I stared at the message for a moment. Mubashir wanted to meet me at the male locker rooms in the Sun Tzu student center. Tonight. What had he found that needed me to come so quickly? Why was he risking texting me?
Still, I had a day of classes. As usual, I was extremely distracted by current events. I had been ever since Washington had happened. Mubashir’s cryptic message wasn’t helping, but I was so off-task that the effect was probably negligible. Or maybe it was able to finally focus me… but not on my studies.
It eventually came to me that there was something Mubashir had found out that he didn’t necessarily want to tell Bai. But if that was the case, what? I thought I made it clear that he could trust her. Did Mubashir have some reason not to? Was there something he wanted to keep among UNIX agents? Or maybe it wasn’t so friendly. If that was the case, I decided I’d bring John. After all, Mubashir hadn’t told me to come alone.
When John came back to the dorm, I told him about the message. John, upon hearing it, said, “So… you want me to go to a pool locker room… at midnight… because you think someone might try to get the drop on you.” He shook his head. “Nate… first off, it’s Moob. Second, if you’re so paranoid, don’t go.”
“But don’t you want to find out what he wants to tell us?” I asked. “Personally, I’m curious. Plus, this way I won’t accidentally wake you up when I come back.”
John shook his head. “No, I am not curious. Actually, I’m going to be… doing something with Bai.”
From the way he said that, it was pretty obvious what John was planning on doing. “Ok,” I said. “You’re doing it in her room, right?”
“Yeah,” John said. “Anyway, here’s hoping you don’t get into any trouble.”
Eventually, I found myself waiting for Mubashir in the appointed place. The men’s locker room for Sun Tzu’s athletic center was as deserted as you’d expect when I got there at eleven fifty. There was an odd design to it, probably to keep people from peeking in: there was a small sort of antechamber before the actual changing area. I was waiting in the main changing area, just pacing around.
And I spent a lot of time pacing around. Ten minutes after I had arrived, Mubashir still hadn’t gotten there. I checked my phone. 12:01. That wasn’t late. Then I paced some more. Then I checked my phone again. 12:13. Slightly annoyed by the fact that I hadn’t checked my phone a minute earlier, I continued pacing. At around twelve thirty, I was considering heading back.
I was by the wall where the exit to the antechamber, but at the opposite end when I was thinking this. Just as I had decided to head back to the dorm, I heard the door to the main hall open. After a pause, Mubashir stumbled through the archway and into the dressing room almost as if he had been flung. He landed on a bench, motionless.
I ran towards him, unthinking. What had happened? Had he been attacked? I bent down to examine his body. He was breathing, but unresponsive. On his neck was what appeared to be a recent needle puncture mark. Before I could process this, something metal slammed into the back of my head with a large amount of force.
For a few seconds (or maybe more, or maybe less,) all I could see was white. I could feel people dragging me away. I struggled ineffectually as my vision cleared and time started to pass as normal. However, I sensibly stopped when the barrel of a gun was jammed into my temple. A glance from my now mostly recovered vision revealed that my captors were two of the four remaining Al-Qaeda members. Mubashir was the third. I suddenly realized the reason Mubashir wanted to meet me: he didn’t. Someone, possibly one of the two people who had a death grip on my arm, had stolen his phone.
“You know,” a voice said from the archway to the antechamber, “you do seem to have a talent for making enemies, Jacobs.” There, leaning casually against the festively patterned tile wall, was Salim. The side of his face that had been scarred in a drone attack was facing me. In his hand, he held a silenced pistol. The magazine was dripping blood, and with a start, I realized the blood was mine.
“I’m not sure it’s the quantity that will do me in,” I said, glancing at the floor between where I was being held and where Mubashir lay, “but the quality.” There, lying hopelessly out of reach of both Mubashir and I, were my Berretta and my SIG. I looked at both my captors. They must have disarmed me as they had dragged me away.
“I must admit,” Salim said, as he slowly walked towards me, pausing to kick my weapons even further out of reach, “I did not expect you to die complimenting your killer, Killer.” He chuckled at his play on words, then continued, “You had quite the mouth on you when last we were in this situation.”
“I guess I learned my lesson,” I said, remembering how many times I had been stabbed for mouthing off. “But before I die, can I ask…”
“No,” Salim said, flicking the safety of his pistol off. He raised it to my heart, but was interrupted when we heard a moan.
Upon seeing Salim’s confused look, I said, “Ah. So you didn’t just want to knock him unconscious, did you?”
Salim, his face hardening, turned around. “No,” he said. “I gave him two hundred milliliters of heroin. He was supposed to die.” As he spoke, he walked to where he had left Mubashir.
As Salim stalked off to the ex-comrade he’d failed to poison, I was able to see Mubashir. He had managed to get into a sitting position, his face in his hands. A little later, he made a retching sound, and a mixture of blood and vomit poured from his mouth. I gagged in sympathy and, maybe I was imagining things, but I could feel the trigger of my captor’s gun pull back.
Mubashir looked up at Salim. “Let me guess,” he said, “Takeda and Brosnan told you, didn’t they?”
Suddenly, things began to make sense. Either Brosnan or Takeda had grown tired of me, but had failed to find an opportunity to do the deed themselves. Still, that left one question. “But why’d they rat you out?” I asked Moob. “I mean, I understand why they hate me, but…”
“If you really care that much,” Salim said bitterly, “apparently we’re not the only ones Mubashir has betrayed.” Mubashir, despite still seeming very ill, looked like he was about to correct it, then thought better. Salim continued. “I mean, the CIA still has him for the moment, but hey, who knows when he’ll stab them in the back?”
“Do you… do you want to know why I did it?” Mubashir asked. As he said this, he turned around to stare Salim directly in the face. He still looked like he was going to vomit blood again, but there was a note of pure hatred in his voice that I’d only heard once before.
“I don’t need to,” Salim said contemptuously. “How much did they offer you to betray your brother Muslims? Was it five figures? Six?”
Mubashir laughed hysterically. Salim dropped his gun and my captors nearly let me go. If they had, I wouldn’t have tried to escape. I was transfixed. Finally, Mubashir was able to control himself. “You think anyone would have to pay me to hurt you? You who dragged me away from my family? You who call all of Islam brother while you murder, maim, and rape them? You, who follow a book of peace and love by murdering children?” He smiled. “No. I sought them out, you semi-human pestilence.” He then spat at Salim.
Salim did not spend half a second to wipe off the bloody saliva. Instead he raised his pistol. Apparently, it was some kind of a machine pistol (probably a Stetchin,) because there was a three-round instead of a single shot.
For a second, I thought time had completely and utterly frozen. Bits of Mubashir’s brain and skull hung seemingly suspended in mid-air. I could also see Salim’s expression slowly change to one of confusion. Then Salim raised his gun. Mubashir still remained sitting. Salim’s bullets and Mubashir’s expelled bits of head were still suspended in midair. Salim leaned around Mubashir’s head. When he saw the odd sight behind, Salim said something that, based on the context, was probably Arabic for What the hell…?
After considering the scene from a few angles, he began walking back towards me. “I do not know what is going on,” he said, clearly beyond disturbed, “but I think it is time to conclude our…” He stopped. He then tried to take a step, but for some reason it seemed that his feet had been stuck to the floor, as if by some kind of glue.
He tried again, his face now one of abject terror. He tried the other foot. The same thing happened. He then dropped his gun to pull at his leg. I suddenly noticed that his feet were changing color.
Then, from behind him, Mubashir turned to face us. As he did so, the ejected bone and gray matter began to fly back into their correct places and Mubashir began speaking. It sounded like Arabic to me, but the other people in the room who actually spoke it didn’t seem to want to engage him in conversation. The one who had put a gun to my head adjusted his aim and began firing at Mubashir. The first few shots hit Moob perfectly in the center mass leaving big red dots, but Mubashir didn’t seem to mind. The rest turned to sand mid-flight, reflecting beautifully in the locker room light.
Meanwhile, Salim was shrinking. Actually, shrinking was the wrong word. My next thought was that he was melting from the feet up. Then I realized the brown puddle he was forming wasn’t liquid, but stone. Salim realized this and began screaming. At the same time, whispering voices, the same ones I had heard at the beginning of the semester, began to start up. With a jolt, I realized that they sounded a lot like Moob’s voice.
All of this proved to be too overwhelming for my captors. Letting go of me, they edged out towards the locker room’s rear entrance. That one led directly into the pool that I had never used, despite having brought my swimsuit. When they were out of my sight and safely past Mubashir, they began running.
I was too transfixed on what was happening to Salim to notice. As he shrunk to thigh-height, his screams began to take on a gargling quality and water began to flow from his mouth. The more he shrunk, the stronger the flow. Eventually, I could see what he was becoming: a water fountain made out of some kind of yellowish-brown sandstone.
I was distracted from watching the sick transformation when Salim’s two friends ran back into the room. However, they came from the antechamber. They must have been looking over their shoulder, because they bounced off Mubashir. They looked up to see him staring down at them, still muttering to himself. The two sorry bastards sprang up and began to run in the opposite direction and began to run in place. The whole thing reminded me of a Scooby-Doo episode… until they started going backwards.
In horror, I watched as they were slowly dragged backwards. They then began to start changing as well. By the time they had cleared the bench Mubashir was standing in front of, they had become oddly stretched and starting to take on a rectangular shape. There were also square shapes on them that looked like doors and their skin was taking on a metallic sheen. They could still beg and scream. I know because they did.
I fell to my knees, hyperventilating. I couldn’t do anything. Even if I still had my guns, it wasn’t like I could stop Moob with them. I mean, two other people had already tried that and I couldn’t even say it had made him mad. Running also seemed to be completely pointless. After all, that was the first thing I had tried when he had done this to me.
Dammit, I thought to myself as I doubled over and sank to my knees, suffocating yourself isn’t going to solve anything. Since I didn’t have a paper bag, I used my hands to form a mask. I then tried to modulate my breathing, but still, it was hard. I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness, either from rapid breathing or the whack Salim had given me. It wasn’t until the screaming stopped that I was able to start to regain control myself. It was even longer until I felt comfortable standing up.
When I did, I saw that Salim was now finally a fountain. There was an octagonal pool, and in the center there was a square with a circle on top. Water was filling it up slowly. Mubashir was still standing near that bench where he had been tossed what seemed like a lifetime ago. He and the other voices had fallen silent, but he was still staring blankly off into space.
Keeping as much distance between the fountain that used to be Salim and myself, I edged closer to Mubashir. “Moob?” I asked cautiously. “You ok?” There was no response, but as I edged closer, I noticed we had a new row of lockers. That must have been where the other two Al-Qaeda guys went.
After I called his name a few times, Mubashir suddenly looked up. “Nate?” He asked, blinking dazedly. “What happened?” He paused, then saw what had once been Salim. “When did we get a fountain?”
I stared at him. I’m not sure if it was in horror, shock, or confusion. As I was struggling to sort that out and say what happened, I heard the door to the main hallway get kicked in. Bai and John then burst into the changing room, pistols drawn.
“Nathan!” Bai said, somewhat surprised. “You’re alive! I was sure Salim was going to kill you.” She then paused, then asked with a hint of jealousy, “Why do you have a fountain?”