I boarded the Maglev, which was going towards the mining dome, in the most crowded compartment and stood in the centre amongst fellow travellers.
Statiscally, I had the least chance of detection in the train now. Realistically, however, it did not matter….did not matter at all..It was just a matter of time before they arrested me.
I had been inhaling and exhaling repeatedly to stop my blood pressure and heart rate from shooting up. They could read my vitals… everyone’s vitals actually.
– They would know!
As the adrenaline in my system ebbed away, I found myself shivering and my teeth chattering. I could feel a chill settling over my body and tears starting to brim over the corners of my eyes. I desperately tried to hide them by rubbing the eyes as if they had moistened up due to an irritant.
But they came stronger and stronger ever and a stiffled sob emanated from my mouth despite my current predicament, I immediately acted to yawn to cover it up.
I tried to make sense of the events of the last twenty minutes or so, but it was pointless. How could one commit a double murder and try to make sense of it ?
Perhaps I was caught in a bizarre dream, how else could it be explained that the love of my life was not alive anymore…that I had killed her with my own hands?
There was a lurch as the Maglev came to a halt, and I jolted out of my reverie. I got down on the station and through the connecting tunnel walked briskly towards the building where my office was situated. There were things to be done…. Important things.
I paused hesitantly for a second before punching to enter the building. It would immediately give away my location. But then again, how difficult was it to find a run-away criminal in a colony of six-hundred? And I was the only suspect.
Anyhow, by now, the silence of the health chips of both the victims would have alerted the authorities, and the poorly hidden bodies would be on the verge of getting discovered any moment.
I had kept the bodies of Sahar and that detestable De Jong in an empty cupboard inside the lab and hurriedly stacked a table in front of the cupboard. ….it was the best I could do in my panic.
Time was ticking away… anyhow, what else could I have done? It wasn’t as if they could have been burried away somewhere secretly.
Despite myself, a smile broke out on my face at this thought….bury them…ha!.. The very process of changing my clothes to wear the appropriate dress would have consumed precious minutes…then it would have been the question of carrying their bodies our of Yuri Gagarin dome…How would I have accomplish that without anyone noticing me?…Suppose it would have been somehow possible to manage all this…where and how would I have buried them?…The soil here was not exactly friendly, also; imagine what a big hole it would have been needed to befit their bodies, which would have swelled enormously quite soon; and to think of it … there weren’t any tools to do so.
There were no tools… because nobody had thought that one day someone would have needed to stealthily bury someone here….here; on the Moon!
I had reached my office while thinking all this and I quickly booted my computer, and transferred the relevant and now important files on the memory stick. Then I deleted them from my computer…This was my trump card now.
I went to an unused backroom at the end of the building and locked the room; and waited for them to come.
At rest finally, I could not contain myself any longer, and slid on the cold 3-d printed wall and slumped on the floor, weeping bitterly.
How did things end up like this?
We have had our ups and downs like any couple but the inherent love and trust had always been there; till about three months ago; when things started to get ugly.
She started complaining about us, about me actually, more and more – I was very possessive….was controlling her life….We had different goals….there was nothing common between us.
At first I could not make sense of this sudden tectonic shift in our relationship – I had not changed one bit; had always been like this, a bit mercurial; and she had relished my temperamental nature in contrast with her calm and cold-calculating personality. She savoured my over-protectiveness, so called ‘possisiveness’, towards her earlier.
So what had gone wrong?
I first heard about the increasing proximity of Sahar Shirin, the efficient and extremely beautiful astrophysician and Luuk De Jong, conventionally handsome and second-in-command of the –Astrobio, the powerful biological wing of Moon village, which took care of all aspects of growth of plants and meat on the moon, in short – our food; from a colleague at the mining site, deep in the perennially freezing shadows of Shackleton crater; where I headed the lunar mining operations, as an astrogeologist, for the company Blue dot; doing my bit to mine out Helium 3 and water; in short – our fuel and water supply.
One could not keep anything under wrap here at moon village, everyone knew everyone and everything.
Sahar knew this and I suspected that she was building up a rhetoric before breaking up with me…And that enraged me to no end.
And that filthy De Jong, with his blue eyes and powerful ‘connections’, that bastard knew she was my girl! Still he was filling her ears with sweet-nothings or perhaps he was promising her the Mars. It was quite well known, you see, that De Jong was a confirmed ‘Marsy‘ i.e. a person who was quite sure to make it to the list of people going to Mars colony, which was sure to come up sometime in the future.
Yesterday she told me that she would be going to Gagarin dome, where the headquarters of Astrobio and the lab of De Jong were situated, instead of her hospital, which was at the far end of of moon village, to attend a meeting on some ongoing project; I immediately suspected that she was lying. And I was hidden inside the dome when she entered and made way to the lab.
I entered some moments after her on the pretext of getting a soil sample from the mining site checked as it looked promising for the growth of plants.
Once inside I wandered a bit aimlessly, as if bored while waiting for the sample to be tested. I quickly found the area where De Jong’s office and a secluded minilab was situated.
After making sure that nobody was looking and hiding my face from the ever-present camera, I tried to push the door and to my surprise I found it ajar, perhaps they had not closed it properly; of course, they didn’t have any reason to expect me.
As I tiptoed inside I heard murmurs …Soft and romantic..coming from dimly lit far end of the lab. Then i saw them – sitting on a sofa with their backs towards me, Sahar’s head was leaning on his shoulder and he had his arm around her.
I was frozen…my legs seemed like they were made of lead. I realized one thing about humans then – we would always remain same, bound and affected by same raw emotions :- hate, jealousy and love, we could never escape from their clutches. We could escape the clutches of gravity and could built futuristic colonies on moon and mars, but deep down humans were destined to be chained down by same laws of human interactions which were so common on earth -‘earthly‘ was the term we had coined for such emotions, banal, we called them here or clichéd; but they did matter and always would.
I searched for something heavy and solid, but on this forsaken and miniscule satellite of earth, there were no weapons! Suddenly I saw a large empty beaker which was probably used in some experiment. I knew it would be unbreakable, had to be here, and was quite heavy. Silently I picked it up, and as he turned towards her to kiss…I raced and crashed it over his head. Before she could recover from the shock and shout, I brought it down over her head with great force; her betrayal had given me the strength and agility to act. Both of them slid on the floor and I waited to see whether anyone had heard anything…Nothing happened… Probably the room was noiseproof or something.
I was shivering with anger and strangulated both of them to make sure they didn’t live.
I got up and staggered on the sofa.
What had I done! I was a man of science not a murderer.
But two disfigured faces stated up at me and I had to react fast. The health chip embedded deep in the skin would relay the absence of pulse and heart rate at the monitoring zone and they always started a search if the chip didn’t start sending the signals within twenty minutes. This time was given as sometimes the chip malfunctioned like in a solar-storm.
I had at the most thirty- minutes to act. What could I do? I could not bury them…Could not run to some lonely place on the moon. It would take precious minutes to dress up in the suit and then take a rover to run away on the barren surface of moon. But..Then what? It was a certain and gruesome death if I ran away.
Hugh! I was the first outlaw in history who was more afraid of running away than being caught. No, I had to remain in the pressurised atmosphere of moon village and had to act fast.
I stuffed their bodies and briskly walked towards Maglev station.
There were footsteps outside..Coming nearer and near. A loud thump and the door opened with a burst and I shielded my eyes from the sudden burst of light. There were many footsteps and then a voice-
“Shri…My boy, come to papa,”
I looked up and saw the grinning face of Jean Le’creck, the chief of police and honorary mayor of moon village…What was he so happy about?
Stoutly built, balding, with a rotund face and a sagging paunch, Jean was the butt of many jokes here. The Frenchman who could speak flawless english was considered ‘unworthy’ by the residents of the lunar colony. He had not earned ‘the right to be here’, it was thought about him unlike everyone else here, who had come here based on the merit in one scientific domain or the other. Though god knows I had to slave it out- with my intelligence, with my single-minded zeal to land on the moon, with yesmanship of my bosses…Yes, it was difficult, and I had to do some regrettable things…but I had made it in the end.
But Jean was a different story. He was not a scientist and that automatically made his position untenable in our eyes. And he has had nothing to do all over these years, except sitting on his fat bum. Not tonight though….Perhaps he was enjoying some action after all these years.
“Oh! I almost forgot,” spoke Jean, ” Shrikant Dave, I hereby arrest you on the charge of homicide of Sahar shirin and Luuk De Jong, anything you say might be used against you.”
” Boy! I never thought I would get a chance to say that.”
He was positively radiant on the journey to the police headquarters and treated me like a star. There were no handcuffs or any other restraining device ( where could I go!) and as I sat on one side in the train, Le’creck and two junior officers along with two humanoids rode on the other side of aisle, maintaining a respectful distance.
As we travelled from one end to other on the rim of Shackleton crater, I reflected how far I had come…From the dusty lanes of Nashik to swanky roads of Toronto to the wastelands of the moon, I have had an eventful journey. But the future looked bleak, like the sky, which was pitch dark despite the sun shining there.
However, I had hope..I had few aces up my sleeve.
I had been sitting on the chair in the interrogation room for two hours when Le’creck strode in, with a plate of sandwich and a colorless soda.
” Shri…I can’t tell you how happy you have made me,” he said settling on the chair opposite me, ” how are you doing?”
“What do you think…You bafoon! “
“Tch!..tch!…Such hatred…What I have ever done to you scientists?”
“You won’t get it fathead..And why are you behaving as if christmas is here? Getting your picture clicked with me…What was that? Don’t you realize how much damage this scandal would do to the reputation of Moon village?” I found myself taking the high ground!..How was it possible?
“Relax Shri…Calm down, you have done enough disturbing activities for a lifetime in one day. Enjoy my boy…You have become immortal! History beckons you.”
I stared at him for few seconds, not able to understand who had lost the grip on sanity here – him or I.
” Shrikant Dave, you have become the first space criminal ever! And no ordinary criminal either…A double murderer. I had hoped for a crime to be committed here for a long time now, but I had no idea that it would be a jackpot!” Jean stated animatedly as he gulped a sip of soda.
I was stunned – I had not thought that I had become the first person to commit a crime in space ever. Who wanted this dubious honour? Nobody.
“Look …I deny the charge, you have got the wrong person. Rather my fiancee is dead. I am the victim here. “
” Bah! Don’t go down that road…”
“You can’t prove anything” I retorted sulkily.
” Shri..Shri ..Shri; I have enough proof to get you hanged…Don’t be a child!”
” And how will you go about it?,” I bristled as I shot the first arrow from my quiver, ” Sahar was of Iranian descent with U.S. citizenship, De Jong was a dutch national, I am a Canadian citizen with dual Indian citizenship. The alleged crime had been perpetrated not on earth but on the premises of a joint venture of many international space agencies and private companies on the moon. It’s No-man’s land! There’s no law to prosecute me.”
He smiled like he was a benevolent uncle,” That’s the beautiful part Shri. That is how societies evolve, need is the mother of invention. As this case will drag on, relevant stake holders down below will be forced to draw clear-cut laws, and it will be done- make no mistake about it. Also, the Baikonur convention of 2030 gives me enough power to hold you in captivity and proceed according to my wisdom. I am the chief of police here after all.”
“Baikonur convention also gives me the right to demand to be taken down to earth and tried there if I feel my rights are being violated, and until proved otherwise..I am innocent,” A sort of reckless confidence had crept into my voice, ” I demand to be taken down to terra firma.”
“Sure, where you would like to go- Panama? Where you have stashed your kitty, siphoned from blue dot’s account, or Canada? Where they are still willing to proceed with that case of plagiarism against you.” He asked as his eyes bored into me.
I sat there ashen-faced, blood had drained away from my face..How did he know? I had stashed a lot of money in a bank…but it was a secret, even Sahar had not known…And that case, it was true that I had generously borrowed the conclusion and other important information from a junior researcher at Toronto university…but I was working on the same technology simultaneously and would have reached to the same results eventually.
It was an important paper regarding extraction of Helium 3 on the moon and had lead myself to be recruited in Blue dot, and eventually to the moon. I desperately wanted to to be here, one has to take these chances!. Later there had been a bit of hue and cry about it but it settled down all of a sudden and I went on with my life.
” Look at you …Ghosts from the past have an uncanny habit of turning up at the most ill-opportune moment,” he remarked inexplicably, ” don’t look startled mon ami, I know everything about you.”
” Life has been generous to you – things always worked out for you in the end.. Didn’t they? Roads have been paved for you, obstacles removed,” Jean spoke in a calm manner, as he wiped his mouth then he sat back in the chair and looked at me with penetrating eyes, his face turned at an angle,” hmmm..And you have wondered..Oh! how you have wondered, that how, despite your mediocrity and criminal tendencies you have made to here… Haven’t you?”
I stared at him. He was uttering the thoughts buried deep inside my heart…privy to no-one..then how come he knew all this?
” I have watched you for a long time, I have observed you like an animal is observed in the zoo..behind it’s enclosure, every move, every action of the animal is observed,” he said venomously,” how do you think that case of plagiarism suddenly died away? How do you think you kept on siphoning money through the glitch in payment gateway in the accounts of blue dot without getting caught?”
“It was me Shri – all the way; I have nurtured you, nourished you. I knew you could cross the line of law if suitably provoked. It was an easy task to drop suitable hints to Sahar that De Jong had a soft spot for her, she was ambitious and practical, she knew you would always be stuck here or would go back to earth. De Jong was travelling to Mars and she wanted to be on that ship. Of course, De Jong was child’s play, he was my friend and an irrevocable philanderer…few words to him that Sahar wanted to be on his ‘good’ side and he warmed up to the idea! “
” Yes; it was me- the ‘spider’ at the centre of the web, in which you have been entangled for so long. Professor Moriarty himself would have been proud of me,” he rambled on in his musings as I looked on wide-eyed, ” Moriarty? Sherlock Holmes? Conan Doyle?… No? Nothing?” he paused for a moment as he looked at my blank face, ” Agh! Your generation! No idea about good literature… Never mind, It was a long time ago…back on earth,”
He suddenly chuckled,” By the way, what did you lovers talked about here – I love you to Mars and back!” and smacked his knee with his right hand.
” But we digress; ofcourse; I had never imagined that it would come to this! A scuffle, a minor scandal, few bruises and broken bones was what I was looking for- but you exceeded my expectations! Too bad about both of them though…Bah! What the heck.. Collateral damage.”
I lunged at him, screaming , wanting to tear his eyes from their sockets.
“You bastard! Because of you I killed Sahar and destroyed my life!”
He easily deflected me and I fell on the floor – defeated and deflated. Immediately two humanoids surrounded me.
“But why ? Why did you do all this? This might ruin everything! This colony, further progress…Mars! Don’t you care for anything?”
” Moon village can easily afford one crime, rather it is most unnatural not to have any crime in a human settlement.”
I was flabbergasted,” Just to prove this adage and to practice some policing you went to these lenghts?”
He looked at me for few seconds as if deciding something,” Nah! I am not that gullible.”
“Then why did you do you do it; you fool!” I was bursting with frustration and anger.
” Pateince was never your forte. You know how much a news like this is worth? The interest in moon village has been on the decline amongst general public for quite some time now,”
” What are you saying – everyday people here doing amazing things, each day new discoveries are being done,” I spoke heatedly
” And you think an average man cares for all this? He is bored stiff of your stuff. This is 2041 Shri, we have been here for about nine years now. It was a big deal at the beginning, still is; scientifically; but public is not bothered much about your everyday miracles now. Interest in space exploration is at its lowest at this point. Mars is some years away…We needed something big. Some news to spark interest again in the public.”
“Trouble was it was very quite and orderly here always… You see – Nothing ever happens here.”
“I will expose you! I will tell everything you have told me.” I screamed
“Be my guest – the murkier the news the better, all media moguls and houses have betted huge on this story. I am going to be rich beyond imagination my boy!”
” Anyway; who is going to believe you? I will deny everything- your word against mine, and you don’t have any credibility.”
” I do have something else though,” I felt the memory stick in my pocket, it was very reassuring, ” that could change your attitude; it’s worth is unimaginable, whole countries will be after it.”
” Ah yes! The near-earth asteroid which you accidentally discovered having abundance of platinium. Blue dot is already working on it – I gave them the tip. A sort of goodwill gesture in return for the help they extended in..Ahem!.. your case. Of course I will have a share of the pie. What! why are you looking at me like that?,” He rolled up his eyes and brought his face near to mine,” you have no secrets hidden from me.”
It was as if someone had kicked me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. There was nothing left now… Everything was lost..
He got up to leave and stretched his body,” I almost love you like a son, albeit, the one who has to be sacrificed. Your good luck ends here, future is black. You cannot go to earth and will rot here. I can do one thing for you – let the news roll along for few days, then it can be theoretically arranged, if you are willing, that due to a colossal error by these robotic guards you are able to run away from here and are able to go out of the village, in the open and, well; take off the helmet there.”
I was horrified at his suggestion and looked at him mortified.
” Come on…there is no other option and compared to the life in prison it will be a mercy, and a quick one too. Think about it – what a glorious headline it will be – ‘Jilted lover committs first suicide in space after killing his fiancee and the ‘other’ man on the moon! Dramatic scenes on the lunar surface.’ “
After he left, I mulled over his words and came to the painful conclusion that he was right – it will have to be done…Somehow, I will have to gather the courage to go through it. There was no other way.
From a little window, a patch of sky was visible and I could make out the outline of the constellation Taurus. The red giant Aldebaran shone brightly at one tip, stars here are brilliant, they don’t twinkle you see. I had always loved Aldebaran, used to watch it from our small house in Nashik. How far away from home I was! And how desolate…
Post script :- A good story is an extrapolation of life – human interactions, emotions and possible circumstances; and good science- fiction should be dipped in good science.
I have attempted to do both here. Moon village is coming up by 2030, if the efforts of Moon village association bear fruit. Moon village association is a consortium of many international space agencies, spearheaded by European space agency, and many private companies. Rim of Shackleton crater is one of the principal sites for its creation.
I have tried to write the story scientifically based on my research.
– The ‘Knee’dy Traveller.