The Emirate of Tiqr, small but oil-rich, saw the aging Emir attempting to bolster his credentials against forces from the left advocating reform and forces from the right advocating retrenchment. As part of this balancing act, he established the University of Tiqr and stocked it with leading Western minds while simultaneously forbidding the teaching of anything that the clerics might regard as offensive.

As part of this, UT was able to lure a professor of Middle Eastern history and archaeology from Georgetown, Landon Stephenson. The Emir was particularly interested in Dr. Stephenson because of his enthusiasm for conducting excavations in the deserts outside of Tiqr’s capital city of al-Asim. In Stephenson’s first month at UT, for instance, the Emir was invited to the dig site several times and plied with artifacts for his personal collection.

It was during one such visit, a few months later, that the Emir’s son orchestrated a coup d’etat. His father, boarding a bulletproof limousine at Stephenson’s dig site, found himself instead conveyed to al-Asim International Airport, where his private jet awaited to take him into exile. The Emir’s absence and lack of contact at crucial junctures, it seemed, had made the coup bloodless and virtually unopposed.

Some years later, a Tiqri art collector found himself in posession of an urn from the former Emir’s personal collection. Anxious to see that it had retained its value, the collector tracked down Dr. Stephenson at the school where the latter worked as associate dean of the combined history and archaeology departments.

“That’s absurd,” Stephenson said. “I’ve never been to Tiqr, and that vase is an obvious fake.”

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