First appeared in talk.bizarre, July 1997
A great many unusual people may be seen in the marketplace of Damascus on any hot summer day, but the Adept was definitely out of the ordinary. She strode, alone and proud, though the crowd which parted unconsciously. Foreigners have written that one veiled woman looks like any other, but even the quality of the material of Fatima's veil distinguished her from the rest. The locals, accustomed to making the most of whatever they could get, stared outright, all as if they'd never seen a woman before. They undressed her in their minds as she passed by. The year, in your infidel's reckoning, was 738.
Fatima reached the building she sought and disappeared from view, to the general displeasure of her observers. For herself, she was glad to be out of the sun. She was accustomed to the cool halls of Alamout, yes, and to moonlight. The heat made her sweat like a man. It made her head swim as if she'd smoked too much hashish. In such a state the mind was prone to visions and prophecy.
She paused in the hallway, attuning herself to the rhythms of the building. Her intuition had been as accurate as usual: Abdul was here, and alone. She had plenty of time to carry out her mission without fear of interruption. The Adept took one deep breath and walked into her brother's room.
Abdul was slumped over his desk, over a pile of parchment. The water pipe beside him had filled the room with a stale smell of hashish, tobacco, opium, and less pleasant things. The man was stoned out of his gourd and probably very ill as well; not surprising, the Adept thought to herself. He's seen more than is fitting for a man, and must take what refuge he can, all as if the drugs will chase away reality. She paraphrased a Sisterhood saying in her mind. There is no wall strong enough, no oath binding enough, no smoke thick enough to turn me.
She remembered her mother's words, so many years ago, in the dark time of the night over the sound of chirping insects mistakenly thought to be djinn. Anguished: "My husband, why couldn't they all have been girls?" As if it were somehow his fault. Hell, she thought, maybe it was.
After a moment Abdul raised his head and peered vaguely at the visitor.
She uncovered her face, and he laughed like a child. "Ha! Still the wanton, I see!"
"I've been called worse things, brother. The lonely desert hasn't done much for your wit. I fancy you know why I'm here?"
He was serious at once. "Yes. I don't know why you of all people, but it doesn't matter. You're on a fool's errand, not that I expect you'll listen to me. The lonely Sisterhood hasn't done much for your wit either. You can't kill an idea."
"I was never lone-" She stopped, seeing the trap. Smiled. "You've kept some edge after all."
He gestured at the parchments before him. "It's all here."
"May I see?" He nodded, and she picked up one of the sheets.
Fatima was not impressed. "They shall rule again."
"Oh, to be sure. But I think you're in the wrong century, Fatima. Men have a good twelve hundred and thirty years left. You lose track of time in the halls of Alamout. The drugs will do that to you."
"Well, I guess you would know."
"There, you see? You're getting bitchy because you know I'm right. All your Ishmaelan superiority shit is falling apart."
He laughed. "Yes, that's it. Poor Mad Abdul. The prophet. That's what they'll call me."
The Adept realized that he was speaking truth, as men near death often do. She wanted to hear no more of it.
"You know I don't want to do this. Allah is my witness."
He nodded, still grinning. "Yeah, I'll bet She is."
Fatima shifted uncomfortably. "I just wanted you to know."
"You may be sure that I do."
"Well. Here we are, then."
He said nothing.
"Goodbye, my brother." Quickly, surely more quickly than Abdul's bloodshot eyes could follow, Fatima removed the poisoned needle from her hair. Then her hand was at his throat, all as if it were a caress.
"You'll fry in Hell, sister dear!" He coughed, and rasped painfully, "Can't kill an idea anyway..."
Fatima caught Abdul as he fell. "You and I both, beloved brother. But you're wrong."
She wiped away the single drop of blood from his neck and laid the body out on the floor. No man would ever guess what power had felled Abdul. They'd tell each other wild stories of invisible ghosts, djinn, alien beasts; or maybe the book itself had killed him. It is the nature of Man to look for explanations outside the obvious.
The Adept settled in her brother's chair and examined the manuscript. It was as bad as the intelligence reports claimed. He'd said "it's all here," and indeed it was. With illustrations. Very fine illustrations, too, she noted. The lonely desert... Fatima wondered what might have been if things were a little different. What if her mother had had her wish? Or what if she herself hadn't left home? Enough.
Abdul was right, in a way. The oil lamp was inviting, but well she knew that burning the manuscript wouldn't be the end of it. Quiet voices in a training session: "Don't call up anything you can't put down." Much more quietly: "There are some things nobody can put down." Destroying this copy of the book would invite another Abdul to be born elsewhere, perhaps beyond the reach of the Sisterhood.
Fatima picked up the dead man's pen, dipped it in ink, and stared thoughtfully at the first of the illustrations. It was a masterpiece, in a five-sided ornamental border. Her brother had been an artist as well as a poet. It was blasphemous, of course, but that didn't bother the Adept. She regretted what she had to do to the picture; it seemed like killing something. A living book... that was a good story to remember.
She took a deep drag from the water pipe. Strong stuff - must remember to take a sample back for analysis. She had a brief vision of thousands of trained killers, spread throughout the courts of the world, infiltrating, subverting, bound together by a drug state and sisterhood. Sabbah, Sabbah... But that must be the wrong century again.
She concentrated on bringing the contorted, twining limbs of the picture into focus. She thought back on all her nightmares, drug visions, all the strange wonders of biology she had seen in her training. How to make the obvious seem alien?
When the Adept set down the pen and looked at her work, she was amazed. A tentacle here, a few extra eyes there, splash some ink on the critical parts so it looks like an accident, shade some objects against the rules of perspective, and the entire image was transformed. It was twisted, chilling, and in no way human. But somehow, the original blind screaming sensuality remained, and that made the display all the more compelling. She had a vision of shaking hands copying out this picture in dark cellars, books sitting on shelves far from the light of day, and round-faced men lewdly whispering.
Of course, the Most Exalted Matriarchs would throw a hissy fit. Fatima giggled. It would be too late by then, and after all Adepts were permitted to execute their missions in their own style. She owed Abdul this much, and it would be more effective than outright censorship anyway.
After adulterating the remaining illustrations, and consuming a great deal more of her brother's dope, she proceeded to the text. Now she worked faster, and more freely, her spinning brain spewing nonsense words to replace the poet's plain language. She put in alien monsters, slyly altering his descriptions as she'd altered the accompanying pictures. She freely dribbled ink over the more obvious passages, figuring that the messier it looked, the more credibility it would eventually have.
Laughing madly, Fatima imagined her insane rantings and Abdul's sane ones, joined, as she'd learned, as merely physical man with woman never could be. Traveling to distant lands between leather covers; translated into languages not yet invented. These words, and her brother's name, would survive his twelve hundred thirty years, and longer.
And in all that time, the Adept thought to herself as she set down the pen and slipped out of the room and onto the street, the poor fools would scare themselves silly with talk of alternate universes and monsters from the stars. As they lost their power they'd blame it on crawling things from the Depths of Beyond. They'd never stop to think that her poor brother had meant "in your midst, living in your homes" to be taken literally. Men always expect trouble to be alien. Like the noises in the night, that couldn't be made by ordinary bugs, they had to be supernatural.
Fatima had replaced the veil over her face, so no man saw the smile that twisted her pretty red lips. It would be a long strange trip through the centuries, but Man would learn his folly someday. Yes, she thought, it may take twelve hundred and thirty years and more, but our day will come.