Just after dawn, two women are again battling for dominance. Outside the small town of Butembo in the Kivu providence, the warriors sharpen their skills by violently attacking each other.
Wielding a long sword, Alina Veselov puts her anger to use, slashing the blade low. Her opponent Queen Medusa also taps into her reserves of anger. She catches the young girls attack with her twin short swords. Alina yells in pain as she is cut along her torso. The queen of crime doesn’t let up for an instant, thrusting her heel into her opponent. Alina tumbles back but remains standing. She snarls wiping blood from her lip before attacking again.
Located in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the civilians of Butembo are used to the primal things in life. Living in the midst of a century long warzone, ‘survival of the fittest’ is the standard here. The surrounding jungle houses some of Africa’s most dangerous predators. But those animals pale in comparison to these two women and the danger they pose.
"Again." Medusa instructs, having tossed Alina to the side.
The girl stands fighting the urge to unleash a maelstrom of gravitational currents at her opponent. She rejects the notion because she would rather beat her teacher with her bare hands. She wants to claim victory through physical might.
In the past couple of weeks, Medusa has baptized the daughter of Terminus in hand-to-hand combat. Each day she brutally instructs the young woman, molding her into a living weapon. At times Medusa will leave Alina in the jungle for days on end. The girl has fended off every predator the Congo has to offer, imprinting a primal instinct in her.
Today their swords clash, their bare feet sloshing in the red mud. Some of the poor townsfolk surround the two, eagerly watching. Some cheer as Alina heaves her sword, carving a long gash in Medusa’s right thigh. She smiles thinking she has the upper hand but Medusa turns the tables an instant later. The woman faints then twirls as she advances, swatting Alina’s sword from her hands. The following thrust would have loped the girl’s head off but Medusa stops her attack, having proved her point.
"You almost got me that time." Medusa says with a smile as the villagers cheer.
The child soldier’s surround them, tending to their needs with refreshments. One of the militia kids brings Alina’s garment. Her long cape like cloth is made of the mane of a lion. The beast’s head has been woven into the cloth, a display of her prowess.
In this area, the people know who the leaders are, and they have no problem serving the strong. Alina feels this is how it should be across the globe. She knows this training will bring her one step closer to that goal.
"Your skills have greatly improved these past weeks." Genevieve says to her trainee while on the way back to their base.
Alina takes the compliment in stride. "Does that mean I am ready?"
Genevieve huffs knowing what the young girl is referring to. Alina wishes to go on a dangerous mission alone, a mission that may not be vital to their plans.
"Alina… I do think you are ready, but…" Genevieve starts trying to find the right words, but is distracted as Alina brandishes her sword.
"You were right… using a sword to kill your enemies is quite a rush. It gives you a sense of a…savage superiority." Alina chuckles twirling her blade.
She is prideful… Genevieve thinks …and that could be her undoing. "What will this mission accomplish? What are you trying to prove?" She asks with a sigh.
Alina notes the tone in her teacher’s voice. She returns her sword to her hip, pondering on the best answer.
"I have a lot to prove…" She mutters after a long moment.
"Being in that chair… was a gift and a curse."
Alina thinks back to the times when she was paralyzed, being physically trapped. She thinks of those feelings of helplessness.
"The only positive thing about being in that chair was the amount of time I spent with Father. He would talk to me for hours about his plans. Every major move…every attack, I heard him plan his actions first, then saw him do it. And the whole time I couldn’t lift a thumb to help him." Alina says with a clinched fist.
"A leader leads by action." Our enemies must not only know who I am, but know what I am capable of. They must recognize and fear my power! Alina finishes with a wild look in her eyes, a look reminiscent of her father.
Genevieve nods in acceptance, knowing that the young girls mind is made up.
"Well spoken. One is not a God without displays of power."
Outside Butembo lay a rocky hillside, an area that has been fought over for generations. Local militias not only battled each other but fiercely opposed any United Nation security forces. This area known as ‘Killa Hills’ is off limits to any outsider, being the base of one of the founding members of the Hierarch’s.
The rocky area is riddled with caves and tunnels. This place was once used for mining precious stones and ‘conflict’ diamonds. A pair of young guards salute Genevieve as she walks past them. Entering the tunnels always puts Alina on edge, because she knows how many people died in these caves, mining for ‘blood diamonds’.
"I really miss the Fatal Glory." Genevieve says with a sigh as they turn into a small dimly lit tunnel.
She runs a hand along the rocky wall and then pulls a handle setting off sounds of squeaky gears turning. The wall before them separates with a loud moan revealing an elevator. The women enter and head downwards into the Hierarch’s new headquarters.
Remnants of the ‘Lendu’ extremists and the Revolutionary Army collected under one banner The Congolese Supremacy. Only one man was strong enough to lead these two groups, MaZulu KaSolomon, or better known as Super Zulu. He is a descendant of one of Africa’s most influential monarchs Shaka Zulu, using the family name for political gains.
As the elevator lowers, the women observe the massive hanger area. The soldiers are busy at work, loading and unloading supplies. Crewman work on sky-trucks, soldering parts to makeshift SK-85 troop crafts. Hellfire missiles and other weapons of war are being equipped.
The Hierarch’s next big operation is underway.
The women end their tour when they reach a small conference room. Inside, Super Zulu greets them with a distracted wave. The guerilla warlord sits uneasy surrounded by his staff. Even while sitting he is a large man, an imposing figure. His fatigues are adorned with the mane of a cheetah and other tokens of his conquests.
Despite their progress Zulu hasn’t shared Alina’s excitement about this operation. "This better work Alina." Zulu says throwing down a holo-chart.
The warlord is stressed because his forces are spread thin. He has given up almost everything to the ‘theta protocol’.
When Alina is slow to respond, Genevieve speaks up. "I know it’s a lot Solomon, but this can work…it will work."
"Gaspar was true to his word. With his supplies our army will be ready in no time." Alina says motioning to the hanger area.
Large freight containers full of weapons and gear have been provided by one of France’s biggest arms dealers. The young girl is more than pleased with what she has arranged.
"And … the drill is almost complete." She adds with a smile.
They observe the tall machine. Encased in frail scaffolding sits a thirty-foot tall drill like hull. Dozens of data-mechs float in and around the drill adding parts and connecting wires readying the machine for war. In fact everything they see before them was a mere idea a couple weeks ago. All these arrangements; the troops, ships and machinery have come to fruition because of this remarkable young woman.
Zulu is impressed by the progress, but he knows there is much left to do.
"We still have to find a subject, and that’s if those…. builders finish their machine." He says as the architects of the drill enter the office.
The mysterious husband and wife duo are a stark contrast to the rest of the remaining members of the Hierarch’s. Covered in grime the two carry a strong scent to match their unnatural look. The towering Austrian, Durandal is a grotesque blacksmith. He has an unsavory reputation for making ghoulish machines; splicing animal organs with metallic bodies.
He grunts to the others but no one can understand him. Alina heard a rumor of his lips being stitched closed. She never thought the rumor true until the day she met him.
"Durandal says hello…" His companion Huldra says with a yellow smile, drawing a shiver from the others.
Huldra is sort in stature; heavyset and equally repulsive as her husband. Being the only one to understand him she has become his spokesperson.
He grunts again causing her to wince. She then nods when she comprehends what he says. "Durandal would likessse you to know that... we are momentarily …behind sssschedule…" She stutters.
Huldra is clad in rags, stained with any number of chemicals, blood or fecal matter. Atop of her wild-haired head is an odd looking globe. Inside, sits an unidentifiable organ floating in a green liquid topping off her odd appearance. Genevieve breaks the silence, forcing herself to be polite.
"Huldra… why is he… or you two behind schedule?" She asks gritting her teeth.
Huldra twitches again before answering. "Well… we could use some more… flesssshh." She says, her words slithering out with a grin.
Zulu pounds his hand on the table making Huldra cover her head in fear. "No! I will not lend over more of my kadogos to these cannibals. Your sick!" He shouts almost getting up.
Genevieve again tries to play peacekeeper as Zulu goes on a rant. Everyone shares his disgust for working with this couple. But Alina could not find anyone trust worthy to build such a machine in a short time. So the Hierarch’s are forced to work with the cannibalistic machinist.
When the couple first arrived they requested a dozen Zulu’s child soldiers. Even though they promised they would use the soldiers for labor, Zulu knows the boys were used for Durandal’s sick experiments.
The mute blacksmith groans as Zulu stands. Alina puts herself in between the opposing sides, trying to keep their frail alliance together.
"Durandal… you will have plenty of help once we get the subject." She says holding up her hands. "Until then make due with what you have now!"
She nods to Huldra, silently urging her to take her husband.
"Yes… that can work… we will continue our worrrkkss…" The short woman complies with a twitch. She grabs the tall man and the exit the room with Zulu’s harsh glare upon them.
A long moment of silence follows. All the work they have accomplished has been built on a fragile alliance. Under Alina’s lead they the Hierarch’s are in a weak state. In the silence she again wonders if she made these arrangements too early.
Three months ago they were gathered on their flagship the Fatal Glory. Their massive naval air-ship was a symbol of the Hierarch’s power and far reaching influence. But that was under Terminus’s watch and with the financial backing of Lord Yaozu. Then the Hierarch’s once paraded above the clouds, now they cower in caves.
"Can this really work?" Zulu utters after a moment. "Theta was never meant as a… end game… Anton would never…" He huffs trailing off, regretting his words almost immediately.
Alina lowers her head, trying not to take offense. Zulu walks over to Alina. "What I meant is… when we came up with Theta… we were naïve…young, rash. More interested in fame and infamy than strategy and organizational logistics." He says laying a hand on her shoulder.
"I am not saying we cannot accomplish this. It’s clear that we can. But are we sure we want to do this?" He asks.
Near tears Alina doesn’t look up. She has come far but will it be enough. Before she can say something Dr. Helsinki enters the room. He rustles in with his attention to his data-pad. The doctor's news will unknowingly bring the strength and stability that the Hierarch’s need.
"Alina, the Swiss doctors have arrived. We have set up a triage room and can begin the operation within the hour." He says, bringing a smile to Alina’s face.
Zulu is puzzled at the words. "What operation?"
"Lil miss sunshine is getting ‘juiced up’." Genevieve utters with a sighs.
"But…you already have powers… natural ones at that. Why would you need more?" Zulu asks.
"The extra abilities will ensure the success of the Theta protocol."Alina responds.
She stands holding her head high, now determined to lead this group.
"Zulu… you once said…‘Gods can't rule from the shadows’. Well, it's time I step out."