Authors: Dave Rowlands
Going topside, there was nothing but blasted buildings and ruins. This had been the site of a fairly major battle, by the look of things. Bullet casings littered the ground, walls were demolished. There was evidence of fire, quite a substantial blaze from the look of things.
Jarhead wanted to check out what was left of the motor pool, discovering very quickly that there wasn't anything left of the motor pool, and that we were lucky that the Cold had abated and the snow had thawed out. We might have to slog this one out on foot.
Finding the nearest major road wasn't difficult, only time consuming. The clear ground made walking much easier, and before long the three of us were sweating enough to require loosening of our clothing, much of which had fallen to rags by this time anyway. The sun overhead warmed us in more ways than one. I had despaired of ever seeing it again.
The ground, to the side of the road, was cracked and broken, strange new flora forcing its sinister way through to find the daylight. Disciple stepped too close to a greyish green vine that seemed to pulse with an unholy, abhorrent life. It wrapped itself around his leg, sticking inch-long thorns into his calf. Screaming in pain he whipped his slender blade out, slicing away the offending plant-life.
We found a bunch of abandoned vehicles that had been pushed off of the roadway, thoroughly ransacked of course, but it made a good place to camp. Each one of us would be able to stretch out in the back seat of our own car overnight, and they would shelter us from any Dead or mutants that might head our way overnight.
Watching the sun descend over the horizon, I listened carefully for the sounds of the night. There was nothing. We built a small camp-fire, cooking up some dinner while we discussed our next move.
Disciple was certain that we were relatively close to Brisbane, maybe even within a hundred kilometres, though the land looked blasted and destroyed, almost as if a major war had been fought here. There was evidence that buildings had indeed existed here, foundations and rubble were all that remained.
Crawling into my chosen car for the night, I heard the familiar jangle of Apocalypse Girl's mobile phone. We sent a few messages back and forth, though nothing earth-shattering. Just the sorts of things that people say to one another when forced to spend time apart. I will record that I miss her, at least, and that I am glad she is safe. The rest you can guess.
Year 1 A.Z.
I was awoken by a large truck driving past at a reasonable clip, though we were too far from the road to flag it down and it disappeared into the distance, heading south, as we watched. Disciple swore, thinking that we might have gotten a ride from them, or at the very least some directions. Jarhead, by contrast, felt that they would have proven more trouble than they might have been worth.
In any event, we ate quickly, then followed in the truck's wake, trudging to the south as a light sprinkle of rain fell from the dark grey clouds above. The sun flashed through them briefly, from time to time, though for the most part the day remained fairly gloomy.
Hearing gunfire in the distance ahead of us, we rushed towards it. It ended long before we got remotely near, and after an hour of continued trudging, we came across a pyre upon which burned the carcasses of several Dead. Reasoning then that the truck we had been awoken by must be a kind of Dead-patrol, we decided to stay out of their way. Shambling corpses we might not be, but from a distance there would be a few similarities.
In the distance we could see the ruins of a large city. Buildings lay as if scattered by the wind, skyscrapers lay lazily on the ground where once they would have reached for the stars. However, we could clearly see that it was a hub of activity. Through Jarhead's binoculars I saw sentries walking along a perimeter wall that seemed a good couple of metres high. Everybody seemed at least healthy, well-fed, though not necessarily clean. It seemed a good sign to me.
Jarhead suggested that we could, if we chose to hurry, get there tonight, but he thought a better idea would be to approach the ruined city openly in the morning. I had to agree, as did Disciple, though he was clearly chafing at the prospect of nearing The Bosses who had, in his eyes at least, betrayed him.
Finding a Greyhound on the side of the road, we climbed aboard, finding a couple of people already using it as a kind of stop-over, on their way from Brisbane up north. They told us that they had news of family in Cairns, so of course they were eager to meet up with them.
Upon being asked why we were headed to Brisbane, I simply shrugged. Saying that I hadn't ever been there before, and now seemed as good a time as any for it produced a slight smile from one, a brief chuckle from another.
We learned a few useful pieces of information. The Empire had set up rest stops like this one all along every major route between survivor settlements so that there was always shelter for travellers. Their Dead-patrols went out every couple of days and they were finding fewer and fewer Dead each time they left home. It seemed as if they were genuinely doing a useful service for the Living, at the very least.
I hoped killing off The Bosses wouldn't adversely affect these things too much.
Year 1 A.Z.
The local pair buggered off almost as soon as the sun rose, claiming that they had a lot of travelling ahead of them. If they intended to make it to Cairns, then yes, they most certainly did. Honestly, I was afraid they would not make it there, not alive anyway. The ruined city beckoned us onwards.
We ate on the road, thankful that we could just walk out in the open with little fear of the Dead. The sun warmed us considerably, even though it was hidden behind clouds for much of the morning. As we drew closer to the remains of Brisbane we saw some fenced off areas, signs proclaiming them to be quarantine zones. There were several Dead in one, a couple of corpses in another, but most were empty. Disciple theorised that the locals must have locked up anybody that found themselves on the wrong end of a set of Dead teeth. Some ended it themselves, others just died, then rose as they chose.
Walking down the road we came across a billboard that once advertised an expensive German car. Now, in fucking big red lettering, it demanded that you 'OBEY THE BOSSES' threatening a silent 'or else' with the three hanged people that had been left for Dead. Further on, another billboard had been utilised as a kind of rule board. All of the crimes were punishable by death, of course.
It wasn't a very long list, though. To the credit of The Empire, they began their list with not killing anyone that wasn't already Dead, followed by not forcing anybody to do anything they didn't want to do. Theft of property was third on the list. Ending it was not killing or capturing Dead on sight. “Why would anybody bother capturing the Dead?” Jarhead asked. Disciple looked at him as if he were the stupidest man left living on the earth. Seeing that our military companion truly was that dense, Disciple said one word. Weapons.
There were guards at the gate, of course, though the gate itself was open and they just waved us through. We were still well outside the ruins of the city, in the remotest suburban outskirts, but a wooden sign stood proudly above the gate proclaiming this to be 'New Brisbane' and we strode into the single most heavily populated survivor settlement that I had seen yet.
Hundreds of people strode around in front of us. Jarhead and Disciple stood, staring, their mouths agape at the sight. I like to think mine was not, but honestly... There were people going about their daily business here, not just trying to survive but actually
The Empire had provided incredibly well for its people.
Scattered here and there on walls were posters, featuring three faces. One was a heavy-set, bearded man, one an expressionless Asian woman, the third an emaciated bald man wearing glasses. Each poster bore single-word slogans such as 'Saviours' or 'Deliverers' or some such bollocks. Disciple, nodding towards the nearest, said in a low voice “So, they're our targets.”
A thin young man scurried up to us. “G'day! G'day, welcome to New Brisbane!” He smiled nervously. “If you need a guide, I'm your man. Two choppers and I'll take you anywhere in town.” Disciple, looking a little shaken, mentioned that he had been told about this. By choppers this kid meant teeth. Jarhead told him that we didn't have any. “What're you talking about, mate? What are they, there in your gob?” He cackled wildly, showing that he was missing more than a few, all along the one side at the top. “Doesn't bother me any if they're fresh. Don't have to be human either. Teeth are teeth!”
We walked away from the guide, who laughed at our collective squeamishness. Jarhead grabbed a woman walking past by the arm, asking her if she knew where we might find some work. She shrugged, then suggested that if we needed money that badly we could either get a few teeth removed by The Puller, or else find a pub and get into the fights. Every pub around boasted its own fighting ring. The bigger the venue, the more choppers up for grabs.
Not only did we find a pub within twenty metres of the front gate, the barman told us that he had a room available, if we didn't mind helping out a bit around the place. Pouring us each a pint of beer he told us about the nightly fights. Each pub had a different tournament, he said. Some favoured simple one-on-one boxing, some liked group activity, with the last man standing collecting everything. Some of the classier establishments, he said, preferred various styles of sword-fighting.
When Jarhead asked the barman what style his pub preferred, he laughed outright. “This place has no style, so neither do the nightly fights! Only rules are no weapons and no more than two men in the ring at any one time. Oh, and no killing.” Jarhead smiled. “You only get paid if you survive the whole night though. Twenty teeth for tonight, if you're interested.”
Jarhead signed up on the spot. Disciple and I found a seat near the bar with a good view of the ring, grabbing another couple of beers. All we had to do to earn our keep, we were told, was clean up the ring after the fights were over. Seeing that nobody was wearing any kind of protective device whatsoever, I correctly assumed that there was going to be a fair bit of blood.
Jarhead's first opponent was none other than the guide that had approached us at the gate. The kid was quick, but Jarhead easily dodged his clumsy, ill-timed blows and clobbered him on the nose with one massive fist. He dropped to the floor, holding his face as blood poured from his nose.
The second man to face Jarhead was larger than our companion, though as it was mostly fat he was fairly slow. Jarhead only had to hit him a few times before he backed out of the fight, only a bit bruised but not actually bleeding yet. The third swung a meaty fist, which Jarhead intercepted, then smacked his elbow into the unfortunate man's chest. As he lay on the floor of the ring, gasping for breath, the barman declared Jarhead the winner, handing him a bag of teeth. Then he ordered Disciple and I to clean out the ring.
Year 1 A.Z.
The barman decided that Jarhead was a good enough fighter that he wanted to offer him a job as his pub's champion, though he refused. The barman decided that he didn't like that, ordering that we all get the fuck out of his pub, or he would get The Sheriff involved. Since we were newcomers and he a local respectable businessman we figured it would be a rather one-sided case and left.
Fortunately, enough people had seen the fight last night that Jarhead had dominated, and the moment we stepped out of the pub we were accosted by those wanting to hire our services. A surprising amount of people wanted other people killed here, it seemed, and were willing to give almost anything to the person willing to do their dirty work.
Eventually getting irate enough about repeatedly refusing every attempt to buy his services, Jarhead picked one man up by the scruff of his neck, growling into his face that he was no assassin for hire, he was just in town visiting some friends and would everybody PLEASE STOP FUCKING WANTING HIM TO DO THINGS!!!!! He dropped the man to the ground, where he cowered in a ball, the urine flowing freely from his overly excited bladder. People left us alone after that. In time, following the flow of people, we came to the centre of New Brisbane. A large square, fenced off from the rest of the city, that contained what looked like an enormous market in what had once been a playground for children. On the opposite site of the market an imposing residence squatted, walled off with armed guards patrolling back and forth. The market was guarded also, but the men were letting people through with no more than a nod and a smile. Nobody was getting past the guards at the back.
Disciple asked a nearby girl who lived in that house, her face turned pale. “That's The Puller that lives there.” She would say no more on the subject. On our way through the town we saw several other walled off homes, some of which were guarded, but none this heavily.
The guards let us into the market as easily as anyone else, and immediately my nose was assailed with the aroma of coffee. Following the scent we found the source easily enough, and praise the gods of caffeine the dark brew was free. It was the first real coffee that I'd had since all of this happened, even the stuff at the underground complexes had been freeze-dried instant rubbish, though high-quality freeze-dried instant rubbish.
Sitting at a table with a couple of other guys, Disciple discovered a few facts about The Puller. He had been a dentist and was, in fact, the one who had come up with the idea of teeth for currency when he overheard someone talking about the Tooth Fairy. He was also more than happy to extract a few, free of charge, for anybody that needed money. You had to make an appointment, of course, or his guards would take your teeth from your carcass. Disciple stayed, waving us on subtly.