Scheherazade Cast in Starlight

Author’s Note: This story was first published in Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF (Mass Market Paperback) (Harper Collins, April 2010).  I wrote it shortly before the 2009 Iranian Revolt and was surprised by how close I came to the uses of social media in that conflict.  Sadly, the outcome hasn’t happened yet but we can hope.

“Scheherazade Cast in Starlight”

by Jason Andrew

The Qur’an says that all people are a single nation.

It has always been the will of man to separate us in thought, in clothing, in language. Separate, we can be controlled. Separate, we can be killed in the quiet of the night and disappear into myth. Separate, we forget that in the end we have the power.

I was five when my mother was cast into a cell. Her alleged crime? Selling narcotics. Her real crime? She had been elected to parliament. The Iranian Assembly of Experts declared that all women candidates for parliament were disqualified in the year 2006. In the shadow of night, men with masks took her and none even whispered her name in fear of retribution. I never saw her again. But I kept her in my heart and mind. Remembering her courage to defy a government that wanted to oppress its citizens.

My eldest brother died three years later in the protests over the Presidential election. He wore a regal green jacket and marched in protest over the fraud that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power. He died from a blow to the head in the middle of the street. He was not forgotten. A girl only a few years older than myself captured his image. Tweets of protests were sent across the world. We protested in the light of the world broadcast to any that wished to see. No man worthy of the name can withstand the suffering of another if it is within his sight. And we showed that day that such deeds can never again be done in secret, can never be hidden in the shadows.

The Qur’an says that all people are a single nation. Though we failed that day, we were shown the way by the will of Allah. Globalization has been a dirty word for oppressive governments. They want to keep their borders clearly defined with walls of stone and barbed wire and land mines. They want their citizens to think only of what happens in their lands, to their families. They want us to forget that we all are one family.

Technology blurs those borders. It allows information to flow freely. It is the bane of any oppressive government. There were no more barriers to hide us away from the rest of the world. No firewalls that could keep out our stories. The world hungered for reality entertainment. When I was ready, I stepped into the starlight.

My v-casts are circulated around the world. Every action recorded and captured in amber for the world to study.

Anyone in the world can watch me. I am Scheherazade cast in starlight, telling a story each night to keep my head. I completed against drunken bears roaming free in Butte, Montana. I told the world of the food shortages, the war, tragedies, and love against the tale of seven strangers trapped in a house forced to live together. I battled against Big Brother by showing stories about all of our brothers and sisters. We showed the world that the greatest stories come not from forced drama, but from life and living despite the darkness.

Each night before I slept, I checked my ranking. I was safe as long I had eyes upon me. Or so I believed. I am shamed to admit that I was drunk with my new celebrity. I had messages from foreign leaders, proud mothers, and little girls seeking a role-model. I thought that I had made a difference.

And then the men with black masks came for me. I was drinking coffee in a café on a unseasonably warm winter day. I heard the screeching of the truck before they slipped the hood over my head. The hard barrel of their guns poked into my back as I desperately tried to gasp for air. They threw me onto the bed on the truck and held me down. I was so terrified that I could not even scream.

I had no voice, but others screamed for me. The Qur’an says that paradise lies at the feet of mothers. I waited, held down, but the truck did not move. I heard a swarm of voices around me. The death squad had come for me, but you stopped them. No man wishes his mother to see his darkness. The women took me from the death squad with violence. My bonds were cut and the hood removed. And then we cried.

That moment our country changed.

My youngest brother was taken one thousand nights ago; almost three years ago. This night he was returned to me. He is thinner than I remember, but tall and strong. I am told that it is a symbol of the new government. A time of hope. A bridge to help unite a desperate people. That is a lie.

My brother’s freedom is a symbol of your power. It is your will that brought him to the light. It is your will that won the parliament election. Your will that convinced the Guardian Council to validate the elections.

And tomorrow will be my one thousand and first broadcast, and on that day I will be sworn in to parliament. I will take the office for which my mother died and thus Scheherazade must complete her own tale. To you mothers and daughters of Iran, to you I leave the stories. It is only in silence do we lose the spark that Allah has breathed into each of us.

The Qur’an says that all people are a single nation. I believe that this is a statement of universal truth. The world has grown too small to ignore our neighbors. We are one family.

And I wait. I wait for your stories to change the world.

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