It was a long time since the second Civil War, but the mothers still terrify their children with stories of it at night.
How the bombers destroyed the cities, threatening to turn America into a glowing heap of radioactive rubble unless we met their demands.
Finally, we had to.
What else could we do?
Our own government had turned on us, driving us into hiding like rats.
And now we hide.
Huddled in the ruins of skyscrapers and buildings, exits guarded by guns and dogs.
And now they fear.
Trevor Tower, Portland- 2084
The towers, crumbling at the sides and smashed at the top, broke the skyline of what was once Portland,Oregon into jagged shards of gray-blue, the black shapes segmenting the horizon like knives.
Bleeding people onto the muddy earth.
It was late evening, a time when few people could stand the bitter cold, most staying inside to catch a few hours of much-needed sleep.
But in the second quarter of the city, the quarter where thieves,assassins and pickpockets gathered, in Trevor Tower-the smallest in that quarter, little more than a stack of rubble- the girl Rat woke up.
Small and thin, with a wild mop of greyish yellow hair, pale skin smudged with ash, and bony, sharp knees and elbows, she was one of the most promising trainees in the Tower.
But she didn't know that yet.
Rat shrugged off the ragged blanket, throwing it onto another of the sleeping people-lumps scattered around the room, and scampering quickly over to swaying rope ladder suspended from the hole in the ceiling that led to next level of the skyscraper- an open deck where the entire roof had been blasted off.
She climbed up, breath catching with anticipation of what she was about to see.
Rat didn't get to see very much beauty. Mutants didn't, usually.
And all the children born in the first generation of New America were mutants.
Not obviously- tiny, tiny details, but important details- the absence of which lent a face the look of a mask- a very good imitation of humanity, but one made by someone who had only ever seen pictures of a human.
Rat slowly stood up as she reached the end of the ladder. The reddish, sickly rays of the evening sun splashed the grey cement with bloody splotches of light, and turning Rat's skin orange.
It was a strange sight, from any vantage point: the small mutant girl with the abnormally big ears, and the look of a creature of withered grass and ash, drenching herself in the orange-red sun and the cold sulfur wind.
She shivered as the breeze swept over her, staring up at the darkening clouds.
A storm was coming. She shivered and ducked back into the tower as a lone drop of rain plashed on her hand, leaving a spot of water on the pallid flesh.
Inside, people were waking up, grunting and rising from the frayed bedding as the chill of the concrete floor seeped into their skin.
Rat looked around the room, searching for the other young ones, knowing that they would be grouped together somewhere, waiting for the teachers to come.
They were sitting in the far corner, all eyes and skin and bone, sharp glances darting around the room, their rough hair tangling and twirling into gravity-defying spirals and quirks.