In a land bleached red by the fiery sun, the vehicle sped down the track at the head of the dust cloud, like it was a ship forming a surging wake on a calm sea. The brown smudge rose into the light breeze spreading out over the landscape lingering like it was more at home levitating than on the ground. Two men sat in the dirty police vehicle but it was difficult to see their colouring under the covering dirt.
Constable James McLean (Jimmy) of the Western Australian Police slipped his hat onto the back of his head as he drove the Toyota Land cruiser. The rumble of the wheels drummed into the cabin like muted thunder. The whirr of the fully turned up air-conditioner mixed with the vehicle noises making Jimmy hope he could stop soon. His part aboriginal brown face was streaked by sweat running through the dirt. ‘What time is it?' He reached down and turned the air down. ‘I'm sick of that bloody noise.'
Dust was entering the supposedly airtight vehicle, floating around the cabin, spreading over the interior including the two men. Various weapons, camping gear, and police equipment were fixed to the walls of the cruiser as well as spread over the back seat.
Senior Constable Brian Cross examined his watch, ‘Four o'clock. Look for a camp sight. Don't your people come from out this way?'
‘Nar, there's bugger all out here. It's a lot better further north nearer to the Kimberleys. That's where my people come from,' said Jimmy.
‘This is the arse end of the world,' said Brian.
‘Why are we here?'
Brian pushed his sunglasses onto the tip of his nose attempting to wipe the grit out of his eyes. Sweat smudged his tanned face. ‘The Sarge reckons there's some crims hiding out here in the gold and nickel mines.'
‘Let the bastards stay out here they won't do any harm. I've got more to do than drive around in this dust bucket.'
‘Go and see my brother in Adelaide. He's asked me to go to the footy with him.'
Brian placed his glasses back in place. ‘How's he going?'
'That's what I want to find out.'
They drove for another hour through some low sun scorched hills covered in small patches of saltbush and bluebush with an occasional small tree or scrub. The dusty track took them near a dry creek bed as they followed it for a few miles. The sand in the creek looked pristine in contrast to the hard pebbly ground surrounding it. The dry watercourse turned sharply where the water had carved out an overhanging bank that provided shelter from the sun. Brian pointed, Jimmy drove down onto the sand stopping near the overhang. He gazed at an old mine that rose up on a hill about five kilometres away. He took the binoculars from the cruiser then examined the area. The mine was about two hundred metres from the top of the hill. Fresh earthworks showing, it looked like the entrance to the mine had been made larger. Two men were erecting a high post near the entrance. A road ran from the entrance to where the men were erecting the pole. ‘Looks like someone's mucking about on that mine; there's tyre tracks in front of it. It's the biggest mine I've seen in these parts.'
‘Have a look tomorrow.'
‘They're putting up a big post. What would that be for?'
‘Properly a radio aerial.'
They both tried to remove as much dust as they could by vigourously brushing their clothes. There was no chance of using their precious drinking water other than to lightly wash their faces. Brian unpacked the camp stove adding water to a precooked pasta dish. Soon he had the meal ready. They laid back as they ate their meal while leaning on their swags. ‘You reckon we need to mount a guard?' asked Jimmy.
‘Naa. We'll sleep tonight. Long way to go tomorrow.'
‘You're the boss.' Jimmy looked towards the mine he had seen earlier. He felt a little uneasy. It was no longer visible in the darkening light. He shrugged his shoulders before laying back on his swag.
The sun put on a display of orange light in the western sky. It seemed reluctant to disappear and bring the night with it. Jimmy looked at the stars breaking out as darkness descended. He was thinking of his trip to Adelaide. It would be good to see his brother, his wife, and their twelve-year-old son.
Jimmy checked his watch, one am. Then he heard the noise that must have woke him. What was it? He listened hearing a kind of gentle whooshing like a large displacement of air with the faint sound of an engine driving it. He noticed Brian was awake too. ‘What the hell's that?' said Jimmy.
‘Dunno. Looks like a moving cloud. It's going too fast but.'
Jimmy watched the dim outline sail overhead. The black shape blotted out the stars where it travelled. The moon was just a thin crescent but showing some light. ‘What the hell would it be doin' out here?'
‘It must be one of them weather balloons. It's a big son of a bitch. Don't worry about it.'
The dark shape was soon out of sight, with the silence of the night returning. They went back to sleep.
Two hours later, Jimmy felt rather than saw a presence. He opened his eyes thinking he was still dreaming because a strange apparition was looking at him. It took him a few seconds to realise it was a face covered in night vision goggles sighting down a rifle at him. Then there was nothing, as a blast blew Jimmy's brains out.
'Reckon they saw the airship,' asked one of the apparitions with an American accent as he stood up from killing Brian.
'Yeah! They won't tell anyone now. No one will know we're burying nuclear waste out here,' said the other in a mid European accent.
'Someone will come looking for them.'
'We'll just have to kill them too,' said the European accent.'