The Shining Crescent
by Lou Antonelli
Two men walked along the beach, one holding the hand of a dark-haired boy who carried a plastic pail and shovel.
The boy’s bright eyes darted along the surf and sand. A few feet ahead, the water of the Persian Gulf rolled back to reveal a gray round seashell. The boy broke the grip of the older man and darted ahead.
The younger of the two men hissed at his companion. “I can’t believe you brought your son on this mission. Weren’t you enough of a hostage? Why use the boy as a human shield, also?”
“You don’t understand, Ulrich, that wasn’t my intent. If my efforts fail, and war breaks out, I want us to be together.”
Ulrich stared at the scientist and said quietly, “I see.”
The boy in his shorts crouched as he scooped his trophy from the frothy sand. He looked up and smiled at his father, who forced a smile back at him
Shahid Al-Mousherji talked to his colleague, still smiling at his son. “Right now, I couldn’t bear to be separated from Husnain.”
The boy stood up and ran back to his father. “Look, Papa, a sand dollar!”
Shahid took it from him and held it gently. “You washed off the sand, you are very meticulous!”
He gravely handed the shell back to his son. “You should be an engineer some day.”
Husnain smiled and looked into the blue plastic pail as he set his latest trophy down amidst the other shells and pretty pebbles.
“It is 60 minutes until negotiations start,” said Ulrich.
Shahid tousled his son’s hair. “Time to get back to the compound, little one, Papa needs to go to work.” He took Husnain’s hand.
“I’ll just walk to our room from here,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji to Ulrich, “and then straight to the plant. You go on directly.”
“Very well,” said Ulrich. “Please don’t be late.”
Shahid and Husnain walked up a path towards the parking lot, as and Ulrich turned and walked toward a sand dune.
From the top, he had a clear view of the nuclear power plant.
* * *
Hundreds of journalists from around the world milled about the parking lot of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. One cameraman has a large bullseye emblazoned on the back of his flak jacket as an aid to any incoming missiles, nuclear or otherwise.
A journalist spoke to the camera. “The Iranian Minister of Energy Mohammad Zavad Jarif said on Sunday that despite the high level of world tension, further talks are unlikely to result in any agreement regarding his nation’s controversial nuclear program.
“‘This round of talks will be as useless as the previous ones,’ Jarif said in remarks reported by the official IRNA news agency.
“He also said Iran’s defense issues, including its missile program, should not be discussed in negotiations regarding its nuclear energy development.”
“The United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany have banded together to pressure Iran over its ballistic missile program as part of a comprehensive deal.”
Inside the plant, Jarif scowled at Ulrich from across the table in the plant’s conference room. “Where is Mister Dr. Al-Mousherji?”
“Dr. Al-Mousherji will be here shortly, he returned his son his room, where his nanny can care for him,” said Herr Ulrich. “They were gathering sea shells. He’s lived in Texas seven years, ever since he was hired as chief engineer for the San Antonio desalination plant. His son has never seen the ocean or gathered seashells.”
The Iranian’s glare softened somewhat. “I’m gratified he is comfortable enough to bring his son,” he said. “But it is you, Mr. Ulrich, who represents the IAEA. I don’t understand why Dr. Al-Mousherji was sent as a ‘special envoy’, especially since he is an American citizen.”
“I will explain shortly,” said Ulrich as he turned in his chair. “Here he comes now.”
Dr. Al-Mousherji tossed his valise under the table, and sat down. “Gentlemen, please be seated. We have some important issues to discuss.”
Director Jarif bristled. “We only agreed to meet with IAEA representative after being threatened by your American president. You have no right to interfere—”
Ulrich slammed the table with his fist. The Iranians jumped.
“I didn’t come all the way from Vienna, and Dr. Al-Mousherji didn’t come all the way from Texas, to listen to your typical bluster. The U.S. knows you supplied, from inside this facility, the enriched fissile material that was recovered from the missile shot down over the Red Sea last week.
“Your government thinks the U.S. government is a — what was that phrase used by your president, ‘an oversized retarded big brother protecting the Zionist criminals’? Well, it was the American President who persuaded the Israeli premier not to retaliate. That’s why you have not already been vaporized.”
Jarif gulped. “I-I had no idea you had access to this information.”
“The cover story — that it was a test missile — was stupid enough. But this is the information age, and word is dribbling out about the fissile material that was recovered, material that was enriched right here in Bushehr.”
“It was a test missile that went off course,” said Jarif.
The German began to sputter. “Gott sei Dank, your detonator was Scheißdreck,” snarled Ulrich. “Right now the U.S. President may be your biggest friend in the world. Especially since all the major world powers are at DefCon 2. You are staving off retaliation for the time being,” he continued, “by agreeing to this International Atomic Energy Agency Summit. But if you have any idea of stalling us, forget it!”
Dr. Al-Mousherji spoke up. “We have an ultimatum to deliver. The U.S. and Israelis know how much material has been processed. Your agency is riddled with their spies. Account publicly for it, or it will be seized.”
“That would mean war,” growled Jarif.
“We’re almost there, anyway,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji.
“The United States has spy craft in the air with HERF projectors that will disable all your electronics-based technology,” said Ulrich. “Oh, after that little mishap last week, the Russians have agreed to give the U.S. a free hand with you.”
“I have no information of this,” said Jarif, as he looked over towards the representative of the Revolutionary Guard Central Committee.
The Revolutionary Guard official hesitated and then nodded.
Jarif sucked in his breath and glared at Ulrich. “You know full well we have more fissile material than needed for peaceful uses. What are you trying to do?”
Dr. Al-Mousherji spoke up. “To give you a way to save face.”
The Iranians exchanged glances amongst themselves.
“I have a proposal for new construction that will utilize all your enriched material,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji. “And solve a genuine problem at the same time.”
Dr. Al-Mousherji opened a packet and pulled out some yellowed documents. “Yes, I am an American, native-born, but my parents came from Kuwait and Jordan,” he said.
He looked the Iranian official in the eye. “Do you know why I became an engineer and have worked for years to build desalination plants? When I was a boy I listened to stories my father told me about how hard it was to get fresh water in Kuwait. Now, over the years, wealthier countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have built some desalination plants, but there is still a great unfulfilled need, a need that grows more dire every day, especially in the poorer nations, both large and small, such as Gaza, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and yes, here in Iran.”
“That is why, as I studied at university,” he continued. “My long-range goal was always to help build desalination plants in this region, and I’ve had the greatest training in America. Now I am ready to help you.”
Jarif looked puzzled. “This is all well and good, but what has this got to do with our enrichment program?”
“Right now, a quarter of desalination plants in the world use nuclear power for their multi-stage flash process,” said Ulrich. “When this plant was designed, in 1977, it was to have two desalination plants attached. The plans were dropped because of the long delay in restarting construction following your revolution, but we still had the original plans at our office in Vienna,” he said as he stabbed his finger towards the documents in front of Dr. Al-Mousherji.
“That was the original design of this plant,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji. “And now, with Allah’s help, we will build the desalination plants as originally proposed, but with the latest, up-to-date technology.”
Ulrich gestured at his companion. “Thanks to Dr. Al-Mousherji’s work as well as crucial research at facilities in India and Kazakhstan, we can now construct incredibly efficient plants that will run on this enriched fuel that you already have stockpiled, with some minor reprocessing.”
“You can keep all you have processed,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji, “and we can put it to a good use.”
“The American government is willing to fund construction of this and other plants across the region,” said Ulrich, “if they are fueled by diverted enriched material.”
“The President of the U.S. will match kilogram for kilogram the amount of enriched material contributed by any nation to an envisioned regional desalination authority, which I will lead on behalf of the IAEA,” said Dr. Al-Mousherji. “So which would you rather have, water or war?”
Jarif put his chin in his hand and stared hard across the table.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Lou Antonelli