power, he told himself. Nothing must be allowed to challenge that power.
The cry of a muezzin came wailing faintly from the loudspeakers in the distant mosque’s minaret:
“Come to prayer. Come to salvation. Allah is most great. There is no god but Allah.”
Al-Bashir turned, ready to go back to his hotel room upstairs. He had no intention of taking a chance on being seen outside the hotel, especially at the hour of prayer, when a man in an expensive Western business suit was something to stare at.
He was startled to see the Sudanese who had hosted the meeting of The Nine standing in the doorway of the conference room, silently watching him.
“Will you pray with me, my brother?” The Sudanese’s voice was surprisingly soft and gentle for such a stoutly built man. In his white djellaba and turban he looked like a mountain of snow, except for his deeply black face. They think of themselves as Arabs, al-Bashir thought, and lord it over their neighbors in the south of the country who have not surrendered to Allah.
“I will be honored to pray with you, my brother,” said al-Bashir. Prayer was not foremost in his thinking, but he agreed to the Sudanese’s simple request out of respect for the greatness of Islam, where men of all races were equals. Neither wealth nor poverty, neither family nor the color of a man’s skin nor the land of one’s birth should stand between those who have accepted the faith.
The Sudanese led him down a corridor of the hotel to a small private office, which he unlocked with an old-fashioned metal key. He went to a filing cabinet and withdrew two prayer rugs from its bottom drawer. The rug he handed al-Bashir looked threadbare, almost fragile.
“My grandfather’s,” the Sudanese murmured. “It was all he had left after the rebels took his village. They raped all the women and slaughtered all the younger men.”
Civil war, al-Bashir knew. Sudan had been torn apart by
civil war for two generations and more. North against south. Moslems against the nomadic pagan tribes who camped in their tents atop billions of dollars worth of oil deposits. It was the oil that counted, al-Bashir knew. In the end, all wars are fought over wealth, even civil wars.
After their prayers, the Sudanese carefully rolled up the rugs and placed them back in the filing cabinet drawer from which he had taken them.
“Tell me, my brother,” he said softly, looking away from al-Bashir, toward the blank and silent computer screen on the desk, “this thing with the power satellite—it will kill many?”
Al-Bashir nodded. “Many thousands. Tens of thousands, perhaps even more.”
“But the Americans will not know that we of the faith have done this to them? They will believe it was an accident?”
“Yes. An accident that will cripple their efforts to steal energy from space.”
“Which will make them more dependent on oil from the lands of Islam?”
“Indeed so. If all goes as I believe it will, we will be in a position to demand a return of the oil fields the Americans now control. We will drive them out of the Persian Gulf region altogether.”
“But it will kill many thousands? Truly?”
“Truly,” said al-Bashir.
The Sudanese appeared to think about that for a few silent moments. At last he said, “It is good, then. Hurt them. Hurt them as we have been hurt. Let them suffer as we have suffered. Let them know the pain and blood that have made my life into an endless hell. May God’s will be done.”
“Indeed, brother,” said al-Bashir. And he thought, Keep the Americans dependent on our oil. That is our power over them. As long as they need our oil they must bend to our will. But we must be subtle. We must be as silent as the snake. And as deadly.
THORNTON RANCH, LOVE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
F rom her bedroom window in the sprawling old ranch house, Jane Thornton could see the Red River winding through the wheat fields and, off in the distance, the greener pastures where cattle still grazed.