The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax
Something about the end of the world no one expected: we had 3 generations worth of time to get used to our annihilation.
Praise be to evolutionary technology, we spotted the rock cluster early on. After 20 years of study we knew the fucker and the groupie cloud would hit us. Not us-us, Australasia us, but that didn't matter. The impact winter was going to be the downfall of human society, and so on.
No one wanted their name on it, as though someone would be around to curse them after, so we called it the Alien.
Too big to blow up, but some countries indebted themselves to outgunning our Alien anyway. Waste of time. Which, mind you, we had. Put every firework in the world on the Alien, and at the best we'd kiss its pimpled arse. The fucker was dense.
Was the inevitability, see. The shit taste in our mouth of knowing and wishing we didn't, as though being dumb beasts toddling around a jungle would've been better. So, after working out we couldn't blow up the Alien, wars came along like you wouldn't believe, because we were angry and wanted to glass something in the face.
Then someone dreamed up the salvation arks, and what a crock of shit they turned out to be. Governments and rich fuckers financed the idea, thinking they'd host the world's best through the worst. What with salvation being selective.
The idea didn't get far. My parents weren't even born yet when the arks were destroyed in the wars.
I remember being real puzzled in school, when we were taught about the whole leaving the planet idea. Some supremacist nation sanctioned thefts of famous works of art, to stow in their ark—but only the worthwhile art, mind. Like anyone can say what's worthwhile, culturally speaking.
Me, I would've left the paintings behind. What did paintings matter if we didn't have any painters?
Now, I am a work of art, but no one tried to steal me for their secret salvation ship. I'd take my shirt off and show you how much of a work of art I am, but better for us both if you trust me. Arunta liked inking and I was convenient. Never got a single tattoo himself, bastard.
Runt was as good at inking as making coffee. I worked out the bit about the tattoos our first leave together. I showed him around Kal's great cultural sites, stables and brothels and brothels called stables, and pubs, a fish and chip shop a day's drive from any water. Yeah, we walked past a church or two. Kalgoorlie had plenty of culture. Drinking culture, digging culture, yeast cultures, and the occasional kabuki shakespeare troupe that'd make out from Perth, before the storms put a stop to easy travel.
I slept off the hangover from the big night out, while Runt talked his way into tattooists' next door. Made friends easy, when in the mood. He bought enough rum for them that the next time we went out, they let him put me face down in their chair.
No big deal, I thought, and let him add to the bits and pieces of work I'd had done since I'd turned 13. Bad idea getting shirtless around Arunta: having someone I wanted to screw needling me felt a whole world of difference from being tattooed.
Those early days in Kal, Runt got me conditioned to the buzz so bad, I'd crack a fat even just walking past a parlour.
We met Ulawa in the Pit, somewhere in Sokambalda. He was the artist who let Runt finish off my back, wasting his special imported tea on us and chatting while he watched.
Runt's freehand always surprised him. Runt just didn't look capable of sitting still for the hour or 2 to wrap up a design, but I guess Ulawa never saw the way Runt looked when he drew. Like he was out of this world, and nothing here would break his focus.
Lochiel let Runt start on my sleeves, but Runt picked a fight with him before long, so we finished off my arm in Allison's backyard boutique. Took 4 years, every time we had a boring weekend, except there weren't so many of those.
But that was all after the Alien hit.
Our 21st birthdays, 22nd, 23rd, Arunta and I shared before the Alien hit.
By the time we worked out we should've been fucking, he'd managed to cover half my back with his mark. Probably a bit late, I ask him where he'd learned to ink.
'In lockup. 5 years before I signed up at the Pit, juvie, then bent into Hakia correctional.'
I didn't want to ask him why, so I said, 'That would've sucked.'
'Not anything like you do, precious. And you?'
'And me what?'
'Carn, Tash. Where'd you learn to take it smiling? Not Hakia, or I would've known you before.'
'Nowhere, mate. I was free as air.'
'Poor bastard,' Runt said. 'I'd charge you out at half a day's wage for a go.'
'Worth that much, am I?'
'More, if you keep smiling like that.'
We were young. Not much else to do, so we fucked on our 1-in-12 off-days, but we were tired most of the time. The Wombats were heavy, awkward, and hard work concentrating to keep them going, sucking at the brains as well as the muscle. More often than not, we saved up all the rooting for our 1-in-7 off-weeks. We'd pack 14 diggers into a couple of 4WDs and cruise into Kalgoorlie's cultural heart. We'd get shitfaced on rum shots in 15 minutes and stagger off in different directions, and meet again in 7 days to head on home.
I tell you what, we'd almost be looking forward to getting back to work. 7 days of debauchery's enough to get anyone desperate for a domestic.
Unlike Perth, Kalgoorlie had only one damned LED countdown sign, inside Andy's fish and chips shop. Government subsidised, Andy told Runt, the counter was cheaper than a clock so big. Plus, Andy got rebates on his electricity bill for hosting the monstrosity.
As a bonus, the timer was big enough for him to read standing by the fryer, so he'd use the apocalyptic countdown to make sure no one's order fried longer than 15 minutes.
After the storms ripped away the buildings, the extra-wide roads stayed behind, heavy-duty tarmac for the b-triples and road trains. Cracked and broken but there. 30 years later, walking around Kal felt like walking around on a 1:1 scale map of the world.
Ulawa the professional tattooist and Allison the backyard tattooist had nothing in common except their inks. Ulawa wasn't rich, and Allison wasn't trying to be, so they both lived in the south-eastern branch of the Pit, 6 kilometers away from the centre, which was far. And as far as I knew, they never talked to each other.
They were both instigators during the riots. I never wanted to ask them what they'd wanted. What I wanted to ask was why they did what they did to get it. Except who ever knows why someone gets the urge to glass a whole city in the face?
Even Arunta couldn't answer that question, why the pain got worse than the reason. Ulawa and Allison thought life was bad enough to forget the reasons. I understood thinking it was bad. I spent 7 years starving sanely in the dark while they tried to wreck the Pit and kill us all.
Ulawa died in correctional of an overdose. Allison lived to get out of correctional and found a long-lost brother. They bought a place in Coa-Cannavale and as far as I know, lived happily ever after.
I only had 1 conversation about the riots.
For a couple of years after Arunta and I got out of the cave-in, we were still sort-of celebrities. Not that it mattered much to our neighbour, Jaysee. He'd been a cop during the riots, and wore a burn scar from those days on half of his face and down his shoulder. The shoulder had been an accident, taken dragging someone out of the flames. The face-scar had been deliberate, a rioter throwing flaming petrol full into his face.
Jaysee told me he didn't hate the rioters, not a bit.
'Naw,' he reckoned, 'can't hate people for doing what they do. People's people, right? And they got the shit while you were away, you can't really judge. You didn't see those freaking landslides - haw, except from the inside! You weren't around when those bugs got into the rain towers. Everyone got really sick and the kiddies, sheesh, it was bad.' He sucked his teeth, contemplative. 'Any kiddies dying where you was stuck?'
'No one was doing shit-all to fix it, either. If'n I'd not been a cop, I tell you what, I would've been cracking the shits too. That was right before we kicked out the pollies as a bunch of useless twats and put in the new ones. Then the blight—that fucker hit 9 out of 10 of the growing fields. You wouldn't believe the ration lines, mate, you wouldn't. We only got meat every other. You get meat on your side of the cave?'
'Yeah, it was shit. But shit happens, ay? So they got mad. They were in the poor quarter of the Pit, I would've done the same, I would've been angry. Naw, I don't hate em. Can't hate a flea for biting. Can't hate a bitch for barking.'
Jaysee didn't bear a grudge against Allison, who'd been on the team of rioters who nearly managed to poison 12 of our water towers. He'd forgiven Ulawa for burning away 2 years of crop yield. In Jaysee's mind, they were kids, babies, dumb, innocent angry things who couldn't help themselves.
Jaysee blamed the bosses.
'What bosses?' Runt asked, in a tone of voice.
I should've taken the pint glass out of his hand right then, but I didn't. Can't say I much liked Jaysee anyways.
'Yeah,' Jaysee said. 'If a dumb dog bites, you sue the owner, right?'
Jaysee told us, loud: people who were the rioting kind shouldn't have been brought into the Pit in the first place.
Yeah, right. And who was going to put a value on kinds of people? Who'd draw the line to divide the reactionaries from the lazy bastards? Because Arunta, me and Runt, right, you look at us. Pretend Runt's greys now are sign of great dignity, and this three wisp fu-manchu I've got going is actually the great beard of all worldly wisdom, pretend whatever you want. We weren't ever the kind of people who'd get a first class invitation on a salvation ark to outer space.
Runt tried one last time with Jaysee, saying the people who're the kind to riot are people.
'Not the right kind.' Jaysee closed his mouth and nodded, like he'd gotten so used to shitting out pearls of wisdom that he didn't even wipe his arse any more.
We were only 3 months out of the cave-in. Jaysee had listening issues, and Arunta had issues period. Which didn't really excuse him for glassing Jaysee in the face, but he did, and we dealt.
5 years in lockup, though Arunta only served 3 for good behaviour. 3 years of counseling, through which Runt avoided medicatation and managed on behaviourals. Arunta told Jaysee sorry. Jaysee told Arunta he was an arsehole, and to fuck off. Fortunately, we could, and we moved house.
That's why I don't talk about the riots. I wasn't there.
Anyway, the riots were history repeating. The same thing happened on a global scale, 2 generations before I was born, when we'd first discovered the Alien.
We had our wars, our riots, and then, we realized we were still going to die. Sitting around waiting for some second miracle to fall out of the skies, the Assembly convened.
Countries threw together a heap of smart people, and a heap of dumb people, and, well, people. There were strategists and overweight mums and anthropologists and philosophers and pornographers, there were dog people and cat people and pigeon fanciers; doctors, and even diggers, though back then we were miners digging for worthless gold.
Everyone got put into a room and told to talk about the end of the world.
The anthropologists got together with the cognitive scientists and the psychologists and made a big cultural simulation program. They wanted to map what would happen if only the smart people were saved, then to map what would happen if a cross-section of human society was saved. So, you know, someone'd be there to make the sandwiches for the smart and worthwhile folk.
This seemed like a good idea, apparently. So our thinkers stood and declared their great plan to everyone else.
'Hold on,' said someone's mother, who probably had a kid like me who knew how to take 6 household items and blow up a schoolhouse with 1 wet match, 'how are you defining smart?'
'Don't get me started on the definition of worthwhile,' said someone's teacher, who probably had a kid like Arunta, who was charisma on long legs and who spend 5 years in correctional for arson, and who should have spent 5 years in correctional for glassing a cop in the face on his front porch.
After years of talking and shouting, the Assembly came out of their room and said to the world, you gotta forget the arks. Forget outside salvation, mateys, unless you think you can cram everyone on board the outgoing ships. If anyone's going to be saved, then everyone's going to be saved. Even the arseholes.
Everyone breathed some kind of collective sigh of relief. Pending the details, we were going to be saved, every last one of us.
Must have been the first time in human history the news wasn't bad.
Continue to Chapter 3 →
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