Nick Wood and Tade Thompson

The Last Pantheon, part 2

Chapter Six

South Africa

Black-Power wrapped his cape around him, feeling all the more fearsome for it.
          The two men facing him didn’t take their cues, one clicking the safety off his pistol, the other steadying his automatic rifle.
          He waved Thembeka behind him, so that she was completely hidden behind his massive bulk.
          “Please let me through,” he asked politely.
          “Or what?” laughed the man with the loaded pistol.
          Black-Power hit them both with the same punch, a left hook Joe Frazier had once taught him, drilling both men into the wall with sickening thuds.
          With a further flamboyant flourish, he kicked the barricaded door bursting it into flying shrapnel shards of wood from his explosive foot.
          People turned and gawped at them from inside the large hangar, mostly busy carrying loads of chemicals between vats; several men swung automatic rifles towards them.
          Six men, to be precise, thought Black-Power dryly, before exploding into action.
          He took all six men out of action in less than thirty seconds.
          The seventeen others dropped what they were doing and cowered against the far wall.
          Too easy, he thought, I need a real test… I need the Pan-African.
          Lost in thought, Black-Power failed to notice a large man enter the room through a door opposite them, a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher locked and loaded on his left shoulder, which he swung around, but it was too late.
          The man fell and curled over, dead. The RPG launcher bounced once on the floor, but did not explode.
          Slowly, Black-Power turned to the woman standing next to him, who was lowering a pistol she had picked up earlier.
          “I find the heart an easier target than the head,” said Thembeka.
          Black-Power felt his own heart lurch a little, his head no longer lost in a forthcoming duel with Pan-African.
          Or, indeed, quite so full of that smooth, beautiful interviewer he’d recognised of old, Elizabeth Kokoro.
          “Let’s call the drugs and toxicology units in,” Thembeka said.
          Black-Power felt his rage grow, as he wondered along shelves bubbling with fluids fuelled by caskets of rat poison, methamphetamine, and boxes of anti-retroviral medication.
          Pan-African was wrong. He has—and could still—help this world to be a better place.
          Like he had; back in ’76.

He had not predicted the death of Hector Pieterson. Indeed, June 16th had come as a huge shock to him. His contacts had warned of growing discontentment from many, but his contacts were mature men, out of touch with the youngsters of today and the real levels of rage.
          Furious youngsters these were, who did not want to learn the language of the oppressor, Afrikaans.
          Soon enough on that day, their youthful protests had turned into smoke, teargas, bullets and blood.
          Black-Power stood sombrely on a field nearby, watching, as a white unit of the South African Defence Force gathered with a fleet of military vehicles. They had been called in to support the police, who were running, shooting, and sjambokking youngsters, further away, just outside Phefeni Junior Secondary School in Soweto, their actions misted by teargas and smoke from many fires.
          The screams of the schoolchildren had already curdled his blood enough. It took all of his immense will to stop himself launching into the police to halt the mayhem.
          A brigadier was briefing his troops.
          This, he could stop.
          With a few giant strides he was almost amongst them.
          Rifles clattered, raised.
          The brigadier, moustached and with thick sideburns, turned to him with a pallid face, “You will not stop us, Black-Power.”
          Black-Power spat on the ground in front of him. “You will not do any more. The police have done more than enough.”
          The brigadier gave a thin smile and waved to the ranks, which parted.
          A man stepped through, close to seven foot of rippling muscle and sinew, his bare and naked chest like a pinkish barrel above his camouflaged trousers and brown leather boots. Tattooed in black on his chest were the words: ‘Super-Boer’.
          He was blond and bland, a giant of a man who would have made Hitler proud.
          The brigadier snickered: “We have bred our own super-hero, Weapon Z, with the right balance of steroids and other hormones. Super-Boer can lift a car, you know.”
          “Oh,” said Black-Power, “Well, I’m impressed.”
          He hit the blond giant then, a right jab into the midriff.
          The man’s breath escaped in a long whooosshhh of pain and he slowly crumpled in on himself, as his breath almost deserted his body.
          Black-Power knew he would not get up.
          “This stops now,” he said.
          The brigadier stepped back as rifles were levelled at Black-Power behind him.
          Black-Power flicked his cape in readiness.
          Smoke and fading screams drifted across them. Black-Power felt his eyes sting, but kept his gaze steady, his body poised to fight.
          The brigadier coughed into a handkerchief, “Okay, okay, you win. We will call off this particular operation, but…”
          Black-Power waited tensely for the condition.
          “…You will consider a sum to keep yourself in check.”
          “You will pay me not to act?”
          “Sekerlik,” the man said, swallowing, “for sure.”
          Black-Power hesitated. Perhaps now was the time to sweep aside the last bastion of colonialism, allied as it was to a particularly ugly ideological racism.
          But that bloodshed would be huge indeed.
He could conceivably do more, quietly, behind the scenes.
          “Private untraceable anonymous account,” he said, feeling sick and as if he’d sold his soul to Satan, “…and you close the Weapon Z programme.”
          The troops were heading back to their vehicles—the brigadier hesitated, nodded and left.
          Black-Power turned to race across the field to help the injured and dying schoolchildren.
          He had surely stopped a complete and final bloodbath.
          But at what cost?
          “Tope would never let me hear the end of this, should he know about this deal,” he thought, cradling a young girl’s head, feeling for a pulse.
          There was none.
          He choked in grief and horror.
          Her face was twisted in death-pain, bloodied, wet from tear-gassed tears; her school uniform torn and smelling of blood and ash.
          He cried too.
          What will mamma and tata say and feel? Tope must never find out.
          But as for the Soweto uprising, this was only just the beginning…
          And so Black-Power became the call, eventually finding a fatal focus in Steve Bantu Biko.
          As for me, he thought, as he drifted through the decades back to the present, I remain enduringly alive and increasingly tired of living.

Detective Sipho Cele scrolled through pictures of Elizabeth Kokoro on his phone.
          He found them interesting, captivating, a distraction from work and his incessant pain.
          They’d cleaned out the Super-Tik factory, but four more had spawned subsequently.
          The work of a super-hero is never done, he thought absently, marvelling at how well Kokoro had aged over the decades.
          He was suddenly aware of Thembeka standing behind him. “She’s not bad looking for an old bitch,” she said.
          Sipho swivelled and scowled in his chair.
          “It’s not what you think,” he said.
          She laughed and went back to her desk. “So what am I thinking then, detective?”
          For a moment he toyed with teasing thoughts out of her, he knew Tope as Pan-African had developed his own talents along those lines, very well indeed.
          “Okay,” he said, “I have no idea what you are thinking.”
          But to himself, he thought, Brother (with a sudden chill of recognition and fear), are we to be the death of each other?
          Thembeka studied Black-Power from across the room, rustling the papers in front of her PC. Deep inside her, she felt the faintest stirrings of an ancient ancestral power—he’s thinking of death, she realised with a sudden and perplexing certainty.

Chapter Seven

Lagos, Nigeria

Tope could not sleep. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tired, and it was not insomnia per se. He was sleepy. Elizabeth Kokoro’s mind was too noisy for him to get any rest.
          She lay naked beside him tangled in the sheets, one breast visible like a Renaissance painting, chest rising and falling with predictable regularity. She looked peaceful.
          He could not hear her breathing over the hum of the air conditioner. He idly wondered if she was a millionaire. She did not have a room she had a suite. Maybe the cable company paid or one of the husbands.
          Incoherent nonsense leaked out of her in spurts. Fragments from blogs, tweets, status updates, junk mail headings. It was as if her brain was a web browser.
          Ben changed status to it’s complicated.
          Pictures of my cat.
          Ope’s thanksgiving photos!
          Anselem liked your post!

          Banal, banal, banal! Why was this shit on her mind? She must spend hours surfing the net, looking for news stories.
          The lovemaking had been surprising, tender. Given her sharp edges he had expected harshness, vigour, pain even. But no. She liked to be held softly and kissed, although she did not resist Flaubert’s suppleness and corruption.
          His phone beeped. It was Bank.
          Tope stole a glance at Elizabeth’s nipple.

Lagos, Nigeria

Tope wandered around the fabric sellers in Idumota, sometimes slipping between adjacent Molue buses. He searched for a suitable length of Ankara cloth.
          He needed something durable. Some of the less savoury sellers soaked the fabric in starch so that it seemed stiff. One wash and it would degrade right before your eyes.
          When he found what he wanted he haggled and traded insults with the seller. An onlooker unfamiliar with the market would think it was a family squabble, not a transaction. Once they settled on a price, they became best friends and swore eternal fealty for sixteen generations.
          Then he hopped on a bus and visited the more upmarket Kingsway and UTC general stores to find a diving suit. Not easy since scuba diving was not a serious pastime in Nigeria, but he found something next to a vicious harpoon gun. The shop assistant said they sold more of the guns than the suits.
          It was late so he took a taxi back to his flat in Fola Agoro. On the centre table he had a pencil sketch of a costume completed earlier. He would be everything Black-Power was not. He had that black mask that covered his head with a slit for eyes and an opening for nose and mouth. Tope would not have a mask. He ground up charcoal in a mortar with a pestle and mixed it with Vaseline. This he smeared around his eyes and part of his forehead in an irregular jagged shape. Using a manual Singer sewing machine, which he had owned since 1969, he sewed the fabric into a dashiki. He cut up the diving suit and wore the bottom half as tights.
          He would not have a cape. Fuck Black-Power.
          He would not have boots like Black-Power. He would go barefoot. Like an African. A Pan-African. The Pan-African.
          He liked the name. It fit his political ideas.
          He stood in front of the full length mirror.
          Shit, I look ridiculous too.

Lagos, Nigeria

“What are you thinking?” asked Elizabeth, snapping him back to the present. She sat up in bed and left her bosom in full view. He went to the bed and kissed her. Elizabeth’s arms came up, circled his neck, drew him closer still. The flow of internet detritus stopped abruptly.
          He broke the kiss. “You want to know what’s cooler than a waterbed?”
          She raised her eyebrows.
          He levitated them both above the bed.
          Soon, they were kissing again.

Bol, Chad

My God, he’s fast.
          The Pan-African barely dodged the fifth punch in Black-Power’s flurry of blows. There was an earthquake in his skull. An earthquake with pretty lights dancing across his vision.
          The wind and the rain confused him. All Tope could see were grey skies and sheets of water coming into his eyes. Water and the fists of his brother. He was spinning and could not tell which way was up.
          Black-Power could not fly, and was not holding on to the Pan-African. How the hell was he in the air so much? He was gone again. Tope tried to orient himself. There was a crack of thunder and impact. Black-Power was back, digging body shots into the Pan-African’s belly. He was seeing black dots. What?
          Shit, am I losing consciousness?
          It was his ambush. He was supposed to have the advantage of surprise. Black-Power had recovered so quickly, surprise meant nothing.
          Headshot. The whole world shook. Even the rain drops fucking shook. Pan-African had to get away. Lake Chad was somewhere, above or below.
          Fly away. Pick a direction and fly away. The direction doesn’t matter. He’ll kill you.
          Fuck, fuck, fuck.
          He flew, fast as he could manage, the direction of his head. He knew he was moving, but the wind was so powerful that he couldn’t tell where he was. The horizon was gone. No reference point. He heard a thump, and he knew that meant Black-Power had taken one of his powerful leaps. The Pan-African directed himself away from the sound. He tried to take a breath, but it was mostly water and he coughed. His dashiki was tattered.
          Fly above the storm.
          He spat, and the blood-stained phlegm hit him right in the face.
          He felt a separate rush of air and a black cloth. The sonovabitch missed him by inches and fell back to the earth. He stuck his right middle finger out at the Pan-African as he fell.
          Tope flew the other way, into the clouds.

Lagos, Nigeria

Tope took a sip of the fresh orange juice Elizabeth offered.
          “Well!” said Elizabeth. She was swaddled in the hotel’s white fluffy bathrobe.
          “That was new.”
          “I bet you say that to all the boys.”
          “I’m serious.”
          “I’m hungry.”
          Elizabeth shoved a buttered croissant in his general direction and poured more juice. She handed him the glass and drank straight from the jar. Room service had delivered two glasses but they had smashed one in a bout of passion.
          “You surf the net a lot,” said Tope.
          “What do you mean? Have you been reading my mind again?”
          “Not intentionally. You leaked stuff. Nothing organised, but it kept me awake. All of it was web shit.”
          “It’s a long story. I’m…well, I’m sort of plugged into the web.”
          A phrase popped into her head, web witch, but Tope did not know what it meant. He was about to ask, but her phone rang. She had a Fela ringtone. He knew the song: Zombie. Not about the undead, but the soldiers who obey orders without question.
          Elizabeth nodded, hummed, hemmed and hawed. “I’ll get back to you.”
          “Who was that?”
          “Do you know Lekan Deniran?”
          “He’s the biggest promoter in the country, some say on the continent.”
          “Look at my face. This is my impressed expression. Notice how similar it is to my don’t-give-a-shit expression. What does he want from you?”
          “Not me. You.” She tied a strip of cloth around her hair.
          “He wants to promote a fight between you and Black-Power.”

Chapter Eight

50,000 B.P.
What would later become South Africa

The elder watched his younger brother stride off to the North, with heavy heart.
          Will I see you again, brother? he thought to himself, be safe—and stay good.
          He half hoped his brother could pick up his slightly guarded sentiment, but within mere moments he was gone from view, hidden under a forest canopy.
          The small group of primates they had witnessed together, returning from a hunt, were gathered around their injured one. The primate was clasping at blood dripping from a red hole amongst his left set of ribs, slowly stumbling to his hands and knees.
          The elder—he decided to call himself Umvelinqangi, or Sky God then—watched, with some dispassionate interest, as the group gathered around their stricken group member, now panting his distress into the stubby grasslands.
          The largest male amongst them was carrying a squat warthog, oozing serous fluids down his broad back.
          Two of the healthy primates picked up short stabbing flint spears, red from their hunt.
          What would it be?
          Stabbing their injured male or stabbing and eating?
          Umvelinqangi caught a flurry of sub-linguistic neural activity, watching postures shift with fluid non-verbal communications; a nod here, a grunt there.
          The primates lowered the spears under their injured ones arms and chest at the front, pelvic region at the back. Another group member stepped forward and with forest vine, secured the hafts of the spear to arms and legs.
          Four of them shifted to grasp the ends of the spears and hoisted their injured one into the air.
          He was now slumped and unconscious, but they were taking him home. The giant with the dead warthog pointed onwards.
          The hunting party of eight began their march across the grassy terrain, heading for a large cave at the foothills of the Mountains—uKhahlamba thought Umvelinqangi, that shall be their name—towering blue-tall in the distance, clouded or perhaps even snow-capped.
          Suddenly, he felt at home, more than he had ever felt in fifty thousand Earth equivalent cycles on his home planet.
          With one stride he was amongst the group.
          They scattered in terror, for he was much larger and more powerful than they and wearing shining fabric, as of nothing they had as yet seen.
          This primate will not last the journey, bleeding like this, he thought, removing some healing kenth from a pouch on his belt. He spat onto the brown paste, rubbed it vigorously between his palms and then knelt down to apply it to the primate’s broken skin, where a rib gaped through, white and ragged.
          The group members were returning, hesitant, baring teeth and with raised arms threatening to stab at him with short wooden spears.
          Umvelinqangi stood and spoke with a voice like thunder that made them all cower, including the giant, who had dropped the warthog in their initial scattering. “He will be well.”
          And, as if on cue, the primate groaned and opened his eyes.
          The other primates fell to their knees, but Umvelinqangi knelt with them, heeding his own advice to his younger brother.
          I will not be a god, I will live amongst you, he thought, knowing they could not understand him.
          Above them, streaks of lights speared across the sky, shattered remnants of their ship.
          He felt no loss for that.
          Umvelinqangi felt his heart grow heavy again.
          “Be safe, brother.” (Somewhere, unbidden, the name ‘Oduduwa’ came to mind.)
          Umvelinqangi gouged away marks on his cheeks with his fingernails, marks which traced their alien lineage, feeling lacings of his own blood dripping down his scarred cheeks.
          And do not fail me, brother, he thought, for now I am become human, and we must show these becoming people, the way of good.
          So it was; that Umvelinqangi nursed an early Khoesaan man back to health—although for some days the treated man was seriously ill with a microbial infection, which reminded Umvelinqangi, just fleetingly, of his home planet.

Bol, Chad

Black-Power watched Pan-African streak away in the sky above, trailing an erratic spray of moisture and blood behind him.
          A tropical storm brooded and flashed intermittently around him, as he cradled a bruised left forearm, feet anchored to the cracked earth waiting for the storm to spill fully.
          Bastard’s strong and quick, I’ll give that to him, he thought, grudgingly.
          Deep inside though, there was a wail of despair.
          “Brother, why have you failed me?”
          1976, now that was also a shit year, an esabeka year.

South Africa

i0Thembeka was persistent in her hunt for the local Super-Tik Drug-Lord.
          Detective Sipho could only admire as she flung clues and tit-bits of information into her software algorithm incessantly, ‘Vang-A-Dief’ ©/ ‘Catch-A-Thief’ ©/ ‘Bamba Isela’ ©. He hurried over to her PC yet again as she shrieked once she had narrowed the Street Map search eventually to a lush, loaded mansion in Bishop’s Court, perched luxuriously on the rump of Table Mountain.
          But the Detective sensed Thembeka’s drop in mood and noted her slumped shoulders as the Street Cams panned around the building, bulwarked with razor-wire, deadly electrics, and black-clad men armed with heavy artillery.
          “No way through that,” she groaned.
          “Who said anything about going through?” asked Black-Power, caped and hulking at her right shoulder.

Night fell early in the Western Cape winter, aided by a dull, cloudy sky and a bitter North-Wester.
          Black-Power and Thembeka sat in the back of a marked Eskom van, seemingly busy with monitoring faltering electricity supplies to those few who slurped up the most.
          But as blackness fell, hardly kept at bay by flickering, pallid, orange street lights, they crept out of the van and Black-Power embraced her protectively with his cape as she finished holstering her pistol, safety off.
          “Ready?” he asked, thrilling to her close warmth, the tangy smell of a spicy perfume.
          “Ready,” she grinned up at him.
          He braced his calves and with a light but firm bounce he was soaring over the walls and heading down towards the roof, carefully aiming for the part of the house likeliest (87.4% prediction) to hold the Drug-Lord, only known as Zumba.
          They crashed through the roof with an explosive shower of tile, wood, and mortar, Thembeka shrouded in Black-Power’s Kevlar cape and arms.
          He landed with a steely bracing of his booted legs on a meeting room table, crashing through to the marble floor below.
          Debris clattered down around them as Black-Power swept the remnants of the table away. Thembeka spun, unfurled from his cape, across the floor, pistol cocked, sliding on her knees, trying to find a target.
          Automatic fire opened up at the imposing target of Black-Power. He laughed then, a booming, bursting laugh that dropped the remains of the roof on top of them all; the eight gunmen stopped shooting, confused.
          There was a man standing quietly amongst his bodyguards, empty handed and purple satin suited. A small man, who broke into a sudden spin, pirouetting like flickering lightning across empty space, seizing Thembeka with a left arm around the throat from behind. He hauled her to her feet, a human shield in front of Black-Power, knife in his right hand at her throat.
          “Super-Tik,” he said, “Speeds you up. Leave, or she dies.”
          Black-Power hesitated—and blood spilled suddenly from Thembeka’s throat.
          The small man staggered backwards.
          Thembeka had her left arm twisted behind her, her pistol wafting the barest tendril of smoke.
          Zumba dropped like a puppet without strings as Thembeka clutched at her throat frantically, staunching the blood.
          With one leap, Black-Power had seized her and exploded out of the house.
          Landing near the van outside the mansion, Black-Power burst open the back door with a forceful finger, panicking.
          Inside, he laid Thembeka gently down, securing the door from the inside.
          When he turned around, Thembeka was sitting up and staring at him, a soft and bemused expression on her face
          Black-Power noted a drying trickle of blood down the front of her throat.
          “You’re, okay,” he croaked.
          She smiled.
          He leant across the floor of the van and kissed her.
          She slapped him.
          “What was that for?” He asked, aggrieved, sure for once he had not read her signals wrong.
          “That’s for thinking of Kokoro while kissing me,” she snapped.
          He was speechless.
          Thembeka stood up and pushed at the door. It buckled outwards and she jumped through the burst metal of the door.
          Black-Power could only stare after her.
          How on earth did she know what he was thinking?
          And her slap had actually… hurt!
          Then a slow and ancient memory came to him. A faintest taste of something he had used up some millennia ago.
          He had always marvelled at his anatomical and DNA similarities to emerging humans—life-forms on planets separated by light years, but with puzzling similar evolutionary pathways. Not completely compatible however, his sperm was infertile with humans—perhaps just as well, he thought to himself wryly.
          His realisation was clear—Kenth had bound to the DNA of that primate he had helped heal, seventeen millennia back.
          And he had kissed that man’s very distant long-lost descendant.
          Thembeka’s thin and dormant strand of alien DNA had somehow become activated…perhaps at their first touch?
          …And she had indeed read his mind.
          “Thembeka, some back!” he called.
          But all he could hear was the gathering sound of police sirens.

Chapter Nine

Lagos, Nigeria

On the table was a scale model of a modified geodesic dome, although Tope felt sure that Buckminster Fuller never intended his invention for this purpose. Elizabeth squeezed his hand once. He glanced at her briefly, then focused his mind on what Lekan was saying.
          “Titanium lattice shell with carbonized steel geodesics, non-rigid structure which will snap back after impact. One hundred thousand small cameras all around which will give spectators true 3-D, not that crap you see in the multiplexes. I plan to project the conflict into stadia worldwide.”
          Lekan Deniran wasn’t a tall man, but he was charismatic and energetic. His eyes burned with that fever that afflicts avaricious men everywhere. He talked with a pace that accelerated when he got to the financial reward. Dark, wiry, relentless. Dressed simple in jeans and a t-shirt because, it was rumoured, he saw Donald Trump dressed like this once in Time magazine.
          “Tell me about the kinematics of this thing,” said Tope. “I don’t want any bystanders getting hurt. What amount of force will this structure resist?”
          “Fifty thousand pounds was the limit of testing,” said Lekan.
          “Is that a lot?” asked Elizabeth.
          “Your high performing boxer can punch about twelve hundred pounds,” said Lekan.
          “Black-Power is an Ubermensch, not a sportsman,” said Tope.
          “Do you think he can punch with more force than that?” asked Lekan.
          “I don’t know.”
          “Can you?”
          “I don’t know. I don’t use force in that way. I don’t punch with muscular strength,” said Tope.
          “Explain,” said Elizabeth, ever the journalist.
          “My powers are mental. I levitate, and that becomes flight. I lift objects. I detect thoughts. I have a limited force field around my body. When I punch what I do is push with my mind. The mass of the object should not matter, but because I see with my eyes the difference between a pebble and a boulder the effort I apply is different. I should be able to punch a hole in the moon theoretically, but my brain tells me it’s impossible, so I can’t.”
          “Can you beat him?” asked Lekan, handing drinks to them.
          Tope didn’t answer, a brief flash of red desert sand, snow and a twinge in his malformed arm distracted him.
          Lekan shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll all be rich at the end of it. We stand to make a gazillion bucks domestic alone.”
          “How will you get him to agree to the bout?” asked Elizabeth.
          Lekan hesitated. “I’m still trying to contact his people.”
          “Does he have people?” she asked.
          “I don’t know, but if he does, I’ll find them.” He emptied his glass and poured another. “I’m flying to South Africa tomorrow. I’ll find him.”
          “How did you get him to the desert?” asked Elizabeth.
          “I sued for peace,” said Tope. “I offered a truce. I tried to appeal to his rationality by showing the futility of our enmity.”
          “So how did it turn to a battle?” asked Elizabeth.
          “The man has no rationality.”

February 18, 1979
Sahara Desert, Africa

“This is why you brought me here?” asked Black-Power. “To discuss books and the deranged theories of cocaine-addicted alienists?”
          They stood apart from each other, scrub and red sand between them. Eddies carried dust in chaotic ballets.
          “It’s time for this to end,” said the Pan-African. “This farce. I’ve been reading Berne’s work. This thing between you and me, it’s a game. We’re playing ‘hero’, brother.”
          “What is this babbling? You sound like a baboon.”
          “We don’t really want to kill each other. I’m trying to educate you and you are trying to chastise a younger brother. Neither of us is playing for keeps. This battle will last forever, with continued attrition and no real resolution. Come the day that this sun goes nova we’ll still be standing.”
          “You’re right about one thing,” said Black-Power. “I am trying to chastise you. I have done many times.”
          “I won’t fight you this time.”
          “Then you’ll die because I won’t hold back.”
          “Death, then,” said the Pan-African. At the time, he meant it.

Edo City

The wedding dress was off-white and the shoes scuffed, but the radiance of the bride’s smile did a lot to neutralise the imperfections. The ring-bearer led her to the courtyard, a boy of nine with a solemn expression on his face. The drummers picked up a frenzied beat and barefoot dancers began their performance. The mother of the bride wailed as if someone had died. Everybody sang. A few of the older men were drunk and off-key, but nobody cared.
          The bride was pregnant. Tope could hear the proto-thoughts of the growing child. She already recognised her mother’s heartbeat and voice. The mother was, as yet, unaware of the life growing in her.
          “So, what do you say?” asked Elizabeth Kokoro. She was irritating in the extreme.
          “Miss Kokoro, you’re not invited to this wedding.”
          “It’s a lot of money.”
          “We shoot mo gbo, mo ya in these parts, you know.”
          “We’ll get your side of the story. Finally, after all these years.”
          The groom danced with the little bride. Tope had bought the suit, but it didn’t fit the man well. Some men wheeled in gigantic black loud speakers and started playing juju music. In between bowls of jollof rice people took to the dance floor, spraying money on each other.
          “It doesn’t matter to me if anyone gets to hear my side of the story. I know what happened.” He took a bite out of a fried chicken thigh. He deliberately chewed with his mouth open to seem as crude as possible. He offered the drumstick to her, but she ignored it. He bit it again. “Go back to the city, girl. I’m busy here.”
          “With the society wedding of the century?” she said.
          “Do not mock these people. They are poor, but their emotions are genuine. They have dignity.”
          “Ahh, good. Anger. I was starting to feel that nothing meant anything to you anymore.”
          “God, you’re like a tse-tse fly, buzzing around. Go away.”
          She took the drumstick from him and tore a piece of flesh, then she spoke with her mouth full. “I saw you once, you know. In Accra in ’77.”
          Something dawned on Tope. “You took those photographs of me and Black-Power fighting in the water reservoir.”
          “The first clear photos the news outlets had of me. Not very flattering if I remember.” Black-Power had his boot on Tope’s chest and his cape flew in the wind. It was a poster and t-shirt graphic and the second major internet meme after “All your base are belong to us,” according to Bank.
          “I had to crawl through mud to get there.”
          “I remember you. Skinny little girl, you looked like a worm.” Not really. She had looked like a snake with breasts.
          “Did you hate me?”
          “No, I just mildly resented you.”
          “Come do the TV show.”
          But Tope did.

Lagos, Nigeria

On the road back to the settlement, Bank shoved a screen in front of his face.
          “What am I looking at?” said Tope.
          “That’s Black-Power,” said Bank.
          Tope looked at the tablet and saw the tube video. Mobile phone footage of a few indistinct blurs and a shadow that might have been a cape. Maybe a sub-machine gun in the footage. A woman on the ground. A dog. A dog?
          “This is blurry,” said Tope.
          “It’s Black-Power. He’s back. Read the comments. The guy who was there saw him. It’s just a few days ago.”
          “This is a guy in a mask and cape, Bank. He’s wearing a box shirt and chinos. That was never-”
          “Trust me. The interweb never lies.”
          “The interweb lies all the time.”
          “Whatev. They’re bigging up your upcoming bout with him,” said Bank. He snatched his tablet band and started moving his fingers around again.
          “I haven’t agreed to do it.”
          “Uncle, with that money we can bribe enough government officials to practically own the land on which we live. We won’t have to go to court. You can feed people or something. Send more of us to university.”
          “I know.”
          “Then what?”
          “It’s cheap.”
          “Tens of millions of-”
          “Not that kind of cheap. I mean, we’re not back street pugilists.” We are gods, and we do not fight for your entertainment, Tope thought, but he did not say aloud.
          Bank said, “Do not think we are unappreciative of you, Uncle. I love you more than my father.”
          “Your father left before you were born. You’ve never met him.”
          “Yes, and I love you more than I love him.”
          “Go back to your tablet, Bank.”
          Tope watched the countryside go by.
          Do not let them begin to worship you, his brother had said, yet Black-Power was the one who allowed it to happen first.
          He felt the hair on his neck rise; Elizabeth was thinking of him. Miles away, but he could still feel her thoughts.
          It was time for one last fight. In Lekan’s arena they would put it to rest once and for all.

Chapter 10

1800 to 1828
Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands

The boy grew up a bastard, but Dingiswayo—as the elder allowed himself to be known then—recognised something special in that boy. As the boy became a young man, he was prone to angry outbursts to be sure, rising as he did to the frequent challenges of his fully parented peers. One day, he had even ran a twelve miles return journey through thorn-tree foothills, to head off and return seven cattle from the neighbouring Langeni tribe—having silently cut the throat of one of their herders.
          So, when that fiery bastard became a full man, his circumcision scars long healed, Dingiswayo gave him an ibutho lempi, his own fighting regiment.
          This should channel his energies constructively, thought the elder, but only saying aloud: “Be careful with your men, Shaka, their lives and their families are in your keeping.”
          The young man respectfully avoided his gaze, as if indeed restrained and finally maturing, “Yes, my Chief.”
          But, in ongoing skirmishes with the neighbouring tribes, Shaka retained his impulsive and reckless manner, yet somehow knowing the best times to do so, being almost always victorious. On the death of their father, Sigujano—Shaka’s half-brother—was the rightful heir to the vacant throne, but Shaka was aided by Dingiswayo to seize military control. The elder was taken by surprise, however, when Shaka had his brother executed.
          How can you kill your own brother? thought the elder, wondering what might be happening to his own younger brother, up North for millennia now.
          The elder, using vestiges of his mental manipulation, eventually feigned his own murder as Dingiswayo, at the hands of Zwide, the Chief from the Ndwanwe clan—and waited to see what would happen. He now observed the proceedings as Shaka’s bodyguard, his own features additionally altered by the slightest of projected imaginal suggestions.
          And, as months rolled into years, King Shaka shaped his people around him, the Bodyguard watching, always watching—but sometimes fighting, reining in his strength, so as not to alarm those around him too much, particularly the King.
          For the King was building an empire.
          Shaka had quickly stopped the initiation rights for boys to men, manhood no longer stemming from wasted strength in circumcision rites, but in active age-cohort regiments, along with training and strategy, military strategy. And weapons, new weapons (throwing spears that are lost on the battlefield, the assegais, were moved to a secondary weapon), a new short stabbing spear, an iklwa, was adopted, alongside a bigger cowhide shield that was used offensively, after Shaka had showed the superiority of these new weapons in bloody training bouts that included some men—even friends—dying.
          “From now on, a man who loses his iklwa in battle will lose his life,” said the King, as his impi warriors and empire grew rapidly. For this was the start of Mfecane, the ‘crushing’, the making of a mighty people who expanded into occupying a huge geographical space, absorbing many, yet leaving many others dead or fleeing into the expanses before them.
          Down towards the southern seas of this vast Continent…
          But, thankfully, some things did not change. Still, mothers and often grandmothers, when they could, sang and recited the old tales that spoke to them all; stories about Why the Cheetah’s Cheeks are Stained and even older stories from the very beginning, about how the Sky-God, Nkulunkulu, made the world and the First Man, Umvelinqangi, emerged from watery reeds with his wife, able to draw on thunder and lightning.
          I am indeed Zulu, thought the Bodyguard elder on these good evenings, sitting nearby as the women thrilled the children with these tales, enjoying hearing his ancient name being dropped in these living tales, as well as thinking about the brutal genius of his King, who finally defeated and killed Zwide, Dingiswayo’s murderer.
          But in time though, word came to Shaka from startled and shaken scouts, of a new people, perhaps Gods or devils, who were as white as crushed limestone.
          They too were moving, but moving steadily up towards the amaZulu; slowly, yet inexorably.
          Evolutionary brother primates, thought the Bodyguard to himself, perhaps returning from milder climes where their melanocytes have not been so active? So brother will meet brother again at last, reunited.
          Ever looking for allies and advantage, Shaka invited some of them in.
          But—the Bodyguard learned in due time—these white brothers and sisters brought firearms, disease, and not the slightest recognition of their long lost family…
          As for Shaka, the Bodyguard was deployed elsewhere when his half-brothers Dingane and Mahlangana murdered him in turn.
          “What is it about brothers?” thought the elder grimly, on hearing the news.

Strandfontein Beach

There is a place where many wild gulls breed, along a sandy cliff on the False Bay coast of the Cape Town outskirts, just past Strandfontein. The place is protected, a sanctuary for gulls to breed together and fly free, unhindered by humans, searching for fish and scatterings of white and black mussels, that they raise on high and drop, to shatter on the rocks below, exposing pale, delicate meat, ripe for the taking.
          From this gull sanctuary, a man or woman, if they are tall enough, can cast their gaze inland, across the Cape Flats, where a vast expanse of informal settlements shines in the sun. Mostly shacks cobbled and jury-rigged from tin, aluminium, chipboard, and wire, rain-proofed with black plastic bags or sheets, some sprouting wide and circular satellite dishes. This township is home to over half a million, stitched together in districts such as Mandela Park, Tembani, and Harare.
          So it was that Black-Power stood and watched, a man indeed tall enough to see much, who saw with an acute and painful vision, across that vast and chaotic spread of Khayelitsha township. This place was but one of a multitude of the enduring legacies of apartheid, some indeed now improved since liberation. This place was certainly not one of those that had as yet been hugely improved, despite money swilling around for twenty years since the first democratic elections in South Africa.
Some electrification, surely, to cast light on a dark place… but not enough light! There was indeed a good reason he had chosen mid-day.
          Slowly, Black-Power shook his head. He preferred to look at the inner city opulence of parts of the central metropolis—like the view from his office as Detective Cele—not at this huge broken patchwork of poverty, where Tuberculosis and the HIV virus continued to wreak their deadly havoc. It was not a good reminder, that for all his power, he had actually achieved so little.
          His…brother, had never tired of reminding him of this!
          Black-Power turned to look at the sea instead, an easier and more pleasant sight, where the incessant roll of surf on white sand soothed his mind, yet also somehow reminded him of how old he had become. Perhaps he should just head home, it was a Saturday after all, or he could catch a movie at the Waterfront, the new Tarantino film was supposed to be brilliant.
          Alone. He would be alone.
          Clenching his fist, he looked down at the ripple of muscle along his wrist, underneath his black kevlar-laced glove. He was Black-Power for fuck’s sake, he had stopped volcanoes and faced whirlwinds, he could handle one little paltry…visit.
          Steeled, he turned to face the sparkling sea of shiny shacks, alien vision searching for the small bricked day hospital far, in the distance, at the locale of Site C, Khayelitsha.
          There. Got it. Shit, that’s quite some distance, out on the far distant extreme range of his jumps.
          But he knew that if he took a slower or more mundane way in, a taxi or bus, his commitment would falter and he would change his route, heading home—or anywhere else. However, the shacks were so densely packed, there was no way he could risk taking more than one jump.
          There, that field, next to the hospital, was dusty and open, uninhabited.
          Good training too, should he ever need to face his brother again.
          Come on focus, bend, brace…No! Not enough purchase here, the sand was shifting beneath his bulk, sliding away under his boots. Perhaps he could have done this in the seventies.
          Not now, his stomach was no longer quite so taut, his muscles did not sing quite so beautifully to him, with their clear sense of invulnerable power. So, with one small step, Black-Power bounced onto the empty beach road, legs together, recoil…and JUMP!
          He hurtled high into the air like a homing missile, exhilarated by the wind-whistle of his passage and the warm cross-wind buffeting of a berg breeze drifting down from the Mountain. Below him, shacks blurred together in a moving chaotic collage, growing clearer, larger, and more distinct as he headed back to earth.
          He was heading to the centre of the field near the hospital, his aim indeed true.
          But now he could see some boys, six or seven of them, playing football with a small stack of positioned bricks marking their goals, scuffing sand as they chased the ball in the middle of the field.
          “No!” he shouted, but the wind whipped his words over his shoulders and up into the sky, as he dropped like a lethal boulder.
          One boy looked up and shouted, pointing.
          “Is it a bird?” he thought he heard in isiXhosa and then he was dropping onto the stationery boy, whose mouth was gawping wide in sudden frozen shock.
          Black-Power landed on one foot, his second leg raised to avoid contact with the cowering boy, pushing away desperately to avoid impact. Sand and dirt exploded from the impact of his landing, showering the boy, as he bounced and rolled away, impelled by the forceful, juddering impetus of his left leg.
          Black-Power finally rolled to a halt. Shit, he thought, I’m tangled in my fucking cape—and my leg hurts like hell.
          He lay for some moments, trying to catch his breath.
          The young boy stood over him, unhurt but sandy, holding a football. “Mister, can you be a referee for us, please?”
          Black-Power unleashed a string of invectives in isiZulu, but he knew the boy would understand; they were cousin languages after all, united by the Mfecane. Slowly, he unrolled himself from his cape and sat up.
          The field was now deserted.
          Sighing with sudden guilt, he stood up gingerly, testing his left leg.
          Fine. A bit sore, but it would pass. Not good news for you, my brother, he thought to himself, his gaze tracing a route from the hospital to a mixed spread of brick houses and shacks, some flattened for redevelopment.
          There. That was the address. A small brick house just off the bend in the road feeding the hospital, he recognised it from an earlier zoom-in on Google Earth.
          Modest, but better than many other abodes here, he thought, making his way towards the house, walking off his slight limp.
          A small crowd had gathered on the outskirts of the field, whispering together, gazing at him in awe.
          “I told you Black-Power was back,” he heard one voice clearly amongst the clamour.
          There were other voices, other words…and, and that FUCKING word again! Even after so many years, it still ripped deep into his being.
          He had reached the road by then, the crowd parting before him like the Red Sea to Moses, but he turned and roared: “For the record, I was never an…an…Askari!” He spat the word so they could see his contempt. “I never betrayed the Struggle…Amandla!”
          He raised his fist.
          There was silence.
          “Amandla!” he shouted again, louder, more urgent.
          “Ngawethu,” came a soft reply, from an older voice hidden amongst the crowd.
          “Born Frees!” he sighed with exasperation and, suddenly feeling slightly foolish, he turned on his heels.
          Thembeka was standing in front of him, fists on either side of a broad hipped black skirt, her red T-shirt etched with a slogan in black: ‘Pissed Off Woman.’
          “Oh-” he took a step backwards. There was no need for her to be so literal.
          “Why couldn’t you have just come quietly and knocked on the door?”
          “My God, but you’re inarticulate, even for a man.”
          “Sorry,” he looked down at his dusty boots, feeling a rush of blood to his face and the faster pattering of his heart.
          She smiled then, even if it was gone in a flash.
          “So,” she said, fists now off her hips, hands opened wide, “why have you come to see me then?”
          A full taxi hooted, on its way to nearby Mitchells Plain.
          They stepped quickly off the road, but an older man was hurrying up to them, holding up a shiny object.
          “Eh?” said Black-Power.
          Thembeka burst out laughing.
          It was an old comic book, glinting in a protective plastic cover. An early ‘Black-Power’ comic from ‘75 that he recognised, with his first face-off against Pan-African and an Angolan war back-story, pointing out the evils of the Cubans and communist take-over by the MPLA.
          “Would you mind signing this for me, Black-Power?” burbled the man, “It’s in near-mint condition.” The man was dressed in orange council overalls, perhaps a foreman in one of their service departments.
          “How much would it be worth then?” Black-Power asked, smiling to himself. He himself had a ‘Chariots of the Gods’ book, personally signed by von Daniken that very same year.
          The man shrugged awkwardly and Black-Power could tell by his lined face and greying hair he was probably upwards of fifty years old.
          He took the offered pen and the opened comic book, braced against its protective backing board, which had been part of the sealed package. The pen hovered over the opening splash page with its writing credits. Black-Power looked sharply at the waiting man, who stood, openly holding his breath.
          “So,” said Black-Power, “What do you think of my role in the Struggle?”
          The man looked him in the eyes. “You should be recognised as a Struggle hero, because you challenged the apartheid regime every step of the way. And you only held back from a direct and open confrontation, in order to save many more lives.”
          Black-Power smiled. “So, to whom should I dedicate this?”

Strandfontein Beach
The surf pounded to his left, but they were alone. This stretch of the beach—between Monwabisi and the Strandfontein sewerage outlet—was often deserted, apart from the odd lone fisherman, but it was clearly deserted now.
          Still, Black-Power had never been a man of many words. He had even forgotten the alien language of his birth, only remembering faint echoes of no longer familiar sounds, loosely linked to vague images and objects; smells that tantalised him, that he could no longer name, a black sky and a red sun.
          “So?” she said expectantly, hands on hips again, “What is happening to me? Why am I gaining these powers?”
          He splayed his hands open to her, with a gesture of helpless ignorance. “My best guess is you may have tracings of an…er, ancestor of mine’s DNA, perhaps inserted into their genome during a microbial infection, which has become activated in the presence of my own powers.”
          “Oh,” she looked down at the beach sand, kicking with her bare right foot at a brown piece of kelp. The kelp shot out over the furthest breaking wave. She looked up again, “Can you take these powers back?”
          Slowly, he shook his head, aware she could read his mind anyway.
          She turned away and he could tell from the slight shaking of her shoulders, she was crying.
          He went over to her and touched her left shoulder gently. “I feel like such a freak,” her words warbled back to him, from over her shoulder.
          “Thembeka,” he said, “I’ve always felt a freak.”
          She turned then and gave him a soft smile, “I’m sorry.” Her arms were open, inviting.
          He stepped forwards and embraced her.
          “Detective,” she said sharply, “I can feel your…interest…and right now, I don’t share it!”
          He smiled into the nape of her neck. “That’s okay, love,” he said, “I’ve got more than enough interest for the both of us.”
          She kneed him hard…
          …and her aim was true.
          Slowly, and with much unfamiliar pain, he folded in on himself, until he was curled in a foetal position on the soft sand, clutching his deeply burning—now flaccid—penis and testicles.
          She stood over him, legs astride, and he could feel the heat of her rage. “No means fucking NO. Okay? We’ve had enough of rape, corrective or otherwise, get it?”
          He lifted his head to look up at her.
          Coldness grasped his hearts. He could see a distant look in her eyes, as if he no longer existed to her.
          “Sala kahle,” she said, “Goodbye, Detective.”
          She looked up at the sun, as if concentrating and…flew.
          He sat up, but she had gone, the gulls wheeling and screeching in her wake.
          And, with a sudden aching realisation that made the pain in his privates feel trivial, he became aware that she would not come back.
          Like everyone does, eventually.
          Alone again.
          Thembeka had flown off, just like Pan-Fucking-African.
          He pulled a cellphone out of a small utility clip in his cape. “I’ve got more surprises than you’ll like in this cape that you dared mock, brother!” He barked at the crashing waves.
          Two calls.
          One, to request a transfer to Johannesburg.
          Jozi—where it’s really happening! A real African city, not like this effete Europeanised pretender…
          Two, to Phulani, AKA the Sharp, Sharp Fixer.
          “Get me Pan-African,” he said, “Any way you can.”
          Time to end this, brother.
          Finally, once and for all time.

End Part 2

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