4 October 2019 / Fiction Out of the Dark Continent: Chapter 1 In boarding school at Eton, I read with unabated enthusiasm the memoirs of that great - white legend, Livingstone, seeing in his struggle and journey the path down which I, too, hoped to one day intrepidly travel. With enlivened imagination, I read of his final search for the fountains of Herodotus, the source of the Nile, believed by some to be the fountain of youth itself. What drives a man to venture deeper into the wild, deeper into himself, away from all civilization, the death of his wife and many friends notwithstanding? Whatever it was that drove him, I searched through his memoirs to find the answers of that adventurer to my own Sturm und Drang, hoping to see some truth in the old imperialist's loving description of the people whom he so belittled and pitied. This occurred, of course, before my own loss of faith, the happenstance of which occurred far later than many of my compatriots, who, steeped in the regalia of the Church of England, needed only the monotone drones of a pale rector in some countryside parish to convince them of the infinitely superior respectability of Darwin to Henry the VIII. For we of the isles, Faith always deemed the English lion as its chief defender and succour in a world of savages and heathenism. As a nation, the final nail in that idealism was driven home in the heedless bombing of German cities, the damning of centuries of culture, condemning it to the flames of napalm and the judgement of a loving Saviour.For me, the final nail in the coffin of faith came upon hearing of the crimes of a Rwandan Catholic priest during the ill-fated events of 1994; it came upon hearing of his complicity and cowardice, possibly even disguised ressentiment in allowing his own church to be bull-dozed by Hutu génocidaires and their civilian counterparts, while some 400 Tutsi hid inside for refuge in the arms of their Church and their God. Those who tried to escape the collapsing structure were purportedly shot, if supremely blessed, and, if not, were pursued on foot until surrounded by a crowd of machete-wielding Hutu.Behold the Species, ever in flux, ever-improving, ever jettisoning unwanted DNA to the winds of biology in its eons of history!After such immense slaughter, Rwanda sat like a pot whose contents had recently boiled over, spilling on the oven and rising from it in effervescent steam, still hot and broiling, ready to overflow once more, given the proper recourse for action. This was the Rwanda to which we flew, landing in the Kigali airport, the same airport to which the beleaguered Rwandan president had been en route when his plane was shot down, lighting the fires of human hatred and setting Rwanda ablaze. This purportedly caused the genocidal aftermath of 1994; this was and is the Western story: the projection we use to render these events rational to our sensibilities, wrapped in the garb of a New World Order, the Pax Humana if you will. How soon stories fail to approach the dark depths of human consciousness! What was that old saying? Wars and rumours of wars? And we claim peace?As the plane drew ever nearer to the hovels of Kigali, slowly circling like some great albatross in its highest climes, I looked down on dense jungle, through which the occasional dirt road made its way, while in the distance loomed the aspect of Mount Bigugu, the landmark, hidden deep in the Nyungwe Forest, to which our expedition would make its way after a few days in the city acquiring the proper permits and guides. Surrounding the mount's authoritative cliffs like hordes of Mongols was the thick forestry of Nyungwe. Here it was that the creature revealed itself; here, in one of the last places on earth suitable to sustain the advancement of the Species, the Nyungwe Rainforest held secrets, countless unknown species, and dark corners which no living man espied as of yet. How my blood began to boil as I gazed as deeply as I could into its dark interior, hoping to see something besides the troops of chimps hurtling across the branches of the upper canopy, fleeing from the roaring wind of our approach.Speaking to the other Westerners in their ignorance had long since lost its charm, as had watching King Kong destroy New York and civilization with his grotesque animalism. Now, I looked down into that jungle and dreamt of the fountainhead of the White Nile, which tribal legend still placed somewhere in Rwanda, beyond human reach or knowledge. Perhaps I could add its discovery to my list of accomplishments while here in Rwanda? I quickly dismissed such thoughts as foolishness; Man must let world-changing discoveries happen one-at-a-time.Any reverie quickly fled as we bumped to a landing."Did someone bring the pilot a Pimms?", Devon Danielson, my favorite student and now research-assistant-gone-porter, jocundly declared.He was a quintessentially rich, well-educated, turn-of-the-century lad, full of enthusiasm for democracy, world peace, the abolition of world hunger, and other such rot. I deemed him advanced enough in school and in my own affections to be worthy of his own assistant, Ms. Valerie Rothschild, a lass from Germany come to England to learn of science and join the burgeoning ranks of female greats in the halls of success. Twenty years ago, she and Danielson would have definitely slept together, but their "enlightenment" prevented them from such pleasurable trysts d'amour, Rothschild firmly stating her utter dedication to the mission and task-at-hand.Dr. Bradley Vernon and Dr. Jane Partridge were the other professional members of the entourage I had assembled. Hindsight allows me to admit that both of them were somewhat less than qualified for this mission, to a degree that would cause me regret if we had not been successful at last. Vernon, a somewhat portly board school professor had written an absolutely stunning new biography of Darwin, which had pleased me so much that I simply had to have him along. At his request, Partridge, a pert and lively younger teacher of the sciences at his board school, the name of which escapes me, came along with him, to the great dismay of Vernon's wife. So goes the Species!We continued to slow in our pace on the runway, and, finally, through the dusty haze of sand, we caught our first full glimpse of Kigali in its grandeur. The vivacity of the youthful members of our crew quickly quieted at the travesty before them: buildings mostly of mud and brush, the occasional brick escarpment, and, ominously, the occasional burnt-out shell of a building which no doubt once held a couple hundred terrified Tutsi."My God..." Danielson intoned mournfully.Vernon wrapped his arm around Ms. Partridge with paternalistic care. I felt the bile rising in my throat at the unnecessary breach of professionalism."Tut, tut now, gents and ladies! The Rwandese will be most insulted by your shows of emotionalism. Danielson, my bags please!""Right away, Dr. More!""Dr. More, some associates of Dr. Barton will meet us on the landing strip to drive us to the UNAMIR compound. The briefing will be held in conference room A at 1700 hours," announced Amory Brodeur, the U.N.'s French representative sent along to hound us endlessly, as he ashed his cigarette."Excellent, Brodeur. Is there any place to acquire a sandwich or sausage to steel our nerves for this great meeting of the minds?" Brodeur looked obviously annoyed. I frowned to assure him the feeling was mutual. With illustrious French condescension, he responded, "If you find it uncomfortable to wait till 1700, the locals have opened a market a few hundred meters away from the airfield. No doubt the food is substantive and free of disease."Danielson laughed. I silenced him with a glance."Come now, my dear Brodeur, such contempt does no good for my associates, who must withstand nights in the jungle with naught but dried food and warm water. I merely seek to ensure their care before the great trial."Brodeur said nothing but simply stood to retrieve his own portage from the overhead cabinets. The dust obscuring the city now fully cleared from the windows, we clearly saw a crowd of locals assembling around the airstrip, barely held back by Rwandan Patriotic Army gendarmes, clad in coats and trousers of green splotched with brown, AK-47's slung across their backs. The crowd milled about, endlessly curious about the new arrivals descending from the great steel bird come to their city. A jeep slowly made its way through the masses, a few gendarmes pushing aside the crowd to allow it to pass."Is it true that civilians took part in the slaughter of the Tutsi?" Rothschild asked with overwrought horror."Yes, with machetes," I responded quickly, "no doubt urged on by more than a few of those Hutu gendarmes. Come now. Brodeur moves ahead with posthaste." I barely took notice of Rothschild as she turned pale, looking to Danielson with disgust.Brodeur made his way to the front of the line, pushing aside some of the other passengers, followed by Danielson with my bags and myself, with Dr. Vernon et al. following along behind. We slowly made our way down the portable staircase which a few gendarmes had kindly rolled up to the plane, instantly feeling the buffeting winds and the sand against our cheeks. Danielson held his hand to his face to shield his eyes from the wafts of sand and dirt from the runway. Meanwhile, the jeep, carrying what appeared to be a rugged fellow of Australian persuasion, approached with roaring speed upon clearing the crowd, squealing to a stop in front of us. The fellow within was entirely livid with energy."Hallo there, Eurofolk! Climb aboard Her Majesty's greatest means of transportation in this God-forsaken country," he said without any bitterness, a broad grin spreading across his face."Careful, good fellow, or the dust will darken that white smile of yours!" Dr. Vernon said with some reticence, attempting to shield Ms. Partridge's hair from the dust, it having recently been teased to his liking. We climbed aboard the Jeep; I sat up-front next to the Australian, while Vernon and Partridge sat behind. Danielson perched dutifully on the rearward hinges, holding on like a squirrel to a tree in a Northeaster.Ahead, the RPA gendarmes shouted loudly and waved their hands, signaling the crowd to move aside, and off we went with a startling jolt at the same uproarious speed with which the fellow had arrived.At this point any stragglers slow to follow command in the crowd had to leap aside to avoid the oncoming vehicle, and I had scarcely a chance to glimpse a face, with the exception of one fellow who perfectly timed a leap, jumping onto the rearward hinges next to Danielson for some time, yelling loudly into his hear, waving his hands around attempting to get the poor lad's response. Danielson merely shrugged his shoulders, unsure of what to say to the chap. The Australian took no notice, but continually smiled.Careening around turns and screeching to a stop, we arrived at the UNAMIR compound far sooner than expected. Kigali was by no means a large city, and the U.N. maintained a presence close to the airstrip in the event that a swift E VAC became necessary. Vernon finally felt safe to not clutch his chest, and Danielson leapt off the rear with some dizziness evident in his gait. A chain-link fence, guarded by a few French and Belgian troops, was swiftly opened for us and the Australian's vehicle to enter."Well, mate, are you gonna come in straightaway or walk about a bit?"Vernon answered for the entourage, "We will come in right away Mr.?""Bruce Shelby." Vernon smiled that genteel old smile, "Thank you, Mr. Shelby!""Mr. Shelby, despite your attempts to murder us on the way here, I feel well enough to walk about a bit," I said with the tiniest pinch of dry humor and a large helping of chastisement."Suit y'self, mate."So it was that the dusty tracts of Kigali expanded before me. The wind continued to pick up, seemingly from nowhere, as dark clouds began to gather on the horizon, assembling darkly around Mount Bigugu, advancing over the canopy of Nyungwe's dense forestry like the blitzkrieg doubtlessly advanced across the fields of France, trapping a few lonely Brits at Dunkirk. At times, the moroseness of my thoughts brought me a level of comedy. I enjoyed wheeling them out for myself, watching what form they would take next. Such is the laughter of fools. I walked next to a row of abandoned buildings near the compound, their windows shattered, their roofs blown out, and doors either shuttered or swinging ominously in the mounting breeze, clacking against stone and mud with unchained rhythm.Being a scientist, curiosity never failed to lead me places I had no business visiting, but the absence of any cautionary signage lead me to believe these buildings were open to entry. I pushed aside one of the rickety wooden doors that danced and clacked back and forth in the wind, and once inside the hollowed-out structure, I gazed up to an open sky, where a roof of brush and timber had no doubt once kept out the elements preparing to deluge the city. The view above presented a strange mixture of pure blue, and blackish-gray, like Nature's attempt at the Taoist yin-yang. Finally, my eyes drifted downwards towards the interior walls of the structure, which were covered in black ash and dried tar, and, dotted here and there, were hundreds, maybe thousands, of white splotches streaking through the ash and tar: to my revulsion, what appeared to be hand-prints, some reaching nearly to the roof, hundreds of handprints, the last remnant of panic-stricken Tutsi, with no place left to go. The floor looked like the black volcanic beach of some waste-land; no signs of previous life rose from it."You sah!" I jumped out of my skin."You sah! Leave now!" A tall, elegant looking African with a prominent nose and fiery eyes stood in the entry-way, pointing like Death himself for me to return to the compound. I obliged.Heavy water droplets began to fall one at a time as I approached the glass doors of the stand-alone building dedicated to assisting the Rwandan recovery. In any Western city, this portable structure might have received derision and barely a second's notice from a passer-by, but here, it appeared as the height of luxury with its reinforced walls of plain concrete, gray and bland, guards positioned on the roof with rifles, a lonely French and Belgian flag whipping about in the gathering breeze. I entered the men's restroom to freshen my appearance before the meeting at 1700 and found with great surprise the impassioned forms of Danielson and Rothschild on the floor, in full embrace, kissing one another passionately."Damn it all, Danielson! Whatever happened to the maintenance of professionalism and dedication to the Species and all of that business?"He leapt to his feet with flushed embarrassment."I'm sorry sir – from your lectures I took this to be a commitment to the Species," and he said it without a hint of humor, the poor lad. I sighed and turned away to the mirror to settle my hair while Rothschild and Danielson replaced their disheveled clothes and exited the room together. Now the rain began to pound upon the stone roof in low, dull tones, drowning out all thought, lulling me into that calmness in which I always approached meetings in those days. My reflection was care-worn, old and gray, bearing some of its original rugged attraction, but my eyes showed the story most of all: the nights alone at work, the years of pouring everything within into the minds of tomorrow, the dedication to the Species. For me, there was never any higher aim or use for my weary consciousness, my careworn face, or my deteriorating body; no higher action but that sacrifice which builds the Race to its highest potential, lest it too flees to the biological winds of Fate. So goes the Species.I left the restroom with an instantaneous movement of coiled muscle and walked swiftly to Conference Room A, where I unbuttoned my suit coat and sat at one of the plush leather chairs, one which had been labeled with my name and title, prepared for my arrival. A glass of clear mineral water sat to my right, a translation module in front, and to my left, the full length of the table extending to the other end of the room where a canvas was unfurled, on which was projected the name of the Creature in Question: Homo Jaksteris. Naught but its ill-fated name emblazoned that canvas, for, as of yet, no photos or depictions could illumine the mystery of its contours. Danielson arrived with a huff, seated himself to my right, and wiped the sweat from his brow, allowing his flushed face to return to its usual paleness. Rothschild followed behind but seated herself across from us at the other side of the table, her shirt recently changed. I did my best to ignore them both.Dr. Vernon and his lackey arrived and seated themselves in the same fashion, Vernon to my left and Partridge across from us. I was pleased that they at least attempted to appear professional in public. As one, the team of scientists lead by Dr. Barton entered the room and seated themselves, with Barton following along behind them all.While at Eton, Barton and I had struck up a resonant friendship, complete with nights out-of-doors on the green courting the attention of the female students, alcohol smuggled in through the topmost window, and cigarettes on the stairs behind the rectory. He left behind that manner of life sooner than I, dedicating himself to the study of the fossil record in all of its eons of history. His decision made it quite plain to me that the study of anything Darwinian would be a worthy pursuit, for he was and always had been a worthy man in my estimation. While he studied the earth, I studied blood and flesh. What a team we might've made, if the Continent hadn't swallowed that, too."Ladies and gentlemen, it is with supreme pleasure that I stand before you today."He smiled that broad smile reminiscent of the Australian from the Jeep. After a few initial pleasantries and the introduction of the respective teams assembled, we began the meeting in earnest. "The Creature, homo jaksteris, as I have chosen to call it till a better name present itself, was last sighted in the confines of Nyungwe Forest. Our contact, Mbunte, a village chieftain, reported it howling on the edge of his village, and knowing our desire to see it and study it, informed our U.N. contacts yesterday morning. Thus, our expedition must begin in the area surrounding the village of....I'm sorry, its name has yet to be translated into any name pronounceable in English. Forgive me this oversight!" The assemblage laughed; my team smiled politely. "Least-ways, let it be known that our expedition makes history..."The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin-drop, or at least that is the American expression. "We go into the depths of darkest Africa, here, at the turn of the millennium, with the hope of giving humanity the truth. We leave before daybreak tomorrow; the jeeps will be ready at the entrance to the compound. On reaching the forest, those of us essential to the scientific study will go on alone by foot into the bush, where the evidence, a score of sleepless nights, and adventure await. I know I'm not the only one who loves my job."A few knowing chuckles rose here and there."Gird your loins, my friends, and prepare your minds, for this too is evolution!I know it in my heart that we shall never again exclaim with Kurtz or any of humanity those dreaded words:"The horror, the horror!"...for to such an end we have labored."All smiled; some laughed. Others wept.