Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

The white man tending the fire heard the footsteps coming from outside the cavern, but he did not bother to look up. Only a few select people were aware of the cavern’s existence, and he was not worried. The man looked to be in his late thirties, but was actually in his mid fifties. Drinking the cavern’s magical waters had kept him young over the years. A large, muscular African man wearing red shorts, red boots, and a red and yellow helmet entered the cavern and sat down alongside the fire next to the other man. He took a flat circular disk out of the brown pouch slung over his shoulder and handed it to the white man.

“How did it go, Dominic?” asked the white man. "Did Dr. Durbana find the information to be helpful?"

Dominic Mnawe removed the red and yellow helmet he was wearing before answering. "Yes, she was astonished at the wealth of information contained on that disk. I myself was quite surprised! But Dr. Durbana believes that the information will help her improve the genetic diversity of the kudu species."

"Did she agree to the terms of the deal?" asked the white man.

"Yes Mike, she did." replied Dominic. "No sharing the information with S.T.A.R. Labs and we keep the original disk safe here in the cavern."

"Good, I'm glad we could help her!" declared Mike. "She's doing a wonderful job in trying to save the kudus from extinction."

"One thing puzzles me though," said Dominic, "Where did you get those disks? Neither Dr. Durbana nor I have ever seen anything like them before."

"Well, they came into my possession about twenty five years ago" said Mike. "Back before your time. Back when I was….."

The Dark Continent Defender
by David R. Black

1974 - Nighttime, the Zambesi Game Preserve in northern Tanzania.

Kilo looked around at his followers dancing happily in the warm night air. The sound of the crackling fire was drowned out by the joyous music and laughter that filled the sky. Kilo smiled, happy for his people. The gods had blessed them with the birth of twin white lion cubs, sacred animals in Zambesi culture. Kilo stood up, raised his hand, and all fell quiet as the celebrants fixed their eyes of their chief.

"My people," bellowed Kilo, "The gods have blessed us with the birth of these animals. We now anoint these cubs as guardians of our people and our lifestyle."

Kilo held up one of the cubs for the crowd to see, and the tribal shaman began to utter an ancient blessing. The Zambesi tribesmen, kneeling in reverence, gazed with awe at the white lion cub. A sparkle of gray light suddenly enveloped the cub, and the tribesmen's eyes widened with fear. The gray light intensified, and the cub vanished! A murmur of disbelief spread through the crowd.
"Ummm, I know it's been a long time since we performed this ceremony," whispered Kilo to the shaman, "but that's not supposed to happen, right?
"The gods have sent us a portend of doom!" yelled the shaman hysterically. "We have fallen into disfavor with them!"
Upon hearing this, the tribesmen panicked and chaos erupted around the village. Kilo was not as superstitious as some of his fellow tribesmen, but he too was scared. Animals don't just vanish into thin air.

Zambesi Game Preserve Ranger's Office, the following morning.

The blond, muscular man whistled happily while he finished lacing up his boots. He wore a drab green colored ranger uniform, a brown hat, and the nametag on his collar read "Mike Maxwell: Zambesi Preserve Ranger". An American expatriate and zoologist by trade, Mike loved his ranger job and working with the animals in the game preserve. Located on the Tanzanian portion of the Serengeti Plain between Lake Natron and Mount Kilimanjaro, the preserve was a zoologist's heaven on earth. Exotic animal and plant life abounded within the preserve's boundaries, relatively safe from those who would exploit nature's gifts.

"That should do it," said Mike as he flung his knapsack over one shoulder. "Now I'd better get started…"

The door to the office swung open, and a broad shouldered African man entered. Wearing a decorated blue uniform punctuated by a gold belt buckle and black gun holster under his left arm, he looked almost regal in appearance. Mike turned his head and greeted Rupert Kenboya, his long time friend and Tanzania's national police commissioner.

"Hey Ken!" greeted Mike - Mike had always called his friend Ken, and he oftentimes wondered why Kilo, Ken's father, had named him Rupert. "How're you doing? Long time no see."

"'I'm doing all right, Mike" said Ken, "but we had another animal disappearance last night."

"What? Another one?"

"Yeah, this time it happened to my father" noted Ken. "One of the white lion cubs vanished last night in front of half the tribe."

"Did Kilo see anything suspicious?" asked Mike.

"Nope, same m.o. as all the other disappearances," replied Ken. "Sparkly gray lights, then nothing. I've got every available detective the force has working on this case, and we still don't have any leads."

"You think it's high tech poachers from the States?" wondered Mike.

"No. Do you know of any magic poachers running around with sparkly lights?" retorted Ken sarcastically. "But seriously, I have noticed that most of the animals are young. Not many adult animals have been taken by whoever is doing this."

"That would probably rule out poachers" said Mike as he rubbed his chin in the classic thinking pose. "Most poachers want the more mature animals. Larger ivory horns to sell, more fur to make coats out of, and all that other crap they do. Man….this is starting to get serious! We've got to stop these guys!"

"Tell me about it," said Ken exasperatedly, "on the other hand….don't. I know what you're about to say, and I've heard this spiel before. Too many times in fact."

"I don't care." retorted Mike, "When are those bozos in the government going to wake up and realize that protecting these animals should be a greater priority! Elephants, rhinos, lions…they're all national treasures that should be given more protection than we're giving them now. The preserve's got three rangers, Ken, three! How am I and two other guys supposed to stop every damn person looking for quick money from shooting a rhino and selling it's horn on the black market!"

"Mike, calm down" said Ken softly. "You know that the government has started to take a more active role in protecting wildlife, and that's why I've got half of all the bureaucrats in the country on my butt to solve this case…and solve it fast!"

"Yeah, but their motives for doing so could be less selfish." exclaimed Mike as he started to quiet down.

"Look Mike, the average Tanzanian only makes the equivalent of $170 a year in American dollars. To say that people here are poor is an extreme understatement." explained Ken. "You know that. If the government wants to spend money protecting wildlife so more foreign tourists visit, and pump money into the Tanzanian economy, that's OK by me. You have to think about people too Mike, not just your furry friends."

"Sorry pal. I know it's a hard balancing act to do." apologized Mike, as he changed the subject. "I just realized something, one of our rhinoceroses gave birth a week ago. I was on my way to check on her when you came in. You think that our mysterious animal-nappers would try to capture the baby?"

"Maybe. Let's go, it's definitely worth investigating ." said Ken as the two men walked towards the door.

Outside Ken gassed up one of the preserve's rusting jeeps while Mike explained to him how they'd locate the two rhinoceroses.

"See this?" asked Mike while pointing to a electronic monitoring collar he held in his hand, "It's a transmitter/receiver combination. Their radio collars give off unique signals that allow this gizmo to pinpoint the location of our rhinos. I tend to pay special attention to the rhinos since their ivory horns are big lures for poachers."

"Wow, looks pretty state of the art," replied Ken, "Wherever did you find the money for buying those things?"

"Well, that's a story in itself…." began Mike before he was interrupted by a feminine voice.

"Hi boys! Going for a ride?"

Eve Carstairs, reporter/photographer for All-Africa Press, approached the two men, and upon reaching Mike, kissed him on the cheek. Eve and Mike had met when Mike first came to Tanzania back in 1967, and the two recently became engaged to be married. The granddaughter of English migrants who lived in the Tanzania during the colonial times, Eve's family chose to remain in Tanzania after Tanzania was granted its' independence. The petite redhead now covered happenings in Eastern Africa for the continental newspaper.

"We sure are" said Mike as his face turned red from the unexpected display of affection. "Want to come along?"

"Definitely" replied Eve as she turned towards Ken and smiled, "Good to see you Ken - or actually I should say Mr. Police Commissioner - would you be willing to give this reporter an exclusive interview about what your department is doing to stop these mysterious animal kidnappings?"

"Man, how'd you now I was here?" asked Ken as he gave Mike a suspicious glance. "I try to hide from the press……Darn reporters have more connections….."

"Don't look at me, I thought she came here just to see me!" joked Mike.

A dusty dirt road within the Zambesi Game Preserve
    Its shocks and struts corroded with age, the jeep bounced up and down on the poorly kept road. Mike Maxwell gazed intently at the electronic tracking monitor resting in his lap, while in the back seat Rupert Kenboya looked queasy. Motion sickness induced grunts and groans could be heard above the electronic blips and beeps of the tracking device.

"Crazy women drivers" complained Ken.

"Hey! I'm doing the best I can!" retorted Eve "It's not like I want to be driving down this sorry excuse for a road. Mike! Where are those blasted rhinos already!"

"Take it easy everybody," said Mike, still gazing at the tracking monitor, "They should be over the next hill. Most wild animals tend to stay away from the main roads you know."

"That's really reassuring to my stomach!" groaned Ken.

The jeep climbed up the next hill, and sure enough the mother rhinoceros and her baby were in the plain below. The mother rhino was bellowing at something hidden from sight among the scattered trees and grasses. As the jeep descended further down the hill, the trio in the jeep saw that two men were converging on the rhinoceros. Carrying weapons, Mike knew right away they were

"POACHERS!"

Startled by the unexpected appearance of the jeep, the men turned away from the two rhinos. The two men, dressed in native clothing of the region, began to animatedly point at the jeep and converse in Swahili. Mike saw a third man emerge from a thicket, but this man was different. Dressed like the stereotypical big game hunter, Mike guessed that he was a well to do European who wanted to take a mounted rhino head home to impress his upper class friends. The European said something to the two natives, and the three poachers cocked their hunting rifles and aimed at the jeep.

"Get down!" screamed Mike as a bullet whizzed past his ear.
Eve ducked her head down, just as a bullet shattered the windshield. Shards of broken glass spewed over the jeep's occupants. Feeling a wet sensation, Ken looked his arm and saw blood flowing out of a puncture wound. A shard of glass stuck out of his flesh like a pushpin. Angered, Ken took his pistol out of its' holster, leaned out the side of the jeep, and returned fire.
"Stop! You'll hit the rhinos!" yelled Mike as the jeep continued towards the poachers.
"What do you want me to do Mike?" screamed Ken. "Let them kill us?"
"I can't stop!" hollered Eve. "The gas pedal's stuck!!"
"Damn!" said Mike as he crawled into the back of the jeep. "Eve, keep driving towards them but keep your head down."
Mike reached under the back seat and pulled out a long, skinny rifle. He picked up four oblong shells whose tips were colored blue, and loaded them into the rifle.
"What exactly is that?" asked Ken.
"Tranquilizer gun" replied Mike. "I brought it along in case the mother rhino got out of hand when I examined the baby. Let's see how well the tranquilizer darts work on humans, shall we? I've only got four shots though, so if I miss…."
"Four shots to bring down three poachers?" exclaimed Ken. "Those aren't exactly good odds you know. Still, let's see what you can do!"
In a break between the poacher's gunshots, Ken leaned out and fired a few shots that were deliberately aimed away from the poachers - and rhinos. The poachers retreated, and Ken's diversion bought Mike enough time to stand up and prepare to fire the tranquilizer darts. Steadying himself on the jeep's roll bar, Mike got off two quick shots. With a quiet "thump, thump" sound the tranquilizers hit their targets and sedatives began pouring into the poacher's bloodsteams. A look of surprise spread across the two natives' faces before they collapsed to the savanna floor.
"Two down, one well to do big game hunter to go!" whooped Mike.
Bullets from the European poacher's gun again filled the air. Still standing up, Mike prepared to fire, but before he could….BLAM! BLAM! One of the poacher's bullets ripped into the jeep's front left tire. The jeep swerved awkwardly to the left, and Eve struggled to regain control of the vehicle. Knocked off balance by the tire's blowout, Mike slammed downwards into Ken, and the two men's inertia carried them over the side of the jeep. They tumbled onto the savanna floor, landing close to the remaining poacher.
"Mike…Mike you OK?" asked Ken.
Ken heard a his friend groan and mumble a reply, but what really caught his attention was the loud "Ki- Clack" sound of a cocked hunting rifle that came from behind him.
"How your friend feels after your nice little fall will be irrelevant in a moment's time" said a boisterous voice with a tinge of an English accent. "For having the gumption to interfere with my hunting expedition, I, Lord Shillingforth sentence you to death."
Ken turned around and saw the European poacher, Lord Shillingforth, level his hunting rifle at Mike's head. Ken felt along the ground for his gun, but he couldn't find it. It must have stayed in the jeep when he and Mike fell out.
"Wait…stop!" said Ken as he tried to stall for time. "You really don't want to do this. I'm the police commissioner of Tanzania, and if you kill me my friends in the government will hunt you down…."
"…like the animal you really are!" added Mike as he came to his senses.
"Enough! I've had enough of you!" roared Lord Shillingforth as he prepared to pull the trigger. "I think I'll kill the smart mouthed ranger first…"
"You aren't killing either of them!" shouted a feminine voice. "Turn around and drop the rifle."
Shillingforth turned around to see Eve leveling Ken's pistol at him. Shillingforth smirked at the sight of the petite woman who dared to threaten him.
"You dare talk to me this way?" harrumphed Shillingforth. "I dare say young woman, you put down your weapon and….."
CRACK! The pistol erupted, and the expelled bullet impacted into Shillingforth's rifle. Shocked, he dropped the rifle and put his hands up. Ken picked up Shillingforth's fallen weapon, and proceeded to tie him and his unconscious associates up.
"Nice shooting Eve!" said Mike. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"Africa's a dangerous place" replied Eve nonchalantly as she brushed a lock of her red hair out of her face. "An adventurer I once interviewed told me to always expect the unexpected. But to be honest, I just got lucky!"

"OK Mike," said Ken as he motioned towards the tied up poachers, "I've radioed for Sergeant Naga to come and pick these guys up. Now where did those two rhinoceroses we're here to see go to?"

"Over there."

Mike pointed to a spot about 500 meters to the east. Behind two scraggly looking trees were the mother and baby rhinoceroses, happily munching on fruit that had fallen from the trees. Mike, Eve, and Ken slowed walked towards the two animals, taking care not to disturb them.

"They're not very afraid of humans because they see so many of them here in the park." noted Mike. "Tourists like getting to see them up close and personal, and unfortunately the rhinos have become accustomed to their presence. That's probably why the poachers were able to get so close to them in the first place."

The trio of humans kept their distance and simply observed the peaceful rhinos. The baby rhino looked cute in the way that most baby animals, no matter what they may grow up to look like, tend to look cute. Without breaking the silence, a shimmer of gray light enveloped both rhinoceroses, and the two animals were gone. A few blades of trampled underbrush were the only evidence that the rhinos had been there a second earlier.

"Whoa!" exclaimed Eve. "Did you guys just see what….."

"Sure did" said Ken. "I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but animals really are vanishing into thin air! Supernatural stuff is way out of my league."

"Hmmm. But we do have another clue." said Mike as he inspected the area where the rhinos had stood. "See how part of the underbrush is missing? My guess is that whatever transported the rhinos away wasn't accurate enough to pick out just the rhinos. It inadvertently took some of the underbrush with it."

"I get it!" exclaimed Eve. "You mean that if we get close enough, this transporter thing will take one of us along with it?"

"Maybe" said Mike. "But we'll have to time it just right…"

"Plus, how will we figure out what rare or baby animal the transporter takes next?" interjected Eve. "Do you know of any other animals out this way that could be next?"

Not knowing how to answer the question, Mike and Ken both surveyed the surroundings. A lone vulture swooped through the sky, and a zebra was visible on the western horizon. Close by to the east loomed Mount Kilimanjaro, its' peak shrouded by the clouds. What animal would the mysterious kidnapper take next? Was there another baby animal nearby? Was there an older animal so rare that the kidnapper couldn't resist trying to snatch? Ken and Mike both looked at Kilimanjaro again, and their faces lit up with revelation.

"Djuba!" said Mike and Ken simultaneously.

"Who?" asked Eve.

"C'mon let's get that flat tire off and put on the spare." said Mike as he ran back to the jeep. "I don't know how much time we have Eve, so we'll tell you on the way to Kilimanjaro!"

On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro

The cooler air surrounding the mountain slopes is a refreshing change of pace to Africans used to the stuffy, tropical climate on the plains below. The cooler air however, is not any comfort to those persons whose jeep has broken down and are forced to walk up the arduous mountain trails.

"OK this is getting ridiculous!" moaned Eve. "Why I am trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro? What are you guys up to? This doesn't have anything to do with disappearing animals."

The trio reached a plateau, and Mike walked towards a small opening in the mountain wall.

"Come on inside," said Mike as he motioned towards the cavern entrance. "Ken will explain everything to you while I get changed."

"Everything?" asked a disbelieving Ken. "Even about the Beast?"

"Yes, everything" said Mike as the trio entered the cave and made their way to a larger chamber. "Eve's going to marry me in a few months, and I might as well be completely honest and tell her everything."

"Tell me what?" asked Eve impatiently.

Upon entering the larger chamber, a large reddish purple gorilla greeted the trio. A glass flask full of cavern mineral water hung from a necklace around the gorilla's neck. While Mike ducked away into a smaller side chamber, the gorilla communicated with Ken using sign language.

"This is Djuba," said Ken to Eve. "She says hello and that she's pleased to meet you."

"Wait a minute" said Eve unbelievingly. "This purple gorilla knows you and knows how to communicate using sign language?"

"Yes, she's actually very intelligent" explained Ken. "But not because of anything Mike and I have taught her. Neither of us are sure where Djuba came from, but let me tell you the part of the story we do know….."

Ken told Eve about the day back in 1967 that Ken and Mike's single engine plane crashed on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro during a severe thunderstorm. The two men were college roommates in America, and Mike wanted to accompany Ken home to Africa after graduation. Both survived the plane's crash landing, but Mike was hurt badly and semi-conscious. Ken dragged Mike out of the plane before it exploded, and they sought shelter in a cavern they found. The two injured men drank the cave's mineral water and found that it gave them the strength to fight off the cavern's guardian - Djuba. Realizing that fate had brought the men to the cavern, Djuba brought Mike an ancient helmet that granted him the power to communicate with all forms of animal life and to temporarily merge two animals together. Over the years, Mike learned that he had become part of a long line of defenders of Africa. The legend of the Beast was no legend, it was real.

Eve listened with wide eyes as Ken told his story. Fighting her reporter's instincts, she was barely able to contain the urge to ask questions.

"You mean my fiancé" asked Eve to Ken, "is B'wana Beast?"

PART 2

    "That's correct…" began Ken.

"Wait a minute. The first time I saw B'wana Beast in action I could have sword he was Mike, but both of you vehemently denied it. The more I learned about the Beast, the more I believed you two," continued Eve. "B'wana Beast is just a jungle legend, an African myth. Very few pictures and eyewitness accounts of his exploits exist, yet the people he supposedly helps swear he exists. He's the African equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster, no one witness can give a similar description of him….Books on mythology can't even agree if B'wana Beast is black, white, male, female, old, young…"

Eve fell silent as Mike Maxwell re-entered the larger chamber. Gone was his green colored ranger uniform and brown hat, and in its place Mike wore a faux leopard skin loincloth, red and white cloth belt, and red boots fringed with more faux leopard skin. His chest and arms were bare, and in his hands he carried a red helmet accentuated with a yellow pointed V shaped mask around the eye slits.

"You…you really are B'wana Beast!" stammered Eve.

Mike nodded. "That's correct. I don't know why I was chosen, but I do know that I was chosen for some reason." Mike noticed that the surprised look on Eve's face was slowly fading. Perhaps reality had begun to set in. Mike quickly tried to address the unexpressed questions he knew Eve would eventually ask.
"I hope that my secretly being a superhero doesn't affect the way you feel about me. I'm still the same person who loves you" Mike explained. "I know that I've denied being B'wana Beast before, and at times I wanted to tell you the truth, but…..but….Well, I just couldn't find the right time to tell you…I was going to eventually."
"When?" asked Eve softly. "Two days before the wedding, during the honeymoon, two years later?"
"I…I don't know"
"He's still the same Michael Maxwell" replied Ken, doing his best to help his friend. "Just because he runs around Africa half naked and has a purple gorilla for a sidekick, does that make him any different?"

Eve shook her head. "I don't know. I just wish you would have told me."

Silence filled the cavern. Mike stared at the red helmet he held in his hand, unsure of what to say. How many times had he visualized this scene in his mind? Ten times? A hundred times? In his mind he had always pictured Eve saying something like 'You're B'wana Beast? Wow! But you're still Mike Maxwell, and I love you no matter what.' Eve would then throw her arms around him and hug him tightly. In reality, he knew that Eve would be surprised and perhaps a little unbelieving, but upset and confused? To be honest, the thought had never crossed his mind. Maybe it was because, as B'wana Beast, he was used to listening to the animals' thoughts. Animals were so much easier to understand than people. They told you what they wanted to say in a straightforward and unambiguous way. Maybe he hadn't been straightforward and honest with Eve, maybe he should have told her, but then there's that blasted secret identity thing. He couldn't go telling every girl he met that he was secretly B'wana Beast.

"So, what do we do now?" asked Eve.

Mike lost his train of thought and stopped staring at his helmet. He looked up at Eve. "I think….."

"Mike, LOOK!" interrupted Ken as he pointed at Djuba. "We were right!"

Sparkly gray lights began to envelop Djuba, and Mike knew that within seconds she would be gone. Mike donned the helmet of B'wana Beast and rushed over to Djuba's side, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"Damn lousy timing" thought Mike as the cavern walls began to disappear from his sight.
Across the cavern, Eve Carstairs and Rupert Kenboya could only watch as man and beast vanished from their sight. One watched his friend the hero vanish, and the other watched the fiancé she thought she knew vanish.
"Damn lousy timing" muttered Eve.

Somewhere else
    "Transport complete" said a high pitched voice coming from behind a large console. "Initiating micro-organism decontamination sequence."

The console was in the middle of a large, dimly lit enclosed area. Along the walls of the larger enclosed area were smaller enclosures that resembled animal cages similar to those found in some zoos. The smaller enclosures were not small per se, but they were only large enough for their occupants to stand in and move a few feet in either direction. Within one of the more brightly lit enclosures were the most recent transportees. Mike Maxwell felt light headed from the transport, and he tried to overcome the wave of vertigo that made the room around him seem as it were spinning. He took a step forward and stumbled, but Djuba stretched out her arms to stop his fall.

"B'wana Beast, are you ill?" Djuba's thoughts flowed across the helmet's mind bridge.

"No my friend" said Mike. "The transport which brought us here, wherever here is, upset my balance. I think it was only meant to transport animals, not humans. Let's see where we are."

B'wana and Djuba both pressed their faces up to the glass wall that made up the front of their cage. The bright light coming from within their cage made it impossible to see much of the larger darker room on the other side.

"I can't see a blasted thing!" groaned B'wana. "Let me try something different."

B'wana allowed the helmet's mind bridge to open wider. A mental probe of the thoughts of any animal within range, if there were any, may be of help. The thoughts were overwhelming.
    I wanna go home…Where's my mother, my father?….The strange ones are returning for me….My child, they took my child….Kidnapped me….I don't understand….I'm hungry….The strange ones hurt my leg….So confused….How did I get here?….Need water….Someone help us….
    "Decontamination sequence complete" intoned the high pitched voice from behind the large console. "Wait! Something's wrong. I'm reading a sixty percent increase in the subject's mass."

"Your readings are correct" uttered a second high pitched voice. "Checking to determine the cause…NO! We have accidentally brought an Earthling on board with the purple gorilla!"
    B'wana telepathically reached out to the frightened animals he sensed nearby. "My friends, I am here with you! The Beast has come to save you!"
    "Quickly Djuba," ordered B'wana, "Give me the mineral water. We've found our missing friends!"

"Transport the human back to Earth!" commanded one high pitched voice to the other. "He must not be permitted to discover our operation!"

"I'm trying" complained the second high pitched voice. "He's too close to the gorilla. I cannot transport him back to Earth without transporting the gorilla as well!"

Back in the cage, Djuba untied the special flask of cavern mineral water she carried around her neck and handed it to B'wana. B'wana gulped the super strength endowing water down, and his muscles flexed with power. He moved to the back of the cage, lowered his shoulders, and like an angry bull, B'wana charged at the glass wall that made up the front of the cage. Djuba covered her face with her arms to guard against flying glass as B'wana burst through the wall with ease.

"The human! He's free" hollered one of the voices from behind the console.

"Incapacitate him!" ordered the second voice.

Overhearing the two voices, B'wana Beast roared and charged towards the console. Brandishing an extraterrestrial weapon of some type, one of the owners of the high pitched voices stepped out from behind the console. The voice belonged to….a blue skinned alien? B'wana was surprised, to say the least, but full of anger, he continued toward the console.

"Specimen collectors, intergalactic poachers!" howled B'wana. "Release your innocent captives!"

The blue skinned alien pointed his weapon at B'wana and fired. Red bursts of energy filled the room, and hearing the battle, caged animals throughout the enclosure squawked, hissed, roared, and bellowed. They were cheering for their emancipator. Some of the weapon's red energy bursts hit their target, but they had no effect on the Beast.

"This human…." stammered the blue alien. "He is more animal than man!"

"I'm requesting help from security" said the second alien fearfully.

B'wana never said a word as he crushed the one alien's weapon in his hand. He never said a word while battering the two aliens into submission. He never said a word while he tossed the two aliens into an empty cell so they could feel what it was like to be caged. Animals do not make unnecessary and witty banter while fighting their enemies, and during those moments, Mike Maxwell was more beast than man. Only when his heart stopped pounding and the adrenaline stop flowing did the Beast become civil once more.

"Djuba, help me figure out how to work this console." requested B'wana as he pointed towards the large black console covered with hundreds of buttons and levers. "Let's see if we can either open the cages or transport our friends back to Earth."
    "I assume we are somewhere among the stars?" asked Djuba telepathically.

"That's my guess" said B'wana. "The ship we're in is probably just in orbit around the Earth."

Man and beast attempted to operate the complex alien console, and a few random - and fortuitous - button pushes and lever pulls later, the hatches on all of the holding cells opened. Elephants, zebras, giraffes, monkeys, hyenas, gazelle, cheetahs, crocodiles, bats, various bird species, and other assorted animals stepped out of the cells and into the larger room. Just about every type of animal species found in Africa was represented in one form or another. Most of the animals were young, but a few older ones were present as well. B'wana still could not understand why all the kidnapped animals were so young. Nonetheless, B'wana smiled when he saw the mother rhinoceros he had failed to save earlier emerge from the crowd, but his smile quickly faded when he noticed the baby rhino was nowhere to be seen.

"My friend, where is your child?" asked B'wana through the helmet's mind bridge as he put his hands on the mother rhino to comfort her.

"The strange ones…They took him from me…I could not stop them" came the telepathic reply.

"The strange ones," asked B'wana as he pointed to the two aliens he had subdued earlier, "Are they these blue skinned creatures?"

A male vulture interrupted the mental conversation. "Yes. The strange ones have held us here for what seems like days. All they have done is examine us and prick our skin to get a sample of our blood."

"We want to go home B'wana. Take us back to our families!" requested one of the white lion cubs.

"I promise" said B'wana out loud so all could hear him.

"B'wana Beast! I can smell the strange ones approaching!" cackled a hyena.

The house sized double doors at the far end of the enclosure whirred open. A troop of about fifteen of the blue aliens entered, and they were all wearing vests and helmets that could pass for police riot gear on Earth. Each one carried a red energy weapon similar, yet more menacing looking, to those the two defeated aliens had brandished, and B'wana realized that this troop was the 'security' mentioned by the other alien. Behind the security troop stood another alien, but she was different. She was taller and more distinguished looking that the others, and she was outfitted in a flowing purple colored robe like garment. B'wana reasoned that she was a leader of some sort. The alien security troop assembled in what looked to be an attack position, and B'wana stood silent, anticipating the worst.

"Earther," articulated the distinguished alien, "Your presence here is unwanted. You will allow us to return you to your planet, and continue our operation here."

The aliens interpreted B'wana's lack of response as indecisiveness, but that was far from the truth. B'wana's thoughts relayed his plan to his animal allies, and obeying the jungle master, all the animals - herbivore, carnivore, enemy, ally - put aside their individual differences and complied with his wishes. Djuba rounded up the younger animals and shepherded them back behind the large console, to the wall farthest from the alien security force. The older adult animals moved up to the front alongside B'wana Beast and set themselves up in a defensive position. The expressions on the aliens' faces were ones of awe and fear. Without speaking a word, the Earther had assembled a mighty troop of his own. Positioning himself between a long horned gazelle and the mother rhino, B'wana showed no sign of emotion as he performed his final act of intimidation.

"By the arcane power that is mine to command," he boomed authoritatively, "may two become one!"

A ghastly yellow wave of mystic energy emanated from B'wana's helmet, and the rhino and gazelle merged together to form one creature. The aggregated creature snorted loudly, and B'wana leaped up onto its back.

"I won't leave without my friends!" shouted B'wana from atop his mount. "They desire to go home, and I won't allow you to harm them further!"

The alien commander was impressed by B'wana's display of power, but she was not one to give in to demands easily. She needed those animals, and her people's future depended on it. If the testing was inconclusive, the actual animals themselves would be required in latter stages of the project.

"I cannot allow your 'friends' to leave Earther" replied the alien. "They are needed here, and we have not mistreated them."

B'wana snorted. "You took them from their homes, their families without asking! You put them in cages and study them. If that's not mistreatment…"

"I am sorry for their inconvenience, but I repeat, allow us to return you to your planet and continue our operation." interrupted the alien. "Just stand next to the console and we will transport you back."

B'wana did not bother to say no. He didn't need to. When provoked by an attacker, an animal will do one of two things - fight the attacker or run away. Fight or flight scientists call it. B'wana and his troop of animals could not run away. They were trapped, surrounded on all sides by walls and aliens, and the transporter was out of the question. Even if B'wana knew how to operate it, he couldn't get all the animals back to Earth before the aliens attacked. The only option left was to fight. B'wana raised his hand and prepared to give the telepathic command to attack. Before he could signal, he remembered something Ken had said earlier.

B'wana recalled Ken's words. "Even though he's B'wana Beast, he's still the same Michael Maxwell. Just because he runs around Africa half naked and has a purple gorilla for a sidekick, does that make him any different?"

Was Mike Maxwell the same person when we put on the red helmet of the Beast? At times, he thought being B'wana Beast was difficult and contradictory. He was a human among the beasts, yet among humans, he was the Beast. B'wana was trapped between two similar yet very different worldviews. Unlike ordinary people, B'wana could communicate with animals, was influenced by them, and sometimes acted like them. But as Mike Maxwell, he was an ordinary man. B'wana Beast was neither animal nor man, he was an African legend. How exactly does a legend act? Maxwell realized that as B'wana, he was somewhere in between the extremes of man and animal. When confronted, animals either fight or flee, but humans know that more than two options exist. If B'wana gave the signal to attack, he knew that some of his animal friends would be injured - or worse. Perhaps he could have the best of what the two worlds had to offer.

"I don't want to fight, but I will if you leave me no choice." said B'wana Beast to the alien commander. "Perhaps we can discuss our differences in a more civilized manner."

The alien commander nodded her head and agreed. The members of B'wana's animal troop and the alien security troop retreated from their attack positions, and members on both sides were relieved that a clash had been avoided.

A few hours later in a small conference room aboard the alien ship
    While Djuba watched, B'wana Beast sat on the floor and played games with the baby rhinoceros. "How do you feel little guy?" he asked through the helmet.

"Better now that the strange ones have finished examining me" responded the cute little rhino. "When do we get to go home?"

"Soon, very soon." answered B'wana as he heard the door to the room open and the alien commander enter. "In fact, here's our hostess now."

"I have talked to my superiors, and they have agreed to your terms B'wana Beast" said the alien commander. "Final preparations are being made as we speak, and the majority of your animal friends have been returned to Earth's surface."

"That's great!" exclaimed B'wana. "While we wait, would you mind telling me why your people roam the cosmos studying animals? I'm just curious."

"Gladly" replied the commander. "Many years ago, the home planet of my species was visited by a powerful, malevolent group of intergalactic 'traders' who called themselves the Cluster. The leader of the Cluster demanded that we trade them all of our planet's shellbone-beasts for a few relatively worthless trinkets. The hides of shellbone-beasts are renowned throughout the galaxy for their curative properties and are quite valuable. My people oftentimes exploited the shellbone-beasts for their own material gain, but when it came to allowing another group to do the same, our leaders would not tolerate it. We refused to trade with the Cluster, and for who knows what reason - maliciousness, anger, or embarrassment - the Cluster used its power to take what it wanted. They not only took all the shellbone-beasts, but all of my planet's other wildlife as well."

"What…what happened then?" asked an astonished B'wana.

"Within weeks, my planet's most brilliant scientists realized that our planet's ecosystem was dying." continued the commander. "Without a biologically diverse animal population, food production stopped. There were no longer any animals to help in the reproduction and pollination of plants, no animals to help breakdown natural waste, no animals to provide milk or eggs, and there were no animals in the sea or on land to hunt. My people were forced to abandon our planet and search for a new home."

"And that's why," realized B'wana, "you travel the universe collecting animal DNA. You want to someday be able to repopulate your planet with genetic replicas of other planets' animal life!"

"Correct." said the commander. "That is why my superiors agreed to our deal. Since you were willing to allow us to finish extracting DNA from your animal friends - as long as they were not harmed in any way as you required - we will provide you with a copy of the DNA codes for all of your planet's animal species."

"But why take mostly baby animals?" asked B'wana. "Can't you use DNA from adult animals?"

"Genetics is not my area of expertise," confessed the commander, "but our geneticists prefer to use DNA from young animals. They say it is purer than DNA from older animals. Additionally, there is some debate among our geneticists regarding the moral and ethic consequences of creating an infant animal from the DNA of an older animal."

B'wana nodded his head, but he did not fully understand everything the commander had said. Even though in his secret identity he was a zoologist by trade, genetic cloning and DNA extraction were way over his head. Another alien entered the room, and in its arms were ten flat circular disks. The commander took the disks and handed them to B'wana Beast.

"These disks contain all the knowledge we have gathered about Earth's animal life." said the commander. "The last of the Earth animals have been transported back to their homes. You and your two companions are free to leave."

B'wana reached out with his mind and probed the ship for the thoughts of any animal that might have been overlooked. He felt nothing and was convinced that the alien was telling the truth. B'wana scooped up the baby rhino in his arms, and along with Djuba, walked to the transport console.

"Thanks for the disks" said B'wana to the commander. "I don't know if the scientists on my world will be able to use these, but I hope we never have to."

The commander nodded and pushed the button that started the transport sequence. Sparkly gray lights enveloped B'wana, Djuba, and the little rhino.

The present day
    "….and within seconds we were back on Earth." Mike Maxwell finished telling the story and resumed poking at the fire.

"That's really how you came to posses the disks?" asked Dominic incredulously.

"Yeah" responded Mike with a chuckle. "But seriously, most of my other adventures were more down to Earth. Maybe now you can understand why I did more for Africa's animal life during my time as the Beast than I did for its people."

Dominic nodded. "I was brash to accuse you of being uncaring when we first met….I've come to realize though that every person who assumes the mantle of the Beast approaches the responsibility it brings in a different way. Even though I've chosen to focus on helping Africa's people…" Dominic began to feel awkward and changed the subject. "Whatever happened between you and Eve? You don't speak of her often, and I didn't know you two were once engaged."

Mike Maxwell stopped tending the fire and he rubbed his eyes. "We patched up our differences, but….but I guess that the powers that be had different plans. We were only married a few years when fighting between Uganda and Tanzania broke out in 1978. Idi Amin instigated a border dispute that led to all out war, and Eve went to cover the war for her newspaper. A media tent was accidentally fired upon by one side or the other - neither would admit it. To make a long story short, I don't know what happened to her….They never found a body, but Eve was presumed dead….It was like she just vanished."

"Mike…I'm sorry. I didn't know." Dominic saw a single tear flow down his mentor's face, and he sat down next to Mike and put his arm around his shoulder.

"Ken and Djuba really helped me through it" said Mike softly. "But then after what happened to Ken during the Zambesi Revolution….and what S.T.A.R. Labs did to Djuba….."

Dominic did his best to comfort his friend, and although they had their differences, both men were bonded together by the legend of the Beast. Mike Maxwell had once believed that the hardships he had suffered were because of his being B'wana Beast, and because of that, Mike gave up and chose Dominic to be his successor. Dominic thought that Mike had dealt with his grief well, but Dominic realized that in addition to lost friends and loves, Mike was grieving for the loss of one thing he still could have. Dominic picked up the red helmet lying on the cavern floor next to him and placed it over Mike's head.

"My friend," said Dominic, "I am still the Beast, but you were once the Beast as well. Neither man nor animal, yet a combination of both. Talk to the animals, my friend. They have missed you."

This story is © 2000 by David R. Black
All characters are ™ DC Comics

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

 
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