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Mainak Dhar

Zombiestan

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Zombiestan

BONUS CONTENT: Free sample of Vimana, the science fiction thriller by Mainak Dhar

About the Author

ONE

Mullah Omar sat down for what would be the last meal of his life.

Of course, at that point he had no way of knowing that this would be last time he would have his frugal meal of dates, bread and figs, but years of living on the run from the Americans had taught him that death could be lurking around any corner. Death was not something that worried him, but the one fear he did have was that he would not be able to see his plans through. The men he was meeting today were his best and perhaps his last hope that he may yet live to see the day when the Taliban once again ruled over Afghanistan and that the Americans paid dearly for the devastation they had brought upon his people. Next to him was a man who looked like a portly college professor, with thick glasses, and a flowing white beard, sharing in his meal.

Ayman Al-Zawahiri looked at Omar, sensing the man's apprehension about coming into the open.

'My brother, eat well. After today, we will feast as our enemies burn and rot!'

Omar just shrugged and continued eating. Al-Zawahiri may have sounded confident, but he had his own fears to contend with. After Osama Bin Laden had been killed just months earlier in a US raid on his hideout in Abbotabad, Al-Zawahiri had been whisked away by his minders in the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence from his safehouse in Peshawar to a small village on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Both Al Qaeda leaders had been given sanctuary in Pakistan by elements of the Pakistani Intelligence agency, but with the daring US raid to kill Osama in the heart of Pakistan, his minders had told him they could no longer guarantee his safety. Al-Zawahiri had tried to reach out to the Al Qaeda foot soldiers, confident that he could take on the mantle of leadership that Osama had once worn but was shocked when they paid him no heed. He didn't have the charisma, the vision, or so he heard of them whispering when he was not around. That was why he had hatched this plan, one so audacious that even Osama would never have dreamed of it, and co-opted Mullah Omar, who had come out of hiding in the caves to join him in organizing the mission. He knew that without Mullah Omar's help in organizing logistics and security inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, his plan would never get off the ground.

The four men with them looked much like Mullah Omar, gaunt and lean from years of living as fugitives in their own land, wearing black turbans that the Taliban favoured, and armed to the teeth. Compared to them, their two visitors looked woefully out of place. They were overweight, dressed in ill fitting suits and looked out of breath and tired from the journey that had brought them from Pakistan to the small hut nestled on a perch in the Shahikot valley in Afghanistan.

One of them tried to say something, as if anxious to get the business he had come for over with, but Mullah Omar silenced him with a single wave of his hand. He never liked being disturbed while eating. That was a habit he had picked up from his mercurial friend. Osama's memory stung as Mullah Omar recalled how the Americans had shot his friend dead in cold blood. He had no great love for the fat Egyptian doctor who fancied himself a revolutionary and thought he could fill Osama's boots, but he was willing to help in a plan that would both avenge Osama's death and bring the Taliban back to power in Afghanistan.

Al-Zawahiri turned to one of the Pakistanis.

'Now, show me what you've brought.'

The man he had addressed was sweating profusely despite the cold outside, and wiped at his brow with a handkerchief.

'We want to serve the struggle against the infidels. That's why we are here.'

Mullah Omar's eyes narrowed as he studied the man. A soft, city bred, corrupt government scientist. Intelligence had shown that in spite all his claims of piety, he indulged in loose women and gambling. Mullah Omar shook his head sadly at what things had come to. Just a few years ago, a sinner such as this would have been stoned to death. Now he not only had to deal with them, but had to pay them.

'Hamid, I know all about how pious you are. The five million dollars you seek are with us. Now, just show me what you have and let's all get out of here.'

The man called Hamid motioned to his companion, who had been sitting a few feet behind him. The man got up and asked the Taliban bodyguards to help him. Two of the black turbaned men helped him pull two heavy boxes into the middle of the room. Mullah Omar studied the boxes curiously. He had never received formal education and to him, the babblings the scientists subjected him to meant nothing. He knew that science was nothing before the will of Allah. Otherwise how would a mere village preacher like him have been blessed with the opportunity to lead the faithful in Afghanistan? That conviction had helped him keep his faith even after the infidels had invaded his land and scattered his men.

Hamid started talking, something about Caesium 137 bought from the Chechens, Uranium from Pakistani stocks, Botolinum from Libya and something called Tetrodotoxin. Mullah Omar felt his head hurting from the complicated words, and then stopped Hamid.

'I know nothing of all of this. I just want to know if what you claim this can do for us is true. Abu Jafar, is this as these men claim?'

The man called Abu Jafar leaned towards Mullah Omar. He may have looked like the other Taliban bodyguards, but he was in fact a biotechnology doctorate from an Ivy League university. He had spent the first thirty years of his life as an unremarkable Iraqi immigrant in the US, working as a researcher at a leading pharmaceutical company. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the exhortations of the preacher at his local mosque had brought him into the fold, and with his education and qualifications, Osama and Mullah Omar had realized he was meant for greater missions than strapping on a bomb and blowing himself up.

'I have confirmed it. If we use these wisely, we could bring the infidels to their knees.'

Al-Zawahiri, an educated man unlike Omar, was rubbing his hands in satisfaction. Before coming to the meeting, he had done his research on the material these Pakistani scientists claimed to have. He knew that used correctly, they could devastate the West. The Americans had made such a fuss about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and even destroyed Iraq hunting for fictional WMDs. Now Al-Zawahiri would show them what Mass Destruction really meant-when several Western capitals were all hit simultaneously, each with a different weapon. He smiled at Hamid.

'Then Allah has indeed shown us the way. Give these men their just rewards and send them on their way.'

Mullah Omar and Al-Zawahiri retreated to the back of the hut while two of the Taliban bodyguards stepped behind the Pakistanis and shot them once each in the back of the head.

'Muzzle flashes! I see muzzle flashes, Sir!'

Captain David Bremsak immediately held up his high-powered binoculars to take a closer look at the hut. He could see nothing inside, but he trusted Dan, the sniper in his small four man team. If Dan had seen muzzle flashes inside then it was clear that the hut was occupied by someone other than a shepherd taking an afternoon nap. He turned to the bearded man wearing dark wraparound sunglasses to his left.

'Mike, I think we have ourselves something here.'

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