Moonrise - Part Five
Two weeks after Almasi’s meeting with Catherine, and three weeks after he’d been captured, Paul stood beside Xiu Ying at the underground station in Lalep waiting for a train to arrive. Xiu Ying had said there was someone important arriving that she wanted Paul to meet. The train pulled up to the platform with a blast of wind and out of the doors walked Paul’s wife, Almasi.
The sight of his wife on the same platform with Li Xiu Ying sent a wave of panic through Paul. His heart raced, sweat covered his brow, the shirt under his arms was damp with sweat and he physically shook. No matter how hard it was to be separated from her, Paul had consoled himself that Almasi was far away from that place and from Li Xiu Ying’s head severing sword. Seeing her step off that train was like seeing his nightmare come to life.
Xiu Ying smiled, she never grew tired of seeing panic rip through Paul. ‘Aren’t you happy to see your wife, Paul?’ she asked, ‘I went to great lengths to get her here where she’d be safe.’
‘O..of course,’ Paul replied stumbling over his words. ‘Thank you, Xiu Ying.’ But Paul saw the look of sick pleasure on Xiu Ying’s face, much like the look she’d had on the blood-soaked stage three weeks earlier. He knew Xiu Ying wasn’t thinking of Almasi’s safety. She was probably trying to torture him while also showing him who would suffer if he failed. He hugged his wife, ‘It’s so good to see you, my love.’
Later that night, Paul and Almasi walked down by the river. The moon was shining brightly in the sky as the mountains towered above them. The weather was getting colder and they both were wearing coats that said ‘Chinese Metals’ on them, the name of LiFed’s mining company subsidiary which provided the cover story for the secret research labs. They both shivered uncontrollably, winter was getting closer. ‘Its strange that there’s no guards,’ Almasi said, her teeth chattering from the cold.
‘There’s not really anywhere we could go,’ Paul replied, his breath creating a mini steam cloud as he talked. ‘If we tried to run off into the mountains they’d catch us before we got too far, or we’d just die because we’re from Africa and its freezing out here. Why did you want to come out here anyway? We could be sitting next to the stove in our house.’
Almasi smiled, she’d missed her husband so much over the past weeks. She was glad to be with him again but her joy was tempered by the reason she was there. She brought out a paper notepad and a couple of pens and sat down on an old log next to the river. ‘Just in case there’s people listening to us,’ she said. Then she wrote, ‘I’ve been sent here by Catherine Zingel to steal a sample of the microbe.’
As Paul read that sentence his face went as pale as a black man’s face can. An image of him and Almasi tied to metal poles on the stage of that auditorium flashed into his mind. He saw Xiu Ying pulling out her sword, cutting off their heads and their lifeless bodies lying in a pool of their own blood. Paul fell face down, unconscious, onto the ground, narrowly missing the icy water of the river.
Almasi looked at her husband lying on the ground and sighed. She knew this was not going to be easy for him. She splashed him to wake him up. ‘Good thing you didn’t fall into the water,’ she laughed, ‘then we’d have hypothermia to add to our problems!’
Paul groaned as he picked himself up off the ground. He sat down on the log beside her and took the notepad. ‘What do you mean Catherine Zingel sent you?’ he wrote.
‘Zingel Corp has someone on the inside of LiFed who convinced them to capture me,’ Almasi explained. She continued to explain how they’d put a secret tracking marker into her blood which LiFed couldn’t detect. ‘Now Zingel knows where we are. All we have to do is come up with a plan to steal the microbe then wait for their signal. Once we get the signal, we put our plan into motion and they’ll extract us with the microbe. Catherine said we’d have about a month,’ she finished in writing.
Paul’s stomach churned and he felt lightheaded as he read Almasi’s words. He put his head in his hands and whispered, ‘You don’t know what you’re saying, dear.’ Paul shook his head trying to get the image of a stage covered in blood out of his mind. ‘It’s too dangerous, Almasi. If we get caught, they’ll kill us. They beheaded a man and his wife just because he told her about this place. I can’t imagine what they’d do if they caught us trying to steal the microbe!’ Paul wrote.
Almasi looked at her husband. His big lips were turning purple with the cold and she could see the fear in his dark brown eyes. The same fear she’d seen so often in him. ‘Catherine told me about these people, Paul,’ she wrote, ‘they are evil. We can’t let them have control over this technology, we have to try to stop them. We can’t say that we love our neighbours and do nothing to stop evil people.’ Then she grabbed his hand and whispered, ‘I think its what God wants us to do.’
Almasi listened to the crickets and the sound of the running water as she watched Paul write his response. ‘We can’t love anyone if we’re dead, Almasi,’ she read, ‘God is all-powerful so He can find a way to stop LiFed without us. All I have to do is modify the microbe and they’ll let us go back home. Let God sort out the rest.’
Paul gave the notepad and pen back to Almasi and stood up. ‘Its cold, dear. Let’s go back inside now,’ he said out loud. Almasi was disappointed but she knew when he’d made up his mind. They went back to the little stone house in the village where Paul had been staying and put the conversation out of their minds as they enjoyed their first night together in weeks.
But Almasi wasn’t going to give up after only one conversation. Over the next month she continued to try to convince Paul that they needed to stop the Li Federation. She showed him the parts of the Bible that talked about loving others. She explained that Jesus had died for others. She reminded him that Christians shouldn’t fear but have faith in God. But nothing seemed to persuade him. Finally, one night her frustration got the better of her, ‘We’re supposed to love other people. How can you be so selfish?’ she blurted out as they sat on their usual log down by the river.
‘You can’t understand,’ he replied angrily, feeling as if he’d said it a million times, ‘you didn’t see what I saw. You don’t know these people like I do.’ Almasi sighed. She finally realized that there was nothing she could do to convince him. So, that night, as they walked back to their house under the Himalayan stars, she decided that it was time to stop trying.
Paul noticed that something changed after that night. She no longer wanted to go down to the river to talk. She didn’t really have much to say to him at all. He would try to tell her about the progress of his research, but she didn’t care. He would tell her about his suspicions that Absko was deliberately working slowly, but she wasn’t interested. Paul knew that she was angry with him for not helping her but he knew she’d understand when it was all over. It would all be fine after he finished what Xiu Ying wanted him to do.
Then, two nights later, and nearly two months after Paul and Absko had been captured, there was a knock on Paul and Almasi’s door. Almasi was upstairs in the shower but Paul was already downstairs turning off the lights in the kitchen. So, he opened the door. He looked around but could only see the neighbours’ houses, the empty stone path between them, and flakes of snow gently drifting down from the sky.
But then he looked down. On the concrete steps leading up to Paul’s door, there was a small package. It was cold outside, so Paul quickly brought it inside.
As Paul was closing the door with the package in his hands Almasi rushed down the stairs. Her hair was everywhere and she was wearing a dressing gown that was all wet as if she hadn’t taken the time to dry off properly. When she saw him with the package, she stopped. Paul looked at her suspiciously. ‘Do you know something about this?’ he asked.
She hesitated for a second then said, ‘It’s a present from one of the ladies in the village. She said that she was going to give me some yak cheese to try.’ She walked over to him and took the package out of his hands.
‘That’s very nice of this lady, what’s her name?’ he asked, trying to have a normal conversation. Almasi put the package in the fridge.
‘Aadrika,’ Almasi replied, giving as short an answer as possible…just like she’d been doing for the past two days. The couple walked upstairs to their bedroom.
‘Is she married?’ Paul asked, not giving up as they entered their bedroom and got ready for bed like they did every night.
‘No,’ said Almasi.
Paul sighed as they both got into bed. ‘Ok, goodnight dear,’ he said.
‘Good night,’ she said. Almasi rolled over into her normal sleeping position. Paul read a book for a few minutes then eventually turned his bedside light out and closed his eyes.
But then, after about 10 minutes, Almasi got out of bed, went downstairs and came back with the package. ‘Paul, we need to talk,’ she said as she got dressed.
‘What’s happening, Almasi? What’s in the package?’ Paul asked, his heart rate rising. Almasi sat down on their bed and opened the package. Inside were two small stun weapons and an envelope. Almasi quickly opened the envelope, read it, then showed it to Paul. Paul’s eyes grew wide as he read the words, ‘It’s happening tonight. Be ready by midnight.’
‘Its the signal, Paul,’ she said, her tone serious, ‘you should get dressed.’
Suddenly Paul remembered that LiFed was constantly watching and listening to them. ‘Quick hide that!’ he said urgently. ‘Maybe they haven’t seen it yet!’
‘Don’t worry, Paul,’ she said, ‘I got this last night.’ Almasi pulled a small spherical object with some flashing lights on it out of her jeans’ pocket. ‘This device replaces what any listening or watching devices are picking up with a replay of the last five minutes. As far as LiFed knows we’re still asleep. Catherine showed me how to use it when I agreed to help her.’
‘How?...What?’ Paul was unable to form coherent sentences as the panic rose inside of him.
‘Zingel has an inside man somewhere in the LiFed secret labs. He was able to get us what we need for our plan,’ she explained, ‘I’m sorry, Paul. I couldn’t just give up—’ Just then there was another knock at the door. ‘You need to get dressed!’ she said as she ran down the stairs. Paul quickly put his clothes on and followed her, feeling sick to his stomach.
When he got downstairs there was already an exceptionally large person inside, shaking the snow from his shoulders. ‘Absko!’ Paul said. Then he looked at Almasi, ‘That’s what you meant when you said ‘we’.’ Paul sat down on the floor in an attempt to ease his nausea.
‘You can still join us, Paul,’ Absko said, ‘That’s why Almasi asked for two guns to be sent to your house.’ Paul groaned. Absko sighed. ‘We need to get moving, Almasi, midnight’s not a lot of time,’ he said. He turned towards the door, but Almasi hesitated.
‘Paul?’ Almasi asked looking at her husband sitting on the ground shaking with fear.
Paul felt nauseated and dizzy. His mind raced. What was he going to do? Xiu Ying was going to kill his wife and his friend. Then she was going to find him and kill him too, just because she enjoyed killing. All because of a stupid email about a stupid microbe from another friend…who’d also been killed. Paul’s nausea finally resulted in greenish vomit forcibly exiting his mouth and splattering on the floor.
Almasi looked at him with pity. ‘We need to go, Almasi. We don’t have a lot of time,’ Absko said anxiously, ‘we can’t wait for Paul to get himself together.’
Almasi looked at Absko then back at Paul. The sound of the wind outside got stronger as she hesitated. Then her lips pressed together and her eyebrows dropped, she knew what she had to do. ‘You just stay here, dear,’ Almasi said, putting her hand on his shoulder, ‘We’ll come back for you when we’ve got the microbe.’ She leaned over, gave him one of the stun weapons and kissed him on the forehead. ‘I love you, Paul,’ she said as she went to leave.
‘Don’t go!’ Paul said dropping the weapon and reaching his hand toward Almasi, but as Absko opened the door for them to leave, the wind was so strong that she couldn’t hear him. Not that she would’ve listened had she been able.
Paul put his head in his hands and cried, waiting for whatever horrible end was coming to him. He felt as though all of his worst fears had been realized. He could see his own headless body lying in a pool of blood on the stage of the underground auditorium. Xiu Ying stood over it with her sword in her hand, his blood dripping off its blade. Then she laughed as she did the same for Almasi and Absko. Over and over again in his mind he saw it. He cried and cried, hot tears and mucus falling to the ground between his feet.
But then, after who knows how long, something strange happened. The words that his pastor had quoted all those weeks ago came back to him. ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ Somehow a moment of clarity invaded Paul’s fear-ridden mind.
Unlike ever before he could see clearly what Jesus was trying to say in these verses. It was the same thing that Almasi had been trying to say to him. They were trying to say that his life was not supposed to be about him, his life was supposed to be about God who had commanded him to love his neighbour…even if it cost him his life.
Jesus had lived the perfect example of this. He had died on a cross, suffering a horrible and painful death. Why? Because of love for God whose plan He was following and love for others whose salvation He bought with His blood. Jesus had followed God and loved others, even though it cost Him His life.
Suddenly it was crystal clear to Paul that all the fear that had plagued him, right up to that very moment, had been about trying to hold onto his own life and the life of the people he loved. He wasn’t concerned about following Jesus, he wasn’t concerned about loving others, he was only concerned about survival and avoiding pain.
Paul finally understood that this was not the way a follower of Jesus was supposed to live. He knew that the fear which paralyzed him could no longer do so. He bowed his head and prayed for help.
As he did, he felt an unnatural strength rise up inside of him. The fear was still there but now he had the power to choose whether he listened to it or not. For the first time in his life, Paul Azikiwe chose not to give in to fear. He stood up, grabbed the weapon left for him by Almasi, and walked out into the blowing, swirling snow.