by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 13

On the Run

The drive was uneventful. The vehicles performed superbly. The landscape changed from verdant hills to kilometres of flat, dull road through melaleuca swamplands until just when they thought they'd never get there, a slight rise offered a view of the bluest water they'd ever seen.

'It's because the bay's almost land-locked,' Arnold explained, 'so the water gets extra salty and that makes it look so blue. In reality it's virtually dead because of silting from toxic river runoff after heavy rain, and the bottom's been scraped bare by trawlers that use the harbour as their homeport. It's just around that point where the long jetty sticks out. Like all Queensland coastal retirement towns, if you go a street away from the water you'd not know you were near the sea.'

They entered the town along a wide, dual carriageway that resembled a racetrack, lined by vast shopping malls and other ugly trademarks of the consumer society. The rest of the place was furnished with the same architecturally uninspiring shops and car parks as every other town in the country, and as crowded with cars—the shops being so far apart only a marathon runner would attempt to do the shopping on foot.

The Esplanade was attractive, despite the traffic, and they followed the map to a jetty and changing shed where they'd arranged to meet, anticipating a refreshing swim. But the tide was out and the rickety jetty jutted into mudflats that oozed an unappetising stench where someone had gutted fish. Even a troupe of pelicans weren't tempted. The three men perched on a rock retaining wall, keeping an eye out for Bart and Robert while Hylas read bits from a newspaper he'd found beside the rubbish bin.

'Fuck! Listen to this. Women who do not cover their body in public, including their hair, will be publicly whipped like the whores they are.'

'How old's that paper?'

'Hylas checked. 'Last week. We've not been keeping up with things.'

'They're mad! They want to take us back to the Middle Ages. Soon they'll be burning witches. Yet another reason to be glad I'm not a woman.'

Half an hour later Robert and Bart joined them.

'It was nerve-wracking waiting for you to arrive,' Fidel said, vainly attempting to sound calm. 'I always assume the worst. For the last twenty minutes I've been imagining that you've broken down, had a crash, have both been killed, or were stopped by JECHIS vigilantes and stoned to death. I'm not mentally tough enough to live in constant fear in a police state.'

'Well, we do live in a police state, so we're all going to have to get used to it and stop worrying ourselves into an early grave. Tell ourselves worrying doesn't help; it will change nothing. What will happen will happen.'

'That's all very well, but I reckon we also ought to pledge on the graves of our ancestors or something equally nebulous, to always take no risks.'

'I'm with you on that. No point in being brave and noble if it endangers ourselves. Our lives are more important to us than the lives of others, so we should promise never to risk our freedom to protect or assist other people.'

'Right you are, Bart. You work on the wording and we'll have a ceremony tonight and swear the noble oath.'

'Can we also drink each other's blood—you know, become blood brothers like in the stories?'

'Arnold! You! An ex cop entertaining such puerile romantic notions.' Robert grinned. 'Sounds brilliant! Tonight it is.'

They ate their packed lunch on a patch of sand below the rock wall, not trusting the hygiene of a public picnic table and seats. While they gazed across the mud to tiny wavelets that heralded the incoming tide, a young couple came down the steps, nodded a greeting, then spread their towels about five metres away before removing their clothes to reveal Speedos on him and a very modest one-piece bathing suit on her. While oiling themselves they said they'd come up from Melbourne to escape the cold and would wait for the tide to come in so they could take their first swim in the sub-tropics.

Hylas showed them the newspaper announcement.

Their faces turned white—literally.

'But surely, I mean, they can't… can they? Do you think I'd better…

Too late. A policeman was already descending the steps and flicking open his whip-stick. 'Cover yourself instantly!' he snarled, casting a quick look over his shoulder as if he was being watched.

'I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I didn't know and I'm not showing any….'

The policeman slashed his whip-like stick across her shoulders. 'Don't argue!'

She cowered back in horror; a red weal already visible. The man leaped to his feet, wrapped his arms around her and glared up at the officer of the law. 'What did you do that for?

'Queensland law now states that women must cover themselves in public. Only the hands and face may be visible. This woman is breaking the law. What is her relationship to you?'

'My wife. But we didn't know. We've only…'

'Aren't you ashamed to have a wife displaying herself like a whore?'

'She wasn't! she…'

The stick left a matching red weal across the young man's shoulders.

'You are still naked, woman!'

She quickly dressed herself, whimpering, shaking so much her husband had to assist.

The policeman watched, frowning as if silently apologising for his actions. 'Next time you will be publicly humiliated and punished severely.' His voice was no longer harsh. 'I suggest you take this incident as a very lucky warning. When Protection Officers replace Policemen you'll not get off so lightly. They've been trained to deal mercilessly with all who break the laws or argue with the representatives of JECHIS. If you question their actions and decisions as you did mine, you will be stoned to death.'

'Thank you, sir. We are very grateful for your mercy.' The young man remained with his head bowed, as if waiting for permission to move.

The policeman nodded acceptance of the apology, turned to the five onlookers and asked almost hopefully. 'Do you agree?'

'Absolutely,' Arnold said, nodding to confirm it. 'You have been very professional, officer. I gather, since you didn't reprimand the woman's husband, that Speedos are fine?'

'Yes. Men may wear as much or as little as they like.'

'Even naked?'

The cop shrugged. 'It would seem so. At least it's not expressly forbidden in the rulebook they gave us. You really should read the papers if you want to be safe.'

'You are a good man, officer,' Bart said softly. 'Thank you.'

'Please excuse my asking,' the husband said in a suitably chastened voice, 'But why are men free to dress as they like but women not?'

The cop placed his hands behind his back and gazed up at the sky, clearly trying to recall something. He failed, frowned, took a small black book from his pocket, flicked through to a page, opened it, nodded, then read slowly, 'God made man in his image, therefore the male mind and body are perfect and should be worshipped. Women are imperfect copies—weaker in mind and body, created by god for the sole purpose of serving man and incubating his children. Their shape is superficially similar to man, but it is an insult to god to expose anything so imperfect.' With an embarrassed frown the police officer closed his book and strode away along the beach.

The woman subsided into silent sobs while her mortified husband draped his towel over her head and, without looking at the other five men, shepherded her up the steps to their car.

'That poor woman!'

'That poor cop. He was obviously worried to seem less than severe in case he was being watched.'

'Yeah, but how can they write that crap. Surely they know that every animal that reproduces sexually has different male and female forms! It's essential for survival!'

'Of course they do, but they don't believe humans are animals—we're the special creation of god.'

'I'm not looking forward to meeting the… what did he call them?'

'Protection Officers. I saw something about them on a previous page. Hang on.' Hylas rifled through the newspaper, scanned the text then looked up in horror. 'To counter the increase in violence among a minority of citizens, the Triumvirate has issued pardons to all fit prisoners under forty who have shown themselves ready to accept and enforce the rule of god. A special uniform had been designed that will instil respect for the Officers, make wrongdoers fear god's anger, and proclaim the impartiality of justice.'

'That's how they managed to empty the prisons!'

'There's a photo.'

The others crowded round to look. 'They look like cyborgs . Black from head to toe.'

'It's almost the same uniform worn by the guards of the administrator.'

'I suppose making them look like robots is what they mean by emphasising the impartiality of justice. What's impartial about treating women differently from men?'

'But they do look sort of sexy, as if they've been melted down and poured into their suits.'

'I wonder if what he said about male clothing is true. If it is, then it makes you wonder if our little talk about nudity with those inspectors has influenced the bosses.'

'It can't be that; commonsense can never infect a religious mind. I reckon we'll find there's some other, more devious design in their newfound tolerance.'

'You're probably right. Meanwhile, I suggest we act like typical tourists for a bit, in case we've been noticed.'

After an hour wandering up and down the beach and adjacent streets they agreed that visiting Fraser Island would be stupid because there'd be security cameras at the ferry terminals, and as there was nothing else in the town that attracted them, there was no excuse for remaining in such an urban desert. They packed up and continued north, keen to put as many kilometres between themselves and Brisbane as possible.

The Bruce Highway is the link between the north and south of the state. It runs more or less up the centre of the coastal plain. A score of kilometres to the east is the Pacific Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef, and roughly the same distance to the west is the Great Dividing Range. Beyond the ranges, vast tablelands, plains and deserts stretch unbroken for three thousand kilometres to the Indian Ocean.

They decided only to visit places on the eastern side of the highway to avoid the bible belt of towns and villages on the western side, which were notorious for being against everything, and in favour of nothing except traditional Christian values of hating everyone and everything they didn't like or want to do themselves.

'I wonder what the bible bashers think of JECHIS.'

'They'll love their treatment of women, but might be upset at having their preachers shot and stoned and their churches destroyed. Still, you can never be certain about what goes on in a religious mind. They're probably all delighted at having a real warlord to lead the Christian Soldiers Marching as to War.'

That evening they drove several kilometres off the highway along a narrow, sandy side road till they found a stand of trees enclosed by a wire fence. They opened the sagging gate, drove carefully until concealed, closed the gate and prepared for the night. After eating they sat in a circle and Bart read the pledge he'd been working on since lunchtime. It was very simple.

"I promise to ensure my safety first, that of Robert, Fidel, Arnold and Hylas second, and others only if there is absolutely no danger to us five."

They each repeated it, changing only the names, pricked their thumbs between the nail and the joint, then squeezed out a drop. Turning to the person next to them they licked off the other's blood. After this rite had been solemnly repeated with the other three, they sat in unembarrassed silence for several minutes.

'That was eerie,' Robert whispered. 'It felt as if I was doing something strange and special. I loved you all before, but now it's something different, stronger, more powerful.' He turned to the others who were watching him and nodding as if to confirm their own feelings.

'Yeah. It was sort of uncanny. For a few seconds I felt as if we were all one person.' Arnold was also whispering.

'I almost get what religious people mean when they say they feel god when they pray,' Hylas mumbled.

'It didn't feel weird, but it did make me see everything with unusual clarity, especially the fact that it's essential we each take care of ourselves so the others can concentrate on looking after themselves and then we're all in a position to take care of each other except that we won't need to because…' Bart looked around with an embarrassed grin. 'Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but nothing's obvious when you're facing the insane situation of an intelligent, rational species allowing itself to be taken over by a bunch of crazy witchdoctors who reckon god wants us to do what they want, and not what we want, because they're special…' his voice drifted off. 'Humans really are the pits. Thousands of voices of reason and wisdom have been raised over the millennia, all telling us the same thing. We humans are on the wrong path. The road to contentment, fulfilment and satisfaction lies in simplicity and accepting the restrictions of the natural world in which we evolved and which has sustained us so far. Peace will arrive when we treat everyone—men, women, children and all of nature with respect.' He shook his head in despair and fell silent.

'What is crystal clear to me,' Fidel said carefully, 'is that despite our best efforts to be decent, we five have had zero effect on what's happening. We're like the victims of a tsunami, caught up in a huge wave, tossed around, in danger of losing our lives, having no idea what will happen or where we'll end up. We're completely outside this thing. It has nothing to do with us and we can have no lasting effect on it. What will happen will happen because it is the inevitable consequence of human nature. We five owe no one except each other anything. We must remain outside the catastrophe; keep our heads when all about are losing theirs, and…' he paused.

'And then we will be men, my son,' Bart added. 'Fancy you knowing Rudyard Kipling's 'If' . Fidel, your hidden depths are a constant delight.'

That night they slept fitfully, their minds ordering and reordering ideas, priorities and plans. All were sombre at breakfast, but no one felt the need to explain, knowing they all felt something similar. They were alone. Five men whose sole function was to keep their heads above the rising tides of insanity while searching for a safe haven. That was the extent of their plan. Yet it soothed them because even a flimsy plan will calm the nervous spirit, make strong men stronger and permit laughter and pleasure even in impossible adversity. Uncertainty, on the other hand, breeds insanity.

Having no schedule, no time restrictions, no strategy other than to maintain their freedom, they continued north on the Bruce Highway taking every side road that looked interesting, meeting up for meals and following each other towards dusk to find a suitable place to drive off the road and camp for the night.

Exploring the coastal strip was more interesting than pleasurable. Interesting in the way their preconceived notions of tropical Queensland were upended. Backed by a range of low mountains, the land was either flat, dry, cattle grazing grassland dotted with the occasional scruffy tree, or it was covered in sugar cane farms. Every now and then a road or track led down to swamps or streams or beaches; the popular ones of which were bordered by low sand dunes and a row of suffering coconut palms, imported to attract retirees from the cold south to squander their savings on dull housing estates indistinguishable from every other middle class suburb in the state.

Supermarkets and stores were patronised by women in shapeless dresses and headscarves, looking hot and irritable while men were mostly relaxed and cool in wide brimmed hats, shorts and open shirts or tank tops. Some were even going shirtless! After years of being told by their women that their bodies were not attractive, the new law that proclaimed their maleness to be quasi divine, revived a half forgotten, ancient pride in being a man.

The beaches were usually empty of human life apart from a few hopeful anglers, because the tide was either too far out to swim, or there were dangerous rocks concealing stonefish and other nasties such as lethal box jellyfish. Crocodiles and sharks were an added disincentive to putting one's toes in or near the water. There weren't even any waves because of the Barrier Reef. Where swimming was possible, Speedos were enjoying a revival after forty years of female ridicule, while loose slacks, blouses and headscarves were de rigueur for women. Poetic justice, Fidel's Five decided.

Finding places to park and sleep undisturbed was not easy. Fences kept strangers out of tick-infested farmland, forests were few and far between, and cane farmers patrolled their fields, rightly terrified that careless campers might set fire to their crop. Instead of a tropical wilderness, North Queensland was looking the same as every other ex British colony—clear felled and raped for profit, while indigenous plants and animals were despised and destroyed.

After several months they arrived in Rockhampton and straddled the Tropic of Capricorn like all good tourists. The magnificent Colonial civic architecture won their admiration, but the rest of the sprawling city was a delight to leave, especially after being accosted by two of the regimes newly minted Protection Officers. Robert and Bart had stopped to look in a shop window while the others wandered down to the riverfront.

'Oh dear,' Arnold whispered, 'we are about to be waylaid by two guys who want to protect us.'

'Shit, look at them. Who's going to protect us from them?'

Until then, if they'd seen a Protector in the distance they'd made themselves scarce, so this was the first time they'd been close enough to get a proper look. The three dimensional reality was much more impressive than the newspaper photograph. The sole proof that the suit contained a human, not a cyborg, was a visible face. The remainder of their bodies was encased in skin-tight, black Kevlar jumpsuits with overlapping, platelike segments at elbows and knees for flexibility, and a moulded codpiece that left no doubt about the wearer's masculinity. The effect was chillingly reminiscent of medieval armour.

A variety of impressive weapons including a handgun and whip-stick were attached to a wide black belt. The torso of the uniform was moulded to look like a well-developed chest and abdomen in the style of Roman armour. A heavy black zip from collar to navel provided entrance and exit. Calf length black boots protected the feet while a black helmet topped by a shiny metal spike did the same for head and ears. A smoky visor was ready to be pulled down in case of attack.

'Are they real or from the set of the latest Dr Who movie?' Fidel whispered as they approached.

'They're sexily menacing.' Hylas decided with a slight shudder. 'More like robots than humans.'

'I don't believe those fake muscles reflect what's inside,' Arnold sneered, 'or that they fill those codpieces. Look at the guns and knives.'

'Time to smile and be pleasant, guys,' Fidel warned.

The Protection Officers sauntered up and stopped about half a metre in front of their target, hands on guns and sticks.

'What're you doing?' The tone sufficiently abrupt to make the most innocent feel guilty of nameless crimes.

The three young men smiled at the unpleasant, battle-scarred faces and explained they'd been admiring the magnificent old buildings on the riverfront.

'Show us your papers.'

They were scanned carefully. 'What're you doing in Rocky and what're your plans?'

Politely, with sufficient docility to please but not enough to arouse suspicion, they explained promptly and politely.

The taller Officer frowned suspiciously. 'Why don't you mind us asking you these questions?

Fidel wanted to laugh. The guy looked too tough to be asking such a revealing question. 'Because you're doing your job,' he replied, nodding seriously. 'It's men like you who are making the place safe for the rest of us.'

'Yeah?' The tone was surprised and the smile almost grateful. 'Most people look at us as if we're scum.'

'Well you're not. You're going a good job, and you look really great in that gear. Is it hard to become a Protection Officer?' Hylas's eyes were wide in innocent admiration.

'Pretty tough training, but you guys'd be able to do it.' He looked down at himself somewhat self-consciously. 'Yeah, the gear's pretty cool. I expected it to be hot and sweaty, but it's really comfortable; feels as if I'm not wearing anything.' He moved closer to Hylas. 'Feel it.'

'Hylas reached out and stroked the jacket sleeve. 'Yeah! It really is smooth.' He giggled. 'It'd be worth joining just to look like you.'

Fidel's heart leaped into his mouth. Hylas was laying it on a bit thick; surely the cops would be suspicious. But they weren't. Basking in the admiration, they nodded cheerfully, wished them a good holiday and moved on.

Robert and Bart, who'd observed the interaction from a distance, were relieved at the outcome, but warned them not to expect all the Protection Racketeers to be so simple.

That evening they followed yet another rough sandy track east, only to be stopped by a gate warning trespassers they'd be shot. They didn't want to go back so they turned north off the track and drove blindly into the thin scrub, heading vaguely northeast. It was very rough going, and they loudly praised Jon and their four-wheel-drive vehicles, especially when each required a tow at different times. After half an hour the scrub thinned on the right and they realised they'd reached the rear of the low dunes that lined the coast. A hundred metres further and progress was halted by deep creek on the far side of a small clearing in the trees. It was secluded, protected from wind, and once the engines were turned off, the air filled with the sound of birds.

'Lets stay here forever.'

'Well, a week at least.'

Robert and Bart's portable television couldn't find a signal, but Arnold's radio could, so after a meal they lay back swatting at mosquitoes and listening to the daily news roundup. As usual, sports results and commentary took up most of the time, followed by the weather, then the daily JECHIS report. After announcing the government's latest successes, including seven new orphanages for homeless boys and the opening of a teacher training centre that would provide enough new male religious indoctrination teachers for all the newly created boys schools, a list of miscreants was read out with their punishments. Eleven public whippings for arguing with policemen, not wearing a headscarf, listening to headphones in a public place. Three women had been stripped and publicly humiliated for disobeying their husbands.

As usual, the list of punishments was followed by the proclamation of new laws, rules and restrictions, and as usual it was introduced by a homily about how the people had brought it upon themselves.

After mentioning a small bomb that exploded in the Roma Street Transport Centre, doing no damage, the announcer said gravely: 'After days of prayer, the Triumvirate has decided that the citizens of the Holy State of Queensland have so far overstepped the behavioural boundaries of what God intended that new restrictions will be imposed to curb increasing cupidity, immorality, depravity, corruption, sexual and religious deviance.

'Henceforth: It is forbidden for women to wear cosmetics and jewellery in public. Abortions are illegal. All sexual activity between men and women outside marriage is forbidden. No woman may appear in public alone. At all times she must be accompanied by a male family member. Whoever publicly opposes any of these changes will be put to death.'

The midday official radio news bulletin reported that eighty-five men and women had been shot dead in the street outside government buildings where they were protesting.

The following morning they followed the creek towards the sea along a short gully and through a gap in the sandhills to where it flowed into a little bay enclosed to the north by steep sandstone cliffs and to the south by a line of rocks. The sun shone on sparkling water, the air was fresh and sweet, seagulls wheeled overhead. Pelicans dived for breakfast. They stripped and ran laughing into the water. The sand sloped steeply to a pool created by swirling tides, so it remained deep enough for swimming even at low tide. The day was spent lazing around, talking, sleeping, thinking. After some persuasion they agreed to learn Bridge using cards Bart had brought with him. To their surprise they discovered it was an absorbing game and quickly became hooked, demanding more lessons.

After three days of total laziness—recharging their batteries as Sanjay liked to say, they decided to explore south to see where the private road ended. Perhaps there was an old homestead. Perhaps they could buy food. Wearing shorts and backpacks they climbed over the rocks then followed the base of low rocky cliffs that after half an hour veered several hundred metres into the sea. Instead of following the shoreline they clambered up for what they hoped would be a long view and discovered it was just a narrow peninsular. Below, a rock splattered, muddy looking beach stretched into the distance. The water was turbid and shallow, and behind low sandhills, scrubby, desiccated vegetation did not invite exploration. The only visible animal life was a group of naked men, women and children playing volleyball, paddling, sunbathing or sitting under large sun umbrellas.

'What'll we do?'

'Join them.'

'Not with our shorts on, they'll think we're perverts.'

'Then we'll take them off.'

Five minutes later they were apologising for arriving unannounced on the private beach, reassuring the locals they were friendly, had no idea it was a naturist colony, were hoping to find food to buy, and meant no harm. Their apologies were cautiously accepted and an elderly man, who introduced himself as Jacob, the owner of the place, took them through the sandhills to a dusty track that separated his decaying holiday house and tiny shop, from a camping ground containing several tents and about twenty caravans.

Three naked women, several children and two old men were in the store being served by Jacob's equally elderly wife. After stocking their backpacks with enough food for a week, they returned with Jacob to the beach where they joined four other men and two women on a canvass groundsheet in a tent with the side flaps rolled up to let the breeze through.

After introductions, they were invited to go for a swim or play volleyball. The sea looked unattractive, and an argument between seven teenaged girls and boys playing volleyball didn't invite their intrusion.

'Thanks, but we're comfortable here. How long have you had this place?'

'Nearly thirty years. The wife and I bought the place for holidays, invited a few people we knew were nature lovers, and they kept coming back, so we made it a camping ground. Never advertised, just word of mouth.'

'I assume you're all aware of the new laws about females exposing themselves?'

'Yes, but no one ever comes out here. Why would they? It used to be a great swimming beach but a typhoon last summer totally stuffed the place—filled the bay with mud and flattened all the trees back there.' He indicated the hinterland.

'Yeah. It used to be really beautiful here—great swimming.' The speaker looked to be in his forties. 'The kids aren't so keen to come any more.'

'You're right. It's not the same—nothing is. Even food doesn't taste like it used to.'

The men all laughed, clearly at ease in each other's company.

Several women wandered over, nodded at their guests and sank into deck chairs.

'I think you're all incredibly brave,' Hylas said, looking at the women, 'How can you be sure you haven't been spotted by satellites or planes?'

'We can't.'

'I think you're taking a dreadful risk; not the men, but you women. You risk appalling punishment if the Protection guys come.'

'Surely not, this place is private property.'

'The property might be private,' Robert's face was creased by a frown. 'But the beach isn't. And judging from our personal experience of JECHIS officials, I'd say you're taking a grave risk by assuming they would consider your camping ground and store to be private.'

'What're you all talking about so seriously?' an attractive young woman asked as she joined the group . 'You all look so solemn. Come on, lighten up.'

'It is serious, Adele. These young men say we're not safe from the JECHIS police and you girls should be worried.'

'Ha! Those cretins don't worry me. I know how to get around men.'

'They aren't normal men, Adele,' Bart said carefully. 'They're religious lunatics who act without thought or compassion.'

Adele stood and sauntered over to Bart, cupping her hands seductively under her breasts, flirting with large, expressively calculating eyes. She was extremely attractive, despite her somewhat common accent and behaviour. 'Surely, officer, you don't object to a woman dressing like Eve?' She reached out and stroked Bart's cheek.'

He shook his head, obviously irritated. 'Bad choice of role model, Adele. Eve is the reason for their distrust of women—she tempted Adam into evil. I don't doubt you've managed to bend many a susceptible man to your will, but Protection Officers aren't normal men.'

She pulled abruptly away. 'You mean they're queer, like you?' The tone was deliberately offensive.

'I'm not queer; I'm one of the naturally occurring ten percent of males who can appreciate women for qualities other than sexual availability. I can see you're an attractive, strong-willed woman who is used to getting her way with men, but I repeat my warning. Don't try it with JECHIS.'

'You're making me worried,' a middle-aged woman said nervously into the slightly embarrassed pause. 'Have you really had dealings with them?'

'Yes. And with some top administrators. Believe me you do not want to meet them!' Fidel gazed out to sea, wishing he wasn't there. He'd had a sudden premonition of disaster and couldn't look at anyone.

'We saw what happened to a woman on the beach in Hervey Bay who was wearing a modest one piece swimsuit,' Bart said softly. 'It wasn't nice. None of you women will survive if they find you naked.'

'But… but…' The woman's mouth opened but she couldn't speak.

'They're not going to ring ahead to warn you they're coming. Have you a plan in case they suddenly arrive?' Arnold asked?

'No. What do you suggest?'

'Keep a twenty-four hour lookout at the gate down the road, with a phone programmed to simultaneously ring every other phone on this estate if strangers approach. That will give females time to dress themselves. That means all women must carry suitable garments with them day and night.'

'Would you mind telling everyone else this? They'll take you more seriously than me.'

'I'd be pleased to; call them over.'

Fifteen minutes later, every female in the colony was back on the beach carrying a small bag containing suitable clothes she could slip on in seconds. While they practised the art of instant dressing, the men drew up a sentinel roster and worked out how to program the phones.

The children thought it was fun; their parents realised it was deadly serious and became increasingly nervous.

'What about us men?' a teenage youth asked.

'If Protection Officers arrive it'll be because they know you're nudists, so men and boys must remain naked. To do otherwise would be very suspicious. If they ask about the women, be honest and say they used to be naked too, but when they learned of the new laws they decided to comply. JECHIS aren't concerned about males. Surely you've heard their rationale?'

'Something about men being made in god's image?'

'Exactly! And that makes us perfect so we're praising god by merely existing, whereas if women expose their inferior bodies it's not only an insult to god but tempting men to sin. Adam and Eve and all that. Forget individual rights—we no longer have any. If we don't do as we're told when they're watching us, then we deserve what we get.'

'But why are they so cruel?'

'It may be cruel but it's also natural. It's the way humans have gained and held onto power since they chose civilization over hunter gathering. It's usually been a double act—a warlord controlling the hordes through fear of punishment in this life, and witchdoctors maintaining their influence through fear of eternal punishment after death. In this modern theocracy the witchdoctors are also the warlords.'

'But I thought the world was getting more liberal, more tolerant, more peaceful?'

'It seemed like it in a few wealthy countries, but it was an aberration caused by a shortage of labour after two world wars, favourable climatic conditions, four thousand million fewer humans so there was plenty of food and water, and fairly distributed wealth. The labour shortage enabled workers to organise and demand rights never before accorded. It was a brief Golden Age that lasted a mere thirty years, from the early sixties through the eighties, when we reverted to the normal state of human civilization in which less than one percent of the population own ninety-nine percent of the planet's wealth, leaving the other seven or so billion humans to struggle in poverty in an increasingly hostile world. The rise of JECHIS isn't strange; all nations are now more or less police states ruled by dictatorial governments no longer paying even lip service to democratic ideals or human rights.'

'But I thought this was a secular country.'

'Australia has never been a secular state. Politicians both state and federal have always been religious men and women using their avowed religiosity to gain votes. Religious indoctrination is rife in the proliferating religious schools. In Queensland, creationism has always been treated as an equally valid theory to evolution. Multiculturalism is just another name for multi-religionism, deliberately introduced to create social instability, making the JECHIS take over like stealing lollies from children.'

'An apt analogy.'


'Then we ought to fight!'

'Sure, if you want to die horribly. They've got the government, the guns, the media, the banks, the schools, the religious dickheads, the courts, the cops. What've you got?'

'Then what must we do?'

'What humans have always done. Conform and obey without complaint in public, and be yourself when it is safe. They aren't stupid enough to expect everyone to believe them. They know we don't want to be downtrodden slaves; they don't care if we hate them and everything they stand for as long as we're not a threat to their power. That's all they want. As long as you are not a danger to their authority, they'll leave you alone.'

'That's a lot to think about. Will we see you again?'

'Yeah. We've enough food for three days, we'll come back then and see how you're going.'

On the second day, three black helicopters flew low overhead, heading south, landing shortly after. Obviously on the nudist beach. Two hours later they returned. Two flew on, one separated when over the five men who were swimming, and landed on the beach just above the high-water mark. Three black-clad Protection Officers jumped out and took up positions covering all parts of the bay, rifles at the ready.

Led by Bart, the friends walked calmly out of the water and approached politely.

'How many people are staying here?'

'Only us five, sir.'

'How long?'

'Another couple of days, then we've got to get back on the road.'

'Where're you going?'

'Up north looking for work.'

'No women?'

'No, sir.'

'Show us where you're staying.'

The officers inspected the campsite, admired the vehicles, refused a cup of tea, and then asked if they'd been along the beach to visit the other people.

'Yeah, we went once, but too many kids. We wanted a quiet holiday.'

'What are they like?'

'Boring, like most families. The men were friendly enough, but the women just kept to themselves in the shade.'


'Of course. Must have been hot though. I'm glad I'm not a female.'

'Aren't we all.' The Officer in charge produced a card. 'This number is a direct line to our recruiting office. The Protection Service always needs healthy men like you. Worth considering if you don't have any luck finding jobs wherever you're going.'

'Yeah? That sounds pretty good. What's the pay like?'

'Excellent.' He nodded at his mates. 'Ok, time to go.'

The five men walked back to the beach with the officers and watched as they lifted off and disappeared over the trees.



'I wonder what happened down the beach.'

'Well, we're not going to find out till we're sure they've gone and not spying from a nearby hilltop. Tomorrow at the earliest.'

The following morning they surveyed the nudist beach from the top of the peninsular. It was empty. No volleyball, no sun shades, no deck chairs. They scrambled down and went in search of Jacob. He was sitting outside his shop, staring into space. He looked up when they approached.

'You're alive.' It was a statement devoid of feeling. Having made it he returned his gaze to his feet.

'Where is everyone?'


'Your wife?'


'What happened?'

'They came.' Jacob looked up. His face empty of expression. His voice, when he eventually spoke, was devoid of inflexion and so soft they had to strain to hear. 'Nine men in black. Pleasant. Said they'd seen naked women on satellite photos and asked nicely enough if we knew the law. We said what you told us to. They seemed to accept that and asked to see the rest of the place. Everyone relaxed. We weren't in trouble. Several people even smiled and asked if they'd like something to drink. Then suddenly that mad bitch Adele marched up to the leader and said it was crazy that women were treated differently from men. He calmly replied that it was the law and she ought to respect it. She shouted, stuff you, tore off her headscarf and opened her shift, exposing those tits she was so proud of. The cops just stood there, faces blank, so she started flirting exactly like she did with you and every other man she met. It was her game. But she'd only said two words when the cop slashed at her with his whip stick. She screamed, fuck you. Then two cops grabbed her arms, ripped her dress off, shoved her onto her back and lashed her wrists and ankles to spikes the other cops hammered into the sand. The kids and most of the women began screaming until the cops started hitting them. Then we were told to go and get half a dozen cricket-ball sized stones each. We just stood in shock till they threatened us with their sticks. So we picked up lots of small rocks, hoping they were only trying to put the fear of their god into us. Surely they weren't serious. But they were. We had to get in a circle and throw stones at Adele until she was dead. The head cop said if we wanted to be kind, aim for her head as hard as we could. But we couldn't move. Suddenly Adele's husband, Andrew, the nice bloke you were talking to, yelled fuck you bastards, and threw his stone at the leader. Hit his helmet but didn't hurt him. Without blinking the cop raised his pistol and fired. Andrew's head exploded. We started throwing immediately. It took ages. I had no idea a human could take so long to die. Finally, the cop put his pistol to the bloody mess that was her head and pulled the trigger, then they all got into their helicopters and took off, leaving us to clean up.'

His five listeners stood in horrified silence for several minutes. No one could find anything to say.

Jacob shook his head as if confused. The worst part was that once I started throwing I wanted to kill Adele. I hated her for putting us in that situation. For making the police angry. For endangering all of us. I wanted her dead and silently cursed her and I wanted to hurl rocks at her. She was a self-willed woman, but not a bad person. We all liked her. I'm sure from the way everyone behaved afterwards that they all felt the same. Instead of hating those bastards, we hated our friend! How is that possible?'

'No idea, but you are not to blame, the law is. If you'd behaved differently even more people would have suffered.'

'My wife and the other women say it's my fault. I shouldn't have opened up the camping ground this year, knowing the law.'

'They are wrong. You are not your brother's or your sister's keeper. What're you going to do?'

'Going away. I only hung around to tell you and thank you for trying to prevent it.' He held out a quavering hand.

They all shook it, tears of sympathy streaming.

'I can't even cry.' He said dully through a sigh that came from the depths of his being. He turned and stumbled back to his little store where he waited until the five nice young men were far enough away not to hear the shot.

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