This is the story of how the Antichrist came to live among the Ma'waaluuki people, arriving in their hour of desperation and spending a year with them before moving on to the foreordained battle of Armageddon. Dramatic stuff of cosmic importance.
The African country now known as Qamabria has always had a bloody history, with few peaceful pauses for rebuilding and reorganizing. The population of that part of Africa was a blend of many ethnic and tribal groups, each striving for dominion over the others. The Wa'hambe were the most rich and modern, living in cities and having access to technological weaponry, so they tended to lord it over the Gallas and Kaffas, Masai, Waziri, Kandingo and--lowest on the totem pole--Ma'waaluuki.
Kla’Khitt was born among the Ma'waaluuki tribe during the last period of peace and managed to experience a happy childhood for the first five years of his life. He and his five sisters were cared for by loving parents and, as far as he knew, his village was a wonderful place and life was always going to be good. Then the wars began again-- tribal slaughters actually --and he experienced fear, hunger, need, terror and shame.
For at the age of seven Kla was conscripted to personally partake in the terror as one of Africa's infamous child soldiers, coerced into service among one of the rebel groups invading his village. A fearsome giant of a man so black-he-shined-blue had simply plucked him up and tossed him into a battered old military truck full of other boys, then drove them all away from home and family, which most of them never saw again, nor did Kla for many years.
Kla was put into a combat unit among adults; trained, disciplined, enslaved. Although too small and weak for hand-to-hand combat against grown men, he learned to use a lightweight AK-47 as well as any adult and became an excellent shot. He also became adept at hand grenades, radio equipment and even swords and knives. Like most boy soldiers, he was easily intimidated into obeying orders, did not dare to run away, and never demanded a salary; a perfectly exploitable war-slave. At the age of 14 years Kla was an experienced killer.
His unit was eventually decimated by General Qamabro's mercenary troops and scattered to the winds. The Wa'hambe tribe was victorious. For Kla’Khitt the war was over.
However, the atrocities were not. Since the violent conquest of the capital by then self-appointed President Qamabro (who graciously renamed the country in his own honor) the raping and murdering had only become more organized. The new president was not a whit more altruistic nor less brutal and corrupt than his many predecessors, he had simply killed off most of his rivals for power. Although at least one of his enemies did survive; young Kla.
Kla’Khitt was only one among thousands of exploited children, but one of the few who had escaped being slaughtered and eventually made his way back to home among his own tribe, the Ma'waaluuki.
It was difficult for Kla to rejoin a peaceful society, hardened and traumatized by the unspeakable atrocities he had been forced to commit. He was deeply damaged, internally consumed by guilt, but externally angry and arrogant; about to take no shit from anyone, although a troublemaker himself.
If Kla had any childhood friends from his innocent early days among the Ma'waaluuki, none of them could any longer recognize the sweet child he once had been. He was himself too unfriendly to win any new friends, too irascible and cantankerous to tolerate other young folk. Only his sisters maintained any affection for him, but even they became irritated by his negative demeanor.
However, the tribal Diviner and Shaman, wise old Wa'lah'khabi, finally managed to befriend him. But by the age of seventeen Kla had still not put his years as a war slave behind him, although he now chose to consider himself a Ma'waaluuki warrior.
The warrior tradition of Kla's people, as almost all of their ancient tribal traditions. had fallen away due to civil wars and social chaos disrupting the old ways of life in many African villages. Those years Kla and many other boys ought to have been learning their traditional functions in Ma'waaluuki society were spent as cannon fodder for militant city tribes. Village boys had missed out on their kahan-gaa circumcision ceremonies or spending a year learning to hunt with a spear; village girls could not become young wives because they had instead been sold and exported as sex-slaves; uncooperative local elders were often murdered by the newer (often temporary) authorities; traditions were replaced by survival.
The Ma'waaluuki society had originally lived in semi-isolation, far from any modern towns, technically poor but essentially affluent due to the fertile land they lived upon, growing a variety of foodstuffs and producing some handcrafts to trade with one another. Money hardly existed in their culture, but quality of life had, wealth had once been measured in cattle and children.
All that changed when the city-based wars ravaged their land; the cattle stolen, the children abducted. Once General Qamabro's Wa'hambe faction had won all the wars stability was achieved-- for those living in cities. "Inferior" tribal cultures were marginalized.
For example, Qamabro's totalitarian government decided to confiscate the fertile land of the Ma'waaluuki and grow cotton instead of food. Food was not of interest to the government, since they had enough for themselves, while the international currency generated by cotton could buy weapons.
The village became occupied by Qamabro's mercenaries and transformed into a military garrison. Among those soldiers was a giant of a man so black-he-shined-blue, almost seven feet tall and weighing just under 300 pounds, mostly solid muscle. Kla remembered him well: Corporal Oliverto Bwakanta. Years before he had been one of the under officers commanding Kla's own unit of boy soldiers-- at that time they had been fighting against General Qamabro's troops, but Bwakanta had since changed sides, as mercenaries often do. Now he was a Sergeant.
Bwakanta had been as brutal and cruel to his own young troops as to his enemies, a ruthless disciplinarian and a very big bully. He was even more so now with the villagers, a big fan of torture and public executions. Kla recalled how Corporeal Bwakanta had often threatened to kill any child soldier for refusing to partake in a firing squad. A machete had always been his preferred weapon and he had a fixation for hacking off men's hands with it--both in one neat chop--and making it a ceremonial event whenever possible. He especially enjoyed watching his victims bleed to death, amused at how they always fumbled to stop the bleeding without any hands. Consider him a bad guy.
At first the Ma'waaluuki tried to keep their lands by cooperating and working for the government, but there was too little to eat. Besides, they were soon ousted because of corruption and nepotism, as the government officials chose to keep all jobs and profits exclusively within their own Wa'hambe families. When the villagers protested there were shots fired, public executions, group rapes, hands chopped off.
Kla tried to do battle, but he was shot in the back and crippled, his spine damaged, unable to walk. He ended up witnessing his father's hands being chopped off by wicked Sergeant Bwakanta, who had demonstrably laughed as his father died trying to assault the bigger man with bleeding stumps. His mother had thereafter been among several women raped to death by a battalion of mercenaries. Because Kla was so crippled that he wanted to die, Bwakanta had ordered medics to keep him alive, out of sheer cruelty.
Ninety-three Ma'waaluuki survived the purge and abandoned their village together. They were forced to become homeless nomads, impoverished and without prospects of any better life...or any life at all. They wandered, they begged, they starved. Kla’Khitt could not walk but his five sisters bore their crippled brother between them, to his utter shame of being such a burden.
For two months they stumbled along without plan, not knowing where to go, following their wise old diviner-shaman Wa'lah'khabi, who was trying to find their way in his magic dreams. One day they ended up on the edge of an inhospitably bleak desert, a deadly wasteland into which they dared not go. There they collapsed in the mottled shade of a few withered trees, unable to go on and too emaciated to go back, simply waiting to die.
Wa'lah'khabi shook his old black head in despair, feeling himself a fool for having believed in his own dreams, now certain that he had led his people to their doom. He had gone without food or water for many days and was becoming delirious. He wept, then passed out, dreamed. No one expected him to awaken again.
Young Kla’Khitt was also expected to die soon. His wound had never healed and he was ravaged by infection. His sisters had been trying to nurse him, although without medicines or even water, on their way to dying as well.
"If I survive," Kla feverishly managed to rant, "I shall kill those soldiers some day. Especially wicked Sergeant Bwakanta, I will do to him what he did to our father."
"That would only make you one of them, Kla," his oldest sister Moonie said emotionlessly, "bad men who delight in harming others."
"Someone must punish those bad men," he insisted, tears running from his weary eyes.
Their situation was critical, as was that of everyone in the tribe; all were suffering equally and about to die. Of thirst, if nothing else; they had found no water for 3 hot African days.
Surprisingly, the old shaman abruptly awakened, springing to his feet, dancing with glee. "I have had a dream!" he announced. "An angel has spoken to me; I am to go out in that desert to fetch an earth god who will come save us all!"
Even his own brother Wa'thnab, the old tribal chief, assumed that Wa'lah'khabi had gone mad. But then the diviner said, "She also told me that there is a source of water quite near, come all, I will show the way!"
No one believed him, although he insisted that it was true. Wa'thnab finally agreed to humor him, more out of family loyalty than any faith. He limped along behind his still-dancing brother, passing out of sight from the tribe. Once again, no one expected either of them to return. But moments later the tribal chief came running back, not limping, shouting, "It's true, there IS water! Come!"
Some of them had to crawl, others could not even do that and had to be carried, but they managed to relocate all ninety-three to a patch of scrub forest where a tiny stream of cool water was leaking out of a crack in a cliff side to form a small pool before seeping into the dry earth. It was a miracle that there was enough water for so many people, but it kept coming and everyone got to drink as much as they needed.
Even before everyone had finished drinking, old Wa'lah'khabi had already departed upon his quest, saying "I go now to fetch our new god and shall return in 3 days, please stay alive until then!" And he strode out alone into that burning deadly desert with the brisk energy of a young man, although his walking stick reminded everyone how old he was.
The diviner walked quickly, and yet hours later they could still see him on the flat horizon, a tiny black dot in the shimmering heat waves, an indication of just how vast that desert actually was. No one dared to mention that Wa'lah'khabi might never return, but they did dare to hope that he would.
Three days later, those of them capable of consciousness were still watching that same horizon, knowing that if Wa'lah'khabi did not return today they could relax and just slip away into death.
Young Kla’Khitt was the first to die. Whether of thirst, starvation or his infected wound did not seem to matter so much. Mooie, his oldest sister at age 16, had no remaining energy to weep or grieve, which hardly seemed to matter since she was probably next to die anyway, having given all of her food to her four even younger sisters for many days now.
Kla's last words had been fevered ravings, the only word discernible: "...war..."
THE EARTH GOD ARRIVES
Mere moments after that young man died, a weak shout went up among the desperate people; something about a movement far off on the bleak horizon. Something coming across the desert and moving fast. So fast that a high plume of sand was billowing up behind it.
It arrived within minutes; a young person bearing an old man upon his shoulders, running faster than any human could possibly run. As they approached everyone recognized Wa'lah'khabi and they also recognized that, as promised, he had returned with nothing less than a god incarnate.
The god stopped before the tribe and put down the diviner, who said, "We are the chosen people, Lord Tazio--and as you can see we are ready to teach you how to become a god." Lord Tazio regarded the starved tribe of Ma'waaluuki, not one among them strong enough to stand and greet him, hollow-eyed hollow-cheeked and gaunt, children with bulging bellies of malnutrition, an entire tribe of absolutely defeated and miserable people hanging on with their penultimate breaths. His comment upon the condition he found them in was: "Merda!"
He was a disturbing-enough sight himself: impossible to judge his or her gender, what color or race, how old, eyes like a cat, tail like a snake, long wild shaggy hair, wearing nothing but a tattered rag.
For a moment he seemed to regard their suffering without emotion, but in the next moment he was a whirlwind of activity in among them, touching people, something like lightning zapping and crackling from his fingers. At first they became frightened, thinking he was hurting them with electrical shocks, but soon they understood that he was healing them with his god-power, because suddenly they felt much better.
As he moved through the crowd he came to Kla’Khitt, who had died. Tazio touched him but there was no reaction.
"It's too late," Mooie said, "Kla died minutes ago." Having been one of those already touched by the demigod, she now had more than enough energy to shed a tear for her poor brother.
Wasting no time with words, Tazio did take time to study the dead boy with his hands, turned the body over to see the bullet wound. He touched it with one finger, the flesh bulged and there was a small splattering of blood and pus as a spent bullet erupted out of Kla's back and landed in Tazio's hand. He inspected the missile, discarded it and rolled Kla's body back flat on the ground.
Then he clamped one hand down on the young man's head and the other on his crotch, paused for a charge of Urr to build up, then released it. Kla’Khitt's body jerked violently, a spasm folded him halfway up into a sitting position, he cried out and then fell back. A second later he began coughing, obviously alive again.
Mooie and her sisters cried out in disbelief, while Tazio had already moved on to the next patient, old lady Mah'anee, who looked ready to die any second now. All around people were stirring, standing up, amazed by the new-found energy in their bodies. Then falling upon their knees to worship their new god.
But Tazio would have none of that: "There are so many of you, this is too slow," he said, speaking their Ma'w language perfectly, "so I want everyone to stand up and hold hands with two others, forming a chain around me."
The entire Ma'waaluuki tribe obeyed eagerly, linking themselves in a meandering human chain, Tazio taking hands to complete the circle and the circuit. "The energy you will feel flowing through us is The URR; the life force of the earth itself. Do not be afraid; it will heal you, nurture and charge your bodies with physical energy."
Kla was alive but still inert on his back, breathing but no more than that. So his sisters took his hands between them to connect him to the chain of people.
Up out of the earth a vast power surged, into and through Tazio's hands and on to everyone in contact with the chain. There were cries of wonder and ecstasy as living energy filled up their hollow bodies; men's muscles bulged again, women's bosoms lifted and swelled, empty bellies were satisfied, vitamins and minerals crystallized in their veins, dry and cracked skin became soft and moist, glands and hormones bubbled, men had erections, women ovulated, children giggled, babies pooped.
A few minutes of Urr-charge was enough to have healed every physical woe among the tribe. Finally Tazio released the two hands he had been holding; of old Mah'anee to his left, and 6-year-old Bindino to his right, saying, "That's enough for now. We need to get going." He knew better than to give humans too much Urr; it would change them into something else.
"Where shall we go to, Lord?" Mah'anee asked, looking very much younger than she had for many decades.
"We'll return to your own village, of course," Tazio said.
"But the government's army has occupied our village," explained chief Wa'thnab, "and promised to kill any of us who attempt to return."
"I'll order the troops to go away."
"I'd rather we attack and kill them," said a young man of warrior age, chorused by another and another. They were feeling quite frisky from having their bodies not only healed but also supercharged, and recklessly brave with a god at their side.
"I do not kill," Tazio informed them, "and I forbid war. Ok, let's move out!"
Ninety-two people, full of energy stood ready to go. But Mooie came running, crying, "Lord Taxio, our brother Kla has not yet awakened, we cannot abandon him here!"
Tazio kneeled beside Kla's comatose body, inspected him here and there, put his hand on the boy's head and came up with this diagnosis: "His body is healed but his brain remains shut down for the moment."
"Kla is brain-dead?" Mooie asked in horror. She had helped in the village medical clinic before they had been kicked out and was educated enough to understand what that meant.
"No, his brain works fine," Tazio assured her, "all memories intact as far as I can tell. He just needs some time."
"So we must carry him,"
"Not necessarily. I can try this," Tazio said, taking Kla's limp hand and standing up.
Eyes still closed, but for the first time in two months, Kla staggered to his feet, his spine intact again. His sisters, Mooie, Seenie, Fiilie, Niibie and Tiibie, embraced him. Disbelief became joy, tears became laughter. Then his eyes opened and their laughter stopped.
"He's a zombie!" little sister Seenie wailed.
"No," Tazio said, "I am controlling him telepathically so that he can walk with us. But I've never tried this before; being in two bodies at once, so it'll take a little practice. Now let's go."
It had taken the tribe six months to wander from their ex-village to the desert, but with Tazio leading them they arrived within a week. It helped that they were all indefatigable while they traveled holding hands, Tazio's Urr powering the entire group every step. They needed no food, no sleep, no shelter, the Urr made them ever stronger, faster, even smarter. They did need water, but once having left the desert behind that was hardly a problem and Tazio always knew exactly where to find it.
Tazio did not maintain constant Urr contact with the crowd, a daily charge of batteries was sufficient for most of the villagers, even the older folk. Nor did he longer need to hold Kla’Khitt's hand to make him walk, or even run ahead as a scout, being an extension of Tazio's own mind and eyes and ears.
Kla's own personality was still dormant, but his body was becoming superhuman, almost an Avatar like Tazio himself. Functioning in two bodies was apparently no longer awkward or confusing for their new god, although it was disorienting for people to hear Tazio speaking to them through Kla's mouth. His sisters worried that their brother would never be himself again.
A convoy of mercenaries working for the government accosted them at one point, but Tazio merely spoke to the soldiers and they all walked away from their vehicles and weapons, as if they HAD to obey Tazio's commands. The young warriors suggested appropriating the weapons and trucks to ride home in style, and several of the tribal elders agreed with them.
But Tazio refused, saying, "We don't need their technology, it would only be an impediment, considering the plans I have for your village."
The tribal elders had to ask, "Excuse us, Lord, but what ARE your plans for our village?"
"You people have invited me to be your god because you desperately needed one. I have accepted your invitation because I need to learn how to BE a god, since that seems to be my fate. I'll start by designing an organic village, ecologically viable, zero-tech, environmentally sustainable, and defendable against all enemies without going to war. So neither armored diesel trucks nor weapons and ammunition fit into my plans."
Even after a week of traveling with their new god, they still did not know much about him. He was cordial when spoken to but not especially talkative, evidently thinking great thoughts which mere humans could hardly comprehend. He seemed devoid of emotion, rarely smiling or frowning, although he did show concern for people's problems and offered excellent advice if asked for it. But mostly he seemed incomprehensible--and definitely weird.
The only one who seemed to understand Tazio was their Diviner who had brought him in from the desert. Wa'lah'khabi said that the angel he had met in his dream had been Tazio's own mother and that she had dispatched him to rescue her son from himself, explaining that Tazio was experiencing a crisis of ennui because he had been so severely traumatized by his own erotic adolescent urges that he--utilizing godlike powers--had magically transformed himself into a sexless neuter.
At first the people of the tribe found that hard to believe, but one day they passed a lake and everyone took a bath, including their new god. Sure enough, Tazio was sexless, neither protrusion nor indentation between "his" legs, just smooth skin. And then that tail. Even weirder.
Eventually, it was sex that awakened Kla’Khitt from his coma. Besides his own sisters there were few comely girls in the tribe, the mercenaries had stolen most of the desirable ones away to some unknown fate. Mooie's expertise in the clinic had saved her and the other four sisters were too young, although just barely; they would have been next.
One evening along the way, the entourage stopped to make camp in a pretty little oasis. People were feeling good, hopeful, healthy, happy, some of them started playing makeshift drums, there was singing, dancing. A party.
Mooie and sisters let themselves go, hopping and wiggling, shaking bosoms and butts African-style. Kla and Lord Tazio sat together, observing the festivities with apparent amusement. Not quite as calmly and emotionless as usual.
In fact, for the first time ever Lord Tazio seemed somewhat uneasy, agitated, began sweating. Then it was noticed that Kla was staring at his sister Mooie dancing, also looking uneasy, agitated, sweating, and sporting an extremely obvious erection.
Like a zombie again, entranced, he started moving toward Mooie, who was having fun and oblivious to Kla's sudden interest. Tazio, who had seemed entranced as well, suddenly reacted by calling out, "No, we don't do that!" but it had no affect on Kla. Just as Mooie was about to be grabbed from behind Tazio launched himself forward and caught Kla's arm to stop him.
What followed then was an astounding struggle between his own selves. Astounding because they were the same PERSON and it defied all logic, and astounding because they were so blindingly fast and powerful, two demigods, two wild animals. Trees were damaged. But it was also over in seconds and of course the actual Tazio won, far more powerful once he pulled up some Urr and pinned his opponent to the earth.
Then Kla’Khitt shouting those words, freely translated from Ma'w: "Get the fuck out of my HEAD!"
After having shared Tazio's memories for three days, Kla was "himself" again, although a completely new self both physically and mentally. At first the withdrawal he suffered was shocking: a devastating reduction of intelligence inherent to thinking Tazio's godlike thoughts; vast scientific knowledge abruptly forgotten; it was like suddenly becoming an abject idiot. During that time Kla had even comprehended all the magic within some arcane "Hellbook", but now it was far too complex--like some technical medical book full of Latin names and mathematical formulas that he could no longer keep straight. He had also lost access to the Urr power; leaving him as weak as a mere human.
And even worse, his feeble thoughts were once again nothing better than guilt and shame for his own war crimes. At least, that was his perception. In reality, Kla had become physically and mentally superior to anyone else in the tribe in almost every way, but he was not comparing himself to them: it was a drag being a mere mortal again.
The relationship between Tazio and Kla became quite strange; Kla antagonistic and resentful, Tazio tolerant but emotionless. Kla felt no gratitude that Tazio had given him his life back, only anger that he had to live it once again.
He also blamed Tazio for having caused him to aim that incestuous erection at his own sister, although Mooie was quite delighted to learn that Tazio had lusted after her.
When they finally came upon their old village it was now surrounded by chain fences adorned with barbed wire and machine-gun guard towers, containing many military vehicles and troops within. When the tribe arrived at the entry port Tazio walked in without being challenged. Minutes later the troops began packing equipment and within three hours had abandoned the village. They had also obediently pulled down the chain fences and taken them away. Not a shot was fired.
Kla’Khitt watched every vehicle drive out and away, waiting with a rock in his hand for a glimpse of Sergeant Bwakanta. But the sergeant did not seem to have been on post that day.
The Ma'waaluuki took possession of their former village once again after the last soldier had departed, gladly moving back into their old homes. Some huts had been torn down to make room for a new telecommunications building and a motor pool, so some families had to move into the new buildings, for the moment at least.
Tazio walked around the village to ascertain the layout and begin his planning process. The Diviner, the Chief and most of the men accompanied him. There was a large area dedicated to the cotton crop but no food production except for the officer's tiny garden and lots of chickens.
"The cotton can't be harvested for another two months," Wa'thnab stated, "but we can't wait for it, we'll need this land to grow food."
Wa'lah'khabi nodded, "Cotton was for the government's benefit anyway, we can't even sell it without going through them."
"Then we burn it," Tazio said, "the ash is good fertilizer." He turned to three of the younger men following him, "can you guys get on that right away please?" They nodded and ran off to do the job.
"We need to plant a garden today; is there a cache of seeds nearby?"
"Yes, Lord, we hid a supply from the soldiers: rice, millet, peanuts, potatoes, corn, okra, and lots of other stuff."
"Good, take me to them. I want to enhance them before we plant anything."
The seed cache was discovered now to be beneath a wooden building the troops had erected since the Ma'waaluuki had been kicked out of their village. But that was no problem for Tazio, who pulled up his Urr for some extra lifting power, then took hold of a corner and tipped the entire building over on one side. "Don't damage the building," he told those watching in amazement, "we'll be salvaging the wood and other materials later."
The seeds had been buried in the ground, packed in oiled skins. They were opened for Tazio to inspect. He had the men arrange them in a circle around him as he stood with his tail stuck into the dirt for better contact with the earth. He warned everyone to stand back and once again pulled up the Urr, permeating the seeds in the life force of the earth for a while. When he was done with that process he said to his audience, which by then had grown to contain every person in the village, "Now let's go plant these seeds."
"But Lord," Ta'chak mentioned, "the cotton is still burning." Sure enough, flames and black smoke were billowing up over the fields.
"No problem, I'll put out the fire at the last second--we want the earth to be hot when we plant these seeds."
They looked at him as if he just might be crazy, scratched their heads.
"Hey, I'm your god now, right? Omniscient, omnipotent, etc? Have a little faith, please."
They went to the burning cotton fields as one group, each bearing a skin bag of seeds, assembling before the flaming area, where they had to stop. Most of the cotton plants had crumbled and the flames were beginning to die out, but those acres of land were still unapproachable.
Tazio faced the field, planted his tail in the earth, raised his hands like the conductor of an orchestra, made a flourish. Showing off, perhaps, because the fire went out instantly with a muffled PLA-BOOF, after which the entire surface of that field began to churn; like a rough sea, breaking up in chunks, rippling and roiling, almost boiling. Large and small stones surfaced and rolled away into an out-of-the-way pile. It all ended up resembling a well-tilled field with symmetrical furrows just waiting to be seeded.
It was still hot, but African feet are accustomed to hot sand and dirt, the people ran out across those fields spreading seeds as they had always done, although at a running pace. The seeding was finished within an hour.
From there Tazio and followers moved on to wiping out many traces of the government occupation, the watchtowers were taken down, wood stacked up for future projects. Everyone worked tirelessly because no one was tired, still charged with vital energy from their exposure to Urr, so by the end of their first day home they had made the village quite their own again.
The next day, after a good night's sleep due to all the physical activity everyone had expended, they discovered that their new god had labored all night and built some very strange constructions.
One resembled a huge stack of stone slabs, all large and very heavy, plates hewn flat for precision stacking and composed of various aggregates of rock; granite, sandstone, slate, crystal. It was obvious that Tazio had gathered and formed and lifted those rocks into place alone, just as they had all seen him effortlessly lift a house the day before. It was not obvious why he was building it.
"This is an electronics nulleffector," he explained, "when finished it will cancel out all electrical systems within a 10-mile radius. It generates a field of static within which neither light bulbs nor motor ignitions nor telecommunications can function, hindering the government from sending in modern equipment like airplanes, drones, and armored personnel carriers. Which they are already planning to do later today."
Another nearby "device" was a pulsing clump of succulent plants framed within timbers from the dismantled watchtowers, out of which was spewing clean water, already having formed a merry little creek running through the length of the village. "Organic water pump, extra pure water," Tazio informed them as he continued to work upon the stack of stone slabs, now winding wire salvaged from the buildings around the top, creating a very large-format coil.
Kla’Khitt asked, "Lord, are these things magic?"
"No, Kla, just symbiotic catalysis. The trick is to assemble components in the proper relationships to make energy flow."
"The real trick," Wa'lah'khabi noted, "must be guessing just what the hell that proper relationship might be." The tribe was just beginning to recognize that their new god was also an inspired inventor.
Later that day, as predicted, a small airplane approached the village from above. Tazio was not finished with the electronics nulleffector, so he had to deal with the threat in another way.
"That airplane is only on a reconnaissance mission, but they do have weapons aboard, including hand grenades if they feel like bombing us."
"How do you know that, Lord?"
"I can hear their radio signals."
"Can you swat them out of the sky, Lord?"
"Oh, suppose I could, Kla, but I don't do that stuff."
"Well, here they come."
"No, I don't think so," Tazio insisted and jabbed his tail into the dirt, taking a solid stance. By now everyone understood that he was calling up the Urr once again. There was a tingling in the air.
The large pile of stones that had sorted itself from the planting field began to drift up into the air. Within a few seconds the sky above them was dotted with a thousand floating rocks of all sizes, some of them quite large.
The little plane had to bank hard to avoid flying into a boulder, then swing hard to avoid another, brushing a third with his wing and making a "clunk" sound that could be heard below. It did not take the pilot long to realize that he could not weave through so many stones hovering in his path and turned back, away from the village and vanishing back over the horizon. Below, a cheer went up.
When the plane was gone Tazio relaxed and the stones descended slowly back into a pile again. Levitating several tons of stone into the sky and holding them there for a while had apparently been as effortless as everything else he did, because he then turned to resume stringing wires above his strange device, asking a few men to give him a hand adjusting the complex spider web pattern.
When the electronic nulleffector was finished Tazio walked away to begin a new project.
"Aren't you going to turn it on?" he was asked.
"There is no switch," Tazio explained, "the energy field is generated by catalysis, the proximity of certain minerals in specific shapes, the alignment of the wires, so it's already working. Just don't mess with it and it'll keep working."
"But it makes no sound."
"You won't be able to hear or feel anything any more than you could have registered the radio waves that constantly permeate everything."
"So can you still hear the radios?"
"No," he said, and for almost the first time Tazio actually smiled, "which is quite nice!"
That evening he came back to make an adjustment. The village had always been plagued by mosquitoes and flies, but Tazio shoved a thin layer of mica between heavy slabs of obsidian and feldspar and after that those particular insects remained beyond the periphery of the nulleffector's energy field, 10 miles away.
New huts had to be built, which the Ma'waaluuki did understand how to do, so they set about reassembling their village as Tazio worked on his earth god stuff. But when he had a spare moment he also helped putting poles in the ground, mixing adobe for the walls. He was not only tireless, he was completely democratic about working shoulder to shoulder with anyone in the tribe.
He built an almost traditional hut for himself, allowing people to help him because they wanted to. They noticed that he was slightly improving the time-honored design in ways that impressed them enough that they all decided to do the same to their huts. Simple things; like a pattern of roof thatching that conducted a breeze under the hot African sun, cooling hut interiors as an overhead fan would, had there been electricity. The same principle was applied to a larger-scale tribal "refrigerator" to keep food fresh longer.
The women of the tribe always offered him food, for which he politely thanked them but hardly ever did eat. He drank water, but nothing else. He was also offered several cute young wives, but refrained from accepting them too. It seemed that there was nothing he desired or needed, except to work and invent miraculous contraptions.
Within a week it was obvious that the seeds Tazio had "processed" were also miraculous, because that which grew from the earth was unlike any crop they had seen before. Not only were the vegetables extraordinarily quick to grow but also larger and healthier than any before. Giant grains of rice on treelike stalks, huge green pea pods of okra, trees of normal-sized peanuts but bearing so many of them, watermelons, pineapples, corn, everything in an abundance never before realized.
The ninety-three villagers had lived almost without food for weeks by then, nurtured only by sessions of Urr and some eggs, as well as wild fruits they had scavenged in the jungle. They had chickens but spared them for the eggs they could produce. By two weeks after first planting they could begin to eat from the village garden and by three weeks they could throw banquets.
Most of the wooden buildings the government had erected inside the village were disassembled and plundered for materials, but there was one house allowed to remain standing; a medical facility for the soldiers stationed there. Tazio had, in fact, commanded the departing troops to leave it and all supplies intact, so it could be used as a hospital. But since he could always heal people's ailments, it became his own laboratory instead, where he could conduct experiments under sterile conditions. One of the few things he allowed himself to enjoy was a new challenge now and then. Perhaps because he was a god and thus needed to create.
In the clinic canteen he found a long-lost strawberry in the back of the refrigerator, although once he had set the nulleffector in operation it no longer cooled anything and the strawberry was shriveled and rotten. But strawberries are a fruit not native to Africa, so this was the only example available as long as the village was isolated from the rest of the world--and it was therefore a challenge.
Tazio healed the strawberry back to health, a process demanding psychic powers and the Urr, then restructured the DNA as well. He planted it behind the building, where he had his private garden just for experimenting. Eventually, after some adjusting over many weeks, he had a strawberry plant that produced large fruit. But they were mushy and decayed rapidly after picked, so it became a longer project, rather like a hobby.
Another hobby was the school in which he was teaching every day. That had started with questions the villagers were constantly asking him, since they had an earth god in their midst willing to explain the mysteries of the universe. It became easier and more effective to organize a meeting at the same time every day and allow anyone interested to join in, rather than repeating all his words of wisdom. Since Tazio was, in fact, very good at public speaking, almost everyone young and old chose to come and hear his presentations. Thus he became their guru.
The Ma'waaluuki had traditionally been poor and illiterate, isolated economically and generally ignorant of the world around them. Only a few of them had ever been as far away as the capital city of Jasmana, 125 miles to the south. Tazio educated them, starting with the basics; reading and writing, histories, sciences, philosophies, comparative religions, logic. That his teaching technique was half-telepathic only enhanced the effectiveness of his lessons, people couldn't help but learn.
Of course, as they learned advanced concepts, they became each more aware of alternative possibilities, and the sessions often became discussions instead of lectures. Tazio's position as infallible guru was sometimes put to the test.
For example, in a discussion about world politics and economics and how a people's perception of ethical values could become a matter of political manipulation by those of vested interests, it was Kla’Khitt who called him on a salient point: "Lord, excuse me, but how do we know YOU are not brainwashing us with your own version of the way things are?"
"Good point, Kla, and the logical result of becoming informed and learning how to think for yourself: should you believe any teacher blindly? Everyone has an agenda."
"Even you, who desires nothing?"
"And yet I do believe in some things: such as eliminating war."
"Everything else leads up to that decision: universal freedom and equality, wealth, knowledge, safety, health-- all requirements of a world at peace."
Kla was always argumentative: "But there are some very justifiable reasons for war: as here in Qamabria, where a dictator oppresses this entire country-- which the bastard has even renamed after himself! His mercenaries have killed so many and continue to do so. Their atrocities must be stopped. Hell, they must be punished! I would gladly go to war against them!"
"War is certainly the worst method of stopping atrocities; innocent people die, infrastructure is destroyed, and noble causes always become perverted. As for punishment, it justifies revenge and is self-destructive to any person or society perpetrating it."
"So how do you...no, how do WE protect ourselves against a dangerous government like that of Qamabro?"
"You shut him out, as we have done."
"That's fine for US," Kla’Khitt pointed out, "we've got our own local god with magical powers, but what about every OTHER village in the wonderful land of Qamabria?"
"What you are asking is: why don't I just go ahead and take over this country?" Tazio suggested.
"Indeed, Lord Tazio," others joined the discussion, "you could easily do it, why haven't you?"
"Because I have done exactly that many times in other lands. I breeze into town, observe social injustice, etc, depose an evil dictator, free the people, and then continue on my journey. A year later I see that another dictator has taken his place, people don't learn. I can't be bothered anymore."
"You could have stayed and ruled."
"I had other things to do. Besides, then I would not be here. And anyway, in which land should I have stayed?"
No one had an answer to that question.
As tribal god, Lord Tazio became the ultimate authority of the villagers. Sometimes he made decisions concerning personal conflicts, although he preferred to allow people to work it out themselves--in fact, it was usually his decision and command that they do so. But other times he was required to act like a god.
Many old traditions were resurfacing, now that the Ma'waaluuki were experiencing peace and prosperity: ancient cultural habits remembered with nostalgia. After years of so much misery and desperation their ceremonial music had simply died out (along with many musicians), but now drums were once again being made and played. Lord Tazio himself apparently had no affection for music (because of his lack of passion?), but tolerated the noise without complaint. He gladly participated in a reinvention of ancient food traditions, and counseled potential young shaman-diviners as only an enlightened deity could.
But some traditions he resisted. The warrior tradition, for example, was problematic for him and his ruling was quite clear: "I forbid war." He did, however, accept that young men be trained in defensive techniques and that a well-disciplined tribal policing force could be necessary for emergencies. He envisioned their function as police rather than soldiers. There was some umbrage among the young men, Kla’Khitt being especially verbal about it.
And some traditions he absolutely forbid. That young men still regarded ceremonial circumcision as a rite of passage he tolerated, but the practice of female mutilation--clitorectomies--he would not allow. The older women of the tribe protested because it had always been their practice, but Tazio called that cultural brainwashing and explained that everywhere else in the world such mutilations were considered barbaric. Emotions ran high enough that some women began questioning Lord Tazio's authority. For once even Lord Tazio seemed vehement about a subject.
Mooie questioned Tazio publically about that, fascinated by his rare display of passion. She had always assumed that she would have to endure having her clitoris removed to become an adult woman, although she had experimented enough to know that she would be sad to lose it. She was glad that he was defending her clitoris, but wondered: "Why does this mean so much to you, Lord, when you have yourself discarded your own sexual organs?"
"My condition is as temporary as I so choose," Lord Tazio said, "yours would be permanent. However, I must admit that my apparent passion is hardly my own, but that of a Danish woman I once loved years ago. She had been involved with women's rights around the world and was adamantly against women being subjected to that brutal operation and having natural sex stolen from them for the rest of their lives."
"So you too have been brainwashed?" challenged Kla’Khitt, as he did whenever he got the chance (even though he secretly agreed that crippling nice healthy vaginas was bad). "No, I have simply been informed of an opinion I respect and agree with."
"But does that give you any RIGHT to..." Kla was not about to stop.
But Tazio stopped him anyway: "What's RIGHT is that those mutilations are not to be committed any more. I so command."
"Yes, Lord!" Everyone spoke in obedience. Even Kla, who had no clitoris.
LORD OF THE REALM
Most of the villagers came to know Tazio at a formal distance: he was their god, after all (or demon; they weren't quite certain). Although they had learned not to fear him, he was intimidating in too many ways to ever be just one of the guys. Few were comfortable making small-talk with someone a thousand times more intelligent than themselves (and who could obviously read your mind), or rubbing shoulders with someone who balanced ten-ton boulders in each hand; or sharing emotions with someone who had none. And those eyes, and that tail...
But he did develop a few friendships among the tribe, such as with Wa'lah'khabi, who as Diviner had to be the wisest man in the tribe-- especially after close contact with Tazio's energy had improved his mental circuitry substantially. The 70-year-old had a shrewdly logical view of life that Tazio respected and a dry sense of humor that amused him. Also old Mah'anee, having been so rejuvenated that she and the diviner became lovers, was another friend.
Although chronologically not yet 18 years old, Tazio was wise so far beyond his years that he appreciated having some acquaintances he could relate to. The younger members of the tribe were too much in awe of him to dare be friends and too simple to be interesting for him. However, of the younger villagers he did become close to Mooie and her sisters, perhaps because they were so intensely enthusiastic about things, a refreshing antidote to his own lack of emotion.
Mooie passionately yearned to be Tazio's lover, for example, even though he was a sexless neuter. Having learned that Tazio's sexuality might be adjustable, she argued that if he had the magical power to change his gender once he could simply do it again and become a man. A horny man, for her sake.
"But as a male I become afflicted by an all-consuming Lust, I have no desire to endure that again."
"The problem is that you have no desire for ANYTHING," she bemoaned, "I would GLADLY help you with that Lust. And if one woman is not enough, as you say, you could have many wives among the Ma'waaluuki...just as long as I am one of them."
Mooie was 16 years old and still unmarried, which was atypical for her culture, but then again the entire tribe had suffered such a traumatic year that nothing was typical any more. A traditional husband would have been a much older man, but now Mooie was only interested in Tazio, her favorite god.
Tazio also liked Mooie because she was smart and helpful with his experiments, although her blossoming erotic beauty seemed to mean nothing to him. He was teaching her scientific techniques and she learned fast. She even learned to stop irritating him by constantly offering her pretty little body.
Her older brother Kla’Khitt was also intelligent and passionate, but hardly so enamored of Tazio. He was, in fact, the only one among the tribe who dared to be verbally critical of their god: "Why don't you use your mighty powers against our wicked government instead of hiding away in a safe little utopia while other villages suffer?"
Tazio would not discourage discussion because he agreed in principle, but Kla always pressed him: "In fact, you should conquer The Entire World, Lord!"
"And become World Dictator?"
"We've seen how you rule us, Lord Tazio, so YES!"
"Well, as you've seen during our time together, I probably DO have enough power to take over the world...if I was ruthless enough. In fact, that was once supposed to be my destiny.
"But you all know me to be essentially devoid of human emotions-- including that of ruthlessness --can you imagine how much dedication and commitment I would have to muster up to conquer this entire country? Much more the entire world? I don't have it in me, at least not right now. "That's why I'm here, in this isolated little utopia, learning how to be a god. I'm not ready yet."
The Qamabrian government, meanwhile, strived to re-conquer the safe little utopia, constantly attempting to attack or infiltrate the Ma'waaluuki. They could neither fly over with helicopters or airplanes, nor drive assault vehicles into the village, due to their electrical systems inexplicably going dead 10 miles away from their target, but ground troops should easily be able to march into the village.
President Qamabro's military forces dispatched battalions of experienced mercenaries to take the village; off they went, armed and dangerous. They always returned unharmed but disarmed and confused, then quit being soldiers forever, offering no explanations. Disciplinary measures did not change their minds, only caused them to desert and sneak away back to their farms somewhere.
Spies were sent to the village on foot through the jungle, unarmed and dressed as innocent civilians. They too returned useless for further military service. All roads to the village also vanished, apparently due to minor earthquakes.
Eventually troops available for these actions became so depleted that the military had barely enough trained soldiers remaining for their standard terrorizing and abuse of other towns and villages around the Qamabrian domain. Kandingo rebels were still active. Re-conquering the Ma'waaluuki was dropped for a while, as much as it irked the dictator.
Within the village the Ma'waaluuki were, of course, delighted that their old enemy was so frustrated. It was with amusement that they watched the invasions coming in, only to be met by Tazio, who would speak a few succinct words to them about dropping their weapons into the large hole on their way out of town and never coming back.
Traditionally, every Ma'waaluuki male aspired to be a mighty warrior, so they partook in the meeting of enemy troops with spears and swords brandished. That their foes were armed with modern rifles and grenades hardly mattered; it was all ceremonial anyway. Their god did all the combat with magic words that could not be disobeyed, so their enemies were helpless and it would have been dishonorable to harm them. But it was fun to pretend they were formidable warriors, just like in the old days.
Kla’Khitt was among those warriors, although dissatisfied by this parody of warfare; his own "traditional" weapon as a boy soldier had never been a spear but an AK-47 and he was raging to harm those hated enemies who had done so much evil to him and his family. He only managed to control his wrath because of what Tazio had said to him one day:
"These soldiers we encounter are not those who have personally harmed you, they may be following orders of those who have, but are themselves yet innocent--and I send them away to remain innocent."
Kla could not argue against that logic, but waited until the day a certain Sergeant Bwakanta might be among the invaders. Then his spear would be good enough.
He would have surreptitiously supplied himself with guns and bullets from those piles of weapons discarded by their departing attackers, but Tazio always destroyed them right away, compressing them into a ball of molten steel with his Urr power so that nothing dangerous remained. The pit on the edge of town had at least nine large grey metal balls in it by now.
One day a wandering hermit came to the village and told of having just seen a small tribe of gorillas in the jungle. This was very unusual, gorillas lived much farther south and had never before been seen in the area. Lord Tazio became quite interested-- which was also something unusual --and decided to investigate. Of course there were many who wished to accompany him, but he considered it best to go alone since gorillas were notoriously shy.
It was to be one of the few times that Tazio left the confines of the village, wandering far beyond the protective energy shield that kept the mercenaries and war machines at bay. He was, in fact, accosted by some troops, but that only resulted with them abandoning their machines and weapons and deserting ranks, as usual. And he should have been several long day's marches to where the gorillas had last been seen, but Tazio moved faster than any normal man could and was back in 3 days-- along with seven adult gorillas and three babes.
"A band of white hunters had driven them up north and are still after them," Lord Tazio explained, "so I invited them to our jungle for their safety until I speak with the hunters."
The gorillas were indeed shy of the villagers, but they seemed to trust Tazio implicitly. Perhaps he had commanded them to. He evidently spoke fluent gorilla language with them; a blending of clicks and grunts, hand-signs and body-language. Tazio had brought them for everybody to see because both humans and apes were curious about each other, and he chose to avoid individuals getting into trouble if surprised.
The villagers gave the gorillas some fruit and everyone shared a picnic, Tazio even translated a few inter-species conversations. Afterwards he led the apes away to a spot in the forest where they could forage in peace until it was safe for them to wander back south again.
As usual, Kla’Khitt took umbrage with the actions of the village god, saying, "Why do you have such sympathy for gorillas, but allow the other villages of people around this land to suffer under a wicked dictator?"
And as usual, Tazio answered his irritating challenges politely and precisely: "The gorillas are people too, but more simple and their problems are simpler to solve. As for people, haven't you noticed the time and effort I've invested in just this one village?"
Although the Ma'waaluuki lived within a protected area, they were not prisoners and could potentially come and go as they wished. Some had family in the nearest village, Kandija, 15 miles to the south, others as far away as Jasmana. But they were surrounded by Qamabro's mercenaries, who were constantly striving to maintain a quarantine along the circle of the electronics nulleffector field, 10 miles from the village itself. The army was always interested in capturing and questioning anyone going to or from the village, so it was usually dangerous to cross their border, although it could be done.
Refugees from President Qamabro's atrocities in other neighboring towns often came seeking amnesty in the Ma'waaluuki "utopia", but few made it past the "border" control. Word was getting around and the village might have been overrun if not for Qamabro's mercenaries keeping most refugees out.
Sometimes Tazio caused difficulties for the military (like minor earthquakes) that resulted in some refugees coming through, but generally he preferred that village population be kept to an ideal ratio of persons per available area and housing. At first the village could easily afford to take in about a hundred new citizens because the Ma'waaluuki had been so decimated by the government's ruthless policies, having killed off half of the original population. But the ideal ratio was soon in place, after which he allowed the military to enforce their restrictions. Refugees kept on coming, in larger or smaller groups, but only few got through.
Among actual victims of the Qamabro regime, governmental spies and agents tried to blend into the crowds of refugees, but Tazio's telepathic senses always revealed them and they were commanded to leave at once. Some of them begged to stay because they too had had enough of Qamabro's totalitarian dictatorship. Tazio's response was to send them back to their HQ as his own agents, to report regularly by a system of flashing mirror signals set up by sympathizers all over Qamabria, since neither radio nor telephones could be used in the village.
An elder named Thi'klaba had a daughter in Kandija whom he wished to bring home to the village before any of Qamabro's agents discovered what a good hostage she could be. He spoke to Tazio and it was agreed that Thi'klaba should make the journey, but with protection. Tazio did not wish to leave the village unprotected, so he deputized a bodyguard: Kla’Khitt.
Not because he and Kla were on such friendly terms at the moment; almost the opposite. But Tazio needed an agent of his own capable of dealing with the outside world and Kla had already been physically enhanced during his three days as a part of Tazio's power. He also respected Kla's passion for justice. There was also the matter of Kla's tragic childhood as a war-slave: the double-edged sword of having the experience and talent for action; fused with a trauma still haunting him for having been a monster. For Tazio this echoed of Theron; his own early monster-guilt.
Kla’Khitt considered himself a warrior, as well as all other young men of the tribe, and had often complained bitterly about how Tazio was stealing their manhood by protecting them and forbidding war. Especially since they had such a perfectly evil enemy to fight. But of course he agreed to be Tazio's agent, which was as close to being a real warrior as anyone could get.
Kla assumed he was ready, but Tazio had godlike plans. Once again he processed Kla's body with Urr and magic, flesh and bone augmented and improved; stronger, faster, tougher; with better eyesight and hearing, martial skills honed, fighting techniques endowed. Then he was ready: theoretically now the perfect warrior.
Tazio had even enhanced Kla's memory, which might seem cruel, considering how guilty Kla had always felt for those atrocities he had committed in his youth, but Tazio commanded him to endure those memories: "Realize that everything you did at that age were the actions of a brainwashed young boy, socially abused by combat-perverted adults: you are not guilty, they are."
So in addition to being a perfect warrior Kla had enhanced access to his lifetime's accumulation of combat training and practical experience, with no messy guilt to cloud his judgment. Tazio was aware that Kla could come into conflict with the very men he hated most--President Qamabro and Sergeant Bwakanta--and that Kla might be tempted to kill them. So he commanded: "You may not kill anyone unless there is no other way to save your own life or another's." It was one of those Avatar commands that you simply CANNOT disobey, and yet slightly vague. Normally Tazio preferred not to command anyone, unless he needed to be absolutely certain of obedience.
The journey to Kandija back and forth passed without incident, Kla and Thi'klaba met no mercenaries either to or from, the daughter was rescued. But it was almost a disappointment for Kla: no action, too easy.
A few days later, after no need for any sort of "perfect warrior" duty, Kla decided to go on a trip alone to Jasmana, to the capitol city of President Qamabro's empire fifty miles away. Either to spy on them or test himself, he wasn't quite sure which. He told no one but Mooie of his decision-- and especially not Tazio --considering himself a free agent.
He ran the 10 miles to the limits of the electronics nulleffector's static field. He had to leave the road at that point to avoid the government's border post there. It was easy to get past them, everyone knew where they were and they were generally too lazy to patrol the hills except sporadically.
But then Kla circled back to join them, since he was disguised as a soldier. He had dressed himself from the pile of abandoned uniforms back in the village, counting on the fact that troop identification on uniforms was usually inaccurate and out of date; units dissolved or moved, exactly which units were in town was often confusing, new uniforms were almost never issued. Since there were so many different tribal languages, English was the standard soldiers used, in which Kla was fluent. So Kla blended right in, no one knew who or where he was supposed to be.
He even had a weapon, his old favorite: a lightweight AK-47. It was part of the costume. Tazio had put it aside for him after Kla had demonstrated how accurately he could shoot, even quickly. "If you can shoot that well," he'd told Kla, "you won't need to harm anyone; you can just ding their weapons at a distance."
Kla hopped onto a troop transport heading for Jasmana. No one asked him for papers or documentation, no one cared. The Qamabrian military was so sloppy and disorganized that no one knew anything, so they delivered their enemy to his mission goal by early evening; their very own Military Headquarters Building.
Not that Kla actually had a mission; he was only planning to scout the enemy stronghold by walking around and seeing who was doing what. Although he was looking for some particular faces; Sergeant Bwakanta, for example.
But the HQ area was hardly as disorganized as out in the field, there was much more order and discipline, procedures and security checks. Wandering around anonymously snooping was not so easy there, Kla was confronted several times and asked for papers. Twice he got away with, "Never mind," and walked away, but the finally he was too deep in and guards moved to take him into custody for questioning. He considered allowing it to happen, just to get deeper into the area, but they decided to brutalize him first, so he overpowered those five men and escaped.
Kla’Khitt knew that Tazio had improved him, but even he was amazed by how superior he was to any common soldier, fighting them off was like wading through children.
When night fell he went into the HQ Building by scaling walls and leaping from rooftop to rooftop, forcing solid locked doors, and wandering the empty halls. Any guards he met were out of luck, although he was careful not to cripple or kill. He had no idea what he was looking for, but he figured something interesting would eventually present itself. And it did.
He came upon the cells where political prisoners were held. And tortured. Their screams had led him there.
Within moments roles had been reversed; Kla thrashed the seven guards before they could manage to grab guns and used their keys to release the sixteen prisoners. Who immediately began torturing their jailers, their greed for revenge far stronger than any desire to escape. Kla had to shake some of them up to get them out of the cells and finish the evacuation. They had been turned into animals.
There were some difficulties with the escape, two men were wounded, but the soldiers suffered far more damage. Kla was not killing anyone, but he was using his AK-47 to put men out of the fight, precisely shooting weapons out of their hands. He wanted to shoot them in legs and feet, so they could not run for help, but found that he couldn't do it. He stole a transport truck and sent the escapees on their way, himself staying behind to hold off pursuers.
When he knew the truck was gone, he forced his way back into the building to see what else he could find. He ended up having the whole building to himself because all the soldiers broke and fled from this one-man army. But the alarm had been sounded, sirens wailing, so as the soldiers ran out they met an army gathering to back them up and retake the HQ.
Meanwhile, Kla had found the personnel archives, studied photos of the officers in Qamabro's military forces, memorizing names and faces--including the one he wanted most--then burned everything. Reports from various actions around the country; suspects, spies, secrets, intended military plans; he read and burned them; gutting the file cabinets, all records destroyed.
He escaped the burning building complex in the dawn, even with the army surrounding him. Everything was all so easy.
Kla had a civilian disguise in his backpack-- jeans and t-shirt-- so he changed, broke down his rifle to just barely fit into his pack, and walked around town anonymous and unchallenged by military vehicles charging to and fro, still involved with the burning HQ building.
Kla had been in Jasmana before; stationed there for a month while he was a 9-year-old soldier and several times thereafter before deserting at 14 years old. He remembered his way around town very well, not only due to enhanced memory but also because he once knew a girl here.
Paliita was originally from his own village, they had been childhood friends, but her family had moved to Jasmana shortly before President Qamabro had taken power in a bloody coup. Paliita and Kla had met again when they were both 12. By sheer coincidence it had been her Kla had protected from being raped by three of his boy-soldier comrades, years before he was an enhanced super warrior. Five years had passed since then, but Kla supposed that she still lived in the same place, where her parents ran the Mubagna family restaurant.
He decided to visit her. Paliita just happened to be alone in the restaurant, her parents out shopping for supplies. She had always been a pretty little girl, so Kla couldn't help wondering if she might be beautiful now, and yet he was surprised to discover just how lovely she had become. Even more surprised to discover how glad she was to see him again. "Oh my god, Kla, you were my hero and I've been thinking about you for years!"
They talked easily, in Ma'w instead of English, she was studying to be a nurse, working part-time in the city hospital. She asked if it was true that an earth god had come to live among the Ma'waaluuki and he told her his version of what that was like. She was surprised that Kla was so critical of this Lord Tazio, which lead to a discussion about their terrible government--although now she whispered, afraid to speak too loudly.
Her parents, Oh'tee and Shiwaa Mubagna, arrived to work in the restaurant, alarmed that there was a strange young man alone with their daughter. Until they recognized him: they knew that Kla’Khitt had saved their daughter from being raped years before and were still grateful, so there was no problem with unfriendly parents. Kla was invited to stay with them while he was in Jasmana and he accepted.
He ate dinner with the family in their restaurant, which was nice since he had no money. Later that evening Kla and Paliita sat in a local park and shared their first kiss. Neither of them was ready to take it farther than that yet, but romance was definitely in the air.
Sex, however, was a traumatic concept for both of them. She was still a virgin who had once almost been raped. Kla was hardly virgin but his first sexual experiences had been as a child soldier and not nice: Corporal Bwakanta often commanded his boy troopers to rape girls in the villages their unit had taken. It had never been a matter of desire: their officers considered it a rite of manhood and solidarity and no one was allowed to refrain, so that they were all equally guilty in case any of them turned out to be a snitch at some war-crimes tribunal.
But Kla had always liked Paliita, and being a horny young man, soon felt that he was quite in love with her. He had never been lucky with girls back home, who regarded him as no fun and much too bitter, but Paliita seemed to like him anyway. Then again, he actually smiled around her, which always helps.
But that evening could lead to nothing more erotic than that one kiss. Paliita was scheduled for the night shift as student nurse at the local hospital. Kla had plans to visit the Presidential Palace after dark and had to make certain there was no way the police or military could trace him back to her family, so he left early and wandered around town as if aimlessly.
It was common knowledge that President Qamabro was in residence at the moment; newspaper headlines informed that he'd been having official meetings with various dignitaries and ambassadors. Most international governments considered Qamabro's reign half-illegal, constantly accused of violating human rights, but there were always some ready to do business anyway. Kla wanted to infiltrate the palace and do some damage, but had no exact plan.
He was mostly there because he had found something among those HQ archives he had burned: the location of his old enemy Bwakanta. Sergeant Bwakanta had been promoted and was now Captain of the President's guard, and was therefore permanently stationed inside the Palace.
The President's own PR media announced that there was to be a gala banquet this very evening. So there would be many guests, and many soldiers on guard.
Kla yearned for revenge: Bwakanta had personally killed Kla's own father by cutting off his hands with a machete, as well as many other elders among the Ma'waaluuki. Kla he had crippled and let live, laughing about it. Kla had killed no one since his child soldier years, and doubted that he could disobey Tazio's command not to, but was willing to work within in that restriction--by keeping Bwakanta alive without hands. He had no machete, but Bwakanta always had one on him.
Penetrating the defenses of the Palace would hardly be as easy as the HQ had been; the guards were alert now, aware that a formidable enemy was in town. They had heard reports about a super-warrior or ultra-ninja of some kind, so all ranks were doubled and spotlights were illuminating every darkest corner of the palace. Even the rooftops were ablaze with light. No one could sneak in.
However, Kla had seen the building plans for the Palace among the HQ Archives and memorized them before burning. It was by far the largest building within the entire City of Jasmana, 4 stories high and expanding over an area of two city blocks, with hundreds of rooms and several large salons for opulent extravaganzas. There were also underground tunnels and secret passageways, one of which lead to an office building across the street from the palace. He started there.
It was easy getting into the building; there was a guard but not a very good one, Kla slipped on by and went down to the basement. A locked door at the end of a long passageway did not stop him, although he had to be quiet about breaking it and there was no way to make it look all right, but it appeared to be rarely used and might never be discovered. After that he was into the tunnels under the palace.
When he finally did meet a manned underground guard post, two armed soldiers with no way to sneak past, he took advantage of their uniforms and keys and walky-talkies, leaving them handcuffed and gagged. He knew there had to be a report schedule procedure, so now the clock was ticking.
Now disguised as a guard he followed the sound of the banquet upstairs, bluffing his way close enough to other guards to take them out, eventually discarding the uniform and plucking his next disguise from the serving staff. When he entered the banquet salon he was balancing a serving tray of drinks with professional aplomb. A gala fest indeed, several hundred people in their finest clothes, the elite of Qamabria wining and dining. An orchestra played chamber music, men and women dancing European style. There was very little of Africa in that room except for a majority of black faces. The few white faces seemed to be a remnant of colonial times, portly whiskey-drinkers.
Kla considered it all too decadent, but played his waiter role as elegantly as he could, offering cocktails to dignified guests in an equally dignified manner. All the while his eyes busy, looking for certain faces, knowing he had left too many guards incapable of keeping their scheduled report routines and that an alarm had to go up any time.
There: President Asshad Qamabro Himself, basking in the fawning of sycophants, a slim little man with monstrous authority. He was speaking with a big solid Germanic man in military dress uniform, probably a highly-paid mercenary imported for special operations. But Qamabro was only Number 2 on his list, not his current target.
There was a commotion on the other side of the ballroom; a cluster of presidential guard corps entering, orders being shouted, doors being shut. The room was being sealed, something was up, and Kla knew what: they were onto him. But he continued serving as if it had nothing to do with him, still searching for that one face.
The face arrived: Captain Bwakanta was leading the guards through the crowd directly to Kla’Khitt, his machete already in hand. The big Sergeant had become an even larger captain, the luxurious life of palace duty had made him fat, but his arms still bulged with muscle and he still emanated danger.
Kla felt a brief stab of fear, out of habit, then decided that he was the one to be feared. He continued pretending he was one of the serving staff as his foe approached, seemingly unconcerned with whatever was going on, although all the other guards were now pointing rifles at him. He did not expect them to open fire in a crowd of important guests.
Captain Bwakanta stopped before Kla’Khitt, machete poised to strike, looking him in the face with a menacing expression verging on hysteria. "Who are you working for?" he asked.
"Would you like a cocktail, sir?" Kla asked, offering his tray.
Bwakanta impatiently slapped the tray aside, cocktails spraying, glasses flying, raising the machete higher for a deadlier strike. "We've been following your approach by hidden cameras, we know you're the one who attacked Headquarters last night, so don't bother pretending..."
Kla moved so fast that none of the guards had a chance to fire; snatching the machete out of Bwakanta's powerful grip and ending up with the captain twirled backwards and held as human shield. That sharp machete was now pressing un-gently against the big man's throat, almost drawing blood.
The other guards stepped back; they could not shoot and it was clear that their captain could get his jugular vein slashed open if they stepped forward. It was also confusing how their huge and legendarily mighty Captain Bwakanta could be so EFFORTLESSLY overpowered by a young man so much smaller than him.
"All right," Kla agreed, "no pretending. You're coming with me, Bwakanta, then I'll tell you who I am before I chop off both your hands."
Bwakanta struggled to get free, but his mysterious opponent was much stronger, which confounded him. He had never experienced that before. And now he was being dragged backwards through the crowd, his captor using only his left hand, the other politely waving people aside with the machete. No one, neither guards nor guests, interfered and soon they were up against one of the massive wooden doors that sealed the room.
Bwakanta knew that the door was solidly locked and that it had to swing inward, so there was no way his captor could open it; he was trapped. Bwakanta readied himself to break free-- but suddenly he WAS free and sprawled upon the floor, legs kicked out from under him. His besieged attacker had turned from him to deal with the door, so this was his chance; if he could just scramble to his feet quickly enough.
But he was too stunned by what he saw his foe doing to react as he should: Kla used the machete on the door, hacking high and horizontally, blade cleaving with such power and surgical accuracy that the thick wood was sliced completely through with a single blow, then one more deft vertical cut caused a large chunk of door to topple to the floor, leaving a gaping hole. It had taken less than a second.
Bwakanta's chance was gone before he could close his mouth, Kla reached down to the captain's military collar and plucked him up from the floor as if he weighed nothing instead of 350 pounds, then cast him through the opening, sending him sliding out of control along the polished floor of the hallway until he crashed painfully at the far end of the hall.
He heard Kla shout, "I'll be back for the President!" Then a crunching and splintering of wood as he jammed the cutout piece of door back into place, but askew so it jammed--hard. Then he turned to come after Bwakanta, who noticed that this hall was otherwise momentarily empty of people, specifically no guards to rescue him. Seemed dark and scary.
Stunned again, this time from the impact, the captain flopped over and staggered to his feet, now limping. He found himself beside a stairway leading up, and not brave enough to make a stand--being absolutely terrorized--he ran upwards to escape. Halfway up the stairs he finally remembered that he had a pistol on his belt and fumbled for it, neither daring to stop nor slow down. He could hear the devil coming fast after him.
He turned, pistol high and fired two shots before aiming, but his weapon was yanked out of his hand and a fist to the chest dropped him sitting on the stairs, gasping for air. He lashed out with fists of his own, but they landed nowhere and he was again in a grip he could not break, his arm bent backwards. The machete poked him in the neck again.
Bwakanta became enraged: he refused to accept that this little shit could overpower him, but ended up whimpering and sobbing after Kla easily tossed him the rest of the way up two more flights of stairs and then dragged him along another hall and out onto a balcony.
They were high above a street, which was jammed with vehicles and people, military and civilian, sirens wailing, horns honking. Friday night in Jasmana. As of yet no guards had followed them--the President had insisted that they stay close to his more valuable person rather than rescue Bwakanta--but they were waiting below, lots of them.
No guards had yet spotted Kla and his captive on the balcony. Kla knew the underground passages were useless as a way out now, that's where the cameras had spotted him on the way in. He had another destination anyway: a hospital. Bwakanta made a feeble attempt to shout for help, but Kla's hand snapped to his throat and the machete poked his fat gut pointedly, so he got the message. But he did manage to ask: "Who ARE you? Why are you doing this?""
"I am a Ma'waaluuk warrior," Kla said proudly.
Bwakanta pondered, wondered, and then figured it out. "From the unapproachable village where the devil-boy lives?"
"The tribe considers him our god, although I may agree that he's a devil."
"So you are not the devil-boy?"
"No, but he made me as I am."
"Why are you persecuting me?"
"That's a pretty stupid question--why do you suppose?"
"Ah, the old revenge routine, eh?"
Kla had been watching the traffic below, suddenly and without a word he tucked the machete into his belt, threw Bwakanta over his shoulder and leaped off the balcony. Helpless, Bwakanta could only shut his eyes and whimper. Kla skipped over a series of rooftops, to end up on the roof of an ambulance. No one seemed to have seen or heard them, not even the men inside the ambulance, which was headed for the hospital.
Kla hopped off just outside the hospital building, the huge man still over his shoulder, seemingly no encumbrance. There was a small park across the street, grim and grubby but offering privacy, he went in there and set Bwakanta on his feet, facing him. Then he pulled the machete from his belt.
"You used this machete to cut off the hands of many men--including my own father--then laughed as they bled to death. You deserve the same, but I brought you to a hospital because I may not KILL anyone--not even you--however, whether you go in for medical attention or not is up to you."
Bwakanta was afraid and he looked it, tears streaming down his fat face. "No, this is too cruel! You would cripple a man for life?"
"I agree; it is too cruel. As cruel as when you crippled me and left me to live that way."
"But I don't even remember you," he shrieked.
"Perhaps not, but you will from now on." Kla’Khitt kicked Captain Bwakanta in the belly, then shoved him face-down in the dry grassless dirt of the park. Automatically the man put his hands forward to break his fall and Kla stepped on them, pinning them in place. He raised the machete in one hand.
It was admittedly an awkward way to chop off hands. Bwakanta had always had it down to a science, having performed the operation so very many times, but then he always had two assistants to hold the wrists of his victims in position. It was not so easy to do alone. But if one was skillful and struck with enough power...
For at least an entire minute Kla stood poised trembling with readiness, Bwakanta whimpering pathetically and trying to wriggle free and yet nothing happened. Kla had waited a long time for this revenge, and yet he waited a little more, and more.
Finally he swung the machete with all his amplified strength-- sideways, shearing a nearby tree from the trunk with one blow. The severed tree jabbed into the dirt, and then toppled slowly through the branches of other trees above.
"It's fucking Tazio's fault!" Kla roared in frustration, "His stupid command not to kill anyone has crippled me somehow! I can't even HARM my worst enemy!"
Eventually Bwakanta comprehended that the amputation was not going to happen, at least he stopped blubbering and weeping. He was surprised and confused to discover that Kla was also weeping. He wondered if his enemy was insane.
Even more so when Kla suddenly yanked him to his feet and slapped the handle of the machete into Bwakanta's hand, speaking in a madman's hiss: "But I may DEFEND myself, that was a condition! Come on, Attack me, you evil shit!"
Bwakanta was amazed, but emboldened by this astounding opportunity to win the battle. He fiercely gripped the machete and roared with rage, pulling it back to deliver a blow that should take off his tormenter's head. But then he froze as a wave of cowardice swept through him: that weapon was useless against this demon, he knew how this would end.
Bwakanta dropped the machete as if it was hot and fell to his knees. "Don't HARM me, please, don't HARM me!" He had heard Kla's frustrated words and retained just enough shrewdness to use them as a defense.
Remaining that way for what seemed like a long time, neither moving nor speaking, the two opponents ignored one another, looking down at the earth. Until Bwakanta finally worked up the nerve to ask, "Now what?"
Kla’Khitt sighed in defeat, saying "I'd take you to the police for your war crimes, but you own them, so they'd only arrest me instead."
He looked down upon the beaten and battered Captain Bwakanta, a brutal man who struck terror into every other man, now reduced to a cringing coward. Kla considered slapping him around some more just for a bit of cruel satisfaction, but remembered that torture was the favorite entertainment of that man-- and those like him.
So he shrugged, turned and walked away, muttering "ghastaghana", which is the Ma'w phrase for "fuck it", leaving Bwakanta on his knees to find his own way home.
As Kla exited the park alone, he barely noticed a group of nurses coming out of the hospital, a midnight shift-change. He was in no horny-guy humor to pay them any attention. But one of them called out to him: "Kla? Is that you?"
It was Paliita waving to him, looking cute in her nurse’s uniform. He was confused for a second by conflicting realities, then remembered that she was to work a shift in some hospital somewhere in town. This one, apparently.
He went over to her and was suddenly surrounded by giggling young women who had heard all about him from their friend Paliita. So she had to demonstrate that he belonged to her and gave him a bold kiss on the mouth, to a chorus of more giggles.
It had already been arranged that Kla was to be guest of Paliita and her family, so he accompanied the flock of girls on their way home. It took some mental adjustment to go from instrument of vengeance to charming new boy friend, but he made the effort and forgot about Captain Bwakanta back in the park. Ghastaghana.
But Bwakanta had not forgotten him, in fact he had followed and observed Kla's circumstantial meeting with his affectionate little sweetheart.
After another day in Jasmana, trying to behave like a normal potential boyfriend, Kla’Khitt felt he should return home, for a while at least. Especially because there was so much military activity in town, soldiers and police searching for the Ma'waaluuki terrorist who had attacked the President's banquet and kidnapped his Captain of the Guards. It was time to lay low.
Paliita was sad to see him go, but he was really in no mood for company, still frustrated that he had failed to punish his arch enemy as deserved and discouraged about what value he had as a warrior who could do no harm. He was also reluctant to put Paliita and her family in danger by being their guest while the government was searching the entire city for him. But he gladly promised to visit her again.
It took two days to get back home; he did not dare take the roads with all the military traffic concentrated on surrounding the "unapproachable" Ma'waaluuki village, so he went by foot, easily running through wild jungle and barren hills. He was spotted skipping into the e-null zone, but no one followed him in there.
Kla had been gone five days, but nobody had really missed him except his sisters. It seemed that the only thing going on was Lord Tazio still playing with modified strawberries, striving for the perfect product.
Actually, the fruit had become visibly impressive, now firm and resilient, the mushiness problem solved, but Tazio felt that the taste could yet be improved. Aware that his own senses had become vague along with his other passions: to him the strawberries tasted...okay. He asked others to try the fruit, some thought it was too sweet, others too sour, although everyone agreed that it did not taste much like a strawberry but something else.
Kla was aghast that this was the level of drama going on here while the government was abusing everyone in the outside world. He wanted to grab Tazio by the tail and demand to be released from that crippling promise so that he could depose and punish and crush the President and his minions. But he knew better than to pit himself against Tazio's words; it was only his own mind that would end up changed.
However, it seemed that Tazio did respect Kla's opinion, probably because he was always the village god's most outspoken critic, so he too was asked to judge the giant strawberries. To which Kla responded "blah", so the quest for the divine fruit went on.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN JASMANA
Captain Bwakanta was busy. He and an escort of secret police went to the hospital beside the park and began asking about nurses. Specifically nurses working a night shift on a certain date, procuring employee records with names, photographs and addresses.
He had only seen the girl once in the dark at a distance among a group of six nurses, all of similar age and size, young black girl faces looking very much alike in the those tiny low-quality B&W photos. He could not recognize her, so he would have to check them all out one by one.
"Arrest them all," he commanded a lieutenant, handing him a list of names, "and bring them to my office in the Presidential Palace."
Six frightened young nurses were gathered in the windowless interrogation room of the Captain of the Guard, deep inside the dreaded Presidential Palace. Some had been gathered from their jobs at the hospital, others from their homes, but all had been terrified by the hard-handed methods of the Qamabrian Secret Police. Nothing had been explained to them, but every one of them was aware of the Captain so black-he-shined-blue and his wicked reputation. Especially in regard to young women.
Paliita was among them, of course, and just as frightened and confused as any of the other girls, although no one seemed to be paying her any special attention. She had no way of knowing that this was about her new boy friend.
The gigantic Captain was walking around them, cringing in a cluster of six chairs in the center of the room, six Secret Police agents waiting back against the walls. He had given up trying to recognize her and spoke: "The other night you ladies met a young man as you came out of the hospital. One of you kissed him. Identify yourself, please."
It was first then Paliita understood that this was about her. And Kla. She became too terrified to speak, but hardly needed to: all the other girls automatically looked at her, too surprised to dissemble. They were also too terrified to speak, but hardly needed to either.
Captain Bwakanta smiled, referred to an employee list from the hospital. "Paliita Mubagna? Hmm, interesting: you too are Ma'waaluuk. Are you aware that your boy friend is a wanted terrorist?"
"What? You mean Kla? No!"
Satisfied that he had the proper victim, the Captain said, "The other girls may go, Miss Mubagna shall remain for further questioning." The girls stood hurriedly, relieved and ready to run.
But first, one of the Secret Police agents approached their Captain and whispered in his ear. Bwakanta nodded and smirked, then said to the girls: "Just go with these officers, they'll need to process you before being released. Just cooperate with them for a while and after that you can leave."
The girls looked at each other with horror, comprehending exactly what was being said, the agents looking smug. The nurses hesitated as a group, until an agent said, "Come on girls, it won't take long." Another said, "We won't hurt you, much."
"But I'm married," one of the girls whimpered. "He doesn't need to know," an agent said, impatiently taking her hand to lead her away.
"Uh...Captain, sir, did you want any of these?" another agent cautiously thought he'd ask before leaving with the five girls.
"No thanks, I'm sure I'll have enough fun with this one," the 350-pound Captain answered, staring at pretty little Paliita alone among the chairs. "She's going to help me punish that terrorist."
"Now, don't be afraid, Missy Mubagna, I only want to ask you some questions and then you can go."
Paliita was afraid anyway, this very Captain of the Guards was notorious for abusing young women, certain that she must suffer the same fate as the other girls, but she had no choice but to play along. "Yessir."
"Who was that young man--Kla, you called him? How do you know him?"
"Kla and I were kids together in the village of Ma'waaluuki until my family moved here to Jasmana--I hadn't seen him in years until the other day. Really, I hardly know him."
"But you kissed him the other night."
"Well, he--he's nice. And I wanted to show off to my friends, it wasn't more than that."
"You're not fucking him?"
"Sir!" she played shocked, "Never!" Even she knew that sounded false, but she was stuck with it now.
"Never? You're a virgin?" The Captain suddenly seemed extra interested in his pretty young captive. He even smiled for the first time, although hardly a nice smile.
"Of course I am! What do you think..?"
The smile vanished, "I think you are consorting with the most dangerous terrorist I have ever met--he's unnaturally strong and vicious, a most ferocious animal. I suspect some sort of obscene ju-ju--no normal man can possibly be that strong or fast!"
"Kla's a terrorist?" She did not have to fake being surprised.
"He has attacked our beloved President Qamabro, as well as my humble self."
"Oh no...er, poor you." The sympathy was faked, of course, but what else could she say?
Encouraged, Bwakanta went on: "He is obviously a disciple of that abominable devil who has possessed the Ma'waaluuki village, hindering our every mission to rescue those poor villagers."
"They say he is a god, not a devil."
"The villagers are deluded, that's how devils work, everybody knows that. Never mind, I want you to tell me everything you know about this kid Kla."
"Uh...okay, but it sounds like you know more than I do. I only knew him as a little boy--but I do know that later he was kidnapped and forced to be a child soldier..."
"What?" He frowned, a memory stirred, "a Ma'waaluuk boy, soldier, Kla...are we talking about a boy named Kla’Khitt?"
"Uh...yes, I thought you knew that."
"I remember him now! He was actually one of my own little troopers--a tough kid, but he did what he was told. And now I remember him at the village last year, when he got crippled...and so that was HIS father. Oh, this is great, I've got him now, I know who he is!"
"But Kla was never super-strong, like you said, he was just REALLY brave. And heroic."
"Why do you say that?" Bwakanta looked dangerously interested.
Paliita hesitated, not wishing to say too much, nor wanting to betray her friend. "No reason, he just was, that's all."
Bwakanta reached over and gripped her leg painfully hard with a gigantic hand, yanking her into his lap. His other hand squeezed her breast just as hard. "Tell me," he insisted.
Paliita shrieked, found herself babbling through the pain, hoping something she might say could stop it: "Five years ago...here in Jasmana...he once saved me from being...raped by three of his own soldier...friends..." Bwakanta stopped squeezing, interested in details. Paliita went on, fast, "but he wasn't any stronger than them, they hurt him...he just never surrendered until I had time to run away."
Appeased, now the fat man caressed her breasts instead, ignoring her displeasure. "Ahh, yes! I heard about that, he was unpopular with his comrades for a while."
"Yes, they were mad at him...uh, can you please stop touching my...OH OW! OOOWW!"
"But he was no saint, that boy, Kla has also done his fair share of raping girls. Lots of them, along with those very same comrades." The girl was weeping too hard to speak. "Did you hear me?"
"Y...y...yes, I heard."
"Do you believe me?"
It took a lot of nerve to answer, "No."
"Well, no matter." He shrugged, "Every man does it--it's his right."
"Please don't rape me," she begged in a tiny voice.
"Oh, don't fret, you'll survive. Actually, I need you to get at Kla’Khitt, so your life is safe, if not your virginity."
"Is Kla really as dangerous and strong as you say?" she asked, her voice suddenly firm.
"Oh yes, he's a monster," Bwakanta admitted, "a ruthless killer."
"Then maybe you'd better think about what he's going to do to you if you hurt me!"
Captain Bwakanta laughed. "DO? Well, he certainly isn't going to HARM me!" Then he laughed again, as if at some private joke. "Now, take off your clothes."
There was a knock at the door. Bwakanta frowned; his officers knew that he was not to be disturbed during an interrogation. Especially if the subject was female.
"Go away," he shouted, but the door opened anyway.
A large powerful-looking military man entered, blond, mustached, Germanic. Bwakanta recognized Hauptmann Hans Klauser, the new mercenary especially hired by President Qamabro to solve the Ma'waaluuki problem. Bwakanta did not trust that man; he acted far too noble for a mercenary.
"I must speak with you about some of your officers," Klauser announced, "I came upon them group-molesting several unwilling young nurses and had to insist that they stop." It appeared that the man had been in a fight; there was blood on his uniform and a pocket dangled half-torn.
Captain Bwakanta almost snickered out loud. "And how did they reply?"
"Improperly, I had to arrest them, they resisted. They're in the medical unit now. I thought I should report the incident to you, their commanding officer." He was now looking at Paliita balanced on the big fat captain's lap, "I do hope this is not more of the same."
Bwakanta bristled and stood up, dumping Paliita onto the floor, making certain the blond white Hauptmann could see that the blue-black Captain was so much bigger. He loved to intimidate other men with his sheer size. But he couldn't help notice how muscular and fit the German looked, feeling the weight of his own gut and fat dragging him down. And having been so easily manhandled by the much smaller Kla’Khitt had not done his confidence any favors.
He blustered instead, "Do you know who I am?" indicating his captain's bars.
"You're Captain Bwakanta, same rank as myself," Klauser said, not intimidated, but not interested in a pissing contest either. Without saying more about it he offered a hand to Paliita to help her to her feet and she moved quickly to put him between Bwakanta and herself, since he definitely seemed to be the more sympathetic of the two.
"Well, you're interfering with an official interrogation. This girl knows that terrorist who attacked the Presidential Palace the other night, and I have just learned his identity."
"Ach ja, the Ma'waaluuk?" Klauser turned to look at Paliita, seeing only a frightened young girl, white tear-streaks still wet on her black face. He spoke to her politely: "You know, I saw his moves in the banquet hall; how can he be so strong?" But Paliita could only shake her head and shrug, not knowing how and too upset to speak anyway.
Bwakanta answered for her, "He is in a obscene pact with that Devil those Ma'waaluuki worship, that's how. Evil ju-ju, it's the only way."
"Not necessarily," Klauser countered, "I have met one other guy like that before, just as strong and fast, years ago during a drug war in Columbia. But he claimed to be the 17th Incarnation of Christ."
"A crazy man, then?" Bwakanta scoffed.
"Actually, I believed him. In fact, that's why I'm here in Qamabria." Then nodding towards Paliita, "What are you going to do with her?"
"Keep her under arrest as an enemy of the state. Use her as a hostage against that Ma'waaluuk terrorist when he attacks again. You heard him say that he would come back for our beloved President."
"Ach zo." Klauser sent the girl an apologetic shrug, then stepped from between her and Bwakanta, apparently no longer offering his protection.
"He was going to rape me," Paliita accused, pointing at the big fat captain with fear and disgust all over her face.
"Of course the little bitch is lying, that's what spies do."
"What he means is," Klauser said to the girl, lifting her chin with a gentle finger and giving her a reassuring little smile, "that he's NOT going to rape you." It was clear that his words were a barely-subtle warning to the captain.
Then he faced Bwakanta and changed the subject: "Listen, I'm about to mount an infantry offensive against that troublesome Ma'waaluuki village and President Qamabro has informed me that you were stationed there for several months. He wishes to speak with us both right away." And as an afterthought, "We can just deliver the girl to a holding cell--where she can feel safe--on our way to see him."
"Oh. Well..." Bwakanta was more than willing to avoid a conflict with this man, "...then we had better go to him right now. And yes, yes, I do know the lay of the land around that village..."
Kla was almost going mad with frustration and self-contempt. Life in the village felt so controlled and boring after he had discovered the new capabilities of his body, only to learn what a fiasco he was: a perfect warrior who was too soft to carry out his mission. A muzzled dog. A lion in chains. A tamed beast.
He knew that the problem was Lord Tazio. So he decided to hate him/her/it. They had always had a contentious relationship anyway, so why not simply admit that they were enemies? That would be so much easier. Except that Tazio had so much more power than him, and if he offended the village god too much Kla's new powers could probably be withdrawn by some magic word.
But finally Kla could contain himself no more. He went to Tazio and confessed what had happened during his five days away.
"Yes, I know," Tazio said, "you've been trying so hard to keep it secret that it's like a radio broadcast to me. I assumed you would talk about it when ready."
"You're not angry that I sneaked off to Jasmana?"
"I knew where you were. You needed to learn that war is not an answer, and I believe you are learning. For example, when you released those men being tortured: you had expected them to cooperate as allies, but they went amok for their own personal revenge. You had to send them away because they were out of control. That's the way it is with armies; too many combatants compromise strategies."
"Yeah? Well why did you make me your perfect warrior then cripple me with that absurd command not to HARM anyone?"
"You were only bound by my command to kill no one, which I maintain, " Tazio insisted, "but that you were unable to mutilate and torture seems to be your own personal limit. You could not do that, even to Bwakanta, because you are not the kind of man he is."
"But that makes me useless as a warrior!" Kla raged.
"Merda, you can really be an idiot sometimes," Tazio spoke in rare exasperation, "you knew what to do--you even considered taking Bwakanta to the police."
"But the police are corrupt, they're enemies too."
"And what do you do about that? You replace them with good men, THEN you deliver Bwakanta to them. You talk to people around the country and convince them to change the system for their own good, using your warrior abilities to back them up. You have to make political changes, otherwise, the cycle continues forever."
"But that will take too long! We need to strike now!"
"Do you really believe that war is a quick fix? You destroy one government, but end up with new quarrels between all those who had been your allies because they all want to grab any available power positions. It's better to forego revenge and just convert the existing government to your own ideals."
"Me? I'm a warrior, not a politician!"
"Study history: a successful warrior always ends up becoming a politician."
Kla continued to fume with frustration. This time he told no one where he was going when he slipped away from the village.
He had decided upon an important & heroic mission: while rummaging through the Archives of the Military HQ building in Jasmana, Kla had found references to several spies stationed around the country, undercover agents in villages and small towns. Agents who sent secret reports to the government, snitching on their neighbors resulting in properties being confiscated and people imprisoned, tortured and executed. He had memorized the names and locations of each spy.
He travelled between villages, sometimes hitching rides, usually walking. When he arrived he tried to find the local spy, the idea being to expose him to his neighbors so that he was no longer secret--but he usually found that everyone already knew about him, or that he had just left town in a hurry. He did manage to uncover one spy in Kandija and deliver him to the townfolk, but none after that.
His heroic plans thwarted, he drifted with no real destination. Jasmana was too hot just now, although he would have liked to see pretty Paliita's smile again, but decided that it would be too risky for her. Unfortunately he had not bothered to learn the telephone number of her parent's restaurant, which he could not have called from the village, but could from any other village beyond the range of Tazio's magic. But then again, he really didn't know what to say to her.
Actually, he was looking for trouble with the government, but nothing was going on, most of the military was away to Jasmana regrouping for some special event. Probably looking for me, Kla thought.
So there was no one to rescue with his perfect warrior abilities, although he did help lift a truck out of a mud bog along with other men in a work crew. He passed through several places he remembered from his years as a child soldier, hoping nobody would recognize him. Mostly he became as bored as back in his own village, and much hungrier.
However, he spoke with people, often about politics, although many people were afraid to say anything negative about the government. Kla tried to get a feel for the possibility of a revolution, how many enemies President Qamabro had. He did meet a few Kandingo rebels, but they were too extremist to sympathize with. Most declared enemies were already dead or in exile, so no one mentioned anything incriminating to strangers passing through. Not the first time.
Actually, it was his own war history that opened the channels of communication: eventually he was recognized. When he spoke with someone a second or third time and they had had time to recall just where they'd seen his much younger face before. But they did not dwell upon his juvenile atrocities--as he had dreaded--it seemed more important that he'd been serving in a unit that had fought against General Qamabro. Most of his unit had been destroyed, but people remembered them as martyred heroes, fighting on their side. Which was nonsense, of course, children forced to be war-slaves never had any considered ideology, even less than mercenaries like Sergeant Bwakanta, who had been his unit commander back then but had changed sides and was now Captain of the Presidential Guard.
What really loosened people's tongues was when they discerned that Kla was a Ma'waaluuk. "You are from that mysterious village protected by some new Earth-God, where Qamabro's soldiers cannot penetrate? And those who try return unfit ever to be soldiers again? Wonderful!" That generated genuine hero-status, although Kla resented (once again) to be basking in Lord Tazio's glory. But it served the mission.
Suddenly many stories were being told: Qamabro's mercenaries stealing cattle, confiscating property, ruthlessly killing entire tribes then bequeathing their stolen wealth to Wa'hambe families in far-off Jasmana, and of course, a constant battery of rapes and the selling of young women from almost every village in Qamabria. Names, dates, numbers, witnessed reports of war crimes and atrocities, criminality: if only there was an unbiased authority to report them to.
After two weeks Kla was getting quite hungry, since he had no money and most folk were too poor to feed him, so he went back home. He had also been made aware that his resentment of just how comfortable life had become in Tazio's little paradise was pretty stupid. The Ma'waaluuki had food, work, culture and were free from Qamabro's government. They also had no flies or mosquitoes, which seemed like a little thing because one forgot how bad they could be. Although Kla eventually discovered that even where mosquitoes rampaged, they never did bite him any more, as if he was protected by some residual effect of Tazio's e-null field.
Kla found himself looking forward to a good argument with Tazio, having categorized many new complaints.
But when Kla got home he discovered that a lot had happened while he was away. His sisters told him all about it:
16 year-old Mooie started: "A couple of days ago our village got attacked by a big army of mercenaries coming through the jungle on foot: for the first time in over half a year. We'd all figured the government had given up trying, so it was kind of a surprise," Mooie said.
"Yeah but," the year-younger Seenie continued, "the biggest surprise was that Lord Tazio got caught off guard: you know how he's always warned us about attacks WAY before any soldiers ever show up, but this time it was like he'd been totally unaware of them coming until he heard a German word-- "angriff" --being whispered way out in the jungle early in the morning. The mercenaries got as far as the clearing and were beginning a charge towards our huts."
"Actually, Our Lord Tazio seems to be drifting away a lot lately," 14 year-old Fiilie confided, "he's been getting un-inspired and un-focused, like he's running out of ideas now that all his projects are finished." Then she claimed, "We think it's Tazio's lack of horniness catching up with him, making him hollow."
Mooie: "Maybe so, but that whispered word had been enough; Lord Tazio got right up and out of his hut to take on those charging soldiers. They fired off a few shots, but Tazio threw one of his earthquakes at them and they got all shook up, falling off their feet all about, so the attack was over just like that. As usual, he commanded the mercenaries to leave and away they ran, tossing their weapons into the pit on their way back into the jungle, like we've seen so many times before."
Niibie (age 13): "But this time there was a difference: the mercenaries' commanding officer--a German white man named Hauptmann Hans Klauser--didn't leave. He just COULDN'T go, and that's never happened before.
Seenie: "Oh, wait wait, I heard him say...uh, oh yeah: Ich fühlte mich gezwungen, zu bleiben." (Tazio had taught Seenie several languages and she was proud of them).
12-year-old Tiibie said, "Yeah, it was like Our Lord Tazio MADE him stay."
Fiilie: "Only he hadn't, so not even Tazio knew what was going on!"
Niibie: "And then they started talking...well, you remember back when Tazio took over your body and you two were the same person? It was like that, only even more so. 'Cause when they touched there was some kinda soul-energy ZAP between them and all of a sudden they were BOTH Tazios."
"So now this Hauptmann Klauser guy is some kinda a mental COPY of Our Lord Tazio," Fiilie expounded, "with all his memories and even some of his powers...although he still looks like a big burly 40-year German with a walrus moustache. Except for his eyes; they are exactly like Tazio's; green and like a cat's. Kinda scary...and yet, kinda cool."
"And now..." Mooie dramatized, hands held high "...now the rumor is that their telepathic bonding was DESTINED somehow, so that a MESSAGE could be passed from yet another earth god like Lord Tazio, whom he's ALSO destined to meet soon. He's called Immanuel, the 17th reincarnation of Christ, or something like that."
"Yeah, it's all TOTALLY complicated," Seenie concluded, "seems there's some kind of "apocalypse" about to happen far away in some town called Megiddo in some land called Israel, where Our Lord Tazio is supposed to be an ANTI-CHRIST. They say he's going to be a Big Star in some mega ceremonial contest for some weird foreign religion."
"So Tazio is leaving us?" Kla asked enthusiastically.
"Well, yes," Mooie answered much less enthusiastically, "but Lord Hauptmann will stay and carry on as our village god."
"Ghastaghana, I thought you said he was leaving," Kla’Khitt complained, "now there's a copy?"
"Why are you so eager for Our Lord Tazio to go, Kla?" Mooie asked.
"Yeah, he was good to us," insisted Seenie.
"He is a tyrant!" Kla announced, "he denies us the very meaning of life!"
"WAR is not the meaning of life, Kla’Khitt." Mooie was quite exasperated with her brother's obsession.
"To a warrior it is," Kla stated, "Tazio improved me--made me the Perfect Warrior. And then he protected us! Shaming me! But what does he care about being a man? Why couldn't we get a god with BALLS?"
"Looks like we have," Mooie observed, considering Klauser-Tazio's muscular physique, reminded of her own obsession.
By happenstance, Kla had arrived moments before Lord Tazio's imminent departure. His sisters wanted to join the crowd for the little farewell ceremony at the edge of the jungle. It was to be minimal, in keeping with Tazio's lack of sentimentality. Kla vacillated, still resentful of those commands that frustrated his Perfect Warriorship, and then decided to accompany them anyway, just to see the last of Lord Tazio and wish him good riddance.
Wa'lah'khabi spoke for the tribe: "Farewell Lord Tazio, we thank you for the year you have been our god." He went on to list the wonders Tazio had created, how he had saved them from starvation...then cut it short because it was obvious that Tazio was fidgeting, ready to go. However the Diviner did say, "If only there was something we could offer YOU, earth god."
"We've been through that," Tazio said emotionlessly, turning to go, looking up into the giant jungle trees above him.
"Maybe later," that diviner of magic dreams hinted with a little smile, as if he knew a secret.
"Sure, maybe," Tazio said as he launched himself upwards and grabbed a liana vine, "ciao." Then he proceeded to swing away through the trees, Tarzan-style.
(Yes, the Ma'waaluuki knew who Tarzan was; he'd been famous in Africa long before the books and movies had made a popular myth out of him. They also knew that swinging from tree to tree was a pretty silly way of traveling, even through a dense jungle, unless one had superhuman strength, limitless endurance, inspired accuracy and total lack of fear. So of course, for Tazio it was a natural.)
Wa'lah'khabi sighed. "He's gone. A shame, I liked him." There was a murmuring among the crowd, signifying a blend of relief and insecurity. Most of them were not yet sure how they felt about losing the earth god who had protected them so well.
Except Kla, "Well, I'm glad to see him go. But now we've got to deal with the replica."
"It won't be the same," said someone with a deep authoritative voice, "because I'm human."
Kla turned to see the big German standing right behind him, wearing an amused little smile--and Tazio's catlike eyes. Kla recognized those eyes only too well, and he also recognized the man as a mercenary officer he had seen once before at a gala feast.
Taken by surprise, Kla stepped back, but Wa'lah'khabi stepped forward.
"Yes? So are you only Lord Tazio, or are you also Klauser? With whom are we speaking?"
"I have the memories of Hans Klauser, but they are distant whispers. I remember better our conversation of yesterday, Wa'lah'khabi, about how it was soon time for me to go..." he spoke the Ma'w language as fluently as Tazio had "...well, I have gone."
"And yet you remain."
Klauser-Tazio nodded. "And this part of me which remains rings with regret and relief. And all the other feelings with which my original self has lost touch."
"Ha," Kla interjected, "as if Tazio ever HAD feelings!"
"He is as he is because he felt too much," Tazio's replacement said.
"That's true," Mooie had to contribute, moving closer to their new god, "he did, especially loneliness." She couldn't help herself and gave her new Tazio a hug, cuddling in under his arm.
Klauser-Tazio accepted her hug in a natural embrace that Tazio would never have been capable of, saying, "I need to break that pattern: come all of you, to the shaman lodge. I'll tell you the story Tazio never told."
Then he turned from the crowd to face Kla, "But first I need to have a word with Kla, who already knows the story. You all go ahead, I'll join you shortly."
"Yes, Lord Hauptmann!" the entire tribe spoke as one and filed off to the shaman lodge, leaving Kla alone with Klauser-Tazio.
Having just seen a display of this new god's ability to command, Kla felt his resentment of Tazio rise up in him again. He had to rebel: "I know who you are: I saw you at the Presidential Palace in Jasmana, talking with our worst enemy President Qamabro."
"And I saw you too, Kla, terrorizing poor little Captain Bwakanta. You were quite impressive as a terrorist." The German smiled, Kla had not expected that.
But Kla was not about to smile back, "And you are a mercenary soldier in the service of our enemies, why should we ever accept you as our new god? Tazio was bad enough!"
"I'm hardly a god, and Klauser is certainly not working for that villain Qamabro anymore. He never did like Qamabro's corrupt politics and ruthless dictatorship."
"And yet you commanded an army for him, killed for him," was Kla's accusation.
"Yes, well, funny you should mention that: Hans Klauser had nothing but disgust for President Qamabro's regime, it reminded him too much of Germany's shame; the Nazis. He'd been on his way to a different job in Zimbabwe when a storm suddenly diverted his plane to Qamabria. The president's agents found him in the airport hotel and offered the Hauptmann a position in their military forces. Klauser meant to reject it, but ended up accepting, as if he had no choice. Nor did he; Destiny had taken over-- he was to bond with me/Tazio and become an element of the Beast With Seven Heads.
"Hans Klauser was a professional mercenary officer, he'd done many jobs he did not like for various dictators in African wars, trying not to think about it: a character flaw of his. But now he/I-- as Tazio-Klauser --think about everything and regret his past. It seems you and I share a history that way, Kla, as well as having both been Tazios."
Kla had no reply to that.
"As for those enemies in Jasmana, I must inform you that Qamabro and Bwakanta are holding your friend Miss Mubagna prisoner. And I'm pretty certain they'll go after her family as well."
"What, Paliita? Oh no, I need to go rescue her right now!"!
"I agree, the sooner the better. Bwakanta plans to use her to hurt you personally. Klauser managed to keep her safe for a while, but once they realize that Hauptmann Klauser isn't coming back she will be in danger again."
"Then we must attack them, all the warriors of the Ma'waaluuki..."
"No, I still forbid war, it's no way to save lives. Individual action is better, go alone. You're a Perfect Warrior, you can do it."
"But I can't HURT anybody, Tazio's...YOUR stupid rules cripple me...so how can I defeat them?"
"You have misunderstood your capacity as warrior, you have never extended yourself to learn what you can actually do. This is a perfect opportunity."
"But you could do it better than me, hell, you could take over the country; Tazio gave you his powers..."
"Not the big powers. But anyway, I must remain here for the moment, so if you need my help, you'll have to bring your problems to me."
"Ghastaghana!" Kla's shout of frustration, "I'm not going to waste any more time trying to reason with you, I've got to find Paliita, and fast!" Kla turned and ran for his hut. He needed weapons and disguises.
He could hear Lord Hauptmann calling to him as he ran, "She's in the Palace, Captain of the Guards chambers. You do know that they'll be waiting for you?"
Stopping in his hut, Kla frantically tried to assemble what he would need, but was in too much of a panic to think straight. He started to stuff his AK-47 and some clothes into his backpack, pulling on combat boots, changed his mind, completely disorganized, having no plan, nor any idea as to how he was going to traverse the 125 miles to Jasmana most rapidly. He realized he needed to think, organize himself; be smart, not emotional. Going off half-cocked would only be...
Ghastaghana. He ended up discarding everything and left the village running on bare feet, wearing only the traditional loin cloth of a Ma'waaluuki warrior, bearing only his tribal spear for a weapon. Going native, back to basics. Ghastaghana indeed.
Kla’Khitt ran through the jungle faster than any animal could, his avatar body delivering more speed and power than ever before. When the jungle became too thick, he too did the Tarzan routine through the treetops, nothing slowed him down. Within minutes he was beyond the 10-mile e-null zone and well into enemy territory, but there was no military presence to hinder his passage.
And yet, fast as his body was moving, his mind was racing all the faster: what am I doing? am I crazy? I'm acting like a wild savage, not an experienced soldier. what is my strategy? where am I going? am I really going to run all 125 miles to the city? how long can I keep up burning energy like this? won't I be burned out and unable to fight when I get there? has Bwakanta already raped her?
But he was not slowing down to think, he gritted his teeth and demanded more speed. And he got it. (Kla did not know it but he had already broken world records, doing well over 30 miles an hour and gradually accelerating, not understanding how he could.)
Eventually a military jeep came driving up the road towards him, carrying four armed soldiers. They saw Kla coming their way and began to laugh at the crazy jungle guy running all-out in ceremonial rags and brandishing a primitive war spear. They assumed he was harmless, but raised their rifles anyway, just in case he was as crazy as he looked.
It seems he was: just as the jeep was about to pass him by, Kla turned about and seemed to be trying to run away from them, but getting so much in their way that they had to brake and swerve not to run him down. And then he jumped up into a backwards flip that landing him among the soldiers in the open jeep.
Seconds later those four soldiers were lying beside the road, scratched and bruised but basically unhurt, while Kla had turned their jeep towards Jasmana and was soon up to 84 miles an hour, the fastest that old jeep could move.
It had been years since Kla had driven a jeep, but he had learned how to when he was 8, along with many other types of military vehicles; armored personnel carriers, tanks and motorcycles. It felt instinctive, comfortable. He only wished it could go faster.
Kla had been experiencing many things for the first time, although they felt familiar: boundless energy and a feeling of power zapping up through his bare feet as they touched the earth--was that Urr? Chi? Kundalini? Sparks in his head: memory-flashes of his three days as a semi-Tazio, forgotten knowledge, instinctive techniques.
Other memories out of nowhere were occurring to him: as when he had used his spear to disarm the soldiers, although only as a stick and ignoring the spear point; discovering that he was an expert of Kendo, a Japanese Martial art he had never heard of in his life. Very effective, though.
Driving the slow jeep and wishing it could go faster triggered a yearning for the red 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa he'd once driven at a wind-screaming velocity of 286 miles an hour on the Autostrada Italiana. Then Kla realized that he had himself never done such a thing, nor ever been in Europe, but the memory was very clear--including an image of Anton Artemis, who owned the car, sitting beside him at that time and smiling his Satanic smile. Kla had no idea who that man was, but he looked quite formidable in Tazio's memory.
It was almost sunset as he drove into Jasmana, which was good, dressed as he was. Not many ragged wild men drove military jeeps, darkness might be advantageous.
It was a long story Klauser-Tazio told over many nights, of theArmageddonquest, and in the days he continued improving the lifestyle within the village. He was almost as intellectually brilliant as his predecessor, although without some of the more godlike abilities. Having no tail, for example, he could only call up a limited version of the Urr.
They called him "Lord Hauptmann" and this was a new relationship for everyone: he WAS more human, the Ma'waaluuki were able to feel less in awe of a god who smiled, was interested and friendly, and who even laughed at their jokes. They also liked that he was a real MAN--with balls--as was evidenced by his very natural male reaction to Mooie's erotic attentions. That became public knowledge because Mooie simply had to brag about how great it was. The village men felt that they could sympathize with a horny god much better than the other non-guy. The women were getting in line.
But most of all, the villagers LOVED the story he was telling every evening, so much that they even came to love Tazio: the boy he had been before The Lust had crippled him emotionally, and hoped that he would become whole again when he dealed with his destiny in far away Megiddo.
It was uncertain exactly how much power their new god possessed. He had Tazio's memories but in a different brain, and although enhanced, was still basically human. Klauser-Tazio himself admitted that he did yet not know what his limits were.
Physically he had become an Avatar, the standard for gods incarnate: superior to mere humans in every way; stronger, more agile, more durable, immune to everything including age. But without unlimited access to the Urr he could not juggle boulders and buildings as Tazio had. It seemed that he could read minds and do minor healings, but that could have simply been due to his vast knowledge of psychology and medicine.
However, among Tazio's memories was a complete comprehension of an arcane document of blackest magic called The Hellbook, composed by various devils and demons since before the time of Atlantis. Although most of the spells and incantations were too evil to use--rather like an atom bomb--the defenses against such magic were also delineated. Klauser-Tazio was carefully exploring what was available.
Knowing that the government could attack again at any moment and that he lacked Tazio's high-impact defenses (no earthquakes, for example) Lord Hauptmann instigated military training for the warriors, so that they could act as an effective unit should enemy soldiers ever get all the way into the village. For this his having been a professional soldier was a distinct advantage, the original Tazio had been completely uninterested in the science of warfare or military strategy.
The young warriors became excited that this new god would finally allow the Ma'waaluuki to go to war against the government, but Lord Hauptmann was no more ready for that than Tazio had been. "Defense, yes; aggression, no," is what he said, "we are going to train ourselves how to DEFUSE war."
ONE MAN ARMY
Kla had to slow down for Jasmana traffic, sundown in African cities equals rush hour, but even so he moved quickly, driving illegally just like everybody else, utilizing horns instead of brakes. But as he approached the Presidential Palace the military presence became denser, and eventually he was coming up against road blocks and check points. There was much more security than the last time he'd been in town--no doubt because of him.
He considered just crashing through, then realized he'd need something a lot bigger and heavier than a jeep to breach cement blocks and machine guns, so he turned off the main street and parked in an alley and walked away from the jeep. He needn't worry about parking, any ticket would be paid by the Qamabrian military, since it was their jeep anyway.
The streets around the Palace were crowded, Kla walked among them unnoticed. There were as many people in traditional African dress as Western clothes, so he did not stand out, nor did he resemble the same terrorist who had been in town two weeks before. He walked parallel with the Palace, one street over, until he saw a dark wall of shadows that seemed inviting.
When he walked a block closer he found himself among a concentration of guards and was being challenged for papers. Kla pretended not to understand English--which was common enough since there are so many languages in Africa--ostensibly just another savage from the jungle lost in the big city. When the guards--eight armed mercenaries-- lowered their weapons Kla used his spear as a Kendo stick again. It was really effective, he surprised himself, all eight were disarmed and debilitated within seconds, bound and gagged with their own gaffa tape. He stole the roll for the next guards he met.
The way was open to the Palace itself: as long as one could hop clear over the iron spiked fence and barbed wire, then climb a sheer stone wall with finger & toe tips in tiny crevices. There were snipers waiting on the Palace roof, so he avoided them by going in through a side window. It was protected by metal bars, but he bent those with his hands. The wooden window was also locked, but Kla used his spear point to carve the wood apart--quite silently--and he pulled himself through and into a room. It was a bathroom and he was alone. He listened: nobody outside the door.
Soon he was inside the long & wide halls of the Palace itself and making his way towards the holding cells where Paliita should be. Those halls were quite empty; he came upon no guards or palace personnel. As yet no alarm had been sounded.
He found five guards at the holding cells and simply overwhelmed them, but Paliita was not to be found there. A frightened guard told Kla that Captain Bwakanta was keeping her in his own apartment on the 3rd floor just above, for safety's sake.
Kla considered the stairway; grand marble steps leading upwards, inviting and open, apparently nothing to stop him from ascending. Of course it was a trap, Kla knew that. It had simply been too easy, the guards had been too willing to tell him where he should go, and still no alarm sounding. Yet he had felt the tingling of electronics all around him--perhaps being especially sensitive from living in a village without any--and he remembered the hidden cameras of his first visit here.
So he did not move, only closed his eyes and listened, smelled, and just in case some new psychic powers came attached to his new/old memories, opened himself to any signal out there. First he realized that he could hear heartbeats, but not in the stairway. He went up two stories, seeing no one, then stood alone before the large, thick door to Bwakanta's apartment. Those heartbeats were on the other side of that door.
There were three men waiting silently in Bwakanta's apartment, although the captain was not one of them. Nor was Paliita present. Kla focused on the smells; odors of gun oil & ammunition, lethal weaponry ready to fire. Sniff: testosterone and tobacco ash, many cigarettes had been smoked over many days; they had evidently been waiting a long time. But the bitter smell of adrenaline was fresh; they were anxious men because they had just been informed that he was now standing on the other side of that door.
Kla started to back away, since Paliita was not there anyway, deciding to avoid certain suicide. But it was already too late; he could hear an army rushing up and down the stairs, at least 50 men.
He waited until they were almost upon him, then dived down the stairs into their midst. Shots were fired, but once he was among them they'd only be shooting each other. No one could hold him still, he was a springing, dancing, spinwheeling target, adroitly thrashing and battering them with his absurdly effective spear-shaft.
No, Kla did not overpower 50 men, perhaps only 25, but all the others threw down their weapons and ran from this berserker demon: everybody knew that the Ma'waaluuk had been touched by an earth-god and was therefore invincible and unstoppable. They were only mercenaries working for a dictator who did not pay them enough to take on gods. They deserted.
Except for a single white-faced soldier who had rappelled down the open stairway from several stories above, who did not join the fray but stood still and ready, aiming a machine gun directly at Kla's chest from two meters away. A moment later the upper stairway was full of descending European mercenaries, obviously a well-trained and disciplined elite force because they had him at point blank range but politely waited to fire until Kla was finished thrashing the African soldiers. It was clear that they did not really care about the blacks, but once he attacked a European they would open fire, so it was up to him to make the next move.
There was no move Kla could make, so he raised his hands in surrender.
He was taken downstairs to the holding cells and locked in. No one had dared come close enough to put handcuffs on him, so he was free to move around inside the cell. Two guards with machine guns were posted outside his cell. No one had spoken to him but phone calls were being made.
The lieutenant was French but spoke English on the phone. "We have him contained, no problem at all. No, he's not wounded, it wasn't necessary. I don't see what sll the fuss was," the lieutenant was saying, "yes, you can come down now. No, it's safe, he's locked in. Yes, the special cell with reinforced bars, like you said, there's no way he can...er...rip it apart."
The lieutenant shut off the phone and commented to his unit in French, "Merde, why are they so afraid of this one jungle bunny? Their Captain of the Guards is actually afraid that cell won't hold him!" The other soldiers laughed.
"Well, he WAS pretty good at Kendo with that spear," an Austrian corporal admitted, looking at Kla with some respect, "and did you notice how careful he was not to kill anyone?" They had obviously been monitoring his route into the Palace.
The Europeans were speaking various languages amongst themselves, Kla discovered that he could understand all of them although he had never spoken them in his life. More lost Tazio memories returned?
The French lieutenant spoke English to Kla, "We have instructions to handcuff you. Stick your hands through the bars, please."
Kla answered in French, saying: "So that my hands are trapped outside the bars? That will make it very easy for Captain Bwakanta to chop them off. He does that, you know."
The lieutenant looked at Kla and believed him. He had heard stories about the big Captain's atrocities. He pondered for a moment, then said, "That would be a violation of the Geneva Convention, we will not allow that to happen. Now, give me your hands."
"Absolutement non," Kla politely insisted.
The lieutenant signalled the young soldier who had admired Kla's abilities, "Corporal Marcez, if the prisoner does not cooperate you will shoot him in the knee." Marcez stepped forward, set his machine gun on single-shot, and took steady aim at Kla's leg.
Kla did not budge, nor did Marcez. The lieutenant said, "Maintenant, si vous plait." No one moved. For a while. "Marcez, a trois: une... deux... trois..." A silent 4...5...6 passed and still no one moved.
Finally Corporal Marcez dropped his aim and stepped back, the bluff called off with a frustrated "Shit, man!" He looked Kla in the eyes and apologized with a smile and a shrug, "Okay, we don't actually shoot unarmed prisoners locked in cells."
"I assumed you wouldn't commit a war-crime, you behave like professionals," Kla said, then added, "You know, you guys are fighting for the wrong government."
"We've noticed that," the lieutenant admitted, "we only came here to meet up with our regular unit chief, but it seems he's gone MIA on a mission to that same Ma'waa-huzzitz village you come from. Do you know anything about...?"
"Hauptmann Hans Klauser is not our prisoner," Kla informed them, "but has become the Ma'waaluuki's new god." He had to laugh at the expressions on their faces.
There was a commotion at the door, soldiers moved aside to make room for a big man: Captain Bwakanta had arrived. He looked around nervously until he saw Kla in the cell and then triumph lit his eyes. Although he did keep back from the cell bars.
"Ah, Kla’Khitt, good to see you again! Especially in there! Hahaha!"
Kla was reminded of the one James Bond movie he had ever seen, back when he was a boy soldier, a scene in which the hero was captured and the villain gloated, although everyone already knew how it was going to end up.
Another commotion; all the international soldiers except for the lieutenant and the corporal had to leave the room, there was not enough space for so many big, tough men. But the next man to come through was small, short, slender and scrawny, preceded by an ostentatious announcement, "Make way for Our Beloved and Benevolent Leader, President Asshad Qamabro himself!"
The little man trundled in, expensive suit, hands behind to avoid dirt, and peered into Kla's cage with a sneer of superiority.
"So this is the infamous Ma'waaluuk, he does look like a true savage."
Kla was tempted to say that the president looked like an ugly little bank clerk with a big nose and funny little moustache, but said nothing.
"We are deciding what to do with you, savage. We can kill you. Or Captain Bwakanta can cut off your hands, as he is so fond of..." the president suddenly realized that something was amiss, "...this prisoner was to have been handcuffed with his hands outside the bars!" Qamabro complained wrathfully, "Why was he not?"
"He refused," the French lieutenant said, with a shrug, "it didn't seem to be worth a war-crimes trial. If you really want that, do it yourself." He allowed a heartbeat to pass before mentioning a perfunctory "..sir."
"Bah, amateurs!" Qamabro shouted, furious at such disrespect by an underling, "get out all of you! I'll deal with you later. Send in one of my own guards, one who knows how to obey an order!"
There was a reshuffling, the white Europeans left, one black Qamabrian took position facing the cell with machine gun set on full automatic. He looked quite proud to be at the side of his glorious leader. The President made certain he was not in the line of fire before he settled down to business.
Too impatient to bother with the handcuff situation, Qamabro did try to control his temper and speak to Kla in a reasonable tone: "As I was saying: we can kill you, of course. But actually, we would prefer to recruit you to our side. You are talented, Kla'Khitt. And you could infiltrate the Ma'waaluuki village for us and help solve that little problem at last."
Kla said nothing, only stared at Qamabro as if at a crazy man.
Encouraged by the absence of immediate rejection, Qamabro went on: "The question is if we can convince you to shift loyalties, as it seems our departed Hauptmann Klauser has done. Of course, surrounded by traitors as I am, you might wonder how I could ever expect any loyalty of a savage like you." Indeed, Kla was wondering that, but still said nothing, which did not slow Qamabro down.
"Because I can give you what you want, Ma'waaluuk. Sure, I can offer you riches, or a harem of beautiful women, but I have a feeling that you are above all that. That your only real desire is for...WAR. And I can offer you that, Kla’Khitt. All the war you could ever wish."
Kla did not respond. A minute passed.
"Or death, if you prefer."
"Or we can hold him hostage, remember?" Bwakanta suggested, which seemed odd; as if he was trying to talk the president out of harming Kla’Khitt in any way.
But the president was not a man to be swayed from his own opinions, "Too dangerous a hostage. No, either he works for us or he dies...eventually. Bring in the girl; he'll need to see her first. That will make it easier for him to reach a decision."
Bwakanta seemed compromised, then frustrated, even looking to Kla as if for help. Kla could not understand his behavior at all. Then he left the room for a moment.
Bwakanta entered again, this time with Paliita Mubagna beside him. Kla could no longer remain silent: "Paliita, are you all right?"
Bwakanta was holding her by the arm, obviously not hurting her, and she was pressed close into him, as if he was her protector instead of Kla. Her eyes widened when she saw Kla in his cell, then she nodded to answer his question, seemingly unable to speak.
"Have these men hurt you in any way?" Kla asked, giving them stern looks. She shook her head No, as if afraid to talk to him. Or too embarrassed to.
Then she finally blurted, "I didn't believe what they were saying about you, but..." she pointed to a video screen on the wall "...but we've been watching you on camera, fighting like some ferocious animal, jumping around like a rabid monkey, and it's TRUE: you ARE a super-terrorist!"
"Hunh? What are you talking about? I'm here to rescue you!"
"Rescue me? From what?"
"From THAT," Kla pointed to big fat Captain Bwakanta, who was possessively holding Paliita with his arm around her waist. Saying nothing, but smirking.
"Olly is my husband now," she said, "so I don't wish to be rescued, thanks."
"You are so surprised? You did not think I was lady enough to be worthy of the Captain of the Guards? Did you really think I would prefer a jobless terrorist?"
"But Bwakanta is...wow, he's an extremely terrible man! He has killed and raped and plundered..."
"And so have YOU, he tells me, you are no better! He said he has many times witnessed you raping village girls."
Kla blinked in confusion, then recognized what she must be referring to. "Well, that's true," he acquiesced with a nod, "he HAS witnessed that-- while commanding us to commit those very rapes or he would kill us himself! We were children, I was 9 years old! Bwakanta is a very bad man. He is also old and fat, how can you possibly..?"
"But he is RICH!" Paliita countered, which seemed to justify everything. "Now I can be a fine lady in Jasmana society. I can live in the Presidential Palace! And my parents can have a new house. What can you offer: a dingy hut isolated from the rest of the world in that primitive shithole you live in?"
"Paliita, listen: Bwakanta is only using you to get at me. You can't trust him! If I leave you with him he will probably rape and murder you, then cut off your father's hands and rape your mother too!"
"Oh, you wouldn't do that to me, would you, Olly?" she asked Bwakanta.
"No, my little love doll" he said tenderly, cuddling her to him affectionately. "Besides, I hardly need to rape you, do I?" He cupped her breast and sent Kla another wicked grin of triumph.
President Qamabro also seemed to be amused by Kla's romantic defeat, then made his move, "So you see, young man, Mrs. Bwakanta is neither in danger nor available to you anymore. Therefore are you free to make a fresh start. And my Captain tells me that you are dissatisfied with the earth god of the Ma'waaluuki--that you actually consider him a devil, I hear."
"That's what you said," Bwakanta pointed out to Kla, moving in close to the bars, "and how you were so crippled being bound by that promise never to kill. Well, we certainly would never hold you to a promise like that. You'd be free to let loose."
"You mean like back when I was a boy under your command?" Kla asked his once-corporal.
"Yes, yes, exactly! You were great then, a tough little monster!"
"Yes, I was," Kla agreed.
"So it is time to decide, Kla'Khitt:" Qamabro pressed, "do you choose to serve me or choose to die?"
Kla should have felt stymied: captured, his rage deflated, his rescue falling apart, his mission becoming a true fiasco. He understood that his two worst enemies were counting on his inability to extract revenge upon them because he was not a murderer like them. Almost laughing at his impotence. And yet he felt rather confident.
"Neither, you wicked man, I choose to defeat you."
"What? You're not even going to pretend, in the hope that you might escape?" The president was amused.
"Sorry, I just can't bring myself to lie or pretend to appease such an evil tyrant as yourself."
No longer amused, Qamabro said, "Captain, let us put those handcuffs on him. Then we'll see how defiant he..."
Bwakanta suddenly became very nervous, knowing what was expected of him and his machete, which Qamabro had insisted he bring along. "Maybe that's not a good idea, Asshad, like they said, the Geneva Convention..."
Qamabro scowled at his Captain, not accustomed to being interrupted EVER. Nor to being addressed in public by his first name without title or pomp. "Bah! What is wrong with everyone? It's because of that girl, isn't it? Guard, toss those handcuffs in to the prisoner. And YOU..."
Qamabro glared deep into Kla's eyes to intimidate him and utter a command. But found that he could not speak. Nor even move, he was trapped, hypnotized...
Bwakanta saw that something was wrong and gave Qamabro a nudge, just enough to break eye-contact between president and prisoner. Qamabro shuddered and turned away from Kla, covering his eyes and shrieking to the guard in full panic, "Shoot him! SHOOT THE FUCKER!"
The guard hesitated long enough for Kla to say, "If you spray bullets into this steel cell with all these bars you are probably going to get a face full of ricochets." The guards hesitated even more, looking to Bwakanta for orders. But Bwakanta was busy trying to calm both Paliita and the president, who was still shouting "shootshootshoot!!!" while she was screaming "nononono, you promised you wouldn't hurt Kla!" Surprisingly, he was also trying to protect her with his own body from stray bullets that might start flying.
The guard, who had once been a child-soldier as had Kla but was now pathologically obedient, took the initiative and switched his weapon to single fire, then took quick aim and fired through the bars at the prisoner. But missed, hitting a bar. The ricochet danced around the room, as predicted.
No one was hit by that bullet, so the guard stepped closer took much better aim this time--directly at Kla's head--and missed again. This time hitting a bar in the back. Again a crazy bullet banged and sang its way between everyone in the room. The guard--genuinely eager to kill someone--stepped forward yet again and jammed the rifle between the bars and into the cell, the barrel almost touching Kla's chest-- but then could not fire, his trigger finger suddenly paralyzed.
Kla had often wondered how he had always avoided being shot, even when he took on groups of soldiers shooting at him. He finally understood: it was a psychic defense mechanism; mortal men simply could not aim at an Avatar any more than mosquitoes could stick them. He saw the guard's weapon jerk away just before firing both times. The only way he could get shot was by accident--a ricochet was just as dangerous to him as anyone else. As a boy he had been wounded twice, and the third time had crippled and eventually killed him, so he knew how it felt and was not eager to experience it again.
Naturally, Kla snatched the rifle away from the guard. Bwakanta had been shouting "STOPSTOPSTOP!" all along. Now their prisoner was armed and they were not.
And now Bwakanta was shouting "NONONO!" Paliita was squealing like a teenage girl on a roller coaster ride. Qamabro was shrieking hysterically "Help! Guards! Help!"
"Everybody shut up!" Kla shouted, vehemently. Which everyone did--gagging in mid-scream, unable to utter another sound. They continued to try, but were silent and looking quite surprised.
Kla was only half-surprised, already comprehending that he possessed some version of the talent Tazio used to enforce his commands. He had never tried to use it before--being one of those things he had always resented about Tazio; the arrogance of forcing his will upon others. Kla decided that a little arrogance might be justifiable under these circumstances.
There were four people in the room outside the cell, five more guards and eight international soldiers in the next room, so he shouted again: "I command everyone to RELAX!" Everyone did, immediately.
Within minutes he had control of everyone in the area and his cell door was opened. Kla stepped out, had all guards present step in and locked the door. Deciding the rifle was unnecessary and only frightening people, Kla tossed into a pile with the other weapons, locked them into an empty cell and folded the key double. The international mercenaries remained relaxed and just watched the show, seeming quite amused, offering no trouble whatsoever. Everyone cooperated perfectly.
That is, everyone obeyed instructions, but were not quite zombies. Kla was aware that they were hardly as affected as when under Tazio's command. For example, the President's fear broke through and he started to beg "P-p-please d-don't kill us..."
Bwakanta reassured him, "Don't worry, Asshad, he CAN'T hurt us...you'll see."
Paliita was sticking close to Bwakanta for protection, apparently most afraid of Kla, who was in turn surprised at how tenderly that brutal man was comforting her, as if he really did care for her after all.
"Hey, Ass-had," Kla addressed the president, inflection on the insult and deliberately neglecting all courtly etiquette, "do you have an armored limousine?"
"Of course I do--a Rolls Royce--after all I AM a head of state," Qamabro spoke arrogantly with a very snooty accent, "...er, why do you ask?"
"We're going for a ride, may as well do it in style."
"No, no. Really. I simply refuse to go anywhere with you."
"Really? Well, I COMMAND you to call your motor pool; have them get the limo ready for a trip. Now."
Qamabro had a cell phone in a pocket, a high-status satellite GPS model smart phone that could call anywhere and do anything, very impressive. He put it up to his face, although jerkily, still trying to resist the command. But he made the call and stammered an order for the car to be made ready--then desperately shouted, "Help, help, I'm being tortured!"
So Kla took the phone, explained calmly, "The President is not being tortured, he's only being kidnapped. Now bring the limo to the front door or I may be forced to dismember President Qamabro and Captain Bwakanta both. Any attempt to stop us might be disastrous for them--and probably for yourselves. Thank you." Then he tucked the telephone in his belt, to take it with him, just in case.
"All right, let's go. You guys lead the way," he told Qamabro and Bwakanta, also commanding them to cooperate in their kidnapping and they both said, "Yes, Lord." After that it was easy.
The international mercenary unit was still hanging out in the guard's office, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes. They really didn't care that Kla had broken out and was taking important captives along. In fact, they were friendly and the French lieutenant asked, "You're going? Just ask Old Man Klauser to give us a heads-up when you see him, okay? We're here if he needs us." Corporal Marcez asked "Hey man, do you want your spear back?" and tossed it to Kla.
He opened the door to the stairway. There was no army waiting for them; either had no alarm been sounded, or they had all fled upon learning that Kla was coming out, so they went down the stairs without incident. It seemed that no one was going to stop Kla from absconding with his prisoners.
Except Paliita, who had only been commanded to "relax", which had apparently worn off. She shrieked and called for help all the way down the stairs, haranguing Kla non-stop: "You leave my husband alone, you big bully. You MAY not do this, Kla, STOP KLA’KHITT..." He deliberately ignored her at first, but finally commanded, "Silence!" She shut up, but kept waving her arms and fretting--which Kla found amusing. After all, she HAD dumped him.
The limousine was waiting: a gold-plated Rolls Royce. Four snipers were also waiting on the roof, looking for a clear shot at the now-famous Ma'waaluuk terrorist. He made no attempt to use either of his captives as a shield, but he did gaze up and look each sniper in the eye and shake his head to warn them "don't you dare". Every man knew about the Ma'waaluuki’s god who had defended that village with big ju-ju, defeating armies one after another for almost a year, and that Kla’Khitt was his agent, so they did not dare shoot.
Kla dismissed the driver and told Qamabro to drive the car himself, which he had never done before. Bwakanta was to sit in front beside Qamabro and Kla took the luxurious back seat for himself. There was a mini-bar and he helped himself to a cold sparkling water.
Paliita tried to come along, now silently begging, but Kla refused to have her, "Go home," he said, "or go finish your nurse training--you'll probably be needing a job." He was neither angry nor jealous, understanding that Paliita was only behaving as African culture dictated: young women usually marry older men for status and security, not love. Although he did feel disappointed that she had such bad taste in men.
She was still gesticulating hysterically as the Rolls rolled away and on out of town, bucking and jerking because Qamabro was such an inexpert driver.
Kla handed the cell phone to Bwakanta, "You call ahead and make sure the military doesn't shoot or stop us." Bwakanta readily did so, since it was also his own life on the line.
They drove past many clusters of military vehicles and soldiers, passed through roadblocks without being stopped or hindered in any way. Ostensibly because no one dared open fire and endanger the President and his Captain, but as they progressed they saw that people were waving to Kla in the back seat and a new hope was dawning among them: is our wicked and cruel President finally gone? Are we free now?
By the time they had passed beyond the city limits there was an entourage of vehicles behind them, often tooting their horns and waving, cheering. It was a victory parade and it grew as they passed through villages along the way north to the magical realm of the Ma'waaluuki.
REBELS & OTHER THREATS
They were finally stopped in a roadside blockade, but not by Qamabro's militia, rather a band of Kandingo rebels who had never given up their war against the government. They were 11 war-hardened revolutionaries who intended to use this opportunity to murder the President and his Captain of the Guards and take over the country themselves.
Kla informed them that the prisoners were under his protection as well as of the Ma'waaluuki earth god. They laughed and informed Kla that they intended to murder him as well.
"Then we shall go conquer Jasmana and kill all the wicked Wa'hambe people. Then their allies and all white foreigners we can find. Then eradicate the Gallas, Kaffas and Waziri. We shall purify this land..."
It suddenly registered that if Kla had actually gone to war against the Qamabrian empire, as he had so yearned to do, these men would have been the allies he would have had to deal with. He lost all patience with them, commanded them to drop their weapons and feel dizzy. Within seconds they were unarmed and unable to stand. He harmed no one, but they ended up being afraid of him anyway, lying helpless and vomiting beside the road as the Rolls drove on northward.
"Those are the kind of men who would destroy all that we have built here in Qamabria," the president complained with an angry sneer, "the Kandingo people will only be satisfied by the destruction of Wa'hambe civilization and a return to savagery!"
"Perhaps if the Wa'hambe had ever built anything for others than themselves," Kla suggested, "other tribes could be satisfied too."
"But they are inferior," the president insisted, "the Wa'hambe are destined to rule. God is on our side!"
"Well, tell that to the earth god when you meet him," Kla suggested. The president of Qamabria shut up.
They came to the garrison of border guards just before the e-null zone around the village, and parked the Rolls there, since the car could not function inside the zone. A few words to the armed soldiers attempting to rescue their employers caused them to abandon their posts and walk away to the south.
Now they faced a 10-mile walk to the village, which both Kla's prisoners balked at, although unable to disobey his commands. They realized that it was their last chance to communicate with their agents and militia.
Captain Bwakanta had been looking at his watch periodically, and after being politely silent for most of the trip he finally spoke: "Mister President, it is 14:00 hours now."
Qamabro spoke to Kla as a man who had been waiting to spring a surprise: "You must listen! We have arranged for many people to die if you do not release us!"
"All right, I'm listening." Kla sounded more amused than worried.
"Perhaps we cannot attack the Ma'waaluuki village, but your neighbors in Kandija we can: which has already been prearranged in case of something like this."
"We planned ahead," Bwakanta confessed, almost apologetically.
"So if you do not release us immediately a helicopter gunship strike is already scheduled for 15:00 hours. They are to bomb and shoot every fucking thing in Kandija. The infantry will come in after and make certain there are no survivors."
"Why Kandija?" Kla calmly asked.
"Because they are all fucking Ma'waaluuki sympathizers," shrugging impatiently, "I don't know or care, does it fucking matter? Any city will do!" He was a very irascible man.
Kla had taken the cell phone back from Bwakanta, and he took it from his belt again. "You can ring in a change of instructions."
"I shall fucking NOT!" the president insisted, standing tall at last.
"Listen," Kla commanded and grabbed the man by both shoulders--gently--looking him long and deep in the eyes, "here is what you are going to say..." Qamabro went silent, paying attention, already hypnotized.
"After 15:00 the helicopters shall await a signal to attack the Ma'waaluuki village instead; tell them your agent will be disabling the ju-ju that kills electricity. So the helicopters can fly over the village with all their laser guns and high-tech weapons free to fire and recapture that troublesome little village at last."
Bwakanta became concerned, "Sir President, it's a trick..."
"Hush, Bwakanta. Make the call, Mister President."
Both men said "Yes, Lord." President Qamabro made the call without further argument. Then they continued walking through the jungle towards the village.
Most of the tribe was gathered in the shaman's lodge, listening to Klauser-Tazio tell the story of Armageddonquest up to date, when one of the warriors on guard duty came running in with a frenzied announcement:
"Lord Hauptmann, Kla’Khitt has sabotaged the electronics nulleffector!"
They all ran out to see, and sure enough, Kla was there and had pulled a single wire loose from the stack of stones, disrupting the delicate balance of relationships that allowed the electronics nulleffector to generate the e-null field. He stood there defending his vandalism with a spear, demonstrably allowing no one to attempt repairs.
"Are you MAD Kla?" a fellow warrior was shouting, "Now the government helicopters and tanks can attack us!"
"Yes, good! Are we not warriors? It is our way!"
Mooie had another opinion: "But everything the Tazios made will be destroyed, and we shall starve and suffer again!"
"But we will be FREE!"
"But we ARE free!" she screamed at him, tears streaming.
"No, they have denied us WAR! But the true Tazio improved me, remember? I am the perfect warrior! I am your savior!"
Of course, the only one who understood the extent of damage and how to repair it was Klauser-Tazio, who looked it over and saw that it was only a matter of one detached wire, which could be re-attached immediately, had Kla’Khitt not been blocking the way.
He also recognized the two non-Ma'waaluuki men standing to one side of the electronics nulleffector, President Qamabro and Captain Bwakanta, the captain holding up a very modern cell phone to record a video of Kla's performance. Or perhaps to send a live report to some governmental mercenaries? Lord Hauptmann smiled.
Completely calm, he approached the electronics nulleffector, even as Kla moved to intercept him, threatening with his spear at chest level. "And I challenge this Lord Hauptmann; let us have our own mini-Armageddon!"
"The choppers are coming!" Indeed, the sky sound of thwip-thwipping was getting louder.
Two large, old, extremely noisy Russian MI-24 Hind combat troop-transport helicopters shrieked in over the trees, blurred past overhead at full speed and were gone. Then they could be heard circling back.
The President and his Captain, who had both seemed inexplicably docile up to then, became suddenly aware that they had just unleashed a helicopter attack upon the very location where they themselves were standing. They were about to start running when Kla shouted "stay!" and they became docile again.
It was pandemonium, everyone shouting at once, all ready to panic, until-- ringing out over it all: Lord Hauptmann laughing, heartily and loudly. Everyone had to stop and look and wonder what was so funny.
"It's just that my original Tazio-self had forgotten what it was like to feel excitement-- it's FUN!"
Still laughing, Lord Hauptmann strode up to Kla, who lowered his spear, the charade done with. "I know that you forbid war," Kla apologized, "but this battle needs to be fought. Those troops are..."
"On their way to raze Kandija, so you diverted them here, I know. I agree, they need to be stopped."
"I couldn't stand by and let that happen... you agree? What about forbidding war?""
"Hey, that was the other Tazio-self, an 18-year-old kid; this Tazio-self was an experienced professional soldier. Oh, we shall avoid a war, but I'm all for fighting a battle for a good cause-- if done properly."
Then the German indicated that they should both rather look up, just as the two combat helicopters arrived to hover overhead, filling the sky and bristling with guns.
"Ach ja, the good old Hind Crocodile 2-seat gunship," informed the former German mercenary with expert familiarity, "carries only 8 troopers each, but it's got a helluva lot of firepower; cannons, bombs, antitank missiles. They can cut us to pieces if they land."
Kla nodded, said, "Unless they land too hard," then lifted the end of the wire to where it belonged, ready to reestablish the circuitry and turn on the nulleffector again.
"They're too high up," Lord Hauptmann casually mentioned, "they'd all be killed."
"Oh, I won't kill anyone-- you know I can't --but they ARE going to start shooting as soon as they get a little lower."
"Unless you put them off balance?"
"Just what I was thinking." Kla connected the wire to the electronics nulleffector.
Above, the roaring helicopter noises suddenly became silence as their ignitions failed, except for the swooshing of rotary blades and twenty cries of fear. The big machines started dropping out of the sky.
Then roaring back to life as Kla broke the circuitry again, electricity back in business. The helicopters were allowed to rise and stabilize. Only for the motors to die out over and over again, flying, falling, jerking, juggling.
Finally the copters were allowed to semi-crash down semi-violently. They crunched into the open area around the nulleffector instead of on some huts or in the garden, as if steered into position. The impacts were violent enough to send weapons and helmets flying, the soldiers well-rattled and stunned. Yet controlled enough so that the big machines were not wrecked.
"Krieger: achtung!" the Hauptmann commanded and 42 well-trained Ma'waaluuki warriors snapped into position, spears ready. The next command was "Fortshritt!" and those warriors surrounded the helicopters, threatening but not attacking. They were well disciplined.
Attacking was left to Kla’Khitt, demonstrating the art of being a perfect warrior: blurringly fast, overwhelmingly strong, impeccably accurate. And yet merciful, incapacitating his foes without wounding or killing them. Alone he attacked one helicopter, disarming and debilitating eight armed soldiers, a gunner and a pilot before any of them had gotten over the crashdown shock.
Lord Hauptmann handled the other chopper crew just as effectively. Before the intended attackers knew what was happening they were helpless face down in the dirt, basically unharmed but their weapons and helicopters captured.
"Do not damage the choppers," Kla commanded the excited warriors, "we'll need them to take us around the country!"
President Qamabro and Captain Bwakanta were beginning to fret again as Lord Hauptmann and Kla approached them, they looked quite frightened but were unable to run.
"I see you've learned the art of psychic domination," Klauser-Tazio said to Kla.
"Well, I can make them obey for a moment, but it wears off quickly. So I brought them here to you."
"Yes, I'll have a talk with them."
President Qamabro recognized Hans Klauser, or thought he did, becoming suddenly enraged all over again. "Klauser, you unfaithful fucking traitor! You are with our enemies now? You... you... your eyes..." He became calm, silent.
"Mister President. Captain. Nice to see you again."
"What are you going to do with us?" Bwakanta asked nervously.
"We're going to invite you to lunch, have a civilized conversation, and then you are free to go back to Jasmana."
"No torture?" the President asked nervously.
"We don't do that," Lord Hauptmann assured the both of them.
"Although we will be making some demands," Kla interjected, "like: stop being assholes."
Lord Hauptmann rolled his eyes, saying "You'll have to excuse Kla, he's young and rude. But he’s not wrong, you know, you are both cruel and ruthless and selfish; unsympathetic qualities for men in positions of authority. So we will be making some adjustments to your personalities.”
Qamabro looked offended and horrified, “You do not have the right…”
“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. For example, I now command you both to: Be Nice."
“Yes, Lord,” said both men, each with a little shrug. Then a little smile.
Although Qamabro looked confused. "So…you are not going to exile us or disassemble my government?"
"Oh no, it's far too chaotic to do that: we'd just have to create a new government anyway. No, it's better that you and your experienced staff continues doing their jobs."
"Oh?" Qamabro was surprised, and somewhat mollified.
"We will, however, be making several informal suggestions for some comprehensive and progressive policy changes..."
Klauser/Tazio went on to briefly restructure the political system in the land of Qamabria, emphasizing human rights, environmental issues, economic redistributions, etc. President Qamabro was nodding, mouth open, evidently agreeing with every word.
Bwakanta looked over to Kla’Khitt with a puzzled expression, "You are not going to take out your revenge on me? Not going to..?" He indicated his hands.
Kla did not answer at once, but then it was without hesitation: "I want to. You truly deserve disfigurement and death--both of you--but I refuse to be a man like you. Instead, we will make you be like us. Neither of you will ever be capable of harming anyone again, or of corruption. As of now you are ethically and morally constrained, and will find yourself working diligently and tirelessly to make Qamabria the kind of land I want to live in. In effect, you will be our agents in office and abject slaves. That revenge satisfies me quite well."
"What about my...wife?" Bwakanta seemed embarrassed and insecure, "Are you going to take Paliita back?"
"She was never mine, so no. Hey, how did that ever happen anyway? I assumed you'd be ruthlessly using her just to hurt me."
"Well yes, that WAS my early plan-- but somehow she and I came up with a new plan together. She wanted to marry someone rich and you were no prospect. Admittedly, I'd hoped it would break your heart...even though she insisted that I was not to harm you."
Kla turned to Lord Hauptmann, "Let's make Bwakanta be Paliita's abject slave as well!"
"Don't be quite so cruel, Kla," Lord Hauptmann scolded, with some humor.
The next morning, after they had sent the two politicians walking back to Jasmana, where they were to immediately disband most of the mercenary military forces in the land and generate a jobs program to absorb all the suddenly unemployed soldiers, the Ma'waaluuki held a meeting.
They were now in the position to dictate political agendas, since Qamabria’s leaders had become slave-agents of their local god. Everyone had ideas, some better than others, so discussion was encouraged.
There was some dissatisfaction that those scoundrels in Jasmana should go unpunished for their atrocities, but Lord Hauptmann assured them: "as Qamabria becomes a democratic and enlightened nation, eventually those men cannot avoid being called to task and tried for their crimes against humanity. But for now they serve as enslaved tools of reconstruction, so we can exploit their political presence. Perhaps they can even earn some sort of redemption, we'll see."
The tribal Diviner, old Wa'lah'khabi, had received dreams with several inspired suggestions for the new political orientation of Qamabria's governmental policies. Some of the young warriors had to adjust themselves to the concept of not taking bloody revenge upon all Wa'hambe families and dismissing their atrocities, but a year with their earth god had conditioned them to reject war as a solution.
Although their war seemed to be done, it was decided to keep the electronics nulleffector working anyway; not as a line of defense but because people had become comfortable with the peace and quiet no longer possible in the modern world. And no mosquitoes.
Klauser-Tazio had been continuing his quest for the perfect giant strawberry. He did not have Tazio's ability to modify DNA with telekinetic powers, but he understood the established mechanics of genetics and did some good old-fashioned gene splicing. He also had a very human sense of taste to work with. The result was a strawberry so firm and delicious that people went a little bit crazy for it. Even Kla finally said "Wow!"
So everyone was content, as if they had finally arrived at the story's Happy Ending. But life goes on, continuing down the page.
In the middle of another group discussion of ways to improve life for everyone in the land of Qamabria, Lord Hauptmann's face suddenly went blank; he froze and listened, seeming to be hearing something from afar, then gasped in horror and said:
"The entire City of Tunis has just been destroyed in a thermonuclear explosion!"
Although also on the African continent, Tunis was quite far away, so no one could hear the detonation, but no one doubted what their god had told them. But of course, there was nothing they could do about it.
Later that same day, just before sundown, during a conversation with Kla, Lord Hauptmann cried out again; this time staggering and collapsing to the ground unconscious. It was as if he'd been stricken by an invisible sledgehammer out of nowhere. It took him a moment to recover enough to speak as Kla watched, wondering what could possibly have caused such a violent reaction.
"Another nuclear bomb, this time in Jerusalem. Tazio was there; now he is not. I believe that my original self has just died." And then he wept.
Lord Hauptmann became confused, fevered, and perhaps delirious. He had to be helped into his hut, where Mooie and Seenie cooled him with wet towels and tried to get him to drink water until he slept.
A village meeting was held, the people were frightened and concerned, uncertain if their god had lost his mind or his powers. It was feared that the Tazio part of him was gone and now he was nothing more than Hans Klauser, the German mercenary. "What will happen to our peace with the Qamabrian government now? Will those converted men be free to be wicked and commit atrocities once again?"
Seventeen hours after his collapse Lord Hauptmann sat up, saying in amazement: "Hey, I'm alive again. Tazio's tail grew a new body."
He seemed perfectly fine, and definitely still a god. And now he had a mission to perform.
"I must go to Megiddo in Israel to make physical contact with my original Tazio-self. A group of Ma'waaluuki warriors shall accompany me; we are to participate in the Armageddon Festival as Tazio's disciples. It's all symbolic and a big honor, etc."
To Kla he said: "I may be gone several weeks, but you can control things here until I return."
"Once Tazio wins the Apocalypse Contest he must take over the world; not as a dictator but as the landlord, being the incarnation of the planet itself and therefore the only truly authorized owner. But that's a big job, so there are to be others like me; those destined to host copies of his mind. The Christian Religion has defined him as the Beast with Seven Heads, ten horns..."
"I remember. So you are now one of his six other HEADS. But I am not, even though I was once like you for three days."
"Tazio cannot simply appoint someone, each of those Heads are destined to be responsible for a specific area of the world. There is a sick little old Chinese lady in Szechwan Province who does not yet know that she is about to become the goddess of all China. And four others, still undiscovered. I am to be his agent for the African continent..."
"Even though you are a white European?"
"Hey, don't ask ME to explain it; something to do with reincarnations, previous lives. I am only now beginning to learn what the rules are via telepathic contact with my original Tazio-self. But I do know I will be more involved with nature--Tazio's planet, remember?--rather than governments and tribal decisions. Those duties will be up to a native African--you, Kla’Khitt."
"It has always been Tazio's/my plan that you were the one who would take over Qamabria. But just like him, first you had to be ready."
Later that day Lord Hauptmann and nine warriors climbed into the least damaged of their two helicopters, well-wishes were offered and Kla detached the wire to disable the electronics nulleffector so that the helicopter could fly again. Within moments it was on its way south to the airport in Jasmana.
Kla used the cell phone he had appropriated from the president to call Captain Bwakanta in Jasmana to make arrangements for passage of the entire group to Israel, first class, paid by the government of Qamabria. Bwakanta was quite cooperative, almost friendly. Then Kla’Khitt reattached the wire and the Ma'waaluuki were disconnected from the modern world once again.