The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert

Chapter 8 b



“The Seminoles aren’t the only free people,” said Ivan.  “Do you know what Turkish for ‘free people’ is?”


“Not the slightest idea.”


“It’s ‘Cossack.’” 


“Well, yes.  That would be right.  The Cossack’s never surrendered to anybody.  So they were outside the system, too.  They were wiped out under orders of the communist Trotsky, the man assassinated in, well I guess he was murdered in Mexico, come to think of it.”


“We weren’t quite wiped out.” 


“I beg your pardon.”


“Trotsky ordered all the Cossack leaders to be arrested and executed.  A lot of common people died under him as well.  But a few leaders escaped, very few.”


“I take it you are part Cossack, then.”


“There are actually three Cossack nationalities.  But yes, I could claim to be Cossack.”


Jon stirred uncomfortably, “I have some Jewish ancestors, Russian Jewish.  We don’t like Cossacks.  They persecuted our people for centuries.”


“We were contract killers.  We’d do anything for money.  Just because we gave everything to stay free doesn’t mean we were unwilling to oppress others.  We didn’t make the fine moral distinctions that the Seminoles did.  But this was central Asia.  There was no place to hide.  No place to seek shelter.  We could only survive by allying ourselves with some great power, generally an oppressive one.  One time we would be fighting with the Turks against the Czar.  Another time the Czar would hire us to kill Turks.  If we weren’t fighting, we weren’t valuable, and somebody was going to turn us into slaves.  The Seminoles always had the swamp to retreat into.


“Of course it’s no excuse.  So if you will accept my apology, maybe we can still be friends.”


“Still, Russian Jews have a problem with Cossacks.”


“Trotsky had Jewish parents.  I sometimes wonder if that’s why he did what he did to us.”


“Wiped out just like that,” said Hapgood.  “No centuries of oppression, just one mass slaughter.”


“I wish you’d stop talking as if we were a thing of the past.  I mean it’s ok, but nowadays the Cossacks are supplying a larger and larger proportion of the businessmen and administrators in Russia.  In the early 1700’s Sweden occupied important parts of Russia.  According to their style, they set up an enormous and very effective bureaucracy.  When the Czars took it over, they never again had anything to fear from Sweden because the bureaucracy was so good and made the country so strong.  The communists took over Russia in the early 1900’s and part of their collapse was due to the collapse of the old bureaucracy the Swedes set up.  Things haven’t been going well in Russia, largely because there aren’t the same administrators.  That’s where the Cossacks come in.  More and more we are moving in and taking over where the Swedes left off.


“We make good administrators.  We are used to dealing with people who don’t like us.  The Seminoles were hated, too, you know.  Not by the white man particularly, but the name means ‘runaway’ or ‘outcast.’  It’s a Creek Indian word.  The Seminoles were part of the Creek nation, but the Creeks kicked us out for being too mean.  They sent us to Florida, where they reckoned nobody could survive.  But we did.”


“So you are from outside Charlemagne’s power on both sides of the family.  Wow,” said Hapgood.


“All right,” said Jon.  “Let’s bury the hatchet.  Why don’t you tell us something about the old days, if your mother told you.  But leave out any beating up on Jews, if you don’t mind.”


So Ivan told them.  He told them of the wild battles, hot and daring.  He told them of pranks played on the enemy at risk of life and limb.  He told of panic stricken retreats with nowhere to hide, of ambuscades and double crosses from the ones they were fighting for.


He told them of the wild feasts, where vodka flowed like water and caviar vanished by the hundred pounds.  He told them of the fierce sword dances, doing things that would have ruined the knees of most mortals.  He told them of the relieved homecomings, when it seemed that life would go on after all, and that they would always be free to roam the unsheltered plains of the vastness of Asia.


And he told them of the horses, tireless in travel, ferocious in battle.  He told them of the mad love of the men for their horses, how they cared for them as for an infant one moment and launched them heedlessly into battle the next.


“They were totally different from Seminole horses, Cracker horses if you must.  A Florida horse takes no joy in battle.  It doesn’t want to step on anybody, no matter what.  A Cossack horse lives for the battle.  He smells it miles away, and it makes his heart glad.”


While the party was going up the interstate, a conversation was going on in Mecca, thousands of miles to the east and hundreds of miles father south.  Two men sat on camel leather cushions at a low table.  It was far past midnight, but they were sustaining themselves on tiny cups of potent coffee and occasionally puffing on a water pipe.  A dish of dates, mostly already gone, lay on the table.  The room was respectable, decorated with tasteful carpets and metal lamps.  The house was old but in a solid neighborhood.  The host was Ali Kamali.  His guest was a holy man, highly regarded in local circles. 


"Why are we doing it?" asked Ali.  "Our youth, our bravest and best blow themselves up killing innocent people.  The rest look forward to a life of despair with their natural leaders taken from them."


"It is a war," said the holy man.  "Sacrifices must be made."


"But it is a war we cannot win.  Only today there were bombs in Jerusalem and in Baghdad.  The enemy is not discouraged.  It only stiffens his resolve." 


"But we will win," said the holy man.  "Allah has ordained it and given us signs."


"What signs?"


"In the West they cannot make babies.  Their women run like wild animals, like feral animals, once tamed and now beyond all control.  They make no babies.  And if in their sin they become pregnant, they destroy it."


"Surely that is between Allah and them, not between us and the West."


"But it is why we shall win.  Already the West does not even keep enough babies to survive.  They are doomed.  It is only for us to keep up the struggle.  In the end they will fall, and we shall have won."


"But even assuming that what you say is true, that their acts have sealed their own doom, what honor, what holiness is there in striking them?  Suppose you find your enemy dying of scorpion bites.  Is it honor to lift a stone and dash out his brains?  Do you offer the act as a worthy sacrifice to Allah?  I should think Allah would be pleased if you comforted his last hour."


"You speak as one who has seen too many godless American Western movies.  'Pick up your gun, Black Ned, and we shall renew the duel.'  That is folly." 


"And now you speak as if the victory is not assured after all.  Is the foe doomed or not?"


"Suppose your enemy seeks to strike you from behind.  He picks up a stone, and the scorpion beneath the stone stings his hand.  Now do you comfort him?"


"And what is the stone?"


"The stone is the state of Israel, thrust into the holy land of Islam.  There they grasped the stone, and there they were stung.  And Allah has shown us that of this poison they must die." 


"Israel.  Stolen land.  Everyone agrees it was stolen.  They say it was stolen from the Jews.  We say it was stolen by the Jews.  But it was not the Arab who destroyed the Jews and drove them from the land, it was the West.  It was Romans.  We took it by right of conquest.  Now they claim it back by right of conquest."


"But in the end we shall win."


"But war is ever with us.  There is hardly an Arab land, hardly a land in all of Islam, which has not had its borders set by Western powers.  They have mixed the Shiite with the Sunni.  They have mixed the Kurd with the Arab with the Persian.  They have done all in their power to be sure that we never have civil peace.  Why choose this small place to make a stand?"


"It is symbolic.  We take a stand because it is a holy place for us as well as for them.  And the tide of Islam must never be reversed."


"It has been reversed in the past.  They drove us from France and Spain.  Crusaders," he paused and spat, "The infidel once even claimed Jerusalem for his own.  He made his home on the precinct of the temple mount.  He remembered only the temple of Solomon.  Some of his knights, the Knights Templar, although they claimed to be ministers to the sick, took the name of 'temple.'"


"And they, these Knights Templar, perished terribly at the hands of their own friends.  Do you see not the hand of Allah in this?  Thus He destroyed the mightiest power that was ever aligned against us until now.  But now it is the Americans and their Western allies.  And Allah acts again, turning their own women against them, denying them the babies they would need to carry on.  It were sacrilege not to accept such a sign."


"You speak of the women.  But our own women are killing themselves in this.  Surely we must stop."


"We shall stop.  Of that you may be confident.  I swear to you we will stop.  And it will be the day the infidel has fallen on his own sword."


"Perhaps you are right."


"But it grows very late, my friend.  Even were I not old, my driver has a life to lead.  He awaits.  And the women will fear that mischief has befallen me if I stay longer."


"Blessings of Allah, my friend."


"Peace and blessings upon thee."


The older man rose and made his way to the door.  For half an hour Ali sat by the light of the braziers and stared straight ahead.  His heart was sorely troubled.  Nothing his friend had said was new.  It made sense.  But he felt weighted down beyond his years at the enormity of the things they had been discussing.


At last he arose and called for a servant.


"Make the car ready.  Pass the word to the women.  We are going for a drive.  A very long drive."


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