Ali Pasha squinted through the window and saw Manomar bringing the mullah. He wondered briefly where Kirsten was, but he waited a moment before he responded to Abbass so that the mullah could be brought inside.
“I would appreciate it if you would speak in my language,” Ali Pasha said, loudly. “You alien beasts should learn to respect local customs, not simply use them for your wicked ends.” As he spoke, Ahmed the Egyptian cracked open the door so their words could be heard in the outer hall.
Abbass smiled broadly and took a seat at the table. “So you are the Guardian of Gaia as I suspected. This is lovely. Once you are gone, nothing will stand in our way.”
“Your way? I stand in the way of Allah and walk the path of the Holy Prophet of God. I will not let you make a mockery of my faith or my world. You and your other Sorvee demons must vacate this world, immediately.”
“Very good.” Abbass said. “You know who we are. That is more than I expected from an ignorant primitive.”
“We are not as ignorant as you suppose. We are studied on the word and way of Allah through the Holy Koran, and once I have mastered imprinting the words on paper, I will make more copies than can be counted, faster than a thousand scribes, until every man has a copy to hold in his own hands.”
“Ah, but you see. Printing and reading is something we cannot permit.” Abbass answered.
“You will not mock the true faith, and you have no business speaking in the name of the Prophet of God or speaking the word of God with your unbelieving lips.” Ali Pasha got hot, and it was hardly all playacting.
“Your faith is a sham and Mohammed was a fool, though his intolerance and his concept of Jihad are worthy of note. Killing everyone who does not agree with you is almost to be admired.”
Ali Pasha nearly choked on what he heard. He had to swallow the lump of his anger to speak, and then it was only one borrowed Christian word. “Blasphemy!” Then another thought was added. “For such words the law requires your execution.” As he spoke, the mullah came in and stared hard at Abbass before he spoke.
“Trouble?” he asked.
Abbass smiled. “The Guardian of Gaia.” He pointed at Ali Pasha. “I never thought we would have the honor of cutting off his head in this forsaken outpost.”
The mullah smiled. “The Lord of this world will be pleased,” he said, and motioned for Ahmed the Egyptian to grab the scholar. Ali Pasha’s eyes were wide. He had hoped to get Abbass to accuse himself, and that had worked marvelously well, but he never imagined that the mullah himself was Sorvee.
Ahmed took Ali Pasha by the arms, but gently, and they followed the two men out the door while those men conversed briefly in their Sorvee language. They headed straight for the door and, no doubt, the chopping block.
“Forgive me, friend. Thank you, but even if I have no choice, you should. This much I can do.” As Ali Pasha whispered quietly, he touched his guard’s collar. There was a soft “click” and the collar fell to the floor. The Egyptian fell to the floor as well as too much raced through his mind at once.
Ali Pasha bolted. He saw Kirsten by a back door. A tall man was with her. She was about to wave for him to run in their direction when the men in the front office, including the mullah’s servant, grabbed the scholar and dragged him back to the exit that led to the execution yard. The mullah and Abbass looked briefly at the Egyptian on the floor. The man was coughing and hacking, and they likely thought Ali Pasha managed a blow to the solar plexus or some such thing. Neither noticed the collar was missing.
“This will not end things.” Ali Pasha said to the two Sorvee as he was carted down the steps. “The Gaia will select another, wiser soul than my own. You demons of the Sorvee are exposed and you will be driven out.”
“I think the Society needs a purge on scholars in any case.” The mullah said out loud. “That may as well begin here.”
“We may be advanced for this capture of the Gaian dog and further for the suggestion concerning the scholars.” Abbass grinned, wickedly.
“This, yes. But the suggestion to purge all scholars, and all learning is nothing new. We have already made it against the law for women to be educated in any way, couching it of course in a twisting of their own superstitious beliefs. When it becomes illegal for men to be educated is only a matter of time. It is all in the timing, though, and the Lord of this world will decide if the timing is right for such a purge.”
Ali Pasha’s head was down on the block, and though he was tied, his chits were already working on the ropes while the servants went to fetch the headsman. “This will not end things.” Ali Pasha said again; but Abbass gave a hand signal and the man who was left to guard the prisoner hit Ali Pasha hard on the back of the head and knocked him temporarily senseless.
When the axe man approached, two things happened at once. A knife came through the air and struck the axe man square in the chest. Manomar ran straight for Abbass and the mullah. At the same time, Ahmed the Egyptian came barreling out of the door and headed directly for Ali Pasha.
Abbass pulled the dagger at his side and smiled at Manomar. The little man imagined himself very good with a dagger, and he probably was, but Manomar pulled out a microwave pulse pistol and melted the man’s face. The mullah turned to run, but Manomar had caught him and tackled him. He grabbed Abbass’ fallen dagger to finish the job, personally.
Men ran around the yard in a panic, but most headed straight for Manomar. They were angry and there were too many witnesses who saw the innocent Examiner and the mullah, of all people, murdered. There was no way Manomar was going to escape a lynching. He could never prove that Lord Abbass and the mullah were aliens, an assertion in his culture that would have sounded absurd on the face of it, nor would he ever be able to justify his killing of the axe man, but he was glad to give his life to save his master, Ali Pasha. His own life hardly mattered. He did not even plan to struggle when the men arrived. But before that could happen, there was a great flash of blinding white light and two figures appeared beside Manomar. They looked for all the world like Holy Angels of the Lord. Every man in the compound stopped, and several fell to their knees. Others fell to their faces.
“The Society of the Mahdi is a great evil that pretends to be good.” Jill announced in a booming voice. “Men and women must be free to come to Allah in their own hearts, in their own way and their own time. The Society of the Mahdi must be destroyed.” She made a door, and she and Ethan took Manomar aboard the ship, and disappeared.
“That was rather cheeky,” Ethan said. “If these people wish to have a litmus test for true believers, who are we to say no.”
Jill smiled broadly and Ethan melted a little at her smile. “You’re learning. So, do you want to stomp on my toes or slap me in the arm?” she asked.
“No,” Ethan said. He wanted to kiss her instead