Authors: Dave Rowlands
When the elevator doors opened I felt a distinct sense of deja-vu, Sister had been right. It had the exact same feel as The Think Tank. Smaller, much smaller, but I immediately felt comfortable. Apocalypse Girl and I headed off to the computer lab, eager to see what they contained.
On one wall was what seemed to be a map of the train system. It extended throughout the entire country, even extending under the sea both to New Zealand and New Guinea. One shaft seemed to go in the direction of Japan, another heading directly south from the mainland, towards Antarctica. In the middle of the country was a base designated AR 18, then this one to the east of it. The next station to the north was more or less exactly where Alice Springs was located. Another led from it, to deep within Queensland.
Turning on one of the monitors, Apocalypse Girl confirmed that our access codes were valid for the entire network, for which we silently thanked The Smart Couple, and she delved their system thoroughly.
Sister had Sonny and Machete help her out in the kitchens as she made a lavish roast leg of lamb for us from supplies that she had discovered in the stasis chambers. Eating Chef's food at Coober's Nest had inspired her, she told us as she handed us our plates. I loved every mouthful, I have to say, and I was not the only one.
Apocalypse Girl told us that she had discovered something using the computers that we should probably all take a good look at, a couple of things, in fact. After lunch, we all crowded in around the computer lab, she brought up what she had found on the main screen.
She had found a thermal image of Australia that showed thousands of little bright red dots all over the northern half of the continent. Apocalypse Girl suggested that they could each be a goanna that has mutated into a Dragon. Then she brought up a straight satellite image, showing the country in all of its bleak greyness. There was a lot of cloud cover as well, but nowhere near what there had been. “You might have been right,” She said to Sister. “Winter might be over. If so, we know why.” She flicked to another screen. This one showed an external view of the satellite. Next to it was a craft that seemed familiar, somehow. Then it hit me. It was the same design as the crashed
ship where we had encountered Fluffy. Apocalypse Girl panned the camera around, showing several more ships, some of the same design as the first, others vastly different. Behind them all was something massive and dark. I tried to ask what it might be but my mouth was too dry.
Then, Apocalypse Girl switched to another satellite, turning on the electro-magnetic imaging system. This lit up several locations, several dozen places such as Alice Facility, Dragon's Lair and AR 18 were a bright, steady blue. There were others, on the other hand, that blazed a brilliant white. “No human facility is able to generate that much power. I think we might have just discovered the locations of some of the alien colonists.” One blazed just to the south of the steady blue of the facility we planned to enter The Empire through.
I suggested that we send those locations to The Colonel, and scout out the one in Queensland when we get the opportunity to do so. Apocalypse Girl agreed, pulling out the radio as Disciple pulled me from the computer lab.
He told me that although he could get the power running to the train system down below, the train itself was not present, so we would have to walk to the Alice Facility. Since the tunnel was a straight line, however, he reckoned on it taking no more than a day.
We found ourselves quarters easily enough, Scout's estimate about this facility being able to sustain about fifty people seemed about right. Since there were only seven of us, we had more than enough room to find somewhere comfortable to rest. Disciple's choice was the closest to the stairs down to the train station, so he bade us goodnight by saying “Come and wake me up when you're all ready to go.”
Machete wanted to stay with Apocalypse Girl and I, but she Apocalypse Girl managed to talk her into the room next door instead. Scout asked Machete if she minded if she crashed with her, as the poor girl seemed on the verge of tears on being told she would have to sleep alone. Strange girl. She can hack apart the Dead, Dingoes and Dragons alike but she's afraid to sleep alone.
Sister and Sonny occupied neighbouring rooms, though Sonny suggested they share at first. Sister told him not to worry though, she'd come running if he screamed in the middle of the night.
For the first night in quite a while, we weren't lulled to sleep by the shriek-howling of Dingoes.
Year 1 A.Z.
The morning found us sleeping in late, or at least lazing around in a comfortable bed as long as we dared, until Machete ran in, Scout and Sister following close on her heels. “Come on, wake up!” She demanded of us, pulling on Apocalypse Girl's arm. I managed to convince the trio to wait outside while we got dressed.
Sonny and Disciple waited in the kitchen, Sonny cooking up some bacon and eggs for everyone. Disciple, who had worked as a junior chef for a while, kept on making observations and criticisms of Sonny's technique, and I got the impression Sonny was just about to clobber my former friend when we entered.
“About damn time you guys got up,” The hideously scarred villain greeted us with an equally hideous grin. “I suppose I can understand it, though, probably the first bed you've had for a while, yeah?” Apocalypse Girl glared concentrated death at him. “Anyway, we're gonna have to get going after breakfast. We should take along whatever supplies we can from here, too. It'll likely be at least a couple of days travelling along that damn train line on foot.”
Scout allowed that at least we wouldn't have to be slogging it out through the snow and Cold and Dead, but Disciple shook his head. “Don't assume for a minute that we're ever going to be safe down here. Some Dead could well have found there way down here, easy. Or maybe another one of your Dragons, even.” She paled a little. “But, true enough, it'll be easy going apart from that.”
The station below was empty and still. I suppose I was expecting to find normal train tracks, but instead there was a bare metal tunnel, three metres wide, every ten metres a ring of some kind encircling it. We couldn't see anything that might have travelled along it, so Disciple jumped down into the tunnel, beckoning us to follow him.
Dragon's Lair fell further behind us with each step into the dark. When it became too dark to see comfortably, we brought out the torches, Scout saying that the batteries would not last long if we had to continually use them, so we agreed on a rotation. When Scout's torch's batteries began to die, Apocalypse Girl turned hers on and Scout changed her flat batteries over for fresh. We made good progress, as the tunnel was completely flat other than the regular bump of the ring, which Disciple thought might help power the trains. Machete was torn between complaining about being bored and being grateful that nothing is trying to eat us. Sister told her not to worry too much, it's still early. We might well need to hack something to bits before the day is over. Machete gripped her huge blade in both hands and kept quiet.
We stopped for a rest shortly after noon, lighting a small fire more for light and comfort than any real need of warmth and ate a meal of Meat-beast jerky. When we were done, I felt eyes upon me from the darkness. Lots of eyes.
The feeling passed soon enough, but I kept looking out ahead, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever lay before us. Apocalypse Girl noticed, asked about it, so I told her that it was probably nothing much to worry about, but she still kept one hand on her skillet, the other within easy reach of her assault rifle. When we were done with our meal, we moved on ahead, this time with weapons at the ready.
Scout had moved on ahead, torch at the ready. It had been several hours since our lunch stop, with no sign of anything at all, but we all felt that same sense of being watched. Her cry from the darkness spurred us onwards, Sister pulling her torch out to supplement Apocalypse Girl's light. As we drew near, Scout shouted to us, telling us to be careful.
Casting the beams of light around we saw these thin threads all across and over the tunnel, glistening with the same sticky substance that was holding Scout in place in the middle of the tunnel. She had reached out to touch the sticky fiber with one had and gotten caught, she told us, warning us to stay as far from them as we could.
Apocalypse Girl pulled out one of her many, many lighters and sparked a flame, setting fire to one of the strands. It went up quickly enough, brightly showing hundreds more strands along the tunnel, getting more and more dense until it became a wall barring our way. Several of the strands, however, had huge spiders crawling along them, enormous fucking things, an arachnophobic vision of hell.
“SHIT! Someone get me out of here, NOW!” Scout cried out, sounding terrified. Machete snatched the lighter out of Apocalypse Girl's hand and lightly jumped over a couple of strands, ducking under several more and set fire to the fiber holding Scout in place just as Sister and Apocalypse Girl opened up on the spiders with their pistols.
The few nearest Scout burst apart as the bullets hit them, spraying her and Machete with an unpleasant looking goo, and the pair fell back, drawing their weapons. Apocalypse Girl rolled one of our few remaining grenades down the tunnel, under the strands of spiderweb. The explosion deafened us all, but cleared out a good chunk of the web-wall. Hundreds more spiders, babies really, poured out of the breach and swarmed towards us.
Some of the larger arachnids leaped in the way of the youngsters, trying to eat up as many as they could, but they were swiftly overcome and devoured themselves, by their own would-be meals. Apocalypse Girl threw another grenade, blowing apart huge numbers of spiders, but still hundreds, thousands remained, more babies pouring out from the egg-sac that we had disturbed. Machete ran, ducking past the strands of web crossing the tunnel as she fled.
The rest of us retreated in more orderly fashion, Disciple calmly shitting himself in quiet terror, Sister loudly wailing in disgust at the size of the spiders crawling after us. Each one of the babies would be the size of a fullgrown huntsman. As the few remaining adults drew closer Scout's torchlight gleamed off of the strip of red along the back of one of the spiders.
Carefully, methodically, we took out the leading spiders then those that followed them. They were advancing faster than we could shoot them, but our constant retreat coupled with the occasional grenade thrown into the mix kept a more or less steady distance between us. Until, that was, Machete rushed back past us, flame-thrower in hand. She barbecued the spiders nearest us, then moved on, slowly, a continual blast of flame coming from her weapon. As the webbing and egg-sac went up a bright blaze accompanied it, along with the popping of whatever spiders remained within.
We followed in her wake, crushing or shooting those few spiders the young girl had missed in her ferocious fireladen fury. By the time we reached her, she had dropped the now-empty flamer and was simply watching the remnants of the web burn with a strange expression on her face.
“Nice work, kid,” Disciple told her. “I fucking hate spiders.”
“I used to, too. But then Dead people started eating everyone. Spiders aren't so much after your mum has tried to chew your face off.” Machete said in a matter-offact voice. “Even if they are bigger than they should be.” She smiled, and we continued down the tunnel, stopping a few hundred metres away from the charred remains of the monstrous red-back spider colony.
After dealing with the spiders we felt it would probably be a good idea to keep a double watch while some of us slept. Machete insisted on joining Apocalypse Girl and myself for our first stint. Fortunately, she understood the need for relative quiet, and refrained from asking nagging questions, as children sometimes have an irritating habit of doing. I suppose it's something I might have to get used to, anyway.
Year 1 A.Z.
When we awoke Disciple and Sonny, who had the final watch, had buggered off somewhere. They had not taken any supplies with them, so we assumed that they hadn't gone too terribly far. Sister and Scout went ahead a short way, calling out for them.
They found them without any incident, it turned out that they had heard noises from further along the tunnel and gone to investigate. What they had found was a single, solitary Dead one, facing away from them, staring off into the darkness. Sonny was still standing over the remains, wiping his cricket bat clean on its clothing by the time Apocalypse Girl, Machete and I arrived on the scene.
Searching the corpse, though incredibly unpleasant, revealed an access card for the AR 18 base and some identification revealing that this person had once been a general. He had apparently opened his wrists, several months ago from the state of his carcass. I put the access card away in my backpack and we moved on, munching on some jerky as we walked, once we were a good distance away from the stinking corpse.
Mostly uneventful, no more Dead on the line, no spiders, no Dragons or Dingoes, so we were in relatively high spirits, especially with the general warmth of the tunnel system. Disciple was sullen, as always, but the rest of us were fairly chirpy.
Scout was asking Machete where she had come from, it turned out she and her family were from Tasmania, they had decided to take a holiday around Australia, as some lunatics seemed to think was once a good idea, and were in Darwin when everything went to shit. As soon as that had happened, her father tried to get them both as far south as they could manage.
The winter had halted their progress in a town called Tennant Creek, where they had met up with the other members of the group that Machete had eventually been forced to cut to pieces. After a while, they had scavenged enough working parts to put together a vehicle in order to get moving, but after many adventures, they had come to the abandoned Greyhound and the horde of Dead that had bitten, and consequently infected, every member of her group but Machete herself.
There were other survivors in Tennant Creek, she told us, quite a large settlement, at least there was when they had left. Only a few had wanted to actually risk travelling south, mostly those with family in the southern states. When asked if she wanted to find any family that she might have left, she simply shrugged, saying that she really didn't care that much. She figured they were probably dead, or Dead by now, she said. Apocalypse Girl told her that she could stay with us as long as she wanted, even Disciple pointing out that Machete had more than pulled her own weight.