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The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax

Chapter 5.

I never knew how terrified Runt was of the Pit. He became a digger because he needed to know how this lifesaver worked. He couldn't trust a thing unless he'd been a part.

Funny thing to think, because we'd all been a part. The Pit's our city. Can't live without it, can't live without being a part of it.

You've noticed I have a multipurpose 'we'.

I say we, and I mean the unit Arunta and I make. I say we, and I mean my family, my mum, Runt, the kids. I mean, we diggers, or even, we 300, who lived through the cave-in.

I mean we, Australasia Pacific, I mean we, the world.

I mean we, all of us, all at once. 'Them' and 'us' lived before my time, well before yours. The last 'they' had been the Assembly, people taken out of the great big world of all of us and told to decide our fates. They decided being a 'them' and an 'us' sucked.

We're not so bad. We survived the worst. Even survived the cave-in.

My mum, now, survived the end of the world's ending. She was 97, and died 4 years later, typical for her generation. Doctors tell me I will live to 120, nearly, long enough to see the end of the world's latest beginning.

The end of the end of the world, exactly like the beginning of the end, proved another kind of anti-climax.

30 years after the Alien hit, everyday life up above became a good idea again. I say everyday, because assorted industries worked up above almost since the immediate firestorm died down. Storms, even toxic storms and acid rain, are full of energy and chemicals, stuff for a canny scientist to harvest like apples and oranges.

The real end of the end was announced over the screens.

The cover stayed, too damned useful to get rid of, distilling out the toxins, collecting water, recycling our own. The weather wasn't too stable, either, and the cover kept our temperature even. The blast gates were unlocked and wouldn't be locked again. Everyone was free to do what we wanted to do, up above or down below, with associated warnings: the water level risen, take sunscreen, take pure water, take goggles and don't get lost; mind the weather, and the children who hadn't seen outside before, be kind to each other and thank our bloody ancestors.

Runt and I waited with Mum until the first rush of eager people stopped choking the exits. She listened to the screen message over and over. I don't think she believed us. She told me her great great grandmother hadn't believed the moon landing either. The old ancestor of mine thought the landing was a lie, a joke, scoffing in the face of anyone who tried to convince her we'd landed on the moon.

Once we got up there, something like salt covered Kal's red earth, white as snow. The air was hot, almost as hot as now, ready to drop to below-freezing every night. The weather forecast for the next 30 years was for sporadic cyclonic rainstorms, 80% humidity and wind, wind, wind. The transport dropped us off about 0.5 kilometers from the new beach.

Now me, I'd managed to dislocate my knee 3 weeks prior doing something middle-aged people shouldn't have been doing, which had Runt laughing at me for days. I made the 0.5 kilometer walk on crutches.

Mum gave out after 100 meters. I went on for a bit, not noticing, but Runt whacked my shoulder for a head's-up. He jogged back to her.

'Ma,' he bawled out, 'come on!'

The sight of her left me poleaxed. Tiny in her batik pantsuit, fly-eyed with the goggles and her big bun of hair. She looked like she was shaking, but that could've been the wind tugging at her clothes. I didn't know when she'd gotten so thin.

Runt went back to her, picked her up and carried her onwards. I would have told him middle-aged people shouldn't be going around picking up strange women, he'd end with a dislocated knee if he wasn't careful, but Mum was making my protest for me. She beat Arunta around the ears with her handbag, whacking him every few seconds shouting, 'Donkey!'

'Check it out, I think your ma's trying to tell me something. Either that or she wants me to go faster.'

'Turn right,' I said, 'I think she means? She's going at your right ear? Is her weight leaning to the left?'

'Is this another one of your sick games? Some allusion you think I'm too old and too stupid to understand? I give up, you boys, I give up! I tried and tried with you, but look at you both, great big stupid giants, I can't believe you lived to make your mother weep!'

Then she shut up because we'd made it over the crest.

We stared at the ocean. She started crying, clutching at Runt's arms.

'I can't believe you lived to make your mother weep,' she said, and this time it sounded like praise.

Runt took off his goggles, still a dumbarse, swearing at the pain. 'Ain't that something.'

Then he cradled my mother like a baby, walked unsteadily down to the mild little waves and swore he'd toss her in.

It hadn't ever been our world up there. For Runt and for me, seeing it again was like looking at heritage, honouring our ancestors' shrine. Our lives were in the Pit.

We'd been through 6 foster kids by then, grown up, settled in with other families, or moved on, hopefully the better for having known us both. When the screens announced the date the blast gates would be opening, I popped round to see the 6 of them, even on crutches. I wanted to make sure they'd make the effort to have a look.

Finiel our first, I found last. Fin'd always been looking for a way to escape the Pit. He'd been born down here, so his fear of living here never made sense to me.

After I found Fin, I sat with him in hospital for 2 hours, holding his hand and telling him stories of blue skies, looking for the flicker of his lids. I'll be honest. The telling took the heart out of me. Some things are hard to do even for a talker like me.

'Well?' Runt asked when I got back.

'Maybe we'll see them up there, maybe not. Can't pressure people into things, you know. Rue's got all her brood, you know, takes her half a day to get them marshaled, and you know what Cal's like with promises, and Fin— Yeah, well. Fin.'

'Lazy good for nothing buggers,' Runt said, mildly. 'Let's take Mum instead.'

No one from those early days, when the Pit was for diggers and dreaming, would have guessed we'd keep on.

It was hard for me, living alone those first 5 years on the Pit, trying to grow up. One of the youngest, the youngest in my field, and me who never shut up. I even talk in my sleep, Runt told me.

He didn't tell me when we started together. I'd wake up and find him staring at me with this hollow look on his face, cheeks sucked in, like he wasn't sure whether he wanted to run or eat me. Eat me, it turned out, in great hungry swallows of exactly how much I gave.

Before I met Arunta, I'd done other longtermers in Perth, but I'd been a kid then, handjobs in corners with the homeless. A few times out on the Pit, I sucked cock for the mind-fodder, not for the men.

Kalgoorlie made it easy to be alone. Always a miner's town, full of excuses: knotholes and glory holes and all sorts of wanking fodder. Back in my bunk, I'd be jerking off with quick strokes remembering myself on my knees, the thick taste in my mouth. I didn't jerk off like that when I did the sucking. I'd do it slow and hard, like I wanted to snap my dick, and when I came it'd shoot halfway across whatever back room we were in. Hard to remember the desperation now. 'Give it to me,' I'd say. The other guy would come in his hand and flick it at me. I'd lick it, too, off wooden floorboards, eyes shut tight. I can still feel the grain on my tongue.

Can you believe I haven't seen wooden floorboards in decades? No trees!

The first time I'd sucked Runt off, I couldn't get over how he kept looking at me, and I kept looking at him, like the eyes were more important than everything else. Maybe they were, we'd be wearing goggles outside and our interface at work, the only time we'd see each other's eyes where when we got naked.

I wanted to make him come so badly. It struck me, everything and everyone before him had been mind-fodder for me only. Treating people like wanking machines, that's what I'd been doing. This was — this is different. Arunta's whole face, his whole body turned thin with hunger when I'd suck him, moaning like he'd never been sucked before. He'd pull out and polite as you can imagine, he'd come on my lips so he could kiss it off me.

Sex stopped being selfish.

And he was kinky, Runt, kinky as easy as breathing. Didn't need to drink or be desperate. Nothing strange to pull a belt tight around his throat and ask me to pull his arse wide and wet on him. Next day out we'd be jogging our track and checking to see if we could better our time from yesterday, or getting food, or visiting the kids.

2 500 000 people, and what were the odds?

Sometime after we got out of the cave-in, Arunta forgot that we were living in a hole. Almost as soon as he'd let it go, he went and did something right quick to put himself back into another kind of hole, locked doors and everything, by glassing Jaysee in the face.

I couldn't visit Arunta in correctional. Not the way we needed to see each other. That was the most unfairness in my life. Allison got conjugal rights with people she never married, like Jaysee, who met Allison by handwritten letter and who good-graciously decided not to hate rioters like the poor one he screwed. Not me, not Arunta. Face time only.

I thought Runt would die in there. 2.1 meters of 38 year old digger's muscle, and I thought he'd die in there. Stupid, huh? Only a 5 year sentence.

5 years was only 16% of the time we would spend bottled up in this great hole of ours. But 71% of the time we'd spent trapped behind a cave-in.

Continue to Chapter 6

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