Excerpt from the second novel in the Skid Chronicles series
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“Do the people back at the ranch think like Mischief and his cronies?” Mitch asked as they sped away from the industrial complex.
“They want something called collective leadership there, they want to vote for their leader,” Myfair replied, shaking his head not comprehending how they had developed such bizarre notions.
“A power crazy megalomaniac on one hand and a bunch of hippy commie democrats on the other, not a happy state of affairs. I wonder what the rest are like?” Mitch muttered to himself. It’s just like home he thought morosely and it suddenly struck him how polarised the politics of his nation was and how he had contributed to the legislative impasse that deadlocked the nation politically. Neither his side or the other could actually do what they really knew was required to save the nation from falling over a financial precipice at some point in the near future because they had locked themselves into fiercely partisan positions that they felt they couldn’t retreat from even if it was for the greater good. Secretly they all did just enough to stave off financial Armageddon happening on their watch.
Myfair didn’t understand what Mitch meant and didn’t really think he wanted to know. Nor did he want to know what other fledgling power structures were sprouting elsewhere around the planet that he would have to deal with at some stage. Not just yet.
“Voting for a leader isn’t all that bad a thing,” Mitch ventured, “but this business of collective leadership has got to be stamped out quickly.” He added letting his own well developed prejudices surface. It was ok to act like a dictator as long as you were more or less democratically elected and had more and bigger guns than anyone else.
At least they agreed on something Myfair thought, wondering if it was such a good idea to lean too heavily on Mitch. Already he felt as if events were moving out of his control, as if he were on the verge of tumbling headfirst into an abyss with no chance of saving himself.
First; the Aotearoians had rebelled against him after earlier pledging their support for his leadership. Then Mischief had developed his grandiose delusions of power. The only bright spot was that Mischief had been quickly brought to heel, but what damage had been done in the process?
Already a significant number of Skidians had experienced life without a Chief Mati and were getting used to the idea of making some of their own decisions, could they ever be brought back into the fold?
And what of the other Skidians he hadn’t even sought out yet? Myfair tried to grasp the size of the job ahead of him and failed. He suddenly felt as if it was all too much for him, the task seemed to stretch away into the future and he couldn’t imagine where it might end.
“What are they doing down there?” Mitch asked, breaking into Myfair’s train of uncertainty.
“Where?” Myfair asked following the direction of Mitch’s pointing finger.
Myfair banked the patrol craft and looked downward on an almost primeval scene. A group of desperate Skidians, emaciated and clad in the filthy tattered remains of their robes were milling around the body of an ivop.
Myfair watched as several of the group raised large stones into the air and brought them down on the head of the animal. Myfair thought he could see bright red blood spurting into the air as the ivop suddenly lurched to its feet, leaving several of the Skidians on the ground as it stumbled off.
Immediately the rest of the Skidians were onto it again, knocking it to the ground again and this time it didn’t stir again as they beat it to death with their rocks.
“Christ,” Mitch muttered as the Skidians tore at the carcass, tearing away strips of skin from wherever they could and stuffing bloody flesh and offal into their mouths.
Mitch was stunned by the sight of the Skidians tearing at the bloody flesh with their bare hands almost totally oblivious of his presence as Myfair landed the patrol ship and they disembarked. A few heads swung their way as they gingerly approached the group but most of them were too engrossed in their impromptu orgy to give the visitors a second glance.
In his time Mitch had experienced some pretty devastating sights, mainly second hand via reports on the television or in special briefings which he thought had affected him to the point where he had mobilised the vast resources of his country to help where he could. But here standing on a planet far from home the full impact of the misery suffered by people after a disaster of any kind, really struck home in a much more devastating and personal way than he had ever experienced previously.
He had seen people in rags before, seen people waiting patiently for food that wouldn’t arrive in time to save their emaciated bodies. He’d seen people vainly scrabbling through the wreckage of their homes after a tidal wave or earthquake. He’d watched reporters and various public figures imploring the wealthy to assist the disaster stricken, using their celebrity status to prick at consciences, stirring the nation’s guilt which was assuaged by band aids that lasted until the next catastrophe. Mitch had squirmed in frustration as he tried to deal with obdurate leaders who wouldn’t accept aid with strings attached, while their people starved and squirmed even more when he was pilloried by his electorate for failing to act to help when it was clear he should.
But he’d never felt as impotent as he felt now or felt a greater urge to do something practical to help as he watched these desperate Skidians.
“We must do something”
“What do you mean?” Myfair appeared surprised by the question. It hadn’t occurred to him that he could do anything, except maybe point them in the general direction of Aotearoa.
“We must do something to help these people.”
“Like what? Myfair asked, not thinking about the patrol craft that could easily transport this small group of Skidians to Aotearoa, a patrol craft that carried ample supplies of synfood. Instead he made sure his dazier was ready for instant action in case the situation turned nasty.
“What about food? There must be food aboard and clothes,” Mitch added,” and couldn’t we transport these Skidians to Aotearoa?”
“Yes, but why should we do that?”
“Myfair you want to lead these people, why don’t you show some leadership and help them?”
Myfair’s mind wasn’t focused on the scene as Mitch’s was, he just couldn’t help but wonder how a Skidian could stoop let himself or herself go as these ones had.
“But what about our meeting with Mischief?”
“Oh fuck Mischief, we can deal with that ratbag later. First lets’ do something for these poor sods.” Mitch didn’t wait for Myfair’s reaction and walked up to the group.
They were an even more pitiable group at closer range. Bony arms and legs, covered in open sores stuck out of their dirty torn robes. They all wore dull desperate expressions, now splattered with blood and gore as they feebly tore at the dead animal’s carcass. Most of them didn’t even have access to where the flesh was bared Mitch saw, the weaker ones being pushed out of the way. They didn’t appear to have decent weapons either, or even knives, though as he approached one or two of them raised rocks ready to throw in his general direction. Prepared to defend their meal.
“Over there is your leader,” Mitch pointed to Myfair, thinking as he did so that the simple act of saving these poor souls from their desperate existence would ensure they saw Myfair as their saviour. “He has come with food and clothing and the promise of a new better life.”
None of the Skidians really looked interested in what Mitch had to say. But then slowly it seemed to dawn on a couple of the weaker ones that there might be better pickings elsewhere.
Weakly they made their way toward the space ship and then broke into a painful parody of a run that made Mitch wince just to watch them as a robot appeared at the patrol craft’s door pushing a trolley laden with synfood.
Mitch was almost caught in the crush as the rest of the Skidians suddenly realised what was happening and rushed for the trolley. They jostled each other out of the way in their haste as the stronger among them shoved the weak out of the way. Nevertheless there was enough for all.
Within minutes most of them were throwing up whatever they had eaten, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone and they continued to gorge until finally they were sated.
Mitch was impressed with the way Myfair finally reacted and also with the utility of the Skidian patrol ships. Myfair might not be able to think of much himself but once he got the general idea he was a hard man to stop.
While the rest of the Skidians were emptying the food trolley into themselves and then vomiting it out again Myfair had set up a mini camp complete with showers, had laid out fresh clothing and was moving among his subjects and accepting their thanks with humility and grace.
Mitch became a little indignant. Wasn’t saving them his idea? After a moment he decided – maybe this is better and he considered just how far he might be able to go before Myfair realised he was having his strings pulled like a puppet. He sat himself on the ground beside the patrol ship, half listening to the tales of incredible hardship and realised just how thin the veneer of civilisation was for perhaps all so called civilised people.
The remnants of Skid that he had been exposed to seemed to indicate a well ordered and highly sophisticated society supported by a level of technology that made his head swim. But as soon as the Skidians had experienced a break down in order and were failed by their technology, this group at least, had rapidly degenerated into something primitive and quite frightening. Resorting to cannibalism, living off corpses and worse when their world crashed around them. They had barely survived where most of their fellows had perished. Who were the lucky ones?
Now, full of food, freshly clothed and washed, secure in the presence of a leader who’s right to rule they recognised these Skidians were transformed once again to their former selves. Or almost. Mitch could see it in their eyes, he recognised that the trauma of their experiences would stick with them for a good long while, if they ever left them. This was something that he had seen before as he visited one disaster area after another and seeing the haunted looks of the survivors as they struggled to put their lives right.
I wonder what they will want now? To return to their cocooned former existences or would they strive for more control over their own lives? Mitch thought they would more than likely opt for the former approach. Having experienced a life of deprivation they would go for the option that ensured a life of security and full bellies and to hell with anything else. Mitch couldn’t find it in himself to blame them and thought it would be rather interesting to see how they mixed with the Aotearoians most of whom had never experienced such privatisation.