The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax
About 2 months after the Pit's cover went on, the new city's lights powered up on us diggers, the wind blowing, the rain towers raining.
We took time-lapse shots of the first seedlings sprouting. We even had baby orchards, dwarfed bushes specially made for the caves, all to ourselves before Perth started moving in. No trees, though, but I couldn't miss what I'd never known.
The Pit itself kept its original form, a huge winding terrace, cut through with new stairs and mechanical lifts to help people getting up and down. In the middle, the public works, the hospitals, offices, manufacturing plants, the schools, the swimming pools jammed into a 6 kilometer square space — you know, you live there now. Everything you'd find in a CBD.
0.5 kilometres of depth gave enough of a sensation of space and sky to help even the most claustrophobic breathe easier. The tunnels were packed with houses, each suburb with its own small set of commercial pods to provide the needed local food and facilities. Out in the Pit, we'd hang out in pools and recreate, looking up at the sky technology provided.
Pure air and airflow was a problem, solved by people smarter than me. Water was a problem, and people smarter than me worked that out, too. The water was the fun bit: the 36 vertical shafts down which water rained constantly. No matter where you lived, you'd walk to a shaft and have a sit down and think, listening to the sound of the rain.
With a lot less space than before, and no real sunshine, we lived on staggered times so we wouldn't overload our services. Coscatta's 8am was Toveast's 12pm. The Pit's centre stayed busy and never got too crowded out. None of us had cars, either, though we got pushies as a gift from the government, and the oldies got electric gophers. The cops, ambos, firefighters and emergency services were the only ones who had motorbikes. Took a dedicated suicide like Aldo to stay fat.
The growing fields were amazing. The kids'd hang out between rows at all hours, stripped off and getting their tans.
The move happened just before the Alien hit, 6 solid months of coordinated migration. The cover wasn't sealed shut until the storms got bad enough to poison the air. I was 24 when the Pit migration began. I had my job, serving maintenance crew and occasionally expansion, but us diggers didn't have a barracks any more, a mess hall, nothing. Our pay went back to grunt rates, but there you go. Money down here seemed imaginary anyways, a way people could keep a track of themselves.
Right when our barracks closed down, Runt and I realised we didn't have a house. We moved in with my mother, blissfully happy with the circumstance, even though she cursed us constantly and kept shrinking Arunta's jeans in hot water washes. She and my sister Sami used to run a knickknacks shop in the CBD - the old CBD, the surface one - but based solely on imports what weren't possible any more. Still, for every opportunity lost we'd made sure of another way for people to live. With the in-kind value of their old shop, she and Sami bought and ran their suburb's laundromat.
'Makes it all the more strange why she keeps shrinking my jeans,' Runt said to me once. 'Why's she never shrinking yours or Sami's?'
'Because we're her children, dumbarse. You're the freeloader drinking her beer. You don't even leave money on the fridge.'
'I think she does it because she likes me.'
'I like you.'
'Good to know,' Runt said. 'Because otherwise this whole thing we've got going would be really weird.'
We were on my mum's sofa at the critical-hit moment, the beginning of the weeks of violent tidal waves and earthquakes and steaming heated fury and the toxic stormy crap the scientists told us would be going on up above. After all those countdowns, we'd forgotten the scheduled date. Maybe teachers got schoolkids to stop and record the historic nothing of the end of the world with silence, but for us it came as a bit of an anti-climax.
We were shagging. The sofa kept making this crunching noise, until Runt reached under his back, dug through the pillows and pulled out the problem: an old bag of potato chips.
He ate them. Lying on his back had never gotten in the way of his ability to swallow.
'Your mother's right, you're a fucking pig, and these are stale.'
'If I'm a pig, you're a pigfucker. And who's eating stale chips with what fingers which were just where?'
'Who shoved a half-eaten bag of potato chips-' Arunta checked '-coded from before the migration, and why am I not surprised, behind a sofa cushion?'
'Fair call. Who's going to come over those cushions in 20 seconds?'
'20 seconds,' he snorted into dated BBQ, and decided to wipe his fingers on the sofa, 'flattering yourself, much?'
Feeling guilty about wrecking the couch, no mention of what we kept doing in Mum's shower, I said, 'I think we should get a place of our own.'
'Bloody oath we should,' Runt said. 'Now I'm hungry. I want strawberries. Maybe we should quit digging and become fruit pickers instead, that way we'd get awesome tans. Fruit picking shirtless in sunlamps all day long. All that's missing is the volleyball.'
'You mind much if we finish off here first?'
'So much for it all being over in 20 seconds,' Arunta said, 'you and your promises.'
Cleaning up afterwards, I'd realised the significance of the date thanks to the old packet of potato chips. The wrapper advertised an End of the World draw with the date in red, just like the LED counters neither of us missed.
1 time in the history of the world when I could've used the 'so, lover, did the earth move for you, too?' line.
Ok. Still would've been cheesy. To err is human, to try again, divine?
Arunta and I never got the hang of cleaning up after ourselves. Not until we got kids, anyway, but the kids came years after the Alien hit. Our first year of living alone and together in the Pit, we thought we got hit with a plague of rats.
They were everywhere, like anchovies on pizza. We'd be trying to watch the screen and they'd run across the front. Leave out one paltry packet of potato chips and they'd be rustling all night long. Bread would have mouse-tunnels chewed through. We'd head out to work in the morning and see them running across the road in front of us, lit up silver in the morning lowlights.
'It's because we're crammed in here with no room to move,' said the first pest controller I called. He hated rats personally, learned all their names and small minded ways, that's how much he hated them. 'There's going to be another black plague, you wait and see! Someone's gotta do something about this!'
Meanwhile we wanted him to do something about it, like bait and kill the rats in our house, but after about 3 months they came back. The second pest controller, the one Runt called, was a little more laid back. He took 1 look at our kitchen, 2 looks inside our grill, and said,
'Either get a live-in dishwasher or start eating out.'
'This mouse plague must be giving you a lot of business,' I tried.
He gave me a look, a lot like the looks Sami used to give me. 'You been listening to the shock-awe newsies, have you? Listen, I've been in this business for 20 years, and I can tell you there ain't no mouse plague. There's the same number of rodents from before, just like they organized their own little mouse migration, packing bloody mouse-sized suitcases. So maybe people see them more often, what with less space, but hell, this isn't a plague.' He pointed at our kitchen. 'That's the bloody abomination.'
'Told you you're disgusting,' Runt said.
So I came late to home living, what could I do?
'At least it wasn't cockroaches,' Arunta said. 'Or flies. Fuck, at least not flies!'
The fly plague was a true-blue documented plague, happening in the year Runt started working at the Pit.
The flies were everywhere. They flew in from the desert, they blew in from across the ocean, crawling even into the deepest parts of the Pit itself, inside the Komatsu Wombats, driving everyone mad. They could find the tiniest gap in our interface and get in, and the first we'd know of it was the bite at our eyes. They'd cluster in links of 2 and 3 and 4, feeding off each other and feeding off any wet they'd found.
Fly traps, fly paper and fly spray, nothing worked. We'd wake up and find them stuck in the corners of our eyes, little bloody berries to pick off and swear at. Runt had a hard time. Didn't matter how hot it was, he'd sleep with the sheet tucked up tight over his head.
The next year, the flies were dead. The change had killed them, or maybe the lack of anything else living to feed on.
When we were diggers and the whole Pit was ours, sometimes instead of going into Kal on leave we'd head out further, into the flatlands where all the flies had gone to die, just salt, red dust and chasms. We could find pockets of something hardy surviving, greyish green in the shade of a split rock. We'd set up camp, then go ripping up the landscape for something else to do. If really tanked, or in Runt's case, really strung, we'd hang on the back of the 4WD and get the driver to do their worst. Landscape-surfing, so to speak. We lost 2 4WDs, 1 falling 13 meters down a gully, the other rolling into another. We were tougher than those old runabouts, the worst we ever got were bruises.
The wind blasted so bad we slept in the back of, the front of and under the 4WDs.
Those days, I thought I was being subtle, stalking Arunta. He topped me for sure on the subtlety ranks. In the middle of the night, he'd wait til I got up to take a slash, then he'd crawl into the back of whatever 4WD I'd been in. He'd lie as still as he could. I'd be back in my swag, stretched out and almost snoring again when he'd moan or sigh or yawn.
I'd wake up right up then, eyes wide, heart hammering. Even a yawn or a sigh came branded 'Arunta'. I'd never be able to get back to sleep, not imagining what it'd feel like if I rolled on top of him in the dark, pretending like I was drunk enough not to notice. Come morning we'd slink out, shirtless and hard, me looking like I hadn't slept, because I hadn't, and Runt looking as smug as he always did, the bastard.
We were so sneaky we outsnuck each other. We must've slept together for months before we slept together.
On a night out like that, when the winds were less than lethal, Runt asked me, 'You got any idea what you want to do when we come out?'
'When we do what?'
'When we come out of the hole, dipshit. After.' He pointed up at the sky. 'After the Alien fucker writes itself off playing chicken with our big mother of an earth.'
Everyone stared at him, or their drinks, or the lantern, wherever we'd been staring before he'd spoken.
'I'm buying a farm,' Mel said. 'S'gotta be money in food, after all that shit dies down. Vital industries.'
Selphira, the geologist for our team, said something about starting a private enterprise in the Pit, because she wasn't going to be a digger forever. Mitchell had something else to say about wanting to retire to the beach; Callie and Saul were thinking about flying to Europe, they'd never had a chance to see the great old cities.
'Won't be any cities,' Runt said.
'Sure will,' Saul said. 'Paree's digging in crossways along the Seine River faultline, we'll go check that out. And Venezia, shit, Runt, Venezia's been so reinforced to stop the fucker sinking I wouldn't be surprised if it popped to the surface again after the storms, like a cork.'
Runt punched my shoulder. 'Katashi ain't ever been silent so long. Thinking deep?'
'I'm going river fishing,' I said. 'Under trees. S'the only two things we're not going to have in the hole, rivers and trees. And cows, but cows don't pull my chain. How about you?'
Runt thought carefully, then said, 'I'm thinking about learning double bass.'
We laughed at him.
'Sweetie,' Callie said, 'we're going to be in the hole 30 years or summat, you can learn double bass.'
'Nah,' Runt said, 'can't have real jazz without a sky.'
The conversation came real easy, like we were talking about our retirements. We weren't desperate like those dying flies, our last crazy buzz before we dropped.
That kind of crazy talk came a lot later, 6 years into the cave-in.
Continue to Chapter 5 →
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