Authors: John C. Brewer
Tags: #racism, #reality, #virtual reality, #Iran, #Terrorism, #young adult, #videogame, #Thriller, #MMORPG, #Iraq, #Singularity, #Science Fiction, #MMOG
Other Books by
John C. Brewer
The Silla Project
and coming soon
The Multiplayer Saga, Book 2
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Cover design by Daniel Brewer
Copyright © 2012 John C. Brewer
Published by PlotForge, Ltd.
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Where to begin? First and foremost I have to thank my wonderful wife April for enduring this journey without complaint and always believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. My sons Joseph, Benjamin, and Daniel for being my inspiration, my joy, and my sounding boards. My amazing writing partner Terri Smiles, who brings my characters to life and fixes my commas. Beyond those directly involved in the project there are too many to name, but I’ll try a few. Joey for being a great fan and his mother Michelle Palumbo for proofreading an error-filled document over her Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you Michelle. John Brooks for showing me that I don’t have to be an employee. Ron Phillips of Digital Radiance for teaching me about the Singularity. Paul Wright for his boundless energy. Jim Ashburn, Kim Daugherty, Temple and Heather Estopinal, David Smith, and Bryan Laue for remaining interested in my dream even when it was a nightmare. I’m sure I’m forgetting about a hundred people here so if I have, all I can say is, if you know me well enough to have been a part of this, you know I don’t remember things well.
John C. Brewer
1. An act of dominating an opponent.
2. Great, ingenious; applied to methods and objects. Etymology: Dates back to the days of the original WarCraft, when a map designer misspelled “own” as “pwn”. What was originally supposed to be “you have been owned,” was “you have been pwned.” Now used throughout the online world, especially in online games and MMOGs.
The cave had been hewn over two thousand years ago. Since then, countless bodies passing through the narrow passages had worn their once rough surface smooth as glass. The people living in this region had survived thirty centuries of invasions by disappearing into their stone labyrinths, some of which penetrated miles into the rock, interlinking with natural caverns as old as the planet.
When Alexander the Great had been the enemy, the only light that pierced the eternal shadow came from torches and oil lamps whose memory echoed in the stone roof as glistening black soot. But no more. Wires were now stretched over the ancient dust, carrying electricity which brought light and powered fans to circulate the damp air. More recently, pipes to carry water had been installed. And over the last few years coaxial cables and optical fibers were added, carrying an even more precious commodity: information. The caves might lie in one of the most remote and dangerous places on Earth, but modern technology allowed the new inhabitants to see far beyond the snow-capped peaks that concealed them.
“They can monitor that,” said a tall, lean man. He had a long beard of mixed black and white that hung over the front of his alabaster robe. On his head was a simple white turban. Just beneath the white strips of cloth were set two dark, intelligent eyes that drew information from all they saw. He was seated on an ornate rug in a stone chamber far beneath the ground. Unlike the stone passages that led to this place, it had been carefully prepared to feel like an ordinary room. On the finished walls around them hung flat-panel monitors and computers that displayed up-to-the-minute news from around the world. Only a telltale mustiness betrayed their location. He went on as if addressing a child. “Perhaps, el-Baraha, you have forgotten that every time we try that, American special forces greet us with guns.”
Surrounding him were a dozen men dressed in variations that reflected their countries of origin as Morocco to Pakistan and everything in between. It was clear from their eyes and manner of speech, however, that these were not peasants but learned men. Guarding them, even in this stronghold deep beneath the Hindu Kush mountains, were two armed fighters at the door. Their eyes spoke of a much different education.
“Are there no new ideas?” the leader went on, with a rising voice. “Nine-eleven was a masterstroke. We used the very infrastructure of the infidel to punish their iniquities. Since then, what have we done? Kill women and children in markets?” His voice rose suddenly in rage that reverberated in the stone chamber. “That does nothing for our cause!”
“But your Excellency,” said a black-bearded man seated near the front. His headscarf identified him as Moroccan. “As you said, we have no way to organize. The Americans, the British, even the French and Chinese. There is no secure channel. Here in this mountain fortress,” he motioned toward the monitors on the walls, “we are neither blind nor deaf, but we are mute. If we use our digital connections, we are met with bombs. If we try to go overland, we are intercepted. Cell phones bring missile strikes. Telephones invite Special Operations. What can we do?”
The leader looked over them with contempt. “The most brilliant minds in the Ummah… Where am I to turn?”
“There is a way, effendi,” came a voice from the back.
“Who said that?” snapped the leader, his dark eyes passing over his subordinates.
One of the guards stepped forward so that the light fell on his face. There was a gasp. His skin was light. His eyes were blue. The only thing he had in common with the others was the thick beard that hung past his chin. And the fanatical gleam in his eye.
“And who are you?”
“I am known as Mukhtar Malik. Who I was is not important.”
“You are American,” said the leader. His voice held not contempt, but wonder.
“And you have an idea that…” he motioned flippantly to his entourage, “my learned advisors have missed.” A grumble passed through their ranks as they turned to view the American.
“I am not a man of books,” said Malik, “but was taught in the forge of the Army that now opposes you, and in the land from which they spawn.”
“So, why would an American soldier want to help us?”
“In the eternal city of Baghdad, I found a jewel of the prophet.” His eyes passed over those seated on the floor and came to rest on the leader at their head. “She bore me a son and showed me the Way of Submission. I now hold true to the Five Pillars.”
“An exemplary woman,” said the leader. “How did she die?”
A shadow passed across Malik’s face. “The hand of the infidel is no more precise than that of the martyr.”
“Your sacrifice will see you rewarded in Paradise. So what do you have for us, Malik?”
Malik paused and looked over his now enraptured spectators. “When we meet the Americans in battle, they always win. Why?”
The group erupted. Curses flew from rage-twisted lips. Knives flashed from belts. They leapt to their feet and surged forward, demanding death for this blasphemy.
“Awqif!” rang through the chamber and echoed from the stone walls. The maddened mob froze. “He is right, you know,” said the leader, still sitting with his legs crossed. “Now be seated, my loyal friends. Perhaps we should hear what he has to say before killing him.” Grumbling, they returned to their seats, gazing out from beneath dark brows furrowed in anger. “Continue, friend.”
“They win, because they train,” Malik said, licking his lips with satisfaction. “By the time we meet them, they have already fought the battle a hundred times.”
“We cannot train!” snapped one of the spectators. “Have you not been listening? All of our camps are destroyed and the instant we build a new one, cruise missiles appear as if by magic. The infidel has eyes in the very sky!”