The Adventures of Arabella Henderson - Episode 4: Reading the Riot Act

By Kate Wood It was a typical Monday morning at the New England University College.

Foxy ladies and groovy dudes were lighting doobies in their college rooms. Students of arts, sciences and professions were digging the hip scene on campus. What was in? Enormous flares, fashionable hiking boots, reading the popular student newspaper Neucleus and, of course, protesting apartheid. It was February of 1977, the study break was over and The Man was on campus, seeking out hoodlums and Commies.

On the lawns of the Dixson Library, three easy going flower children watched as a time-travelling tandem bicycle materialised a few metres away from them. They paid it little attention, since that kind of thing happened all the time, as far as they were aware.

On the front seat of the bike sat Arabella Henderson, UNE’s foremost time detective. She had a shovel slung over her shoulder, and a backpack filled with all the modern crime-solving equipment money can buy. The UNE Mystery Solvers Club was of course the best funded club on campus, due to a very specific amendment of SSAF funding guidelines, specifying that priority was to be given to “student organisations dedicated to solving crime and also to fund on-campus Chinese restaurants”. As a result, Arabella had a great deal of expensive mystery solving apparatus and she was not afraid to use them.

Her friend and colleague The General being busy replying to fan mail, Arabella was accompanied by the Vice Chancellor himself. Vice Chancellor Obama had once been the President of the United States, but he found it too easy and he had come to UNE for a faster pace.

As the pair alighted from their bicycle, they were startled by a shattering of glass. The sound was out of place when contrasted with the calm susurrus of a Summer morning. A red-haired young man flew backwards through a window of the library. He landed on a flower child, and Arabella and the Vice Chancellor ran to assist him.

‘Are you alright?’ asked Arabella, helping him to untangle his feet from his flares. ‘What’s going on in there?’

Without so much as a thank you, the young man began to run towards the Union Courtyard, screaming ‘Police State! Oppression! Fight the Power!!!’ He was clearly most verklempt.

‘Gosh,’ said Vice Chancellor Obama. ‘That’s an ominous greeting!’

Leaving their Time Bike safely locked to the rack, where it blended seamlessly into the ordinary bikes around it, Arabella and Vice Chancellor Obama hurried into the library, shovels at the ready, to see if they could be of any assistance.

Inside, they were confronted by a shocking scene. A full scale riot was in progress. Like the young man outside, several students were yelling about a Police State. Three women with braided headbands had overturned a desk and were trying to set it on fire. As Arabella moved to stop them, she saw an elderly librarian punch a boy with a Mohawk in the face.

‘We should do something,’ Arabella said.

‘Perhaps a drone strike?’ asked Obama.

‘Wouldn’t that hurt civilians?’ Arabella asked him.

Obama shrugged. ‘Hardly seems to matter.’

‘Whoa!’ said Nucleus Editor Alana, reading over the first draft. ‘That got real political real fast!’

‘Opinions expressed by the author are not the opinions of Nucleus, UNESA or the University of New England as a whole,’ said Nucleus Editor Bridgette, reading over her shoulder.

‘It’s cool,’ said the author, ‘This is satire. I can do what I want.’ Then she continued with the story.

‘Perhaps a diplomatic solution?’ Arabella asked. ‘There’s enough destruction in here already, what with the fourth wall being broken.’

‘Leave it to me,’ said Obama. ‘I was an angry student once. I understand these kids.’

He reached out and grabbed the arm of a passing rioter. ‘Yo, dude. This is a bogus scene. What’s the skinny?’

Arabella didn’t believe that was real slang, but the student appeared to understand the Vice Chancellor perfectly. ‘It’s The Man, man! Apparently we can’t borrow no library book without one of these new photographic ID cards. Oppression, man! Police state!’

‘What’s so bad about a photo ID?’ asked Arabella.

‘Civil liberties, sister!’ he declared. ‘Once they have our photo they could use it for anything!’

Arabella had been issued with a photographic ID her first year of High School. She had three forms of photo ID in her wallet at that very moment. It had never occurred to her that the Government might use it for something devious. This was a strange new form of the Generation Gap, experienced only by Time Travellers.

‘What would they use it for?’ asked Obama.

‘I don’t know, man, but first they fine you for late returns and now this. Fight the Power!’

As he ran away, Arabella and Vice Chancellor Obama looked at each other. It wasn’t a mystery as such, but rioting was a crime.

‘You receive SSAF funding to reduce crime,’ said Obama. ‘Reduce this one.’

Gazing around at the chaos of the library foyer, Arabella unslung her backpack and unzipped it. In the next edition of Nucleus, she was going to kick arse and take names…

American Hustle

Words with Judd - March 2014