The Mob Wars
[short story from ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]
What do you think, when you look upon a mob? Or worse, you encounter one? That had been the lesson of the day and the cadets in the class, all five of them, 3 girls and 2 boys, could barely restrain their yawns. They really wanted to laugh at the instructor but there were rules at the Academy, and laughing at an instructor was bad business. Punishments varied but they weren’t something you wanted to think about.
“A mob is dangerous.” droned on the talking head instructor, a short dark-skinned female who spoke the lingua franca as if she’d learned it from a computer. Hardly surprising since she had learned it that way. She wasn’t from the Clayborne worlds but from another galaxy altogether. Still, she was human and you could relate to her as long as you remained totally mechanical, never betraying any emotion towards her, or her course material. “A mob has no leader, that’s what makes it dangerous,” she carried on. “If you see a mob coming towards you, purposefully march in another direction and as soon as you can, find a safe place to hide until it passes by. Any grouping of ten or more individuals walking together and sharing information, or making loud statements constitute a mob by legal definition. It is your sworn duty to the Imperium to report any observed mob activity, noting its coordinates and direction. Anyone who observes a mob formation and does not report it is de-facto part of a conspiracy and liable to a charge of sedition. The penalty, as you know, is ten years in the mines, the location of the punishment to be determined by the courts but always outside your home worlds.”
We may be cadets but we weren’t born last night, or even the year before. The Claybornes, a grouping of three planets orbiting their sun practically equidistantly, thus making each world almost a mirror image of the others climate-wise, were a relatively recent addition to an expanding Imperium. “Space, the final frontier” boldly claimed a cartoon character from a series of funny little anecdotes that had been transcribed upon holos and would sometimes be available for viewing. The quaint language and costumes and the posturing would bring out waves of rollicking laughter wherever they happen to be projected. Final frontier indeed: the abysmal ignorance and hubris of our ancestors makes us wonder that we ever got off the ground of our original world at all. Too quirky.
I was writing about that line, the final frontier. Even now with everything we’ve discovered and learned, most of it at great cost and unnecessary loss, we still cling to our ancient xenophobia and bigotry. Once we “know” a thing, we believe that we’ve found the truth, or at the very least, some truth, something we can hang on and build upon. Our awareness, our ideas, we believe, can be stacked up one upon another, like the modules we fabricate then build living units or space ships with. It’s as if we choose to forget that no matter how long these modules fit together they must eventually disintegrate, starting with the oldest ones, but we don’t notice the rot and rust, and we keep on building on top. There comes a point of attrition and entropy and whatever is, soon is no longer. Simply put, the base collapses. We accept that but we never see to apply the obvious lesson in it to our interaction with what can only be called the nature of things.
Which brings me back to my story about the mob. Whatever the Cirillian teacher says about mobs, she really knows nothing at all about them. But we Clayborners do know about mobs. Our own societies were basically evolved from a mob mentality. You see, the Claybornes were chosen by the Imperium as a dumping ground for all sorts of individuals who could not be coerced into the herd mentality, or group-think that serves the Imperium’s aims so well. We are recent descendants of “deplorables” and “undesirables” Our grand parents were those who could not be cured. Many were anarchists. Some were judged with criminal mentality because they openly defied and called down the Imperium. And oh yes, we had more than a sprinkling of lower class criminals, the murderers, rapists, bank robbers, psychopaths. As a fourth generation myself, I say good for them. It’s here, on our own Clayborne world which we call Armistice, that you can really see the evil that is the Imperium.
I discovered subsequently that the Imperium had hoped we would not only “break” open these worlds and extract every ounce of resources that could fuel their space economy and finance their Earth-based economy, bolstering ever-expanding wars of conquest, but that once the worlds were bled dry, that we would destroy ourselves, with a little destabilizing help from Imperial guards. Considering the make-up of our local civilization, it seemed inevitable that we would destroy each other when times got tough, a time when the resources ran dry and the Imperium ceased supporting us with the necessities of civilization that could not be manufactured locally.
Even early on in the colonization of the Clayborne worlds, that is exactly what happened. Unwisely, to say the least, the Imperium representatives gave the game away too soon, when dreams of independence rode high in the minds and hearts of the colonizers. Conflict ensued. But at first it wasn’t against the Imperium. That seemed too big a slice to tackle. In anger and frustration, various groups, and towns led by gang lords, armed themselves by whatever means, mostly clubs, compound bows and arrows, long handled barbed spears and long knives or machetes, as well as agricultural implements which had reluctantly been allocated to them, and began to attack each other for control of the worlds.
That wasn’t according to plan since by now little or no effort was being made to mine the planets. Everybody was too busy strengthening their defences and protecting their fields and other food supplies while attempting to lay waste to “the enemy’s” fields and food supplies, transports and storehouses and stealing resources and useful labour and women.
We could almost hear the screams of anger from stock market and “trading houses” all the way though space from an incensed earth, home base of the Imperium, as resources from the Claybornes’ came to a quasi-standstill. Fortunes in speculation were being lost by the month, the week, even by the hour. Action was demanded of Arch Imperator, Junes Kohlmadir. She did what her kind do best: responded by massive force of arms against the wayward planets.
The Imperium intervened with iron fist and jack boots. Martial law and a general ban on every sort of weaponry was declared. Walls around fortified towns were dismantled, sometimes with explosives, more often with slave labour from those arrested for disturbing Imperium-mandated peace; those that is who hadn’t been publicly executed in the first reactionary wave of the new military dictatorship. They executed thousands of individuals, including women and young children – as an example. As any thinking person would know and expect, more violence ensued, now directly aimed at the Imperium troopers and subsequent governors sent to negotiate and re-establish a working peace. Adding insult to injury, the Imperium representatives decreed that any existing facility that could produce a space-faring vessel was to be utterly destroyed, not simply mothballed. The Imperium set up its own space station to repair and upgrade its own ships. All merchant ships had to have (and pay for) a complement of Imperium troopers on board, and an Imperium representative to accompany the captain at all times whenever it landed on one of our worlds.
This is the tipping point, where the Imperium, instead of subduing us, only succeeded in uniting the entire planet against the Imperium.
These people, my people, learned through bitter and bloody experience to hate the Imperium with passionate fury and vowed never to let the predators get their resources as cheaply as they had in the past. We vowed to fight the Imperium to the last man, woman and child on our world. There would be no free interference in our affairs. Autonomy or death, was our slogan and war cry. In the morning the call to arms and resistance would show up, painted on walls, fences, and even on the side of Imperial armoured personel carriers and tanks. So the people began to organize; to create larger and larger political groups and legally challenge the Imperium’s manipulations. We lived in wave after wave of bloody crackdowns and brutal repression but any talk of surrendering resulted in another body hanging from a pole, or tree, for the troopers to cut down and dispose of. We would no longer be the Imperium’s “hewers of wood and drawers of water” forever, or until our worlds became unable to sustain life due to heavy extraction of natural resources and unchecked man-made pollution and we were abandoned to perish in the depths of space, with no hope of ever seeing rescue transportation off our dying rock.
Whenever the Imperium landed a detachment of Guard troopers, mobs formed and there was the inevitable bloodbath. It is said that half of the population of Armistice died in the anti-Imperium “mob wars” that had already lasted two generations when, at sixteen, I found myself fighting for freedom.
So, ask me, do we know what to do if we encounter a mob? Sure, if it’s from our side, join in. If it’s from the enemy side, slink away and report its movements to our side, then form our own defensive counter-mob and attack. To hesitate is to loose. Now we are solidly united with our own spilled blood against the Imperium. There would be no quarter from our side, for we are the legitimate people of this world.
“Let me repeat: a mob is a leaderless group of ten or more people bent on destruction and murder. Report any mob to the nearest Guard post.” Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am and why don’t you pack up your stupid course materials and return home by the first shuttle, with no due respect, ma’am? Take some Star Trek holos back with you and base your next history course on them. Maybe your students won’t turn into zombies on the first day.
Meanwhile, what’s the real mob? There can be but one answer to that: it’s the Imperium. The real Mob is always the largest, most powerful predatory group, for a mob takes what it wants because it has the power to do so. Smaller groups, or “mobs” serve but to justify the real Mob’s oppression, or to do some of its dirtiest “wet” work. Think “terrorists” as the vanguard of the Mob. Oh yes, I have read quite a bit of the home world’s history to understand why here, on Armistice, we do what we do, and why we call our world by that meaningless term. A mob, leaderless? Never, no such thing. The “leader” may not be a human being, it may be injustice, hunger, oppression, enslavement, but oh yes, a mob always has a leader. In fact such a leader is the most powerful and motivational if it isn’t human, but an irresistible force, when choice is no longer choice. Where, or when, anger and hate fill the collective vat of despair and feet begin to walk; hands grab sticks, stones, anything defensive or offensive, and charge down the street.
There came the inevitable bloody clash between Armisticians and troopers. I was wounded in it and captured. I was then seventeen earth years of age. I am now an old but still strong woman from the hard labour I have performed my entire captive life. I survived the mandatory torture and gang rapes, solitary confinement, sub-standard food fare and damp, cold, filthy accomodations. Today, from my life imprisonment cell on Rebus, one of several Imperium prison planets, I write this for the “counselors” to read and ponder: “Down with the Imperium! I still hope to see its final downfall. How dare you call yourselves “civilized” and us “savages” and “terrorists.” You are nothing but cowards who starve and kill women and children so your elites can wine and dine, get richer and brag. Your lives are as hollow as the insides of our tiger reed. I could almost pity you but will never: I vowed eternal hate and enmity between us and so it shall be.
Signed: Selinia Armstrong of the free world of Armistice