Moonrise - Part Two
‘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.’ The pastor walked off the stage at the front of the church as Paul Azikiwe felt his wife’s elbow strike him in his ribs.
He opened his eyes to see his loving wife’s dark-skinned face and beautiful brown eyes giving him an angry glare. ‘I wasn’t sleeping, dear,’ Paul defended himself, ‘I was just resting my eyes. I could hear everything he was saying.’
Almasi tilted her head a bit and the tight curls of her big hair moved with her. ‘You were working late again last night, Paul. That’s why you needed to ‘rest your eyes’,’ she said accusingly.
‘Yes, I was. The vaccine we’re working on is so close to being finished,’ admitted Paul, getting a bit annoyed, ‘but I still heard everything the pastor said!’
‘I wish you put as much importance in your faith as you do your work, dear,’ said Almasi, straightening her pink dress as she stood up. Paul resented her resentment, but that battle could wait until they got home. For now, he just apologized again and then talked to their church friends until it was time to leave.
Paul’s phone made a sound and he lifted it out of his pocket as they made their way through the crowded streets of Nairobi. It was an email from Dave Campbell, an American geologist. The thought of a Kenyan microbiologist, who worked at a government lab, corresponding with an enemy citizen made Paul’s heart skip a beat. The word treason came to mind.
He was about to delete the email without reading it when Almasi leaned over and said, ‘What is it?’
‘Its an email from Dave Campbell,’ Paul replied as he dodged a well-dressed family of five walking towards them on the sidewalk.
‘I remember him! We met him before the war at the conference in New York, right? What does he say?’ asked Almasi.
‘I…I’m not…’ Paul stammered. The couple arrived at the train station and walked down the stairs to the underground platforms.
‘Don’t be silly, it's just an email. Its not like you’re defecting!’ Paul realized that Almasi was right, there was no harm in reading an email. Paul opened the email as they boarded one of the underground trains. The email said, ‘We found this on the moon. Not joking.’ There were two files attached. Paul opened the attached video file as they found a seat on the train.
The familiar smells of urine, vomit and body odour filled their nostrils as the train accelerated through the tunnels under the city above. They could see the tunnel walls turn to nothing more than a blur outside the windows and the advertising screens inside the train showed messages about soft drinks, candy bars, and various beauty products all of which falsely promised deep and lasting happiness.
Paul and Almasi sat down and watched the video from Dave’s microscope. He could hardly believe it as he watched the microorganisms wriggling around in the lunar sample. Paul opened the other attachment. It showed a DNA sequence, but it was nothing like Paul had ever seen before. If this email had come from anyone else Paul mightn’t have believed it, but he knew Dave. He knew that he was a very careful, systematic and level-headed scientist. There was no way this was an error or some kind of contamination. If this microbe was not a prank, somehow it was real.
‘I don’t get it,’ Almasi said looking at Paul, the constant sound of the train going over the tracks in the background. Almasi was a wise woman but not a scientist.
‘Dave says he’s found microbes living on the surface of the moon!’ Paul said, the reality of it still sinking in. ‘That is the first time anyone has found any life that’s not from the Earth!’
‘Fascinating,’ Almasi said, obviously feigning interest.
Paul laughed and tried to turn the conversation to something that interested her, ‘What did you think about the pastor’s sermon today?’ Almasi smiled as she explained where she thought the pastor was right and wrong and why she thought her interpretation of the passage in question was better. Outside the train, the tunnel walls sped past.
After a few minutes the train’s screens switched from the usual advertising to news about the war effort. The passengers grew silent as they watched General Amadi, commander of the African forces within the African and Asian Alliance, address his soldiers from St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, ‘Victory over the hoarding and greedy NATO allies is in our grasp! No longer will they live in luxury while our people live in poverty. No longer will our countries bow to their every whim! Soon we will be the masters! Soon we will be free!’ The crowd of soldiers yelled, ‘Rise Africa! Rise Asia!’ The victory chant of the Alliance.
The report then summarized the war effort in other areas of the world: The Chinese occupation was crushing American resistance in the Midwest while their army advanced on Washington DC, Mecca was under siege by Indian and Iranian forces and a Russian space drone had destroyed a lunar mining base run by NATO. The report was curiously silent about the rumours that NATO was advancing in North Africa.
The news about the moon base caught Paul’s attention. He looked back at Dave’s message and looked more closely at his email signature. It read, ‘Dave Campbell, PhD. Lovin’ Luna!’ and the NATO compass logo underneath. Paul knew that Dave had been on that base. He and Almasi quietly said a prayer for Dave’s family and thought about the horrors of war.
‘I’m glad you got that job at the Kenyan National Lab,’ Almasi said as she snuggled close to her husband, ‘far away from the front lines.’ Paul was also thinking about that. He had begged his friend, Absko, to give him a job so he could avoid military service. Absko had finally given in, even though Paul’s expertise wasn’t exactly what they needed.
‘Me too,’ Paul said and he held his wife close and waited for the train to arrive at their stop.
The next day Paul walked into his friend and boss’ office at the Kenyan National Laboratory. Absko’s massive frame sat behind his dark hardwood desk. The large window behind him gave a panoramic view of Nairobi from the seventh-floor vantage point. ‘Good morning, Paul!’ he said smiling, the contrast between his brilliantly white teeth and his very dark skin striking.
‘I’m surprised you haven’t burst out of that shirt,’ laughed Paul. Absko enjoyed wearing shirts that were just a bit small to show off his massive muscles.
‘That’s why I keep the baseball bat close by,’ he said pointing to a signed bat hanging on his wall. Paul gave him a puzzled look, he hadn’t heard that comeback before, nor had he noticed the bat on the wall. ‘Because if my shirt ripped off, I’d have to beat the women off me,’ explained Absko.
‘Of course,’ Paul laughed. Absko continued to explain that he’d bought the bat online and that it was signed by some famous baseball player from the Dominican Republic. Paul didn’t really care that much about baseball but he politely pretended to be interested because Absko was one of his oldest and closest friends.
‘But you didn’t come in here because of my bat, did you?’ asked Absko.
‘No, I came here to ask if you’d like to go for a walk in Uhuru Park,’ answered Paul.
‘If I wanted to go on a romantic walk, it wouldn’t be with you, Paul!’ Absko responded.
‘Just come on, Absko,’ Paul said, smiling at the joke, ‘Its important.’
Absko sighed, ‘Fine, I’m coming.’ Absko grabbed his lunch and soon they’d found a bench underneath a large spreading tree where they could sit in the shade. They could see the paved path a few meters in front of them and beyond that was a lake. A flock of flamingos stood in the lake looking for food. The park wasn’t too busy but there were a few people also eating their lunches in the shade or walking down the path.
Once they sat down Paul showed Absko the email that he’d received from Dave Campbell. Absko’s brown eyes grew unusually large in his already large head as he watched the video and saw the DNA sequence of the microbe. ‘You’re sure this is real and not some prank or mistake?’ he asked.
‘I’m sure,’ Paul said confidently as some cuckoos called to each other in the branches above them.
‘Do you know what this means?’ Absko looked at Paul, his eyes still wide, ‘Based on this DNA sequence and the fact that it was found on the moon, its possible that this microbe could be modified to rapidly create atmospheric gases on a dead world.’
‘I was hoping you could confirm that,’ Paul replied, his lips forming into a smile, ‘You know more about genetics than I do. So you think—’
‘This could be the microbe that Zingel Corp has been looking for since they invented the gravity manipulator!’ Absko excitedly interrupted Paul, ‘The microbe that could make rapid terraforming a reality!’ The two men were so excited they didn’t notice a small, Chinese woman walk past. ‘Imagine walking through a forest on Mars or a wheat field on the moon!’
Something spooked the cuckoos above them and they flew off. ‘And in our lifetime!’ Paul continued Absko’s line of thinking, ‘Imagine, by the time we’re old men, the whole solar system filled with habitable planets and moons! It would be amazing!’ Paul nearly shouted the last sentence.
‘And we could be the scientists who make it happen, Paul! With your micro-biology expertise and mine in genetic engineering, we could become the men who invent terraforming!’ said Absko with nearly the same volume as Paul. The two men sat and contemplated this exciting possibility for a moment.
But then something came over Absko and the expression on his face changed from excitement to seriousness. He leaned closer to Paul and whispered, ‘Imagine the power this technology could give to anyone who had it. The power to create and possibly control entirely new worlds!’ Absko looked around, wondering if anyone was close enough to overhear their conversation. ‘And imagine what some people might do to get that kind of power.’
Paul hadn’t thought of that. Suddenly he could think of nothing else except all the things people would do to gain power over entire worlds. Sweat formed on his brow and his heart started to race. ‘You’re right,’ Paul whispered. ‘Do you think they could’ve traced the email to my phone? Do you think they know where I live? Do you think they’re already on their way?’ Paul started pacing in front of their bench and put both hands behind his head.
Absko watched Paul walk back and forth. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen that panicked look on Paul’s face. It reminded him of the day that Paul had begged him for a job at the lab. Paul had literally cried at the thought of military service.
Absko knew he had to chose his words carefully. The truth was he couldn’t be sure that someone hadn’t traced the email or that they weren’t already on their way. But saying that wouldn’t be helpful, ‘Don’t worry, Paul. I’ll let my supervisors know about all this. They’ll send some NIS agents to protect us. We’ll be fine.’
As Paul kept panicking and pacing, a small Chinese woman wearing red high heels and a business suit rushed along the path in front of them. Unfortunately, high heels and rushing don’t often go well together, and she tripped. She fell onto her hands and knees on the pavement. The briefcase she’d been carrying opened on impact with the ground and papers flew everywhere.
Absko rushed to help her but Paul was still so consumed with his fear that all he could do was watch. Absko helped her back onto her feet and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ As she looked up at him, he noticed how beautiful she was. She was wearing normal business attire but that was the only thing normal about her. Absko admired her clear brown eyes, her perfectly formed cheekbones punctuated with exquisite lips expertly covered with red lipstick and her jet-black hair hanging about her shoulders.
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ she said in a Chinese accent, as she put her hair up and held it in place with a beautiful red hairpin that had fallen onto the ground when she tripped.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Absko, as he helped her tidy up the papers strewn throughout the area.
‘I’m sorry. I really must be going,’ the woman said as she quickly pulled out some replacement shoes from her briefcase and continued on down the path. ‘Thanks again!’
As soon as she was gone, Paul said, ‘You’re right, Absko.’ They went back and sat down on their bench under the tree. ‘The government will understand the importance of this and the NIS will be able to protect us.’ Paul felt the panic start to drift away. ‘Everything will be fine,’ he said more to reassure himself than anything.
‘Yeah, it’ll…be…o…k…’ Absko’s speech started to get slower, ‘Wha…?’ His body went limp and he slid off the park bench, seemingly powerless to stop himself. His head hit the ground with a thud. Paul tried to lift him up but Absko was completely unconscious.
Paul’s panic came straight back and he started to breathe heavily as his mind raced. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even like watching medical dramas on TV. He just started yelling, ‘Help! Help me!’ The woman from before was not too far away, she quickly came back and dialed something on her phone.
Within minutes an ambulance arrived, and they loaded Absko into the back on a stretcher. Paul couldn’t leave his friend, so he quickly climbed into the back of the ambulance too.
Then, the woman also climbed into the ambulance and sat down facing Paul. He said, ‘That’s very nice of you to come, but you don’t have to. The paramedics can handle it from here.’ Her red lipstick covered lips extended into a smile as she pulled her hairpin out of her hair. She gently touched it to his knee and looked him in the eyes.
Paul, misinterpreting the situation, started to protest, ‘I’m a happily married—' Just then he felt a powerful shock of electricity course through his body, starting at his knee. The last thing he saw was the small Chinese woman laughing.