Authors: Dave Rowlands
A piercing shriek-howl came from the darkness, greeted by another. A third shriek-howl sounded from another direction, then a fourth from nowhere. I could clearly see several pairs of eyes staring at me from the other side of the blazing Dingo corpse.
Apocalypse Girl swung at nothing, it seemed, and a Dingo tail, bony barbs protruding from the stretched flesh, fell into the fire, severed from its body. Machete stepped to the side and sliced with her blade, cutting deep into the flank of another Dingo that appeared where she had been a moment before.
A third walked in on hind legs, attacking Disciple with its fore-claws as he defended with his blade. Before long the bipedal Dingo was missing a limb and let out a deafening shriek of pain as it dropped down and loped away into the darkness on three legs.
The tailless Dingo stood up on its hind legs to claw at Apocalypse Girl, another leaping in from the darkness to meet death at the hands of Scout and her shotgun, as she unloaded into the beast's open jaws, tearing the creature's head to shreds. Machete poked her blade into the eye of her attacker, while Sonny clobbered it with his cricket bat, narrowly avoiding the flailing tail as I had not. Before long it fell dead, and Apocalypse Girl sliced out with my sword, up into the throat of her attacker. It, too, tried to flee into the darkness, but fell dead a bare couple of metres away. Sister finished up with my stitches as several more shriek-howls sounded, some terrifyingly close.
Year 1 A.Z.
For the first time in what feels like fucking forever, today, we saw the
! It was shortly after dawn, the clouds parted and the seven of us were blinded momentarily, it was so damn bright. It was there only briefly, but the sight of it filled us all with so much joy and life that even Disciple was genuinely smiling.
We had to drive through much of the night, trying to stay ahead of the Dingoes, which slunk away near dawn. I was unconscious through much of it, but aware of everything once the sun began its climb behind the clouds. When it peeked through Scout pulled over so we could all get a good look.
“Do you think this means the winter will end soon?” Sister asked of nobody in particular. I shuddered, remembering what Fluffy had told us. Someone was responsible for the mutations we were seeing, someone else was wanting to turn Earth into a colony world for their people. And Fluffy and his fellow
were cleaning the planet up. Was this their work? And, if it was their doing, was it good for us?
We were able to make good progress, I'd say we are no more than a day or two out from Alice Springs itself. The Cold was not seeming quite so intense as it had been, though the snow and ice covering the ground was in no danger of thawing any time soon. However, we were running low on petrol. If we can't manage to find some soon, we will have to continue on foot, which means we're fucked. We're unlikely to survive roaming packs of Dingoes without a vehicle or some shelter.
After a while, we found a small town. I asked Machete about it, she seemed to not remember it at all. But then, she told me, they did have a couple of cars at one point. We would have passed them during our flight from the Dingoes in the night. Consequently, there were a few towns that they missed.
Scout drove along the main road until she found a truck stop, pulling into the petrol bowser bay. We all piled out when, out of nowhere, a gunshot rang out, followed by a deep voice telling us that we had gone far enough, we should get back in our Land Rover and fuck off out of here.
I called out that we meant no harm, that we needed to fuel up and then we were happy to move on, but without access to petrol he'd have to shoot us all. “Fuck it all...” I heard him curse. “Right, come out, then, slowly. Keep your hands where I can see them.” We all did so, then we were told to turn around. Doing so, we saw an elderly gentleman holding a revolver that might well have been older than he was. He was dressed in an equally old army uniform.
Not one to be cowed by someone simply pointing a gun in her general direction, Machete asked him why he was wearing that silly uniform. “Listen here, young lady, I wore this uniform when I went to war against the Nazis and the Japs. These Dead buggers, we're at war with them, aren't we? The Living, I mean. So I figured, if I have to go to war again, I'd do it in this.”
Digger is a spry old bastard, I'll give him that much. The old man had single-handedly taken out all the Dead in the town and was one of five survivors that were still Living here. Disciple wanted us to leave Machete with him, Sonny and Sister as well. Digger, on the other hand, and his Mob wanted only to be left alone. I told them about Coober's Nest, but despite wanting to see the place to marvel at its construction, Digger's Mob was insistent on staying put.
Even with the Alice Facility on the cards, Digger and his people wanted to stay where they were. They had been born there, raised families there, killed said families there, and wanted to die there. They had that right, certainly. Digger, who claimed to be ninety-seven years old and still in possession of all his original teeth, wanted no more than to protect what was his. That was his part in the war, as he saw it.
He was, however, able to point the way to an old military base that he had known about nearby. He had heard talk about it being connected to a larger network by some kind of fancy underground train system, but that had been back in the sixties. If it still existed, by now it would no doubt be abandoned.
They also invited us to stay with them overnight, which we did so gladly, especially knowing that they had hot water and were more than willing to share some with us. Machete especially needed a good old scrubbing. Under the grime, she was a pretty blonde girl, wearing the same haunted expression that everyone else had these days. Looking into her eyes, she looked a good deal older than the twelve years she claimed. Having to kill everyone you've ever loved will do that, though.
Year 1 A.Z.
Digger, true to his word, showed us on a map exactly where the old military base was, and after a mighty breakfast we were away. Following the directions we had been given, we drove for a good couple of hours, eventually coming across a dirt road that we might have missed had we not been keeping our eyes peeled for it.
The going was bumpy and irritating and by the end of it we were all feeling motion sickness to a greater or lesser degree. When the dirt gave way to bitumen it was very nearly worse. Potholes abounded in a road that had not been maintained in fifty years or more. To make matters worse, it had begun to rain as well. Oddly, however, it seemed a far more natural rain than those we had seen in previous months. It was still a torrential downpour that soaked absolutely everything and everyone, but there was no greyish sludge left behind, save where the snow had been piled high against walls.
The other main difference this downpour had to distinguish it from the previous rainfall we had experienced was that it was over in a little over half an hour, leaving the base washed clean for our inspection. In the centre of the yard, near what looked to be the most disused flagpole in the world, grew a Meat-beast. Hopefully that would deter any Dead that might stumble upon this place, though it was almost so out of the way that the chances of any Dead finding it were remote indeed.
“This place feels familiar, somehow,” Apocalypse Girl told me as we hopped out of the Land Rover. I nodded, feeling the same way. Then it struck me. I told her that the buildings had been set up in precisely the same way as those topside at The Think Tank. That had been an older facility, re-purposed for the twenty-first century shortly before the world went to hell.
We began to explore buildings, though all were empty. The furthest from where we had parked, next to the Meat-beast, was the one that would have had the elevator down into the facility, if this had been The Think Tank. As Sonny opened the doors, however, a blast of flame burst out, enveloping the poor kid. He screamed and ran away, Machete tripping him up and rolling him over in order to put him out.
There was very little real damage done, though his hair was gone. All of it. His face looked sunburnt. Blinking, his eyelashes fell to ashes. Scout, having seen the burst of fire, ran over, saying “See? I
you I saw a Dragon!” The seven of us converged around the doors, I motioned for the rest of them to move back as I peeked inside.
Small fires lit up the interior of the building well enough for me to see that it was empty of all equipment, all that lay within were the elevator doors on the far side of the room and the enormous, mutated goanna that, as soon as I noticed it, burped fire out at me. I dove to the side lest I meet Sonny's red-faced, bald-headed, lash-less eyed fate.
The Dragon burst through the doors, obliterating them entirely with its impressive bulk. I had heard of a goanna growing to the size of a man, even slightly larger, but this one was easily four times my own mass.
Apocalypse Girl pulled me to the side as it began to belch once again, spraying the area that I had stood a moment earlier with flame. Scout brought up her shotgun and fired, the pellets bouncing off the gargantuan goanna's hide. “Fuck!” She swore, throwing the gun at the Dragon, trying to draw its attention away from me. Sister had brought her assault rifle to bear as the Dragon chased after Scout. Several rounds penetrated the thick hide, but the beast lashed out with its mighty tail, knocking the gun from her hands, sending it flying. It rushed after Scout once again and Machete ran in, underneath the Dragon's low-hanging distended belly, opening a large gash with a two-handed blow of the young girl's machete. The Dragon twisted in pain, the belch of fire it had prepared to roast Scout going way over her head.
As Scout ducked away, past the Dragon's enormous head, she dropped into a low slide, picking up her shotgun once more as she ran past me, tapping me on my shoulder as if to tag me in as I drew my katana. The gigantic reptilian head snaked past Apocalypse Girl and I, still intent on devouring a tasty Scout for breakfast. The gonging sound resulting from Apocalypse Girl's mighty wallop rang out clearly in the late morning air and it turned towards her.
I drove my blade deep into the Dragon's flank, adding to the damage that Machete had caused. An instant later, Disciple's blade joined mine inside the flesh of the beast. It roared in agony and twisted again, only causing more damage as Machete leaped onto the creature's back, stabbing down with her blade, deep into the things spine. Its legs collapsed, though the head snapped back and forth. As the Dragon burped out fireballs, we gathered around behind it. I climbed up onto its back and severed its head with a well aimed swipe of my katana.
came the belated call from The Colonel as we were cleaning off our weapons.
“We have encountered gigantic mutated fire-breathing goannas. Repeat, there be Dragons here!”
The interior of the Dragon's Lair was bare, apart from several large charred chunks of Meat-beast that it had stored for later. There was no lighting, nor was there any power to the elevator at the back of the building. We decided that we may as well move our equipment from the Land Rover inside and set up at least a temporary camp.
Disciple suggested that we remove a couple of doors from some of the other buildings and replace the ones that the Dragon had torn off. I gave him Sonny to help him accomplish the task, telling him that it was a good idea. Anything that kept the wind and Cold out was a good idea. As he walked off, I called him back, saying that all of those doors were made of wood. He nodded, saying that they would get them all.
Meanwhile, Apocalypse Girl and I inspected the elevator doors. Using Scout's crowbar we were able to pry them apart easily enough, but without light we could see no more than a ladder that descended into the abyss. Even with a torch we were able to determine little. Scout offered to go down and check things out for us, Sister wanting to go with her.
Apocalypse Girl and I, with Machete helping, dragged the room into some semblance of order, setting a fire-pit in the middle and butchering and skinning the Dragon. Meat was meat, after all, and the hide of the thing was incredibly tough. Surely we could find some use for it.
By the time the doors had been replaced we had plenty of spare door for firewood and were busily cooking up some Dragon. Funny how it tastes like chicken, though... Scout and Sister had returned, reporting that they found an elevator at the bottom of the shaft, sure enough, and managed to get inside the facility beneath us. Sister said that it had the same sort of feel as The Think Tank had, though it seemed much smaller. There were computer labs, living quarters and food stasis chambers all on the one floor. Plenty of room for up to about fifty people, though. The really good news was that it was all still fully powered up. Only the lift lacked electricity, it seemed.
As Disciple suspected, they had also found some kind of transport tube on the only other level. That had been powered down, though, but Disciple told us that he should be able to get any systems running again without too much hassle. He might just need an assistant to do all the two-handed jobs, he said, nodding towards Sonny.
We told The Colonel the location of Dragon's Lair, suggesting that she keep it to herself and that we could use it as a sort of emergency bolt-hole in case things went any more to shit than they already were. She agreed, saying that she would share the location with The Smart Couple and one or two other people.
Shriek-howling Dingoes prowled the exterior of our little hideaway, making strangely inquisitive noises when they encountered the butchered, skinned remains of the Dragon outside. Then, one of them, larger than the others, kind of coughed a couple of times and the entire pack, seven or so from the individual shriek-howls that we had counted, flew off to the north.
Year 1 A.Z.
I was rudely awoken by the sounds of the elevator moving. Disciple and Sonny had clearly had a bit of a rummage round in one of the other buildings and discovered the generator that powered the lift. When they came back in, looking all proud of themselves, I thanked them. I hadn't been looking forward to climbing down a ladder with my arm in its current state.