This is a story from the Dust & Cannibals universe. I hope you enjoy it.
“Start, you sorry sucker. Start!” Steve snarled at his computer screen, pounding his fist on the desk. The computer did not respond. The reason was all around him in the dark newsroom. Electricity had been off before, but this was different. The power hadn’t switched off. It just slowly died away. It might not come back this time.
A shaft of light shocked the darkness. It wasn’t electricity, and with the brightness came a grunt and a bang as the steel door unwillingly opened. The late morning sun outlined his boss in the doorway.
“Deadline!” Jerry bellowed across the dim newsroom.
Steve was the only one there. Other than the sweet nothings whispered to his computer, the newsroom had been silent as well as dark until then. A normal volume would have done nicely.
“I love deadlines, boss. They make the neatest sound as they go past. My story only needs power and ten minutes to complete.”
“I need results, not excuses. You’ll never see power again. Furthermore, we’re out of time. I got you a new word processor and a new assignment. Get your butt out here. We’re going for a ride.”
Steve followed Jerry out of the building. They were the only ones around. With no power, there was no point in turning off the lights. Jerry crossed the parking lot in long strides toward an unfamiliar car.
“What’s the story about this new ride, boss?” Steve asked, opening the door.
“It had a full gas tank and ran. What other selling points could you imagine?”
Steve’s attention derailed as he stared at the passenger seat. On it was a two-inch loose-leaf binder, holding about a ream of paper.
“Is this the word processor?” Steve sputtered. “It’s more like a stale joke.”
“There were newspapers a long time before computers, typewriters, or electricity. A pocket inside the cover has pens and pencils. You have your choice of weapons. Quit running your mouth. Get in. Now.”
As they drove across the parking lot, Steve cleared his throat. “New car. Office supplies. How did you get all that when money is worthless?”
“I used an old-fashioned method known as an IOU. We need to get back to your assignment. It is investigative journalism. Find somebody who knows what’s going on. Pick that person’s brain in detail.”
“Where would I find anybody like that? You’re the only person I’ve seen lately.”
“I am the person you want. Rejoice! You have the exclusive on the ultimate in breaking stories. It deals with the entire human race. By the way, the interview will be at the top of the grain elevator.”
“Why go there? I thought they shut down.”
“That might be grist for your interview, boy genius. Nobody being home in our fair city might be connected. Don’t forget about bunking in the newspaper offices. Queries about what nature is doing to us would follow. There are also wars, rumors of war, governments not governing, and money with no value.”
They roared past the Amtrak station toward downtown. A couple of cars sat at odd angles in the middle of the street. Jerry swung around them, veering into the oncoming traffic lane. Steve braced himself and clenched his teeth even though they were the only traffic moving. The situation was unnatural. Nevertheless, Jerry repeated it several times through the downtown area. His boss neither slowed nor checked for traffic, driving like a skier running a slalom. It was like he saw the devil in his rear view mirror. Where Main Street went under the highway approach to the Mississippi River bridge, Steve saw cars partially embedded in concrete barriers above them. Fragments from cars and concrete scattered all over the street, giving more interesting objects to avoid.
A few moments later, they arrived at the monster grain elevator. It was nearly a century old and still the tallest structure in town. Jerry drove to the side facing the river, screeching to a stop, and grabbing his radio from the back seat.
“Come on. Don’t forget your journal,” Jerry specified as he bolted for the door. Steve, mystified, did as his boss ordered, and followed Jerry into the dark interior, characterized by a lot of massive timbers.
“This way!” Steve heard, and went in the direction of the voice. He found Jerry standing on a sort of platform. Jerry vigorously motioned to Steve with his arm.
“Climb on, put your journal on the floor, and pull the rope. No, the other one.”
The antique elevator jerked upward. “Faster. Do it faster,” Jerry urged.
Steve grabbed the rope as far up as he could reach, pulling it downward as hard as he could. At the same time, he reached up with his other hand for his next grip. His hands got rope burns, and his shoulders ached, but Jerry wouldn’t let him slow down. Finally, they reached the top, and Steve’s arms were shaking. The moment he managed to get the platform reasonably close to the top floor, Jerry stepped off briskly, radio in hand. Steve picked up his looseleaf binder and played puppy dog.
They were at one end of a very long gallery, massive conveyors extending into the distance. Every timber bore cuts, nicks, and gouges from generations of workers manhandling parts and pieces. A series of windows on either side of the gallery let in filtered light. A massive pile of bottled water and rations was against the wall. A couple of cots with sleeping bags rolled up on them were nearby.