I went out at dawn, and took a walk around the Zone.
Smoke coiled lazily around the buildings in the still morning air.
The Mitchell Library burned down last night. I smelt it before I saw it. There wasn’t much left of the library, a few stone walls.
I looked at the charred empty windows of the State Library next door and didn’t even recognize it. It looked like it had been bombed. Not much left there either. Both buildings were still smouldering, puffing grey smoke.
The wind began to blow down Macquarie Street as I stood there outside the libraries. A fountain of black ash, and slivers of book pages, swirled and funneled into the sky.
I ran all the way to Bookman’s apartment. I wasn't surprised, or shocked, to see his building was on fire, had been burning for what looked like an hour or two.
All those books, maps, manuals he and we collected from so many private libraries and galleries and bookshops, all gone. All that rare, original Australian history, our history, hand-drawn maps centuries old and journals and actual letters from convicts and early governors and 200 year old paintings of Sydney when it was still being born. Is it all gone now? The ruins were still too hot to go searching for what might be left.
There’s nobody to put out fires that big, and we don’t have the water to spare even if we had a volunteer firemen’s unit to activate.
Bookman had warned of all this. The destruction of our written history and culture, who we are, the story of how we got here, how we became a nation.
Bookman told me last week that 12 bookshops he knew of had been torched or burned, including antique shops loaded with rare books and letters. He made me promise him that if anything ever happened to him that I'd guard the Mitchell and State libraries with my life. I failed him. It's all gone.
Who are we without our history? Our culture has gone up in flames.
I saw it all then, what is happening here. We have a dangerous and destructive enemy, and this enemy is at war against us, the survivors of ED Day. They want to strip us of our history, and break us down, make us feel lost and helpless and cut off from our culture, who we are, where we came from.
I didn't see anybody for the first hour.
I heard no-one, not a dog barking, or a cat screeching, no music, no chatter from a fourth floor balcony, no survivors out jogging, The city has never felt so dead to me before.
I had to stop myself from screaming out “Is there anybody else here?”
I was outside the Town Hall when Trader walked up out of the station. He was carrying a huge torch, the beam as powerful as a World War 2 era searchlight. Even in the growing dawn, the light was blinding.
I hadn’t seen Trader in a week or more. He said he was exploring the train tunnels under the city. He wanted to see if he could walk from Town Hall to Rushcutter’s Bay, a few kilometres, where the Eastern Suburbs underground line comes up out of the earth. See if he could get on the other side of the microwave weapons we know are trained down Oxford Street and William Street, the two main roads leading to the Eastern Suburbs.
Trader wanted to get to Bondi Beach. It would be better there, he said. Safer.
“I can live there and swim and fish. I don’t need electricity or anything. I live on next to nothing now. I just want to learn to surf….”
But Trader couldn't get through. There were trains stuck in the tunnel, filled with the dead, the thick rotten water was shin deep. "Fucking rats everywhere, huge cockroaches."
I asked Trader if he’d seen Johnny, or Bossbloke around, but Trader had been underground longer than I’d been asleep. He said he'd seen the Professor, to ask him about walking the tunnels to the Eastern Suburbs, and he'd warned Trader to be careful, that there was people here who were trying to kill us. I hadn't seen the Professor since the funerals, and then he'd look terrified, like he thought he was next. Maybe he is.
“I really wanna go to the beach, Paul,” Trader said. He looked like a lost man. “That's all I want now. I know I can live without all the shit of my old life, but I need to get to the beach and feel those waves hitting me. The shit of this place is inside my skin. I need that surf to get it all out. I can't stop thinking about being on that beach. It's so fucking close, and I can't get there."
I remembered then the last time I hit the beach, with Chrissie. It was months before all those dead birds started showing up. We'd gone to Cronulla to see some of her friends, and we baked ourselves on the sand for hours. We knew we were getting sunburnt, but after weeks of icy weather, we didn't care, it felt too good to leave.
A movie played in my mind then of Chrissie, lying there beside me, sleeping in the sun, humming some PJ Harvey song she had become obsessed with while she dozed. I'll see her soon, I told myself, in a week or so.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Trader said. "I didn't know Kat all that well, but I know you two were pretty close. I really miss Bookman....he was a...a bastard sometimes, but he helped me get through all that shit after ED Day. Did you know he used to sit down with me for two or three hours at a time and just talk? Man, I really miss those talks..."
I didn't know that Bookman and Trader had shared that kind of time together, I just remembered how they'd clash on the Corpse Crew sometimes.
I fogged out, felt like I was falling, my mind filling up with memories of Bookman, of Kat, of Chrissie, of Corpse Crew days. I hadn't gone out with a crew for more than a week, I didn't even know if that work was still going on. But the streets I'd walked in my hour of wandering were clean of corpses, and I noticed that someone had been busy scrubbing away the blood and bile stains from the footpaths. A few more rains and you'd never know that thousands of bodies had decayed on those streets.
Trader and I talked for a few minutes more, he started yelling about finding the sniper and killing him. He didn't know a robot sniper had been responsible, or that someone had been controlling it, carefully choosing who would die and who would live. I didn't tell him I was leaving the city.
Are you going in there? Trader asked me, pointing to the Town Hall. Don't bother, he said, the Town Hall stockpiles had been moved "somewhere safer".
He told me to come to Hyde Park, he said Fireball would be in there at the bread oven we'd built, cooking up something, and I should come and hang out and eat with them.
I told him to yell at the top of his voice if he saw Johnny around. He promised he would.
He wandered away in search of breakfast.
I came back here, to Johnny’s apartment, to see if he'd returned from his mission. It’s 7am-ish, he’s not around. I can't keep my eyes open.
“Come and see!”
"Come and see!"
I can hear Bossbloke's voice bellowing from those emergency event speakers attached to poles throughout the city.
“I caught the killer! Come and see!”
He keeps shouting it over and over. A chant.
It’s Johnny, I know he’s got Johnny.
I have to go and see.
Go Here To Read Chapter Twenty Two - Bring The Terror