‘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----take 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.
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 grouped around a large drum, flickering and casting ghostly reflections on the nearby walls. It only provided a rudimentary form of heating. Once they recognised Luden they stopped their quiet chatter and waited for him to speak. He was obviously the boss here.
‘Nice to see you all made it,’ Luden began in a hushed tone. ‘I hope you have the lookouts placed where we discussed they should be at the last meeting.’ He looked pointedly at a large man in the shadows.
‘We--- won’t be---- making the same mistake twice,’ the man said awkwardly. I wondered at his strange speech.
Luden offered an explanation. ‘This is Tama. He arrived here form the back country about three months ago. Tama is in charge of security for our meetings, but last time we lost two of our people as we left. It’s them who we are planning to rescue tonight.’ Tama glanced at the ground, seeking to avoid the accusing eyes of the men and women gathered.
‘I don’t know how many times we have to remind you Tama, that no one’s blaming you for that night. It seems that we have a mole in our organization, just like we have infiltrated the Reclaimers and New Police.’ Luden turned to address the meeting as a whole. ‘That’s my point for tonight. I can’t stress the importance enough of getting the two men back. We think they are in that new facility they’ve converted from a bank in the old main street. It’s a solid structure, but we’ve been working towards a way in from the neighbouring building. We’ve been secretly tunnelling under the storage area at the back. That is where our men are imprisoned. We’ve heard from our sources that they won’t be able to put up with much more of the treatment they are receiving. One of them is sure to break soon.’
Tama shuffled nervously, attracting the attention of those around him. ‘Look, Tama---maybe you shouldn’t be going on the raid tonight. We know that your brother is one of the men we’re after. Stand down man and just look after our backs.’
‘No way----I can’t—sit around while you’re-- risking your asses for one of my family. I’m--- going – whether you like it or not.’
Tama’s words silenced the meeting. Luden nodded in Tama’s direction and continued. ‘Right--- we leave here in three groups of five. There’s no reason to make it more--- we’ll get in the way of one another and with the element of surprise on our side, we should be able to in and out in a matter of minutes. Everyone’s got their orders so let’s go. MIck and Tom--- I want you to stay here with the others and after we’ve been gone for about ten minutes, you’ll be taken to another safe house until we can work out our next move.’
I doubted that anything Luden said was going to surprise me anymore. I resigned myself to a continuance of the day’s crazy events, not just one, but a series of ‘dreamable’ fantasies.
The building slowly emptied as the three groups left. Soon I was alone with Mick and two ‘minders.’ Ted was one of them and neither he nor Grumpy looked too happy. Both radiated resentment at being left to look after Mick and I. Grumpy soon made his feelings apparent. ‘Come on you two. If we must babysit you, then I’d rather get it over and done with so we can return to real work.’
Mick reacted immediately. ‘Look asshole---! We didn’t ask for any of this so how about you lose the bloody attitude. If you don’t, I’ll kick that sorry excuse for a butt you sit on and piss off back to where we came from.’ Mick must have realised pretty quickly the hopelessness of our situation because he switched tack. ‘OK---How about we start again eh? You take us to wherever it is then you can get back to the stuff you want to do. If I was any use, I’d be with you, but I think I better stay with the boy.’
Ted took the opportunity to soothe Grumpy’s mood. ‘He’s right Grum--- I mean Peter. ‘
Grumpy changed in an instant. ‘Stay with the Grumpy--- I know it suits me and actually, it sort of works for me in other ways too.’
With the tension dissipating, we waited for a few minutes. We were alone after the remainder of the group had melted into the darkness. Outside, the rain started. At first it was a gentle whispering sound on the roof and then turning into a constant torrent. It was going to be a miserable night as neither of us had anything resembling crap weather gear. We slunk out not the tempest, and within seconds we were drenched. Thankfully it wasn’t cold. In fact the rain was warm. Just a few minutes ago, we were trying to get as close to the drum fire as possible, but here we were in a tropical downpour. Mick noticed too and he yelled out to Ted and Grumpy. ‘What’s with this Singapore weather? One minute it’s bloody cold and now--- this!’
Ted laughed and motioned for us to shut up He signalled—‘later.’ We worked our way further from the port area and were soon at the edge of the older city, near some huge tanks. If anyone was about, they were keeping their heads down. Just as I was thinking that we were going to drown in the deluge or caught up in the ever increasing torrents of water sweeping past us down the steep street, the rain suddenly stopped. The silence was a total contrast to the sounds that had accompanied our journey so far.
A flash of bright light pierced the darkening sky followed by a rumbling booming sound that put stop to the silence. Ted looked anxiously towards the town centre. ‘That would be our boys doing their thing. Some would have broken through in the tunnel. I helped dig some of that,’ he said proudly. He encouraged us to move on further away from the scene of the explosion. On this side of the town, there was no sign of guards, but we could hear a vehicle starting up from a nearby building. It coughed twice before struggling into life and then chugged past us as we hid behind a huge pile of rubbish. From the smell of the mess, it appeared to be an attempt to tidy up a rough area of the town.
An alarm began blaring from the scene of the explosion and a few small arms weapons added to the noise, but a more unusual sound punctuated what was becoming a boisterous mêlée. My face must have shown my confusion.
‘I don’t think you have heard one like this fire before, have you?’ Grumpy offered as he pointed to his weapon. ‘It’s a version of what you used to call a stun-gun, but this one kills on the high setting and has a much bigger range---sort of sounds like those old Star War movies you used to watch.’ Grumpy almost sounded friendly.
By now, hardly anything surprised me so I smiled and followed Ted as he called us forward to the last building before the town merged into an ugly no- man’s land again. He kept looking back over his shoulder as the sound of the distant battle grew louder. Even from our position we could hear the odd scream. ‘I don’t think that we are having it all our way somehow,’ Ted opined. ‘Best we get to our next safe house.’ Above us I was sure that I heard that sound I had noticed when we first left the tree place. Grumpy did too.
‘Damn--- they’ve got a ‘bird’ up again. The sooner we take them out of the picture, the better. Our life will be a lot safer.’ Grumpy aimed his weapon in the direction of the whistling sound and let loose a pulse of purple light. The ray searched the sky and a popping noise ended the intrusion. ‘Yes’, Grumpy whispered, looking around to see if the central control for the New Police had sent any of their men to find us. ‘I may have got it, but the message would have gone through as to our whereabouts. We better get out of here fast.’
We had moved along another twenty metres before we heard the unmistakeable sound of the vehicle we had observed earlier returning, this time moving at speed. To make matters worse it sported a powerful spotlight that sent a probing beam across our pathway. ‘Down!’ Ted ordered.
I fell to the ground and was swallowed up by the reeking mud. I wished for the warm rain to fall again, but for now I had to remain immobile, as the vehicle shuddered to a stop about ten metres from us. At least three figures climbed out of the vehicle and spread out while the light probed the now completely darkened landscape. A swish of purple light soon fixed that, but it also gave away the position of the weapon’s owner. Gunshot rang out. The New Police obviously had older weapons at their disposal.
I heard Grumpy scream out as he was riddled with bullets. I lay, rooted in the revolting mud. ‘Run!’ Ted yelled. It was hopeless. I had no desire to meet Grumpy’s fate. What the hell was I to do---act like a hero? No, I shouted out.
‘Stop--- I’m only a kid!’ Stupid or cowardly--- it worked.
‘Stand up boy and you’ll be safe. Anyone with other ideas can kiss their asses’ goodbye.’ The voice belonged to a large man, almost on top of me. He leaned down and pulled me up. ‘Now who have we here then?’
Ted and Mick surrendered. It was either that or sharing Grumpy’s fate. The will to resist had gone and in the beam of the searchlight, I could see that Ted was way beyond being scarred. Perhaps it was just as well I didn’t know what he knew. Not that I got much time to adjust to my new situation. I was bundled into the back to the vehicle. Mick and Ted were thrown in after me and two men with guns pointed at us, sat watching. It was definitely shut-the-stuff-up time. There was no escape, and anyway--- where to? Mick pressed his knee up against my leg as if to say--- I’m here.
The jolting of the vehicle did nothing for our comfort level. We were soon back in the main street, heading down towards the far end of the area where the shops still existed, if you could call a couple of dozen untidy excuses for a shop that name. A truck rushed past us, heading towards the sound of the continuing melee not far from the main street. I had the feeling that it wasn’t going well for Luden and his band.
Our journey came to an end when we pulled up in front of a large old building that was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and blocks of concrete. Several men barred our entrance to a roller door that was slowly opening, revealing yet more men holding guns aimed at us. More reason not to try anything stupid.
Once again we were dragged out of the vehicle. I shouted at the men. ‘I’m coming--- don’t bloody pull!’ I received a vicious kick for my troubles. ‘You’ll talk when we say kid--- get the message?’ I did.
Several men dressed in the New Police gear accompanied each of us. Grumpy’s body was taken to another part of the building while we were locked in a room with bars for windows, allowing a nasty wind to penetrate the space. The door slammed shut, with a small observation slot remaining open. A face appeared and even from my position, I could see a pair of eyes widen in shock. The door opened again and I started at the guy--- he was dressed in a uniform that cried out--- officer. He was also my dad.