Yes, yes, I know. I haven't updated in three years. I'm sorry, but there have been reasons. I won't go into detail, but it involved me breaking a hip and both arms (all in separate incidents), and at least two major hospital stays. The last one involved me being Life Flighted out of Galveston during the Hurricane Rita evacuation. I could write a book just about that if it wasn't so painful. In any case I'm starting this up again, and hope to be better about updating. I really believe this might have a chance at being published, so I'm going to try to beat my Muse into working on it BEFORE my fanfiction.

This section might be a little short, but if I get myself rolling, I can usually keep going.

Scenario, 18/? March 27, 2003

March 27, 2003

It's after midnight, so it qualifies. There's a battery operated clock, one that shows everything from the year down to the seconds, and the power on that isn't due to run out till close to the next turn of the century. We'll be able to tell how long we're down here, for however long that is. Well, unless we end up going into four or five generations. I admit that idea scares me. I've read all about the experiments where they breed rats in a closed environment. I'm already so pissed off at some of my fellow campers that I can easily picture myself trying to rip them to shreds with teeth and nails.

There seem to be a few who might not drive me insane if we're locked in together for a long period. No, not just Bax, either. Nikki Aliway is turning out to be a pretty cool person, and I don't mean cool because she's been flaunting her stuff in videos and on the cover of Maxime. I was just pouring my second drink when she came over, held out a glass and said, "I sure do hope you're not going to be an alcohol hog."

I poured her a drink. "Not when you ask so sweetly."

She took a healthy slug, then pulled a chair up and sat beside me. I'd dragged a chair to where I was right between the bar and the buffet, so that I didn't have to stir unless I damn well felt like it. I hadn't felt like it for the last half hour or so. Well, except for that one time that Nala came over and started to make whining, demanding noises about why didn't I DO something? My hand was drifting toward a bottle when Underhill saw what was going on and pulled her away before I could succumb to temptation and lay her out cold. I'm not normally a violent person, but hey--strained circumstances.

Nikki said, "What do you think happened?" I gave her a 'duh' look, and she said, "Okay, some sort of big ass disaster, and you don't have access to any information that we don't have, but your job must've made you at least consider stuff like this. What's your best guess?"

I blew out a breath. I'd really been trying to avoid thinking of that. "Hell, I don't know. There have been so many hot spots lately. I guess my front runner would be an act of domestic terrorism. You heard about the nuclear material going missing, right?" She nodded. Before I met her, I might have doubted that she'd be able to tell you anything about current events aside from who was dating who, and what was at the top of the charts.

Bax had been sitting with me, but when Nala pulled her snit he went over to help Underhill calm her down. He gave me a sort of questioning look before he did, and I waved him on. Jealousy would have been just a wee bit petty in this situation. He came back and sat down again. "We got her to lay down in one of the bedrooms, but I don't know how long that will last. Anything left for me?"

"We've got a whole bar here. Calahan stocked it like he was getting ready for a barfly convention."

I stood up, asking him what he wanted, but the waiter came over and invited me to sit back down, saying it was his job to take care of the guests, and since the bartender that the caterer left had crapped out... Hhe didn't exactly say crapped out, but he was glaring daggers at the tabloid reporter. I think he believed that his profession had been defamed.

Baxter didn't want anything elaborate. He settled for straight whiskey and water. I told him that he'd better have some TicTacs if he intended to kiss me later on. He asked if Wintergreen Lifesavers would work as well. I think I may love that man.

When whatever had happened happened, the lights in the shelter had flickered, then steadied again. They were burning a little brighter than they had been, but I'm not sure anyone but me noticed. They were preoccupied. Anyway, that's part of the shelter design. Something about people being more alert under bright lights. Personally I think it's a waste of energy. The solar rechargable batteries are, in theory, good for about four years of near constant use, but as far as I know, no one has ever tested the boogers under real conditions. Anyway, no one is likely to need to read fine print if they're locked into one of our shelters, so low wattage shouldn't be a problem. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I've spent so many hours of my life under florescent lights in schools, hospitals, and corporate offices that I've come to have nasty associations with bright lights. On the other hand I've seen enough horror and science fiction movies to distrust lower lighting.

Joe Holiday came over, dragging a chair. He got points for moving it himself instead of asking the waiter to do it. He lost the points when he complained that the pina colada he'd requested was made with a mix instead of fresh pineapple. I told him that if he had a problem with that he was going to REALLY be ticked off when he had to eat the dried fruit. He told me that he didn't do dried fruit. I asked him if he did beri-beri and rickets.

He started to snark back at me, then hesitated, looked thoughtful, and said, "Do you honestly think we're going to be down here that long?"

"I honestly think there's a good chance of it. I don't know about you, but as much as I hate to disrespect my company's product, I'm praying that there's been a massive malfunction."

"So you ADMIT this all could be a mistake?"

I gritted my teeth. Nala had come up behind us. "I thought you'd put her down for the night." Bax said he couldn't tie her down. I said the shelter had a rope, and I could show him where it was stored. Nala wasn't listening to us, and I had a feeling that was a natural thing for her. She went on, "Don't try to deny it."

"Who's denying it? Hell yes this could be a mistake. A shelter is only as good as those who design and build it, and as far as I'm aware no one involved in this was infallible."

"You heard her." She was looking around at the others. "You're all witnesses. I'm suing her, her company, the contractors, the contstruction material suppliers, whoever gave zoning approval for this trap..."

"What about Cavanaugh? He's the one who actually got you into this."

She looked at me like I was crazy. "All he did was invite me to a party. Why should he be penalized for being a gracious host?"

"The fact that he can put you in major movies wouldn't have anything to do with your merciful attitude, would it?" asked Nikki. I KNEW I liked her.

"Of course," said Joe. "She knows she can make more in any movie he produces and directs than she could get in a civil suit." Okay, maybe the boy DID have some sense.

Nala was getting red in the face. "I'll sue you, too. For... for... mental anguish, and creating a hostile environment, and... and..."

I looked at Baxter. "Being on edge is natural in a situation like this, but she seems to be taking it to extremes. Is she always this on edge?"

"She's always been a little high strung," said Bax. "But you're right. She nearly got creamed in a stunt a couple of months ago and she handled it better than this."

I took a good, long look at her, and knew what was going on. Miss Nala had taken advantage of her privacy to have a little toot. How did I know? Oh, nothing so crude as powder on the nostrils. I've already said that the lights brighter than they had been. Well, instead of being decently and protectively shrunken, her pupils wouldn't have looked out of place on a Keane Kid's portrait. I knew she had blue eyes, but they came damn close to looking black.

I almost said something, but decided not to. For one thing she was doing what she had to do to cope with a situation that would have a lot of people cringing and crying in a corner. For another thing none of us were likely to get arrested, so it wasn't really any of my business. But then again, people who do drugs aren't exactly known for their stability, and we were all trapped together. Well, considering the size of her purse she couldn't have brought much with her, so it was going to run out soon.

The second I thought that I realized that brought it's own problems. A person on drugs could be a problem. A person going cold turkey WOULD be a problem. I thought, maybe she's just a casual, social user. I sure did hope so. If not it was going to be a toss up as to who'd be most miserable–the woman detoxifying, or the people having to deal with her.

I did something that would have shocked my mother. By that I mean that I DIDN'T rip her a new one, verbally or physically. She thought I was going to, though, because I got up and went to her. She sort of froze. I won't say like a rabbit caught in the headlights–she wasn't cute and innocent enough to be compared with a bunny. She froze like a shoplifter when a security guard's hand falls on her shoulder. I got right up in her face, staring right into those wide open pupils, then I put my cheek next to hers and whispered in her ear. When I stepped back she stared at me, then turned and walked away without another word.

This surprised the crap out of my companions. Baxter said, "I've never seen anything but slavish toadying stop Nala in mid-threat. What did you say to her?"

I shrugged. "I just reasoned with her."

What I'd done was promise her that if she kept acting like an ass I was going to find whatever coke she had left and make her watch as I put it in the chemical toilet. I asked her if she thought she'd get desperate enough to try to sniff formaldehyde.

I don't think they really use formaldehyde anymore, but it just SOUNDS hairier than quaternary ammonium compounds.