Chapter 7 : The Big Bang Theory

An ageing backpacker ambles in through the door of the Favorite Cafe Bar, and up to the serving counter. Unshaven, with bleary eyes squinting through grimy bi-focal specs, his wrinkled, leathery skin matching the tattered Akubra hat he probably bought when they first came on the market, and the threadbare remains of khaki shorts and shirt from an era when Hoges was tossing prawns on the barbie for American TV, the bloke is obviously a new arrival in Fractal. His legs are the giveaway: they are sunburnt and the ochre colour of the West Gregory Ranges, but here it’s mid winter and freezing. He points a boney finger at Irish Barista and in a low, gravelly voice asks: “Hey, was I here yesterday?” Irish Barista, with his perpetual, genuine smile: “Dunno mate, I didn’t see u.” The Lonely Planet old timer quietly turns around and ambles back out the door and down the street. Elsewhere it may have seemed like a bizarre question, but not in Fractal.

***

For an early afternoon in mid winter, this is unbeatable. No wind, not a cloud in the cobalt sky, and the sun slowly burning off the remnants of a persistent mist lounging in the low lying areas of the nearby sports parks. The group of friends are gathering at the Favorite Cafe Bar, the numbers increasing steadily as more drift in. A mob of Members from another Club hop off a tram and come over to join their Club cousins. Visitor: “Hey guys, how did your Club AGM and elections go? Any big changes?” Local: “Nope, no changes at all in the elections, and by all accounts the AGM was the usual comedy interspersed with searching questions and comprehensive answers. What about u lot? I’ve been hearing there’s a lot of unrest at your Club about Board decisions, budgets cuts and stuff? There’s talk of a banned Member rejoining your Club? Is it true there’s gonna be a locker fee? Work on the new helipad’s been put on hold but your gonna start holding bullfights? Is it true Snow’s asked for a transfer clearance to your Club and he’s taking 80 Members with him?” Visitor: “Yeah, yeah, there’s been a lot of talk lately; always is. Threats of motions, sub-motions, de-motions, commotions, bowel motions, u name it. Too many emotions! With a grin: “But that’s a robust Club democracy for u! Though I gotta say, a scientist mate of mine reckons if all these motions do go ahead, the whole Club culture across the entire Fractal region could be undergoing it’s very own E.L.E.” “What’s an E.L.E.?” “Extinction Level Event. Like what wiped out the dinosaurs, 60 million years ago. That one also killed off 75 per cent of the Earth’s species. I dunno if our Clubs could survive losing 75 per cent of our Members. But on the upside, it did get rid of all the reptilian mammals back then …” Local: “The Board here’s copping it big time again, too, now apparently they’ve knocked back someone’s tender application to run the Club kitchen and given no explanation why. It was gonna be turned into a boutique diner called The Munchies, using special, locally grown herbs, with a celebrity chef menu and all.” Another local: “Yeah, heaps of members are furious about it getting turned down. It was supposed to be a good earner for the Club, going to get the Daily Rage food reviewers in and everything!” Another local: “I haven’t seen this sort of anger since the last beer price increase.” Local: “The Tarot Cards Section yesterday even went to check out a different Club, and they special insight and always know what’s going to happen! “I heard that Snow reckons he’s hired a hit man from Marseilles, known as the Belgian ‘Ypres Sniper’! He’s gonna clean this joint out.” Visitor: “I hope this Ypres Sniper demanded cash up front!” At that very moment, there’s an enormous “BOOM”! Everyone stops what they are doing and stares across the road at the Club. It’s like they are frozen in time: Hands still holding chai lattes; forks with smashed avocado-and-poached-egg raised halfway to the mouth; even the gay couple’s little Shih Tzu cross dog has stopped yapping. A mushroom cloud slowly forms above the half-painted Club roof and ascends high into the sky. A couple of Kiwi blokes stop in mid-stride: “Well, I guess they won’t have the rugby on the big screen then.” Then come the wailing sirens as firetrucks, ambulances, and police descend from all directions. But they all mistakenly pull up outside the Heathrow Private Hotel out of habit. The Heathrow’s unemployed/dubiously employed inhabitants are streaming out the door, to see what all the fuss is about up the road, and glancing at the ground for any discarded ciggie butts. Diners and staff up and down the street are coming out of restaurants and cafés, for a look. The Members now are cautiously approaching the Club’s tree lined fence. Then a section of the half-painted roof collapses inwards, and a huge cloud of white dust spreads out, gathering in thickness and intensity. The Members stand there, rooted to the ground, stunned by what they are seeing. From the clotting, clogging dust, slowly emerges Bar Manager, still clutching empty jugs and glasses. Petanquers and Croquers follow him, like white ghostly apparitions. Smothered in white dust, they are coughing and struggling to breathe. Emergency crews, in full breathing apparatus, are now cautiously entering the Club. They are closely followed by more and more concerned Members, with wet bandanas over their faces to shield them from the still-thick white dust (and handy for the security cameras too). The scene before them is more surreal than even the Friday night BBQ pack raffle, which seems to always be won by the same guy. On the floor is a small, smoking, tangled mess of wires, lenses, lasers and hidden microphones – all that remains of the Eye in the Sky security camera. Captain is spreadeagled over the top of the pool table, having placed himself between it and the blast, just like Kevin Costner in a scene from “My Bodyguard”. He is breathing heavily but otherwise ok. Several dust smeared heads, with startled eyes wide open, dart up and down from behind the Bar stockade barricade, like meerkats at the Fractal Open Range Zoo. Prez calls out: “It’s all good, don’t worry, I am not hurt! But I swear the Board won’t get away with pulling a stunt like this. We won’t be moved that easily. This contravenes every article of the Geneva Convention AND the Club’s Constitution. I’ve got a copy of it here to prove it!” Emergency crews push further into the dust clogged darkness, and are shocked by what they find! All that is left of the Club Kitchen is a smoldering hole in the ground. It had been completely blown away. All trace removed, like a News Corp CEO out of favour. Rescuers peer upwards, where they can see sunlight weakly trying to penetrate the dust through a clean, clear hole in the Club’s roof. Fortunately, only the unpainted roof section is gone. Outside the Club grounds, the inhabitants from the Heathrow are rolling about in the white dust, giggling with joy and ecstasy, scooping up handfuls and throwing it in each other’s faces. You’d think Christmas had come early. Back inside the Club, a concerned Member points to the stubbies fridge behind the barricaded Bar. He yells: “Look, the lock’s been blown off the Bar fridge!” Another Member: “And the beer tap’s sprung a huge leak, the beer’s spurting out and it’s all going to waste!” Another calls out: “I can see inside the cool room! The door’s been blown completely off! All those slabs of Crown Lagers in there … just getting warm …” Outside the Club, the Heathrow inhabitants have stopped in mid-game, ears pricked, like lions that have just picked up the scent of a fresh kill. They all begin loping towards the Club’s front door, trying to look casual and not be noticed, as if only mildly interested. Then moderately interested. Then intensely interested. Then trying to shove each other aside in a rush to get to the Bar …

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