Chapter Twenty Three - Six Steps To The End

I fell asleep at the table, writing about Johnny, and when I woke up Bossbloke was there, unpacking my bag, the assault rifle leaning against the wall behind him, he was smoking the joint.

“You don’t just get to leave, Paul. It doesn’t work like that.”

He watched me as he carefully took out each item from my backpack and laid it in a neat row on the dining room table.

“Why do you want to go to the Blue Mountains, Paul?” Bossbloke said, “There’s nothing up there. This is where civilisation is. Right here.”

I was sitting at the table in the kitchen, twenty feet away from Bossbloke, twenty five feet from the assault rifle. I felt cold, defeated, wanting more sleep. A week of sleep.

Behind Bossbloke, through the floor to ceiling balcony doors, the dusk light was touching the tress of the Botanical Gardens. He was a silhouette, dark, outside was the light. I had to get out there.

“Did you hear me?” Bossbloke said, his voice sharp.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not leaving. I’m just going on a holiday.”

Bossbloke studied me, like a cat studying a bird before it snaps its skull to little splinters. His gaze was brutal, his combat eyes were turned on, steady, fixed. And then he laughed.

“Holidays, now that’s fucking funny. Your whole life has been a fucking holiday…”

Bossbloke finished unpacking my bag and then stretched. He picked up the assault rifle and walked up to the balcony doors. I didn’t move so I didn’t make a sound so he didn’t need to turn around.

He looked out across the Botanical Gardens as he spoke. “When you're an old man, you'll be famous. You know that, don’t you? When the history of this new society is written, you’ll be written up like a fucking hero for being one of the survivors who brought Sydney back to life. But you can be much more than that, Paul."

I said nothing. I was waiting for my chance.

"You just don’t get to leave because you want to. You have responsibilities here, now.”

As he kept talking, I thought ‘if I run for the door now, how many bullets will he put in me before I touch the door knob?’

“Sydney will come back to life. It won’t be long before there’s a million people back here. Sydney isn’t dead, it’s sleeping. But it will come back to life, I promise you that. It’ll be cleaner, quieter, and brighter than the old Sydney...."

Bossbloke sighed heavily, his chest shuddered as he breathed out, rattling, like he was sick.

"But it’s big job, mate. You know I need people like you to get this done. I need you on my side.”

Bossbloke looked back at me, there were no LEDs on, or candles burning, so the room had grown dark as the sun disappeared.

“I want you to be a part of this, Paul. With me. I want you to help me bring Sydney back to life. need you on my side. I want to know that I can count on you, when the time comes.”

All I could think about was how empty the city was. Sydney wasn’t sleeping, it died on March 21. It was a corpse. Where there had been so much life, and drama, and laughter, there was now no breathe, no movement, nothing.

Still and dead.

Tens of thousands of utterly lifeless apartments and offices and mansions and weatherboard cottages and supermarkets and coffee shops and bars. The best city in the world was already decaying around us, eight weeks after ED Day. Bossbloke was lying to me.

"This depopulation thing was always going to happen eventually, Paul,” Bossbloke said. “You know that, don't you? The world was already running out of food, water, energy, everything. We had to find 18 million football fields worth of land every year just to keep up with all the hungry mouths being born, while established farmland across the world was turning to fucking desert, or covering over with ice. This had to happen. They would have eaten the whole world.”

“The planet couldn’t sustain so many useless eaters,” I said, I knew what he wanted to hear.

Bossbloke grinned and clapped his hands. Crack, like a rifle shot. “Exactly! Fucking right on there."

"If selective depopulation didn't happen, billions would have starved to death," I said.

Bossbloke nodded. "Exactly. What was the choice? Depopulation by virus, quick deaths, or depopulation by starving people to death? There is no choice. In the end, it really was an act of mercy."

“The black triangles, those planes, they used too much,” I said. “They weren’t supposed to take out everyone…”

I couldn’t see his face in the dim light, so I couldn't see how he was reacting.

"What do you know about it?”

“Probably not as much as you, obviously,” I said. “But it was no secret that it was coming. Why else have all those months of Army drills on urban pacification? They worked those soldiers to the bone preparing, but when the city was sprayed, they died, too. It was too much, too strong, the mix for the spray was wrong.”

I was making it up, remembering some of the conspiracy theories Fireball and Bookman had told me, and that I’d read on the internet back during the first wave of the bird flu pandemic.

“You know more than all those other dumb fucks,” Bossbloke said. He walked over to the corner of the room and faced the wall. He took his dick out with one hand, held onto the assault rifle with the other. He pissed away onto the wall, the carpet.

“I heard there’s only a million people alive in the whole country,” I said, not knowing if it was true or false. I said it to see if Bossbloke would confirm or deny it. He did both.

“Bullshit,” he said. “Your sources are shit. There’s millions of people still alive in Australia. Heaps in West Australia and the Northern Territory. That’s where all the grey nomads headed last year during the first phase. Two million of them left Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane and pissed off for the Territory, and they hardly got the flu at all up there.”

“I heard Melbourne copped it worse than Sydney…”

Bossbloke finished pissing and went back to the closed balcony doors. He set down the rifle, close by, and crossed his arms across his chest. “See? You think you’ve got good sources, but they’re shit. Sydney scored the highest bodycount in Australia, and it was way above the per-person average of anywhere else, including Melbourne.”

I stood up, and walked out of the kitchen and into the living room. Now I could see his face more clearly. He was smiling.

“But Melbourne didn’t get the black planes, those triangles,” I said, diving in again, seeing what would stick. “Only Sydney got the black planes on March 18, 19 and 20, that’s why the death rate was so much higher than Melbourne’s. They fucked up the aerial vaccinations”

“Yeah, they fucked it up,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter now. We have to get on with…”

“The aerosolised vaccine had gaps for certain genetic markers,” I said, not knowing if it was true, running through what I remembered of one of Fireball and Bookman's joint conspiracy theories, “it was supposed to keep most of the population safe from bird flu, and make those with certain DNA more vulnerable to catching it..."

I paused, Bossbloke said, "Yeah, continue..."

"A few tens of thousands die and the population is thinned in chosen communities. But it made everyone more likely to catch the virus, that’s why so many died on ED Day, the morning after the third of the aerial vaccination program…”

Bossbloke studied me for a moment. “That’s pretty good, you’re close, but I won’t tell you how close you are.”

”Because you don’t know,” I said. “They only tell you what they want you to know. They don’t give you access to the real intelligence…”

He didn’t like that. For a few seconds I thought he might pick up the rifle and blow me away, but Bossbloke wasn’t psychotic. He just wanted to be in charge.

He went back to looking out over the Gardens, through the gritty, unwashed glass doors.

“You killed my friends,” I said. “If you want me to work with you, why would you do that?”

“I didn’t get to make that decision," he said. "It was necessary. That you don't already know that tells me how little you know. Yeah, you might have got some news from the newly arrived, but you still don't get it, do you? The three removed were useless for what comes next. They expressed enough dissent in the Town Hall meetings alone to wind up incarcerated. They died quick deaths. Better deaths than out there.”

Out there. He was talking about the camps out west, they were operating.

”But why kill her?" I asked, it was the last thing I wanted to know.

“Like I said, I didn’t get to make that decision…”

I cried then, for Kat, for Johnny, for Preacher, for Bookman, for the guys I used to work with before ED Day, for the neighbours I never spoke to who lost their partners and children, for every corpse that was once alive, a life in this city, that we burned or dumped into a hole. I cried for the whole terrible fucking tragedy of what happened.

Something gutteral filled the room, an anguished roar, and that horrible noise was coming from me.

“Shit, mate,” Bossbloke said, sounding shocked, “she was just one chick. There are plenty of fertile women here you can breed with…”

I ran at him. I didn’t know if he was still holding the gun, if he was aiming it at me, I just ran.

Six steps.

Every time my foot came down energy stormed up through me, and I ran the next step twice as fast as the last.

Time slows and you feel, see, hear the detail of every miniscule moment of a second. But I'm not moving in slow motion, only Bossbloke is as his face contorts into a grimace and he tries to raise his hands to protect himself. The last step explodes through me and I'm in the air, bracing my shoulder, flying at him. He tries to step back, it's too late.

I hit Bossbloke in the face with my shoulder.

I felt his nose crush against the bone and muscle of my shoulder. He spluttered half a “fuck”.

I could feel the awesome momentum that carried me across the room empty into him.

He flew backwards three or four feet and hit the glass balcony door. I was falling, slamming my weight to the floor. The door exploded behind Bossbloke into a rain of tiny glass cubes. I slid rolled into the emptying door frame as Bossbloke reeled back into the sodden boxes of whatever Johnny had left out there on the balcony, in the sun and rain.

I’m sure Bossbloke glimpsed the smile on my face before he fell back against the railing. I’m sure I heard his spin snap, or his back break, as he went over. I listened for the impact sound of his body smashing into the street nine stories below. It seemed to take ages, then it echoed up to me. Phwomp, and a sickening, satisfying echo of the impact.

I looked over the balcony. His body had burst on impact. Even in the last dull brown light from the smoke-coated sky I could see the thick sprawl of bright yellow, orange and purple organs that had never been outside his body before. They'd been ejected as his torso split on impact. His guts lay a few feet from the rest of his body, but were still connected through one clump of muscle and intestines.

His head had disappeared into a halo of brown and red slush, and the white shards of skull bone were easy to spot, even from nine floors up.

I picked up the assault rifle, checked to make sure Bossbloke hadn’t emptied it, and slung it over my throbbing shoulder. It was an intense pain that felt good.

I re-packed my bags and then opened a can of tomato soup and drank it down cold. The sudden hunger was overwhelming. I ate half a packet of cracked pepper and lime crackers while I checked over Johnny's stockpiles to see if there was anything important I missed. There was. A box of Robert Timms coffee bags, 40 bags, nearly two weeks worth of coffee, if I can get hot water, but good coffee still, even with cold water.

I grabbed the back packs and left. When I came out of the building, Bossbloke was there, just another corpse that needed to be cleared away. A messy one.

But it won’t be me scrapping him off the footpath. I’m in the Jeep, in the underground carpark, the glow from my pen is fading and this notebook is almost full.

It’s after midnight. The city is silent. Killing Bossbloke didn't bring in the Army or a troop of security forces, nothing changed. Sydney is still a dead city.

I’ve delayed my bull run out of the city for too many hours already.

Chrissie is waiting for me in the Blue Mountains, and in another lifetime I promised her I would go there and find her.

I have to keep that promise.

It’s time to go.

The End