The King of Koitiata (Copyright © 2014 by Richard Bunning)
On the North Island of New Zealand, one of the previously most active volcanic zones on Earth, seismic activity had been predictably bad. However, if anything volcanic activity actually had less of a catastrophic effect on human life here than in many previously more stable geological areas of the planet. New Zealand had always needed to be prepared for major geological activity. Nevertheless, fully half the population was lost to just one cataclysmic event, the Taupo explosion of Dec 21st 2025. Devastating as it was, geological records showed this to have been a mere seismic hiccup by Taupo’s standards. Mild or not, what had long been the centre of a large lake became the peak of a new mountain. Geologically close volcanoes, particularly Ruapehu and Taranaki, had been consistently very active for over three years. Sunshine hadn’t regularly penetrated the skies of North Island for over two of those freezing cold years, until just a few weeks ago. Now, for the first time since The Great Shake there'd been two days of glorious clear blue sky.>
'Today I saw the new mountain that has grown out of the central plateau really clearly. It protrudes like a new Everest above the old horizon.
As you read above, I am trying to write a short summary of our cataclysmic times. I am not sure why I am bothering, except that I’m probably one of very few survivors who can. I sit at an antique bureau in one of the few remaining undamaged homes in the small town of Koitiata, the date is the 2nd August 2029. I am an old man compared to most survivors. Youth didn’t do much to improve one’s odds in the indiscriminate way catastrophe works, but has proved very important to chances of survival since. Of course, once life began to settle down my maturity helped me gain first influence and then power. There are about five hundred of us here, surviving on this west coast. Our 2024 population of about 120 souls has been swelled by survivors from Wanganui, and regions to the South. From the few that have reached us from south of Levin we know that there are significant numbers of survivors down that way, or at least that there were.
Just north of here lava flows from the volcanoes actually reached as far as the sea. This means that the lava travelled some hundred kilometres from Ruapehu before freezing. Survivors from Wanganui suggest that the lava flows came from the east rather than from the direction of Taranaki. We believe that all the forests of Waitotara and all the best farmland to the north and east have been buried, along with almost every single trace of civilisation. We must hope that the worst has past; that the few days of normal daylight are harbingers of millions to come. We can’t even hear the familiar deep rumblings from what was the Tongariro plateau, as they have steadily quietened over the eighteen months. Quakes are still common, but then they always were. Has the planet calmed for more than a brief respite? I assume so.
I have imposed governance over our community. Only discipline can save us; only a single minded focus can marshal enough forces to make the most of our opportunities. The single mind is mine. I had to hang another renegade yesterday. He was caught pinching rations from the storehouse. Now he is much needed meat for our dogs. Our inventory shows, three horses, twenty-three sheep, five cows, two of which are in milk, and a single bull calf we are relying on to mature. Our old bull died from eating something unwholesome. We have large numbers of possums and rabbits, which are our main source of meat, and roughly forty dogs. Most of our energy goes into growing fodder, gathering the, until recently ever scarcer, seaweeds, and growing kumara, and silver beet. There just hasn't been sufficient light to grow much else. Rhubarb would like the sulphur, if only we had some. Our remaining stocks of wheat and barley have been preserved as best we can. Come what may, we must plant those seeds this spring or risk a sharp loss of already failing potency.
We need to work land some distant from the town, which means we will have a far larger area of territory to defend. No one is likely to threaten from the North, but from the South we may be visited at any time. Longer periods of better light are sure to bring starving scavengers from as far afield as Wellington. I imagine the canned goods that would have been initially plentiful in the major towns are now scarce. We have plenty of guns, but lack ammunition. Many attackers may have more weaponry than us, having gained supplies from military bases. Waiouru is under lava. However, survivors from the Palmerston North area may well have had access to arms from Ohakea Air Base and Linton Camp. The neighbourhood out as far as 10 km south needs extra patrols, so that we can protect enough farmland, and to provide a buffer zone between potential enemies and our township. How many men have I that I know will always shoot to kill? I can only be sure of five or six and they would all happily kill me. I’ve given them our best hunting rifles, and put them in charge of patrols. I prefer to keep Hemi and Alec at a distance, nutcases the pair of them. It is time to rebuild, to think about more than mere day to day survival. There are definite signs that our long volcanic winter is ending.
The wanderers we capture either swear allegiance or are drowned in the Turakina basin. Any that run are hunted down by the dog men. Theoretically I’ve 300 that could fight to a fashion, men, strong women and older children. Hardly an army, but hopefully we can hold our territory. Tomorrow I move south with fifty of the strongest, in order to clear out any vagrants holed up within a couple of hours walk from here. I will be on my horse, Copenhagen, so as to reinforce my status, but more importantly, to provide a high perch from which to spy the ground ahead. None that stand against us must be allowed to escape our sight. I need to be particularly careful about properly clearing the woodlands, as they give dangerously good cover to close trespassers. During recently clearer nights I have seen glowing camp fires. It is difficult to know how far away they actually are. Too close though, of that I'm sure.
Bread and beer, are what we need. With them I can secure loyalty, and so safeguard my kingdom. I must address the people at evening Assembly, and get that so called priest, that woman of God, to say a few words begging favourable weather for a good harvest. So many still follow the Church. I must use that misguided institution to boost my authority, and not let bloody Ms Pious become a centre of alternative authority. She will agree that it is my divine right to rule, or else I’ll cut her throat. She is too much of a hag for me to bother tying to my bed, so a quick blade will render no waste. As for my personal needs, that orphan, Amelia, serves me well enough for now.
This bloody horse is little more than skin and bone. It had better stand my weight, or else my axe will split its cranium. What a rabble of an army!
“Spread out into line, each ten metres apart. In five minutes we start out. Any that fail to keep in line will go hungry. I don’t care if you are in bush, plantation or bog, keep you spacing. Aron, watch our backs. Jordan, you take the right point, along the beach.”
The bloody sand-flies are another reason to be grateful for my horse. They seem to have multiplied since the Shake. As always, the ‘namu’ prefer to fly close to the ground, attacking any creature’s legs. We need to set up a defensive line somewhere south of Lake Koitiata, up against the Beamish Road. Perhaps even as far as the Santoft junction. It is always going to be a slow job searching the bush. What we could do with is having a vehicle, an old ute, to get men quickly from one end of our territory to the other. Well, okay, we have a sound vehicle but not a drop of fuel.
Am I being over ambitious? Santoft is half-way to Ohakea Air base, and though I haven’t heard of any activity there, certainly not from aircraft, however, it is possible that someone has got some sort of outfit working. I should send a couple of men on a long recon, at least as far as Bull. I have to know what we are up against. Can I control thirty square kilometres of land? Whatever I do I mustn’t be seen as weak. My people mustn’t know that I fear the future every bit as much as they do.
If things look too dangerous I will flee north. At least I can be sure not to run into many survivors that way. With my stash of old emergency rations I can hide out in the wastelands until any pursuers lose interest. Being the power in the land is great, but as any ruler knows there is always yet another potential usurper in the crowd.
Who to send on recky? The last I know there was cholera in Bull. That was last summer. I heard it from a particularly vocal prisoner. I cut his throat once he had told me what he could and kept most of his story to myself. Information is power. If it wasn’t for that knowledge I won’t be planning to control territory so far in that direction. I am gambling on the idea that those not dead are now too weak to threaten us. My source made it clear that the disease was rampant and that all supplies of drugs had long since been depleted. The need to take more land seems bigger than any risk . . . Five minutes must be about up.
A lot of these trees are dead. At least the lack of canopy enables enough of the weak light to get to most corners of the forest. Jesus, it’s still cold this morning, cold for the middle of summer that is. The weather is improving though. Last winter was nothing like the one before, which took over seventy lives. Well at least it cleared out a few old and useless mouths. Apart from us crashing about these woods are eerily quiet. It is the absence of the birdsong that is most apparent. "Move on" you stupid horse. Sod it! I’m going to have to walk for at least a while through this tangle of half-dead timber, but I won't until I have to.
I remember the last time we advanced like this, when we overran the township of Ratana. Those that resisted us kept our dogs in meat for months. That is how Amelia came my way. We burnt the little that was left of the settlement. There were complaints from some of our people about our violent excesses, but none dared to really question my authority. It was a good strategy, because many were blooded for the first time.
Killing always comes easier with practice. It also helped me identify those most likely to rebel against me.
That bloody Silvia bitch approaches me, the one bloody female that still dares to question my will.
“We have found a wounded man, I think he is dying. He murmured something about been mauled by a wild pig. If we can get him to Koitiata, I think we just might be able to save him. Should I do something about organizing a stretcher?”
“No. Show me that gun. It was his, right? Hand it up then get back in line.” That is a NZ forces LMT .308. That’s interesting. “Hand it over.”
I suspect he's a survivor from an army outfit. That is worrying. We can’t fight properly trained units. However, perhaps the fact that he was alone is a good indication of their weakness. All the same, this is a real concern. Should we turn for home now? I am beginning to wish I never started this. I long-ago decided that I would give up my Koitiata to any stronger forces we encounter. I’m not suicidal. Perhaps I should find a white flag, just in case. With the assets we have in the settlement I may even be able to negotiate myself a position of power. Why is that bloody woman still standing here?
“How many times do I have to tell you? Hand over the gun and get back in line.”
“I have no gun of my own, yet I can shoot as well as most men. It should be finders,
“Hand over that gun before I have you flogged, I’ll see you get a shotgun from the armoury when we return.” The bitch, but now that I’ve my pistol pointed at her head.
“Fuck you Silas!” Silvia shouts as she passes up the rifle.
“I will consider that request. You have denied my will too long. Now get back in line.”
She is one dangerous bitch. Worse, I know she has many friends in the community. I must deal with her permanently. But first I have another job to do. “Show me to your prisoner!”
I stare into the wounded man’s blood drained face. “So then, where are you from, are you alone?” That leg looks broken. “Can you speak?”
“I was hunting. I’m part of a unit pushing north looking for survivors. I have been stationed in Bull by the Palmerston Council.”
“Are any of your friends close?”
“I can’t say. I have been out here all night. I was hoping you could tell me.”
“Lack of info, lack of use.” BANG. His face disappears.
“You bastard Silas.”
“He was dying you bitch. I just helped him out. Now get back in line before I do the same to you.”
I don’t think it’s wise to push on any further south. “Halt the line. All deploy left across Forestry Road to the lake. We will rest for a while before beginning a sweep back. Keep you guard up.”
I will establish a forward base here, with just three of four of the most useless, as an early warning of coming trouble. Well more like a sacrifice. Silvia can lead it, with the old shotgun I promised her. That bitch isn’t having this LMT, no way. I’m still troubled by that now fresh dog meat. However, if he was really part of a strong unit would he have been left to rot? Sod it! I have enough people with me to deal with all but a properly organised army unit.
That is what I’ll do. Put Silvia in charge of a couple of boys, establishing them in one of those abandoned farms up on the Beamish Road. Then I’ll place another unit half way back to the township, in the woods. I will leave that pervert, Cavendish, with Silvia. With any luck he will kill her, saving me the trouble.
What the bloody hell is that noise. It sounds like a fast moving truck. Shit! it’s an armoured vehicle. We can’t fight that. The bloody thing must have been hidden by the trees.
“All of you, put your guns down and your hands up. I’m Captain Jacks, of the NZ Defence Force. I am here with the authority of provisional government in Palmerston North. Who is in charge? Step forward out into the open, all of you . . . Whose is the horse I hear galloping away?”
Silvia steps forward and replies. “I believe our brave leader flees. Well I never, Captain Will Jacks . . . Silvia Brown, you don’t recognise me in these rags? It seems a long time since we were at Massey togehter.” Silvia walks towards the Captain with a broad grin on her face and her hand out. Jack is dismounting from the armoured car.
“Silvia, I wasn’t sure ‘til you smiled. So good to see you, but first . . . So who will speak for you all?”
Silvia replies, “Well it isn't going to be that arsehole Silas! I’m no boss but I’ll speak for us. We are 50 of 500 survivors, living just north of here around Koitiata. I'm sure I represent most when I say we will be happy to be under the rule of any provisional government rather than that fleeing self-styled King.”
“Well Silvia, all of you- I trust youse join us in Santoft. Our captain will want to hear every detail firsthand. We’ll worry about your King later. Tell me, we are looking for a young soldier. He came out here two days ago, hunting alone, ahead of us.”
“We found him an hour back. He had been mauled by a wounded boar. He was well crook but might have made it. Silas shot him.”
“That must have been the gunfire that alerted us. Well your self-styled King has just signed his death warrant.”
Jack gives Silvia a hug as his troops deploy from the LAV. She replies, “Not many of his subjects will shed a tear?”
“They won’t fight for him?”
“Not when I’ve had a word . . . It is so nice to see you again Will. You know I always . . . despite . . .”
“I know Silvia. We have a lot of catching up to do. But first we need to do the formal introductions and get your people sorted. Wow, five hundred more survivors!”
[For a time before The Great Shake I lived close to the places in this history. I hope the few facts I use are plausible.
Whether caused by nature or human forces, this massive catastrophe was mathematically inevitable. Unfortunately good and the evil souls survive in equal measures. We have to face the terrible truth that the meek and good don’t usually grab any crowns.
I often wonder what sort of character I would be in these dystopian times. I hope I wouldn't be a Silas, and I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have ever be the noble knight in ‘heavy armour’ that the Captain may well proved to be. I guess I would've be just another frightened creature, conditioned to behave as some sort of weak mixture of those two phenotypes. Most of us are a near average mix of good and bad qualities. Of course, statistically I died in The Great Shake even though this story appears to have been written after the event.]
(Copyright © 2014 by Richard Bunning)