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Anger had been her only solace, and taking refuge in it now she glared at the couple beside her. Their faces were filled with plump complacency, their greatest worry whether to visit the Tower of London or Madame Tussauds. The wife was eating peanuts, stuffing her mouth a handful at a time. She drank her beer in great gulps, her double chin wobbling with the effort. The husband was picking at his nose with determined digs of his fingernail. Sophia looked at them with revulsion. Western governments were willing to support the regime, to tolerate any injustice and every misery in her country, so that people like these could continue their smug, inane existence.

Yet even that was an illusion, for the crackdowns in her country in no way impinged on them, in no way made them safer, in no way brought them justice for the attacks America had endured. And these people, Sophia thought, surveying the cabin—the couple beside her, the businessman with his bevy of pick-up lines, the young woman studiously ignoring him—in whose name, and for whose sake, their governments had propped up the President and his cronies for thirty years or more, would never bother to learn the facts, study the history, discover the truths about her country or its suffering. To them it was an obscure and distant land of little import and less concern. What did they care if regime used the War on Terror to promote its program of ethnic cleansing and political suppression with the connivance of their own governments? All they wanted was to feel safe, regardless of the price others might pay for their sense of security.

In their indifference lay their guilt, Sophia told herself, echoing Melamed’s favourite refrain. Well, no longer. From tomorrow Western governments would learn that expediency exacted a price, that if they continued to prop up oppressive regimes so that they could buy their support and count on a few friendly votes at the UN for their latest crusade—be it against Communism or against Terrorism—then it would cost them dearly.

In just a few hours the computer’s clock would generate a tiny electric current, disproportionate to its effect. The explosion would not be large, but enough to break the pressure seal of a cargo bay. Sophia wondered what would happen then. Would the plane plunge at once into the icy waters below? Would the oxygen masks pop down, as promised in those announcements to which no one ever listens? Would the passengers be plucked out in tidy rows of three, helplessly clutching the arms of their seats? How many lives would be lost? A hundred, perhaps. But against them must be weighed thirty years of oppression against her people and the systematic murder, over the years, of thousands of men, women, and children. As Melamed liked to say, innocent people die all the time; they might as well die for a reason. And how can there be innocence when there is injustice?

The gin was doing its work, dulling her mind. Dinner came, followed by the movie. Here and there in the dimness of the cabin were little oases from the overhead lights. One was shining in the row behind Sophia. The little girl’s mother was reading her a story. Sophia peered back at them again. The girl might easily have been Sophia twenty years ago, the woman her stepmother. Only her stepmother would not have been reading to her; she would have plonked a pile of comic books in front of Sophia and become engrossed in a cheap thriller.

The girl spotted Sophia watching them and smiled. And with that simple smile, she unravelled the cocoon of self-protection Sophia had woven herself, mocking her calculus of justice and justification.

Sophia turned away abruptly and closed her eyes, trying to shut out the kaleidoscope of images haunting her mind: the little girl beside her mother, the device nestling in the suitcase, her father’s body prostrate on the ground, the doll buried in the rubble.

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