Author's Note: All names and quotes for this story are entirely fictitious. This story was originally for a college class on Middle Eastern Studies. It's more cultural sci-fi than hard science fiction. Thank you to Hedj.V for the grammar catches.
The Flying Mecca
By Kay Iscah
"Pilgrims rest your weary soles.
Don your purest white and look skyward.
Wash your hands and gather as an earthbound cloud,
For Mecca comes to you."
- Alifu Abdullah
"Sabah el khair," Tea Austin murmurs amicably as he slips into his desk chair. His body displays a cat like suppleness in defiance of his thick limbs. The ironic motion is lost in the dimness of the theatre.
Yehoshua RiFuut is not the least bit interested in another man's body movements anyway. "Ana bahki Ingleezi," he snips at Tea, also in hushed tones.
"Ma feesh mushkila," Tea shrugs. "It's not like anyone will notice."
"Ah." He is right. Yehoshua admits privately. The semi-circular class theatre tiers at an angle just shy of inducing vertigo and holds about three hundred students, each with a desk and transparent display screen shielding them from one another. The low lighting has a bluish caste and focuses on the professor on the center dais. Yehoshua and Tea sit on the third tier from the top. The top tier students attend class sporadically at best and have no room to criticize those who are merely consistently late.
Yehoshua himself is unusually punctual for a third tier student. He sits so high out of mercy for Tea, summarizing the notes and announcements the dawdler misses daily, and because this is a history class. History classes bore him.
"By the year 2030, the earth's population swelled to an unprecedented ten billion," the professor overemphasizes the last words and receives a small laugh. He tries not to look too pleased. The professor is a tall man, thin and pale, with a balding head edged by light grey hair. He wears a medium grey suit. A bookish man who would have been incapable of demanding such rapt attention anywhere outside the classroom setting. "Fearing the continued expansion of land based cities, and their spatial consumption of farm and forest land, the wealthier governments of the world invested in technologies to make water based cities a viable alternative. In 2053, Nihon led the way by establishing Tokyo-ni…"
As the professor speaks, voice-capturing programs scroll every word across Yehoshua's display. Everything but the dates blurs together for him.
"What have I missed?" Tea asks.
"He took attendance," Yehoshua says. "Everyone who was here gets a hundred percent for the semester. Everyone absent must bribe him one hundred gold chips to even have the chance to pass."
"So nothing important?"
"…the human population had risen to fifteen billion. By 2210 technology had advanced to the point where flying cities became possible. The first flying cities were traveling fairs and circuses, entertainment venues already accustomed to a migratory lifestyle. After these floating carnivals proved the technology to be reliable, Nihon established Tokyo-san. Russia established Orohbntnua Ctahunr or Firebird Station.
"In 2340, the Arabian ruler Muhammad al Taher al-Nagi al-Shaykh known for his zealous piety and fascination with technology transformed the Arabian Peninsula into the world's leading producer of computer components and display screens. Using the wealth he accumulated from the industrialization of the area, he had the entire city of Mecca lifted up on a repulsor lift base in 2347. His idea was to make the holy city accessible to more pilgrims by flying it around the world, making at least one stop per month in different locations around the planet. The project was met with an overwhelming protest from the United Nations, worried that al-Shaykh would use the flying Mecca to spy or transport troops, and from concerned Muslims, confused as to what this would mean for their Hajj. But, al-Shaykh was undeterred, claiming his Mecca project the will of Allah."
Warm spices drift into Yehoshua's nostrils and loose particles of something sour tap his tongue. He looks up from his near doze to see Tea open a self-heating meal tray. The chemicals in the pack warm with the introduction of oxygen. The audacity of it makes his mouth fall open, and he catches the sweet, cool nutty taste of baklava which trails behind the other airborne smells like a distracted dancer at a wedding parade.
His brain tells him that the smells are red and orange, and he tells his brain that giving smells colors is nonsense and the baklava is kind of a green smell anyway.
"Are you mad?" he hisses at Tea.
Tea shrugs his wide, round shoulders. "Mad as al-Shaykh, but much hungrier." Tea takes a spork and jabs at what smells like well-seasoned lamb. He remembers his manners and looks at Yehoshua. "Do you want a bite?"
The red smells in the cold blue light makes his stomach uneasy, but his mouth yearns for the Baklava. His finer sensibilities win out, and he shakes his head. "La."
"To pacify the UN, al-Shaykh gave up all political control of Mecca. The Meccans were to create their own city-state…like a Vatican without the Pope." This gets a few dull laughs and coughs. "The Vatican became a floating city in 2364. But never mind that now."
A sound between a ping and a bong bounces through the room and a student's voice follows it. "Do we need to know that for the exam?"
The professor stops for a moment as though trying to recall what this "exam" thing is, then says, "Yes, yes, keep that in your notes, you may need to know it. I just meant I'm discussing Mecca still. The Vatican will be tomorrow, tomorrow." This particular student is indiscernible in the dimness, so the professor gestures to a random place in the crowd. "Now, Mecca. Yes, I was in Mecca.
"Since Muslims prayers were directed towards the Ka'ba in Mecca's center, floating Mecca around the world was an obvious cause for confusion. Not intending to complicate life for Muslims, al-Shaykh used the computer industry in Arabia to create the Mecca Compass. These were small tracking devices that would point to whatever direction the floating city of Mecca happened to be in at the moment."
The ping-bong fills the air again, and this time the student waits to be recognized before speaking. The professor looks down at his board and taps it. "Yes, Rana?" Having been recognized by the professor, Rana is spotlighted in red. She stands, her head wrapped in a silk scarf, her body covered in a long, thin coat. Whatever colors she has are dyed red tones by the light.
The small microphone on her desk amplifies her clear, melodious voice. "Professor, it sounds to me that al-Shaykh was simply making a profit off people's confusion that he caused in the first place. He sounds far more like a cold entrepreneur than a zealot."
"Yes, Rana, he did make a profit, but al-Shaykh would have argued that his prosperity proved that he was doing the will of Allah."
Rana tilts her head, accepting the argument, but she was not ready to get off her soapbox yet. She continues.
"Ah, Rana," Tea says after he finishes chewing. "She a living poem, isn't she? Such a good Muslim girl."
"How can you tell?" Yehoshua asks.
"How do you know when the wind blows? Or that the sea smells salty?" Tea gives Yehoshua his knowing smile; one side of his mouth curling while the other stays straight. But Yehoshua's expression does not change, so Tea gives more evidence. "Well, there's the headscarf."
"That doesn't mean anything," Yehoshua says. "They're popular now."
"Really?" Tea said, his dark face works, chewing another bite of lamb, as he slowly processes that he had been seeing more scarves recently. "I'll have to look more closely."
"I don't like it," Yehoshua continues. "You can't tell what girls are Muslim and what girls are simply having a bad hair day."
"Sometimes, it is nice not to stand out," Tea says. "And the Muslim girls aren't any less Muslim because other girls are wearing head scarves."
"I suppose. Still it would be more convenient if they wore different kinds of scarves, different colors or something."
"Aiwa, white for the Muslims, red for the Christians, blue for the Buddhist, green for the naturalist, black for the Atheist and…yellow for the Jews."
Tea shrugs. "I was running out of colors."
"You think in primaries," Yehoshua says. He tries to work out the color of Rana's skin from the red light. He thinks it's closer to his own, a caramel brown. He is lighter than Tea, except for the hair, his own is pure black and Tea's tinged with reddish brown. At least that's what he can make out in the dim blue light. He has never met Tea outside this classroom. Tea always leaves a few minutes before Yehoshua and flies off on a magic carpet or steps through a portal into another dimension. Yehoshua is still not certain he exists outside the classroom.
"Have you ever been to Mecca?" he asks Tea, suddenly, as though remembering that it is a real place and not a fairy-tale land created by the professor.
"I have!" Tea says, managing to portray a louder tone without actually raising his volume. "The Meccan girls are why I think in primaries. They veil themselves head to toe to look extra pious for the pilgrims, but they don't want to be mistaken for pilgrims, so they wear their veils and robes extra long and layered and flowing. And in the brightest colors. You know how it's always a bit windier in a sky city. The wind catches all these veils and extra fabric so that it looks like little pieces flew off a rainbow and are floating about the streets of Mecca."
Rana's light finally goes out, and she sits back down. The professor regains his train of thought and continues. "Despite the Mecca Compass, the movement of the city caused several divides in Islam. Some Muslim continued to pray towards where the Ka'ba used to be, some chose to turn towards Jerusalem to pray, and many followed the compass. Before the Mecca Compass, mosques were often built in a square shape and most all of them had a niche to show the direction of Mecca. But, soon after the compass, new mosques would be built in a circular shape with a compass in the center on the floor or ceiling or a raised platform.
"Now, the biggest division was between the Mecca praying Muslims (compass or no) and the Jerusalem praying Muslims, particularly as the Jerusalem Muslims went on to re-examine every aspect of Islam, often interpreting the Qu'ran and Hadith in ways considered radical by the Meccan Muslims and completely reworking the shariah. To this day, these remain the two major divisions of Islam.
"Now the first moon colony was established in 2185, before the first flying cities. Lack of a sufficient water source kept the moon population to a few hundred scientists and their families, until 2260 when underground water reservoirs were discovered on Mars. These reservoirs made large-scale colonization of space possible. The Mars colonies attracted adventurers and a large number of religious fundamentalists. Though no significant Muslim colonies were established until 2463, when two of Jupiter's moons, Europa and Ganymede opened for colonization. A large group of Mecca Compass Muslims established the Shalom Colony on Europa. From that distance, it was nearly impossible to determine the exact position of Mecca, nor could it be possible to have a traditional mosque that would point even in the general direction of Earth. So in 2467, the first and still only, spherical mosque was built. The Mosque contains four circular floors with artificial gravity generators that tilt in the direction of the Earth at any given time.
"And, yes, you will need to know that for the exam."
Tea finishes his meal and wipes his mouth, though the wiping is more out of ceremony than need. Yehoshua is resting his head on his folded arms. Tea taps Yehoshua and says very seriously, "So in which direction do you pray?"
Yehoshua lifts his head and says sleepily, "In the direction of God."