“Come and see,” his voice boomed through Dead Sydney. “I caught the sniper! I made your streets safe again. Come and see!”
And on and on it went, and we all followed the voice, just like we were supposed to.
The calls drew survivors out of their apartments and hotel rooms to the Town Hall. Within minutes a crowd bigger than any I’d seen since way before ED Day had gathered.
Three hundred people, at least. People I hadn’t seen in weeks, a month or more. I saw survivors who had come to the funerals for Kat, Bookman and Preacher in the Gardens, but there were many faces I don't know, because I’m sure I haven’t seen them before.
"Come and see!"
There were speakers on the balcony of the Town Hall, tilted down to the front steps where the crowd began, and then spread back across and up and down George Street.
Bossbloke’s voice kept coming, like a recording, mixing with the echoes from the other speakers blasting his voice around the city. “Come and see….I caught the sniper…safe, you are safe, safe, you are safe…”
There was something else coming out of the speakers other than Bossbloke's voice. A low throbbing noise, like the heartbeat of something huge buried deep underground. The crowd was quiet, they were waiting for the show.
“Come and see the evil that lives amongst us….Come and see the one that must be punished for his crimes…Come and see justice, delivered, instantly….”
I took in the faces around me. A good two or three dozen I'd never met before were within a dozen metres of me. They were spread out, but still clustered together, within reach of each other. Young and old, but they had fresh haircuts, they were clean shaven, their clothes were crisp. They didn’t belong amongst the survivors. I wasn’t the only one looking at them with curiosity. The Professor was a few dozen people away from me, he saw me and nodded, and then nodded over to the group of outsiders. I shrugged. I didn't know who they were either.
The speakers went silent, the throbbing continued. I moved through the crowd to the low sandstone wall along the front of the Town Hall. I had to find out what was going on.
”Are there people here from outside the city?” I called out into the gathering. “Are there people here who came to Sydney after the flu killed everyone?”
People stared back at me, some shrugged, looked at each other, others ignored me completely. But some look around and way far too dramatically. They, there, were infiltrators. Visitors. Mostly calm, expressionless faces, some looked bored.
“We need to know what was happened outside Sydney,” I called out from the wall. “Does anyone have any information?”
Bossbloke’s broadcast began again and interrupted me. “Come and see how my new society deals with the killers and the rapists. Come and see how I will do what none of you have the heart or the guts to do. Come and see why I will…”
The rant was interrupted by what sounded like a scuffle. Somewhere back inside the Town Hall, the microphone was knocked over, then somebody seized it and shouted in a feedback pop and shriek that made everyone gathered there jump :
“Run! It’s a trap! This whole fucking city is a prison! Get out while you can! You are prisoners! Run!”
It was Johnny. He’d found out things that none of us knew. Then came a stream of terrible sounds. Johnny being beaten with a heavy dull object. His muffled, tortured cries, a gag must have been crammed into his mouth.
Then another sound, an electrical discharge, zzzzet, a taser being used.
We all stood rapt, hypnotised by the empty balcony above us, and the sounds of chaos and pain that were broadcast, echoing back across the city, banging down at us from the speakers on the first floor balcony in front of us.
Two figures came into view on that wide, low balcony, the figures came struggling, wrestling their way out of the shadows, a desperate fight, two men, but one in control. Johnny and Bossbloke.
There was a black hood over Johnny's head. His arms were tied behind his back, but he still tried to fight his way free. He couldn’t escape. There was a rope noose around his neck. Holding the rope was Bossbloke, who kicked Johnny in the back as he wrenched the noose tight around, then propelled him into the morning sunlight. Bossbloke threw Johnny against the hard sandstone wall of the balcony. Johnny doubled over like he’d been winded by the impact. He went quiet, or quieter, for a few moments. That was all the time Bossbloke needed to finish what he’d started.
“This is the sniper! This is the murderer!” yelled Bossbloke. “This is the evil that stalked our streets and filled our nightmares! But he won’t be terrorising us any more!”
I should have yelled something, anything, I should have rushed the balcony to rescue my friend.
I should have charged in through the front doors of the Town Hall and bolted up the stairs and then caved in Bossbloke’s head with the first heavy thing I could get my hands on.
I should have saved my mate.
I should have done all these things, but in the end, I did nothing. I was as hypnotised as the rest of the crowd. We all did nothing.
“There is no room for this evil in my new society,” Bossbloke yelled as he looped the slack end of the noose rope around one of the sandstone columns of the balcony. Johnny was still doubled over, trying to scream through his gagged mouth. Bossbloke tied off the rope.
“There is no room here for the haters and dissenters and the rapists and the killers. Those who use violence as a political weapon will not be tolerated. That dark and twisted society is now gone from this world. There will be no more rapists and child molesters and serial killers and murderers, because we will deal with them before they become a problem."
Bossbloke paused, a dramatic pause. "Today we're here to deal justice to this killer, this murderer of a good woman and two good men.”
And then it came. The first call.
“Hang the bastard!”
One voice. I turned and saw it was a man of 40 or so, one of the group of obvious outsiders, so still before, he was suddenly animated and shouting,
“Hang the bastard!”
His fellow outsiders joined in.
Bossbloke grabbed the shuddering body of Johnny and simply flipped him over the low balcony. Johnny tumbled forward only a few feet and then the noose pulled tight, the rope snapped like a whipcrack, a rifle shot. Or maybe it was his neck.
Johnny's feet were only a metre above the steps. If I'd run forward, pushed through the crowd and grabbed Johnny's legs and lifted him, so the rope went slack, but I didn't.
I did nothing. I watched. Like everyone else there.
Nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody cried out in horror. We all just watched.
It took a long time for Johnny to die, but it was probably only seconds.
His legs didn’t kick, they thrummed, vibrated with a rage as though every limb, every muscle and organ, every cell and sliver of DNA was fighting back.
The silence was so heavy you could hear your ears hissing.
Up there on the balcony, Bossbloke, looking stunned, but growing more fascinated by the deadened reaction of the survivors. His new society.
When I looked around I didn’t see the faces of anybody I knew. My friends were dead. I was surrounded by strangers. I shoved my way through the crowd to get out of there. The people I bashed into made noises, told me to watch myself, to be more polite.
Then applause broke out, slowly, a few then more. Bossbloke, looking out over the survivors, a faint smile, directly above where Johnny was hanging. Bossbloke was nodding at the applause. He had taken the life of a young man who committed no crime, and they praised him for it.
Hadn’t I seen this before? Didn't I believe it was coming? There will be no paradise here. Bookman kept telling me, this is what it will be like, get ready, prepare.
Bossbloke could rule His New Society with a blood-soaked fist and there would be enough survivors, infected with trauma, so disconnected from life by the loss of everyone and everything they loved, so many people, they would welcome some tyranny if it kept routines, stability, normality, and if they believed it would keep them safe.
As I reached the edge of the crowd, some of the strangers grabbed at me as I pushed past them. I felt their hands clawing at my arm, fingers scrabbling for hold, pinching at my flesh, a sharp handful of hair, torn free, fingers trying to get a good of me, to so stop me. Another hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and squeezed tight, then twisted. I swung around and punched, it wandered through empty air. I kicked out at the person closest to me, I caught them in the stomach. A good shot. They let go of my hair and went down. Some of the others backed off.
“Get the fuck away from me!” I said, and it was so silent and so still, I could hear the loudest of my words, “fuck away…fuck away….” echo down the canyon walls of this dead city.
This dead fucking city.
“There he is! That one!” Bossbloke yelled from his balcony. “He is one who can get things done!”
He wasn’t calling for his hordes to lynch me, to string me up.
“He is a man of action! He is a hero of ED Day! He is someone you will learn from, and respect."
Then there were more hands coming at me, but they were kinder, no grabbing and pulling, instead soft pats on my shoulders and back. More hands, and I could feel them trying to lift me into the air or onto their shoulders.
Fuck this, I thought. I lashed out, threw more punches, and enough of them backed off so I could get out of there.
"Don't leave....you can't leave!"
I didn’t look up at Bossbloke. I couldn’t look back at him without seeing Johnny.
"There is room for you up here,” Bossbloke yelled, “right here next to me...”
The crowd around me thinned as I kept moving, they didn’t try and stop me.
“Paul! It was the right thing to do!”
I walked away, faster, and by the time I passed the statue of Queen Victoria, now brightly repainted red, blue and yellow, I was running.
I ran straight to the underground carpark where I’d moved the Army jeep a few days back.
I stopped into a travel agency four doors down from the carpark entrance and retrieved an emergency back pack - torch, food, thermal blanket, water – I'd stashed there a month ago. There are ten more packs like that, with enough supplies to last four or five days, stashed around the Zone, I only needed one for this trip.
I'd fueled up the Army jeep by emptying the dregs from a dozen abanadone vehicles. As I finished filling it up, I discovered it had an electric engine as well. I found four small RFID chips under the dashboard. I’m praying to a God I don't believe in that the RFIDs will keep me and the vehicle immune from the microwave heat blasts that have made so many others who tried to leave turn back. Those RFIDs will probably make the jeep show up to anyone tracking Army vehicles by GPS, so I can’t drive it too far. Fourteen kilometres or so, across the ANZAC Bridge, down Victoria Road, through Drummoyne, into Lane Cove where I can hit the national park on foot. I'm walking most of the way to the Blue Mountains.
I was ready to leave, but it was still daylight, and I had to come back here to Johnny’s ninth floor apartment on Macquarie Street to pick up this journal and the gifts Johnny had left for me in his stockpile.
I didn't see anyone when I came up out of the carpark. But Bossbloke’s voice boomed from every working speaker as I walked back to Johnny's apartment, all those speakers with their little solar panels so they never turn off, dozens of them around the city. Bossbloke was explaining how the survivors would now organise into groups, with each group assigned a specific duty to keep the community alive, and how he wanted to have an ideas summit every week instead of the old Town Hall meetings, and he called for volunteers to act as a security force, to watch the streets, to protect the survivors. Keep them safe. Then he called for the formation of a welcoming committee, for when "more outsiders arrive here, so we can make them feel at home."
Then it was time for music. Monty Python's Always Look On The Bright Side (Of Life). Was Bossbloke joking? Probably not. Maybe he'd be given a playlist, some funny songs, some sad songs, some energetic songs, but all inspiring. And behind the music, that something else. The almost inaudible throbbing. It made me feel like I needed to hurry, to get important things done.
I crossed George Street, a block down from the Town Hall. and I could see the crowd still gathered in front of the Town Hall. They were breaking off into groups, walking together, talking, waving their hands around. They were people with missions, things to do, lists to draw up and projects to be completed. They were distracted from their reality, they were busy now.
I don’t know if they cut Johnny down or left him there. I’ll go and see when I leave.
I’m waiting here now for night, it’s getting close to sunset. I’m waiting for Bossbloke. I know he’ll come here. He won’t let me leave without trying to stop me.
Johnny kept his stockpiles in the laundry room of his apartment. I found what he’d left for me. The assault rifle, a folder of street and survey maps, along with Google Earth pages torn from a book, onto which Johnny had plotted a route for me from the Lane Cove National Park, all the way into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. I could get there staying amongst the trees and bush and only have to cross two main roads and duck through the fringes of a few housing estates.
There was a plastic ziplock bag in amongst the maps, with a perfectly rolled four inch long joint sealed up inside. Nobody who was looking, like Johnny and me, had found any carefully concealed pot stashes in office drawers for weeks. He’d made this, and then kept it for me. It was better than a note.
To walk from Lane Cove to the Blue Mountains is about eighty kilometres. It will take me three days, going hard.
I filled out the rest of my backpack with stuff from Johnny’s stockpile : solar rechargeable batteries, a small roll of solar sheeting, energy bars and dried fruit and nuts and another two litres of water, a first aid kit and a heat pack. I left the maps on the table, I wanted to look at them properly before I leave here.
I don’t know why Johnny didn’t take the assault rifle with him when he went to kill Bossbloke. He could have shot him on sight, and then walked up when Bossbloke was down and put another couple in his head to make sure. Poor Johnny.
Go Here To Read Chapter Twenty Three - Six Steps To The End