Steven slammed the car into second, drove up onto the footpath, and edged past the mostly closed stores before turning into the driveway and hauling the vehicle into the first available park.
He leapt out, not bothering to lock it, and ran for the building entrance, fishing the access card out of his pocket as he went. Slamming the card against the sensor, he flew into the relative quiet of the foyer, and ran for the lifts.
He tried to calm down as the lift took him slowly up the levels, and by the time the doors opened he mostly had control of himself. Turning to the right and walking down the hallway, he stopped outside the door of the apartment, and knocked loudly on the door.
He could hear a muffled comment from inside the door, and then it swung open. "Oh, Steven, it's you!"
"You expected someone else, Cassie?"
"Well, not exactly. Come in. I want to lock this again."
He followed her into the apartment, and swung his head around, worried suddenly. He looked back at Cassie locking the door, and as she looked back at him, he asked. "Cassie, she's not here, is she?"
"No. No, she's not."
"Well, don't lock the fucking door then! Where is she?"
"I'm not sure. She should be at her Mum's place, I think."
"I tried to phone her."
"Yeah, the phone system is overloaded."
"Oh God, I gotta go get her."
"You can't, Steven."
"Why the fuck not? Open the door."
"No, hold on. Come and look at the TV. You'll never get there anyway."
"No. I don't know how you got here."
"It wasn't easy."
"I'm sure. Just come and see, first, okay?"
"Okay. Sorry Cassie. It's not your fault."
"It's okay. Come sit down."
"Look, I gotta..."
"No, sit first. You'll see what I mean."
"Oh, just for a minute then."
He sat in front of the TV, suddenly exhausted, and watched the disaster unfurl, complete with live footage, interviews, commentary, video clips, library footage.
It came down to this. China had been pissed off once too often, and finally realised they had the ability to do something about it. In a thoroughly efficient fashion, they had attacked key points in the infrastructure, delivered a number of impossible ultimatums, and then sat back and waited.
The current state was that essential services were falling apart, fast, in various centres around the country, and the government seemed completely unable to do anything about it.
The video footage made it clear that Cassie was correct. If he left now, Steven would probably never make it to where Faye was, unless he went on foot. That was crazy.
Steven sat quietly, slowly realising the size of the problem. He took a beer from Cassie without saying a word, and managed to drink it without even noticing.
Eventually, he seemed to spring back to life, looked at Cassie for a moment, grabbed the phone and tried yet again to phone Faye. Nothing. Hoping beyond reason, he pulled the cellphone from his pocket, and punched in the quick-dial to Faye's mobile. He was just about to put it back in his pocket in disgust when it started ringing. At the third ring Faye answered it, and screamed in his ear for a moment before he managed to calm her down enough to hear what she was saying.
"Faye, stop that, girl. I can't understand."
"Oh, sorry Steve. I'm just so pleased to hear from you. I thought you'd been hurt."
"Don't be daft. Why would that happen?"
"Well, I didn't hear from you."
"Nor I from you. Listen, stop this for a minute. The phone could stop working."
"Oh. Yeah, okay."
"Where are you, Faye?"
"Huh? With my brothers, of course."
"Of course at home. Where are you?"
"Oh, I'm here. At your place."
"You're with Cass?"
"Yeah, sure. She's sitting here."
"Oh, good. You been watching the news?"
"Yeah. Faye, I'm not sure I can get there tonight."
"What? Don't you even try!"
"Okay. I won't. You'll be alright?"
"Steven, I have three brothers who can lift cattle. Of course I'll be alright."
"Anyway, you need to stay there. You need to look after Cassie."
"Oh, Cassie's..." He looked over at her, and realised he hadn't even asked her how she was coping. Actually, she didn't look too good. "Hold on Faye. Cassie. Come here."
"No, no. You're talking to Faye."
"Doesn't matter. Come on."
"You need privacy."
Faye piped in then. "She's not a dog, Steve. Oh, hey, just thought of something. Can I talk to her for a minute?"
"Yeah, sure. Listen, just in case the phones pack it in, I'll try to get out there in the morning, alright?"
"Only if it's safe, Steve. I'm fine here. We have enough food for a year, I'm sure!"
"Okay, well if I can."
"You bet. Hand it over."
"Cassie. Here, Faye wants to talk to you."
Cassie took the phone, and spoke quietly with Faye for a moment. Then suddenly she stood up, and ran off to the kitchen, leaving Steven alone, staring at the catastrophe unfolding on the screen.
Eventually she came back, sat back down, and handed the phone to Steven.
"Faye, what on earth did you say to her?"
"I... listen, I want to ask you something."
"You... okay. What?"
"Well, did you know, Cassie has had a thing for you for as long as she's known you?"
"She what? Don't be silly."
"I'm not. Look at her."
"I'm... Oh. Faye, she went bright red."
"Yep. Listen, she told me about this a long time ago, and made me promise not to mention it to you."
"But... well, why tell me now?"
"Hmmm... She doesn't love you. She doesn't want to take you off me."
"No. It's a physical thing."
"She... umm... hee hee. She just wants to fuck you."
"Yeah. Now the thing is... well... Steven... It's just a guess, but I don't think you'd mind either, right?"
"Oh, I see now. This is a trap, isn't it?"
"Huh? Oh, no. No, it's not. I wouldn't embarrass Cassie like this just to catch you out, boyo."
"No way. I'll tell you plainly. You can if you want to. Tonight. Just tonight. I've told Cassie the same. That's what the blush is for."
"That's it? Wow?"
"Ah, you finding it difficult to talk, with the audience?"
"Yeah, a bit."
"Okay, you want to know how she feels about it?"
"Ah, yeah. Yep."
"She wants to. She never thought she would, but she and I have sat up late talking about it lots of times. She really wants to."
"And you want to know if it's really okay with me. It is."
"Yeah, really. I trust you Steven. Actually, the whole thing turns me on, just a little."
"Yeah. Oh, one more thing. She's heard you."
"Well, us. But you make all the noise."
"Yeah. Apparently, you make it difficult to sleep!"
"And Steve, she's not coping too well with all this other shit. She needs reassurance. I know how reassuring you can be."
"Oh, yeah, you can. So, what's the answer?"
"Well, umm... yes."
"Hand Cass the phone for a minute. And I'll talk to you tomorrow, stud."
"You're sure, right?"
"I am. Hand it over."
Steven passed the phone to Cassie, who was sitting right next to him, and watched. She made a couple of non-committal noises into the phone, and then went bright red again, looking at Steven with tears in her eyes.
Obviously following some instructions from Faye now, she reached her hand out, and Steven took it in his. She confirmed this to Faye, and hung up.
Sitting there now, it was suddenly awkward. They stared at each other, their hands sweaty, until Cassie jumped up and raced off to get another couple of beers.
Nothing was said, but when she sat back down, she didn't hold his hand again. Not wanting to push anything, Steven sat there quietly, watching the worsening pictures on the TV, and sipping his beer.
Another hour or so went by, television watching interrupted only by bathroom breaks and another round of beers. They both kept their hands to themselves, shyness having set in, and watched.
The government had refused, as expected, to give in to any of the demands, and authorities were preparing as best they could for what they expected to be another wave of offensives. The military were taking control of most of the important facilities throughout the country. Things were getting really bad.
It was dark outside by this time, and as they both stared at the reports, they could hear the sounds of car horns being angrily thumped outside, and a couple of what sounded like major accidents down on the road. One of the effects of living so high in the building was a feeling of remoteness to the world outside, and the whole situation, inside and out, was so weird that they didn't even get up to look out the windows.
A little later, reports started coming in that parts of the country were no longer in contact with the police, military or media, and fears were held for the safety of large numbers of people. It seemed that the number of locations affected was rising very quickly, when suddenly they were returned to a new report which suggested that the Chinese had launched some sort of aerial offensive. Details were sketchy.
.... There is more of this story ...