Gateways: Powerless by Bryce Read read by Rob Southgate and Ensemble

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Bryce Read. Bryce Read is thrilled to be featured in Gateways! Bryce has been acting, improvising, teaching, and coaching for years, and is now getting back around to one of his first loves– writing! He also likes digging up, and collecting old bottles. How weird is that? You can see other stuff Bryce has written on Medium, and you can see Bryce perform on Sundays at Otherworld Theatre with “Improvised Dungeons and Dragons”. This is Powerless

Content Note: This story may hit close to home for some. It contains a destructive event with an airplane. Please practice self care as you listen to this one.

Three blocks west of Lake Michigan, and forty floors above the streets of Chicago, sat the conference center floor of Piston and Franks, LLP. Seated at a large marble desk facing the elevator banks, and away from a wall of windows with a stunning view, were Maggie and Phil. Maggie was a jovial woman in her fifties. Phil was a semi-scruffy looking man in his thirties. Both were receptionists. And for both of them, this would be their last day. It would be the last day for everyone working at Piston and Franks, LLP.

The roar of a fighter jet ripped past the window behind them. Maggie nearly jumped out of her chair. “Jesus!” she muttered.

“They get you every time, huh?” Phil was bemused.

“Not every time. That one was just loud,” said Maggie. “How’s anybody supposed to work with them practicing like that?”

The two of them swiveled in their chairs to look out over the city, and the lake beyond. It was a stunning view to behold. People reminded them of this fact several times a day. “You know, you two should turn that desk around!” they’d joke. Maggie always laughed. Phil always gritted his teeth.

“Did you see that one?” asked Maggie.

“Nah, I missed it. I’ve been trying to tune that shit out,” replied Phil.

Phil hated the Chicago Air and Water Show, and not just because it was a loud, annual distraction. It was what the whole thing represented. Every year, two million people flocked to the shores of Chicago, to “oo” and “ah” at the flying of the war machines. The fighter jet that had just buzzed by had probably cost the U.S. government around fifty million dollars to build just on its own. What a waste! Not to mention that Maggie was probably right to get rattled by the sound of it. People living in other parts of the world were terrorized by that sound. What amounts to a cool spectacle to most Americans, would be the sight of impending doom for many people in less fortunate parts of the world. And to think that we teach our kids to clap and cheer for these things. Phil found the whole thing disgusting. But he kept these thoughts to himself. He didn’t like to get into it at work, where most people seemed to be delighted by the Air and Water Show. And where most people didn’t give two shits about what the receptionist thought.

“Think you’ll head down this weekend?” asked Maggie.

“I don’t think so.” said Phil.

“Oh! Here they come!” exclaimed, Maggie.

Sure enough, four jets were rapidly approaching from the south, in a diamond formation. Just as Phil and Maggie were taking this in, the lights flickered out behind them. Maggie was the first to notice. She turned and was surprised to see that not only had all the lights gone out, but her computer screen had gone black as well. “Did we just lose power?” she asked. 

Phil turned away from the window just as a scream erupted from a conference room down the hall. “What the…” he started. But that’s all he got out. Maggie’s eyes were huge, and staring past him. Phil turned back to the window to see that the four jets—now much closer—had lost control of their flight pattern. His mouth gaped in horror as one jet drifted into another one. They ricocheted off each other, before one exploded outright, and the other hurdled down into the lake. A third jet seemed to be coasting toward a hard water landing, that didn’t look promising. The last jet was making a sharp turn towards the city…seemingly towards Maggie and Phil.

“Oh my God. Oh my God!” muttered Phil.

“What’s he doing? Is he trying to make it to O’Hare?” screeched Maggie.

“He’s too low, he’ll never make—”

BOOM! The jet crashed into Blue Cross Tower, not two buildings away from them. A fireball. An explosion of glass. A nightmare.

“Jesus!” Maggie exclaimed. She picked up her phone. “Phone’s not working!” she cried.

Phil scrambled for his cell phone. It seemed to have turned off, and would not for the life of him turn back on.

About a dozen frenzied people were pouring out of their conference rooms and into the lobby. Gerry, the conference center manager, blew past all of them in a B-line to Phil and Maggie’s desk. Gerry, who was high-strung under ordinary circumstances, was now in a panic. “Call security!” he yelled.

Phil held up his useless android. “The phones are dead! The computers too. Everything’s dead!”

“Dead?!” squeaked Bob Lopez, an associate who was now looking like a ghost himself.

“No, Bob. Nobody’s dead,” said Gerry.

“Well…” said Maggie, limply gesturing to the carnage out the window.

“Nobody in this building is dead!” Gerry amended.

“I think we should evacuate,” Phil offered. Several people were already making their way towards the elevator bank.

“Wait, wait, wait!” declared, Gerry. “Nobody leave yet! We don’t know if it’s any safer out there!” Everyone stopped to look at him. “Now is anybody’s phone working?” 

Several lawyers, guests, and a few catering employees all fiddled with their phones. One by one, they all muttered that no, nobody’s phones were working. 

“My Rolex has even gone dead!” remarked Douglas Andrews, a long-time partner at the firm. 

“Guess money doesn’t buy everything,” muttered Carol, his secretary.

“If it’s a power outage, it shouldn’t be affecting our phones and watches,” said Maggie.

“Or cause four fucking jets to crash!” yelled Bob Lopez.

Phil had turned away from the group. He surveyed the city below him, his nose practically touching the glass. Out on Lakeshore Drive, the cars had all come to a complete stop. This wasn’t due to traffic. They just seemed to have…stopped. Some people had even gotten out of their cars and were walking around in the middle of the expressway. Phil let his eyes wander down several other streets. It was all the same—cars at a standstill. In fact, Phil couldn’t pinpoint a single moving car in the entire city. He took a deep breath, and turned back toward the others.

“Excuse me. I…I think I know what this is.” All eyes turned toward Phil. It was an odd sensation. He was never the center of focus around here. He’d been at the firm for over three years, and he could pretty much guarantee that most of the lawyers didn’t know his name. But now, everyone was looking at him.

“Well?” asked Douglas Andrews.

“I think…” started Phil, “I think someone might have set off an EMP.”

There was silence in the lobby. Had none of them ever heard of an EMP? Or did they just think he was crazy? “An EMP,” Phil continued, “is an electromagnetic pulse. When an EMP goes off, it destroys the functionality of just about any electrical equipment within its range. A big one could knock out a city, or even a large portion of the country.”

More silence. A few people walked to the window and just stared out it—as if trying to come to the same conclusion he had come to. Finally, Dee from the catering team piped up. 

“So, is this like a solar flare?”

“Well, I mean, a solar flare could have this kind of effect, but on a smaller scale,” replied Phil. “Something this extreme has got to be man-made. My guess…is that a nuclear device has been detonated in the upper atmosphere.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Bob Lopez, “are you saying we’ve been nuked?”

“I’m saying we may have been nuked. But if that’s the case, it seems like the blast was far enough away to spare us the worst of the devastation. Still…this is more than bad enough.”

“It’s gotta be the terrorists!” cried Carol.

“I’ll bet it’s the Democrats,” sneered Douglas Andrews.

“Alright, well whatever the case may be, we should all just stay here and wait this out”, said Gerry. “No sense getting caught up in the panic outside.” There were several nods from around the room. 

“Um, counter argument,” said Phil. “There probably is no waiting this out. Every electrical device, at least within several miles, is now useless. And it sure looks like that includes cars, public transit, ambulances, and certainly airplanes.”

Everyone stared at the mass of black smoke pouring out of Blue Cross Tower.

“So, to put it bluntly, there’s no cavalry coming,” said Phil. “Not any time soon. It could be days, weeks, months, maybe even years before things get back to normal. If then. There’s no telephones, TVs, radios, or any other way of communicating outside of face-to-face. Food supply lines have been stopped. So has water treatment. Things are going to get very bad, very quickly. My advice is that if you have loved ones to get to, you should start heading towards them now—and be prepared to walk.”

“I commute from Indiana,” sputtered Maggie.

“My daughter has an insulin pump,” gasped Carol. 

Soon everyone was talking at once.

“Hey. Hey!” Phil interrupted. “It’s going to be dark in three hours. And it’s going to be the darkest dark many of us have ever experienced. With no flashlights. I suggest we all get a move on.”

After much muttered agreement, Gerry spoke up. “Yes. That’s probably for the best.”

Phil nodded. “The stairwell’s this way,” he said. The small crowd of lawyers, secretaries, catering, and conference center staff began to follow him. Maggie pushed up next to him.

“Phil,” she said, “so…are you in charge now?”

“I guess I am,” said Phil. “I guess I am.”


Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently preparing the debut of his first book and busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly

Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production

Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

Alex B. Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.

Evin McQuistion is an actor/director who reads a lot of Shakespeare and digests a lot of sci-fi. He mostly blames the sci-fi (via Star Trek: The Next Generation) for getting him into the Shakespeare. he’s currently in rehearsals for Quicksilver Shakespeare’s Mercury Hamlet.


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