Chapter Seventeen - Johnny's Impossible Utopia

May 15

Kat came to see me at the greenhouse in the Gardens. "You have to come with me," she said. "I want to show you something."

I was still a bit on edge about running into Bossbloke. "What is it?" I said.

"Something wonderful." Kat looked the happiest I'd ever seen her. I had to go with her.

We walked up through the Gardens and then out onto Macquarie Street. The rain was coming down, and we were soaked. Above the sound of the rain I could hear the hissing of fires being extinguished in the office towers. The footpath beneath the gutted buildings were thick with wreckage and debris. Five of the office towers were already honeycombs of black steel, hanging wires and charcoal floors. They were there, but they didn't look real. They were like a painting of a reality pulled down in front of us.

We headed for the hospital. We didn't say too much. Most of the broken glass and debris from the office tower fires was behind us by the time we reached the State Library. The street was still crowded with cars, but one of the crews had been towing them out of the way. Another week or two, and most of Macquarie Street will be like an open mall.

I saw Bookman standing inside the glass walls of the State Library, standing there in the darkness, arms crossed, keeping guard, trying to look bigger than he was. We raised our hands at each other.

I asked Kat how the babies were going, how she and Matron were coping. She said all the babies were fine, they were healthy, they were getting decent food, but they were all starving for affection. She told me about these AIDS orphans in Africa and children left behind after the wars in the Balkans and Iraq. All the little ones that had missed out on plenty of hugs, that did not get a fair bit of attention and affection, were the ones that always got sick, that were always angry, and grew up to be troubled, and troubling, little kids.

"I think adults are the same," she said. "You go too long without affection and you start to lose your mind."

As we walked by, I looked up at the tall, wide windows of Parliament House and I wondered who wandered those corridors and offices when none of us were around. I scanned the edge of the roof, looking for people we'd never met, hiding in all that darkness up there. Were they always watching us?

And beneath our feet. Who was down there? What were they waiting for?

"We're going to make it....I mean us, humans," Kat said, and led me towards a doorway leadinginto the hospital. "This isn't the end of us."

"I hope you're right," I said. "How could a creature that invented cheese in a can ever go extinct?"

Kat liked the joke. Cheese in a can is the only cheese we get to eat now, and stocks are running low.

"We're going make it," Kat said, as we walked along a dark hospital corridor. She entered a booth and returned with an electronic lantern. The way ahead lit up ten feet in front of us. "We won't be the last generation."

"Is that what you wanted to show me?" I said. "How we can survive this?"

"Not us...." Kat said.

It was musty in the hospital. Nearly every building we use has got a musty smell. All that heat and then a day or two of rain. You can scrub your week away and that musty smell never goes away. It's like the death smell of corpses attached to buildings. It's like the smell of the building dying. The crumbling of our great city has begun.

The hospital buildings spring leaks in the rain now, vines are getting into air vents, seed pods sprouting in the litter of the gutters. When it rains the tanks on the roof fill back up, but washing more than a dozen elderly people and the babies, and keeping the floors clean, uses up a lot of water. When the rain water for the hospital runs out, as Matron would say, "we're bloody fucked."

Kat showed me the babies first, all of them sleeping deep and warm in their little beds, watched over by Matron, sitting amongst the circle of infants, reading a paperback mystery novel by book light.

I thought this scene of tranquility and comfort was what Kat wanted to show me, but I was wrong.

We went further down the corridor to an office. She showed me a journal from one of the doctors who worked the maternity ward and it took me a few moments to realize what I was looking at. The journal pages and reports were dated early March, ten, nine and eight days before ED Day.

Kat tapped a page of test results. A list of the babies with their age and weight, with the same two words next to each entry : "Antibodies positive."

"Do you see what it says?" Kitty asked me, and I nodded.

But I didn't know what it meant.

"It's about the bird flu," she said, there were tears in her eyes. "All of those beautiful babies...."

"Don't cry," I said, thinking the babies were going to die and this was why she was so upset. "It's okay. We them. We'll find a way to keep them alive."

But then Kat laughed through her tears. That wonderful grin returned to her face.

"No, Paul...Positive for antibodies means....Before ED Day, this doctor got these test results back and it says every one of the babies is immune to the bird flu virus. They can't get sick from it. They're immune, maybe like we are."

I understood.

"They're still alive and they're still healthy," Kat said. "But they can't stay in the city. They need to go somewhere...safer. Away from that smell. I need to get away from that smell...."

"You'd need a bus," I said. "To move all the babies at once, with people to hold them while they're being moved, you'd have to have a bus."

Kat nodded. "There's buses down at Circular Quay. I saw some that were undamaged, no bodies inside. The roads are being cleared of all those cars now, it would be easier to get a bus through..."

"I have to go to the Blue Mountains," I said, I just blurted it out. "I want to help but I have to go there first and find out..." What did I want to find out? If Chrissie is alive? If she still loves me?

"If you know she's alive, Paul," Kat said, "why are you still here?"

I told her the truth. "I'm here because you're here."

"Then why won't you touch me?'

More truth that I didn't have an answer for.

"I had someone, too," Kat said, standing inside the circle of light of her lamp, in that small hospital office. "I loved a man before our world changed. He was my husband. I loved him, and I loved our daughter. I always thought I would want to die if anything happened to them. But when I heard my husband on the phone telling me he was dying, and that our daughter was dying, too, I thought about how much I wanted to live, even without them, and he said the bus was stuck on the bridge, and he was telling me, just gasping, he didn't think he'd make it to my work. I kept thinking 'What if they come here and I get sick too'? But they died on the bus. The bus is still on the bridge. They're still inside."

Kat stood in front of me, breathing hard, like she was trying to expel her tears on her breath, instead of from her eyes.

"He's not here," Kat said. "But I'm still here. I need need this..."

I knew what she needed. She needed that special feeling of being alive that only comes when you're in the arms of someone else, when you're naked and together and time slows down and nothing else matters but the person that you're with and what you're doing together.

It didn't have to be love.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't just fuck her. Chrissie was there in my mind, waiting for me. All those weeks, not knowing if I was alive. Waiting for me. And I stayed here, but she kept lighting the signal fires.

Why did I stay in a city filled with the dead when I could have gone straight to the mountains and find out if she was still alive?

Because I met Kat.

She was here and Chrissie wasn’t.

I stood there in that office, staring at the wall beyond the reach of the circle of light. My mind was churning. I couldn't look at Kat, even though she was only inches away. I could feel her staring at me, unable to believe that I could turn her down, and then probably wondering what in fuck the rooftop dinner thing was all about if not to try and seduce her. But I didn't know Chrissie was still alive until later that night, when I was dancing with Kat, when I saw those signal fires in the mountains.

"Just give me a hug. Can you do that for me?"

I gave Kat a hug, but I don't think it was warm, I don't think it was as reassuring or as comforting as what Kat would have wanted it to be. I held her, minimal body contact.

“If you think she’s still alive, go to her, Paul. Don’t stay here…You don't know how lucky you are.”

Kat left the office then. I waited there, wanting to go after her, wanting to let her go.

I left a few minutes later. I walked down the dark corridor, confused, angry at myself. I didn't feel proud that I hadn't betrayed Chrissie by fucking Kat, I felt like I had betrayed Kat, like I had done something terrible by doing nothing at all.

I saw Kat one last time as I walked out of the hospital. She was there, in a chair, in the centre of the ring of cribs and cots. The moon filled the skylight above her. Every child slept soundly.

An artist would have painted her, sitting there like that.

I left the hospital and headed down to the State Library. I wanted to see how Bookman and Johnny were getting on with their security work. Keeping the books safe. I couldn't see flames shooting out of the library, so I took it as a good sign that nobody had been trying to fire-bomb it.

I heard Bossbloke and Johnny talking in the darkness up ahead, before I saw them. There was moonlight, but the shadows cast by the tallest buildings were dark and thick. I crept closer, climbing quietly through the overgrown gardens. I stopped when I could see them, when I could hear their conversation clearly.

Johnny didn’t have the assault rifle with him, but Bossbloke was holding a pistol.

"You're trying to divide us," Johnny yelled, his voice booming down the dark and silent streets. "You want to be in charge, but nobody asked you to be. You've just decided you're the one."

Bossbloke came back at him with, “Do you want to be the leader? Do you want that responsibility?"

Johnny said he didn't want to be the leader and he didn't understand why our community of about 250-270 people had to have a leader in the first place.

"We're all getting along," Johnny said, his voice lower, like he'd realised how loud he'd been yelling. "We're working out how to get through this. We're doing good so far. We're getting crops in, we're storing up the rain water. We're making sure we'll have food supplies for the future. We're cleaning the place up, aren't we? That's all we fucking do now. And we're taking care of the people who need looking after. That's enough. We don't need a leader to do those things."

"You can't have this fucking fantasy utopia," Bossbloke said. "No society can live like that. Never. It's never worked, it will never work."

Johnny reminded Bossbloke then that a society without self-appointed or elected leaders was exactly how most Aboriginal tribes had survived for 60,000 plus years across Australia.

"My ancestors made it work, for hundreds of generations," Johnny said, "We can make it work, too. It's not hard."

Bossbloke just laughed at him. It's not 60,000 years ago now, he said.

He then asked Johnny how they were going to organise themselves when thousands of other survivors reached Sydney.

What exactly was Johnny's big plan to cope with that kind of crises? They can feed a few hundred people, but what if two thousand turn up on a cruise ship, all starving?

"Who are you talking about," he asked Bossbloke. "Who's coming here?"

Bossbloke answered, "...other survivors. People from towns and villages up and down the coast. All those people in the mountains, I saw the fires up there. You could have tens of thousands of survivors turning up here in the next six months. And we will have Army or militia roll back into into the city eventually. They were more prepared than most of the civilians….”

"When are they coming back here?" Johnny demanded.

Bossbloke said he didn't know who and when, but he said it was inevitable that others would flock to Sydney, and if there were any surviving members of the state or federal government, or the Army or Navy, they too would return and they would have solid plans ready for how the new society would grow and flourish and be structured.

"It's been almost eight weeks," Johnny said, "no-one's come yet, mate."

"If we aren't organised," Bossbloke said, the impatience clear in his gruffness, "if we don't have our shit together, if we don't have community leaders, if we don't have structure to our society, then the outsiders will take over. They'll see that we're weak and disorganised, that we're as fucking vulnerable as a little kid lost in the desert. They will crush us and take from us everything we've worked so fucking hard for."

Johnny said nothing.

"Everyone's worked too hard, lost too much," Bossbloke said, "for it all to fall apart because you've got delusions of hippie utopia rattling round in your empty fucking head. People are coming here, mate, and you better get used to it. And if they find us vulnerable to a takeover, a takeover by force, then they'll fucking do it, they'll fucking take us, and we'll be their fucking slaves."

That's when I heard the dogs.

They were coming up behind Johnny and Bossbloke, running hard and fast, the sound of their long claws clicking on the concrete almost reduced to silence by the yelling of these two men. They sounded big.

Bossbloke heard them, too.

Johnny had just started to say, "Come clean. We know you're working for..." when Bossbloke raised his pistol in Johnny’s direction.

He fired, foomp, foomp, foomp, explosions in the empty streets, the snap-roar of gunfire echoing crazily down the long city blocks.

"Gun fired to kill dogs!" Bossbloke shouted. That was what any of us were supposed to announce when we shot the feral dogs, so survivors left startled by the gunfire would know what was going on.

Johnny had dropped to the footpath when the pistol cracked. He covered his head with his arms. Bossbloke had emptied the gun's clip into the feral dogs, taking down all five. It was brilliant shooting.

Johnny was lucky. The dogs would've got him if Bossbloke hadn't shot them first.

One of the dogs was still alive. It was injured, it howled horribly.

Bossbloke was still a silhouette to me as he stepped over Johnny and walked up to the injured dog. I could hear the fear in the dog's warning bark as Bossbloke grabbed the dog and quickly twisted its head halfway round. A fast, snapping sound.

Then the street was quiet. Tomb silent.

Until Johnny recovered.

“You nearly fucking shot me! What the fuck..."

Bossbloke let rip, "I told you to fucking kill everyone of those fucking dogs you see, didn't I? But you couldn't do it. I've seen you get up on cars and let them run past you. You didn't have the balls to waste those fucking mongrels. You understand what almost happened then, don't you? It's shitfucks like you that are going to get us all fucking killed!"

On it went, Bossbloke railing and roaring like I've never heard him go off before. I could imagine him then, in the SAS, leading a six man team into tribal lands just inside the borders of Iraq, Syria or Iran, driving his men on, but then cutting off their confidence viciously when they needed fear to function properly.

It was scary to see and hear Bossbloke cut loose like that. He'd never seemed so terrifying before. There was no control. He let rip with raw fury. Really fucking unhinged.

In the end, Johnny managed to shut down Bossbloke's boiling rage with one quiet sentence.

"What do you do down there, when you go into that carpark?"

"What?" Bossbloke said.

"I know where you go," Johnny said. "I've seen you go down there, into that carpark on Clarence Street. You disappear for days. I followed you into that carpark. I heard what's going on down below. I could hear....machinery."

"I don't know what you're..." Bossbloke began, but stumbled on his words.

Johnny cut him off. "Are there other people down there? Is that where you get all those steaks from? That's part of how you control us, isn't it? You reward us with fresh meat for not challenging you."

Bossbloke didn't say anything for a while, and I really thought that he might reload his gun and just frag Johnny right there on that dark street.

The gunfire from when he killed the dogs hadn't brought any of of the survivors running to see what was going on. We were used to hearing the sound of dogs being shot, or being shot at. Another bullet fired then, into Johnny, wouldn’t be noticed.

"Who else knows about this?" Bossbloke demanded, his voice had become low, almost calm, but the threat was there, it was injected into every word he said. "Who did you tell?"

"Nobody," Johnny said. "It was just me. I saw you go down into that carpark, and when I followed you, I couldn't find you. I thought you'd gone through that door down there, but it was locked from the inside. When I put my ear against it, I could heard heavy vibrations, like someone running machines or something...air-conditioning..."

Bossbloke said nothing. Johnny stood there, his head titled down, probably keeping an eye on the pistol Bossbloke was still holding.

Half a minute crept by, neither of them spoke.

There was a glass bottle lying in the gutter in the garden near me. I picked it up. It was heavy enough to throw fast and accurately.

"I just want to know where you go and where you got all that excellent food from," Johnny said. "That's all. I know you're trying to help us, but I have to know what you're up to. Who's supplying you?"

Bossbloke nodded slowly, then shrugged. "I got the steaks from the storage area of a restaurant I found," Bossbloke said, his voice was still calm. "I told you all that before. Why don't you believe me?"

"Look, mate," I heard Johnny says, "If there's other people alive, you should tell us, okay? We're all in this together. I know you're trying to help everyone, and I know you feel like it's all up to you, but I don't want us to go making the mistakes of the past all over again."

"I don't either..." Bossbloke said. "I'm trying to do it right."

"I know that, mate," Johnny said, and the tone of his voice told me he knew he was talking his way out of being shot. "We've got a real good chance here to really make something special of our lives. None of us want to go back to the way it was before. We need your help, but we're not going to let you become a fucking dictator or something. You've got to let us work it out for ourselves, you know, make a few mistakes along the way to building our new society. That's the only way we can get this democracy happening, by letting the people be a vital part of it. No secrets. That makes sense, doesn't it?"

Bossbloke listened and I could see that he was nodding along to Johnny's words. For a moment there I thought that Bossbloke was going to give Johnny a hug and they'd laugh and everything would be close enough to being cool again.

But I was wrong.

"Don't you ever fucking follow me again!" Bossbloke growled. "You follow me, I'll fucking kill you, I won't think fucking twice about it. You're lucky I don't fucking kill you right now...."

Bossbloke left, he stalked away down the footpath, away from Johnny, away from where I was still hiding.

"Come on, mate. Come back here," Johnny called after Bossbloke. "It's cool. Eveything's cool. I just want to meet your friends..."

Bossbloke's voice came back to us from the darkness. "You're a fucking dead man now. There's no room for smartarse cunts like you in my new society."

My New Society.

I was gripping that glass bottle so hard I could feel the glass about to give under the pressure of my hand. I let go. Then I remembered to breathe.

Johnny walked after Bossbloke, but stopped as Bossbloke's words came back to him in echoes from out of the darkness.

"I'll be watching you. You fuck up once, you're fucking gone."

Johnny didn't follow him and I didn’t follow Johnny.

I came back here to the Gardens, to the greenhouse.

I feel a strong need to lay low.

Tomorrow could be a bad day.

Go Here For Chapter Eighteen - Dead Friends