Author: DJ Lunan
“I supply water just like my ancestors did”, discloses Chinza in quiet but precise home-world English.
Mkoe’s always returns to this sole recording of Chinza, even though he’d died of cholera on Earth over one hundred years before her birth on Neptune. She took immense solace from their parallel lives during her solo voyage on a borrowed watership transporting compressed hydrogen and oxygen cells over fifteen light-years to the ‘blossom economies’ of the Merged Kingdoms of Xipo.
Mkoe scrutinizes her great-great grandfather’s holographic image captured forever thanks to a short news item on ‘Climate change impacts on Lake Chad’. His sunburnt skin is dried and aged. His inexperience speaking to a news camera is clear, as he stands humbly, nervous, clutching his distressed straw hat, toying with its fraying ends, his fingers permanently curved from hours relentlessly opening and tightening taps on water barrels. Chinza is undoubtedly hoping to finish his filming ordeal, slink back to his water-cart, and continue supplying rural homesteads with the illusion of health and cleanliness, with fresh unadulterated stream water.
Mkoe needs his guidance: an unidentified modified cruiseship had been tailing her watership for three days. It was almost one hundred times larger, and capable of maintaining a constant pursuit speed near her watership’s speed threshold. And now it was closing fast.
Chinza’s patronage spans time and space. He’d inspired her to negotiate her way out of tougher situations than this. This challenge was new. Mkoe must formulate a strategy fast.
“How does a lone entrepreneur cross great lawless tracts of land and space with a precious cargo without conflict or harm? How did you survive?”, she ponders.
Mkoe knows Chinza needs to be adept at fending off the armed gangs on the arid savannah of Chad. His donkey-and-cart could outrun a gang on foot, but if they chased with any form of mechanised transport he’d lose the race, and likely his payload.
Chinza laughs as an unheard question is posed, “Sometimes we have challenges, eh? It’s hot, the cart breaks, my donkey gets sick, the water leaks, but people – most people – are grateful, they respect me and pay me so I will come back tomorrow”.
She knew the people he was referring to: bandits and gangs who roam the drylands, profiting from solitude and scarcity. Chinza, like Mkoe, has no insurance, no backup. Just their smarts.
The cruiseship pulls alongside, its scale exuding silent menace, blocking the weak rays of the twin suns, plunging Mkoe’s deck into darkness. She can see their two comms systems striving to handshake.
“Evening sailors!”, comes the cruiseship’s sarcastic hail echoing around Mkoe and Chinza, “Looks like we will have to relieve you two of your chems, so you can zip off back to Neptune. Please acknowledge your acquiescence”.
Mkoe whispers, “They are watching us, Chinza! They see you!”
“Everybody just wants the water”, finishes Chinza putting on his hat, tightened the taps, mounting his cart and signalling to his donkey to depart.
Mkoe whisphers, “Thanks Chinza”, places the watership in neutral hover, flicks two red switches, and ‘Confirm Deepspace Dumping?’ displays in flashing red.
“I can outrun them without my payload, eh Chinza!”, she laughs.
“Sailor, don’t do that!”, screams the cruiseship, “we both lose and we’ll shoot your craft….”
“I supply water just like my ancestors did”, shouts Mkoe, mimicking her Chadian forebear’s first-world accent.
As she clicks ‘Confirm’, twin taps open, the cells eject billions of tonnes of pure hydrogen and oxygen into space, boiling as water and igniting as hydrogen peroxide, while propelling the watership into deepest space, far away from the bandit cruiseship shrouded in sparkling space-mist.