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SHTF Fiction - The Burnout Chapter Four

Back at the hotel, there was still a line of people at the desk, but most had their suitcases and were trying to settle their bills with the front desk. The problem was the computers were not running so credit cards could not be run and it was compounded by the number of guests who wanted refunds because of the power outage.

Avoiding the desk and remembering she had not had breakfast, Patty went to the restaurant hoping there would be something available, electricity or not. It turned out she was in luck.

A young man in a busman's uniform directed her to a table, handed her a menu and was ready to take her order,

"What can I get you to drink ma'am?"

"Is there any coffee? If so, I would like coffee, some orange juice and a big glass of ice water to start."

"We have coffee, but it's from this morning. We are keeping it warm, but it's okay. We have the juice and plenty of ice for now. I wil be right back."

Patty could smell food being cooked and when she turned, she saw that the restaurant had a large open grill which was burning away. When the busman returned, she mentioned it,

"The grill seems to be working and nothing else is. That's good to see." she said

"Yes, it runs on gas and even though the lights are all out, the gas lines are still running. As long as it does, the cook is going to keep making food and the manager on duty told him to use up as much of the fresh food as possible before it spoils."

"If that's the case, let me help out. How about a garden omlette with egg whites, wheat toast if it can be done and a side of bacon?"

"We can't make the toast, but I have pancakes? Would you like to try those?"

"Sure, why not? With all the walking I have been doing, might as well blow the diet too. Thanks"

Patty downed the cold water before taking a sip of orange juice. What the server said about food concerned her. What would happen when the gas stopped? What about when the fresh food ran out? The hotel was reasonably full last night, what would all those people eat while they waited for help to arrive?

What about water? Patty had six bottles upstairs and a dozen more in her bag, but what about afterward? She remembered a story she had read on one of her email lists about a businessman from Seattle who was trapped in New Orleans during Katrina and how he survived in a hotel for four days.

From what she could recall, he was staying on a higher floor so the water never reached his location. He filled every container he had available with drinking water and procured supplies, including bleach, from a nearby store the night before the storm hit. He also took matches and candles from the hotel bar for light, ice from the ice machines to keep cool and for a water source and kept himself as reasonably clean as possible.

Patty took a small notebook from her purse and began to make a short list of supplies she thought she might need should she be trapped in the hotel with limited resources until Sunday.

After her breakfast arrived, Patty tried to enjoy each bite thinking it might be the last hot meal she would have. When the busman was nearby, she got his attention.

"I am sorry, I did not catch your name" she asked.

"Manuel, ma'am."

"Manuel, good, would it be possible if I could get some ice from you?"

"Yes ma'am, like a styrofoam cup to go? We have those.."

"No, I was thinking more like a bag of ice, like four or five pounds. Its going to be hot in my room and I was thinking about putting some in the bath this evening to cool off."

"I can get it for you, ma'am. I just have to find a bag, OK?"

"No rush, in fact, after I eat, I have to bring my things upstairs so I can come back down this later and pick it up if you are still here, alright?"

"Can I still charge the meal to my room? Great, here you go and this is for you," said Patty and she handed Manuel a five dollar bill.

The money bothered Patty as well. She always carried cash like her father did and since she was on a trip, had extra. Trying to not draw attention, she found she had ninety three dollars in her pocketbook and an additional two hundred hidden inside her purse. She wondered if she could find an ATM that was working or get more from somewhere else, like a bank.

Going to the front desk, Patty stood and in line for ten minutes before she could speak with one of the clerks, this time a very tired and harried man whose name tag said Stan.

"Yes ma'am, how can I help you? Are you checking out?"

"No actually, I plan on staying through the end of my stay unless something changes."

Patty's response actually brightened the express on the clerk's face.

"Say, is there anyway I can cash a check? With the power out, I am certain the ATMs are not working either and I could really use some extra cash for expense. Is that possible considering the situation?" she asked batting her eyelashes for effect.

"Of course, ma'am. Considering you are a guest and staying here, we can cash a check for up to two hundred dollars with proper ID. That is the maximum we may allow during a stay and in the event the funds are not available from your bank, we will charge it back to the credit card on file. Is that alright?" answered Stan.

"That is wonderful, Stan, thank you so much." Patty took out her check book and wrote a check for two hundred dollars and presented her drivers license. A few moments later she put the cash in her purse, thanked Stan and went out of the hotel once more and went directly to CVS.


An hour later and back in her room with the bellman's help, Patty unloaded her bags and changed into casual clothing. She had purchased several types of non-perishable foods, more bottled water, a small bottle of bleach, hand sanitizer, some first aid supplies, aspirin, cold medicine, sunscreen, and some gel inserts for her shoes.

She also picked up her big bag of ice and put it in the bathtub but did not take it out of the bag. She opend her mini bar and took out an ice cold bottle of water and replaced it with another. As she was drinking it, she noticed how warm the room had gotten since this morning and after most of the day without the air running.

She checked the window and found she could partially open it a few inches so the chance of a breeze and fresh air was a possibilty. Afterwards, Patty checked her suitcase, purse and laptop bags for more options and to see how she was covered.

Traveling as often as she did, Patty always carried some emergency neccessities such as back up feminine products and bathroom supplies. She also had an LED flashlight in her purse and a larger flashlight in her computer bag. She had an small folding umbrella, an emergency poncho, and a "space blanket" she purchased for less than two dollars on sale at the sporting goods store.

At the time, Patty had changed into her running clothes; shorts, a tshirt with a tank underneath, a ball cap with her hair in a pony tail and a pair of sneakers and ankle high socks. Besides her business clothing, she brought one pair of nice jeans with a casual top and a number of exercise outfits she preferred to wear during downtime.

Before she went back downstairs, Patty checked the water in the bathroom and found that the pressure was about half what is was this morning which made complete sense. There was no electricity to pump the water up to tanks higher in the hotel. Armed with this information, she removed the ice from the tub, stopped it and turned on the water. It took about twenty minutes, but she filled the tub three quarters of the way and turned off the tap. She then put the bag of ice in the sink.

After going back down the seven flights of stairs, she arrived in the lobby and saw Lamar sitting at a table with a young man who had littered the table top with opened cell phone cases and small tools.

"What you doing Lamar, trying to get your phone working?" asked Patty.

"Good to see you Patty, this is my new friend Alphonse Shrader. He is an sales support engineer for an contract manufacturer in Litle Rock and he knows all about electronic stuff. Alphonse, this is Patty Valdez. Have a seat, Patty." said Lamar pulling a chair out for Patty.

"Patty, nice to meet you, although I wish it were under better circumstances." said Alphonse. He was slight build, with light colored hair and dressed in business casual clothing. He could not have been more than twenty five if he was a day.

"You can say that again, Alphonse. So what are you working on there?" replied Patty.

"Patty, I took my phone and Lamar's apart trying to see what we got here. What's interesting is the battery is still charged it appears, but a few key components are no longer functional. What's more, is it looks like some of the components overheated as there is clearly some warping here and here." Alphonse said as he pointed at various components.

"That interesting. Earlier today i was on my phone when it went out and I could have sworn I heard a slight sizzling sound and smelled something burning." said Patty.

"What it looks like is we had some sort of singular event which superheated electronic components, even those in cars, personal electronics and infrastructure control mechanisms and which cascaded to the point we are at now." said Alphonse.

"So how likely is that this can be fixed? I mean I would like to get my phone working so I can call home and work. Would they be able to fix it at the store where I bought it or do I have to send it in?" asked Lamar.

"You make the assumption this did not happen everywhere else and that spare parts were not effected either," said a Alphonse.

"So you mean what we are experiencing could be everywhere else? Even back home in Texas?" Patty said in a low, but urgent voice.

"I am afraid so. Experts hypothosized that similar results might happen with sunspots, mass ejections from the sun or even by the use of nuclear powered pulse weapons. The idea was that a burst of energy would overload and blow out integrated circuits. In this case, we have some energy burst which burned out circuits and may have something to do with how it was carried in the atmoshere or other conditions, I don't know. What I do know is a mass burst of energy or a continual burst is subject to the same laws of physics as everything else." Alphonse said somberly.

"So what do we do? If this affected computers on planes as well as cars and buses, how will we get home? What is everyone supposed to do? Just go hitch a horse to wagon and pretend we live in the seventeenth century and there are no longer computers or electricity?" asked Patty.

"Maybe. All I know is as soon as I can figure out the 'how', I am getting our of here and back home. Most of the people in this city and others will sit back for a few days waiting for someone to do something, but once food runs low and the water stops flowing, expect trouble. I am." replied Alphonse.

"Surely the government will do something," said Lamar. "I mean we can't have anarchy in the streets can we?"

"Let me ask you this then, Lamar. How many police officers have you seen so far? How many fire trucks? Have you been able to call 911? Have you heard any helicopters flying over? Any sirens? Have you received any instructions about what to do from the Internet? Radio? Television?" asked Alphonse.

Patty sat back and took it all in. She needed to get home to Elena as soon as possible, she just needed to figure out the best way.

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