I froze as Dad approached me. He hugged me but I remained limp, unable to make the leap in my fuzzed out brain about the events of the last day. I didn’t pinch myself--- I’d been doing that all day and here I was--- still in an upside-down world. Maybe Dad could make some sense of my predicament.
It wasn’t just my surprise that fed my next question --- it was also anger. ‘What the crap are you doing here---? I---where---oh shit!’
Dad moved away and pointed to two plastic chairs. Mick hadn’t said anything so far. He looked even more dumbfounded than me. ‘I guess you’ve been wondering where I went---- then in a sense you know, or perhaps it’s when?’ Dad said.
‘You guess!—shit Dad--- you disappear, Mum dies’---I stopped. The look of absolute horror was enough for me to melt a bit. ‘Of course, you wouldn’t know would you? You’ve been here I suppose. How the hell did you---- and then me--- and---damn--- Just tell me what the hell’s going on.’
Yeah---- Tom’s right, Sam---you can’t disappear like you did and then-----God--- I’m stuffed if I even know what to ask now,’ Mick said.
Dad glanced at the open door and said to the guards, ‘Leave us for a while guys. They aren’t going anywhere.’ He searched our faces, almost sending silent plea to understand. From where I was, I could almost feel a fear and sadness in him.
‘I won’t try to say I understand why or how we all arrived here-----it’s a bit beyond me---- let’s say that there’s a plan behind all this and it has something to do with the people you were with a while ago. That man you call Luden is more than he appears.’
‘We’ve figured out that much Dad, but how did you get mixed up with those Reclaimers? It feels like there’s a war going on here and as far as this place--- it’s not the New Plymouth we knew. It’s buggered--- where’s everyone gone?’
‘Slow down son. I know you have every right to be pissed off with me. Hell I left that day and you haven’t seen me since---- can’t say I’m all that pleased with things either. I didn’t mean to go that day. I was only going to town and then next minute---- well--- I’m here and that’s been for the last six months.’ He stopped. ‘Mum’s dead----how?’ He looked like he was going to break, then he steeled himself. This was not the dad I knew.
‘Six months---- bloody hell Sam,’ Mick said. ‘This time thing is really playing tricks on us. We’ve been here about ten hours--- I think--- I don’t know anymore.’
Dad switched off his sad face. He was starting to confuse me. ‘I know how you feel Mick. You and Tom have a great deal to find out about this place. You must be wondering how I ended up with the Reclaimers--- well, it’s all a matter of survival. I ran into them--- when I first arrived and they seemed to know about the time travel thing. Actually, they’re scarred shitless of it. They see it as something that is a threat to them, alongside that Luden guy, that is.’
Our conversation was rudely interrupted by one of the New Police charging through the door. ‘We’ve got to move sir! --- Now--- let’s get this lot out--- the jail has been attacked and they’ve broken all of the prisoners out and now they’re on the way here!’
Three heavily armed men joined us and in seconds we were being escorted to the back of the building where a large truck that had been converted into a makeshift armed carrier was about to leave. Outside the door four similar vehicles were already speeding away.
The back of the carrier was cramped and it smelled of decay---human or vegetative? ---- I didn’t want to know. As we drove out and followed the other vehicles, gun fire shattered the night again. ‘They’re aiming at out tyres!’ one of the guards yelled above the straining engine. The odd ping informed us that their shots weren’t totally accurate.
‘Good-----our escorts have arrived. That’ll give us some space,’ Dad said. We could hear motorbikes alongside us and someone was returning fire.
‘Where are we going Dad? Or should I ask—when?’
‘I know where you’re coming from Tom. I think that we may be heading towards one of our other strongholds. It’s getting too hot for us around here now that most of our ‘birds’ have lost their feathers.’
I noticed Ted’s smirk. He didn’t seem to want any attention from the guards so he had been quiet since our capture. My head was still full of questions about Dad’s involvement with the Reclaimers. I decided that now wasn’t the time. I was also damn tired and I must have dozed off.
When I woke up I could see that the sun had risen. I don’t know how I had managed to sleep, given that the vehicle was grinding along a bumpy as hell road. Apart from one of the guards who was keeping watch, the other passengers were still asleep. He winked at me. ‘Back from the dead boy?’ We’ll be there soon.’
‘Where’s there then?’ I asked a little belligerently. HIs answer was to look at my sleeping dad and say, ‘If it wasn’t for his highness there, I don’t think you would like how I want to answer you.’ I got the picture. He was a nasty looking brute, covered with what could have been ‘gang-related’ tattoos on his neck.
‘I don’t know why he mixed-up with pricks like you,’ I replied. Man, I was really pushing it. His face turned bright red and he raised his fist to lay into me, but stopped when Dad shouted, ‘I wouldn’t do that Erick---! Not if you don’t want to take charge of the latrines at the next safe house.’
Dad turned to me. ‘Hey--- Tom, I won’t always be around when you wind these guys up, so shut it.’ Normally I would have gone into a big sulk when Dad talked like that, but the situation I was in, wasn’t like ‘back then.’ I rested against the vibrating wall of the vehicle, feeling every bump and rut. Erick left me alone and tuned his attention to my dad.
‘I take it we’re heading for the mountain house then?’
‘Yes, but from there I’m not sure what will happen. It’s easier to defend and we get good reception that far up---not sure about the cold though,’ Dad said. I wasn’t used to my dad being this confident. Where had the guy gone who pissed Mum off endlessly? He had changed and I wasn’t so sure I liked the new Dad.
‘Tom--- we need to talk when we get a chance----you too Mick. There’s a lot you don’t understand; about me and this world you find yourself in.’
‘You always were good at the understatement Sam,’ Mick said as he rubbed his eyes. The vehicle wasn’t only stinky--- it was decidedly dirty and dusty.
The vehicle felt like it was going up a steep incline. The driver changed down a gear, then another, muttering. ‘This road hasn’t had maintenance for ages. Mind you it always was narrow.’
‘Tom--- do you remember the mountain house--- you know the one with the café and the great view over the province?’ Dad asked; his voice gentle for a change.
‘Yeah I do. I always loved going there, especially in the winter when it had snowed.’ I felt a twinge of nostalgia as the vision of the roaring fire and toasted marshmallows came to mind. We had stayed at the nearby accommodation. Those times were well and truly gone though. I could feel the mood becoming sombre again as the vehicle finally came to a stop.
The back door was thrown open and men wearing bulky coats pointed guns at us. The look on their faces told us that they were none too pleased at their sudden evacuation from New Plymouth.
‘Is this it then? Dad asked; his voice once again assuming an air of authority and further perplexing me. Where are rest of the garrison?’
A sergeant stepped forward. ‘There’s more coming sir--- they just contacted us. It seems that the rabble have overrun new Plymouth and captured one hell of a lot of weapons.’
I was sure I saw a shiver run down my dad’s arm. I’d seen that before when he was under pressure, usually from Mum. I wondered what he had gotten himself into. He had a crap load of questions coming his way. Now was not the time though.
The sergeant took centre stage again. ‘I see you’ve brought some low-lives with you. Mmmm--- I feel like having some fun. There’s nothing like making these scum sing, if you know what I mean,’ he added viciously.
‘Dad’s face changed again. I never liked being in the same room when he had that look. ‘That’s one of the reason we have never been able to come to an accommodation with the ‘scum’ as you call them--- attitudes like yours. If the boot’s going to be on the other foot around Taranaki then don’t expect them to treat you well. These prisoners will not be harmed.’ He stood firmly in the centre of the guards, daring them to challenge him. No one did, but I observed a few glances between the men.
We were taken to a cellar that had been used to store firewood in the distant past. It was cold and cheerless, but it was dry. A few minutes after we had been shoved inside, the door reopened and a guard brought in some blankets. He left, leaving us wondering what was next on the agenda. It wasn’t one that we had any control over.