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The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax

Chapter 10.

The worst thing about the Alien was that it made every city in the world a pocket of self-conscious isolation. Every city in the world, stuck behind their personal cave-ins. Back to the dark ages, no networks, no connections, only the memory of having it better.

Our children, when we got back out and re-connected, couldn't believe that other cities existed. What Kyr did, talking to people, was make people remember how to form connections. Slow, ponderous, pain-in-the-arse time-consuming connections.

Our 3 to 3 to 3 communication chain, our Ethical Conundrums game became the foundation of Kyr's politics without politics.

'Honestly, I pretend I'm running shareholder committee meetings,' Kyr told me, once, seriously, right before she started laughing.

30 years after we closed the cover, the Alien was nothing but fragments in a crater. The toxic fires stopped years ago, the UV was back to bearable levels, the impact winter halfway balanced out. Hundreds of holes popped their tops, hundreds of bunkers opening blast doors. We resurfaced. While I was limping around to visit our kids, the first thing we did as a people was re-connect globally.

In the early days, diggers just dealt with digging the Pit, but a whole heap of other technicians and fabricators and manufacturers were building a satellite that would be able to survive the Alien's coming.

Then, to be sure, we built 12 of them. 8 survived.

We contacted the Boddington Pit first, then the Kimberly Pit, then Tokyo Pit and too quickly to count, Osaka, Canberra, Darwin, Denpasar, Hay, Karratha, Alice, London. The communications crews were going wild. Not all the stories were good. Some lines never ticked on. Some lines ticked on only for it to be made clear something had happened, cities of 20 000 where there had been 2 000 000, cities that came back with declarations of world supremacy and the advent of a new world order, originating with them, of course, but that was nothing new. It'd be dealt with, just like everything else.

The Boddington Pit was the one that said to us:

'Checked out the beach yet? You should go down. It's really nice. Take sunscreen.'

30 years below ground. Not even 1 human's lifespan. Cockroaches and mice survived. Not flies. Grass did, but a strange kind of grass. Dogs, cats, certain kinds of birds and other small mammals, carnivorous ones, who'd found caves and eaten each other, but not as fast as they could breed.

That was the world's surface, which had been scoured.

The icecaps melted at some point during the storms, or might have reformed, I don't know. The coasts were different. The oceans were warm. Tropical warm. The thing with the storm agitation going on overhead, the water was crazy with oxygen.

I'm guessing a lot of things died. Some things can't change, but out of what survived, it thrived. Standing up on that crest with my mum and Arunta and what people from the Pit could be bothered coming up, we looked down at that crystal clear ocean and saw forever. We could see coral like you wouldn't believe, the shadows of schools of fish, hundreds and hundreds of them, the almost gridded formation of seaweed over in another area, like it was all growing off a ledge planned for it, and it might've been, roads or carparks or something. There were whale sharks, and these weird new jellyfish that glowed at night that would have weighed more than me and Arunta stuck together.

The beach was nice. It was amazing. The first industry that rebirthed, apart from global communications and the reestablishment of a valid economy, was fishing, food packing, and the associated manufacturing.

We looked for a while, then went back home to get on with it.

What did we think was going to happen? We'd dig up where we'd been living for the last 30 years and settle on the beach because it looked nice?

'Fishing's going to be great,' Runt pointed out, while we were sitting on the crest of a dune. The water's edge was about 100 meters away. Even from up there we could see the silver as another school went past, shadows darkening that glowing coral. 'Fishing and trees, isn't that what you wanted? I remember. Fishing and trees. Good fishing, but shame about the trees.'

'Yeah, good, look at the size of that great shiny thing going past.'

'Katashi,' and Runt sounded so strangely serious even my mother had to turn and stare at him, 'can you be serious?'

'I'll try anything twice, you know that.'

'Honestly,' said Arunta, 'the only fishing you're ever going to do is for compliments.'

'Come on, that counts.'

Fishing and trees, fuck. It was easier than saying the only thing I'd ever dreamed of was a plain old life. Runt pegged me square. Up to that point, I had never seen a real live fish, just like I had never seen a real live tree.

Before Kalgoorlie, I'd spent most of my time on the streets in Perth, skating, getting tattoos, smoking, fucking, being hurt and being useless, out of my own choice. Mum couldn't have stopped me, shouldn't have. She kept me fed no matter where I crashed out, made sure I got some kind of a job even if it meant I had to go away from her. I had done nothing else with my life except dig, I'd never even learned to make coffee from grounds or learned to ink or cooked anything more complicated than a carbonara. I was a digger because that's what I did, and because that's what I did, I was a digger.

'I'd need hooks,' I said. 'I know that much from porn. I mean, movies, sorry, Ma. And lures, and weights.'

'Bait,' Arunta said.

'Bait. Worms, if we can dig up any. I've seen it on the screen. I would've been able to work it out if I'd ever had to try.'

'I never said you couldn't.'

'So long as we're clear on that. Whether or not I want to, though...'

Eventually, Arunta said, 'I know how to fish. My gran used to take me, before I got put away. I'll show you out when your knee's up to it again.' He scratched his own knee and said, 'It's boring, so we'll probably end up sleeping, or screwing.'

'That'd make a change,' my mum said.

I was hurt. 'Hey, for all you know it might've been a while.'

'Yeah,' Runt said. '14 hours. Not that Katashi's counting or anything.'

Right about them Mum put her hands over her ears, which was good, because then I could say: 'S'make an effort tonight, sweetheart. Split a sixpack, and commemorate the end of the end of the world.'

'Eh,' he said. 'Might need another couple of hours quality closet time before you go getting excited. Too much bloody variety in my diet these days.'

'Oh yeah, and it was so much better when we just had mushrooms.'

Arunta gave me 1 of his hopeful looks.

'Hey, don't look at me, I had coffee this morning, you know what that does to my gut.'

'Boys,' my mum said, suddenly, and a bit too loud because of her hands over her ears, 'Every day of your lives, you make me despair that it can never possibly get better than this.'

After a moment, I said to Runt, 'So when people ask us what we did to commemorate the end of the end of the world, are we going to tell them we got shitfaced?'

Arunta grinned, staring ahead at that impossible ocean, like it was the funniest thing I'd ever said.

We sat there for a while, being sandblasted. Runt dug up a few stalks of that strange grass everywhere, which seemed to survive by growing under the surface of the sand. Each time the wind blew it was uncovered, to be covered by the next gust. Survival in spurts, so to speak. The ocean made ocean sounds. Never thought I missed that, only to realise I had. There were others sitting on the sand with us, in pairs, families, the strings who had wandered up as they willed it. The children were great to watch, screaming with glee because the sun was setting. It'll come back, their grandparents were telling them. Promise it will!

Arunta shouldered me. 'I think the old lady's feeling her 5pm blood sugar drop coming on. Wanna go home?'

And you know, I didn't? I felt strange, like I was in a dream, and I didn't want to wake up. I said, 'I guess it'll be here tomorrow.'

'You hope.'

'Any reason why I shouldn't?'

Before the Alien, long before the Alien, there had been another kind of world crisis. Smart people envisaged the end of the world coming in a great tide of hungry humanity, devouring this world faster than the mushrooms could grow.

Smarter people thought about solutions. Different ways of devouring, that didn't destroy. Development, said those smarter people, not growth. Growth was cancerous.

In the worst of the dark days, when we were going mad, the architect told me what I thought was a story about people building a city in a tree. I'd heard wrong. The story was about people building a city that was a tree.

After the smart people worked out we were going to die, by Alien or by ourselves, smarter people tossed around a few different ideas. 1 idea came from a group of architects who spent their whole lives building imaginary cities. This team of architects once built an entire imaginary city for 2 000 000 people that was based on volume, not surface area. The city was cubic, 3 kilometers by 3 kilometers by 3 kilometers. That's 27 kilometers, for 2 000 000 people. Dense for some, spacious for others. The architects built everything into this city. Fantasy rainwater shafts, packed with purifiers, and a roof that collected water when it rained and generated condensation when it didn't rain and collected that instead. Farms and industrial precincts linked in great big chains so the wastes were useful, powering the next kind of industry along. Nothing created that couldn't be re-made. Levels, cities within cities, and no one was further than an hour's walk from anywhere else.

It was a fantasy city because none of the technology existed, and because no one had any reason to want to change.

When the Alien came we had all the reason not in this world to change.

The best way to describe the city, said the team of architects, it to call it a tree.

A cube? Nah, don't ever be deceived by the form of the thing. Form is nothing, the cover on the book, so to speak. A tree, an organism: that's what the city was It takes in poisons from the environment and outputs oxygen. It sustains ecosystems while being a part of one. It's a self-sustaining structure, where the structure itself is the infrastructure. It fosters life, and every waste product falls to the root and is used again, fertilizer or nutrients, reintegrated into the city's onwards growth. Call the city a tree, a living thing, that supports and sustains life itself. The shape is irrelevant.

Look at what a thing does to determine what it is.

To think, once upon a time we'd wasted all that time thinking we were living in a hole in the ground.

January 2010, complete.

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