The sun was hot. It’s not that I just realized. It’s that it’s killing me. Although I hated riding in the park’s fully dark roads during midnight, biking down a sunbaked, untended highway was much, much worse. The sunlight continued to blaze into my eyes, making it very hard to look ahead. There was no shelter where we could stop. We could only get going.
We left the national parks barely two hours ago, but I was already exhausted. My bicycle’s wheels needed more air to be pumped in, but we had no air pump. I had to keep biking with more and more energy and it was wearing me down. I didn’t think I could go for much farther.
“Where are we now?” I asked Anne. Anne pulled out the map from her bag. She quickly checked. “We’re getting near. An hour more of biking should get us there, but only if we push ourselves towards exhaustion.”
“I am already exhausted.” I said warily. Isaac glanced over to me with the wow-are-you-already-exhausted-I’m-not-even-down yet kind of look. I shot him back my own I-wasn’t-the-one-who-bothered-to-bring-his-cap-and-sunscreen eye.
“I do hope Greyville still has electricity.” Toby muttered. “I miss air-conditioning.”
“I want to sleep in an air-conditioned room.” muttered Sophie.
I joined in the muttering. “And I miss ice and cool water.”
“And the good shower heaters where you can set the temperature.”
“The toilets! I miss them the most!”
“Good food. I’m bored to death with canned fish, fresh fish, canned fish, fresh fish, canned fish, fresh fish. I’m beginning to look like a fish myself.”
“Quit complaining.” Toby said at last. “We need to go at a quicker pace than this. We’ve been lucky so far; no soldier patrols around this highway. Let’s get this over quickly.”
We silenced, and once again we pedaled, determined to get to Greyville as soon as possible.
* * * * *
The sight of Greyville rising above the flat plains around it was both a sight for sore eyes and at the same time very dismal.
I was very delighted to see that we have finally reached the city. After two more hours, I was nearly dead. I could hardly pedal anymore, but I told myself to keep going. If I was to stop before I reached the goal, there was no reason in starting at the first place.
However, Greyville in itself seemed like some ruined place. There were wooden walls completely surrounding the city. The land surrounding seemed like a wasteland. It was completely sand; there was no grass at all. Ominously, the skies were dark with black clouds (a bigger contrast from the sunshine filled ride could not have been made).
“Well, here’s our destination.” Toby said. “Where’s our Lonely Planet guidebook?”
“How are we going to get inside that…fortress town?” Sophie said. She gazed at the walls. “I’m sure it’s guarded. I don’t want to be shot down.”
“We’re only teenagers. They probably won’t shoot down teens right away. Let’s just ride our bikes and approach them.” Anne suggested.
“Ever the sensible.” I commented. We slowly pedaled towards the walls. Pretty soon, a contingent of people were walking out towards us. One of them carried a rifle. Not the most comforting sight ever. “Get a white flag.” I mumbled. Toby looked into his bag, and finding a white undershirt, he quickly waved it around. The approaching people continued walking towards us. Their rifle was still aimed directly towards us too. (Me, to be exact. Again, not so comforting).
“Who are you? Why are you here?” the man barked out. His voice was harsh.
“We escaped from Rocky Trial national park.” Toby shouted in reply. “We need refuge.”
The man raised down his rifle. “Step from your bikes and approach us on foot!” We did as he instructed. Two men quickly came from behind and did a systematic checking of our bags and bodies to make sure we didn’t carry anything dangerous. When the checking was done, the rifle man grinned. “Welcome to Greyville.”
“We’ve had a long ride. Can you find us a place to sleep?”
“You’ll need to report to the city council first. They insist on meeting every new addition to the city. Meanwhile, I’ll give you a quick lowdown of what has been happening here. Long story made short, the city council somehow had good enough oratory skills to persuade the garrison the Great Leader installed for the city to switch sides. They’re now our elite force. The Great Leader reportedly got into a furious rage and has ordered the city to be retaken. They don’t want to completely destroy it or anything, and so they can’t really use any nuclear weapons or anything of that sort. If they do it’s gonna cause an international outrage anyway. The city council quickly ordered the city walls to be erected, and here we are. We’ve been able to defend ourselves so far. The Great Leader’s soldiers have suffered many casualties, and they just withdrew from yet another siege a week ago. They’ll be back soon, probably.” He then surveyed our clothing with his eyes. “You don’t look too well off yourself. Has life been a bit hard?” We all nodded in reply.
“I have a question.” Isaac said. “If the city council has managed to order city walls, have they also been able to secure running electricity?”
The man laughed. He nodded, and that was followed by a great cheer from all of us.
* * * * *
When we entered the city, the first thing I noticed was that it was remarkably noisy and unorganized. “There’s been a massive amount of refugees like you guys coming in. The number per week has lessened considerably though. I’m thinking that everyone’s captured. There hasn’t been anyone who’s escaped to us for two weeks now, but the big reason is probably that we were still under siege.
“In any case, the city council ordered a building to be turned into a guesthouse for new refugees that haven’t reported to the council yet. It’s currently empty right now, so I’ll be taking you to your temporary room.
“The council has a weekly reporting time for new people every Friday. That’s tomorrow. Someone will come and take you, perhaps myself, if I’m available. My name’s Robert, by the way. The council has supplies of canned fish to serve people in the guesthouse” -a groan came from all of us- “and since the council managed to secure electrical sources and running water, everything, including air conditioning is working.” A cheer came from all of us this time.
Robert led us into the guesthouse. It was dimly lit, and he took us to a room. It was an undecorated room with plaster walls. The only furniture in it were a few beds and an air conditioner.
“You’ll be staying here today. Good luck.” Without a word more, he left us. We looked at each other.
“Well…another army is heading to attack us. That’s…a comforting thought.” Isaac said.
“Certainly.” Anne said. “Now what do we do? Celebrate our victory by eating canned fish?”
“I have a much better idea than that. Let’s go off and explore the city.” Toby proposed. Sophie asked if whether we were allowed to go out, to which I replied that Robert didn’t say anything about us not being allowed to do that.
“Well, let’s get going then.” Toby said. We stepped out of the guesthouse, back into the bustling streets of Greyville. There were lots of people. We walked down the avenue, met a junction, and walked to another street. Everyone seemed to be walking. What were they all doing? I wondered the question out loud, and no one could answer.
“Let’s ask someone.” Anne suggested. She tapped a walking woman on the shoulder and asked what everyone was doing. The woman said she was in a hurry, but funnily she stopped to speak for quite some time.
She told us that all of the energy of the city’s entire population was concentrated on only one thing: the war effort. During the sieges, the people were always restless; defending the walls, rebuilding parts of it when needed, even being sent out in operations against the soldier camps.
Meanwhile, during these times where there was no enemy banging at the gates, the whole city changed their focus to training. Everyone who could hold a gun had to know how to use one; everyone who could hold a spear or a club also need to know how to use one. There were even public classes on self defense. The city council also ordered people to help with repairing the wall and gathering supplies. A new, outer wall had also been started, and that was why the city was so busy. The woman then quickly hurried off, apparently because she had to go find her husband who was working at the new wall.
“Well…that’s a lot of work isn’t it.” I groaned. I’d been expecting a nice break, not being recruited into Greyville’s amateur military. We continued walking around the city for a while more, but it seemed like the same scene all over. Busy people hurriedly running around while the whole city looked like it wasn’t taken care off properly.
In the end, we simply decided to return to the guesthouse. For the thousandth time, I fell exhausted into the bed.
* * * * *
Robert came to pick us up the next day.
“We’ll head off to the city administration center. It’s now a capitol. Everyone rushes in there, but now they know not to disturb the council during Friday morning unless something really urgent is happening.” Robert said. He started whistling as we walked down the bustling streets.
The administration center was not a large building. Unlike the rest of the city, it seemed maintained. Robert walked casually into the building and led us through the corridor. We ended up in a small meeting room.
The city councillors were all sitting there. There was a total of ten of them. One of them looked very old, and he was small figure. The old man was the first to speak. “Thanks Robert. Is this all?”
“It’s all for today, sir.”
“Okay. Please wait outside while we finish this meeting.” Robert left the room. The center of attention turned to us. A man grabbed a pencil and started asking us questions.
“What are your names?”
“How did you get here? Where were you hiding before coming?”
“How old are you?”
And a load more questions.
Finally, the old man said, “Let us introduce ourselves. I’m Mayor Philip. Held the position for quite a few years now. You can probably see that.” Yes, mayor. Your wrinkled face tells us all. “I’m actually supposed to be retired already, but this new stupid revolution is extending my time.
“Here’s what we’ll be doing with you. I think you’ve been through some hard times yourself. First thing we’re going to ask is this: are you sure you want to remain in the city?”
“What do you mean?” Anne asked.
“From the reports we have, the siege that’s coming up is going to be the biggest one yet. Three full divisions of the military will be repeatedly attacking. Our spies also tell that they’re going to be using the navy as another attacking source, this time around. We have a river that runs through the city, if you haven’t seen that. This time around I’m not exactly sure if we will survive this siege. Are you sure you want to stay?”
We looked at each other. I quickly went through the options in my head. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to stay in the national park for longer. At least here, we have some sort of purpose in life, some sense of order.
“Yes, we’ll stay.” Toby said firmly.
“If that’s your final choice, then we need to set some tasks for you. First, the system which we use in the newly founded Republic of Greyville is unique. We refer to people by groups. We think people work together better in groups that they already know. So your group will have the ID” -the old man looked at his paper to check- “0681.
“For now, your task will be to help construct the river walls. You will also be trained for our newly set up Greyville Navy. The days you’ll be trained on are Friday and Sunday. For the rest you’ll be working with the walls. Your task is subject to change. Do you have any questions?”
Isaac raised his hand. Mayor Philip nodded.
“I have two questions. Who persuaded the soldiers to change sides when they came to take over the town? And how did Greyville get weapons?”
The council chuckled. A man sitting to the side said, “Philip did the persuasion all by himself. When the commander came and told him that he was taking over the town, Philip just gave an elaborate speech that probably hurt that commander’s pride a lot. Now these soldiers are actually helping us train the Greyville military!”
Mayor Philip said, “For your second question, I have no idea why you’d want to know this, but it happened to be that in fact in Greyville there’s a major illegal war weapons seller. He has a whole stockade of weapons. When the news that a revolution has happened and we were the only city still holding out came out, the seller pledged his entire stock to us. We have plenty of weapons. Now, we still have a thousand things to do today. See you around later.” We were quickly dismissed and Robert led us to our new shelter.
“Vast masses of empty land are now inhabited by these tents. I’ll take you to your tent. Follow me.”