Chapter Eighteen - Dead Friends

May 16

Three of my friends died today.

I slept in the greenhouse last night, in the doorway. The heat of the night was incredible. It felt like every drop of moisture in the air was about to boil. There was nowhere to go to get away from it. Fiery arguments amongst some of the survivors living in the small sandstone buildings on Macquarie littered the silence of the city for most of 2am.

Closer noises woke me at about 4am. A kangaroo was standing in the moonlit shade of an old tree, a few dozen feet away. It looked one of the roos from the Wildlife World at Darling Harbour. It stared back for a while, and then hopped down the lawn to the sea wall and out of my view.

I went back to sleep thinking about how many kangaroos and possums could live off the Botanical Gardens now it was turning wild. Greenfingers mowed some of lawns around his shack and the greenhouses, but he needs a team of people, a whole maintenance crew, lots of fuel, just to keep the lawns under control. In some areas of the gardens, the grass and weeds are shin to almost knee high. Blasting sun, thick bursts of rain, slamming down, new life erupting.

If I come back here in a few years, it will be returning to meadows and forest. I will make sure the grave markers of my friends are tall enough to find in the wild these gardens will become.

The dawn carried a breeze, cool and slow.

The blue fire from the gas burner was low when I boiled the kettle for coffee. It’s the last gas cylinder Greenfingers has got. There are more in the buildings, but they’ll have to be hunted down. Greenfingers is already back to boiling his kettle and cooking his meals over an open fire.

There were three kangaroos nearby when I rolled off the air mattress at 6am, and they watched me the whole time I was making coffee. Only a dozen or so coffee bags left in my backpack of supplies. I’d stockpiled a year’s worth, more than a thousand coffee bags, in the penthouse. Gone with the rest of my food, water, cigarettes and fuel stockpiles when Bossbloke torched the Imperium.

It was like the kangaroos wanted to come closer, be near me, but were hesitating. They got used to humans in the mini-zoo where they were raised, right in the middle of the city. Maybe they wanted me to feed them a treat, something besides grass and grass seeds. I was thinking about how many steaks and sausages you could get off a female kangaroo, when Johnny came running down the lawn beside the greenhouse. The kangaroos took off.

“It’s all fucking gone!” he shouted, out of breath, but filled with important, immediate things to tell me. “Fucking Bossbloke, that fuck, he’s moved it all!”

I threw a coffee bag into a cup for Johnny, the kettle was almost done.

“You gonna tell me what you’re on about?”

Johnny nodded, bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, sucked oxygen.

“Bossbloke has cleared out the stockpiles,” he finally said. “I never trusted that fuck. One of the old birds said Bossbloke had told her she couldn’t have another carton of smokes until next week…all the shops are cleaned out now…so she asked me to go grab her some from the stockpiles in the basement of the QVB. You saw that place, didn’t you? There was more food, water, fuel, fags and other shit there than in the Town Hall.”

“So there was nothing down there?” I asked, and snapped off the gas before the kettle could start shrieking.

“Yeah, there was stuff there. But only one wall of boxes, a bit of a pile of water cartons, a few tents. You stand there and you look at all that, and it looks like the whole fucking place is filled with food and water. I helped fill about a third of it a few weeks back. I worked my fucking arse off. I know what used to be down there. Now it's just a fucking thin wall of boxes and lots of empty space. It's all fucking gone."

“Where?”

”How the fuck would I know? He’s your mate, not mine….” Johnny sat down on the grass, rolled a cigarette, took a black coffee and drank a scalding mouthful.

“If he’s moved it….” I started to say.

“He didn’t fucking movie it, Paul. He’s stolen it. He’s ripped us off. All of us. We put together that fucking stockpile. Thirty of forty survivors, working together, working their fucking arses off. Bossbloke wasn’t with us in all those shops where you had to step over rotting corpses to get a couple more cans of baked beans or a bunch of fucking batteries. Everyone else did that filthy work, not him.”

“I’ve got maybe a month or two of stuff stashed around buildings,” I said. “But not enough for…I can keep you and me and a few others going for maybe a week.”

“And then what?” Johnny shouted. “Sit around here waiting for the fucking vegetables to finish growing? How fucking stupid were we? He’s been dripfeeding us our own fucking stockpiles and we let him do. Now he cuts us off. That cunt. He's fucking with us on purpose. There’s nothing left in the shops, Paul. I've already checked the Town Hall stockpile. Lots of empty fucking boxes. We've already eaten most of that stuff. We can find some more food and water if we go through every office and apartment, but that’s why we scaled back the stockpiling last week. We were running out of useful stuff to liberate."

“We’ll have to search further out then,” I said. “Go down to Chinatown, raid those big supermarkets they’ve got there.”

Johnny shrugged. “I’ve been down there. I tried to go down there, that is. But that weapon, whatever the fuck it is, I can’t go through it. I run at that cross street and I always have to turn back.”

Johnny was talking about what Bookman called “microwave weapons.” If you tried to walk down William Street, towards Kings Cross and the eastern suburbs, or down George Street near Broadway, your skin would get hotter and hotter. You could take it for a while, but the further you walked, the more the burning sensation, just under the surface of your skin, increased.

If you were running, or in the corpse truck, it’d quickly feel like boiling water had been thrown all over you. Nobody could take it. Your brain took control and got your body out of the way of that weapon as fast it could. You didn’t get to decide to stay or run. You just ran like all fuck to stop the pain.

Johnny called them “ray guns”, which is what they were. Bookman said they were like tunnels made out of big microwave ovens, invisible, and probably activated through movement sensors. So they only fired when there was human sized movement in front of it.

I found a book in an office desk drawer called ‘Future Weapons Now’. It had a bit about the microwave weapons. The US military used them in Iraq and Afghanistan to clear crowds from streets. American cops used them on food rioters in Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.

The book said the “ray guns” had a range of three or four hundred metres, but the book was published back in 2006, so they might have developed the range of the thing to two or three kilometres by last year. Some of the survivors said there was weapons like that used on them when they had been queuing outside pharmacies and hospitals, back during the second wave of the bird flu.

The Professor and Trader had spent a few days a month back checking rooftops to see if weapons like that were up there, keeping us corralled into one part of the CBD.

They didn’t find anything. We never find anything like that.

“Are you still with me?” Johnny said. “We have to deal with this Bossbloke situation today.”

I nodded. He was speaking truth. The survival of the others was more important than one man like him.

“We can make him show us where he put all our food and water,” I said, but Johnny was shaking his head no as soon I said "We can..."

“No. He dies today.” Johnny said. “We can find by looking where he moved the QVB stockpile. he’s gone.”

“Where’s the rifle?” I asked him. A small smile. “It’s safe, for when we need it,” he said. “I don’t need a gun to deal with him.”

I didn’t make the joke because there was tension. Johnny said Bossbloke was going to die like he was saying he had to take a piss. No big deal.

“What are you gonna kill him with? A boomerang?”

Johnny laughed. “I’ll tell you this my friend, the Feral Kid in Mad Max 2, that steel boomerang he had with the razor edge? That was the best weapon in the whole movie.”

“So when all these others turn up to take over our city, we’ll fight them with spears and nulla-nullas?”

Johnny nodded, finished his coffee. “My grandfather could have made us a whole fucking arsenal out of what he could find in a couple of square miles of bush.”

He stood up. “I’m gonna go get this done. You should be the one who talks to us at the Town Hall meetings, Paul. Bookman won’t do it, but you can. You can tell people what to do and make them think they’ve decided to do it themselves…”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I’m leaving. I’m going to the Blue Mountains. I’m getting out…”

That was the moment we heard the first sounds of chaos. A man screaming. A distant 'phoomp' sound.

"That's gunfire," Johnny said. "Someone's shooting."

We waited for the shout of a survivor acknowledging they'd just shot a feral dog, but nobody shouted. The howling cries of a man we guessed had been shot grew sharper.

"Martin Place," Johnny said.

We were running up the hill, heading out of the Gardens. Dark shit was going down, we both knew it. We ran through the block next to the State Library and hit Macquarie Street. Martin Place was empty. The birds circling above had been chased out of the overflowing garden boxes all the way down Martin Place by the rifle shots, they were waiting to return. The lizards you always saw out in the sun, baking on the stinging hot paving stones, were gone.

“Ahhh Fuck!” someone screamed, sounding more angry than in pain. “Gimme a hand someone! I’ve been fucking shot in the leg!”

I looked around to try and work out where the cry for help had come from, but Johnny knew straight away. “He’s on the stairs of the train station,” Johnny said.

We didn’t stop to think who had shot this person, we just knew they were shot and needed help. We found him on the stairs, going down, to the underground. He was one of the Baby Boomers, you rarely saw any of them outside of their Circular Quay hotels. They'd recently started coming up our end of town more and more in search of cigarettes, chocolate, better booze.

The Baby Boomer was more overwhelmed by the sight of his own blood leaking down the stairs than the bullet wound in his leg. The bullet had nicked him, given his leg a groove, but nothing serious.

He was the only who got hit and lived today.

Preacher, poor old Preacher, ran out of Philip Street into Martin Place.

“Paul, is that you?” he shouted to us, “do you need help?”

“Get out of the way!” Johnny shouted. “Some fucker’s shooting!”

A glint, a reflection of sunlight caught the corner of my right eye. Something shiny moved above us, from a high window, a rooftop. The sound was ‘phoomp’ and Preacher’s head fell apart. His body staggered back and down. Johnny shrieked and ran to where Preacher lay.

I looked up, quickly searching the surrounding rooftops, ledges, windows, too many of everything, so many places to hide. I wasn’t scared of being shot and I thought, ‘they want me to stay alive.’

The Baby Boomer had disappeared down inside Martin Place station.

I waited for a shot to take out Johnny, but he was just there, screaming over Preacher’s corpse.

I went over for Johnny, not Preacher. Preacher was gone. The top of his skull with a thick clump of flesh and hair still attached to it lay a few metres away from his corpse. Preacher’s brain was dead but his heart still pumped a final few beats.

"Who did this?" Johnny screamed. "Who fucking did this?” He let Preacher's corpse flop down onto the concrete.

Johnny followed my gaze to the rooftops. This time we both saw the glint of sunlight on metal coming from an insurance company building at the top of Martin Place.

We both moved quickly into Philip Street, out of the way of whoever was up there.

“Sniper?” I asked Johnny.

“Some crazy fuck with a good gun. Maybe one of us finally lost their fucking mind.”

Johnny shouted back to the empty stretch of Martin Place, “We know where you are fucker! We’re gonna fucking find you.”

A chunk of sandstone, the size of a fist, exploded out of the wall across the street. The gunman couldn’t reach us here. We were hidden from him. There was a blossom of surveillance cameras outside a shop a few doors down from us, most of them facing us.

“Try again you crazy fuck!” Johnny shouted. He didn’t want to sound scared, but both of us kept looking at that hairy skull flap from Preacher, oozing blood bubbles a few feet away. It was the corpse of someone we didn't know. Another body for the mass grave on York Street. He was our friend and he was dead.

I could see two figures in the deep shadows of Philip Street, across Martin Place from us. Trader and Fireball.

“Hey Paul! What the fuck is happening here?”

If the gunman was on the small balcony where I’d seen the reflections of sunlight, Trader and Fireball were about to step into the line of fire.

“Get the fuck back!” I shouted. “There’s a sniper to your left, don’t come any closer!”

Trader and Fireball both visibly flinched back and then bent over low and scurried out of the way, ducking between cars, still waiting to be moved, then hiding in a doorway built from sandstone blocks. Good shelter.

"What do we do?" I asked Johnny, but he looked at me like he was just about to ask the same question.

Bookman came running out of Elizabeth Street, turning left into Martin Place, a few blocks down from us. He was running slow, but fast for Bookman.

As soon as I saw him heading our way, I knew he was going to be shot. I bolted out of Philip Street and down to Bookman. I kept thinking I could block the gunman’s view of Bookman, get in the way.

"What's going on, Paul?" he huffed and wheezed when I reached him. “Does anyone need help?”

The first bullet hit him in the stomach and he lurched over from the impact. The bullet exited his back in an explosion of blood and flesh and bits of his corduroy jacket.

The bullet kept going, taking out a chunk of paving stone.

The second bullet nearly tore Bookman's right arm completely off. He waved it wildly in the air, longer than it was before, flopping, losing pieces, bloody strings trailing from it.

The last bullet, if that's what it was, seemed to hit Bookman like a cannon ball, flinging him back, dozens of feet. He smashed into a car, his back breaking, his spine bent savagely. He slumped off the car onto his knees and flopped face down. His head cracked against a paving stone. He was gone.

I thought who’d want to kill someone like Bookman? What did he do that made someone so angry they had to kill him?

And Preacher? Who’d want to tempt the wraith of a possible God by taking out one of his messengers?

I waited for a bullet but none came to me.

Johnny and Trader and Fireball were shouting at each other across Martin Place. The birds still circled, high, waiting for this to be over. I wasn’t going to leave fresh meat for them. Preacher and Bookman will be buried in the Gardens.

A few seconds passed, an hour in the time where I was at. Bossbloke. Of course it would be him. His mind just fucking snapped, back in a war zone of his memories. Horrific history leaking into his present.

I knew how to get up to where Bossbloke was shooting from. I’d been through every office, every room of that Indonesian insurance company head office. I’d been on that balcony, on the building’s corner, fourteen stories up, with mostly unobstructed views down Macquarie Street and most of the way down Martin Place. He’d chosen a perfect location to play sniper from.

But it wasn’t Bossbloke shooting. He didn’t kill Preacher and Bookman and Kat.

I wanted to save her. But those few seconds I took to think about what to do after Bookman died were too long. I left it too long. The thought of the gunman having a clear shot into windows of Kat’s hospital had me sprinting back up Martin Place. I flew past Johnny, on the right, Trader and Fireball on the left, running as hard as fast as I could.

I shouted back to Johnny where the gunman was shooting from. I saw him nod.

I would have taken the bullets that took her if I could have. Kat never stopped helping people, and our society needed people like her more than it needed people like me.

I looked up as I ran past where I was sure the gun man was shooting from. I saw the long barrel of a robot sentry turning to point down Macqaurie Street, at the hospital.

I knew Kat was there today, she was always there.

There were other survivors in Macquarie Street, hiding behind the few cars that were left. They shouted their confusion and fear to each other. I ran for the front stairs of Sydney Hospital.

And then she was there, coming out of the doorway, down the stairs, oblivious to what had just gone down, looking curiously towards Martin Place, and then reacting when she saw me sprinting at her, her face grew larger as I closed the distance, surprise, confusion, fear.

“Get back inside!” I screamed.

‘Phoomp’

Kat left the ground and turned to her right in mid-air, her body twisting, slow motion falling.

Someone, everyone, screamed, I was screaming something

The slow motion snapped off and it was real, real time, and real fast.

Kat’s chest was torn open, her body arched up off the footpath, shuddering.

She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out. Her chest bubbled blood. She sucked in air but it emptied out into the ragged hollow of her chest.

’Phoomp’ ‘Phoomp’

Her left thigh blew apart. The left side of her jaw disappeared. She was gone.

I picked up Kat and held her in my arms


Go Here To Read Chapter Nineteen - After The Shootings