01 a.m., October 12, Greenwich Mean Time, 1994, we will destroy one of your Godless cities per day until you do. The Chinese embassy in each of your countries has been authorized to carry out the formal signing ceremony and the document now awaits your signature.
The first time they heard it, Lora was driving. She began to shake so much that she pulled off the road into a field. She could barely talk. She woke up Mark by reaching behind the front seat and poking his leg.
"Huh? What?" He rubbed his eyes with one hand, and looked up at her. Since the ultimatum was being repeated continuously on the radio, she pointed a shaking finger at it, and let him hear it without a comment from her. When he heard it all, she almost screamed, "It was Sabah. Sabah!"
For minutes Mark could only say, "Shit, shit, shit . . . " Finally he yelled, "We missed it. Nobody had a clue he'd try to take over the world like this. Jesus Christ, how could he build all those goddam nuclear weapons and place them in so many cities? And, my God-to set them off all at the same time . . . "
Lora trembled. Tears of frustration coursed down her cheeks. She tried to respond, but her throat felt as though it was in a vise. She tried to breath deeply, but could only gasp.
Finally, as Mark was about to say something, she blurted, "We knew about his coups and power plays in Asia and the Islamic world. We have been fighting him through our Institute." She felt so miserable; she couldn't stop herself from getting defensive. "We've fought his fanatical influence and his clergy in Indonesia and Malaysia. We've spent tens of millions trying to save their democratic governments."
But guilt wrapped her mind like a wet blanket. We didn't do enough. We didn't do all we could. She argued with it out loud. "Okay, so in Paris, Hamburg, and Milan, suicide murderers killed dozens of civilians within the last week. But The Righteous Allah claimed credit. They're a pro-Sabah terrorist organization, but not Sabah, as far as we knew. And we certainly couldn't generalize from that to nuclear attacks on the world's major cities. No one could. All the democracies were ill prepared to counter this."
She scowled out the windshield and growled, "We should have had him assassinated."
Mark nodded. Arms crossed, he stared down at nothing. "In hindsight, yes."
He sat silent for several moments, his breathing fast, choppy. He uncrossed his arms and unconsciously combed his hair with his fingers. The ends of his mouth drooped in a face that suddenly seemed deeply lined and sunken. His voice came flattened by despair. "Jesus, I can't believe it. No major international war in over a hundred years-civil war, yes, in China and Angola and a few other places, but they were no threat to the democracies. Now this. The lack of war is what has done us in. The democracies let their security services whither to almost nothing."
"I know," Lora groaned. Her heart passed judgment. It was her failure.
She tried to fight it. "I don't know what more I could have done with our Institute. Damn it, we were already using most of our resources to combat this Sabah crap."
She put her good hand up to her throbbing temple. "I still can't believe we didn't even get a whiff of this coming. Affiliates in thirty-one major countries gathering information on terrorist organizations-especially Sabah's-and we heard nothing, not even from those we hired who were well connected with the terrorists or the underworld."
"We even knew who was screwing whom," Mark agreed sourly. "Well, whatever we discovered we passed on to the intelligence services of the democracies, and it didn't do them any good, either."
"It's so horrible to have failed. We are . . . were . . . the world's largest private institute. We had the huge endowment John left us for the very purpose of stopping somebody like Sabah. We failed John. We failed Joy. We failed mankind." Lora ended in a sob. She put her head on the steering wheel and cried.
Mark got out of the back and slid into the front seat next to her. He picked up Spunky, who was trying to climb onto her lap. He let Spunky lick his face for a moment, then held him out to her. "Here, precious. He's concerned about you."
She waved him off, wiped her face on her damp sleeve, and sat up straight. She took several deep breaths, leaned over, and rubbed Spunky's back with the fingers sticking out of her cast. Mark took her fingers in his good hand and caressed them with his thumb.
"We knew Sabah threatened us all," he told her. "But no one could even come close to imagining how much he really threatened us."
Lora thought about this for a moment. She centered on it; she tried to use it to push her emotions down. She weighed Mark's last sentence as one would a problem in geometry. It worked. "It's something that's inconceivable before it happens," she mused in a level voice, "but once it does, the chain of events, causes, and capabilities are clear. Now, after the fact, how Sabah got nuclear weapons is easy to answer. Before Sabah's coup, China was swiftly developing nuclear energy and building large and small nuclear plants-by the time of his coup, China was getting much of its electricity from nuclear plants, far ahead of the United States."
Mark seemed startled that she could articulate several complex sentences in a rational statement in spite of her emotional state and, she suspected, her bag lady appearance. He slid sideways on the seat to get a better look at her. He gently caressed her tear-damp lips with his fingertips.
Lora sighed. "China had known peace since the downfall of the Manchu dynasty, and it prospered. By the time of the coup, it was a rich country." She tried the impossible. Didn't work. The smile won't come.
Mark mumbled, as though in pain, "I hate to say this, but I think that peace and our democratic culture-China's democratic culture before the coup-defeated them, and now us."
Lora jerked her chin up and gaped at Mark. "Defeated us? What?" she exploded. "You think the democracies have no choice but to submit to the ultimatum?"
"Yes, goddam it! Defeated us." Mark slapped the dashboard hard, startling Spunky. His face twisted. He added, even louder, "We were damn stupid. Stupid."
He handed Spunky to Lora again. She gathered Spunky to her with her good hand. His tail wagging vigorously, he tried to lick her nose. She continued to stare at Mark.
With some difficulty, Mark lowered his voice and explained, "The world is mainly democratic. No major power thought it had need for a large military force. No democracy thought it needed nuclear weapons any longer, and what few nuclear bombs we had were disarmed decades ago. Even when the fanatics seized control of what is now Islamic East Turkistan and created the Islamic Union and took over China, no democracy thought those crazies would build weapons of mass destruction. We-all of us-were caught in the trap of conventional thought. Shit. Democracies always tend to think the best of other coun-"
"I know, I know," Lora interrupted. "We see nondemocracies in our own image. We see them as equally tolerant of disagreement, willing to compromise, and rejecting violence as a solution to conflict. But, sweetheart," and Lora gripped the steering wheel tightly with her good hand and twisted her body around to look into Mark's still angry eyes, "we can do something about this. And, goddam it, we will."
Tears began coursing down her face again. "We will. We will. We can stop him. But we've got to survive to do it."
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