Cataclysmic Dreams - completed

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Cataclysmic Dreams - completed

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Ylanne on Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:12 am

Cataclysmic Dreams

Death_Fury_Z as Dana Shepard, Mark Anderson, Damien Kramer, and an entire SWAT team.
Ylanne as Tahira Ali and a judge.
8 October 2009 through 15 October 2009

A Note: This was originally roleplayed using the site’s chat system. Per the original format, I have taken the liberty of polishing the piece on the whole by correcting grammar and usage errors, as well as redacting language that clearly needed revision; however, these posts reflect exactly what the roleplayer intended to write. I have also re-written all offending verbs to conform to a consistent past tense, and broken up walls of text into passages of a length easier on the eyes.

–Ylanne

Boston, MA


The city rose around her, towers looming so far above her small height she thought they might even be near to God in his heaven. Hundreds of thousands of glass windows sparkled in the light of an austere, cold sun, so unlike the desert sun she had known in her youth. The city was without feeling - it neither welcomed nor rejected her. It was strange, utterly unknown to her, and she shuddered for it, keeping far to the shadows of some busy street. And then there were the people, men and women of all nations, their words and conversations floating around her. Tahira Ali understood few words. Her vacant gaze drifted over these others, eyes wide, acutely aware that she did not belong here.

Dana Shepard walked with her hands in her pockets, slightly slouched. She was not in a good mood this day. Dana had gone back to smoking, the cigarette leaving a small trail of smoke behind her as she walked through an alleyway. The quiet dimness of these places was nice; it was always easy to hide here. At least those creeps from before were gone, just a couple of punks harassing her. The woman stopped in the exit to the alley, leaning against the brick wall. So many people walked the street—it didn't really matter what they were doing, to her, they were only obstacles. She took one last drag from her cigarette and then stomped it on the ground, observing the area around her.

A sea of faces everywhere Tahira Ali turned, the babbling of dozens of tongues she did not know, and not a word of her native tongue spoken. She heard snippets of English here and there, but it came so fast she neither caught the words, nor had time to ponder their meaning. She retreated against the ancient stone walls of some colonial building, finding herself at the turn of some small alleyway, and turning her gaze, Tahira Ali saw a younger woman standing there, stamping out a cigarette. Her eyes narrowed slightly and she regarded the woman as one might a suspicious stranger, for she knew neither her name nor intent. Still she was silent. Dana scowled at the woman who was looking at her.

"Whaddaya want, old woman?" she asked in her rough, slightly accented voice. She didn't like it when other people looked at her for too long, and even a short time of observation was too much. The woman did seem much older than Dana, so there probably wouldn't be much trouble.

A light breeze flowed into the alleyway, whipping her raven black hair across her face. Dana's denim jacket waved in the breeze, revealing a glint of metal under the jacket. Yes, she carried her weapons with her, even in this busy city. All she needed was her legs and those guns to get out of trouble.

Tahira Ali blinked slowly, eyes trailing up to meet those of the younger woman, who stood taller than she. She tilted her head to the side, taking in the English as her mind processed the words, to better understand them. "Nothing," she murmured, looking away, her voice soft, the words marked with a distinct, clipped Arabic accent. "Nothing."

Her robes flapped limply in the breeze, and she subconsciously took a step backward, looking somewhere, anywhere but at the younger woman who she did not know and yet could not leave - her eyes caught sight of a telephone pole on the sidewalk at the other end of the alley, fliers flapping every which way in the breeze. On one, the image caught her eye and her eyes narrowed - it was her own image. Strange, she thought, and looked away from it quickly.

Dana turned her head away from the older woman. If she wanted nothing than why was she still standing there? It annoyed Dana slightly, but then again, Dana was easily irritated. The fliers also caught her eye; she watched them blow in the wind until a single one detached from the telephone pole. She watched it fly along its erratic path until it landed in the entrance to the alley way. It couldn't hurt to look, right?

She walked over to the flier on the ground and picked it up, silently mouthing the words on written on it. After a few moments, Dana turned her head back to the woman, her bright blue eye shining. "Is it just me, or does this look almost exactly like you?" She asked with a wicked grin. This was going to be interesting. . . The cacophony of the main thoroughfare behind Tahira Ali now, the younger woman's words cut through the thick air like a knife carving through sand. Tahira Ali looked up again to see her hand clasping the poster with her image, and her eyes narrowed.

"Yes," she said, with a small nod. "Yes, that is I." The words spoken were soft, but heavy, and the instant spoken she regretted them. But Tahira Ali, for all her years and all her deeds, knew from her earliest days that to lie was wrong. . . the truth had been spoken. It lay between them, like a gauntlet tossed onto an invisible drawbridge only they could see. And yet even as the words were said, she found her eyes looking away once more - they could bear to see neither the other woman nor her own image.

Dana let out a long whistle, the brisk breeze still blowing into the alleyway. She let go of the paper, letting it fly off into the street once more. "Twenty five million ain't nothing to laugh at. . ." Dana walked closer to the other woman, a gleam of excitement in her eyes. "But I'm always up for a good story. Tell me, What'd ya do, and how'd ya do it?"

She clapped her hands together in excitement; this called for another cigarette! Dana took one out of the packet in her pocket and lit it. She then took out another and offered it to the older woman, offering her the lighter as well. "Wanna smoke?" It seemed that fate had drawn them together, and Dana wouldn't act with hostility. . . yet.

Tahira Ali shook her head, relaxing only slightly. She still regarded the younger woman warily; she knew not her name, but she was starved for polite conversation, and it seemed the will of Providence that they were drawn together thus. "No, thank you," she said. "My home has always been abstemious. . ." She trailed off, gaze now following the poster as it blew slowly down the street, and then fixing onto some spot just beyond the younger woman's shoulder. "What I did. . . " She sighed, not an unpleasant sound. "It be nothing to speak of - not with pride, nor with good memory. Some things, I think, are best left unspoken."

Dana looked slightly disappointed in both refusals. She wanted a good story of a masterful crime, but those were hard to come by these days, "That's too bad. . ." Dana put the cigarette back into its pack. Her wanted posters were not plastered everywhere the eye could see, but if one went to the right place and talked with the right people, it'd be easy to learn about her. "You sure you don't want to talk about it? I'll uh. . . buy ya a drink if you do." It was a feeble attempt at coaxing the woman to speak, but at least it was an attempt.

"No, akhti," said Tahira Ali. "I do not drink. . . never have I." She looked down, studying the patterns of the cobblestones, trodden down by weary horses and men for hundreds of years - not nearly as long as the packed dirt streets of her hometown, where sojourners had trodden for thousands of years. She had seen her wanted posters everywhere, her own image haunting her like some deranged djinn, some nightmare she had resurrected. Why did this woman want to speak of it? Painful enough it was already.

"Ya don't drink at all? Maybe I could get ya a coffee." Dana wouldn't let up, that slightly rushed voice of hers excited. She wanted to hear this woman's story. Dana had committed her own crimes, but there was no sense crying over spilt milk. You can cry while the milk is spilling, but as soon as it's done you better stop, cause it's over and you can't fix it. "Listen. . . If you tell me your story, I'll tell you mine, sound good?" Dana asked, her voice slowing down to become more understandable.

Tahira Ali met the younger woman's eyes, some strange, common thread uniting them, though she knew not what it was. Was this too the will of Providence? She hesitated for a moment, the temptation great, but she knew, and her heart beat to her, that it would be a disrespect and disservice to those whose lives she had taken to do this. Pride was a mortal sin. "akhti, hear me," she said, the words desperate. "I cannot; I cannot. How can I dishonour them so? Let the past be - let it alone. Why speak of such heavy matters when there are lighter ones? I think you must have your priorities misplaced."

"Look lady, all I want is a good conversation. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find one these days!" Dana sounded desperate. "L-lighter topics? If you got lighter topics I'll go for them." She nodded her head rapidly, the cool breeze still flowing into the alleyway. This older woman seemed interesting; although Dana wanted to hear her story, she would settle for something less as long as a good conversation was involved. "I'm Dana, by the way." She spoke in that rough voice as she leaned against the brick wall, a thin line of smoke rising from the cigarette she held between two fingers.

"It is an honor to make thine acquaintance, akhti Dana," said Tahira Ali, nodding serenely to the younger woman, her earlier discomfort seeming to have vanished, but for her natural timidity. "I too am starved for conversation. . . few choose to speak to me. Those who do, they seek. . . but nothing of that. Let me ask thee - from whence dost thou come?" She leaned forward slightly, almond-shaped grey eyes blinking at the younger woman as if to pry the information from her.

Dana didn't like the concept of fate, but maybe something had pushed the two of them together, like the wind had blown that poster into the air. She narrowed her sky blue eyes at the older woman for just a moment before looking up at the sky. "I come from a little old place that doesn't matter anymore." That was all she would say on that sensitive subject for now. "And where did you come from? I'm guessing it's not from here." Dana still looked away from the woman, not wanting to meet her eyes.

Tahira Ali inclined her head gravely. "No, I claim not this land as my home. I hail from the Orient," she said, looking to the side of the wall, the wanted poster now too far for her to see without walking the length of the alley. "But you, you are not American, mm?" Immediately, she regretted the question, but the words were spoken and could not be erased.

"Me, American?" She shook her head with a slight smirk. "No, sister, I am not. I've only been here for a short time. Why do you ask if I am American, specifically?" Her eyes locked onto the older woman's own, raising a single eyebrow as she asked the question. Maybe it wasn't strange for the older woman to ask that question, but then again, Dana wasn't the kind to trust people. Lies, lies, and more lies, that was how she lived, and would always live.

Tahira Ali looked away from Dana, unwilling to meet her eyes. "Nothing," she said, "it is nothing." She wondered vaguely if the younger woman spoke the truth, but dismissed the thought. What reason should she have to lie? Since she was young, she had known better - never lie. A lie is a sin against the highest heaven. Tahira Ali rubbed her hand absently against the fading brick wall, where illegible graffiti spattered the sides of the buildings. "akhti Dana," she said softly, her eyes empty as she spoke, "tell me, I prithee, what be thy profession?"

"My profession? I just search for work, any kind of work, that will pay well for a girl like me." Those jobs were getting harder and harder to find, but she was managing to live off of what she had. "It's hard for me to get a permanent job, I travel a lot." Dana went where the winds took her, and in the opposite direction of the authorities. "If I happen to come across a good opportunity, I'll take advantage of it." Dana grinned, the sunlight falling into the alleyway causing her teeth to shine. "What did you say your name was again. . .?"

"I call myself Tahira Ali," she said, looking back to Dana, her eyes narrowing slightly. "I am the daughter of Shasta, who was born of Uyghurstan." Tahira Ali nodded politely to the younger woman. This was how men and women were known in her homeland - by their own name, and their father's name and hometown. For her, there was nothing strange in the way she introduced herself - Tahira Ali, too, was somehow unaware of the level of name recognition of her own name internationally, and had spoken too quickly and from habit to realize that she had, perhaps, made some mistake.

"Tahira Ali. . . Twenty five million was it?" That was quite a large sum of money, and Dana was tempted to take action now, but why hurry? "But the past is the past, right?" That grin never left her face, at least some form of conversation would be good before she fully took advantage of the situation. With twenty five million, all the things she could do with that! Dana was a greedy woman, lies, deceit and subterfuge were wonderful tools for personal gain. "Now don't you worry; I won't take you in. . ." She left the last part unspoken, Dana wouldn't take the woman in—yet.

The breeze picked up, blowing much more forcefully than before, with that sharp whistling sound of the wind, whipping Dana’s hair into her eyes as her jacket flapped around her. There was a glint of metal, two pistols sitting in their holsters, shining in the sunlight, though only visible for a moment. Dana quickly held her jacket close to her, forcing a shiver as if she was cold, though the true reason for this was to stop the jacket from moving in the wind and further revealing the weapons she hid under it. Hopefully the old woman's sight wasn't very good. Dana didn't want her to run off.

Tahira Ali's eyes caught the glint of metal - weapons, she thought, but spake nothing of them. It would not do to say such things to one who had been kind and spoken well. The kindness of strangers was given in her homeland, but elsewhere, it was rare to encounter indeed. Still, something seemed off with the other woman - something was not quite right in her hurried, nervous movements. A childhood spent in a war-torn nation had taught her to quickly spot the signs of anxiety - a telltale sign that danger was imminent. "Is something wrong?" she asked, her brow furrowing in concern.

"Wrong? Nothing is wrong, why would you think that there was?" Her voice sounded completely innocent. She had done this before – it was almost easy now, yet Dana still clutched the jacket close to her body. She tensed just the slightest bit, ready in case the woman tried to run for it. "Why do you ask?" She narrowed her eyes just the slightest bit at the older woman. What if she had a concealed weapon of her own? Things could get bad quickly, but hopefully it would go according to her quickly thought up plan.

"No reason, akhti," said Tahira Ali, letting her gaze drift over Dana's figure, before coming to rest on a spot just beyond her shoulder. "It is just - it is strange. In my homeland, it be custom to welcome strangers, and kindness is common. Elsewhere, I find that to meet a stranger is an encounter of suspicion. . . Be thou such?" The words were spoken deliberately, each word enunciated, as Tahira Ali was self-conscious about her lack of fluency in English. She shivered slightly, a breeze cutting through her thin robes.

She was raised in a place filled with xenophobia, meeting a stranger was an encounter of suspicion to Dana. You could never know what they were hiding up their sleeves. . . Or their robes. "I said you've got nothing to worry about, didn't I?" Dana smiled, a fake smile, but it appeared to be genuine. What was the woman going to do? Could she see through Dana's lies, or maybe Dana was clutching that jacket of hers too tightly and appearing to be nervous. She eyed the woman carefully, her body tensing a bit more.

Tahira Ali knew a lie when she heard one. First her Ama, then Father Sebastian, whom she once thought kind, and her beloved. . . empty words, words spoken with false reassurances, words that were at once hollow and heavy. Tahira Ali narrowed her eyes ever so slightly, moving back from Dana by a few steps. “I know not what you intend – but I know you lie,” she said softly. Were it only in her own mind, she might have dismissed the thoughts long ago, but here this woman stood, lies pouring forth from her lips, and she thought it unwise to remain – yet she found herself unable to leave.

Cover up the lies with more lies, that's how to do it, Dana thought. "I don't lie, my mother always taught me that was bad." She shook her head, that fake smile still on her face. "Lying gets you nowhere, right?" Nowhere except quite a longer life, she thought. Dana's hand slipped into the inside of her jacket, right next to one of her pistols. Just in case the older woman got any ideas, she would be ready. Dana could draw her weapons of choice quickly if need be, but part of her hoped it would not end up like that.

“Come now, akhti Dana,” said Tahira Ali, a certain distance creeping into her voice. She regarded Dana warily, noting the movement of the younger woman’s hand. She was reaching for a weapon.“I am not so blind as thou wouldst have me be. What be thine intent? Why reach for a weapon? I am not blind.” These last words were very nearly hissed as her eyes flashed, though she made no similar movement of her own.

Dana froze, things were going bad now. She didn't really plan on firing her weapons at all, too loud and too risky out here. There was a part of Dana that hated doing these things, the part of her that hated greed. But she had to get by somehow, and things were already hard enough. "I. . ." She didn't quite know what to say in this situation; her mind wasn't quick enough to form more lies. Dana remains still, the slight breeze blowing in the alley. She didn't know what to do. Part of her told her to just take action, but some strange thing was preventing her from doing so.

As Dana stumbled with her words, Tahira Ali stared at her with something like fascination or horror – the difference, she thought, was minimal – and moved backwards again, her robes fluttering lightly in the breeze with the motion. She pressed a hand against a rotting wooden door in the alleyway, and pushed it open, stumbling inside.

The door swung out into the alleyway where it slammed into the brick wall and shattered from the impact on its rather unstable self, littering the alleyway with shards of old wood. Tahira Ali blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of some abandoned hall or tenement or warehouse, the building empty, with only stacks of crates lying haphazardly all around, some piled precariously, others spilling open to reveal nothing within.

An escape attempt? No, Dana couldn't let that happen. She ran into the abandoned building. Her hand had slipped away from the pistol. Hopefully the noise from the shattering door didn't attract any attention, but she doubted it would. "S-stop!" Dana said hurriedly and loudly, her rough voice echoing through the warehouse-like building. "I'm sure that I'm faster than ya' anyway." Whenever she spoke quickly, or was a bit nervous, that accent slipped into her voice. It was something she couldn't stop, but it could possibly give away her nervousness. The woman had seen through her lies before, and she might see Dana's weaknesses too.

Tahira Ali moved among the boxes, hearing the voice floating somewhere behind her. She detected something in Dana's voice, but could not place what it was - other than a general sense of anxiety. She stood behind a stack of four crates, about eight rows into the room, the light from tall windows up in the walls playing with the shadows across her features. Who was this woman, and what did she want? Tahira Ali did not know, and that was the answer she feared. Her lips moved soundlessly in the shadows, prayers in her native tongue recited without words.

The older woman was hiding; that wasn't good. What if she jumped out from the shadows with a knife or something of the sort? Dana realized that she was risking her life. The other woman was much older than Dana, but looks could be deceiving. Sometimes a risk had to be taken though, even if the older woman might be craftier than she had first thought. "I don't want a fight." Dana called out nervously. That was the truth, but she doubted that Tahira would believe that. Her sky blue eyes darting around the dark building. Just why was she doing this anyway? Was it because she wanted the money, or something else? Even Dana herself didn't know right now: it was as if some unseen force guided her.

The words echoed around the abandoned warehouse, and Tahira Ali closed her eyes. Her intuition told her they were the truth. It took an eternity, or a moment, and she made her decision. When finally Tahira Ali spoke, her voice was soft, the words clear. "Neither I, akhti Dana. Neither I." And she bowed her head, clasping her hands in front of her, her back against the crate, leaning against it.

She looked in the direction of the voice; Tahira was nearby, behind some crates. But Dana didn't approach. Instead she slipped her hand into her inner jacket pocket. For just a moment, it appeared as if she was going to draw her weapon, but Dana only removed a cigarette and her lighter. Smoking calmed her nerves, and her nerves were tense right now. The dim light from the small flame illuminated her face for a few moments as she lit the cigarette. "Then why don't we call this a. . ." Dana paused, searching for the right word to use. "Draw?"

Silence, she thought, could be beautiful. Likewise, speech could carry beauty. Dana's voice was beautiful. Her words floated through the dusty air and Tahira Ali took them in, pondering them, but, more importantly, pondering the woman who had spoken them. Her own were chosen just as carefully, spoken as clearly, tinged with some hidden sorrow. "What be this in any imagination but some fanciful play of our own minds? Mine alone, perhaps, or yours - we two enjoined here. . . it is the waiting that kills me. What say you, akhti Dana? What say you? Speak and your choice is made, and your choices are your own."

Dana couldn't find the right words to say right now. She was conflicted. Here was a chance to gain so much – she would have all the money she could need if she just took the woman in. But some part of her didn't want that. That part of her wanted a friend, someone to talk to at least. Fate had brought them together, but for what reason exactly? Dana stood there, in the middle of the dusty warehouse. She remained silent, her eyes darting around the building, observing every bit of it. She removed the cigarette from her mouth and let out a puff of smoke, which floated away into the shadows. "I. . ." Dana began to speak, but stopped, what exactly was she going to say?

Tahira Ali said nothing—there was much she would say, but her babbling only confirmed her suspicion. She did not know how to speak. English was foreign to her, in more ways than one. But she did not remain hidden behind the crate. Tahira Ali walked slowly around the stacks, until she once again saw Dana’s figure, standing uncertainly near the hole where the door had once been, a cigarette glowing in her fingers. “Be there nothing you want of me?” She spoke, finally, her words soft, all harshness removed. The words hung in the chasm between them, some first attempt to build a bridge.

Dana let out a short, abrupt laugh, more of a chuckle than anything else. "There's quite a lot that I want of you. I just don't know what I want more. . ." Dana didn't feel like she was in control of her own words; they flowed from her then stopped of their own accord. She slowly turned her head towards Tahira, a cold look on her face. "But am I the only one who wants something from this encounter?" She asks in a soft voice, unlike her usual fast, rough one. Depending on the woman's answer, Dana would take action. But she was still conflicted, those two side of her tugging at her mind, each one saying that they were right. She raised her cigarette to her lips but hesitated, and frowns. This whole situation wasn't going as she had hoped, but exactly what was it she had hoped for?

"No," said Tahira Ali, her voice pained as she looked up at the younger woman. "I want something too. . . only it is something I fear I cannot have. What say you, akhti?" She stared hopefully at Dana, unsure of her own words, or of what the other's response might be. She controlled only her own choices - what this other did, that was utterly removed from her control. She thought the woman strange - suspicious, perhaps, hostile, more than once - but no more or less a human being than she herself was. And Tahira Ali was much lacking in the qualities of humanity. . . though she thought, with a wry frown, she might have wished it otherwise.

"What say I? I say that either way, things will work out. . . For me at least. It's your choice for how this goes." Dana’s free hand twitched slightly, ready to snap to her pistol in case she needed it. Tahira might have a weapon, or a trick up her sleeve. "So what's it going to be?" she asked, her voice still soft, and slightly nervous, hoping that Tahira's answer made things work out well for the both of them. Although Dana may have appeared uncaring, she really did care. Dragging people unwillingly to an unknown fate never sat well with her. It just felt wrong. She chucklde again. Maybe Dana had more of a conscience than she thought. . .

Tahira Ali tilted her head slightly to the side, eyes once again devoid of emotion, her features blank, showing neither hostility nor compassion. "My choice is to remain. To see - if you will pardon me - whether or not it would be completely impossible for us to. . . speak. Conversation is hard to come by, harder still to tend." She glanced away for a moment, but her eyes found their way back to Dana's. She sighed. "akhti, I see you do not trust me. . . nor should you. . . but I wish you would. My hands are empty," said Tahira Ali, turning her hands palm up, "and weapons I have none, though I have seen yours. I wish not to fight. Can the same be said of thee?"

Dana sighed in relief. That was the answer she was hoping for. "Of course I don't trust you, and I never will. The only person I can trust is myself, but. . ." She drew both of her weapons, almost as if she going to use them. Instead, she pressed the magazine release, and with a loud, echoing clunk they fell to the floor. Dana flicked the safety on her pistols and placed them back in their holsters. Why was she doing this, she wondered. The older woman could be a very good liar. But a risk had to be taken, and Dana was starved for conversation as well. "For you, I'll make an exception," she said, and then picked up the pistol magazines and placed them in her jacket. It wasn't good to leave those around.

"You are not the only one. . . " Tahira Ali’s words trailed off as she watched Dana release the magazines of her guns, putting them in her pocket. She slowly sat on one of the upturned crates, her gaze drifting to the windows high up in the walls. The sunlight was soft, though it did not quite reach to the floor of the abandoned warehouse. It was dusty here, the very air deadened by age and the passage of time. "Trust, akhti, is an act of faith. Not to be lightly taken or done - I am a fool, then," she said abruptly. "I am a fool, for I trust nearly everyone I see - and with what? With nothing, for nothing. What good does it me? I am a nothing, a no one. Easily born, easily taken away. Enough. Enough." She looked away, unwilling to speak further, her hands on her knees, and her head bowed - on the whole, a solitary figure.

"Everybody is a nothing, the bystanders you see on the street are all nobodies because you don't know them." Dana shook her head just the slightest bit, crossing her arms. "I don't think you are a nobody, this short encounter taught me that." Her voice continued to be soft and quiet, not like the usual loud, rude Dana. "So do not think of yourself as one so easily taken away." She looked up at the ceiling, a ray of sunlight illuminating the dust in the air. The breeze from outside flowed into the building, causing Dana to shiver, a real, genuine shiver this time. A friend had once told her that lying was wrong. Maybe that was the truth. . .

Tahira Ali remained where she was, perched on the edge of the crate, her legs dangling, not quite reaching the floor. An unfortunate side-affect of short stature, she thought wryly. "I appreciate that," she said. "More than you know." Kind words had not been spoken to her for a long time, even years, perhaps. She finally looked up at Dana with mournful eyes, unsure of what to say, or how it should be said. She hated this, the uncertainty, the not knowing, but it could not escape her, nor she it. Tahira Ali felt much, but did not have the words to describe what it was she felt. And so she blinked up at the younger woman in silence.

Dana watched the older woman in silence. Her sky blue eyes seemed brighter than usual in the dark, shadowy building. After a few moments, she turned her head away, "I'm sorry," she said simply. Dana hated having to apologize, but this seemed to be the right time to do it. The words she spoke were the truth, from the very bottom of her heart. She was not good with these situations. It was getting hard for her to find the right words.

Dana bit her lip just the slightest bit. She felt quite bad after what she had done, but she hoped it did not show on her face. Showing negative emotions was a sign of weakness, she had taught herself. Always keep a straight face in these kinds of situations. But Dana felt it was nearly impossible to do that right now. The only thing keeping her from frowning was her teeth pressing against her lips.

Tahira Ali watched Dana, the apology seeming to have been wrenched painfully, and from the heart, and for several moments she knew not what to say. But her eyes were on the younger woman, and they were liquid with compassion as she finally, finally bridged the chasm separating them. When she finally spoke, her words felt truly her own, and she offered a sad smile, a slight upturning of her lips. “There is no need to apologize,” she murmured. “What you are is your own concern—and I mine. Be not sorry for who you are. . . only for what you have done. It is a lesson I was long in learning.”

Dana sat down on the dusty floor, crossing her legs and looking up at the ceiling. "But who am I really? A mystery girl going wherever the wind takes her?" She slowly shook her head, still lightly biting down on her lip. "Truth is, I don't know what I want or who I am anymore. I was one second away from taking you in, and now look where we are." Dana sounded just the slightest bit confused, usually things just went the worst way possible. She knew how to deal with those situations, those ones were the easiest. But these, these not so much. Here she was with a woman she didn't know, saying things she had never said to another living thing before.

"Your choices are your own," said Tahira Ali with a light shrug, a rippling motion. "What you choose to do with me does not concern me. But to know oneself can be one of the hardest things to do. More difficult than taking the life of another, or giving one's life to another. The self is most intimate, and yet most elusive. Not to know what one wants - I say there be no better situation. I know well what I want in this life, and it is something that never can I have. Not to know who one is - that is different on the whole."

“But knowing what you want, knowing you have a purpose. I think that is the best situation." Dana nodded her head once, in approval of her own words. She didn't actually know why she was here, or why she did anything anymore. She attempted to fill the emptiness with material possessions, money, alcohol, cigarettes. None of it worked though, none of it gave her a reason to be living, yet for some reason she kept going on. "To have a purpose is the best thing possible., she said quietly, more to herself than to Tahira.

"Perhaps it is true," said Tahira Ali, nodding as in agreement with herself, "for a life without purpose must be miserably lived. But to have a purpose that I know is unobtainable - how much better can it be?" She tilted her head to the side, studying Dana in the dim light of the abandoned warehouse. Somewhere outside, she heard voices, moving closer. Perhaps others would enter, drawn by the missing, shattered door. The destitute, tourists, the police. Any of them. All of them. What did it matter any more? She and Dana were just within, just inside the entryway, and any who entered would see them in an instant. "Then have one," she said, breaking the silence. "Then have a purpose. Make it, choose it, and live for it. You choose to live without a purpose. You choose to live with one."

Dana's first instinct was to go for her weapons as soon as she heard voices nearby, but now wasn't the time to use those. She let out a long, drawn out sigh. Nobody needed to die today, or even get hurt. "Maybe I'll find a purpose, maybe not. Either way I won't just lie down and wait to die. Something will keep me going, even if it is something trivial." Her voice was beginning to regain its usual roughness, yet she still bit down on her lip to prevent a frown, or any other signs of negative emotion. Dana's eyes darted to the open doorway, looking at the fragments of the old door for a moment before returning to the entrance. She bit down on her lip harder, the pressure almost threatening to draw blood.

Tahira Ali sat in silence for several long moments, the two of them making a strange sight were another to watch. But they saw figures pass by, not looking inside, and the voices faded, and the two women were left quite alone, to their own devices. Finally, she stood, rising slowly from where she had been seated, and walked over to Dana, offering a comforting hand, which she rested on the younger woman's shoulder, the gesture carrying with it much hope, much expectancy. "Live. And live well. What more can be asked of us?" Her ruminations, spoken aloud, seemed to stand defiant in the face of the musty air. No response came from it. It was well, then. Who would have thought? For the two women were as different as any had ever been - and yet, thought Tahira Ali, with something much like sorrow, they were much the same.

"Truer words have never been spoken." Dana muttered, almost under her breath, and stood up slowly, brushing off the dust on her pants and sighing once more. Dana turned her head to look at the older woman. "Fate," she began. "I think that's what has brought us here today." She didn't like fate; it had ways of making things go wrong for one person or another, but if it was indeed real, there wasn't much that could be done about it. Dana stopped biting her lip and managed to faintly smile at Tahira Ali. The older woman seemed to have much more hope than Dana. "Thank you," she mumbled. That was another thing she didn't enjoy saying.

"The will of Providence remains unknown to men," said Tahira Ali, her hand dropping from Dana's shoulder. She looked up at the windows again, where sunlight revealed dust swirling about in stagnant clouds, a sight at once familiar and strange to one who hailed from the desert, where dust storms were a frequent occurrence. "Think you that the reward money you need?" The question was a strange one, and even Tahira Ali knew it, but she felt it needed to be asked - and more importantly, answered. She looked back at Dana, wondering whether it truly had been the Will of Providence that they be enjoined that day. Stranger things had happened.

"Of course I need it, but I'm sure another, better opportunity will arise at a different time." For Dana, it was nearly impossible to take someone in to uncertain fate after she had met the person. When you don't know who they are, and ignore the fact that they are human, it makes things easier. But with this older woman, Dana felt a strange connection. She didn't know why, and she didn’t really care. It was nice to feel that connection with someone, even if Dana barely knew anything about Tahira Ali, and had just met her. Dana longed for some kind of relationship, any kind really. She spent most of her time alone, and that wasn't always the best thing.

Tahira Ali looked back down at the floor, studying it intently. After several moments, she began to pace along the outer walls, the old brick still study, if somewhat tarnished, by age and time. She ran her hand along the wall as she moved, abruptly stopping after ten rows of crates as her hand found a bulletin board instead of brick. Tahira Ali tilted her head back and blew, the cloud of dust rising from the bulletin board massive and smothering. After it settled, she squinted, seeing a chart of some kind, with initials and times indicating something, and a flier for a union sponsored strike. Almost as if an afterthought, a third poster had been tacked to the bulletin board. It was an older, somewhat outdated copy of her own poster, when the photo was unreliable, and the reward ten million dollars. Strange it would be found here. Tahira Ali looked away and kept walking until she had come full circle back to the entry way, where she saw Dana still. "Still here, are we? And what shall we to do, akhti Dana? What think you?"

Dana watched the older woman pace around the building, watching her every move."Where else would I go? There is no place for me, not here, not in the city. So I will stay until I feel the need to move on." Dana shrugged as she said this. She acted on impulse more than careful thought, which is why she never stayed in one place for a long time. "What about you, where do you wish to travel to, after this strange encounter?" Dana was curious about this – normally she didn't care, but this day was different.

"Know that, I do not," said Tahira Ali, wheeling to face Dana. She regarded her silently for a moment and then nodded. "I too am a wanderer with no home. . . the city where I was born would not welcome me, and neither would my homeland, the place I called home as a child. I have no home to go to, nor have I those who. . . who love me." These last words were spoken with some difficulty, but she hoped Dana had not noticed. "Where I go, whether I should remain, or go, or be 'free', or be a prisoner, that is not what concerns me, nor should it. I am only and exactly what I think I am."

Dana raised a single eyebrow at the way Tahira Ali spoke a few of those words, with some kind of difficulty. Dana had given up on love, either family or romance. That was just the kind of person she had grown to become over the many years spent wandering. "I know how it feels, to not have a home," she said with just the slightest hint of sorrow and regret, reminding herself of times long gone. Dana shivered once more as the cold breeze flowed into the dark warehouse, dispersing the clouds of dust away from the light of the doorway. "It's cold here. I think I will move to someplace. . . warmer." She took a single step towards the door, then looked back at the older woman. "You can join me, if you want. . ." Dana mumbled quietly, hoping that she might keep this company for a while longer. It had been a while since she had talked to someone like this, quite a while actually. Dana liked it. Even if Tahira Ali was not fluent in English, it was still nice to be with another living person.

"With such an invitation, how could I refuse?" Tahira Ali offered that sad smile again, and moved to follow Dana from the abandoned warehouse. She did not want to label it, but it seemed she was being welcomed by another, and in such a way as she had never known before. "Where to, akhti Dana?" she asked, her step now light, her mind not preoccupied with concerns of being found by the American police.

There were some less favorable places Dana had found. They were a while away from here, but would have to do. "Well then, let's go." She stepped out into the alleyway, recalling the correct direction to go from here. Dana looked over her shoulder once to see if Tahira Ali was following, then started to move into the windy street. The place they were headed to was an old, abandoned house Dana had found a little while back. It wasn't much, but it was better than that dusty warehouse. "I found a place when I was wandering around; it should do for now." Dana said over her shoulder, making sure the older woman was following. After a while of walking through the cold streets they came upon an old house in a less favorable neighborhood. "This place doesn't have anyone living in it. . . as far as I know. . ." Dana mumbled the last part. There was always a bit of uncertainty with these things, but risks had to be taken. She opened the door and peeked inside the old house. It was only slightly less dusty than the warehouse, but still warmer. “Will this do?”

Tahira Ali followed the younger woman from the alley, emerging onto a smaller, cramped street with few people and more buildings crammed against each other like rice in a small jar. “Of course, akhti Dana,” said she, looking around as the door swung slowly open on rusty hinges. She stood silently, close to Dana, shivering in the biting wind. In the distance, sirens wailed. Above them, a plane took off from Logan, its engine roaring as it moved through the air. But the street itself was strangely deserted, other than a few parked cars. It was times like these that Dana wished her weapon was loaded. Being in this area always made her tense and a bit nervous. She stepped inside the house, the floorboards creaking as she did so. She peeked into a few of the rooms to make sure nobody was currently using the place. Thankfully, there wasn't anyone here besides the two women.

The house was eerily silent, except for Dana's footsteps and the creaking floorboards, with not even the sounds of skittering and scratching mice in the abandoned house. Dana stepped into the living room, and old broken TV against one wall, and a slightly torn brown leather couch against the opposite one. She beckoned Tahira Ali to follow, and looked around the slightly dusty room. There were some spots on the walls that looked like they held paintings once, but it seemed that they were recently stolen. "Home sweet. . . home?" she offered, hopefully lightening the slightly eerie mood.

Tahira Ali stepped inside, the old wooden floor creaking as she moved, her steps heavy, her eyes narrowing with concern as she looked around the rooms, inches of dust lying untouched on the floors, the shelves, the walls. The door swung shut behind them. Dana had moved into another room, but Tahira Ali remained in the hall, staring mournfully at the broken chandelier. It was missing most of its jewels, what glass remained had been shattered. Cobwebs clung weakly to its brass fixtures, the whole structure swaying from the ceiling as though it might fall any moment. “A strange place you call home,” she said, the words hanging heavily in the stiff air.

"Yeah, I just came across this place a while back. I thought it might be useful sometime." Dana crossed her arms and paced around the room, kneeling down to examine a painting that had fallen from its perch on the wall. The painting was torn and dust covered, most likely worthless now, which was probably why it was still here. It was a beautiful painting nonetheless, an artist’s rendering of a forest, with animals roaming around between trees. Dana had never really liked art, but sometimes it had to be admired. "So I've been meaning to ask you. . . how long have you been on the run?" Dana spoke softly into the hallway, but loud enough for Tahira Ali to hear her.

Tahira Ali blinked slowly at the words, so softly spoken they might have been delusions of phantom whispers. Outside, the distant sirens seemed to wax and wane in volume, almost like a dissonant symphony – antiphony, she thought the word was. Sister Beatrice would be proud, if only she knew how her star pupil had remembered each vocabulary word written in careful cursive on the back of yellowed index cards. “Forty-five years,” she said, the words enunciated carefully, so that no syllable might be lost to her lack of fluency in English. “Why ask you? It be on the poster, I think.”

"I just was curious and wanted to hear it from the woman herself. I didn't know if that poster was out of date or not." Dana slowed her words a bit, trying to keep herself understandable. Her slight nervousness usually sped up her speaking, and made it harder to understand. But it seemed that this older woman wasn't exactly fluent in English, so Dana did her best to make herself understandable.

The sirens in the distance caught Dana's attention for just a moment, and she stood up from her kneeling position and peeked out a broken window. Distant sirens could always get closer; you never knew where they were going. But it seemed that they were safe, for now at least. "Forty five years is a mighty long time to be running. How have you managed it for so long?" Dana had not been running for nearly as long as Tahira Ali, and it was already getting a bit more tasking than she would like it to be.

“That is the word that would be used,” said Tahira Ali, shrugging lightly, her gaze resting on the kitchen window. She moved slowly through the room until she was only feet away from the younger woman. “I think only of my life as it is in the present – defined in part by the past, and open to whatever the future should bring. I dare not claim knowledge of the will of Providence. My choices are mine – those of others, theirs. What defines who I am or what I do in the eyes of others be not my own thoughts, but theirs.”

She turned slightly away, inspecting the wall, the only sound her breathing. The sirens had all but faded into silence. Tahira Ali drew words in the dust with her finger, the movements absent, automatic. When she saw the words written, she took in a sharp breath, blotting them out – not that Dana would have understood the Arabic. She turned to offer some explanation, some reasoning, her mouth opening, her lips parting, the words on the tip of her tongue, a tinge of red blushing her olive complexion, but the words never came.

BAM.

Glass shattered, what was left of the windows rendered destroyed, amid shouts of POLICE and GET DOWN and FREEZE and DON’T MOVE with guns everywhere and a blinding flash and explosion – she felt herself thrown halfway across the room, coughing with the dust, tears coming to her eyes, not knowing where she was or who these others were or where Dana was. . . Dana. . .

Dana had been listening to the woman's words intently, taking in every single syllable she uttered. She was not expecting the explosion in the least bit; this was the worst possible time for such a thing to happen; her guns weren't loaded, and she had been distracted. Dana fell to her knees, her ears ringing and the room spinning, she had just barely heard the yells of the police. Her eyes dart around the room, trying to find Tahira Ali, but her vision was hazy and filled with pain. The most she was able to do was try to crawl away. . . Dana wouldn't be taken in; she wouldn't let that happen.

Captain Mark Anderson led the SWAT team, barking out orders to sweep through the whole house. Two women that matched the appearances of two wanted criminals were supposedly here, and one of them was on the FBI 10 Most Wanted! If this didn't send him to the top, then he didn't know what will! The sounds of boots stomping into the old, dusty house completely destroyed the previous slightly eerie silence. They went in pairs of two, into each room. Captain Anderson and one soldier named Damien Kramer went into the room where Tahira Ali and the other woman were. The two knew what to do; they had done this before; it would be easy. "Both of you freeze!" Anderson yelled, both of the SWAT members pointing their MP5's at the two women. This was easier than expected.

Tahira Ali felt her ears ring and she could hear only as if from a great distance spanning that of the earth and the faraway sun. The man's words, shouted loudly, to her seemed a playground furtive whisper. She was on her hands and knees, the impact on her senses from the grenade - though she knew it not for what it was - done its work, her senses stunned and her mind working furiously to compensate.

For a moment, she was back in Sister Meghan's classroom, scribbling the answers to differential equations in a lined blue book, the pencil sharp and firm in her hands, the nun standing attentively at the front of the room. . . then she returned to the present, the barrel of a gun but inches away from her face. Unsteadily, she rose to her feet, her movements slow, swaying. Where was she? The smoke had cleared just enough that she could see Dana - a gun pointed at her head as well. "What think you?" she managed to choke out. "What think you, akhti Dana?"

What did she think? 'I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to die.' Those were the only words repeating themselves in her head, this was a fight of flight situation for Dana. She couldn't handle being taking in, she just couldn't. She remains on her hands and knees, feeling the firearm dangerously close to her head, she was panicked right now. Frozen with fear, the room was still spinning, although it was beginning to lessen slightly. Her ears were still ringing and her eyes were still burning in pain. What would, or what could she do? This whole situation seemed hopeless right now.

Captain Mark Anderson called the rest of the SWAT team to guard all the exits to the room, and two more entered the run-down room itself. "On the ground, hands behind your back, now!" he growled at Tahira Ali; Kramer said something similar to Dana. These women hadn't expected a thing; this was incredibly easy. "You've committed quite a lot of crimes, Tahira Ali. Now it's time for you to face the consequences." Anderson spoke these words in a rough, gravelly voice, unpleasant to most ears. This woman seemed to be unarmed, but he didn't know about the other until Kramer called out to him.

"Sir, we got weapons here!" Kramer yells to Anderson, motioning his firearm towards Dana's holstered pistols. This was getting better and better every second.

Tahira Ali stared quizzically at Dana, for the moment, seemingly unaware of Anderson and the other SWAT agents. Slowly, the ringing in her ears subsided, and she turned to Anderson, blinking at his words. The English was strange to her, spoken with something much like hatred. Tahira Ali's eyes widened ever so slightly, a small frown crossing her face, but in an instant it was gone. "I - I beg your pardon?" she stammered to the man, realizing she had not understood a word of his English. And in that moment she imagined she was a little schoolgirl again, hearing English spoken for the first time. . .

Dana remained still, ignoring the yelling and stomping around her. She was paralyzed with fear, this was all going wrong and she didn't know what to do. After much effort she looked towards Tahira Ali, with a pleading look on her face, asking the older woman to do something. Dana couldn't make a move to load her weapons, and attacking the SWAT agent would be stupid, especially when there were four in total in the room. All sorts of plans popped into her head, but most of them were bound to fail.

"You heard what I said; now get on the ground." Captain Anderson places the barrel of his MP5 directly in front of the woman's head; he wasn't going to let her stall any longer. He would make sure that she got taken away, nice and clean. No unexpected backup bursting through the door, no tricks pulled, just nice and clean.

Kramer was impatient, a rookie agent, and he shoved Dana to the floor, calling for one of the backup agents to secure her weapons. A single agent rushed to Kramer's side, ready to secure Dana's weapons, and the second backup agent moved to Captain Anderson's side.

Tahira Ali's eyes narrowed slightly as she grabbed the side of the table, crawling onto the ground until she was lying there, per Anderson's orders. As she moved, her gaze fell to Dana, watching the younger woman closely. When Kramer shoved her, she shouted, "Kafur! Why touch her so?" And then looked away, murmuring "Aastaghfurallah," the prayer muttered so oftentimes of habit now said with some grave sincerity that before had been lacking. I seek forgiveness in God. She had much to beg forgiveness for - the question was not whether she should ask, but whether she could be forgiven. Did God have mercy on murderers? And the truth was, Tahira Ali was afraid of the answer.

Dana kicked and struggled against the man who started to secure her weapons. She screamed at them to let her go, told them that she was going to kill them, and other seemingly empty threats that she could not follow up on due to the terrible situation. No plan that could possibly work came to mind; she was utterly panicked and desperate to get away. But the SWAT agent was stronger than her, and she couldn't properly break free. Anyway, what would she do if she could break away? Run and be shot in the leg or something. This was completely hopeless.

"Shut up, murderer," Captain Mark Anderson growled at Tahira when she spoke. He didn't understand the foreign language at all. The Lord only knew what she could be saying. He motioned for his backup agent to begin securing Tahira Ali, the situation seemed to be under control. These women were going away for a long time, the only way they could get out of this was if they were the protagonists of some work of fiction, but murderers never got away, not in real life. Anderson would make sure of that, he loved his job quite a lot actually.

Kramer and the SWAT agent with him were having a hard time with the struggling Dana, but after a few moments Kramer lost patience and with a quick, hard strike on the back of Dana's head with the butt of his weapon, she stopped struggling. It was a rough way of doing things, but it certainly shut her up. Dana wasn't unconscious though, just in another daze. The two SWAT members begin to secure her as well, all according to plan.

Tahira Ali closed her eyes, feeling the cold steel of cuffs against her wrists, her arms pulled roughly behind her back, listening to Dana's voice and Anderson's voice as if she could not quite follow the words, as she lay on the moldy tiles of the floor. Strange home Dana had found - the whole building seemed as if it might fall apart any moment. Recalling her physics class with elderly Sister Laurice, Tahira Ali frowned, suddenly struggling against the agent holding her down. "Bismillah, let me go!" she cried, "the walls! The walls!"

And just as she spoke, the walls began to crumble, and the roof to cave in, a terrible, creaking noise splitting the air on the previously abandoned suite. "Audhu billahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajim," she murmured the prayer quickly, repeating it twice, shutting her eyes against their impending deaths. . . I seek protection in God from the accursed Shaitan. . . still struggling against the agent who held her. . .

Dana seemed to awaken slightly from her daze at Tahira Ali's word. This building was fragile, and it seemed that it was letting go of its hold finally. Dana was cuffed completely by the time the walls started to cave; she struggled against the grip of the agents, but it was in vain. She silently prayed to the God she had lost hope in so long ago.

As the walls broke and the ceiling crumbled, the SWAT agents looked around confusedly for a few moments. Then the floor gave out. There was a basement in this house, a cold cement one, slightly damp. The floorboards creaked louder and then shattered, leaving all in the room in a pile of wood and dust in the basement. Dana couldn't see who was hurt, she was currently stuck under a board, and it seemed that a rib or two was broken. It was a good thing that the fall wasn't that long, but the rest of the roof was still caving in. . .

Captain Mark Anderson coughed at the cloud of dust that obscured his view and filled his lungs. His right leg felt like it was on fire. After a few frantic waves of his arm the dust around him cleared away. One of the sturdier pieces of wood had landed on his right leg, and his MP5 was just out of reach. This wasn't good at all. He attempted to kick it off of him with his left leg, but to no avail. It would take a little more time to fully remove the wood.

Kramer was lying amidst the dust and shattered floorboards with his hand over his left eye. He had removed his protective eye wear, and it seemed that a sharper fragment of wood had lodged itself in his left eye. Firearms were scattered across the floor and amidst the rubble. The ceiling far above them began to fall down to the basement where they were, one of the backup agents was completely buried under the falling ceiling.

The second backup agent was clutching his arm on the cold cement basement floor; his arm was badly hurt, possibly broken. Other fragments of the collapsing roof landed dangerously close to Captain Anderson. He would have to get this situation under control, and fast. The two SWAT agents guarding the exits of the now floor-less room had hurriedly retreated from the house. They would go in after the collapse, instead of risking themselves by staying in that deathtrap.

Tahira Ali fell as the floor caved in, a tall wardrobe striking a glancing blow against her shoulder, as her knee slammed into a large barrel of sturdy hardwood, cracking audibly in the din. She cried out in pain, rolling on her side to ease any weight from her right leg, her hands still cuffed behind her back. Pain erupted like fire from the wound, and she thought she saw stars twinkling about her in the cloud of dust. Then one of the beams from upstairs came down, glancing off her head. "Tahira Ali, sit up straight! Recite Isaiah 24!" And all went black, her tired mind unable to accept any more. . .

After much struggling under the board Dana managed to loosen it, and crawl out from under it. Her chest screamed in pain with every movement, but now wasn't the time to succumb to it. She crawled across the debris, pieces of the ceiling above falling around her. The dust was starting to clear, making the basement slightly more visible. Her weapons were under the rubble somewhere, but she didn't know where exactly.

Dana managed to move from a prone position to a crouching one, and hobbled over to where Tahira Ali lay unconscious. This wasn't good, but it might be better than their previous situations. Dana was about to pick the older woman up, and carry her away from the danger, but suddenly something happened before she could.

Captain Mark Anderson had spotted Dana moving amongst the rubble; Tahira Ali might be dead already, but he wouldn't let this one get away. He reached for his sidearm, a P228 handgun. After a few moments of fumbling to draw it, he quickly took aim and fired at the fleeing woman. Only once though, and the bullet grazed Dana's side, causing her to stumble and fall to her side, next to the unconscious Tahira Ali. The rest of the squad was useless right now; it seemed that it was up to Anderson to get this under control. But that board still kept him stuck where he was, but in a few more moments he would be free.

Dana let out a yelp of pain as the bullet grazed her side. One of the SWAT agents were still in working condition! Dana fell to her side, looking at the unconscious woman in front of her. Her vision was starting to blur and tears of pain were welling up. But she had to do something. Dana frantically looked around the basement, searching for anything that could help. And there it was, a dropped MP5 next to a pile of rubble, under which a dead SWAT agent lay.

Dana reached out for the firearm, only to hear another shot ring out, from Anderson again. This time the bullet planted itself firmly in her left shoulder. It wasn't a fatal wound, but it hurt. She let out a louder scream this time, and tightly grasped the SMG on the ground, swinging her good arm around to aim at the SWAT leader.

Firing one of these with one hand wasn't a good idea, but what else could she do right now? Dana pulls the trigger, and three loud shots erupted from the weapon. Since Captain Anderson couldn't move, he was hit twice in the chest and once in the neck. The SWAT captain wouldn't last long after that. Dana smirked as he lay limply, handgun slipping out of his fingers.

After this altercation, it might have been considered silent in the basement room, except for the not just disconcerting moans and groans of pain from the other, still living SWAT agents.

"How was your day to-day?" Sister Katharine smiled benignly down at her quietest pupil, kind blue eyes resting on the girl's frightened features.

"I am fine today, Sister," mumbled the girl, not looking up at the nun as she spoke.

"Look me in the eyes when you speak to me," said Sister Katharine, tapping her ruler lightly against the bench. "Look me in the eyes."

The girl looked up wide-eyed, thin-lipped, her fingers clasped so tightly her knuckles were white. A small round of nervous laughter went around the other, more confident students, and the girl in the front row slunk ever deeper into her seat, Sister Katharine leaning down to whisper conspiratorially, her eyes twinkling. "Tahira Ali, do you want to know a secret? You are special. Yes, dear, it's true. God made you, Tahira Ali. God made you."


Tahira Ali felt herself still in the classroom, the faces turning hazy around her, and her consciousness of the present slowly rose to the surface of her awareness, her eyelids fluttering slowly open, now distinctly aware of the stench of dust and death and blood. . . hearing slow, raspy breathing, and realized it was her own. She looked around, finding herself lying on a cold, damp cement floor, several bodies around her. What had she done? By the bloody stars, what had she done.

Dana had to do it, it was kill or be killed, and she was nearly the one killed, they both were. She dropped the MP5 in her hand, and attempted to lift herself up from the floor. She was bleeding from her shoulder, though the graze on her side wasn't much. Dana didn't manage to get up, she fell to the floor once more. Hearing Tahira Ali's raspy breathing she turned her head to the older woman. "A-are you alright?" she managed to ask through teeth gritted in pain.

There were still two agents above ground, and two injured down here. Dana looked around the damp basement, searching for the one who took her special weapons, the ones she made. Her gaze falls upon the SWAT agent with the broken arm, lying on the ground groaning in pain. He would have to die as well, and so would the rest of the SWAT members, unless someone stopped Dana. She fumbles for the MP5 again, and shakily takes aim, not firing yet though.

Tahira Ali blinked through the haze, resting on cold cement, a wooden beam just inches from her face, blood dripping from some terribly gash in her forehead onto the ground, her fuzzy vision just enough to see Dana, the figure of the young woman grievously wounded, much in the same state as herself, but standing, with the weapon in her hand, aiming at the downed SWAT agent. . . to shoot, to kill, Tahira Ali did not know, but the intent was of malice, and of evil, and she could not stand by. With great effort, she leaned onto her left elbow, propping up her torso a few inches from the ground and turned her face to Dana. "Don't, akhti Dana," she whispered, her eyes pleading, the words painful. "Don't, Dana."

"I-I have to kill him! If I don't he'll kill us, don't you see that!?" Dana was not in a very good state of mind, it was times like these that made her the most impulsive. Yet for some odd reason she didn't pull the trigger. "Why should I let him kill us? Why?" she asked, confused, for this was how she did things. Kill or be killed, fight or flight, and to kill, to fight was the most appealing option right now. The agent she was aiming at groaned in pain and began to crawl away, though slowly. Kramer was still on the ground clutching his bleeding eye. But there were still two SWAT agents outside. Now that was a problem.

"What he does, his own choice is," said Tahira Ali, the words hard to speak, harder still to conjure in her mind, for English was not her own tongue, "but you - you have in your own mind and heart power over your own choices. Wilt thou choose what be wrong? Choose death over life? Choose wrong over right? Nay, let Iblis not this battle win. Let us go forth to another place - whither we shalt go, do right, do what even now your own heart commands you do!" She lay back on the cement, spent, her eyes rolling back to look at what had once been the ceiling, the voices of the two SWAT agents upstairs vague and distant. . . and with some trepidation she thought of poor Dana and the choice she must make. . .

What was she going to do? Tahira Ali was saying that this would be wrong, but her whole body and most of her mind said it was right. But there was one minuscule fragment of her that said no, this was wrong, and she should stop. After a few moments of the wounded agent crawling away across the cement, Dana tightly shut her eyes, and pulled the trigger. Three shots echoed out once more, immediately followed by the sound of the bullets hitting their mark.

Dana had to do it. It was what her heart told her to do. Maybe that heart was wrong, and Tahira Ali was right, but it was too late now; the man was dead. Dana dropped the heavy SMG. It clattered on the cement floor. Kramer just lay still, hoping to god that he wasn't next, though Dana hadn't noticed him yet. She crawled over to the body of the agent she just killed and retrieved her two pistols, the ones that had been taken from her earlier. These she needed. No matter what happened she had her pistols. "Sorry," she said, the words spoken at once to herself, the dead men, and the older woman.

Tahira Ali shuddered on the cold cement, those three shots thundering more loudly than did ever the rockets and bombs at home when war raged all around. She closed her eyes for a moment, clearing her thoughts, and once done, opened them, finding herself in the same room, with the same younger woman, the same wounds and the same pain - but it felt darker somehow, for a life, a light, had been snuffed out. No one asked her, no one had ever asked this tired old woman, whose own hands had murdered - and more than once, but something inside her opened at that moment, and had anyone looked her way, to the battered fugitive lying in the rubble of a ruined home, he might have seen the fresh, wet rivers running silently down her cheeks to pool with her blood on the floor.

Dana loaded her weapons, wincing in pain as she did, then placed them back in their rightful holsters. It was a bit comforting, having those pistols close to her. But two men had died today, all because of her. Even for a murderer like Dana, or Tahira Ali, killing had its toll on her conscience. She managed to pick herself up from the ground, the blood flowing from her left arm lessened, though her chest was burning with pain. She turned her head towards Tahira Ali and froze for a moment. The older woman was bleeding and crying. It was all because of Dana. It was all her fault wasn't it? But she put on a strong face and walked over to the older woman. "W-we have to get outta here, and f-fast. I think I hear the other agents coming. Can you m-move at all?" Dana was ready to pick the older woman up if she had to, but where would they go from here?

Why leave? Why not remain and enjoy the beauty of solitude, and grieve for what has been lost? It be a solemn occasion, this, the spilling of blood cannot be spoken of otherwise. These words she wanted to say, but did not say, and for several moments did remain tacit, but when finally Tahira Ali spoke, her voice sounded more tired than ever, the Arabic accent more distinct that had been before when she first spake.

"Nay, akhti, I think I have been wounded too deeply. But let us see what can be done." And Tahira Ali rolled painfully over to her side, avoiding putting any weight on her right knee, for she thought it might be broken, or worse, and leaned heavily on her left arm, propping herself up as she climbed slowly to her feet, leaning against the beams that had crashed near to where she had fallen. When she had stood, she felt a wave of intense dizziness and swayed slightly, bowing her head. After a moment, she spake again. "And now, akhti? What would you have us do?"

Dana moved to the older woman and supported her, placing Tahira Ali's arm around her neck. "What now? To be honest, I don't have the slightest idea of what to do." She had just killed two men, and there might be more casualties before the end of the day. The sounds of boots above signaled that the other two SWAT agents had entered the remains of the old house. Not good. "U-uh, let's just get outta here for now." Dana then hurriedly helped the older woman along, towards a doorway in the less ruined part of the basement. Where it went, she didn't know, but it had to be better than staying here.

Tahira Ali stumbled along with Dana, her right leg almost giving way as she moved, the doorway coming into sight, her eyes almost unwilling to visualize its frame - but there it was, water stained, dust scattered about, nearly blocked by a heavy beam that had come crashing down here too. "Be ye afraid of these Americans?" asked Tahira Ali, the words coming out in between short gasps of breath. "For I think they be afraid of thee! And of me," she added, almost as if an afterthought. "But why hasten to leave? There lie men wounded - I fear for them! Shall we have no more blood on our hands?"

"If we don't leave now, the others will get to us! Forget the wounded, it's them or us!" With this she hobbled towards the door at a quickened pace. Where did this door lead? Dana didn't know, and didn't care as long as it got them away from here. Kramer was fumbling around for a weapon or a radio, but in his current state he wouldn't be able to get to one quickly. Dana pulled Tahira Ali with her to the nearly rotting door, and she turned the dusty doorknob. Opening it, they were greeted by a short staircase leading up to the back yard of the old house. But they were also met with the barrel of an MP5 and a single SWAT agent who had circled around the back.

"B-both of you freeze! Get on the ground!" The SWAT agent yelled, obviously quite nervous about this whole situation; after all, three men were already dead.

Tahira Ali had no choice but to follow the younger woman, who was pulling her along - and with her own hands still chained behind her back, it was not much of an alternative. Alone, she could do nothing to help the men behind them; she needed Dana for that, and the younger woman seemed much too concerned with her own self-interests to lend assistance to the others.

When the door opened, leading to a SWAT agent pointing a gun at them, Tahira Ali began to blink rapidly, her mind processing his words as quickly as she might. "Akhti Dana, I tell you, it would have been better to remain - those who offer succor to others should receive it, but he who overlooks the needy will find himself in peril. . ." She turned slightly to meet Dana's eyes, the pain in her knee throbbing like fire.

There was a firearm in her face; Tahira Ali was still handcuffed; there was at least one more SWAT agent nearby, possibly more. Dana was bleeding lightly from her left shoulder, a few ribs were cracked. She was in quite a lot of pain. This whole situation was pretty bad, and she was having a hard time deciding what to do. Tahira Ali would help the wounded, but they were enemy, it was kill or be killed right now. Dana decided to go with her first instinct, although it was probably not the smartest one.

As quickly as she could Dana drew one of her pistols with her right hand, and fired twice. Always shoot twice, she had learned. The two shots echoed out, followed by the sound of impact at such a short range, and the SWAT agent in front of them slumped over on the stairs, blood gushing from his body. What Dana wasn't expecting however, were the two shots that landed in her back.

The second backup agent had arrived, and this time Dana couldn't do anything about him. She gasped in pain and fell to the ground next to Tahira Ali, her vision blurry as she looked up at the other woman. "Tahira Ali, get on the ground now," the SWAT agent said, surprisingly calm for a man who had just shot someone.

Tahira Ali stood in open-mouthed shock as her younger companion shot the man before them, and nearly shouted all sorts of words that she had been forbidden to repeat in church as Dana too was shot, both she and the man she had shot slumping onto the ground, the words of the man behind her distant and strange. She shook her head slowly in an effort to clear the cobwebs, and awkwardly lowered herself to the ground, trying to avoid putting any pressure on her right knee.

"If there be any mercy, o God, let it fall upon us all," she murmured, knowing all the while she spoke that many more lay dead, and she had done nothing to stop it. All around her, the wind blew softly, distant sirens growing louder, the sounds of a helicopter splitting the air above. "O akhti Dana, look round ye, look what ye have done." Her eyes were now dry, but her words were heavy, so heavy, the voice mournful and alone in the October cold.

Only faintly did Dana hear the sirens, the helicopter, and the stomping boots of more SWAT securing the area. There she lay, in a slowly growing pool of her own blood, those whom she killed around her, Tahira Ali next to her. It was Dana's fault that this had all happened, but it was too late to reverse any of it. The seemingly muffled yells of SWAT team members resounded all around her, as they began to fully secure the older woman, and check on the other agents, those dead, those wounded, and those alive. Dana half closed her eyes, the cold wind blowing her raven black hair across her face. It was kill or be killed, and it looked like her time had finally come. With one last cold shiver, her eyes fully closed, and then darkness. . .

Tahira Ali felt the life flow from the younger woman as sure as she had felt the life flow from her past victims, lying beside them much like she lay beside Dana now, and as she felt her spirit depart to Azrael's bosom, Tahira Ali grew more silent than ever she had been, sorrow coming over her like a wave. The SWAT agent had placed chains on her ankles and had hauled her to her knees, and was saying something to her, the words flowing rapidly as if they had been rehearsed, but she heard none of it.

Her gaze was on Dana, her eyes liquid with compassion, moisture glistening on her cheeks in the harsh light of the helicopter searchlight. How easily we are born, and how easily we die, she thought, the numbness of age and wrongdoing fading from her. And how she felt, how this one death, which would be unnoticed by time and future generations to come, how it struck her and changed her. But the transformation was not complete. Tahira Ali knelt among five dead men and women as her rights were read to her, and she wept.

]Two Years Later


She was led to the courtroom, chains on her wrists and ankles clinking as she moved, escorted from the hallway by four heavily armed US Marshals, their badges glinting in the light of the chandeliers, their footsteps echoing as they moved through the marble halls. Tahira Ali walked slowly, and with a heavy limp, favoring her right side. Her shattered kneecap hadn't quite healed to its former state, and sometimes she still felt pain, in more ways than one, from the old wound.

All along the hall, windows had been placed so that the sun shone brilliantly through, casting its warm light upon all those who happened to be inside the courthouse, for good or for worse. When Tahira Ali emerged into the courtroom, she took her place, and the Marshals beside and behind her, rising as the judge entered. She did not listen, not out of rudeness, as they were seated, and the judge spoke, gazing down on the prisoner with something like regret, her mind and memory taking her back to a fall morning decades ago.

School had started, and she was sitting in the front row, the students seated alphabetically. She hated having a name that started with A. All the other students would watch her all during class, and the teachers would call on her first. She hated the feeling of not knowing what to say, of having to say it in the vacuum of silence, forty eyeballs fixed on her.

"Tahira Ali, please stand. Recite, from the book of St. Matthew, chapter 8." The nun looked kindly down at Tahira Ali, her benign smile betrayed by the ruler she tapped against her hands. . .


She remembered the fragrance of roses and jasmine, and hot rice in her aunt's kitchen. She remembered loving a man, and his warm embrace, and the sounds of explosions all around as war devastated her homeland. She remembered everything. . . a fall afternoon in Boston, cold winds, and a strange young woman whom Providence drew her to meet. . . deaths, the faces of many dead, by her hand or another.

And she knew in that instant, sitting in this courtroom, that Providence had willed her to be by Dana's side as the younger woman had died, to be one final companion, bearing a light she had no right to claim or hold to. And with that knowledge, she was neither elated nor content. Tahira Ali was just. . . tired. The years were coming over her, and she could not escape them.

"Tahira Ali, please rise." The same words spoken, many decades later, by another kindly face, another lady in black, pushing glasses up on the bridge of her nose.

She stood slowly, feeling the weight of the years on her shoulders, sixty eyes resting on her tiny figure - today, not frail, but strong as she had never felt. The judge looked down at her and with a frown betraying regret, spoke the words Tahira Ali knew were coming.

"This court hereby sentences the defendant, Tahira Ali, to death." The words fell like pebbles over the surface of a pond, creating ripples that never reached shore. She had never felt at home before, but she knew she was headed there. And for the first time, when death came to gather another, she did not weep.
​“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy

Stunning letter from autistic survivor of electric shock torture in USA

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Ylanne
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