The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax
Another thing that happened because of that cave-in, apart from my sister Sami being married and being murdered, was that word got out about how Kyr had looked after us. All those interviews, those news reports. Kyr was our network administrator, and we were her network. We didn't have to do anything except connect.
She became mayor. Later on, when the Pit opened up and we connected with the rest of the world, she became our Representative.
She wasn't a leader, I'd said it before. She didn't do anything inspiring. She didn't tell anyone what to do. Lots of others, like the doctor, some of the engineers, tried being the rally point in the dark, tried to stir us up, but Kyr kept keeping on, talking to people and making them talk.
Later on I found out she'd come from a family of 17 children, and she was the middle one. 17! We didn't dare breed families like that any more. I'm glad Kyr's did, though, if that's where she learned to talk.
It would have surprised our ancestors, someone like Kyr becoming Rep. No surprise to us. Being under for 30 years, in total isolation, politics had become something different to what it was. We couldn't talk city to city. We were alone when we most needed to know that people were thinking of us. Kyr thought of us. Kyr thought of every 1 of us, and made sure we were thinking about every single other person, too.
She even visited Arunta in 100% voluntary prison once, after Runt had been beaten nearly to death for something or the other.
See, Runt called his prison stints 100% voluntary. What he said, years later, was that being trapped behind that cave-in was the real imprisonment, involuntary. There was nothing he could have done to avoid it.
All he'd needed to do to avoid voluntary prison was remember that everyone was fucked up at times, and that no one deserved to be glassed in the face because of it.
Whatever the tan of his skin, Runt bruised real easy. The Komatsu Wombat did him badly, always, big dark mottles on Runt's shoulders, and his hips where the casing pinched. I'd bruise him kissing, or fucking. It took me years to get over that and bite him like I wanted to, and even then I'd only do it where it wouldn't be seen, like the crease of his thigh or behind his knee.
Even sleep bruised Runt. He'd wake up with the skin of his forehead folded and cheek layered with lines, and where his skin had pinched, a line of bruise lingered there the whole day. Lack of sleep bruised him worse, eyes dug into their sockets like holes in the ground.
In the cave-in, his bruising got really scary after we started starving for real.
I'd only see Arunta that once a day, and every day, he had new bruises. What had he been doing to himself, pinching himself everywhere when I wasn't looking, trying to work out if he was his own dreaming?
Towards the end, people didn't like the lone surviving sunlamps. The GM seeds had expiry dates, and they'd reached them, and lighting up the lamps showed the dead dirt tanks and the humps of mushrooms poking out the sides. It would be me, Runt, and maybe only 30 others who craved the light. We'd lie around that room, like mushrooms that forgot we didn't really need this.
It was like that 1 day when I stared at Runt, covered with bruises and thin, and starving, but with his goddamned razor sharp hairstyle thanks to that civil engineer who was doing us more good as a hairdresser, when Arunta said, 'You've never looked at me like that before.'
I said, 'Like what?'
He said, 'Like we're going to die. You've never,' and he bloody choked, the bastard, 'you've never— I been relying on you, I've been relying on you, you can't look at me like that.'
Arunta stood up. He said to me, to everyone there, 'I don't do this in public. I don't— I hold your hand in the dark and we walk everywhere like that and we fuck in the dark like our lives fucking depend on it, but now you're staring at me with those bloody eyes, Katashi, and I can't deal with it. So I'm taking my clothes off and I'm crawling inside of yours, because we're not dying, and this way everyone's going to have something to laugh at instead of staring at me with eyes like that. Look at us, hugging in the mud. Look and laugh.'
'No one's going to say that, Runt,' someone else said, but Arunta cried, half out of his thin-as-bone shirt already:
'Well they fucking should, this sort of shit ain't meant for public eyes, is it? What's the point in doing it if it's not going to make you smile?'
It was the first time I'd seen him properly naked in years.
And he crawled inside my clothes and licked up my tatts like he'd missed the flavour, he licked my cheek and growled, 'You don't get this far hauling me along to die.'
I had to talk, my mouth was dry as the concrete I was lying on, I had to say something to him. 'Half way,' I said, because Kyr had lied to us at the beginning and told us 12 years, because she'd been lied to and told 10. '6 more years to go. Who's dying?'
'Why do you have to count everything?' Runt was biting me. 'You count everything. Numbers numbers numbers, that's you. Except it doesn't change 1 thing, tallying it up. Don't you ever look at me like that again.'
Arunta's bones were cutting me now that I could see them and feel them, I didn't know if I wanted to hold him or wrap him up in blankets. It was too hard to move, though, so we lay there and clenched at each other.
So, that was embarrassing.
But other people did it too, like they were waiting for someone to just break and do it first, holding each other under those last 2 sunlamps in the world. Rocking each other, saying nothing mostly, touching where the touching could be seen. 3 hours a day of light, so faint by now, so many globes blown, 3 generators down beyond any kind of repair.
It made me think of those days just before the Alien hit. Unlike the Pit, no one talked about what we were going to do when we got out. For a while, we forgot there had ever been anything but for this.
The sunlamps died completely by the end of that year.
We consolidated the street light globes into 1 street. It felt better having 1 bright place in that darkness instead of faint light everywhere. It meant we lived in the dark completely except for when we'd sit under the streetlights, reconstitute powder into protein, sometimes after sweeping it up off the street, and remember we'd once had things like Ethical Conundrums and story time and more than mushrooms.
Sure, we went mad.
Someone did tell a story. It was 1 of those stories you couldn't remember who told you. Maybe no one had, maybe it was born out of 300 of us thinking the same thing. Gotta have a lot of force, 300 people thinking the same thing. What we were thinking was:
We were the only survivors.
The effort to bulwark the face of the Pit hadn't worked, and it'd collapsed in on the city, taking out the infrastructure necessary to survive. The growing fields went the way that ours did. A city full of people died. And if our little Australasian city had died, then probably the other ones had as well. Tokyo pit, dead by earthquake. Osaka pit, dead by rising tide in areas no one had predicted. Canberra pit, consumed by its own geothermal powers. Venice, the bubble city, emptied by plague. London's epic infrastructure, destroyed from the inside out by riot.
The mind is an amazing place.
Into year 7, we started to fight in bad ways. We went back to not talking. 2 people were raped, and Kyr got beaten up by people who wanted to be told what to do, not how to think. Someone took the food from our street, and Arunta raged, didn't move for 3 days until I told him ok, we were going to go fight and take it back. We did, he and me for everyone on our street, because he was 2.1m tall and I was built like a barrel. We fought like we were selfish and we wanted to live. Who knows what happened in the dark. We'd reconvene in the light, like the zombies of Arunta's stories, staring at what we'd done to each other while blind and not knowing what to say.
Thinking we were the only people left did strange things. There were no children. Maybe if we'd had children in with us it would've been different. Runt thought it would've been worse, because there's nothing worse than being told to suck it up by someone who's never known anything different, but suddenly, people were talking about having children. We should be having children. It was our duty to have children, even if we didn't want to. The contraceptives were criminal. We were the only ones left. Little groups got together to talk about this, not groups of 3 where every voice could be heard, but groups of 4 against 1, or 6 against 2, shouting each other down. Duty, duty, and duty, until we went deaf with it.
Seemed like a dumb idea to me, I tried to say, 1 against 6. Seemed to me like the only reason to have children was to give them more of the world, not less. I only got as far as 'dumb' before someone shouted me down. Apparently faggots didn't get a say in this 1, which made it a mystery why they'd come asking our opinion.
Runt didn't find it a mystery. Arunta knew. Runt stood up, knees cracking in the dark, before I could've known what was going on.
'You don't shout him down,' Runt said, and then his knuckles cracked in the dark, too. 'You don't say that to us. You don't come to our house expecting us to give our muscle to your stupid side when we shouldn't be having sides! You don't make a decision for 300 when there's only 6 of you sitting here!'
It felt like more than 6 against 2 when they started swinging fists.
'We're talking about rape,' Arunta said, to a street full of people and in the light, where no one had the courage to hit a face as bruised as that. 'We're making excuses. There's always a choice!'
'It's not,' said a painter, real shocked. 'This is survival.'
'And that is the dumbest excuse ever,' Runt said. 'What was the point of digging this Pit and surviving the Alien if we aren't better than 'survival' by now?'
'That is the point,' said a plumber. 'Because it is survival, innit? The Pit was— if it'd worked it would've been a great idea, but it fucked up, and this is survival. We ain't ever going to get out of here. We should dig our way out, damned be the others and we gotta survive, right? God, I wasn't meant to live in the dark like this!'
Back in the day, Eskimos lived in the dark longer than this, I remember thinking. Something like that. Siberians. 6 months of winter. The first people on the moon, the rocket ship we'd sent out twenty years ago and never heard from again. Lifetimes in the dark, and the cold, less people and less food. We were angry only because we knew we had better.
'So now there's others still alive to damn?' Kyr said. 'You're going to be pretty damned embarrassed when you tip 1/2 the Pit onto the city, mate.'
'Noah's bloody arc!' someone shouted, 'there's 300 of us here, we're not going to be the last ones left!'
'I'm sick of it,' Runt said. 'This talk about surviving. Doing what's needed to survive. This isn't survival. This is life.'
'Nah,' I told him. 'This is survival. Our lives are out there in the Pit.'
He said, suddenly real quiet, 'Given up on dying, Katashi?'
I said, 'Only 5 more years to go, Runt. If we can make it without screaming.'
2 things happened as a result of everyone going mad.
1. The last 15 condoms disappeared.
2. The Komatsu Wombats were sabotaged.
Kyr didn't take out the Wombats. Sure, she was worried someone would break and start digging, she came to me more than once to talk about how worried she was, but she wouldn't have done it. An engineer, maybe. Maybe even the diggers' supe did it.
The condoms were easier to solve. Arunta took them, said to me if we were going to start with the rapine and despair and pillaging then we didn't need them, did we?
The last condoms were glow-in-the-dark ones. Runt let them out in the light for 1 hour, next to his leg where we were sitting, without anyone knowing they were there. After the lights went out, before we'd slunk off, he inflated them quick and started hitting those brilliant balloons into the crowd. Not exactly waterbombs, but there's always something about people and balloons, especially glow-in-the-dark ones, great glowing balls floating through that giant black nothing. We started hitting them back.
Beach volleyball, without a beach or a volleyball.
'Happy new year,' Runt said, hitting a balloon back into the air.
'Is it new year?' I asked.
'Don't know,' he said, 'happy birthday, if you want.'
7 years in the dark, and someone actually laughed.
CoP diggers broke through from the other side right about then. It made a fair bit of noise.
We ran to the cave-in entrance. You would not believe how we ran, starving and dying of scurvy and everything. Bouncing glowing condom balloons along, we ran. It took 3 diggers an hour to break through that last bit of rockfall, the slope behind them cleared for the churn to fall, no need to stop and tidy up. We watched and waited. It was light the whole time, getting lighter and lighter the closer they came. The diggers took off their masks and looked at us.
What do you say to zombies? Especially zombies with razor-cut hairstyles fondling condom balloons while they waited. Not to mention the way half of us were wearing adapted curtains instead of clothes. 7 years could be harsh on the seams.
'Oh, sure,' said 1 digger to the next, '7 years we've been digging, and here they are, having a flaming party.'
It was like coming out of prison, even 5 years early. It wasn't the city we'd known. It wasn't the city we'd built. The riots, remember? And the bugs, the fires, who knows what else. They happened while we were safely locked away.
A lot of people died. The Pit was 1/2 empty. Sometimes shit happens. You get on with it.
Kyr came into her own at exactly the right time.
Continue to Chapter 10 →
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