Stifling morning, dazzling sun. Subaltern Rundle looked wearily out from behind the flap of the regimental tent at the new year. His red guards uniform was sodden with sweat and cheap rum. His mouth felt like the inside of the officers’ bar in Jodphur after Burns Night. His head reverberated with the sound of, the sound of, what was that sound …
Outside, lance-corporal Pretext was already up, preparing the breakfast pemmican and kedgeree. The landscape unfolded behind him, a parched treeless plain of reddish-brown. Rundle had lost his bearings. Where was this place? The Sahel? Sudan? The mysterious Gobi?
“Where are we?”
“Western suburbs of Melbourne, sah!”
“Yeah they built the brick veneers close together here, sah!”
“Lance-corporal, why do you sound like Eric Idle?”
“Can’t help it, sah! People only remember the Python version now!” he said as he poured the mulligatawny.
“What is that noise?”
“Bloody culture war, sah!”
“Culture war? In January? Isn’t everyone at the beach?”
“Not these bastards, sah! Fanatics, sah. ‘African gangs’ in Melbourne, sah! Started the day after Christm-“
“Lance-corporal, we don’t use that word.”
“Sorry, sah. Hoping to be home for the next nondenominational holidays. I’m going to get my little boy a dress.”
“The culture war, lance-corporal-“
“Oh yeah, big push, sah. New tribe on the horizon. News-lus, sah!’
Rundle’s heart turned to ice. The fearsome News-lus, the warrior tribe the culture wars had never been able to dominate. Loss after loss only made them more enraged and ferocious. Proud right-wing white men and their obedient sister wives, they had roamed the veldt from the time when people knew what a veldt was.
Newsherders, they had roamed the suburban plains with their six-figure circulations, until the coming of the Progressives. Now, after a series of brutal wars, they were backed into a few corners of the-
“Analogy’s stretching a bit, isn’t it, sah!”
“Also the News-lus are getting closer!”
So they were. An army of angry warriors were moving slowly down the hill of featureless cul-de-sacs, Thirsty Camels, servos, and Relief of Mafeking Asian massage parlours. “Hack hack hack,” they went, banging their phones against their laptops. “Hack hack hack.”
Rundle espied them with a field glass.
“They seem to be led by a child soldier …”
“Richard Ferguson, sah. Ferocious bastard. Product of a barbaric, war-torn environment.”
“They’re bloody angry, sah. We killed all their gods. The Mad Monk, the Rodent, Can-do Campbell … in a coupla years all they’ll have left is Tasmania and the great serpent.”
“Lyle Shelton, sah … they’re going hell for leather on this African thing, because they’re surrounded, lost their traditional statistics cherry-picking lands.”
“That’s a live sheep they’re hacking to death.”
“No, Rowan Dean, sah, he always looks like that.”
“How are they doing it, Pretext?”
“Easy, sah. African-Australians are proportionally over-represented in crime stats for a wide range of reasons. But they’re a relatively small proportion of the population. So your average punter is still more likely to be monstered by a plain old skip than anyone else. But of course they’re not going to see that – that’s the background haze. It’s the African crime among the larger morass that stands out in the foreground, as the other.”
“A proud peopl- , no you’re right; they’re arseholes, sah. Not merely racist, but the industrial production of racism. Hacks without honour paying their mortgage, scumbags-in-the-making, or scumbags to begin with, the News-lus.”
“This is a battle for civilisation, Pretext.”
“Quite paradoxical, sah.”
“How do we get out of this risky cross-over conceit do you think?”
“No way, sah! There’s no way that doesn’t recrudescence this into the racism it satirises. Last stand, sah! Were going to put a rainbow up em! They don’t like a rainbow up em!”
“Dad’s Army, now?’
“Well, you sound like Michael Caine.”
“Not a lot of people know that.”
Hack hack hack. The News-lus came closer. The subaltern and lance-corporal got on their horses and rode off in all directions at once, all of which led to Stephen Leacock.
“Strewth’s shit at the moment isn’t it, Pretext?”
“Peter Luck principle?”
“Poor bastards never heard of it.”