‘I was only pulling your leg,’ I said. There was no way that I was going to believe in time travel and aliens---all in one day.
Luden grinned. ‘Yes--- it must be overdrive as far as you are concerned. The two go together, but there is a story behind it. For now, I think you better just wait until I have shown you something, just beyond this path. Now---no more talking. These bastards won’t’ be welcoming us’
What were a few more minutes? After what I had just heard I was getting close to either believing it all or assuming I was turning into a total nutter. Luden slowed his pace as we walked alongside a meandering stream. I did my best to ignore the wacky colour. We kept our heads low, even though the banks were hidden by a gentle rise, either side of the stream. The buzzy noise had gone for a while and the cloud cover seemed to almost kiss the ground. Luden suddenly stopped, motioning us to freeze. The he spoke, in a barely audible whisper.
‘Right--- this is where we leave the stream bed. Do not talk and try to avoid breaking any twigs. They used to have sensors, but like their bloody sky-birds, most of them are defunct now. Mind you--- we did help that along somewhat.’
For the next twenty minutes, we travelled a landscape that I would have thought belonged to another planet. There were no green pastures like the ones surrounding our old house. However we noticed small trees again; some even showing signs of new growth. Luden noticed our glances.
‘Yes--- there are signs that things may be turning again, but it’s going to take many years before the forests of old regenerate. Look ‘Luden was pointing to a distant smoke trail. ‘That is what passes for a town now. There are only about fifteen hundred souls there and most of them wouldn’t take pride in belonging to their so-called city.’
‘What’s the name of that place?’ I asked.
‘Don’t you recognize those two Islands and the old power station chimney?’ Mick said. ‘That’s new Plymouth, but it ain’t what we knew. Where have all the houses gone? It looks tiny compared to when we last saw it.’
‘You’re right of course Mick. Since the wars and then the arrival of the Reclaimers, there’s been a systematic dismantling of many of the houses and industrial complexes. Word has it that they are recycling the materials and sending them offshore to reconstruct cities in Australia. There’s were virtually burnt to the ground and with the arrival of millions of refugees from Asia and elsewhere--- well, you can figure the rest,’ Luden said.
‘How come they didn’t come to New Zealand? I asked.
Luden’s face looked serious and a little fearful. ‘They tried, but the destruction and loss of larger ships was pretty complete during the last phases of the wars, and air travel soon became mode of transport for the very rich. The Reclaimers also played a part. They used their drones to keep an eye on the Tasman Ocean and the Pacific. Only a few intrepid travellers arrived safely and even they disappeared. It seems that the Reclaimers had everything organized years ahead of the wars, so that New Zealand would remain their little fiefdom when they finally took over.’
We had crept closer to the town while Luden was whispering his explanation. He kept looking up as if he expected the heavens to open up upon us. About a kilometre away from the outer houses of the diminished New Plymouth, a broken down old milking shed provided cover to observe the comings and goings. A road that had not been repaired or many years led to a guard house. Two men were engaged in conversation, but other than keeping an eye on the road, they looked bored, even from the distance we were hiding.
‘Get down.’ Luden hissed. ‘Look, over there to the left on that track that joins the main road.’ A van that could easily have been one that Dad used to own came lumbering along the pot-holed track. Three people were visible from our hiding place, and one of them looked no more than a child. They sat low on the back of the truck, not attempting to run from the driver and a guard, who had a gun trained on them.
‘Who are those people--- what did they do?’ I asked.
‘The Reclaimers have been rounding up anyone who disagrees with them or show any signs of resisting,’ Luden replied. ‘There’ job’s been made more difficult since we took out most of their drones and a good deal of their heavy weaponry. Those guns you see aren’t like anything you would know about.’
The truck disappeared into the town. I wasn’t finished with my questions.
‘Where are they taking them?’ I was sure that Luden grimaced. Whatever he knew, he seemed a little reticent about telling us. I persisted. ‘What are going to do with them then?’
‘Well that depends on what use they are. If it’s just empty mouths to feed or they are sick---I don’t think you want to know. Others who are more useful, like farmers or people with skills, they get to work for the Reclaimers, under the close watch of the New Police. See those large white structures nearer the centre of town--- that’s where they grow most of the food the town needs. As you can see, there’s not much good land around here that resembles anything like you know as a farm.’
‘So what are we going to do now then?’ Mick asked. He had been silent for a while. He had a troubled look on his face. ‘Actually---I don’t want to be here and I’m pretty damn sure my nephew and niece will agree with me. How do we get---ah--- home?’
Luden signalled for us to follow him again, closer to the town. The light was beginning to fade and the first twinkle of lights flicking on in the town gave it a fairy-like appearance. We came to another partially destroyed building--- it looked like an old garage. The signs were faded and the pumps long gone along with any signs of use. We stayed as low to the ground as we could to avoid attention from the guards at the entrance to the town.
Once inside, Luden pulled up a trapdoor, hidden underneath a plié of discarded tyres. It led to a small underground storage area that had been extended. Boxes were stacked from the floor to the roof, leaving almost no room for the four people.
‘What’s all this then, a contraband stash?’ Mick teased.
Luden took the bait. ‘In a sense---yes. We have set-ups like this all over New Zealand. We are getting ready to take the Reclaimers and their allies head-on. Each week they get more and more unpopular and weaker as their technology breaks down. They made a basic mistake--- the alienated those they needed most--- people with techno knowledge. Those poor buggers you saw being taken into town is part of a last ditch attempt to try and subdue the people not under their influence or control-----and we are going in tonight to get them back. If the New Police get their hands on them, God knows what the torturing bastards will get out of them. We will need to get all this stuff in this cache moved in the next few days, so when we go into town after dark, I’ll organize our ‘friends’ to start immediately, before sun-up. It’s going to be a busy night.’
‘Shouldn’t I get back to that tree place to my sister,” I said.
‘No time for that now my friends. We need you two and don’t worry. I’m sure Rangi will keep her safe,’ Luden said as he started to pull a few of the boxes out from the others. One contained clothing, much like that worn by the guards in the town less than five hundred metres away. He also concealed several small weapons, unrecognizable to Mick and me. If they weren’t Alien, then MIck wasn’t my uncle.
Luden chuckled in that deep-throated gurgle, I was becoming used to. ‘Yes you’re right if you’re thinking that these are a bit unusual, even for a plus thirty years time-jump. They’re energy pulse guns and the New Police would just love to get their hands on them. I won’t confuse you by trying to explain how thousand year old weapons look like they are from the future.’
‘Luden, absolutely nothing you show or tell us surprises me anymore,’ Mick said, shaking his head and at the same time, stroking the strangely hued gun in his hand.
‘Hey---- care there--- these pack a mean punch and I don’t have much time to show you the workings of the little beasties. Now---- let me put that on stun. I don’t want to spill any more blood than necessary. All you do is aim and shoot and the recipient will collapse and sleep for a few hours. That should be enough for our purposes tonight. The real test will come in the near future. Right--- follow me and try to act normally.’
My mind buzzed with a thousand questions. Just who the hell were Luden--- and his ‘people?’ Cleary, they were not part of any history I had studied, but aliens----? nah.