Moonrise - Part Four
Paul sat on the balcony of the small stone house he had been assigned sipping his morning coffee. Below him, the rest of the village, a cluster of houses, gardens, and the occasional inn, clung to the side of the mountain on terraces which went almost all the way down to the river at the bottom of the valley. Behind his house, and on the other side of the valley, the imposing Himalayan mountains pierced the sky with their snow-capped peaks. This was the Li Federation’s secure site and Li Xiu Ying had brought Paul and Absko here to work on the microbe far from prying eyes and listening ears.
‘Are you coming?’ called Absko from the path below, ‘We don’t want to be late for our first day on the job!’ Paul met him on the stone path and they walked in silence between the houses. Eventually they descended some steps to the terrace below and continued along the second terrace to a building made of the same stone as the houses but which also had large, glass windows and glass double doors. The sign beside the entrance to this building said, ‘Chinese Metals Subway: Lalep station’.
Paul pressed his hand onto a smooth black surface next to the doors. A green checkmark appeared on the screen and the doors opened. The building had only one room: a landing at the top of a long, but narrow, pair of escalators with a staircase to the left of them and an elevator to the right-hand side. Paul and Absko descended on the escalator deep into the mountain.
Now that the initial shock of his capture had subsided, Paul was able to admire what the Li Federation had done in this valley. To any outside observer, even to the local people, what was happening was a massive underground mining operation, but it was actually much more than that. The genius was that there was a real mine that produced valuable minerals and employed many local people. But under the cover of the mining operation LiFed had created a network of state-of-the-art, underground research labs. They were designed for researching anything from deadly pathogens to weapons of mass destruction to new methods of space travel. The whole valley was also connected with an underground subway system so that the scientists could live above ground in one of the villages but commute easily to work in their underground labs. Paul and Absko marvelled at the genius and resources of the Li Federation.
At the bottom of the escalator was the subway station with concrete walls beautifully decorated with murals of people working in the mine and their families living in idyllic villages on the surface. Li Xiu Ying met them there. ‘Good morning,’ she said pleasantly. She was wearing a red traditional Chinese dress, matching red lipstick and her jet-black hair was hanging around her shoulders. Paul and Absko returned her greeting. ‘I hope you are both feeling rested and ready to start your work!’ The two men nodded and Xiu Ying continued, ‘However, before I show you the lab where you’ll be working there is a small orientation to LiFed as an organization that you need to go through. It won’t take long and afterwards you can get straight to work.’ She motioned for them to follow her and walked down the stairs to the nearest train platform.
‘Should we have prepared a research plan for this, Miss Li?’ asked Absko as they waited on the platform for the train to arrive.
‘No, that’s not necessary,’ Xiu Ying replied, ‘Its not the kind of thing that you can prepare for. I actually find its more effective without preparation.’ The wind from the arriving train blew Xiu Ying’s hair into her face. She fixed it as they entered the train and sat down.
‘What does that mean?’ Paul whispered to Absko. Xiu Ying still frightened him, even though they were on the same side. Something about a woman with a taser hairpin and a sword on her desk unnerved Paul. The train accelerated quickly down the underground tunnel.
‘Don’t worry, Dr. Azikiwe,’ Xiu Ying said, overhearing Paul’s question, ‘just remember what I told you the other day: if you cooperate you have nothing to fear.’ The train slowed to a stop as it announced the station, ‘Drift hub 3.’ The stations couldn’t be called ‘microbiology labs’ or ‘scientist conference rooms’ so mining terminology was used to maintain the cover story. ‘This is our stop,’ Xiu Ying said as she stood up to exit the train. The two men followed her.
The station was at the hub of several different tunnels or drifts in mining terminology. They were well-lit, arched tunnels in the rock with dirt floors, wide enough for two vehicles to drive down and about ten feet high. They had metal ribs that started on one side of the arch, curved upwards, and then ended on the other side. In between the ribs were pieces of wood that covered the bare rock. Pipes and wires ran along the top of each tunnel.
Xiu Ying led the two men down one of the tunnels for about 100 metres to a metal door in the wall. She pressed her hand against the door and it immediately slid into the wall, revealing an open doorway. Inside were two guards who scanned all three of their LiFed ID cards before allowing them to go through the next door.
Inside the second door was a large, underground auditorium big enough to hold about three or four hundred people and already almost filled to capacity. The room was a half-circle around a stage in the middle which was at the bottom. It was carved directly out of the mountain rock and the ceiling was a perfect dome shape.
There were no supports here to hold up the roof, instead the ceiling was decorated with a massive painted carving of the solar system. Except, instead of the planets being painted in their normal colours, many of them were painted green and blue, like the Earth. And in the centre of the ceiling was the Sun with a massive Chinese symbol carved into it and painted in red. Paul recognized this as the same symbol that was on the carpet of Xiu Ying’s office and that she’d been wearing during their first conversation. It was the symbol of the Li Federation.
Despite being almost filled with people the room was eerily silent. ‘Follow me,’ Xiu Ying whispered as she walked down the steps towards the centre of the room. Paul and Absko followed her, their footsteps on the rock stairs breaking the silence of the room.
The row of seats closest to the stage only had four people sitting in it. Xiu Ying motioned for Paul and Absko to join them. As they sat down, Xiu Ying walked onto the stage directly beneath the giant carving of the Sun above.
Once they were seated, Paul looked up at the stage and was horrified by what he saw. In the middle, next to where Xiu Ying stood, was a man and a woman gagged and tied to two metal poles coming up out of the floor of the stage. Neither of them was wearing any clothes at all and they looked as though they’d received a bad beating. Blood was dripping out of multiple wounds on their faces. Their backs were ripped open as if they’d been flogged. Paul’s heart started to race and sweat formed on his brow.
Xiu Ying smiled at Paul, taking pleasure at seeing the fear reaction crashing through him like a tidal wave. Then she pointed to the ceiling and said to the crowd, ‘Since the invention of the gravity manipulator, when terraforming finally became possible, this has been our goal! This has been our dream! And our dream will become reality!’
The crowd broke their silence and cheered. Then they yelled with one voice, ‘LiFed forever!’
Xiu Ying couldn’t stop smiling, ‘Not just dominion over one world but an entire solar system filled with worlds! Mercury, Venus, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, the asteroids all transformed into new earths…and all ruled by us!’ More cheering. ‘May the reign of the Li Federation come quickly and last forever!’
‘LiFed forever!’ responded the crowd. Paul and Absko looked at each other, not sure what would happen next.
‘But,’ she said, ‘this dream is not yet reality, this future is still future. It will take teamwork to accomplish it. It will take sacrifice to accomplish it. And most importantly it will take loyalty to make our dream a reality.’ Murmurs of agreement reverberated through the auditorium.
She walked over to the couple bound to the steel poles and pointed at the man. ‘He has not been loyal. He refused to sacrifice. He decided to ignore his team.’ The crowd burst into booing and many threw pieces of rubbish at the man. ‘This man told his wife the true nature of his work here. He broke LiFed’s confidence in him. He did not maintain secrecy!’ The rubbish now turned to stones. One of which hit the man in the face and broke some of his teeth.
‘There must be a punishment!’ Xiu Ying said to the cheers of the crowd. ‘We cannot afford to be complacent. Our future depends on it. If the world knew our plans, they may yet be able to stop us. We must maintain secrecy!’
‘Kill the traitors!’ yelled someone from the crowd. The rest of the crowd cheered in agreement. The couple looked up at the auditorium pleading with their eyes for compassion, but unable to speak because of the gags in their mouths.
Xiu Ying looked at the unfortunate two and smiled. ‘I’m afraid I have to agree with them,’ she said, in a happy tone. A security guard who had been standing at the back of the stage came forward holding the dragon-hilted sword that Paul had seen on Xiu Ying’s desk. She took it from him and tested its weight in her hand. The man looked up at her with tears running down his face.
‘Cheer up, it’ll be over soon,’ she laughed. Then Xiu Ying lofted the sword high above her head and arced it down swiftly. It effortlessly flew through the man’s neck as if it wasn’t even there. His head rolled onto the stage as blood gushed from his body. Then, Xiu Ying turned and did the same to the woman.
With blood dripping off her sword, she turned to the crowd and raised her fist. ‘LiFed forever!’ she yelled. The crowd took to their feet and repeated her words with their fists raised as well. Xiu Ying, with her fist still in the air, looked at Paul, Absko, and the other people in the front row. The rest of the crowd stared at them too.
Paul looked at the headless, naked and bleeding bodies of the man and the woman on stage. With only a second’s hesitation he stood up and put his fist into the air. ‘LiFed forever!’ he said. The other four followed suit. Lastly, and somewhat reluctantly, Absko also stood, raised his fist, and said the same words.
Li Xiu Ying nodded towards them and lowered her arm. The crowd followed her and everyone sat down. She looked directly at Paul, Absko and the four people in the front row and said, ‘Remember what you’ve seen here today. If you’re ever tempted to betray us, think about these two. And think about your families.’ With that thought in his mind, Paul bent over and added vomit to the smell of blood in the room. Xiu Ying laughed, ‘Welcome to the Li Federation!’
That night Paul and Absko were walking down by the river near Lalep, the village where they were staying. Far above them the mountain peaks stood, blotting out all but a few of the stars. The sound of the burbling river was constant. ‘What are we going to do, Paul?’ asked Absko, ‘These people are crazy! They’re going to kill us! We have to get out of here.’
Paul replied, ‘Absko, there’s nothing we can do. You saw what happened! If we try to leave, it’ll be us and our families on that stage next.’
‘But Paul,’ Absko said swinging his gigantic arms for emphasis, ‘we’d be helping them fulfil their psychotic dream of universal domination! What do you think someone like Xiu Ying would do with that kind of power? How many people’s heads would be rolling around if she was in control of an entire planet?’
‘What choice do we have, Absko?’ Paul shot back, ‘We can’t do anything if we’re dead!’ Absko looked at Paul and he knew what Absko was thinking. ‘No, Absko, I’m not doing that,’ Paul said firmly.
‘You said it, Paul. We can’t do anything if we’re dead. After what we saw in there, I’d rather die than help these people conquer the whole solar system,’ Absko responded.
‘What about Almasi, Absko? What about your parents and your brothers? Do you want Xiu Ying to chop their heads off too? Do you think she wouldn’t do it, just because you were already dead?’ Paul said.
Absko sat down next to the river and sat in silence watching the water rush by for a moment. Eventually he said, ‘You’re right, she’d do it just to put fear into the next people she captured.’ Paul sat down next to him and noticed for the first time how cold it was outside. His body was used to the Kenyan heat, not the cool Himalayan air. ‘For now, it seems like we have no choice but to cooperate,’ Absko conceded, ‘but maybe, if we think about it for a few days, we’ll figure something out.’
‘If Almasi was here she would say we should ask God to give us wisdom,’ Paul said.
‘Couldn’t hurt,’ Absko replied.
The cicadas were loud outside her window as Almasi lay on her bed. She had a single sheet over her in the hot Kenyan night and the ceiling fan was whirring above her. There was a slight smell of burning plastic in the air but so slight that she didn’t pay any attention to it.
She couldn’t sleep…again. Since Paul had disappeared a week earlier, she hadn’t slept much at all. The police had asked her if they were having problems in their marriage. Had he left her? Was there another woman? And on and on her mind went with millions upon millions of ‘what ifs’. She prayed that God would show her what had happened to her husband and protect him wherever he was.
One of the curtains in the room moved with the breeze. She decided that there was no point in just lying there, she might as well do something. So, she sat up and grabbed her Bible, thinking she could maybe get some comfort there. She read, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ She pondered how this passage could relate to her current situation but couldn’t see any obvious applications.
The curtain moved again. This time it caught Almasi’s attention. Why did only one curtain move? Especially when there wasn’t actually any breeze? She closed the Bible and held onto it tightly, thinking she could smack whatever creature was in the curtain.
As she watched, the curtain bulged out in the middle as if something was trying to go straight through but couldn’t. Almasi sat on the bed, waiting to see what would happen, ready to strike when the need arose. Then she smelled just a hint of burning curtain as a circle, about the size of a baseball, was burnt into her window dressing. The burnt circle of curtain then fell to the ground leaving a hole. The curtain moved again, slightly, as if something passed through the hole but Almasi couldn’t see anything.
Then, floating above the foot of her bed, a small metallic sphere appeared out of thin air. Almasi threw her Bible at it in surprise, but it easily dodged the large book which made a loud thump as it fell to the ground. Some small lights sprang to life on the floating ball and Almasi waited anxiously to see what would happen.
Within seconds a hologram of a familiar-looking older woman with shoulder-length white hair and wearing an elegant looking green dress appeared standing next to Almasi’s bed. ‘You must be Almasi Azikiwe,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry for having to burn a hole in your screen and also in your curtain…but this is the securest way to communicate and I have some very important business to discuss with your husband, Paul. Is he here?’
Almasi shook her head, the mention of her husband replacing her shock with sadness. ‘I don’t know where he is,’ she said, trying to keep from crying, ‘He’s been gone for more than a week and I have no idea where he is!’ Tears rolled down her dark brown cheeks.
The woman bowed her head a bit and looked at Almasi with compassion. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Azikiwe, I didn’t know. You must be going mad with worry,’ she said.
Almasi nodded her head as sobbing made it impossible for her to speak. Then, after a few minutes she asked the hologram, ‘Who are you? What do you want with Paul, anyway?’
‘Sorry, I should’ve introduced myself,’ the woman apologized. The hologram hesitated for a moment, looking slightly apprehensive. ‘My name is Dr. Catherine Zingel. I needed to speak to Paul concerning a very important email he received from a Dr. Dave Campbell,’ she said.
Almasi suddenly realized why this woman had looked so familiar. Catherine Zingel was probably the most famous scientist alive. Who hadn’t heard of the woman from Germany who’d invented the gravity manipulator device? Almasi wiped the tears from her eyes and sat up a bit straighter in her bed. ‘I’m honoured to meet you, Dr. Zingel,’ she said, respectfully.
The hologram let out a laugh of relief. ‘I’m glad that you’re honoured to meet me, even though I’m an enemy citizen!’ Catherine replied. ‘I wasn’t sure if you’d be open to speaking to someone from a NATO country.’
Almasi smiled, she’d heard of Catherine’s Christian faith and had always respected that she’d held onto her beliefs in spite of her great success. ‘Even though our countries are enemies, Dr. Zingel, I think we both have a higher loyalty. Am I right?’ Almasi asked. Catherine returned her smile and nodded. She knew that Almasi shared her faith in Jesus Christ. ‘Then we’re not enemies, we’re sisters in Christ,’ Almasi said.
‘I’m glad to hear you say that, Mrs. Azikiwe,’ Catherine said, ‘because I need your help. I think Paul may have been kidnapped.’
Almasi’s brown eyes grew wide. ‘Why would anyone kidnap Paul?’ she asked.
‘It has to do with that email from Dave Campbell,’ Catherine replied.
‘The email was just about some micro-organism living on the moon,’ Almasi said, confused. ‘Why would anyone kidnap Paul over that?’
‘This isn’t just any micro-organism, Mrs. Azikiwe. It could be the missing piece that would make terraforming possible!’ Catherine explained. ‘So, anyone who controlled this microbe could have the power to transform dead planets into whole new worlds…and then control them!’
Almasi looked at Catherine’s hologram with a blank stare. ‘I’m not a scientist, Mrs. Zingel,’ she said.
‘Right, of course,’ Catherine replied. The sound of the cicadas became more noticeable as Catherine silently thought for a moment. ‘The point is that this microbe could give anyone who controlled it an unimaginable amount of power. It’s the kind of thing that any single organization should not be in control over. Especially not one already consumed with a lust for power.’
‘And its that kind of organization that you think has kidnapped Paul?’ Almasi asked.
The hologram nodded. ‘Yes. A Chinese organization called the Li Federation. I already know they have the only surviving sample of the microbe and if Dr. Azikiwe isn’t here, they probably have him too.’ Catherine’s tone was deadly serious. ‘I’ve had dealings with them before. They are the kind of people that have no regard for human life at all. They once tried to derail my research into gravity manipulation. But instead of just stealing my data and then destroying my computers, they blew up my whole lab and an entire village with it. They are driven only by an insatiable lust for power.’ Catherine’s voice got lower and stronger as her passion grew, ‘If LiFed controls terraforming technology they’d be so drunk with power that the evil they’d unleash on humanity would be unspeakable. Imagine, Mrs. Azikiwe, entire planets under the oppression of an organization focused solely on its search for more power. Imagine the pain and suffering that would cause.’
Tears welled up in Almasi’s eyes at the thought of her husband being captured by such people. But as she processed all of this, the words she’d read earlier came back to her, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Through her sadness and fear certainty came to Almasi. ‘You said you needed my help?’ she asked the hologram.
Catherine admired the strength of this woman. ‘I have an idea,’ Catherine said, ‘but it’s going to be dangerous.’
The image of a man dying on a Roman cross for the salvation of the world passed through Almasi’s mind and confirmed her decision. ‘Love often is,’ she replied.