Teyata’s voice sounded loud and fuzzy, as if underwater. He stirred and opened his eyes, conscious of moisture on his being; his goggles beside him. Slipping them back on, he got to his feet, swaying as Teyata collided with him in a crushing embrace.
“I couldn’t wake you up,” she said.
“Did I faint?”
“You’ve been asleep since the sun was there to there.”
Brad followed her arm; about three hours by his estimation.
“What happened?” he asked himself.
He went to pick up his pack, then tossed it into the fountain as a familiar odour filled his senses once again, making him reel. Coughing and spluttering, a moment she turned to retrieve his pack. The fiery red plant and an assortment of others floated on the water.
To his horror, Teyata leapt onto the edge of the fountain and retrieved Brad’s pack. Her nostrils quivered a bit, but apart from that, she suffered no ill effects. Brad, curious, crept closer to the floating plants, sniffed, then inhaled deeply. Apparently, the water had neutralised the effects. He began to rationalise the phenomenon, quickly coming to one conclusion.
“It was gas,” he said in awestruck whisper.
Teyata bounded beside him.
“It’s… ” he stopped himself, remembering to make the explanation simple. “A type of poisonous air. If you breathe it in; you die. That’s how the old world was killed.”
“How did the gas come?” asked Teyata, echoing his own unasked question.
Brad’s eyes flickered from one floating plant to the other.
“It must’ve been a mixture of saps. Two of those plants mixed together make the gas.”
He took up two of the plants; a different one in each hand, and wondered what other effects he could make?
“We’ve got to stay here for a few days,” he said.
“It’s a good place to sleep,” Teyata agreed.
When Teyata said “sleep,” she meant a safe place to make camp. Brad noted the animal droppings near the fountain and the high roof of the shopping centre. After dark, creatures would come to the fountain to drink, making for easy hunting, and they could sleep high away from predators.
“But we’re going to need longer than a few days,” said Teyata.
“Ok, let’s go inside.”
They mounted the last of the steps together and approached the glass doors. It opened automatically as they entered into the coolness of its still functioning air conditioning. The centre’s polished floor echoed with their footsteps as Brad approached the automated directory.
He paused about to dab at the screen.
“Would you like to do this?”
“What do I do?” Teyata asked, taking a step closer.
“Can you spell ‘army”‘
“Then tap in the letters.”
No listing came the screen’s response.
“Now add ‘surplus,”‘ said Brad.
A shop highlighted on the third level – Ben’s surplus.
Before he could spot the shop, Teyata pointed.
“Is that the one?”
Brad zoomed in on his telescopic lens, spying ex-military camping goods in the shop window.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said, already running up the escalators.