We run along the wide asphalt strip that crumbles under an onslaught of roots and seeds in every hairline crack. A healthy distance is maintained between us and the tall grasses that crowd concrete gutters. Its gently waving mass is impenetrable to straining eyeballs. Unwelcome estimations of things that hide within automatically taunt me. Jumpy as a cat, I drop to a fast walk.
Our destination, a concrete alter housing our God of Power, hulks silently on its island of gravel. Bright reflections from a close parked stainless steel tanker welcomes us.
The location is not handy for post-apocalypse access though it did make sense for a secure facility’s day-to-day running. Repairmen performing maintenance duties could do so without coming into contact with inmates. Less security concerns for the guards, less chances for escape or exchange of contraband. The intelligence of this design doesn’t mean I curse the designers any less. Setting it in a nice safe basement, deep under the building would have been fine, thank you very much.
I cast an eye back at the imposing building we’ve just left and wish to be back inside for the hundredth time.
There’s a narrow ladder welded to the side of the tanker. I slam up the rungs and dip the fuel compartment. Angrily I sign at Kristine to cover us instead of watching me. She waves her gun uncertainly at the empty road then whirls to cover the threatening grass. A gust of wind rubs dry stalks together. I see a finger twitch on the trigger, her whole body vibrates with nerves. I jump from the ladders midpoint in haste and land hard on my arse. My tongue prevents my teeth crashing into each other. Pain flashes hotly.
Fuck that hurts.
Spitting blood I snatch up a rock, bound to my feet and scrawl a large X to match three others showing empty compartments. A reminder to change valves next service.
The generator hut’s door lock is mastered and yanked open. Kristine hunches and retreats as heat and noise blast out. I urgently beckon for her to come back. Manhandling her roughly, we tumble inside and slam the door.
Time flies as I sweat and work like a man possessed. Bad choice of words that.
I act out the procedures required to unload, and then bring the roaring generator to a clattering halt. The plinking and popping of its cooling metal is not calming, though we can speak without shouting. I caution her about the hot filters and burn myself with spilled oil as an example of how not to do it. Finally I prime the fuel filters and crank it back up. Kristine does none of the actual work. I won’t let her. Every few minutes, between instructions, I send her outside to check the area. Paranoia rules.
The job is completed in just under an hour, half the time it would have taken me on my own. Constantly stopping to look outside slows the chore but I don’t like to be surprised.
I lock up and we jog back to the doors recently exited.
Once inside I slam it shut and lean on it. Kristine breathes deeply too, more from stress than exertion. Her ghost white face breaks into a grin and we both laugh at ourselves. We can afford to make fun now. Safe. Inside.
The Adderall coals are levelling me in a sustainable way. To my surprise I don’t feel like crawling back into that burrow upstairs. The forced exposure has broken the spell that bound me. To celebrate the unshackling I propose a tour.
“You wanna look around?”
“Yeah! If you’re up to it.”
“Don’t worry about me. Tough as nails.”
While holding a shotgun in a secured, empty prison.
Kristine waits while I drink several litres of spring water from a stand in the corridor. She reads the rules stencilled on walls and nervously eyes dead cameras that occupy every corner of every room.
“These corridors are plenty long enough if you wanna go for a walk or a run. Just write it up on the whiteboard near the fridge when you leave. I’ll worry otherwise.”
She’s pleased, or incredulous, by my concern.
After a demonstration of circuit breaker flipping, lights flicker and power activates dead machines, we wander around discussing whatever interested her. I show her elaborate escape routes on the fire escape placards found on all main doors then abruptly forbid her from leaving the building without me.
I’m like a father giving his daughter the car keys, but only to drive around the block, and only with him in the passenger seat. I tense for an argument about ‘who do I think I am telling her what to do’. Instead, my protectiveness is cause for more grins and a brief hug. It conveys her thanks more than words. There’d been few reasons for her to show me any affection in this self-centred universe I occupy. I vow to show her a little more consideration from now on.
I cough to get the lump out of my throat.
We exhaust the banal treasures of yesteryear’s technology. Only two areas remain that she hasn’t seen. One of them darkens my sunny temperament. A shocking discovery I’ve compressed into nightmares that timeshare my sleeping hours with other horrors.
Fortunately, I know just the place to break the news to her.