Ambreen Uduak couldn’t shake her doubts away.
As her car glided itself down the bustling highway, Ambreen felt grateful for the autopilot. After the large lobster and chatty dinner conference she endured, a soft bed looked inviting. Sadly, a bed wasn’t the initial thought on her mind, not tonight.
“Ambreen Uduak, you are now a famous woman,” an Egyptian governor spoke between bites. “Ms. Uduak, congratulations and good luck on tomorrow,” said a smiling ambassador. “I hope the launch will be successful. The Federation, ISEC, and countless others are counting on it,” another told her, nodding. “No pressure of course.”
How optimistic, she thought, sighing as freeways and random cars zoomed past. Staring at her shoes, Ambreen couldn’t help but frown, for a man who isn’t risking his life.
In the blink of an eye, Ambreen found herself in her hotel room, a simple one-bedroom suite complete with a deluxe package and a large bathroom. Placing her purse on the bedside counter, she stepped out of her shoes and undressed for a quick shower, washing out her thick dreadlocks before letting them dry along her shoulders.
Now feeling claustrophobic in her nightgown, Ambreen stared outside the window across her room and remembered how beautiful Nairobi shone long after sundown. After living here for several years, the intimidating, neon skyline never ceased to amaze her, and tonight was no exception. She needed to relax tonight, sleep well and prepare for the next few days. Despite faraway sirens and the humid air, Ambreen began feeling calmer.
Yet, the serenity turned sour when she saw The Ascendance standing tall on the horizon. “Shut it,” she yanked the drapes closed and leaned against the bed. “You’ve gone through everything and nothing went wrong with construction.” Aside from religious protesters. “Just…calm down.” Exhaling, Ambreen sat on the bed with clenched hands. She needed to clear her head before going to sleep, and decided to watch something, anything, on her room’s Holo-TV.
As expected, the evening news spoke about how cruddy the world had become, an occasional scandal or an expected disaster–man-made or natural–followed by a one-hour special on The Ascendance. Unfortunately, that’s all she could see at each hotel-offered channel she skimmed. One narrator discussed details released to the public, another informed viewers on African Federation history, and a political commentator preached about her baby being a cause of international controversy.
“–Federation’s space elevator is said to be the tallest, most expensive man-made structure in decades, stretching approximately 36,000 km and composed of anasium nanotubes made by one Dr. Ambreen Uduak, also costing–”
“–carnage of WWIII, African nations banded together to rebuild–”
“–Federation’s getting flak thanks to some broad and her team, who act like they ‘just want humankind to reach a new era of space travel’. None of that is true. I think she’s–”
Irritated, Ambreen changed to a music channel. “This is why I hate news stations with opinions,” she sighed with mixed annoyance. There were two things she despised, and one of them was being mocked instead of critiqued. However, the other thing she hated was her current dilemma.
Hearing a buzzing noise by her side, Ambreen promptly checked her phone. “Ambreen here,” she answered on speaker, feigning indifference.
“Ambreen,” a deep voice greeted, another saying, “Hello?”
She sprung from the bed. “Mama? Papa?”
“I hope it’s not too late over there, my pikin?” her father asked, sheepish. “Your mother and I know how busy—”
“Of course not,” she injected, glancing at the time. “I have time, and it’s been too long.”
The last time Ambreen had spoken to them was months ago, back when she was at a conference. Living and breathing in their late seventies, Deonte and Ife Uduak were traditional parents who used to question their daughter’s ambitions. And since they became grandparents years ago, Ambreen’s big brother became the focus of their pestering. Still, it felt nice to hear their voices again.
“How is Akinlabi? I hear the U.S. is hot this time of year.”
“Even more so than here?” her mother giggled. “Doubtful. Akinlabi is fine from what we hear, and children are children nowadays.”
“Hey Ambreen?” her father asked after some awkward silence. “We’ve been watching the news, and hear the elevator you’ve been building all these years is complete. And you’re one of its first passengers. How do you feel?”
The moment he mentioned The Ascendance, Ambreen paused. “I…I feel well, Papa,” she tried not to lie.
“You sure?” he inquired.
“Is there something on your mind?” her mother added. “You sound…off, sweetie. And the next few days are important, right? So what is it?”
Ambreen sighed. Her parents didn’t know her terminology, but they weren’t blind or deaf. If anything, their ability to read her mind heightened as they got older.
“Ambreen,” her father, still stubborn and sounding irritated, asked again, “are you being honest with us here, or is this classified?”
Frozen, Ambreen glanced to the closed drapes and imagined The Ascendance beyond Nairobi’s skyline. Tonight, she wanted to forget her troubles, and keep to herself until tomorrow. Unfortunately, she knew that’d be impossible, and her parents weren’t going to hang up unless she told them.
“No,” she spoke with a refreshing groan, “I’m…not fine.”
Half an hour later, without saying anything classified enough to get her arrested, Ambreen let everything off her chest. She explained to her mother and father about how she felt when discovering the strength of anansium (a new alloy), which led to her design’s first draft being accepted by ISEC, former NASA and Federation engineers. And when grueling construction began on the superstructure, Ambreen remembered each day as The Ascendance, her baby, slowly grew into the sky. However, she told her parents that as her accomplishments and praise increased year after year, her confidence in its success shrank. She tried ignoring her doubt, but it never vanished. It lingered in her, that aching sliver that ate at the back of her skull as she talked to her crew, interviewed astronauts and watched over the massive construction.
“So,” Ambreen concluded, “tomorrow I have to move to the Nairobi Anchor Base, and spend the whole day preparing for my first ‘launch’. Then the following morning, I place myself and a dozen others inside a shuttle and climb 67.5 hours up The Ascendance until we reach geostationary orbit two-dozen kilometers above the Earth, and I don’t know if everything will work out. I know it should work, but then there’s so many variables that could…go wrong.”
Breathing in and out, Ambreen’s composure faltered while staring at her phone. It felt welcoming to be honest with someone about this, and it lifted a weight off her mind.
“Ambreen,” her mother spoke after a moment of silence. “Remember that Shakespeare play you were in back at college? It was years ago, but there was a line that I choose never to forget.” She cleared her throat. “‘Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we often might–’”
“‘–win by fearing to attempt’,” Ambreen finished for her. Blinking at the nostalgia, she sighed in amusement. “I remember; I was busy with my classes and forgot half my lines.” She laughed.
In the background static, her father cleared his throat. “Ambreen, we’ve watched you grow up so fast, and here is our baby girl going to make history,” he paused. “I know you, and you’re too stubborn to fail. In school, in college, in that play, and even when riding your first bike, you didn’t give up.”
“This isn’t like me riding a bike Papa,” Ambreen spoke up, “because unlike a bike, I don’t know if I could ever lift it back up after one crash.”
“Exactly,” he persisted. “You never doubted your results. So do your father a favor and stop doubting yourself. I may not be building an elevator into space, but…” He paused, asking his wife on the other end, “How long has she been working on this?”
“–after building for thirty-four years, I personally know it’d work.”
Two days later, that conversation traveled through Ambreen’s thoughts as she prepared to take the ultimate jump to the stars. Fitted in her spacesuit, she grabbed her seat and waited for the final countdown sequence to begin.
“Ascendance SE-996 is clear for launch in T minus sixty seconds.”
Alongside her crewmates, she glanced to the Nairobi skyline shining in the distance, and down to the massive crowd gathered below. They cheered like thunder for the elevator’s first launch, and Ambreen could taste their excitement as well. In less than three days, she’d be staring down to Earth atop The Ascendance.
As the countdown grew closer, Ambreen clasped her hands on the armrests and focused, a smile creeping on her face. She’d been working on this superstructure for over thirty years. She knew every meter and every wire. It would work.
Ambreen Uduak knew she was prepared to make history.