Episode 703: Dar Al Tabr, Part Four
Nika shoots Kiera a blank look. Did the woman really just say that?
Joshua: I don't know where's she's going with this but go on. I wanna be told about how naïve I am.
Beglan: Does anyone know the story of Albertville?
What? We all turn to Beglan and he fills us in on a little bit of Old Earth history. Albertville was the capital of the Congo, the site of uranium deposits. And during World War II, it was contested by the Belgians, Italians and the Germans. There were never divisions as such, but rather the contesting governments paid different tribes native to the area to fight each other. Even though there was something valuable to be had, it was too far away to devote the resources necessary to come in and either bomb the place into submission or take it over by force.
Beglan: They just kinda skirmished a little bit. Which is a pretty good analogy for this situation we're in.
So it's possible that no, if we put El Sahir in power here, the Feds won't glass the patch of ground the mine and the compound sit on. Kiera looks at Nika.
Kiera: So do you like him? (off her look) Seriously. There's a reason for it. Do you like him?
Kiera: All right then. Let's get him in.
Rina: Into what?
Joshua: The seat of power.
Rina: (grin) Is that what they're calling it now?
Kiera: Y'all're fairly good judges of character. You like him. That's all I needed to know.
Nika: Really? We're fairly good judges of character? Really.
Joshua: Hey wait … you saying I'm not a good judge of character?
Rina: You married me, didn't you?
Kiera: They kept me.
Nika: That's exactly my point.
Kiera: Is your ship not bigger, better, faster, stronger, neater? With more symbolic value? It just screams it. Are your eyes not better? Can you now walk through any optical scanners and immediately not be arrested—(off Nika's look)—anyway!
Joshua: Yeah … I think you wanna put your car in reverse and drive back out.
Kiera: I brought truffles.
She did actually. She packed them and she brings them out of her luggage. Nika starts to laugh.
Nika: Okay, I think that might salvage some of this.
Arden drags us back on task by asking just what will the coup involve?
Arden: Will it be bloodless thing? Do we go into whoever the head honcho's bedchamber and say 'you're outta here'? Or is it going to be more …?
Kiera: Wow. If only more revolutions had know it would be that easy.
Joshua: I don't know. It actually—
Arden: It might be that easy.
Kiera: No one's tried that. Get up. Get out. (laughs)
Nika: El Sahir will not fight.
Kiera: He won't?
Nika: I do not believe so.
Rina: (sighs) He is like Christian.
Nika: Oh, Christian would fight.
Nika: I cannot read him well enough to determine if he will make that leap.
Joshua: Listen to me. His job in this coup is—
Nika: To win over all the guards.
Joshua: Well, I don't even know if it's that. I think the bigger issue is there are a hundred and sixty five girls who we don't want to get hurt.
Nika: But the girls are going to be kept in the zenana anyway and they're gonna be out of the conflict altogether and I would assume that is actually a reinforced area.
Kiera: Now the other question is if the girls can help us, though. The guards are not going to suspect them. And it's in their best interests.
Arden: Is it.
Kiera: Yes. Maybe.
Nika: That might be something that needs to be asked of them.
Kiera: Or him.
Arden: They're being kept women right now. Whether or not it's right or not is not my purview to say.
Kiera: (dry) Well the last group of women I ran off with paid me. They haven't paid me at all so I'm assumin' they're happy where they are.
Nika: Oh, Kiera.
Arden: These women aren't the ones initiating this, though.
Kiera: If we go into morality of it, we're not going to do it. Either we do it or we're don't do it.
Arden: We've already gone into the morality of it.
Kiera: Right. And the women aren't leavin'.
Nika: Look. We've already decided we're doing it. So let's skip that part and determine the how and not the if or why.
Kiera: Cuz if we were going all the way, we'd be taking the women with us.
Joshua brings up a good point, something related to a comment by Rina a while back.
Joshua: How are we going to get the guards out of the way? That's step one: there are thirty-six guards. How do we get them out of the way? Or some portion of them out of the way?
There are three shifts, with a dozen on duty per shift. So possibly only twelve guards to deal with immediately, and possibly a way to keep the other twenty four from reinforcing them. The mine itself is only a klik from the compound. So if there's trouble, would the mine send reinforcements?
Arden: Did you know that Thorium is pyroclastic? Exposed to open air, it will catch fire.
Nika: I hate you.
Joshua reminds everyone that our coup doesn't involve destroying the Thorium mine. An implicit part of our mission parameters to see the mine isn't damaged or blown. While we might be able to take the offer up on a tour of the mines, if only to see if we can find and disarm the bombs the Sheikh has rigged them up with, it's still not of immediate priority. The mine can wait. It's too far away to serve as a distraction and it's got its separate set of guards who would have to be dealt with too. So that's not something we're going to pursue. It still leaves the question: How are we going to pull off this coup?
Arden wants to know how many of the guards are with El Sahir, how many are willing to back his play. Is there any way to know? Could Nika ask him? She seems to have an in with the man. Nika admits she could ask him, yeah, maybe lure him out on another horseback ride. He was willing to broach the subject with her when they were on one, perhaps she can get more out of him on another one.
And getting back to the guards, should we take them out one by one, or just take out two or three—enough to get past them and do what we need to do? Can we do it quietly?
Nika: Honestly? I would prefer we not run about slitting people's throats until we know what's—
Joshua: No, I'm not talking about slitting throats. I won't kill anybody.
Arden: I have an idea on getting information but it involves Kiera.
Can we send Kiera in to the harem under Arden's offer of medical help? Say, have Kiera go in and interview the women as she checks them over? We're probably the only doctors who've been here in months.
That's something we all agree on and Nika leaves to get that horseback ride in with El Sahir. They go out, she offers Kiera's services, he agrees. Since the war started, getting regular check-ups and health care for the women has been increasingly difficult. Kiera's services would be welcome and El Sahir agrees to arrange for a session. He will have to go carefully. It's not like he has full access to the harem—if she takes his meaning—but he is there for their care. People have a variety of needs that need to be taken care of.
Nika: In a household this large, then yes, I can imagine. (a pause) Is there any possibility that the guards will shift their allegiance to you if we do this?
El Sahir: I think there is so, yes, but not if it looks like things aren't going in the right direction. I haven't been planning a coup.
Nika: I understand that. My question would be more along the lines of how many of them and which would be the ones least likely to turn.
El Sahir: I have some hunches but … I don't know the numbers that I can guarantee.
Nika: I'm not asking for a guarantee. I'm asking what amounts to a ballpark.
El Sahir: I imagine at least half, if not more, would be. It depends on how it happens and what the circumstances are. They are men of honor. But … they are practical people.
With that, they turn the horses back for home and Nika tells the rest of the crew what she's learned. Rina suggests finagling the guard schedules so the guards most likely to side with the coup are on duty when we put it in motion. Nika says she can't go running back and forth with El Sahir for every little thing. It would look suspicious. Like she was planning something. Well, we are planning something but we're not supposed to give away that fact that we are. We're just going to have to take our chances with the duty roster and/or hope that El Sahir comes up with the idea on his own and takes care of it.
Nika: There is only so much that the man can do. If we choose to do this, it is on us to do. And it has to be done the right way, because if all of the men in this compound are men of honor and practical about their natures, we need to be doing it for the right reasons so that it can be presented to them as a liberation of their town.
Rina: All right. Are all of these women in the harem local? Because if we're going to—
Nika: I don't have a clue. That's Kiera's job to determine.
Rina: Okay. Call me when you need me.
Because at this point, there's nothing more we can do without more information. It's now up to what intel we can glean. Joshua says he'll see what he can glean of the guard complement and their schedules and patrol routes. Arden wonders if the Blue Sun guys might be an impediment to the coup. Nika snorts and shares her opinion of them: they aren't soldiers or fighters. When the shooting starts, she believes they'd be the first to dive under the tables. Rina volunteers to see what she can find out about the Sheikh's personal guards. Even though it might put her in a bad position, she's willing to snoop around under the guise of chatting them up. She could find out how many of them there are, when they're going to change shifts …..
Joshua: What are you thinking about here? Enlighten me as to your thought processes on the Sheikh.
Rina: I'm trying to get my thoughts together myself … (a beat) … We effect the palace coup, yes? How are we going to do that? Are we going to threaten the man in charge first? Or …?
Nika: Blindsiding him would be the best option.
Rina: How would we do that?
Nika: We've been discussing that all along.
Joshua: Correct me if I'm wrong I think the general best philosophy is if we can remove enough guards from the equation and demonstrate that we have them outnumbered and outpowered, then the Sheikh's guards become favorable to our side. Because then their choice is fight a losing fight for the current guy in charge and potentially get killed. Or they could move over and help out the winners. And keep their jobs, just working for someone else.
But how does that jive with the whole 'men of honor' thing? Or is this the practical side coming into play? Is there a way we can remove them as pieces on the chess board? Aside from simply locking the off-duty guards in their barracks, is there another way to have them side with us? If some of the women in the harem are their sisters, daughters, or mothers … well, promising to free them might win them to our side, but again, we won't know until Kiera comes back with the information from her harem visit. Arden suggests that there might be romantic entanglements amongst the women and the guards, too. We can add sweethearts to the inducements list.
Kiera points out that using the promise of freedom for the women as leverage is severely weakened if we aren't really going to free them. However, she will allow that the replacement of El Sahir over Al Tabr might still net us an ally or two, especially if it's perceived that El Sahir has treated the women well and would continue to treat them well or better than the current Sheikh. Joshua reminds Kiera that when she goes in to see the girls, to determine how many at the compound were local, if they are connected to the guards. But that's assuming the girls are willing to tell anyone anything.
The time for the session arrives and Kiera goes into the harem and starts examining the women. Kiera asks them the normal sorts of questions: how are they feeling? do they have any aches and pains they would like her to treat? any questions about their health they would like answered? Kiera asks of the women who seem less afraid or suspicious of her more pointed questions: What is their life like here? Are they treated well? Is El Sahir kind to them?
From most of the women, she gets ... well, not much. They seem to provide politically correct answers to everything she asks. One of them seems promising, however, as a source of information. She says very quietly that she sometimes thinks about her family and wishes she could see them.
Kiera: (softly) Are you not allowed to go see them at all?
Girl: No. We do not leave.
Kiera: That's sad. So how did you find your way here? Were you picked out of …?
Girl: Purchased. I was purchased.
Kiera: I'm sorry. I misunderstood. I thought it was an honor—so he … bought you?
Girl: It is an honor. but yes. The … man in the town where I grew up, was paid for me to be delivered.
Kiera: And your family was … ?
Girl: They didn't do anything about it.
Kiera: Ah. And how far away is this town?
Girl: I don't know. Many hours.
Kiera: So you're not local. But you are from this planet.
Girl: I think so.
Kiera: So, El Sahir … I know who takes care of the harem, but what does he do?
The girl looks down and blushes.
Girl: He … ah, has helped us adjust to this as best we can.
Kiera: (gently) Ah, say no more. So … um …
Kiera takes a closer look at the girl and realizes that she isn't telling the whole truth. Kiera pats her gently.
Kiera: It's all right. You can tell me. Doctors keep confidence. Nothing will go beyond here.
Girl: No … I shouldn't speak of these things …
Kiera: Oh … Are you in love with a guard? Forbidden love? El Sahir, even?
Girl: (shakes head) Oh, no.
Kiera: Oh no?
Girl: Just a … Everything is fine here. We have a good life. We are surrounded by riches. There is nothing like this in my town.
Kiera: But not freedom.
Girl: Well for me, yes. But the only price is I cannot leave.
Kiera: But that's a high price to pay to be a caged bird.
Girl: But in my village, I probably would never have left it.
Kiera: But you would have been free to.
Girl: Yes. That is a difference.
Kiera: So … you don't have to answer but what price are you willing to pay for freedom?
Girl: I have no money.
Kiera: No. Not money.
Girl: I've practiced with many different …. (puzzled)
Kiera thinks a beat, trying to find words to phrase it.
Kiera: If the cage door opened, would you leave?
Girl: Into the desert?
Kiera: If you had someone you thought could help you.
Girl: (very quietly) And you want me … ?
Kiera: Just yes or no. Would you leave if you could?
Girl: Are you asking me if I will … pay with my body to you?
Kiera: No. No cost. For free. Just would you leave if the door opened?
Girl: I … I don't understand.
Kiera: (sighs) We might be able to help you leave if there are enough of you that feel that way.
Girl: They will be scared. They might be …
Kiera: Is there a way you could help us with the guards? Is there any information about the palace?
Girl: Do you want us to … Do you want me to do the guards?
Kiera: I don't know what you would do. Just any information that would help us help you.
Girl: I don't know what information … What are you going to do to them?
Kiera: Nothing. Just make it so that we can help you leave.
The girl shifts closer.
Girl: You have this power to free us?
Girl: There are so many. And so many guards.
Kiera: You outnumber the guards.
Girl: But they have guns.
Kiera: Would they shoot you?
Girl: Yes … But they couldn't shoot us all, I suppose.
Kiera: No they couldn't.
Kiera senses she's asked the girl as much as she can.
Kiera: Well enough then. Your name is …?
Girl: Ah … it's … Salah.
Kiera: Salah will do. Thank you, Salah.
Salah rises to leave. And then Kiera catches a whisper in Arabic when Salah turns away. Kiera's Arabic is a little rusty but it translates into something like … fool. Kiera doesn't bat a lash but gathers her things and packs up and tells the harem that she has run out of supplies but will be back on the morrow to examine the rest of the women.
Then she goes right back to the crew to tell them what she learned, especially Salah's parting word.
Kiera: And that's what she said. I don't know how to interpret it. We may have to move now. Or she may think I'm a raving idiot.
Nika: I'm not liking that.
Rina: Maybe they're the ones who're the power behind the throne. All one hundred and sixty nine of them.
Nika: There is something to that possibility there.
Rina: (pained) God, I hate politics. Why can't we just deliver the cargo, drop it off, get our pay, and get the fuck out?
Joshua: We didn't get paid.
Rina: (more pain) We didn't get paid?
Arden: That wouldn't be any fun.
Kiera: Yeah, we never get paid.
Nika: No we get a salary for doing this.
Joshua: We could leave. There's nothing stopping us. Or us keeping the intentions as good as possible and just leaving. There's nothing stopping us from doing that.
Rina: Well, since the Sheikh is not actually our target, I don't have to scope out what he has and—
Nika: The Sheikh is our target. In point of fact, maybe you should go talk to him. Because he seems to like you.
Rina: (even more pain) Really?
Joshua: Are you pimping out my wife?
Nika: Yeah. I'm pimping out your wife.
Joshua: (seriously?) You're pimping out my wife. You're pimping out my newly-married wife.
Arden: (to Joshua) Just because you married her, it doesn't change the scenario.
Rina: But Captain, I thought we didn't want to kill this man.
Joshua: We don't want to kill him.
Rina: (getting pissed) Then why are you sending me to talk to him?
Nika: Because he likes you—
Joshua: (okay, not funny!) Don't.
Nika: And you might be able to find out what kind of person he is. Besides the dirty old man, which we already know that he is. He could be a kindly dirty old man. I don't know.
Joshua takes one look at his wife and knows the volcano is going to blow. He tries to head it off.
Joshua: Rina … Rina—
Rina: You want to know what kind of man he is? And you're sending the most oblivious person on the crew when it comes to interpersonal relationships to figure that out?!
Nika: (evenly) But he likes you.
Rina: It keeps coming back to that and I keep fucking it up.
Nika: Yeah, you keep trying to argue that point but it's not going to happen.
Joshua: I would like to emphasize the fact that there are options between finding out if he's a nice guy and killing him. There's a whole range of options.
Kiera: Yeah. Between the triangle of sex, death, or nothing, there's a whole equilateral triangle of options.
Nika: Rina. I'm not asking you to sleep with the man. I'm not asking you to get naked for him. I'm not you to do anything more than speak with him.
Arden: "Wink wink. I would not ask that of you."
Beglan: Because that would be inappropriate.
Kiera: No, that's what we always ask Kiera to do.
Nika: Yeah, if I was going to send someone in naked, I'd send her.
Because, well, Arden knows what a sight that would be—a definite punch packing one. Rina just gapes at the crew.
Joshua: What? You're getting offended by that now?
Rina: No, I … I'm … appalled.
Joshua: Look, you—are you going to talk to the Sheikh? (to Nika) If she's going to talk to the Sheikh, she needs a very defined description of what she's trying to get out of it.
Rina: He would never believe me if I say—(breathily)—"Oh let my run my fingers through your hair …".
Nika: Oh, don't do that. Dear God …
Nika: No, mostly what I think I'd like to know is I'd like your general feel for what kind of person he is.
Rina: I can tell you that right now.
Joshua: No. You can't.
Nika: You can't. The only thing you've ever seen of this man is the fact that he's a little bit of a letch.
Kiera: But he's a little old man. All little old men are a bit of a letch.
Joshua: How old is this man?
Nika: Not that old. Fifties, maybe. Not ridiculous. All you know is he's a little bit of a letch, okay? That's fine but that's not what kind of a person he is. He has seemed thus far amenable to the idea that—he doesn’t want to take sides because ultimately he's pretty sure he's going to get destroyed when he does.
Joshua: He's also making quite a bit of money off both sides doing that.
Nika: Of course. But that's a pretty normal response to a situation like this. And he's sitting pretty in a situation where he can do it. Is he mercenary? Sure. Does that make him evil? Does that make him bad to the women that he's got? No.
Rina is still not entirely convinced, still taken aback with misgivings, and Joshua actually recovers first.
Joshua: So I think how he treats you when you are … talking to him, especially if it's in private, is probably going to be a pretty good indicator of how he treats his girls when no one is watching. And I think that is really what you need to get out of him. You don't need to get political secrets or figure out anything strategic. Talk to him.
Rina: Talk to him.
Nika: Just get to know the man. If we're going to be keeping an ongoing relationship with this site, then we will be semi-regular visitors, one would assume. And it would be nice if we had a personal relationship or friendship.
Joshua: And I strongly suggest playing coy.
Arden: Kinda like a goldfish?
No, Arden. Coy. Not koi.
Nika: Never mind.
Joshua: (gently) The point being—
Rina: Hard to get.
Joshua: The point being, a) it's something you can do and b) I think that's probably the type of girl, the type of woman he doesn't get to see a lot as a Sheikh.
Joshua: How many women do you think he sees that aren't …
Nika: Play a little hard to get but aren't already his.
Joshua: That aren't bought for him. SO there's always an attraction to something that you don't get to see a lot. that gives you the benefit of being both attractive to him and of making it you feeling like you can have a conversation with him. You can play coy.
Kiera: Make a point of it that you're married.
Nika: The fact that you are married in fact puts you off-limits unless he wishes to make an offer.
If anything, Rina looks even more appalled.
Arden: I don't think that's available for us.
Nika: For his mindset, I mean.
Joshua: Right. (to Rina) So that gives you space, all right? Some defensive space if he goes too far. (gasps!) "I'm married!" You know?
Kiera: And he won't dishonor you.
Joshua: If he tries something physically, you can always kick him in the nuts and leave.
Nika: (Duh!) Well, yeah.
Joshua: But just don't make that your first step.
Nika: All I'm asking is if you can't get his hands off of you, just make sure you can't get his hands off of you before you slit his throat.
Kiera: Or just deck him and knock him unconscious.
Joshua: (off Rina's look) No killing, don't kill him.
Kiera: Although that's a very effective coup, but I think the guards might take exception for some reason.
Joshua: No, that's not a coup. That's a trial.
Kiera: An assassination at this point.
Rina: (quietly) All right, I'll do it.
Nika: All right. She'll do it.
Rina: I don’t know how I'm going to arrange to see him.
Joshua: He's attracted to you. If you make it known you want to see him, he'll make it happen.
Rina: If I'm playing hard to get, why would I want to see him?
Geez. Really? Everybody in the room wilts. Joshua looks at his wife and tells her how it's done.
Joshua: The first step in playing hard to get is letting him know you're playing hard to get.
Rina: Oh. Like I have a lot of practice with this sort of thing.
Joshua: Which is why I'm telling you.
Kiera: Okay, we must arrange to teach her how to be a girl …
Joshua: I like her the way she is. Don't go changing her.
Arden: I don't think that class exists.
Nika: Too late. Joshua likes her just the way she is. Leave her alone.
Rina: All right. All right, I'll do it.
A note is sent saying Rina would like to speak to the Sheikh. The word comes back that he'll see her. And it really is that simple. She's led to a small study and ushered inside. It's an exquisite balance of the masculine and the feminine: sturdy furniture with strong lines in wood, softened by lush carpets and luxuriant pillows and jeweled lamps. The lamplight is low enough for intimacy, bright enough to move around safely, and gleams on the rich surfaces of the room. Rina notices that the guards have withdrawn to give their liege privacy but likely nearby. The Sheikh watches her as the door is shut and she walks slowly over, admiring the room and trailing a finger over this and that.
Al Tabr: So, Mrs …?
Al Tabr: (smiles) Drake.
He motions her to sit and Rina takes a seat on the sofa fronting his desk. She doesn't quite sit on the edge but doesn't quite relax all the way back. She indicates the study with a sweep of her eyes and smiles politely.
Rina: You have a very nice place here.
Al Tabr: You are an interesting woman. I sense you have had a hard life.
Rina: (blinks) Well, it's …
Al Tabr: I know that you are married. And that there are things that only your husband knows about you, but I am a man of considerable power and wealth and in a position to offer your people a thing of great value. So I'd like to ask you something. Ask you to do something for me.
He pauses as the words float in the room. The lamplight glitters on his rings, his headdress, his eyes which were steady on hers.
Al Tabr: I want to see you.
Rina: (puzzled) To ... see me?
Al Tabr: To view you.
Rina: Uhmm …
Al Tabr: (delicately) Would you disrobe for me?
It's quite respectfully asked. There's nothing of the letch in the man or his request. Rina doesn't quite know what to make of it. Or of him. She hedges—after all, she's supposed to be playing hard to get. She opens her mouth to demur and he beats her to it.
Al Tabr: I won't touch you.
Rina: (recovering) I must say I am not very good at negotiating, but I also know that when you do negotiate anything, you do not lay all your cards on the table at once. (a beat) So ... If I should do this, what can I ... take back to my people?"
Al Tabr: I don't know.
The Sheikh is quiet and makes no move. Rina shrugs.
Rina: Well, then I don't know if I can do it. I cannot go back with an 'I don't know.'
Al Tabr: If you do it, I will … not respond to the offer by Blue Sun on this visit.
Rina: Onthis visit. Hmm. What if they come back next week? After we leave?
Al Tabr: I don't know. Things may change. But I will give you this much time. Enough time to talk to your people.
Rina: I … (rethinks) … Um ..
Al Tabr: I have seen many women in my days.
Rina: Mm-hm. And I think I have seen some of them.
Al Tabr: You have. So—
Rina: So, just out of curiosity, why would you find me interesting?
Al Tabr: You have seen much hardship.
Rina: That is the second time you have said that. I … Do you … (lightbulb!) … have a thing for scars?"
Al Tabr: Of sorts, yes. I do.
Rina: I have one here.
Rina takes a chance and pulls the neck of her shirt aside far enough to let him see the scar on her collarbone. She watches his face carefully, alert for anything sordid or alarming in his interest. Nothing of the sort presents itself. Either the Sheikh is a very good actor or his interest is something other than puerile. Again, the man does not sink to her expectations and intrigued, Rina decides to find out why. She offers him a verbal opening.
Rina: But there are scars that don't show.
Al Tabr: That is what I wish to see.
Now we're getting somewhere.
Rina: Hmm. Do … the other women in your … household have scars?
Al Tabr: Most of them do.
Rina: They've had hard lives, then?
Al Tabr: It is their shame.
Rina: How did they come by theirs?
Al Tabr: Ah, we men …(sighs) … are sometimes an abusive group.
Rina: Mm, yes.
No argument from her there.
Al Tabr: It is women who keep us from our animal natures … but also suffer for them.
Rina: Could I … (glancing down) … I don't wish to be rude but I am curious…
Al Tabr: I have been quite rude to you so you may speak.
Rina: (carefully) If a woman, as you say, is a civilizing influence on a man, why would one man need so many women?
Al Tabr: (soft) Ah.
Rina: Should I fear you?
Al Tabr: Do you?
Does she? She has a history as a victim of violence, so she considers it carefully.
Rina: I am not sure.
Al Tabr: I have tremendous power. That is one reason to fear me. (a pause) I could force you to do as I wish, but I do not wish to do it.
Rina: Why not? (nods at the door) One might get the wrong idea. You have all these women. Yes?
Al Tabr: Perhaps one has the wrong idea, yes.
Uh oh. Rina gets the sense she's starting to lose him. She doesn't hesitate but tells him what she thinks, with her characteristic candor.
Rina: But I think it is commendable that you do not wish to harm me. Because it is as you say. You are a very powerful man. You have more guns pointed at us than we could ever bring to bear for our own protection.
Al Tabr: Well, I suspect that before my men could save me, you could kill me. Am I wrong?
Rina: (soft) No.
Al Tabr: I doubt you're even … I would hazard a guess that you are more dangerous unclothed to the unclothed.
Rina laughs, light and lilting. The comment strikes her as odd yet true, coming from someone like him.
Rina: (smiling) You have an odd way of complimenting a woman.
Al Tabr: I didn't mean it in a sexual way.
Rina: I didn't mean it in a sexual way either. (another lightbulb) Are you lonely?
Now it's his turn to be surprised.
Al Tabr: Am I lonely?
Al Tabr: No. I am surrounded by people.
Rina: Well you can be surrounded by people and not have anyone … You know the saying: you can be alone in a room full of people and feel lonely. It's not the same as being alone.
Al Tabr: I will allow I will always be alone, because of my power. But it is a burden I am well compensated for.
Rina: (nodding) Mm.
Al Tabr: It would be ignoble to claim that I have suffered when so many have suffered much worse.
Rina: How so?
Al Tabr: The lonely-at-the-top line is, I think, insulting to people who are enslaved or killed for their … land or who … starve to death. But you hear it quite often amongst the rich and powerful.
Rina decides to risk asking a possibly insulting question but the Sheikh's answer is important.
Rina: Have you killed anyone? Enslaved anyone for their land?
Al Tabr: I have killed many. I don't know I would say I have enslaved anyone.
His answer wasn't stated with enjoyment or menace or prevarication. Just a calm statement of fact. That surprises Rina, who thinks that a man wooing a woman in the conventional sense might either hide his wrongdoing or use it as a reason to brag, but maybe neither of them are conventional people in that regard. Rina tries another unconventional question.
Rina: What do you want out of life?
Al Tabr: You are trying to avoid my request.
Rina: No. I am genuinely interested.
She is, really. The answer would give her a better insight on the kind of man he is and that is the reason why she's here. But she also knows that she's going to have to wrap up the Q&A soon and do as he asked. His willingness to talk or not, he is the Sheikh and a powerful man.
Rina: What do you want out of life?
Al Tabr: To do a little good.
Rina: How so?
Al Tabr: To leave a family name that would be held in honor.
Rina: Can you guarantee the family that comes after you would be as honorable as you?
Would he tell her what he thought she and, more importantly, her Independent superiors wanted to hear? Or would he tell her the truth?
Al Tabr: No. But perhaps if I leave a good name, then they would have something to aim for. Something worth defending.
If I leave a good name. Not when. If. Odd, considering how many women he has at his disposal to provide him heirs… and that's when the truth dawns. He has over a hundred and sixty women, ranging from their late teens to their forties and yet the crew hasn't seen a single child about the place. And this from a man from a culture that has a long history of siring heirs and founding dynasties. No children. No heirs. No family to come after him. Why?
Knowing she's on to something and also that she can no longer stall, Rina squelches her paranoia and rises from the sofa and readies to strip.
Rina: All right. Since you asked. And since you promised me—.
Al Tabr: Before you do, would you do me one favor? One additional favor. I know I am asking much. And that is that you close your eyes.
Rina: (what the hell?) To … close my eyes? While I do this?"
Al Tabr: Yes, please.
Rina looks around. They're alone. Or as alone as a man of his station ever manages it. She sizes him up, comparing him with others she'd taken down barehanded, and decides to risk it. She strips. Nothing shy or coy about it. Just a simple action with no meaning behind it. Only she knows more was riding on this than modesty. When she's naked she closes her eyes and waits for him to make his move, listening hard.
The rustle of his robes give away his approach and she tried to gauge his position relative to hers, running evasion tactics through her head. A moment passes as he walks around her and he holds true to his word—he doesn't touch her. Another moment passes and Rina heard something she never would have anticipated. Not in a million years.
Al Tabr is very quietly sobbing.