Retro Flare – Chapter 1

This had been written last year but part of it was lost in a hard disc drive format and had to be rewritten. I have decided I will post each chapter as I write and update the posts with any changes I made. As I wrote I’m quite serious about getting this done this year. I have further outlines for chapters and the overall story but I’ll only be posting completed chapters. 

Chapter 1 – Hilltop Shire

It was the middle of the winter in Hilltop Shire but for climate region where snow was virtually unknown, it wasn’t a season that inspired dread or fear of death. What defined winter in Hilltop was rain and rain was always welcome on such dry land. The rains had been good this season and there were enough crops growing to relax the ever vigilant population that the coming summer would be manageable which in these times – meant survivable. Summer in contrast was hot and dry. The grass turned a pale yellow and fire was an ever present threat.

Hilltop Shire was a community formed in the southern suburbs of what was once Adelaide in the nation once known as Australia. The Event had changed everything. Nobody in Hilltop knew much of what was happening in settlements more than 100 kilometres away let alone what was happening in Australia’s former major cities. The population of Adelaide had largely abandoned the urban areas and retreated to the suburbs if not further. Large backyards and front yards, once covered in green grass were dug up for growing vegetables. The fences of properties were torn down and reused as makeshift boundaries around new communities. It was largely assumed that people all over the country had done much the same although very little was heard from the few that arrived from those regions. Electricity was still possible but no long distance communication worked.

Energy has always been a commodity but one that the elders of Hilltop Shire remembered vividly taking for granted. The invisible power that ran through the very visible wires, the massive power plants burning coal out of site and out of mind. Like almost everything, energy had become a local affair. The pylons that once carried electricity from so far away into each and every home stood bare if standing at all. The wooden ones had all long since been cut down for firewood. And the ones that remained had been stripped of everything except burnt out transformers which were also stripped of anything not scorched in The Event. Old compliances, wires, tools, operation manuals – anything related to the creation, production and maintenance of electricity were valuable. People with a working knowledge of electricity were priceless.

Nathan Carmack was Hilltop’s electrician and like any able bodied man in the town he was never without something that needed to be done. Electricity was often switched off and used sparingly. Power came from a mixture of recovered solar panels, makeshift friction systems and even old camping generators. The town had some capacity to produce crude metal items but like what was assumed with most surviving human communities, relied entirely on salvage. Salvage involved some conflict with neighbouring communities and places to salvage were not only growing smaller but getting farther away.

Nate, like most was doing the best that could be done. Most people had gotten used to not having electricity but keeping some capacity if only for warmth, comfort and security was worth pursuing nonetheless. When Nate wasn’t repairing, retrofitting and reconnecting electrical items, he was sharing his knowledge with others in the town. Over the years, Nate had trained many young and old in his trade but new problems continuously presented themselves and he was always looked to solve them.

Other trades remained valuable and important. Plumbing though crude, remained in the town though the original systems had largely been torn out. Makeshift irrigation systems had been installed which relied on gravity. Pipes were torn out of fading red brick homes and reused to move waste safety and smoothly down and away from the settlement.

Farming was something engaged in by all and every individual family within the settlement had its own small plot similar to the strip farming prior to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. These were primarily for smaller crops though and the settlement also engaged in the higher yield large scale farming for wheat and corn. The domestic pipes had been reused to make basic irrigation systems which were used sparingly when the rain did not fall.

Although the land was dry and rain was largely a feature of winter the old reservoir still served Hilltop Shire and other surrounding settlements though the labour in getting the water was considerably more intense. Water transport vehicles constructed of domestic water tanks and car trailers had to be pulled by man or horse the entire way. Even Bullock driven wagons had come back into use due to the log unmaintained roads. Vehicles were still available but petrol and natural gas were more valuable as power for heating and other settlement uses and it was rare to see them running. This was hard but vital work, carried out daily.

Nate was on just such a trip with his son Ren. Nate was naturally fair but his skin had long been reddened and by the outdoors and hardened through work. His hair was scruffy and auburn and only uncovered by a ruffled and stained truckers cap when he slept. His son in contrast had a youthful ivory coloured skin not yet burned by the outdoors despite how much time he spent out there. He had inherited many of his father’s facial features but was different in both mind and temperament.

Ren was fourteen and already close to his father’s height but he still had trouble keeping up with his father when he walked at a stiff pace. The slow moving water convoy had slowed his father though and so found it easy to walk along with him and the other men. This was the first time he had come on such a journey especially since the increase in hostilities between neighbouring colonies and even some wandering raiders had made it too dangerous for children. Ren and a few other boys were now considered big enough and majority of the men thought it important to get them ready even if they couldn’t be too useful were a fight to break out.

Ren had remained quiet for most of the trip and listened to his father speak with the other men. It was mostly normal conversations concerning bandit raids and supply problems. Ren was often silenced for speaking up or asking too many questions and he didn’t want to give his father any reason to keep him from coming along next time. Despite the talk of hostilities, Ren had seen and heard of relatively little conflict in his life. The colony had experienced a few scares and some kids had lost fathers and uncles in conflicts at the perimeter, but Hilltop had remained one of the safer of the known settlements. This was partially a result of geography as the area was hilly and settlement was positioned in such a way that made it difficult to approach unseen. Even if raiding parties could approach unseen, they would face the additional disadvantage of elevation and be forced to attack uphill.

The conversation trailed out as the convoy moved through some trees revealing a large body of water. Ren had once seen the ocean from a distance near the settlement, but he had never seen so much water this close before. This reservoir once served thousands of people in the old civilisation and although the maintenance had long since ended, the water remained drinkable and plentiful. Without it, there would be few, if any large colonies in the area. The men set to work getting hoses of various sizes and colours and hauling them to the water’s edge. Ren was soon handed a coil of thinner black hose with a green webbing pattern. His father soon instructed him to uncoil it and attach it to a small hand pump. He then had to begin filling smaller plastic bottle with water. The other boys soon joined while their fathers set about using the bigger hoses to pump water into the tanks.

What was routine and tedious for the men was exciting for the young boys. They soon became playful around the water, throwing small rocks and piece of bath into the water. A few men glanced at them with bemused or irritated looks that became indifferent when they noted that the receptacles continued to be filled. The boys were being boys and the men hadn’t forgotten what that was like. After the bottles had been filled, Ren and the others were given the okay to explore about while the larger tanks filled. There were three other boys brought along with Ren. Luke and Rory were brothers just a year apart though both younger than Ren. Dale the other boy was 15 but around Ren’s height. His slight age advantage often had him try to push himself as a leader though he certainly had no such influence over the other boys.

Together they noisily trampled over bark, dirt and rocks towards a far tree line. Chris voiced a hope that they could find kangaroos and lizards but the noise they were making had made that unlikely. Failing that, the trees were fun to climb and as they had never been to this area, there was a chance of finding something interesting.

Once arriving at the tree line they wandered in with excitement slightly tempered with caution. The trees surrounding the resouvoir were thick but there was still plenty of sunlight shining through. Luke and Rory began kicking dirt and stones about and making half-hearted searches for anything interesting. Christ and Ren meanwhile began looking for a tree suitable for climbing. Chris had soon found one with a low enough branch and hauled himself up onto it and began scaling. Ren followed behind. Luke and Rory, not finding anything soon followed up after them.

The tree turned out to be one of the tallest and they were all soon perched on top and able to see off into the distance. The tree line didn’t extend very far and the root they arrived with the men by was a clearing. Rory pointed off past the clearing to their home which was visible but seemed very far away. This was especially so for Luke, Rory and Ren who had never been so far out of the settlement before. Chris was enjoying being the only one of them who had made the trip many times and tried unconvincingly to mask his own excitement.

Despite the great distance they could see ahead, there wasn’t much to see. A few buildings were visible and they did see some birds but they didn’t find any other animals and certainly nothing that particularly excited them. Just when their hearts began to sink, Chris spotted something off in the horizon in the opposite direction of the settlement. They all turned to see a dust cloud punctured by the occasional reflections of sunlight. It seemed to be moving but at that distance it was hard to tell.

Their fixation on the sight was stopped abruptly as one of the men called out, signalling their work was done and that it was time to return home. The boys had been told clearly before heading out that any instructions were to be obeyed immediately and so wasted no time in jumping down the tree. Chris was right ahead feeling the need to win the unannounced race to the bottom. Ren kept just behind him and Luke and Rory followed soon after.

As each boys feet hit the ground, they were off running towards the convey and soon after on their way back to the settlement. The trip back was uneventful but the men all seemed brightened the excitement the boys had shown. None of them thought to mention what they had seen before being called back and none of them had known what they had seen anyway.

Once they arrived back they were soon sharing their adventure with the curious and somewhat envious younger children. Something that was soon stopped with the coming darkness and being called back to their homes for dinner.

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