Hello again from the world of writing! As some people may recall, I published a section of my other contribution to my group’s anthology a few days back. Entitled “The Torch”, it introduces a near-future scenario where an ecological engineer named Magid Muktari proposes launching an exoplanet colonization program. As the prologue to the anthology, it’s kind of important, in that it sets up the entire story and gets the ball rolling on the whole plot.
Hence why I wanted to do it myself. As the editor, you kind of have to put your money where your mouth is, otherwise you’re just a big fat delegator! And what good are those? In any case, the first section presented the introduction of the idea. In this second part, I wanted to get into the early like of Muktari, presenting his estranged wife from later in the book, but at a time when they were still partners and lovers.
Since she too was the creation of fellow anthologist Khaalidah, I thought she deserved a mention and a thorough treatment of all she accomplished in her lifetime. I hope I did her justice, and in the meantime captures some shred of what it will be like for a couple in the mid 21st century who are trying to make ends meet, and save the world at the same time! Hope y’all enjoy and remember that feedback is most welcome
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The lights were already on when he came home. The nighttime creatures were about, singing their evening songs and tending to their nocturnal rituals. He felt the reassuring calm spread over him as soon as the wheels stopped in his driveway, the engine quieting down from its long run. The door raised itself for him and he put his tired feet to the ground, letting out a deep sigh.
“Home again, home again…” It took some effort to get him the rest of the way out. The steps were even harder to manage. It confounded him, how travelling could still be such a draining experience when machines generated all the motion. Perhaps their minds had not kept pace, still interpreting distance in terms of physical expenditure.
He paused on the front stoop and waited for Empathy to scan him. A quick flash hit his eye, discerning his retinal pattern, then projecting a kind greeting in his visual field.
Hujambo, Magid! it said. He laughed. Firdaws had toyed with the settings again. Of all the languages he had picked up in the course of his training, Swahili was the one that still alluded him. It was the one thing he she maintained over him for all these years; he suspected she relished it too.
“Hujambo, my dear!” he said as soon as he stepped into through the front door. No footsteps came to greet him. On a hunch, he wandered through the living annex and found her in her office. He paused at the entrance and sighed at her.
“Dining on ashes, dearest?”
She raised her finger to him. He spotted the jewel in her ear and the distant look in her eyes. Apparently, she had brought her work home with her again. Always the solemn and grave sort, her. Never shying and never blinking in the face of interminable change. He waited as patiently as he could while she finished her discussion with the person on the other end, and tried not to pass out against the wall.
“That’s not an offer, Tikhon, it’s an insult… No, don’t recommend this as a compromise, if we do, we’ll be doing nothing but until the project is realized. If they want the rights to drill, they need to meet the local’s demands and the EA’s demands… Alright, thank you. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She leaned back and sighed. She looked at him for the first time since his appearance on her step. She also removed the jewel and the contacts from her eyes, signaling the end of her day.
“How was your trip, dear?”
“Long and exhausting,” he replied. “And how goes the good fight?”
“The same,” she said, rising from her seat and proceeding to give him a kiss. “I trust your stopover was worth the extra travel time?”
“Ah, not exactly, no.”
She took his face in her hands. They felt lovely and cool against his skin. “Well, you can only do so much. I did say that it was an unlikely possibility as it was.”
He grumbled. She had indeed, and meant it as an indictment on the wisdom of his superiors rather than his plan. But it did him little good right now. In his current state, any tough love only seemed to drive the failure home.
“Shall I make us some dinner?”
He frowned and checked it his chrono. “You haven’t eaten yet?”
She shook her head and looked at the pile of display sheets that lay on her desk. No explanations were necessary. There was no time or schedules amongst workaholics.
“Sure, why not? Anything will do.”
“Good, because we’re having kofte. I was kind enough to pick some up on the way back from work, even though I knew there was a good chance you might not make it in before I went to sleep.”
“How considerate,” he said, bowing his head to offer thanks.
Punching him in the shoulder, she took off past him and headed for the kitchen. Taking a seat at the island stove, he watched while she prepared pieces of spiced meat and yoghurt from the cooler, intermixed with select greens from their crisper. She grabbed a tub of prepared rice from the bottom shelf and began spooning some into two bowls.
“Nothing like fresh,” he said, taking in the aroma. Firdaws insisted on doing things Halal, he knew. And the local authorities were yet to sign of on the compiled version. Luckily, their professions afforded them such luxuries, religious exception being a somewhat expensive pleasure these days.
“Are you going to ask about my day?” she asked finally.
“I thought I did.”
She laughed. “There are details, if you care to hear.”
“Of course,” he said with a sigh. Though he knew he wouldn’t be able to follow, and would incur her wrath if she turned around too soon.
“Well, it was hard enough getting the firm and the Emir to sit down together. He was unwilling to negotiate any lease on the land unless they agreed to a long-term commitment. The company asked what he meant by this, and he replies that fifty years would suffice. That nearly torpedoed everything. But once we got past that issue, the company started making its own demands. After surveying the land in the region, they announced they wanted to expand their lease to include an entire hillside range. They want resource exploitation rights, the whole lot…”
Muktari hummed thoughtfully, even though he wasn’t entirely sure the path she was taking with this. He heard a loud clink inside the cooler.
“So the Emir starts accusing them of sending in covert surveyors, which he claimed was in bad faith. That nearly caused the company to walk out again. However, they did say that they will resume negotiations if and when the Emir agrees to sign over the resource rights in the area to them.”
“I see…” though he didn’t.
“Now we’ve got to make a recommendation. Our boss wants to dangle the offer in front of the Emirs nose in the hopes that it might move things along, but as usual, he’s being an idiot.”
“Won’t be long before you are running things, dear.”
She chuckled. “In any case, I told him we should recommend a joint survey, find out exactly what the company found in those hills, and then conduct a separate negotiation. No sense in letting them exploit something until the locals have been notified of their rights and the government knows exactly what they are giving up.”
“Hmmm, and all this for a few hundred kilometers of sand.”
She turned suddenly. “That sand will hold one of the largest solar arrays to date. Every country in the region is already looking to buy up rights to the power it generates.”
“You’d think the Emir would want to conclude things.
Firdaws stroked a lock of black hair from her face. “His mistrust is… less than rational, but its working in his favor. Astral will make a meal out of his country if he lets them. The energy business is still the same, no matter what technology they employ.”
“And so the dance continues,” Muktari said with a chuckle. He was surprised that he had managed to get through it. His semi-delirious mind had somehow managed to take it all in and still managed to stay interested. Not all of it registered, but at least he grasped the salient points.
A loud clink signaled the presence of his bowl in front of him. He breathed in the warm steam of a lovely meal, felt his stomach ache with sudden anticipation. As usual, he hadn’t realized the extent of his own hunger until the food was in front of him.
“So…” she said. “What now?”
He looked up at her with a frown.
“You’re plan? Are you going to drop it, or take it to a more receptive audience?”
Muktari chewed slowly and considered the question. He had pondered that very question himself during the trip home, but to no avail. Short of going behind Zimmerman’s back and risking his entire career, he wasn’t sure how he could possibly move ahead with it anymore.
“Unclear,” he replied. “I might need to keep it close to my chest for now.”
“And let it die a natural death?”
Muktari cleared his throat. How like her to challenge him so. “I won’t let that happen. Sooner or later, I’ll find a receptive audience.”
Firdaws nodded and turned to close cooler unit. “It’s up to you, koca. But after the time and energy you’ve dedicated to this, I’d hate to see you lose faith just because your current boss said no.”
Current boss, he thought. Was she anticipating something, or making a possible suggestion? It was always so hard to tell with her!