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All the Stars

Chapter Text

Birnin Bashenga was a Border Tribe city that connected the ‘villages’ that sat on the Wakandan border between the mountains and Lake Nyanza far to the east. It was, by that measure, possibly one of the strangest cities in the world: fully underground, fully defensive, highly segmented, an underground firewall of residential and commercial districts, manufacturing plants, and garrisons.

Most of Birnin Bashenga was centralised in the western sector, on the southwestern Wakandan border by the mountains, which also contained the Academy that trained the Border Tribe’s military, retail and residential districts, the Justicar HQ, and the Hexarch, the seat of tribal government for the Border Tribe.

T’Challa had never felt comfortable in Birnin Bashenga, even though he’d spent part of his childhood here, training in the Academy. The walls of the city were fully tiled with chameleon technology, allowing them to project anything from beautiful views of far-off lands to films. At present the vast walls and ceilings were running an installation from a Wakandan artist who was a favourite of his mother, an eye-watering, animated pattern that looked as though the city was inverted around some a colourful scaled serpent, slow-breathing. It was giving T’Challa a mild headache.

Okoye shot it barely a glance as they walked up onto the basalt slab that anchored the ground floor of the Hexarch. Shieldarm Mosa was already waiting for them, a silent, imposing figure around the usual administrative chaos within the Hexarch. Age had turned her hair silver, and her prosthetic left arm looked a fraction more slender, but as T’Challa greeted her she smiled a faint, secretive smile that he remembered from the Academy, where she had been his favourite tutor.

“My King,” Mosa said formally, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Shieldarm Mosa. You’re all dressed up,” T’Challa said, unable to help a grin as Mosa made a face. She was in ceremonial armour—which, since it was Border-made, was functional—draped with her shieldcloak, affixed with her silver and gold coils of office over her arms and breastplate.

“Needs must.” Mosa inclined her head at the others. “First Shield W’Kabi. General Okoye.”

Once pleasantries were done with, she gestured for them to follow, heading past the lobby of the Hexarch. Like the other buildings in Birnin Bashenga, it was built defensively, with narrow windows and straight corridors, solid furniture. Patterned tapestries and chameleon plating that had been tuned to a view of Lake Nyanza softened its edges, but with everyone visibly armed, it was a meagre illusion.

“You should come back to the Academy for a refresher,” Mosa said, once they were crowded into the jaunt lifts, heading further underground. “I saw a recording of your fight with Prince N’Jadaka.”

“Not good?” T’Challa asked, swallowing a wry laugh. Beside him, W’Kabi was staring at the ceiling, while Okoye had gone suspiciously stone-faced.

“Permission to speak frankly?”

“Always, Mosa.”

“It was a disgrace,” Mosa said, though she smirked faintly. “Your footwork has degenerated. In fact, it’s even a wonder that we’re not currently living under Jabari rule. I felt embarrassed having to watch that particular bout with my own two eyes on the Warrior Falls. If you can’t afford the time to come here, perhaps General Okoye can teach you the refresher in our place. I’ll forward her a lesson plan.”

“Maybe after all this has settled down, eh?” T’Challa carefully didn’t look at Okoye. “I suppose I’m lucky that I was only attacked by the garrison stationed at Mena Ngai.”

Mosa sniffed. “If you’d decided to have your little war on top of Birnin Bashenga it would’ve been over quickly, and not in your favour. Although,” she conceded, “I hear the Jabari fight well. Overall. Though it still fell to General Okoye to defuse the situation.”

“That’s what Generals are for.” T’Challa listened to Mosa complain about his footwork all the way down, until the lift disgorged them all on the Isihlangu floor. Like the lobby, the floor looked as though it was made of a single slab of dark stone, the chameleon-patterned walls hung with bars of light between mounted shieldcloaks and weapons from famous Border Tribesmen over the centuries.

Shieldchief Khosi met them in a stateroom alone. T’Challa tried not to feel impatient, as much as this was a formality. Khosi had already read Shuri’s brief: the meeting was just a matter of political etiquette. T’Challa exchanged polite pleasantries with Khosi, following rote, though he was nearly thrown off balance when Khosi said, “About Shieldguard Mandla.”

“A very thoughtful young man, judging from his essay,” T’Challa said carefully.

Khosi glanced at W’Kabi, then back at T’Challa. “Unfortunately, Mandla’s sentiment is not without its support. Especially here in Birnin Bashenga.”

T’Challa nodded. “No doubt. It does make a great deal of sense. The King of Wakanda is meant to serve Wakanda. If a better system evolves, then let it evolve.”

“Does the King serve Wakanda or himself?” W’Kabi said, his tone flat. “You’ve gone against the Tribal Council’s wishes, opening Wakanda to the world.”

“And Killmonger did not?” Okoye snapped.

“The Council offered no objections to King N’Jadaka’s plans. We were both there. We saw.”

“Because they were afraid!”

Across the table, Khosi sighed. “Peace,” T’Challa said, raising his voice. “What’s done is done.”

“As I told you in the Council, the Border Tribe does not apologise for the choices it made during the… recent matter of succession,” Khosi said evenly. “In our opinion, King N’Jadaka is—was—the true king. By our laws. Now that he is dead, you are King, yes. I support that. I support bringing the Jabari into the Tribal Council. And I respect your choice to reveal Wakanda to the world, even if I continue to disagree with it. But do not think that you are popular in Birnin Bashenga right now, your Majesty.”

“I didn’t think I would be. Shieldchief Khosi, I am sorry that matters came to pass in such a way. I am sorry for the losses your people suffered by my hand. But I am still King, for all that entails. I am not here to be popular. I am here to do what I think is right for Wakanda.”

Khosi eyeballed T’Challa with a steely stare for a while, then he grunted. “Good. Now. About this matter of ‘Tetu’. You are convinced the Jabari can deal with him on their own?”

“I think the Jabari will be very inclined to view the arrival of a Shieldguard garrison as an invasion,” T’Challa said, keeping his tone mild.

“Our Shieldguards have been searching the city since we received your warning,” Khosi said, “and we’ve found nothing yet.”

“Shuri believes she has narrowed down the resonance. With your leave, we’ll release her newest set of specialised drones within Birnin Bashenga and conduct a more thorough search.”

“Do what you must.” Khosi inclined his head. “May this insanity end quickly.”

“And if it’s possible, I would like to someday meet Shieldguard Mandla. In an informal setting,” T’Challa said, as casually as he could.

“Apologies will only serve to demean the loss he has suffered,” Khosi pointed out.

“I’m aware of that.”

“May I ask why you wish to see him?”

“This whole… trial… with N’Jadaka has made me realize that my real enemy is privilege,” T’Challa said, earnest. “My privilege. I’ve been oblivious to that in the past. It scarred Wakanda in return. I’d like to remedy that. Shieldguard Mandla might be able to help.”

Khosi glanced at W’Kabi, who shrugged. “W’Kabi will make the arrangements,” Khosi said, if with clear reluctance.

Outside, on the lift up, Mosa said, “Not bad. At least you still have a spine. I was getting worried.”

Okoye growled, but said nothing. T’Challa chuckled. “I’m glad to see that you still care enough about me to be worried, Mentor.”

“I care about all my students. The brilliant ones,” Mosa nodded at Okoye, “the stubborn ones,” a nod at W’Kabi, “and the forgetful ones.” This last she levelled with a sharp smile at T’Challa. “The Border Tribe respects strength, T’Challa. Your father understood that completely.”

T’Challa sighed. “This city was named after the first of my bloodline, the first King of Wakanda. I understand. I am not here to repeat my father’s lessons. Or his mistakes.”

#

Shuri’s drones took them under the city proper, to the the central station for the magnetic trains that ran every couple of minutes along the border-city, as well as to the other Wakandan cities and towns. The Bright Terminus was busy with people, and T’Challa tried not to think about how explosives might be close by. The carnage. Judging from the grim look on his companions’ faces, he wasn’t the only one.

It was slow going, since they were all easily recognisable, but the Dora Milaje warriors’ forbidding stares and W’Kabi’s sharp, “Official business. Move along,” managed to hustle them past the crowds.

Okoye breathed more easily once they were through to the service network that ran along the tunnels. As the drone flew before them, its silver eye scanning the corridor, W’Kabi said, “I think I know where it is taking us.”

“So do I,” T’Challa said.

Years ago, not far from here, with N’Jobu’s help, Klaue had accessed the tunnels within Wakanda through a service entrance just outside Birnin Bashenga, tunnels that led eventually along the train tunnels to the storage chambers close to Mena Ngai. They had taken what they wanted and returned the same way, tripping the alarm by accident when they were nearly on their way out. The skirmish had taken the lives of W’Kabi’s parents, the Shieldguards closest by. There had been nothing left of them to bury. In Birnin Bashenga T’Challa had watched a laughing, cheerful boy become a solemn and serious one overnight. And the pain had only festered. He should have seen that.

“W’Kabi,” Okoye said, concerned. He stared at her for a moment, then back at the drone, lost in thought, his hand clenched on the hilt of his scimitar. It was a long walk. At the intersection between the tunnel further to the next station along the Bashenga Line and the tunnel leading towards Mena Ngai, the drone paused, turning this way and that.

“Shuri.” T’Challa tapped his communications bead.

“Hang on,” Shuri said, her hologram frowning intently at a screen. “These readings. That’s strange.”

“If we have to walk to Mena Ngai that’s a very, very long walk,” Mosa said, staring down the tunnel. “I’d prefer to head back to the Terminus and charter a train. Or take a warbird.”

“Huh,” Shuri peered closer at something. “That’s weird. Apparently Okoye’s standing on chameleon coating.”

Okoye startled backwards quickly. It took a few false attempts before they found a hidden switch under the coating. A panel slid away, revealing a dark mouth in the floor, leading downwards. “Well, that’s just depressing,” Mosa said, with a glance at W’Kabi, who set his jaw, scowling.

“A security breach, yes,” T’Challa said.

“Not just that. The Border Tribe always wondered how Klaue managed to get from Birnin Bashenga to Mena Ngai and back unnoticed. We have sensors in the service tunnels. Klaue and his people were like a ghost. At least until they tried to get from Birnin Bashenga across the border.” Mosa rubbed her jaw tiredly. “So Prince N’Jobu wasn’t the only… wasn’t the only person working with Klaue.”

“Wasn’t the only traitor, no.” T’Challa would not gloss over his family’s mistakes.

“Why not just dig a tunnel all the way out? Then they would never have been caught,” Okoye said.

“I think they were meant to be caught,” T’Challa said, thinking it over. “We branded Klaue that night, though he managed to evade custody in the chaos.” That part had been suspicious as well, on hindsight. “We were meant to think that outsiders got away with the entire alloy cache. To focus our efforts on him all this while.”

“Then I am glad that we are here,” W’Kabi said evenly. “If Klaue was only a tool, my revenge is incomplete.”

“The safety of our cities is at stake,” Okoye said sharply. “If bombs go off—”

“We kill these people, no more bombs. Right?” W’Kabi interrupted. “Good.” He started to climb down into the drop, bars of light on his belt starting to glow as he went.

“This is going to get crowded,” Mosa said, with a look at the Dora Milaje, “and I have a bad feeling about the Terminus.”

“Go back and issue a temporary evacuation order. Call it a drill if you have to. We’ll keep in touch,” T’Challa said. He, Okoye, W’Kabi, and the Dora Milaje should be enough for whatever was in there anyway.

Mosa nodded, crossing her palms over her chest. “It’s good to see you,” she said, then looked at Okoye. “Good to see you both.” She turned, heading back down the tunnel.

One below, T’Challa activated the suit, which quickly adjusted for the low light. “I’ll scout ahead,” he told the others, which didn’t sit well with Okoye, judging from her frown, but T’Challa headed down the corridor before she could object. It was old, and had been crudely dug with mining tools without being properly shored up. Still, it did look like it’d been used recently. In the dust, there were footprints.

Shuri’s pod hovered over his shoulder, keeping pace. Her voice routed into his ear through the suit. “Okay brother. We’re getting closer to the resonance. I don’t detect any life signs.”

“Keep searching.”

“The tunnel looks like it just runs straight through.” The pod sped on ahead. There was a pause, as the pod hovered closer to the ground. “Picking up old DNA traces. A hair? Cross-referencing… eh, it’s Klaue all right. He came this way once.”

“Patch that to W’Kabi and keep moving.”

“Shuri do this, Shuri do that. How did all of you manage without me?”

“Very badly,” T’Challa said, just to hear her laugh.

The pod eventually came to a stop outside a heavy door. “Okay. I think this is it. The resonance is coming from behind it. But I don’t actually read any life signs,” Shuri said.

“Explosives?”

“Not that I can tell from here either. You’ll have to get the door open.”

“Ask the others to come on through,” T’Challa decided, inspecting the door. It was made of vibranium. No way of opening that with his claws—or Okoye’s spear. He pushed it, making the hinge creak loudly. Hm. “There’s no way of opening this remotely?”

“Not that I can tell, no… hm, no, wait. There’s a hidden sensor.” The pod floated down to the centre of the door, just as Okoye and the others caught up.

“We’re trying to—” T’Challa began, just as Okoye jabbed her spear into the seam of the door, near the top. At her command, the other Dora Milaje also shoved their spears into the seam between the door and the wall. There was a blue pulse, then a shearing sound as metal shook free from the rock around it. The doors fell with loud, booming thuds. “—open the door.”

“And now it is open.” Okoye said, even as W’Kabi laughed, then seemed to catch himself.

T’Challa shook his head. The room was some sort of old storage space. Shelf brackets lined the walls. They had once held boxes, recently moved—clean squares on otherwise dusty shelves were all that were left. Some of the squares closest to the door were cleaner than most.

“They might have stored some of the caches here,” W’Kabi said, inspecting the brackets. “Which would explain the vibranium door and its security.”

“Right under our noses,” Okoye said.

“But if they moved the crates away, then what is giving off the resonance?” T’Challa asked. The room looked empty. “Maybe there’s another hidden floor here? Shuri?”

“Coming through, coming through, I’m here.” Shuri’s pod floated in, and turned to do a slow circuit of the room. “Mosa’s evacuating the Terminus, by the way. They’re calling it a fire alarm. Pretty orderly evacuation so far, no panic. Not that anyone believes it’s a fire alarm. You guys were pretty obvious walking in here.”

“Couldn’t be helped,” T’Challa said, with a glance at Okoye and the other Dora Milaje.

“Well, it’s a good thing. I’m checking in on the general chatter, people think between you, Okoye, and W’Kabi, you’d probably be able to handle whatever it is. Confidence in the monarchy, eh?” Shuri giggled again.

“Pay attention, Shuri.” Okoye said, though she smiled.

“Yes, yes. Okay. There’s something here.” The pod floated down, nearly to floor level. “Under one of the shelves? Scanning… wait. Wait. What’s that feedback? It’s… how is it hacking us? Zintle, shut down the… it’s what? How’d it get past my security? The doors, they’re all opening—”

Shuri’s voice cut off, the pod going dark, falling onto the ground with a clang. T’Challa tapped his communication bead. “Shuri? Shuri!”

Okoye was tapping at hers. No avail. “No answer from the Dora Milaje stationed at Mena Ngai.”

“Some sort of EMP?” W’Kabi frowned. “That shouldn’t be possible.” He grabbed T’Challa as T’Challa growled and started for the door. “What are you going to do, run there? Without backup?”

“My sister!” T’Challa shook W’Kabi’s grip off roughly.

“Calm down. Follow me up. We’ll charter one of the trains. Take a garrison. There’s a Border garrison there and some Dora Milaje. They’ll hold out against whatever it is.”

So he hoped. T’Challa forced down a harsh breath. For Shuri’s sake, he had to be calm. “Lead on.”