The palmtop buzzed. I stared down at the message and headed down the corridor. The announcement was just airing over the speakers when I made my way into the lounge.
“GT 900 has arrived. Package is at Regulations and Clearing” Mudiaga was saying. He was talking to a grey haired man I hadn’t seen before. “Welcome to Omar Space Corps lab, Mr…”
“Raj” the man filled in, taking Mudiaga’s hands in a rough handshake before his eyes fell on me. Mudiaga followed his gaze.
“Oh, Mr. Raj meet Lantana. She’s our Specie Probe and Observations Executive. Our finest specie profiling expert”.
I smiled at the introduction as Mr Raj took my hand.
“Ah, Miss Lantana, I’ve heard so much about you and you father.” He said, his eyes smiling.
I tried to hold my smile. My father was Head, Science and Research for Omar Space Corps – the first Space Corps in the Afrikana Continent with relations with over 20 Exoplanets in the universe – at least that’s what the company brochure says. He is a member of management and everyone thought he got me this job. What they don’t know, was that I had worked my butt off to get into Omar Space Corps and after acing 26 training stages and 50 species profiling, I was damn good at it – without him.
Mr. Raj introduced himself as Chief Adviser on Exoplanet Relations to Omar Space Corps. Great! Another top dog. No wonder he knew my father.
“So we have a new specie that just arrived from Utarion today on GT 900” Mudiaga explained as we made to sit in the lab’s lounge.
LED lights bounced off the sleek white sofas and the smell of peppermint hovered strongly in the air; obviously to mask the metallic smell of laboratory chemicals. Mr. Raj sat comfortably in the sofa adjacent I and Mudiaga’s and began digging into the plate of cashew nuts on the glass table between us. He looked a little older than my father but where my father was tall with skin the color of copper, Mr Raj was stout and chestnut in complexion. He unbuttoned his grey suit and crossed his left leg on the other showing off black shiny shoes reflecting the light.
“Let’s skip that Mudiaga. I already know” he said, matter-of-fact; “Package was cleared even before I got here.” He pressed a small red button on his watch and a hologram figure of a black officer popped up. “Bring it in”
Just then the lounge doors opened and two officers – one who we had just seen and another – stepped in carrying a cylindrical cage of what looked like –
“A Herburg” I said, taking in the purple keratin – scaled creature with its cylindrical shaped head and eight eyes. “Where…how?” I stumbled over my words. A herburg is one of Utarion’s prized creatures and was listed as a “nonexchangeable commodity” with Earth after the creature was bred and used by Spazar alien militia as a biological weapon to terrorise other planets in Utarion`s Galactica scope leading to a severe war until Interplanetary Government intervened and outlawed them. So I was definitely surprised to see it here at Omar Space Corps. Very little is known about a herburg apart from its close look with Earth’s extinct pangolin and even that is so far from the truth if you stare into its eight eyes and study it’s head. I watched the creature curl itself into a ball. This was going to be a challenge.
“I see you know it” Mr Raj’s voice broke into my thoughts.
“Just what everyone else does. How did we-“
“Don’t worry about how we got it Miss Lantana. Your job is to find out so much about it and profile it for our advanced research. I trust you’re capable?” he asked. I took the hint of temptation in his voice. This was indeed a a catchy offer. I and Mudiaga would be the first SPO Executives to see and observe a Herburg so when I turned for his approval, I wasn’t surprised to see Mudiaga nodding his head. He was in.
“We’ll enter it as Spec 205, Mr. Raj” I said, straightening my white scrub just as Mr. Raj stood.
“That’s a great decision Lantana” he said, taking my hand in a shake. I noticed a glint in his eyes but quickly dispelled it. It isn’t my job to bother about space relations.
As we stepped back onto the open corridors to the cafeteria. I stopped Mudiaga.
“Mudi…I do hope we know what we’re doing. I have an uneasy feeling about this.”
“Lantana, you worry too much. You’ve got to trust Omar. Now come, there’s a new meal list on the menu”.
It was almost closing when I got the chance to really check out Spec 205. The herburg was prancing about the cage now showing off its long forked tongue. I pulled out my digi-booklet and began my observation notes starting from what I could clearly see. Half – hour in, I decided to take the specimen home. It’s against company policy but I guessed Salim could help me with it. If only I knew…
I logged out and took the metro speed cab at Omar’s Space Corps’ station and headed into Bawari’s bustling city. It was early evening. The galazina star that had struck earth a hundred years ago – pelting multi-colored rocks in different locations – protruded from the ground to cast a purple star struck light to the sky. The streets were packed with people buying latest techies at pop up shops. In one shop, an LED sign showcased a Nano3000 Hoverboard with extra flying speed in bold red letters.
Our house was downtown Bawari, away from the high end shops and elite fashion stores. Here, we still had to deal with interrupted blue spectrum energy generated from the galazina and cats scratching at our bins. Not very fancy but it was what I shared with Salim when I decided to be with him. He let me into the two bed apartment with a huge smile but when he saw the specimen, his jaw dropped open.
“Babe, no no no!” he started when I put it down on our counter, “I’ve told you this before. No specimen at home”
“Salim” I said half pleading and pouting as I handed my jacket to the robot-butler; ‘Thanks Jack”
“You’re welcome Miss” it said before whirring off.
“Look at it. Wait…Is that a herburg!!” He said, eyes wide; “Are you mad Lantana! What’s a nonexchangeable commodity doing here! At our house!”
“Keep your voice down Salim!” I said, covering his mouth with my hands “Space Relations brought this in for observation.”
“No buts. Will you help me? Can you call the club?”
“Babe, I really don’t like the idea of bringing this thing home. We don’t even know what it does!”
“But, you’re not at work and “the club” can’t contact Space Corps” I pressed, staring into his dark pupils…waiting.
“Fuck it!” he cursed. “I’ll call them”
Yess!!. I was so elated I tiptoed to plant a kiss on his head.
“Now, I have to go for dinner” I said, rushing into the shower. Salim scowled.
He was what we called a staid alien – fluid beings that can drop into space spontaneously. They had the ability to scan and control other creatures and could become any person they wanted. Because of my preference, Salim had gone with a chestnut complexion and short kinky hair that ended in a fade with a nice small goatee. The only feature that gave him away was his purple-blue eyes and skin that constantly looked oiled – he was perfect for the 31st century girl with a thing for interspecies relationships.
I wasn’t looking forward to dinner and even as I stole one last look at my caramel skin wrapped in a nice black cocktail dress in the large door mirrors at the entrance, I wasn’t ready to see them. I wove my way around the glass dinner tables in Maco’s Uptown Restaurant to where my Mom and Dad were seated at a booth backing a gigantic aquarium. There were two dolphins swimming lazily in the deep blue water which matched my father’s navy blue suit. I stooped to kiss both of them on the cheeks – mom first before Dad.
“Nice dress Lantana” my mum said, taking in my look. I smiled half- heartedly, pretending not to notice the blue-black smudge on her left eye that she had tried to cover with heavy make up. She was just my skin tone and where her nose was slim and straight, mine were bulbous like Dad’s.
Our entree came through. Steaming bowls of octopus soup and jumbo pawns.
“So what are we celebrating?” I asked.
“We don’t have to celebrate anything to spend time with you” My Dad answered, stuffing a piece of prawn in his mouth. “And how is that Salas”
“Salim”, I corrected, trying to keep my nerves still. I didn’t want to get ticked off. Not when I had a favor to ask. Clearing my throat, I started “He’s fine. Speaking of Salim, Dad I wanted to ask…if, you could…” I was choosing my words carefully. He didn’t particularly fancy Salim. He didn’t fancy any interspecies relationship; not unless they had more to offer. My dad, cocked his head, waiting.
“Well, girl we haven’t got all night”
“I was going to ask if you could…you know, work out a promotion for him” I hated that my voice sounded mousy but he wasn’t an easy going man and asking him for favors was…Well, he didn’t like being asked favors.
“Isn’t Regulations and Clearing a good enough work for him?”
I held the pang in my chest. My father’s tone cut through like a knife. It was that evil sarcasm that I hated. “He’s been working there for three years, aced his level 1 training and has over four above expectation ratings since he started. He deserves it. Meanwhile, that pudgy looking Amid sits there doing-“
My father stopped me with a hard stare. “Amid is a good man. He understands the nature of Omar Space Corps and…”
“And so does Salim” I interjected. My voice was getting hoarse now. I breathed deeply. “There’s another thing”, I said, staring into my soup. It didn’t look appetizing now. “We’re expecting”
It was my mother’s gasp that made me look up. She was clutching her chest “How could you Lantana!?”
“Faidah, look how your daughter wants to disgrace us!” My dad was angry now, his eyes popping out of their sockets “You think you’ll embarrass me with a child from that indigent! That…that abomination! No, you disgrace yourself child! Yourself!”
“He wouldn’t be an indigent if you gave him the promotion! You know you can just pull some strings! You do it for everyone but not for your own daughter! I have never asked you for anything but to accept Salim! He’s just as alive as we are!” I was yelling now, and people were staring. My father flares his nostrils, eyeing me.
“You’re not getting one shishi from me. I’m not funding that…that…bastard!”
“Hamzah!” My mum exclaimed, patting him to calm down. Instead, he threw her hand off him and stormed out of the booth and through a group of embarrassed Dazella aliens, their glitters trailing his footsteps. The one with a pink hair and one eye smiled weakly at me.
My mum touched my arm. “Lantana, this thing you’re doing. Having a baby with a…a…you know? Your dad doesn’t like…you are just like him. Stubborn. Why didn’t you choose an embryo-genic type of birth. Everyone’s doing it. You don’t have to have a baby for something that wll spoil our reputation…’
“Mom, I don’t want to hear about our reputation. I want Salim and he wants me! That’s what matters and I’m having a natural birth because I want to feel my baby, not put it in a birthing matrix as if it’s one of the specimens I have to observe.” I started, wiping the tears streaming down my face.
I was done with dinner now. I didn’t wait to hear the words my mum had started before leading myself out of the restaurant. I hailed a pod-cab. The driver was a Boister alien with green skin that attracted little flying insects. It’s blue orb – like eyes popped open once I punched in my destination. We were speeding down the tarmac towards downtown Bawari. My tummy grumbled,
“Should’ve eaten the soup” I muttered.
When I got in, my curls were disheveled and my make up smudged. Salim gathered me in his arms in a tight hug.
‘Ssh. Ssh. What’s wrong babe?” he asked, cupping my cheeks in his hands. I couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“It’s nothing… It just didn’t go well.”
“It’s okay babe. Whatever it is, it’s going to be fine. Do you want anything?”
I sniffed, cleaning the snot dripping down my nose. “I would like some pizza and good sex. In no particular order”
Salim laughed heartily scooping me into his arms. I was laughing now as he struggled to unzip my dress. It wasn’t long before we were thrashing under the covers.
It was 12:00am when I got up to pee. I had just crossed the settee when I noticed.
“Salim!” I screamed. “Salim!”
“What is it!?” he answered, half running in. I was pointing at the cage, my hands shaking with fright.
“It isn’t…It isn’t here!” I managed to say. My mouth was dry as panic plunged my thoughts. “It isn’t here! Where is it!?”
Salim scrambled to the cage, opening the latch to dip a hand inside. Yes. It was empty.
Under the couch, the kitchen cabinets, our balcony – Nothing! The herburg was gone!
I scrunched in a corner of the floor, my back against the wall in tears. How was I going to explain this. How!?
“We have to call Regulations” Salim said, looking at his feet.
“No! We’ll get extracted!”
“We’ll get extracted if we don’t find it Lan”
Oh! I was deep trouble. I bit my lip then grabbed my ringer. My dad’s hologram popped open a second later.
“What is it!?” his voice was sharp and edgy. I turned the ringer to a normal call and went to the balcony. My father was quiet for a moment then he switched off. I looked at Bawari’s purple sky in despair. How? It was right there when I got-
Our door barged open. Armed officers clad in black overall swooped into our living room. Everything was happening so fast. They were overturning tables, scattering drawers, smashing mirrors. An officer was over Salim now, pushing his face to the floor before cuffing his hands.
“Get off him!” I screamed, hitting the officer. He didn’t budge. Instead, he pushed me across the floor and pulled Salim to his feet.
“You’re hereby charged for the manipulation of an SPO officer and the theft of a classified creature under ACT 11 Code B4”
“No!No!” I screamed racing after them as they moved towards the door. An alien officer stepped in front of me, her body a shield of electric sparks. “Don’t make us hurt you miss. Your father’s orders” She said, looking me in the face. It was like all the air was knocked out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I gasped, doubling over in shock; tears streaming down my face.
I don’t know how long I laid there on the floor. I was so disoriented then I picked up my ringer.
“How could you!”
“You called me that you were in trouble and I cleaned up your mess! You should be thankful! You still have a jo-“
“He didn’t do anything!” I screamed into the microphone “All he did was love me you psychopath! I fucking hate you!” I spat, smashing the ringer on the floor. My body jerked as fresh tears pushed through. I was thinking. Something in me stirred, maybe panic or the growing life inside but then it hit me. I was going to find it. I needed to find it.
I got up and got dressed; and from a loose tile under the toilet seat, I pulled Salim`s wired gun. I was heading to the club.