|From:||Simon and Fiona sfuller@******.com.au|
|Date:||Sat, 30 Sep 2000 12:34:35 +1000|
split it into 4 sections to be kinder to your email servers.
Please read, enjoy, and comment, helpful advice will be appreciated.
by Simon Fuller
The airport was overcrowded. It was Mardi Gras time in Sydney, and there was
a truly exotic blend to the crowd. For nearly a century the Sydney Mardi
Gras attracted the worldwide gay community in a massive celebration of their
sexuality. Eddie felt uncomfortable and decidedly underdressed in his cotton
drill work clothes and brown Akubra cowboy hat. He was a dull blob in a riot
of colour, holding a sign that read “Cross” above his head. Hating the city
at the best of times, the pressing mob was making his tension levels rise
into the red.
When Cross arrived, there was no mistaking him or his wife. They moved like
a pair of sharks through a school of sardines. As they walked the crowd
would open up around them, closing as they passed. Cross was tall and solid;
he walked and moved with a strange, jerking gait that was almost mechanical.
His eyes were strange mirrors, like the chrome look cybereyes the bad guys
always have on the trid, but more reflective still. They gave the impression
that Cross was locked away in his personal world, and nothing got in. In the
heat he wore a heavy looking coat and army surplus underneath. His wife was
like his opposite. Where he was diamond hard edges, she was rounded,
yielding flesh. Where he forced away anything outside himself, she warmly
invited in. She was dressed in loose, light clothes that accentuated the
body beneath far more than they covered it. As they came closer, a faint,
unusual perfume wafted over Eddie. They stopped in front of him, and both
looked him over, sizing him up. Cross at last said “So, you’re Eddie Marks.”
“That’s right, “ Eddie said, extending his hand, “Mr Cross?”
Cross shook his hand, and Eddie felt the cold metal of an induction plate
against his palm. “This is my wife Lily.”
Lily took his hand, but instead of shaking it, she held it in a way that
seemed to invite a gentlemanly kiss on its back. Her skin was warm and soft.
Now Eddie noticed that her eyes were blue, but an impossible blue, like
holes cut into the summer sky, and without any of the texture and variation
that normal eyes had. She smiled. “I’m going to enjoy this little
excursion.” She said in a voice of hot liquid velvet. There was something
about her that put Eddie’s instincts on alert, he wasn’t sure what, but
instead of his libido, it was his hunter’s senses that were aroused. Lily
wasn’t showing any signs of letting go, so Eddie dropped his hand and said
“Lets grab your bags and we’ll find somewhere to go over the travel plans.”
“No. We leave immediately.” Cross said.
“You sure? It’ll be a long drive, and you must be tired after...”
“We leave now.” No emotion, just a finality that brooked no argument.
“You’re the boss, Mr Cross. I’ll grab your stuff”
“Don’t you just love that accent?” Lily said as he led the way tho the
baggage claim area. Ohboy, Eddie thought, this is going to be a hell of a
The drive through Sydney’s streets was slow and irritating. It took three
hours before they reached the wall, and Eddie was really gettting in the
mood to pull out his rifle to thin out the herd a bit. Innocently
fantasising about gunning down the idiot in the city-made four wheel drive
in front of him got him to the checkpoint with sanity intact. The wall was
huge, designed more to keep the populace at ease than to offer any real
safety from the paranimals. It marked the line between Safety and Dreamtime,
Civilisation and the Wild. At the checkpoint, Eddie and his passengers
signed a variety of forms waiving the Government’s duty to protect them, the
insurance agencies’ duty to cover them, and the Megacorps’ restriction from
blowing them away if they came within a hundred kilometers of one of their
sites. Eddie always appreciated this when taking people outside, it drove
home the fact that it wasn’t fun and games in the bush. Of course, it was
all exaggerated out of proportion for legality’s sake, but there was no need
to tell the Americans that.
And finally, they were out of the city.
As they drove, the pair got quieter, more on edge. Eddie judged that neither
had been outside of the sprawling cities of the UCAS in their lives. He
pointed out a few things as they travelled roughly south, but the pair did
not seem interested. After a while Cross plugged a thin cable into the jack
on his temple, then into a smallish black box that Eddie couldn’t catch more
than a glimpse of, and slumped back, eyes closed. Lily was staring out the
window, a look of mixed fear and wonder on her face. Eddie ran his eyes over
her. Even just sitting in a car, she automatically assumed a pose most often
seen on Matrix girly sites. Again Eddie wondered about her. She was sex on a
plate, and more than happy to flirt with him, but something bothered him. It
wasn’t her husband, he looked the type to take physical action against the
slightest offence, but he didn’t seem to care what she did, and more than
once in the past Eddie had stolen a girl from under the nose of a bigger,
angrier man. Of course that was when he was a kid, back in his army days. He
had a bit more respect now. Still, she was a puzzle.
They camped that night on a beach in Victoria. It was desolate and quiet,
the nearest human life was a small elven commune about fifty kilometres
north. They had started a large fire, and Eddie had set alarm beams around
the camp. It wasn’t his country here, so he didn’t want to take chances.
Cross sat staring into the fire, Lily had her head resting on his lap and
she lay out flat in the sand, her toes drawing circles in the sand near
Eddie’s leg. “So, “ she said, “Tell me about how the ground’s alive. Some
old runners we talked to had a lot of stories.”
“Old runners?” Eddie asked.
“Slang for people who like to go out in the wilderness sightseeing.” Cross
“Oh. Well, it isn’t really the ground, more the rocks. They absorb all the
excess mana that is in the air, and they kind of come to life. Some experts
say that it’s Uluru that causes it, since the closer to the middle of the
country you get, the stronger the wild magic is.”
“Ayer’s Rock? No? “Well, it’s this massive rock, biggest single rock in the
world they tell me, I think it’s what’s left of a bloody huge volcano from a
few million years ago. It’s like a big mana battery, and it’s more like a
living thing nowadays. Anyway, here near the coast you’re safe, but further
inland you really have to watch out. Any rock bigger than a meter across can
be dangerous, the bigger the badder.”
“That’s just freaky, “ Lily said, “We have dragons and bandersnaches and all
sorts of weird things in the UCAS, but who ever heard of living rocks?”
“Well, they don’t get up and walk around, they just kind of change shape,
very slightly, just enough to roll onto you when you aren’t looking or spill
you off a cliff. The Aborigines used to talk about the Nargun and spirits
that live in the rocks, once again they were right.”
“How does anyone live out there then?”
“By respecting the country. The new-tribes get along just fine, if anything
the rocks help them, and in return they are very careful about not harming
any balance, taking only what they need. The mining corps, on the other
hand, tried automating everything, but the cost of lost machinery was too
high. Now they pay huge wages, but have the highest mortality rate in any
“And people still go out there?”
“Yeah, if you can do it for ten years, you can retire a rich man. And just
enough manage to make it so that it seems like a good idea. When you live in
the sprawls and go hungry more often than not, a lot of things can seem like
a good idea.”
Cross grunted, and lay down. The conversation was over. Eddie sighed and
looked up at the billions of stars. The other two never looked up.
It was a hot day, and the further they drove the hotter it got. The east
coast was left behind, and now they were approaching the ocean again, the
Great Australian Bight and the city of Ceduna. Cross leaned forward from the
back and asked “There’s nothing but blasted ruins for hundreds of miles, how
come the road is in such good condition?”
“The corps.” Eddie said. “They fund the Government for road building. Some
of the best roads outside of Germany are out here, so the corps can drive
their mining convoys to the coast.”
“Typical, the roads in the city were falling apart, and out here where no
fragger goes they are perfect.”
“That’s one way of looking at it. But they pay a fortune to keep these roads
in good nick. One good mana storm can obliterate hundreds of kilometers of
road in an afternoon.”
“Oh good, “ interrupted Lily, “There’s a city up ahead, lets stop.”
“We aint stopping in no fragging city.” Said Cross.
“That’s right, we’re not even going in. It’s a Corp city, BHP.” Eddie added.
“Oh frag. I need civilisation. I’m sure something got into my hair last
night and never came out.” Lily pouted.
Eddie took the Land Rover off the road at a point that looked just like any
other to Cross and Lily, and the ride quickly resembled the inside of a spin
cycle. That did not last long, though, eventually a track sputtered into
existence, two tire tracks through the scrub. Dust flew up everywhere, a
huge, expanding serpent made of dust followed the Land Rover and
occasionally a wind would cause the dust to overtake the vehicle and shroud
it in red-brown haze. It was afternoon before there was another washing
machine ride, and then the blissful, smooth road. “Choppers.” Said Lily.
Cross jumped for the window and scanned the sky. Eddie also looked back when
he could. “They’d just be from Ceduna, checking out who was driving near the
city.” Eddie said.
“Why should they give a frag?” asked Cross, tense as a piano wire, “We didn’
t go near the fragging city.”
“Road pirates. They sometimes come down here. Don’t worry about it, they’ll
see that we’re just one car and go back to base.”
“Can you loose them?” Cross asked.
“Just do it, Cowboy.”
“And where do you suggest I go?” Eddie asked, waving an arm toward
kilometres of flat terrain covered in low scrub and spinifex, “Besides, we
start looking like we’re trying to hide, it’s going to draw their
Cross grunted, but didn’t say anything else. Both were watching the distant
helicopters like mongeese watching a snake. Who the hell are these people?
Eddie thought, And why are they so paranoid?