Pretentious titles are pretentious. I’ve seen more of Nichole’s story. More than I’ve written here, in fact, but I need to go make dinner. I’d like to write ep3 tomorrow, then show y’all something else that I worked on a year ago. Up until three days ago, it had nothing to do with Machine Civilization; now, I know who one of the welders was at the demonstration reactor north of Pataskala in “Echoes of Family Lost.” That’s for later; back to Portland….
“Defiant” – Episode 2
As Nichole ambled southwest through the city towards the campus, she took in her surroundings. The buildings here in the heart of the city were in surprisingly good shape. Like every other city in America, Portland had lost a huge swath of its population when the US economy ground to a halt overnight. However, their just-elected Mayor, Lee Sanchez Johnson, had turned out to be just clever and unscrupulous enough to not let his town fall into barbarism.
She paused at a street corner to let a slew of bicycles and a few horse-drawn carts go by. Nichole had read before she’d left Japan that what little gasoline and diesel that was distilled in the city went south under guard to the farmers and ranchers of the Willamette Valley to keep them in operation and the city survivors fed. And those survivors bent to keep the great deep water port open: for the trade goods that went up the Columbia River to keep those that controlled the great hydroelectric dams running and the electric power flowing.
Just then there was a flickering. Lightning? No: as a slow dusk fell, a tall, black lamppost at the edge of the university flickered to life. Nichole looked up and smiled. For her this was not just light, but life. With a glance at the antique watch her uncle at Somi Corporation had gifted her, she realized there was little time left; the school’s employees would be going home soon. She picked up her pace, passing against the thin stream of students and faculty already headed the other direction, towards what she’d memorized as the Administration building.
The security guard told her that the elevators didn’t work; since she need to see someone of the fourth floor, would she like him to watch her luggage? She shook her head with a small smile. Up the stairs she went. Coming out of the stairwell, she almost bumped into a woman in her late fifties about to leave.
“Excuse me!” Nichole said with a little bow. “I’m here to meet with Mrs. Patricia Franks. Could you tell me where her office is?”
The woman sighed, obviously put out that her departure was to be delayed.
“Sure. Follow me.”
She led them down a hallway to their right. Along the ceiling, about every fourth light was on. Spare parts must be a problem, Nichole thought. The older woman took a key from her pocket and unlocked a door, swinging the door open.
“Er….” Nichole started. “There’s no one here.”
The woman moved around the desk and flicked on a small lamp. She sat down.
“I’m Patricia Franks. How can I help you?”
Nichole gasped and dropped her bags, bowing very low.
“I’m so sorry! Please, return to you home! I can sleep outside tonight! I didn’t mean to keep you…!”
Mrs. Franks slapped the top of her desk.
“Stop talking nonsense!” She said curtly. “We are not hanging onto civilization just to have girls sleep outside! Now, judging by your behavior, you must be Miss Clarke, from Japan.”
Mrs. Franks stared at her.
“We were expecting you yesterday, but the Pacific is a big ocean, isn’t it?” She smiled just a little. “Please sit down.”
Nichole did as she was bidden.
“We had a slight delay,” she acknowledged. “The ship’s captain encountered some pirates off of Kamchatka and wanted them suppressed.”
“’Trade is Life,’” Mrs. Franks intoned in an odd manner. That’s important here, Nichole thought. The older woman pulled a moderately thick file out of her desk and flipped though it, squinting in the fading light. She passed Nichole a small manila envelope.
“That’s your key and map to your dorm room.” She seemed to smile grimly at something. “Before the Breakup, no one wanted to live on campus; now it’s a matter of survival. Ah. And here: this is your temporary campus pass. We’ll get you one with a photograph in a few days. I impress upon you…”
She glared at Nichole.
“If you are on campus without a pass, at best you’ll be forcibly escorted off. At worst – at night – shot.” She hit the top of her desk again. “These are…odd times we find ourselves in. Do you understand me perfectly, Miss Clarke?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Mrs. Franks looked once more into the file, but shook her head.
“I recall that you’re for the Engineering and Computers college, just not the details.” She looked out at the lengthening darkness. “Let’s have you here at nine tomorrow morning? Good.” She stood. Nichole did as well, retrieving her bags and moving into the hallway. The woman locked her office and they made their way down the stairs and outside. Nichole looked around at the lights ablaze about the campus. Franks followed her look.
“Safer to keep these lights on that in the offices.” She leaned over and took the temporary campus badge and clipped it to Nichole’s collar.
“Your dorm is just over there,” she indicted, pointing north. She finally smiled, just a little. “You go rest. And welcome to Portland.”
“Thank you so much!” Another small bow, and Nichole set off determinedly towards her new home.