Big Trouble in Little Jo'burg
by Mizhowlinmad (HBF), 2010
Disclaimer: TAT belongs to Universal/SJC, D9 belongs to TriStar/N. Blomkamp. Not for profit, just for Murdock Week. That being said, let's cut some cake!
"I said I'd come to South Africa," B.A. growled from the miniscule backseat of the Opel Kadett. "I didn't say I'd fly."
"You got here all in one piece, didn't you?" Hannibal commented lightly.
Murdock sat behind the wheel of the Kadett, dodging donkey-pulled carts as well as other cars as nimbly as he'd once dodged incoming rounds in Vietnam. "C'mon, big guy, perk up! You got a nice long sixteen-hour sleepy-bye, and we were stuck watchin' a double bill of Troll and King Kong Lives back in coach. I didn't even get to fly that 747…"
"'Cause you're nuts…"
"It took me 12 years to earn this level of meritorious insanity. I'm quite proud of it," Murdock said in his haughtiest British tones.
Beside B.A., Face was staring closely at a rumpled map of the city and its surrounding areas. "You guys mind keeping it down for fifteen seconds? I'm trying to figure out where we are, and that's hard enough without the added commentary."
The Kadett swerved, missing a handcart full of citrus fruit by mere inches. "Sorry, Faceman," Murdock said in his normal voice. "This drivin' on the left's kinda fun, y'know, engaging different hemispheres of my brain and all…" He honked the horn and swung just wide of a pedicab.
"Seen any aliens yet?"
Hannibal asked the question, but it was one which all of them had secretly been pondering on the long flight from L.A. No extraterrestrials had showed themselves, but their presence was silently obvious. Their ship was the most obvious thing; everyone had seen it in the newscasts when it first arrived, and a couple years later, it had become another part of the city skyline. It proved, if nothing else, that human beings could become used to just about anything. The thing that wasn't obvious on TV was how enormous the craft was. It just hung, suspended, a dead floating city whose alien residents were now, the authorities said, safely away from humanity in an encampment somewhere. It was impossible to look anywhere, from the airport terminal to the street corners, without seeing the prominent "Humans Only" signs with an alien silhouette crossed out in angry red. Not to mention the armored South African troops with submachine guns. Johannesburg, in more ways than one, was a city divided against itself.
"Man," B.A. sighed. "And I thought the kids had it bad here." His words were soft but carried the weight of indignity.
"That's why you agreed to come, wasn't it?" asked Face. "To do a little bit of good?" He clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder, as if trying to make him forget the long flight.
"Yeah." B.A. nodded. They were currently on their way to the Nkosi Charter School, just outside the limits of the sprawling slum that was Soweto. The students there had written an open letter to the L.A. Courier asking for help rebuilding their dilapidated main building. As soon as B.A. had spotted the article, which a friend of Amy's had written as a human interest piece, he'd been determined to talk the Team into coming to Johannesburg for help, if only for a few days.
Pay was not an issue for B.A., as he'd made clear to his teammates. This one was strictly personal. And maybe, after that last incident with the horse racing racketeers outside Palm Springs, they'd be able to squeeze in a little leisure time.
The only problem was, they'd tricked the big man into flying yet again, after all the time he'd taken finding a boat headed to Cape Town from Los Angeles. And there was a welt on the back of his head from the 2x4 Face had used.
"I hear the girls really like Americans down here," Face said with a dreamy smile on his lips. Through most of the long flight, he'd been sipping champagne and listening to a tape called "Afrikaans for Lovers."
"Lieutenant, I'm sure you'll have plenty of time for that," Hannibal agreed. "Let's just get to this school first. I think we're getting close."
Murdock blared the car's horn. A small group of goats scattered. As they drew closer to Soweto and farther away from the airport, the vast rift between rich and poor, white and black, became more blatant, and more heartbreaking. Where there had been ultra-modern glass and steel downtown, here there were only corrugated shacks, piles of reeking garbage, and children with sad, haunted eyes.
B.A. made a sound somewhere between a snarl and a groan, deep in his throat. "The kids back home don't realize what they got, man," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "This is bad."
"Sergeant, we're here to do good. Just remember that," said Hannibal.
The school was just where the students said it would be. It was little more than a one-room hut, surrounded by a yard of bare dirt where a few dozen children played with a soccer ball under the watchful eye of their teachers.
"Well, shall we introduce ourselves?" asked Hannibal as Murdock parked the Kadett. The children swarmed around them, curious and wide-eyed.
"Let's do it," B.A. said.
"That was fun, B.A.," Face grinned despite himself, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Next time, remind me to pack a suit that goes with drywall?" His sport jacket, once navy, looked as if it had been caught in a sudden blizzard.
B.A. giggled. "Faceman, you sayin' you had a good time?"
"In a manual labor kind of way, I suppose so…and did you see the way that teacher looked at me? The blonde?" He sighed. "I think I said 'you've got lovely hair,' but it might have been 'where's the closest bus stop' instead…"
They'd spent the last five hours painting, hammering, removing debris, and otherwise improving the schoolhouse and its grounds. Already, it seemed less like just another part of a slum and more a hope-filled place. Murdock had even begun to paint a mural on one wall. And naturally, the students had treated B.A. as if he were some legendary hero who had stepped down from a stone pedestal. They'd even made him, and the rest of the Team, promise to come back tomorrow.
"I think that's a job well done, guys, considering we didn't have to make anything that exploded today," Hannibal said, flicking his lighter open and lighting a fresh cigar. "What do you say we explore a bit before we turn in for the night?"
"You can't stay off the jazz, man," said B.A., shaking his head, "even when you're on vacation."
The Nkosi students dashed after the car as it pulled out in a cloud of dust, all of them shouting happily and waving. They were unused to strangers, whites on top of it all, showing them the slightest bit of concern. B.A.'s instinct had been right…they needed hope, something to cling onto. And the Team had given them that. The bump on the back of his head was already feeling less sore.
In a matter of minutes, Soweto and its miles and miles despair were behind them. The difference between the segregated worlds was as distinct as that of East and West Berlin, and no less heartbreaking.
"Too bad we can't stay here all week, man" B.A. lamented, looking back through the rear window. "Those kids need a lot more than what we can do for 'em."
Hannibal nodded. "Things are changing, B.A. It won't be like this forever, but nothing happens overnight. 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' Remember that."
It was a bitter pill to swallow. B.A. had already taken note of the curious, even angry, looks that the South Africans gave him, a black man walking alongside white comrades not just as an equal, but as a friend. Even in the 1980s, the concept was foreign to so many of them. It was a strange world. He didn't even want to think how the aliens were treated. It was twilight now, and the dormant ship was silhouetted against a brilliant backdrop of pink and gold sky.
"Where are we headed, anyway?" Face scowled, trying to read the map in the Opel's dim overhead light. "Nightclub district? Carleton Centre? The guidebook says there's a great view of the ship from up there..."
The little car was zipping along the M1 highway now, Murdock grinning just as much as he normally did behind the wheel of the Gran Torino video game machine back home. "There any arcades here? Y'know, Cowboys and Aliens?" He chattered on, just missing the back bumper of a Volvo.
"I wanted to swing through Houghton," Hannibal said thoughtfully. "Remember that SAS guy who helped us in Saigon the one time? Elkinton?"
"That guy was a sucker!" B.A. roared.
"Maybe so," the colonel nodded, conceding the point, "but he also helped me out of a tight scrape in Korea once. I just want to see if he's still around. I've been thinking about him since we got on the plane; hadn't heard from him since '72. Murdock, take this exit…"
Soweto seemed like a distant memory compared to this part of Johannesburg. The houses they passed could have easily been taken from Beverly Hills or Brentwood: elegant, contemporary mansions with neatly manicured lawns and expensive sedans parked in the driveways. The only black person visible was an old man who was tending to a set of evergreen shrubs with trimmers. No signs were needed here. Houghton was strictly whites-only. No blacks, or aliens, welcome.
"Hannibal, I ain't stayin' here," B.A. warned.
"Nobody's asking you to stay, B.A. This is strictly a drop-in visit. If Elkinton still lives here. He might have gone underground again…"
It was Face's quick reaction that saved Murdock from running over the figure in the street. The Kadett's front bumper screeched to a halt with only inches to spare.
As quickly as they could, the four Team members got out of the little car. Murdock was beside himself, burying his face in his hands.
"Faceman…is it bad? Did I hit it? Did I hit the dog?" he moaned, not wanting to look.
But it was not a dog, or even a man. It was a skinny boy of perhaps ten or eleven. He wore what looked like a school uniform, and his hands, for some unknown reason, were bound behind his back. The boy's face was ashen with shock and fear. His mouth hung open in surprise.
"You okay, little brother?" B.A. quickly undid the bonds and helped the boy to his feet. All the anger he felt before was gone. A child was in need, and that was all he cared about. "What you doin' out in the street like that?"
"Face, get him some water. I think he's in shock," Hannibal said.
The boy gratefully accepted the plastic bottle, drinking its contents in great gulps. He still hadn't said a word. His hands trembled like little birds, and the vein in his neck throbbed. Whatever had happened to him, he was terrified.
"You lost, man?" B.A. said gently, leading the kid over to sit on the Kadett's hood. "We can take you home. Just let us know where you live."
Wide blue eyes took in the four men. Maybe he'd just been taught not to talk to strangers. Whatever it was, the boy looked like a single deer chased by a whole busload of hunters. He stared, blinked, took another drink of the water.
"Do you speak English?" Hannibal asked. When the boy still didn't speak, he turned to Face. "Try some of those phrases from your tape. Maybe he's an Afrikaner."
"Um," Face paused, trying to remember, "Wat is jou naam?" he tried, asking the simplest thing he could recall that wasn't a come-on.
He'd found the key to the door. The boy started babbling away in what was clearly Afrikaans, pointing and gesturing, then, overcome with emotion, sobbing again. He buried his sandy head on B.A.'s broad shoulder.
"You catch any of that, Face?"
"No, afraid not. Most of what I learned was specific to the industry, if you know what I mean."
Murdock tried Spanish, then German, even Vietnamese. Nothing. The boy kept sobbing and staring.
"Little brother, you gotta tell us how to help you," B.A. said, trying to comfort him.
"It's okay," the boy finally said in between choking sobs. His English was accented but easy to understand. "I just…thought I was going to die…and…"
"It's all right, muchacho, we're not gonna hurt you," Murdock assured him.
The youngster blinked, then looked to the four faces as if seeing them for the first time. "I don't believe…I mean…crazy lekker…"
"What is it, kid?"
"This is not happening…I need help, and I get the…the A-Team!" For the first time, he smiled.
The four of them were stunned. Hannibal finally spoke. "You know who we are?"
"Of course!" The grin widened. "You guys are my favorite okes ever! And now you can help me find Leo!"
B.A. looked to Face, who shrugged and looked to Murdock. Everybody was confused.
"First of all, how'd you know about us? And who's Leo?" asked Hannibal.
The kid was so happy, he looked as if he could fly up to the alien ship and back without wings. He started out in Afrikaans, which was obviously his native tongue, then slipped back into English. He talked rapidly and sounded as if he were about to run out of breath at any moment. "My name's Wikus...I always read about you guys in the papers…Mum and Dad said I was dof for keeping the clippings, said I should take up rugby or something like a regular kid…then they said Leo ran off, but I didn't believe them, so I went looking for him…but the other kids from school were waiting for me…I got tied up…then you guys saved me! Wait until I tell them…"
"Leo's your dog?" Murdock suggested. He seemed to be obsessed with bringing canines into the conversation.
Wikus shook his head as if Murdock had asked a stupid question. "No. Leo's our family's Prawn."
Confusion gave way to bewilderment. "You went out of your house in the middle of the night to look for a pet shrimp?" Face said, trying to keep from laughing. He was remembering a similar incident from his own youth where he went out looking for the orphanage's adopted cat, a tabby called Snickers.
"Toe maar! You guys wouldn't know," Wikus said, as if he knew something they didn't. "You know, 'prawn.' One of them," he added, pointing upward.
Murdock was the first to catch on. "You mean, from the ship? Your family's got one in the house?"
"We did," the boy said sadly. "I think they got rid of him. But he was all right, and he always helped around the garden, so I want to get him back…you think you could help?"
Hannibal, normally so unflappable, was shaking his head. First it had been going to a slum overflowing with despair, then driving on the wrong side of the road with Murdock at the wheel, and now, a boy who had read all about their exploits was asking them to help find his family's alien butler.
He'd have to mention this to Jer when they got back to the States. It might make a great script.
"Kid, we can't just promise anything like that," he said gently. "We're only here a few days, and…"
"My mum and dad have lots of money," Wikus pleaded. "I'd make sure they pay you if we find Leo."
B.A. stepped in. "He needs help, Hannibal. Our help."
"He mentioned money. Sounds all right to me," Face added.
"Ooh, we could play Cowboys and Aliens for real!" Murdock crowed, rubbing his hands together and then drawing an imaginary six-shooter.
"Will you really help me…Heer Smith? Hannibal, I mean?" Wikus begged, looking up at his hero with wide eyes.
Seeing that he was out-voted anyway, Hannibal smiled. What was the worst that could happen?
"Kid, I think you've just hired the A-Team."
To Be Continued…
(Author's Notes: I have been kicking this idea around for a while. If it's simply too weird, let me know, won't you?)