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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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Give Me Shelter

Suzanne was peaceably admiring the scenery while waiting for her iced soymilk mocha latte. And then the noise started.

A number of younger people in the Great Scot, staff and customers alike, stopped and looked around, baffled.

Her scenery, however, cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Everyone, please grab your valuables and line up in an orderly fashion at the doorway marked by a flashing orange light! The first person to get there, yes, you ma'am, please open the door and make sure the light is on before descending the stairs into the shelter!"

Suzanne sighed as she saw a half dozen people hurry out the doors into the street. It had been five or six years since the last Kosmic Klaxon alert. Most of these kids probably had no idea what it was all about.

The handsome scenery with chocolate skin and neat Van Dyke smiled at her. "Sorry, ma'am. Could you please join the line?"

She smiled back, nodded, and turned to add herself to the less-than-orderly line. A few people emitted little screams as night fell abruptly outside. Sharply, Suzanne snapped, "Stop gawping and get down the stairs!" The trio of college girls at the front of the line blushed and hurried into the stairwell.

"But what's going on?" a bewildered student said.

"Kosmic Klaxon," Suzanne said. "It means there's a cosmic-level threat in the city limits. We have to get into the shelters."

She didn't add that, depending on the threat, the shelters might or might not help.

Eventually, she got down into the shelter. It was dusty, but furnished with comfortable chairs, tables, and couches. The two reinforced shelter levels were shared by all the offices and storefronts along this block, and it was rapidly filling up. The shelters had been built in the 1970s to cope with a modest population boom in the region, but the change had turned out more than modest.

A quarter of an hour later, someone pushed an iced soymilk mocha latte into her hand.

"Thank you!" she said, startled.

Her scenery shrugged. "I was in the middle of making it. I figured I'd finish. Sorry it's a little melted, but I had to help clear the room upstairs."

"It was very thoughtful," she said, then added, "I'm Suzanne," extending her hand.

"Simon," he said, shaking her hand firmly.

"You have a very level head," she said. "Mostly people your age don't remember the Klaxon, or know what to do."

"My mother is very exacting about us knowing what to do," he said with a grimace, then looked around. "It's crowded as hell in here, isn't it?"

"Yes," she said, raising her voice to be heard over the tumult and bad acoustics. The clamor of voices pressed on her head like deep water.

Simon leaned over to her. "Look, I'm going to find the cleaner 'bots," he said in her ear. "They're offline or something, I mean, look at the dust. Want to come along?"

She nodded. They had an awkward moment of looking at each other before she impulsively grabbed his hand. Simon grinned and led her on a winding path through the crowd.

Suzanne spotted the 'bot closet, and squeezed Simon's hand to get his attention. She gestured and he headed that way. A few Goth teenagers scattered away from the door like startled cats, hurried and offended. Simon pressed his palm against the lock and the door wheezed open. They slid through and the door closed behind them.

"God," Suzanne said, taking a swig of her latte and enjoying the blissful quiet of the room. "What a noise those people make."

The room was long and slender, running parallel to the outer room. The walls were painted in pale cream, and a set of cabinets and a counter occupied the near end. A neat line of cleaning robots were set in metallic docks against the long back wall.

"Discontinuing the drills wasn't smart of the city council," Simon said, opening a cabinet at random.

"You remember the drills?" she said, then covered her mouth with her hand as he turned an inquiring look at her. "Sorry. Can you tell I'm old? I'm old."

"You know what you're doing," Simon corrected, and pulled a toolbox out of another cabinet. "I was raised here. And my mother was one of the designers of the whole Klaxon thing."


He nodded and moved over to the robots. "Why do you think the door unlocked for me?"

"Your palmprint is in the system?" Suzanne drank more of her latte. "Oh, well, of course it has to be. And you know how to fix the 'bots too."

"Well, I can guess at them," Simon said, studying the robot docks, cables, and nearby computer panels. He poked at a keyboard that was set into the wall. Nothing happened. He made a face. "I can guess that the real problem is that their regulatory panel is offline, and there isn't a whole lot I can do about it." He set the toolbox down and scowled at the panel, hands on hips.

"That's all right," Suzanne said, perching on the counter. "You tried, and you can report it after it's all over."

"If there's still a city," Simon said cheerfully, with a casual wave of his hand. "I understand that's what the most casual spandex types always say."

"Heh," Suzanne said, looking down at the unromantic black flats she'd worn this morning, not thinking that she'd be going to the Great Scot.

Actually, Josh had always said, "See you later, babe. Keep the coffee hot."

Simon eyed her and scowled again. "I just said something stupid, didn't I?"

Suzanne looked up and smiled. "No, no, it's nothing. I'm just worried, you know. The light going out like that."

He looked thoughtful and stroked his chin. "Well, I suppose it could be something huge over the city, or something huge eclipsing the sun, or someone with category 5 or 6 shadowshaping powers."

It was Suzanne's turn to eye Simon. "Shouldn't you be putting on your spandex now?"

Simon looked abashed, and may even have blushed. "No spandex, sorry."

"Oh, thank god," Suzanne said, mostly under her breath, but so vehemently that Simon couldn't help hearing it.

"So I take it you're not spandex yourself?" Simon said with a grin.

She shook her head and stared into the waterlogged remains of her latte.

A tremor rumbled through the ground, shuddering the walls and eliciting screams from the main rooms of the shelter.

"That was a big one," Suzanne said as casually as she could, crossing her legs and smoothing her black slacks. She was trying for "older, mature woman of the world." She feared that given her hair's tendency to go more than a bit flyaway at the first sign of stress, she was managing "old and frowsy."

Simon flashed a flirty grin. "Should I scream and beg for comfort from the big scary shaking noises outside?"

Suzanne grimaced, and laughed a little. "If you must."

Simon shook his head. "Nah. It's not me."

Suzanne looked him over, from fitted t-shirt to tight jeans, appreciating the smooth muscles filling them out. "No, it's not."

They both looked away awkwardly. Simon rocked on his heels and whistled badly. Suzanne nervously ran her fingers along the crease in the front of her slacks.

Simon took a deep breath, smiled brightly, and clasped his hands together. "I could probably find a pack of cards. How are you at, um, gin rummy?"

Suzanne laughed, mostly with relief. "I lose all the time."

"So do I!"

"Then we'll be evenly matched," Suzanne said. "In here or out there?"

Simon pursed his lips dubiously. "It's so loud out there. And it'll start getting warm."

Suzanne cocked a grin at him. "The longer you spend in here, alone with an older woman, the more likely your reputation will be ruined. Your coworkers will refer to me as 'Mrs. Robinson' whenever I come to the cafe."

"Oh, do be sure to look rumpled and smug when we leave, please?" Simon said eagerly.

"I'll see what I can arrange," Suzanne said, running a hand through her hair to smooth it. "Now where are those cards?"

Date: 2011-10-03 10:58 pm (UTC)
pheyne: Cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] pheyne
Feeling inexplicably in need of a soy latte :p

Date: 2011-10-05 05:57 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
In hopes that you'll find some good scenery? ;)

Date: 2012-05-09 07:37 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Mm. Yes. That.


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