Chapter 28: THE NEW WORLD

Chapter 28: A New Journey

Ramses Medical Center, Saburia

November, 2026

“Indonesia has no complaints,” announced Dr. B.

Smiling, he sat down across the table from Garcia.

He sipped his steaming coffee in a styrofoam cup. They were in the oncology clinic break room of Ramses Hospital. Soria Clinics had moved Dr. B. to the capital after replacing him with another physician at the military base. They discussed Patient: Protocol No. 8-31, an Indonesian man who had just received his second vaccine infusion.

Liang, Garcia’s postdoc dashed past them, briefly pausing to smile and wave on his way to the lab. 

Garcia nodded at him approvingly. “AJ, he’s not just proficient anymore. He now comes up with innovations for manufacturing the vaccine .”

“Yup, you’re a good mentor,” said Dr. B. “Mary’s doing well, our Singapore patient too, and now two more patients have signed up for the trials. Still…”

Dr. B. sipped more coffee. “Still, I’m keeping an eye on Liang. What if he’s stealing Soria technology for China? Maybe he knows I’m watching him and that’s why he didn’t want to sit down with us.”

Garcia frowned. “AJ, Liang works for us, for Soria. That’s not fair. Anyway, one needs the Drukker or equivalent for these treatments.”

“The Chinese can afford that.”

Garcia shrugged. “If our approach proves successful, I’d like it to have widespread use.”

Dr. B. got up. “Speaking for our employer, Manny, Soria won’t be inviting you to a lot of business meetings if you don’t take technology theft seriously.”

Dr. B. then laid one hand on Garcia’s shoulder, “My focus is my patient. But for corporate, our work is about profit. To be fair, if Soria wasn’t  running their business well, neither you or I would have our jobs hmmm? 

“So, teamwork within our company — medicine, science, business — working hand-in-hand is bigger than our individual agendas.” 

He joined his hands and bobbed his head side-to-side. 

“What’s that head wag?” Garcia asked. “I’ve seen other Indians here in Saburia do it.”

Dr. B. smiled mysteriously. “A part of me that I hid in America.”

Then he tapped the Dot behind his ear. “It says I’m late — again — good thing I’m a doctor; it’s expected.”  

Dr. B. refilled his coffee again before darting off. 

In Ramses, fall was turning into winter, the past was fading into shadow and the future presented its uncertain colors.

Garcia sat alone in the hospital break room after Dr. B. left, musing about how two months had quickly gone by since visiting his family. 

In Paris, Garcia had not told his mother that AnnaMaria was pregnant. 

When she found out, she called him,  “Manny, I’m finally getting my grand-daughter. We’re expecting in the spring.” 

The excitement in her voice had overflowed many connections from Paris to Ramses overwhelming any technological disruption.

“She said you knew already,” his mother added.

He said nothing. 

“OK fine,” she said, “But what kind of name is ‘Darcy?’ AnnaMaria promises me the baby will have a Spanish name too.”

In her last video-call, AnnaMaria sounded anxious. “Max’s career keeps him busy. Manny, it gets lonely. I’m so hormonal. Mom said she’d try to come for the baby, but it may be hard for her to get a visa. Can your lawyer help, please?” 

So he called Trisha Talwar. 

Talwar had inspired George. Apathetic about his father’s scientific innovations, his son now planned to become a lawyer someday. 

“Dad, whatever they say,” George opined about his aunt’s pregnancy, “the baby may not be a girl. Science now understands that gender can be fluid. I’m glad Uncle Max wants a unisex name.”

“True,” Garcia commented, “Science makes a lot of things’ fluid’ these days. But did you know that Darcy is a British family name for girls?”

“No.” George then looked it up online. 

“‘Darcy’,” he quoted his source,  “became common as a name after it was used in Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy.” 

On the screen, George looked disappointed.  “I don’t think Fitz would work.”

“A rose by any other name is still a rose,” Garcia said. “If they really want a unisex name that reflects his father’s Anglo heritage, you could suggest ‘Cameron.'”

During Garcia’s visit to Pandolf, a small reunion had happened in Lucky’s home. He and George went to the fall festivities, taking seasonal grapes, apple fruit salad, corn-on-the-cob for grilling and a bottle of Napa Chardonnay.

On Lucky’s driveway, they parked behind a large pickup truck with giant wheels, the biggest Garcia had seen since he left the military base. 

“Texas, Dr. Campbell,” George mock-groaned. “The tires make it an off-road rig.” 

In the backyard, a grill steamed and smoked between Lucky and Campbell. Both wore T-shirts, jeans and boots. 

A country rose bouquet stood in a vase on a glass table, next to a cooler of beer. 

Garcia had never seen Campbell glow so happily.

George disappeared from Garcia’s side, “Gotta say Hi to the cats.”

Garcia gravitated to the adults, including some he had just met at the Dock. He couldn’t remember their names but had more questions to ask about their work for Drukker.

The Dock had greatly expanded since his last visit. An open grassy area spread onto the terrace over the main roof. It had walking trails and a helicopter pad. Earthen walls were covered with colorful murals. Round mock doors — hobbit style — and windows opened into 3-D displays from around the world.

Garcia spied Charlie and Michaela, among a bevy of teenagers next to open coolers, with waters, juices, sodas and punches. George emerged from the house to join them. Escaping the house, Lucky’s orange tabby chased a squirrel.

It had been a perfect sunny California afternoon. He almost did not recognize Michaela. George said she was no longer dating Charlie. Still pretty in a way only a sixteen-year-old can be, she appeared to be coming from or going to work, with a short, practical haircut and dressy blouse with khaki pants. Incongruously, she also wore glitter green eyelashes and matching boots.

Charlie looked taller and lankier. A smile no longer readily broke his face as he nodded at Garcia. Hair now dropped in long curls down the sides of his beard. His T-shirt pictured something Garcia did not understand, which could be either militant or musical.

He strolled over to greet them.

“My dad,” announced George proudly, moving to stand next to a girl with a nose-ring. “This is Carrie Mather.” 

She coolly smiled and said, “So glad to finally meet you.”

Charlie and Michaela updated him about Pandolf High and vague college plans. Also, Queen Noru’s arrival at Pandolf had ignited their interest in her country after the Pandolf school newspaper did a story about her. Garcia gave hazy answers to their questions about Saburia’s royal family.

He asked about their on-line game, Apocalypse 2050. Then Charlie demonstrated his latest purchase, a drone, a tiny housebroken version of the flying monsters at the Saburian Air Force base. It darted, hummed and flashed around Lucky’s backyard.

Garcia told the teenagers. “I worked on a military base in Africa where swatter drones zapped enemy ones. The first time I realized there was a drone spying above me was when I heard a swatter get it, ‘pop.'” He mock-slapped his cheek.

Driving back that evening, Garcia said, “George, remember when you and Dr. Campbell were kidnapped. A Saburian drone followed you back to the coast. I saw its video, how you kept your cool in a dangerous situation and how well you took care of Dr. Campbell.” 

Though George said nothing, he looked proud.

After returning to Saburia from his happy whirlwind trip —no visa problems — Garcia had been exhausted and ready to return to work. Now, the cooling weather in Ramses was pleasant for walks with AJ or Liang.

Mary invited him to visit her in New York City the next time he came to the United States. Shelly messaged him about a conference in Germany he might enjoy, in which she was presenting a poster that used some of his ideas.

He wrote back to Mary, “Thank you so much, I have a lot to do here at the lab before I can travel again.” 

He cut/pasted that to respond to Shelly and deleted his original email to her that had been more descriptive: “Work is busy busy and I can’t be distracted, Shelly. My mentor at the NIH used to quote his favorite football coach: ‘Success deodorizes failure.’ Now I understand what he meant. Like my current patient, I also have no complaints.” 

Following his humiliating exit from the NIH and then from Pandolf almost two years ago, he was finally pursuing his scientific dreams. He also enjoyed a stable income, the advice of a shrewd Chicago lawyer like Talwar and freedom to travel. Most important, he was taking care of his family even if he wasn’t physically present for his son.

He even had  a Saburian friend in Ramses. Despite their unusual introduction, Prince Bassam now hosted him regularly in his walled compound in Ramses. 

Sending a driver to pick Garcia up, the royal regularly treated him to good Saburian coffee (not the hospital’s reconstituted black-from-concentrate), and cold colorful sherbets, honeyed and fragrant. Local snacks (a type of falafel dipped in herb-laced yogurt was his favorite) and intelligent conversation with the prince made for pleasant, cool evenings outside.

Bassam would meet him at the end of a walkway that led to an expanse of garden. Yet he never saw Bassam’s family. In Saburia, segregation of the sexes was the norm. He hadn’t expected to meet Bassam’s wife or women relatives. But what about sons? Nephews? When he had met King Mohammed, it was also only with his ministers and guards. 

For him, it was a reminder that he would always be a “foreigner” in Saburia, living there at the whim of his hosts, unable to buy any property and only able to work or own a business with an alien resident’s license. 

Once he asked Bassam, “Doesn’t Saburia make any exceptions for  foreigners to actually make a home here?”

“No, we’re not the New World.” The prince shook his head emphatically. “You know the story.

“It’s an old fable about a wheedling camel that first with its paw, then  leg, then haunch and finally, its whole body, slowly displaces its owner from his own tent into the desert to die.

“Nothing personal, Manny — Bassam no longer called him Dr. Garcia — foreigners need to be kept in their place so that doesn’t happen in Saburia.”

One evening, after the man serving them had left, the prince grumbled, “It is troubling that so many know that there are questions about Prince Ahmat’s parentage. Michael Kochanski told our lawyer in Chicago, Jim Sichet. 

“Dean Baluyn at Pandolf also asked me about the rumors. 

Bassam groaned and added, “But the only man without troubles is in the cemetery. He has earned his rest.”

He nodded at Garcia’s tall iced drink, a mint spring floating on top. “Do you like that tart combo, tamarind and ginger? Some mix it with Scotch.”

Garcia tasted it and smiled. “It doesn’t need to mix with anything. Who is Jim Sichet?”

“He is our legal counsel in Chicago and was friends with Mohammed,” Bassam said.  “I was always doubtful about many of my brother’s choices in friends.

“I could influence a change in our Chicago counsel. But Jim’s deeply rooted in Saburia’s ties to the United States. He knows too much. He went to my old boarding school with my brother. There, he and Dean fought. 

“They hate each other.” Bassam sighed. “Their fighting is how our cell of the Sun Order ended even before StarHall broke all official ties with any cells.” 

He looked at the flickering candle, pausing before he spoke again. 

“Dean’s mother, Aurora Mather, is famous at our school as one of the first women to enter a Sun Order cell at StarHall.

“In the Sun Order,” Bassam explained, “we’re still responsible for reproducing, passing the light, but our cell ended. But still, our children can join other cells or start their own.”

“What about your children? Did you send them to your old school?” asked Garcia. 

Dismissively, Bassam flicked a nut’s shell off the table. “I’ve become ambivalent about our mission. We were young back then with great ideas for our world — me, Mohammed, Dean…I suppose even Jim. But it’s an apocalyptic cult. And I don’t see the sky falling.”

Garcia remarked, “My AI sees a possible environmental catastrophe in the future.”

“The black horse,” said Bassam. “My brother believed in the red horse of war. Prince Ahmat is a descendant of Genghis Khan, ready to fight for humanity when the time comes. Our globe was supposed to be a nuclear crisp by now.” 

Bassam grinned and punched the air.

“Still, there’s the white horse of pestilence.” Bassam nodded toward Garcia. “That’s your battle.”

“True,” Garcia sighed, “Dr. B is a fanatic about the end coming with ‘the global threat of antimicrobial resistance and mutant viruses.’ Our clinic spends a lot of time and money on infection precautions.”

Bassam leaned back. “I agree. Throughout history, infectious diseases have wiped out significant portions of populations — about a quarter of the people of Europe in the 14th century thanks to Bubonic plague. Then there were millions of indigenous people in your Americas and elsewhere killed by measles and smallpox.”

Garcia nodded. “Now with the overprescribing of antibiotics and fast mutations, microbes adapt and evolve to confound medicine, keeping us vulnerable to cellular infiltration.”

“The poetry of humanity always has an apocalypse just over the horizon,” concluded Bassam.  “Still, Manny, here you and I sit, homo sapiens, the peskiest of survivors, going forth and multiplying like cockroaches. We are waiting for Godot, but the apocalypse may never arrive, at least not for me.”

Garcia disagreed, “Beckett’s ‘Godot’ was about waiting for a god, for salvation, not for an apocalypse.”

“Waiting for judgment perhaps, a neutral word,” Bassam said, “I only meant the general principle of waiting for something that one is certain will arrive and that one is still waiting for.”

“There is the pale horse of death – inevitable for each of us,” Garcia reminded him. “But even my AI has more variables than equations it can solve regarding our world’s future.”

Bassam looked puzzled.

“A mathematical analogy,” Garcia explained. “It only means the Drukker predicts infinite alternatives for times to come.”

“Infinity,” Bassam mused. “A universal math symbol, the number 8 on its side, the forces of good and evil, black and white twined forever like a Mobius Strip.” He knitted all his fingers together.

Opening a few fingers, he grinned slyly and mimed a hand game. “And that’s religion. You know this?”

Garcia nodded. “‘Here is the church, here is the steeple…’ You learned that as a boy?”

“At StarHall — oh yes —  open the door, see all the people. Jim Sichet and my brother, Mohammed, both eight years old, were tight like brothers from Day One. Now Jim’s unhappy that I sent Prince Ahmat to Pandolf. He can be extreme about the Sun Order. You’d think age would soften Jim. He just hardens over time.

“Manny, I’m telling you this because Prince Ahmat will need all the friends and family this world gives him. There’ll be no home for the boy here in his father’s country, the Old World, no, not after Queen Noru remarries. When he is eight —  2034 to be exact — they’ll ship him off to StarHall, New World shelter for lost boys and girls.”

“Why did Dean Baluyn fight with this Sichet?” asked Garcia.

Bassam looked into the distance. “Back then at StarHall, we had drugs and alcohol, young and rich kids with little supervision, that is an explosive combination, right? The school depended on family donations and so looked the other way, at least until a young teacher was killed.”

He dabbed wet eyes with his sleeve. “Jim Sichet was one of many bullies there. Whatever happened, he didn’t murder her. Eventually, someone else went to prison for it. Still, Dean wanted to push him out of our Sun Order cell after that. He didn’t succeed. Instead, our cell dissolved.

Bassam continued, “Mohammed never gave up on our vision. Somehow, he kept up a relationship with both Jim and Dean.” 

Then the prince coughed.

Garcia asked softly, “Your cough is getting worse. How are you getting the best medical care here? Pandolf’s the place to go for international patients.”


Garcia had asked Dr. B. “I have a friend. He coughs like this.”

Then he imitated Bassam. Dr. B. looked curiously at him. “I don’t hear you cough. Believe me, I’m listening for that germy sound around my immunosuppressed patients.” 

Then Dr. B. had asked Garcia a few questions about his “friend.”

“That doesn’t sound like cancer, infection or asthma,” Dr. B. concluded. “I’m not his treating physician. But an educated guess is it’s chronic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive condition for which there is little help.”

Bassam now stopped as if waiting for something. Within the growing shadows of the thick, thorny purple bougainvillea vines that hid the walls of the compound, night flowers in pots on the patio now opened. Bassam deeply inhaled their bitter fragrance. Leaning back in his chair, the royal exhaled with relief. 

The prince wouldn’t tell Garcia the medicinal plants’ Saburian name. “Sorry, I don’t even know if there is any botanical classification. Our healers keep it a secret.

“There is one more Sun Order cell that I have stayed in touch with,” Bassam continued. “We sent Dr. Sheraton to Endon in the Missouri Ozarks to work for them.”

“We?” Garcia exclaimed.

“Mohammed and I,” Bassam said, nodding. Now breathing more freely, the prince’s face relaxed.

“So that’s how Dr. Sheraton ended up in the Ozarks?,” said Garcia. “She wasn’t sure she would fit in.”

Bassam inhaled deeply, then exhaled. As his whole now body untensed, he said, “It was easy for us to filter information, incoming and outgoing, about the lady doctor’s options while she was living here.”

The prince opened his hands. “Still, I hope she enjoys the remoteness and the opportunity to set up her own clinic. They need her.”

“Prince,” said Garcia, “so let’s say young Ahmat goes to StarHall when he’s eight years old. Who tells him to lead in a future world apocalypse? How can you predict what Ahmat’s future — or our globe’s future at that time — will be?”

“It’s not that simple,” Bassam explained. “First, while the Sun Order is no longer officially a society at StarHall, it’s still central to our history there. Didn’t a lot of famous Western universities start off as religious schools and now claim no ties to any faith? Cells of the Sun Order still come out of StarHall even while the school has no official connection to it.”

“That sounds hypocritical,” Garcia said.

“No, Star Hall is now secular and egalitarian,” Bassam insisted. “We…meaning StarHall as a school community… have scholarship students and pride ourself on diversity and inclusion. Few students there have any interest now in our school’s origins in the 1600s— only 400 plus years ago — so modern by my standards. Now, any student or alum can start a Sun Order cell if they can’t join an existing one. Diversity and inclusion has always been good for the Sun Order.”

“In my high school,” Garcia said, “we had cliques too. Mine had one member, me.”

“And look how well you’ve done,” Bassam said, smiling. “Now back to your question about Prince Ahmat’s future. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he’ll go to StarHall, a prince of Saburia. No one will know he’s just half-Saburian until they learn he is half Genghis Khan. Either way, with his royal legacy and wealth, Ahmat could lead a Sun Order cell in StarHall.”

“That sounds like the plan of men like your brother.” Garcia said. “But predicting Ahmat’s future? What if the prince has a different destiny? Even my son is turning into his own man.”

George had announced that he was no longer an atheist like his father. Garcia had raised George with the lighthearted observation that the only god is time. 

“Dad, you just have to sit back and look at the big picture,” argued George. “I believe there’s a force of good that wins over evil.”

“The evil always comes right back, a cycle,” Garcia had rebutted. “Time is indifferent, amoral and pitiless.”

His pessimism did not dim the light in the young man’s eyes. George shook his head. “You really are hopeless.”

“Enjoy the good times while they last.”

Now in Prince Bassam’s private home, following his own wisdom, Garcia sat back within the royal gardens inhaling the familiar scent of lilies and jasmine. The acrid smell of the medicinal night flowers had faded.

Bassam admitted, “No, Manny, I can’t predict the future. If Prince Ahmat is meant to lead some day, I can help — to position him for this destiny —  and fulfill my brother’s dream. No more and no less. Let the music play.”

Bassam tapped his phone and a flute began its notes, followed by the accompaniment of Saburian string instruments. They listened in silence. 

Bassam gave him the names of the musicians and their local group — “they perform for my family often” — nodding to the beat as the drums marched in. Garcia asked questions about local instruments and traditional rhythms.

After a while, Bassam lowered the music’s volume and joked, “I hear that your son is quite the romantic about one of Dean’s young relatives, Carrie Mather. Since Dean has no siblings or children, he’s close to his cousin, the girl’s father. Anyway, Dean and I are friends and I told him about the Purple project. Given that George now shares DNA with the Purple project, the Mather family in Pandolf includes your son socially.”

Garcia’s eyes widened. “Of course, that would explain my son’s invitations to their fancy events. He believes it’s because Carrie Mather may like him back. George is going to have to learn the hard way that…this upper-class family doesn’t care about him as a person… “

“Manny, that’s harsh.”

Bassam added, “But I’ll tell you why Carrie didn’t go to StarHall. Her father’s a leader in the local community and sends his children to the public school there.”

“But Dean stays involved with StarHall. Dean is gay, I’m disabled and we both found a welcoming, inclusive community there. Then the Sun Order at StarHall was diverse even before its time by encouraging free expression of our identities. Diversity and inclusion was the Sun Order’s creed even well before its recent popularity.”

Garcia said,  “You would have made a good leader for Saburia, it’s their loss that due to your disability, you could not become king. I agree that the best leadership is always inclusive.”

Sphinx-like, Bassam said, “Still, I’ve served my family, my country and the Sun Order well. 

“One more thing.” He passed a note to Garcia.

It said: “The rebels cannot harm our new king or Ahmat. I’ve infiltrated them at their highest level.”

Bassam took the note back and held it to the burning candle. Sparks rose in the darkness. 


November, 2026

Night fell over Pandolf as distant California fires spewed a haze that blocked even the moon. A single beat of thunder punctuated silence and heralded a welcome short burst of rain in the dry heat. 

In Queen Noru’s suite in Pandolf Lodge, heavy curtains muffled the whine of ambulance sirens and helicopter motors. One exposed crack of the window showed water already running down the glass from an irrigation spout, now flashing white, red, and blue from a police car.

With the help of sedatives from the Pandolf doctor, she slept soundly. Afraid that she would not wake up for the baby, she had left Ahmat in the maids’ room. The neighboring apartment housed the men. In the main entry, a dog crate held toys from the American girl, squeaky, furry and brightly colored, strange gifts from her people.  

Her dog lay on the rug beside her. Michaela’s business card, “Pandolf Lodge, Child and Pet Care, Hardworking and Reliable,” with a website, email, phone number and scan-code, lay next to the TV remote on the bedside table. 

Michaela came over after school and on weekends to help many of the Lodge’s international guests with shopping, errands and sight-seeing. Excellent with Ahmat, the dog trainer had also taught her how to manage Kalrissian, issuing commands in Saburian.

The trainer told her that “the animal is not a Western pet.” 

On walks, Michaela warned the rare local, “He’s really just a teddy bear, but you cannot come close.”

Now there was heavy pounding on the door to the suite. Muscles tensed, gun ready, the bodyguard opened the door. 

In police uniforms, a man and woman stood outside. “There’s a bomb threat involving this suite. We need to search,” the man said.

The Saburian checked identification and let them inside, only permitting “the lady cop,” into the women’s suite. Discovering nothing, they left.

By the morning, Noru’s drugged mind had cleared and she called the Saburian minister.

“Someone might be trying to kill my child and me,” she insisted.

He said they were “looking into it.”

When she walked out to the common area, the chatter abruptly ended between maids, bodyguard and dog trainer.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she told them.

Back alone in her room, she pulled a note from her pocket, and unfolded an old picture of her husband with his arm around another man, both in their 20s. 

Given to her in the spa at Pandolf Lodge, the note said in Saburian: “I mourn the former king too. Please call if you need help. Respectfully, Jim Sichet,” with a phone number. 

She began to cry, then stopped abruptly when she remembered Aisha teasing her, “No more lazing around. Time to be Queen.” 

When Michaela arrived that Saturday morning, the two young women with the baby in his stroller walked to the Golden Griddle, leaving behind her dumbfounded staff and even the dog. 

The maid protested, “But Queen, we’re not even sure that person you are leaving with is a man or a woman.”

She knew that they would be contacting the Saburian minister as soon as she left. This excursion alone with Michaela was likely to be a one-time privilege.

At the Golden Griddle, she covered her phone and touched her closed lips with her finger. Michaela’s eyes widened in surprise.

Over coffee, she spoke softly into Michaelas’s phone to translate, “We had a bomb threat. I’m worried that someone is trying to kill my baby and me.”

After listening with her ear Dot, Michaela said into her phone , “Is this political?” 

Noru held Michaela’s phone to her ear to listen to the Saburian translation.

“Probably,” Noru replied. “What are your police here like? They came to our suite.”

Michaela made a face. “Was it a man and a woman?”

Noru nodded.

“That’s Andy and Bobbie, the hospital campus police. They just try very hard to prevent any bad publicity for Pandolf.”

Michaela’s face hardened and she added, “ Law enforcement in our country is unfair.”

Noru nodded again.  Then touching one of her rings, she took it off and gave it to the girl. 

“Please help me,” she said simply. 

Noru then removed her hand from her own phone and asked. “What is this Swedish pancake? Are lingonberries like gooseberries in a Saburian jelly?”

That night, Noru heard a knock on her window. Pulling aside the heavy curtain, she saw Michaela who gestured to her to pull up the window.

Noru shook her head. Michaela nodded insistently.

Earlier that day, when Michaela came to take Ahmat for a ride in his stroller, she must have done something with the window and the security system. The window had been bolted down. But now it slid up easily. 

Noru then showed Michaela the note from Sichet. Michaela took a photo. Noru then pointed to a gold bracelet from her wrist. The other girl grinned with understanding and then she was gone.

The next day, the minister informed Noru that neither she nor the child was allowed to go out unless unaccompanied by her bodyguard and a maid.

“I’m sorry, Queen Noru, this restriction is what the king has ordered. He says you’re in no danger and the American government has confirmed that the bomb threat was a fake.”

Michaela regularly returned over the next few days to take Ahmat for walks. Typing into Michaela’s phone in Saburian, Noru was now able to communicate with Sichet in Chicago.

“My husband was assassinated and now our son and I may be in danger.”

That Saturday evening, the guards outside the women’s suite were playing cards. She went to bed early and locked her door, then emptied a powdered medication packet into Ahmat’s night time milk bottle. 

Soon, the baby was sound asleep. Swaddling him, she hugged him one last time, then handed her child and the gold bracelet to Michaela who was waiting on the fire escape outside the window. 

To Noru’s shock, Michaela brushed her cheek with a kiss and held her phone up to Noru’s ear.

“Don’t worry,” the recording said in Saburian.  “I grew up in Pandolf and you know, we locals are still in charge here. We’ll keep Ahmat safe.” 

The dog on the floor opened one eye and closed it. 

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