By Doug Linger
Handel pushed some metal strips aside and took a look around. He was a mutant, and thus able to see in the dark. Which was a good thing, because somehow this place still had a roof. Some of the others in the party had the same ability, or others, but several didn't, so torches were lit. The inside looked like one enormous room. There were some strange desks near the entrance, and rows of shelves throught the artificial cavern, interspersed by low cases. The shelves had fallen over and were rotten, every one of them, and the cases were all broken.
Despite being a Reader, Handel didn't know what this place once was. Any sign outside had been obliterated by the atomics that had gone off nearby. It looked like there were few signs indoors, at least none that had survived both the blast and over 40 years of looting. He looked around and could see letters, and occasionally words, but they were out of context. They could mean almost anything.
"Jim, you and Sam start at that corner," he directed a brute of a being. Jim nodded and ambled over to where Handel had pointed, along with another more normal-looking man. Handel directed the dozen others to various portions of the place.
He thought about life as he looked over his crew shifting through rotten material and crap that came in through the enormous but missing windows, looking for anything useful. He'd read some books of what people had thought post-apocalypse life would be life, and they'd been pretty far off. The biggest danger wansn't from giant mutant beasts willing to eat anything. Not that radiation hadn't created a few things like that, or lesser dangers, but they weren't the biggest danger. No, that distinction fell to lack of materials, food or water that wasn't contaminated. Radiation-contaminated food and water had been the cause of the mutations. Handel could see in the dark, Jim was as strong as his size would suggest - which was to say, extremely - and Mary back at Home had skin that was extremely tough, almost scales. They weren't the only ones, but they were good examples. Handel absently wondered if they would be new species in another generation or three.
Handel's nomadic little group hadn't found much lately. They were on the brink of starvation, and he was thinking the next food they find, contaminated or no, they would have to eat. They might even have to hunt, which would likely get someone killed, either from the living beast or from eating its meat. He wandered through the place, checking on progress. There wasn't any. This place had been picked clean long ago. At least, it had seemed that way, until Trish called out. "Hey! Guys! Back here!"
Everyone got up in a hurry and rushed over. There was a double door in the back wall that Handel had failed to notice. Beyond it was a much smaller room, and Trish. She was standing over a pile of material.
Handel took a closer look, and gasped; food! He bent down to examine it. It looked like bread, that most basic of things from the Old Days. It was awfully yellow, though. He Read the label on the small packages, on frowned, puzzled. "Hey. What year is it?" he asked nobody in particular.
"Uhm. 2082, I think," Jim replied. Several other people nodded.
"Huh. Well, waddya know. They're still edible. Wonder why everyone up to now avoided them?"
"Maybe they have a bad rep," Sam suggested. Everyone laughed at the absurd idea. If it's edible, then it couldn't possibly be bad.
A few minutes later everyone was carrying as many small packages as they could to the carts they had long ago cobbled together. And that night Handel, his mouth full of sweet yellow bread, offerred a toast. "To the food of the Gods!" he called, raising a package, angled so he could conviniently Read it. "Twinkies!"