Moonrise - Part Three
‘When will he wake up?’ said a man’s voice to Paul’s left.
‘Should be anytime now,’ said a woman’s voice directly in front of him. Paul’s head hurt as he opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a large windowless room. The walls of which were bare stone carved into an arch so the room had the feel of a wide and short tunnel, the wall in front of Paul being vertical. There were some beautiful landscape paintings in the traditional Chinese style hanging in the room. The floor was black carpet with a giant yellow sun in the centre of the room. In the center of the sun was this Chinese symbol in red: 李.
Paul was sitting in one of three large wingback chairs. He was facing a large, wooden desk. The legs of the desk were carved in the likeness of Chinese dragons and another carving of a dragon wrapped all the way around the edge with its head on the outside edge of the desk facing Paul. A sword with a bronze dragon on its hilt sat on a small stand on the desk just above this dragon’s head.
Behind the desk sat the pretty woman who’d tasered him in the ambulance. She was wearing the same clothes as before, except a lapel pin on her suit jacket which was a picture of the sun with the same red Chinese symbol in the centre of it as the carpet.
Fear gripped his heart as he realized that he’d been captured. Who was this person? Did she work for NATO? Was she going to torture him…or kill him? ‘What’s going on?’ he asked, attempting to sound calm but failing as tears started to stream down his face. ‘Who are you?’ he asked the woman.
Paul heard the sound of someone typing from his left. He looked over to see a man sitting at a traditional Chinese writing desk. Paul could only see his head and shoulders above the drawers decorated with paintings of cranes on the top of the desk. His gaze was fixed on the computer in front of him. He stopped typing and looked at Paul. ‘What’s going on?’ Paul asked again, more urgently. Wang Yong returned to typing as soon as Paul spoke.
‘I am Li Xiu Ying, and I represent the Li Federation,’ the woman said, ‘this is my assistant, Wang Yong. He’s taking the minutes of our meeting. We are a Chinese company that is committed to winning this war…at any cost.’ When she said ‘at any cost’ Xiu Ying’s fingers briefly touched the hilt of the sword on her desk.
That made Paul’s heart skip a beat. ‘We’re on the same side!’ he said, pleading, ‘Kenya’s part of the Alliance along with China. There’s no need for any violence.’ His voice cracking a bit when he said ‘violence’.
Xiu Ying tried hard not to hit this pathetic coward of a man. ‘Don’t worry, Dr. Azikiwe. I know we are not enemies. That’s why you are in my office and not in a holding cell,’ she reassured him, ‘We only captured you so we could bring you to our secure site discreetly. If I’d tried to convince you to come with me, others would’ve overheard our conversation. We couldn’t afford that, especially since half of Nairobi already heard you shouting about terraforming the whole solar system!’ Paul sat back in his chair, his panic starting to fade. ‘As long as you cooperate, you have nothing to fear,’ Xiu Ying finished.
‘Of course, I’ll do anything you need me to do,’ he said, quickly, ‘just let me know what it is. I’m happy to help the Alliance any way I can.’
‘Good,’ Xiu Ying said smiling. ‘We need you and your friend to be the men who invent terraforming.’
‘Ok. No problem,’ Paul responded. He thought it was wiser not to mention that, while he thought it might be possible, they hadn’t done any real research yet and Paul had no clue if their idea would work.
‘I’m glad you’re so positive about it, Dr. Azikiwe,’ Xiu Ying said, ‘because terraforming could be the key to a lasting victory in this war.’ She leaned forward and looked Paul in his eyes, ‘If we could terraform other planets, we could create an empire that spanned multiple worlds! Imagine the power we would wield! NATO would be like nothing compared to us! In fact, they would beg us not to crush them. The power of the West would finally be broken beyond repair and Africa and Asia would truly rise, never to fall again!’ Xiu Ying’s eyes burned with passion. ‘That’s what you are going to make happen, Paul! Isn’t it exciting?’
For a brief moment Paul had the feeling that he shouldn’t be helping this woman. But then he remembered what she’d said, ‘you have nothing to fear if you cooperate’ and he realized that he didn’t have much of a choice. ‘Rise Africa! Rise Asia!’ he said repeating the victory chant of the Alliance.
The air was cold and crisp in her lungs, but his hand was warm as she held onto it. The sun was on its way down as they walked through the forest, the smell of pine needles strong in her nostrils. ‘Are you listening to me?’ his strong and low voice asked her.
She looked at him and smiled, ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
He shook his head and laughed. ‘I was just saying, terraforming could be the way out of this war. What would be the point of a war over resources if resources were practically unlimited? No more shortage of arable land because we could make more! If we need more minerals just mine them on a different planet. If a country needs more territory, just settle on a different world. Terraforming could bring peace to our world!’
‘We haven’t invented terraforming yet, Leon,’ she said smiling at his optimism. But something over his shoulder caught her attention.
Horror filled her heart as she saw a bright light flash behind him and heard an intense explosion in the same direction. She knew it was a nuclear weapon. Within seconds a massive wind produced by the blast felled the entire forest and was quickly followed by a blast of heat which lit everything on fire. The peaceful forest path was instantly changed to a fiery hellish scene.
Then, she looked back at Leon. As she watched, his face started to droop and his skin melted away. Her gaze was transfixed as his eyes fell out of their sockets, his hair lit on fire and finally she saw the white colour of his skull appear. As she held him in her arms she realized that it wasn’t only his head, his clothes had all burnt off and his flesh was completely gone too. Within minutes Leon had been reduced to nothing more than a scorched skeleton. All she could do was cry as smoke, ash and fire surrounded her.
Catherine Zingel woke up with a start, tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks. It had only been six months since her husband and son had been killed in the Berlin nuclear attack. The doctor said the dreams would fade eventually. She hoped that was true. Her pastor reassured her that they were in a better place. She knew that was true.
Catherine eventually dragged her 65-year-old body out of bed and went to the kitchen in her apartment on Zingel Corp’s orbital facility. After the attack, she’d taken her two adult daughters and their families up there where they could be safe from the conflict below. There was plenty of space for all of them on the massive station which was home to over 200 people and served as Zingel Corp’s corporate headquarters and main research facility. In fact, Catherine had survived because she’d been in a meeting on the station when the attack occurred.
Catherine took her coffee into the living room and sat down on her wonderfully comfortable sofa. The softness of the sofa, the nice rug on her bare feet and the hot drink helped her to calm down a bit. She gazed out of the large window which faced the sofa she was sitting on. The window looked down the station towards the earth beneath. Looking at the station from the outside it would seem like the window should be on the floor of her apartment, but the gravity manipulators of the station made the inside of the ring the floor. This was so that each apartment could have a similar view of the earth beneath.
Looking out the window, past the other rings of the station below, Catherine could see Europe. Catherine knew that as she relaxed in safety and ease, far below on her home continent, more people were losing their husbands, sons, daughters, and wives. She could hardly bear the thought. All of that suffering and pain for what? A bit more land? A few more resources? A slightly better life? Catherine knew that Leon had been right. Terraforming could give the nations of the world all of these things, but without the war.
The sound of her doorbell interrupted her musings. Catherine walked to the apartment’s airlock which was also the entrance to the corridor that circumnavigated the residential ring of the station. There was no need to cycle the airlock, it was only there in case of emergencies. She opened both doors of the airlock simultaneously.
‘Morning, Mama,’ Catherine’s oldest daughter, a woman in her mid-forties with blonde hair and blue eyes, walked through both doors. She saw Catherine’s blood-shot eyes, her dressing gown and her messed-up white hair and knew that she’d had another of her nightmares about Leon. ‘I miss Papa and Stefan too,’ she said as they both went into the living room and sat down, ‘Although Papa would’ve gone crazy living in this space station!’
Catherine laughed, ‘You’re right, Mila! He would’ve hated living here. ‘I need the open sky above me,’ he would’ve said.’ Mila smiled and nodded her head. They sat in silence for a moment staring down at the earth. Then Mila’s phone made a sound. Catherine asked, ‘Klaus and the kids are waiting for us at the church, right?’
‘We don’t have to go if you don’t want, I can stay here with you,’ said Mila, ‘There’s no harm in missing one Sunday.’
‘I know, but its important. God is still good, and He still deserves praise. When things look bad to us, He’s still working for good,’ Catherine said, ‘That’s the only thing that helps me make sense of all this.’
Mila nodded, ‘You’re right, Mama. But we’re going to be late!’ Mila motioned to Catherine’s general state of unpreparedness. Catherine laughed and left to get ready as quickly as she could.
Only twenty minutes later they were walking towards the church under the 20-meter-high transparent ceiling of the station’s garden ring. The garden ring was completely open, that is, it didn’t have separate compartments. The entire ring was one large green space where food for the station was grown but it also served as a recreational area where people could go for walks or kids could go to one of the many parks.
Amongst a mango grove of at least 10 massive trees with thick trunks and broad canopies, stood the church. It was a traditional-looking white stone church, complete with a steeple and a bell. But as they walked towards the beautiful building, Jonas Mayer, Catherine’s assistant, ran up looking worried. Catherine and Mila stopped. ‘What is it?’ Catherine asked.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Zingel, I wouldn’t normally bother you on a Sunday, but this is important,’ he said, a bit out of breath, ‘Our source in the Li Federation has just sent word that they’ve intercepted an email from a Dr. Dave Campbell who was recently killed during the attack on that lunar mining base. The email contained a video and DNA sequence of a microbe that they found.’ Jonas hesitated for a second, ‘The microbe was living on the surface of the moon!’
Catherine stopped. She stared at Jonas, trying to process what she’d just heard. ‘A microbe living on the moon?’ she asked, bewildered. Jonas nodded. ‘What kind of microbe?’
‘The kind that your husband, Leon, had been looking for since he’d studied micro-biology at university,’ Jonas replied, the worried look not leaving his face, ‘At least, that’s what our source in LiFed says they think.’
‘What are you talking about, mama? What microbe?’ asked Mila, as her husband came out of the large arched doorway of the church and started to wave them over.
Catherine saw Klaus too. ‘It could be the last piece of terraforming technology, Mila. Your father always thought that if we could get, or create, a microbe that could survive on the surface of a dead world it could be used to create atmosphere. He’d been working on that theory for years,’ she replied, rubbing her forehead with her right hand in concern.
Mila motioned at Klaus to let him know they were coming, then looked at both her mother and Jonas with a confused look. ‘Shouldn’t you both be excited about this?’ she asked, ‘isn’t terraforming planets what you and papa always dreamt about?’
Klaus disappeared inside the church. ‘You’re right, Mila. Your father and I used to talk about this all the time. But right now Jonas and I are worried about the Li Federation. If they have this kind of technology it could be very dangerous,’ Catherine answered. She turned to Jonas, ‘Can we get our own sample from the same place that this researcher got his?’
Jonas shook his head, ‘We’ve already sent a drone to the site on the moon where Dr. Campbell found his sample. The whole site has been destroyed. We’re assuming LiFed doesn’t want anyone else getting their hands on it.’
‘Who is this Li Federation?’ Mila asked.
Catherine answered her daughter, ‘Do you remember the sabotage at the lab in Youngstown, Alberta?’
Mila nodded, ‘It was awful. It destroyed that whole town and killed hundreds of people.’
‘That was LiFed. The Li family is driven by one thing: power. If they have this microbe, they could control terraforming tech. If they control that—’
‘They may be able to control any world they create, possibly even the whole solar system,’ interrupted Jonas.
‘Who knows the evils that they would unleash with that much power,’ Catherine stated, putting her hands on her hips and exhaling loudly.
‘I guess you’re not coming to church after all?’ Mila asked.
Catherine smiled at Mila, ‘No, not today. I don’t think I’ll make it for Sunday dinner at your sister’s place, either.’ Mila hugged her mom and walked under the mango trees towards the church.
‘What can we do?’ asked Jonas after Mila left, ‘LiFed destroyed the site. They’re the only ones with samples. It seems like its only a matter of time before they have what they want.’ Catherine and Jonas started walking away from the church. Once outside of the mango grove the path led them through a golden wheat field. The moon hung outside the glass above them amongst the stars. ‘Do you think NATO could help us?’ Jonas wondered aloud.
Catherine replied as they walked, ‘We can’t go to NATO, they aren’t much better than LiFed. The chance to create and control new worlds would be too much temptation for them too.’ The two continued in silence as they both pondered the situation.
The passage to the centre structure of the station opened like a hole in the floor. It was surrounded on three sides by flowerbeds. Without skipping a beat, they walked towards the hole which was about ten feet square. But, instead of falling down the hole all the way to the centre of the station they just walked down one of the sides of the passage.
The gravity inside the hole/passage was different than in the garden ring. Inside the tunnel, the bottom was the wall that corresponded to the flowerbed free side of the hole and, looking at the station from outside, would be the earthward side. However, in the garden ring, just like the residential ring, the bottom was towards the centre of the station. So, the passage to the centre of the station seemed like a hole in the floor from the perspective of anyone already in the garden ring but once inside was just a hallway. The gravity manipulators were so finely tuned that Catherine and Jonas were able to seamlessly change from the garden ring’s gravity to the central passageway without so much as a stumble.
They took the passage to the central structure where they got on an elevator to the office ring, the ring below the garden ring, and two below the residential ring. ‘We’ll have to take the microbe from LiFed ourselves,’ Catherine said as they entered her office, ‘Who did Dr. Campbell send the email to?’
Jonas looked on his tablet as he sat on one of the leather chairs facing Catherine’s large mahogany desk. ‘A Kenyan microbiologist,’ Jonas replied, ‘Dr. Paul Azikiwe.’