Abdul Aziz's satisfaction at being finally proven absolutely right about absolutely everything was only slightly muted by the fact he was probably going to die because of it.
He had been warned about these kinds of women - strong, independent thinkers who thought the world owed them something. His grandfather used to tell him stories of the tragedies that these women brought down on the world, stories he had never forgotten.
As he had grown up, his disgust had only increased. He had seen them in the back streets of Cairo, hiding their shame in the dark. They were too loud to keep quiet, with demands that no man should suffer, and Aziz had stood strong against them.
When he made the move into politics after building his wealth on a chain of muffler repair stores, he had used his influence to put these women back where they belonged, under the stern word of their rightful master.
He had seen them at his speeches, their faces twisted into a vulgar display of disgust. He had received their filthy letters and taken their terrible phone calls in the night. He had heard whispers of a group that had targeted him, and he was not afraid.
They had taken him as he drove into the office, knocking out his guards, and pulling him out of his car and into their van in seconds. Since then he had been blindfolded and shoved around between vehicles and buildings and rooms. He had been poked and jostled. He showed no fear.
He knew he might suffer because of his stand, but it was the right thing to do. When they gave him some food, he was reluctant to accept, but too hungry to refuse. And when the world started spinning around him, he knew they had poisoned him and that this was the end.
The first thing he noticed when he awoke was that he was lying on a bed with silk sheets. For a moment, he was certain it had all been a dream, and then he tried to move his arms, only to find that he had been tied down to the bed.
While they were not tight, the knots were strong and a brief exertion did nothing.
Aziz looked around. He was in a dark room lit by a single light above his head and he could not even tell how big it was. He heard footsteps out in the dark and cried out, only to find he couldn't speak. He tried to scream, but no sound came out.
'It's a side effect of the drug we used,' said a voice out of the dark. A man emerged, with the blackest skin Aziz had ever seen. He carried a chair, placed it beside the bed and sat down, at ease. 'It paralyses the vocal chords and will wear off in three and a half minutes. We just find these things always go better when we just make you listen.'
Aziz didn't understand. The black man pointed ahead and Aziz saw something else in the dark. A single spotlight appeared in the middle of the bare room and a small girl with dark eyes cast downward stepped into the light.
'Her name is Iris,' said the black man. 'She is 19-years-old and was cast out of home four years ago after her father caught her whispering with another girl. She fled into the country and lived off the food she could steal from the fields, until a farmer found her and beat her nearly to death.'
Aziz tried a grin, but was paralysed. If he could have done anything, he would have spat in the faces of everybody in the room.
A second girl entered the light. A head taller than Iris, she had equally dark eyes. She took Iris' hand and the black man continued talking.
'This is Nina. She found Iris lying in the road and took her in. The two girls became friends and moved closer in the night.'
Nina began rubbing her hand down Iris' arm, as the smaller girl began to sway to soft music that had faded in. The tune reminded Aziz of something he had forgotten a long time ago, something from deep in his past.
'They had to move town four times because of the hatred that came there way. The sideways glance became the angry word became the thrown stone and they feared for their life more than once. It took them two years to find friends who did not judge, friends who took them in and cared for them.'
Both women were dancing now, rubbing their bodies against each other. Aziz wasn't aroused, but he felt something in his chest, a delicate sensation that he thought he had broken years ago.
He was starting to forget why he hated them so much, as the music swelled and the black man spoke again.
'They fight back, because they are forced to. They can't just stand there and take it. But if you left them alone, they would leave you alone. Your differences are vast and may be beyond fixing, but there is no reason for hate. All they want to do is love each other, there is no reason for hate.'
'There is no reason for hate,' said Aziz. His head felt like it was swelling and a light was shining bright in his eyes. There was a moment of lucidity and he tried to snarl, but accidentally let out a contented sigh. 'No reason.'
The black man laughed, a rich, throaty roar that drowned out the music. He leaned over and loosened the knots. Aziz's arm came free and he reached for the girls, but they just smiled and moved back out of his reach. He would never reach them.
'Change the world by changing your mind,' said the black man. Aziz looked at him and understood. He finally understood.
'What was I doing?' he croaked.
'There is always time to start all over again,' said the N'buli MacGregor. And then he pulled out his pistol and shot Aziz in the heart.
Dave, Valentina and Sonya joined N'buli in the room as the two girls picked up their clothes and walked out with stoic indifference. Dave watched them go, but started paying attention when Valentina slapped him over the back of his head. 'Mind on the job, David.'
Sonya bent down and looked closely at the prone figure on the bed. 'He just looks creepy with that smile on his face.'
'Can you hate somebody who looks as stupid as that?' asked N'buli, putting his blissgun away.
'It's certainly a lot harder to take him seriously,' she replied. She stood back up. 'Now what?'
'We drop him off home. One of the side effects of a high-class bliss blast is the wiping of short term memory, so he won't have a clue where he has been.'
'What use is that, then? He'll just go back to the same old shit.'
N'buli shrugged. 'I'll be honest. There is always that chance. But we are quite good at this, and 98 percent of instances such as this lead to a life-changing experience on the part of the subject.'
'And if he is one of those 2 percent?'
'We're just the first line. He will be monitored by a follow-up group, who will watch his progress and make any necessary adjustments.'
'And that's what you do, is it?'
'What do you mean?'
'You just go around the world, changing people's heads until they do what you want?'
Dave and Valentina had transferred Aziz to a stretcher and started carrying him out the door. N'buli watched them go.
'Only the dickheads, Sonya. Only the dickheads.'
Max was woken by the sound of his phone and he scrambled to get it out of his pocket.
'Yo! What's the situation?'
'This is Dave. All good at this end, but just a few things to tie up. We'll be back in eight hours.'
'Eight hours? Fuck me, what am I supposed to do until then?'
'Watch your bloody movies, have yourself one of the MREs with the red wine jus and sit tight.'
'I'm out of bloody movies!' whined Max. 'I've already been through the lot.'
'Check in my bag under my seat. There is something in there for you.'
Max got up, found the bag and opened it to see a small pile of cheap and nasty horror films from the 1970s. He accidentally let out a small yelp of joy before picking up the phone again.
'I love you, Dave.'
'I know you do, man.'
There was still a heavy security presence around Aziz's home, but it was relatively easy to reinsert him back into his bed and get out before anybody noticed. They were back at the compound by dawn, and N'buli found that last bottle that he knew he had hidden in his fight-suit. He shared it with Sonya, the two girls who had given Aziz the show, and his team, sitting in deck chairs on the roof of their compound.
'What was that shit about shooting him in the head?' said Dave. 'Who was going to kill him? You? You haven't shot anybody in sixty years.'
Valentina didn't respond, so Dave turned to the girl sitting on the other side of him. 'Hey, Iris. Show me that thing you did with your legs during that dance.'
Iris looked him up and down. 'Sure. For five hundred bucks, white boy.'
'I gotta get to a cash machine,' said Dave, looking inside his empty wallet.
Down the line of deck chairs, N'buli emptied the last of the bottle of wine into Sonya's glass.
'Will it work?' she asked. 'Will there be anything different?'
N'buli shrugged. 'We've done our best. Changing the world is a lot harder than it looks.'
'I still think we should have just killed him.'
'You don't have to be friends, but you also don't need to kick the shit out of each other. That's old thinking, Sonya. We need something new. You grow up surrounded by all this shit and think it's the only way to get what you want. Because nobody showed us anything different. That's where we come in.'
'I'm still not sure.'
'That's the spirit!' said N'buli brightly. 'Question everything! But you have to admit it, this is better than blowing him up. No vows of vengeance, no blood feuds stretching down the generations, everybody gets what they want.'
Sonya sighed as Isis started laughing at Dave again. 'And it was fun.'
'That's what we're here for,' said N'buli MacGregor, Agent of LOVE.
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