The End of the Old Order
The drone fires one last shot. It’s at Equis. I dive away. Equis’ charred remains light up like charcoal laced with lighter fluid. Nothing is left of him. That’s how the drone’s pilot wanted it. That’s how the pilot’s commander wanted it. I wonder if Equis was their only target or if they want us dead too. I could tell everyone to run, but there’s nowhere to hide. The transport is ash and there’s nothing but sand for miles.
The drone purrs quietly above us. It’s still, but for its blades.
We stand frozen staring up at the drone. Whoever controls this thing wants us to understand how helpless we are. I have no way to attack a piece of Anglican military hardware this sophisticated. I know this because drones just like this one have swept into dangerous battle zones to save my ass more times than I’d like to admit.
The drone finally moves, speeding in the opposite direction of the sun. It stops around fifty meters away from us. Like I have seen many times before, it sprays flaminites, a noxious mix of liquid and solid combustibles that when ignited create an impenetrable wall of flames and thick smoke. The drone quickly encircles us with flaminites. The drone fires a single pinpoint shot into the ring of flaminites and flames immediately spread around us. In seconds, we are surrounded by a towering wall of fire. The drone flies back to the center of the circle and shines a spotlight down on the four of us. It then opens its belly, and like a mother, it slowly gives birth to a bundle. A round plastic package, fixed with a parachute, slowly falls from the drone’s belly to the ground. We just stare as it floats down to earth.
When the package hits the ground, it opens like the petals of a tulip. Sitting inside the bundle is a massive knife with a razor-sharp blade. The handle, filled with a blue neon liquid, rests on a small pedestal that keeps the blade facing up.
The drone’s spotlight brightens and then narrows its focus on the knife. This elite fighting machine also seems to be part of The War Show’s filming apparatus. This entire sequence has clearly been choreographed. The drone’s speakers turn on and a loud mechanized voice makes its announcement: “It’s a fight to the death. One person dies, the other three live and go free.”
The prince looks at the knife. He then looks at me. It’s a cold stare. He turns to his wife and forces a smile. He then lifts his head towards the drone. “One person dies, the other three of us can go free?” he asks the voice coming from the drone. “Do I have your word on this?”
“One moment please,” the voice says. “Yes, Prince Hozani.”
“To be clear, do I have his word sworn on our God?
“One moment please.” This time the mechanized voice’s pause is longer. “Yes, Prince Hozani. You have his word sworn on God.”
The prince immediately moves for the knife. The look in his eyes scares me and I lunge for it too. But he gets it first. The four of us are standing in a tight circle with the prince wielding the largest knife I have ever seen.
“What are you doing,” I shout at the prince. “You’ve lost your mind. I will not kill you with that knife and there is no need for you to kill me. We are friends, Prince. Please get a grip on yourself.”
“You are more than just a friend, Colonel. You are someone I greatly admire.”
“Then put the knife down. For God’s sake, this is insane.”
The prince takes Avir’s hand. He kisses her on the lips. “I am so sorry for everything I’ve done. But it was because I love you and the children so much.” He then turns to me. “Colonel, please take care of Avir and my children. You need to know that you are all safe, now. His word is his word.” The prince plunges the knife into his heart.
I reach out to try and stop the prince. My hand manages to grab the back part of the handle, but the prince’s grip is too strong. With my hands still holding the knife, the prince buries the blade deeper into his heart. For a split second, the knife acts to keep the blood from shooting out. The prince understands this. He turns it one full rotation and blood spurts out from the wound. He pulls out the knife and falls to his knees. I stick my hands into his wound to stop the bleeding. But with his last bit of strength, he pushes me away.
“Help him,” I scream to the drone. “We need to get him out of here. Please help him.”
“I’m already dead,” the prince gasps. “Now, let us say a quick farewell like soldiers should. And then let me say goodbye to my wife in peace.”
I kneel down alongside the prince and take his hands. “Before I leave, I must ask—did you know about any of this?”
The prince squeezes my hand firmly. He slowly raises his eyes to meet mine. “I only knew that this was not a standard assignment and that the negotiation of the armistice was but a part of the overall mission. I was given no information other than that I should be prepared for anything. I swear on my children. That is all I knew.”
“Well, then who is this person whose word we are all relying on?”
The prince struggles for a breath. “My King personally gave me this assignment and said that if there ever came a point in time that a drone appeared, that would be a signal to me that he was behind the drone’s arrival. I assumed that this drone would be there to save me and that my mission would come to an end. I guess I only got the second part of that right.” He coughs up blood. “I knew my King was up to something. But I never would have imagined he’d try to hurt me or the princess.” He wipes blood from his chin. “I don’t understand any of this, Colonel. The King, the Anglican drone, the Prescient Labs connection. It will be for you to figure it out alone, my friend.”
He tightens his grip around my hand. “The only thing I know is that Mother Suri spoke truth to Daveem, and Daveem spoke truth to us. A 15-year-old boy who had never before uttered a single word, revealed her prophesy—that there would be a fight to the death and I would die at the hands of a knife. Like many of God’s prophets, not everything Daveem said was accurate. But God spoke through Mother Suri and Mother Suri spoke through my boy. That’s what I know.”
I don’t want to undermine a dying man’s final words, so I simply bend down and rest my cheek on the prince’s forehead. I hold it there for a moment and whisper the few holy Muzlim words I know. “To heaven on the wings of angels, my friend.”
Trina and I walk away and leave Avir and the prince alone. Avir holds the prince in her arms and cradles him like a baby. Covered in blood, she sobs. She looks past the drone towards the heavens above and waits for the prince to take his final breath. When he’s gone, she screams as loud as I’ve ever heard any person scream. “You miserable liar! You miserable fucking liar!” I’m not sure if she means the prince, her King, or God.
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