Combat Without War
"Someone in this room is not a murderer."
All of us, all five of us, stood very still, struck blind by this
shattering announcement – all but one, wondering who the
blameless man could be.
Mohammed Bin-Fasal waited for the impact of his words
to pass. Then he spoke kindly to the guilty.
"Do not be afraid. We shall flower him out. An
innocent man always gives himself away."
We all knew first hand of Bin-Fasal's unrelenting
intelligence. No one could deceive him for very long
– just as he would continue to deceive the world
forever. The man who can not be caught, he was fond of
saying, is the best detective.
I smiled whenever I remembered how he encrypted his
detailed order to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago. He
used a book code: ordered triplets, three numbers for
each sound: page, paragraph, and word. Even if an
interceptor had recognized the type of code, he would
never have guessed the book.
Bin-Fasal did not use the Koran, as any enemy would
assume. I could see the book we used before us, a
Christian classic: Chesterton's blazing blasphemy,
The Everlasting Man, heavily annotated and
earmarked. iT still lay open on his desk. This was also
Mohammed's way of requiring us to read an abomination,
because he knew better than the rest of us that we must
know our enemy, an enemy who had been clever enough to
make his way into our inner circle.
Although Mohammed's intellect and character should have
offered reassurance, the brothers Tanit and Hassen
still looked very apprehensive – even cornered,
one might say. Tanit was Hassen's elder brother.
Observing this, Mohammed Bin-Fasal spoke quietly to me.
"Record this, Zaid. There must be no dispute over what
transpires this day."
As a good soldier, I immediately complied, recording
our conversation on a laptop disk. As an afterthought,
I entered a command to automatically send the
transcription to Control at the end of one hour.
"Our attack upon the Sears Tower," Mohammed continued,
"was only a partial success. One of you did not set the
charges correctly. One of you sabotaged our sabotage.
And this man must die today."
Al-Maden, the ever silent one, was sitting very still.
He and the brothers, Tanit and Hassen, had set the
explosives. He spoke in a voice I had never heard
before – whether with too much emotion or with
too much control, I could not say.
"Must we necessarily assume someone here is
innocent? Why not an incompetent or
"I would never have chosen either sort of man for this
"Perhaps the timers were defective," suggested Al-Maden
"I checked them myself," Mohammed Bin-Fasal said a
"But if there is an innocent man among us,"
said Al-Maden, "he would not only be able to blow this
cell but our entire network. The five of us all possess
"Precisely," said Bin-Fasal. "That is why this man must
not leave this room."
"The northeast support did not collapse," said Al-Maden.
"That was your assignment," said Tanit.
"It was Hassen's." said Al-Maden very evenly.
"Al-Madden is a liar."
Mohammed Bin-Fasal raised one hand very slightly
silencing them both. He indicated Faddam –who had
said nothing so far – and myself.
"Zaid and Faddam piloted the boat across Lake Michigan
from Canada. One of them may have left the boat and
disabled the charge."
"I never left the boat," said Faddam. "But Zaid did."
"That is not good news," said Bin-Fasal. "Because if he
left, you could have as well."
"I did not!"
Mohammed Bin-Fasal rose to his full height and looked
directly at me.
"Where did you go, Zaid?"
I did not answer.
"Tell us where you went or die this day, this hour."
I reached in my pocket and withdrew a movie receipt to
a pornographic film.
"Please look at the time on the ticket," I said. "It
would not have been physically possible for me to
disturb the charge."
"Yes," said Mohammed sadly. "Your guilt is
proven. But for the brothers, Tanit and Hassen, and for
Al-Maden, it is an entirely different matter. We still
know nothing. Tanit could be protecting his younger
brother. So we cannot accept the word of two men
Al-Maden violently objected saying that he should be
assumed to be guilty until he is proven
"Normally I would agree with you," said Bin-Fasal. "But
not under such circumstances as these. The whole future
of the Brotherhood of God depends
entirely on what we do here today."
Al-Maden turned to Mecca and prayed. And then, after
his devotions, he made his astonishing reply: "I
With the speed not of a man but an animal, he was
across the room where the pistols were laid out.
"There is only one way I can prove my guilt,"
cried Al-Maden an instant before he blew apart his
After the terrible silence that followed the body's
immediate collapse, the awful trajectory, the stench of
gun smoke, the shock, the utter, final horror of it
all, it was Mohammed who was the first to speak –
to the dead man.
"Yes, my son, you have, by this brave and sad act,
proven your guilt beyond any reasonable
Then he nodded to Faddam, who drew a hidden weapon. The
brothers began to shriek like women protesting their
guilt, but Faddam shot them both, Hassen and
"Thank you, Faddam," said Mohammed, taking the gun from
his hand. "These men were cousins. This could not have
been easy for you."
"Perhaps, it was not so hard," I said.
"What can you mean?" Bin-Fassal asked.
"Why would he kill the younger first?"
There followed an eerie silence.
"The elder should have died before his brother –
that is traditional."
"Perhaps, but this cannot be undone."
"I can try."
"You mean to fight him?"
"I have that right."
And so it came to pass that Faddam and I went out into
the dessert sun and fought, fought unto death –
and I the victor. The fight was terrible. I lost an
eye, and, in the end, was badly mauled, bleeding from
"I need medical attention." I said softly to our
He moved toward me and caught me as I collapsed. Then
he laid me gently down, placing a pillow beneath my
"Rest now, brave soldier."
"I go to God." I whispered.
My leader held my hand and then knelt beside me
touching one knee to the floor – praying for me
as if for a son. I expected nothing more, but I saw one
last thing before falling asleep – Mohammed
making the sign of the cross.
by David Choate
... who is a professor of mathematics with no combat
outside of the classroom or beyond the halls of
poetry ("Easter Island", "Ode to an Academic", "Song of
has been published in Amelia and
Defenestration; his science fiction
Catcher", "There Came Forth She Bears") in
Starwind and Space &
and his "Christianity and Cannibalism", a philosophical
Sophia. Some of his other fine works
previously appeared in this literary magazine.