Through the atmosphere beneath it, the central continent appeared in focus, deep green and dusty brown, a motley patch of jungle, deserts and quarries.
Off the western coast, oilrigs dotted the gulf in large clusters, camouflaged among the islands and rocky outcrops.
Lines of ships completed circular journeys from Zanzibar to the Eastern Chinese Republic’s Indian Subcontinent and the Arabian Provinces, unloading metal ore for processing, and crops, spices and dried meat for the refugee camps across the ECR.
Slaves had completed that same journey before, sea faring coastal tribes had made it to the Andaman Islands even earlier.
The technology had changed, but the journeys were the same.
Its sights focused on Gabon. Four plates pulled back from the bottom, encased into slots on the body of the machine. A red light built up inside the opening, looking down upon the jungles, and a tiny beam, barely the width of a penny, shot towards the ground.
The lesser male fled, his fledgling colors fading into the thick bush to the screams and threats of his wives.
His instincts told him it was time to move further south, that the bipeds should return, but it was their second migration through these jungles and the bipeds had not returned. The clan didn’t seem to mind or care, feasting on kola nuts in abundance.
He hadn’t seen such a large congregation of creatures around the small pond, not since he was young. With their departure the bipeds had allowed the jungle to come to life again.
His attention shifted across the pond. There was very little wind, but a pile of leaves spun lightly around something invisible in their center.
His eyes were getting old, soon a younger male would notice and try his luck again, and the females wouldn’t chase him away.
He climbed onto a large rock overlooking the pond, and in the middle of the leaves, he saw a tiny light, the size of a kola nut, rising into the sky.
The reed of red light grew the size of a large rock, drawing branches and small objects towards it. Three, intrigued baby boar approached the ray, and were suddenly swept off their paws by the maelstrom.
The light grew the size of a tree trunk. The water in the pond exploded in vapor a few feet away from it. He bounced back, bellowing at the clan to run for the forest.
The ground shook, the widening beam cutting through the soil and bed rock, melting and swallowing rare minerals and metals as it tore open more of the jungle’s heart.
His youngest were next, too small and too weak to resist the pull. One of his females bounced past him trying to get to her children and was caught up in the wind with barely a shriek.
The beam stopped expanding. The light grew thicker, richer, reaching from the ground into the clouds, with a deep ululation spreading through the trembling forest.
For an instant, he thought the beam had seen him.
He had never faced a beast like this. It had no eyes, no arms, but it reeked of evil intent and danger the same way the bipeds did.
He stared it down. The rest of the mandrill would reach safety, but he had only one fight left in him, and this was it.
He turned to his clan, curling his lips over his teeth, roaring at them until they fled, and turned to face the beam.
It hadn’t moved. It remained there, thickening, intent on fighting him for his clan, for his patch of jungle, for his life.
He climbed back on the rock, hardly resisting the pull of the growing tornado, planted his paws firmly against the stone, barred his teeth, bulged his muscles for one last pounce, let go of one last scream, and delved into the beam.
The baobab-sized ray snapped shut inside the orbiting satellite, its inner core glowing with the vaporized atoms of the Gabonese jungle.
A large dust cloud settled over the freshly mined portions of the continent, spreading over the coast and the Gulf of Guinea, veiling the scars on the surface.
The machine trembled, internal systems adjusting to the surge in radiation levels while an opening appeared on its side, producing an elongated tube. The red matter settled, and shot through the cannon, speeding east above the planet’s curve to a similar opening in its twin machine that shot it towards the ground.
The beam blasted through a thick layer of clouds, plunging into snowy peaks above a winding river, transmitting its contents to a subterranean laboratory in the Altai Mountains.
A beating, swirling mass, materialized inside a giant glass box; a rich red with traces of gold, wrecked by dark atoms of stone and crude, coagulating and separating in grinding blasts, never quite settling on a shape, changing with the random reconfiguration of atoms.
The container filled to capacity, and the substance spread to a dozen connected tanks, bathing the underground lab in nuances of magenta.
“Is it contained Rachida?!”
He didn’t bother feigning composure anymore. Too much depended on this. His technology. His work.
“Yes Dr. Wattanaporn, the readings are stable.”
He reached a hand towards the container. The blob paused in its gyrations, grew a jaw, then teeth, and snapped shut, continuing its rotation. There was anger to the matter, not quite life, but malevolence, a desperate and dangerous confusion.
“It’s very…reactive.” He said.
“Yes. There’s trace atoms of apes and other animals caught up in the valuables. Not quite sure what’s happening in there yet.”
“How much can be extracted for testing and how rapidly?”
“I don’t think testing is even necessary, I mean it is, but only because the readings are off the charts.” She gazed deeply into the reddish blob. “A drop of this could fuel a car for weeks, but it could also burn a hole to the Western Chinese Empire. It could change the tide of the war for the Republic completely, but unless we run further diagnostics, this could be as bad for us as the Empire and Han Industries.”
“Connect me to HQ. The CEO will want to hear this personally.”
He was alone now.
He had lost his clan, and climbed until there was no rock above the tree line, finding himself on a thin ridge atop the tallest tree, making his way up the branches with a liana.
He turned to where he’d last seen his mother and brothers, hoping that the altitude would reveal their movements; but the cloudy whiteness was losing ground to a ravenous monster, black and angry, changing the familiar sights and smells of the world.
Through the maelstrom, rich veins of open ground bled a steamy, orange and red liquid. He remembered the first time he had slipped from a branch, his arm slicing open against the bark and red ooze pouring from it. He had never slipped again.
The beast had only had one color, but it had shone brighter than any he’d ever seen. Blinding, rich, powerful…His father had stood. His father had leaped and vanished; his colors disappearing into the creature’s own.
The clouds started to dissolve; an unfamiliar sight raised the hair on his back, and he barred his teeth.
Around the rivulets of red, there was no green, no healthy brown soil.
He had seen the bipeds feast on his smaller cousins, their burnt skin cracking and dripping with pungent juices.
The hills were gone. The forest was gone. A crackled black mass steamed and oozed instead.
And still, no sign of his clan; his mother nor his brothers.
The beast had roared and torn and pulled itself into the sky, shrinking to the size of an eye and vanishing, taking with it all that he had known.
He floated through the crimson void. Sometimes he was one with the others, the animals and the stone, but he was always him.
His consciousness expanded. The gyrating blob grew a nose, eyes, two sharp teeth and a jaw roaring with the tectonic grinding of stones and the fury of lesser animals.
In each of the giant containers the red matter made the same face, screaming with the same intensity, and melted again.
He had no body, but some of his wives and children floated there with him, they would never see his colors fade and his eyes go blind. They lent him strength, he couldn’t free himself, but he was getting stronger. Anytime now, and the substance, the whole of it, would be him.
Perhaps he was still a mandrill, perhaps more. He had felt space, he had felt being decomposed and rebuilt anew.
He couldn’t free himself from the beast, but that didn’t matter. Soon he would be the beast, soon he would learn to read the bipeds, and very soon, he would bite.
Post image Art Gallery ErgsArt – by ErgS via Flickr
About the Author:
Mame Bougouma Diene is a French-Senegalese American humanitarian who as no idea where he will be by the time you read this, if you ever do. He has a fondness for progressive metal, tattoos and policy analysis. He is published in Omenana, Brittle Paper, Short Story Day Africa, Edilivres (French), AfroSFv2 (Storytime), Myriad Lands (Guardbridge Books), and has stories upcoming with New English Press, Fox Spirit and Galaxies Magazine (French).