The Horsed Thief: A Virtual Tale of Old Basra
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by Teel James Glenn
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: In Old Basra the thief Asad El-baha falls in love at first sight with the beautiful Princess Fatinah, but it is a forbidden love. In the real world the office is a hotbed of bullying and unrequited love. The two worlds collide when the evil wizard-emir transforms Asad into a horse and he is hunted, a number one priority for murder!
If he dies in the virtual world he dies for real! How could he game go so horribly wrong?
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: October 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [76 KB]
Reading time: 41-57 min.
Asad El-Baha raced along the rooftops of the city of Al-Basrah with only the light of the full moon to guide him and his quick wits to keep him from falling to his doom. He moved not like the "beautiful lion" that was the meaning of his name but like a fleet-footed gazelle, flitting along the tops of garden walls with steps so light that even the guard dogs did not wake from their evening slumbers.
He was not a big man, though he was tall. His shoulders were wide, and his strong limbs were sinewy, not bulky, beneath his dark robes. It was the second night of the full moon, and he raced toward the roof he had discovered on his previous journey--a spot from which he could see into the courtyard of Abdul-Azim's palace. He hoped to spot the guards' routine and thus enable himself to gain entry.
Asad was not a common cutpurse and most decidedly not a cutthroat, but a thief of quality and breeding. His parents had been honest merchants in the northernmost of the five districts of Al-Basrah, and he had been given an education and learned skills such as writing and mathematics. That had been before the hated Abdul-Azim's edicts had stripped so many merchants of the things for which they had worked their whole lives.
Curse the Emir Abu-Musa al-Asha'ari for appointing Azim when he went off to fight in Khuzestan, Asad thought. To leave us with a jackal while he goes to fight with wolves. Bah, what difference?
His parents had died in poverty while he had been forced to the street. It was in the back alleys that he had learned his new trade that allowed him to keep his sister and himself (and several friends) alive, but also allowed him to strike back at the tyrant and his cohorts.
Asad dropped silently to the rooftop on the old market building that afforded him the view of the central courtyard of the palace. He would watch from that vantage point till moon fall. It was too dangerous to move closer when he did not know all the movements of the guards. Thus, on the first moonless night, he could steal in and steal well.
He settled into the shadow of a turret on the vacant building and relaxed. He pulled a crust of dark bread from a broad sash and slipped a skin of Greek wine from around his back to sip while he waited. His sister had stolen the wine for him from the café where she worked; the adherents of that new religion espoused by Mohammad had not closed every place down yet nor driven out all the wine merchants.
He removed the square of cloth that comprised his keffiyeh to breathe the night air better. He placed the agal--the rope circlet that he'd used to hold his headdress in place--in an inner pocket of his thobe. In doing so he revealed angular, handsome features and sandy brown hair that hung to his shoulders and had been a constant source of jokes as he was growing up, with his friends calling him "Asad the Infidel" because they said it made him look like a crusader. His eyes were jet and missed nothing in the landscape ahead of him.
He took a bit of the bread and savored it with a sip of wine. The food made him think of his sister, for whom he despaired of ever finding a husband. The life of the street was all right for him (though in fact the loneliness sometimes all but overwhelmed him), but she should have a home and the chance for a full life.
When I have stolen enough from Azim, I will have a dowry for her, and we will go to Baghdad or even Samarkand to find her a good merchant husband. Then I will return and continue to needle Azim and his kind. He smiled at the thought that he could hurt the mighty emir. "I am a fire ant to the elephant, but my sting is mighty."
There was movement in the courtyard that drew his eye. He leaned in to see what it was, and his breath caught in his throat. It was a woman, unveiled, who walked alone by the reflecting pool in the center of the courtyard, but such a woman as he had never seen.
Her hair was like spun gold, her skin gleamed white in the light of the moon, and when she turned to walk to the edge of the pool, her grace was as the grace of a cat.
By the gods, I must see her more closely, he thought. He took the cloth of his keffiyeh and retied it as a turban, slung the wineskin behind him and moved to the edge of the roof. He also adjusted his saif to sit comfortably between his shoulder blades, the curved blade of the thin sword reassuring in its weight. He knew it was madness to risk going so close to the palace so soon, but he looked up to once more see the dryad form by the pool and knew he would risk anything to hear her speak, to see her eyes in the moonlight.
He dropped to the ground and raced forward into the night to confront his fate and, perhaps, to find love...
* * * *
"Don't spend all your time woolgathering, Denton," Jack Collins sneered. "You have to do some programming work to earn your pay."
Collins was broad-shouldered with thinning hair and had the arrogance of a former high school football player who had managed to make middle management. He was standing next to Denton Burron's cubicle and doing his usual morning pep talk-cum-bullying to the little man.
Denton was in almost every way the opposite of Collins--short, long-haired and fair-featured with almost delicate hands and blue eyes that women of old might have called poet's eyes.
"I'm on it, Mister C," Denton said. "Just organizing my game plan for the day to be more efficient." Denton had learned that if he spoke jock-speak to the big man, it smoothed the machinery of the day.
He was rewarded with a "That's the way" from Collins, and the manager moved on down the line of cubicles.
"Don't let him get to you, Dent," Maria Lopez said from the next cubicle over. "He's got to justify his existence, and he really doesn't do anything but attend meetings." She was a little overweight and wore square glasses that were all wrong for her round face, but she smiled a lot and didn't talk down to Denton. He offered a shy smile back to her.
"Its okay, M," Denton said. "I can handle him."
"I don't doubt it," she said and gave a little giggle. "Unless he tries to body slam you. He's working on quite a gut!"
This made Denton smile, and he was about to say something when Audrey Barkley entered the floor from the reception area.
Denton could tell when she exited the elevator in the morning because the babble of morning voices at Virtual Futures Corporation changed to a hum of "Morning, Audrey" as the tall blonde passed the programmers' "think boxes."
Maria made a "hmmph!" noise as Audrey passed their cubes and Denton mumbled the ritual phrase. His eyes, and even Maria's eyes, followed Audrey's swaying hips as she moved down to the cubicle she occupied at the end of the row in the encryption section. She worked on security codes for the games that the company made, but no one really believed she was hired for her ability with keeping things protected. More likely for giving it away, most of the women and half the men thought.
"Not a lot to say after she goes by, huh, Dent?" Maria said. She shook her head and went back to her opening protocols on her monitor.
Denton blushed and mumbled, "Uh ... yeah ... talk to you later," then set about working on the new expansion pack for Holy Warrior: Basra Adventure. He was one of the top scenario designers and one of the few who was also a grade-A programmer, so he shouldered a double burden in making the games work.