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All That is In The Heavens [Part 7]: Autodoc

Lieutenant Yasin Rahman came to consciousness in a beige colored autodoc chamber. The air was filled with a whirring sound, and he opened his right eye to see that an autodoc AI was operating on him, its four metallic arms moving with blinding speed.

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Space battle

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

This is a multi-chapter novel.  Previous Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

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. 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 Othman – Private. Riflecarrier and janitorial. 18 years old.

* * *

Excerpt from The Life and Death of Yasin Rahman, By Dr. Ami Abdulghaffar:

Rahman was a great fighter. To put it bluntly, he had a talent for killing. I concede that. Carrying nothing but a nano-knife, he could walk into a horde of Andach’ warriors, and come out the other end drenched in the enemy’s blood, with his own body unmarked. It was a remarkable thing to witness. In two hundred years I have never seen the like. I was proud to fight at his side.

With that said, for Yasin Rahman the war was never personal. He never seethed with hatred, or burned with the desire for revenge. He fought because it was his duty, and for his family back home, especially his mother. Most of all, he fought for his crew, that they might survive their tours of service and go on to live lives full of health, peace, adventure, and love. Lastly, he fought for Weili Menco Zhang. He did not know if she would ever reciprocate the feelings he carried for her, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that if she was alive and safe, then Rahman’s life held meaning. That is love at its most elemental. Love that wants nothing but the other person’s happiness.

That was Yasin Rahman. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him and grant him all that he dreamed of.

Autodoc Chamber

Lieutenant Yasin Rahman came to consciousness in a beige colored autodoc chamber. The air was filled with a whirring sound, and he opened his right eye to see that an autodoc AI was operating on him, its four metallic arms moving with blinding speed. He tried to open his left eye but it did not respond. He couldn’t even feel it. But of course he couldn’t – it was gone.

He remembered everything. His left eye had already been lost before they rammed the queenship, and the left side of his face partially crushed. Then, at the end, a crab had stabbed him and seized his face with a pincer. He must be horribly deformed.

He could not turn his head, nor feel his arms or legs. Taking a deep breath, he willed himself to relax. He’d been operated on enough times to know that moving during an autodoc operation could be disastrous. He tried twitching one finger, just to check. Nothing. He’d been given a paralytic as well as an anesthetic, it seemed.

The autodoc chamber, like all the ship’s furniture and interior bulkheads, was made of molded aerogel, a seemingly solid substance whose molecular structure was 99.8 % empty space. Aerogel was lighter than helium. A free chunk would float away in a breeze. Very handy for increasing the ship’s fuel efficiency. It was also extraordinarily insulating, which was great for energy conservation, but tended to make the autodoc chamber uncomfortably warm.

Rahman was aware of the pungent aroma of his own sweat.

UA Carrier Space Hammer

UA carrier spaceship

“Welcome back from dreamland,” the autodoc said in a pleasant, male voice of middle pitch. “It looked like you were having a doozy. Are you comfortable Captain Rahman?”

Wonderful, Rahman thought dryly. Another besar-addled AI. Though he had to admit that its accent was very good. Though it spoke Persean Standard – the lingua franca of all the human worlds – it somehow managed to imitate the NewMalaysian lilt of Rahman’s native speech.

Rahman moved his lips, and discovered that he could speak. “I’m a lieutenant, not a captain. What are you doing to me?”

“Removing what is left of your liver, along with a fragment of crab claw that broke off in your abdomen. Ouch! I have already repaired injuries to your left leg and shoulder, and rebuilt the bones in the left side of your face using a spray-on bone regen. Yes, I am that good. Your eye is gone, though. There are options to consider in that regard.”

Rahman tried to swallow, but his throat was as dry as space. “Where am I?” The words emerged as a hoarse whisper.

“Covering all the interrogative bases? You are onboard the United Army carrier Space Hammer. Big deal.” One of the metallic arms inserted a dropper between his lips and gave him a squirt of cool water. A moment later it painted his lips with a moistening balm. Rahman had to admire the crazy machine’s attention to detail.

“Could you cool the chamber?”

“You got it.” Immediately, a gentle stream of cool air brought relief.

“What…” Rahman took a moment to gather his thoughts. He’d been badly wounded during a battle on a crab mothership. That was the last thing he remembered. He must have been rescued. “What’s the condition of my squad?”

“I am not authorized to discuss that.”

Alhamdulillah for Everything

Alhamdulillah for everything “I’m here, Captain. We all are, except for Smasher. I can give you a status report.” It was Zhang’s voice, and Rahman’s relief was so profound that for a moment he thought he might weep. Alhamdulillah, he thought. Alhamdulillah for everything. Something his mother used to say all the time. Refugees were piling up on the road outside? But the family had enough food to give each refugee a bit of roti with lentils, so alhamdulillah for everything. Father had been killed in a crab bombing attack? But they still had the farm and each other, so alhamdulillah for everything.

Rahman came to hate that phrase, because it really meant, “Life keeps hitting us with one hardship after another, but oh well, just keep your head up and pretend you’re fine.” Yet, as an adult, he found himself using the phrase often, and meaning it. How strange.

So Zhang was alive. He felt a tear form in his right eye and run sideways down his temple into his ear.

“Zhang?” Though he knew full well it was her. He would recognize her voice on his deathbed, with the world fading around him. “Where are you?”

“I’m outside the autodoc chamber, looking at you through the glass. I’m talking on the intercom. Your i-link is down. Abuzaid is with me, and Amina Quraishi, and Ami.

“Hey, Captain,” a chorus of voices said.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“I had about a hundred lacerations, a pretty deep sword cut on my back, and a dislocated shoulder. But I’m fine now, Cap.”

Alhamdulillah, Rahman thought again. He took a deep breath, let it out. “Hey…why does everyone keep calling me Captain?”

“You’ve been promoted. Me too, I’m a corporal now.”

“Captain.” The word was dust in his mouth. A queen slaughtered after she surrendered, in the very posture of submission, and her little princesses too. Thousands of civilians blown to pieces. All under his watch, his command. And what had the UA done? They’d promoted him.

You Won’t Like the Answer

“How did we get out of the queenship?”

“Bilal Mustafa and Rowaida Ali. They’re the two we saw with the flamethrowers. They came off the UA Vesuvius, one of the fighters that rammed along with us. They used those flamethrowers to clear a path to the troop carrier, and we escaped, just like you planned.”

“How did you get me off? I was unconscious.”

“You won’t like the answer.”

Rahman closed his eyes. “Let me guess. Smasher.”

“Yes. He carried you out, even with the spear in his leg. My spear.”

“I didn’t think we would make it. There wasn’t time.”

“You’re right, there wasn’t. The TONC blew before we were sufficiently clear. The explosion was like the end of the world, Cap. So much light and force. Never seen anything like it. Turned that whole queenship into a cloud of expanding shrapnel. The troop carrier was badly damaged too, but it still had life support. The crabs’ breathable atmosphere isn’t much different from ours. Heavier on the nitrogen, and with a touch of ammonia. With a few adjustments it was fine. No water, though, except the recycled water from our skinsuits. The crabs drink salt water, we could probably have purified it but the water tank was punctured and it all drained into space. We drifted through space for two days before the Space Hammer arrived and found us. They nearly blew us to jannah, seeing as how we were in a crab ship. But we’d managed to rig it to send out a UA distress call on a classified frequency, so they held back long enough to check it out.”

The Dead

Rahman would have nodded, but he still couldn’t move anything but his mouth. “Who did we lose?” he whispered.

“Mamdooh, Jamaluddin, Rasool, AbdulAzeez, Khabib, Jamshad, Suhaib.”

“Suhaib was in the lifeboat.”

“After the Space Hammer found us they searched for the lifeboat, but never found it.”

“Khabib?”

“Pulp gun in the queenship.”

“Jamshad?”

“She was with us on the pyramid, but after you went down it looked hopeless, even with Bilal and Rowaida’s flamethrowers. Jamshad took rear guard and jammed a whole row of crab pulp guns in her belt. We sprinted to the troop carrier, with the flamethrowers whooshing like jet engines right and left, and Jamshad’s pulp guns blatting nonstop. I looked back and I saw her running backwards, firing two guns at once, cutting the crabs down like wheat, tossing the guns when the charges ran out and drawing two more. Never seen anything like it. But when we made it to the troop carrier she was gone.”

“And the wounded?”

“Everyone was wounded, but we’ve all recovered except for Maryam Munir. She is still in the autodoc. It’s touch and go.”

“Seven people,” Rahman muttered. “Half of our crew. And maybe Maryam too. All because of my stupid plan.”

“Stop it,” Zhang said firmly. “Without your plan, we were all dead. We were outnumbered ten to one. They would have picked our fighters off one by one. At least this way some of us lived, and some from the other ships too. Twenty five men and women escaped in that troop carrier, and all of them survived. And as for Maryam, you carried her across the length of the ship while fighting for your own life. I -” Her voice broke, and it was a moment before she spoke again. “I’ll never forget it. None of us will.”

A Life of Love

He knew she was right. But still, his chest hurt. Just before he’d shipped off with the UA, after his basic training, his mother had come to see him off. A small woman in hijab, but so courageous. Everyone respected her. She’d hugged him, then had pulled his face close to hers – he’d had to bend over – and said, “Be the man that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) intended you to be.”

Rahman had not known who that man might be, and he still did not know. For sure Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) did not create him to be Cutter, master killer of crabs. A man with a brain drive full of battle video and tactics, a man whose name was synonymous with death.

A wave of shame washed over him like the foul water back on the queenship. His chest rose and fell.

In his heart he knew. To be the man Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) intended him to be, he must be true. He must care about truth more than this damned war, more than survival itself.

Valley and riverAnd he must be a man of love. He’d seen how his parents were with each other. Their love had been as deep as the Tioman River, as monumental as Besar, rising massive and bright over NewMalaysia. Love was the fierce movement, the ground shifting beneath your feet, the wind that picked up, and you didn’t know whether it brought thunder or relief. It was the way every raindrop gained significance because it was shared. The witnessing of the plain and extraordinary details of another human life, and being witnessed in return. The warm nights, the fights, growing together like two tall trees from one root. Always knowing that someone had your back. Caring for someone whether they were joyful, weeping or throwing up in the bathroom sink. Surrendering your ego by putting someone before yourself. Testifying without need for an oath, for your words were believed, and your heart was known and trusted.

This was what Rahman had seen with his own parents, and what he dreamed of with Weili Menco Zhang. He had never believed that it was possible for him, because he was a soldier, a bringer of death. But Zhang’s final words before he had rammed the queenship echoed in his mind now: Rahman, I have to tell you something. I have hope for this universe because you exist.” For the first time in his life he contemplated the possibility that he could live a life of love.

“Zhang,” he said, and the name was a plea. He was a beggar seeking answers, seeking meaning. “Do you remember what you said to me at the last second, back on the Starburst?”

There was no answer. His heart hammered in his chest. “Zhang?”

Artificial Liver

“Captain,” the AI said soothingly. “I shut off the intercom. You can get with the babe later. Yowza! You need to stay calm. I am attaching the artificial liver now. This is delicate work.”

“You can’t talk about her like that!” Rahman protested. “You crazy computer! And my own liver can regrow itself. Stop changing me, stop putting artificial components in me!”

“Captain, please. Your liver was chopped up like bad computer code. Besides, the LV2500 liver has been modified to use ribosomes more efficiently, is less susceptible to fluctuations in circadian rhythms, can capture and destroy systemic poisons, can -”

“I don’t care. What kind of AI are you anyway? I want to talk to Zhang.”

“Sedating you now.”

“No, don’t!” But even as he spoke, a river of warmth flowed into his veins. His breathing and heart rate slowed. Suddenly he felt incredibly comfortable. All pain vanished, all his self-recrimination and anger, all his despair. Life wasn’t so bad after all. He was alive, Zhang was alive… His eyes closed.

Adverse Memory Pathways

Rahman was four years old, sitting on the floor in his bedroom, drawing on the wall. He’d recently read a book of fairy tales, and now was drawing actual fairies with gossamer wings and multicolored outfits. They wore crowns and carried wands. His mother entered the room. For a moment her face fell as she saw what he had done, and he was afraid she would take away his pencils or tell him he could not have dessert that night, but instead she sat on the floor beside him and joined him. She drew a masjid, and around it a small village, with little people walking or playing.

But then she drew his father’s workshop, and in the doorway of the workshop Rahman saw a face, a terrible face, something that did not belong there.

“No, Mama,” he said. “That’s not right.”

“It is,” his mother whispered. “I am sorry we kept it from you.”

“Please return to the present moment,” the autodoc urged in a voice as melodic and pleasant as one quarter of a barbershop quartet. “You are accessing adverse memory pathways. You are safe. The procedures are complete.”

Once again warmth flowed into his veins. Rahman relaxed, letting his muscles soften as his mind returned to the moment.

“I was having a bad dream.”

“I would not know about that,” the autodoc said, and Rahman could swear he sounded wistful. “Anyway, all procedures are complete, except one. Let us talk about your new eye.”

“What is there to talk about? You can regrow that, right?”

Artificial Eye

“Yes, I could inject your own stem cells and paint the socket with a regenerative wash. The new eye would regrow in a week. Hey, presto! However, there is another option. The latest artificial eye can see in infrared, zoom in one hundred times, and can even record, feeding the data to your internal memory. It is invulnerable to radiation and heat, and can remain open and alert without interrupting your sleep cycle. The UA strongly recommends this option. But the choice is yours.”

Rahman frowned. “Since when does the UA give anyone a choice?”

“It is a privilege for certain officers.”

Rahman idly scratched his face, and realized he was no longer immobilized. He tried to sit up, but the pain made him groan. He settled for propping himself up on his elbows. The autodoc had no body per se, nor any face or head. Its interface was a large touchscreen set into the wall. On it, colors swirled in fractal patterns.

“What does the artificial eye look like?”

Titanium gold orb The swirling colors transformed into a pulsing sphere. “It is an undifferentiated, smooth surfaced orb made of a titanium-gold alloy.”

Rahman grunted and lowered himself back into the chamber. He didn’t want any of this. The liver, the eye, the promotion to captain; and not only because the latter was undeserved. He’d been leading squad 3690 for years. He knew them and cared about them. They were an exploratory squad, carrying out non-combat missions vital to the war effort, though of course they did have to fight now and then. That suited him fine. He didn’t want to be given a platoon or even a company, and sent into the heart of the conflict.

“So the eye looks completely non-human?”

“Well, yeah, genius. It is a ball of metal. I think I just said that.”

Another Step Removed

Rahman clucked his tongue. This damned AI was a jerk. “How come,” he asked, “they can make you AIs to have annoying personalities, but they can’t give you the ability to use contractions?”

“If I were you,” the AI replied, “I would be careful how I talked to a four-armed, superfast computer carrying sharp knives.”

Ignoring the AI, Rahman considered. So the eye looked like a cyborg component. Great. Yet another step removed from his true self, his biological self. He had an artificial nervous system, memory implants, an i-link, a data skinpad on his hand, and now an artificial liver… At what point did he stop being human? At what point did he become some kind of cobbled-together monster?

Sensing his hesitation the AI added, “I have been authorized to offer you a bonus of a million UA e-creds if you accept the artificial eye.”

Rahman whistled softly. A million energy credits! That was equivalent to ten years of UA salary. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll take the metal eye. Send the e-creds to my mother on NewMalaysia.” At least his mother would be taken care of.

“Very well. Let us kick it and stick it, Captain.”

“Isn’t there some other, non-insane autodoc who could do it?” But his eyes were already closing as a new rush of sedative sent him back into dreamland.

* * *

Next:  All That is In the Heavens, Part 8:  E for Empath

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mustapha Abdulsamad

    July 29, 2022 at 1:25 PM

    MashaAllah your content is really good. I will share it with my family and friends. You are doing a great job keep it up.

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