Author’s Notes: The country in which the story is set is fictitious – it does not exist and does not relate to any real places, real religions or real political situations. I have never been to an Arabic country, and the background I’m using for my story is that of the tales of the Arabian Nights – it is a fairytale place, no less and no more than that. So no need to send me angry emails 😉 You still want to read it? Here you go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Disclaimer: This story is based on ideas from the French novel “La Nuit du Sérail” by Michel de Grèce. No copyright infringement intended. The names and places are entirely ficticious and do not refer to any real countries, political or social situations, religious or ideological beliefs. The language spoken in the ficticious country is based on several different Arabic languages.
Chapter 1: Hijacked
Dawn was playing with her seat-belt, fastening and unfastening it in anticipation. Typical, Buffy thought, she had to have the seat by the window, and hasn’t looked down even once, since the plane took off!
Dawn was oblivious to her sister’s discomfort, and, quite the opposite actually, in a very good mood. “Can’t wait to be at the hotel! Lying in the sun, swimming, this is gonna be great!”
Buffy was looking at her sister with amusement. “More like visiting pyramids and museums,” she remarked with a side glance at their mother.
“Now you’re exaggerating,” Joyce protested, “I’m in Egypt for business, but that doesn’t mean the two of you can’t enjoy a day or two in the sun.”
Dawn cast her sister a triumphant glance.
“You have to listen carefully,” Buffy replied, “A day or two. Out of two weeks.”
Dawn looked a little disappointed. “Why do we have to do the boring stuff, again?”
“The gallery’s new customer is very much into Egyptian art, he wants me to have a look at it and maybe purchase some ridiculously expensive objects on his behalf,” Joyce explained, and Buffy had a sense of a déjà vu. “Of course I was hoping you’d be joining me when I’m touring the museums and galleries,” Joyce added, “It’s been so long since we’ve had a real vacation together.”
Museums and art galleries were not exactly Dawn’s idea of a family vacation, it didn’t even sound remotely fun, but she kept her peace because it was then when the stewardess came and asked them if they needed anything.
“How long till Cairo?” Dawn asked impatiently.
“About another hour, sweetie,” the stewardess said with a much rehearsed smile. “If you look down there now, you can already see Africa.”
Dawn craned her neck to look down, but all she saw were clouds.
“Can I get you girls anything?” the stewardess asked looking at Buffy.
Buffy’s heart said coke, but she fought the impulse down as she thought of her tiny bikini. Better not risk anything. She was planning to make good use of her time at the five star hotel her mother’s eccentric new customer was paying for them. Flirting was definitely on the agenda. “Another diet coke, please,” she replied.
Joyce nodded. “A glass of water for me, please.”
The stewardess made a note. “Uh-hu, and for you, little one?” she asked Dawn in a saccharine tone that was much too sweet, exceedingly artificial and a potential carcinogen if you overdose.
Dawn was about to reply that she was sixteen and show her the pictures of everyone she had beaten up for calling her little one since she was five, but she never got the chance.
At that precise moment, four raven-haired, dark-skinned, black-eyed men two rows in front of them jumped from their seats. Buffy froze in her seat. They had guns, big ones. One of them was waving a suitcase.
“I have bomb!” he said in heavily accented English, “You move, you die.”
Buffy was hoping desperately someone would wake her up from this nightmare, but the longer she waited to awake, the safer it was to say that she was not dreaming. Dawn held her hand so tightly that it was painful, but Buffy was too scared to notice.
Two of the men were walking up and down the aisles of the economic class, while the other two had dragged a stewardess to the cockpit with the barrel of a gun pressed to her temple.
Endless moments later, the pilot’s shaking voice spoke to them over the internal speakers. “This is your captain. I regret to inform you that the flight is under the control of… There will be a change on our flight schedule. We are not going to Cairo any longer. Please do not panic, and under no circumstances make any attempts to resist. If we all stay calm, we will be safe.”
“Safe,” Buffy snapped.
“Please,” Joyce said in a low voice.
Dawn started crying.
One of the hijackers aimed a gun at her. “Shut up!” he yelled.
Dawn fell silent and looked very white with her eyes almost falling out of their sockets.
Minutes later, one of the hijackers returned from the cockpit, and began to talk to the others in a language Buffy had no idea about, but she caught the words ‘Jahannam’ and ‘airport’.
The stewardess, still being threatened with the gun, looked scared to death and green in the face. The hijacker pushed her in the empty seat next to Buffy’s mother.
Joyce patted her hand. “It’s alright,” she said, her own voice shaking, “It’s gonna be alright.”
The stewardess’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s my first long-distance flight,” she cried, “And then this happens!”
“What’s your name, dear?” Joyce asked compassionately, temporarily pushing away her own fear for the sake of everyone surrounding her.
“C–C–Cordelia Chase. Cordy.”
“Listen, Cordy,” Joyce said, “Can you tell us what’s going on?”
Cordy wiped her eyes. “They’re terrorists. They want prisoners in a high security US prison to be released. They’ve hijacked the plane and are forcing Captain Woods to take us to Jahannam instead of Cairo. H-h-h-he tried to explain them we may run out of fuel on our way, that it’s not safe…” She was crying harder, shaking with sobs. “But they won’t listen! They want those prisoners, and a free, not-to-be-followed departure from the airport.” She sobbed. “The border is close. If they can make it there, they’re safe, it’s a no man’s land.”
One of the terrorists glared at them. “You shut up!” he shouted, pointing at Cordelia with his gun.
The man grinned sadistically and held his gun right under her nose.
Dawn thought she would faint any minute.
“Leave her alone, she’s just a child,” Joyce protested.
“No. No child.” With another smirk, the man let his gun travel down Dawn’s body, touching her lightly with the tip of the rifle. Buffy did not know what drove her to do what she did, but she bent forward and pushed herself between the gun and her sister.
“That’s enough,” she said energetically.
Joyce looked scared to death.
The terrorist looked angry enough to shoot Buffy right there, but one of the other men started laughing. “Hero,” he said, his laughter relaxing his upset friend.
“Will see,” the man told Buffy and turned away from them.
“That was so brave!” Dawn whispered.
Cordelia fell to pieces. “That was so stupid!”
“Will you shut up?” Buffy snapped. Now that the adrenaline rush had passed, she felt cold all over with a sinking feeling in her stomach, and she was shaking with fear.
Contrary to the pilot’s fears, they landed safely at Jahannam airport on their last drop of fuel. Three of the men were discussing in their language in very loud voices.
“They’re gonna release us now. Right?” Dawn asked anxiously.
“Of course,” Joyce said, though she was far from sure that this would be finally over.
“How naive are you?” Cordelia snapped, “Do you think the military’s gonna let them just walk away?”
Buffy cast her an angry glance, but she knew Cordelia had a point. She tried to look past Dawn out of the window. She did not like what she saw. There was a jeep right in the airfield, but there were plenty of military and police surrounding the airport.
“The fourth man is probably negotiating with the government,” Joyce whispered.
They could hear agitated voices from the cockpit. Buffy heard a voice she recognized as Captain Woods’s screaming “No, no, no!”. There was a shot. Then nothing. Silence.
Buffy closed her eyes, taking her legs to her chest and her face down between her knees.
They had probably shot the pilot. Now they were all going to die.
The fourth man burst into the economy class. He seemed to inform the others that there was police and military everywhere, that they were going to be shot as soon as they left the plane, or if the case was, the enemy tired of waiting, would enter the plane to shoot them out.
The leader nodded grimly. He raised his voice. “We need cover. We take hostages.”
“Oh, God,” Cordelia whimpered.
Buffy did not even notice because the man she had offended was coming over to them and grabbed Dawn’s wrist. “You.”
Dawn screamed and struggled against him as he tried to drag her past Buffy and Joyce.
“Please, stop,” Joyce begged, her eyes filled with tears.
Buffy’s heart was pounding in her chest. “She’s too young,” she said, “Leave her here.”
The man grinned. “Ah. Hero!”
She extended her shaking hand. “Take me for her.”
“Buffy, no!” Dawn cried.
Buffy caressed her cheek. “I’ll be fine. They just need hostages as shields until they get out of the airport. They’re gonna set me free.”
“They won’t, and you know it!” Dawn protested.
Joyce rose from her seat. “If you touch my daughters, you’ll have to get past me first.”
“Not problem.” The terrorist knocked her out and threatened Buffy with his gun. Dawn screamed and looked after her mother immediately. She was unconscious, but did not seem badly injured. Buffy meant to help, but the man pushed her ahead, making her stumble her way out. “Go.”
“Buffy!” Dawn watched her go in despair.
“Take care of mom!” Buffy instructed her as the terrorist pushed her toward the exit next to the other hostages. She had a sinking feeling she might never see her sister and her mother again. Buffy felt the gun pressed to her ribs, cold metal on her skin even through the fabric of her floral print dress. She walked through the plane slowly, the eyes of hundreds of terrified passengers on them, until they reached the exit. The door was pushed open. Walking outside into the heat was like hitting a wall.
It was as if she was watching a particularly bad movie. One of the terrorists shielded his body with hers as they were stepping down the gangway. Hot, dry wind, that burned your throat when you inhaled, touched Buffy’s face, the man smelled of dirt and sweat. Everywhere, Buffy saw rifles, aimed at them, waiting for their captors to make a mistake and give them a reason to shoot. Buffy prayed they would not decide that four hostages would be an acceptable price to pay to stop the terrorists.
From the corner of an eye, Buffy saw the other three hostages. A white yuppie in suit and tie, a middle-aged woman in a plain dress, and a little girl, maybe ten years of age.
Hot asphalt was burning Buffy’s feet as they walked on.
Six feet left now to the jeep the terrorists had previously ordered.
Suddenly, the man in the suit in a heroic though stupid attempt to free himself, screamed “For England!” and drove his elbow in his captor’s stomach. The captor shot without hesitation, his hostage went instantly down. The soldiers on the roofs and terrace of the airport started shooting, one of the terrorists fell.
The little girl ran for her life, Buffy saw a soldier carrying her into the building. The man who was holding her pushed her into the car. The leader of the group shot at his hostage to liberate himself from burden and leapt into the driver’s seat. They took off at high speed.
Buffy shivered. She was alone.
There were no roads that deserved the name, no plants or animals, just desert and unbearable heat. And it was slowly getting dark. The heat was followed by the cold. Buffy’s mouth was dry. She had not had a drop of water for at least two hours. Her light summer dress was sticking to her body with sweat, and now as it was getting darker, she was freezing. The drive took about two more hours until they finally reached an electric fence of barbed wire. The border.
Desperately hoping that her martyrdom was coming to an end, Buffy followed the instruction to get off the car immediately.
The leader shot at a small box on top of the fence, which looked like the control panel of the electric fence.
The man who had taken her hostage gestured at the fence. “Climb,” he ordered.
Buffy shook her head. “What if there’s still a current?”
The man grinned. “You find out.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. Faced with the gun, she changed her mind.
She tore half her dress and lost a shoe climbing the fence, she bled from many small scratches, but she made it over the fence.
“Welcome to Jahilia,” the leader said sarcastically.
“Always meant to come here,” Buffy replied. “So. What happens to the car?”
“No car,” her captor said and gestured at a group waiting for them in the shadows.
“Friends of yours?” Buffy asked.
“So they have a car.”
At least six other men rushed to them, welcoming them like heroes. Now Buffy could see the reason for the laughter. They were not bringing a car, but camels.
It was a challenge for an American college student to ride a camel in the Arabic desert, even more so with her hands bound. Within an hour, Buffy felt queasy and sea-sick. From time to time, one of the men leered at her openly, so she tried to cover her body with her bound hands the best she could, which was hopeless since her dress was in shreds. Her fair hair was enough to inspire all kinds of naughty thoughts in those men. Her only consolation was that Dawn and her mother were not here to see this.
The leader of the second group brought his camel next to her. “I’m Mahmoud,” he said in a much better English than the others, “I’m in charge here. You must excuse my men. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen a beautiful woman. Some have been away from home for a long time, fighting for our cause.”
Buffy eyed him with contempt. “Your cause?”
“The government of Jahannam has taken lands away from my people, invaded our homes. We fight to get them back. Many are in prisons abroad, our brothers, our friends, our sons. We want to bring them home, back to their families.”
“By hijacking planes and kidnapping children?” Buffy said hotly.
“I don’t say I like fighting,” Mahmoud admitted, “But sometimes there’s no choice.”
Buffy shook her head. “Two of your friends are now dead.”
“They will be rewarded in the afterlife. Many more will die in prisons if we don’t fight.”
“And you get your homes and your families back by ruining the lives of others who have never even bothered you? I have a home, family and friends too! I can’t understand any of this.”
He shrugged. “It is not necessary for women to understand politics.”
“I don’t think Hillary would agree with that,” Buffy said.
He frowned. “Who?”
Buffy did not reply.
Mahmoud pointed ahead and said something in his language to his people. Then he nodded at Buffy. “It will be dark in no time. We’ll camp for the rest of the night.”
Buffy was surprised at the skill and speed with which her kidnappers set up camp in the desert. They had brought tents, sleeping bags and dry wood to light a fire in order to keep them warm. Buffy hardly slept. She was shivering, not just from the cold, but from fear. She feared one of the men would decide she was too pretty a prey to leave alone during the night. With her hands and feet bound, she would not have been able to defend herself.
Early in the morning, Mahmoud woke her and lifted her up on the camel. They rode until about midday, when the skyline of a settlement appeared at the horizon.
It had been built around an oasis, and its towers and roofs reminded Buffy of the fairytales of the Arabian Nights. As they rode through the city gates, Buffy saw it was not an apparition, as she had assumed, but a city in the desert. An enchanted place where time apparently stood still. Despite her situation, Buffy took a moment to admire her surroundings. From a high tower, someone sang in a foreign tongue, calling the citizens to pray. In the bazaar, traders were selling exotic herbs, silk veils and clothing, and delicious-smelling fruits Buffy had never seen in her whole life.
“Where are we?” Buffy asked curiously.
He told her the name of the city, which she could not replicate. “It is the capital of the small kingdom we entered last night. We call it Aftab-Rawad, ‘The Sunny Dale’,” Mahmoud explained.
“You live here?”
He laughed. “No. I’m far from home.
“So am I,” Buffy whispered.
“But we can get new supplies and fresh camels.”
“I don’t reckon there’s an US embassy near here?”
Mahmoud did not deign to answer. He had spotted a man selling camels. His men had swarmed out to get water, food and supplies. Mahmoud bought some food for her and cut the rope that held Buffy’s hands. Buffy ate down the food hungrily, not really knowing what was being offered and not particularly caring.
Mahmoud started negotiating with the camel trader when a second trader addressed him. He was middle-aged, but his skin looked oddly wrinkled. His clothes looked more expensive than anyone else at the bazaar, his shoes exquisite, and he had twenty strong and beautiful camels with him, which Mahmoud examined very carefully. Buffy had no idea what they were talking about, but the side glances they gave her did nothing to calm her. Finally, Mahmoud nodded, grinning, looking satisfied, and shook the elegant man’s hand. The competitor cursed and withdrew.
Mahmoud came to her.
“Had any luck?” Buffy asked.
Mahmoud nodded. Wordlessly, he helped her from the camel. The wrinkled man said something, Mahmoud shrugged. The man sighed, but seemed to agree.
“He says you’re too thin,” Mahmoud told her, “But that can’t be helped now.”
“That’s none of his business,” Buffy said, offended.
“Well, I’m afraid it is, he just bought you.”