“Jasper… look at this…” she sat up, pulling her eye from the microscope. She had been at the lab all night, and Jasper had arrived thirty minutes ago, with coffees and sweet buns.
“You look like hell…” he said as he placed a cardboard cup of hot coffee on the lab counter.
“Thanks…” she said back at the eyepiece.
“I want you to take a look at this. The white blood cells… let me know what you think.” He pushed in and looked through the microscope, adjusting the wheels on either side to fine tune the focus.
Brand leaned back and took a deep sip on the coffee, eyeing the sticky buns that peeked out of the pink and white box.
“What am I looking at?”
“Crikey… the CD4 cells are duplicating at an exponential rate. How much cotangent was introduced… and what batch is the sample?”
“It’s the last of the lot #0012-0316-CA.” She was reading off of the screen of her laptop, scrolling through a matrix of data.
“Have you ever seen anything so aggressive?”
“I was impressed with the delta readings we have been getting, but this is easily two to three times the previous rates.”
Jasper, sat pondering the findings, he scratched his head and looked again through the scope. “How are we on specimens? Because we have to see if this is an anomaly.”
Brand had thought the same thing, and had already made a call down to Bundy in collections paddock, but there had been no answer. She had the nagging feeling that Bundy had mentioned he might be away, but she had been up all night, and wasn’t sure she trusted her memory.
“Right Jasper, I’ll give Bund a call and have him schedule a run.”
The dark burgundy red phone hung on the wall of the collections paddock, next to a glossy Four XXXX beer calendar featuring a busty blonde in a bright yellow t-shirt, cut just so the bottoms of her large breasts descended below the rip, and four large red X’s struggled for attention between the peaks of erect nipples castling them on either side.
The phone rang loudly, just barley audible above TRex, which blared “Bang a Gong” from the oversized boom box that sat unassumingly in the corner on a shelf above the coffee machine. From under the Rover Ronny rolled out on his back, sliding across the floor, and in one quick motion springing up to grab the phone.
“Collections paddock, Ronny at your service…” he could see from the caller Id that it was Dr. Brand, the young scientist he admired from afar, and was desperate to impress.
“Hey Ronny, its Dr. Brand from the lab. I need to speak to Bundy about a collection run.”
“Uh…” Ronny searched for the words, while Brand continued speaking.
He knew Bundy was away, and he had been itching to take the Rover out on a collection by himself. He wanted to show Bundy he was no kid, that he could handle himself in the bush as good as any bloke. Plus, he wanted to gather up the stash he had been collecting over the last few weeks. This was his chance, to prove himself to Bundy, and collect the score that would make him a legend amongst his friends.
“Dr. Brand… Bundy just stepped out, but I’ll tell him we need to make a run.” He continued his charade, and got all of the details from Brand for the collection, checked the GPS readings on the traps and saw red dots all around.
“Great. I’ll pass it along to Bundy, and we’ll get back to you when we have finished.”
He ran through his checklist like a pilot before flight and satisfied, he climbed in the cab of the Truck, opened the bay door, and pulled out into the bush.
It had been about two months ago, out on a maintenance run to look at a bad fence sensor, that Ronny had discovered his access to the “Emerald City.” The fencing that ran along the road fencing the Aggies off from the rest of the park, was monitored with motion sensors, continuity sensors for breaks, and an electrical current that provided a minor shock to critters that showed enough interest to climb.
He drove almost a mile, following the fence line counting the sensors silently as he passed the blinking lights that appeared on posts at increments of twenty meters. Looking at the palm of his hand, he double-checked the number of the sensor he had written in purple marker.
He stopped where the first fence line stopped and the road split. He took the right turn to reach the sensor in question, as the red line marking the route shown bright on the GPS read out.
The road ended abruptly, and the fence went into some deep scrub, and according to GPS the sensor was in deep. He strapped on his equipment belt and assessed his options. The greenery was thick and sharp with razor palms and thorns running as far as he could see, and butting right up against the fence.
There was small opening near the base of a the bushes, looked like the animal door his mom had on the back door of the house, so the dog could come an go as he pleased. As a child Ronny had always been afraid that a Dingo would come in during the night, and kill him or his mom. He had no choice, but to get on all fours and make his way through the Dingo door and into the thicket.
As he crawled thorns and snags grabbed at his shirtsleeves and pant legs, his hands reach forward into the dark space and squished into a stale pile of shit marking ownership of the tunnel. “Fuck me… a goddamn devil dump.” he said as he first smelled his fingers, and then wiped his hands on his pants, leaving a sticky smear.
The day had grown hot and steam seemed to rise up from the ground as the moisture evaporating in the heat. The smells were the pungent and sweet of ripened decay. He crawled, scratched and torn another three meters, breathing through his mouth to avoid the acrid smells. The passage opened into a small clearing, where he stood, slightly hunched over to avoid the sharp ceiling, and continued to wipe his hands. To the right was the fence junction post with the sensor box, the light blinking rhythmically signaling a technical distress.
Ronny stood before the box and released the lock at the bottom with the cylindrical Pullman Porter’s key that opened all of the sensor boxes. He swung the panel up on the hinge at the top, and looked into the wiry innards. Red, black, green and white wires wrapped in a chaotic tangle, running from sensors and switches to where they were soldered umbilically to the motherboard.
Right away he could spot the breaker that had fried, as the fuse inside was burnt black. Could have been a lightening strike, or just a power surge he thought, as he reached into the pocket on the tool belt that contained the small box of breaker switches. He fumbled for the box with sticky fingers, dropping it to the ground, and spilling the half dozen plastic resisters.
After collecting the spilled switches, he snapped in the replacement part, closed up the box, and locked it. The light shown a glorious and still red, as he stood back, wide-eyed and took in the brilliant color against the deep, glossy, glittering green that pressed up against the fence, which held back the ever expanding plants with their thick and heavy buds. Purple and orange hairs reached pleadingly through the fence.
It’s like to door to the Emerald City… he thought.
It had been almost two hours since he had left the paddock, and his radio squawked and squelched at him.
“Ronny…” there was a click, and a pause.
“Ronny… mate you there…”
He was running through the bush, following a path, a path that was turning yellow with every step, and then he was there, at the gates. The doors were heavy, jeweled in sticky purples, greens and oranges. He touched the living wall of the door, and he stuck to it, pulling his hand back against long stretching strands of dark, skunked, molasses.
A small secret door opened and a familiar voice said, “Dave’s not here man…”
The wall fell away, his vision cleared and he was behind the wheel of the truck, radio crowing in his ear like an alarm clock.
“Hey fuck-o!” Bundy was a man of little patience, especially with Ronny.
“Hey… uh… right here Bundy…” his head cleared and the iris of black was drawn back.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Sorry Bund, sensor shit the… bed, so I replaced it… deep out here, I just got back, left the radio in the truck.”
“You Yobbo… what have I told you about…” Bundy continued, but Ronny stopped listening. He rested his head on the wheel, took five deep breathes, turned to the open window and puked.
Ronny had smoked almost all of his short life, but he had never had anything like this. This is some serious shit… he thought as Bundy continued through the radio.
“I’ll be right in Bund.” He slumped back in his seat, looked in the mirror at his blood-shit eyes, and passed out for another fifteen minutes. Ronny eventually made it back safely that day and Bundy was none the wiser.
The first three traps had been tripped according to the GPS finder, but they were all empty. He loaded them back up with bait, and moved on to the others. The fourth trap had worked flawlessly, trapping the largest Devil he had ever seen. Typically the little buggers ran about 18 Kg, but this bloke was easily twice that, and he was angry. The trap rattled and shook as the Devil gnawed at the wire of the cage door, and bellowed loud deathly screeches, spitting and gnashing.
Ronny picked up the cage, noticing the difference in weight. At first he thought maybe he had bagged two, but once he slid the container into the slot on the back of the truck, he saw that there was only one; a really big and angry one.
The animal looked horrible. The face was red and raw like ground meat, and the stink was of rot. Blood and other fluids splattered all about the cage and dripped heavily from the silver mesh of the cage. The tones coming from the creature spanned the spectrum of sound from high-pitched ripping screeches, to low internal rumblings in an octave below the scale.
Ronny whispered to the creature. “It’s all right there… you’ll be apples once we get back to the good doctor. She’ll fix you right up.” The animal slumped back, almost as if it was listening to Ronny’s every word. “Good girl… have a bikkie…”
“Look here…” He said as he broke off a piece of a tea biscuit he had been eating, and tapped lightly on the cage. “Come on girl, have a bite of this here… come on girl… Old Ronny’s here, and he’s got a real treat for you.”
In a violent flash the snout and teeth were through the openings in the cage, chomping and hissing at the biscuit and the fingers that offered it. Ronny jumped, fast and backward, tripping over roots and a stump, plummeting back, landing hard on his back. Pain shot through his back and up his arm, as blood traced a line down his forearm.
The cut was deep and on the back of his hand. Had he been bit, or had he caught it on the jagged edge of a broken cage piece? He wasn’t sure. Enraged and holding his bleeding hand, he stood, screamed, lifted a foot to kick cage which he missed, driving his shin into the wheel well of the truck just above the rear tire. With another howl he was on the ground again, holding his throbbing shinbone, between bloodied fingers.
There were still a few traps to check, and then he would hit the Emerald City and load up the booty for the festival. This was going to be epic; he could feel it in his bones. He would have over 3 Kg of prime, genetically modified, high-test Frankenstein weed that The Burning Bush Music Festival had ever seen. When he had first tested the bounty of the Emerald City, he had passed out after couple of tokes from a small bong he hid in the truck.
He had been lucky that day, as Bundy had reached him on the radio and not discovered him passed out behind the wheel of the truck. He was more careful now.
The pain shot up his shin and his arm throbbed. He wrapped his hand in an old tee shirt that had been behind the seat, and the bleeding stopped, but the pain didn’t. He needed a hit.
He pulled out the small bamboo one-hitter he carried at all times, clicked the button and the blue jet engine flame shot out of the lighter, turning small green tip bright red. A deep inhale and a slow long exhale and he was good, his eyelids dropped and his shoulders slumped. “Just pinch between my check and gums…” He said into the mirror as he backed up, and pulled out to check the rest of the traps. His passenger howled and screamed mercilessly as he drove, turning up the radio to mask the sound.
He collected two more specimens, reset all of the traps, and was now back at his Emerald City. The plan had been in the works for weeks now. Every opportunity he visited the Emerald City, adding buds he would collect from other areas on the property, and loading up the purple and orange buds that littered the ground of his secret garden.
His plan was simple. Take the booty back to the paddock, and hide it in the ATV shed. He was certain Bundy would smell it if he brought it near the paddock, but the ATV shed smelled of oil and gas and would mask the odor. If Bundy caught him… he was dead and he didn’t want to think about it.
He would offer to close the paddocks, clean the vehicles, and tell Bundy to take off. If Bundy went for it, he would be home free. He could take one of the ATV’s, load it up with the burlap sacks that waited hot and sticky for him, and exit through the delivery gate near the lot where he parked. If the coast was clear, he could slip out, load the goods into the car, and move the ATV back to the paddock on Monday.
The bags were heavy and a sticky resin soaked through, making the burlap tacky and black in greasy spots. He closed the bags tying the burlap sacks with wire and pair of pliers, and stacked them into one of the empty cages on the truck. Satisfied he took another hit and headed back to the paddock.
Methodically he backed the truck up to the ATV shed, stepped lightly from the truck as his shin ached, and pain shot up through his leg. His hand stung as well and was covered in dried blood. As quickly as he could he opened the shed doors, and began to unload the bags.
The Devil’s screamed and growled when he approached the truck. They were very agitated, much more than usual he thought. He stacked the bags in the back of the shed, behind the Red Honda ATV, that had a bad crankcase, and hadn’t been used in months.
He was quite pleased, as he counted the bags, and returned to retrieve the last one from the truck. The large specimen was growling, low and guttural, and Ronny could hear it as he exited the shed. Ignoring the cries and growls he hurried to get the last bag unloaded.
The animal went into a frenzy as Ronny pulled the bag from the empty cage, shaking the truck, causing the bag to hook on a loose wire form the cage, ripping the bag and spilling large buds onto the ground.
“Fuck me!” He exclaimed, trying to catch the buds as they dropped, and control the bag as the truck shook violently. He was getting nervous, as the truck shook and rocked on its rusty springs singing a distressed metallic song. Scrambling, he carried the ripped bag to the back of the shed and added it to the pile, noting to himself that he needed a new sack to replace the ripped one.
He slammed the door to the shed got to the cab of the truck as quickly as possible, and headed off to the paddock. Things were coming together just right. Bundy was gone, and all he had to do was unload the specimens, call the Doc, and he was home free.