I looked stupid in the guards’ uniform. I’m quite tall for my age, but the uniform made me look like a scarecrow with oversized floppy clothing. If anyone took a close look, I was stuffed. Too late for that now, I thought as we headed out across the no man’s land between us and the town. By the time we skirted the guard-house, it was dark. Man--- this place must leak like a sieve when it comes to keeping unwanted people out.
The lights from windows barely made an impact on the blackness of the town streets. Curtains were firmly closed and apart form the odd dog barking, the whole place seemed like a locked up tomb. This was not the New Plymouth I knew and loved. It was then that I realized that the ugly area outside town was nothing more than cleared housing and retail businesses, leaving a grey colourless landscape, devoid of life. We had yet to pass any shops.
Luden led us through streets that were unrecognizable. Every second or third house was in the process of being demolished. Finally we approached what served as a town centre, but even here, the signs of devastation were obvious. Some buildings had all the character of a bomb site. Perhaps that was exactly what they were. Luden knocked cautiously on a door and a moment later a face appeared form an adjoining window. The door opened and a young man in his mid-twenties beckoned us in, looking furtively along the street before he shut the door.
‘Haven’t seen you for a few weeks, Luden,’ he said as he ushered us through to the back of the shop. He was not alone. Sitting around a table were two other men, both older than him. They didn’t get up but they made room for us all and dragged a few chairs to the table. One disappeared, muttering something about ‘unexpected guests.’
‘Don’t worry about grumpy--- he gets his tits in a tangle at the drop of hat,’ our host said. ‘I’m Ted--- from Pukekohe--- been here since those bastards took over.’
Luden laughed, not something we had heard too much of. Then he got straight to the point of our visit. Come to think of it, I wasn’t quite sure why we had come either. “How many of our people are locked up at the moment?’ he said.
Ted stared at the wall. Fat lot of good that was going to do him I thought. ‘It’s not just our people, Luden, the sods have brought in farmers from the outlying regions near the mountain and further afield. From what we can tell there are no other reason than them trying to live away from the town. The Reclaimers want total control, and since we have hit their capabilities real hard lately, they’ve upped the ante.’
‘What’s this I’m hearing about screaming coming from the cells? Luden added seriously.
Ted’s face took on an angry look. ‘It’s true. They’re trying to get information about who it is in town that has been helping the farmers and others trying to make a new life. The harder we hit them, the worse it becomes for anyone captured. We’ve got to get them out of there Luden.’
Luden nodded and sat quietly observing something in the fire. As the flames flickered slightly in response to a breeze invading the chimney, he seemed to come to a conclusion. ‘Well we didn’t come here for a nice friendly chat around the fire. That can only happen when things change for the better and that means no prisoners and the Reclaimers leaving us alone and sharing this land with us---- that’s the least we can offer.’ Luden was on a roll and I was beginning to get a picture of New Zealand in the future---- now---- whatever. Damn, I just wanted to go home to another uncertain future.
‘How many of us can you muster in the next hour or so Ted,’ Luden asked.
‘That’s quite easy actually, Luden. We have a meeting planned in about thirty minutes and they all bring their weapons for training purposes. Do you know the old warehouse down by the port---well that’s where we are meeting. I know it’s close to the New Police station headquarters, but that’s why we meet there. We hope that they would never suspect that we would meet right under their bloody noses. All up, I reckon we should have about fifty there tonight.’
‘Right then--- we should leave two at a time. Tom, you go with Ted and I’ll follow on behind with grumpy. Better have our food and cuppa first though. We don’t want to piss him off any further. Besides I’m hungry.
We ate in silence as we watching an old television; one that had been old and past it’s used by date back in ‘my time.’ Ted explained that the Reclaimers had been forced to go back in time and use the old system of broadcasting. Trouble was, the signal only reached as far as the town and a few kilometres beyond. Satellite transmissions were a thing of the past, along with working satellites. The war had well and truly stuffed them up, according to Luden. The so-called news was nothing more than Reclaimers propaganda and New Police ‘public safety notices.’ It was enough to make me want to go to sleep. Luden must have noticed.
‘You better not let your brain go to sleep son. One false step and they’ll be onto us. We can never be sure where the remaining sensors are, so be careful eh?’ he said in a slightly softer tone.
The food grumpy brought back was simply bread and a spicy spread. ‘What’s this---? It tastes pretty good.’
‘I wouldn’t ask if I was you, Luden replied, ‘Although you could say that it is something we introduced when we came.’
That got me thinking again about some of the references I had heard to the alien thing. ‘Came from where?’ I said a bit snappily. I think I had put Luden on the spot.
‘Not from as far away as you would think, Tom. Perhaps it is more like when we are from.’ How about we save this for another time, excuse the pun, but we have more urgent matters to attend to.’ Luden opened the front door and led me out into the dark street. He checked to see if there was anyone about. ‘Right--- no speaking unless you absolutely have to and then, make sure it’s a whisper.’
We headed for the old disused railway that ran to the port area and stayed in the shadows. At times, the vegetation forced us onto the tracks, adding to the danger of been observed in the open. I recognised some of the old houses we passed as ones I had visited with my Mum a few times. I also remembered staying at a cousins house and playing in the nearby sand hills. I would have been quite happy to carry on reminiscing as we trudged along, but Luden suddenly stopped, bringing me back or was it forward to our present. Damn--- My head was all over the place.
‘Be quiet--- there’s someone up ahead. We better watch form here for a while until we know who it is.’ Luden pushed me down into the long Kikuyu grass. It was cold and wet from the heavy due that had settled in the last few hours. ‘I think it’s Ted and Mick, but I want to be sure,’ Luden said as he peered into the gloom. After what felt like an eternity, he stood up and whistled. I thought it was as poor excuse for a call sign.
An answering reply floated across the distance between us and the others. ‘Right—let’s go,’ Luden ordered and we crept closer to the shadows ahead of us. Mick gave me a nudge as we caught up with them.
‘The next few minutes are the most dangerous,’ Luden said as he searched for any sign of activity near the port. ‘I don’t want us to shoot anyone unless we are directly threatened. We don’t want to be knocking off our own guys either.’
I had this crazy thought about running back to the tree where my sister was hiding and then finding a way back home. Trouble was, I had no idea about how I was going to achieve that, given our manner of our arrival. What was I to do--- crash another truck and hope? Might as well go with the present, or past. Shit--- my head was a mess, not a pain, just a confused sorry bloody mess.
I noticed other dark figures, dressed similarly to us, other than the better fit, crouching behind a low wall, shielding them from a large warehouse, almost next to the first wharf. One by one, they snaked across the gap between the wall and a side door, which opened intermittently to allow the men entry. Finally it was Luden and my turn to make a run for it. We arrived, panting and the door closed behind us. At the far end of the sprawling building I could see a gathering of people, all gathered around a large drum, which provided some rudimentary heating. Once they recognised Luden they stopped their quiet chatter and waited for him to speak. He was obviously the boss here.