Tom Kratman

A Desert Called Peace


Solitudinum faciunt; pacem appellant (They made a desert and called it peace) -Tacitus

They called him 'the Blue Jinn.' He took a small and perverse pride in the title. Blue jinni were evil jinni. That his enemies thought him evil was… pleasant. Even more pleasant was the sight of his enemies, beaten and bleeding, captive and bound.

The Jinn looked over those enemies in the late afternoon sun. Sinking in the west, the sun's light was carved by the mountains to cast long, sharp shadows across the ground. Much of that ground was covered with the head- bowed, broken prisoners.

One of those captives, Abdul Aziz ibn Kalb, held his bleeding head upright. Abdul Aziz glared hate at his captors. These were a mix of Pashtun mercenaries-tall and light eyed; light skinned they would have been, too, had the sun not burned them red-brown-and shorter, darker men. All were heavily armed. All sneered back the hate Abdul Aziz felt, mixing with that hate a full measure of disgust and contempt.

Aziz's hate mixed with and fed on fear. Along with several hundred other male prisoners, and nearly a thousand women and children, Aziz waited to hear his fate. The male prisoners' hands and legs were taped together. Not far away, the women and children waited unbound. The two groups were close enough together that Abdul Aziz could see the noncombatants as well as a small group of his enemies ascending a low hill to his front.

Leading that group, Abdul Aziz saw, was a uniformed man, medium in height, and with his face and head wrapped with a keffiyah. Another looked oriental. Three more were dressed much as any mullahs would be. A sixth wore the white dress of the emirate of Doha. The last was another man in uniform, bearing the rank badges of a subadar. Trimly bearded, tall and slender, with bright gray eyes, the subadar looked Pashtun to Abdul Aziz.

That man in the lead partially unwrapped the keffiyah from around his head. Aziz had never seen him before, but had heard enough descriptions to recognize the 'Blue Jinn.' The Jinn paused and lit a cigarette. He puffed it contemplatively for a few moments. Then he sat back easily in a chair, almost a throne, that had been prepared for him by his followers out of hastily felled and trimmed trees. Even at this distance Abdul Aziz saw the eyes that gave the Jinn his name. Though it was just a trick of the sun, the eyes seemed to glow from the inside like malevolent coals.

A dark-clad, bearded mullah walked to the microphone of a portable public address set standing in front of the chair and began to speak.

'I have consulted,' he announced, 'with the man you probably know as the Blue Jinn, and whom you see to my right, concerning your fate. He, in accordance with the Sharia, has turned the general resolution of your cases over to myself and my fellow mullahs. We have pronounced sentence of death upon you, in accordance with the will of Allah, for complicity in murder.'

It was widely speculated that the mullah only consulted the quarter gold Boerrand the Jinn allegedly paid him for each desired 'legal' death sentence he passed on. The Jinn never admitted this. Neither did he deny it.

'Your young children shall be taken back to your enemy's country,' the mullah continued. 'Your women, and the girls over twelve, are awarded to his Pashtun Scouts as prizes. Mr. Yamaguchi,' and the mullah's head nodded to indicate the oriental man who had accompanied the party, 'and Mr. al Ajami,' another head nod, 'represent certain interests in Yamato and Doha that might wish to buy some of these women and girls from the Scouts. Having consulted with the Jinn I have informed him that there is no religious prohibition to this, that you are all apostates and your women may properly be enslaved. For his part, he says he could care less what happens to them so long as it is within the law.'

A wild and heartrending moan emerged from the cluster of women as the grinning, leering Pashtun began to prod them away to the processing area. Aziz felt a sudden relief that his wife had been spared the ignominy of rape followed by sale into prostitution.

'As for the rest of you, as I said, you shall die. But the Jinn tells me to inform you that he is solicitous of your souls.'

The mullah stopped speaking and backed away from the microphone. The Blue Jinn stood and took the mullah's place. He spoke in decent Arabic, Aziz was surprised to discover, though his accent was somewhat heavy.

'Some years ago the actions of your leader and your movement robbed me of my wife and children,' the Jinn announced. He turned to the chief mullah. 'What does Sura Eighty-one say, O man of God?' he asked.

The mullah recited aloud, loud enough for the microphone to pick up so that the prisoners could hear, 'When the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain…'

'What does it mean?'

'It means, sayidi, when Allah asks who murdered her, for no infant girl can be guilty of a crime.'

'Does Allah approve of burying infant girls alive, then?'

'He does not. Sura Eighty-one, the Cessations, is concerned with the end of time, Judgment Day, and the punishment of the wicked. God will punish the murderers of infant girls.'

The Jinn's face twitched in the smallest of smiles. 'Ah, I see. What does the Holy Koran say about those who bring disorder to the world?

'It says, O Jinn, in Surah Five, the Table, that those who fight against God or his Apostle, bringing disorder to the world, should be killed, or have the hands and feet cut off on opposite sides, or be exiled, or be crucified.'

'I see,' said the uniformed man. 'Do those who kill infant girls fight against God? Have these men brought disorder to the world?'

'They have. They do,' answered the mullah, 'for this is expressly forbidden under Islam.'

The Jinn turned back to his captives. 'I loved my family, even asone supposes-you love your own. I swore, when they were murdered, to avenge myself on all who had contributed, even passively, to my loss. Thus you shall die. I am, though, as Mullah Hassim told you, very solicitous of your fate in the hereafter. So before you die, you will be thoroughly Christianized.'

Then the Jinn smiled, nastily, and turned to his subadar.

'Crucify them.'


Chapter One

To reap the harvest of perpetual peace…

– William Shakespeare, King Richard III

UEPF Spirit of Peace, Earth Date 25 November, 2510

Klaxons sounded piercingly throughout the ship as black- uniformed crewmen and women hurried through the cramped metal corridors to this or that necessary duty. Despite the soft, gripping soles of the crew's footwear, needed in the reduced gravity aboard ship, their feet made a rumbling sound that passed through the air and hull. Not a few of the crew's pale faces looked mildly nauseated. Transition through the rift, jumping thousands of light- years in an instant, affected some people like that. Others it seemed not to bother. Nor was there any predicting in advance; the only way to find out was to endure the transition.

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