The funerals were held earlier today. It’s getting near midnight now.
When the shooting stopped, I carried Kat’s body into the hospital.
Matron swallowed a cry of horror when she saw Kat and waved me into a room. I laid Kat down on the bed and stood back while Matron tried to revive her. I knew Kat was gone. I felt her last few urgent heart beats against my chest when I carried her inside. Most of her blood was on the front steps of the hospital, and down the corridor. The babies must have sensed something terrible had happened, but they held their cries for a few minutes.
The hospital was dead quiet. From outside, I could hear people crying in the street. Others had brought in the wounded Baby Boomer, but he was being patched down the other end of the hospital by some of the volunteers Matron had trained.
Matron folded her hands across Kat’s chest and rested her forehead there. She cried a brief shudder and then it was gone.
“You find out who did this Paul, and you kill them. For me, you do that," Matron said.
She turned to the cut on my leg. I’d torn out a chunk of flesh running between the cars.
Matron spoke softly.
"She was a good girl. I'm going to miss her around her. The babies will miss her the most. They’re only young, but they’ll remember her.”
There was a picture pinned to the wall of the room. It caught the sun stream coming through the windows. It was a sketch, twelve little faces done in pencil on a sheet of paper. The faces of the babies. Kat had drawn this. I didn’t even know she could draw so good. All the babies were grinning. To me, most of them looked the same, but to Kat, they were all uniquely different.
“Find the bastard,” Matron said. “And I’ll nail him to a tree myself.”
We’re all hardcore now. Death is everywhere around us. The remains of torched corpses still lie uncollected, almost out of sight, in alleys. A few blocks away, outside our zone, there is the rest of the city filled with the rotting. We smell them when the wind blows through those streets and across the park to us.
The belongings and trinkets of the dead are still lying in gutters and in the long grass of the parks and gardens. Death, the reality of what happened to all of us, is still everywhere we go. Corridors of office buildings and apartment towers hiding corpses we will never find. A City of Tombs.
We cleared away the visible dead, but we were fooling ourselves.
We live without electricity and running water, we scavenge food, we fight off wild animals, we shit in buckets and holes in the ground, we fear the dark of night and rejoice in the dawn. The lives we’ve built here, lives like a dream that shields the nightmares of our world, our Dead Sydney.
We’re all hardcore now, even if we don't realize it. Surviving did that to us. But we're losing our humanity as our souls harden. Everyone lost everyone or nearly everyone they’d ever known on ED Day. We’ve been losing ourselves since then. That old sense of our selves. Our self. Who we were. Who we were in that old society, which stands around us now like a rotting museum. We can never plug all the holes or repair all the cracks.
I think of those early Town Hall meetings. We never said it out loud, but I know many of us thought that we might be human miracles, special, chosen people, unique people that survived the worst that nature could deal out. We lived through it. We weren't normal human beings. They all died on ED Day.
We tried to believe all that, that we were special, that we were somehow more than just lucky.
But maybe we're the tail-end of civilization, instead of the new beginning. Maybe we're not the encore, or the sequel, maybe in the end we’re just an afterword to everything that came before us. We're still dying, maybe we're not supposed to make it.
"I'm going to miss her," Matron said, and slowly bandaged my leg. "She was a such sweet kid. I just can't believe the tragedy of it all, to live through all that out there, and then to die like that…for no good reason. I don't understand..."
"I don't either," I whispered.
Matron looked up at me as she finished up with the bandages. "I hope you'll miss her too, Paul."
"I will," I said and I know I will. How could I not? I loved her.
"She loved you," Matron said. "You know that, don't you? She talked about you all the time. I had to tell her to shut up some nights. I didn't want to hear another word about you..."
Matron finished her work on my leg. She stood up and looked at me. "She really needed someone after she lost her husband and her little girl. I’m glad it was you, Paul. I think you were good for her, you reminded her that was she was a woman and that she was still alive. You pulled her out of the past. I think you made her want to look forward to the life she had left to live."
The first cries rose from the babies, but Matron didn’t move to go to them. Not at first.
I listened to what I said next like I was hearing the words of someone else, standing right next to me.
“We’ll find who did this. We will do that. But then I have to leave. I have to go away. But I’ll come back. I’ll come back for the babies, and you, and anyone else who wants to help look after them. A week, two weeks, I can’t be sure. But I’ll come back. You’ll need to be ready to leave quickly, with all the babies and their carers. There’s better places than here.”
"But here is where we are right now," Matron said.
Johnny was waiting for me outside the hospital. The street was empty. He wasn’t standing out in the open, he was crouched under a tree, in a garden, along the hospital wall.
“Come with me, Paul,” Johnny said. “I’ve got a bed for you.”
“I need booze, and drugs…”
“I’ve got those, too.”
We passed beneath the balcony where Johnny said he had found the robot sniper, when I had run to Kat outside the hospital.
Johnny said by the time he got up to the balcony, the robot sniper had shut itself down and released a store of corrosive acid. It had destroyed itself once it's mission was completed.
I didn’t think or talk as we walked back to the 9th floor apartment Johnny had been staying in on Macquarie Street, across from the Botanic Gardens. We didn’t see anybody on our way back there. Bossbloke wasn’t around. Johnny said nobody had seen him. Everyone had gone back to wherever they were staying, waiting to see what happens next.
I can’t write about Kat’s funeral right now, or Bookman’s or Preacher’s. We buried them in the Gardens.
I needed sleep and dreams after I left the hospital.
Johnny had what I needed to get both.
I need more sleep, more dreams.
I want to find Kat in my dreams and say goodbye.
Go Here To Read Chapter Twenty - We Are Not Alone