Chapter Twelve - Depopulation And The God Virus

May 9

On the Corpse Crew shift earlier today, Trader dropped his hook pole and walked quickly out of the shop we were emptying of bodies, and cleaning, and stood in the middle of the street, staring up into the sky.

“What’s the matter…” Johnny began to ask, but Trader hushed him with a wave of his hand.

Trader listened, his head titled to the side like a bird listening for the first worm of the day, and then his shoulders sagged.

“I thought I heard those…” Trader stopped himself. “Nothing.”

“What did you think you heard?” the Professor asked, he was with us because we were emptying a shop that he wanted cleared out. It was a small electronics and hobby shop on Pitt Street. The shop was full of little bits of machinery, springs, tools, stuff like that. He thought he could make use, eventually, of most of the gear in the shop, so to him it was all worth saving. Bookman showed up to gather the books and manuals, for our Town Hall library.

“Remember the triangles?” Trader asked, “that sound they made? That’s what I thought I heard.”

Not many of the survivors like to talk about the Black Triangles. Not everyone saw them flying over Sydney on those three nights leading up to ED Day, though most remember seeing the shiny spider wed-like threads that were sprayed out the back of them.

I saw a black triangle over my house on March 17, and on the next two nights as well. So did Trader, Johnny, Fireball and Bookman, amongst my friends in the survivors.

The black triangles were planes, they weren’t UFOS. None of us believed then, or now, that they were from outer space. They looked like something close to the Stealth bombers they showed flying over Iraq in the war back in the early 1990s. They were a few hundred feet across, from wing tip to wing tip. No bright lights, just a dotted outline of dark blue, glowing like dull LEDs.

From talking to Trader, Johnny, Fireball and Bookman today about the triangles, we worked out that there were at least three flying on the nights March 17, 18 and 19. They flew long lazy loops, from the northern beaches, inland to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, across the western suburbs and inner suburbs and then turned arced around and headed for the South Coast.

The black triangle that flew over my house, on all three nights, was spraying something out the back, you could hear hear the hiss of it being ejected, over the low hum of the aircraft. I saw the stuff falling. I touched it. It landed on me. It came down in spider web-like filaments. Finer than human hair, but layered across each other like it was woven.

All three nights the black triangles flew over the city, the spider-web threads fell. The gunk dissolved when it touched anything warm, like my skin, or a concrete path, still holding the heat of the day.

All those gossamer-like threads melted away in the morning heat, leaving no trace behind. If you were out of the house by 7am the night after the sprayings, you would have seen them glistening everywhere. Hanging from trees, layered across parked cars, and stretched across bushes in gardens.

There were, and still are, a lot of theories amongst the survivors about what that stuff was. Exactly what the black triangle planes were spraying on us.

I don’t believe the depopulation theory.

I actually go with the theory that the government knew ED Day was almost on us. They knew the spread of mutated, pandemic bird flu was so intense that they tried some kind of last ditch effort to mass vaccinate the whole of Sydney, by dumping tons of aerosolised vaccine from tanks inside those planes, three nights running.

Like I said, I saw one of the black triangles the first night they were flying, March 17. I was outside, trying to beat the March heatwave by hanging out in the little courtyard at the back of the place I shared with Chrissy in Pyrmont. I hadn’t seen her since we escaped from the quarantine camp at Homebush Bay a few days before. I was still waiting for her to come back.

The phones were down, the electricity was out. Most of my neighbours had fled by then, and those that were left were burying their wives, husbands, children, in the back yard. I’d been helping a neighbour down the end of the street bury his wife and his dog earlier in the evening. I came back home, drank some warm beer, but I couldn’t sleep. I’d put away about five warm beers when I saw the black triangle swoop overhead at about 11pm.

When those glistening threads fell out of the sky, I thought they were actual spider webs, caught on a breeze. But they kept falling, in waves, for more than half an hour.

I saw two black planes fly over the next night, March 18, and more web-like threads fell across my garden, my house, my street.

On the third night, I was fully alert and waiting for the planes. I was up on the roof of my place, lying back, and I saw them coming in from the west. I saw the mist the black triangles were spraying as they headed in from the west. The mist of threads caught the moonlight as it fell across thousands of homes, hundreds of streets, dozens of suburbs.

The next morning, March 20, I rolled through the talkback radio stations that were still on air. There wasn’t one word about the black triangle planes, or the stuff they were spraying. Like it didn't happen. Like it hadn't happened three nights in a row.

On one station, an old man was talking about his garden, on another station a young woman was complaining about how hard it was to meet “decent men” in Sydney and that she was thinking of going back to Melbourne. The third station I tuned into delivered an argument between the usually fiery host and a young man who said because his rock band would earn millions, and he’d end up paying plenty in taxes, the government should be paying him now to dedicate himself full time to his music.

But it wasn’t just banal conversation, completely removed from the reality of Sydney that day. None of the conversations sounded right. The old man talking about his garden sounded like an actor reading from a script, pretending to be an old man, faking losing his chain of thought, and apologising for it. The woman complaining about the men in Sydney didn’t sound annoyed, she sounded bored, like she had rehearsed her words too many times before.

The news that morning was mostly sports, but because the big venues were all shut down to keep crowds from gathering (and spreading the flu even wider), the only scores they had to discuss were from D-grade cricket games in country town New South Wales.

The big news of the day, if I remember rightly, was the prime minister rambling on about how the worst of the bird flu pandemic had been contained. But it was the third day running for this story. No new news on it. Just more reassurances. It didn’t sound real, or live, like they claimed the broadcast was.

I thought then that if I went to the radio station studio, there’d be no-one there, just a bunch of pre-recorded CDs and digital hard drives pumping out the music and words that were supposed to calm, or distract, the masses from the horrific reality settling over the city.

When I left for work on the morning of March 20, after the third night of spraying, a neighbour asked if I could drop by on my way home to help him bury his grand-daughter in the backyard. I didn’t know her that well, but I'd seen her walking to the bus stop to go to school last year. She always said hello. Finding out she was dead made the street feel emptier. There weren't many of us left still living there by that stage, maybe fifteen people in 40 or so houses. The neighbour barely seemed to notice the threads coating every car, every light pole, draped from every phone and electricity line.

People were burying loved ones in the back yard because the funeral homes were so backed up, if you could get through to them at all on the phone. Landline and mobile phones were still falling in and out of service. Mostly out of service.

The morning of March 20, I walked from Pyrmont through Darling Harbour and into the city. There were people around, but not many. Nobody talked to each other. We shuffled along, keeping our distance. Most of the people, like me, were wearing face masks. I'd soaked mine in honey and eucalyptus oil because I’d read that those two things could kill just about any germ going.

About one fifth of the usual work force turned up on the building site the morning of March 20, and everyone was talking about the black planes. Only a few of them had seen the black planes the first night. The second night, about half of the regular workers saw them flying, saw them spraying. The third night everyone was waiting for them, like me. On the morning after the third night of spraying, we were still joking that maybe they were UFOs that had been sent to rescue us. All my workmates had seen the threads, too. Every one of them described their street being exactly like mine when they left for work. The shit was draped everywhere, and it dissolved when you tried to grab handfuls of it.

From what I can work out, in this dead city, seven weeks later, the mass deaths appear to have begun on March 19, the day after the second set of black triangle flights across the city.

Each morning after the flyovers, the 6am and 7am news on the radio carried the message from the prime minister about how it important was that we all try and get to work, because the bird flu crisis was ending, and that we need to do our bit to keep the economy rolling along, and that we couldn't let our "monumentally tragic" personal loss get in the way of keeping our nation alive. Those who could, like me, did as they were told and went to work.

We didn't just talk about the black triangles at the building site on March 20. We talked about whether or not everything on the radio, like the prime minister’s messages, was pre-recorded. We talked about whether we all should pack up and get out of the city. We talked about whether or not the latest wave of bird flu deaths were really coming to an end, or increasing.

We talked, or listened, to each other's stories about sick relatives, friends, lovers, partners, flatmates, neighbours, all dying horrible, blood-soaked deaths, and about whether or not we could trust what the government was telling us on the radio stations that were still on air.

I was off thinking about all that stuff when Trader snapped me back to my here and now, today, reality.

“The black triangles were terrorists,” he said, nodding firmly, as we stood around earlier today, a truck half-filled with black-rotted corpses, some falling apart, our faces covered with disinfectant-soaked bandannas and masks.

“That’s what it was. A terrorist attack.”

Johnny flicked away his hand-rolled cigarette, half-smoked, and sunk his hook into the last of the corpses, lying in the doorway of the electronics and hobby shop,

“Terrorists you reckon?" Johnny said. "Who were the terrorists then?”

I helped Johnny haul the corpse to the elevator deck of the truck. A chunk of rotted flesh and clothing slid off the chest of the corpse, and a slew of worms and maggots fell out. I would have puked at this site even three weeks ago, and had nightmares, but now I just splashed the mess with a small bottle of lemon juice and vinegar. The maggots and worms shrivelled on contact with the juice.

Trader took his time considering Johnny’s question, while Bookman, who wasn’t really helping us anyway, went back into the shop to poke around the manuals on kit computers and build-your-own signal boxes for train sets.

Fireball was off taking a piss into a drain grate and drinking a warm beer at the same time.

Trader explained his theory while the elevator platform lifted the last of the hobby shop corpses, and a dozen more we found hiding in a stairwell next door, to where we could drag them into the back, ready for dumping in one of the building foundation site mass graves we were now using.

Trader explained what he was thinking. It was his theory that the Muslim-dominated government of Indonesia had stolen the black triangle planes from a US air base in the Northern Territory, quickly fitted it out with tanks and filled those tanks with a stolen bioweapon (the ‘bio’ being bird flu), and flew to Sydney and unleashed the killer virus over Sydney and its suburbs.

“There’s probably a whole war going on outside of this city,” said Trader, “that we don’t even know about yet. That explains why nobody’s come in here yet to see what’s going on. The enemy is winning, and they think Sydney is still a ‘hot zone’, you know, the bird flu virus is still active.”

I flashed then on the dead magpie on Maggie’s balcony. I was going to tell them there and then, but didn’t. I wanted to be sure before I let loose that kind of panic amongst the survivors.

Fireball had finished his piss, and his beer, and was leaning against the side of the truck, where he usually spent a good portion of the Corpse Crew shifts.

“Nah mate,” Fireball said, “our own government did this to us.”

Fireball reckoned as we were all expecting a full-blown pandemic, with millions dead, and it hadn’t happened during the February second wave, and the early March outbreak, the government decided to go ahead and create their own pandemic.

“Bullshit,” said Trader. “It was the Muslims. They want to kill us all off and establish their Calfafit.”

“Caliphate,” Johnny corrected. He eyed Trader with disappointment. “Do you see a lot of Muslims amongst the survivors here? Have you come across any at all? The only Muslims I’ve seen since ED Day are all the dead ones.”

“Yeah?” Trader shrugged, “they don’t care about killing their own. Not if they get their kingdom on Earth and all that, once they’ve killed all of us.”

“You’re an ignorant fuckwit,” Johnny said. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Fuck you,” Trader snapped, “what happened here wasn’t a fucking accident, was it? It wasn’t Mother fucking Nature. Stupid cunt…”

Bookman appeared out of the hobby shop at that moment and stepped between Johnny and Trader. They eyeballed each other, over Bookman's shoulders for a half minute, and then Johnny got back up on the truck to finish shifting the corpses.

“It wasn’t terrorists,” Bookman said, calmy. “It wasn’t Muslims. You can’t just steal those Stealth bomber type planes. Those triangles we saw before ED Day weren’t even declassified. And, likewise, you can’t just steal thousands of litres of bird flu virus.”

Bookman sighed, deeply, shuddered in a breath. “I would like to believe that what happened was an attempt at mass vaccination. Perhaps a final desperate act of a government who knew the worst about what was coming. But it didn’t work. The pandemic hit and killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, we don’t know yet.”

Johnny jumped down from the back of the truck and soaked a rag in metho to clean the gunk from his pole and hook.

“It was depopulation, Bookman. You told me that, weeks ago. Remember? When we were fishing near the Opera House with the Professor. The day you reeled in those two shark-eaten arms holding hands. You said there were people, with great power, who had wanted to depopulate the world for decades.”

Bookman nodded, “I did say that. It is a possibility. It certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of explanations.”

There were, he said, a hundred reasons why pandemic mass deaths would work out good, in the end, for the ultra-classes, the super-elite, the top one percenters of our society.

If you wanted to kill most of the population of a city like Sydney, Bookman, said, aerial spraying at night, night after night, of an extremely strong and deadly weaponised version of the bird flu virus, would be one way such mass deaths could be achieved.

But, Bookman continued, spraying the whole population of Sydney with mega-killer bird flu meant just about everybody who stepped out of their homes the next morning would be at risk of becoming infected, even more so at risk because even more people around them would be infected with a deadly virus that could be passed from human to human.

Bookman admitted this method of depopulation had threats for exactly those who might have benefited most from "a thinning out of the suburban hordes", as Trader once put it.

According to Bookman, it certainly wouldn’t have been impossible for some sick bastards in the Australian government to get hold of the pandemic strain of bird flu that killed 60 million people worldwide in 1918-1919. What was then known as the 'Spanish Flu'. It was still in existence, Bookman said, all these decades later because the US Centre for Disease Control had reactivated samples from old frozen bodies found in Alaska, or somewhere, who had died from that version of the bird flu virus.

If you wanted some, and you knew the right people, you could get a tube of the virus that killed tens of millions of people and then synthesise it. And they’d already done that, created a synthetic version of the ‘Spanish Flu’ virus, when they were trying to come up with vaccines for the H5N1 strain that was killing people late last year and earlier this year.

That synthetic version, which could have been mass produced, Bookman said, had been around since 2005. There were plenty of rumours in circulation in January that the human pandemic bird flu virus either escaped from CDC labs in Atlanta, or a secret one in Melbourne, or that it had been stolen by terrorists and then released. When the talk back radio and internet sites were airing the opinions of real people, you'd hear those theories a lot.

Weirdly enough, the idea of human bird flu being a bio-engineered weapon of mass death was actually a commonplace explanation for the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic that hit in 1918, and pretty well helped to end World War I. That’s what this book I read a few weeks ago called ‘The Tide Of Death’ reckoned anyway.

From 1919 through the 1920s, it was common talk in Australia and the US that the Germans had likely created and released the 'Spanish Flu' virus that wiped out about 5% of the entire world's population. And the Germans did it, people thought back then, when they realized they had lost the war.

It took years for people to stop believing that germ warfare was responsible for the ‘Spanish Flu’, which is probably why the 1919 pandemic was barely mentioned again, in books or films or newspapers, until the early 2000s. It was like everybody who survived the ‘Spanish Flu’ was too afraid to talk about what had happened, or to acknowledge all the friends and family members they lost. Maybe they were afraid that if they kept mentioning it, it might come back again.

Or maybe they were all just shocked in silence back then, in the 1920s, after the brutal deathfest of a terrible world war and a bird flu pandemic that together killed more than 100 million people, in less than four years. Out of a world population of about one billion people.

Maybe back then they were like the survivors are now. Living in a half-world of reality, haunted and fucked up by what they've lived through, and all that they’ve lost, and unable to yet fully comprehend the enormity of what happened, what they had survived.

We don’t know if the black triangles were spraying a depopulation bioweapon, or a vaccine that didn’t work. But none of the theories matter now, of course. True or false, nothing will bring back all those who are now dead.

"Why don't you bring all this up at the next Town Hall meeting?" Johnny suggested to Bookman. "Let's ask Bossbloke about it."

"Yeah," Trader said, nodding excitedly. "Let's do that. See what he says."

Johnny continued, "All the survivors know about the black triangles, and the shit they were spraying. Let's see what Bossbloke knows about all that."

Bookman nodded, and smiled, grimly. "It would be interesting to see how he reacts, wouldn't it? I mean, if he did have some involvement with the government, or an emergency agency, before ED Day, then he'd probably know more about the black triangles than we do. And he's a terrible liar. We'll know whether he does know anything or not by just watching his reaction when we bring it up at the meeting."

Now Fireball was nodding along, and like Trader, grinning. "Fuck yeah. Let's wind the cunt right up about it. You start the questions, Bookman, then I'll jump in with some, and Johnny can do follow after me."

Johnny nodded. They figured they had something now that they could really use to assess who Bossbloke was, the extent of his knowledge, or more importantly, to find out if he was important enough before ED Day to be told what the mission of the black triangles actually was.

The conversation died away then, and we went back to work.

Nobody said anything until after we'd dumped the corpses in the mass grave, a few blocks away, and finished laying out sheet of plastics over the new layers of bodies. There was an argument between Trader and Fireball over who was going to operate the grader we used to push dirt and fill in over the corpses. The last time Fireball drove it, he ran it straight into the pit, and it took about two hours and a lot of manouvring with the truck to drag the grader back out.

Trader worked the grader this afternoon, and then we were done for the day. Another day.

Fireball spoke first, “Right. Time to get on the piss, I reckon.” Fireball hadn’t stopped drinking since his standard breakfast beer.

The Corpse Crew retired to the veranda of a cafĂ© in Pitt Street, up the road from the hobby store we’d cleared out, and the Professor turned up with a few boxes of tools and electronic gear he wanted to show us.

Bookman had a three foot high pile of manuals and instruction guides, and he was flicking his way through the stack. Fireball slurred that he was going to find all the model train track and gear left in the city and build the world's biggest train set around the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park. We knew he wouldn't even start on it.

A few other survivors dropped by and joined in the drinking session. I stayed for four or five warm bourbons and then headed back here to The Imperium.

From Pitt Street, over to Hyde Park and then down Macquarie Street, I didn’t pass one single corpse. Those streets and areas are clean now. Even all the rubbish is gone. For a few hundred metres it’s easy to believe that ED Day never happened, and that you’re just walking through the city early one Sunday morning when nobody else is around.

I was going to check in on Maggie, but I didn’t. I should have, but I could hear her snoring through the door, and I didn’t want to disturb her, or for her to disturb my night. Kat is coming by for dinner, after her hospital shift ends at 10pm. About two hours from now. We're eating upstairs, on the roof. It had been set up as an entertaining area long before I moved into the hotel. There's a decent barbecue, a few sun lounges, a picnic table.

There’s plenty of vegetables to eat from the rooftop garden, and I’ve got the barbecue cleaned down and ready to go. I’ve put candles throughout the gardens up there, so it should look pretty cool once they’re all lit. It’s a clear night, the stars should be magnificent.

Back again. Everything is ready up on the roof. The barbecue is going, the food is laid out, covered over, and I’ve set up a little bar for our drinks. No ice-cubes, but the camping fridge I’m running off car batteries up there is cold enough to cool water and bottles of Coke and lemonade.

Kat is running late, but that’s okay. It’s only a little after 10.30pm. No phones here, or text, or e-mail. If someone's running late, you just wait for them.

I’ll write this now while I remember, to kill some time.

I think about the future, sometimes, decades from now. I wonder if we’ll still be alive, and what happens if the bird flu virus breaks out again. How long we’ll stay here in the city. When the Army, or someone else's army will turn up and try to take control. I think about what I will do when, or if, I see Chrissie’s signal fires burning one night up there in the Blue Mountains.

I think about some of those bodies we buried, the really rotten ones, that we had to wrap in plastic just to move without them falling apart everywhere. I think about them buried down in those foundations, maybe protected from further decay by the layers of plastic sheeting. I wonder if, when others show up looking for lost family members, if any of them will want to exhume that mess of bodies to try to find their brother or mother. We're still keeping IDs, and keeping track of which pit each body goes into. Just in case. So those who will want to know, can find out one day.

I think about people in the future, years from now, maybe after we're gone, accidentally digging up those bodies, not knowing what happened, and the bird flu virus having somehow survived all those years underground, being set free, living again, like those 'Spanish Flu' virus samples dug up from Alaska. I think about the virus killing again, another ED Day. The killer virus returning. Again. As it always does. A century is a lifetime in our years. But to a virus, it's nothing. A long sleep, a hibernation.

The million year struggle of humanity has been a fight to the death with viruses.

They’ve been with us the whole time, on our skin, in our throats, in our guts, in our bloodstreams. We won some of the rounds, but the viruses always claimed huge casualties from us, spectacular death tolls.

For all our vaccines and medicines, we never killed off all the major viruses, or even most of the deadliest ones. They just went away for a while. But they weren’t dead, or even dormant. They were hiding, gathering themselves together, gaining new strength, brewing up better ways to attack our defences, to cut their way into our cells, to get inside us, inside our DNA. To mutate. To mutate us.

When the viruses thought they were strong enough, they always came back, and the war began again.

The viruses, they always win. Even when they lose.

We are not the kings of this planet.

If all of us died out tomorrow, if the last person alive lays down and dies tonight, then a few thousand years from now, our incredible fight to survive and spread across the planet will still only be a sliver, a fraction of time, in the history of this world, this universe.

"What if we're the last ones?" Johnny said one night, when we were both shattered, barely able to speak after a long boozing sessions, post-barbecue in the park. "What if we're the last people left on the whole planet?'

We know it's not true, it can't be true, but it feels true. Right now. If we're not the last ones, where is everybody else?

All those billions of years that life has flopped and shuffled around, here on Earth, on other planets and moons and comets, or floating in the black and eternal void of space, the lifetime of humans is nothing much more than a flash of light in a long day's worth of sunbeams.

Who were we? This thing called humanity? A million year long footnote in the history of the planet. Not much more.

Nothing, really.

Crocodiles have already clocked up tens of millions of years, some sharks a hundred million years and more.

Some of the viruses that infect our guts and make our noses run have been around for billions more years than we've been here. We were always so vulnerable. And the viruses liked us that way.

They have always been inside us.

I had a dream about the viruses the other night. I dreamed that they made us, that they evolved humans, that they brought us down from the trees, as a vehicle for themselves. As a way to get around, to grow stronger, to experiment and learn, to spread and to multiply, and to cross the vast oceans that they might never have breached without us.

They gave us the idea to make fire, to run, to hunt, to build boats and planes, and then rocket ships.

I dreamed about a virus that gets into the brains of humans, it’s called inspiration. The virus gives us ideas, allows us to think in fresh ways, to come up with new things. The virus helped to grow our brains. It shaped our minds. Not for the benefit of humanity. That’s just what the virus wants us to think. What it lets us think.

The inspiration of creation was for the benefit of the viruses. So they could spread across the earth, and then off the earth, into space.

Maybe God is a virus.

I can hear Kat coming up the stairs. She's singing.

Go Here To Read Chapter Thirteen - Revelations On The Rooftop