Men of Power

USHUNDI

From the skies above, the capitol of the refugee nation seemed peaceful and silent, just as one would expect a country such as Bandari to be. Ushundi had one of the lowest crime rates of any major metropolitan city. Any of its inhabitants could explain why. Indeed, it was a peaceful night when watching from On High. But not all men had the privilege to view the world from On High.

From the streets, from the jungle of concrete and grass, reverberating off the trunks of palm trees and the harsh walls of brick and stone, there was an incessant thumping, a rhythmic tone that left the inhabitants of the block tossing and turning all into the night. The sign out in front of the upscale two story building read 'MOTO', the most sensational nightclub in Ushundi. What most would describe as calm and tranquil, others would call monotonous, and so, Moto had come to be. Every night, people lined up around the corner in the vain hope of being granted entrance. Tonight, as always, the club was stuffed to maximum capacity. Every window and skylight spewed flashing technicolor lights.

Inside, patrons danced shoulder to shoulder on the floor, or drank and watched from the broad walkway that covered the second floor. The dancers moved with such precision and speed, a controlled fury that consumed the dance floor. From time to time, dancers would casually drop a strange pill into their mouths and continue their dance. It was as if the music was a rapidly beating heart, and Moto was a body in frenzy, raging out of control.

That was soon to end.

With a deafening crack, one of the skylights caved in and glass rained down. The dance floor parted almost instantaneously as a dark figure fell from the sky, landing gracefully in their midst. Anyone beyond the borders of this small African nation would identify him as the bodyguard to it's leader. Any of Bandari's inhabitants would call him by his true name, "Akube!"

Everyone froze, dumbstruck. Shouts descended into whispers, and whispers, to silence. A moment later the silence came to an end, a guttural cry shattering the eerie tranquility. It was not something the man in black was expecting, "Kill him!"

Within seconds, the crowd moved in on him from all sides, hands grabbing and bludgeoning their leader and protector. He managed to break free, applying minimal force to stem the tide of attackers. Still, they came. Wrestling off a new pile of attackers, he managed enough freedom to press a device built into the shaded fabric around his waist that constituted a belt. It blinked white twice and a gray fog descended through the broken skylight. The aggressors began coughing, and within moments, the dance floor was empty, only broken bottles and discarded shoes left behind, and the man in black wondering what had happened.

"A man of power is not defined by his deeds, but by the deeds of those he inspires." called a voice from above. Akube's eyes pierced through the thinning fog, focusing in on the rough-hewn face of a man, skin as dark as the night sky, eyes as cold and restless as the sea. His wiry black hair was bound tightly behind his head in three descending knots down the back of his neck. He smiled half-heartedly, seemingly in amusement at the Bodyguard's presence. He rubbed his dry, calloused hands together as he leaned over the railing of the elevated walkway. "Do you remember who said that?" he asked, slowly walking down the walkway, toward the staircase. A number of guards stood at attention all around the walkway as the stranger made his way down the stairs. "You did." he continued, pointing down at the Bodyguard, "You, our shepherd, our father, our brother... Akube. Such an inspiring man. By your own logic, you are responsible for some of the greatest accomplishments of the last ten years. But you have chosen to ignore the less favorable deeds you are responsible for."

"What are you talking about?" Akube snarled, "Who are you?"

The man held his arms wide and smiled as he replied proudly, "One of your greatest discarded creations. More directly, I am Erik Mkembo, the most powerful and, thanks to you, ONLY drug distributor in Bandari." He reached the bottom step and slowly approached Akube on the dance floor. "You tried to rid your country of our filth, but in the end, you've only streamlined the process. I have my needle in this country's heart, and it doesn't want me to remove it as much as you, our all-knowing protector." He was cut short as Akube's hand seized him by the throat. Within a split second, every guard up above had their rifle trained on Akube, but held their fire.

"W-what's the matter, Akube?" he coughed, continuing to mock the Bodyguard with his tone, "Not proud of how this one turned out?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean... my deeds define you. Were it not for you, I would not be rich. I might not even be alive. But thanks to your divine intervention, Erik Mkembo is a name that is respected and feared more than yours."

"People do not fear my name."

"Come now, Akube." Erik muttered condescendingly. The Bodyguard let go of his throat and he took a deep breath, massaging the soar flesh around his trachea. "Perhaps it would make things clearer if I just showed you." he said, turning his back to the Bodyguard. He unbuttoned his white dress shirt and slid it down his shoulders, exposing three long parallel scars running diagonally down his back.

"Look familiar?" Erik laughed, rebuttoning his shirt, "Seven years ago, I was working for one of the fledgling underground drug cartels importing into Bandari. I was young and I wanted to be a man. I was weak and I wanted power, and I thought that I could climb my way up to the top from the bottom. I now know that in order to truly seize control, you must build a world where you are already at the top. It was an arranged pickup at the border. Everything was going smoothly until... you came. I escaped, and managed to make off with enough money to live in comfort for a few months. Since I could not go to a hospital, I did my best to clean and stitch your mark. I nearly died. When the fever finally passed, I realized what a mistake I had made by taking the money which rightly belonged to my employer. Thankfully, I learned that his operation had come to a swift end after a raid by the police and a familiar man in black. Within a year, it seemed the very prospect of a smuggling operation in Bandari was a ludicrous fantasy. That was when I came. With nothing but a machete and a handful of money, I brought the wayward servants of the old regime under my control. I had built my world, Akube, and like you, I had placed myself at the top."

Akube lunged at the drug lord, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and slamming him face first into a table. A bag of pills sat there, right in front of Erik's face. "What is this?!" Akube snarled, demanding an answer.

"Ah... now this is an intriguing product." Erik replied, "It's called Ambrosia. I have a supplier in Europe who has been shipping it in for weeks. I don't know what it does myself, but my clientele certainly enjoy it, and it seems to leave them very open to suggestion, as you saw earlier."

"Who is your supplier?"

"A good businessman does not divulge his sources."

Akube lifted the man up and slammed him back down on his back, leaning in uncomfortably close. They locked eyes as Akube's claws sprang from one of his gloves, hovering over Erik's chest. "I would be happy to mark you again. Now, tell me, who is supplying you with Ambrosia?"

Erik simply laughed. "Do you really think that a street rat could fight for control of the entire drug trade without being able to endure torture? Nothing your little claws can do will break me!"

"We shall see..." Akube whispered. Before he could continue, a low, soft ringing filled the air. He reached into his belt and drew a beeping rectangular white device.

"Looks like duty calls elsewhere." Erik chuckled.

Akube read the small display on the face of the device showing who had made the call for his assistance. It was the President of South Africa. The nature of the call would not be known until he arrived, but he knew that no one ever called him unless he was truly needed. He hoisted Erik up by his shirt, once again locking eyes with the drug lord. "The police are on their way." he said, catching the sound of sirens off in the distance.

Mkembo sneered as he replied, "And by the time they arrive, I will already be gone. I have safe houses scattered across this country that even you couldn't find. I have an army that would rather die then disappoint me."

Akube brought his face within inches of Erik's as he snarled, "You will need more than that to save you." With that, he dropped the drug lord to the ground and pressed the button embedded in his belt once again. A rope descended through the skylight with a foothold at the end. He took hold as it lifted him out into the cold night air. He hopped onto the seat of his hover cycle and tore off into the sky. As he flew over the city, he couldn't help but wonder how such a paradise, a paradise built by his own two hands, could possibly create monsters like Erik Mkembo. The only conclusion he could draw was that he had indeed, through some twisted perception, inspired such a life of crime. And now, a man of power stood at odds with him, built in his own shadow, ready to inspire and corrupt Bandari's youth to serve him and poison their home. Akube pushed his cycle to full throttle, as if to outrun the realization that he had failed. A feeble attempt in his most private moments, which he would never achieve.

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Akube Protects Us

"Good evening," said the newscaster as his report began, "Today is the tenth anniversary of the inspiring story of Bandari, the small African country that has become the answer to the prayers of thousands. In celebration of the day of Bandari's founding, we once again play our interview, which originally aired on that historic day, with the country's brave founder and leader, Akube Mahatu."

The screen faded to old footage inside a small white room. Against the wall sat a man in a tan, short-sleeved dress shirt, khakis, a straw hat and bifocal sunglasses. He seemed like a calm man, a patient man.

"Thank you for joining us, Mr. Mahatu." said the reporter

"It is a pleasure, sir." Akube replied.

"How did you accomplish all of this? How did you build an entire nation on your own?"

"Simply put, I did not build it on my own. It is the sum of the labors of so many people who share my belief, and that belief is that what we are born into does not have to restrain us. We can escape it if we work together. We do not have to be prisoners of our fate. We can make our own destiny."

They cut to Akube's silhouette walking across the barren plains, the orange light of the setting sun behind him as the narrator spoke, "Akube Mahatu was born in Ethiopia. His parents died when he was very young, and he was raised by his grandmother until he was five years old. From then on, he had to look after himself, narrowly surviving long marches through the desert without food or water, countless diseases, and attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army. He lived through an unending nightmare, watching as his closest friends dropped dead from starvation and AIDs. By seemingly divine intervention, Akube was able to stow away on a ship in Somalia."

"I had to stay below deck, I don't know how long." said Akube, "I was hidden in a small place, and I could not get out, for I knew that they would kill me. I got very hungry. And even if I was able to get food, I was too sick to eat it."

"Finally," the Narrator continued, "Akube jumped ship and swam to the shore, finding himself in Cairo."

"It was something I had never seen before." said Akube, "A city, buildings, I had only known the desert. In that first day, I got a taste of the outside world, and I was desperate to learn more."

"Akube lived in Cairo with a charity organization for several years, leaving for England when he was seventeen. He worked his way through college and law school. Finally, after spending almost his entire life away from home, Akube returned to Ethiopia like Moses to Egypt, grown and wise, and lead his people out of their nightmare, and into the promised land. He led them North, where they were confronted by the LRA. Mahatu and the volunteers who had helped him lead the group miraculously fought off the soldiers, and settled in a large stretch of land near the sea, which the soldiers had been using as an outpost. Akube later claimed that this land was a sovereign nation, a claim which brought him under severe accusations from the government. When put on trial for his attempted secession, Akube represented himself and stood his ground, stating that he founded his unofficial country as a safe haven for the less fortunate of Africa. Although the courts considered his claim laughable, he began to receive backing from charity groups human rights organizations across the world. Eventually, even the United Nations supported his cause, and they were given a small sliver of coastal land on the West coast of Africa to call their own, a country that Akube named Bandari. With financial aid from charities, they began to build and secure their new home. When the time came for a leader to be chosen, the people unanimously elected Akube." As he spoke, footage of Akube's inauguration ceremony played. In the city streets, still under construction, they cheered and cast flower pedals down from above. Akube rode through the streets, adorned with beads and smiling as brightly as the sun.

The screen returned to Akube and the reporter sitting across from each other in the little room. “Many of your people are calling you ‘King Akube’. How do you respond to that?” the reporter asked.

I am not a king." Akube asserted firmly, "King is a dangerous word here. A man fancies himself a king, the next day, his soldiers are butchering children. There is no greater fear of mine than to become a king.

"The population of Bandari continues to grow as refugees from Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone are escorted here." said the narrator, "However, Akube claims that they are expanding at a rate to accommodate these people, and that Bandari's economy is booming. Many of his people say that they had never known such a life was possible, and Mahatu agreed."

"When I was a child, I would never have believed this possible." said the leader of Bandari, "I would believe, through and through, that all there was to life was suffering. And there are people out there who still believe that, who still live in misery with no hope, not even any notion, of escape. Today, I have the chance to give them a better life. I have a chance to set everyone free, and I intend to act on it. Hope is real. Let us find it together."

The screen faded back to the newscaster at his desk. "Truly a great man. That was ten years ago. Bandari's crime rate is still one of the lowest in the world. U.N. Peacekeepers are no longer stationed at the border. As the people of Bandari say, 'We can defend ourselves, Akube protects us'."

THE BANDARI BORDER...

Two trucks parked side by side on the road, their headlights dim in the dead of night. The road was beset on both sides with thick jungle, and at the mouth of the trees, just beyond, lay a great wooden fence, separating Bandari from the rest of the world. A group of men, some young enough to be considered boys, jumped out of the truck beds wielding AK-47's. Their superiors whispered orders, but one of them was immediately snatched by the shoulder and pulled into the darkness. His comrades noticed that he vanished, and another stepped forward to look for him, but was immediately taken round the ankle by rope and pulled into the trees. The others began to panic, separating and aiming their guns in all directions. Suddenly, two screamed and were cast down the road by the powerful arms of a dark figure. A large man in a bulletproof vest rushed after the figure, who was barely visible by the weak headlights. He swung his machete, and the attacker dodged, he swung again and was struck with the flat of the attacker's palm in his elbow, dropping the machete. With his other hand, he landed a devastating punch on the figure's shoulder, but it quickly recovered and took him by the throat, lifting him up and slamming him down on the hood.

Two more of the soldiers came, and the mysterious attacker quickly dealt with them. The rest dropped their guns and ran back up the road, as fast as their legs would carry them, away from Bandari.

The attacker returned to the caved in hood of the car, where the big man lay groaning in pain. He jumped up and perched over the man, looking him in the eye with the ferocity of an animal. "Y-you can't... be real..." said the soldier, "Just... just a myth... not real."

"But I am real." whispered the attacker, "And I am not happy with you. Remember, and tell your friends... Bandari. Is. Protected." As he finished, the soldier slipped into unconsciousness and he jumped back onto the ground. From behind, he heard the click of a rifle being loaded. He spun around to see one of the children, gun trembling in his hands, aimed at him.

"Put the gun down." said the man in black gently. The boy did not respond. "They are all gone." he continued, "No one left to tell you what to do. No one left to hurt you. Please... put the gun down." Finally, a tear welling in his eye, the boy dropped the gun and fell to his knees. Akube knelt with him and held him. "It's alright..." he whispered, "You are safe now. I promise."

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