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Fuel Season 2: Episode 4 – The Songs of Praise

Series: Stories of the Fuel Speedway

Influenced by his father, Mandla plays to the fandom to save face after being humiliated at the PPV

The Fandom: an expression used by Formula-X to refer to its fans formed by the combination of the words "fan" and "kingdom" – two important words in the F-X series.

28th of September – Season 2

MONDAY MORNING AT NGELOSI CITY HALL

Mandla didn't know why his father had asked to see him this morning but he knew it couldn't be anything good. Not after losing to John Kloof again. King John Kloof, thought Mandla, correcting himself mentally. He remembered how King Kloof had corrected him three weeks ago after the Season Two premiere of Monday Night Fuel. That's what this was about... Fuel. Mandla could sense it, even as he waited outside his father's office.

A minute later, the door opened and a young well-dressed Zulu woman gestured to him. "You can come in now, Mandla."

"Thanks, Sindi." His father's secretary wasn't the only one dressed well as Mandla knew better than to show up at his father's office not wearing a coat and tie. Of course, his father was dressed in a more expensive suit.

"Mandla," said the Deputy Mayor, "thank you for showing up so early."

"What's this about, Baba?" Mandla wanted to kick himself for asking such an obvious question.

"This is about your loss last night to that man, of course."

"That man's name is John Kloof and he's the Formula-X King."

"Well, not for long. Not if I have anything to say about it."

Here we go, thought Mandla. "Baba, I know you get upset when I lose races but why do you care so much?"

"I get upset when you lose in public, son. You know how important perception is."

Just at that moment, Mandla heard singing outside the building. He looked out the window to see people singing praise songs. Judging from them being dressed in green, Mandla deduced that they were C.M.A. supporters. The same C.M.A. supporters who'd been protesting at the Fuel Speedway since the beginning of Season Two. "What's going on out there? Are they protesting here now?"

"They're not protesting at all, son. Those songs they're singing should be familiar to you, Mandla. They're praise songs. They've never been protesting John Kloof and his reign. They've been supporting you and trying to get you back on that Throne. A key difference and an important one.

He was right, that was a key difference. But that didn't answer what they were doing here. What was the point of supporting him here? "Baba, why am I here?"

"I wanted you to be the first to know that I'm doing an interview with a journalist this morning." The D.M. saw that Mandla was about to ask why. "I'm going to expose the grave injustice that was done to you at pay-per-view last night."

"What!? Baba, no! There was no injustice. What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about that power boost button, son. The public deserves to know that John Kloof using that button the way he did is an insult to motorsport. He cannot run around calling himself the best if he has to use that button to win."

"But Baba, the use of that button is part of the show. You can't tell people that using it is wrong. The fandom will think we're being sore losers." Mandla corrected himself. "They'll think am being a sore loser."

"Not if our argument is structured right. Or have you forgotten everything I've taught you about politics? Perception is the key, Mandla. That fandom as you call it, is already behind you. So it wouldn't take much to convince them that this power boost button, goes against what motorsport stands for."

"Baba, listen to yourself. 'What motorsport stands for'. This is crazy. I lost, okay. I'm only starting to come to terms with it but I think you should too."

However, the D.M. shook his head. "No. We're not doing that. What we're doing is getting you back on that Throne." He was using his autocratic voice so Mandla knew better than to argue now. "And we're going to do that by playing to the crowd."

"You mean playing the crowd."

"Yayi wena," said the D.M., pointing his finger. "Don't disrespect me, boy. Now, do as I say. When you get to Fuel tonight, I want you making an impact. Show that false King and the fandom that you're coming after that Crown." Just then, Sindi knocked on the door and told him that the journalist from the Ngelosi Metropolitan Journal was here. "Good. Now Mandla, I'll handle this. You, handle that. Now go and good luck."

 

LATER AT THE FUEL SPEEDWAY

When Mandla arrived at the Fuel Speedway, it was a few minutes before the show was about to begin. He entered the paddock and surveyed the room, looking for King Kloof, and was surprised to see that he wasn't there. This was curious considering that the show was about to begin. Mandla went to the one racer who always knew the latest about the racecard: Touch Mkhize.

"Khabazela, I need to talk to you."

Touch smiled smugly. "That's Duke Khabazela to you." Touch reacted to Mandla's disapproving expression. "Yeah, I know, I know. It sucks but I thought I'd try it out. Touch, Duke of Drag is a bit of a mouthful to some people. Anyway, what's up, Makhatini," said Touch returning the favor of using clan names.

"I'm looking for the King. I wanted to know if you know what race he's in tonight."

"He's not in a race."

This got Mandla curious. "He's not here." While this would have likely thrown off anyone else with his plan, his mission, in mind, it didn't throw Mandla. He'd played politics long enough to know that an opponent's absense could also be used as an advantage.

"I never said that," said Touch. "Apparently, he saw the video interview your father did on the Metro Journal's website and decided to hell with the protesting, he's going to have his Coronation tonight even if he ends up covered in trash."

As if on cue, Fuel's intro music played and was followed by a royal-themed song as King Kloof slowly made his way to the middle-stage on a float. While Mandla gritted his teeth, it wasn't because of Touch's fear. Mandla, like his father, now understood that the guys in green in the crowd weren't so much interested in protesting so they wouldn't throw trash... not if they hoped to get him back on the Throne. What Mandla was worried about was how on earth he was going to make his impact if King Kloof only had this one thing to do tonight. With no race later on, he would most likely go home after the Coronation.

Mandla looked around the paddock, trying to formulate a plan when he noticed Glenwood Jacobs speaking to Stevie and suddenly thought of an idea. This was the first time that Darcy Stevens had been on Fuel this season and as a feature racer, she was the perfect opponent to defeat in order to solidify his spot at the top of the line of succession. He got to Glen just as Stevie left.

"Hey Glen, I need to speak to you."

"Hi Mandla. Boy, your father sure knows how to stir up trouble," said Glen referring to the interview."

"Yeah, he's just very passionate about getting me back at the top."

"And I imagine you are too. But I hope you know that now that you've had your return race, you're going to move down the ladder."

No, thought Mandla. That wasn't going to work. He needed to make an impact! Before the night was up. "I saw you talking to Stevie just now."

"Yeah, poor girl. Apparently she's been having a rough time. But she just wanted to know if she could be apart of the next pay-per-view. I told her if she earned it tonight, then no problem."

"Good. Then let me face her."

Glen looked at him. "Unfortunately no can do, Mandla. I've already put her in a race against Thawn."

Dammit. Mandla needed to think. Then he remembered the race that King Kloof won last week. If Mandla could show the fandom that anything Kloof could do, he could do too then that would work. "Okay. Then what are Styles and Touch up to?"

"Why?"

"Because I want them in a three-way?"

"You want both of them?"

"Yes, and I want them in the feature race, tonight!"

 

LATER IN THE FEATURE RACE

As Mandla sped around the racetrack keeping his hands wrapped tight around the steering wheel, he thought about the crowd. He listened as they cheered him, singing those familiar praise songs. In politics, when those songs were sung at rallies they were usually sung both in support of their hero and in denouncement of that hero's opponent. Tonight, Mandla had two.

Three-way match races were interesting beasts, even in the world of Formula-X that favored one-on-one races over championship-style races, because they had the best of both worlds. It was essentially three podium sitters battling it out for gold, silver, and bronze. Currently, Mandla was leading the race with Styles following in close second and the Duke of Drag coming in last. Mandla liked the poetry of having Touch last after he was all smug earlier in the night. Unfortunately, Mandla's poetry hit a bad pentameter when Touch managed to find a gap twice resulting in him leading the race in the crucial final third of the race.

Realizing that Touch had learnt a thing or two from the relay feature race from two weeks ago (that coincidentally involved the 'Cryptic Crusader') and was blocking him effectively, Mandla pulled a risky move when he baited Touch to one side which allowed Styles to pass him on his other side to lead the race. Then, with only 2 laps left, Mandla focused on battling back by anticipating Touch to be more focused on overtaking Styles than defending against him. This proved true when Mandla exploited a soft spot, claiming Touch's #2 spot before focusing on the leading Styles.

It was now the 15th and final lap as Mandla literally raced after Styles who fought desperately to keep his lead in the hopes of converting it into a victory. Unfortunately for Styles, Mandla's resolve proved to be stronger. It couldn't have been more perfect as Mandla managed to overtake Styles in the dying moments of the race in a similar way to how King Kloof beat him last night... except that he'd done it without power boost. While he didn't share his father's ideals about power boost being an injustice, Mandla knew enough about making a unified statement to know that managing to win a race without using his power boost only made his father's words that much more powerful.

To bring it home, on his way to the Winner's Circle, Mandla did exactly what his father told him to do and lead his supporters in a praise song like a conductor at the opera. By the time he was in the Winner's Circle, the crowd was fully on his side and he was ready to put the F-X King on notice. He'd won the crowd. Now it was time to win the Crown!

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © All stories are Copyright © 2016-2020 by S.T. Kubheka (also known by the pseudonym Bernard "Beesting" Bayede). ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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