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All That is In The Heavens [Part I]: Outnumbered, But Not Outgunned

The war against the crabs was going badly. Seeing no other options, Lieutenant Rahman set a direct course for the crab queenship. He would ram it. He toggled the comm to address the crew: “All hands brace for impact!” In a twist of fate, today was Eid ul-Adha. A day of sacrifice…

Published

Space battle

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is a multi-chapter novel.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 |

LOCATION: PERSEUS ARM OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY

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YEAR: 4097 HIJRI – 565 UNITED ARMY CALENDAR

United Army Squad 3690, in order of seniority:

  1. Yasin “Cutter” Rahman – Captain. Combat strategy master.
  2. Weili Menco Zhang – Corporal. Xeno-geographer. Calm and cool in battle. Carries a lasgun and a tekpi (trident).
  3. Ammar Abuzaid – Master Sergeant. Botanist and combat trainer. Oldest member of the squad. Quran hafedh.
  4. Bilal Mustafa – Fleet Officer. Xenobiologist, married to Rowaida.
  5. Rowaida Ali – Fleet Officer. Ship’s pilot, mechanic and fabricator, married to Bilal.
  6. Samir “Smasher” Sufyan – Specialist. Drone tech, and explosives expert. Carries an axe. Multiple awards for valor, but also repeated misconduct violations.
  7. Amina Quraishi – Specialist. Computer tech and AI diagnostics. Hijabi. Silat expert. Fearless.
  8. Ami Abdulghaffar – Private first class. Medic and psychotherapist, plus botanist.
  9. Hisham – Private. Grenadier, plus supplies & requisitions.
  10. Summer – Private. Riflecarrier and food services.
  11. Tarek – Private. Riflecarrier and janitorial. 18 years old.

Malay Heroes

Space battle

“Where would human civilization be without Yasin Rahman, and the incredible discoveries he made? Picking like Selangor crows through the rubble of three hundred worlds? Fighting an endless war? Extinct? Some say he paid too high a price. Others say that the only mechanism by which humanity has ever evolved has been the terrible sacrifice of a great man or woman. It is the only thing that captures our attention, that brings to our mouths the bitterness of nilavembu, and makes us say, ‘Wait, stop. Maybe it’s time for a change.’”

– From The Life and Death of Yasin Rahman, by Dr. Ami Abdulghaffar, 4130 Hijri

* * *

Lieutenant Yasin Rahman sat at the pilot’s seat as fire rampaged through his ship. The scream of a dying man drifted to him from somewhere near the aft gun array, piercing his soul. Whose voice was that? He should recognize it, but sometimes a man’s screaming voice was very different from his speaking voice – a fact he wished he did not know.

They’d been engaged in nearly constant conflict with the crabs for the last fourteen hours, and he was exhausted. Beyond that, he was deeply weary of this war. He’d joined the United Army (UA) when he was fifteen years old, and now he was twenty seven. He’d survived fifty seven battles, and had been seriously wounded twenty three times. In the beginning, soldiering had been exciting: traveling through space, seeing strange star systems with his own eyes. But he was far beyond that. He’d seen too much agony, held too many young comrades in his arms; comforting them, offering tender lies in their last minutes of life. Though he was a lieutenant and a man, and therefore not permitted to cry, there were times when he felt like all the withheld tears would dissolve his very bones from the inside out.

Every now and then the UA announced peace talks with the crabs. But nothing ever came of it, and Rahman did not believe it. As far as Rahman could tell, every penny of the UA’s resources was devoted to destroying the crabs. If you planted grass, you wouldn’t get rice, as Zhang would say.

He swerved up and right then plunged into a sudden dive, trying to lose the crab fighter that was practically glued to his tail. The entire ship shuddered like a water buffalo shaking out its fur. The ship was heating up rapidly as the fires spread. Sweat poured down Rahman’s face, stinging his eyes, and a muscle had begun to jump in his right arm. Yet, his right hand was soft and subtle on the tiller, which was a smooth blue sphere that controlled the ship’s direction and responded to the slightest touch. His regular pilot, an old sergeant with a white beard, lay dead on the floor beside him with a piece of hull plating embedded in his skull. He’d been a veteran of countless battles, and a good man.

He toggled the comm: “Report! Who is that screaming?”

Master Sergeant Ammar Abuzaid, another grizzled old veteran who had survived a hundred battles, replied: “It’s the young rifleman, Suhaib. He is badly burned. Ami is tending to him.”

Rahman gritted his teeth. These men and women were his responsibility, his brothers and sisters. But there was nothing that could be done. They were soldiers. Death was part of the equation. Their war cray was satria Malay! – Malay heroes! – and that was what they were. And heroes died. Wasn’t that the true definition of a hero? If you lived for a cause you were respected, but if you died for a cause you were a hero. And what greater cause than the salvation of the human race? Because if the crabs had their way, every human being on every world, including the ancient homeworld of earth, would be annihilated.

Hull Breach

An alien projectile weapon struck the starboard side, followed immediately by a tearing and shrieking sound. That damned ship on his tail! Wind roared through the cabin.

SAI’s modulated and pleasingly feminine tones came over the comm: “HULL BREACH IN SECTION 22D. TOTAL LOSS OF ATMOSPHERE IN TWENTY FIVE SECONDS. SUIT UP, BOYS AND GIRLS. THIS MEANS YOU.”

“I give the orders here,” Rahman remarked.

“SORRY, BOSS. ORDER AWAY.”

Rahman rolled his eyes. He liked that the Shipboard Artificial Intelligence – SAI for short – was more than just a computer. But it needed to work on context – knowing when to be clever, and when to shut up and do its job.

He toggled the com. “All personnel activate your skinsuits.”

“THAT’S WHAT I SAID.”

Rahman clamped his molars together and tensed his neck muscles, activating the tubular collar around his neck. The nanobots in the collar flowed up over his face and down over his body beneath his clothing, becoming a flexible skinsuit that covered every centimeter of his skin. The suit allowed him to breathe in the vacuum of space. If you were to see someone naked in a skinsuit it would look like their entire body had been painted glittery gray. The skinsuits could be annoyingly itchy, but they were perfect for combat. Rahman knew that the suit would provide up to two hours of oxygen, for it not only stored oxygen in the collar, but the nanobots recycled his own breath, and could extract any oxygen that might be present in the atmosphere as well. The suit also protected against extremes of cold and heat, so that a man could survive in the vacuum of space, though only for a half hour. These suits were not designed for long term space work, but for in-ship combat.

Terrible Shot

The ship boomed and shook as the crab fighter on their tail nailed them with yet another torpedo. The shot hit the port lasgun array, which careened away, adding to the masses of burning wreckage all around them.

Rage surged in Rahman’s chest. His heart raced, and his nostrils widened. He’d had enough of this. What the devil were the aft gunners doing? Rahman knew the starboard and aft laser cannons were still working; he could hear the constant hum and thud as they fired and recharged. “AbdulAzeez!” he bellowed into the comm. “Rasool! Wake up! Get that ship off my tail before it turns us all into barbecue!”

“PRIVATES ABDULAZEEZ AND RASOOL ARE DEAD,” the ship’s AI informed him, in a voice as unruffled and pleasant as ever.

“I can hear the guns firing!”

“I AM FIRING THE GUNS.”

“You’re a terrible shot.”

“TARGETING SYSTEMS HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED BY FIRE.”

La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah. This wasn’t going well. “I need all hands on fire suppression!” he shouted into the comm. “Forget the hull breach. Priority to the port weapons locker and the targeting system. Zhang, get it done. Zhang? Respond!”

A Light In His Soul

When no response came, Rahman felt his heart skip a beat. He leaned forward in the pilot’s seat and half rose, as if he would leap up and run. Not Zhang, he thought. Please, not Zhang. He didn’t think he could take it if Zhang were dead. It would kill him as surely as the crab fighter on their tail was about to to do. He was about to call out her name again, when she finally answered.

“Already on it sir, but the fire is spreading faster than we can contain it. Sir, this ship is going to blow itself to the stairs of Jannah.”

Rahman exhaled loudly and sat back down. “Do your best.”

Zhang was still alive. That was fine then. Everything else he could handle. 

Though the members of squad 3690 were members of the United Army, the organization that governed all human worlds, this particular squad all came from NewMalaysia – that beautiful yet ravaged world – or from its moons and orbiting habitats. They were all full blooded Malays, except for two. He himself was only a quarter Malay. His mother was half Malay and half Chinese, and his late father – may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him – had been an immigrant of Egyptian ancestry. His father had grown up on the teeming, polluted planet of Fatimiyyah, with its Arab megacities and immense ore mines, and had traveled to NewMalaysia in his teens, on his own, seeking a better life.

The other non-Malay was Specialist Weili Menco Zhang, the beautiful xeno-geographer, and secret love of Rahman’s life.  She was half Chinese and half Colombian, and the combination had produced a beauty like no other. Rahman pictured her almond eyes, and the jet black hair that came down to just below her ears. Her slender but muscled form. That flashing smile, with the silver braces she’d worn on her teeth for as long as he’d known her. Those strong hands, the nails kept short. She was a soldier’s soldier, and a scientific genius to boot. But to Rahman she was grace, femininity and beauty. He’d known her since they were both fresh recruits, fifteen year old rifle carriers on the front lines, somehow surviving while so many died. His feelings for her had blossomed and deepened with every passing year.

He’d always kept these feelings strictly to himself. It wasn’t his place to express such things. He was her commanding officer. There were rules of decorum. But at this moment, he wished he’d abandoned those rules and told her how he felt. Amid the carnage, insanity and frequent tedium of this endless war, she was a light in his soul. Thinking of her brought him the only peace he’d ever known. When he closed his eyes and pictured Zhang, he was not on an army ship in some distant corner of the galaxy, but in a forest meadow back on NewMalaysia, listening to a stream bubbling by, or the sound of birdsong. Yet he’d never said a single word to anyone.

Hopeless

Laser cannonThe ship’s laser cannons had gone silent. “SAI,” Rahman said urgently, “why have you stopped firing?”

“AFT CANNONS ARE OVERHEATED, BOSS.”

“How long until we can fire them again?”

“TOO LONG. THE COOLING SYSTEMS HAVE BEEN DAMAGED BY FIRE.”

“Now you tell me. Fine, I’ll get rid of this seafood myself.”

Ahead and to the left, one of the remaining UA fighters exploded in a brilliant fireball. The viewscreen dimmed automatically to protect Rahman’s eyesight. Knowing the ship behind him would be distracted as well, he took advantage of the moment to spin the ship laterally without changing course, using the directional thrusters. As the ship spun, he cut loose with the forward laser cannon, creating an arc of superheated emerald death. It cut through the crab fighter’s hull like a nanoknife through a coconut.

For just an instant he saw the crab piloting the ship. It was a huge male, wearing the usual dark blue body armor. Its long, chitinous fingers were wrapped around the two control sticks that crab fighters used for directional control. Its eyes were blood red, and though crabs did not have pupils, Rahman could have sworn that its eyes widened in surprise as it realized what was happening. Then the laser cut through the crab and its entire ship, slicing it cleanly in two.

Rahman continued the spin until he faced in his original direction. He smiled grimly. That was one more down. But it was hopeless, he knew. They could not win this battle. An alien queenship and its three hundred fighters had converged on the UA’s single battleship and its thirty small fighters, one of which was Rahman’s ship. All around him ships and bodies burned in the Stygian vacuum of space. The UA battleship was gone, torn to pieces. Only a handful of UA fighters remained, while the crabs still had a hundred and fifty fighters.

And now his own ship was torn up, burning  and probably about to blow up. He had to do something.

Smasher

He had an idea. It was drastic, but so what. If he was going to die, he would do it on his own terms. And he would make the crabs pay the heaviest price yet.

He tapped the i-link behind his ear and subvocalized Sufyan’s name. A moment later the big drone tech replied directly into Rahman’s ear, addressing him by his nickname: “Cutter.”

Rahman preferred a greater degree of formality, but “Smasher” Sufyan was another soldier who had come up with him, fighting by his side in dozens of battles. Besides that, he was a hard case, and would do what he wanted anyway. Rahman had written him up repeatedly for misconduct, assault, and excessive violence, the last because he sometimes went nuts on the battlefield and would not stop when ordered. Rahman had in fact requested that the big man be drummed out of his squad. Command had so far refused, pointing out that Smasher had more crab kills to his name than anyone in the division. They had demoted him from corporal to master sergeant, and told Rahman to do his best with him.

“We’re going to ram the queenship. Set up your drones. You don’t have much time. The moment we penetrate the queenship I want most of those drones out ahead of us, firing at anything that moves. Clear a path for us. We’ll be moving aft, toward the troop carrier.”

“You said most of the drones.”

“Send two to lay explosives along the ship’s transverse axis. Use the TONC.”

“Cut, tellium octanitrocubane on the transverse axis will tear that ship in two.”

Rahman already knew that. Part of the explosive power of TONC came from its cube-shaped orientation of carbons, called cubane. The cube shape forced the carbon atoms to be at 90° angles to each other, an unnatural angle for these atoms. This compression to a 90° orientation forced a tremendous amount of potential energy into the molecules. That energy would be released in a cataclysmic explosion when the molecules sprang back to their original shapes.

“Exactly,” Rahman said. “Put it on a twenty minute timer.”

“But we’ll be on that ship.”

“That’s why we’re moving toward the troop carrier. We’re going to seize it and escape.”

“We’ll have to move fast. TONC has a detonation velocity of 10,100 meters per second.”

“Understood.”

“Why don’t you set the HBFR to autodestruct?”

Rahman gritted his teeth. He resisted the desire to say, shut up and do what you’re told. He’d already considered this option, of course, but if the HBFR – the Hydrogen-Boron Fusion Reactor that powered the ship – blew, it would take out everything in this region of space. He and his crew, not to mention the other surviving UA soldiers, might not survive.

Rather than explain all this, Rahman said, “Not an option.”

“You sure they have a troop carrier?”

“I’m sure! Now get started.” Starry sky, he was so sick of this guy.

That One Ayah

He toggled the comm:

“All hands brace for impact! We’re going to ram the queenship. If we penetrate the hull, exit the ship immediately and engage hand-to-hand. Once in the queenship, move aft. Our goal is the troop carrier at the aft end. Gear up, then strap in. Run your checklists. Suit, rifle, pistol, hand weapon, goggles. I repeat, prepare to ram!”

Doubts rose in him like a swarm of bees, but he suppressed them and added: “Abuzaid. Pray us in.” Silently, he added, and don’t say the ayah. But he kept that to himself, wanting to give Abuzaid the benefit of the doubt, and not wanting to embarrass him in front of the crew.

* * *

Two weeks before, Rahman had dropped in on Abuzaid as he worked in the huge greenhouse on level two. The air in the greenhouse was warm and humid, and Rahman inhaled deeply, tasting the rich, fruity scents. Mango, papaya, banana, and various herbs. Everything about this place called up memories of his childhood and for a moment he felt like he was back on NewMalaysia, playing hide and seek in the banana plantation with his cousin Zeeshan.

Abuzaid sat at a workbench, wearing a knee-length green coat that hid his wiry, muscular frame. His close-cropped hair and short beard were fully gray. He peered through spectacles at a plant he was working on.

“What’s that?” Rahman asked.

“Alien-NewMal hybrid,” Abuzaid replied in his deep, gravelly voice. “These Tellian plants are immune to earth phages. I’m trying to create a disease-proof banana.”

“Master Sergeant.” Rahman addressed the man by rank.

Abuzaid took off his spectacles and met Rahman’s gaze. “Lieutenant.”

“I need you to stop saying the thing before we go into battle. I know the crew appreciates you praying us in, it means a lot to them. They need it. But some have a problem with the thing, and frankly I do too.”

“The thing.” Abuzaid’s tone was flat. “You mean the Quran.”

“Not the Quran. Just that one sentence that you say.”

“Ayah. Not sentence.”

Rahman’s lips compressed tightly. “Yes. That one ayah.”

“It’s the word of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). ‘The seven heavens, the earth, and all those in them glorify Him. There is not a single thing that does not glorify His praises—but you cannot comprehend their glorification. He is indeed Most Forbearing, All-Forgiving.’ Surat Al-Israa’.”

“I know that.” Rahman tried to keep his tone patient. “But you’re trying to say something. You’re implying that the crabs  believe in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).”

“Maybe they do. We don’t know.”

“They’re monsters!” Rahman snapped. “They’ve killed millions. I don’t care if they are Muslims, devil-worshipers, or if they bow to a stuffed octopus. They’re the enemy, and I need our people going into battle knowing that, and feeling it in every fiber of their beings. I don’t need them harboring doubts.”

“There’s been too much killing. When are we going to stop and talk to these creatures? When -”

“Zip it,” Rahman interrupted. He took a breath, then softened his tone and laid a hand on Abuzaid’s shoulder. “Ammar. Habibi. You’ve already been demoted twice. When I first joined up, you outranked me. You taught me everything I know. I’m worried, brother. Command is losing patience with you. Keep this up and they will hang you for treason. You’re a soldier. You’re not a negotiator, politician or imam. Keep your opinions to yourself, and stop saying the ayah.”

He left it at that. Sometimes he wondered if he’d become too lax with this crew. He’d known many of them for a long time, in cramped quarters and terrible peril, and they’d grown close. He needed to remember that he was their commanding officer, not their friend. But it was hard with Abuzaid, for the man had trained him, cared for him and even saved his life more than once. Rahman owed the man, and he loved him.

Eid Mubarak

In the chaos of battle, with fire spreading through the ship, Master Sergeant Abuzaid’s rolling, rough voice sounded throughout the ship:

“You may not have known it in all the excitement,” Abuzaid said, “But today is Eid ul-Adha. Eid Mubarak, everyone. Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, la ilaha il-Allah,”

Eid, Rahman thought. SubhanAllah. No, he had not known. A memory came to him of the last Eid before his father died, when he was eight years old. They’d gone down to the river for a picnic. He remembered eating coconut rice in banana leaves and playing football with his cousins. The air raid sirens sounded and they abandoned the picnic, hurrying home to shelter in the basement, but even then it was a good day, for the women danced as his maternal uncle Zaynul played a drum beat on an upturned wooden bucket. Later the men played Chinese checkers, and Rahman watched with pride and intense concentration as his father beat all the uncles one by one. No bombs came, and in the end they came outside and prayed Maghreb on the porch.

The men always pushed his father to lead the prayers, thinking that as an Arab he was somehow more qualified. And in fact Ustaz Rahman was an educated man, and read the Quran every morning after fajr. But he always refused to lead, and left it to Zaynul or one of the older men. That evening they followed Maghreb with the takbeerat ul-Eid, before everyone retired to their own homes, some walking barefoot across the rice fields, others flying home in fusion-powered hovercrafts.

A Thousand Years Behind

The sweat had dried on his face as the skinsuit insulated him from the heat of the burning ship. Even his arm had stopped cramping as the nanobots extracted the lactic acid from the muscles. The acid, Rahman knew, would be converted into liquid sugar and saved, so that he could suck it from a tube if he needed an energy boost.

Rahman steered around a mass of debris, and the alien queenship loomed into view before him, fifty klicks away. Even at this distance it was as massive as a mountain, with dozens of levels. Its hull was as black and sleek as space itself, while eight tremendous legs were tucked along the ship’s sides. Those legs, Rahman knew, were used for everything from locomotion to digging to construction. Hundreds of gun ports stood open on the ship’s side, but only some were firing. The others must be out of ammunition. An old fashioned projectile weapon shot past Rahman’s starboard side. That was close.

It had always baffled him how the crabs had been able to damage humanity as much as they had. They had wiped out scores of human colonies on dozens of worlds, destroyed entire fleets of ships, and now the latest word was that they had developed a bomb that could annihilate all life on an entire planet. Something called a wave device. But from what Rahman had personally seen in twelve years of fighting these monsters, their technology was at least a thousand years behind human tech. It made no sense. Maybe the crabs had help from some unknown species. Maybe there was a third party involved in this war, one that Rahman did not know about. It was quite possible that the UA high command already knew the answers to these questions. They wouldn’t tell him. He was just a lowly lieutenant, after all.

This technological disparity was what had saved the humans so far. For the crabs were vast in number, and they kept throwing themselves against the humans in one bloody wave after another. The humans were always outnumbered, but thankfully not outgunned. At least until now. If the wave device really existed, it could mean the end of all humankind.

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, wa lillahil-hamd.”

Rahman addressed the computer. “SAI, calculate the speed necessary to ram and penetrate the queenship at this distance.”

Her response – for though SAI was a computer, he’d come to think of her as a female – came immediately. “EIGHT HUNDRED FORTY NINE KILOMETERS PER HOUR.”

“Allahu Akbaru kabeerah, wal hamdulillahi katheerah, wa subhanAllahi bukratan wa aseelah,”

“Probability of our survival?”

“THIRTY TWO PERCENT.”

“Wa laa ilaha il-Allahu wahdah,”

Thirty two percent. Fine. He would take it. It was better than nothing, which was what they’d have if they continued trying to fight the scores of remaining crab ships. “Disengage all safety protocols. Authorization Rahman alef alef seven three jeem waw.”

“SAFETY PROTOCOLS DISENGAGED.”

“Plot a course to ram at high speed. Commence immediately.”

[Next:  All That is In the Heavens, Part 2:  Because You Exist]

 – – – – –

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including, Zawaj.com, IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com. He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com. For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 9, 2022 at 6:55 PM

    Hello readers, any thoughts? Too much action, not enough character development? Do you find the setting strange? Have I wandered too far from the real-world Muslim fiction you enjoy? Be the first to give me the straight scoop!

  2. Jamaal

    June 10, 2022 at 1:51 AM

    Wheres part 2? Cannot wait, alhamdulillah very good! You write like my dad who also loves sci fi

  3. Wael Abdelgawad

    June 10, 2022 at 2:18 AM

    MashaAllah, I’m glad you like it. Part 2 will come out next Wednesday inshaAllah.

  4. Karim

    June 10, 2022 at 11:51 AM

    This is so cool and creative, mashaaAllah! Please keep it coming, inshaaAllah. Alhamdulillah, with great stories like this we don’t need Hollywood!

  5. Zainab bint Younus

    June 13, 2022 at 3:54 AM

    Absolutely brilliant first chapter! The worldbuilding is already strong, the premise completely unique. This is an incredible blend of scifi and Muslamic fiction, and I’m already hooked. Can’t wait for more, inshaAllah!

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