This is a sample of the second chapter in the serial illustrated novel, Mark of the Cloven, and is part of the Horsemen comic book universe created by Jiba Molei Anderson and published by Griot Enterprises. The first several scenes of this issue are posted below for free. The entire chapter is available in a physical print comic book, digital download, and on Amazon Kindle.
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Oya raced down the remains of Daura Road. She smiled, enjoying the cool morning wind rushing past her hair puffs and in her face. Early day, before things got too warm, was always her favorite time to run. The red in her outfit was a splash of color in the surrounding green. Overgrown trees sped by on either side and in places the grass grew up past her knees through the pavement cracks. It was four lanes, and had seen a good amount of traffic in the past, but not anymore. Now, the only thing Daura Road led to was the Abuja Crater.
There were plans to re-pave it and set up a monument in the center of the great scar that was the birthplace of this new Africa, but so far it had remained in pretty much the same state as right after it had happened. A great gaping hole where Nigeria’s heart had been torn out.
Lumumba City was behind her. It was built adjacent to the crater, but was separated by a few miles of forest. The woods were pretty and provided a good buffer between the modern new architecture of Lumumba and the destruction. Oya zipped through the forest it in mere moments, savoring the smell of the exotic plants. It was so different from where she’d grown up and she was in no rush. As she got closer to she began to see bunches of dried flowers on the sides of the road and tied to trees with ribbons. Then there were hand-made signs with names painted on them and more flowers. Then there were faded pictures, stuffed animals, and crosses. So many crosses. She had to slow down to navigate through it all as the roadside memorabilia spilled off the shoulders and took over the old highway. It was everywhere. She took her time, looking at them, and eventually stopped at the lip, surrounded by thousands of the roadside tributes to the dead. Cards, notes, and pictures, all stapled and taped and poorly laminated, fluttered in the hot sun, slowly fading and degrading. They crowded right up to the edge of the crater, pressing to be as close to the precipice as possible, leaning out. Beyond them there was… nothing.
Oya had seen it before. It was clearly visible from the conference room up on the Aperture, but it never failed to terrify her. Even more so, up close like this. The soot-filled hole extended for miles. There was no rubble, no ruins, no remains. It was bowl of hardened ash spread out almost as far as the eye could see. The wind howled across it, unrestrained. They’d saved a lot of the inhabitants, before it happened, but not nearly all. It frightened her to think about how Abuja’s people, buildings, cars, and everything had been reduced to dust in seconds.
It frightened her more to know that her brother had done it.
Shango had his reasons and nobody could argue that the African Resurgence wasn’t a direct result of this destruction. But it still made her skin crawl. She turned, picking her way through the memorials, and began to run around it. She had to get to the other side, to Ogun’s Anvil, and she could have gone directly across very quickly if she let herself get up to full speed. But she wasn’t going to run across the remains of the dead. Circumnavigating it along the South hardly took her more time and she could do it with a clear conscious.
It wasn’t long before the crater faded behind her and the Jos Plateau rose up ahead. Over four hundred meters of stone rose up at a steep angle. It wasn’t a cliff, but it was an intimidating pile of granite boulders and gravel. She clambered up it, barely slowing down. Beneath the plateau, where she’d been running, trees and bushes had been abundant. Up here, things were flat, and waist high yellow grass covered the land.
The Anvil, Ogun’s workshop, was easy to spot. It looked like a tabletop plateau, only it was made of solid metal. It was more angular and rigid than a natural formation, red-brown with oxidization, and had long vertical striations in the sides. It was a nearly a dozen stories high and twice as wide. The entire thing was windowless and had only one visible, massive gateway, molded into the side. There was a parking lot nearby and dozens of cars were basking in the sun. She spotted the security checkpoint by the entrance and headed for it. They admitted her without issue and led her to a lobby where she barely had enough time to look around before Dr. Utella entered.
“Oya! So good to see you again. Ogun’s expecting you but he couldn’t be pulled away. I’ll bring you down to him.”
Oya liked Ogun’s chief research head, Dr.Utella. He had an ever present lab coat that matched a ring of stark white hair and an infectious wide smile that, considering his past, always made Oya smile back.
“Good to see you too, Kelechi! It has been too long.” She shook his hand and he led her out and down the hallway.
“Well, your brother keeps me locked away here. It seems I am always invaluable to one project or another. I am a prisoner to progress!” he joked. They stopped at a pair of sealed doors and he entered a code into a keypad. They opened and they entered a bare white room. The doors slid shut and the lights shifted to yellow as they were scanned.
“Ahh, but doesn’t it feel good to be so wanted?” asked Oya with a grin.
“Yes, well, I suppose it’s my own fault for being so brilliant, as Ogun likes to remind me.” Their colors shifted from orange into red as the strange imaging instruments painted the room.
“The perils of genius.”
“As you say.” They blended into purple, then blue, and, finally, green. There was a confirmation chime and the room reverted to white. Doors on the opposite side of where they entered slid open.
Dr. Utella nodded. “Seems we’re cleared. This way.”
“So how are your sons? Imoh and…” Oya strained to remember his other boy’s name.
“Tunde. Both Imoh and Tunde are doing fine. Imoh is in his second year at university, studying agriculture. Tunde has no patience for school. He’s decided that he can make enough of himself in construction. He’s working at the Kuti Amphitheater.” They entered a large open space, like a hanger. All around the room were machines the size of trucks, all different shapes and sizes.
“It doesn’t bother you? Him not going to school?”
Dr.Utella shook his head. “No, not at all. Why should he end up like me, trapped indoors all day? After what they’ve been through, I do not care how the boys live their lives, only that they live them.”
Years ago, before the African Resurgence, Dr.Utella’s wife had been killed and his son’s taken for indoctrination into the Am-Timan People’s Militia, in Chad. They were there for almost a year before Dr.Utella managed to get the Horsemen’s attention by inventing a groundwater extraction process that did not require digging wells. The material, applied to the underside of pavement, sapped deeper water up, collected it, and could distribute it further down the road. When the rebuilding began, it became standard, and gave him the opportunity to meet with Ogun. Rather than receiving praise for the achievement, he begged for help in finding and rescuing his sons.
Ogun, Oya, and Oshun made short work of the Am-Timan People’s Militia. They returned many boys to their families, found families for the ones who’d lost theirs, and set up rehabilitation centers for the kids who’d been there too long. Fortunately, although the time with them was horrible, Tunde and Imoh had survived as well as could be expected. Dr.Utella had come on as Ogun’s research lead at the Anvil ever since.
They rounded a corner and her brother came into view. He was standing in front of a long machine made of silver. A dozen cylinders, topped by spheres, protruded from it. Overall, it was smooth, rounded, and had only one tiny control panel in the side. Ogun was standing by it, fiddling with some dial or another. She noticed that his arms were wrapped in bandages. Eshu had told her that there had been an attack, and that Ogun and Yemaya had both been injured, but he didn’t have details and Ogun had shut the conversation down when he’d asked what had happened. Oya knew better than to bother. If Ogun wanted her to know, he’d tell her. If she really wanted details she’d have to pay Yemaya a visit.
Dr. Utella stopped walking. “I think you can manage from here, my dear. I’m off to see if I can’t finish in time to actually go home tonight!”
“Thank you, Kelechi. It was very nice to see you. Don’t let him work you too hard, okay?”
He nodded and headed back the way they’d come from. “I’ll do my best! Take care.”
She crossed the room to her brother.
“So, is this the toy you want me to see, Architect?” she asked.
Ogun turned and smiled at his youngest sibling. “If you consider a technological miracle a toy, then I suppose it is. I call it the Koso Project.”
They embraced. She noticed that he had more bandages under his shirt and a minor bruise on his forehead. Whatever had happened, they’d managed to make a dent where many had failed.
“So show me. I know you love showing off.”
“Well, this time I can’t take all the credit. You know who Nikola Tesla was, right?”
She nodded. “Sure. Electrical genius from the early nineteen hundreds. Ahead of his time.”
“Right. He supposedly figured out a way to broadcast free electricity out into the world, for miles. No need for wires, outlets, or anything. Electrical devices would just pick up what they needed out of the air.” Ogun walked over to a table, covered with an assortment of gadgets.
“I’ve heard the myth. Greedy electrical companies cut his funding, sabotaged the plan. It’s a tall tale.”
Ogun picked up a remote control from the table. “Could be. Who knows? Maybe he figured it out, maybe he didn’t. All I know is that he inspired me to try it for myself.”
He clicked a button. The giant silver machine sprang to life, blue electricity ran up the cylinders and danced around the spheres, jumping from one to another. Simultaneously, all the gadgets on the table turned themselves on. Computers booted up, lamps illuminated, and Billy Ocean started crooning from a stereo.
“And I got it.”
Oya’s eyes went wide. “Holy crap, bro! Seriously?”
“This will power anything, and everything, within a hundred mile radius; cars, trains, computers, lights, environmental systems, cash registers, cell phones. Everything.”
Oya walked over to the massive machine. There were no cords leading in or out. Any working components were hidden beneath the smooth exterior. It cackled with energy, but there was no whirr of turbines or machine parts.
“Okay, I get that it’s transmitting, but where’s it getting its power from? Putting aside how you’ve figured out how to broadcast it, I don’t see how something this size can even generate the kind of output you’re talking about.”
“That’s the beauty. It can’t.”
Oya shot him an exasperated glare. “So how does it work?”
“The hard part was the power dispersion, not the source of energy. Basically, beneath the transmit tech, it’s a giant battery.”
“Okay, battery. I can see it. But, where are you hiding the hydroelectric plant that charges it?”
Ogun clicked the button again and everything shut down, the room was quiet.
“No plant. Just Shango.”
Oya stood there, stunned, absorbing the information. “You mean…”
Ogun continued. “Yeah. This is what we’ve been working on for months. Our crews have already deployed over three hundred of them, all over the continent. They’re all zapped full of energy, courtesy of Shango blasting them with the same amount of force that wiped Abuja off the map, safely stored, ready to distribute, free juice to everyone, everywhere. It’ll be ready within the month.”
Oya looked back at the machine with new respect. She slid her hand along the chrome exterior. She had always thought of Shango’s power as destruction. Her impressions had only been reinforced on that grim day he’d changed everything. But this, now, was set to turn it all around. She’d never imagined his power had a flip-side, but now that she was looking at the potential, she was amazed she’d never seen it before. Her mind boggled at the implications of what could be accomplished. Clean, free, abundant energy washing over the entire African Union.
“My god, Ogun, do you two have any idea what this is going to do to us? To the world?”
It was well past midnight by the time Ogun got home. Out of the Anvil he abandoned his metal form and was just Kofi. His footsteps were surprisingly light for a man of his bulk and stature. He always tried to be quiet, hoping that he wouldn’t disturb Araba, his wife, the goddess Obatala, if she were sleeping. It was futile though, the woman had ears sensitive enough to hear a fly lick his eyeball two rooms away. As it turned out, he needn’t have bothered. She was still up.
She had a suitcase out on the bed and was packing.
His first reaction was surprise. He knew they’d been arguing. She was frustrated with him for not letting her tend his injuries and even more upset that he’d lost control and injured Yemaya, but he didn’t think she was this angry. Hell, he hadn’t talked to her all day. How could she be more mad now than when he’d left in the morning? There had to be something else going on.
“Hey hun, you movin’ out?”
She turned to face him and frowned at his poor humor. “Keep it up, big boy. See where it gets you.”
He sat down on the bed next to her things and ran his hand along her waist.
“No, no. Don’t wanna go there. Just messing with you. So really, where you headed?”
“Lubango. It’s in Angola.”
“I know where Lubango is. What’s going on in Lubango?” He picked up one of her shirts, folded it, and put it into the suitcase for her. She picked it up again, folded it differently, and moved it from where he’d placed it.
“There’s been an outbreak. The local doctors aren’t having any success dealing with it and it’s spreading. Quickly. The entire place will be quarantined by morning.”
Kofi frowned. “That’s not good. Do they know how it’s transmitted?”
“Do they have samples? So they can isolate it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, are they set up with a mobile lab? They’ll need equipment, to synthesize a vaccine.”
She flipped the lid of the suitcase and zipped it shut with a flourish. “Kofi, I have no idea.”
“They’re going to need that. And when they get it, they’ll need to vaccinate everyone. I’ve been working on these tiny robots, like mosquitoes.” He held up his hand and very nearly pinched two fingers together, showing her how small they were. “They’re called N’kosi Drones, to facilitate inoculations. I can bring some and…”
“I don’t need your drones. I can handle this on my own.”
Kofi didn’t seem to understand. “But why not? You can’t heal everyone one at a time.”
She stopped getting ready and leveled her gaze at him. “I can if they let me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, not this again.”
Araba picked up the suitcase and walked out of the bedroom. He got from the bed and followed.
“Why do you always have to make such a big deal about this? I’ll heal just fine!”
She stopped at the door. “That’s not the point. I should only be a few days. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She shook her head. “You’ve got enough going on with the Koso tests this week. Besides, you know I don’t work that way. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
She kissed him and left.
Kofi made some food, changed his bandages, and tried to relax. It didn’t work. He wound up opening his datapad and pulling the specs on the N’kosi Drones. They were a bit power heavy. Too much space for their energy source, not enough for their liquid payload. He fiddled with the design absentmindedly.
If she wasn’t home by Thursday he decided he’d send her some.
Dr.Utella was asleep at the wheel. The driverless car sped along at ninety miles an hour on a raised highway. Despite being nearly two in the morning, his headlights were off. The computer-controlled automobile network took care of this part of his commute. He’d helped with the project, working with the road substrates. Every square foot of highway had sensors, sending information to the network, verifying the results of the satellites. There were physical magnets beneath the high-tech asphalt, independently capable of functioning as decelerators. These highways were an entirely separate system, raised up, above the normal roads. Drivers would pull onto an on-ramp, input a destination, and surrender control. The network would calculate the most efficient route and take over. It didn’t need streetlights or lane markings. The electric cars were quiet, quick, and virtually error free. There had been some fears when they first set it up, but the network had been working for months, and more and more people were getting used to it. To Dr.Utella it wasn’t a miracle of science anymore, it was just an opportunity for a nap.
A chime sounded through the car’s speakers and an automated voice spoke. “Approaching South Kijani Off-ramp. Sixty seconds.”
Dr.Utella opened his eyes, rubbed his face, and depressed the button that returned his seat to driving position. He yawned.
“Approaching South Kijani Off-ramp. Thirty seconds.”
Looking out the window, Dr.Utella smiled at the backdrop of stars that framed Lumumba. It always took him off guard, how bright the stars were despite the skyscrapers and city lights. Luminance baffles took care of that, blocking the glow and reflecting it down. Driving in the most modern metropolis on Earth and the sky looked like it did when he lived on a farm as a child. He liked to think it helped remind people of their scale in the universe. It certainly humbled him.
“South Kanji Off-ramp. Slowing to stop for control transfer.”
The car braked as it rounded a long downward curve, pulling into an empty slot. It looked like an incredibly long toll booth, without attendants. There were dozens of covered parking spaces, all lined out in a row. At this time of night, there were no other cars around, but if there were, passengers could get out, stretch their legs, change drivers, and move on when they were ready. Dr.Utella didn’t need any of that. He just wanted to get home and rest. He clicked a button and the steering wheel and the vehicle controls emerged. The headlights clicked on to reveal a man standing directly in front of the car.
He was big, almost as tall as Ogun, but not nearly so bulky. He was wearing an outfit that looked it might have been some sort of leather motocross gear, but it had been modified with heavier armored bits. There were angular shoulder pads, decorative gauntlets, and a waist skirt. Dr.Utella realized his first impression was wrong. It looked more like samurai armor in shape, but the materials were all wrong, far too modern. The man was Asian and he had two sword handles extending up from his back.
Dr.Utella took all of this in in an instant, but what caught his attention most of all was what the man was holding; a picture of Imoh and Tunde. They were bound at the wrists, beaten, and in some sort of small cubicle.
“Step out of the car.” The words weren’t audible with the doors and windows shut, but Dr.Utella understood. He got out.
“This is very simple.” said the man. “Your boys are in a box. Tomorrow at noon it will ship and you will never see them again. Where they are going is suffering that makes the things they’ve experienced seem like mercy. Do you understand?”
Dr.Utella nodded weakly. The man dropped the picture onto the ground and removed a small metal device from his pocket. “This is a transmitter. It is connected to the box. When the right conditions are met, it will automatically open the door and release your sons. If this happens before noon tomorrow, they are free to go. Do you understand?”
Dr.Utella’s heart sank. He knew where this was going. “What conditions?”
“You must connect this device to any security hub in the Anvil. You must tell no one. As I said, if you do it before noon, they’re free. If not…” He set the object down on the hood of the car.
“I… I can’t do this… What you’re asking…”
The man turned and walked away. “As I said; this is simple. Loose them again, or not.”
As his footsteps receded into the distance, Dr.Utella stood there, stunned. After a while he walked over to the picture and sat down on the pavement next to it. He didn’t touch it. He just looked at it, at his injured boys, lost again, and cried.