Chapter Twenty - We Are Not Alone

May 18

When I woke up, Johnny was standing on the balcony of his apartment, the floor to ceiling glass doors wide open. A breeze blew through the rooms, the skies were bland, gray.

Johnny has five apartments now, he rarely sleeps in any of them, but he has some of his stuff in each place, each with its own concealed stockpile. Johnny had been busy on missions I knew nothing about. The view from this ninth story apartment revealed the Botanic Gardens, where Johnny still slept a few nights a week when the nights were hot and sticky.

“I found the sniper,” Johnny said. “It was a sentry, It only had a few rounds left. Its targets were carefully picked.”

I sat up on the bed he’d dragged into the middle of the living room. I still had flecks of dried blood from Kat's fatal wounds on my hands, and dirt under my fingernails from the holes me and Johnny and Fireball dug for our dead friends.

We buried Kat, Bookman and Preacher in the Gardens yesterday, six week old fruit trees are their headstones. When I come back, I will remember which grave is hers. She will help feed the survivors for years to come.

Johnny told me what was going to happen next.

First, he said he is going to kill Bossbloke. But that will be the easy part of his plan, Johnny said. With Bossbloke out of the way, and the likelihood of outsiders arriving in the city soon, it will be up to him and the Professor to organise and prepare the survivors. To deal with intruders. To leave the city if they have to. Or to fight.

Johnny had decided all this in the last hour while I slept in a half-coma.

His version of Our New Society was based on what he knew of his ancestors' way of running their small societies tens of thousands of years ago. There had been no elected leaders in his ancestors' tribe, no government, no bureaucracy. Knowledge and experience was the lifeblood of the elders, and they were respected and revered because their knowledge kept their nations and people alive. Those with the knowledge of the cycles of the seasons, of the lives of plants and insects and marsupials, of where to fish and when, where to go to collect fruit that was ripe, how to control their environment, evolve it through tens of thousands of years of burning.. .

“We have to have living information,” Johnny said, “passed from one generation to the next, everything they need to know to survive.”

He was more upset at the death of Bookman, than of Kat or Preacher. To Johnny, Bookman was the kind of leader he wanted to be. Give people the information they need to survive and thrive, and let them get on with it.

Johnny turned away from the balcony. He faced me, and for a moment he seemed massive, a huge man silhouetted against that darkening grey sky. He filled the doorway.

"We have to be ready," he said, as he sat down in a chair facing me. "He's going to bring the hammer down now everybody is scared fucking shitless about the snipers. That was his whole plan from the start. Build up our confidence, get us organised, then at the first sign of anyone trying to undermine his authority, or question his plans, or formulating plans of their own...Whack. He brings on the Terror.”

Johnny was right. I could see the pattern that had unfolded in our time since ED Day, a pattern of incidents guided by Bossbloke.

“Well, fuck that....Fuck him." Johnny seethed for a moment. He turned back to watch the developing storm, drawn out to the balcony again. He jumped slightly as an explosion of thunder boomed. Lightning flashed through the invading storm clouds, then it sheeted down across the Gardens.

This is how storms come to us now. From out of nowhere, sudden, instant, heavy storms.

Within seconds of the lighting blast, rain spattered the windows and balcony. Rain thrummed into the buckets and tubs he’d set out on the balcony. Rain collected in buckets is where we get most of our fresh water now.

“That sentry bot didn’t find its own way into that building,” Johnny said, “and it wasn’t there before. Bossbloke had it parked somewhere, in any one of the dozens of parking garages around here. We never checked the lower stories of most of the car parks. "

“He’s getting help,” I said, “from outside. He would have needed a dozen blokes and a couple of days to clear out that Queen Victoria Building stockpile. And they had to move it somewhere else…It was a big operation.”

“Yeah,” Johnny said. “Big. There could be hundreds of soldiers, or militia from the old government, in the city with us. Just hiding away, not going where we go. Bossbloke might only be the non-threatening agent sent to calm us down, keep us busy, round us up, get us organised building up those stockpiles...."

“For them,” I said. “Not us.”

“Yeah, that’s right. For them.”

The lightning arced again, the violent blue flash burned into my eyeballs. I blinked and looked away, into the darkness of the living room. No candles, no lamps. I could see the jagged lines of the lighting hovering in front of my eyes. I woke up. I had been half-dreaming, half-asleep since the Martin Place killings, but with the electric storm and Johnny's words, I felt alert, wired, ready.

"Everything’s still there,” Johnny said, “the way they used to watch us before ED Day. The cameras are on, the pole mics are recording to see what we say…everything bugged, they could have videod us every second we’re outside. Or inside. Bird flu doesn’t kill satellites. They’re still going over, capturing images of everything down here. I think about what happened in Melbourne and Brisbane, and I don’t think…I don’t know…but I don’t think what happened here, happened there. There are people outside of this place, Paul, all over the country, they made it. We're not alone. We think everyone would want to come to Sydney, but why would they? If you were in Wollongong and you heard millions died in Sydney, would you rush up here? Fuck no. They didn’t have to lock us in…most of us never tried to escape.”

I didn’t understand where Johnny was going. “We have to leave the city, Johnny,” I said. “You know that. All of us have to get out of here.”

He looked back at me, briefly, but his eyes never really left the storm. “You’re going to Katoomba,” he said. “I know you won’t stay, even if I ask you to. But you have to come back. We have to get the babies out.”

“The babies, and everyone who wants to leave,” I said. “Maybe when he’s dead, nobody will want to stay….”

Johnny watched the water buckets filling up on the balcony. The rain came down so hard it was flowing off the balcony in small waves.

"He wants us all back in those camps," Johnny said, but not so much to me as to himself. He was psyching himself for what he was about to go and do.

"When the agents and mercenaries that are already here…” he said, “They're here, Paul. They're already here. Some of them, I think, have been with us from ED Day onwards. Not everyone in our clan is just a survivor. They’d have to infiltrate a group like us. He probably doesn’t even know who they are…why would they tell him? It’s probably better if they didn’t. They might be spying on us…but they’d have to be spying on him, as well.”

“How are you going to kill him?” I asked.

Johnny shook his head, “You don’t need to know that.”

A long silence fell between us then.

“When they show themselves, Paul, the soldiers who are already here...undercover...,” Johnny said. “When you start seeing soldiers in uniform, or private armies, in these streets, it will be too late. That’s when they’ll start rounding us up and bussing us out to those camps out west…”

“Again,” I said. It’s only a few months since I first met Johnny in the quarantine camp at Homebush Bay. It feels like years ago.

“They didn’t build all those camps not to use them,” Johnny said. “You want to live in a fucking cage, Paul? I won’t go back there again. I won’t become a slave.”

The rain eased a little then and the lighting and thunder fell out of sync. The storm was moving on. The sun would be out again in a few minutes, the sky as bright and as blue as it had been yesterday, as though the storm had never existed.

"I'll fucking die before I go back in a cage," Johnny said. "I don't have all the plans we need….but we’ve got enough start again, without that bastard in charge of us. That fuck don’t deserve to live…”

Johnny didn’t pace, he just stood there, in that doorway, filling it up, talking in a calm voice, as though he was set for whatever fate was about to dish up to him.

“There’s beers,” he said. “But they’re a bit warm.”

“I think I like my beer warm, now,” I said, and it was true.

Johnny grabbed a couple of bottles of VB from a half-empty case on the floor. He tossed me one.

"Cheers to you," I said. "Yeah, good luck on your journey, brother."

“Good luck with…what you have to do.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes and drank our warm beers. The sun was returning, a huge heat lamp slowly being turned up. The blast of sun on my skin made me want to go back to sleep.

"Why do you think we made it?" Johnny asked me. "Why us? Millions probably died here. Why did we get to live?'

It's the question all survivors ask themselves, but once you cut God out of the answer nobody ever came up with a good reason.

"When I was a kid," Johnny said, "about 14, I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't think about nothing else for months. Now I just want to live....for another hundred years. I want to know how this turns out, for all of us."

"I'm coming back, mate," I said. "I'll be a gone a week, ten days at the most. I'm not doing a runner on you, or the others. I just have to find Chrissie first."

“I know," Johnny said. "We'll be ready when you get back. But before you leave, I left something for you in the stockpile, here. You’ll know it’s yours when you see it…”

“Thanks…" I said, "for everything.”

“Don’t go the motorways to reach the Blue Mountains,” Johnny said, “you’ve got to stay out of sight, until you know what’s out there. Look at the maps. You can get into national park at Lane Cove, about ten or twelve kilometres from here, down Victoria Road. Do the run through the bush on foot, it’ll take a day or so longer, but you’ll be safer. You’ll be harder to find.”

I told him how I was planning to get through the ‘heat corridor’, where what we believe are microwave weapons blast you when pass in front of them, making your flesh feel like it’s about to burst into flames. It’s killer when you’re walking, it’s like having boiling water thrown all over you when you’re running through it. Driving through it will mean I can’t turn back, not if I throw a brick on the accelerator.

Johnny drained off the rest of his beer. His faint smile faded.

“Never let them make you a slave, Paul,” he said.

I finished my beer and laid down on the bed. I was out again in a few breaths. When I woke up, more than an hour ago, Johnny was gone.

Go Here To Read Chapter Twenty One