Authors: Dave Rowlands
When we stopped for the night, we lit a small fire, ate some food, then discussed possible courses of action upon reaching the Alice Facility. Disciple had assured us that this particular place was almost certainly vacant and unoccupied, so we shouldn't have too many worries about sneaking in through anybody's back door, but on the other hand, that likely meant that there was little or no power. No doubt there were generators, somewhere, of some kind, but the trick would be finding them and activating them. Disciple knew more about electrical systems than possibly anybody else left living, which was handy, but he admitted that he would need some help. Sonny volunteered quickly enough, saying that he had always wanted to be an electrician anyway.
Knowing that I was taking my life in my hands, I took a deep breath and told Apocalypse Girl that I would really prefer her to stay behind at the Alice Facility with Machete, Sister and Sonny while Disciple and I went into The Empire alone. I saw fury in her eyes, but she said that was probably a better idea. After all, she said, The Colonel was heading this way, too, and would be able to fortify it well enough.
“Okay,” She said, eventually smiling through her smoldering anger. “I'll leave the front light on for you guys, make sure you've got a home to come back to. But,” She turned to Disciple. “If you cause my man any harm, I'll cut you to fucking pieces. Betray him and you die, slowly.” He nodded, saying that he would treat me as a brother and bring me back alive.
Year 1 A.Z.
We found the Alice Facility's train station, the carriage sitting directly in the centre of the tunnel, looking like some kind of metallic beast. Disciple drew near the thing to examine it, finding it completely empty, though intact. There was no sign of life anywhere, no power to anything and nobody, Living or Dead, present. Somehow, I didn't feel particularly reassured by that.
Climbing the staircase leading away from the station, the lifelessness continued. Nothing moved in the darkness, though a foul odour lingered in the air. Disciple followed some overhead power cables, taking Sonny along with him and a couple of minutes later, lights flickered on above us.
The illumination provided allowed us to see what was creating the stench. Several corpses lay around, all looking as if their flesh were about to turn to soup. None got up to try to eat us, having decided to kill themselves rather than become Dead, which was made evident by the pools of congealed unpleasantness leaking from the holes in their heads. They had clearly only had the one revolver between them, and the seventh, the general, had slit his wrists and wandered away to die and rise again, at least until Sonny clobbered him.
Sonny and Disciple returned in short order, leading the way past the dead to the elevator up to the main facility. It opened up, revealing another corpse suffering severe head trauma, which we dragged out before riding the lift up.
The elevator seemed to take almost forever, but eventually the doors opened, revealing the pristinely clean hallways and rooms that we had expected to find. Here, however, there was even less sign of life than there had been below. I still felt uneasy, though. Weapons ready, we went from room to room, just in case, though we found absolutely nothing that moved, nor anything that might have moved. Whatever had happened to those below, near the train station, hadn't happened until they reached the lift.
We found our way, in time, to the computer lab and Apocalypse Girl fired up the main system. Nobody had been here to record anything in the logs in over ten years, it seemed, though the computer systems themselves seemed far more recent than those. Perhaps it had been true that technological advances had gone first to the military long before they ever found their way into civilian hands.
The stasis chambers were fully stocked, as well, so we took full advantage of both those and the kitchens, roasting up a massive amount of pork, with roast potatoes and carrots, onions and gravy. These underground facilities had been designed to house several thousand occupants within each, and provide food for them all as well, for up to a decade or more. How nobody noticed their construction I'll never know, but I was thankful enough for their existence.
We got in contact with The Colonel via radio, she had encountered several packs of Dingoes now and was seriously considering adding them to her crusade. We gave her the approximate location of the Alice Facility, as near as we could, and she estimated that she would be there within three days, provided things didn't get any worse. “One good thing,” The Colonel said, after sighing heavily, having reported her losses, “At least the weather seems to have finally changed.”
Unable to believe such news, we found our way to the other elevator, the one leading topside. Remembering the Dragon, we kept our weapons ready as the lift neared the top of its shaft. The doors opened to reveal a dark room, though not so dark that we were unable to see. There was light streaming in through the one window above the main doors, faint but there.
Moving to the double doors, Apocalypse Girl took up position on one side, Sister the other, assault rifles ready. I kicked them open. Nothing lay out there but more buildings and some grey snow that was quickly melting away into the ground. The moon was just a sliver of silver in the sky, but for fucks sake, we could
it! And see because of it. As we watched, the world was darkened by a cloud moving over the thin wedge of moon, though there still remained starlight enough to see a couple of Dead shambling around the motor pool. It seemed as though the winter, whether nuclear or Dead, had ended.
Year 1 A.Z.
Apocalypse Girl was furious. Disciple had been talking to her about our mission, telling her it was likely a oneway trip, a suicide mission, things of that nature. Whether it was true or not was irrelevant, he had no cause to be telling her anything of the sort. In any event, when confronted by me, he brayed laughter from his hideously scarred visage, claiming to have been joking the entire time.
She had eventually transferred her rage at him to me, channelling it into a kind of silent fury, glaring at me as we sat down over breakfast. What made things worse was that Machete seemed to want to take her side automatically. I suppose, even after the end of the world, women will still stick together when a man is in trouble. So, the pair of them stared silent scorn in my direction.
Sister was busily cataloguing the armoury, searching for anything that might give us an edge on our journey into potentially hostile territory. So far, most of her ideas were either too bulky or heavy, or else impractical in other ways. I had been planning to go in light, just with my sword and a pistol, having been assured by Disciple that there were few Dead within the bounds of The Empire. Disciple, however, told me that the sword would be a bad idea.
“They know about a troublemaker in the south that carries a katana, you fucking idiot,” He told me, eventually, which made me reach a decision. I called Machete over, saying that I wanted to teach her how to use the sword, so that she could help protect Apocalypse Girl and the baby. Considering her familiarity with her own blade, she was able to pick up the few tricks I knew easily enough. So, I was able to temporarily swap weapons with her, making her promise to take care of my blade as well as my lady.
Apocalypse Girl, after having a talk with Machete, finally apologised to me. She was having a hard time, she said, adjusting to the idea that she would be staying behind while I went off into danger with someone she didn't trust as far as she could kick him. I told her that I understood how she felt, and that I wouldn't be leaving at all if I didn't consider it important. If we were going to have a future, I told her, it needed to be one in which we were all safe. Especially her and the baby.
“You still don't get it, do you?” She told me, calm yet still incredibly angry. “I don't feel safe unless you're with me! That first night, at the party? You were the only one that I considered remotely reliable, and I was right. Now, though, you're running off to who-knows-where on some fucking errand given to you by, what? Him? So, he saved your arse a couple of times in school, that doesn't mean you need to follow him
let alone into enemy territory.” She took a deep breath and apologised once more.
“I know, I agreed to it already. I'm not trying to talk you out of going, I just want you to know how I feel about it.” I put my arms around her, holding her close. “I don't trust him, but obviously you know that,” she continued. “Just promise me that you'll come back safely. I couldn't bear it otherwise.” We both knew that they were empty words, but I said them anyway. With luck it would remain a promise unbroken.
We went up to watch the sunset. Seven of us, sitting on the roof of the main building at the Alice Facility, staring out to the west, practically blinding ourselves at the sight of our sun sinking below the horizon. Sonny blew a low whistle, saying afterwards that he had never seen anything quite so beautiful. Scout, punching him in the shoulder, told him to man up, it was only a sunset, that shit happened every day and we all cracked up with laughter.
In the distance, once the sun had fled for the night, we could see flames. Every so often, dotting the horizon in every direction, a small pillar of flame rose. Borrowing Scout's binoculars I sought out the nearest. Sure enough, as I expected there would be, a fire-belching mutant goanna strode around the central pillar of flame, occasionally burping up a secondary blaze, whether to incinerate prey or generate warmth for the cold-blooded reptile I couldn't say. Each one of those flames, I told them, seemed to mark the location of a Dragon.
The air was still fucking cold, especially at night, but it was no longer below freezing point. Not quite. Rain fell from the few clouds that floated in the blackness above us, seemingly cleansing the land of its taint. Machete wondered if the world was going to revert to its original weather patterns. Reassuringly, I told her that it would take a while to do so, but it would. I wish I'd believed that as easily as she had.
Year 1 A.Z.
Sonny was off with Disciple somewhere, learning how to access and maintain the electrical systems of Alice Facility. Sister and Scout were teaching Machete how to use a gun in the shooting range off of the armoury, and Apocalypse Girl had decided that she wanted to sleep in, now that she finally had the luxury of being able to do so. Because of all of this, I was left at a bit of a loss as to what to do, so I began to explore the facility.
Other than the train station level, the entry level up top and the uppermost living quarters we had secured precisely none of the rest of Alice Facility. Deciding to take only the machete and pistol with me, thinking that it would be reasonably safe, I began on the second level of living quarters. That was totally empty, but I searched each room in turn just to be sure.
Nothing on the first five of twelve levels of living quarters, though after the first floor that I had checked completely I ceased searching thoroughly and began simply sticking my head through the doorway to have a cursory glance in order to save some time. By the time I was nearing the end of the fifth level I was getting bored and considered buggering off back upstairs. I resolved to check this one, final room and return to Apocalypse Girl's side.
“G'day!” Elder greeted me from behind a desk. “Thought I'd see what it feels like to work in an office. Don't like it much.” The ancient aboriginal man stood, dusting off his white robe and walked around the desk to shake my hand in congratulation. “You've done bloody well, mate, getting this far.” I asked him what he was doing here. “I figured I'd come and have a chat with you, that's about it. Just you and me, man to man.”
He produced a pair of cups, teabags and kettle of boiling water and began making tea while I sat on a nearby bed and watched him. “I know you and your mob don't totally trust me,” Elder began, “But I've never steered you false, have I?” I allowed that he was right, thanking him for the tea that he handed me. “Your mate, the onearmed bloke? He's trouble.” Laughing, I told him that I was fully aware of that. “Look, I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was important to let you know. He's gonna try and betray you at some point.”
I had already considered that possibility, of course. Disciple used to be, once upon a time, one of my best mates, but time and the end of the world had changed him, and not just by taking an arm and his good looks away. The boy I had grown up with would never have condoned the actions that Disciple had ordered his Followers to perform. I told Elder as much.
“Good, so I didn't need to come here then. I didn't think you were a fool, good to see I was right!” He smiled, revealing tea-stained teeth. “In that case, we can just enjoy a cuppa together without worrying too much about any other bullshit!” He cackled the way only a crazy, dimension-hopping old man could cackle and drained his cup. Then he poured another.
Returning upstairs, Apocalypse Girl's open palm was the first thing to greet me, slapping me across the cheek. In hindsight, perhaps I should have left her a note explaining my absence. Telling her that she was right, I rubbed the sting from my face. Elder had requested that I keep his visit quiet, so I told everybody, who had gathered nearby, that there was nothing down there. Then, to change the subject, I asked Machete how her shooting practice had been going.
Apocalypse Girl's glare told me that she would explain later, and at great length, exactly
I should have at least let her know where I was going, and why, while the young girl excitedly boasted that she was, indeed, quite a reasonable shot now. One reason, she told me, that everyone was pissed off at me was that they had been looking for me to watch her back while she went topside and tried a couple of moving, or shambling, targets. The look on Apocalypse Girl's face told me that if I didn't take her up for some 'live' target practice, things would be worse for me, so I relented.
The sun overhead, even through a heavy layer of cloud cover, was blinding. Machete, however, didn't seem that bothered by the change in light, but my eyes required some time to adjust.