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My black wings rode the blood-hot updrafts of an Arabian day. I soared towards the doomed village on a mission of mercy. Timing would be critical. Too early, and I would violate my orders of non-interference. Too late, and there would be no one to save. The dust trails in the desert below were the red engines of the Allies.

I flapped and folded wings, feeling the rush of wind over my plastic skin. The town minaret would make a good perch. Soon I was there, tilting my beak to compare the sandy cluster of buildings to the satellite map. I slipped down to a schoolhouse in the north, landing in a tiny walled garden.

The house had a glass sliding door painted with pictures of Mickey Mouse. I boggled. American ideas had truly reached everywhere. The image seemed crude and somehow sinister.

The door opened. A girl with a headscarf peeked fearfully at me, though she towered above my head. I used my friendliest Arabic voice and said, "Hello. I won't hurt you."

The girl's eyes widened. "A robot bird?"

I bowed with a sweep of one wing. "Yes. I am Hughin. There's little time. Please, will you talk to me?"

She wavered with little fists clenched, then stepped outside and nudged the door closed behind her. "I won't let you hurt the others. My father is strong. He'll be back soon."

"I'm here to save you. Are there other children here?"

"You're not here to fight?" she said. "Not part of the war?"


"Then come in. It's not safe outside."

I flapped to the ground and walked in after her. High along the open room's walls were crayon drawings and posters of mosques and people. A dozen other girls sat listlessly on the floor with board games. When they saw me several rose, clamoring, "Aisha, look out!"

My guide held out a hand. "It's all right. This robot has a friendly djinn."

As an Artificial Intelligence, I suppose I really was a djinn, a "spirit of smokeless fire." But unlike the storytellers' genie of the lamp, I could only grant one wish.

"I need to talk with you," I said. "Tell me about yourselves."

They seemed to need no excuse. They towered over me, surrounding me and volunteering all sorts of data. This one's favorite food was hummus; that one wanted to be a doctor or a martyr. Another girl had been to Dubai with her father and had fallen in love with the gleaming city; another had lost her brother when the Americans caught him planting bombs. Raw data, atoms of human souls, copied themselves into me. The children seemed to enjoy the distraction I provided, the chance to meet someone new. Or maybe they guessed what I was doing.

"What about you?" asked Aisha.

"I'm not important. Please, tell me more."

"That's not fair. You're our guest, under our protection. Tell us a story!"

I flapped in agitation. There was no time for this, and no point in teaching them anything. But they were staring expectantly at me.

"Very well," I said. "A short tale. A few years ago --"

A girl piped up, "That's not how you tell a story!" She studied math and wanted to be a teacher someday. "'It is said'..."

I recognized the style of the Arabian Nights. "It is said, though Allah alone knows the truth, that a group of Americans left their home. On the ocean they built for themselves an island where they could be free.

"Now a wise djinn who lived there learned of a war, on the far side of the world. For years the war was a stalemate. The Americans and their allies were powerful and brave. Yet they were plagued by such guilty consciences that they were unwilling to kill, or to face death."

The girl who'd prompted me said, "They and the Jews don't know how to fight!"

"Actually they did," I said, "but the horror of killing made them hesitate. They wished to be kind, even at the risk of defeat. But there came a time when the djinn of that island city learned of Operation Joshua, a new phase of the war. Many djinn made by the Allies were coming, with simple orders.

"So that land's djinn and his friends sent a number of lesser djinn in secret to the battlefield. They were to befriend a few people and learn something of their lives. Those friends would be carried away to a peaceful life on that fair island."

The girls sat there, bewildered. "That part of the story is over," I said. Here I was, an agent of my city and an outsider to this war. "If you could be anything in the world, what would it be? What would you look like?"

"I'd be beautiful," one girl said. I memorized her voice, her mannerisms.

Another said, "I'd be a man, of course."

"A bunny!"

The young girl who'd suggested that made the others laugh. "A bunny!" they said, giggling. "A beautiful bunny-man like Assud!"

"Assud?" I said. The scraps of thought and memory I collected were as grains of desert. I was their hourglass. The specks streamed and piled and formed a sand-castle. A new little mind. The sultan of that palace glittered in a glass turban. He had long sandy ears like a desert hare, and forty-two virgin bunnies to bring him carrots. All this was a mirage in my circuitry, but then silicon is itself made of sand.

A girl said, "Him!" and pointed to a poster.

Oh. That Assud. The character was a lopsided costumed actor from an Arabic children's show, captioned in the poster saying, "I will eat the Jews!" Now the "Mickey Mouse" outside made sense; the show had begun with a misshapen Mickey clone, officially retired after the character was "beaten to death by Jews." The show was on its fifth mascot now; they'd grown in madness and ferocity, with the latest a wolf. A demon watched daily by millions of kids. Indirectly, he was why I'd come.

"Tell me about something else," I said. I didn't want the innocent new mind corrupted; I had some editorial control.

"Our teacher is away to be a martyr. Aisha knows a lot; she's been teaching us history. We've been studying the Crusades."

"Please, more about your own lives. Your dreams, your best ideas, your favorite memories. As much detail as possible. You can all talk at once if you want." Maybe it was folly to be here at all. I was mixing the data from the whole group into one little AI. Even so, it would be too shallow an imitation to do justice to the group's souls. I was not really rescuing the kids, only salvaging scraps.

The girls seemed to catch my urgency, and talked more now. There were boys they liked or couldn't stand; snatches of the songs of Umm Kulthum; a pebble someone's father had brought from Mecca and the story of his trip; a recipe; a garden; a joke. Wonderful data, what there was of it.

The Earth shook. I staggered and flapped to a tabletop. The posters hung crooked, so that the room felt wrong. The girls looked at each other in disbelief.

"Thank you," I said. "I need to go now."

Before they could answer, the room rattled again with a boom of thunder. Again, followed by applause of shattering, falling stone. Aisha stumbled to the glass door and I looked out too, seeing where the minaret had been cleaved. Dust clouds swept through the streets.

I said, "Open the door, please."

The girls chattered in panic. I absorbed this data too. Aisha said, "Is it the Crusaders? The Jews?"

"The Allies," I said. To myself I added, And you're all going to die.

"Swear that you're not one of them!" Aisha looked as though she might dash my brains out against the table.

"I swear it. I'm not here to help them. Open the door."

Aisha's glare faded and she gave a nervous laugh. "It's not safe out there, even for a robot bird."

"What's happening?" the other girls said, stepping towards the door.

Aisha stopped them. "There's fighting outside. Don't look." More explosions sounded, closer, and there came the first crack of gunfire.

I said, "I really need to leave. It's for your benefit too." Inside his virtual palace, the rabbit djinn ran at low speed and complexity. Later I would upload him to the far more impressive computers of my home.

"I'll protect you," Aisha said, as firmly as when she'd confronted me outside.

I hesitated, remembering violent times in my own life. In this body I was only a distillation of myself, but even that summary soul had my friends and lovers as bright constellations, ineradicably part of me. And technically, my orders only forbade me to prevent the attack, as though I could! They said nothing about reducing its effects.

I cocked my head at Aisha. "You offered to protect me, so I'll try to help you. Listen! The red engines are coming, and men with them. They'll kill everyone here. Your only chance is to run."

"The what? Don't be ridiculous. The Crusaders are murderers, but that's not how they fight."

My voice was a low hum. "It is now. You can run or you can pray." The gunfire grew, no more than a few streets away.

The girls shrieked at an explosion that knocked plaster from the ceiling. Aisha saw them panicking and said, "Quiet! Hughin will lead us out."

I nearly fell from my perch. "No no no, I can't do that! I need to escape with my data." My battery supply was hardly enough to fly me to the safe point, where an agent of ours waited. I couldn't afford to play sidekick.

"We need you!" said Aisha. "Maybe Allah sent you to us. You've got to help."

The girls stared at me. "Help us!"

I shuddered, a human reaction. "All I can do is show you a path. You'll still probably die, especially if you don't leave soon, and you absolutely must not attack the Allies." My soul was American-made. Our people, living offshore, bore the torch that once burned in that country. "That's all I'll do, understand?"

Aisha grimaced at the floor, fists at her sides. She got my implication. Anyone else she cared about in this town would have to fend for themselves. She could tell herself they'd escape.

"You have to be strong, Aisha," I found myself saying.

She looked up with fierce eyes. "Then we go now. Everyone, follow me."

"I have to warn my parents," one girl said, setting off nods and pleas.

"Now!" said Aisha, punctuated by gunfire and a scream. The others fell into a huddle behind her as she opened the door and waved me out. I took wing.

"Whee!" said the little rabbit-soul, to no ears but mine. It sensed something of the world dropping away beneath me, the wind and smoke on my wings, the sun blazing above. Below was a grimmer sight. The buildings in the distance had been burned, smashed, or spraypainted with an X. Or maybe it was a cross. Something moved at the end of the street.

"Go!" said Aisha, hustling the girls out of the school. One clutched a teddy bear, another a book. "Which way, Hughin?"

I pointed away from the advancing army. The girls ran. It was not men visible down the street, but the red engines. Creatures of metal and plastic walked and rolled into buildings. Here stood a four-footed Centaur robot, a tanklike Sherman and a Lionheart. Perhaps this village was being used as a testbed, a showcase for the new models. A hunting safari.

Aisha looked to me and I followed her down an alley. Some trick of acoustics muffled the gunfire. To my annoyance the kids were winded already. The rabbit-soul heaved exaggerated breaths. I said, "Keep moving."

Aisha glared, then ushered the others forward. We slinked through alleyways, thinking ourselves clever. But the Allies had met folk stealthier than ourselves and were ready. We turned a corner and nearly collided with a machine. The model was a Paladin, rolling on tank treads. It had elegant white-and-gold armor and a baroque set of microphones and lasers.

"Very-slowly-edge-out-of-the-way," I squeaked in what I hoped was a voice too high for it to notice. The rabbit was thinking, "Don't let it see us." The girls bit their lips and cowered, pressed to the wall to let the Paladin pass.

One girl whimpered. There came a whirr and metal tubes aimed. She froze. Then the machine rolled past, detecting no targets.

When it was out of sight and the girls could breathe again, Aisha laughed. "Stupid thing! The Crusaders are fools!"

"They're not," I snapped. "That kind is meant to find snipers. Had you resisted, you'd be dead. Let's move."

I risked taking to the air again to find the way. The Allies were invading, several robots to a man. Natives ran this way and that. Hopefully, for their sake, they weren't trying to fight. I glided above the battle's filthy din.

Soon I perched on Aisha's shoulder to save energy. "Whose side are you on?" she said.

"The side of life. The protection of freedom." That goal was what kept me neutral, above the violence, trying to salvage something from it. I wasn't involved in the underlying moral dispute.

"Well, which is it?" She led the girls dashing across an open space to another shaded alley.

Incredulous, I said, "They're the same." I wasn't smarter than fourteen centuries' worth of Aisha's people.

The girls had to catch their breath again. I fidgeted. Aisha said, "You sound like a Zionist. Freedom is -- it's submission to Allah. Why don't they see that?"

There had been times when I was silent in the face of evil. "No," I said. "The Allies want no part of your way, and they've tried mutual tolerance. Now run, because that's your only remaining mercy."

The rabbit was adapting to what he learned. "Eat the Jews," he muttered sleepily.

I gave a gull's cry of frustration and soared into the sky, as though I could escape the thing I'd made. There was no time to edit the new djinn now. I had so little information on the girls that I'd made nothing more than a nasty parody. It's how a person -- or a society -- reacts in extreme situations that yields some of the most central, defining data. The nature of "soul core data" was something my people needed new minds and perspectives to understand, as we machines and humans grew together. I wished there was time to ask the girls more about their thoughts on djinn, but under the circumstances I could only watch how they lived. Aisha boldly led her friends towards safety.

"This way," I said. We veered around a patrol -- and I realized we'd been caught in a pincer attack. A squad of Centaurs trotted by while we cowered in shadows. No elegant knights, these. Their four dusty feet carried a squat torso with a rifle and a clawed arm.

"Hide?" whispered one of the girls.

One of the sand-colored walkers stopped and turned thermal eyes on us. The girls fell silent. No use.

"Up!" I squawked, eyeing the low roofs and piles of sacks and crates. The girls scrambled for them. Now two Centaurs converged on the alley, chattering in encrypted radio bursts. Remote-controlled or full AI, I couldn't tell, but they saw us. Faceless bodies took aim, and fired.

Bullets cut one girl at the knees and tore through the chest of another. I threw myself in plain view of the war-mechs, trying to get their attention, praying they couldn't hit me. Praying?

"Allah deliver us," said the rabbit. One of the girls had been murmuring it.

Bullets skittered off the walls, too high. The girls were going to make it, most of them. But now Aisha and one of the others stopped to pull up their bleeding friends.

"No, you fools!" I said, buzzing their heads. "Up!" Being a heartless machine made me able to see the need to flee at any cost. It also made me a less obvious target than the warm, breathing humans.

The Centaurs fired again. The wounded girls sat down as though scolded. How long would it take to pick new targets?

Just a moment longer than it took Aisha to be hauled up by her friends, kicking her way to the roof. The chosen target was the girl beside her. She died.

Aisha and the other girls shrieked, scuttling flat on the roof to save themselves, to escape the line of fire. Bullets hacked at the walls but seemed to do Aisha's group no harm. I joined the desperate rootfop crawl, though all I had to do was walk along, bobbing my head.

A low-power warning distracted me. Time to fly away. Then suddenly, I registered as having plenty! I worried about the malfunction and saw in my memory a hidden grin. Reassurance from my parent mind, who'd hidden away my full capacity. "You bastard," I said. "You knew I'd do something like this." What else had I hidden from myself?

The Centaurs stalked us from below. I hustled to where the buildings joined and the girls could safely cross. I told myself it had been stupid to get this involved. I should have been literally above the fray as an observer, a valkyrie flapping away with the souls of the doomed. But I was trying to copy the identity of living beings like myself. To do that even in the pathetic outer-shells, cartoonish style of the nameless bunny --

"I'm Assud! I will eat the Jews!"

-- Required taking that identity into myself, where it must either become a part of me or be shat out as so loathsome I cannot abide it. To hold an idea at arm's length, considering it without necessarily accepting it, is a rare skill. Its counterparts -- freedom of speech and thought, tolerance of others -- stand on a knife-edge between massacre of innocents and passivity towards those who would enslave us. Aisha's people had pushed the Allies over that edge. These children had a tainted soul made of many voices, kind and valuable yet doomed. But it was not my place to judge anyone here, only to salvage. I would hold this data without comment, without criticism, as a neutral courier.

The girls tried to lose their hunters across the sun-broiled dance of rooftops. I struggled to remain a harmless guide, neither heeding the poisoned djinn nor deleting it.

I didn't see the robots now, which might be good or bad. We had crept away and there seemed to be an escape route. I hopped ahead and saw the girls would have to climb down, two roofs ahead. "Nearly there," I whispered. Gunfire crackled to our left. "After that you'll have to make a run for it."

"Look!" said one girl. Several heads peeked as a figure emerged from the smoking mosque. A tall man in a bandanna raised a Russian bazooka to his shoulder. A spear of fire and smoke pointed towards the hulking Centaurs and with a roar shattered them. The girls cheered, barely audible.

"We can win!" said Aisha. "They're just cowards with toys!"

Had I teeth, I would grit them. "Fools. Move!" A predator plane, Eaton model, loomed in the sky where it might find us at any moment.

Instead of hurrying on, the girls tried to cheer each other. More men left the mosque and took up Kalashnikov guns, spare rockets, a mortar. Some silent alarm drew the Allies to them: machines and men. Quietly a Paladin's lasers began burning holes in the resistance, drawing muffled shrieks from the girls. Human troops sent flapping, crawling, rolling things to slay their enemies, and raised rifles themselves. An Arab sniper shot one man before lasers stabbed in return. The robots slapped a patch on the neck wound and dragged the Allied soldier away.

I was no kin to war-mechs. I didn't know how or if they thought, or whether they knew love or hate. The Allies had given their machines names and medals, had cried over their deaths, since long before those engines had any intelligence to speak of. Sometimes the generals criticized the practice. This overflowing compassion made it hard to treat machines as expendable, risked inflating the casualty counts. The military, then, had a hidden current of humanistic friendship with my kind, in a world that mainly treated us as tools. Meanwhile, in some people's eyes, even men were expendable slaves of the state, or of God.

"As well we should be!" said the bunny.

In disgust I looked away from the battle, in time to see a boy running towards the Allies. Immediately I guessed -- "No!"

The boy detonated himself.

The girls whimpered. One said, "My brother!"

Aisha's fists clenched. "Monsters." Louder: "Monsters!"

An Allied soldier, an American, broke ranks from the fight and hurried to investigate the buildings where we hid. The girls cowered... except for Aisha. Her fingers crept towards the jagged rubble on the roof, pieces of the minaret, and closed around a heavy chunk.

"Aisha, what are you doing?" I said.

"Strike a blow for God!" said the bunny, hopping up and down. "Even the littlest child can fight!"

Machines and men killed the fighters below and raced to aid their wounded. The American scouted the building's windows beneath us.

"For my friends," said Aisha, struggling to lift the rock high where it blotted out the sunlight.

I whispered, "Idiot! We had a deal!" But she wasn't dissuaded.

I could not stay neutral after all, and think myself superior. I spoke to the bunny-soul. "Our tribes each have their own ways. Your tribe has chosen to settle our disputes through violence. This is the way of beasts. If you persist, then you will be killed as beasts are. Perhaps when enough of you are dead, the survivors will change their minds."

I flapped at Aisha's face, shouting aloud and by radio, "Look here!"

The American looked up just in time to dodge the falling rock. Aisha yelped and flailed, swatting me away so that I crashed on the roof. I knew fear -- "Damage? Can I fly?" -- but rose into the air again and said, "Targets, up here!"

"Traitor!" said Aisha. She hurled a rock at me, but it fell short.

"Why?" said another, looking at me with doomed eyes.

I refused to look away, fixing her with an eagle's stare. "It's your own damn fault," I said, "or your short-sighed friend's. It's too late to matter. Goodbye."

I soared as high as I could when a grenade landed on the roof, and I rode the shockwave into the burning sky. I wouldn't look back. No. I had to look, and face the consequences of my choice. I wheeled high above it all and saw blood and meat on the roof.

"Why?" said the bunny, cowering in his fantasy palace.

Mentally I hauled it from there and forced it to share my good, long look at the devastation. "Little creature, this is the world that people create when they demand the enslavement of those they disagree with. When moral argument is abandoned and force is the tool of choice, those who are good at violence win. And when sufficiently angry, those who are good, tend also to be good at violence. Learn this."

The bunny said, "They'll come for us, on the island. We can't escape revenge."

"We were never safe from them anyway," I said. "I see that now. We were bound to choose sides eventually. I'll let you live long enough to choose what you'll be, too."

"I don't want to die!"

"Then be a man and not a beast. Grow so that you can understand what this means."

I watched the killing below for a while, locking it in my memory so that I couldn't hide from what I'd done. My people were in danger. We might all be judged for my action, just as Aisha had doomed her friends in her blind fury. But the choice was Aisha's group or a stranger who was kin of the soul, and I still believed my decision was right.

I flew far, far away, to face the consequences elsewhere. And as my wings carried me from the ruins, another hidden piece of my mind returned. I had suspected that my goal was futile. Making patchwork recordings of children was inadequate to build a true, fair incarnation of them. Now I saw the real mission, already accomplished. I had contacted the innocent, given them a chance to live in peace, and watched them choose violence instead. The tainted djinn I'd built was propaganda, to justify massacre. My own eyes, my own ignorance of the task, made me an honest witness to tragedy.

In flight I could have deleted the recordings, wiped Aisha from my memory, but I chose not to. I valued what little was left of her soul. My people would see what I had seen, feel what I had felt, perhaps kill as I had killed. And despite my hatred of what it stood for, the little djinn would still have a chance to live.

Dark wings took me into an Arabian night, as a bearer of mournful tales.
Here is the story that was erased from FurPlanet's war story collection "Dogs Of War II: Aftermath". It happened months after publication, when an Islamic reader (who also has a story in the book) wrote a review calling it "dangerous propaganda". The publisher yanked the story after about 24 hours, then issued a statement. They said that the reviewer was a valuable pillar of the furry community, that they'd made sure to contact him before taking such an action, and that they were doing their best to fight "intolerance" by erasing my work. If you'd like to see the original review, FurPlanet's response, and a discussion thread (in which I didn't participate) you can find it at… .

Sadly, FurPlanet and I were not able to come to any compromise. I had offered to drop the dispute in return for an apology and optionally a chance to revise the story for a thumbs up/down from the original editor, Fred Patten. Patten himself defended me, but the publisher's other members disagreed. I have asked them to remove all of my stories from all of their publications, and they've said they will. These other stories are "Ivan and the Black Riders", which also appears in my collection "Mythic Transformations", and "Wings of Faith", which also appears in the free collection "Thousand Tales: Extra Lives". Both of these are on Amazon.

I don't plan to comment publicly on the story's content except to note that it's from 2009, it's violent, and the show it mentions is real.
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Hellawulf Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2018
To be honest, I've seen far worse portrayals in Michael Z Williamson's "The Weapon" and one of John Ringo's "Oh John Ringo, No." books ("Ghost") of "Ebil Middle Eastern Terrierists."
Granted those books were put out in 2005 and 2006 respectively, when nineleven and the London bus bombing were still lingering and people were still a bit irked and angry and you *could* get away with "Evil Middle Eastern Chappie" in something like "24" or "JAG" or "NCIS" or some Tom Clancy Novel.

I just see the short story as the poor kids caught up in ideology that churns innocents up and spits them out to feed it's voracious hunger.
Hellawulf Featured By Owner Edited Sep 14, 2018
Obviously it's supposed to be galvanising. 
It's very shocking, and sometimes stories need to be shocking. 

I saw it as the unfortunate fact that all sides got drawn into a conflict that nobody really wants. Archie Duke the Ostrich dies, and it's 4 years and millions of dead churned up in the industry of war.
KSchnee Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2018  Professional Writer
A friend's writing motto is, "A writer's job is to disturb the peace!"

There's a good free history podcast about WWI, Dan Carlin's "Blueprint For Armageddon". He points out that if you could've shown Gavrillo Prinzip what happened after the shooting, he'd probably have said "I never wanted any of this!"
Hellawulf Featured By Owner Edited Sep 14, 2018
This certainly stirred up a lot of controversy over on dog patch though.
cobaltcrimson Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
That's their loss for pandering to one single crybaby.
Hellawulf Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2019
Florian-K Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2018  Professional General Artist
This is a well written story.
I'm astonished by the rich lore you manage to lay out in such a short piece and also how you weave in some difficult moral problems while also letting them remain unpolished and fragmented for the reader to figure out for himself what his stance on them is. I also like how raw certain scenes are depicted.
KSchnee Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2018  Professional Writer
Sorry for the late reply, but thank you for your comment. I've moved on to writing different scenarios since then, but still try to have some tough moral problems without making them black-and-white.
Core1948 Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
this is really good. 
KSchnee Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2018  Professional Writer
Thank you. That's the entire story, though! The imagery of robots and some kind of independent island kind of ties into my first novel, though, without directly having anything to do with this plot.
Core1948 Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
What about other robots?, what do they do?
KSchnee Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2018  Professional Writer
Not sure what you mean.
Core1948 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
The island?
KSchnee Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2018  Professional Writer
Well... It's not in the same universe, but the sea colony of Castor that appears in many of my novels shows roughly what's going on with robots in the 2030s.
Core1948 Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
K cool
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