This and the next episode are two parts of the same day, so (for the first time in quite a while), I’m going to post them back-to-back. Come back tomorrow morning for Episode 85!
Friday, May 30, 2036
Kim and Christina scheduled a consulting job for Tuesday, the first day after college closed for the summer. A community in the John’s Creek area was taking in a big group of refugees from the coast and asked Christina for some advice for upgrading and expanding their digester and composting facility. Methane from sewage is a big source of cooking fuel these days, of course, and people depend heavily on these systems now. Kim knew I used to work down that way, and invited me to join them. Being gone for a few days wouldn’t hurt anything, since Serena doesn’t let me do much anyway, so why not?
A 60km trip to John’s Creek (and back) used to be something I did five times a week without thinking much about it — I ought to bring up the word “commute” in history class this fall — but these days it takes a little planning. I could have grabbed the Heehaw and been there in an hour and a half, maybe two hours, but the farm needs it for all sorts of things and it would be horribly selfish of me anyway. (Which isn’t to say I didn’t think about it for a minute.) But doing it the right way, this trip is done in three parts: 1) Rene and Maria take me up to the old retail district; 2) RoadTrain down to the stop at the old exit; 3) Norcross shuttle to John’s Creek. Thanks to good old gadgets, I could keep Kim and Christina apprised of my location and they were at the stop to meet me. Including layovers, it only took half the day to arrive. Part of trip preparation involves packing some chow and reading materials, of course.
Kim and Christina were pretty tolerant of me rattling off names they’d long forgotten — “that was a Kroger’s, that was a Wendy’s,” etc. What they cared about was if there was a Fry Guy franchise in the area. “20th Century Comfort Food,” they tag themselves, “cooked on the spot.” All of it horribly unhealthy, but it’s probably OK for the occasional celebration or whatever. It’s no surprise that all those chains were long gone and the buildings repurposed; but there were a few surprises waiting for me.
The first one was when they took us to where we were staying — which happened to be the building I worked in back in the early part of the century! All the cube walls and furniture were long gone, of course — taken off to be recycled or repurposed — but the old cabinet with the mail slots by my old cube was still there, so I could show them where I worked. As often as I joked about living in that office, this was the first time I’d actually spent the night in the building. We were given an old conference room that was now the guest quarters. Back when, they named all the conference rooms after elements (in the periodic table), and they had left the old sign up by the door: “Lithium Conference Room.”
“It's a good room for a guest quarters,” I told Kim and Christina. “The meetings I went to in here could knock a caffeinated insomniac out cold. There’s probably enough residual boredom here for me to sleep really good tonight.”
They laughed, but I wasn’t joking. I yawned and dropped my bag on one of the beds.
“Hey,” I said, “who has Little Mo and Robin?”
“They’re on the RoadTrain,” Kim said. “Or were. Rene and Maria were going to do some business and wait for the kids after they dropped you off.” Like I said, the Heehaw doesn’t sit idle much. I drew a complete blank on the plans though, and I should have known. I don’t worry much about memory lapses; I’ve had them all my life. As long as it’s nothing truly important, like if I were supposed to have waited for the kids, I’m fine.
Next morning, they invited us to breakfast… which was combined with a meeting to discuss the agenda, who would be escorting whom and where. Here was the next surprise: I was included in the agenda, as someone who knew the area from before the blackouts. Breakfast in the burbs isn’t as “meaty” as a country breakfast — they have a few pigs, but hadn’t slaughtered any lately. No matter: pancakes and eggs are always good enough, even if I take just a little egg. Cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes all are much less common than they used to be; the sedentary lifestyle and over-processed food have mostly gone away in the last 25 years and took most of those problems with them. But I still try to keep a rein on things, especially since I’m not as active now.
The third — and biggest — surprise was after breakfast. I was assigned to an “inspection tour” and my escort looked to be about as old as me, but he looked familiar. Then he introduced himself, and I remembered.
“Col. Mustard?” I gaped.