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Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

“A little piece of Europe” Jason O’Mahony

Jason O’Mahony


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Chapter One. Opening the store at 6am never bothered him. In fact, he liked it. He liked the cool morning air and the breeze that would eventually be burned away by the dry Mediterranean heat. His mother used to joke that his preference for the cold was a sign that European blood pumped through his veins. It was almost a premonition, he thought. The awning over the front of the shop, a white and red striped canvas affair, was a source of pride to him. It was one of the few things he had commissioned specially, importing it brand new and to his order from the continent, and he was very proud of it. It looked smart. Business-like. Professional. Once a week it would come down to be cleaned by Amira, scrubbed of the sand that got everywhere in the city. He liked seeing it going back up, the red and the white standing out on the narrow street in their cleanliness. Most of the other stores didn’t have an awning, and certainly not one that was regularly cleaned. He had been worried that the Belgian company would not take his order, but he’d spoken to the trade office and they had helped, taking his money and sending a guarantee to the Belgian company to reassure them that they’d get their money, even from “some Arab in the zone”. He looked over at the picture on the wall, a neatly framed image of The Commissioner. He was still a handsome man in his late fifties, the Englishman, the smile a grimace and the hair receding. But a good man, Achmed thought. He and the Irishman had announced the scheme, to allow businesses in the zone to lodge money to order product from the continent. He had met the Irishman once, at a meeting of the neighbourhood business association, and the Irishman, the deputy commissioner, they called him, had listened carefully, and taken notes, and asked the right questions. Then, in a few weeks, they had announced micro-finance schemes, no more than €1500 each, to help businessmen get in stock, to develop credit and, and the Irishman got this, reputations. Reputation was very important to Achmed. Back in the old country, before the civil war between the bastards and the fanatics, he had owned six shops, and reputation was everything. His suppliers knew he paid his bills on time. His customers knew he was a straight man. Not the cheapest man in the city, though, but he stood by his products. You got what you paid for off Achmed Hadid, and his name meant everything to him. A handshake from him was binding. Of course, he’d spend an hour arguing with you over the price, but that was the way things were done. Then there was a handshake and a coffee. That was the Hadid way. He straightened up the awning, brushing off some imaginary dust. A Hadid, It said. He nodded his head approvingly. The displays were old, and like the refrigerator, all old stock from the continent, much of it recycled rubbish thrown out of shops in Germany or Spain. But he didn’t care. His fruit, chocolate, shampoo, toothpaste, all neatly displayed soon covered it. The refrigerator, brimming with Coca Cola and Orangina, had barely worked. But as was the way with the zone, he put the word out, and an engineer who had fled Egypt turned up the following day, banged away from two hours stripping and rebuilding it, and left it working, happy with a €20 phone credit to call his family in Cairo in return, and two bottles of shampoo for a Nigerian girl he was wooing. That was the way of the zone. Like clockwork, the two soldiers came around the corner and onto the street. He always smiled at the contrast. He was a big Frenchman, blonde, muscular, his desert combat gear barely containing him, his rifle looking like a child’s toy against his chest.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

She was half his size, black, and everything from her beret to her rifle to her communications headset threatened to overpower her. They wore the same uniforms, and both had the blue EU flag on their shoulders and the French flag too. “Good morning Mr Hadid!” the Frenchman said clearly, cheerfully. “Good morning Sergeant Baston,” Achmed returned in heavily accented French. He’d always been a quick study with languages. Along with his native Arabic, his English was good and his French halting but passable. Truth be told, English was the universal crossover language of the zone, the filter by which the near 30 languages passed through. Of course, everybody knew that the French were very touchy about that, and so that became another lesson of the zone: learn French if you want to keep on the good side of the French officials. Anybody who wanted to get on eagerly took free French lessons offered across the city by the Academie Francaise. Not only did you get to learn the language, but you got to meet French officials, which was always useful to store away for the future. “Morning papa!” Achmed’s ten year old daughter said, stepping out onto the street in her uniform. She was an early riser like him, and would make him breakfast as he prepared the store front for the day. The store, as they called it, was three large shipping containers stacked on top of each other. They had been built by the German Army engineers who had wired and plumbed them, installed windows and plaster lined and floored them, turning them into a reasonable sized family apartment. Achmed’s heart has plummeted when he had first seen them, as their settlement officer had led them to it, but he’d grown to like it. Amira, his wife, had transformed it with cushions and throws and soft lighting, stretching their very modest grant from the settlement office, and now he regarded it as home. It was comfortable, dry, clean, but most of all, safe. It wasn’t his house in Aleppo, but then, neither was that anymore. No 23 Martin Schulz Strasse was home now, and it was safe, and looking at his little daughter putting out a display of Kit Kats, he was happy with that. The sergeant patted the daughter on the head. “Good morning little one!” She smiled, let out a “Bonjour!”, and ran back into the store, clomping up the metal circular stairs that corkscrewed through the structure. Achmed was always polite to the EU officials and soldiers when they passed. He knew who was in charge, and that having friends in power was as important here as it had been in Syria. In the three years the family had lived in the safezone, he had become a shrewd judge of the different nationalities of the EU, and how to interact with them. The Northern Europeans were never to be bribed, and tended to be formal. The southern would always take a gift, but would be relaxed and helpful, and remembered favours. The Central Europeans didn’t really want to be there, and tended to show it. Sergeant Baston had been a regular for the last six months, and Achmed liked him a lot. He always paid for anything he took, despite Achmed’s protests. But he did look for information occasionally. New residents on the street, new businesses, the sergeant was always eager to know, and Achmed also had a little gossip. More to do with who was cheating on whose wife, or on the state of the district’s football team. But the sergeant and the businessman had an understanding. Any troublemakers, as he called them, and he expected to be told. The businessman knew the score. He didn’t want to get a reputation as a snitch, but nor did he want the fanatics getting a toehold in the city, especially not in his district. He was a devout man, he went to mosque, but he’d no time for the crazies, and would have no problem sharing anything with the sergeant with a clear conscience.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Still, he thought, as he watched the sergeant and the female soldier continue down the narrow street, greeting the Somalia baker two doors down, he could never get used to the sight of women with guns. Chapter Two. He’d never admit it to anyone. Not his wife, not his friends, certainly not the media, but the former leader of the British Labour Party and three-term Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland absolutely loved being a dictator. The Commissioner for the European Union Refugee Safezone in Libya could see exactly why dictators didn’t want to give up power. It wasn’t the life of luxury, admittedly. The building he lived in, part of a compound which was one of the first buildings constructed by the EU forces when they set up the zone, was airy, high ceilinged and had excellent air conditioning. The view looking out over the harbour and out to the glistening blue of the Mediterranean was gorgeous, and caught the breeze just right. Two large French doors opened out onto a spacious balcony where he spent many an evening watching the sun go down in the west. He had access to a very nicely equipped gym, which was particularly useful given that his senior French underlings had insisted on a top rate French chef being posted to the safezone, and his waistline was battling that decision. The tabloids in the UK just loved any hint of him “letting himself go” and so he pushed himself hard on the treadmill and the weights. No, he was very comfortable, but it wasn’t that. It was the power that he loved. People who have never been a prime minister or president don’t understand, he thought, as he sipped his first coffee of the day. Those people, on the 46A in Dublin or Paris Metro or the Daily Express always assume that people like him wanted power to enrich themselves. It was true, he had made a lot of money after leaving office, but that was no substitute for the ability to give instructions. Commands. To change laws. To fund great projects that will stand 100 years after one had passed into dust. To kill people. To kill people. He put the cup down, suddenly tired of the bitter taste. That was his legacy. Not leading his party out of the wilderness to three stunning victories. Not massively reducing child poverty, or modernising the constitution, or creating millions of jobs and expanding the welfare state. No, he’d be remembered for the war, for being the Americans’ poodle. He’d stopped explaining why he’d done it, what he’d truly believed, and had resigned himself to a life of making money speaking to Americans for obscene fees and being despised in his own country by people who had actually cried with happiness on the night of his first election. That hurt him. They’d never believe it, of course. He was a thick-skinned man, as one had to be at this level of politics, but it hurt him to think that people who trusted him now felt betrayed. His frustration at being unable to convince them of what he was trying to do gnawed away at him, day after day. As for the usual suspects, the hard right and the hard left who had always hated him, they could go fuck themselves. He didn’t care what they thought. When Britain had left the European Union in a fit of madness, he’d shrugged his shoulders, seeing yet another avenue for doing some work of use at an international scale close, and so had been very surprised to get the phone call from Berlin. Two days later he’d been sitting down in that giant tumble dryer in the Tiergarten with the most powerful woman in Europe, and she’d explained the plan. How the EU had leased a chunk of land


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

from the provisional Libyan Government for somewhere to just hold the waves of refugees until Europe could catch its breath. “Would you,” she asked, “be interested in running it?” He’d had to use every modicum of self-control to avoid blurting out an undignified yes immediately, leaping over the coffee table and kissing her. Although her reputation was of a certain coolness, she was actually quite warm in private, but even she would not have appreciated him lunging at her. Of course he would, he said gravely, with a grimace. Obligation and duty and all the rest of it. He had suggested something similar in a speech some years previously, and for the next two hours confirmed her initial feelings that he was the man for the job, asking every question she’d expect him to ask, and some she and her experts hadn’t even considered. As she took him through the plan, the budgets, the billions raised by EuroBonds floated by the European Central Bank, his brain, his excellent, sharp and analytical mind started to see the chinks in the plan. No, not chinks. Questions. Some of this expenditure didn’t make sense. The costings on the city he didn’t question: he’d seen plenty of huge civil projects where billions vanish into a giant black hole before one sees anything of what one is paying for. No, that wasn’t the issue. It was the annex. The military annex. There was no question, the safezone would need it’s own well-equipped security force, to maintain order and to fight terrorism. Indeed, he had very quickly ascertained that was one of the secret objectives of the safezone. To act as a magnet for angry extremists. Better to fight them here than on the streets of Nice or Paris or Brussels. That was the unofficial policy, not that anyone would ever admit it. The safezone would need its own army of sorts, it’s own helicopters, naval vessels, armoured personnel carriers. He got all that. But if he knew anything about anything he knew something about military force deployment and depletion, and these figures were just too big. Too many gunships. Too many APCs. And what the hell were they doing with all these tanks? Hundreds of them. Sure, he got the economic ramifications. This European Defence Force would be fed Irish beef and butter, wear Scottish boots, drive German tanks and Italian jeeps and fly French helicopters. He understood all that, that was standard. You justified the expenditure by pointing out how many jobs would be created or sustained locally. That was politics 101. But the sheer volumes. They were talking about putting the sort of tank numbers into Libya that Rommel had boasted. Why? Did she know something he didn’t. Were the Russians planning an armoured attack? He said so. She looked at him wordlessly for a moment, then smiled thinly. “You know, when they prepared that briefing for you I warned them. Given his experience, I said, with Iraq and Afghanistan, he’ll read exactly into this. He’ll know exactly what he’s looking at. He, of all people,” she said. He looked at the document again, then placed back down on the coffee table. “It’s a European army, isn’t it? By the back door.” She said nothing, but poured another half cup of coffee. She offered him a top-up, but he refused. He stood up, and walked behind the sofa, pacing the length of the office as he spoke. “You want a European army. But you can’t convince European voters that they need one. You know we do, but the average Hermann on the Ku'damm is convinced that everybody hates wars as much


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

as we do, and so we don’t waste our money on all these fancy toys. That’s something Americans do. But you know that Europeans are irrational when it comes to the southern border, that you can get expenditure to secure the south. That’s why the safezone concept is popular: it’s clean, simple, we just direct everybody there, which is the hard bit, and treat them relatively nicely, which allows Hermann to feel happy about himself that he’s not a bastard like great granddaddy Hermann. Am I right so far?” She waved a hand to continue. “So by burying a volunteer European Defence Force in the safezone budget, you get both. The safe zone, with an army to run it, but also an army being raised across Europe and trained in Poland and...where is the officer academy going to be?” “Austria,” she said. “Then you can gradually rotate national EU forces and the EDF from out of the safezone and into the Baltics. Suddenly the Russians have a fully armed EU army facing them.” “And at that stage, hundreds of thousands of young Europeans will have volunteered for the EDF, or work in factories supplying the EDF with supplies and equipment. By then, the EDF will be a vested interest which getting rid off will have a political cost. The training base in southern Poland will have 900 troops a term go through it...that’s a lot of pay packets and beer and sausage bought in local taverns.” “London will go mad. Say this undermines NATO.” She snorted. “NATO? NATO is on ice as long as that fool sits in the White House. He and Brexit forced this on us. Enabled it too. You know we never would have gotten this through as long as the UK was inside with a veto. Now, it’s a different Europe: the Finns and the Swedes are genuinely afraid of the Russians. And the Irish talk neutrality but they can be amazingly pragmatic when tenders for nearly a billion euro in food is up for grabs. And anyway: Europe isn’t the only continent with a refugee crisis. Already the British have made contact looking to see if an arrangement can be found for the UK to direct refugees to the safezone.” The Englishman laughed. He hadn’t been a fan of Brexit. In fact, he regarded as nation setting far to its own house so that it could brag to its slack jawed neighbours that it could. “So?” she asked. He strolled over to the huge map spread out on the table near the entrance to the office, passing the large wooden chess pieces the chancellor had been given by German forestry owners. He always regarded them as a remarkably appropriate if slightly cheeky gift. The map displayed the large area interior which had been leased from the Libyan government, or at least, the one the EU recognised. Gridded streets and squares and buildings were already marked out, as was a highway to a large port. All were currently under construction following the huge landing in Libya, Operation Sanctuary, by EU forces. There had been furious battles with Libyan rebels backed by Moscow, and significant casualties, but the chancellor and President of France had remained firm, and now it was taking shape. “It’s a huge project: we’re building a small nation here. This is like founding Israel.” She pointed at the portrait of Adenauer behind her desk.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“He played his part in that. Help me play my role in this.” “But is it right? This won’t be temporary, it’ll be a permanent colony under European rule. It can never be free or democratic, that would defeat the purpose. We’re drawing lines on maps here as if it were 1815.” She waved her two hands over the map. “That’s not the way to see it: this is a safezone. This can be a place of legend, where no one will ever be refused and where everyone will be safe and can build a life. Where one’s colour or religion or gender will not matter.” “The extremists will hate it. You know. They’ll attack it from day one.” “Then it is a good thing that you will have so many tanks at your disposal,” she said. He nodded. “I’ll want a deputy,” he said, and named someone. She laughed. “Of course. If you turned it down, I was going to call him anyway.” “There’s just one thing,” he said, as she bade him farewell at the door and a very Aryan looking young aide got ready to escort him back to his car and whisk him to the airport. “Since Britain has left the EU, won’t the other member states object to a non-EU citizen doing this job?” She smiled wryly. “Do you really think any country regards this as a plum job? Consider this: get it wrong, you’ll be the monster running Europe’s new gulag. Get it right: people will complain about how much you are spending. I assure you, there’s not a long line of people beating a track to my door for this appointment.” The commissioner smiled at the memory. She’d been right, of course. The safezone cost billions of euro of taxpayers money every year of its seven year existence. Admittedly, he was now beginning to generate a very modest tax stream with a custom tax on imported goods, but it would be a long time before it would ever not need considerable subsidy. But he loved the job. No party, no parliament, just decisions to be made. Funds to be allocated, priorities to be decided. A school here. A well there. How many visas to issue, and to whom. All decisions that affected the lives of the nearly two million people now living in a city that the Irishman reminded him was bigger than Dublin. Two million of the most wretched people on Earth, people who fled poverty, war, tyranny, fanaticism, all wanting to live in Europe, and all initially bitter to find themselves dumped in the zone. He had to feed them, clothe them, house them, stop them killing each other, stop the fanatics attacking both the city itself but also stop the fanatics getting to the continent. He had money, engineers, civil servants, judges, doctors, teachers, 30,000 thousand troops and a squadron of gunship helicopters, and a silver pen with which he had signed the Northern Ireland peace agreement. A pen that could order a hospital built, a camp cleared, the arrest of thousands, a visa for a family to travel safely to Europe.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He loved that power. The power to make things actually happen. Not to discuss, or urge, or recommend, or debate, but to order. He and the Irishman had figured out very quickly that the chance to go to the continent legally was a very powerful carrot to be held over the people of the city. If a family knew there was a chance of getting to Europe legally, that was a huge incentive to obey the rules, and so the two men had devised what became known, at the Irishman’s suggestion, as the Points System. It was a series of achievements one racked up. Go to the schools, or make sure your children did, get points. Learn a European language, get points. Attend European culture classes, get points. Obey the law, set up a business, get a job, learn new skills, all these got points and all those points got one closer to being one of the 30,000 zone residents who every year were given a visa to live and work in the EU. A whole culture grew up around the precious cards, with families holding parties if a member got one. The EU member states had been reluctant, but the commissioner and his deputy, a former threeterm Irish Taoiseach, were veterans of the Brussels system, and set out to get what they wanted. Not only did they know what they wanted, and how much it would cost, but they knew what political buttons to press to get it. Both were very capable communicators, and put the message out clear in interview after interview across the continent: the price of keeping the safezone open is the price of keeping Europe’s borders secure. It was a message that was reluctantly accepted by Europe’s voters and their elected leaders. From his balcony he could see a Portuguese warship tying up on the harbour, disgorging the latest batch of refugees intercepted on the way to Greece or Italy. They hadn’t put up resistance, he knew, because if they had he would have heard about it, but they wouldn’t be happy, finding themselves not in Europe but in the zone. Or maybe they would, he thought. Since it had opened, the EU had spent millions communicating to the ring of instability around Europe that the zone was where you went, even if you tried to enter the continent by land. Only last week Greek and Frontex forces had battled it out with refugees who refused to board a ship for the zone. Three refugees had died before the riot was quelled. Riots weren’t a huge issue in the zone, he recalled, an eye looking over to the pink file on his desk. His attention returned to the harbour, watching the refugees being assembled on the quay, surrounded by aid workers, Frontex officials and soldiers. The soldiers would be on best behaviour, well aware that he could be watching and well aware that he hadn’t hesitated to have unacceptable behaviour by them punished by court martial. A small group of children huddled together, seemingly unaccompanied by an adult, workers from one of the children’s charities kneeling beside them, talking to them, as they clutching their meagre possessions. Every week he and the Irishman would meet with all the stakeholders. Officials, the military, charity representatives, and every week would have a new story, of some wretched family and what could be done to help them. He loved these meeting, because he had the power to affect change. Paddy Ashdown, a former political rival of his before becoming the EU pro-consul (God, that was a cool title) in Bosnia had regaled him with stories about how easy it was to get things down when you had a battalion of NATO paratroopers on-hand. The commissioner understood exactly what he meant. God knows what those poor creatures had seen, he thought to himself. But they were the whole point, why he was here. Yes, certainly ego, and certainly legacy. But also the power to affect the lives of those children for the better with the stroke of a pen. That was what real power was.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Chapter Three. She recognised the flag on the huge grey ship because Father O’Reilly had shown them it before. It was green, white and orange, the flag of his country, and she had felt good on seeing it, hoping that the men on it were as kind as Father O’Reilly had been. Although they were clearly soldiers, they didn’t threaten the people on the boat with guns, instead helping them onto the ship, a woman with a red cross on her uniform carefully looking at each person up and down before handing them a bottle of water. Amaal and Maryan both huddled together, sitting with their backs to the wall, watching the sea as the soldiers used an axe to break a hole in the wooden boat, causing it to flood. It had sunk by the time the ship had turned and gone underway. Maryan was a year older than Amaal, and by far the more outgoing one. All the boys in their village in Somalia had known her, whereas Amaal had been frightened of them. It had been Maryan who had gotten them from the village, away from the death, and finally to the boat for that place called Europe. Every step of the way, Amaal had been terrified, cold, unsure, whilst Maryan had been brave and willing to disappear with men if it solved their problem, and got them food. Amaal, who had learnt English and French from Father O’Reilly, had been able to translate for them, although Maryan had rarely needed her to translate what she was offering. The first time they saw the safezone, it looked just like the busy port they had left in Egypt. There were more warships though, and everywhere that huge blue flag with 12 stars on it was flying or displayed on a vehicle or a building or the soldiers uniforms. As the ship moved closer to harbour, both girls could see a ring of soldiers surround the harbour, and more people with red crosses stood waiting. As they disembarked, Maryan grabbed Amaal’s hand and pulled her, running for the edge of the harbour where there was a gap. They almost made it until a very large soldier suddenly stepped from behind a jeep and Maryan literally bounced off him, following to the ground. He went to raise his rifle to club her, when a voice shouted at him, and he stiffened, lowering the weapon. A female voice. Both girls looked up to see a small soldier striding towards them, a beret on her head. On her shoulder, under her blue flag, was a red flag with a white cross. “That’s enough sergeant! I’ve warned you before. Try that shit again and I’ll have you on a charge!” she shouted at him, as he stood to attention, and murmured a reply. Amaal could not believe what she was seeing. A man, a powerful man, being spoken to by a woman like that, and not shouting at her or hitting her. It was almost like the woman was in charge. The woman bent down on one knee. She asked first in French, then English, as to whether they understood her. “I understand English,” Amaal whispered, and the woman smiled. “Ok. Please don’t try to run away. We are here to help you, and have things to help you, like food and somewhere to sleep. But you have to go through that.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

She pointed at the queue of refugees from the warship who were being promptly processed, clutching their meagre possessions in a collection of sports-bags, plastic bags and children’s school bags. The woman put out a hand, helping Maryan up. Amaal translated, but Maryan looked unconvinced. “Tell her that we will give her a card with €100 a week and somewhere to stay if she cooperates,” the soldier said, and moved toward the queue. Maryan and Amaal walked with her. “You from Somalia?” she asked as they walked. “Yes,” Amaal replied, before Maryan hissed at her to tell the soldier nothing. They reached the queue. “Tell her that we refuse no one, so just tell the official your story. If you cooperate, you will be safe. It’s not a bad life here.” “Will we get to go to Europe?” Amaal asked, her confidence growing. The soldier shrugged. “This is Europe now. To the continent? Maybe. That depends on you.” The soldier nodded and walked away, past two huge soldiers in body armour with what looked to Amaal like enormous rifles. Both soldiers snapped sharp salutes at the woman as she walked by, standing to attention. The Somali teenager found that sight incredible. She hated soldiers and guns. They were never a source of good, or at least that was what she remembered from when they came to the village, killing, raping. She remembered her mother’s cries and screams, and Father O’Reilly hiding the two girls in the space under his house, and him arguing with them before they killed him. Soldiers meant violence and rape and women crying, and yet here was a female soldier, and men were afraid of her and she wasn’t even carrying a gun. Funny place, this Europe. When they reached the top of the queue, the woman behind the desk in the tent was typing very quickly on a very small computer. Amaal had seen one once, in Father O’Reilly’s house, where he had used it to write letters to his land, and occasionally to even talk to friends. The woman took their names, country, fingerprints and retina scans, and then took a photo if each one with a tiny camera on top of the computer. She then printed off two plastic cards with their photos on them. “These are your ID cards. They are very important. They also have money on them. One hundred euro each.” The two girls looked at the cards. Amaal had to ask again, confused. “These are money?” “Yes. We use the euro here. Euro notes and coins are accepted here, and you can get notes from most large shops off the card. You will get €100 added to the card every week, for food or whatever. Your housing will be free for six months. Also, this card will get you medical care if you need it. You are both 17 years old, correct?”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The official, a curt Dutch woman with her hair in a bun, looked up for the first time from the computer. The Somali interpreter beside her paused, having been translating more for Maryan’s benefit. “This is important: you both must attend school. If you do not attend school for one year your weekly grant will be cut by 50%. Do you understand?” Amaal nodded. Maryan rolled her eyes. The official slid two packs over the desk. “These will explain a lot. Your rights and obligations, a map, a phone…” “Phone!” Maryan said, suddenly paying more attention, grabbing the pack. The Dutch woman slapped her hand away. “When I’m finished! The phone has twenty euro credit on it, and some preloaded numbers for police, your case worker, doctor. You can buy extra credit as you wish. As I was saying, there is a map, a guide to the safezone, and some information on jobs and training.” “Jobs?” Amaal asked. It had never occurred to her that she might have a job. “Yes, school can also involve training or apprenticeships. This is a city of nearly two million people. It needs a lot of people to make it work. One more thing.” She pulled out a card and read from it with a bored tone of someone who had done this a thousand times before, which she had. “I must warn you about expulsion. Under the European Union Safezone Treaty, article 67, the commissioner has the power to expel from the safezone any individual or individuals who are, in his or her opinion, a threat to the security or stability of the safezone or its residents. This action may not be appealed.” Maryan laughed on hearing this. “Who wouldn’t want to be thrown out of this dump?” The interpreter, a Somali man in his fifties cut her a glare, and spoke without the official’s request. “Listen to me, you stupid girl. I come from the same place you do. I lost my whole family in Kismaayo, and this place, if you’re smart, will make a good home for you and your friend. The Europeans, they are a strange bunch, but they keep order and peace and nobody goes hungry. You’ll see. A few weeks and the threat of expulsion will mean something to you, so don’t take it lightly!” He finished up jabbing a long bony finger at Maryan, who shut up. The Dutch official didn’t look surprised at his outburst, as if she’d seen it all before. Maybe it was part of the process, Amaal thought. The official looked down at her computer again. “One more thing: what do you think of Jews?” She looked up at the two girls, eyes moving from side to side. Maryan didn’t know what to answer. She knew nothing of Jews, and knew none. She shrugged.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Amaal did know something. Along with teaching her English and French, Father O’Reilly had been very passionate about the history of his continent, and she had loved his stories of life in Europe. “They are like us. They were hunted from their homes by evil men, and went looking for somewhere safe. Eventually, they had to build it themselves.” The official smiled. “Good answer,” she said, and typed on her keyboard. She then pointed at a gate leading from the port area. “Now, go over to stand 17. A bus will take you to where you are living. Welcome to Europe.” The two girls picked up their packs, and walked towards the gate, both nervously looking at the soldiers standing by it. A German soldier stepped forward and smiled. “Your ID cards, please, Fraulein?” Amaal handed him her card, which he examined for a moment, swiped against a unit on his belt, and then gestured to the gate. “Have a nice day,” he said, returning the card. Chapter Four. Khalid had been trained to hate pretty much everything he saw in the safezone. When he had trained in that camp on the Pakistani border, learning how to make bombs and use automatic weapons and how to make contact with IS brothers, his emir had been very clear with him. “My son, you will see perversions in the west that will make your blood boil. Women dressed as whores, Jews peddling their wares, men on each other as beasts in the field. You will be sickened to your very stomach. I urge you, fight to contain the desire to lash out, to strike down the kaffir where they stand. Remember, my son, to draw upon the strength of the prophet. It is his will that you must bury yourself deep in the decadence and festering cancer of the west so that you may strike at it with furious vengeance. Self-control is your greatest weapon.” He recalled the emir’s words as he walked down the street, what the Europeans called the gay quarter. Like most streets in the city, it was a mix of old buildings, new constructs and modified shipping containers, wide enough to permit two vehicles to pass. But this street had received permission to pedestrianise, such was the nature of its clientele. Music blared from nearly every building, along with flags of every colour, and lights, a mixture of bars, restaurants and shops. That mix wasn’t that different from other streets, he thought, but the clientele was. Men kissing men. Women with women. As the emir had said. The more he walked, the more he saw. The emir had said that he didn’t really care that Africans were deviants, and also laughed when spoke of saw off-duty EU soldiers engaging in filthy practices, but he could see no shortage of Arab men or women either. Some would be Christians, but many, he was sure, would be Muslim, and that was to be to Khalid the ultimate source of his burning anger. That the Europeans and the Americans were deliberately trying to infect Islam with this disease.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Not that there was much that he could do. At both ends of the street soldiers made every person wishing to enter the street pass through a metal detector, or have their bags searched. The Europeans knew just how offensive this street’s existence was the enemies of the west. Come the holy war, he thought, this street would be first on the list. A young Arab man walking shirtless down the street winked at Khalid, and smiled. Khalid gave him a non-committal nod and kept walking. The young man had been very physically fit, in excellent shape, his smooth, tanned body a mass of rippling muscles, he thought. A warrior’s body, wasted here in this cesspool. That was the west’s plan with their Jewish masters, the emir had warned. To turn pure Muslims from servants of Allah into filthy beasts of the field. He reached the middle of the street, where a large temporary military warehouse had been converted into a nightclub with a mezzanine floor. A powerful battery of coloured lights anchored to the centre of the ceiling flashed and twisted in time to the rhythm of the music, bathing the large crowd of dancers in light. The music was very loud, so much so that he could feel the rhythm through the vibrations hitting his body. Not dissimilar, he smirked, to the wave given off by a car bomb. Khalid entered the nightclub. Chapter Five. The first sign that something was happening was three large armoured personnel carriers sweeping into Alfred Dreyfus Square, skidding near the fountain in the centre. EDF troops leapt from the rear door of each, spreading out into a circle just as a tourist bus accompanied by military jeeps drove onto the square and into the circle of soldiers. Around the large square small numbers of worshippers coming out of their respective places of worship stopped to stare. By the fountain, along with some soldiers and Safezone Authority officials stood a small group of men. Some were chatting. The commissioner was first off the bus, spotting the group of waiting men by the fountain. He gave them a brisk good morning cheer and wave, and strolled towards them as they moved towards him. He shook hands with each, and then turned to lead them back to the delegation assembled beside the coach. “Gentlemen, may I introduce the European Parliament’s oversight committee on the Safezone. Ladies and gentlemen, the council of faith leaders. And this is Dreyfus Square.” He gestured in a circle around the large square, which had a number of churches, mosques, temples and one synagogue. All faced onto the fountain, which was surrounded by a pool of water and a smooth round ledge which could sit a substantial number of people comfortably. “Dreyfus Square houses the largest places of worship in the city, although there are currently 18 squares permitted to hold places of worship.” “Permitted? The authority decides if people can worship?” the French delegate asked. “Absolutely. We insist that a square can only be permitted to declare a place of worship if three faiths request it. In this situation, we regard Sunni and Shia as to separate faiths. The Christians don’t go in for attacking each other. Not here anyway,” the commissioner said, as the Irishman blessed himself in front of the MEPs for comic effect. A few laughed.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“Isn’t it dangerous to keep them this close together?” a Swede asked. “Yes. That’s the point,” the commissioner replied. An imam stepped forward. “That’s the point. The authority in its wisdom has decided to put us all in close proximity on the grounds that it might deter terrorist attacks. Fear of hitting your own people, as they say.” “Does it work?” the Swede followed up. “We’ve had some attacks, but not as many as you think. Each faith contributes to a joint militia that patrols the square on behalf of us all.” “Is there not tension?” “Oh yes. Those two can barely speak to each other,” the Imam said, pointing at an Anglican bishop and another Imam. The whole delegation looked at the two men. The Anglican, a Nigerian, shrugged his shoulders. “What can I say? I’m United. He follows Liverpool.” The commissioner laughed, and signalled the officials that accompanied them to bring the delegation towards the Catholic church. “The bishop has kindly offered to host all the faiths for some light refreshments, and then a tour of the various places of worship. Now, if we could…” The delegation crossed the square, the commissioner waving to a few groups of people watching the mass of people and soldiers walking. “You behave like a campaigning politician,” a Dutch MEP and member of the far-right faction in the parliament observed, as they reached the church. “They’ve my constituents,” the commissioner replied. “You want to see my deputy: he’s pretty much holding constituency surgeries.” “Yes, the budget committee notices that,” the Dutchman said coldly. “There is a lot of money being squandered on this place.” The commissioner spun on his heel, glaring at the parliamentarian. “You people got elected promising to stop the refugees. We did. They’re here, under control, safe…” “And costing billions that my voters wonder could not be spent better in Utrecht or Arnhem.” “What would you like to do, Deputy Van Damm? Machine gun them in the water? Every single person that gets caught illegally trying to enter Europe ends up here. That costs money.” “Why the hell are Dutch taxes building their mosques?” “They’re not. The Christian churches are funded by American Christian groups. The mosques are funded by the gulf states, although we appoint the imams, and the synagogues, all two of them, are funded by a casino owner in Las Vegas. See that school you passed on the way? That and 14 others like it were funded by the Gates Foundation. There’s another six funded by the Clinton Foundation. All six of our major hospitals were funded by Michael O’Leary and Richard Branson. All six. Every


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

supermarket in the city was funded by either Tesco, Carrefour, Aldi or Lidl. Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner jointly funded the city’s three TV channels. This is the one place on Earth where NetFlix and Sky Sports is free, again another generous donation. Nearly every single person in the city sleeps on a bed supplied free by IKEA, and 80% of the electricity here is supplied by either generators or solar power panels paid for by Elon Musk. This is the greatest act of humanitarian effort in human history since the feeding of Europe in 1945, so get off my fucking back!” The commissioner turned away, walking off to speak to another group of MEPs. The Irishman sidled up beside the Dutchman. “You’ll have to forgive him. He’s very passionate about the zone. We all are. That and the fact that we fucked you guys over good.” A French Socialist MEP laughed at loud at the remark. It was true. The creation of the safezone, and the redirecting of the stream of refugees away from the continent had seriously damaged the far-right across the European Union. Some of the parties had collapsed, whilst others had spun off even further to the far right in an attempt to maintain support. The problem was that it meant them opposing the zone and effectively calling for the murdering of refugees. The reality was that most Europeans were willing to bear the cost of the zone in return for the feeling that Europe’s borders were under control and the immigration problem was being effectively dealt with. The fact that so many on the left had attacked the zone, and continued to attack it actually helped. The Irishman had once suggested that the byline of the safezone should be Europe’s Least Worst option™. The Dutchman bristled, running his fingers through his huge blonde head of hair, a feature which seemed in vogue across the hard right. “I would have thought you would have approved of all this, you know, forcing European values on the ignorant savages,” a female far-left Danish MEP remarked, joining the conversation. She looked at the Irishman. “How can you, a man who has led a former British colony, agree with all this?” she asked, waving a hand at a window which faced out onto a busy street. The Irishman smiled. “Deputy, myself and yer man over their spent two years trying to get Ulstermen to stop killing each other. And they were all nominally Christian. You know what I learned? That you can have all the principles you want but they don’t matter compared to the facts on the ground. This contraption we’ve built here, ugly and all as it is on paper, flies. It shouldn’t, but it does. Go out into the markets, the shops, the cafes. There’s order and safety and stability. Children attend school. No one goes hungry. Everybody gets the medical care they need. If you think we’re going to upset the apple tart just to prove some constitutional theory about democracy, you’re mad.” “It’s all at the point of a gun!” she said, eyes flashing. The Irishman nodded, grabbing a vol au vent off a passing tray. “Yeah, it is. 30,000 of Europe’s finest volunteer military, and another 8,000 militia recruited from amongst the residents. But you are forgetting one crucial thing.” She waited for him to finish his canape.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“This is not a prison. You can withdraw your asylum claim and we’ll send you home, back wherever that is.” “They don’t want to go home. They want to go to Europe!” “And Europe says they can’t. Poll after poll….” “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees disagrees.” “As is her right. But we have to deal with the reality that an unchecked stream of refugees into Europe would lead to the election of far-right governments across the continent. This is the middle way.” The Dane looked incredulously at him. “We don’t need to elect far-right governments when we have centrists like you willing to carry out far-right policies like this imperialist prison state.” The Irishman shrugged. “Imperialist prison state my arse. We’ve an Ikea opening next week.”

Chapter Six. Amaal had spent most of the journey stuck to the window of the small bus, eyes wide at the sheer numbers of people on the streets, and the bustle. Every few streets the bus, driven by a resettlement officer, would turn onto a square which seemed to erupt in colour, with stalls selling everything from vegetables to mobile phones to clothing. People of all varieties haggled and argued and laughed, and she felt reassured at the sense of normality. Their village had been very small and rural, but she had walked to the market in the nearest town with her mother, and it was very much like this. She didn’t see any livestock, although she did see some cages of chickens, and some tables with fish lying on it. Over every market she could see tall metal towers with shielded structures at their summit, and soldiers watching through binoculars. The soldiers still frightened her, although the more she saw of them they seemed at least to be more disciplined than the ones she had fled. The people in the market didn’t seem to be bothered by the soldiers. The sheer size of the city fascinated her. She could not comprehend so many people together in one place, and whilst the novelty of it made her nervous, it excited her too. The resettlement officer had identified himself as Gianni, and was Italian, in his late twenties and quite good looking. Maryan had lit up on meeting him at the collection point at the port. There were seven girls on the bus, all of similar age, and all had kept quiet on the bus for the first 20 minutes until Gianni, in a mixture of English and French, had asked each girl to introduce herself and where she came from. They’d been reluctant, so he had started by telling him about his own life, and soon enough he had coaxed a name out of each just as they arrived at a large white building facing onto a square. The building represented, after the converted shipping containers that made up a large proportion of the city, the second phase of the safezone’s development. Once the EU had established the site of


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

the safezone seven years previously, it had rushed in pre constructed modules to provide as much shelter as possible. But once the city was functioning, huge public contracts funded by the European Central Bank issuing bonds had provided for contractors from across Europe to start building the actual schools, hospitals and other infrastructure needed for a modern city to work. The building the bus had pulled up in front of was white washed and boasted three stories. Nearly all the windows on the second and third floor were open, many with young people sitting in them, looking out onto the street. Various different types of music, laughter and shouting came from the windows. Over the door, stark black lettering announced that it was the Margot Wallstrom Resettlement Residence. Beside the lettering was a large colourful and very good painting of a short haired blonde Swedish politician, apparently painted by a resident. Gianni brought them into the main hall, which was airy if sparse, although it did have a number of residents sitting on worn sofas. He went behind the desk, consulted a computer, and allocated keycards. He then brought them to their rooms. Amaal’s room was the last one on the third floor corridor, beside Maryan’s. The room was small, with a single bed, desk, seat and wardrobe, and a bathroom. The shelves were empty and the windows opened out into a courtyard. Amaal looked out. There were some people, around her age, sitting on seats and smoking. In another corner a blonde white woman was explaining to a varied group of mostly women how to use a washing machine. Gianni explained some of the features of the room, referred her to the booklet in her pack which, he said, would answer most of her questions, and left her alone in the room, closing the door behind him. Amaal sat on the bed, looking around her. It was soft, and the bedclothes were clean. She could not recall being alone since they’d fled the village. The room was small, and the bathroom tiny, and there was nothing to indicate anything about who had lived here before her. But she liked it. She really liked it. This was her room, the first time in her life she ever had a place that was hers. She stepped out onto the corridor, just in time to see Maryan give Gianni that look she always gave men when she wanted them to do some, blinking her eyelashes slowly and thrusting out her ample bosom. Amaal just caught the back of Gianni as he stepped into Maryan’s room. Chapter Seven. Once a week, Achmed travelled across the city to a large wholesalers operated by a major French supermarket. He would take one of the many owner-operated buses that criss-crossed the city to the huge warehouse, and spend the morning picking out his order and then haggling with a group of small van owners to bring them back with him. The truth was, he loved going to the wholesalers. He got to meet other small businessmen (and increasingly, women) and loved to talk shop, discuss prices, products, the market, and other things over a cup of very strong coffee. Occasionally, the Irishman would turn up unannounced, ask politely to sit with a group of them and discuss their issues, taking notes. It was the Irishman who had relaxed the licensing regime on the operating of small buses and trucks after they convinced him that a more open approach would help them. The Irishman was popular with the small businessmen, not because he always agreed with them, which


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

he didn’t, but because he was that novelty few had encountered before, a public official who listened. Nor did he ever ask for a bribe. He did ask for favours though, especially introductions to other people in their communities. Truth be told, they were delighted to do it, to be the big man introducing His Good Friend The Deputy Commissioner to friends and family. It was very much an arrangement of mutual benefit. Pushing a trolley down the aisle, he stocked up quickly on the staple items that always sold. Coke, toilet paper, chocolate, toothpaste. He sold a small selection of beers, but kept them discreetly down the back of the store in the reconditioned fridge. He’d had a visit from a group of religious types who had lectured him about being a good Muslim but he’d told them to piss off. He didn’t drink beer himself, nor consume pork. But that was his own business, not theirs. If his customers want beer, that’s their affair. One of his friends who ran a store two districts over had told him of a new brand of chocolate Nestle had on the market that was performing particularly well for him, so he decided to pick up a box or two. He liked experimenting with new products. As he queued to pay his mobile phone buzzed. He recognised the number, not because he’d received calls but because everybody knew the number. It was a text message from the Resettlement Agency, and that was a big deal whenever you got one. Everybody who legally entered the safezone was issued with a phone not only for their own convenience but because it was the best way for the RA to keep in touch with its individual clients. He had laughed when he’d first heard that phrase: clients. As if they were trying to sell him car insurance. As opposed to the reality. They held the very future of pretty much every one of the two million people in the city in the palm of their bureaucratic hand. A text from the RA usually meant one of three things. The best was a notification of Visa points. That you had earned a few more points, through being a good citizen, towards eventually being able to legally enter the continent. The second was normally a warning, to do with not attending school or training. The RA didn’t like anybody just opting out, usually fearing that they were attending some secret Madrassa. The third one was always potentially bittersweet, in that the RA attempted to reunite family members or close friends who registered as such on entry into the zone. This sometimes took longer than expected, as the system became backloaded and the EU’s security services wanted to vet every potential link before connecting them to somebody else. But it still happened. The text asked Achmed was the individual photographed his brother. The shopkeeper looked at the image in disbelief. The face looking back at him was thinner, more gaunt, the face looked worn. But it was him alright. He started crying, big chunky tears running down his face. He was shocked himself at his own reaction. Another shopkeeper who knew the Syrian saw his distress, and came over. “My friend? Have you received bad news?” Achmed held up his phone, struggling to get the words out. The other man looked at the phone, and immediately recognised the text. Everybody knew what it was. “They have found my brother!” Achmed choked out. The other man’s eyes widened, and he shouted out to the other men sitting in the warehouse’s small cafe. There was a roar and cheers, chairs kicked over as they rushed over to slap his back and shaking his hand and kiss him. The cluster of men disrupted the warehouse for ten minutes, for everyone of them was missing someone, and clutched to the hope that maybe one day...


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Chapter Eight. The Commissioner had flown to Brussels the evening before, so that he would be fresh for the meeting between himself, the President of the Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. As usual, the President of the Commission had tried to get into the meeting, and had been blocked. This was the new intergovernmental Brussels where the Commission was pretty much being told to focus on the paperwork and leave the big ideas thinking to the Council. Walking through Brussels airport to his waiting car, he was always interested what the public perception of him was. He no longer merited getting met at the plane by a car as heads of government were, and so had to make his way through the public area with his two assistants and four body guards. He’d sometimes pretend to himself that the bodyguards were necessary to protect him because of his controversial position, and maybe that was partially through. But mostly they were because of his time as prime minister and The War. Always The War. Still, he always acknowledged any sort of positive response, and he did get them, if not in the quantities he’d like. Most people would stop and stare, not quite sure they were believing what they were seeing, as if he were dead. They got a tilt of the head and a wiggle of the eyebrows. The people who gave him a compliment or a thumbs up got a thank you and a wave. The people who shouted out an insult (Wanker was a favourite) although the more extravagant insults did occasionally get a smile. The chap who called him an imperialist fuckweasel did get a laugh. He’d sat down with his EU colleagues ahead of the meeting with the British foreign secretary, which was the big meeting on the agenda. The EU line had been agreed, and it was decided that the commissioner would take the lead, given he had been a British prime minister. As usual, the subject was the fact that the British wanted to benefit from something the EU was doing but not be seen to be doing anything with the EU. This was the standard position since Britain had left the EU. Brexit continued to dominate British politics as the deal to exit the EU had turned out to be nowhere near the expectations of the hardline Brexiteers. It hadn’t been helped by the former President of the Commission referring to the deal as “Vichy-lite” in that it was more of a symbolic break with Brussels than a hugely technical one. British taxpayers were still paying into EU coffers, just not getting any rebate or EU funds back. British exporters were still obeying EU regulations, just without any say as to how they were drawn up. British tabloids were still obsessed with foreigners in the country, only now screaming hysterically about why Britain had no say over immigration policy on the continent.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

When the safezone had been set up, the British government had taken the same approach it has taken to the original European Coal and Steel community in the 1950s. They said it wouldn’t work and they weren’t interested anyway. When it did work, and thousands of illegal immigrants were deported to the safezone for processing, the tabloids were furious, demanding that Britain be allowed join. One particular tabloid with a history of exercising the right arm seemed to somehow suggest that Britain should send a gunboat to the zone and demand the Europeans take Britain’s refugees. The French foreign minister actually vomited from laughing on reading that story. As it happened, the EU was quite willing to let Britain participate in the safezone, as it did other nonEU countries like Norway and Switzerland. But as usual, the details were the problem. “No, no, cripes no, I’m sorry, but I can’t have that,” the foreign secretary said, running a finger through his mop of blonde hair. The Italian foreign representative looked perplexed. The President of the Council, a Pole, looked out the window and the rain pelting down on Brussels and wondered what he’d have for lunch. The commissioner leaned on his elbows. “Then it’s a deal breaker. If Britain is to participate in the safezone it needs to provide troops. That’s the deal.” “I’ve no problem sending troops. But we must have an opt-out on them wearing any EU badges, or being under an EU commander.” “Oh for God’s sake!” the Italian shouted out. The Pole was doing his shopping in his laptop, and trying to remember if he needed toilet roll. He was sure there was a six pack under the sink in his apartment overlooking the Square Ambiorix, but he wasn’t definitely sure. He looked up at the outburst. “Well, I’m sorry, but there’s a clear security command structure. There’s the political authority, and then there’s the military answerable directly to it. General Sikorski is an exceptionally competent and able officer. We’re not having a parallel political command structure just for British soldiers.” The Pole shot a look at the foreign secretary, to see if he was directing some slur at his fellow countryman. He knew Sikorski personally, and shared the commissioner’s opinion of the general. The foreign secretary held up his hands. “I’m sure general Sikorski is a fine officer, but I can’t put British troops under the control of a Pole.” “We were happy to put Polish pilots under British command in 1940!” the Pole snapped back. “And very fine they were too!” the foreign secretary replied, trying to calm the situation. “Look man: I’m not having two separate command structures,” the commissioner said. “Yes, well that’s the other issue.” “The other issue?” The Italian woman asked. “Yes. I’m not sure I can sell parliament on you in charge of the safezone,” the blonde said as the Italian and the Pole erupted. The commissioner smiled, and leaned back in his seat.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

This wasn’t the first time he’d negotiated with British ministers, and it had been an eye opener to see Britain from the other side of the table. The obsession with parochial details, the terror of what tabloid editors would say. The obsession with short-term messaging. Of course, he wasn’t so callow as to not recognise that he had been the one who had brought so much of that into British politics in the first place. That grated with him too, as he lay in bed at night. That he and his advisors had pretty much led the charge on the infantilising on the British voter, culminating in the Brexit vote. This creature before him was his creation. He was Frankenstein and this was his monster. “No, that’s not up for debate. Britain gets no say over who runs the safezone. That’s an internal EU matter, ” the commissioner said. The blonde looked at the Pole and the Italian. “Look, if it’s a question of money, there are options. As long as it is all kept hush-hush, obviously. I mean, I can’t be seeing to be giving you more taxpayers money. But he is a non-runner. I mean, he’s pretty much seen as a traitor in Britain.” “What did you say?” the commissioner said, standing up. “This conversation would really be easier if you weren’t here. No offence.” “I’m not going anywhere. If the safezone is on the table, I’m part of the discussion. I’ll remind you this is an EU operation.” The foreign secretary laughed out loud. “And I’ll remind you I’m here representing my country, whilst you represent some foreign power. Still, that’s hardly a new one for you.” The punch hit the blonde square in the face, knocking him out of his seat and onto the ground. He let out a cry as his nose pumped a healthy amount of blood over his face and shirt. The commissioner, who was no stranger to the gym, stood over the British minister. “I dare you. Say that again.” The Pole laughed out loud, whilst the Italian was on her feet, her diminutive size not preventing her from putting herself in between the two men. The blonde was holding a bloodied handkerchief to his nose. “I’ll fucking have your job for this!” “No, you won’t. You can’t get a janitor fired here,” the Pole said, helping the other man to his feet. “I mean, you could make a big diplomatic eh, what’s the phrase, song and dance out of this. But what’s the point? The story is that two politicians had a punch up, and when people see how you both fared out…” “I’ll have you. You’re just one of the little people now!” the foreign secretary said, storming out of the room and into an anteroom where a cluster of Foreign and Commonwealth Office and European External Action Service officials stood up in shock. “You do know this will get out. It’ll be all over the web in an hour,” the Italian said.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The commissioner nodded, and tapped the agenda. “Well, we weren’t making any progress on that anyway. At least this way gives us another nice metaphor for Brexit: Bloody nose for Britain in Brussels!” he said.

Chapter Nine. Amaal attended her classes as required of her, and she surprised herself how much she enjoyed them. They were held in a building just up the street from the hostel, which was used to teach and train everything from primary school to vocational skills. English and French were both mandatory languages, which surprised many. English was regarded as the de facto second official language nearly every European Union members state, and French was a demand of the French government. Even when it was pointed out that making French compulsory would probably drive more immigrants to France, and the reason why the Freedom Party government in Austria had actually vetoed German as a compulsory language, France had put national pride first. Amaal’s English was quite good, to the extent that she was able to help the other new refugees in the class, and with that started to make her friends. Her classes about European values intrigued her. Europe seemed so big, so diverse. She knew a little about Ireland, because that was where Father O’Reilly had come from, and she knew about Italy, but the rest meant little to her. But the cities looked so beautiful, and the people so happy, she wasn’t surprised that so many of her people wanted to get there. The teacher, a Frenchwoman, took them patiently through what was expected of them. How men and women were equal, and how all religions and colours must be respected. She liked to hear that part, even if some of the Arab boys sneered. When the teacher got onto the subject of Jews and the Holocaust, one of the Egyptian boys stood and announced that the wasn’t going to listen to Zionist propaganda. The teacher challenged them, then put up a display of the Amsterdam gay pride parade. “Not only must Jews be respected, but also homosexuals,” she announced, pausing for a reaction. The Egyptian let out a shout, announcing that such acts deserved death.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“That goes against European values. Difference must be respected. That is European law.” “God’s law is greater than your laws!” he shouted at her, looking to the other two Egyptian boys beside him for support. Both looked down at their desks. The teacher pressed a button on her desk, and a moment later two European Defence Force soldiers opened the door and entered the room. The teacher pointed at the young man. “Section 7 extremist evaluation required,” she said, and the soldiers stepped forward. “You fucking whore!” he screamed, lunging at them. The senior soldier, a large Frenchman of Malian descent pulled out his Tazer in a fluid motion and fired it at the young man, knocking his down with a blue flash as the prongs struck him in the chest. The soldier gave him a few more volts, then retracted the cables, stowed the weapon, cuffed the Egyptian’s hands behind his back with a plastic cable tie. The two soldiers then lifted the drooling youth out of the room, closing the door behind him. Amaal looked on shocked. The teacher calmed the room. “Don’t worry, he will not be tortured or hurt. But if he is found to hold extremist views, he will be returned to Egypt and barred from ever entering Europe or the safezone again. You must understand: the people of Europe who pay for everything here will not tolerate extremism.” “But what if they are your beliefs?” one of the Egyptians asked. He was one of the older ones, and had realised that a respectful tone allowed for more provocative questions. “That’s a good question? Who can answer that?” she looked across the classroom. Amaal raised her hand cautiously. “You should live somewhere where everyone shares your values?” The teacher smiled. “That’s exactly right. If your religious beliefs conflict with the European values we have outlined here, then you should live in a place where you would be happier. I cannot stress this enough.” “But I want to live in Europe!” the Egyptian said. “Then you must choose what matters more to you. You must respect European values to live in Europe: it is not up for negotiation. Now, I ask you all to have a look at the main noticeboard in the entrance hall: there are jobs and training opportunities for all, and seeking them earns points towards a visa. You can also make more money: remember the minimum wage in the safe zone is €5 per hour, regardless of your sex, religion, colour or sexual orientation (that phrase always made a number of girls in the classes laugh, covering their mouths with their hands). That is the law. Ok, let’s break for lunch.” Amaal stepped out into the hallway, and made her way to the entrance hall, where a large noticeboard offered all sorts of courses. Maryan walked passed her, nudging her with her elbow. “Live somewhere where someone shares your values!” Maryan said, in a mocking voice, then looked up at the noticeboard.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“Have you seen anything?” Amaal asked, half knowing the answer. The other Somali girl seemed to be spending a lot of time with Gianni. Amaal didn’t know what to make of that. She’d never even kissed a boy, whereas Maryan seemed happy to use her body to get what she wanted. Not that Amaal was passing judgement. Maryan’s confidence had prevented them both from starving on the way to the safezone. She had no right to judge. Which made her, she thought to herself, quite European. At least if the classes were to be believed. European women were not only permitted to be free with their bodies, but it was their right. She wasn’t sure she wanted to exercise that right, but then, she had a right not to. It wasn’t like boys didn’t look at her. She was slim, and her face was oval and unblemished, her eyes an uncanny bright blue. Boys had always been interested in her, but she had always kept to herself, a mixture of shyness and a belief that she must save herself for her husband. How to meet a husband was another thing altogether, she pondered. Some local businesses were hiring, and courses in everything from plumbing to cooking were offered. Then one caught her eye. A pile of copies of the leaflet were on the table in front of the noticeboard. Maryan looked at the leaflet, and laughed. She then pointed at another. “What about that?” Maryan was pointing at a notice from a local tailor looked for a seamstress. “You’re very good at all that darning and stuff. My jeans still hold out!” The other girl pointed at the rip in her jeans just below her buttock that Amaal had fixed in Cairo. The repair still held in place. The two girls had complemented each other on their journey. Maryan had been good at getting them food and accommodation, and had the ability to turn almost any ingredients into something if not tasty then at least palatable. She had the ability to rifle through a bin behind a restaurant as Amaal kept watch, come out with rotting vegetables aor discarded meat, and with a battered saucepan they brought with them make a meal to keep them going for a little while longer. Amaal had been the translator, the one who talked them through things where only talk would work. Her gift for languages paired with her demure appearance was surprisingly effective, with many policemen or border guards seeing in her their own daughters or sisters. Maryan rubbed the repair. “You know, I might get you to undo the stitching now that we’re here. A girl’s allowed be a little more cheeky here.” Amaal laughed, blushing slightly. “Is that what Gianni would like?” she asked. “Never you mind! He’s helping me with something. I’ll see you later,” the other girl said, with a wink, and with a wave was gone. Amaal looked at the advertisement again. She reckoned she had all the skills the man needed. Her mother had been a very talented seamstress, probably the best in the village, her foot operated sewing machine had been her pride and joy, probably the most valuable item in their home. Her mother had taken great pride in her work, and her attention to detail and had insisted in the same from her daughter. She was sure she could do the job. She took a photo of the ad with her phone, and was about to leave when the other leaflet caught her eye.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The image was of a small dark woman, not much older than Amaal, and of similar build. Arabic rather than African, and wearing a headscarf. But that was where the comparison ended, because this woman was wearing a khaki uniform of the Safezone Militia, the auxiliary force recruited to work alongside the European Defence Force, made up of refugees. She wore sand coloured boots, had an EU flag on her uniform and a complicated looking headset coming from inside her scarf, which had an EU cap badge attached to it. But it was what was in her arms that fascinated Amaal. The woman was holding a machine gun as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. She’d seen some of the militia on patrol with the EDF, but there weren’t many women that she could see. There tended to be more women in the EDF, but that was somehow less shocking because they were European, and European women seemed to be so much tougher. Wasn’t Europe run by a woman? She had seen her in one of her lessons the class, addressing a large glass room in Berlin with a huge steel hen on the wall behind her, and she did not look frightened at all. If anything, the men looked frightened of her. Amaal folded the leaflet carefully and put it into the bag they had given her for her textbook and notes, she then looked at the map on the wall to see where the tailor was. It was located near the market square, on Rue Giscard d’Estaing. She knew where it was.

Chapter Ten. Just after he served his last customer, Achmed stepped out onto the street again, looking up and down to see if he could see him. The street was clearing as it got dark, and shops closed up for the night and families sat down for their evening meals. Achmed was always slow to close, always listening to that tiny part of his brain terrified of losing a sale, and so he tended to do a “soft closing”, taking his time taking in the displays piled up on the street directly outside the shop so that passing customers could still see he was available to sell them whatever they wanted. He had only heard the phrase at a meeting of the local business forum, and it was his new favourite English phrase. Amira rolled her eyes at his announcement of this new phrase. The street tended towards the retail, with the Safezone Authority insisting that bars and late night restaurants and coffee shops all be clustered closer to the square which was less residential. A planner from Holland had explained the thinking behind them, and Achmed had been very impressed. It made sense, and meant he could get some sleep. But tonight he wanted to close the store for real, because Amira had prepared a special meal in their home for the welcoming of his brother. Achmed had even gone back to the wholesaler to get a really good piece of beef for the occasion, and she had had covered the place in candles and throws. Mona, his beloved little one, had never met her uncle and was excited. Achmed had made contact with him by text message, after the RA had determined that they were indeed family, and the brother had been just as surprised to hear that his older brother was alive. They had arranged to meet on Rue Martin Schulz for dinner the following night. Achmed had just finished storing away the last of his stock when he saw the figure come down the street. The narrow walkways, with two and three story converted containers looming over them and transforming them into dark trenches even during the day were not well lit. The SA were gradually extending public lighting, but the bigger streets and marketplaces were the priority, and Rue Martin Schulz was not a major thoroughfare, even if it felt like the centre of the world to its residents. He peered towards the coming man, and recognised the stroll immediately. When he passed the lit window of another home, Achmed recognised the face, and cried out, before shouting into the shop.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“Mona, Amira. He’s here, he’s here!” Khalid smiled broadly, putting out his arms to embrace his older brother as Amira and Mona came out of the shop.

Chapter Eleven. The commissioner stepped into the briefing room at the very top of the Safezone Authority building overlooking the harbour. A large circular table dominated the room which was square itself, with one wall taken up almost entirely by a huge screen for communications and information display. The other two walls were taken up with the flags of the EU members states, Macedonia, Norway, Scotland and Switzerland. The Libyan flag stood apart beside an EU flag. He couldn’t help feeling just the slightest pang of disappointment that his own national flag wasn’t present. The room was full of both military and civilian personnel, most chatting, getting coffee and pastries from a table facing windows looking out onto the harbour. The harbour was dominated by the French aircraft carrier Richelieu, which sat out to sea, resembling a floating Buddha waiting to be consulted. “Here he is: better put the good china away!” the Irishman said. The Irish, Scottish and some of the southern Europeans present laughed. The Germans, French and Scandinavians all smiled uncomfortably, ill at ease with the gentle mocking of the most senior official in the room. But they all knew the relationship that the Englishman and the Irishman had. They had spent a decade as close colleagues on the European Council as their respective nations’ prime ministers. They had worked side by side for long hours on the Northern Ireland peace process. Both had come into office in the same year, and left office within 18 months of each other. Both had led their parties out of the wilderness and into three successive election victories. Although socially they were quite different, the Irishman from a working class background, the Englishman a barrister and graduate of Oxford. But they’d got the measure of each other’s politics very quickly: result driven, pragmatic and with a deep suspicion of ideology for its own sake. They were at ease in each other’s company, rarely disagreed on the fundamentals, and divided up the work easily. Although the Irishman was nominally the Commissioner’s deputy, everybody knew that they were, in reality, partners. They never disagreed in public, and whereas the Englishman like the strategic and the big picture, the Irishman liked the impact on the ground. The commissioner would sometimes ponder how much more he could have achieved with the Irishman as his chancellor as opposed to the brooding Scot who succeeded him. The commissioner stopped at the door, took a small bow, and then made for his seat. The news of his punching of the British foreign secretary had not taken long to leak out, with footage of the blonde politician rushing down a corridor covered in his own blood, his white shirt sodden, racing across Twitter and Facebook. The British tabloids had gone hysterical. The left wing had made a joke of the whole thing, and the right had gone hysterical. Downing Street had demanded the commissioner’s immediate sacking, but both the Elysee Palace and the Chancellery in Berlin both suggested that he was provoked. The


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Daily Mail called for sanctions against the whole of the EU. One UKIP MP, after enjoying his breakfast G&T, called for an airstrike on the European Commission. A source close to the French President suggested that the commissioner would not be able to pay for a drink in Brussels for at least a year. Even his most ardent opponents on the British left grudgingly admitted that he couldn’t be all bad after giving the blonde a “good thump”. The commissioner’s former Deputy Prime Minister took credit for “teaching him all he knew”. The agenda flashed up on the screen directly facing his seat. He wasn’t a fan of formal meeting like this, and tended to move through the agenda quickly with the clear and stated understanding that if something needed to be raised it would be. A number of core areas about security and new arrivals was dealt with, and then he moved onto the impending visit of the German chancellor to the safezone. It was to be the visit of the highest ranking head of state or government since the safezone had opened. The security briefings were taking the matter very seriously, with her own security people advising her not to risk it. “Kennedy had to go to Dallas!” she told them, getting worried bodyguards looking around the room at each other. But she was adamant. The safezone had been a vital part of her policy on border security and the refugees. It was she who had finally agreed to the European Central Bank raising the eurobonds to fund the EDF and the safezone to deliver a policy she called security with honour. If she couldn’t come to the safezone, she suggested ominously in a phone conversation with the commissioner, what was the point of it? But the truth was that there was more to it than that. The safezone was a popular policy in an age when governments didn’t do much that was popular, and by identifying herself with it it meant that a vote for her was a vote for the safezone. It was true, the neo-nazis were against it, but that suited her fine too, to be seen as the political bulwark against the fascists. General Sikorski looked up from the briefing document laid on on the table. The display on the screen changed to outline the very substantial security arrangements being made between the EDF and the Chancellor’s security detail. The general pushed a lock of her blonde hair back from her face. “As well as our people the chancellor will be surrounded throughout the trip by members of GSG9, the German counter-terrorist unit. We are arranging for her to tour a school, a marketplace, visit some people in their homes and address the representative council.” The commissioner nodded. “Security concerns?” The general shook her head. “Nothing on the board. I’ve also assigned the Scottish Defence Force contingent to act as the backup to the GSG9 in the event of an issue. They will start liasing later today.” The young Scottish Department of Foreign Affairs representative at the table lit up at the news. Since Scotland’s second referendum and decision to leave the United Kingdom, the young nation had been very eager to play its part in international affairs, and had been one of the first non-EU member states to become a partner nation to the Safezone. Although Spain continued to block Scottish membership of the EU for fear of arousing separatist passions itself, the Scottish contribution to the zone was not going unnoticed, with 250 Scottish troops participating actively in its running, and an equal number of Scottish doctors, nurses and refugee workers playing their part.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The Irish delegation had very much taken the Scots under their wing, and Scottish and Irish troops shared a barracks and patrolled jointly. The drinking, and singing in the bars around the barracks was legendary. “The Richelieu will be departing later today. The captain extends his thanks for the hospitality shown to his crew.” The commissioner nodded. It had become standard for pretty much every European military vessel in the Mediterranean to visit the Safezone if only for a day. It gave the crews a short respite, and the Safezone Authority welcomed the spending of military pay packets in the markets and elsewhere. The question of brothels had reared its ugly head, and had caused a furious debate in the council as to whether it should be legalised. The commissioner decided narrowly against. Even without brothels, legal ones at least, there was still plenty for a young sailor to spend his or her pay packet on as the authority tended to turn a blind eye to copyright infringements in the city on the basis that if people were selling each other dodgy handbags they weren’t killing each other. There was also the lesser spoken reason: the authority felt it was no harm if the city’s residents saw the odd European aircraft carrier or Mirage booming over the city, just to remind them of the union’s military power. “All very Roman,” the deputy commissioner had commented on hearing the reason. “We’ll be nailing a few fellas to crucifixes next. Of course, this being the EU, we’ll have to make sure the timber in the crucifixes is from a certified sustainable source.” The deputy commissioner tended to lead the meeting after the security issues. He also led the discussion on pink notices. So-called pink notices were named over the fact that they were printed on pink paper, such was their need to be treated as special. A pink notice was a document outlining a decision by the commissioner, after consultation with his council, to expel an individual from the Safezone. Without right to appeal, the commissioner could sign the order and have an individual arrested and removed from the city. They would be flown under EDF escort, by force if necessary, and returned to their country of origin. In some cases it involved an individual being forced into a life-jacket and dropped from a helicopter into water just off their country. It was an extremely controversial policy, and had been roundly condemned by the United Nations and a substantial minority of the European Parliament. As a policy, however, it was extremely popular with the European public. Such was its seriousness when a pink notice order was executed it tended to be one of the lead items on the evening news on SafeZone 1, the city’s main channel. The TV channel had begun transmitting shortly after the zone’s population had exceeded 50,000 people, and was the main source of news and entertainment for the city. Modelled on the BBC, SZ1 was staffed initially by ex-BBC and Nordic public broadcasters, the channel was operated on an arm’s length basis from the Authority, although with a clear mandate to communicate European values and not undermine them. Its early evening news broadcast, hosted by a hijab wearing Syrian journalist and a male Libyan counterpart was the second most watched programme in the city. The French had objected to the fact that it was broadcast in English, and insisted on a second broadcast in French after it, but Evening News was nevertheless the most trusted source in the city. It’s regular robust interviews with both the commissioner and his deputy were particular highlights. Ironically, the very first interview with the commissioner had been the only time the Authority had intervened in the running of the channel. The commissioner had objected to the fact that the interviewers had


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

been too deferential, and had rescheduled a second interview where they had been encouraged to get tougher with him. His deputy had rolled his eyes at that one, his own interviews been much more, like his personality, one of a casual chat with as much discussion about the Premiership as the state of affairs in the city. Whereas SZ1 Evening News was the second most popular tv show in the safezone, there was no question as to the first. That was “WestZoners”, the channel’s soap opera about ordinary families trying to get by in the safezone. When it had first been pitched, the authority had been less than enthusiastic given the cost and potential for controversy, but the commissioner had loved the idea, seeing it as a means of subtle communicating values and information without preaching. Indeed, the show had been so successful, now in its fifth year, that it had been exported to European and middle east countries, and had made stars of many of the refugee actors who starred in it. It had been roundly condemned by extremist groups and imams for its decadent western propaganda, but the reality was that at seven pm every evening a majority of the adult population of the city would watch the residents of Verhofstadt Square to see whether Aya would date the Christian boy across the square, or whether good looking but bad boy Abdul would get a pink notice, or if Rabbi Joshua, everybody’s funny uncle, would survive his heart attack. The deputy commissioner opened the file in front of him, and removed three pink sheets. Although many refused to believe it, and indeed their officials were at times exasperated by the amount of time the two men spent on the issue, both men found the pink notices gruelling. The deputy commissioner had likened it to imposing the death sentence. The first case was an Egyptian imam who called for gays to be killed. He had been warned previously, but refused to stop. Neither man had an issue with signing that particular order. The second was a notorious Moroccan holocaust denier. The fact that he hadn’t already been expelled was the issue, as far as the commissioner was concerned. The third was an Afghan woman who killed her husband. She had been Shia, he was Christian, and they had fought over what religion to raise their expected child. She was three months pregnant. “I’m not sure how this even got past the judge, to be honest,” the Irishman said. One of the officials looked up the name. “Declerq!” he said. A groan went out from the collective room. The commissioner rolled his eyes. The Belgian judge had the highest rulings overturn rate in the whole city. “We really are going to have to do something about him. He’s a bigot.” The Englishman nodded and scribbled a note on his iPad. “I’ll talk to Brussels. Might be able to get him early retirement.” “I don’t know why he even agreed to be posted here. He hates Muslims.” “Likes Arab girls, apparently,” one of the French officials said matter-of-factly. “Girls?” the Englishman said, eyebrows raising. “Not like that. Women!” the Frenchman corrected himself. The commissioner shrugged. The Irishman scribbled a note in his jotter. He wasn’t a fan of electronics.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“I’ll give the Belgians a shout, smooth it out. See if they have a replacement.” The commissioner nodded, and closed the meeting. He gave General Sikorski a look, and she nodded and both her and the Irishman stepped into his private office. He closed the door. “OK, I’ve got the go ahead for Operation Hades.” The general nodded. “I’ll make the arrangements,” she said, and stepped out of the office. The two men walked out onto the balcony, eyes both drawing to the huge French warship. Just then, a huge roar emerged from its deck, and a Dassault Rafale fighter sped down the runway before soaring into the air. It looped out to sea, gaining height, before turning to rocket over the city. “This is all your thing more than mine. I only ever had to get briefings about terrorism. But all this sort of yoke, Hades…” “Doesn’t make it any easier having done it before. I thought I was doing the right thing last time too,” the Englishman said. His deputy nodded. “That’s a fair point. Jesus, I didn’t think of that. Your judgement is shite when it comes to this sort of thing. We’d be better deciding with a deck of cards. Or rock paper scissors.” “Why don’t you fuck off!” the Englishman said, and the two started laughing. “Feel good giving yer man a dig?” “Oh yeah.” The fighter boomed as it crossed back over the city.

Chapter Twelve. Amaal loved the market. It was in DeValera Square, close to the hostel, and every morning nearly sixty traders would each claim a table allocated to them by the Authority and set out their wares. Everything from fresh bread to DVDs to books to clothes from all over the world. Amaal enjoyed walking through the market, even though she rarely bought anything. She was very careful with her money, preferring to keep it stored on the special card they had given her at the harbour, although she also had about fifteen euro in notes and coins. She could use either for transactions, although some of the more old school traders preferred cash rather than the handheld scanners they rented off the Authority. Some feared, rightly, that the Authority would use the devices to track their sales and eventually impose a sales tax. But as the authority paid them electronically too, including the small business grants and loans they had initially received to start their businesses, they hadn’t much choice. The authority started investigating people who had no visible means of income. The market reminded her of her village. As she watched, she could see a little Arab woman engaged in a loud debate with a huge African man over the price of his vegetables. Amaal smiled. Her mother


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

had been like than, unwilling to back down, unafraid of any man when it came to looking after the best interests of her family. The Islamists hadn’t liked that, a woman not willing to cower in fear before them, and she’d paid the price. She came across a stall operated by a very large Somali woman, whom everyone called Mrs Amaani, even though she wasn’t married and it was actually her first name. But she was seen as the mother of De Valera Market and greeted Amaal with a broad smile. “Hello, beautiful Amaal! And how are you today?” Amaal liked the perennially cheerful woman, and her stall of ridiculously bright clothes. The woman never tried to hard sell anybody anything, but was happy that her stock spoke for itself. It was a favourite of local African girls. “I’m very good, Mrs Amaani. My studies are going well, and I think I might get a job. I was going to see this man?” She handed over her phone with the picture of the tailor’s ad. Mrs Amaani put on her spectacles to read, then took the phone. “Ah, Mr Hassan, I know him well. He has busy hands, although I think he prefers more ample figures!” She laughed, running her hands down her heavily curved figure. Amaal laughed, slightly shocked at the woman’s openness. “He squeezed my bottom once at a meeting of the trader’s association. I slapped him across the face and said “Mr Hassan, we are in Europe now! This will not do! He has been an absolute gentleman ever since!” A tall Arab man pushed through the large group in front of her stall, knocking into Amaal. She looked up at his face, and into the face of the man who had killed her mother.

Chapter Thirteen. Achmed sat out on the street on a secondhand deckchair, sipping a tea and thinking. It was just after 10pm, and the street was quiet and barely lit by the lights from the other residences. A local man and customer walked past a wished him a greeting, which he returned. He normally loved that, those little acknowledgements that he was known, that he was someone in the local community. A “hello Mr Hadid” always gave him just the tiniest little lift. But not tonight. Tonight he was just troubled, bothered. Halfway down the street the Allars were fighting again, she accusing him of chasing the pretty Iraqi waitress from the coffee shop on Tsipras Street. The whole street could hear the row, and Achmed knew how it would be taken. The women would be deciding he was a rat, and the men not blaming him: the waitress was very pretty. Not that Mrs Allar wasn’t attractive. Someone had told Achmed that she’d been a beauty queen in her native Lebanon, which didn’t surprise him. She was getting on a bit, “filling out” as an Irish EDF soldier had told him (he thought that was a very funny phrase) but you could see it. She was a beauty in her youth, and still now. But some men just can’t stop themselves, he thought. He’d never


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

strayed from Amira himself, but enjoyed the odd view. As the same Irish soldier had told him, it doesn’t matter where you get your appetite as long as you have your dinner at home. Recalling that phrase would normally have made Achmed smile, but Khalid’s return had troubled him. Yes, of course his brother had been through alot, with the camp in Turkey and then Greece before being deported to the zone. But that wasn’t what bothered him. It was the little things. Khalid expressing surprise that Achmed sold alcohol. Or remarking that the mosque they attended wasn’t a real mosque because the imam wasn’t a fanatic. Or mocking the photograph of Achmed with the Irish deputy commissioner, something Achmed was very proud of. Then when the rabbi had greeted Achmed on the street by name, Khalid had refused to speak to his brother. It had only been Amira’s intervention which had stopped him from punching the younger man. How dare he come into my home and lecture me on what it means to be a good Muslim? To mock a man trying to provide a good life for his family? And so what if he had a kind word for the rabbi? This is Europe, he thought. Their traditions, their way of life was weird, strange, at times even offensive, but the Europeans made them safe here. Not the Russians, not the Islamists, and certainly not their own government. His brother had been polite to Amira, and kind to Mona, but Achmed was troubled. This was not the younger brother from their days in Aleppo, where Khalid would be the one mocking the devout and Achmed the one always first into the mosque. Achmed drained his tea. He wasn’t happy about the text messages his brother was getting either, or his going out with friends. How could he have friends having only been in the city a few weeks. What sort of people were they? Had he fallen in with a dangerous group in Turkey or Greece? No, he wasn’t happy about it at all. Chapter Fourteen. Amaal had followed him for seven streets before he stepped into a restaurant comprising four renovated shipping containers surrounded by an awning and seating. It looked busy. The more she followed, the more she became convinced he was the man he had seen directing the other terrorists. The one her mother had argued with after she had hidden Amaal under the bed. Her mother, if she had been afraid, had not shown it even as he waved his rifle in her face, right up to the moment he lost his temper and shot her in the head. Amaal was scared now, not as scared as she had been, shivering under the bed, stifling her sobs into her hand and knowing that the slightest whimper could bring him to her. She lay there for nearly an hour, eyes fixed on her mother’s body, until suddenly Maryan appeared in the room, looked under her bed, put her finger to her lips and pulled her out. They hadn’t stopped running until they boarded that rickety little boat in Egypt. She walked past the bar a dozen times until the African man on the door started paying her attention, and then she walked back to the market, head spinning. What could she do? She was sure he was the man, sure of it, but she had no power, she was nobody. Amaal was so preoccupied when she walked back into the market that had to see where the voice came from. She looked up to see three EDF soldiers manning a stand in the market. “Hello again: it’s Amaal, isn’t it?” the small blonde woman said.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

It took a moment for Amaal to place her, then it came: she was the Danish soldier from the harbour, the one who had helped her and Maryan. The Dane put out her hand. “I’m Captain Naja Petersen, European Defence Force. Like our stand?” Amaal recognised the stand immediately, as it had the same leaflets and posters from the stand in the hostel. Amaal smiled and nodded. Despite the emotions swimming over her, there was something about this woman that made her feel safe. Was it that she was not just a woman, but a powerful one? Or at least one that did not fear men. “How are you finding the safezone? Is the hostel comfortable?” “Yes, very. I’m enjoying the lessons.” “Good. Have you looked for a job yet? Obviously, that’s what I’m doing here, but, generally speaking.” “You’re recruiting for the militia? I’ve seen your leaflet.” The Dane smiled. “Can I tempt you to come to a recruitment meeting? Women only, on tonight. There’s no obligation to join, just let’s you see what we do, ask questions. The militia pays €300 a week, and gives good visa points too.” Amaal looked down at her feet. “You think you can’t do it, don’t you?” Naja said. “You think you couldn’t be a soldier because men won’t take you seriously, and you’ll be afraid to face them. Well, our training is very good. Over 40% of our new recruits will be women and we also have what I call the equaliser.” She nodded at the young man beside her, who pulled up a machine gun from under the stand. Amaal stepped back. “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded. Heckler and Koch HK416 tactical rifle. 700 rounds a minute, effective range of 300 metres. Standard NATO 5.56 cartridge. It’s amazing how men take you very seriously and as an equal when you point this at them. Turns even the most backward of bigots instantly into a feminist.” She handed it over to Amaal, who waved it away. “Seriously, try it. Just hold it.” Amaal took the weapon nervously. It wasn’t as heavy as she expected, and Petersen walked around the stall and stood behind her, helping her hold the rifle properly, pulling the stock firmly into her shoulder. Amaal looked down the sights, which Petersen helped her line up. She handed the weapon back to the Danish captain. “We’re meeting tonight in Mario Soares College, on Nick Clegg Street, at 7pm. Just come: we have a short 16 week contract where you learn the basics, self defence, military structure, basic firearms, fitness. Many who join just for the self defence. It’s great for self confidence. Please tell me you’ll come?”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Amaal thought about it a moment. Self defence. She looked at the captain. She would know what to do about the man who murdered her mother, in fact, she wouldn’t be afraid of him. “I’ll be there,” Amaal said.

Chapter Fifteen. Khalid checked the address on his phone again before knocking on the door. It opened slightly, a bearded man looked him up and down, and then stepped aside to let him pass, before checking the street again and closing the door. The residence was one of the newer modular homes built in the zone, purpose designed for speedy construction and with the climate of north Africa in mind. Originally, the authority had feared that the new building would inspire jealousy in the older refugees who were living in converted shipping containers or tents. But the various army engineers converting the shipping containers had become so good at it that many chose to stay in them. They were robust, easy to extend, easy to repair and once the authority had started to distribute air conditioning units people began to regard them as home. The blinds were pulled down over the windows, and the floor was covered in rugs and cushions. He greeted the four men on the floor, and sat down with them, the man from the door joining them. One man offered a Coca Cola from a cooler, but Khalid refused politely, looking instead at the map of the city spread out on the floor before them. There were no markings on the map, a lesson they had learned from American raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Brother, we believe the Elleman-Jensen Square market is the prime opportunity. It is one of the lesser markets, but not that small. Farooq has already reconnoitred it.” He gestured over at the youngest man, a narrow faced arab with eager eyes. “It has no more than two patrols at any time. If we are to attack from two, maybe three streets at the same time, with the rifles and the grenades…” “We will kill a load of women and children, and possibly each other,” Khalid said, pointing at the three attack points. “What?” Farooq said, coming closer to see what the Syrian was pointing at. “If three of us attack, spraying side to side, we are each in the other’s line of fire, brother. I know this square, it’s not that big. We could easily be in each other’s range.” Farooq was embarrassed. He had not seen any fighting, just videos on the internet. Khalid saw the young man’s awkwardness. “But you knew that already, I am sure. The Prophet, praise his name, would recognise your courage. You are not afraid to fight, even at the risk of falling at the hand of a brother.” Farooq nodded eagerly, thanks in his eyes. Khalid continued. “My question is this: why a soft target like a market? Yes, we may kill a few of the crusader soldiers, but mostly our own fellow Muslims will die.” “They are not true Muslims, they have fallen into the decadent ways of the west. The young women dress like whores!” Farooq said.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Khalid nodded. “I do not doubt you brother. But we are warriors. Should we not attack a target worthy of warriors?” An older man sipped his tea. “Where would you suggest?” Khalid jabbed a finger at the map. All the others leaned closer to see. The light was weak in the room. The older man laughed. “Nothing would give me more pleasure. The heart of the European disease. But they know it too. They have barriers both here and here. Not just militia, but European troops and armoured cars.” Khalid nodded. “I agree. It is heavily defended. I do not discount the risk to us. The soldiers here are tough, they will fight hard, and we may die. But that is their weakness.” He tapped the end of the street on the map. “This is where the target is.” The older man frowned. “I do not understand.” “The Europeans have sealed both ends of the street, put up what they call a ring of steel around the street because they regard it as a high value target. They have heavy security at both ends. What else do they do? Farooq?” He looked over at the young man, whose eyes widened in surprise. “They search people?” Khalid snapped his fingers. “Exactly. They not only search people, they have metal detectors and check bags to ensure no one is bringing weapons or explosives into the street. And with those searches you get queues and crowds, all waiting, all clustered. A sitting ripe target outside the security zone. A sitting ripe target of deviants and the godless awaiting God’s own angry vengeance. That is our target.” Khalid sat back. “Our friends in Turkey were right about you,” the old man said. “So how, a bomb?” the man who had answered the door said. Khalid shook his head. “No, that will kill many, but it is not the way of righteous warriors. I say we attack. With as many men as we can. A spectacular coordinated attack with automatic weapons and grenades.” He pointed at the three streets leading into the target street.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“We come from three directions. Planning and timing is the key. The first starts shooting here, driving the perverts in panic towards the security gate, which the Europeans will try to hold. Then the second two, coming from each side, reveal themselves and open fire. The crowd will run against itself, blocking in the troops at the gate and preventing them from confronting us. Then we throw grenades, empty our clips, and escape back the way we came, ditching our weapons as we run.” The other four men sat in silence, staring at the map. Khalid reached over and grasped the hand of the youngest man. “Brothers, let us be honest. Planting a bomb would be much safer for us. But far less spectacular, and far easier for the Europeans to paint us as cowards and jackals. This is the more dangerous option. This needs coordination. If the others fire before the first man on the main thoroughfare, they will create a stampede onto one of the smaller streets before the other two are ready. If that happens, the Europeans will respond and if we get into a firefight we lose. It needs three men, but ideally six, all with adequate weaponry and with colour markings so we can clearly see each other so as not to hit each other. The two facing teams must each hug the right side of the street, so as to avoid hitting the other when the shooting starts.” His finger traced their movements of the map as he described their actions. “This is high risk. We could lose, we could die. There are many errors to be made, and we are against an enemy that is well-armed, well-trained and brutal.” The door man snorted. “They protect a street of perverts. Half of them are deviants, and the other half women.” “No!” Khalid said loudly, slapping the map. “No. Do not underestimate them, brother. All of them are here for a reason. The French are here to prove they are still a great power. The Dutch to avenge the disgrace of Srebrenica. The street is named after an Irish president. The Scottish are here to show they are once again a proud nation. They all have a reason to fight. Do not underestimate them.” The older man nodded. “Khalid is right. Our brothers in Mali have fought the Europeans, and they were not soft. This is the most dangerous operation this group has ever planned. What say we?” The doorman looked around the room, and nodded. The older man raised his hand to show his agreement with Khalid’s proposal. The other two men nodded, the younger of the two wide-eyed. Khalid nodded. “Can we get more men? Ideally one more for three teams of two?” The older man thought for a moment. “I think I know of someone. It may take a day or two.” Khalid nodded. “The weapons,” he asked.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The older man bit the inside of his cheek. “That too. I may require your help with that.” Khalid nodded. The old man scratched the scar on his face and folded the map over, leaving Mary McAleese Street facing up.

Chapter Sixteen. The group consisted of just over twenty women, of differing ethnic backgrounds. Some wore hijabs, others African dress, and a few of the younger women were dressed in clothes that would not look unusual on fashionable teenage girls in Paris of Berlin. They all sat in a semicircle of seats in the rear courtyard of a school building. The sun was going down, although it was still bright and warm. Captain Petersen welcomed them all, and introduced the only man at the meeting, a very tall and broad French sergeant named Baston. She then outlined the purpose of the gathering: the safezone was very eager to recruit more women into the militia, and she wanted to explain to them what being in the militia meant, its duties and its benefits. As part of that process she told them that the militia had created a three month programme where a woman could sign up, get paid, go through training but had a right to resign at any time. “You’re not being drafted!” she promised them. After talking about the militia, she then took them through some basic self-defence tactics, after which both her and the sergeant paired them off and went from group to group taking them through their moves on soft mats. Amaal had been placed with a tough Libyan girl who was as brave as Amaal was nervous, and was dominating the Somali girl easily. Baston reached their mat just as Amaal was flung to the mat for the fifth time. “What’s going on here, Amaal? You not that much smaller than Hamza.” Amaal looked down at her feet in embarrassment. This whole thing had been a bad idea. What was she doing here, pretending to be a soldier? Baston asked Hamza to step off the mat for a moment, and he took her place. He towered over Amaal. “You’re young, you’re in good shape, Captain Petersen has shown you what you need to do. What’s the problem?” She said nothing, looking down.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He reached out and shoved her shoulder. “I’m talking to you little girl. Look at me!” She looked up. He shoved her again. She looked over at Petersen. “Don’t look at me, Amaal. If you’re going to let men push you around that’s who you are.” Just at that moment she saw the face of the man with the scar, and her mother’s eyes staring through her as she lay on the floor of their home. A tiny spark lit. That feeling of frustration, of always been the pawn of other people’s wants and desires, of always being pushed and shoved and leered at and groped and touched where she didn’t want to be touched. Just for that moment she lost control of her temper, just for that second she wasn’t quiet little Amaal the good girl who did what she was told. She took a swing at the sergeant, who easily parried it, and swung her around so that she was facing away from him, and pulled her into his chest with one arm on her front and the other locking her arm behind her. “Finally, that’s what I want to see, a bit of anger. You’re not here to be pushed around.” He released her and stepped back. “Again!” he barked. “Eyes and balls!” Petersen shouted at her, as they had shown all the women. Amaal squared her stance and lashed out at his groin. He caught her foot and pushed back. “Again!” he said, and she did again. Petersen clapped, and separated them. “Now, that’s what we want. Next time a man gives you shit he won’t be expecting a kick in the balls.” Baston smiled and gave Amaal a playful punch in the arm. “There’s a fighter in there. We’re going to let her out.” Amaal smiled and blushed. “Now, to finish off, a bit of fun.” She placed an assault rifle on the table. “The great leveller. Be you a giant, or petite, man, woman, Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, this gets instant respect. Amaal!” She waved the young woman over to her, put the rifle in her hands, and then turned her around to face the target set up on a stand 150 metres from them. A large wall of sandbags was stacked up behind the stand. Petersen stood behind Amaal and brought the gun up. “See the two sights? Line them up. That means the rifle to pointing in a straight line at your target. Now, it’s on a single round setting, and there’ll be a bit of a kick when it fires. Don’t rest your face on


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

the gun, because it’ll hit you. Ok, aim at his chest and squeeze slowly. The centre body mass should always be your target unless…” The gun fired loudly, the report echoing against the walls surrounding the courtyard. A hole was clearly visible on the target. Straight through the target’s face. “Ok, so you went a little high…” “I was aiming for his head,” Amaal said softly. Baston laughed. “OK, try and hit his head again. The important thing is that you group your…” Amaal fired another shot, then two more. All three went through the face of the target, within millimetres of each other. The other women started clapping and cheering. Petersen smiled. “Seems like we have a natural. OK, who else wants a go?” A load of hands shot up. Baston smiled at Amaal. “If you can handle a rifle like that, you won’t need to kick them in the balls. You can shoot them off.” Amaal laughed out loud before covering her mouth. Chapter Seventeen. “These guys gives me the creeps,” the Irishman said, looking out the window of the Safezone Authority Building as the EDF jeep, with an escort jeep pulled up right outside the entrance. The soldiers opened the door and the man, tall and thin and in a formal suit despite the heat stepped without a word onto the pavement and went up the steps, his slim but expensive briefcase by his side. The commissioner smiled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve met CIA, Mossad, my own security services, they’ve all got their own aura about them, like they just barely tolerate the rest of us.” “But these guys...Jaysus...they speak to us like we’re the help.” The Englishman laughed, and the two turned to the door just as Mrs Appleby, the commissioner’s formidable secretary, knocked and opened the door. “Herr Steiner of Directorate ‘63, commissioners.” The German, with a closely trimmed bald head with just the hint of grey hair around the back and sides stepped in and smiled. “Gentlemen: Harry Steiner, D63. I can click my heels if it would make you feel better?” The Irishman smiled as the Englishman shook his hand.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He put his briefcase down. “I understand my predecessor was somewhat more formal with you. If you don’t mind, i I prefer a more informal approach. Government by sofa, I believe it is called,” he said, with a mischievous twinkle at the commissioner. “Oh, I’m going to like this one,” the Irishman said, as he stepped over to the tea and coffee set up on a side table. He offered the German a drink. “Black please. I’d love some cream but my wife says if I put on anymore weight she’s going to run off with our Polish gardener.” “There’s hardly a pick on you,” the Irishman said, handing over the coffee. “You haven’t seen our gardener. He makes Daniel Craig look chunky. I think she’s just looking for a pretext!” He sat down and opened his briefcase, removing some papers. “Firstly, let me clarify that since my appointment as head of Directorate ‘63 I’m very aware of attitudes to my organisation. I hope to try to address that, or at least knock a few of the rough corners off it.” The two commissioners smiled politely at him. The truth was, D63 was an organisation that they struggled with, in that it didn’t fit neatly in the box that every other intelligence organisation did. Operating out of an 19th century merchant’s home in a slightly forgotten street in a slightly fashionable arrondissement in Paris, it had been created by Chancellor Adenauer and President de Gaulle in 1963. Buried in a secret sub-section of the Elysee treaty of that year, meant to cement the post-war friendship of the two bitter rival nations, D63 was an effort to ensure that threats to both countries, and by default, security in Europe were at first detected by intelligence sharing and then neutralised by force if necessary. Focussing initially on both communist and fascist threats to the continent, the well-resourced organisation had expanded to include both corporate and Islamofascist challenges. Its director answered directly to the Elysee Palace and the Federal Chancellery, and as such, meant that D63 was an organisation with clout. Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Luxembourg had signed memorandums of cooperation with the organisation, although it remained, officially, outside the European Union structures, hence the awkwardness for the two commissioners. Technically, the commissioners of the safezone didn’t have to meet the director at all. But a phone call from the chef du cabinet of the Elysee Palace requesting that Herr Steiner be given “a few moments of your no doubt valuable time” was as subtle as it got. This guy moved with the backing of the two most powerful leaders in Europe, and that opened doors. “I’ve just come to inform you that Operation Hades is progressing. Daesh have inserted their Daesh operative has entered the safezone recently, and may be planning a major attack.” The Irishman shot his colleague a quick look. He used to get warnings like this from the Garda Siochana’s terrorist unit, about republican and loyalist terrorist groups, and he knew to take them seriously, as did the Englishman. The German spy continued. “My own people are still working on information gathered from Turkey and elsewhere. He is a serious operative but hasn’t registered on western radar before in a serious way. He is almost certainly posing as a refugee. I say he because that’s the most likely outcome.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“What can we do for you?” the Irishman asked. “Let my people have access to the refugee database. I know we can get it through the BND, but it would just be faster if they could liaise directly with your security intelligence unit. We should be able to narrow down the suspects.” The Englishman nodded. “Alright, have your people talk directly with SI. Do we have a time frame, any target idea?” “My analysts think it may be as soon as two weeks, but we just don’t know yet. I wanted to put you in the picture given Hades. Incidentally, it’s the same analyst who discovered that too.” “A regular George Smiley, this fella,” the Irishman said, finishing his tea. The German replaced his papers, and closed his briefcase. “I’m going to stay around for a few days, brief your security team. If I get anything knew from Paris I’ll inform you immediately.” He shook hands with both, and left the room. The Irishman walked over to the other side of the room, where the window faced out away from the sea and into the buildings facing the port. It was mostly processing centres and support facilities and residences for authority personnel. Then there was the road which went out from the port in a straight line, off into the distance and towards the city proper. It was the main supply line to the city, and was busy with trucks carrying goods into the city, and a growing number of goods for export out, as well as coaches carrying refugees on a daily basis to their new home. Gunship helicopters regularly patrolled the road and its surrounds for possible attacks from dissident Libyan groups or IS units. “Hey, look at this,” the Irishman said, calling the commissioner over. A large coach from the city was unloading, families collecting their carefully packed suitcases. Nearly everybody getting off the bus was dressed in european clothes, with the exception of some of the older women wearing head-scarfs. An official from the authority checked their papers, although it was casual and good natured, as all would have been checked before they boarded the bus in the city. When he handed the papers back to a man he shook his hand, and stepped aside to let him pass. The commissioner checked his watch. “The Spanish ferry,” he said. “Look at those faces. Look at the hope,” the Irishman said, as the official, having completed his check, stepped to one side. A little girl, no older than eight or nine years old, looked up and into their faces. Her eyes lit up, and she turned and pulled her father’s hand, shouting and pointing. The group looked up, saw the two men, and started cheering and waving. One of the older woman held her hands together in a sign of thanks. A number of them held up tiny plastic rectangles. Their EU visa cards guaranteeing their entry legally into the EU. The most precious documents in the safezone. The two men waved automatically, and the small crowd continued to wave before the official moved them on. The little girl continued waving all the way to the ship.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“That was you, you know,” the Englishman said. “What?” “They’re getting to go to Europe legally because of you. You’re the one who convinced the council that we had to have a fixed quota every year. I mean, I was there, but you were the one who convinced them.” “It made sense. We can’t maintain order here without a few carrots, without offering people a chance.” The Englishman smiled, and poured himself an orange juice. “Yeah, that’s the logical argument, even the political one. But you saw their faces. There’s what, eight families there? Eight families off to live in Spain, having learnt Spanish, with jobs to go to, because of you. Eight families with hope because when it comes down to it, you’re a big softie.” “Fuck off,” the Irishman said, as the Englishman laughed.

Chapter Eighteen. The next day was a Saturday, and Amaal had no classes, and had some bread and fruit in her room shortly after she awoke, sitting on her bed and looking out on the courtyard of the hostel, which was empty given the early hour. The militia information meeting had ended just after nine the previous night, and she had walked back to the hostel feeling excited, almost giddy. She had really enjoyed herself. She had really enjoyed using the rifle and was even more surprised that she was good at it. The self-defence sparring had left her feeling different. She knew that Sergeant Baston had gone easy on her, and could have overpowered her with barely any effort, but that wasn’t the point. She had never struck out at a man before, never said now, always acquiesced as if that was her natural place. It had felt good kicking out, and she wanted to learn more about how to defend herself, and if there was anyone to do that it was Sergeant Baston. She’d felt hurt when Captain Petersen hadn’t come to her defence, but realised that the Danish soldier was trying to bring her out of her shell. She had been right. Amaal had signed up for the militia at the end of the evening, and walked home through the market, which was now closed but full of bars and cafes. One young man had made a suggestive remark to her, and without a second thought she had told him to get lost. His friends had erupted in laughter, mocking him and she had gone on her way. But even that had jarred her: she had never said anything to any of the men who made crude remarks or grabbed her. She finished her orange and banana, then caught a slight hint of the citrus smell on her hands, and that loosened another memory from the previous night. Captain Petersen’s perfume. The Danish woman had put her arms around her to help her steady the rifle, and her closeness mixed with her perfume and her soft skin as she pressed her face closer to show her the gunsight had made Amaal feel, she wasn’t sure what she had felt. But she had liked it, she knew that, and she had felt something, not that she was sure what it was. She’d never been with a boy, and had never felt the desire to be with one even as she had gone through her teens. She’d tried to make herself like boys, and there were boys who had been kind to


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

her and made her laugh and she had liked them but they’d never made her feel like this. If she were to be with a man, she’d like someone like Sergeant Baston, who was strong and well built and she liked his muscular arms and his smile. He was a handsome man and she had no doubt other women found him very attractive. But she felt like she was trying to find the switch to turn on her desire for men, to be like every other girl she knew. She’d slept with her pillow pulled in close alongside her, hot from her body, and in the darkness she imagined it could have been the Danish woman asleep in her arms. Amaal surprised herself how much she liked that idea. A door slammed shut in the courtyard, and Amaal heard two voices talking as their footsteps echoed across the yard. She recognised one voice immediately, and leaned slightly out her window to see Maryan and Gianni in a passionate embrace. Her arms were around his neck, and his hands ran down her back before grabbing her buttocks. Maryan broke away the kiss with a laugh. Amaal couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she saw clearly what happened next. Gianni removed a large wad of notes from his back pocket, counted out a large amount of money with he then gave to Maryan, before putting the balance back in his rear pocket. They then kissed again, and parted, her heading for the exit, he back into the hostel. Amaal continued looking out onto the empty courtyard. Chapter Nineteen. The older man had said little as he led Khalid through the warren of streets, with the Syrian only knowing they had arrived at their destination when the Arab stopped at a door and knocked. He muttered something in response to the voice behind the door, and the door opened slightly, he was examined, and with a grunt both men were in. The building was one of the older residences in the city, two secondhand and reconditioned shipping containers that had seen better days. The authority was gradually replacing them, but they were still in use, and with holes and rust a far cry from the modern homes being built elsewhere in the city. The hallway, as much as it was, separated from the door by a plaster partition, was more a question of keeping the weather out than the creation of a formal anteroom. It was illuminated by a bare bulb hanging from a jerry-rigged ceiling socket. The room was dirty, with cigarette stubs littering the floor alongside empty takeaway containers. It was one of the paradoxes of the safe zone that the far right in Europe leapt upon. They can’t be that wretched as refugees, the anti-immigrants would bellow, if they can afford takeaways. In his defence in the European Parliament, the commissioner had taken up the issue, pointing out that it was only logical that refugees would start small food businesses if they could, selling the food of their home nation or region to fellow refugees. It was cheap to produce, and nearly half the refugees had some skill in cooking or preparing food. Indeed, the authority had positively encouraged it, on the basis that running a small business, any small business, encouraged stability and normality and a desire for both. Jamie Oliver had already filmed an entire series on the food of the safezone. McDonalds, Burger King, Eddie Rockets and Dominos had all reported great success in their initial franchise operations, and were eagerly looking to expand, having followed Irish chain Supermacs into the zone. The older man walked through into a mother room, Khalid following. In it three men waited, one sitting at a table. They were definitely European in extraction.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The man at the table stood, and put his hand out. “Khalid? I'm Gregor.” Khalid’s knew a Russian accent when he heard it, and spun on the older man. “What is this? A fucking Russian? You bring me to meets fucking Russian?” The two men behind Gregor seemed to grow and inch or two, hands dropping down by their sides, as if loosening themselves up. Before the older man spoke, Gregor raised both hands, palms empty. “Please Khalid, Omar has told us a lot about you. I believe we have a common interest. Please, hear me out.” Khalid glared at the Russian. “Why would I want to listen to the man whose country drove me from my own home, across the Balkans to this godforsaken place? Some Assad loving prick?” Gregor took his seat, and gestured that Khalid take the seat facing him. Omar took the second seat, at an angle to both. “Khalid, please, hear the man out. I brought you here for a reason.” “To betray our brothers? These bastards are no friend of Muslims.” “To strike a blow against our common enemy, Khalid. The Jew.” Gregor nodded. “Khalid: there are those of us in Russia who recognise that the war against Islam is a false front, articulated by Israel, rich American Jews and the Rothschilds in Europe. When you listen to Le Pen or Wilders in Europe, betraying their white European heritage and defending the Jew against your Muslim brothers, you realise that this whole conflict between Christianity and Islam is just a false construct by the Jews. To have us fight each other.” Omar reached over and put his hand on Khalid’s. “My friend, you know in your heart what he says is true.” “They are bombing our brothers in Syria,” Khalid said, his voice lower than before. The Russian nodded. “Yes, we are. But it is part of a bigger plan. By causing a refugee crisis in Syria we have almost destroyed the European Union and its Jew masters. All across Europe we have men of true belief buried in the new parties, ready to seize power once the EU is destroyed, and drive the Jew from Europe. But we need your help.” Khalid looked at Gregor. “My help?” The old Arab nodded.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“I showed them your plan, Khalid, for Mary McAleese Street.” Gregor, for the first time, smiled. “A fine plan, my friend, hitting the Europeans and their precious faggots. You show clear understanding on what makes a target in the modern media age.” Khalid nodded. The Russian stood, walked to a grimy fridge and pulled out two bottles of water. He put one down in front of Khalid, and twisted the cap off the second one, drinking deeply. “It’s a fine plan. But we need you to call it off.” The Russian sat back down on the seat facing the Syrian. “Call it off? Why?” “Because we have something better planned. Something bigger. Something that will bring this whole European playground down around their Jew-loving ears. But if you carry out your attack first, the whole safezone will be put on alert. They’ll draft in extra troops. Turn that aircraft carrier around, be on heightened alert.” Khalid took another mouthful of water. He looked at the old Arab. “What do our friends think of this? Working with these people?” “Our enemy has many faces, pulls many strings, even the strings of those who don’t know they even have strings. But we both know who sits at the top of the pile, counting his money and laughing at us all, Christian and Muslim.” The Russian nodded slowly. “This other plan. Is there a role for us?” Khalid asked. The Russian smiled broadly, seeing the question as a sign of acceptance. “Yes, my friend there is. There most certainly is.” The Arab who opened the door in the other room opened the front door onto the street again, stepping out. He walked to the corner of the street made up by the corner of the shipping container, and looked down the street that ran off down past the side of the container. A pile of rubbish bags sat leaning against the container, illuminated only by the weak light from a small window cut into its side. The street was empty. The Arab watched his breath turn to condensation in the chilly night air, and stepped back inside, closing the door. The man hiding behind the rubbish waited for a minute, then stood up, not that he needed to. He could still hear the conversation going on in the container. He could clearly hear his brother asking questions about the Russian’s plan. Both made his heart race. Chapter Twenty.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The rifle had crossed that point from being an object to be feared to an inanimate tool that would do nothing unless you made it do so. That wasn’t to say that Amaal didn’t treat it with the respect ot deserved. Sergeant Baston had no time for anybody who joked with their firearm, or took a casual approach to firearms safety. But as she disassembled and reassembled it, with her blindfold on, and faster than anyone else in the unit, it had lost its menacing qualities to her. Her response to the training surprised herself. It was hard, but she loved it, and found herself with an ability to soak up knowledge and skills with relative ease. Her combat training and hand-to-hand combat skills grew as the sergeant took her through her paces. Even looking at herself in her uniform back in the hostel, she could see a different woman looking back at her. Not the shy, demure, submissive young woman who had fled from Somalia but, dare she say it, a soldier. She could see she was bulking up, a combination of the food in the city and her training. But she also felt the changes inside too. When she walked back from the militia base in her uniform, a few men would glare at her, offended or angry at the idea of a female soldier. She now glared back, and more often than not they would break the stare and look away. The unit itself was mixed with different nationalities, with English been used as the common language. There were some French speaking units, but English was the unofficial first language of the safezone. The unit was almost 60% female, an initiative of the safezone authority to increase the number of female troops without ghettoising them. The EDF, which took responsibility for the training of the militia, also found that such a mix was useful in integrating male soldiers from a culture where female equality was not the social norm. Some refused to coperate, and some just could not deal with having female commanding officers, but those men soon found themselves either adopting to the new reality or being dismissed, with their misogyny noted on their files and therefore a bar to ever legally entering the continent. Amaal found herself quickly making friends with Sharif, a small, slight but handsome young Iraqi who was the same age as her. He was quiet and soft spoken, speaking English and French well, and more disposed to reading than anything else. But finding himself the sole member of his family to make it to the camp, a job as a militia translator was his only option. He was clumsy with his rifle, and struggled through the physical training, but Amaal had helped and encouraged him and they were becoming close. Sharif’s hostel was near hers, and so both would walk home after training, sometimes stopping in a cafe for food or coffee. Neither drank alcohol, but both were partial to an ice cream or a milkshake, and would stay talking and joking for an hour or two. It was only when Amaal had made a joke about him getting a girlfriend that he had blushed and looked away, and she had then become conscious herself of what she had said. Was it her he was interested in? That made her feel really awkward, as she enjoyed his company as a friend. He took off his glasses, cleaned them with a handkerchief, and looked at her. He leaned in and lowered his voice. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said, looking around to ensure discretion. They were the only people in the cafe, and the African owner was busy drying dishes. Amaal said nothing, searching her mind for a way to let him down gently. “I don’t think I’m into girls,” he said, then took a sip of Coke. Amaal didn’t know what to say, trying to comprehend what he meant. Then it dawned on her.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He looked at her almost with a pleading look in his eyes. They’d both been through the refugee education programme, with its emphasis on European values. That being straight or gay was an individual’s right, and not for someone else to pass judgement on. Both knew it was OK to be gay in the safezone, indeed, the commissioner seemed to take a special interest in the community. But both came from a culture where homosexuality was an abomination. He continued. “I mean, I have never been with a man. I’ve never been with anybody.” “Either have I,” Amaal whispered, leaning closer. “I think I have feelings for Captain Petersen,” she said, causing him to choke on his milkshake and start coughing, which at first alarmed her then made her start laughing. Then he started laughing. “Does she know?” he asked. “Of course not!” she replied. Sharif sat back in his seat and smiled. “I’m really glad I told you. I’ve never told anyone.” “Me too. Have you ever been, you know, to that street?” she asked, her voice in a bare whisper. He shook his head. “I’ve been afraid to. I don’t want to go on my own.” She nodded. Both sat in silence for a minute. “We have tomorrow off, you know,” she said. He looked at his watch. It was just after 8pm. “Meet you at your hostel at 9:30?” he asked. Chapter Twenty One. Achmed scrolled down the pages of the website, looking for the event. He knew the Irishman would be present, and he might be able to have a few private words with him. He could have just picked up the confidential terrorism tip line that was always advertised on SafeZone1 just after “Westzoners” and told them about what he’d heard being discussed at his meeting, but what would happen to Khalid? He would not even be pink-noted out of the zone. No, the Europeans imprisoned terrorists and through away the key. No, he needed to speak face to face with the Irishman. He was a practical man, a family man, a man who understood complexity. His dealings with the deputy commissioner had always been affable, friendly, and the man was smart. He could solve problems, pick up phones and speak to the right people. He understood how the Irishman had won three elections in his native land. Surely he, Achmed, going to him direct would count as a sign of loyalty towards the city?


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He flicked down further, then say it. The opening on a new swimming pool in the district beside theirs. He was sure the Irishman would be there, because he was very interested in sports infrastructure. Swimming pools, playing fields, gymnasia, even something called hurling that he had imported from his homeland that looked to Achmed like some form of high-speed combat, the Irishman was always pushing and opening the facilities. In fact, the Irishman had almost singlehandedly built the entire soccer league that dominated sports in the city. It was he who had convinced major soccer teams across Europe to sponsor and mentor teams in each of the city’s districts, and already two of the city’s players had been signed to major European clubs. The TV channel SafeZone2 was almost entirely dedicated to broadcasting the progress of teams as they battled it out for the glory of the SafeZone Cup and challenging current two-time champions South Central Zone Madrid. He was also the one who insisted that a female league be funded. He argued before the European Council having hundreds of thousands of young men with nothing to do was a recipe for radicalism, and so had provided an alternative. There had been opposition from some imams who announced that soccer was unMuslim: those who didn’t change their minds quickly and publicly found themselves being pink-noted. The swimming pool was a very large affair, with changing rooms and water slides elevated up over the pool, although Achmed noted that the pool itself was shielded by a smoked glass barrier that meant that passersby could not, for the most part, see the various people using the pool and their state of undress. The Irishman had carefully negotiated the criteria under which public swimming pools would operate. He’d refused segregation based on religion, gender or nationality, but had permitted it on age to allow for parents to have children only sessions. Burkinis had been permitted, despite protests from the French. There had been sizable protests at the first pool to be opened, but when the demonstrators had realised that protesting against a swimming pool would be deemed that most heinous of crimes, an “anti-European activity”, many, fearing for their visa points, had quietly abandoned the protest. Achmed had known that there would be a big crowd and so had set out early, whilst it was still dark. His wife had known by his demeanour that he was concerned about something, but knew that her husband was a stubborn man who would keep himself to himself until he was ready to talk, so when he asked her to open the shop for him he did not question it. When he reached the pool, after walking for nearly an hour, it was just beginning to brighten and already there was a large crowd queuing outside the entrance. The pool was a big deal in the local district, and children had been peering through the construction perimeter for nearly six months as the contractors from the continent had transformed first a hole into a pool, then laid pipe, then built changing rooms and finally the slides and diving boards which had sent out a ripple of sheer delirium. The Irishman, surrounded by his Irish Army Ranger bodyguards, had set himself up at the entrance with some local businesspeople and the local representatives of the district on the safezone representative council. He had insisted that they stand with him, and he sung their praises to the people who shuffled by, shaking his hand, kissing him (he still hadn’t got used to that) and putting written petitions into his hand, which he passed on to a young aide behind him. Later, back in the office, he would go through the petitions, and see what he could do. As a member of the Irish parliament he had been famous for his on-the-ground work in his working class Dublin constituency, winning the votes of many who would never dream of voting for his party through


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

sheer delivery of service. This was no different to him: every petition would get a response, even if not favourable. If he could do something, he would. He had a speech in his pocket, a short few words where he would identify the moderate members of the council who, he would say, had lobbied hard for this wonderful new facility. No harm bigging them up if only to show that voting for the council actually meant something. As it happened, it actually did. Both he and the commissioner attended the SRC religiously, taking turns chairing it, although the Irishman was less tolerant of windy speeches. Both, when genuine issues were raised, listened, investigated and often intervened. Neither would pretend that the safezone was a democracy, because it blatantly wasn’t. But both men knew that a good leader listened. The deputy commissioner spotted Achmed about three places down, and recognised him immediately. The Arab was wearing a suit and a tie, and a crisp striped shirt. The Irishman recognised the tie from the last time he met the Syrian, possibly before, because the tie was probably more expensive than the rest of the shopkeeper’s clothes. It was obviously a prized possession, which he wore when he felt he had to impress. He liked that the other man felt he had to show him respect. Not because he felt he was entitled to it, but because he respected people who showed respect to others. Not their betters, not the powerful, just to people in general. It was good manners, and his mammy in Dublin had battered good manners into him. “I don’t want anyone thinking you were dragged up!” she’d declare. “Here he is, the best dressed shopkeeper in the city! How are you Mr Hadid?” He reached out, grasping the man’s hand firmly with one hand and his forearm with the other. It was an intimate greeting. Achmed was always delighted that the Irishman recognised him, but wished that this was a better occasion to appreciate it. He leaned in. “Mr Commissioner, I know you are a very busy man. But I need to speak to you on a matter of city security. Please understand that I would not come all this way to waste your time.” He looked into the Irishman’s eyes. In forty years in Irish politics, he’d become a shrewd judge of character. He could tell the hangers-on, who wanted to milk the member of parliament or senator or minister for everything they could. He could tell the lonely, who were delighted that anyone would talk to them, as politicians were always willing to do. He could tell the stuffed jackets, who wanted to spend time with the minister not out of respect but to allow a story to be told, by them, later, of their offering much valued counsel. This was none of those things. This was a proud man, who didn’t like to ask another man for anything, looking for help. His dealings with Achmed had been friendly and civil, and when the businessman had raised issues with him they had been thoughtful and measured. He played a part in his district. He cooperated with the militia. Here was a man doing everything they asked of him. The deputy commissioner leaned in. “Of course, Mr Hadid. Can you give me ten minutes?” He gestured to a space behind him, and nodded to the rangers that Achmed was alright. He had a prearranged signal that if he scratched his ear it meant he felt there was a threat, and they would close in around him quickly. This was not one of those moments.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The Syrian nodded, and stepped behind the politician, standing in a corner behind him. He watched the Irishman work the people who went by, complimenting the women’s clothes, joking with the men and young children, having a remark for any young boy or girl in a soccer top. Achmed liked him. He’d known politicians in Syria, and some had been like him, but they’d all, pretty much to a man, been corrupt. The truth was that, since he’d come to the safezone, both he and the Englishman had made the city a better place to live. He’d watched both men address the parliament in Brussels on TV, as SafeZone1 had broadcast the entire hearings. They had not gone to Brussels as rulers reporting back to their masters, but as the champions of the city, speaking out in its defence, defending the city and its people. The people watching in the cafes on his street had cheered them on. If he had a vote, he would vote for these men. The Irishman spoke for a few minutes to the crowd, welcoming them, praising the local representatives and the work that had gone into building the pool, and the taxpayers of Europe who had paid for it. He made a joke about not going for a swim himself as nobody would wish to see him in shorts, and opened the pool to applause and a charge of children jumping in. He then made his way back to the Syrian. Achmed explained how he had followed his brother to the house where he had met the Russians, and recounted what they had discussed. The Irishman’s face did not change as he listened, nodding slowly. When he was finished, Achmed lightly gripped the politician's arm. One of the bodyguards stepped closer but the Irishman shook his head just barely perceptibly, and he moved back again. “Please sir, I tell you this because this city and Europe has been good to me. This is my home. My brother was never like this in Aleppo, he has fallen under the influence of the fanatics. Please, I’m implore you, I know he must be arrested, but if there is anything to be done.” The Irishman reached out, and gripped the man’s shoulder. “You were right to come to me, Mr Hadid. I appreciate how hard the decision must have been for you. Family is family, I understand that. Leave it with me. I have your phone number. Let me talk to some people, and I will get back to you.” The Syrian nodded, made his goodbyes, and left the pool complex, walking back towards his district. The sun was beginning to rise in the sky, and the city was awakening. Overhead an EDF drone hovered, watching all below it before moving on. A crowd of boys and girls of different colours and creeds, some girls wearing headscarfs, some not, all raced by him. As he turned down another street he heard laughter, and looked up to see and imam and a Catholic priest, two men in their sixties, laughing as they shared coffee just inside the doorway of a tiny cafe. This city, he thought, was worth protecting, even at the cost of betraying his own brother. Back at the pool the deputy commissioner stepped into his armoured SUV, waving once more at the small crowd who gathered to see him, and then the vehicle pulled away. He took his phone out of his jacket. “We have a problem. I’ve just met a shopkeeper who has recounted to me, detail by detail, pretty much the entire plan of Operation Hades.”

Chapter Twenty Two.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Sharif waved as he walked towards the hostel where Amaal was waiting outside. He looked very handsome, she thought, looking at his crisp white tee-shirt and jeans. She had worn a loose fitting yellow top that gave a hint as to her and tight fitting jeans which hugged her slim thighs and her bum which she knew boys liked, even though she tended to keep it covered with low fitting tops. “Wow! You look beautiful!” he said, stopping to look her up and down. “And you look very handsome,” she replied, and both smiled, before walking out onto the main road near the street. The safezone authority, in order to create a functioning public transport system, had designated routes throughout the city that had to be followed by any vehicle designating itself a public bus. Any resident of the city could turn up with a vehicle, get it quickly inspected to make sure it wasn’t a death trap, and get a licence. It meant that the city had an almost instant if hugely varied bus system. Sharif and Amaal hailed a passing tuc-tuc with the right route number on it, and were on their way, knowing from their SafeZone app that the route took them just past the end of Mary McAleese street. It was a warm night and the district was bustling as the area around the street had developed a reputation for lively bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Having said, the authority insisted that all selfproclaimed LGBT establishments be on the street, because it was easier to ensure their security. There was a substantial waiting list for available premises on the street, and the authority was already considering designating a second street. Sharif and Amaal paid the driver after he pulled in, and both stood looking down the street, past the cluster of EDF soldiers checking ID cards at the checkpoint. The street was crowded, but not so crowded that it wasn’t possible to walk down. The noise level, a mixture of talking, shouting and music made it the loudest street around for at least a kilometre. Sharif looked nervously at Amaal, his earlier bravery threatening to betray him. She reached out, took his hand and led him over to the queue, where a Dutch EDF soldier took their ID cards, tapped them against a reader which showed their photos on a database, and then handed them back and let them pass. They just walked down the street looking at the sights around them, people laughing, drinking, dancing, kissing, boys and girls, girls and girls, boys and boys. Amaal held his hand a little tighter, not because she felt frightened, just because she was glad she had someone to share this experience with. As they walked past one of the smaller, less crowded pubs a song from the 1980s was just starting. “Bananarama! I love Bananarama!” Sharif said, and pulled her into the pub. They spotted a small table and chairs in the corner, and quickly secured it. “You stay here. I’ll get the drinks. What do you want?” he asked. Amaal had no idea. She had never drank alcohol in her whole life. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Rum and Coke it is!” he said with a laugh, and made his way to the bar.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Amaal sat at the table, looking around. She was getting plenty of looks from both men and women, and looked down at the table, slightly embarrassed. Not that she knew why, she asked herself. Wasn’t it normal to like people finding you attractive? But then it never had been for her. Being found attractive had been a curse, for men to leer at her and grope her and whilst nothing worse at happened, she had only narrowly avoided it a few times. Mostly with help from Maryan. She thought about her friend. She hadn’t seen her in two days. Her friend tended to disappear after classes, and with Amaal training at the EDF barracks they had less time together. She remembered seeing Maryan taking the money off Gianni in the courtyard, and worried. Was that how Maryan was getting by? Selling her body? She knew the other girl had a much more relaxed attitude to boys than she did, but it still made her worry. “Hello you!” the voice said, and Amaal looked up to see Captain Petersen. It took her a moment to recognise the Dane, as she was wearing her hair down around her neck, a low cut top and a short skirt with high heels that laced up her calf. Amaal felt her heart start to speed up, and her mouth dry. She looked beautiful, even more beautiful than Amaal remembered, and she had been recalling the captain a lot. The captain’s green eyes looked slightly heavy, and then Amaal saw that she was holding an elaborate cocktail in her hand. “Hello captain,” Amaal said. The Dane pouted. “Tonight, Private Amaal, you can call me Naja. I’m off duty, and anyway, I’m no longer you’re commanding officer. I’m being reassigned to the next district.” “You’re leaving?” Amaal said, her voice sounding slightly more high pitched than she hoped. “No, no, just the next district. You’ll be joining Sergeant Baston’s platoon. Is Sharif your boyfriend?” she asked, pointing over at Sharif as she sucked on the straw. Amaal shook her head. A very large and well-built blonde man suddenly leaned in between the two. “Do you want another?” He asked with a Swedish accent. The captain nodded, and pointed at Amaal. “This is Amaal, from the milita. This is Captain Sven Bildt of the European Defence Force.” Sven looked at Amaal, looked at Petersen, and looked back with a smile. “Nice to meet you Amaal. Like a drink?” Amaal pointed at Sharif. “My friend Sharif is getting me one.” The Swede looked at Sharif. “I’ll help him,” he said. “I’m sure you will,” Petersen said.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The Swede smiled and left them. “Is he your boyfriend?” Amaal asked. Petersen put her empty glass on the table, and rested her chin in her hand, looking directly at Amaal. Amaal could tell the Danish soldier was a little bit drunk. Not hugely, but certainly tipsy. “Would it bother you if he was?” she asked, not breaking eye contact with Amaal. The Somali didn’t know what to say, only that she was sure she could hear her own heart beating in her ears. She looked over at Sharif, as if for support, but he and the Swede were engrossed in conversation. Petersen backed away from the table. “I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable, I thought…” Amaal didn’t know what to do, but reached out and touched Petersen’s bare arm. “No, you’re not. I’m just not sure, I never been in a place like this,” she said. Petersen smiled, and put her hand on Amaal’s. “You can be whatever you want to be. Into boys, girls, both, neither. Whatever you want.” “I’ve never been with anybody. I’ve never even kissed someone,” Amaal said in a whisper, almost as if confessing a guilty secret. Petersen smiled, and leaned forward, kissing Amaal on the lips. It was a slow gentle kiss, with no force, just the other woman’s lips brushed with great delicacy against her. Amaal automatically closed her eyes, not moving until the other woman moved back. “Now you have. You’ve kissed a girl. Did you like it?” Petersen asked. Amaal nodded. She had. A lot. “Will we go somewhere more private?” Petersen whispered. Amaal didn’t know what to say to that. She trusted the Dane, but something in her old self told her that this was wrong. Girls shouldn’t be kissing girls. Girls shouldn’t enjoy things like this. But she was, and she wasn’t hurting anyone. “I can’t leave Sharif here on his own,” she said. Petersen nodded over at the bar. Sharif and the Swedish captain were engaged in a very passionate and vigorous embrace. The Swede towered over the small Iraqi, who did not look like he was putting up much resistance. “I don’t think he would thank you for rescuing him,” Petersen suggested. Amaal nodded. The Dane took Amaal’s hand, and led her out of the bar onto the street. On the street she slipped her hand around Amaal’s slim waist. Amaal really like that feeling, having the other woman’s arm around her, feeling her body press close against her own. She could feel the warmth of the captain’s body. Amaal was still surprised that she was walking down a public street, with another woman, a beautiful woman who had just kissed her in public, and it didn’t matter. That it was her choice. That no one, no man, no imam, no priest, could tell her what to do.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Petersen slipped her hand back into Amaal’s and pulled her down a narrow walkway between two pubs. She pushed Amaal up against the side of the container, and rested one hand on her hip. With her other hand she brushed some of Amaal’s short hair away from her eyes and behind her ear. Petersen was pressed close to Amaal. She then slipped her thigh between Amaal’s legs, so that Amaal’s crotch was pressed against her upper thigh. She moved her thigh slowly, left to right, then up and down. Amaal gasped, eyes locked on the Dane’s face, her eyes, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her her small snub nose. Her lips with the slightest upturn on each corner. Petersen moved in close, her hands gripping Amaal’s slim waist gently, and she kissed her again, this time the Dane’s tongue tentatively caressing Amaal’s tongue. Amaal stiffened, unsure what to do, how to react, her first reaction was to try to force the other woman’s tongue out. Petersen pulled back. “You don’t like that?” she asked. “I don’t know what to do,” Amaal whispered. The Dane smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling with tiny creases. Amaal was really taken by how beautiful she was. “Caress my tongue with yours. Just go very slowly,” she said, and pressed her mouth against Amaal’s again. Amaal did as she was told, her tongue slowly circling Petersen’s, her eyes closed, hearing her own breathing through her nose. She was now fully sitting on the Dane’s leg, grinding herself against the other woman as she moved. She had never felt this way before, and it felt good. Very good. Chapter Twenty Three. Amaal stood in the market, and felt like a fool. It had been an eventful morning. It had started with her waking early, startled for a moment at finding herself with her head rested on Petersen’s bosom, the Dane’s arms around her, cradling her head. Amaal remembered the night, or at least the night as a series of blurs, the two women making love for hours, each falling asleep, then awakening, until both had slipped into sleep. Was it still called making love if it was two women, she wondered. The Danish woman had walked with her back to the hostel, stopping occasionally for snatches of passionate kissing. In Amaal’s room Petersen had undressed her and had her lay on her front on the bed, and then undressed herself and straddled the Somali. She had kissed and stroked and touched, finally turning Amaal over and caressing and kissing her thighs, making Amaal want to open her legs wide for the other woman. Not knowing what to expect but knowing from the beautiful ache between her legs that she wanted something. Petersen had worked her way along her thigh, then touched her and kissed her and licked her, and Amaal had let out a cry at her moment of bliss. She felt vulnerable and helpless and it felt so good as the Dane held her and stroked her hair and whispered in her ear. Then Amaal had asked her to show her how to do the same to Petersen, and the Dane had laughed and swapped places with Amaal and moaned as the younger woman had explored her lover’s body,


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

learning with every kiss and touch, growing in confidence. For Amaal, it felt like a final piece of her life had suddenly slotted into place. Petersen awoke shortly after, and kissed her gently, stroking her hair. They talked for a little while, and the Dane announced that she had to visit the barracks, but would meet Amaal later. It was as she was getting dressed that the door swung open and Maryan walked in, asking if she could borrow a phone charger. She stopped suddenly, looked at Petersen, looked at Amaal, looked back at Petersen, laughed and walked out. Petersen ignored her, bent down, kissed Amaal on the lips and wished her goodbye, then left. Amaal showered and dressed quickly, then went up the corridor to Maryan’s room, where she found the other Somali girl sitting at a table counting a significant amount of money. “Well, that was a surprise. Are you looking for a promotion?” Maryan said. “It’s not like that,” Amaal replied. Maryan shrugged, and kept on counting, sweeping all the money together and putting it in an envelope before making a note. “That’s a lot of euro,” Amaal said. “Girl has to get by,” Maryan said, getting up and putting the money into her jeans. “There are other jobs,” Amaal said, lowering her voice. Maryan glared at her. “Don’t you dare get all sanctimonious with me! You had no problem me letting men do all sorts of disgusting things to make sure we didn’t go hungry. Pretty little Amaal didn’t stoop to such things, although I see that that if some fanny licking had been…” Amaal slapped the other girl in the face. Maryan staggered back, shocked, then went to lunge at Amaal. But the other girl stood in her hand to hand combat pose that Sergeant Baston had drilled into her. Maryan hesitated, then stepped back. “You wait until we get here to stand up for yourself. Where was Xena Warrior Princess when we were getting beaten in Somalia?” Maryan sat on her bed, looking at Amaal, who relaxed. “This isn’t want you think, you know,” Maryan said, looking out onto the courtyard. “I love him,” Maryan whispered. “If he loved you he wouldn’t make you do these things,” Amaal replied. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Maryan said, jumping up, taking Amaal by the hand and leading her down the corridor. Ten minutes later, Amaal stood in De Valera Market, just up from Mrs Amaani’s stall, staring at stall with a banner over it declaring it to be “Gianni & Maryan’s Creperie: finest crepes in the safezone!” Gianni waved when he saw the two girls approaching, and kissed Maryan tenderly on the lips when she went behind the stall and put on her apron. Amaal recognised the kiss. It was the same kiss Naja gave her. It was not that of someone regarding someone else as as asset to exploit.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“Gianni’s father owns a number of restaurants in Amaalno. He got us the hot plates and everything else we needed to get started. It’s going very well, isn’t it darling?” “Hey there!” a familiar voice said, and Amaal turned to see Sharif walking through the market. In the same clothes he’d worn the night before. She hugged him, and introduced him to Maryan and Gianni. “You know Amaal thought you were pimping me out?” Maryan said, as she poured batter on the hot plate. “What?” Gianni said, looking genuinely shocked. He reached over, slipping his hand around Maryan’s waist. “How could a possibly share this gorgeousness with any other man?” Maryan laughed and pushed him away. Gianni pointed his spatula at Amaal. “For that insult you have to buy both you and your friend lunch! Of the finest crepes in the city!” Amaal surrendered in embarrassment, and took a seat at a table with Sharif under an umbrella shielding them from the sun. “This one went all lesbian last night. Apparently European cock isn’t good enough for her!” Maryan said. “I can vouch for European cock!” Sharif said, showing them a selfie of him and Sven. Amaal slapped him playfully, and sat back in her seat, watching her friends. This was her life, she thought. And it wasn’t so bad.

Chapter Twenty Four. Sergeant Baston gestured that they all crouch down as the medium-lift EDF SuperPuma helicopter approached the EDF helicopter base. The helicopter was in desert camouflage, although an EU flag was visible on its tail. Amaal was surprised at the noise it was making, and looked at the other six militia recruits who would be joining the flight. She’d been briefed as soon as she arrived, that helicopterborne operations were a key part of the training regime as the EDF used helicopters to patrol the safezone perimeter. A spare helicopter had become available, and some middle-ranker had decided that putting six of the most promising onto a quick zip around the perimeter and into the Libyan desert would break their helicopter cherry. Amaal didn’t know how she felt about this. She’d seen helicopters before, of course, but have never dreamed that one day she would be travelling in one. Or more to the point, training how to travel in one. Would she be afraid, scared of heights, she had no idea. The helicopter set down in front of them, wind from the rotors buffeting them. Baston signalled the team to follow him, and they climbed onboard. The helicopter took off immediately, before they had even secured themselves. Baston signalled for them to plug their ear pieces into the onboard system, and suddenly they could hear him relatively clearly. “The pilots do not stay on the ground for long because it leaves the aircraft vulnerable. Remember that when you’re getting on or off. Grab something to hold onto and then secure yourself once in


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

the air. We’re heading out into the desert to simulate a few landing and recoveries. Samir, you’re coverman.” He directed a Syrian woman towards a heavy machine gun mounted in the doorway. Amaal, having strapped herself into a seat right by the open door, found herself riveted to the view of the safezone passing beneath them. The helicopter was not flying that high, and she could make out individual faces on the streets and squares as they sped over. The city looked so alive, so busy, so full of life. She could see markets, people playing soccer and in swimming pools, the glint of the Musk solar panels on pretty much every roof. The helicopter moved over the playground of a school and all the children stopped and cheered, waving at them. She waved back. This was her city, she thought. This was home, imperfect and all it was, a place that let her love whomever she wanted and now gave her an opportunity to do something useful, helping defend that city. If she had seen a helicopter filled with soldiers a year ago it would have filled her with fear, a harbinger of coming terror and death. She never would have imagined herself in a helicopter herself, a soldier no less, cradling a rifle whereas once the sight of a firearm would have terrified her. Now she could strip and reassemble it blindfolded, and use it with skill and precision. She hadn’t actually pointed it at a live target yet, that was true, and that was a question in itself. Could she do it? Could she become one of those soldiers she’d seen in Somalia. But that was it. She wasn’t going to be one of those soldiers. She wasn’t in an invading army, and with her training in combat and tactics and weapons she’d studied human rights law too. They were not murderers. The helicopter passed out over the large plantations and glasshouses currently under construction, to allow the city to begin to grow food in the desert. A huge desalination plant funded by Bill Gates would soon come online on the coast, and some even talked of building a nuclear power plant. The helicopter flew over a group of nomads and their camels, clustered around an unlit fire. The fire looked ridiculous in the searing sun, but she knew how cold it could get once darkness came, and the fire would become the centre of that tiny community. The treaty that leased the city’s lands to the European Union had been signed between the provisional Libyan government and the EU. The civil war was continuing, but many Libyans, as the treaty permitted them to, had taken refuge in the safezone. They had a special status, as they were technically refugees in their own country, and received extra points towards their exit visas, and extra payments. They also had their own waiting list for housing. Some in Europe criticised the treaty as an annexing of part of the country, as the EU helped defend and run the oilfields of Brega and Sarir, but the proceeds went to fund the safezone and more and more Libyans made use of the safezone every month, choosing not just to travel there for shopping or medical needs but to actually live. Some Libyans complained about the safezone, but a small and growing number had come to accept and indeed welcome the orderly, relatively peaceful life under the EU. The nomads were heading towards the safezone, Amaal noticed, where they would enter through one of the gates in the huge perimeter fence. They’d leave their weapons at the gate, to be collected when they left, and make use of the facilities, buy and sell with city traders. In the last two years, with the agreement of the authority, various tribes would meet in the city to discuss issues, arrange marriages, celebrate weddings, although with caution, as the authority had been very clear: any women or girl who declared for asylum whilst in the city would be granted it and would be protected. The story coming back from the tribes was that many men had begun to fear losing the wives to the city, although some had found wives there.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The nomads waved at the helicopter, and Amaal waved back. Sergeant Baston’s voice came over the radio again. “Ok, we’re going to come in here, go down fast. Safir, you stay in the aircraft, cover the team with the machine gun. It’s loaded with blanks so enjoy yourself. Covering fire as we go in. Amaal, you’re squad leader, lead the team out, on the ground, form a circle, stay low, make sure to cover the rear. As soon as the copter is away, determine if there is better cover, then move to it. Don’t forget to cover behind you. We’ll circle, then pick you up. Pull your goggles down. You’ll see why. ” The helicopter started descending into a hollow with some scraggly bushes and a few boulders around its rough edge. “Covering fire!” Baston barked, tapping the Syrian woman on the shoulder. She immediately let loose with a long burst of fire, arcing the weapon back and forth as the helicopter dropped down, whipping up sand around the aircraft as it hovered three feet over the sand. “With me!” Amaal shouted, leaping from the helicopter, hitting the sand and immediately falling to her stomach, her rifle in front of her, ready to fire. The other four members of the squad spread out in similar positions. The helicopter took off again, Safir still firing at and imaginary enemy, sweeping off in front of them. There was suddenly a burst of fire from behind them. Baston, who had jumped out of the helicopter from the other side, stood up, facing them all with his rifle to his shoulder in firing position. “You’re all dead. Amaal, you’re squad leader. It was your responsibility to make sure your squad deployed properly! Let’s do it again.” He ordered the helicopter to return. “Alright. Combat extraction. You’re under fire. You’re job is to eliminate any threats to the helicopter as it’s coming in. Remember, this is your lifeline, your ticket out.” Amaal, felt ridiculous, angry with herself. Of course she should have made sure the rear was covered. She ordered two of the team to cover the rear, and held tight as the aircraft came in again, creating another huge cloud of sand. Safir began firing again at imaginary enemies. Amaal ordered two onto the helicopter, then another two, before boarding herself, and they took off into the air again. Baston’s voice crackled over the earpiece. “Good, that was better. Move fast, but keep you team covered, and Amaal was right. Squad leader is last boots out. Safir, you’re squad leader for the next landing. Amaal, take the gun.” The two women swapped places as the helicopter levelled out flying high over the dunes. “Okay, we’re going to do another assault. This time, going in low around the dunes. Remember, cover your backs, stay low.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Amaal was reloading her machine gun with another fresh belt of shells when she saw it. A glint of metal in amongst the dunes. She looked closer. Nothing, then saw it again. She pointed it out to Baston. “Could be anything. This desert is still littered with old vehicles from the second world war. Tanks, planes, halftracks, jeeps. Let’s have a look.” He tapped the pilot on the shoulder, and had a quick word. They weren’t in any particular hurry as the training mission was unscheduled and so no one was waiting for the helicopter. Baston was glad to get his young charges any helicopter time possible, so the longer the better. The pilot nodded, and turned the aircraft in the general direction, slowing the airspeed down to allow them to get a better view. Just as the helicopter crossed over a dune they saw it. A flapping tarpaulin covering a sand coloured jeep. The corner of the tent had come loose, and a light breeze was revealing its secrets beneath. The tarpaulin wasn’t alone. It was one of what looked like dozens, all sand coloured, some with fake rocks or vegetation on it. “Get us out of here!” Baston barked into his microphone, just as a dull crump was heard, followed by a flash of fire. The whole team looked in horror as a stream of smoke following a missile soaring into the air, arching towards them. Instruments started barking a missile warning, and the helicopter started firing out a stream of flares from its rear dispensers, designed to distract a heat seeking missile. The pilot twisted the control column violently to one side, trying to move the helicopter out of range, but they were too close to the launcher. The helicopter managed to get about two dunes away from the launch site, out of visual site, when the missile hit the tail boom, shattering it in a single blast, and sending the aircraft into a sickening spin. Amaal held on to a grip over the door as beat as she could, as the helicopter dropped into a depression between two dunes with a violent judder. She hit her head on the side of the hatchway, and blacked out for a moment. She recovered in a second, and looked around the cabin. Nobody was moving. Suddenly, Baston opened his eyes. Amaal looked at his leg. His uniform was soaking in blood. “They’re coming, where’s my rifle?” he shouted, barely able to move. She looked around for it, then handed it to him. He was right. They would be coming, in minutes. She looked around the cabin. No one else was even moving. She had no idea who was dead or alive. She snatched up her rifle, leapt out of the wreckage, and ran, as fast as she could. She was fast. She knew she was fast, she’d been running her whole life. She could get away before whomever it was who had attacked them got to the aircraft. The sergeant screamed at her to come back, but she didn’t listen. Chapter Twenty Five. Achmed managed to find his wife’s hand despite the hood over his head. She recoiled first, out of surprise, but he reassured her that it was him, and then she had gripped it tightly, her other arm


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

holding their daughter tightly. Achmed assumed they were in a van of some sort, the small Japanese or French vans used to drive around the city’s tight side-streets, but he couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t be sure of anything aside from being woken in his bed with an automatic pistol in his face, and men in balaclavas ordering him, his wife and child to put on hoods and then being bundled down into a vehicle of some sort. He was so proud of how his daughter wasn’t crying or complaining, just stoically obeying her mother’s instructions to remain quiet. Outside, the businessman could hear the streets, relatively quiet as the city slept although only as quiet as a city of two million people could be at any time. A crowded bar or club would make itself known by its noise and music, approaching and then disappearing into the distance. They then heard the driver talking, in English, and the vehicle stopped, and they were led out of the van and down what seemed like a long corridor, and into a room. The hoods were removed and the door, a heavy steel slab with an eyepiece, was slammed shut. Achmed looked around. It was a cell, with four bunk beds, a toilet and sink in the corner. “Where are we? What have we done wrong?” Amira asked, Mona clutching her mother’s side. Achmed looked around. “This looks like a police cell. I assume we have been arrested by the EDF.” “Why Achmed, why would the EDF arrest us? We are not terrorists, we obey the law. You have spoken with the deputy commissioner. Why would they possibly want us to come to this place?” He nodded at his wife, staying silent. But inside he was fuming. He had done the right thing. He had told the Irishman, and this is where it had gotten him. He had trusted those cursed Europeans and here he was, with his wife and child, his child for God’s sake, in a cell like a common criminal. He shook his head and sat on the corner of the bed. Amira knew when he husband was angry, and let him be, turning to Mona. “Alright little one, let’s make the best of what we have. Help mama make up the beds,” she said, picking up the pillows and bedclothes neatly folded at the end of each bed. Chapter Twenty Six. Baston just barely managed to pull himself into a sitting position against the bulkhead, pain shooting through his leg. He could see a piece of metal sticking out of his thigh at the centre of the bloody wet mess. How could one little piece hurt so fucking much, he asked himself. He wanted to be angry with Amaal, running away like that, but he didn’t have time, as he switched out his blank ammunition for live rounds, slammed the magazine into place and cocked his weapon. This was it, he thought to himself. He hadn’t died in Afghanistan, got through Mali, but this was it. This is where he laid his hat, he thought. He could hear the engines over the dying engines of the helicopter, and then he saw them. Two jeeps, no, Japanese pick-up trucks, each with two or three men. They came through a gap in the dunes, on relatively flat, compressed sand, a cloud of sand behind them. They stopped a few hundred metres out, leaping from their vehicles, AK47s ready. He could see them through the side


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

hatch. Arabs, it looked like. Beards and arab dress. They advanced slowly, spreading out in a line. He could see them clearly? Why couldn’t they see him, he wondered, then he realised. He was in the shaded part of the cabin, covered in shadow. Small mercies. Should be able to take a few of the fuckers with me. That’s something. One of them started firing. Except he didn’t, Baston realised. That wasn’t the sound of a Klashnikov. That was a Heckler and Koch, like his own. Outside, he saw every single one of them drop in a hail of fire before they could even lift their weapons to their shoulders. Every one of them. A minute later, breathing heavily, Amaal was back. “Sorry sarge: needed the elevation,” she said, and pulled down the first aid kid to start working on his leg. Baston was speechless, before laughing. “ I said it. I fucking said it. A fucking natural!” Amaal smiled, opening the first aid kit. “Don’t mind that. Get one of those jeeps, I’ll see who is alive here.” Amaal looked blankly at him. “What?” “I can’t drive.” “What?” he said. “I can’t drive. I’ve never driven anything in my life.” Baston sighed. “Alright, alright, here, pull me up.” He put out a hand, and she pulled him out the hatch, allowing him to stand, with a bolt of pain running through his leg as he hobbled, leaning on his rifle for support. “I’ll get a jeep. You check, see if any one else survived.” The pilots were dead, as were three of the squad, although Safir’s eyes opened after some shaking from Amaal. She tried to get up, but her leg looked badly injured, possibly broken. Amaal carried her out of the doorway just as Baston backed up the pickup, and Amaal lowered the Iraqi woman as gently as she could.” Baston gunned the engine. “Wait!” Amaal cried, and ran back to the helicopter, grabbing a satchel. And her rifle. She jumped into the passenger seat, opening the bag and pulling out a GPS device, and switched it on. Safir looked over at the bodies. “You guys put up some fight!” “Not me. All her. Remind me never to owe her money.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Amaal tapped away at the tracker. She’d only been trained how to use it last week, and now she was using it in a combat situation, she thought to herself. All her life she’d been afraid of failure, of being hurt, of not being good enough, of certainly not being better than a man, and yet here she was. In the middle of the Libyan desert, having ambushed and killed six terrorists planning on killing her squad. What struck her was that she had known exactly what to do when she heard the jeeps coming, where to go, what firing position to use, when to fire. Yes, she had been trained well, but what stayed with her was the fear. There was none. She had been ice calm, her brain knowing exactly what to do, to eliminate the threat and regain control of the situation. The same brain that had told her to go back for the satchel because they’d need GPS to get back to the city. This was it, she thought. This was what she was for. “That way,” she said, pointing to the north, and Baston pressed down on the accelerator and the jeep took off. Just as they pulled out of the depression another jeep appeared, loaded with armed men. “This’ll be fun,” Baston said. Amaal removed the second device from the satchel. A satellite phone. She activated, tapped in the code to access the scrambler, and spoke into it. “Mayday! Mayday! This is EDF…” “147” Baston said, struggling to keep the jeep straight on the bumpy bakeshift road. A few bullets passed them. “EDF 147. We have been shot down by unknown hostiles. We are in an unmarked vehicle being pursued by hostiles. Request support, over?” Nothing. “Try it again. Hit the general broadcast and give our coordinates from the GPS,” he said. She switched it to radio, and did as he suggested. Then her finger felt something on the casing of the phone. She turned it over. A piece of shrapnel had smashed through the casing. “Merde!” Baston said. Another bullet hit the jeep. “Give those fuckers something to shoot at!” he said, and Amaal picked up her rifle, crouched over the seat and let out a controlled burst, catching one of the men in the back of the jeep in the head and ripping him clear off the back. The driver of the jeep swerved in a panic, letting them put distance between their vehicle and his, but also making it harder to hit. Amaal fired another two bursts, then the rifle clicked empty. “Any more clips?” she asked the two others, who looked around the speeding vehicle. Nothing. Shit, she cursed herself. There was a bag of clips in the helicopter, why hadn’t she taken them? They’d just have to hope they could outrun these bastards. Baston turned the pickup through a gap in the dunes, when the jeep hit a large stone and flipped over onto its side, skidding into a dune and firing all three into the sand. The sand caught them all relatively softly. Amaal was up first, grabbing her rifle and crouching down behind the overturned jeep, racking her brains for an option. They had no ammunition, a jeep load of enemies, nobody knew where they were, a broken satellite phone.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The other jeep came around the turn, skidding to a halt on seeing the overturned pickup. The other men in the jeep leapt from it carefully, cautiously, AK47s ready. Amaal shouted a demand for their surrender, pointing her rifle at them. They stopped for a second, aware that she had them dead in line. But then one laughed, grasping the futility of the situation: if she had ammunition, they’d all be dead by now. Then a SuperPuma appeared over the dune, low enough that its rotors created an instant sandstorm, but not before the machine gunner in the hatch proved he had no shortage of ammunition, cutting down the terrorists in a single burst. The helicopter came down in the clearing, EDF troops leaping from it and securing the landing zone. Captain Petersen ordered them to search the terrorists for documents, phones and other items, and then walked over to the jeep. “Jesus Baston, it was only supposed to be an afternoon spin, not Black Hawk Down. Where’s the rest of the squad?” she asked. Baston, being helped up by an EDF trooper as Amaal helped Safir. “All dead. Took a surface-to-air about two clicks from here. We’d all be dead if it wasn’t for this one,” he jabbed a thumb at Amaal. “Took out six of the fuckers when they came for us. Another on the road. She spotted the base too.” “Ok, let’s get you guys out of here,” Petersen said. “There’s a base,” Amaal said, turning back to face the captain after handing Safir over to a medic in the helicopter. Petersen looked unconcerned. “Looked substantial. And we can’t leave our people back there,” the sergeant said, grimacing as he was laid back onto a stretcher set up inside the aircraft. “Let’s get back to the city, get you guys proper care. We can recover the rest of the squad later.” “Captain, the base isn’t just some little cell. It stretched out quite a distance, and they hit us with something sophisticated. Got through a full flare barrage,” he said, just as he groaned and slumped back in the stretcher as the medic injected him with a sedative.” “Don’t,” he groggily waved her away. “I have to. You’ll bleed out if I don’t get that shrapnel out and the bleeding clamped,” she replied, but he was already out and she got to work.” “I counted at least 15 tents, and that was only as far as I could see…” Amaal said. “Yes private, I heard, I heard you both. It will be dealt with. Now get in the helicopter,” Petersen snapped, before ordering the troops covering the landing site to get onboard. The rotors clattered to a crescendo, the sand flared up and the helicopter was up into the air. Amaal sat in her seat, securing her rifle, occasionally looking over at Petersen who ignored her stare. An EDF trooper handed her a bottle of water, which she thanked him for, and finished the whole bottle in one gulp.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The Dane had shifted over to sit beside her, and gestured for the other trooper to move up the cabin, which he did. Petersen leaned in to Amaal, who had lifted her goggles and was cleaning her face of sand with a wipe. “You have to trust me on this,” she whispered to the younger woman. Amaal nodded. She did trust her. Her mind was still processing what she had been through. She had killed seven men. Seven men. And if she had more ammunition, she would have killed the others too, without hesitation. Not in anger, not even out of fear, because that wasn’t what she had felt in the midst of the fighting. She’d felt her heart hammering inside her chest, but the desire to carry out her actions, to target and kill those men, that was her duty, what was needed to end an attack on herself and her colleagues. Was she a killer, she asked herself? To take so many lives so casually? Was this what the soldiers who had run rampaging through her village had felt, killing her mother and dozens others? No, that had been pure hate. A blood lust. Fanatics. She didn’t shoot unarmed men, or children or women, she shot people who had been on their way to kill her and the rest of the squad, and she had been smarter and faster and a better soldier. Petersen slid her hand over Amaal’s hand. “Seven people?” she said. Amaal nodded. “Wow. I’ve shot one man. And he didn’t even die. How do you feel now?” Amaal shrugged her shoulders. “I should feel sad, or angry, or sick. I don’t. I’m worried about the base. And something else,” she said. “What?” “Not that I enjoyed it, but that...well...I’m proud. They wanted to kill us.” “And you stopped them. You should be proud. We are the good people in this story, mila,” The aircraft swooped over the outer perimeter and towards an EDF compound with a large clearing in the middle. An EDF soldier with orange paddles guided the helicopter into land. Amaal could see two ambulances waiting, lights flashing. She helped the paramedics unload first Sergeant Baston then Safir. But when she turned back towards the helicopter, Petersen was standing with two military police officers. “I need you to go with these officers, Amaal,” she said. Amaal looked at the two big men, who towered over both her and Petersen. Amaal didn’t know what to do. Had she done something wrong? She could see in Petersen’s eyes that the captain was embarrassed to be asking her this, indeed hurt to be doing it. But that still didn’t explain what was going on. “Please: it won’t be for long.” “But I haven’t done anything wrong. Ask Sergeant Baston.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“Yes, I know that. It’ll only be for a short period. Please, this is important. There are things you don’t know.” Amaal nodded, and put her hands out for handcuffs. Petersen put her hands on the other woman’s. “That won’t be necessary. It’s only for a day or two at most, I promise.” Amaal nodded, and was led away towards an EDF jeep. They drove her quickly to an EDF barracks, where she was brought to a small but comfortable bedroom, given a fresh uniform, some newspapers, and locked in. She decided to have a shower, and five minutes later was under a powerful hot jet, washing the sand of Libya off her body. In her mind she went over and over the events of the previous hours. What had she done wrong? Had she done anything wrong? She’d made a mistake on the initial landing, but that was a minor issue that even Baston had dismissed after a few minutes. Had she been wrong to kill those men? They didn’t even know who they were. She rubbed the shower gel into her hair, and down her body. Was that it? Had she made a terrible mistake? Maybe that base wasn’t a terrorist base, but some sort of secret European operation? But why had they shot them down? Why would Europeans shoot down a European helicopter? Maybe they had made the initial mistake but then she had compounded it by killing the men in the pickups. She had fired first, without warning, killed them all before they even had a chance to speak. Maybe they weren’t coming to finish off the helicopter crew? Her stomach tightened at the thought. What if the missile had been an accident, and they had come out to help? But surely, she thought, as he dried herself on the towel, surely if the Europeans had a secret base they’d keep their own helicopters away from it. Oh God. She suddenly remembered. The helicopter training mission had been unscheduled. Baston had just taken the helicopter out because it was free. Had he even filed a flight plan? That made sense, she thought, as she put on the fresh uniform. The whole incident had been an accident, a mistake compounded by her killing seven men. Chapter Twenty Seven. Shamir had been on patrol with a Saudi woman who spoke English with a very posh accent, he thought. She sounded like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, and she had told him her story as they manned a barricade in a closed off square. How she had been the daughter of a sheik, and educated by a British governess, and then married off to a thug who raped her. She had fled across the border into Iraq, hoping to make her way to Europe, and had ended up in the safezone, a soldier. He laughed. She was very pretty, very elegant, her perfect makeup and headscarf juxtaposing with her flack jacket and rifle. “Why the militia?” he asked.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“It was either this or a translator. I didn’t have any skills. But I like this. I’m going to do the paramedic course next, maybe think about becoming a nurse?” “Not stay in the military?” “No. It’s hell on my nails,” she said, with a mischievous smile. “Although, I do enjoy it. Last month I certified in driving an APC. In Saudi I couldn’t even drive a car!” Shamir smiled, and looked at the empty square. The authority frequently held these exercises, evacuating public spaces quickly in case of a terrorist attack. It was boring more than anything else, standing at a barrier across a side street, stopping people coming into the square. He’d never seen the exercise carried out on Plaza de Felipe Gonzalez Square before, given that it was closed on one side by the wall surrounding the city, and one of the main entry points. He looked up at the large tower on the far side of the wall, which controlled the approach road to the city. “Have you seen anyone move in the tower?” he asked her, gesturing at it with his forehead. She looked up. Their position wasn’t great, and they would only see someone standing close to the tower’s sides. “I hadn’t noticed, but now that you mention it,” she said, looking up. He looked at the main gate, which was closed. “In fact, I haven’t seen anyone come out of the gatehouse either. Even for a smoke.” Then the tower and the gate exploded as a missile hit each one of them. The explosion destroyed the tower in a large fireball, and the gate buckled first, before a second missile hit it causing it to disintegrate. Both Shamir and Leila were knocked off their feet, showered in small pieces of debris, but they recovered quickly, her helping him to his feet as he tapped his headset transmitter. He was reporting the explosion just as Leila brought her rifle to her shoulder and fired a burst as a crowd of men with AK47s came through the gate into the square. Chapter Twenty Eight. General Sikorski had taken her jacket off and rolled up her sleeves as she looked at the electronic display on the wall, giving out instructions to her German and French deputies just as the commissioner and his deputy entered the situation room. Throughout the authority building and the harbour area below, which also housed most of the senior officials family residences, shops and other facilities, a klaxon was sounding and EDF troops were taking up pre-arranged defensive positions. “External tower in the south east was destroyed, as was the gate. By light vehicle launched missiles. We have a breech in Plaza de Felipe Gonzalez.” She pointed to another screen showing a view of the area from high above. A large number of vehicles were approaching the gate, and large numbers of combatants on foot were swarming at it. “This is it: the biggest terrorist attack ever on European soil.” the commissioner said.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

***** Amaal leapt off the bed when she heard the klaxon, pulling on her boots. Outside there was shouting and running. She hammered on the door, if only to get people not to forget she was in here. A key rattled in the door, then it swung open. Petersen stood there, in full combat gear with helmet. She handed a helmet, flak jacket and rifle to Amaal. “Right, we’re up,” the Danish woman said, eyes sparkling. Amaal had no idea what she was talking about, but grabbed the equipment off her, and started putting it on. ***** “Pull back, pull back!”Shamir shouted at Leila, as she fired another burst down the narrow street at the slowly advancing terrorists. They had been slowly hopscotching down the street, firing and covering each other, surprised that their calm training and tactics were allowing them to hold up a substantially bigger force. They had discovered a mother and two daughters who had, for some reason, not already been evacuated, and Shamir ordered them to run ahead down the street as he and Leila drew fire. “I’m nearly out of ammunition,” Leila shouted, as they reached a corner where the street twisted sharply to one side. “Me too. Where’s that fucking back up?” he shouted, turning into the corner and the terrified faces of the two young girls and their mother staring and wailing at a huge steel plate welded over the narrow end of the street. “What the hell is this?” Leila shouted, looking at the steel wall trapping them in. Shamir didn’t know what to say, but pushed the two girls and mother onto the ground and tried to shield them with his body. Leila saw what he was doing, and crouched beside him, just as the first terrorists came around the corner. “Now!” a Scottish voice called out, and Scottish and Irish special forces troops, all lying along the top of the containers that made up the street, opened fire in a single sustained burst, ripping the terrorists to bloody shreds. After the initial burst, half of them abseiled down onto the street to secure it, pursuing the now fleeing terrorists with fire support from above. A small blonde female EDF officer strolled over. She had an Irish accent. “Creighton, Connolly Fighting First.” She pointed at the Irish & Scottish flags on her uniform. “Connolly?” Leila asked. “Yeah, James Connolly. Irish revolutionary. Born in Scotland. Or possibly Billy Connolly. Either works. Nice orderly fighting retreat back there. Sorry we couldn’t intervene. Had to get them all into the killzone first.” “The killzone?” Shamir asked.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Creighton smiled. “Oh yes. These fuckers have stepped through the gates of Hades.” ***** The attack was going as planned. The tower and gate had been destroyed by Khalid as promised, and without alerting the EDF beforehand. They were now inside the city, and their vehicles were speeding towards the breech. Once inside the city there would be chaos, al-Tarat, the commander of the attack, told himself. This was it. The most crippling attack on Europe ever, a huge assault on their precious safezone, their jewel in the crown. All across the world the message would go out that the Europeans can’t even keep their safezone secure, never mind their cities. He could feel the breeze blowing through his hair as his jeep sped towards the city and the gaping hole in its defences. They’d be inside in minutes, fighting door to door, street to street, killing European soldiers and their lickspittle militia. Then he heard a boom to his northeast. It puzzled him. The city was directly ahead, what would cause a noise that loud from that direction. Then he saw the shapes, coming in low over the desert. Six of them. Six French Navy Rafale fighters. Loaded for bear. ***** The commissioner watched on the screen as the French aircraft released their payloads in three waves, to devastating effect. Where there had been a wave of speeding pick ups heading towards the safezone there were now huge clouds of smoke and sand. A much reduced number of vehicles still headed towards the city. Some vehicles were heading away from the city with equal haste. Sikorski nodded with satisfaction. She pointed at a map of the city laid out on a table. “The Scottish & Irish have pushed them back here, Poles and Germans here, French here and the Spanish have reported they’ve ceased fire as they’ve run out of targets.” She looked at the drone image. “Ok, visibility is good enough. Colonel, convey my thanks to our French friends on the Richelieu. If you could ask our Italian colleagues to try out their new toys?” The German colonel nodded, and began speaking into his headset. ***** Behind a steep dune, six hovering Airbus Tiger gunship helicopters operated by the Italian army on behalf of the EDF lifted up over the dunes and sped in formation towards the vehicles heading in the direction of the city. On the squadron commander’s mark, rapidly closing the distance, all fired their Hellfire missiles, which streaked out it in a wall of death, each striking its target within seconds of the others is a staccato of explosive impacts.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The small number of surviving vehicles, their passengers screaming and shouting, trying to fire on the European helicopters, spun away from the city and started speeding out into the desert. The gunships broke formation, each pursuing a pick up, their 30mm machine guns savaging the terrorists in them. Two exploded from the sustained fire. One overturned, and the remaining two slowed to a halt, all their passengers dead from the gunfire. ***** The armoured personnel carrier with Amaal, Petersen, and a mixture of Danish, Dutch and Belgian troops skidded to a halt at a barrier leading onto Plaza de Felipe Gonzalez. The doors flew open, and an EDF major barked orders, dispatching units into different positions around the plaza, joining existing European forces engaged in a furious and loud gun battle with the terrorists. The remaining terrorists had been pushed back to the rubble of the city gate, holding on under the impression that reinforcements were on their way. Amaal joined a unit of Danes sheltering behind an APC and it slowly moved at a tangent to the enemy position, raking their position with machine gun fire. The EDF unit didn’t seem to be in any rush to engage the terrorists. “Watch this,” Petersen said, pointing up and out behind the wall where three Airbus A400M turboprop transports came in low and hit the sand outside the city roughly, ramps dropping and jeeps with heavy calibre machine guns poured out of the back as the transports were still slowing. They turned as a group and sped for the gate and the rear of the remaining terrorists as the planes roared and sped up again, lifting up from the hard sandy surface as they had been designed to. “Covering!” Petersen shouted, and leaned around the side of the APC, loosing off a full magazine in the general direction of the terrorists. “Keep them distracted!” she shouted at her squad, who took fired bursts at the terrorists scrabbling for cover in the rubble around the gatehouse. They realised too late that the squad of armoured vehicles had closed in on them from the rear, presenting a wall of steel when they stopped in unison. Petersen grabbed a megaphone from a locker inside the APC door. “This is the European Defence Force. You are surrounded. Ceasefire and surrender.” The remaining dozen or so terrorists, seeing their situation, dropped their weapons and raised their hands. “Slowly, and check for explosive devices. Some of these chaps may feel they’re still eligible for 72 virgins,” the captain said, and her team advanced slowly from behind the APC. ***** “And our Russian neo-nazi friends?” the commissioner asked, leaning over the table and facing the rapidly changing screen. Sikorski tapped a button on her tablet, and the screen zoomed away from the main combat area and to a mountain range between the city and the coast. The screen zoomed in on a cluster of red dots


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

on a mountain ledge. She tapped again, and a cluster of blue dots appeared, surrounding the first group. “That’s, the….” the Irishman said, as a blue and white flag with the Star of David appeared beside the blue group. The commissioner nodded. “Yes, that’s them. The Israeli ambassador was very helpful when I revealed our infestation problem. They take these issues personally.” “Who can blame them?” the Irishman remarked, watching the blue dots move in on the red dots. ***** The Israeli naval special forces Shayetet 13 unit took out their targets cleanly, killing eight of the ten Russian operatives who had been crouched below the ridge, watching the attack through binoculars. The Israelis had kept the Russian group under surveillance for three hours since they had arrived at the camp, and waited until the signal from the Europeans that the attack on the city was underway, having used their time to identify the senior operatives. A number of sustained bursts from suppressor equipped carbines dealt with most of the force, and the two remaining Russians, designated the unit’s commander and deputy were rushed before they could free their weapons. They put up a fight, losing their weapons but still breaking the nose of a sergeant before being jabbed with a concoction which put them out in seconds. As per agreement with the Europeans, the bodies were stripped of electronic equipment and papers, then buried in a large grave. The two unconscious men were then carried two kilometres to the coast, where a number of inflatable Zodiac boats were waiting to quietly bring the unit out to sea. The three boats quietly passed a German Navy frigate which kept a silent watch on the operation. Its captain, seeing the Israelis, tipped his cap at the Israeli commander, who returned the salute, and turned the boats towards calm flat sea just as the conning tower of an Israeli Navy submarine broke the surface. The hatches on the deck opened rapidly and sailors in dark overalls helped the commandos and their cargo aboard. They pulled the boats up onto the deck, and lowered them into a cargo bay through larger doors, as the captain scanned the perimeter for anything other than the German vessel. As soon as the last hatch clanked shut he signalled a dive, and disappeared from the tower. The submarine slipped under the surface as swiftly as it had emerged. Suddenly, the German ship was alone in the bay. The captain decided he’d quite like a cup of tea and what the British called a chocolate digestive. Chapter Twenty Nine. The “Battle of the Safezone”, as the media titled it, had been carried almost entirely live on television across the world, as BBC, Fox News Channel, EuroNews and CNN drones had flitted over the combat zone in the midst of the fighting. Russia Today had lodged a formal legal suit with the European Commission after it emerged that, on advice from General Sikorski, the commissioner had authorised the shooting down of RT drones on the basis that they could effectively be terrorist surveillance and battlefield logistics platform. The narrative from the European Union was that the EDF had engaged in a massive operation to destroy the largest terrorist attack in European history, and had killed over 1100 terrorists and destroyed nearly sixty terrorist vehicles. The French Navy had carried out further airstrikes against the suspected terrorist camp some 30 kilometres from the city.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The EDF had lost nine soldiers, and four members of the refugee militia. Across the continent Europeans, in their homes and bars and cafes had stared at their television screens in shock as live images of the fighting was broadcast, and graphics began to reveal that this was not yet another terrible attack on a defenceless Europe, but that European forces were inflicting huge casualties on the attackers. In French bars cheers broke into La Marseillaise on scenes of French fighters strafing the terrorist force. Broadcasters were quick to warn viewers that given the live status of the fighting, they could not ensure that scenes of violence could absolutely be guaranteed not to occur, but it didn’t stop record viewing figures. On the streets of Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Madrid crowds took to the streets cheering and waving national and EU flags. Just after 7am, the commissioner, with the Irishman to his side and surrounded by various military officials, stepped up to a stand overloaded with microphones and hit a staccato burst of camera flashes. “Good morning. In a moment, I will hand over to General Sikorski of the European Defence Force to brief you on yesterday’s attack, the EDF’s response, and our ongoing mopping up operations. But before I do so, I’d like to say a few words. Yesterday evening this city, this safezone, was attacked by the enemies of Europe and our values. We have always known that this city, with its values of tolerance and equality and decency, would be a target for extremists. We have always known that they may choose to fight us not on the streets of Nice or Brussels but here in the safezone. Yesterday, they attempted to extinguish this city and its citizens. To those who supported the attack on this city today, let me say this. Look at the bodies of terrorists on our streets and in the sand, defeated by both European soldiers and the safezone militia made up of those refugees who regard these streets as their home. Those refugees who fought alongside our professional forces because what we have in the safezone is worth fighting for. Look at their bodies, cowards who ran and sobbed when they suddenly encountered both the men and especially the women of the safezone, armed and ready to fight back. These are the men who take pleasure in making women cower, who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls for the crime of wanting to learn how to read. Well, today you came up against those women, armed and trained, and they took your feeble excuse for manhood. They stood and fought you as equals, and made you run and die. Look at your burning vehicles lighting up the desert, destroyed by our Rafale fighters and our Tiger gunships.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Look at the aircraft carrier Richelieu, standing strong in our harbour, ready to strike out against you and your terror and your hate. Look at the scale of your defeat and know this: This is Berlin. This is Brussels. This is Paris. This is Nice. This is Madrid. This is Europe. And it is defended.”

Chapter Thirty. The food had been if not awful then tolerable, slid under the door three times a day. Beans, rice, chicken, bread, water. Adequate, and it had that which they had been expecting when they heard the noise on the corridor outside. The noise the previous day had terrified Achmed and Amira, as they listened to gunfire and explosions in the distance, and the roar of fighter jets overhead. That had really worried the Syrian, although he didn’t voice his concerns to his wife. If the authority were calling in airstrikes then it meant that it wasn’t just some sort of minor terrorist attack, but an actual prolonged battle. His mind had raced as to what that meant? What if the fanatics overran the city? What if the Europeans left, pulling out on the warships and helicopters across to France and Italy and leaving the refugees to fend for themselves? Would they do that? Would they leave? He read the newspapers with their reports of politics on the continent, and the fascists complaining about the cost of the safezone. Where would he go? Where would he take his family? Where would they be safe? He thought of his little shop, and the businesses he had lost in Aleppo, and wondered was he being punished by Allah for the sin of pride, for thinking of a future and maybe a supermarket and then a chain of supermarkets across the city. Was he being punished for that? There was shouting on the corridor, and that alarmed him. Had the terrorists stormed this building, wherever it was? Would they free him and his family, or kill them, or question them to see if they were collaborators with the Europeans? He shot a nervous look at Amira, who was holding Mona closely. The voice was angry, shouting, getting closer, the language...Achmed listened carefully...it was English, and he knew the voice. “I gave clear fucking instructions that they were to be taken into protective custody...these are not criminals, this man and his family has done everything we asked of him!” The key rattled in the door, and it swung open to reveal a senior EDF officer with a red face, and the deputy commissioner, who stepped into the cell.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

“My dear friend, I’m so sorry, please forgive me, there’s been a major,” he paused, seeing Amira and Mona, “mistake made. You were not supposed to be brought here. You were supposed to be brought to a guesthouse for VIPs.” The Irishman shot a look at the officer, he nodded awkwardly and stepped back into the hallway. Achmed stood up to face the politician. The Irishman put out his hand. “Please forgive me. The information you gave me was of such importance that we had to get you and your family to safety for your own protection. I hope you have been cared for adequately, at least?” Achmed shook his hand. “May we go now?” Amira asked. “Of course, please, follow me. I want you to meet someone,” the Irishman said, leading them out into the corridor. He led them out a door and into the sunlight. Achmed took a moment to adjust his eyes, then realised they were on the harbour just outside the Safezone Authority Building. The harbour was filled with troops in combat gear, and tanks and armoured vehicles being loaded onto ships. The aircraft carrier Richelieu sat once again in the harbour. The Irishman’s voice was nearly drowned out by two French Rafales booming as the raced inland over them. “Was there some kind of attack?” Achmed asked. The Irishman nodded, leading them up the stairs and into the air conditioned lobby of the building. The flags of the EU nations and their partners lined the wall, as did the photos of the Irishman and the Englishman. “I’ll get you all lunch in a minute, but this is important,” the Irishman said, as he herded them into a lift, and then out onto a mezzanine where two armed EDF troops and a group of suited men with earpieces stood. “I’m sorry, but is there news of my brother?” Achmed asked as they walked towards double doors with a plaque declaring them to be “The Office of the Commissioner”. “All will be revealed,” the Irishman said, and led them into a large meeting room overlooking the harbour. The commissioner was drinking coffee with a short, plump woman with short blonde hair. She wore a red suit jacket and black trousers. Achmed recognised both of them immediately, and was speechless. The commissioner turned and smiled. “Ah, the Hadid family. Might I introduce you to the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She’s visiting our city for a few days. This is Mr Achmed Hadid, Mrs Mona Hadid and Amira Hadid.”


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

Mona started laughing. “I’m not a Mrs!” she said. The commissioner looked at his note again, and then at the little girl. “You’re quite right, Mona, although you look much older!” The German chancellor shook hands with all three. “Our other guests are just on the way up,” the Irishman said. There was a knock on the door, and a striking young black woman in militia uniform came in, followed by a handsome Arab. “Khalid!” Achmed gasped, staring at his brother. His brother smiled, and embraced the businessman. Achmed looked at the Irishman. “I don’t understand…” The commissioner handed out glasses of water. “Khalid here has been working for a joint Franco-German agency since he was recruited by them in Turkey. His mission has been to infiltrate Islamic extremist groups.” “You’re a spy?” Achmed asked. “A very good one,” Merkel said. The younger Syrian shrugged. “I guess watching all those James Bond movies as a kid rubbed off,” he said, with a grin. “We became aware of a plan by Russia extremists to carry out a major attack here, funding Islamic extremists. Khalid here penetrated their organisation and confirmed what we suspected. Private Amaal here accidently discovered their staging post whilst on a training exercise. But we wanted them to carry out their attack, commit all their forces. We were waiting for them. The Richelieu pretended to be sailing back to France, and we quietly evacuated where the attack was expected, and had special forces waiting for them. And gunship helicopters. We killed over 1100 terrorists. It’s a huge victory over ISIS and given the Russians a bloody nose, and you three all played a part in it,” the commissioner said. The chancellor took a padded envelope off the commissioner’s desk, and opened it, removing five purple covered booklets. She looked at the group in front of her. “You have all stood by Europe. You have obeyed our laws, respected our values, and when Europe was attacked here yesterday you all played a part in its defence. Well, now Europe will stand by you.” She looked at the passports, then handed them over, bending down to hand one to Mona who looked absolutely fascinated. “The deputy commissioner has arranged Irish citizenship for you, private Amaal. For you four, our good friend the First Minister of Scotland has arranged Scottish citizenship which, as you know, will


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

be compatible with EU citizenship from January 1st. You are now, or will be, citizens of the European Union.” Achmed stared at his passport, then at his wife and daughter. The chancellor continued. “We chose Scotland and Ireland as you all speak English. But of course, you may live and work anywhere in the EU. But we hope you will choose to stay here.” She pointed out the window at the road leading into the interior. “What we are building here, what you are building here, matters. It needs leaders like you who are making this not just part of Europe but a home. But of course, the choice will be yours.” The deputy commissioner leaned into Achmed’s ear. “On a completely unrelated point, that small business loan application you made, to build a supermarket? That’s been approved, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that,” he said, with a smile. After the meeting ended, Amaal stepped out onto the mezzanine overlooking the main entrance. Petersen was waiting, and smiled warmly. “My darling, I’m sorry I had to be so harsh with you. I was part of the group planning for the attack, and I couldn’t risk you talking to EDF or militia people who weren’t aware of the operation. Will you forgive me?” She reached out and took Amaal’s hands in yours. Amaal smiled, and held up her Irish passport. “I understand. I can’t believe I have this. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. Father O’Reilly told us so much about it, ad showed us pictures of fields so green that they didn’t look natural. And rain, rain everyday he said.” “It’s a beautiful country. I have been there. It’s nearly as beautiful as Denmark. We could take a holiday. I have friends there. But first, you have one more thing to do.” The Dane pointed at the German leader and the commissioner, with their security details, walking with the Hadid family into the dining room. “The chancellor has asked that you accompany her and the commissioner this afternoon, as part of her security group. After you have had lunch, of course.” Amaal was puzzled. “Me? Why?” “You’re the poster girl for the militia. You’re the example the EU wants to use to justify the safezone and all the money it costs,” she said, tapping on her tablet and turning it to show the Somali the BBC News website, which had in-depth coverage of the battle. The main banner at the top of the page was illustrated with a group of EDF and militia troops racing forward from the APC at the gatehouse, obviously captured by a low flying drone. Amaal was at the head of group, gun held at shoulder height but still with her face visible.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

She had to look at the image for a moment before recognising it. She had rarely seen photos of herself, and whatever self image she had of herself, this was not it. This warrior leading other warriors into battle. She looked at her own eyes. This was not the frightened girl who had arrived in the city, terrified of men and soldiers. “You’re famous, sort of,” Petersen said, taking the tablet back. They strolled towards the dining room, where Petersen pointed at the table with the VIPs. “You’re over there with the mucky-mucks. I’m over here with the help,” she said with a wink. The commissioner saw her, and gestured to a seat across from the chancellor along a long oblong table. She nervously took her seat, smiling at the most powerful woman in the world who offered her a basket of bread rolls. Merkel did her best to put her at ease, asking her about the militia and life in the safezone. Beside her, Achmed was thoroughly enjoying his access to the commissioner, and was expanding generously on his views of commerce within the city. He was restricted only by Amira who chastised him for boring the commissioner, but the Englishman smiled as he questioned the Syrian closely. He was big on detail, and loved an opportunity to get firsthand experience from individuals. Much to Achmed’s delight, he’d ask the businessman to pause for a moment so that he could take notes. The Irishman contented himself with listening to Mona telling long and elaborate stories about cats that lived on their street. As the German chancellor excused herself when an aide whispered in her ear, Amaal looked over at the table where Petersen sat with middle ranking officials. The Dane caught her stare, and winked, making Amaal smile. When the lunch finished a tall silver-haired German man identified himself to Amaal as head of the chancellor’s security team. In clear English he briefed her that whilst they would form the inner ring around the German leader, Amaal should stay close. Amaal nodded, and after wishing the Hadid family well walked down with the group and got into one of the half dozen desert coloured Iveco Panther armoured jeeps, finding herself sitting with three German GSG9 officers in combat gear. She checked her rifle again, having been handed it by Petersen as she stepped out into the midday heat and was directed towards the vehicle. Through the narrow tinted windows she could see the commissioner and the chancellor getting into the vehicle before them, and as soon as the doors closed the vehicles pulled off at speed. Above them a Tiger gunship easily kept pace with the convoy as it passed through the perimeter of the coastal zone and drove at speed down the wide narrow highway towards the city. Amaal knew from experience that at this speed the convoy would reach the city in about twenty minutes, with EDF police cars blocking streets to allow them to pass straight into Dreyfus Square. The visit hadn’t been announced or planned that early for security reasons, but Amaal knew that it would have been impossible to keep the chancellor’s presence in the safezone a secret for too long. The Libyan workers with their special status, it being their actual country, were far less likely to be intimidated by the EDF and more like to shoot their mouths off when spending their generous paypackets in the bars of the zone. It was also common knowledge that the Englishman was very proud of the level of religious cooperation that had been achieved in the city, and so tended to bring pretty much every visitor to Dreyfus Square. If you waited long enough, the joke in the bars went…


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The convoy sped through the gates of the city, red and blue flashing lights showing that EDF vehicles had closed off traffic to allow it to maintain speed. Along the wider streets they drove, EDF and militia kept back curious onlookers. Amaal didn’t blame them, understanding the desire to have a look. The commissioner was treated almost like a monarch in the zone, and yet here was his boss coming to visit, and a woman too. The most powerful woman in the world, they said. Amaal knew that her old self would almost certainly have gone for a look, to see this plump little blonde woman who made men bend to her will, who was so powerful that she regarded the city as a tiny part of her empire. Yes, she definitely would want to see that. And yet she, Amaal, had shook her hand and eaten with her, and taken her offer of bread rolls just as if they had been having supper in someone’s house. Amaal was the same height as the German woman, and had sat less than a metre from her, and she had not detected any great power. But she had seen the way everyone around her had nodded solemnly, and listened to her every word, and that had been what power looked like. Even the commissioner, who was taller than her, bent to listen carefully, and did that thing of trying to look like he was conferring with an equal when he wasn’t. Even he, a man who controlled soldiers and helicopters and could exile people with a single signature, even he had to answer to her. The convoy pulled onto Dreyfus Square, where the EDF and militia had closed off a large semicircle in front of one of the mosques. A delegation of imams, priests and a rabbi stood chatting on the steps, and the vehicles snaked to a halt just in front of the building. Amaal pulled her rifle close and followed one of the GSG9 men just as he she had been instructed, and she found herself standing just to the left of the German leader as she strolled towards a small group of city dwellers who had had the patience to stay at the barrier when it had been randomly set up, and now seemed excited to be about to meet Merkel. Amaal scanned the crowd, looking for any sign of a threat. A gun, a knife, a tense look in someone’s eyes, but all she could see were mostly women, both young and old, hands outstretched. Amaal smiled at the sight. Her mother would have loved this, just a brief encounter with a woman as powerful as this who didn’t take nonsense from men. She would have spoken for days about it, and quoted Merkel, and the story would have ended up as if she and the German leader had conversed for hours. The chancellor, with the commissioner by her side, him smiling too, began to shake hands, smile for photos, lean in for selfies. Amaal was amazed at how the woman, whom she thought resembled someone’s mother, maybe even their grandmother, nevertheless knew the importance of posing for the pictures, smiling, giving small thanks to each person she met. Then Amaal saw the eyes, about three rows back. Just for a second. Then she couldn’t see them again, as the crowd rippled. But she knew them, had seen them before, and her chest tightened. She didn’t know why, but the eyes were not those of a friend. The crowd jostled as women tried to get to the front of the crowd to shake Merkel’s hand. Her body guards stiffened, moving in closer, but being careful not to interfere. Like all politicians, even one who at times came off as slightly stiff as the chancellor, she liked people who seemed to like her, and was eager to grasp as many hands as possible. Then Amaal saw the eyes again, behind a scarf covering a mouth. It covered the mouth and most of the nose, but not all of the face. Not the top of a scar running up a cheek. The eyes, which had been fixed on Merkel, glanced at Amaal for a second, and in that second widened with just the slightest flicker of recognition. Did the eyes recognise her from the village, two years ago in Somalia, or just recognise the eyes of a trained soldier who recognised a threat.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The handgun, an automatic pistol, came up from below, the arm outstretched, a wave of screaming breaking out from the women around the man, his mask slipping. The commissioner, who had been standing right beside the chancellor on her other side, spotted the weapon immediately, and shouted out a “No!” as he lurched forward in front of the chancellor. Her bodyguards barrelled into her, pulling her up off the ground and back into a cocoon of bodies just as the pistol fired off a single shot. Then Amaal put four rounds, in a tight cluster, right through the crowd of women and into the chest of the man who had murdered her mother. He was flung back by the velocity of her rifle firing at such close range, hitting the hard packed soil of the square just as the Iveco with the chancellor in it screamed off at full speed, lights flashing. Amaal leapt over the barrier, gun still pointing at the attacker, kneeling down to secure the pistol and then check his pulse by his throat, but knowing full well that no one was surviving that burst. She became aware of women rushing past her, screaming and shouting, and turned to see the the bloodied body of the commissioner in the back of another Iveco just as the door slammed and it pulled off at speed too. Petersen reached the barrier with a squad, and ordered them to push back the crowd away from the barrier and the corpse of the attacker. “You alright?” She asked, looking down at the isolated body as her squad cleared a large space. Amaal nodded. “I wasn’t fast enough,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. Petersen looked at her for a moment, then pulled the other woman close, her mouth at her ear. “You kept him to one shot. You put him down with four shots in just over a second, and without her bodyguards getting off a single shot, and they’re GSG9. They do this for a living. You did alright.” “Is he dead?” Amaal asked. A number of personnel in Gendarmerie CSI overalls stepped over the barrier, with large cases of equipment. “We’ll need your weapon,” one, a woman, said. Amaal handed it over. The woman made the weapon safe, then bagged it. “We will need a statement, and hand swabs.” “Can you give her a few minutes!” Petersen barked. The other woman didn’t shift. “I’m sorry Captain, but we have to move fast. This is a murder investigation. This is the golden hour” “You mean, he’s…” The French policewoman nodded. “He was very kind to me,” Amaal said, and started sobbing, as Petersen held her.

Epilogue.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The news of the attack, and the death of the commissioner, so soon after the success of Operation Hades shocked Europe, especially as it was accompanied by so many iPhone, drone and news clips of Amaal gunning down the terrorist. Some were quick to match the images of Amaal with clips of her fighting at the gate house the previous day, and when it emerged that she had killed a number of terrorists the previous day outside the city, she was tagged as the leader of an elite unit of refugees within the militia. Across Europe, TV screens, newspapers and magazines all had the image of the Englishman being hit as Amaal’s weapon erupted into a burst of fire as the chancellor was bundled into her vehicle. Even within the city she was recognised, people coming up to hug her. After she had given her statement, Amaal had been taken to the main military hospital in the city, and put on leave for a week. She received a call from Chancellor Merkel to thank her for her actions. When she apologised to the politician for not saving the Englishman, the German assured her that it was not her fault. In fact, she confided, the head of the security detail had given her bodyguard unit a dressing down for not acting as fast as she had. Merkel promised her that she regarded Amaal as a heroic professional, and that was the official position of the Federal Republic. A delegation from the representative council came to the acting-commissioner to request that his body be held in state to allow city residents to pay their respects. The Irishman had been sceptical, but had passed on the request to the Englishman’s family, and they had granted a 24 hour period for the closed casket to be displayed. He’d then made arrangements for a large warehouse to be suitably dressed up with flowers, flags, and a tasteful portrait on an easel to be displayed. A half dozen EDF troops in dress uniform completed the scene. The Irishman was woken by his chief of staff at 4am the following morning to receive the news that hundreds of thousands of the city’s people were queuing up outside the warehouse, and the EDF had already had to close off streets and draft in more troops. He showered quickly and made his way to the command centre where the city was run from, and where its network of drones and cameras kept the authority informed as to daily activity in its streets and squares. The queues were restrained, quiet, many of the men dressed in ties. Many held photos and magazine covers of the dead politician. Children stood in the queue as well. Quite a few were crying. “Jaysus,” the Irishman said. “They know it’s not compulsory to attend, right? I mean, this isn’t fucking North Korea.” The chief of staff nodded, and pointed a remote control at a TV that displayed SafeZone1. It was carrying a live feed from the scene, where its reporters were asking that very question. The journalist put a variation of the question. Why were you here? Why did you come? It wasn’t compulsory. And the answers were clear. He was a good man. He had cared about us. “Fucking hell,” the Irishman said, and left the room. A helicopter took him to a landing space near the warehouse, and then an Iveco to the warehouse. When he stepped from the vehicle, his bodyguards clustered around him, machine guns ready. As soon as he was noticed, a round of applause broke out, and shoutings of blessing from Allah. He waved and walked towards the door. Just as he got close, he spotted the Hadids near the front of the queue. They didn’t see him, focussing on the crowd shuffling towards door.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He strolled over, tapping Achmed on the arm. The Syrian turned, saw the Irishman, eyes widened and instinctively reached out to hug him. The bodyguards lurched forward, stopping only when the Irishman returned the hug, telling his lads to take it easy. He could see that all three of the family had been crying. Amira squeezed his arm. “My dear friend, our prayers are with you. A terrible thing, this is. A terrible thing,” Achmed said. The Irishman nodded, and looked out of the warehouse doors, at the queues stretching off down the street. Even in the heat, people were shuffling patiently towards the building. The Irishman shook his head. He walked alongside the family as they entered the warehouse. Inside the warehouse, beside the casket, was a huge pile of everything from children’s toys to pictures of him, to copies of the Koran and Bible, to children’s pictures. The senior office in charge, a Belgian captain saluted him as he surveyed the tokens. “I’m sorry, sir, we tried to stop them, but... well…” he petered off. The Irishman nodded in understanding. “Just make sure everything to collected properly,” the Irishman said, turning to face the Hadids. “I had no idea. I knew some people would turn up, but not this. The EDF are saying nearly a million people.” Achmed smiled, and reached out, putting a hand on the acting-commissioner’s arm. “You don’t understand, commissioner. For all the daily complaints and grievances about the authority and the European Union…” He paused, and gestured at the casket. “For many, for most of those of us who live here, he was the first ruler we ever in our lives had who wasn’t an absolute bastard. Who actually cared about the people he ruled over. They all know that,” he said, and tilted his head at the door and the crowd. The Irishman felt a tug on his leg, and saw Mona looking up at him. “I’m sorry for your friend,” she said, in stilted English. He bent down and kissed her forehead. “Thank you Mona. That means a lot to me. Thank you.” He shook hands with Achmed, nodded at Amira and Mona, and stepped out of the warehouse. ***** The British government reluctantly decided to send an RAF Hercules to collect the body of the former prime minister only after the French president suggested transporting the body back to the UK onboard the Richelieu with an honor guard.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

The juxtaposition of the transportation of his casket was marked. In the safezone, covered first in an EU flag and then overlaid with a United Kingdom flag, it was carried by EDF troops in ceremonial uniform, saluted by EU ambassadors, the Irishman as acting-commissioner and General Sikorski and Amaal in an EDF dress uniform tailored in lightening time for her, given that the militia didn’t actually have a dress uniform. Her uniform was further enhanced by the Bundeswehr Cross of Honour worn on her left breast, awarded to her by the highest ranking German official in the city, having been flown out, on Merkel’s instructions, by a EuroFighter Typhoon. The media focussed on her almost as much as they focussed on the casket being carried onto plane. The removal of the coffin was carried live across Europe. In England they played a repeat of “Flog it!” When the plane arrived in the UK some hours later, it was met by the former prime minister’s family and a few RAF orderlies who carried the now denuded coffin into the back of a local undertaker’s estate. The government, who had opposed his appointment as commissioner, barely acknowledged his death. The word “traitor” was attached to his name on various Twitter remarks about his passing, although misspelt approximately half the time. The European Parliament passed a resolution for a statue to be built of him. After two days of abusive social media, the Englishman’s widow contacted the German embassy and asked would it be possible for his remains be interred in the city, amongst, as she said publicly, “a people who actually appreciated him” Within 12 hours his coffin was returned the Safezone, put into deep freeze and three months later buried under a simple granite slab in the middle of Dreyfus Square. Four members of the militia were to stand guard over an eternal flame. Following the warehouse visit, the acting-commissioner had made his excuses and returned, with his tripled bodyguard unit, to the residence attached to the authority building. He looked at his watch, for one moment thinking he was late for their evening drink and chat, before his brain corrected him. In the residence, he removed his jacket and tie, washing his face in cold water in the bathroom, and then opened the door leading out onto the balcony. He could hear the crackle of radios, and knew that all around him special forces sharpshooters were now scanning every possible firing position facing him. He felt almost embarrassed to be putting so many people to so much trouble, but he really wanted a blast of sea air as the sun went down. He cracked open one of the cans of Bass he had flown in from Dublin, and drank deep. In the harbour he could see a smaller patrol boat, its deck covered with refugees huddling in red blankets, approaching the quayside. An Irish flag fluttered from the ship’s stern. Berlin had been on, and had offered him the job, and his pick of deputy. But the truth was, he wasn’t sure his heart was in it. Were he and the Englishman friends? He wasn’t sure. The Englishman had been a bit of an intellectual, becoming Catholic and unlike the Irishman, a real Catholic, all singing, all believing. But they had liked each other, had gotten on, had rarely disagreed and in Brussels, fighting for resources or higher refugee quotas, had an almost psychic connection when it came to backing each other up.


Short fiction: A Little Piece of Europe.

Jason O’Mahony

He saw a batch of refugees being escorted off the ship, into the hands of the Red Cross for their initial assessment. Two little girls were on their own, one slightly taller than the other, holding each other’s hands, their world in tiny backpacks. Who had packed those bags for them, who sent them, did their parents die, or drown? He remembered his own daughters when they were that age. The two girls just stood there, waiting their turn. Alone, probably terrified, he thought. Their lives were in his hands. Everyday, he had the power to try to make their lives just a little better. That’s why he would stay, he thought to himself as he finished the can. That’s why he would stay in this little piece of Europe. The End.

Jason O’Mahony is a columnist with The Times Ireland Edition. Omahony.jason@gmail.com

A Little Piece of Europe  
A Little Piece of Europe  

The near future: welcome to the Safezone in Libya, the EU's response to the refugee crisis. For a disgraced former British prime minister,...

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