I lost track of the days this week and almost forgot to write this blog page. It was partly because I’ve been getting on with my new September Weekes novel, provisional title, Malevolence. Not completely sure where it’s going yet but things are developing . . .
Anyway being late gives me a chance to comment on the local government elections that took place in many parts of England yesterday. I didn’t get the chance to vote as all of our local councillors face an election next year. Nevertheless this election was hailed as the big chance to see what the electorate felt a year after the General Election. The answer – not a lot. As usual I think the turnout was about half what it is for the parliamentary elections – so, very poor. The results show that a surprising number of people are still willing to vote Conservative despite the incompetence shown by May’s government and total disregard given by the Brexiteers to the wellbeing of the country and the sovereignty of parliament. But we knew all that – a large proportion of the population are incapable of seeing the disaster that Brexit (and a Conservative government) is. There again people in general do not have a lot faith in Labour either, whether lead by Corbyn or anyone else. The Lib Dems made some gains but just can’t get their message across – the media still gives more time to UKIP (who lost almost everything) and Farage (who isn’t even in politics anymore) than Lib Dems or the Greens. In fact the bulk of the media is conniving with the Conservative Leavers to drag the country into a future which will see most people a lot worse off, financially, environmentally and safely. (is that grammatical?)
So we limp on to a future which no one, especially the Leavers, can foresee.
No news on Jasmine Frame at the moment, so here is the fourth episode of my SF long story or novel fragment, Benefactors. Hope you like it.
Benefactors: Part 4
Jock was a little concerned but not too worried when Ekuru Lengabilo wasn’t at the dusty airstrip. His small plane landed early in the morning after the flight from Nairobi. Jock took a ride in a local’s beaten up Chang’an pickup truck into the small town of Isiolo. There were more Kenyan government soldiers hanging around the low concrete buildings than there had been the last time he was here, but either they didn’t notice or didn’t care that a highly tanned westerner was in a local truck. The driver dropped Jock off at the corrugated-iron lock-up garage and Jock was greeted by the Samburan mechanic that looked after his Toyota 4×4. Jock dumped his bags inside and checked that the alcohol tank was full. He was pleased to see that the mechanic had followed his instruction and allowed the sun to reach the solar panels on the roof so the batteries were fully charged.
Jock signalled to the mechanic to open the rickety door and he drove silently out on to the unmade road. He stopped to check there were no other vehicles or carts obstructing his route.
The passenger door was wrenched open. Jock glanced to his right and saw Lengabilo climbing in.
‘Drive!’ said the guide in Samburan. In Jock’s ear the translation came through without the urgency. He engaged forward, put his foot to the floor and they shot forward with a whine from the electric motors. They headed north.
‘What’s up?’ Jock asked when they were clear of the town.
‘The army were looking for me,’ Ekuru said. He twisted to look out of the rear window.
‘They think I support the terrorists.’
‘The people of the God Tree.’
Without thinking, Jock pressed his foot against the brake and they came to a sudden halt in a cloud of dust.
‘What do you mean? Those people are the most peaceful and cooperative I’ve ever met. Probably something to do with those leaves they chew. They’re not terrorists.’
Ekuru nodded. ‘You and I know that. The government knows that too, but they also know that the way to get western support is to label opposition groups as terrorists.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Jock drove off again. ‘The people were worried about the Chinese plans to survey their land for minerals.’
‘It’s gone beyond that.’ Lengabilo said.
‘A week ago the Chinese arrived with all their vehicles and drilling machinery. They set off north west.’
‘To the Tree People’s land?’
‘We need to get there as quickly as possible,’ Jock thrust his foot against the accelerator. A light on the dashboard showed that the fuel cells were supplementing the batteries and solar power.
It was dawn next day when they left South Horr, heading west. Jock had stocked up on alcohol for the fuel cells and supplies for himself and Lengabilo. He was feeling anxious. He’d told the elder of the Tree People that he would present their case to the government but he had failed to get passed the lowliest of officials back in London. Now he was keen to get to the people’s homeland and the grove of trees that he had left just a few weeks earlier.
The roads through the forested hills were no more than tracks and passage was slow, but eventually Ekuru, driving the 4×4, carefully negotiated the steep descent into the Rift Valley. Jock scanned the view looking for landmarks that would show that they were close to the grove of trees. At last he thought he recognised the shape of the gullies and bluffs.
‘There,’ Jock said pointing, ‘where that smoke is rising.’ As he said it he realised that something was wrong. There shouldn’t be a pall of smoke over the People’s home. They rounded a bend and emerged on the savannah. Ekuru stopped the vehicle.
‘No!’ Jock cried. Ahead of them, huge vehicles were parked where previously wooden huts stood. Beyond, where the grove of trees had grown in the shade of a narrow valley, the earth had been gouged out to form a quarry.
‘They’re gone,’ Jock said meaning both the people and the trees that they tended.
‘We’d better get away from here,’ Lengabilo said reversing and turning the truck. He drove quickly away from the mine site.
‘What have they done?’ Jock said.
‘It’s what I feared,’ Ekuru said, ‘The government declared the Tree People terrorists for opposing their deal with the Chinese. Then they moved in. The people are probably all dead and the trees chopped down and burned.’
Jock’s heart hammered as if he had been running, ‘But those trees. . . they’re so special.’
‘The Tree People worshipped them,’ Ekuru said.
‘Not worship exactly. They cared for and protected the trees for thousands and thousands of years and I let them down.’
‘It’s not your fault that the government sold the ground beneath our feet. Where do you want to go?’
Jock thought for a few minutes as they trundled slowly over the rough ground. ‘I don’t know but I need time to think and get in touch with friends. Get us off the plain and back into the hills out of sight.’ Lengabilo did as he was told, turning back towards the rising ground that marked the eastern border of the Rift. As they approached the first hills they spotted two people in traditional dress, sheltering under an acacia tree. Ekuru stopped the vehicle and they both got out. The smell of the heat and dust and the vegetation struck his nostrils.
An elderly woman and a young boy sat in the shade. The boy stood up as they approached. Jock thought he was familiar.
‘It is the boy who gave me the leaves and seeds,’ Jock said. Ekuru nodded. The boy looked fearful and stepped close to the woman.
‘Tell him not to be afraid,’ Jock instructed, ‘Remind him who I am.’ Lengabilo spoke in the language that defeated the translator. The boy and the woman relaxed and invited Jock and his guide to join them. Jock returned to the car for water and food and offered it to the couple. They professed their thanks in a manner that did not require translation. Ekuru gradually extracted the story. The vehicles had arrived without warning. The people had tried to protect the trees, ignoring their homes, but had been gunned down by the soldiers that accompanied the miners. Only the boy had escaped because he had been tending the old woman who was ill. For two days they had been moving slowly away from their home that was now a scene of destruction.
Sadness, regret, guilt filled Jock. ‘All the trees are destroyed?’ he said. It wasn’t quite a questions but Ekuru translated his words. The boy shook his head and spoke.
‘There is one left,’ Ekuru said.
Jock jerked upright, ‘Where? How?’
Ekuru and the boy talked and then the interpreter turned to Jock. ‘The story is that hundreds of years ago an animal or a bird, versions of the story differ, plucked a seed pod from a tree in the grove and took it away. Many years later a goatherd came across the tree growing in a gully just a few miles from here. It was a young sapling then. Now it is a mature tree. The People have looked after it even though it is separated from the main grove.’
‘We must get to it. If I take cuttings, then perhaps the genome can be preserved.’ Jock got to his feet.
‘Not today,’ Ekuru said, ‘It’s too late.’ He pointed to the Sun dropping over the western horizon.
………………………to be continued.