Authors: Dave Rowlands
That was not the first time I had heard Sydney alluded to in such a fashion. Traveller, when we had first met him on our way to Canberra, had just gotten his Daughter out before something had happened in Sydney, but he had been loathe to speak more on the subject. Disciple, on the other hand... I asked him.
“It was not pleasant. I wasn't there, obviously, but I have heard stories. The Boss that we're after first came down with his army, cleared out all of the Dead in the entire city. They didn't put all of them down, though. They always take a few with them, just herd them up. Nobody ever told me why. Anyway,” Disciple looked hard at me with his one good eye, the other one weeping a milky white fluid. “They rounded up all of the Living that they could find, either individual survivors or groups. The individuals were better off, they were just offered 'join us or die' so pretty much all of them joined up.”
Disciple's grin came nowhere near his eyes. “The groups, on the other hand, were all made to watch as their leaders were crucified. They had to stand and watch as their leaders were stripped naked and tied to stobie poles, light poles, billboards, whatever was nearby. Their leaders were set free just after they died and each group had to deal with their Dead leader their own way.” His grin faded. “Some of them couldn't do anything and were torn apart by the one person they trusted to protect them. After that, they rounded up all of the remaining survivors and offered them the 'join or die' thing. About half of those ones joined up.”
He stood, turning around to look out into the grey wastes. “Then he had the city nuked.”
Scout had gone off with Sonny and Sister to fill up the Land Rover with petrol, gathering any spare containers they could and filling them for the journey to Alice Springs. It was, after all, a nearly seven hundred kilometre trip through incredibly hostile territory and there were bound to be many delays on the roads, either due to Dead, Dingoes or traffic.
Ginger had conscripted me once more into assisting with the expansions, asking me what I thought of Disciple. I told him that I felt he was no threat to Coober's Nest, but knowing his past as I did I was loathe to trust him. Ginger told me that Disciple had told him a few things about me, though he refused to say what, just pointed out that he considered it idle gossip until he saw hard evidence of anybody's behaviour. He did, however, point out that he inherently distrusted anyone that would spread such stories.
“If you don't trust him, why are you going off into the unknown with the blighter?” Ginger asked at one point. I told him that I had my reasons. He nodded his red mop of hair. “Yeah, we've all got someone like that in our lives, or we used to!” He laughed quietly to himself. “Look, I'm only going to say this the once. Your missus is preggers, your mates are barely more than kids themselves. You'd be better off staying here than going off on any half-cocked schemes dreamed up by devilish insane burned up amputees, and you're more than welcome to. At least convince your girl to stay while you bugger off with your demon.”
I told him that I hoped to convince Apocalypse Girl to stay behind at the Alice Facility once we get there, in fact once we find it, I told Ginger, everybody from Coober's Nest should come and stay there. He shook his head, saying that he preferred living up high these days. Less chance of Dingoes and Dead being able to get in when you're four metres high. It would, he said, be good to have people like us as neighbours then, if we weren't living together.
Chef could do wonders with Meat-beast, that much was true. When I complemented her, however, she only blushed and vaguely tried blaming the meal's success on various herbs that she had managed to keep on hand. Sister told her that she had never eaten so well in her entire life as here, which shut her up entirely. Her face turned crimson and her mouth opened and closed as if she were a fish gasping for breath, having been yoinked up out of her comfortably moist undersea environment to die on the shore. It took her a while to get over it.
Dentist pulled out a bottle of whiskey, pouring the six of us a reasonable measure of the liquid each. We toasted the mission and each other, then we went off to sleep. Tomorrow would bring a new day, dark and gloomy as ever. Somewhere, in the distance, a Dingo shriekhowled.
Year 1 A.Z.
Chef made sure we went off with a decent breakfast under our belts, passing a package of jerked Meat-beast to me to stuff into my already full backpack before I descended the rope ladder to Scout's Land Rover.
There was room enough for the six of us, even if it was a tight squeeze. Scout and Disciple took the front two seats, the rest of us crammed into the back like sardines. We drove through the remains of Coober Pedy, slowing as we drove past the mine where we had lost our truck. It was gone. Disciple pointed out the obvious, that there were other survivors around, not living in the Nest. As we drove, I felt eyes upon me, but when I looked there seemed only darkness through the window looking back at me.
We drove onwards, leaving the town behind us as we travelled, following the few road signs that we could make out that told us how to get to Alice Springs. Nobody spoke a word.
In time we came to the Dingo Fence, or what remained of it. Once, it had been designed to keep dingoes on the other side, now it lay in a trampled, wrecked heap. Scout told us that when she had first seen the fence like this, she had assumed that the Dead had knocked it over, maybe in vast numbers coming down from up north. That night she saw her first Dingo. After that, she said, she reconsidered her opinion.
A few short kilometres north of the fence, we found a Meat-beast beside the road and took the opportunity to carve off a few fresh steaks for our lunch. Disciple walked around the mutant cow, swinging his walking stick from side to side complaining that we were wasting time. Apocalypse Girl told him to shut his mouth, she was
going to live on jerky alone for the rest of this trip. If we could have fresh meat, we were going to make the most of it. If Disciple didn't like that, then he could, she said, quite frankly go and fuck a goat, provided he could find one un-mutated.
Further on down the road, however, we found a large mob of Dead, swarming around what looked like a Greyhound bus. We began to drive past, but Apocalypse Girl told us that if the Dead were that enthusiastic about it, then there must be someone alive inside the bus. Scout swore and pulled over to the side of the road, the Dead still ignoring us. Disciple began to object, but the look in Apocalypse Girl's eyes made his mouth shut with a snap. The first Dead skull my sword clove through easily, Apocalypse Girl shattering the skull of the one next to it with her heavy skillet. Sister opened fire on the Dead from the other end of the bus, Sonny at her side, drawing them to her once they recognised the sound as potentially coming from a food source that was easier to get at than whoever was inside the bus.
The Dead for the most part began to swarm towards Sonny and Sister, turning their backs towards
Apocalypse Girl and I for the most part. Disciple, by now, had joined the fray, removing a slender sword from his walking stick and expertly thrusting it through the heads of nearby Dead. I had forgotten that he had won an award for fencing in his younger days.
Scout, meanwhile, was looking for some way of getting the people on board the Greyhound to open up. They clearly didn't want to with all the Dead out here, and I could see the red of fresh blood painting several of the interior windows. I told Scout to be careful, there could well be Dead or at least someone infected inside. Once the Dead outside were taken care of, Apocalypse Girl hammered on the Greyhound's door while I shouted out that the Dead had been put down. A girl of perhaps ten, maybe as old as twelve opened the door from the inside. She was completely covered in blood and gore, holding a machete nearly as big as she herself was in both hands. The corpses of several freshly turned Dead still bled from their destroyed skulls.
“Are you bit?” The girl asked, clearly ready to cleave through our skulls as she had those inside. Apocalypse Girl told her that we were all safe, asking her if any of that blood on her was her own. “Nope. I'm too quick for anyone, Living or Dead.”
I asked her what had happened. “We were running away from this Dragon and it was chasing us, then it stopped but we ran straight into the Dead, then I saw this bus and we ran into it. But by then
I was with had been bit, but not me, so I had to take care of it, just like Daddy did with Mum when this all started.” She nodded for emphasis. “Then the dogs came out at night, the big nasty ones. I hoped they'd eat the Dead but they just stayed away from them. Then the dogs went away and you came.” She still held her machete at the ready.
“We can't take her with us, though,” Disciple was saying. “She'll just cause trouble, besides there's no fucking room for the kid!”
“We can't just leave her!” That was Apocalypse Girl. “What if someone like
comes along?” Disciple at least had the decency to look ashamed. “What if she starves? Or more Dead come past?”
“She can take care of herself, clearly,” Disciple countered. “But she can't come with us, that's final!” I pointed out that he wasn't calling the shots any more. We talked things over as a group. Scout suggested that she take her back to the Nest, Sonny arguing with her that we shouldn't waste any time, and besides she'd be as safe as all of us once we reach the Alice Facility.
“If she can take care of herself that well, then she can help us, can't she?” Apocalypse Girl pointed out. I said that there was no way we were leaving a kid alone anywhere. We were taking her along to the Alice Facility at the very least. Disciple threw up his one remaining hand in anger and sat quietly, glaring at the new arrival, sleeping peacefully in the Land Rover's front seat. We had this discussion while searching through the dead Dead, both those inside and outside of the Greyhound. In the wallet of one of the dead Dead men in the bus was a picture of the girl, taken a couple of years ago.
Year 1 A.Z.
Machete was the first among us to awaken. She gently shook me awake, telling me that she needed the toilet. I opened the door of the Land Rover, she jumped out lightly, looked around everywhere for any Dead, including under our transport, then she squatted and went right there on the road. “Daddy always told me to stay close to him, even if I need to go. Being embarrassed is better than being Dead, he always said.” Telling her that he was spot on, I realised that I myself needed to urinate.
I scouted around a little, Machete following silently behind me, stepping precisely in the footprints that I left in the grey snow. I asked her what she was doing. “Daddy told me that it wouldn't look like he's got a kid with him if I walked in his footprints to anybody that might be following him.” She told me. I asked her if they had been followed by many people. “Yeah, further north there are people that tried to
us! Not Dead ones, but Living! Daddy killed a couple of them, but they tried to hunt us for a while. We didn't trust anyone we met on the road after that for a
By the time we returned to the Land Rover, everyone else was getting themselves ready to continue onwards, so we contented ourselves with Chef's Meat-beast jerky for breakfast while we drove.
The roads were remarkably clear, all things considered. There were a few pileups that we had to carefully navigate around, a couple of which were large enough to warrant stopping to search for supplies, or would have had Machete not already told us that her group had come through there and already found it ransacked. There was a huge stretch of open, empty road that we were able to cruise down at a fairly rapid pace, though with the snow and the darkness Scout kept having to slow down to regain control from time to time. Apocalypse Girl was itching to take the wheel from her, as was Sister, but Scout insisted that nobody drive her Land Rover but
We passed through a couple of towns on during the afternoon, deciding to keep on going when Machete told us that one was populated entirely by the Dead, the other by absolutely nobody at all. Disciple seemed almost as if he were sulking, though he asked Machete exactly where she had encountered the Living cannibals. She said she wasn't entirely sure but it had been a very long way from here. It had been a good couple of months since they had encountered the group that she had slaughtered on the Greyhound and over a month before that, she told us, that they had encountered the cannibals.
We were sitting around our fire, outside of the Land Rover, cooking up our Meat-beast steaks for our dinner when it attacked. First came the deafening shriek-howl, announcing the presence of the Dingo, then it leaped into the firelight. The moment it landed my sword came out, as did Disciple's own slender blade. Apocalypse Girl fell back, with Sister, to find some heavier fire-power, and Sonny, who was closest, whacked the fucking thing as hard as he possibly could with his cricket bat, stunning the Dingo long enough for my sword to cut into its side.
It retaliated by lashing out with its tail, slicing my arm open. I fell, dropping my katana as Sister and Apocalypse Girl opened up with assault rifles, the bullets tearing through the Dingo's flesh. It cowered under the onslaught, then pounced on Machete as soon as the pair stopped to reload.
It twitched once, then shuddered mightily. Machete pulled her blade out from between the fearsome jaws of the beast, hacking its head off with one devastating swing of her heavy blade, making sure the Dingo was really dead. “We're going to have to move now, more dogs are going to be coming in a minute.” She told us, casually.
Sister examined my arm as Apocalypse Girl picked up my sword. “I need to sew this up before we go. If I have to do it on the road I'll fuck something up, I know it.” Machete stood beside Apocalypse Girl, the pair of them holding their blades at the ready on either side of the fire. Machete told Sonny and Disciple to drag the dead Dingo's carcass onto the fire. Sometimes, she said, burning Dingo scares the others away, sometimes not. Scout jumped up into the Land Rover, turning the ignition and gunning the engine before pulling out her shotgun and joining in the defence.