Academia was a wasteland, once so barren and full of lush life; but now it lay low, swathed in dust and baked by the sun. As usual, Madge drove the car and Johnny sat in the passenger seat, running her through his plan.
“Can you tell me a little bit more about Academia?” Johnny said, from the depths of his chair. Madge often made him recline in the seat so he could rest properly in between trips. She also wouldn’t let him drive.
“After the First Scourge, there was a lot of redevelopment of the country as a whole. The population has really wiped out; you remember that right?” Madge glanced at Johnny, who was leaned way back in his seat. She held his hand and squeezed it gently.” We were the survivors Johnny.” Johnny gave a weak smile, thinking about what it would be like if Bella didn’t survive.
“Anyway,” Madge continued, “the government engineers spent a long time rerouting the Ngwerere Stream and created a man-made dam. I know it sounds ridiculous, but they somehow pulled it off. I have no idea how. The stream was officially known as Academia Ford, because as the joke goes, it’s so small you can walk across it.”
“I take it their engineering attempts did not work very well,” Johnny asked, curiously.
“Only to an extent,” Madge clarified. “They did have a constant running supply of water, in the dam, but it wasn’t nearly enough for efficient electricity generation. In Academia, we had a lot of resident engineers, and they discovered that they could come up with a hybrid nuclear-solar plant. I’m sure you have noticed the lack of trees out here. Well basically, they cut down all trees to maximize on sunlight time to power the generators. The nuclear plant is made from a rare experimentally formed compound of uranium, plutonium, and palladium. The solar power partly runs the generator, and well I’m sure you can figure out the nuclear power.”
Johnny was pensive. “That sounds very dodgy, to be honest.”
Madge looked at him and smiled. “It is. Now that you mention it, a little bit after we moved in, there were always power outages and shortages and stuff like that.”
Johnny sighed. He had been immobile for a while and was looking for a little bit of action to spice up his day. It felt like they had been driving forever. He was a tad concerned for Madge. They had been driving in a straight line for ages, and she was also beginning to get tired, more often than not, she would rub her eyes and blink rapidly.
“Madge, honey, I think we should stop,” Johnny said quietly.
She grinned broadly at him. “All in time, Johnny. We’re here. We make the rest of the journey by foot.”
Johnny sat up and saw a group of buildings, not far from where they were. Like Academia it was fenced off, but less scary and imposing. It was a five-minute walk to the gates of the power station. Despite, the fenced surroundings, the gate to the power station was swinging on its hinges; it had just been opened.
“Looks like the engineers are here,” Madge whispered quietly.
“Follow me,” Johnny whispered back, and lead the way as he snuck into the station and walked stealthily around. The substation was not unlike many he had been in. It was very hot and stuffy, and he knew he was endangering Madge by letting her into the power station without adequate protection from possible radiation. Lately, Madge had been tired and wasn’t really getting proper sleep. Johnny held her hand, as he led her around the place. Suddenly, he heard voices approaching them. He peered around the huge chamber and felt Madge’s face next to his. Three people were walking their way. One was in greasy overalls; he wore a faded purple baseball cap on backward. In his hand, he was carrying a heavy wrench and his muscles bulged threateningly as he moved. Next to him, was a petite woman in a fashionable pair of office pants and a dainty silk top. Her hair was slicked into a top bun, though some tendrils had come undone. It was a bit messy at the top like she had been running her hands through her hair. Next to her, was the wild card of the group. He was muscular, short and stocky. He looked like an action movie hero, whispering urgently to the other two. Madge gasped suddenly.
“That’s Ngala!” She whispered urgently, tugging at his hands.
Johnny spun around incredulously. “Who is Ngala?!”
Madge’s lower lip trembled. She heaved a sigh and rubbed her eye. She looked like a sleepy child. “She’s an old friend,” She mumbled dejectedly.
“Or a new enemy…” Johnny said matter of factly.
“JOHNNY!” Madge yelled exasperatedly, and suddenly covered her mouth when she realized she had blown their cover. Johnny pulled her closer to himself as he rolled her eyes. He fiddled with his trousers, getting his gun ready.
“Who’s there?” The muscular man called out. “Show yourself.”
Johnny pulled Madge forward, still holding Madge close to him.
“Madge?” Ngala said uncertainly. She held the man in overalls back, “She’s my closest friend. Don’t harm them.”
Madge peeled Johnny’s steel grip off of herself, and stepped forward, her arms held out for an embrace from her friend. She had barely taken two steps when she collapsed into a heap on the floor.