Jessie pulled the respirator from his face and checked the valve. He estimated that he had about two days left in the air filter. He wished that he’d taken more, but having left in haste, his immediate concern had been for his life and not packing for a trip. He’d been on the road for a couple of days so far. Actually it was closer to four days, and he still had no idea how close he was to the Citadel. He’d followed Olive’s advice to the letter and stayed next to the train track, so he would have to come across the city sooner or later. Wouldn’t he?
So long as “later” was no longer than two days, Jessie thought.
Jessie could’ve sworn that the air was getting clearer. He could now make out the pieces of light grey ash against the deeper grey of the sky. He thought that he could see a lot further ahead than he could yesterday, but he might have just been imagining it. Olive had said that the air clears as you get closer to the Citadel. Something to do with the environmental scrubbers used to keep the city air and water clean. She reckoned that eventually the whole atmosphere would be clear again. Jessie wondered what an ‘environmental scrubber’ might look like, and more importantly what a clear atmosphere looked like. He had no idea. Pictures he’d come across in books showed a bright blue sky, and loads of green trees, plants, animals, and light like he’d never seen before.
Books and other stuff were part of Olive’s deal. She had a special licence to bring things into the Citadel to sell at the markets. Books were the most popular items and the easiest for her to come by on her scavenging trips into what was left of the old towns and cities. Sometimes she got lucky and found serviceable furniture, jewelry or bric-a-brac.
Jessie’s dad and his mates didn’t care much about books, or ornaments. They just wanted Olive to move their drugs into the Citadel and bring the exchanges back out; mainly food and items they could use as currency. His father had a whole team of couriers, but Olive was the best.
Jessie remembered that his Dad had seemed a little more than keen on Olive when she first appeared on the scene. She certainly didn’t seem interested in him, at least not beyond interest in the business. Jessie reckoned Olive was about 25, and his dad had to be at least 40. Besides, Olive was really nice looking and could go out with anyone she wanted to and wouldn’t pick someone like his dad. Jessie missed Olive.
Thinking of his dad upset him a bit. He didn’t really like his dad. He didn’t like his dad’s mates much either, but they were all he had. Well, they had been all he had, up until a couple of days ago. Now he didn’t even know if any of them were still alive. He knew that his father wasn’t.
He couldn’t be. Could he?
That huge thug from the rival gang had stabbed him in the chest during the raid. That had been enough for Jessie. He’d been hiding under the benches in the kitchen when it happened. At the first available opportunity he grabbed the food and the bag of filters his father had thrust into his hands earlier, and slid out under the side of the make-shift tent wall. He made a run for it, leaving everyone else in the camp to his or her fate. Not exactly a brave act, but not a stupid one either.
He was lucky that it had been dark when he left. He’d hidden behind the remains of an old bus shelter about half a kilometre away. He watched as the rival gang scavenged what they could from the camp, before setting fire to the shantytown-style buildings that had once been his home. As soon as the attackers’ cars and bikes roared off, he headed quickly in the direction of the railway line. He was certain that they had not found the secret chemicals store in the middle of the camp. He hadn’t seen any barrels being taken out at any rate. Jessie didn’t know much about chemistry, but he’d seen enough accidents in the workshop to know