Moonrise - Final part (6)
He could barely see anything in the extreme Himalayan snowstorm. What had been, just a matter of minutes before, a peaceful, terraced village of stone houses and well-kept gardens had been transformed into a churning, howling mess of snow and wind.
As Paul was trying to figure out which way he should go, he heard an alarm, like an air-raid alarm, over the sound of the blowing wind. Paul knew it had something to do with Almasi and Absko’s microbe heist. He grasped his stun gun even tighter and ran down the stone path towards the underground train station. He’d been that way so many times that, even in the swirling snow, he knew the way.
As he approached the steps to go down to the lower terrace, he heard yelling through the squealing wind. He quickly crossed to the other side of the stairs and stood in the doorway of a house, out of sight.
The voices grew louder until they were at the place where the steps met the stone path. Paul poked his head out of the doorway see who it was. He could see a group of people wearing all-white coats and trousers and carrying large guns. On their heads they wore circular hats with fur around the edges, like Paul had seen Chinese military wear on the news. But instead of the normal red star in the centre of the hat, above the forehead, these soldiers had the Li Federation sun symbol.
Someone ran up to the front of the group, pointed a sword the direction of Paul’s house and yelled at the soldiers in Chinese. This person wasn’t wearing a hat and had a red hairpin holding up her jet-black hair.
A fresh wave of fear crashed through Paul as he quickly pulled his head back into the doorway. An image of his headless body lying in the doorway flashed through his mind. He prayed again. For the second time in his life he chose not to let fear control him.
With a bit more yelling the group continued on their way, toward the house where Paul had been staying. As soon as they disappeared into the storm, Paul quickly ran down the steps to the terrace below.
On his way down he heard a different kind of wind. It wasn’t so much swirling and blowing as a rushing wind, as if something was falling quickly from above. He looked up and saw, through the snow, lights rapidly descending to the Earth. Then, Paul heard a great thud and everything shook. He held onto the short concrete wall at the side of the stairs to steady himself. It had sounded as if something had impacted the garden to Paul’s left which was still a few steps below him.
He jumped over the small wall beside the steps and into the garden opposite the one where he’d heard the sound. After a few minutes of nothing, except the never-ending wind and snow, Paul heard voices again. But this time they weren’t speaking Chinese. He listened closer. They were speaking German.
Paul remembered Almasi had said that Catherine Zingel had sent her. Everyone knew Zingel was from Germany and that her company still had a strong presence there. These must be Zingel’s private security, Paul thought, and the sound and lights must’ve been their dropship inserting them from orbit. They were here to rescue Paul, Almasi and Absko!
Paul started to make his way to the end of the stairs that now separated him from his rescuers. But before Paul could get to them, weapons fire erupted on the stairs and from the houses on the terrace above. The eddying snow was punctuated with the glow of muzzle flashes from the LiFed automatic weapons and the blue light of the Zingel stun guns returning fire.
Within seconds the guns of the dropship started firing too. Massive bursts of powerful sound waves ripped through the houses above, exposing the LiFed soldiers inside to the Zingel weapons. Paul realized that their next target would be the stairs which he was hiding behind. He quickly ran away as they crumbled under the intense waves that the guns produced. But as he ran, he was knocked face-first to the ground and his mouth was filled with snow and dirt. He quickly curled into a ball, trying to avoid injury from flying debris.
After a couple of minutes, the impacts of stones on his body stopped so Paul uncurled and surveyed the situation. He was far enough away now that he couldn’t see where the stairs used to be through the blowing snow. But he could still hear the sounds of battle coming from that direction.
Paul stopped to think about what he should do next. He knew he had to find Almasi and Absko, but what if the LiFed soldiers found him first? He pushed the image of Xiu Ying’s sword swinging toward him out of his mind again.
Paul realized he needed the Zingel security to help him…but they were in the middle of a firefight. There was only one option. He exhaled quickly and started doing something that even the thought of would’ve made him pass out only an hour before. He crawled towards the sounds of battle.
As he drew nearer, the screams and moans of the wounded and dying were added to the weapons fire and breaking masonry. Paul crawled along the snow-covered ground, trying to avoid becoming a target. Along the way he came across the unconscious body of a LiFed soldier. As Paul moved closer he noticed the soldier’s goggles. Sick of the constant snow and wind in his eyes he took the goggles and put them on.
Suddenly the whole scene changed for him. The goggles didn’t only protect his eyes, they somehow made him able to see through the swirling snow and they identified friendlies (LiFed) and enemies (Zingel) with an augmented reality display. He could now see the cube-like Zingel dropship about a hundred meters away in the middle of the garden with its two sound-wave guns firing away. Zingel security were firing out of openings along the top of the ship while others were arrayed throughout the garden firing from behind blue energy shields which they’d set up for cover. He could also the LiFed soldiers continuing to fire from the ruins of the house on the terrace above and from what cover they could find in the pile of rubble that had been the stairs.
With his sense of sight regained Paul was able to come up with a better plan. He saw that the fighting was happening in front of him and to his left on the terrace above. If he tried to crawl directly through it there was a good chance that he’d be killed by LiFed or stunned by Zingel. Either way, he wouldn’t be able to help Almasi and Absko.
But, LiFed hadn’t surrounded Zingel…at least not yet…and that gave Paul a chance. He could circle around the battle so he could make contact with the Zingel soldiers outside of the heat of the firefight. And hopefully they could help him rescue his wife and friend.
He crawled to the edge of the terrace he was on and rolled off onto the next terrace down. He landed with a thud in the snow below the garden where the battle was raging. He got to his feet and ran along the wall of the terrace, bent over so he couldn’t be seen from above.
After about three hundred meters he cautiously looked over the top of the terrace wall to the level above. His lungs burned from breathing hard in the cold air.
Now the dropship was to his left and he could see the weapons fire on the other side of it. On this side of the ship were only two Zingel soldiers huddled behind their energy shield looking out for anyone trying to flank them. Paul climbed up the terrace wall onto the same level as the dropship. Then, in full view of the Zingel soldiers, he got to his knees and put his hands in the air. The soldiers shouted something to him in German, then motioned for him to come closer.
Suddenly Paul heard bullets impact the ground next to him! He immediately dropped to his stomach and started crawling as fast as he could towards the two Zingel soldiers who started firing in the direction the bullets were coming from. But the enemy fire kept coming. Snow and dirt was thrown into the air as bullets impacted the ground behind him, beside him and in front of him. Paul crawled as hard as he could, stopping intermittently to confuse the shooters.
He was only meters away from the energy shield when he felt a searing pain in his left arm. He looked and saw blood pour out of a wound in his bicep. He couldn’t stop. He kept on crawling with the pain of his wound screaming in his mind. Eventually, he made it to the safety of the blue energy shield.
One of the soldiers continued to exchange fire with the shooter while calling for reinforcements. But the other helped Paul out of his winter coat and his shirt. The cold wind and blowing snow on his bare skin was the least of Paul’s worries at the moment. Blood continued to pour out of the hole in Paul’s arm and stained the white ground crimson.
The soldier pulled a small spray can out of one of his pockets and gave Paul’s wound two quick sprays. Within seconds the wound stopped bleeding and the pain was numbed. Then he quickly wrapped it in a bandage and gave Paul a smile. ‘Good?’ he asked in a thick German accent.
‘Yes, thank you!’ Paul replied putting his shirt and coat back on. Just then five more Zingel soldiers arrived and set up two more energy shields for cover, their blue light reflecting on the snow. They started firing at the LiFed soldiers who’d recently joined the shooter. Paul had made it just in time, a minute later and he would’ve been in the middle of LiFed’s flanking manoeuvre.
‘Come with me,’ the soldier who’d dressed Paul’s wound said, motioning for Paul to follow him. One of the other soldiers counted down from three and, when he was finished, they started giving covering fire so Paul and his guide could get to the dropship. A door opened on the side of the ship while they were running and they jumped through. It closed again behind them and Paul heard bullets ricocheting off the metal outside.
Paul took off his goggles and took a look around. Inside the dropship was one big room with seats for about 250 soldiers and places to store weapons and equipment for all of them. Several of the seats had been converted into beds for the wounded and two medics busily tended to their patients. The smell of blood was in the air.
Along the top of the room was a catwalk where Paul could see some soldiers firing out of small openings in the ship, as if they were on top of ancient city walls. At one point the catwalk jutted out into the centre of the room making space for a command centre with a few people sitting in front of screens and someone standing over them, giving orders. The soldier with Paul took him up to the command center, the sounds of battle and storm still raging outside.
‘Dr. Paul Azikiwe, sir,’ the soldier said, saluting his superior officer, ‘The facial recognition in my battle glasses confirms his identity.’
‘Danke, Fischer,’ the commander said returning the salute, ‘you can return to your position.’ As the soldier left, the commander turned to Paul and said, ‘I’m Captain Schneider and its my job to get you and the microbe out of here, Dr. Azikiwe. I’m glad you’re safe—'
‘Nice to meet you, too, captain,’ Paul interrupted impatiently, ‘but I don’t have the microbe. My wife and friend have it. We have to get them!’
‘Almasi and Absko Kamau?’ the captain asked. Paul nodded. ‘Where are they, doctor?’
‘I don’t know…’ Paul thought of the reason they’d been separated and shame started to fill him…but there wasn’t time for that, ‘…they went to the lab to get the sample and I haven’t seen them since. They could still be down in the tunnels.’
‘Ok, doctor,’ the captain said handing Paul a pair of Zingel battle glasses and a first aid kit, ‘I’ll send some men with you to get them. But be fast, I don’t know how long we have before LiFed figure out what our goal actually is and send their big guns our way. Right now, our main force is attacking their space travel labs, hoping to draw them away from here,’ the captain explained.
Then he pointed to one of the soldiers at the openings, ‘Stiller!’ The soldier ran over to captain Schneider and saluted, ‘you and Dr. Azikiwe are to join blue and black squads and bring Almasi, Absko and the sample back here for exfil. I’ll tell them to come get you.’
‘Jawohl!’ the soldier said. Paul followed Stiller back downstairs and out the same door he’d entered only a few minutes before.
The battle continued to rage. LiFed had now surrounded the Zingel forces and they were putting as much pressure as they could on the German soldiers. But the dropship’s powerful sound-wave weapons were keeping LiFed at bay. Every time they got too close, it would just blast them over and they would either get shot by the Zingel soldiers or run away. But LiFed kept the attacks up, hoping to find a weakness in Zingel’s defences.
Paul followed Stiller to one of the shield positions which faced the terrace below them. The place where Paul had first made contact with the Zingel security forces was to his left and the ruins of the steps were behind him and a bit to his right. The augmented reality display on the battle glasses showed the blue and black squads advancing directly in front of them.
He watched as they flanked the LiFed soldiers and opened a hole in the siege for Paul and Stiller to get through. The glasses coloured the safe path green for them to follow. Within a few minutes, they’d joined up with the thirty or so soldiers of the blue and black squads. Paul told them which direction to go and they quickly ran towards the underground train station.
But just before they arrived, the soldier on point shot his arm up with his hand in a fist, signalling for them to stop. Then he brought his hand down and, with an open hand, motioned for them to find cover.
The men spread out in search of cover. Some stayed with the man on point at the house where he had stopped and from which they could see the train station. Others ran for the edge of the terrace to Paul’s right and jumped down. The rest ran through the open garden to Paul’s left and climbed up one level in search of cover. Paul followed those who took the high ground.
Paul found some cover behind an old stone wall on the terrace overlooking the train station. From there he had a good vantage point to take stock of the situation. The scene that greeted him was yet another opportunity to choose faith instead of fear.
In front of the smashed windows and doors of the train station stood Almasi and Absko with their hands behind their backs. Their faces were bruised and beaten and there was a large bloodstain on the left side of Absko’s shirt, his face had a pale tinge to it because of the loss of blood. In front of them stood Li Xiu Ying, holding her sword with the bronze dragon on the hilt. Beside her stood her assistant, Wang Yong, holding in his hand a stainless-steel cylinder about the size of a coffee thermos. With them were about ten LiFed soldiers.
Paul realized that they needed to act fast. He told the soldier beside him, ‘We have to attack now! They’re going to kill my wife!’ The soldier quickly communicated with the sergeant who agreed and all positions opened fire.
LiFed had enemies on three sides and didn’t know it. They were caught by surprise and didn’t stand a chance. All ten soldiers along with Xiu Ying and Wang Yong were down in seconds.
Paul jumped off the terrace wall and ran to Almasi. He hugged her tightly. ‘Paul?’ she said, surprised, ‘you came!’ She cried tears of relief as Absko retrieved the stainless-steel cylinder from Wang Yong’s unconscious hands.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,’ Paul replied letting go of Almasi and looking her in the eyes, ‘I wasn’t thinking about you, or Absko, or God…I was—’
Almasi interrupted his apology with a kiss. ‘I forgive you, Paul,’ she said and smiled at him, ‘It's over now.’
‘I didn’t think you’d ever leave that house,’ Absko said, shaking Paul’s hand and smiling. His massive arm pulled Paul in for a hug after a medic had stopped his bleeding and dressed his wound.
The sergeant of black squad ran up to them. ‘I’m glad you’re all safe, but its not actually over yet. We need to get back to the dropship and get out of here,’ he said urgently, ‘We can celebrate in orbit.’
‘Right,’ Absko said, ‘lead on!’ The sergeant pointed his finger in the air and spun his hand around, indicating that his soldiers should come to him. They all met at the corner of the nearest house, the same house where the point man had told them to stop.
But before he could issue his orders, weapons fire erupted from both the terrace above them and the one below. Bullets ripped through the Zingel soldiers like rockets through clouds. Paul hit the ground as fast as he could, pulling Almasi with him. But Absko wasn’t as fast.
Paul and Almasi watched as two bullets ripped through his massive torso and his blood poured out. He looked at Paul, fear in his eyes and threw the microbe sample at him. It landed nearer Almasi who quickly grabbed it. Two more bullets flew through Absko’s skull and his brains splattered on the ground, mingling with the blood of the Zingel soldiers.
Almasi screamed as the bullets kept flying. Some of the Zingel soldiers had managed to make it inside the house and were trying to give some covering fire from the ground floor windows. Paul and Almasi quickly crawled inside. ‘Are you okay?’ asked one of the soldiers. They looked at each other. They were both covered in blood, but neither of them had actually been hit. They both nodded. ‘Then, let’s go!’ he said.
Paul, Almasi, and about five Zingel soldiers ran to the opposite side of the house. One of them broke open a window and jumped out. He immediately threw some stun grenades at the LiFed soldiers taking cover on the terrace below. As soon as they exploded, they all ran to the edge and jumped over.
The grenades had done their job and the Zingel soldiers were able to quickly stun the few remaining LiFed combatants. They all gave a sigh of relief as they heard Zingel weapons on the terrace above, dealing with the other group of LiFed soldiers who’d attacked them.
They started to run in the direction of the dropship, eager to finally escape. Paul and Almasi had two soldiers in front of them and three behind them.
Then they heard some commotion from behind them. Paul glanced behind them and saw three headless bodies lying in crimson-stained snow. The two remaining soldiers turned and opened fire. One of them yelled at Paul and Almasi, ‘Run!’ Which is exactly what they did.
After about a minute they couldn’t hear the soldiers firing anymore. They kept running. They knew that if they stopped now their mission would fail and all the sacrifices so far would be for nothing. So, they didn’t look back, they just kept running.
But, as they ran between a house on their left and the terrace wall on their right, Almasi hit a small patch of ice covered by fresh snow. She slipped and grabbed Paul trying to steady herself, losing the canister in the process. The sample spun across the ground in the direction they’d come from as they both fell into a heap next to the stone wall of the house.
The canister came to a stop a few meters away. But before they could react Li Xiu Ying appeared out of the swirling snow, red lipstick on, red hairpin in her hair, and sword in hand. ‘Shouldn’t use non-lethal weapons,’ she yelled as she ran towards them, ‘too hard to tell if someone’s faking.’
Then she saw the canister and changed direction towards it. They both started firing at her, but they weren’t soldiers. They slowed Xiu Ying down but they couldn’t hit her.
Paul realized he was closer to the canister than Xiu Ying. He knew he could reach it before her, but only by a few seconds. Paul, trying to decide what to do, looked at the sword in her hand catching the snowflakes as she ran.
For a second, the fear that Paul had felt for so long came back in full force. But then, Paul looked at Almasi, standing beside him. Her beautiful face bruised from whatever beating she’d received before they’d rescued her, the tight curls of her hair matted down with blood, and her gorgeous brown eyes tired and scared. As he looked, he saw not only his wife, he saw millions of wives and millions of husbands and millions of children all the same as she was: beaten, bloodied and afraid. All because of the Li Federation. He knew what he had to do.
Paul ran towards the canister.
He got to it a few seconds before Xiu Ying as he’d thought. He quickly threw it in the direction of Almasi and yelled, ‘Run!’ Then he lifted his weapon and fired at Xiu Ying.
But her sword was already flying through the air. In a flash it went right through his wrist like a hot knife through butter. Paul couldn’t believe his eyes as he saw his gun, and right hand, fall to the snowy ground.
But Xiu Ying didn’t stay to finish the job. She left Paul and ran after Almasi who was now running in the direction of the Zingel dropship with the sample canister.
Paul quickly sprayed some Zingel bloodclotter on his wrist, grabbed his gun with his left hand, and gave chase. Xiu Ying was only a few meters ahead of him. He kept firing at her but he was right-handed. When he just about hit Almasi, he decided to stop firing.
Paul was desperately running as hard as he could but he couldn’t catch up to Xiu Ying. He prayed a quick prayer for help and threw his gun at Xiu Ying in a last-ditch effort to do something.
The gun landed around her feet and she stepped on it which made her stumble. It was all Paul needed to catch up to her and tackle her from behind. They both fell to the ground, Paul on top and Xiu Ying’s sword spinning off into the snow.
Her elbow came flying up and hit him square in the face. Paul tasted blood but stayed on top of her. He tried to grab her as she wiggled out from under him but forgot that he no longer had a right hand. Instead, he dove on top of her head, forcing it down into the snow.
He reached for the sword but it was too far away. She struggled to get out from underneath him. Paul crawled over her towards the sword. As soon as he was off her, she stood up. But he’d already got the sword. Xiu Ying and Paul faced each other, the sword in Paul’s left hand.
She wiped the snow off her face and looked Paul in the eyes. He stared straight back at her, his brow furrowed with determination. ‘You’ve changed, Paul,’ she said, ‘you used to be a coward. Now, you’re a fool.’ She took the hairpin out of her hair and threw it at Paul in one swift motion. It pierced his left hand and he dropped the sword. A second later, Xiu Ying’s foot impacted Paul’s stomach and he fell hard on his bottom.
She quickly picked up the sword. ‘It’s a shame I have to do this so quickly,’ she said. The sword swung horizontally through the blowing snow. Paul didn’t have time to move. He felt the coldness of the blade as it sliced through his neck. His head rolled onto the snow as his body crumpled onto the ground. Blood covered the ground and Xiu Ying’s boots.
Xiu Ying looked in Almasi’s direction. ‘Now for the wife—’ but as Xiu Ying spoke a bullet ripped through her left breast and into her heart. She looked up and saw Wang Yong, her faithful assistant, standing above her on top of the terrace wall. ‘Wha?’ she said as she fell to the ground beside Paul’s headless body.
Wang Yong opened his coat to reveal a black vest with the Zingel Corp logo on it. ‘It absorbs the blast of a stun gun,’ he said. Xiu Ying shook her head in disbelief. ‘I couldn’t sit back and watch as LiFed gained all that power, knowing what you would do with it,’ Wang Yong explained. ‘May the reign of the Li Federation end before it even begins,’ he said. Then he ran off into the snow leaving Xiu Ying to breathe her last, alone.
A few minutes later the Zingel dropship’s gravity manipulator hummed to life. The ship disappeared up into the swirling snow carrying Almasi, Wang Yong, and the precious sample of the microbe.
Ten years later Almasi opened the small gate on the waist-height fence and walked through. It was night but the light from the farmhouse allowed her to see the concrete path in front of her. The crickets sang and fireflies danced as she walked up the wooden steps to the covered porch which stretched across the whole front of the two-storey white house.
‘How did it go?’ asked Catherine Zingel, sitting on a soft looking sofa just outside the door to the house.
Almasi sat down next to Catherine with a sigh. ‘The committee decided to call it the Campbell Memorial Forest. They said they understand what Paul did but it made more sense to name it after the man who discovered the microbe,’ she smiled weakly, trying not to sound too disappointed.
Catherine took Almasi’s hand in hers but didn’t say anything. The two women just sat silently in the warm night air staring at the Earth hanging in the sky. Somewhere in the distance an owl hooted. ‘None of this would’ve been possible without what he did,’ Almasi finally said, ‘The committee gave Absko’s family the Kamau Park in Armstrongia! They should’ve named something after Paul!’ Emotion welled up inside of her and she went silent for a moment. Then she said, ‘But it seems like no one will remember what he did, no one will even know the price he paid.’
Catherine gave Almasi’s hand a little squeeze then looked her in the eyes. ‘He’s got his reward and it's much better and more lasting than having a forest or a park named after him,’ Catherine said.
Almasi sighed and looked away. ‘You’re right, Catherine,’ she said knowing that Catherine was talking about heaven.
‘Of course I am,’ Catherine smiled, ‘I’m 75 years old. I’m always right!’
Almasi looked at her friend and rolled her eyes. ‘Remember the date you sent me on three years ago?’ she said.
‘Well, I was only 72 then,’ Catherine replied, ‘Still had a lot to learn!'
Almasi’s one eyebrow went up. ‘But now you’re always right?’ she asked skeptically.
‘You can learn a lot in three years…if you apply yourself,’ Catherine said matter-of-factly. Almasi tried to keep a straight face, but she couldn’t hold it in any longer. She burst out laughing, so hard that it made her cry.
The two widows spent the rest of the night laughing and sharing stories, filled with joy flowing from their trust and hope in God. They finally drifted off to their beds as the first rays of sunlight beamed across the hedges, pastures and cultivated fields of the transformed lunar surface.