The ongoing weekly serial continues. Click here for the introduction,  here for Part 1, and here for part 2.

Chapter Four


Amanda and I were outside Lieutenant Colonel Norrie’s office when the Prosties attacked. 

He was investigating how Gonsalves ended up in the hospital with a head injury and no recollection of what took place. A bot nurse in the ER discovered a feather on his collar, which, along with the fake poo on his shirt, pointed straight to our class. Two days after we returned from the Central Corridor, Norrie began systematically interviewing people. When we heard about this, Amanda and I stood up in front of class and said the same thing: tell the truth. We didn’t want anyone lying to protect us. 

To be honest, I felt awful about what had happened to Gonsalves. I had no love for the guy, but I wasn’t trying to injure him. 

Amanda was. She was proud of what we did, and I got the sense she had encounters with him — of a more personal nature — she never revealed to me. 

She wanted to take full responsibility, but I talked her out of it. I couldn’t have her lying to protect me, either. It was my idea. We did it together, and we’d both go down together, if it came to that. I knew there was a good chance Norrie would dismiss us from the program, but I hoped he would let us stay. 

At that point, hope was all I had.

When the bomb detonated, the earth rumbled underneath us and I thought it was an earthquake. I knew they happened from time to time in California but had never felt one. The walls and windows rattled, and microscopic molecules of dust drifted down from the ceiling. 

Norrie rushed out of his office, a distressed expression on his face, and pointed at us. “Stay put. We’re under attack.” Then he dashed down the hallway.

Amanda and I shared a look, then popped over to the window to have a peek. 

A plume of smoke rose into the desert sky near the perimeter fence on the east side of the Fort. We stared for a few seconds, seeing nothing, until we heard sporadic gunfire coming from the same vicinity. We watched, transfixed, for the next few minutes as armed DF soldiers scurried from building to building and armored vehicles sped past on the street in front of us. There was more sporadic gunfire, then another explosion, not nearly as loud as the first.

Then, nothing. More DF soldiers walked between the buildings, but they were laughing and smiling with their weapons slung on their backs.

Fifteen minutes later, a bot walked in. “All clear,” it announced. “The attack is over. Please return to your homes and wait for further instructions. Thank you.”

We all met up that night at Izzy and Park’s and watched the news. They kept rehashing the same material over and over again. The attack killed six people – five Prosties and one DF Sergeant – and caused millions of dollars in damages. We were glued to the news for hours but learned nothing more until class the next day.

We’d been scheduled to conduct advanced bird maintenance, but a bot herded us into a classroom and played a surveillance stream of the attack. The Commanding General had ordered everyone to see it.

It started when an unknown Prostie – who was never identified or captured, as far as I know – drove a van packed with explosives next to the two-meter tall security fence ringing the Fort. The blast ripped a massive hole in the fence, flattened a section of the one-meter earthen berm just inside of it, and collapsed half of the dining facility on the other side of the berm. That’s where the DF Sergeant died. He was tidying up the kitchen. 

The blast was just the beginning. Five Prosties emerged from the right side of the stream, laden with guns and rocket-propelled grenades and explosive vests. Really primitive — but effective — stuff. They marched through the gap in the fence, past the berm, and casually began shooting. 

Even I could tell they were not well trained. Looking like they were on a leisurely stroll in the park, none of them moved with any precision or purpose. They loitered near the dining facility, standing straight up and pointing their weapons occasionally at whatever caught their eye. Unconcerned with how many soldiers they murdered, they appeared to be waiting to die. 

The DF obliged them. Our response was delayed and confused but effective. After the reaction force maneuvered into place, they returned fire and immediately dropped three Prosties, one of whom exploded after hitting the ground. The final two ducked behind a storage container, suddenly spurred to action by the death of their compatriots, and put up a fight for a minute or two until an armored vehicle rolled up from behind and cut them both down. The bot turned off the stream after the final explosive vest detonated.

“Because of this attack,” it said, “your training will be accelerated. The DF needs you in the field now.”

“Is this it?”  Ivan inquired. “Are we declaring war?”

“No,” the bot responded. “The President said this morning she does not consider that a possibility.”

“Where are we going?” Jill asked. She had been hoping for an overseas assignment. She’d never been outside the USA.

“Your specific assignments and final destinations are classified. You will receive your orders no later than Friday.”

“All of us?” I shot Amanda a look.

“All of you. But, Mr. Lyon, Lieutenant Colonel Norrie wants to speak with you and Ms. Gibbs before you leave. Now, we have a lot to cover in the next two days. Let’s get started.”

The bots did their best to cram two months’ worth of classroom material into the next two days. There wasn’t even time for a final exam, not that anyone complained. They signed our diplomas and shoved us out the door. 

But not until Amanda and I spent a few minutes with Norrie. 

He summoned us to his office late Thursday night. The timing could not have been worse. We were supposed to leave the next morning, but I didn’t have my orders, hadn’t cleaned the house, didn’t know where I was going, and hadn’t even packed. 

“Ms. Gibbs, Mr. Lyon, please have a seat,” Norrie closed the door behind us and motioned to the chairs in front of his desk. “I’m sorry to bring you here under these circumstances. I know these last couple of days have been hectic for you.”

Norrie smiled, showing bright, appropriately off-white teeth. He had a kind, cherubic face and short, dark hair greying gracefully at the temples. His voice was pleasant and kind in a syrupy sweet way that reminded me of my Grandmother. He put his elbows on his desk and interlocked his fingers as if in prayer. 

With three people in the room, I knew I would be speaking for Amanda and wanted to explain this to Norrie. “Sir, Ms. Gibbs has selective mutism and can’t speak–”

“I know! Thank you for reminding me.” He took a pad of paper and a pen from the center of his desk and placed them in front of her. “If you have something to say, please write it down, but I won’t be asking any questions requiring anything other than a nod of your head. Ok?”

Amanda nodded. 

“Good,” Norrie continued. “Now, let’s talk about Captain Gonsalves.” He sat back in his chair and chuckled disarmingly. “I understand you two played a rather nasty prank on him.”

“Sir, if I–”

“Please, Mr. Lyon,” Norrie interrupted. “I have worked with Gonsalves for over a year, and I can attest to the more abrasive aspects of his personality. You aren’t the first students to file a complaint, of sorts, and I’m sure you won’t be the last. However, given the events of this week, I have decided to close the investigation. Do you understand?”

We both nodded. That was my cue not to speak up again unless asked a direct question. 

“Both of you are undoubtedly responsible, and under normal circumstances, your conduct would result in non-judicial punishment accompanied by administrative proceedings to evaluate your suitability to remain in the Defense Force. However, these are not normal circumstances. My boss has directed me to get your class out of Fort McMaster. We’ve been attacked, and intelligence suggests backlash attacks are in the planning stages. We’re stretched thin, and we need people like you who are obviously skilled in their craft. You know, I used to fly Starlings when I first joined the DF. I know how hard it is to do what you did.”

He looked close to breaking into laughter but leaned in and cleared his throat instead.

“Here’s the bottom line. You can’t compel change through violence. It doesn’t work. It solidifies the positions of each side. If I were to tell Gonsalves what happened, what you did to him, do you think he would suddenly become reflective and try to figure out what behavior he could change to prevent you from hurting him again?”

He paused, and I thought he wanted a ‘no’ answer, so I shook my head left to right and saw Amanda do the same.

“Exactly. He would respond to your attack with an attack of his own, which you would then feel compelled to escalate, and so on. Violence would increase, but the underlying issue would be unsolved. The only way to change Gonsalves’ behavior is to explain how it makes you feel and what he could do to better motivate you in the future. I know you’re both leaving tomorrow, so I don’t expect you to find him between now and then, but I do want you both to promise me something. Instead of acting out the next time you come into conflict with an officer like Gonsalves, sit down with them and talk instead. Will you do that for me?”

He definitely wanted a ‘yes’ this time. We both nodded.

“Good. I really hope you have learned something from this episode. You will not have a reprimand on your permanent record, but you will have a note in your academic file.”

He stood up and smiled once again. It was infectious. I smiled, too.

“Thank you both for coming in this evening, and good luck to you. The Corporal outside has some paperwork for you to sign.”




We shared a good laugh over dinner at the thought of telling Gonsalves how his abusive language made us feel. 

“Can you imagine?” Amanda said between mouthfuls of sushi. “Um, excuse me, sir? It makes me feel worthless when you call me a shit stain, sir. Could you please use more positive language?”

“Like cunt?” I added, making her spit wasabi. 

“Violence is the only answer that bastard understands.”

“Do you believe what Norrie said? About not being able to force change through violence?”

“It would be nice to live in a world where violence solves nothing, but the reality is it’s incredibly effective. Violence has solved almost every issue of importance throughout history.”

“We haven’t had a major war here for a hundred years,” I protested.

“War is just one form of violence. Let’s say I want that California roll,” she pointed her chopsticks at my plate, “but you don’t want to give it to me.”

“You’ve had three already!”

“I can give you something for it, and we can make a voluntary exchange, or I can just pluck it right off your plate.” Her chopsticks snapped up the roll and shoveled it into her mouth. “There, problem solved.”

“That wasn’t violent. I let you do it. Not that I had a choice.”

“I may not have hurt you, but that was violence, pure and simple.”

“What about Norrie? He changed my behavior without violence. I won’t play a prank on Gonsalves again, but only because I don’t want to let Norrie down.”

“That’s different. You care about people, and you’re not a violent person. Besides, I never said violence was the only way to solve a problem. I said it was an effective way.”

She took two of her salmon nigiri and put them on my plate, but I wasn’t hungry anymore.

“See, I didn’t have to rob your plate at gunpoint to end up with more sushi. Being passive-aggressive works just fine.”

She painted a forlorn smile on her face and cocked her head to the side.

“I’m going to miss you,” she said, closing her eyes. 

I grabbed her hand and squeezed. 

If either of us had been sexually attracted to the other, this would have been the point where we had a going-away roll in the hay. Instead, we cleaned up the to-go boxes and gave each other a long hug before she walked out into the night.


Chapter Five


The next morning, I boarded a plane for Cairo. 

A bot knocked on my door at 0900, handed me my orders, and put my bags in the car without inspecting the house. It didn’t even bother to peek inside. I’d spent the last three hours cleaning because a ‘serviceable’ residence was supposed to be a precondition of travel. They’d scared the hell out of us with horror stories of students who’d missed their flights because they hadn’t squared the house away. It didn’t make sense unless the point was to scare us into submission, in which case it was highly effective. Too tired to be too annoyed, I got over it and slept the entire flight. 

Unlike most, it’s easy for me to get comfortable on a plane.

My orders instructed me to report to the DF liaison at the airport. I quickly found the DF kiosk on the ground floor near the exit but had a harder time waking up the mound of curly brown hair asleep behind it. After I roused her and learned her name was Sergeant Taleb, she directed me to a bench, told me to wait, and plopped her head back down. 

Ninety minutes later, for no reason I could discern, she woke up and told me to follow her to the van. 

The trip was abrupt, and I learned the Squadron Headquarters and our bird hangar were adjacent to the West Cairo Airport. I could have walked there while I was waiting for her to wake up. 

She stopped only long enough for me to hop out. By the time I grabbed my bag out of the back, she was moving again. She gave me no instructions and made no introductions. I was alone, surrounded by desert, and standing in front of an ugly, three-story cement structure. The searing heat was like a vice, pressing in on me from every direction. “Welcome to Egypt,” I said to no one and slung my bag around my shoulder. 

Inside, I looked in vain for a directory to tell me where to go. Opting for a door-to-door approach, I showed my orders to three random people. Each directed me to a different door, all of which were closed and locked. 

I found my First Sergeant’s office by accident. I was looking for the bathroom.

First Sergeant Charles Phoenix was a slight man, not much taller than me. He wore no DF branded clothes, and I felt a little better for not having purchased any. He told me to drop my bag and come into his office. 

“Specialist Lyon, your plane landed two hours ago. Where have you been?” His voice was timid. 

“I reported to the Sergeant at the airport, but she only dropped me off a few minutes ago.”

“Ok.” He continued scanning my orders. “Where are you staying?” 

“I’m sorry?” 

“Do you have an apartment downtown, or are you staying in the barracks here?”

“I’m not staying anywhere at the moment,” I responded, dumbfounded. “I just arrived.”

“Ok.” Phoenix put down the orders and stared out the window.

This had to be a joke. Some prank they pull on the new arrivals. 

Phoenix stood. “Grab your bags,” he sighed. “Let’s see if we can find you a place to live.”

I followed him up to the third floor and down a beige hallway lined with dark brown doors on either side. Most of them were defaced with graffiti or decorated message boards displaying various welcoming messages like “Do not enter” or “Fuck off!”

Near the end of the hall, he spotted a door that wasn’t closed all the way and, with some trouble, forced it open. The room looked like a herd of camels had stormed through. Papers and clothes and broken glass littered the floor. A wall locker had been dumped atop a mattress-less metal-framed bed. A cabinet door was ripped off in the kitchenette and thrown on the floor. Filthy dishes towered over a sink surrounded by a bevy of flies.

“Here you are,” he declared. “Enjoy your stay.”

He turned to leave, but I called after him, “First Sergeant!”


“Am I responsible for cleaning this?” 

“If you want,” he answered over his shoulder. “Or you can leave it be. Doesn’t matter.”

I dropped my bags and followed him to the door. “When do I report for work?”

“Take a few days. See the city.” He tried to pull the door shut but gave up after a few tries. “Whenever you’re ready, go to room 113 on the first floor. And, if you have any other questions, feel free to ask the guys up here.” 




I learned fast there were no rules in 2nd Squadron. My Grandfather always spoke of the DF as a disciplined, goal-oriented organization, big on structure. What I found was the opposite. Officers negotiated with soldiers to get jobs done while non-commissioned officers stood back and watched.

I was fortunate enough to be a spectator for most of this nonsense. While I was technically assigned to Headquarters Troop, I actually worked for a unit called Detachment S the entire year I was in Cairo. 

The ‘S’ stood for ‘Starling.’ 

Lieutenant Keel commanded the Detachment, and he was a nice enough guy. Tall and stout with closely cropped brown hair and rosy cheeks, he was the first person I met when I walked into room 113 the following day. 

“Specialist Lyon?” He approached and extending his hand. He didn’t bend down, always a good sign.

“That’s me,” I answered, shaking his hand.

“I’m Frank Keel, the Detachment Commander. Welcome aboard. Let’s head into my office. I’ll get you up to speed.”

We were standing in a reception area manned by one soldier behind a desk. Keel turned to him and said, “Get Specialist Lyon’s paperwork from First Sergeant Phoenix. I doubt he’ll send over on his own.”

“Yes, sir,” the soldier replied. 

Keel led me through a door into a medium-sized office space with four desks pressed together to create an island in the center. Two soldiers staring at screens occupied desks opposite each other. Five doors dotted the surrounding walls in between pictures of Starlings, both perched and in flight. 

“This is our Operations cell. You can use a screen on one of those desks if you have any work or want to call home. Lopez and Chu work here full time, but the other two desks are usually open.”

He opened the door to the right adorned with a wooden plaque that read ‘Commander Keel’ and ushered me inside. 

It was a cramped space, but I don’t take up much room. I squeezed past him and hopped onto a chair in front of his desk. He sat down, closed his screen, and leaned back. 

“Tell me about yourself,” he said.

“It’s a short story.” I used one of my standard lines to see if I could make Keel uncomfortable. He didn’t even flinch, and I’m pretty sure he got the joke. I waited a beat, then told him where I grew up and what I’d done in training before coming to Cairo. 

“I just love the fact that there are opportunities for someone like you in the DF,” he said when I finished. 

He was polite, leaving the door open for me to talk about my size, but I slammed it shut. I liked him so far, and I didn’t want him to say anything to change that. “What will I be doing here, sir? We were pulled out of training early, so I assume it’s something important.”

“2nd Squadron’s mission is to protect the people of North Africa, and Detachment S plays a special part in this mission. It’s so special no one outside the Detachment knows what we do or how we do it. Our reports don’t go through normal channels. Have you noticed that there aren’t any bots working for me?”

“I’ve only been here a few minutes, sir.”

“Quite right. Well, you won’t see any because there are no bots assigned here. A central DF data network handles their communications, but we don’t want our intelligence traveling on this network. People like you hear what the bad guys are saying and report it, in person, to our intel analysts. They write it up on actual pieces of paper and physically hand it to me. I pick out the bits I think are relevant and brief my boss, in person. And on up the chain it goes. It’s not very efficient, but it is very secure. It’s impossible for anyone tapped into the DF network to hear what we’re saying.”

“Someone is tapping our network?” I asked. “Who?”

“Could be anyone,” Keel answered. “But I think you’d be amazed to find out how many people in government disagree with what we do and how we do it.”

“What does that mean? We’re hiding from ourselves?”

He ignored the question.”  I’m assigning you to watch a dangerous domestic extremist group called The Veritas Alliance. They’re headquartered right here in Cairo and have offices around the globe. We have a file on them this high.” He held his hand up to shoulder height.

“They’re not Gebian.” It was almost a question. I’d heard of TVA, which is to say I’d heard the name, but I knew little about them.

“Not at all. They are a hate group spreading vicious lies and inciting violence against refugees from Geb.”

“They’ve attacked refugees?”

“Violence against refugees is at an all-time high,” Keel lectured, “and the rhetoric and misinformation they spread directly contributes to that. I want you to monitor TVA, document their lies, and do your level best to figure out who in that organization is directly inciting violence against refugees. This is one of the root causes of the terrorist attacks we see on occasion. If you’re a refugee and you don’t feel safe here on Earth, it’s natural to feel like you have to lash out in a violent manner. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. And it’s our job, as members of the DF, to give them a safe space to live and worship and raise their families in peace.”


Chapter Six


I flew my first Starling mission two days later. 

But before I could, I had to sit down with my analyst partners, Sven and Julie. 

They were a nauseatingly happy couple, newly married and around my age. Still in that place where they looked lovingly into the other’s eyes randomly throughout the day, they couldn’t go more than a few minutes without physically touching each other. It was enough to make me sick and jealous. 

They’d only arrived at Detachment S only a week earlier but already seemed to know everything about TVA. They spent two hours that morning briefing me on the organization’s structure, their funding and activities, and the key players. When I felt like I had too much information, I pushed away from the desk and stood up.

“I’m going to go fire up the birds,” I said.

“But we haven’t discussed what we want you to listen for,” Sven protested. 

“I’m not listening for anything yet,” I replied. “I need to do a shakedown first, and afterward, I’ll find the TVA building, mark the location of all the cameras, and put together a surveillance plan.”

“You can’t take the birds out without a mission,” Julie said.

“What are we going to write in our report?” Sven asked, then shared a look with Julie that lasted half a second too long.

“I just told you the mission. Write whatever you want. I have a lot of work to do before I can start watching and listening. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

I don’t want to make it sound like I was in charge. I never thought there was any pecking order amongst us. They were the brains, and it was my job to feed them the information they needed to write their reports. But boundaries are essential. I never told them what to write, and I didn’t want them telling me how to fly the birds. 

I walked out of their office, two doors down from Keel’s, hung a right, and went through the hangar bay door. I almost always flew out of the on-site hangar. There was a tall antenna on the roof enabling line-of-sight bird control practically anywhere in Cairo. On the rare occasion I needed to fly in an area not covered by the antenna, I took out our mobile VR platform. But that was housed in a cramped, hot van, and I only used it as a last resort. 

I nodded to Tuck, one of the maintenance guys working in the hangar. I’d met him the day before, and he filled me in on his plan to keep my Starlings in the air. I was relieved not to have to do the maintenance myself. The bots had taught us a little. Tuck knew it all. 

“Taking off?” Tuck asked.

“Just a shakedown,” I answered. “It’ll be short. Couple hours.”

“They’re all set. I’ll open the doors. And Daniel?”


“Take care of them, please. They’re brand new.”

I laughed. “I promise not to make more work for you than necessary.” 

I stepped into the VR room, powered on the console, and watched the birds cycle through their pre-flight checks. I was a little nervous. It had been a few weeks since I’d flown, and even though it was only a short test flight, it was still my first real mission. I had a butterfly or two.

I switched to normal flight mode and took off. Tuck had opened the hangar bay door halfway and stood by the controls, waiting for me to leave. My brain went blank for a moment, and I momentarily forgot how to control the birds’ altitude as they banked toward the opening. The lead bird angled up too sharply, heading straight for the door and trailing the rest of the flock behind. 

A real Starling won’t fly into an opaque object, but these birds will do anything I order. My heart raced, and I performed an emergency stop, making fists with both my hands. 

The lead bird hovered centimeters away from the door, with the rest in tight formation behind. 

“What the hell?” Tuck cried out from the hangar.


I let the birds hover for a few moments while I composed myself. Then I turned them around, decreased altitude, and flew out into the hot, cloudless Cairo sky.

I left this little incident out of the debrief I gave Sven and Julie.

Once they were airborne, it all rushed back to me. I put the birds through their paces, testing out each flight mode and behavior. I could tell they were brand new. No quirks or idiosyncrasies to learn. And they were fast! Perhaps a tad more sensitive than I was used to – I told myself that’s why they almost flew into the door – but once I calibrated my brain and my hands and wrists, the birds became an extension of my will once again. I did some precision flying through an old ramshackle playground and scared a poor five-year-old girl half to death. But it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t see her when I started the run. 

Once I knew the girl was okay, I set off for the TVA building. I took the long way, stopping off at the pyramids first so I wouldn’t have to see them in person. They were impressive, assuming that’s the right word to describe the result of tens of thousands of slaves being forced to toil for decades in poor conditions and merciless heat on the mistaken religious belief that their efforts would achieve immortality for one man. From this perspective, they were extremely impressive.

Leaving the pyramids, I flew downtown and found the TVA building next to El Basha Square near the east bank of the Nile. It was an irregular-shaped four-story structure surrounded on three sides by tall trees. The perfect environment for birds to snoop. 

I landed in a tree on the north side of the building and quickly chased away a group of real Starlings nearby. You have to establish dominance early. These were the new birds in the neighborhood, and I wanted every other flock to be on notice. This would be my turf.

Sven and Julie had briefed me on the layout of the building. The executive offices were on the fourth floor, and most of their underlings worked on the first two. The third floor contained two large conference rooms along with much of their data infrastructure. I counted a dozen surveillance cameras on the building’s periphery. There was no way the TVA could be aware of our operation, but we assumed their security apparatus could detect robotic Starlings, so I had to be on my game. I was in the big leagues now, and I did everything by the numbers.

A little while later, I glanced at the clock: 1132. I’d been flying for over ninety minutes and was right on schedule. My next task was to survey the windows in the building and see what I could see and hear. I flew to the top of a tree on the west side of the building and started with the fourth floor.

Most of the blinds were open, and I caught glimpses of people at their desks, but none looked like executives. They were too young. I dropped down to the third floor.

I saw nothing in any of the windows on the west side but hit the jackpot when I swung around to the north. Thirty people were crammed into a conference room, sitting around a large, oblong table, watching a presentation. The blinds were pulled back, and two windows were open to circulate air. 

I split off a bird and landed near one of the open windows. A woman in a smart, simple red skirt and a plain white top pointed to a chart on the far wall. I listened in.

“… seems to be gaining traction. Opinion polls show small but steady improvements in brand favorability, and generalized poll questions show that a growing minority of people agree with our core positions. However, when we asked similar questions with our name attached to those positions, support dropped to the low single digits, showing that we have a lot of work to do to overcome the information campaigns being waged against us.”

“What are our coverage ratios in the major media markets?” Asked a woman with her back to me. I flew the bird to the other open window to get a better look and recognized her face. It was the CEO, Cynthia Boyd. 

The woman in the skirt sighed and swiped to the following chart. “The numbers aren’t good. TVA was mentioned two hundred forty-nine times in the top ten media markets last month, and two hundred twelve of those mentions were negative. Thirty were neutral, and only seven were positive.”

“It’s a wonder our favorability numbers aren’t lower,” Cynthia responded.

“Our experts appeared on twenty-eight news programs in panels or debates, down from thirty-five the month before, and were opposed during each appearance by an average of three other personalities, which is steady from the month before. I think you’ve seen the highlights we put together for you. I have nothing more to add.”

“But I do.” Cynthia stood and laid her hand on the woman’s shoulder, and she took a seat along the wall. “This is a tough media environment. None of the major news organizations are sympathetic to our cause, and they will not play fair. Every one of you knew this coming in. So, when I see you get out of line the way you did the other day, David, it hurts me.” 

I nodded off a little, maneuvering the birds automatically, but when I heard my name, my head snapped up, and it took me a second to realize she couldn’t be talking to me. 

“Cynthia, I’m so sorry,” a man at the other end of the table spoke up. “I should not have yelled at the host. It was late, and I was tired–”

“Then don’t do the show! Our reputation is the only thing we have. You heard Maria. Everyone thinks we’re heartless, cruel, and evil. If our actions for even one second give credence to this narrative, we might as well close up shop. Journalists are not our friends. They’re looking for ways to paint you as an unstable monster because no one has to take the policy ideas of a monster seriously. We have to do better. You’ve heard me say this a thousand times. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ayaan Zaynab Karim, all changed human history through non-violent civil disobedience. I do not doubt that Ayaan was tempted to slap the Grand Mufti right here in Cairo for some of the things he said, but she didn’t. She didn’t. And she, almost singlehandedly, remade the Middle East.”

The speech was starting to bore me – I didn’t have much patience for politics at the time – so I hopped off the window and gathered the flock to head back to base. 

On the way home, I took the birds up near their altitude limit and looked at the whole of Cairo and the surrounding area. From this height, Egypt appeared to overflow with contradictions. The lush, green Nile Delta fanned out to the horizon on my right. In front of me, the dingy, beige desert stretched out to infinity. On my left, the ancient pyramids rose from the desert floor. Below me lay a thriving, modern metropolis. All of these things coexisted with amity and accord. The question was how. 

Where I grew up in Canada, things were far more straightforward. We had lakes and mosquitoes and trees and snow and ice and beer. It was easier for us to live in peace, and maybe we took that for granted. 

Something bothered me about all those contradictions. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.



Photo by Pixabay