The Day Dave Broke the Internet - Short Story Series

Dave didn't know he was lonely until his friends pointed it out. But when he gives in and tries an online dating site, something catastrophic happens - talk about a bad omen.

The Day Dave Broke the Internet
by Tara Tyler


Dave carefully selected the freshest looking meatloaf plate. The food in his office building's cafeteria left something to be desired, but it was better than packing a sack lunch. He sighed and headed over to his friends' regular table. Life after college hadn't changed much. Even though Rapid Technologies consisted mostly of nerdy types like Dave, there were still sub-divisions with a definite hierarchy of rule-makers, rule-followers, rule-breakers, and grunts.

But Dave was okay being a rule-follower. His life was satisfactory. Why make waves?

As he sat down, his buddy Nathan seemed to be in a particularly good mood.

"Guess what, Dave?"

"What, Nathan?"

Looking over Dave's shoulder, Nathan changed his mind and poked at his lunch.

"Never mind, I'll let her tell you."

Sunni plunked down next to Dave. The short, spunky girl wore a white lab coat and round glasses.

"Hey, Dave!"

"Hey, Sunni. Tell me what?"

"Oh, nothing." Sunni posed her hand on Dave's arm. That was strange. But Sunni, like most women, did weird, inexplicable things that went over his head.

He lifted an eyebrow at her. "Okay."

Sunni pouted. "Dave."

"What?" He didn't like silly games. He ignored her and stuck a fork into his meatloaf. While he chewed a piece, he judged it as marginal and dumped some ketchup on it.

“Daa-aave.” Sunni put her hand under her chin and wiggled her fingers at him.

He finally noticed the engagement ring, but decided to give her a hard time. She started the game, it was only fair.

"You got a manicure? How nice."

She swatted him. "Kyle and I are engaged."

Speaking of Kyle, the tall, gangly guy dawdled over and sat across from her, completing their foursome.

"Oh. Congratulations, Kyle."

Sunni cleared her throat.

"And Sunni." That's what she got for working with a bunch of nerds. She should know better. But it didn't keep her from spouting with excitement.

"We'll be getting married in six months."

"Sounds nice."

"You're both invited."


"And Dave, you should bring a date."

Dave coughed into his iced tea.

Nathan laughed. "That's right, bro. You're the only single guy left at the table."

Sunni and Nathan had been trying to fix Dave up for years. He refused to go on any more blind dates and was perfectly happy at the prospect of living the rest of his days as a bachelor.

Sunni put her hand on Dave's arm again.

"Don't worry. We aren't going to set you up."

"We're going about it scientifically this time," Nathan added.

Instead of a light bulb, a thunder cloud flashed over Dave's head as he realized they wanted him to enter the horrific scene of online dating.


He shook his head. "No, thanks."

"But you didn't hear our suggestion."

"I don't have to. No."

"Aw, come on, man. What have you got to lose?"

"My dignity, my money, my sanity."

Nathan leaned back. "Okay, dude. But when we start having kids and you're still all alone, our lives will change and you'll be left behind, the same, lonely guy. Crazy old Uncle Dave."

"Sounds good."

Sunni looked at Dave with puppy dog eyes. "Please, Dave? For me? Just try it once. I really want to see you happy. And I know several friends who've found great matches at this website."

"He's chicken." Nathan flapped his elbows. "Bawk, bawk, bawk."

"No, I'm not."

"Oh, I never thought of that." Sunni tilted her head. "Dave, I bet there are tons of women who would love to go out with you. You're a great guy."

"I know I am. I'm not afraid. I'm just not interested."

Kyle had been noticeably silent, chewing on his burger. When Sunni gave him a squinty, pirate eye, he swallowed and spoke up.

"Oh yeah, Dave. You should try it. If you don't, there's always my cousin Eloise."

Dave remembered Kyle's cousin Eloise from a picture of his family reunion. She could probably bench press Dave.

They all looked eagerly at him. If he ever wanted to eat again in peace, he would have to give them a positive response. He chose to string them along for a bit without committing to anything.


Nathan shot a finger gun at him. "The sooner the better."

Sunni clapped her hands. "That's as good as a yes. I won't stop bugging you until you go on your first date!"

# # # # #

Sunni held to her promise. She continuously badgered Dave to try her proven, data-driven online dating website: Nerds Unite. He groaned just hearing the name. When that didn't work, she had them all over for dinner and got him drunk.

Dave, not really that drunk, finally relented and opened a free trial account. With help from his friends, he filled out the information: likes, dislikes, allergies, preferences, etc. That part had actually been fun.

He hoped he could leave it at that and let the free trial lapse into infamy.

But a week later, Sunni was at it again, spoiling his favorite lunch, pasta primavera.

"Any prospects from the website?"

Dave cringed as he was about to take a bite. "I forgot to publish my profile."

Nathan shook his head at him. "I'm disappointed in you, Dave."

Sunni frowned. "I don't know what's wrong with you. We just want you to be happy like us."

"I am happy. A happy uncomplicated bachelor."

With a pout, she stood up. "I give up. I'm done bugging you. If you don't want to try it, don't. I have a wedding to plan. Come on, Kyle."

Kyle shrugged at the guys and followed his fiancée.

Dave couldn't figure out why Sunni was so upset. And he sure wasn't ready to be tugged on a leash like Kyle.

Nathan saluted and left him alone at the table.

Were they trying to teach him a lesson? Dave tilted his head as he watched them walk away. They acted like he'd betrayed them. What was wrong with being single?


Once he got home, he was ready to relax with some Call of Duty or maybe a movie. He changed into sweat pants, made a hero sandwich worthy of its name, and settled in for a marathon night of killing the enemy. The perfect Friday night.

But when he turned on his Xbox, it started to smoke. What the...?

Well, it was too late to bother going out to buy a new one so Dave flipped on the TV and searched for a new movie. Nothing drew his attention. He'd seen all the good ones. Only the sappy sad ones or rom-coms were left. Chick flicks. No thank you.

That left him two options. Go out with his friends—the thought made him chuckle—or surf the internet. He didn't enjoy surfing the net as much as he used to. It felt more like he was at work staring at his screen. But it had been a while since he checked his social media, maybe he'd find something interesting or a few funny Youtube videos.

Unfortunately, Youtube was fruitless, so he switched to Instagram, then Twitter, then Tik-Tok. Dave scrolled and scrolled. Nothing but happy couples and families. They were on vacation, telling goofy stories, singing, dancing, cooking. Ugh. What was up with the world today? Were there no single people left?

He came across yet another video of Sunni and Kyle announcing their engagement. He clicked like for his friends. It was the least he could do.

Two seconds later, Sunni sent him a pouty-faced snap. "Dave, come hang out with us."

Unfortunately, Sunni knew he was online and bored if he was liking pictures of couples on social media. Though she was right, he wasn't going out.

He sent back a forehead shot. "Sorry. Busy. Try to have fun without me."

":(  At least activate your account."

He was just bored enough to check it out. And maybe a little curious. He opened the dating site and read over his profile. They'd done a pretty decent job. He wasn't a bad guy. But was he ready for a woman to take over his life?

Dave was a man of numbers, formulas, and programs. As a creature of habit, he did things his own way and liked his freedom to go anywhere, any time. Not that he went anywhere, but he could. And a woman would screw all that up. He'd be forced to consider her when making decisions and deal with whatever faults or bad habits she had. He'd lose the majority of his free time. And there was always the possibility that after all that work, she'd leave him. Logically it just didn't make sense.

On the other side of the coin, there was the possibility of a lasting connection. With many of his friends leaving single-hood, it intrigued him. Maybe he was ready. Or maybe he needed to find some new friends--which would be just as difficult.

A message flashed on the screen.

Still not sure? Try a free preview of a few members who match your questionnaire results.

Well, what a great idea.

"Don't mind if I do." Dave clicked OK


There was Rhonda, Pamela, Dayja, Christine, Kaela, Babs, Erika, and on and on. Some were pretty, some were okay, and some were not his type. Many had college or technical degrees--one was a cosmetologist. Pictures and words weren't enough. The daunting part was the getting to know them with dating, which was more like going on a job interview. Even then, one didn't really know a person until it was too late to just ignore their texts. Maybe he would go out the next day and get a dog.

He looked at the time and rubbed his eyes. It was eleven o'clock. With a yawn he decided to get ready for bed.

After just one more. It was free after all. He clicked Next and got a chill.

Her name was Sharon Baker.

She was perfect. He felt an instant attraction just looking into her dark brown, playful eyes. She had medium-length brown hair that flipped up at the bottom and wore a smirk that made him want to ask her what was so funny. He didn't want to spoil his first impression by reading her info, but that's what it was there for. No one was perfect.

As he read about her background, he found it similar to his—Midwest girl, good school, good job. His hopes started to rise. He couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips.

Then another message flashed.

Your preview is about to expire. Publish your profile and find the girl of your dreams.

Dave stared at Sharon's face until the screen returned to the dating site's home page. Maybe he would do it.

He needed to think it over. He got up and stretched.

His friends were all for it. His mother would be ecstatic. Maybe if he found the right girl, losing some freedom might not be so bad.

Dave thought about it while he went through his bedtime routine. Each time he walked past his tablet, he glanced over at it. It seemed to call to him, Just do it, Dave.

Sitting down, he woke up his computer. There was the dating site, patiently waiting for him. He opened his profile with his goofy face grinning back at him and did a last check of his info. Would Sharon like him? Would anyone? He shrugged. In the words of Nathan, What's the worst that could happen?

From the corner of his eye, Dave noticed something out his window whiz across the sky. A shooting star? Was it the universe giving him a sign? Dave paused and made a wish. Couldn't hurt.

He pushed Activate.

His tablet fuzzed. All the lights went out. In his apartment, across the street, and as far away as he could see from his window. Everything was dark.

"What the...?"


Dave checked his phone. It was dead. He felt his way to the kitchen and got a flashlight, also dead.

Strange. Just weird. Looking out his window, he saw the whole neighborhood was dark. Someone must've hit a transformer. It was deep-cave dark. The only light shone from the moon. And it was unearthly quiet.

But why did his phone die? It was charging so that could've been a surge. But the flashlight?

He snapped his fingers and fumbled his way to his bedroom closet. On the top shelf, he found the shiny bag Nathan had given him for his birthday a couple of years ago. He told him not to open it unless something happened to the electricity and all his batteries died. It was an odd request, but now seemed to be the perfect time.

From the bag, Dave pulled out a two-way radio, another flashlight, and new batteries. He put the batteries into the walkie-talkie. It worked, so he tried it out, feeling a little silly.

"Hello? Anybody there?"


"Nathan?" Dave was surprised Nathan answered so quickly.

"Oh good. You kept the bag."

"Sure, thanks. So what's up? Is it dark there too?"

"Yeah. I wonder what happened."

Dave kept the mood light. "Well, all I know is I activated my dating profile and everything went black. Think it's a sign?"

Nathan laughed. "You what? Ha! Yeah, could be a bad omen, all right."

He tried his phone again. "I can't believe everything, even my phone is completely dead. How about yours?"

"Yeah, mine's dead too. But I have a crank generator. I'm trying to get connected and find out what happened, but I have a pretty good idea..." Nathan drifted off, sounding distracted.

Of course Nathan had a crank generator. Every apocalypse-prepared nerd had one. He probably had a specially protected room in his house filled with backup equipment. And though Nathan didn't elaborate on his theory, Dave had a feeling he knew what his extremist friend was thinking. Dave didn't buy into all the crazy Prepper fears. He bet a drunk driver probably slammed into a transformer or maybe there was a severe lightning strike. Though that didn't explain batteries...

He went over to the window and looked at the sky. No clouds for miles.

Nathan spoke up again. "Well, the internet isn't finding a way through either. I've tried several routers."

Dave wondered what the extent of the outage might be. "Want to check the server at work? It should be protected against a major power surge."

"Good idea. I'll meet you there."

Dave found some shoes and picked up the walkie-talkie and the flashlight from Nathan's bag. The bag must've protected the stuff in it from the surge, because the flashlight worked. He brought his phone, too but wasn't sure why. It was useless. Habit.

Before leaving, he looked around his apartment trying to think what else he might need. He had the strangest feeling he wasn't going to see his home again for a long time. Shaking off the weird vibe, he locked up and headed down the dark stairs to the parking garage.

When he entered, the vast, pitch black made him pause. It was an eerie dungeon, especially with the echo of his footsteps. He wasn't afraid of the dark, but bad things happened during blackouts. He clicked his key remote and nothing happened. So his car or the key fob was dead too. Then he remembered the electronic gate probably wouldn't work either. He'd have to walk. Good thing it was only a few blocks.


As he started to leave, more people came out of the stairwell.

"I did try the remote. It's dead. The car might be dead too."

"Well, try it anyway. This isn't right. We need to get the kids out of here."

Surely it was just a transformer or some other simple explanation. Some people panicked as if the world was ending when their electronics stopped working. Dave shook his head and walked down the sidewalk.

Living on the north side of town, he felt relatively safe, but anything could happen on the extra dark streets. Headlights flashed from around a corner. Dave wondered how their car worked when others didn't. When they turned down his street, he froze until he noticed it was a police car. He chided himself for overreacting as they pulled up beside him. Maybe they took surge protecting precautions on their vehicles.

"There's a curfew in place, sir. You need to go to your home."

"Okay. I'm on my way there now." Dave wasn't about to go sit and wait in the dark for the city to fix the problem, when he and Nathan could probably figure it out in half the time. Or at least get something local up and running.

The officers nodded and they rolled on. Dave wasn't sure if it was good or bad that the cops were patrolling. There was always a curfew for blackouts, but with police enforcing it, something was definitely wrong. Criminals usually took advantage of power outages to steal things, but only if it seemed like it would be for an extended amount of time. He picked up the pace.

What could have caused everything to go down all at once? Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) flashed in his head, but that was ridiculousness from the movies and one of Nathan's favorite scenarios.

When he got to the office building, he tried his keycard. Of course it didn't work. They'd need a metal key to get in. Now what?

Headlights rushed toward him from down the street. He didn't want the police to drag him home so he hid around the side of the building.

The car slowed down as it reached the entrance, and Dave peeked out at it.

It was Nathan's beater, not the police. Stepping into the open from his hiding spot, Dave waved.

Nathan rolled his passenger window down. "Oh good. I circled twice already. The cops are sending everyone home. Get in."

"I know. How did you get your car to work?"

"It's an older model, not as many electronics to fry, and it was in my garage."

Dave frowned. His car was in a garage, he just couldn't get into it because the locks were electronic and apparently fried.

"Where are we going?"

"To an emergency meeting. You really should check the important messages I send you more often. It might get you off your couch. I invite you every month."

"To what? Your apocalypse club?"

Nathan nodded. "Well, look around. Something big is going on."

"You don't think it's just an accident? Or a storm?"

"Not a regular storm with the internet and phone services down. We think it's like this across the whole country. We're flying blind, man."

"Okay." Dave was doubtful. How would he know?

Nathan drove them out of town and down a few windy, country roads. He pulled into a dirt drive toward a large lake house. There were cars parked all over the front yard under the trees.

"We're gonna have to walk."

"How many members are there?"

"Not this many, but everyone and their brother hops onto the bandwagon when something finally happens. Like you."

"Gee, thanks," Dave said as they hiked up the long drive to the house.

"Hey, no offense. I'm happy you're here. I need you. Ya think I want to start over with these weirdos?"

They laughed and stopped at the door. Nathan made a goofy face at the peephole, then flipped it off. A buzz sounded.

Dave smiled. "Nice secret code."

"After you."


Inside, candles lit the foyer which had stairs leading up into darkness. To the left, an elderly woman was asleep in a recliner. Nathan put a finger to his lips and waved for Dave to follow him. He led them past her toward the back of the house. Before entering the kitchen, Nathan opened a door, and they went downstairs. Voices got louder as they descended.

The gathering was like a giant basement party out of a teenage movie. But as he took a closer look, it was more like a Mad Max party. The people standing around talking wore leather jackets, Kevlar vests, and fatigues. Some had gas masks around their necks and a few even carried weapons strapped to their backs--big guns and machetes. Real weapons!

"What kind of club is this?" Dave asked.

"The end of the world scares people. The weapons aren't allowed at regular meetings."

"Oh, but they're okay now?"

"You may not mind hanging out with a weapon-toting nerd once the looting starts."


"You really should come once in a while. There's a process to the-world-as-you-know-it falling apart."

"I thought we were going to try to fix the problem, not plan for the end."

"We can try, but the window for fixing a problem of this magnitude is closing."

"What magnitude?"

"Presley says it's across the whole US. He thinks someone set off an organized EMP drop. Must've taken years to plan. But if they did it right, we're SOL."

"With all the nerd brain power in this room, we could be working on a solution, don't you think?"

"We've actually presented a few procedures and plans to prevent or prepare for something like this. But you know the government. They react to things instead of planning ahead. They don't listen unless there's an immediate, proven threat. If this is what we think it is, all the nerds in the world couldn't put Humpty back together again." He held up his hand and pointed. "Hold on. Presley's about to talk. He'll get us organized."

A muscular, dark-skinned man with a beard and glasses, wearing a protective, pocketed vest stood up on a metal footlocker. He gave the group a short blast from an air horn and they quieted down.

"Well people, we appear to be in Phase One. We believe EMPs were strategically detonated at critical locations in North America. Possibly world wide."

The crowd murmured and whispered. Dave found this extreme, worst case scenario announcement a little far-fetched. He wanted to get out of there and work on a solution to getting things back up and running, not wait until people freaked out and declared martial law.

While the head nerd/apocalyptic leader rambled on about the situation as he and his counterparts across the US saw things, Dave looked around to gauge the expressions of the other members, judging how much they believed what was being fed to them.

Then he saw her. The face that launched the end of the world. The last vision from the internet that drew him to activate his profile to set himself up for rejection by hundreds. Maybe his entry was the last straw that broke the internet.

Sharon Baker. Could it be?

Her hair was up in a ponytail. She had on black jeans, a black and gray camouflage t-shirt, and a black kerchief tied around her head. The image he had of her changed drastically, but he was still drawn to her, and now she intrigued him.

What was she doing there? Was she a regular member? Well, he was there, and he was normal-ish. Maybe she was too.

Seeing her live, Dave got a better impression of her personality--her beautiful smile, her easy ability to interact with others, her strong stature. While he observed her, he liked everything he saw. She wasn't intently focused on the dramatic leader and laughed when one of her friends whispered in her ear. She seemed sane and confident. Her costumed presence at the meeting was the only thing that concerned him. He wondered how vested Sharon was in the group and their illogical delusions of the end of rational society. For all Dave knew, the crazy leaders planned the whole blackout as some kind of extreme drill. For the moment, Dave's primary objective was to talk to this intriguing woman and find out more about her.

He hoped he had the courage to take the first step and talk to her. Then, he could determine if they were even compatible. If she was logical and with no obnoxious habits, maybe he could convince her to work with him on a plan to get everyone back up and connected again. That was a lot of wishful thinking. And though Dave didn't put much faith in fanciful wishes, he was starting to believe in fate with this crazy coincidence. He definitely had to meet her. He just hoped he made a good first impression on her.

Nathan tapped Dave's shoulder and whispered to him out of the corner of his mouth.

"What are you staring at?" Once he followed Dave's gaze, he grinned. "Oh ho. Nice."


Presley rapped up his speech with some instructions on how to proceed. According to him, Phase Two would develop over the next few days as the rest of society figured things out. Some would wait for power to be restored and hope things would go back to normal. Others would become desperate and selfish with illegal actions to soon follow. Presley welcomed them to hang out in his shelter, but if they decided to wait elsewhere, they needed to be watchful for criminal activity and keep in close contact. He would spread any news as he received it. He sounded like a good guy.

The crowd rumbled and grumbled as the meeting broke up. Some headed for the stairs, including Sharon and two other women. Dave started to follow, but Nathan caught his arm. Dave sighed and relented. Luckily, the girls stopped to talk with someone before going up.

"We should stay here, dude."

"Nathan. Seriously. Let's get to the server at work and see what's going on for ourselves."

"We know what's going on. Presley is Level 5. He's the most connected guy in the Midwest. He's the guy."

Dave shook his head. Nathan was really sucked into all of it. Dave on the other hand still believed in his country's ability to fix things, even if they took the long, convoluted, paperwork-congested way about it. Dave knew he could help speed up the process, once he got to the bottom of things.

And he wanted to run his idea past Sharon. Though he didn't even know her, he sensed he could talk to her. Her response could make or break his fantasy of her. His plan was perfect, taking care of two birds with one stone—meeting the girl of his dreams and jump-starting the country.

Dave looked over at Sharon and started to smile, but as soon as she glanced his way with a flip of her ponytail, he froze. Just the thought of walking over and talking to her made him sick to his stomach. He'd never felt such apprehension, even as he faced the possible end of polite society. It wasn't because she was a woman. He'd spoken to plenty of women at work or in other public places. It was just her. He was afraid of saying the wrong thing and wasn't sure how to proceed. He started to hyperventilate and sweat. It was ridiculous.

Nathan nudged him. "Hey, let me introduce you to Presley."

"Oh, uh, sure." The distraction brought his breathing back to normal. Maybe he should ask Nathan for help, not that he had any real experience in this unknown realm of dating and females and emotions. He married his high school sweetheart because she told him to.

Dave peeked over at Sharon and a wave of nausea washed over him again.

Nathan huffed at him. "Sharon has that effect on guys. She's very intimidating and she has a strict rule not to date members, unless she's forced to for procreation after an apocalypse."

That was uncalled for information. But Dave respected her policy, which was one thing in her favor. And he wasn't about to become a member, but that meant she was. So many conflicting decisions made his head hurt.

"Do you know her?"

"Not really, just by reputation."

So his postulations could be just rumor making him fret for nothing. As Nathan pulled him along, what he said before sank in. Dave didn't want to meet Presley, he wanted to talk to Sharon and get out of there. He stopped in his tracks.

"Hold on."

"You don't have to worry about Presley. He's cool."

Dave shook his head. "No. It's not that. I want to go so we can fix the problem. I'm not waiting for society to break down."

That statement swiveled a few nearby noggins. Dave shook off their questionable glances.

Nathan cleared his throat and the others went back to their conversations.

"Careful with that kind of talk, Dave. What are you thinking?"

Dave wasn't concerned with offending the members, except maybe the armed ones. He searched for Sharon near the stairs, but she was gone.

"I'm leaving. I doubt any of our international enemies have the capability to cause any extensive damage. You know the odds aren't good for a true apocalypse."

Dave gave Nathan the courtesy of whispering his opinions. He wanted to shout about how crazy they were, but he was outnumbered. And he needed to catch up to Sharon.

He started for the stairs. "I'm outta here."

In his peripheral, Dave saw Nathan watch him, then search the crowd, and finally he jogged to catch up.

"Fine, I'll help you."

Dave wondered if having Nathan behind him would help him overcome his unfounded trepidation. He had no idea what caused his body to behave so unreasonably around Sharon. And with such a negative physical reaction, he also couldn't understand why he was so drawn to her. His scientific curiosity drove him to continue his original directive. Surely he could use mind over matter. He swallowed his fear, determined to discover if all his bodily agonizing and concern was worth it.

But when he exited the basement, she was nowhere to be found.


Nathan tugged on Dave's sleeve. "So where to, superman?"


"Yeah, you're going to save the world, right?"

"Uh, I guess. At least I'm gonna try."

Disappointed at losing the girl he hoped would change his life, Dave's shoulders dropped. But he had to keep going despite his sudden, unfounded depression. Her face would probably haunt him for all eternity. And then he would kick himself for being so dramatic. What was wrong with him?

They stepped out of the house and headed for Nathan's car.

"How are you going to save the world?"

Her voice played a poetic melody like a finely tuned harp. Could it be her?

Before Dave turned around, his stomach flip-flopped again. His outlook leapt from deepest despair to outright optimism. But this time he squelched the nausea and coached himself: Head over foolish heart. You can do this. It's just words.

He faced her. Sharon Baker's closeness and sparkling gaze almost made him falter, but he took a deep breath and held firm.

"Hi. I'm Dave." He was all business, no smile. He'd have to work on that later. He didn't want to scare her off, but he had to keep his woozy stomach under control.

Sharon smirked, giving Dave a chill. It was an energizing, tingley chill.

"I'm Sharon."

Nathan adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat.

"Hi, Sharon. This is my friend from work."

"Oh. Hello. Nathan, right? Are you guys leaving?"

"Well, we can't save the world if we're hiding in a basement." Dave knew that might be a little harsh if she was a believer, but he had to speak his mind. No games. Truth from the start. He felt a little better, despite his goosebumps.

Sharon nodded. "Good point."

Good answer. Another chill.

"Want to join us?"

Nathan stared at them with his mouth hanging open.



"What are you doing?"

"Hey, I'll take all the brainpower I can find."

Sharon smiled again. "I'd love to help you save the world."

Now Dave couldn't stop grinning. As he watched Sharon wave bye to her friends, his heart was beating out of his chest. He felt like he was about to cross the Grand Canyon on a high wire. And he'd probably do it if she asked him to.

Nathan scrunched his brow at Dave then shrugged. "Whatever."

They piled into Nathan's car. Dave felt compelled to let Sharon have the coveted shotgun, and sat in the back. He had to shove a heavy, black duffle bag over as he slid in.

"Nathan, what's in this thing?"

"Oh, that's my emergency bag. Two-way radios, an AM/FM radio, a couple of extra cell phones, a bull horn, batteries, protein snacks, water bottles, a flashlight, flares, blankets, an old lap top. Just a few things."

"So only the necessities."


Sharon smirked at Dave, and he smiled back, feeling his cheeks warm up. Every time she paid attention to him, his brain got a jolt of electricity, and he had to remember how to think and speak.

Luckily, she switched her focus to Nathan. "Where's your wife? I thought she came with you to the meetings."

Nathan squirmed and frowned. "Kitty? Yeah. I'd rather not say."

Dave had a feeling he knew.

"What? Is she in a secret bunker?"

"Well, of course.  But only because I wouldn't leave until she went in."

Sharon tilted her head. "Why?"


Dave would get it out of him. "Spill, Nathan. This could be the end of the world, right? Secrets turn friends into enemies."

"Geez. Fine. She's pregnant."


Leaning back in his seat, Dave put a hand to his forehead as his jaw dropped to the floor taking in the sudden shock and its ramifications. A little Nathan? Nathan a daddy? The world was ending all right.

Once Dave pulled himself together, he slowly responded. "Wow. Congratulations. That's, uh, terrific."

Sharon seemed to think it was exciting news. "Yes, congratulations, Nathan. You two are ahead of the game." She laughed and the sound was like wind chimes on a summer night's breeze.

"Thanks, you guys. I've been holding that in for three months."

While Sharon asked for more details, Dave tried to deal with all that was happening. His world was truly changing. Their electronic society was in jeopardy, his best friend was going to be a daddy, and he just met a girl who made him want to puke and perform stupid heroic deeds at the same time. Chaos had arrived in a stampede.

The funny thing was, Dave dealt with putting out fires at work all the time. He was always a calming voice of reason in a digital emergency. But this? This was like putting out a fire in a volcano on the sun. If he was a computer, his processor would be fried. He chuckled to himself because that could be taken literally too from the EMP.

"Everything okay back there?" Sharon was smirking at him again. He probably looked insane.

He shook off a chill from her playful gaze. He felt the need to look tough and smart. Too bad he really felt weak and stupid.

"Sure. Just trying to process it all. Uh, Sharon? I was wondering what made you decide to come with us." It was another thing in all the madness that didn't compute.

"Well, when I first started going to the meetings, I saw you there and…"

Nathan, with his impeccable timing, interrupted. "Look."

As they reached civilization, the sun started to rise, and activity increased on the streets. Dave, Sharon, and Nathan peered out the windows at the strange new world they'd been thrust into. Groups of people gathered and pointed at the power lines as they talked. Some shook their heads, others waved their arms. They looked more bewildered than riotous. Every so often, a police car cruised past them. A few families packed up their cars. Where were they going? Wouldn't the power be back on soon? Dave was starting to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

What if the power didn't come back on and the internet was unfixable indefinitely? Society would be thrust back in time two hundred years without electricity! Yet, worse than no or extremely slow communication would be the lack of refrigeration for food and running water. There might be a shift in the population. People might have to abandon their homes which were completely run by electricity and move to where they could find sustenance. Not to mention away from those desperate enough to steal or harm others to survive. Phase Two was starting to look less crazy.

Dave still wasn't ready to think about dealing with such extreme consequences just yet. One phase at a time.

When they reached their office building, Nathan parked in the back lot. Two other cars were there.

Dave glanced at Nathan who shrugged as he got his duffle bag from the back seat. They went to a side door.

"I already tried my key card," Dave said.

Nathan smiled. "I got it."

He took out a little tool kit, unscrewed the electrical lock pad on the door, and did some finagling until it opened. He grinned over his shoulder at Dave.

Dave raised his eyebrows at him. "Is that what they teach you at those meetings?"


Sharon nodded. "Nice job."

As she stood there in that sleek, black outfit with her hands on her hips, she looked like a super hero. Fantasies threatened to invade his mind, but Dave reigned them in. He had to stay focused and not think like a love-struck stalker.


Nathan went inside. "Come on. The brains are in the basement. Our server should be protected from an EMP blast, and our emergency lines are reinforced. That's why I was able to hotwire the lock. We can see what works and if we can connect with someone from the processor room."

With a flashlight in front, Nathan led them to the stairwell, and they went down. Dave had only been in the processor room a couple of times to deliver some paperwork. Hearing the hum of the fans, Dave was relieved that it was working. When they entered, the huge room full of giant server towers still awed him. The blinking lights made him think of Christmas time. A beautiful sight.

"How long will the backup generator keep it running?" Sharon asked.

Before he could answer, something made a loud thump overhead.

Dave looked at the ceiling. "What was that?" They weren't alone.

Nathan answered. "I wonder if it's looters. We're under the cafeteria. Maybe they're looking for food."

"Already? And how did they get in?"

Sharon pulled out a handgun from a holster inside her vest and headed back to the stairs.

"I'll go check it out."

Dave's jaw dropped. He was impressed and intimidated at the same time. He couldn't decide if he should stay and help Nathan or go upstairs with Sharon. He'd be more useful downstairs, but didn't want to look like a coward letting her go up alone.

"Want me to come with you?"

She shrugged. Great. That probably meant yes. Dave had no experience interpreting women's body language, never mind aiding a damsel in distress, though Sharon wasn't the one in distress.

Dave turned to Nathan who was typing up a storm on the access computer.

"I'm going up with Sharon."

Nathan answered without looking at him. "Okay."

As he jogged to catch up to his pistol-toting mama, Dave pictured two burly guys with bazookas tearing through the large kitchen pantry. He tried to shake the image and wished he had a gun of his own. Not that he would know what to do with it. He was more of a target than a protector. Maybe he could help by being a distraction.

Peeking into the hallway, Sharon waved for Dave to follow her as she stepped out. She paused and raised her eyebrows at Dave. It took him a few seconds, but he finally realized she probably wanted to know where to go so he pointed down the hall. She nodded, and they scooted that way.

When they reached the cafeteria, Sharon pointed at the door and widened her eyes at Dave. He nodded, hoping he wouldn't trip and lose the element of surprise.

When she slipped under the door's window to the other side, she put a finger to her lips. Then she eased up and peered inside. Lowering back down, she made some hand signals, pointing to the cafeteria and showing two fingers. He figured that meant two guys were in there. Just as he thought.

Dave didn't know what to do so he nodded again, letting her lead. He tried to keep his cool, but inside he was freaking out. He'd never confronted anyone before, and he didn't want to start by disrupting a couple of possibly armed intruders.

Sharon smiled encouragingly and pointed for him to look.

His whole body shook and shivered as if he was standing out in a blizzard in his pajamas. Dave could hear the ransackers moving around in there breaking things as they rummaged. He feared they'd catch him peeking and shoot him between the eyes. Trying to soak up some of Sharon's confidence, Dave steadied his nerves, reigning in his terror. He was sure his face was twisted, exposing his fear as he searched for the gumption to even look in the window.


He couldn't stand there and do nothing. He trusted Sharon had his back. He had to, even though he doubted she'd been in an actual situation like this before. At least she seemed to have more training for it. And he didn't want to lose her for being a wuss.

Bracing himself for the worst, he pressed his back against the wall and inched up it. With minimal exposure, he dared to sneak a peek in the window. Two men were stealing the food out of the vending machines. When he saw their faces, he did a double-take. His fear slipped away and he walked in despite Sharon's glare.

"Tariq? Hey man, what's up?"

Sharon followed him in.

Tariq jumped like a spooked rabbit. When he saw his co-worker, his shoulders relaxed a little, but his face stayed apprehensive with his eyes darting from Sharon to his accomplice and back to Dave.

"Dave? Oh, hey man. Nothing. We're just, uh…"

With another glance from Tariq, the other man pulled out a gun and pointed it at Dave and Sharon.

"We don't want any trouble," he said. Tariq's friend shook as he aimed his firearm. He didn't look too confident, which made him even more dangerous.

Dave jumped and threw his hands up over his head. "Neither do we." He definitely didn't want to die over some stale Twinkies and Doritos.

Sharon moved up next to him and trained her gun on the men. How did the situation turn drastic and deadly so fast? His heart raced faster than his brain. He didn't want anyone to get shot, so he tried reasoning with them to calm everyone down.

"Wait. There's no need for violence. We're going to fix things." He knew he was being extremely optimistic, but he needed both sides to believe it.

"Not any time soon. We know what happened. My brother said we should take what we can. Soon there won't be any food around. Sorry, man. It's family."

"It's not as bad as that. They'll get things back up and running soon." Dave wasn't so sure, but he wanted to talk his friend and his nervous looking brother out of their panicky reaction. How many other normally decent people would resort to stealing and worse?

While Tariq considered Dave's rationality, Nathan burst into the cafeteria.

"Hey guys. Guess what!"


Dave grabbed Sharon and dove to the floor under the tables.

Nathan howled in pain.

While they lied on the floor, Dave watched Tariq's brother escaped through a side door with its window broken out.

With a frown at Dave, Tariq ran after him. "Sorry, man."

Tires squealed, and they were gone.


Sharon and Dave rushed over to help Nathan who'd found a chair to plunk into. He was holding his arm, rocking back and forth in pain. Blood soaked his sleeve.

"They shot me! I can't believe they shot me! Was that Tariq?"

Dave couldn't believe it either. He'd never seen so much blood in real life, only in video games and movies.

"Yes, and his brother. They were looting the vending machines and whatever else they could find."

Sharon ripped Nathan's sleeve and looked at the wound on his arm.

"Well, it doesn't seem too bad. He just grazed you. You'll live. Dave, can you get me a towel or something so I can wrap this up?"


"I have a medical kit."

"We'll save those supplies in case something worse happens."

As Dave scampered into the kitchen, he wondered what could be worse than getting shot. The kitchen was a mess, completely ransacked with everything from the counters thrown all over. Dave found a clean dish towel and ran it back to Sharon.

Watching her work on his friend, Dave wondered if he was dreaming. How did this happen? Nathan got shot! Tariq always seemed so level-headed. What was happening? Dave was discovering that extreme situations revealed what a person was really made of. He hoped he could hold onto his convictions. He also hoped he didn't have to find out if he would.

Once Sharon tore up the towel and wrapped up Nathan's arm, the bleeding stopped. She spoke to Dave while she finished up.

"Thanks for covering me back there."

"Oh sure. It was a gut reaction. I hope I didn't hurt you."

She gazed into his eyes and smiled, warming him all over. "No. I'm fine."

She was wonderful and so calm in the intense circumstances. He admired her nerves of steel and felt closer to her with every passing minute.

Glancing at Nathan, Dave realized his friend was holding his own as well, much tougher than he expected. Even though he'd been shot, he wasn't whimpering about it. Dave felt like the slacker of the three and needed to brave up.

"So Nathan. What did you find out?"

"Huh?" He looked a little woozy as he watched Sharon clean up the remains of his bloody shirt.

"You came up to tell us something."

"Oh, right. Right! I was able to contact the local police. Their generators are working and their internet connections were reinforced like ours. They're broadcasting a general message to tell anyone who can hear them that they're working on fixing things and they should stay home and conserve their resources."

"That sounds promising."

"Too bad it's all lies to keep everyone from panicking. Things won't be back to the way they were any time soon. I also got through to some friends who told me what they know. Several cities lost their primary transformers which shut down some major power grids. Fortunately, rural areas farther out seem to be functional. From our combined calculations, the cities hit were New York, LA, Chicago, Miami and Dallas. Anything in a 200 mile radius of those cities was slammed and shut down."

"That's most of the country. Who could've done it?"

"Terrorists is the first assumption."

Taking in the new information, Dave cogitated over it. His strength was utilizing what was available to come up with solutions. And he wanted to show Sharon he wasn't useless. He wondered if those who planned the shutdown thought any farther than that. If they did, Dave and his friends would have to be on guard for organized terrorist activities as well as looters. He suddenly felt defenseless. He needed to find a gun of his own and practice with it. Plus, a safe place to plan a strategy. This was all so crazy!


While he helped Sharon get Nathan to his feet, Dave voiced his concerns.

"If Tariq and his brother's reactions are any indication, staying in the city is not the safest place. And the major transformers will be hard to replace, keeping us in the dark for a long time."

Nathan nodded. "Presley said those monsters take months to build. Probably longer without electricity. Then they have to find a way to jump start them. It could be a few years before power is back up to normal levels."

Sharon frowned. "People aren't going to wait years. They need to know what they can do in the meantime. All the basic necessities will be used up quickly. Fresh water will be limited to natural sources. Recovery and survival will be difficult and slow."

"Maybe that's where we can help. Nathan, does Presley have any government connections?"

"Yes, but I doubt he'd want to help them."


"They shot him down every time he presented the possibility of this scenario. Now he's probably thinking, I told you so and waiting for them to come crawling to him."

Sharon tilted her head. "Maybe we should come up with our own plan. Something in the middle of the extremes to help everyone?"

Dave's heart warmed at her logic and how closely their minds were in sync.

"Exactly. I have a few ideas, but we need to get some place safe. Some cars work and some don't, so those that do will be a coveted commodity."

Sharon perked up. "My aunt has a farm in Kentucky. That's where my shelter is."

Nathan did some calculating in his head.

"Most of Kentucky should be out of range of the shutdowns."

Dave smiled at Sharon. "Perfect."

As they gathered Nathan's things and headed to the car, Nathan groaned.

Sharon checked his wound. "Are you all right?"

He frowned. "Yeah. But we should go pick up Kitty. She's not going to like this." He nodded toward his wound.

Dave grinned. "At least you're alive. She'll be ecstatic."

They sped away from town to Nathan's house in the suburbs. When they pulled onto his street, Nathan's wife, a petite blonde, was addressing a large group of people using a bullhorn on her porch.

Nathan pulled over and ran out.

"Kitty, what are you doing? You're supposed to be in the basement."

She shoved the bullhorn under her arm.

"These people need our help. I was sharing the list with them."

Nathan took her elbow and guided her into the house. Dave and Sharon followed. 

"That's all well and good, but we need to think of ourselves and the baby first."

"Nathan!" She whipped her head around. "Dave, did he tell you? And you? Sharon, right? From the meetings?"

"Yes. Nice to meet you. And congratulations."

Nathan found a cloth grocery bag and filled it with food from the fridge.

"Sorry honey. They wormed it out of me."

Kitty rolled her eyes and leaned against the counter.

"Well, I couldn't just sit in that basement with everyone wondering what the heck was going on." When she saw him tearing through the cabinets, she furrowed her brow. "What the heck is going on?"

Then she saw his injury and pointed at it. "What happened to your arm?"

"Oh, that? It's nothing. He barely grazed me."

"You were shot? Oh my God!"

"I'm fine. I promise. Sharon fixed me up."

Kitty covered her mouth. Her eyes grew as big as light bulbs as she stared at her husband, frozen in shock.


Nathan didn't see her reaction as he worked. "Did you do as I asked? Are you packed?"

No response.

He turned to her. When he saw her condition, he grabbed her arms, looked into her eyes, and gently shook her.

"Kitty. Kitty. Are you packed?"

She melted and looked ready to cry, then pursed her lips and firmed, holding back her tears.


"Then we need to go. Dave, can you grab her bag? It should be in the basement."

"Sure." He ran downstairs, snatched it, and saw a rifle in the corner. He grabbed it too and ran back up.

Returning to her normal, determined self, Kitty asked more questions. "Why are we leaving? I thought we were going to stay here. Aren't they going to fix everything? Won't we be safe in our shelter?"

"Sure, but we don't know how long it will take. And how everyone else will react." He paused and gazed into her eyes again. "Just trust me, okay?"

Kitty searched all of their faces and saw their concern. "Okay."


They all glanced at each other and hurried back outside. Someone had broken a window in Nathan's car and was sitting in the driver's seat. Dave couldn't believe it. This was the suburbs!

Nathan yelled at the guy. "Hey, Jim! What are you doing?"

"Sorry, Nathan. I gotta go get my kid. He was at a sleepover. He's probably freaking out. You don't mind, do you?" The crazed man locked himself in.

"Jim, you have to get out."

As Dave and his friends converged on the car, the crowd closed in around them. Others started to complain about why they needed the car, and that quickly became incoherent shouting and arguing. A fight broke out on the lawn.

When Nathan got the door open, Jim threw a punch at him.

Sharon grabbed the guy's arm and pulled him out. As he landed on the pavement, Dave and his friends piled in, and Nathan started the car. The neighbors shouted and banged on the windows but Nathan kept going, slowly rolling through the crowd. Dave was glad the people moved out of the way or they might've gotten run over. Looking back, he couldn't believe the chaos and insane behavior.

"That went bad fast."

Kitty's face was white as she stared straight ahead. She was going through another wave of shock.

Nathan caressed her cheek. "Kitty, you okay?"

She frowned as she came out of it and turned to him.

"Nathan, what are we going to do?"

"Don't worry, Dave has a plan."

Dave's eyes widened. He wanted to make a plan, but with the pressure he couldn't think straight. Everything was spiraling into mass hysteria. Looking around at his friends, he knew he couldn't let them down.

"Of course I do."


When they reached the farm, dusk settled in the western sky.

Opening his eyes, Dave blinked as they took a turn down a country road. When he tried to sit up, he noticed his arm was asleep. So was Sharon, on his shoulder. He wasn't about to wake her just to get his circulation back. She looked so peaceful. And beautiful. Why did it take an apocalypse for him to find the girl of his dreams?

The quaint farmhouse sat on a small hill. The sun setting around it gave it a pink glow. A large lone oak stood in the front yard, and a barn stood firm in the background. The serene setting sent rest of the world's problems a million miles away.

As they drove up the driveway, a hound dog came bounding toward them barking at the strangers who didn't belong in his territory.

Sharon stirred at the sound and looked out the window. She smiled and stretched.

"That's just Jack. Don't worry about him. He's harmless."

Jack jumped up on Dave's door still barking fiercely. The dog's spit and breath smeared the window. Harmless. Sure.

A fifty-ish, rugged woman in jeans and a flannel shirt stepped onto the porch holding a shotgun cocked on her hip.

"Down, Jack. Come."

To Dave's relief, the dog instantly obeyed her call. The woman stood confidently and cradled the gun in her arms as she scrutinized the strange car and its contents. Sharon must've gotten her affinity for weapons from her aunt.

Sharon stepped out and stretched. "Hi, Aunt Jessie. This is Nathan and Kitty and Dave." She linked her arm through his as she said his name.

Immediately, Dave was transported into another reality. Not a care in the world. Just him and Sharon on a secluded farm.

Aunt Jessie nodded. "I had a feeling you'd be along soon and probably wouldn't be alone. I can't believe what they're saying. My television doesn't work so well. I get some news, the weather channel, and my food shows, but that's about all."

"News is up? What news?" Dave palmed his forehead. "I wonder if it's CNN. They're based in Atlanta--out of range of the cities that were hit!"

They rushed into Aunt Jessie's living room, and Sharon flipped on the news.

"The military is sending information and aid to the effected cities. They will be helping stores ration out what they have to avoid looting. Spreading the word of our current situation to those in the areas without power and communications is our top priority. The military can't do it alone. Citizens need to help. The best thing to do is remain calm."

Nathan started to pace. "They're going to need a better plan. Those EMPs crippled those cities. Transformers of that size aren't going to be up and running for years. They have a good starter plan for now, but they won't be able to sustain all those people for long. And they have no idea what's going on."

Sharon's aunt put her shotgun in a corner and sat down in a rocking chair. She shook her head.

"I don't see what all the fuss is about. All y'all need to deal with the facts. Stop worrying about what you don't have and make do with what you do have."

The older woman was so simple, yet so wise. She was right. Worrying would get them nowhere. No wonder Sharon had such a good head on her shoulders.

"I agree with Jessie."

Sharon smiled at Dave, while Nathan scrunched his brows. "You do?"

"Of course. The government needs a long-term plan for everyone while they wait for their lives to return to normal. They need a new normal. Getting people out of the cities is really the only way they'll be able to survive. With everything they've depended on blasted out of their lives, it's a devastating shock, but they'll have to come to grips with starting over from scratch."

"How would we convince anyone of that?" Kitty asked, not convinced. She crossed her arms and frowned at her down-home, back-country surroundings. Culture-shock was an understatement.

"Well, think about it. The stores will run out of food. Most farms will still function. But gas, and therefore transportation, will be limited and most likely run out as well. There's no way to provide food to the millions of people in the powerless cities."

Sharon nodded. "Not to mention water and waste. There won't be any functioning utilities or hospitals. If they stay, they'll turn on each other. Many could die waiting for help."

Aunt Jessie huffed. "It all sounds far-fetched to me. Who would want to live in a stinky, dirty city to begin with?" said the woman who was covered in dirt from planting seeds in the earth and shoveling animal refuse. "If any of 'em wanted to work my farm, I'd welcome the help. But they'd have to put their backs into it."

Again, the sage woman sparked an idea for Dave.

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