I started a challenge last week for the Terrible Minds site, to do a 'something-punk' story. I started off with a postwar society, distrustful of technology now, from the point of view of some teenagers. I ended up trying to blend technology and coming of age issues, and went over the 1000 word limit and past the Friday noon time limit. This week's challenge was to write a story based on a random title. I admit I spun the random wheel a few times, but did get a good match. Here's my story, finally, at 1658 words.
After the Children
"My legs are sore, can I stop now? It's been at least an hour." Jimmie didn't think it fair to make him do full shifts just because he was 13.
"You've only been on for 30 minutes," said his mom. "but the batteries should be good for the rest of the day. Go ahead and see if Annie has finished her chores."
He hated it when it was shady, with no wind, so that both the turbines and the solar cells were useless. After 60 years, the batteries - like all the machines - were showing their age. That meant that the power team, now including him, had to ride the energy bikes to keep their hamlet's grid energized.
The elders had been his age when The Wars started, students at an exclusive country school. It was all over within weeks, civilization almost destroyed, all the teachers gone, school buildings burnt in the last few skirmishes. Both sides had used bombs, bugs, and bacteria. Bombs to level the cities and infrastructure, bugs to ruin the crops, bacteria to kill off any large groups of people. The senior boys led them higher up into the hills, until they found some outbuildings, with water nearby and a small power grid. Abandoned, alone, frightened, there had been a backlash against science, so one of the first tasks of the new community had been to burn all the books they could find. They led a simple but tough life now.
"Annie! Finish up your weeding," he said. "It's a nice day for exploring." He waited impatiently as she yanked out the last few weeds in the row. She was the same age as him, but not as strong - he could still out-wrestle her easily. Although, lately he'd felt awkward doing things like that with her. Annie had filled out over the winter and was no longer his same skinny friend. She felt like more than a friend to him, but he just wasn't sure what.
She smiled back. "Thanks for the help, shrimp. Didn't you explore enough on your bike trip today?"
He flushed. "Careful who you call shrimp, I only let you win last time because you're a girl."
"Didn't use to matter," she said. She squeezed his arm. "But you are getting some serious muscles. I can see why they stuck you on the bikes." She sat back onto the ground. "I miss being a kid, and it's only been a few months here in the gardens. I know, we have to set a good example for the younger kids now, and do our part. I can't imagine how I'll survive years of this, though."
He shook his head. "And more of the machines will break, more people will get sick ..." He broke off. "Sorry, I came over to take a break and have fun. My mom let me off early - where's your dad?"
"Off running another council meeting," she said. "Old Doc Watson wants to send one more scouting party out for medicines. My dad says it's too late, there’s nothing left out there anymore. They'll be at it for hours - let's see what we can find at the old school."
Last time they'd explored the ruins they'd found a new entrance, uncovered by the heavy rains. Inside was a small room, untouched for years, empty of books but with a small screen and a box of round discs. Jimmie was convinced they'd found one of the systems his grandfather had talked about, so today had ‘borrowed’ one of their precious batteries, to see if he could power it up.
Annie stood nervously by the door as he fiddled with the device. "You sure have a way with machines. But if my dad found out what you're doing here, I don't know what he'd do. Maybe banish you. And probably beat me and sentence me to weeding for life."
"I just want to see how this works," he said. He fiddled some more. "Thanks for coming with me. I missed our time together."
"Well, we still have time off," she said. "You just don't come by as much. I'm the same person as when we were kids, you know. And I heard all the same talks about babies and responsibilities at my birthday too - don't worry about all that stuff. Right now we need our friendship."
"I know," he said. There was a sudden flash of light from the device, then the screen lit up. "Hey, it's working. Hand me that box, I think those discs fit into the front."
After that they spent most of their free time at the school. Annie would read some files with him, then head off to explore. He stayed with the device, exploring the knowledge he'd found. Medicine, engineering, agriculture, even history, he devoured it all. He found a whole section on self-sufficiency, with a number of solutions he was sure would help the colony. Annie got upset every time he brought the subject up, though.
"Think of it," he said. "We could fix the machines, grow better crops, maybe even cure some of the sicknesses we all get."
"You know the laws," she would say. "Nothing new, just the machines we have now. No exceptions."
One day he decided to leave the college early, so went in search of Annie. He was about to call out when he heard singing in the distance. It sounded like her voice, so he decided to sneak up and surprise her. He pushed through the bushes and found her, sitting with her back to him, naked, sitting on the edge of a shallow pond. She was combing out her wet hair as she sang and he stood, frozen, entranced by her voice, the slow motion of the comb, the beautiful curve of her back. He was about to step back when a twig snapped underfoot. She whirled around, then screamed and grabbed her shirt.
"You pervert," she screamed. "Get way, get out of here."
He backed away, mumbling apologies, face burning with embarrassed, as she ran off. By the time he grabbed his pack and raced back home, Annie was already with her dad, crying into his chest. He glared at Jimmie. "You! Council chambers - in 10 minutes."
The meeting was short. Annie hadn't mentioned the knowledge machine - she probably thought it would get her in trouble too. The rest was enough, though - the sneaking off, him spying on her. Jimmie was grounded and assigned double duty on the power team. Annie was grounded too, but just sent to bed. She'd cut her leg badly in her haste to get away so Doc Watson made up a poultice and said she was off garden duty.
Jimmie tried to see Annie over the next few days, to explain, to apologize, but she was still in bed. He missed her - as a friend, and as something more, too. He felt terrible that she had yelled at him, calling him a pervert. Did she really think that? Did she not like him anymore?
Then Doc let it slip one day that he was worried she might have some kind of infection. His poultices weren't helping, so all they could do now was wait.
Jim couldn't wait. No matter what Anne might think of him, he had to try to save her. The machine had included a section on home remedies; he was sure there was something in there that would help her. He slipped out late one night and spent hours reading through the files, until he found something called penicillin. From what he could tell it was nothing more than bread mold - a particular type - but just mold. After a few days of experimentation he managed to grow the right kind, and took it to Doc Watson. He explained how he'd learned about it, and how he'd made it.
"Amazing," said the doctor. "Of course I'll try it, but you know we could get in a lot of trouble for this. Plus all the other knowledge you been chasing after. All forbidden."
"I don't care," said Jim. "Banish me, whatever, just save Anne."
It was two days later when Doc Watson sneaked Jim in to see his friend. "She's weak, but recovering," he said. "She was asking for you."
Jim held her hand as she smiled weakly up at him. "Anne, I'm so glad you're OK. I was afraid I was going to lose you. And I'm really sorry I stared at you - it's just that you looked so beautiful I couldn't even speak."
"I know," she said. "I panicked, and said things I shouldn't have.” She squeezed his hand. “It's OK Jim. We're good."
Doc Watson insisted on a full council meeting. He explained what Jim had done, and all the types of sickness this new drug would cure. And the other remedies that might be available.
"No, no more," said Anne's dad. "The rules are clear, and are meant to protect us. Science, technology - all that old knowledge, - that's what destroyed the world."
"It was people that destroyed it," said Jim. "But we're not like that, not me and my friends. We need this knowledge for our community."
"It's up to the adults to decide what we need," said Anne's dad, "not the children."
"Maybe we should listen to Jim," said the doctor. "We rush them out of childhood, into this second version where we expect the work and responsibilities of adults but deny them a voice. They've not known war, not the new generations. We've all seen them shoulder new responsibilities, and how well they get along together. Why don't we let the council work with Jim, to see what he's discovered, and we can discuss on a case by case basis what we want to try first."
"Batteries," said Jim. "Let’s start with batteries. I read how to make these old ones work like new - no more pedalling for me!"