What’s real in my world

I’ve had a couple of sunny days to charge up the handset, so I guess I can afford to write something longer than a comment.  My mate Jack’s been spectacularly losing his grip, so I’ve been checking in with a daily Lonely Planet guide to the Edge of Reason, given I’m pretty familiar with that territory, but it’s not going so well.

Back in the real world, I’ve been finding a new hole to hide in every night, moving away from the store and hopefully from anybody who might feel vengeful.

The wound’s healing up nicely, but I still got to be careful how much I try and carry, which is awkward given I never know where my next meal’s coming from.  Every couple of days or so I bump into somebody else, and we either fight or run away or spend an awkward hour sharing out a haul and making stilted conversation, trying not to look like our right hands are hovering over our guns.

The usual routine goes:

“So, you been down Weston Creek?”

“Yep, nothin’ left.  Tried Yarralumla?”

“Yep, nothin’ left there, either.”

Nobody’s going to say there’s anything left anywhere, cause if there is we want it for ourselves.  I mostly try to stay out of sight.  I’ve cut my hair to a fuzz and wear a big hat and baggy clothes.  I’ve not had any major trouble, but one guy did follow me around like a lost puppy for two days.  In the end I had to shoot at him to get him to fuck off.

Only other thing I’ve used the guns for is taking pot-shots at the odd cockatoo, and scaring off anything that starts barking at me out of the shadows.  Yep, there’s feral dogs about, and some of them are even canine.  It’s not true about them being two meals from wolves, though.  That’d be easier to deal with, if they were just snarling, drooling monsters.  I’d shoot the skinny bastards for soup if it were that simple.  The harsher reality is that most of them would as soon have you for an owner as a dinner, but they’re neurotic and needy and narky, and liable to turn on you soon as something spooks them.  Think furry, traumatised toddlers, with sharp teeth and an average running speed of 25 mph.  Still more trustworthy than your average human, but I’ve got enough trouble just keeping myself fed right now.

Biggest danger, though: police patrols.  Last raider who tried to be friendly told me, “You hear barking, shoot into the air and keep going; you hear an engine, drop your haul and get out.  They find you, shoot to kill, and if you’re lucky you’ll die in the gunfight before they can take you to quarantine.”

I asked about the quarantine camps, but then the bastard tried to steal my pack and I had to ram him in the guts with my rifle butt until he let go.  This is why I don’t get chatty so often.

I’ve only met one other woman out raiding.  We shared a fire for a night, and sort of skirted round the topic of teaming up for protection, but one or other of us always changed the subject.  She was in her late 60s, maybe, tough and cheerful, but when she sat down or got up you could tell she was feeling the strain.  My shoulder was still pretty bad back then – I guess we were each wondering whether the other would slow us down. 

Just before we parted company she said, “Your shoulder’ll get better, but I’ll only get older.  Better I walk now than make you leave me behind.”

I nearly said, “I wouldn’t leave you behind.” But I wasn’t sure it was true, so I said nothing.

I haven’t met anybody who’s heard of a case of the flu recently, though word has it the quarantine camps are rife with dysentery and scurvy.  Or were, last time anybody got out alive.  There’s probably not many left there, now.

Pretty much the only places that survived almost intact were a few isolated farming towns, self-governing now, so long as they’re capable of self-defending.  From what I read on the blogs and hear from the raiders’ rumour-mill, a few have come under police control, some under other gangs, but a few are still considered “free communities”.  ’Course, nobody can say exactly where these free communities are, else they wouldn’t be for long, so we can’t be positive they really exist.  Well, what can we be sure exists, these days?  Just ask Jack.  He thinks he knows what’s real.

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Not dead yet

At last,  a safe enough stop to check into the blog and say sorry for the old llamarooni last week – I gather I got you all a little worried. I wasn’t injured as bad as I thought, though every time I raise my arm it makes me wince like a poke in the eye with an out of tune violin playing a James Blunt song.  Some of you chatted till dawn, and I was grateful for that, because when dawn came it was warm enough to sleep and know that I’d wake up again.  Still no word from Mei, though.

It’s taken this long for me to be able to recharge my batteries properly, but now I’m back in the blogosphere I guess I’d better explain what all the hoo-ha was about.  Obviously it was raiders – well, sort of – from the uniforms I’m guessing it was the actual police, or what’s left of them, which is more or less the same thing as raiders, but with training.  I half expected Frank to be with them, but would you credit it, it was Trigger I-Never-Wanted-To-Do-This-Shit Grumpy pointing out the traps and cameras and calling the shots.

There were too many of them to corral in my various penalty pens, so I went to plan Get-The-Fuck-Out, which meant grabbing my pre-packed bag and exiting through the skylight.  The Inner Sanctum had a few tricks of its own to slow down the uninitiated, and as I was pulling up my feet I heard the Thunderdome trapdoor come into play: two men enter, one man leaves through a concealed gap in the floor joists a step in front of the threshold.  Glad all that sawing turned out to be worth it, but the other guy must’ve jumped in time ’cause when I turned there was a gun pointing out the skylight, and when I leapt for the fire escape I felt something graze my shoulder.  Adrenalin kept me from making brain-space for that until I was on solid ground.  As I was pegging it for the exit, all I thought was: “Good thing they didn’t hit the workset.”  It only started to hurt when I reached round to get the pistol out the rucksack.

I make it sound like I was pretty slick, but it didn’t all go according to plan.  My aim in this scenario was to go back in through a second skylight, hidden from the inside, and hide out in the false ceiling over Jezza’s office, leaving the inner sanctum looking abandoned.  Then I’d sit tight till the raiders gave up the hunt and moved on.  I wasn’t reckoning on them having a gunner on the roof soon as I got out.  They were quicker than I’d prepped for, and I didn’t react fast enough, so the fire escape was my only way.  Course, not only did the shooter see me go, I had cameras trained on that way in, and as I ran through the car park I could hear shots hitting the concrete around me and voices jeering through the tannoy.  I had my own pistol in my left hand by now, but there was no way I’d have been able to even turn round and take aim before somebody got me, or so I thought till I ran straight into the two they’d left crouching by the fence.  Now I look back, the fact they didn’t shoot means they must’ve been planning to take me alive.  I didn’t think about that, didn’t even hesitate.  Two loud bangs. Close range.  They both went down and I kept running.   By the time I’d got to the end of the block, I could hear engines starting up.  I was in too much pain for barging at doors, and it was at around this point I noticed my whole right side was just about soaked in blood.  The next building had one of those old-fashioned cellars with windows at ground level, so I kicked one in and rolled through onto a bed of broken glass and wooden crates, where I lay for about ten minutes without moving.

There was no way I could lift anything high enough to hide the broken window, no way I could run further, no way I could get up and hide better.  I lay there waiting for death or discovery, and when neither came I began the slow, painful process of getting the bag off my back.  I think I might’ve passed out for a bit.  When I could, I drank half my water and poured a little over my shoulder.  A bullet graze is nasty, I’m here to tell you.  A great chunk of missing skin surrounded by burnt flesh, it looked like a doorway to the deepest pit of hell in my very own shoulder.  Felt like it, too.  By the time I had leisure to pay it attention, the bleeding had almost stopped.  I know you’re not supposed to put anti-septic cream on a gaping wound, but after trying to clean it with an alcohol-free wipe I wussed out.  By evening I’d got it dressed with sticky stitches, wound pads and a bandage that it took me the best part of half an hour to tie one-handed.  Then I ate some glucose tablets and drank the rest of my water, and by then my torch was going dim, and I realised I didn’t have the strength to wind it much, and a kind of terror took me.  I can’t really explain why.  I’m generally your more rational sort of paranoid, anti-social freak, but I became convinced, like it was an unchangeable, universal law, that if I fell asleep at that time I wouldn’t wake up again.  I didn’t just think it might be possible, I knew it.  I was wrong, but that didn’t make it any better.

So that’s what that midnight missive of cringeworthy self-pity and attention-seeking was all about.  Sorry about that, folks, and thanks for the reassurance.   The shoulder’s a lot better now, and I can use my wind-up charger as well as the puny little solar panel on my bag, so I thought I could risk an extended typing session.  I’ve been moving a bit further from the store every day, cause I still get it in my head some nights that that police gang’s coming back to find me.  I wake up in a cold sweat to the sound of circling engines then wake up again to the silence.  The food I brought with me’s all but run out, so here’s your daily dose of irony – I’m going raiding.

No more Triggers or Tomatoes

So, I did let the Triggers go in the end.  I kept thinking of excuses to put it off.  I don’t know if I was more afraid of them turning on me or just knowing how totally alone I am here.  The release went without trouble.  Frank was the only one who didn’t look surprised to see me.  He just said, “Thought you’d be taller.”

I’d thought the same of him, to be honest.  I was a little shocked at how thin and weak he looked, in the flesh.  I’d given them as much as I was eating, but I guess he was used to more, plus I’d been doing an hour on the exercise bike every night and morning, while he’d just been sitting there letting his muscles waste.  I took him to the exit, handed him the padlock keys and told him where the others were.
“Are asking me to let them go?” he said.
“I’m not asking you for anything,” I told him. “It’s up to you, they’re your problem now.”
He walked away without looking back.  He looked defeated.

That was a week ago now.  I guess they either came through for me and didn’t tell anybody else about the store, or they’re dead.  So now, I don’t have a hell of a lot to do with myself besides check the proximity alarms, watch the screens, exercise and run up my power supply, read the socnets and run down my power supply.  And target practice – I reckon it’s not a waste of ammo to make sure I can shoot straight.  The Triggers weren’t exactly company, but they were a reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world.

I have a little concern for my sanity in isolation, a new appreciation for my blogging buddies.  I’d best answer the meme of the month so they don’t abandon me.  Mei wants a Recipe for Disaster: What am I eating, and how am I cooking it?

Well, it’s not all been dog food.  The tinned sausages didn’t last very long, but I make sausage shapes out of spam and corned beef and it’s not even slightly the same, but that’s the closest thing I’ve got to a recipe.  If you got dry egg you can add a bit of water and roll it in that, then in cornflour before frying it, but it doesn’t improve it much.  It’s also salty, which makes me thirsty: not good since I got to be careful with my water supply, and I’m long since out of beer.  I’m catching rainwater through a guttering system I rigged out of plastic cups and hosepipe, and I’m fine for now but trying to store it because I know I’ll get low come summer.  I saved me some big bags of dried beans, rice and pasta, but it does get a bit bland, especially now I’m out of tinned toms for risottos – and they seemed inexhaustible a month ago.  I miss them with a yearning that borders on grief.

I don’t think it’s possible to realise, unless you’re living off tinned food or trying to go vegan, what a remarkable foodstuff the tomato is. Farewell to sweet, sharp, succulent red, laced with the bitter tang of aluminium. Hello to the salty blandness of stock cubes, and the chemical aftertaste of monosodium glutamate, henceforth my lifelong companion.  Ash, my trusty guide to growing your own sanity, keeps blinking me info on making drip-feeders to preserve my most precious resource, and is again encouraging me to get going on a roof garden – he has touchingly unfounded faith in my ability to keep stuff alive.  Still, it’s not like I can’t fit the attempt into my social diary at present, so before long I might go plumbing the undiscovered depths of my digital veridity, even though I can’t expect to strike tomatoes till Christmas.

Want to know what I got in abundance, though? Moisturiser. Metric fuck-tonnes of it, I tell ya. If I could only find some recipes calling for 2 jars of Oil of Aloe, I could open up a damn restaurant up here. As it is, I may starve to death within six months, but I’ll die smooth as an adder’s ass-crack. Let the sky stay clear as a soap bubble – I’ll get all my moisture directly through the skin in the form of provitapeptilide Z, clinically proven to stop the seven signs of dehydration (all except for, you know, dying and such). I won’t age, I won’t wrinkle, I won’t crack in the sun. Archaeologists will find me out here in 100 years’ time, and marvel at the miraculous Colmart Mummy.

She led a pampered life,” they’ll say, “anointed daily in sacred unctions, whose production could have fed and watered a hundred slaves for a hundred years.  Truly this woman represents the very pinnacle of the decadence that destroyed her society.  And why was she lavished with this wasteful abundance while those around her perished?”

And here the camera will linger on my still-succulent lips, the firm tautness of my forehead, the eye-sockets where never a crow has set foot, though my liver has shrivelled within me like a shrink-wrapped turd.

“Because,” they will say, “she was worth it.”  And they’ll be wrong.

The Looter Situation

I haven’t played with my looters for a few days now, and they’re getting despondent.  I gave them board games and playing cards and books and toys, but I can tell they feel neglected.  Jack’s right, I should never have taken them in.  I’m responsible for them now; even if they are first degree arseholes who were going to shoot me and take my store, I can’t just look the other way while they starve or suffocate in their fridge.  So I take their food down and open the door for them every six or seven hours, but I haven’t set them a challenge in days and I don’t even look at the screens that much anymore.  When I do, they’re usually just sitting there, sometimes exercising, sometimes poking at a tin of spam or dog food, and they have that blank look of tired anxiety on their faces, and I know what they’re thinking.

They’re wondering the same thing I’m wondering: how am I going to end this?   How do I get them out of here without risking retribution?  Cause Trigger Bright worked out before I’d even thought about it that my safest, my only really sensible option was to turn off the cameras and let them rot.  That’s why his game from the start has been Trigger Sensible, Trigger Calm, Trigger Reassuring.  He needs to persuade me that he’s Trigger Trustworthy.  I’m not convinced.  He’s tried the Man About the House line on me again, the skunk.  I said he should note, from his current situation, that I’m clearly able to defend myself from the likes of Trigger Happy and his creative threats, and he actually said not to “mind him”, because “he’s harmless really, but you can’t expect the kind of deference you might’ve got in the old world.”
He was trying to push my buttons, I know that now.  He gets me angry, I drop the Big Sister routine to yell at him, and before I know it we’re having a conversation.
“I don’t want deference, you arsehole.  I want to know that if I open the door and let you fuckers loose, some woman’s dead, raped body isn’t going to show up in the parking lot the next day.  Your mate threatened like as not it’d be mine.  How am I supposed to trust you?”
“How are you supposed to trust anyone?”
“Luckily, I don’t have to.”
“Not just yet.  It’s a big store, but it won’t last a lifetime.  Neither will your security setup – batteries stop keeping charge, parts go.  Or you’ll get a bigger gang at your door, and they won’t all fall into your traps. Who’re you gonna trust, them or me?”
“I’ll have to find myself some other options.”
“Such as?”
As it happens, I’ve got a few precautionary measures in place for those eventualities, but no point in showing all my cards.  He waits – I can see him, but he can’t see me.  His hands are resting on his knees as he sits stock still on the beanbag I gave them from the staff lounge.  His scraggly beard doesn’t quite conceal a smirk, and his eyes are always searching, calculating.  I’m calculating how much to say, too.  I shouldn’t be talking to him about this stuff at all.
“I can move on, when I want to,” I tell him.
“Move on where?”
“Why would I tell you?  But I know where there are places it didn’t all fall apart; people pulled together, built communities.”
He scoffs. “Don’t give me that Dreamtime Town shit.”
I was really just trying to lead the topic away from the store, because I honestly have no intention of leaving this place or any idea where else I could go.  So this was new.
“I was thinking of the Beijing students.  What’s Dreamtime Town?”
He paused, but not long enough to look like he was making it up, shrugged and snorted.
“Bunch of fucking hippies starving in the desert, if it exists at all.  Nobody who’s gone looking ever came back.”
“Maybe they found it.”
“Maybe they walked into a gang of bandits with a nice line in web design and some stock footage from a nineties commune, and their bodies were eaten by dingos.”
I’ve got to admit, I’m growing a fondness for Trigger Cynical.  But I’m not about to let him join me.

I looked up Dreamtime Town – there’s a vid of crops growing and kids doing lessons and people sitting in circles having civilised meetings where they all vote on what to build next and whether to go looking for more people and what colour to paint the fence.  If you want to go there, you’re supposed to send them a vid of yourself saying who you are, what skills you can bring, and answering a load of questions designed to find out if you’re about to take a hatchet to them in the night – they’re not majorly subtle.  Trigger Cynical’s probably right – they’ve been gunned down by now and there’s a gang of Unsavouries meeting each newcomer with a hail of bullets and living off the spoils.  Then again, they don’t say you have to bring anything except a willingness to learn, so if they are bandits they’re missing a trick – unless they really like to see people learn not to trust vids they find on the internet.

I think I’m going to have to let the Trigger Brothers go.  I can’t keep giving them my food and water, and I’m sick of slopping their buckets out.  And I can’t leave them to die.  I’ve been practicing my shooting in case they try and come back, but I don’t think they will, even if they can find more guns from somewhere.  They’ve talked about it, quietly, when they reckon I won’t be listening, and the consensus is there’s got to be easier places to raid.  I’ll take Trigger Happy first, call him into the diary room in the early morning and then open the door and lead him out at gunpoint.  I’ll take him a few blocks away and make him padlock himself to a lamppost with a bike chain, then I’ll come back and let the others out.  Grumpy’ll scarper – I don’t believe his shit about never wanting to join them, but I believe he’ll keep up the pretence as long as I’ve got the loaded pistol.  I’ll give the padlock key to Frank – that’s his actual name, Trigger Changeable is a Frank – and I’ll tell him where Trigger Happy is and let him decide what to do about it.  And I’ll lock the doors behind them, and go back to my Inner Sanctum, and watch my security screens and wait for them to never come back.  I’ll do it tomorrow.

Big Sister: Day 6

I got the bullets off the Trigger boys in the end, in return for another adult-size sleeping bag and two more buckets. Sensible trade, on their part – the last thing they needed was to be fighting each other for the basic comforts. It didn’t take them long to find the cameras in the fridge, and they keep accidentally throwing stuff on top of them, the scamps. I’ve said if any go dead, they don’t get dinner or fresh buckets, and so far they’re not pushing me, cause they don’t know how far I’ll go, and frankly neither do I.

We’ve killed some time this week with “Store-room confessionals”, a good way of getting to know your looters. I told them their dinner would depend on their answers.

Trigger Grumpy went first. I expected him to be the most trouble, but once out of the fridge with the door closed behind him, fuck me if the bastard didn’t look straight into the camera and start weeping.
“This isn’t me,” he kept saying, and he looked younger than I’d thought, early twenties maybe, with hair just long enough to curl and a little chin-dimple that was beginning to be lost to stubble. He begged me to get him away from the other two, said he’d lost his family to the Flu and escaped a quarantine hostel (though he was hazy on the details of how he’d done that) and they just picked him up and made him start looting with them.

“Seems a lot of effort for them to go to,” I said, “when they could just kill you and keep more for themselves. Guess you must have some special skill they wanted you for.”
Turns out he’s military, trained in ammunitions, and he knew where to get the guns from. Which begged a few questions, such as why take them to the armoury if they didn’t already have guns to make him? Why was he in a hostel if he was qualified to be guarding it? Why stay with the others when he had as many guns as they did and more practice at using them? He clammed up after that. I gave him macaroni cheese, for effort.

Next was Trigger Happy, who didn’t want to talk about his past or how he’d fallen in with professional looters, but was happy to spend the next fifteen minutes explaining what he was going to do when he found me, swearing almost as much as Jezza on a Monday morning. Eventually he ran out of ideas and started smashing up the store room, which didn’t contain much besides empty tins and full buckets at that point. I left him a bucket of soapy water and disinfectant, a mop and the threat of no more bucket changes til it smelled of roses down there, and later watched him grudgingly cleaning it up under the watchful eye of the third Trigger, who’s been keeping the other two in line since the beginning.

His confessional was interesting. Before I even asked him about his situation he threw a challenge at me, and put me on the defensive. Who am I to keep them there? Who am I to hold an entire storeful of food to myself? And probably because I’ve been asking myself that question on a daily basis for the last couple of months, I responded quicker than I should’ve.
“I let people take what they need,” I said. “You saw the setup I had when you came in, you could’ve gone on your way with a week’s supply; you didn’t have to get greedy and go looking for the source.”
“What gives you the right to the source?”
“What gives anyone the right to anything anymore? Possession’s ten tenths of the law now, and that was suiting both of us pretty well until you walked into my fridge – at least I didn’t get here by waving guns around.”
Which I shouldn’t have told him. I was supposed to be gauging how much of a threat he was.  I tried to keep a bit of control after that, and when he wondered how I did get here, I told him, “You first.”

Then I got the full story of the gang. Trigger Grumpy was a soldier, but he wasn’t a resident at the hostel, he was a guard. The three of them were security, and after the order came not to release people on the 28th day, parties were sent out to collect more supplies, since the depots were almost empty by now. They were given firearms (it was a risky business, with looting gangs and quarantine refusers out there) and they were given a list (no doubt compiled by my “breakers and auditors”) and once they were far enough away from the hostel they figured why keep going back with this stuff? The only real reason would have been for the anti-virals, but the supply of those had to run out sometime, and they weren’t the first guards to desert before it got to crisis point. If they didn’t go back, they’d be presumed dead or diseased, and nobody would go after them, so they stole the lists and went freelance. They were going to take this place over for themselves. They didn’t know it was occupied already, but the set-up was enough of a clue to prepare them for the possibility. I didn’t press him on what they’d been planning to do about that if they hadn’t got locked in a fridge, cause I was more interested in the hostels.
“So why aren’t they letting people out?” I said.
He laughed, or maybe choked.
“What’s going on there, not too different to what you’ve got going on here. People’ve been kept in shitty conditions too long, not given information, unreliable food, taunted, messed with. The quarantine managers are afraid to let people out in case they go for the remaining supplies, take it all back.” He paused long enough to let me take that one in. “Not many left to let out, anyhow,” he continued, “but enough for riots when they see how few security are left.”
I couldn’t resist responding, “Yeah, I hear some of those deserted.”
“I saw an opportunity to get out of the round-up, and I took it, just like you. You got lucky, is all. I wouldn’t have been working for those fucking flag-wavers if I was sitting on a storeful of food, either. I did what I had to.”
“Sure. And more besides.”
“You’d know about that, wouldn’t you?” he said calmly.  I decided I wasn’t compelled to justify myself to him, and let him fill the silence. “You had to keep us from finding you, sure, but you wouldn’t be doing all this Big Sister shit if you weren’t enjoying it.”
Well, a little.
“Not at all. I’m just wondering how to get rid of you without compromising my safety. Easiest would be to turn off the cameras and look the other way while you run out of air. Riskiest would be to let you go. What would you do?”
He dealt with that one pretty creditably. Ran a hand through his hair, looked straight at the camera and said, “I’d keep me on. I can help you get the others out the way. We’d both rather they were gone but not dead. Two of us could watch in shifts in case they came back. You’re smart, and you’re handy, but I don’t think you know how to fire a gun. I’d be good security – I’ve got experience, and a man’s voice is more threatening to a gang of looters – that’s their prejudice, not mine. Reckon we could both do with the company, too.”
Not a bad pitch, all things considered. I considered all things.
“I mix a mean Martini, if that’s a decider,” he added. It wasn’t, but the rehearsed half-smile to camera was.
“Big Sister will keep your CV on file, but for now we regret we have no suitable opening for a person of your skills.”
That broke his calm, but he didn’t kick himself half so hard as I did. I should’ve made it plain from the start that I wasn’t alone here. They didn’t need to know that. I could’ve been the spokesperson for a whole armed gang. I’ve been an idiot to let them see me as a weak, lonely woman. Not his prejudice, no, just his veiled threat to intimidate me into thinking I need him.

As he went back into the fridge, he asked, “Did I earn tinned stew or dog food for that?”
Honestly there’s not much difference between the two, I think the dog food tastes a little better – less salt. I gave him the dog food, in a plastic cocktail glass with an olive in it, but I gave him a tin of beans, too. It’s nice to have somebody to talk to, even if he is a skeezy bastard.

Uninvited Guests

So, I’ve had a fun day.  Three nasty-looking looters set off the proximity alarm early this morning, blokes in their late 20s or 30s.  Most looters I’ve seen so far are very young or very old, half starved and terrified.  These looked like they’d been doing alright for themselves and had a fair bit of experience.  I watched them clock the open invitation and the rat maze for distractions in less than a minute – they didn’t even stop to take the free food.  They’d bust through the shelves and started heading for the kitchen store almost before I’d silently buzzed the locks open, and the bastards even shot a couple of my cameras en route.  I was lucky they chose to investigate the kitchen before the stairs, or they might have made it to the Outer Inner sanctum, and I’d be scrambling away over the rooftops with my bug-out bag.  As it was, I caught them in penalty box number one – straight through the store cupboard and into the walk-in fridge.

As I was telling my mate Ash only the other day, if you’re ever looting a store, prop open the doors as you go; just cause they opened when you pushed them, doesn’t mean somebody isn’t sitting up in a control centre ready to lock them behind you.  The noisy buzzers can easily be taken out of those remote-locking intercoms, and you won’t know anything about it until you hear the click.  You’ll be relieved to discover that there’s an inside handle on the fridge, but when you try the door, just to reassure yourself, and find that it doesn’t open, even when you barge it with your shoulder and use creative language on it, confusion will quickly turn to panic and you’ll curse whoever’s with you for getting you into this, and they’ll curse you back, and it’ll be hilarious for anybody watching on hidden cameras in the shelving.  Walk-in fridges are pretty tough – those insulated walls can take a hell of a pounding and, it turns out, even a bullet or two, but you don’t want to do too much of that, cause shooting through an industrial-size tube of tetrafluoroethane in an airtight space would only be funny for a minute.   I’ve got to admit these guys know their stuff, cause one of the gang grabbed the rifle off of Trigger Happy before it was too late and yelled at him to save his ammo for the bastard fucking with them.  I took that as my cue for the tannoy announcement.

“Welcome to the Big Sister house.  Day one: the housemates arrive and settle in.  After ten minutes yelling at each other about who let the door close, they realise they’re in an air-tight box where shooting is likely to release poisonous gases.  It’d probably be an idea for them to get rid of those guns before they do each other an injury.
“The housemates’ first challenge is an act of trust, to gain Big Sister’s approval.  Outside the fridge is a secure storage area.  In half an hour, Big Sister will open the door and let you out there.  Do not try to open the door of the storage area.  Leave your guns, bags and jackets in the storage area.  Turn out your pockets and leave the contents there.  Go back into the fridge, and close the door behind you.  If you successfully complete this challenge, half an hour later Big Sister will open the door again and you will find food and bedding in the storage area for your use.
“You really want Big Sister’s approval right now.  You do not want to fuck with Big Sister.  Big Sister has spent the last two months turning this store into Fort fucking Knox meets the Temple of Doom.  If you complete all your challenges without being an arsehole, Big Sister will reward you and let you leave.  If you want to find out what happens if you’re an arsehole, be an arsehole.”

They laugh, of course.  It is kind of a ridiculous situation, and as many have noted, I am hilarious.  Trigger Happy begins to suggest shooting the other door, but the smart guy who took his gun does that looking around talking thing they do when they haven’t figured out where the cameras are yet.
“Big Sister, I take it you can hear us as well as we can hear you?”
I decide not to engage in conversation until I’ve got their guns.  If they think I can’t hear them, so much the better.
“Give me the guns,” he tells the other two.  I’ve counted two pistols and a rifle on them so far, and I’m nervy, cause anybody with that many guns on display’s got to have a few more hidden. I’m glad when his boss says, “And the rest, come on,” and Trigger Happy takes another pistol out his jacket.  Trigger Grumpy gets grumpy, though.
“I’m not giving all my guns to some psycho bitch on a tannoy!”
And the boss forgets I heard him talk about saving ammo for “the bastard who’s fucking with us” and goes all Trigger Tranquil.
“Big Sis is just being cautious, that’s all, am I right?  Anybody’d be nervy, bunch of guys with guns busting into their safe house.  We’d do the same, wouldn’t we, fellas?  We came looking for food, not trouble.  So here’s what we’re gonna do.  We’re gonna give the guns to Big Sister, so she can trust us.  But we’re gonna keep the bullets, just on this shelf, here—,” the camera judders as he empties the rifle chambers and slaps the pistol clips down on the shelf, “—so that we can trust her, too.”
“Big Sister will consider your offer,” I say, and put on a Blandest Hits of 2020 playlist interspersed with Colmart jingles on repeat.  Cruel, but I have to cover the noise of the drill while I put some extra security on the outside of the store cupboard door, and the condescending fuckhead was pissing me off.

When I get back to the Inner Sanctum, I check over the footage I’d missed to make sure they haven’t put the ammo back in the guns, then turn the tannoy back on. They’re visibly relieved when the music stops.
“Big Sister will open the door now.  If you leave the guns and the bullets, you’ll get three tins of stew, three tins of beans and three sleeping bags.  If you leave only the guns, you’ll get what I consider to be a fair swap.  Do not touch the door on the other side of the storage area.  You have been warned.”
Click.  Like a shot, Trigger Grumpy’s through the door and launching himself at the electrified handle of the store cupboard door.  Trigger Grumpy gets very grumpy, and uses some language that causes me to start peeling labels off the tins I’ve put aside.  Then Trigger Happy pulls a loaded pistol from his boot and starts shooting at the door.  I was really hoping they wouldn’t do that, because my planned response is a bit of a bluff.  By now, though, they’re nervous enough to back away from the fog machine smoke that starts billowing under the door, and when the flash-bangs go off, cracking open the bottles of almond essence, Trigger not-so-Tranquil-anymore yells, “Get back in the fucking fridge,” throws the guns down behind him and slams the door.

Big Sister wasn’t entirely happy with the way they handled that challenge, but at least the gun that Trigger Happy sneaked through was loaded, so I got more out of it than Trigger Cautious had hoped.  I am nothing if not magnanimous, and gave them two label-less tins of dog food and one tiny tin of beans, two adult sleeping bags and one child-size bag with pink flowers on it, a gallon of water and a bucket.  My entertainment’s sorted for tonight, I think.

What else shall I do with the Triggers?

What just happened?

What do you call a looter who doesn’t loot?  Seriously, I need to come up with a name.  I think I’ve had breakers and auditors.  Breakers and auditors with guns.

They came in through the Open Invitation and wandered the maze through the designated route, like good little rats, but they didn’t take anything – just made a lot of marks on a clipboard and then got gone, even boarding up the window they came in through before they left and putting some fresh locks on the doors.  I left the locks, but took the board down – looking too secure invites more thorough investigation – I’d rather keep my Open Invitation open.

Don’t get me wrong, may all my future looters be so civilised, but something makes me think they could be back for more than an inventory.

Looters

In answer to Mei’s “what food are you” meme, it’s tempting to go with lemons: bitter and twisted and at my best with a gin & tonic, but that’s too obvious.  I think I might be Cherryade, with a fizzy & bubbly surface, loud and attention-grabbing, leaving you with a sour aftertaste and the nagging concern that you’ve absolutely no idea what I’m really made of (though it sure as hell ain’t cherries).  I’m concentrating on drinks, for some reason.  There’s not a whole lot left in the Booze aise.

Speaking of which, I have looters in as I type – it’s quite exciting, after the monotony of the last coupla weeks.  I was afraid, at first, that the police would be coming to clean out the store to supply the quarantine hostels (or whoever is still safe enough to be running the hostels, which still aren’t officially letting people out), but it turns out to just be a group of kids, none of them older than 17 by the look of it.  I’m watching them on the monitors right now – I never saw anybody looking so frightened while acting so tough.  They’re following the path I set, looks like they’ve found the prize.  That’s all the Tim-tams and crisps gone…oh, and one of them has the sense to take the rice and beans – I’ll have to re-stock the bait after they go.  They’re still hanging round talking… come on, fellas, appreciate the company but it’s time for you to turn around.

Fuck it, one of them’s looking through the gap in the shelving – I’ll have to block that from behind after I’ve seen them off.  Yep, they’re gonna try and climb over.  Time for a tannoy announcement…