Disclaimer: I own nothing anyone recognises.
A/N: I don't even know what this is, but it's set between the first two movies.
Out Here, Nothing Changes
(not in a hurry, anyway)
Out here, nothing changes
Not in a hurry, anyway
You can feel the endlessness
With the coming of the light of day.
-Goanna, Solid Rock
The land is bare. Dry red dust abounds, piled in softly undulating dunes and drifting in the wind. There are no trees within sight; the only vegetation is close to the ground, spiky, sparse, and scattered. Nothing here can truly lay claim to the designation of alive. Nothing grows in the desert. Anything that once did has died out, disappeared, unable to cope with the changing conditions.
Only the red earth remains. It stretches to the horizons in every direction, interrupted by a thin dark line running far into the distance. Extending in a featureless, perfectly straight stripe of tarmac, the road provides no landmarks; the dark, heated surface vanishes into the distance, each metre dizzyingly identical to the one before, and the one after.
The single, lonely exception is the black-on-black car, pulled over on the side of the road. Engine silent and still, it has been stationary for some time, some period impossible to measure save by the position of the sun.
An irregular, attention-catching blot on the landscape, the artificial man-made construct incongruously looks almost as though it has grown there, sprung up from the ground. Any tire tracks in the dust have vanished, blown away by the gentle whisper of the wind. Nothing inside the dark car moves.
Its driver is sprawled uncomfortably sideways across both front seats, legs crooked. His head rests on a lumpy, raggedy blanket on the passenger seat. His eyes are closed behind dark sunglasses, his breathing slow and steady.
Outside, the air is filled with the subliminal rasp of shifting sand. Nothing else moves.
There was a wreck abandoned on the side of the road. An empty shell, it was nothing but the scaffold of a vehicle. The bare bones of something that had been a vehicle before the scavengers had arrived. It could have crashed a year ago, or a week. There was nothing remaining to allow even an estimate at how long ago it had been dumped there. Nothing physically remained to feasibly be taken from the wreckage.
He kept driving, not even bothering to slow down. The one thing it was possible to learn from the wreck was that gangs had operated in the area recently, and likely still did. It was nothing he hadn't already guessed. Gangs operated everywhere.
The desert, its immense silence and infinite undistinguishable tracts of space, the infinite stark length of the nameless road, should bother him. On some subconscious level, it does, but he's long since become used to the sight. After all, it rarely changes. Its irremediable, irreversible sameness lasts for uncounted days and weeks.
Before the sand and dust, there had been patchy, dying grass stretched thinly across the ground; before that, taller stands of untended vegetation spreading over the landscape. And through it all is the road, running on into the distance. The one unalterable constant in his life.
No matter how deserted, how desolate, the landscape around him becomes, there is always a road. There is always somewhere else to be, somewhere further along the line, somewhere past the horizon and away from everything.
Half an hour further down the road, a blot appeared on the horizon. Drawing closer, it became a clump of men and machinery. Closer still, and it became a handful of scavengers and their prey; a lone vehicle, sans driver, being turned into an empty wreck, soon to be sans everything.
He weighed his odds, and drove straight past the whole lot of them. In the wake of his passing, the scavengers clustered around the wreck scrambled for their own vehicles, a motley assortment of motorbikes that had seen better days.
Evidently the skags had determined that their current pickings would last until their return. Equally clearly, they had brains enough to recognise that the V8 Interceptor held far superior pickings. Within moments, the bikes roared to life and chased after the black-on-black vehicle. Two only of the nomadic bikers remained to hurriedly finish collecting the still-leaking petrol.
The land is vast, and made vaster still by the silence of the desert. The wide, bare expanse stretches to the horizons. The bedrock of the land, stripped clean to its bones. The cities, compared to this, seem to have been but a humped and ugly blot, cobbled together and squatting defensively on a hastily scavenged scrap of space.
The cities have gone, or have almost gone. They had lost their clenched, white-knuckled grip on their borrowed patch of time and crumbled. And even as the arrogantly looming cities disappear into the event horizon of decay, the land remains, vast and untouchable. Humanity could not disturb it; they could never have done so to anything but their own tenuous place on it, their own fragile capabilities of survival.
The land remains, but it is not unchanged. Humanity could never have destroyed it. But the land has been altered; it is not immutable, not immune to the advent of time. The deserts spread, the inland salt lakes recede, and the fleeting beauty of flowers blooming in arid wasteland vanishes.
The land will forever exist.
But immortality does not equate to lack of decay.
There were only, really, a very few bikers following him. He'd been faced with worse odds and survived. And in this case, the possible gains outweighed the risk. The temptation of fuel nearly always outweighed the risks, these days.
A few hundred metres later, covered in a matter of seconds, he turned the car in a one-eighty. The back wheels skidded, slipped, gained traction, and the car hurtled back down the road the way it had come. Only marginally slower than it had been before the turn, it rapidly picked up speed.
The cluster of motorbikes in front of him grew larger, the combined speed of bikes and car swiftly closing the distance between them. It was not strictly original, this tactic, and he knew it; but it was at least a classic. And if it was made slightly more difficult by a lack of larger targets such as cars, then that wasn't too much of a hardship.
Running others off the road had become commonplace. The men who were at the moment heading steadily towards him just weren't up to scratch, if they wanted to survive. With a bare handful of metres remaining before a collision, the lead motorbike swerved violently, crashing into the one on his right, which in turn flipped and struck the bike coming up behind it.
The remaining bikers, seeing themselves seconds from a fatal crash that the lunatic driving the car clearly wasn't going to try to avoid, tried to get out of the way but only managed to get into each other's escape routes. Half-crushed beneath bikes, wheels spinning aimlessly in the air, the men provided little threat. They were probably in too much pain to even consider pulling a gun, and they were certainly incapable of evading the wheels of the onrushing black car.
And since when had the skags ever thought a head-on collision between a powerful car and a handful of bikes held together with spit and duct tape to have been an idea in favour of the bikers?
Sometimes it was really too easy.
Life doesn't fade away, doesn't become white noise like an inoperative radio station that he can tune out. He keeps living and however monotonous his days become, they keep coming and he doesn't let go of them. He'll never be able to do that, never be able to simply lie down and decide not get back up. Death without a cause, however meaningless, however irrelevant, that cause might be, isn't in his mindset. But there are other ways for him to die than to eat a bullet of his own volition.
He's beginning to realise that he can't drive forever. He doesn't entirely know why he is bothering to try. If he is being honest, a practise about which he remains ambivalent and for which he usually tries to avoid the need, he has less reason to continue than most. Slow-burning anger and a sense of injustice, neither of which often flare up despite an abundance of fuel or due cause, are not enough to explain it.
He can't keep running, can't simply continue like this until he keels over. For one thing, his reserves of petrol are rapidly disappearing. The further he heads into the wastelands the less he will find. Or, rather, he can keep on with this existence, this current life of his. With determination enough, and luck, he can keep driving as long as he can find the fuel and the will.
The world, however, can't. Much as he shies away from admitting it, he is a part of that world, however minimal. No matter how much he voluntarily and deliberately keeps himself on the fringes, on the very outskirts of any form of civilisation, he is a part of that world.
But there isn't much civilisation to go around these days. Staying out of its way is not difficult. Ignoring its existence entirely is harder, but most days he manages to do so. It's easier. Easier not to think about what might be happening elsewhere, and not to ponder all the many and myriad ways a population can find to die.
He doesn't kid himself that he might one day find himself alone, the last man alive. But he wouldn't be surprised to be among the last few thousand.
There is no way forward when they live like this. And from this, humanity isn't going to return.
The two bikers who had stayed behind to drain the last dregs of fuel from the abandoned vehicle back down the road would, at some point, find the bloodied remains of their once-comrades. What they would do then he couldn't accurately predict. Either they would turn tail and run, or they would follow him to get some sort of revenge.
If it was the latter, they would find him easily. But if it was the latter, there were only two of them. And two was not a large number.
Whatever the bikers decided to do, he couldn't change it, couldn't do anything but deal with whatever consequences would eventually result. And he needed to get some sleep before he fell unconscious at the wheel. It didn't matter how poetically just that ending might be, it wasn't one he intended to encourage. He needed sleep.
The black car pulled over on the side of the road. The engine stopped. A minute later, the only sound was the shifting of sand as the wind blew across the desert wastelands.
The driver shifts uncomfortably on the seat, lost in the shifting morass of half-realised dreams, and of half-imagined memories. Some indefinable emotion flickers across his face, and then wakes, suddenly, and it vanishes. His eyes open behind the sunglasses. He doesn't move, listening intently to the world outside the car. For a moment, he can hear nothing but the wind whispering across the dust, and the sand blowing across the road. But something, some noise, had intruded on his restless sleep. And then he hears it.
The low, grumbling roar of motorbikes speeding down the highway is recognisable from a distance and is hard to mistake for anything else. In the otherwise-complete silence, the noise carries. Two distinct engines can be heard approaching, but – strangely – no more than two. And in the flat, bare landscape, vision also carries. If he can hear their bikes, then it is more than likely that by now they can see his car.
If the bikers are typical of their kind, they will have already formulated plans of looting the vehicle of gasoline and anything else that grabs their attention. A still-living occupant would probably not deter them in the least. But he plans to be a deterrent, and it is the work of a moment to run through his options.
Booby traps are all well and good, but he had only intended this one to be a last resort; he has no real desire for his car to be destroyed, and absolutely no wish to be blown up himself, along with the thief. But he has time before the trap is triggered, that he knows. The bikers would have developed some degree of caution. They aren't going to walk brazenly up to the Interceptor and take the fuel immediately. Of course, he can hardly take a biker's smarts for granted.
He could simply start the car and then safely either escape whatever threat they present, or run them off the road. But there are only two of them, a bike apiece, and those are not bad odds. If he takes them by surprise, acts quickly, then two more skags will be off the road in short order. And with any luck he will be able to top up his reserves of fuel as a convenient bonus. Waiting for them to move close enough for him to shoot might well be less effort than manipulating them into a crash.
His hand moves a fraction of an inch, and then tightens around the grip of the carefully positioned sawn-off shotgun lying under the seat. It is, thankfully, loaded. He moves gradually, his actions almost leisurely in their unhurried pace. Millimetre by painstakingly slow millimetre, he half-sits, shifting across to the passenger seat, and swivels to crack open the door behind him.
It moves without a sound, and swings open in a carefully controlled arc, no further than is absolutely necessary to allow his exit. Keeping low to the ground, he slides out, ignoring the warning twinges from his knee and shutting the door behind him with a muted thump. The shotgun is clasped in one hand as he begins shuffling awkwardly towards the rear of his car, straining his ears to analyse the sounds of fast-approaching bikes.
The people who roamed the highways these days didn't even deserve the title of humanity. He didn't stop to quibble over his own inclusion in that statement. They were scavengers, predators, guilty of just about every crime in the book, if they hadn't already torn it up.
Animalistic. Savage. Primitive. Untamed. The only vestiges of humanity they bore were the weapons created by the technology once taken for granted; and even those instruments of death and pain had now begun to revert to basic functions, the basic psychology of intimidation, sharp spikes and bloodied barbs.
Eventually even the weaponry would deteriorate entirely, becoming simpler and simpler to match their morals. It did not, almost self-evidently, take brains to kill people. He managed it, after all. And it was probably a bad sign that he didn't even blink at it anymore, but he can't quite bring himself to care. The end of the world had already happened. Life after the end surely couldn't get any better, and the path downwards was gradual, from here.
There would only be monotony and a steady fade, until there was silence, and then all things would begin again. And at that point, chances were he wouldn't be around to care. So all things considered, what he did now, or whatever he did or did not feel, wasn't an issue.
He can hear the bikes slowing as they approach the car: understandably wary, he guesses. It's either a sign of possible unexpected intelligence, or simply survival instinct. They'll have passed the wrecks of their comrades' bikes, by now. They'll know that he's someone to be careful around. It won't help them, he thinks, and reaches the Interceptor's rear wheel. The bikes' engines shift in pitch, just slightly, enough to tell him that they have slowed still further, cruising almost to an idling halt as they come alongside the Interceptor.
If they've taken no more than a glance at the Interceptor, and they can't have looked much more closely than that, then they won't have seen him. As planned. He waits for a second longer, listening, waiting for the right moment. One hand rests on the car's side, bracing his weight against the Interceptor's comforting solidity. His other hand is on the shotgun.
A heartbeat longer, a faint tonal shift in engine noise later, and he stands. The movement will never be quite as smooth or effortless as it had once been, but it is as smoothly efficient as is possible given his knee, and the leg-brace.
The bikers catch sight of him less than a second after he reaches his feet. It doesn't help them. Not even with their reflexes honed by constant tension and danger from all sides, does it help. Not when they've slowed to a standstill, and he knows from the noise they have been making precisely where they are. Not when they are, both of them, either arrogant or stupid enough not to have a weapon already to hand; not when he has the shotgun aimed almost before he finishes standing.
It's an anti-climax. A brief hiccup in the monotony of the wastelands, easily solved. A sawn-off shotgun isn't made for precision shooting. But from this range, it doesn't need to be.
He siphons the fuel out of the bikers' tanks before he leaves. It's there for the taking, and he would have to be a fool not to take it. The bikes themselves, retooled and stripped down and modified beyond recognition, he examines for potentially useful spare parts.
He ignores the corpses.
On the side of a road, there will be the abandoned hollow wreck of what will have once been a vehicle. Nothing but the merest hint of its former capabilities will remain. Nothing of any possible conceivable value will remain on its bare skeleton. Nothing will be able to intimate how long it will have lain there.
He will keep driving past it, won't even slow down. The sole piece of information that will be able to be gathered from the wreck will be that gangs will have been operating in the area, and likely still will. It will be nothing he won't have already guessed. Gangs will have been in operation everywhere.
Nothing grows here. Flora and fauna alike are shrivelled and wasted. Thoughts are silenced, stagnate and turn to despair. Everything fades to nothing; scenery, landmarks, faith, memories. Only the desert remains, forbidding, desolate and empty.
These are the wastelands, and the name is accurate. Out here, life does not last long.