America, thirty-five years in the future, is a very different country from today's. It is now an Islamic Republic; calls to prayer echo across the cities and the Black Robes, the enforcers of public virtue, prowl the streets on the lookout for inappropriate dress or behaviour. The fear of terrorist attacks is pervasive. As the story opens a beautiful young historian, Sarah, the niece of the head of state security, has disappeared. Her lover, Rakkim, a Fedayeen warrior, fears she is in danger. He is right. She has uncovered an explosive secret that threatens the very foundations of the New Order. She is running for her life, hunted by Darwin, the State's elite assassin, who was trained in the same unit as Rakkim. Her safety and the future of the world depend upon Rakkim's Fedayeen skills and his ability to outwit a brilliant psychopathic killer. A bloody, nerve-racking chase takes them through the looking-glass world of the Islamic States of America, and culminates dramatically as Rakkim and Sarah battle to expose the truth.
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Robert Ferrigno is the author of eight previous novels, including The Wake-Up, Scavenger Hunt, Flinch, Heartbreaker and The Horse Latitudes. He lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: Twenty-five years later
The second half of the Super Bowl began right after midday prayers. The fans in Khomeini Stadium had performed their ablutions by rote, awkwardly prostrating themselves, heels splayed, foreheads not even touching the ground. Only the security guard in the upper walkway had made his devotions with the proper respect. An older man, his face a mass of scar tissue, he had moved smoothly and precisely, fingers together, toes forward, pointing toward Mecca. The guard noticed Rakkim Epps watching him, stiffened, then spotted the Fedayeen ring on his finger and bowed, offered him a blessing, and Rakkim, who had not prayed in over three years, returned the blessing with the same sincerity. Not one in a thousand would have recognized the plain titanium band, but the guard was one of the early converts, the hard core who had risked everything and expected nothing other than Paradise in return. He wondered if the guard still thought the war had been worth it.
Rakkim looked past the guard as the faithful hurried back to their seats. Still no sign of Sarah. A few aisles over, he spotted Anthony Jr. making his way up the steps. The new orange Bedouins jacket he was wearing must have cost his father a week's salary. Anthony Sr. was too easy on him. It was always the way; the toughest cops were soft at the center.
From his vantage point, Rakkim could see domes and minarets dotting the surrounding hills, and the Space Needle lying crumpled in the distance, a military museum now. Downtown was a cluster of glass skyscrapers and residential high-rises topped with satellite dishes. To the south loomed the new Capitol, twice as large as the old one in Washington, D.C., and beside it the Grand Caliph Mosque, its blue-green mosaics gleaming. In the stands below, he saw the faithful stowing their disposable prayer rugs into the seat backs, and the Catholics pretending not to notice. He could see everything but Sarah. Another broken promise. The last chance she would get to play him for a fool. Which was just what he had told himself the last time she'd stood him up.
Thirty years old, average height, a little heavier than when he'd left the Fedayeen, but still lean and wiry. Rakkim's dark hair was cropped, his mustache and goatee trimmed, his features angular, almost Moorish, an advantage since the transition. Black skullcap. He turned up his collar against the Seattle damp, the wind off the Sound carrying the smell of dead fish from the oil spill last week. He felt the knife in his pocket, a carbon-polymer blade that wouldn't set off a metal detector, the same hard plastic in the toes of his boots.
Music blared as the cheerleaders strutted down the sidelines -- all men, of course -- knees high, swords flashing overhead. The Bedouins and the Warlords surged onto the field, and the crowd leaped up, cheering. Rakkim took one more look around for Sarah. He saw the security guard. Something had caught his attention. Rakkim followed the man's line of sight and started moving, hurrying now, taking the steps two at a time. He timed it perfectly, caught Anthony Jr. as he reached the deserted top level. There was an emergency exit here, a surveillance blind spot not on any of the public schematics -- the kid was a lousy thief, but knowing about the exit said something for his planning.
"What are you doing, Rakkim?" Anthony Jr. squirmed, a muscular teenager in a hooded sweatshirt, all elbows and wounded pride. "Don't touch me."
"Bad boy." Rakkim rapped him on the nose with the wallet the kid had lifted. Anthony Jr. hadn't even felt Rakkim take it, patting his shirt to make sure it was gone. Rakkim rapped him again, harder. "If the cops arrest you, it's your father who's disgraced. The Black Robes snatch you, you'll lose a hand."
Anthony Jr. had his father's pugnacious jaw. "I want my money."
Rakkim grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him toward the exit. When Rakkim turned around, the security guard with the ruined face was already there. Rakkim held out the wallet. "The young brother found this and didn't know where to return it. Perhaps you could turn it in for him."
"I saw him find the wallet. It had fallen into a merchant's pocket."
"The young brother must have good eyes to have seen it there," said Rakkim.
The security guard's face creased with amusement, and for that instant he was handsome again. He took the wallet. "Go with God, Fedayeen."
"What other choice do we have?" Rakkim started back to his VIP box.
Anthony Colarusso Sr. didn't look up as Rakkim sat beside him. "I wondered if you were coming back." He guided yet another hot dog with everything on it into his mouth, relish and chopped onions falling into his lap.
"Somebody has to be here to Heimlich you."
Colarusso took another bite of his hot dog. He was a stocky, middle-aged detective with droopy eyes and a thunderous gut, piccalilli dripping from his hairy knuckles. The VIP sections in the stadium were reserved for local politicos, corporate sponsors, and upper-echelon military officers, with Fedayeen given preferential seating. A mere local cop, and a Catholic besides, Colarusso would never have gotten into restricted seating if he hadn't been Rakkim's guest.
The Bedouins' quarterback took the snap, backpedaling, the football cocked against his ear. He double-pumped, then let fly to his favorite receiver, a blur with hands the size of palm fronds. The pass floated against the clouds, and the receiver ran flat out, leaving his coverage behind. The ball grazed his outstretched fingertips, but he hung on, just as one of his cleats caught the turf and sent him face-first into grass. The ball dribbled free.
Boos echoed across the stadium. Rakkim looked back toward the mezzanine again. Still no sign of Sarah. He sat down. She wasn't coming. Not today, or any other day. He punched the empty seat in front of him, almost snapped it off its moorings.
"Didn't know you were such a Bedouins' fan, troop," said Colarusso.
"Yeah...they're breaking my heart."
The receiver lay crumpled on the grass as the groans of the Bedouins' fans echoed across the stadium. Rakkim even heard a few curses. A scrawny Black Robe in a nearby fundamentalist section glanced around, a deputy of the religious police with a tight black turban, his untrimmed beard a coarse bramble. The deputy shifted in his seat, robe rippling, trying to locate the offender. He reminded Rakkim of an enraged squid. The deputy's eyes narrowed at Colarusso and his mustard-stained gray suit.
"I think that eunuch's in love with you, Anthony."
Colarusso swiped at his mouth with a napkin. "Keep your voice down."
"It's a free country...isn't it, Officer?"
It still was. Most of the population was Muslim, but most of them were moderates and the even more secular moderns, counted among the faithful, but without the fervor of the fundamentalists. Though the hard-liners were a minority, their ruthless energy assured them political power far out of proportion to their numbers. Congress tried to placate them through increased budgets for mosques and religious schools, but the ayatollahs and their enforcers of public virtue, the Black Robes, were not satisfied.
The receiver slowly got up, blood pouring down his face. The stadium screen showed him coughing out a pink mist to thunderous applause.
"I remember when football helmets came with face guards," said Colarusso.
"Where's the honor in that?" said Rakkim. "A hard hit wouldn't even draw blood."
"Yeah, well...blood wasn't the point in the old days."
The deputy glared now at the moderates in the bleachers, young professionals in skirts and jeans, women and men seated together. The Black Robes had authority only over fundamentalists, but lately they had begun hectoring Catholics on the street, hurling stones at moderns for public displays of affection. Fundamentalists who left the fold were considered apostates -- they risked disfigurement or death in the rural areas, and even in the more cosmopolitan cities their families ostracized them.
The Super Bowl blimp drifted above the stadium. Emblazoned on the airship was the flag of the Islamic States of America, identical to the banner of the old regime, except for the gold crescent replacing the stars. Rakkim followed the progress of the blimp as it slowly banked in the afternoon sun. In spite of the Black Robes, the sight of the flag still brought a lump to his throat.
"Look who's here," said Colarusso, pointing to a lavish VIP box filled with national politicians and movie stars and ayatollahs. "That's your old CO, isn't it?"
General Kidd, the Fedayeen commander, saluted the network camera and the home audience. An immigrant from Somalia, he was resplendent in his plain blue dress uniform, his expression stoic. Beside him was Mullah Oxley, the head of the Black Robes, his fingers bejeweled, his robe silk, his beard a nest of oily curls. A total swank motherfucker. They made an incongruous and unsettling couple. When Rakkim had retired three years ago, General Kidd would never have sat next to Oxley, or any politician save the president. The Fedayeen were independent, answerable only to their own leadership and the needs of the nation. Three years ago anyway.
"The general looks like a real whip-cracker to me." Colarusso put down the hot dog. "On my best day, young and hung, I wouldn't have lasted five minutes in your old outfit."
The Fedayeen were the elite troops of the Islamic Republic, used mostly on small unit, covert operations against the Bible Belt. The breakaway states of the old Confederacy had a sizable arsenal of nukes, and only the balance of terror kept the two nations from all-out war. Instead there was a constant, low-level conflict of probes and feints, deadly combat without quarter or complaint.
"Best of the best," continued Colarusso. "Heck, they wouldn't even let me in the door."
"What do you want, Anthony?"
Colarusso fidgeted. "Anthony Jr. wants to apply to the Fedayeen. He's nineteen, a...
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