Madison yawned and stretched, nestled in a mountain of white duvet, atop white sheets of the finest Egyptian cotton. Her hair fanned out on the pillow like a golden halo.
Click! Her phone mimicked the sound of a camera shutter as it took the photo.
Another perfect selfie. She wrote a quick good morning greeting to her fans and posted the photo to Instagram, garnished with filters and hashtags.
It was a wonderful life. Born wealthy; famous simply for being wealthy. The world envied her and everyone wanted to be her. Giving her followers these brief glimpses at her life of privilege was the least she could do for those pathetic wretches.
She switched the camera to video mode.
“Good morning fans! Madison Harding here. It’s another beautiful day, living the suite life at the luxurious… Fuck!”
The incoming call pop-up interrupted her video. She had forgotten to enable Do Not Disturb mode.
“What? I mean, hi Daddy.”
She had to be nice, even though he’d been such a prick last time they’d talked. It had taken him two weeks, but she knew he’d come around eventually.
“Hi, Daddy. Miss me?”
“Sure, honey. Just checking in. You doing ok?” Still no mention of the argument.
“Have you had time to think about my offer?”
“Reality TV? No, I already told you, you’re not doing that.”
He was a Wall Street tycoon with his sights set on politics. He thought reality television was trash and refused to invest a dime in anything of the sort. The first time she had asked, he had actually laughed at her. Now he was acting like nothing happened.
“Daddy, why won’t you help me? With your connections, the network will give me a show. Don’t you want me to be a star?”
“Listen, the reason I called, is that Dee is in L.A. I thought maybe the two of you could get together and do a spa day or something.”
It infuriated her the way he kept changing the subject.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep trying to make me bond with her.”
“You might be surprised how much you have in common.”
“You mean the fact that we’re almost the same age?”
“Don’t be dramatic. She’s ten years older than you. She’s my wife, and part of our family. I just wish you’d make an effort.”
“Well maybe I wish you’d make an effort too. To support what I want to do!”
“I do support you, Kitten. Why don’t you go to college? You could study business, or maybe fashion, and develop your own line. That’s something I’d be willing to invest in. But this television shit – it’s nothing but garbage.”
“You can’t tell me what to do. I’m an adult. I’m doing it with or without you. I just thought you’d be interested in a great investment opportunity.”
“This is not an opportunity. It’s just a bored little rich girl looking for attention.
“They’re calling me the new Paris Hilton! Do you understand what that means?”
“Yeah, it means I’m not the first parent to be embarrassed by his offspring. No daughter of mine is going to humiliate herself on camera to entertain a bunch of bottom-feeders.”
“Those ‘bottom-feeders’, as you call them, are my followers!” Madison shouted. “I am an Instagram influencer! Do you even know what that is? It means, when I use a brand, 60,000 other people want to buy it and use it too! Don’t you think that’s worth something?”
“Not to me it isn’t. One day you will know the difference between a good investment and a bad one, I hope. When that day comes, we’ll talk. Call Dee, will you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’m pretty busy, filming on location and all.” She knocked loudly on the tabletop. “Gotta go. My camera crew is here.” She ended the call without waiting for a reply.
She resisted the urge to hurl the phone across the room and flung it onto the bed instead.
The networks had turned her down. They said one rich girl wasn’t interesting enough to make a reality show, that large families had more drama. Bullshit. Fuck those Kardashians.
This solo shit was only temporary. She would get her own show, with or without Daddy’s help.
When he scoffed at her idea back in New York, she was furious. It was the first time he’d ever said no to her. Madison threw a tantrum and stormed off to Los Angeles, where she moved from one luxury hotel to another, filming herself enjoying their services and giving each place a rating. Her show, The Suite Life, would start in California, but she planned to work her way across America and eventually the world. All she had to do was build her social media following until the networks were begging her to sign.
She hired a freelance filmmaker to follow her around with a camera each day, and then uploaded videos to Instagram. Her subscription numbers were rising steadily, but she needed something big to go viral.
Madison showered and then ordered room service. Her massage wasn’t scheduled until noon; plenty of time to eat, purge and beautify herself for the camera. The routine was getting old. Maybe it was time for a new location.
Her camera guy arrived. She wished he looked more like a professional cameraman instead of just a grungy hipster, but he worked cheap and was willing to do whatever she wanted.
“You got yesterday’s clips edited, George?”
“It’s Gavin, and yes. You want to see before we upload?”
“Yeah, let’s take a look.”
Madison leaned over Gavin’s shoulder as he scanned through the footage from the past few days. It was all so boring. Massages. Shopping. Nightclubs. It was the same shit day after day. Her life was boring. Boring did not make for good television. She needed a hook; something compelling that would keep viewers glued to her video. Maybe she needed a new look, or a new location.
He had done a good job though, of editing the best stuff into short clips. She chose the ones she wanted and logged in to Instagram for him to upload.
Camera was rolling by the time the masseuse arrived. They filmed the massage, then her yoga workout.
Shit, this stuff is boring. I really need to spice this up if I’m going to make a show of it.
Another boring day of filming complete, Gavin shut the camera off. “So, we gonna call it a day?”
“Yeah, sure, whatev. I think we should go out tomorrow and find some excitement. Nothing happening in this place. I think it’s time to find a new location.”
“You want to view the footage now?”
“No, can you just put together a couple of short clips for me? I trust you. You’ve done a good job so far.”
“Glad to hear. I hate to mention it, but I didn’t get paid last night. I could really use the money.”
“Oh, sorry about that. The stupid app was down. I’ll send again right now.” Madison reached for her phone and tapped the screen. “Fuck my life! It still isn’t working. I’ll keep trying. You’ll get your money, I promise. I’ll give you double for making you wait. I won’t rip you off.”
I’ll see you tomorrow. Let’s get an early start, say ten am?”
As soon as Gavin left, Madison’s phone started to ring. She glanced at the call display.
“Not now, Dee. I’m busy.” she told the ringing phone. “Jesus, when are you old people going to learn to text?”
She tried the banking app again. Still nothing. She tried another, and then her credit cards. None of them worked. She tried calling the banks. She got a busy signal from all of them. Same with the credit card companies.
Everything was down.
Fuck you, Daddy!
If he thought he was going to force her to go home by cutting her off, he was in for a big surprise. She had been transferring funds to a secret account for years.
When the world governments made the switch to digital currency, physical cash was phased out and rendered obsolete. The new cryptocurrency, Imperium, was supposed to be one hundred percent safe, hacker-proof and guaranteed to never decrease in value. It was the basis for a new ironclad world economy. The timing was ideal. Use of cash was shunned during the pandemic, and corporations and individuals alike were eager for some kind of financial guarantee. With cryptocurrency’s rising popularity, the timing was perfect.
Of course, some were reluctant to relinquish their cash. Change was always scary, and they had just lived through the scare of their lives. There was always going to be the urge to hoard what people perceived as essential, whether it be toilet paper or cold hard cash.
As an added incentive, banks had offered to double the cash funds in all new Imperium accounts and triple conversions from cryptocurrencies except for Bitcoin, which was worth quadruple its cash value in Imperium. Bitcoin tanked and took the rest of the market with it, as investors traded their cryptos for profit in Imperium. The only problem was, once funds were converted to Imperium, there was no going back. Imperium couldn’t be traded for other currencies. Madison had taken advantage of the offer, converting the millions in her secret account to Imperium account, doubling her personal worth. She continued to use Daddy’s money, funneling a little bit at a time into her secret rainy day fund. If today was that rainy day, she had one hell of an umbrella.
The only problem was, her umbrella currently wouldn’t open.
She called her father.
No answer. She left a flurry of profanity on his voice mail.
Madison wanted food. She flopped onto the plush sofa and scrolled through her apps, trying to decide what to order. She settled on Chinese food. She placed the order, but the app wouldn’t accept payment. She tried a different app. Italian. It didn’t work either.
Fuck my life! Is anything going to work right today? Fine, then. She would have to settle for room service from the hotel. She ordered dinner and five bottles of wine and billed it to her room.
* * *
The next morning Madison woke to a pounding headache and a ringing in her ears. The hotel phone’s clamoring drove daggers through her skull. It was the front desk clerk.
“Miss Harding, this is a courtesy call to let you know your credit card has been declined. We’d like to give you the opportunity to provide another method of payment.”
“What do you mean, declined? Run it again. Do you know who my father is? I am literally a millionaire. You do not have to worry about payment. I could buy this fucking hotel!”
“Miss, we have run it several times. Perhaps you could call your bank or provide us with another card number?”
“Fine.” Madison read the numbers of another card into the phone, and then provided a third card for good measure. “Now stop bothering me!”
She slammed the phone down and flopped back onto the pillows, head throbbing.
A few minutes later the phone started ringing again. Madison didn’t answer. She buried the infernal thing under couch cushions and stumbled to the bathroom. She dumped three Tylenol into her shaking palm and swallowed them, scooping water from the faucet.
After a long, hot shower, she felt marginally better, but the headache lingered. She needed a power smoothie. She’d stop by the smoothie place once Gavin got there.
There was a knock at the door. She checked the peephole, expecting to see the front desk clerk.
It was Gavin.
“You’re early. I said ten.”
“Yeah, sorry. I was in the neighborhood. Hey listen, mind if I do yesterday’s clips now? I didn’t have access to any power last night. Some crazy shit going on out there right now.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatev. By the way, the banks are still down. I’m still trying to send your money.”
“It’s ok. I already had a feeling I might not be getting paid. It isn’t your fault. Everything’s down right now. It’s fucking chaos out there. I’ll make you a deal. How about if you don’t pay me for yesterday in exchange for a favor?”
“Ew. Don’t even.”
“No, nothing dirty. Well not really. Would you mind if I took a shower? I haven’t had a chance to yet.”
“Still ew, but yeah, go ahead.”
She shot a few selfies while Gavin was in the shower and posted to Instagram. At least some things were still working. She tried the banks again. Still nothing.
Gavin emerged from the bathroom, looking cleaner but still grungy. Maybe she should take him shopping for new clothes. They could do a makeover segment.
“You got anything to eat?” he asked.
“Just a fruit basket.”
“What about this?” He pointed to the room service cart.
“My leftovers from last night? Ew, no! You don’t want that! We can order something fresh.”
“I don’t mind,” Gavin said, helping himself to the leftovers. “What is this, zucchini noodles? Fucking Keto. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Help yourself to whatever in the mini-bar if you want. I don’t care.”
“Have you seen the news lately?”
“I never watch that shit.”
“Well you should. There’s something huge going on right now. All the banks are shut down. Money has disappeared. A LOT of money.” Gavin turned on the TV and found a newscast. “Check this shit out.”
The news report was telling everyone to remain calm, that everything was under control. The money would be restored soon.
“What the actual?” Madison said. “Is this shit for real?”
“They don’t know if it’s just a glitch or if it was hackers, but money is gone. Just vanished. Fucking digital money. I knew it was a bad idea. They forced it on us, and now look. We’re screwed.”
“I’m sure they’ll get it fixed. Money can’t just disappear. Ready to roll?
Gavin packed his laptop into his equipment bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. “Ready when you are.”
Madison instructed him on the way down in the elevator. “Ok, it’s just a regular day and I’m on my way to pick up a smoothie and then get a pedi. And then some shopping and we’ll see where it takes us. No matter what happens, keep rolling. Today we’re gonna shoot some kickass reality tv.”
The elevator doors opened and Madison click-clicked though the lobby with Gavin following closely on her red-soled stilletto heels, camera rolling.
“Miss Harding!” the desk clerk called. “Excuse me, I have a message for you!”
Shit. Not now.
Madison dismissed the clerk with a wave. “Later, Jeeves!. I have important shit to do. I’ll deal with it when I come back.” To the viewing audience she said, “Can you believe these people? Never a minute of peace.”
“Miss Harding, please! It’s urgent!”
“What?” Madison stomped over to the desk and snatched the slip of paper from the clerk’s hand.
She glanced down at the message and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, so urgent. Thanks, I guess.” She led Gavin through the front doors of the hotel. “Can you believe that shit? Daddy’s trying to make me be friends with his trophy wife,” she told the camera, but inwardly she felt relieved that it was only a message and not more bullshit about her credit cards.
They walked around the corner to the organic smoothie bar, but found it closed.
Madison heaved a dramatic sigh. “I guess Starbucks will have to do.”
Starbucks was a few doors down from the smoothie place, but it was also closed. In fact, everything was closed, up and down the street, both sides.
“What the actual fuck? How is everything closed? Is it like, Sunday or something?”
Gavin shook his head no. He wasn’t allowed to talk when they were rolling.
They continued, in search of someplace that was open and finding none. Eventually, they found themselves several blocks from the hotel, much farther than Madison had planned to walk.
“Why the hell didn’t we order a limo?” she muttered to herself. Her feet were starting to ache. Her footwear was not designed for looks, not distance. She looked around for a taxi, but none were in sight. In fact, there was a conspicuous absence of traffic on the normally busy street. “Something doesn’t feel right. What do you think?” She turned to Gavin for confirmation. He nodded agreement.
The sound of breaking glass caught their attention. Across the street, a man had just smashed the window of a jewelry store and was filling his pockets with anything he could reach.
Madison quickly positioned herself with the robbery in the background and motioned for Gavin to keep rolling.
“Omigawd! I can’t believe this! I’m just out here, trying to get a smoothie and BAM! This guy does a smash-and-grab! Where the fuck are the cops? And this isn’t even all of it. You hear that? Are those gunshots? I’m hearing actual gunshots. This is big.”
“Madison!” Gavin whispered, “Maybe we should get out of here. I don’t think it’s safe.”
“Shut up! I told you not to speak! Great, now we’re gonna have to cut that. Fuck. Keep rolling!”
Madison paused to allow room for a cut, then continued her performance. “A day in the life, Los Angeles. Something big is going on out here, and I’m going to find ou – ”
An explosion shattered the air and shook the ground beneath their feet. Smoke rose in the distance, from the direction they had come. “Oh. Em. Gee! What just happened? That’s right by the hotel! We gotta get back there, right now! C’mon!” She beckoned to Gavin, forgetting that he was supposed to be invisible.
They hurried toward the rising smoke, which was also the exact path back to the hotel.
When they were a couple of blocks away, the Holtmire Hotel came into view. The towering twelve story building was now half its previous height. The top floors were missing. The tenth floor penthouse Madison had occupied was nothing but jagged, smoldering rubble.
“What the shit…” Madison whispered. “Are you getting this?”
Gavin stood behind her, filming the carnage, doing his best to keep Madison in the shot.
“Excuse me, Miss? Can I ask where you’re going right now?” A police officer appeared out of nowhere.
“I mean, I was just going back to my hotel, but… what the hell?”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Miss. You will need to find someplace else to stay. The area is cordoned off.”
“There has been an explosion, and we need to clear the area until the bomb squad has done their job.”
“When will that be? I need to get back to my hotel. What about all my stuff? All my stuff is in that hotel room!”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Miss. If your belongings survived the fire, you will have to contact the owner of the hotel to arrange retrieval. It will be a while before anyone can go in there.”
“I can’t fucking believe this!” Madison turned to Gavin. “All my shit is gone! I mean, do you see that? The whole tenth floor is gone! No way anything survived that.”
“I hate to point out the obvious,” Gavin said, “But are you ignoring the fact that we could have been inside that place when it blew up? Do you have any idea how close we just came to getting killed?”
Madison’s jaw dropped. “Omigod! You’re so right! Holy shit. Whoa…”
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Gavin said, loudly enough for the cop to hear. “You can stay at my place.” He led her away until the police were out of sight. “What do you want to do now?” he asked.
“You have a car, don’t you?” Madison asked.
“Ok, let’s get it and hit the road.” Madison said.
“There’s a slight problem with that.”
“I’m parked inside one of the hotel lots. Also, I’m out of gas.”
“Ok, so let’s go and get it and then stop for gas,” Madison said.
“I don’t think any gas stations are open. You saw what it was like out there. The city is shutting down. And how would we pay for it anyway? You’re as broke as I am right now.”
“Shut up. No I’m not. But ok, right. What are we going to do?”
“One problem at a time. Let’s see if we can get to it first.”
Police presence was concentrated in front of the building, where the most damage had occurred.
“Get down!” Gavin ducked behind a parked car and yanked Madison down.
A cop sat in his car, but his attention was focused on the street to divert any oncoming traffic.
They skirted around to the rear of the building, using parked cars for cover.
“Where are we going?” Madison asked.
“There. The service lot.” Gavin pointed toward a parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence. The lot was filled with white catering vans. The gate was unlocked. They slipped inside unseen and took cover behind one of the vans.
“Where’s your car?”
Gavin pointed at a nondescript white van parked among the catering trucks. They scurried over to it. He unlocked the doors and they dove inside.
“Ok, go! Go!” Madison whispered, unsure why she was whispering.
“There’s one other problem.”
“I meant it when I said I’m out of gas. I mean, I’m out. Dead. I was running it to charge my camera batteries and it died. The tank is dry. I was waiting for you to pay me so I could buy more.”
“Are you saying it’s my fault? I didn’t mean – Shit, never mind. I’m sorry. What are we going to do?”
Gavin rummaged in the rear of the van and produced a cordless drill and a plastic funnel.
“Keep watch,” he told Madison.
Madison stood beside the van to act as lookout.
Gavin found a stack of bus pans beside the service entrance. He took one and crawled underneath one of the catering trucks. Madison heard the sound of the drill and then liquid poured out of the truck into the bus pan.
“Can you give me a hand?” Gavin asked.
“Um…sure. What do you need?”
“I just need you to hold the funnel so I don’t spill too much of the gas. It’s precious stuff.”
“Ok, I think I can manage that.”
Gavin placed the funnel into a hole in the side of the van. Madison was fascinated. She had never fueled up a car before.
“Just hold this here, and don’t let it fall out, no matter what.”
He lifted the bus pan and started pouring gas into the funnel. It smelled awful and some of it splashed onto Madison’s hands and clothing.
“Ew!” she squealed, letting go of the funnel. More fuel spilled, filling her shoes. “Fuck! These are Louboutins!”
“Please don’t let go. I’m trying not to spill too much, but this is awkward.”
“But it’s gross!” Madison whined, but she grabbed hold of the funnel and held it tightly.
No sooner had the last trickle of gas entered the tank, when a police car cruised slowly into the lot, lights flashing. Gavin flung the pan, funnel and drill into the back of the van and jumped behind the wheel. Madison jumped into the passenger seat.
The police car pulled up alongside.
“Sir, you aren’t supposed to be back here. The building has been evacuated.”
“Oh! I didn’t know. I just had to get my van. We’re leaving right now,” Gavin said.
“See that you do. Please leave the area as quickly as possible.”
Gavin left the lot via the rear exit, avoiding the chaos out front. He navigated around abandoned vehicles and found a street that seemed clear. When they were a safe distance away from the hotel, he pulled over and parked the van.
“Any idea where we should go?” he asked.
“How about your place?” Madison said.
“We’re in my place. We’re driving it.”
“Wait – you live in your van?”
“Yeah. This van is my home and my office. That’s why I was early this morning. I didn’t have gas to go anywhere, so I spent the night in the service lot.”
“Gosh, I’m so sorry about that. I couldn’t – ”
“I know. It’s ok. Look, I don’t want to scare you, but I think there is some really serious shit happening. And I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Money is gone. Buildings are blowing up, gunshots everywhere. I think it would be safer to get out of the city and find someplace quiet to hide out until things calm down. But that gas isn’t going to get us far. Any ideas?”
“Yes. I know where we can go. It’s secure, and a lot quieter than this.” She dug through her bag for the slip of paper the desk clerk had given her. “We’re going to Bel Air.”
“Bel Air? For real?”
“The Hotel Bel Air, to be exact.”
“We definitely have enough gas to get there. Are we going to have any problem getting in?”
“My stepmother is there. She’s already invited me.” Madison reached for her phone. “I guess I’d better give Princess a call and tell her we’re coming. Maybe she has some money I can borrow.” Madison entered the number and activated the speaker. “Hi, Dee? It’s Madison. Got your message. I need to speak to Daddy. Have you heard from him today?”
“No. I’ve been trying to reach him all day. He isn’t answering.” Dee sounded funny. Was she crying?
“I’m sure he’s just busy. He’ll call you.”
“Have you watched the news?”
“You know I don’t watch that shit, but yeah, something weird’s going on with the money. That’s why I want to talk to Daddy. Just in case he did something to my funds. You know, to make me go home.”
“It’s all gone.” Dee was definitely crying now.
“What do you mean, gone?”
“The money is gone. It’s all gone. Nobody knows why, but it’s all gone. Everywhere. Everyone’s money, all around the world.”
“Fuck off. No it isn’t. That’s impossible.”
“It’s on the news!” Dee shouted. “Jesus, girl, don’t you ever pay attention to anything besides yourself?”
“No need to be a cooze, Dee. I know you’re stressed, so I forgive you. But seriously, there’s no way all of our money can be gone. I mean, you must have something.”
“I don’t have anything. I don’t know what to do,” Dee sobbed.
“I’m sure it’s just temporary. They’ll fix it. Just stay calm.”
“I’m scared, Maddie. I’m stuck here, and people are acting real weird. I can’t get a limo or even a taxi. I was supposed to fly home today, but the airports are closed too. Everything shut down when the money disappeared.”
“Can I come there?”
“If you want, but you might be safer to stay where you are right now. Stay off the streets.”
“Too late, I’ve already checked out. Put my name on your guest list, I’m on my way. Oh, and I’m bringing a friend.”
Madison ended the call and sniffed her hands. The odor of gasoline permeated the van. “How do I get this smell off of me?”
“Soap and water, but mostly time. It tends to stick. Sorry about that. I have some wet wipes in the glove box. That might help.”
Madison opened the glove box and found the wet wipes. She scrubbed at her hands. “I can’t believe I lost all my shit. All my clothes!”
“At least you’re safe. You can always get more clothes.”
“Yeah, but what do I do in the meantime? My shoes are ruined and my top stinks.”
Gavin went into the back of the van and pulled a duffel bag from underneath the bed.
“If you want to change, you might find something in here.”
Madison joined him in the back. “What do you have here?”
“I was doing a music video for a band and the singer left some of her gear here. She’s about your size.”
Madison rummaged through the bag “Interesting… I might be able to do something with this. What kind of band? Military punk?”
“Kind of. Band called No Lube. I used to date the singer in college.”
“Wait – Oh my shit! You used to date Alexxxis Gash?”
“Yeah, back when her name was Alicia Miller.”
“Omigod! She is an underground queen! I would be honored to wear her clothes.” Madison glanced around. “Where can I change?”
“There’s a curtain here. I promise I won’t look.”
Gavin pulled the curtain across the rear section of the van. While Madison changed, he tried the radio, but found no music, just news broadcasts. Every station was talking about the missing money. Banks were closed. Hackers were suspected and experts were working to find a solution. They kept repeating the same message over and over: Don’t panic, everything is under control, blah…blah…
“It is fucked up out there,” he said. “Shit is going down.”
“No mention of the hotel,” Madison said. “I wonder what happened?”
“Same shit that always happens. People panic,” Gavin said.
The curtain opened and Madison emerged from the back in her new outfit.
Madison had exchanged her gas-soaked stiletto heels for a pair of military-style boots, knee-high and laced. She wore the same metallic pink mini skirt as before, but now wore a tattered camouflage t-shirt layered with a black mesh tank top. She accessorized with studded belts and chains, her blonde hair spilling over a headband fashioned from a black bandanna with skulls on it.
“Damn!” Gavin said, “You look like Apocalypse Barbie!”
“I like that!” Madison said. “Mind if I use it?”
“Be my guest.”
Gavin started the van and pulled away from the curb.
Madison gazed out the window as they drove. Evidence of looting and rioting was everywhere: smashed windows, burned cars.
“So you actually live in this thing?”
“Yeah, apartments are expensive. After college I thought I was going to make it big in the film industry, but it’s a lot harder than I thought. The freelance thing works, but it was a lot better before they got rid of the cash. I get ripped off a lot. Some people think they don’t have to pay because I’m not a big company. I used to make extra money as a street musician, but again – no more cash.”
“I hope you know I’m not trying to rip you off. I really can’t access my money.”
“I know what it’s like. I live my life from one paycheck to the next, and sometimes the pay isn’t there.”
“I can’t even imagine what that would be like,” Madison said.
“You get creative. When there’s no money, you learn how to improvise.” They passed one gas station, and then another. And another. All were closed. “See?” Gavin said, “Even if we had money right now, it looks like there’s no gas available.”
He was right. Nothing was open. Stores, gas stations – every business they passed was closed and shuttered. For the first time, Madison felt real fear. Up until then everything had felt surreal, like she was playing a role in a movie. The reality finally hit home.
What if her money really was gone? How would she survive?
Sunset Boulevard looked like a movie set; stores with windows boarded up; cars smashed and burning. They turned through the gates of Bel Air. The quiet streets of the elegant neighborhood were even quieter than usual. Nobody jogging or walking dogs. No gardeners working in the grounds of the elegant homes. They wound through the silent streets, wondering what awaited them. When they arrived at the Hotel Bel Air, no valet appeared to park their vehicle. Gavin found a space he hoped was far enough from the main entrance to be inconspicuous.
Dee was waiting for them at the front entrance. Madison had texted her to alert her of their arrival.
She ran to Madison and threw her arms around her. She sobbed onto Madison’s shoulder.
“I’m so relieved to see a friendly face. Maddie, I’m so scared! All the money’s gone, and I can’t get hold of Dennis.”
“I’ve been trying him too. Haven’t been able to get through.”
As Dee led them through the expansive lobby of the resort, Madison noticed a conspicuous absence of a desk clerk or any other staff, for that matter. When they were safely inside her suite, Dee locked the door and peered through the peephole to make sure they hadn’t been followed.
“Paranoid much, Dee?”
“You don’t understand, Maddie. It’s really scary. The place is so quiet. The hotel staff are just… gone, like they didn’t bother coming to work today. And people are acting weird. I even heard gunshots not far from here. What is happening? Why can’t I reach your father?” Dee looked at Gavin, as if noticing him for the first time.
“Dee, this is my friend Gavin. He’s my cameraman. And now my driver too, I guess. My hotel blew up and we had nowhere else to go.”
“Blew up? Oh, my god, honey! Are you ok?”
“Yes. Luckily we weren’t there at the time, but it was a close call.”
“I don’t know. There hasn’t been any news yet. All I know is the city is going insane out there. Fires, looting. People are panicking over this money thing.”
“But it’s just temporary, isn’t it? They have to fix it. They’re going to fix it, right?” Concern furrowed Dee’s Botox-infused face.
“I don’t know. I mean, I think so, right?” Madison said.
Dee’s eyes traveled up and down Madison’s outfit. “Do you want to borrow something to wear?”
“Thanks, but I’m good for now. I call this look the ‘Apocalypse Barbie’. It’s going to be my new look for my reality show while the shit is hitting the fan. Speaking of which, Gavin… we should be getting some of this.”
“On it.” Gavin unslung his ever-present equipment bag and produced his camera. He started rolling within minutes.
Madison posed for the camera.
“Madison Harding, AKA Apocalypse Barbie here. Shit is going down, folks! L.A. is shut down and shit is burning. My hotel blew up and I had to GTFO. I’m safe here in Bel Air, but who knows how long this is going to last…”
“I’m hungry,” Dee interrupted. “Have you guys eaten yet? I went to the restaurant earlier but it was closed. Maybe we could see if it’s open yet.”
“I’m down for that.” Madison motioned for Gavin to keep rolling. “Let’s go and see how this crisis has affected the luxurious Hotel Bel Air.”
They left the suite and made their way to the restaurant. The place was eerily quiet. They caught an occasional glimpse of a guest, but nobody spoke to them or met their eyes. That in itself wasn’t unusual; the wealthy had a tendency to keep to themselves, especially in a resort that prided itself on providing privacy to high-profile clientele.
“It’s still closed,” Dee said. “I don’t understand. It’s the middle of the day. What’s going on here?”
“I think I know,” Gavin said. “People don’t show up for work when they aren’t getting paid. Think about it. If the thing that happened to your bank accounts has happened everywhere, then this place has no money to pay its staff. The staff can’t buy gas to go to work, and so on. If the money is gone, everything will cease to function.”
“You’re right,” a voice said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it’s so quiet it’s hard not to hear.” The stranger was handsome, well-dressed, and fortyish. “Would you folks like to get a drink? I’m buying.” He laughed as if he’d just made a hilarious joke. “You know, given that we’re all currently broke.”
“What do you know about this?” Dee asked. “Mister…”
“Robert Sanchez.” he took Dee’s hand and kissed it gently. “And who might you be?”
Dee blushed and giggled like a teenager. “Deanne Harding, but you can call me Dee.” She took Robert’s arm. “Lead on, let’s get that drink.”
Madison exchanged a glance with Gavin. She had always wondered if Dee was faithful to her father. Now she had more doubts than ever.
Robert led them to a darkened lounge. It appeared to be closed as well; empty tables, no bartender. He went behind the bar and turned on some lights. “Sit wherever you like. Can I get you a drink?”
“Gin and tonic,” Dee said. “Is there anything to eat back there? I missed breakfast.”
Robert reached behind the bar and produced a bag of salted peanuts. “Will these do for an appetizer? If we have time later, I will cook you something amazing in that restaurant kitchen. For now, sandwiches will have to do.”
“I’d be delighted!” Dee batted her eyelashes at him.
“Omigod, ‘Mother’, flirt much?” Madison whispered to her.
“Whatever,” Dee whispered back. “There’s a lot you don’t know. I’ll catch you up later.”
Gavin ordered a beer and Madison a white wine. Robert Sanchez brought their drinks, and then disappeared into the kitchen. He returned carrying plates and a tray of sandwiches.
“I hope ham and cheese is ok. If any of you are vegan or gluten-free, I can find you something else.”
Gavin spoke for the rest of them. “These are great. Thanks!” He eagerly reached for a sandwich and devoured half of it in two bites.
Madison nudged him and nodded toward the camera. Gavin started filming, still chewing.
“Apocalypse Barbie here, and we are Day Two into whatever the fuck this is.” She stood and moved back to center herself in the shot. “I’ve traded my Louboutins for boots and abandoned my diet. I’m prepared to eat whatever is available for survival.” She reached over and picked up a sandwich. “Fuck Keto, it’s the apocalypse, folks! Do whatever you have to, and try to stay safe. I will post updates when I can.”
Robert returned with another round of drinks, including a beer for himself. He sat at the table and took a sandwich.
“Who are you?” Dee asked.
“I will explain that,” he said, “but first of all, I need to ask you to turn off the camera. You will understand why in a moment.”
Madison nodded to Gavin. He stopped filming and put the camera in his bag. Hands freed, he helped himself to another sandwich.
“Who are you?”
“I am a friend of the guy who runs this place, as well as a business associate. I was here on a routine visit when all hell broke loose. My friend wasn’t able to come in due to the obvious crisis; he stayed home to take care of his family. He asked me to keep an eye on things. In his absence, I’m de facto manager until further notice.”
“What do you know about what’s going on here?” Madison finished her glass of wine and poured another. Her hangover was gone, but at this rate, another loomed in her future.
“Not everything, but I have gotten some info from my head office in Barstow. Here’s what I can tell you. The world’s economy has collapsed. The Imperium has been victim of a hacker attack. They don’t know where it originated from, but it’s sophisticated, the work of someone who really knows their shit. The hackers released a virus that has outsmarted all of our so-called ‘experts’. It caught them completely unaware. The thing had infiltrated every banking system, every secure government system, every corner of the Internet before anyone even knew it was there. It has bypassed every security protocol. It’s as if the virus was created by the same person or persons who designed the security software. Right now they’re looking for disgruntled software developers as suspects. But it doesn’t really matter whether they find the ones responsible, because the damage has been done. It will be a long time before they can fix it, if they can fix it.”
“This wouldn’t have happened in the old days,” Gavin said. “If they hadn’t phased out cold hard cash, we’d have something to fall back on. Lots of people had cash stashed away, some even had vaults full of the stuff. Hell, the treasury was full of it. How the fuck can you stuff a mattress full of Imperium? We don’t even have Bitcoin to fall back on anymore because they crashed all the other cryptos so they could account for and tax every cent. And now look at us. They couldn’t even protect us from the most obvious threat.”
“True enough,” Sanchez said, “But here we are.”
“How do you know all this?” Madison asked.
“It’s my business to know.” Robert pulled a business card from his jacket pocket and handed it to Madison.
“What is ‘The Viva Group?’ It sounds like an investment thing,” Dee said, leaning over to read the name on the card.
“In a way, it is. It’s what they are investing in that is of interest to us.”
“Which is what?” Madison asked.
“Viva is a group of companies involved in a diverse number of projects, but the one that’s most important to us right now is the underground shelter network”
“The what now?”
“Ever since the Cold War era in the eighties, Viva has been constructing custom emergency shelters. While we do offer something for every budget, our biggest contracts have been with the wealthy. I’m talking large, luxurious and private. Our facility in Barstow has an entire community down there, under the desert. Stores, entertainment, even a fitness center with a pool. Our shareholders buy their spaces to ensure they have a safe place to go when the shit hits the fan. My job is to inspect each facility for readiness, order supplies and provide maintenance as needed. This place has one, which is why I’m here.”
“This place has an underground shelter?” Dee looked around, as though she might see a hidden entrance somewhere. “Where?”
“Deep within the Santa Monica mountains is an old eighties-era telecommunications hub. As analog communications were being replaced with digital, many of these properties went up for sale, and Viva bought them up. The goal was to create a network of self-sustaining safe survival shelters for people with the means to purchase a spot. Viva owns about twenty of these repurposed telecommunications hubs across the United States. The largest facilities are located in desert areas – California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, because of the availability of solar power. There’s also a massive bunker community out in the plains of South Dakota. The Bel Air facility isn’t actually on hotel property, but the hotel owners have paid for exclusive access. When they learned the country club up the road had its own exclusive shelter, they felt the need to provide a similar service for their guests, given that they have some very high-profile clientele. Imagine if disaster struck while members of the British Royal family were in the Presidential Suite. The hotel has a responsibility to keep them as safe as possible.”
“Is this all for real? I feel like I’m in a movie or something,” Madison said.
“It is real. And I don’t want to scare you, but it is probably going to get worse. There’s a good chance we will all be heading into that shelter soon. But considering the alternative, that’s good news.”
“Why would we need to go into the shelter? That’s like, for nukes or something.”
“That could happen. Things could get a lot worse before they get better. According to the intel I’ve gotten so far, the nature of this virus is that it targets numerical values, changing them to zero. That’s why the money is gone. All bank balances have dropped to zero. But it hasn’t stopped there. This virus doesn’t discriminate, and so far it’s proven to be unstoppable. Its sole function is to find numbers and change them to zero. And the thing is everywhere – not just banks. It’s on the Internet. Do you understand what that means? It means it’s going to keep looking for numbers and changing them to zero. One place you’ll find plenty of numbers is in software. Binary code – the root of all computer programming – is made up of ones and zeros. What do you think would happen if all those ones turned to zero? Nothing would work. Computers everywhere would crash. My associate in Barstow told me we will probably lose the cellular networks and eventually the Internet. Everything digital will disappear. The only communications that will be left will be analog.”
“Analog? What does that even mean?” Madison asked.
“You’re too young to remember, but it’s the way stuff used to work,” Gavin interjected. “TVs and radios had antennas. Ham radios and CBs used to be the way people communicated before computers and cell phones. Analog would be immune to this virus. If what this guy’s saying is true, it’s going to be all we have left, if digital systems go down.”
Sanchez chuckled. “Looks like my instinct was correct. I had a hunch this young man might be able to help me out. I need a tech guy. One that has some knowledge of analog systems.”
Gavin grinned. “It just so happens, I do.”
* * *
After they finished lunch, Sanchez led them down a staircase hidden inside a maintenance room at the rear of the building. The air grew ever cooler as they descended the concrete stairs, holding steel railings. The passage, lit with neat rows of LED lighting, seemed to lead away from the hotel, presumably into the heart of the mountain.
Sanchez’s voice echoed as they walked. “My job is to inspect the shelter and make sure supplies are stocked and up to date. There’s also a systems inspection, but I’m afraid there’s a bit of an issue. My tech guy was supposed to meet me here to take care of that end of things, but he’s stuck in Barstow since all the flights were grounded. I think it’s safe to say we are going to need that shelter soon, and it’s vital to get the communications systems up and running. Once the shelter is operational, we are going to have to bring the hotel guests down here. That could take some convincing. I have a feeling you ladies will be a lot of help when the time comes.”
“Ew! Don’t even! If you think we’re going to offer…like, favors or something? No. Just no. Fuck off with that. Eww!” Madison protested.
“No, no, I didn’t mean anything like that!” Sanchez laughed. “All I mean is that the guests are more likely to trust a mixed group of people instead of just some strange man asking them to follow him into a hole. You understand, don’t you?” He addressed Dee, “They know you belong here, and they’re more likely to listen to fellow hotel guests.”
“He makes a good point,” Gavin said. “The wealthy know their own kind. You’d have an easier time convincing them than I would.”
They reached a reinforced steel door that very much resembled a vault. Sanchez spun the dials to match the combination, tumblers clicked and the door swung open.
Madison took a deep breath. “Ok, now that makes me nervous. You know the combination to this place. What’s stopping you from locking us all in here and killing the shit out of us?”
“Trust,” Sanchez said. “Sorry, that’s all I got for you. Obviously this place has to have a lock, and obviously only those authorized to be here would have the combination. So I’m asking you, please trust me and please don’t kill me.”
Nervous laughter filled the dimly lit cavern.
With the CLICK of a switch, the room filled with light.
“Ohhhh!” Madison gasped. “It’s beautiful!”
It didn’t look like any bomb shelter they’d ever seen, partly because none of them had ever seen one except in movies. The room in which they stood resembled a plush nightclub, or the large living room of a mansion. Sectional couches filled the expansive room. Flat screen TVs adorned every wall. A bar at one end and restroom signs at the other.
“Come on, this way.” Sanchez led them through another door that led to a long hallway filled with doors. He opened the first door on the left and led them into what appeared to be a control room.
“I guess you could call this mission control,” Sanchez said.
“Wow!” Madison said, gazing around the room. “What is all this?”
Gavin grinned. “It’s Heaven.”
“Here’s where I’m totally useless,” Sanchez said. “My job is supply and organization. I’m no good with electronics. We need to get the broadcasting system up and running, and then contact my associate in Barstow. He’s standing by on multiple channels, and he can talk you through anything you’re not familiar with.”
“If it’s functional, I will get it working,” Gavin said. “Just give me a few minutes with it.”
“Take all the time you need,” Sanchez said. “Within reason, of course, you know, apocalypse and all. How about if I leave you to it and give the ladies the grand tour?”
“Mmhmm,” Gavin mumbled, already deeply engrossed in electronics.
Madison and Dee followed Sanchez down the hallway, past rows of numbered doors.
“It looks like a hotel,” Dee said.
“Well, essentially that’s what it is. A big, safe, underground hotel reserved exclusively for the guests and staff of the Hotel Bel Air. It has all the comforts of the main hotel, with a few minor differences. There’s only one pool, and the Jacuzzi tubs in the rooms are only big enough for two.”
“How far underground are we?” Madison asked. “Also, am I allowed to film any of this?”
“Not yet, but you’ll get a chance to film once we have secured all the guests. It’s not like you can upload anything from down here anyway, that is assuming the Internet is even still working.”
“It was working before we got here,” Madison said.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Sanchez said, “But if what my associate told me is true, we could lose it at any time.”
“Wait – so what’s going to happen to Instagram?” Madison asked. “I have fans on there!”
“I hate to break it to you, but Instagram may soon be a thing of the past.”
“Well fuck.” Madison pouted. “This day just keeps getting better.”
Sanchez led them through a set of swinging double doors into a gleaming stainless steel kitchen.
“This is our main kitchen. It supplies the dining room and room service. We have a couple of smaller ones in the bars, to make snacks and sandwiches.”
“Holy shit, it really is like a hotel!” Dee said.
“The idea was to make it as comfortable as possible, given the calibre of guests we have at the Bel Air. What if we had a disaster while the Royal family was here, or any number of celebrities and foreign dignitaries? We couldn’t very well cram them all into some kind of World War 2 bunker, now could we? We have to offer a level of luxury our guests are accustomed to.”
“Who is going to run all this stuff? The kitchens, the bars?” Dee asked.
“Normally we have plenty of staff available, who would be taking shelter along with the guests. But in this case, it seems nobody has come to work due to the fact that they aren’t being paid. It’s going to be a self-serve situation until we get organized and figure out who can do what.”
“Like being at home, minus the servants, I guess,” Dee said.
“Hey!” Gavin’s voice called from somewhere. “Where did you guys go?”
“Come on! It sounds like he’s got something.” Sanchez hurried back in the direction of the control room.
Gavin stood in the room, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “We have ignition!” He waved his hand at the components, which had all come to life. Lights blinked; screens and monitors now displayed images, and the sound of radio static crackled in the air.
“Who’s this associate you want to talk to? Let’s get him on the horn.”
“Let’s give it a shot.”
Gavin handed him a radio mic. “You know how to work one of these, right? Hold down the button to talk, release to listen. You talk and I’ll try different channels until we find him.”
“Viva Barstow, you copy?” He waited. The radio crackled.
Gavin turned the dial to another channel.
“Calling Viva Barstow, this is Bel Air, you copy?”
Gavin tried another channel. This time they heard something. He fine-tuned the radio. It sounded like an emergency broadcast, garbled by heavy static. A few words crackled through.
“…ake shelter… (garbled) …is not a drill…”
“What the actual?” Madison whispered. “Is this shit for real? Also, can I please get some of this shit on video?”
Sanchez waved his hand dismissively. “Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Film. It’s not like it’s going to make a difference, if that’s what I think it is.”
“Gavin?” Madison nudged him.
“A little busy,” he said, still fiddling with the dials. “You’re on your own for now, girl.”
Sanchez leaned over the instrument panel, mic in hand. “C’mon,” he whispered, more to the radio than to anyone else. “You’ve got to have something for me.”
A voice became audible beneath the static.
“Wait. What was that?” Gavin slowly moved the dial back, zeroing in on the sound.
“Viva, come in!”
“Sanchez, that you?” a man’s voice crackled over the radio.
“This is Rob Sanchez, Viva Bel Air,” Sanchez said.
“Rob! Finally, thank God! I’ve been trying you all night. This is Barstow.”
“Steve. Good to hear your voice,” Sanchez said.
“Do you have Bel Air secure? The guests?”
“Not yet. We just got the downstairs open and communications up and running.”
“You need to get everyone downstairs. Now! Lockdown protocol. Shit is going down.”
“What can you tell me, Steve?”
“Nukes. They’re coming. If they haven’t been fired yet, they will be. I can almost guarantee it. This virus, it is doing serious damage. People are panicking. Money is gone, the military is on high alert. They’re at DEFCON 1 and telling everyone to seek shelter. Get your guests down there and lock up. Find me on this channel when you’ve done that.”
* * *
Madison and Dee accompanied Sanchez back up the staircase to the hotel. Gavin stayed behind to monitor the radio channels. The guests would be more receptive to the women, Sanchez explained. They had little time to convince the guests to follow them down into the shelter. The wealthy had a tendency to recognize and trust their own kind.
The women covered the hotel from one end to the other, banging on doors, telling guests of the emergency and instructing them how to get to the shelter. Sanchez went to the front desk and repeated the instructions over the PA system.
An exodus of about 150 guests slowly filed down the long staircase and filled the shelter. The hotel hadn’t been full, given the recent difficulties with travel and finances. Several of the guests were regulars who were aware of the shelter’s existence, and they helped convince others who showed skepticism.
Sanchez and the women brought up the rear, satisfied that they had cleared the hotel of guests. As the last of the group filed into the main room of the shelter, Sanchez closed the heavy steel door with a heavy thud and spun the locks into place, eliciting alarmed gasps from some of the guests.
Madison scanned the room with her cell phone, filming the guests before switching to selfie mode.
“This is Madison Har – I mean, Apocalypse Barbie, coming to you from deep within the mountains below Bel Air. I’m not allowed to give the exact location of the shelter, but I can tell you that it is very exclusive, and very secure. I’m going to give you the inside tour and show you how the rich and famous survive the apocalypse.”
Gavin appeared and Madison aimed the camera at him. “This is a rare shot of Gavin, my cameraman, who you normally don’t see because, duh – he’s usually the one doing the filming.”
“Glad you made it back in time,” Gavin said. “You won’t believe what I heard on the radio.”
“Gavin?” a voice said, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Madison squealed. “OMIGAH! Folks, you aren’t going to believe who’s here! It’s Alexxxis Gash from No Lube! The queen of punk herself!”
A woman with a fiery red-tipped violet mane made her way to Gavin.
“Alexxxis Gash, It’s an honor to meet you,” Madison gushed. “I’m a huge fan. Is there anything you’d like to say to my viewers? I’m sure your fans would like to know that you’re alright.”
Alexxxis’ black-lined eyes moved slowly over Madison. “Gavin, is that twinkie wearing my boots?”
Gavin cleared his throat. “Um, yeah. Long story. Her shoes got wrecked and your stuff was still in my van. Kind of an emergency situation.”
Alexxxis shrugged. “Whatever. Probably an improvement on what she had on before.”
“Anyhow, that’s not important right now. Madison, where’s Sanchez? He needs to be brought up to speed on some shit.”
“Find Dee, you’ll find him. She’s like, tattooed herself to him or something.”
Gavin moved through the crowd, searching for Sanchez.
Madison turned to ask for an interview with Alexxxis Gash, but she had already wandered away. She shut the camera off to conserve battery and rushed to catch up with Gavin.
* * *
Back in the communications room, Gavin sat in front of the radio panel. Sanchez, Dee and Madison stood behind him.
He keyed the mic. “Barstow, this is Bel Air. Come in.” He stood and offered the seat to Sanchez. “Your friend Steve in Barstow has some important information for you.”
“Steve, this is Rob. Guests are downstairs and lockdown is complete. Can you tell me what the hell is going on out there?”
“It’s about as bad as it gets. Remember I told you how the virus is turning everything to zero? The money is gone. The stock market has tanked. Software is eroding and soon the Internet will be gone.”
“Yeah, we already established that. Everything digital is wiped out. That’s why we’ve switched to analog.”
“Right. Military and emergency broadcasts are now being transmitted solely over analog frequencies because that’s all that’s left. But that isn’t the worst of it.”
“Well then what is? Spill it, man.”
“Think about it, Rob. Zero. What else happens when it reaches zero?”
“Yes. Countdowns. They reached zero sometime when you were upstairs getting the guests. All the missiles have launched, everywhere.”
“What?” Dee squealed, grabbing Rob’s shoulders for support. “What do you mean, everywhere?”
“It means,” Gavin said, “That pretty much every country that has nukes has launched them against whatever targets they were aimed at.”
“But wait – what about places like North Korea? Surely the virus didn’t reach them. I mean, they don’t let anything in. And their launch shit is in like, Korean, not numbers, right?” Madison said.
“True, but it isn’t going to matter because nukes are already headed their way. And they will retaliate. So the end result will be, everyone bombs everyone.”
“Everyone? But…what about Daddy? Omigod, I have to call him! I have to try and warn him!”
“Honey,” Dee said, “I’ve been trying to call him all day. I couldn’t get through before, and that was when the cell network was still working. We won’t get through from here.”
“What about this radio thing? Can’t we reach him on there somehow?”
“If he had a radio, sure. But I doubt he has one,” Gavin said. “I’m sorry, Madison.”
* * *
Gavin had made a list of all the frequencies where he’d found traffic and Steve had given him some military channels to monitor.
As the night wore on, they listened. A military emergency channel reported events as they happened. The first nukes to hit were Russian, aimed at primary targets within the USA. Washington D.C. and the Pentagon were obliterated. Strikes followed in every major American city and known military base. It seemed the Russians had been telling the truth about their advanced super-fast missile. The Russian missiles reached the USA in half the time of the ones bound for Moscow. American missiles deployed to various other targets, including ones in the Middle East and North Korea. Pyongyang let loose with everything they had, taking out everything within their reach. Their missiles landed mostly in China, Japan, and Russia, and a good number of them fell short of their targets and landed in the ocean. Canadian cities nearest the US border sustained damage, but the Northern neighbor remained otherwise unscathed.
They didn’t feel the missile hit Los Angeles. The whole thing was rather anticlimactic. The robotic voice on the radio droned on and on, reciting the ever-growing list of destroyed cities. L.A. wasn’t on the list, and then suddenly it was. There was no way of knowing the extent of the damage, and absolutely no way anyone was going topside to find out. Robert Sanchez had activated the locks, which were timed and connected to Geiger counters near the surface. The door would remain locked for one year or until the sensors indicated safe radiation levels. If radiation remained high after one year, the doors would remain locked.
The shelter was designed to sustain up to 500 people for five years – the estimated number of staff and guests of the hotel when filled to capacity. Since no staff had been present in the hotel and occupancy was low, the shelter had more than enough space for the 150 occupants and supplies to spare. They could remain underground for a long time if need be.
* * *
Gavin didn’t answer.
Madison was exploring the media room while Gavin explored the airwaves wearing a headset.
The emergency channel droned on in the background, reciting its never ending list of destroyed cities.
Madison had pulled back a curtain, exposing a door.
“Hey! Gavin!” she said.
“Huh? What?” he pulled the headset down around his neck and turned to see what Madison wanted.
“Did you know this was here?” she asked.
“No, I never bothered to look back there. There was a bunch of shit in the way.”
Boxes of equipment had been stacked against that wall. After each box was explored, it was moved to a more orderly stack in the opposite corner, revealing the curtain Madison was now investigating.
Gavin joined her in front of the door.
“I wonder what’s in here,” she said.
“Only one way to find out.” He tried the knob and found it unlocked. He pushed the door open a crack. “It’s dark. I can’t see anything.” He ran his hand over the wall next to the doorway, hunting for a switch. He found the switch and flipped it. Light filled the room.
“Wow!” Madison leaned over his shoulder. “What is this?”
The pair entered the room. One wall was painted green and several rolled up screens were attached to the ceiling. Twin television cameras were positioned facing the green wall. The rest of the room was filled with electronic equipment, much like the radio room.
Gavin grinned at Madison. “It’s a television studio.”
“No fucking way! Can it broadcast?”
“I would assume so, if it’s anything like the radio control room. Let’s see what Sanchez knows about it.”
* * *
Sanchez confirmed that it was indeed a TV studio. “I thought I’d told you what was behind that door. I guess in all the excitement I forgot.”
“Can this thing actually broadcast?” Madison asked.
“Yes. I told you, this was an old telecommunications hub. Like all of our shelters, it’s equipped with a powerful transmitter. In the event of…well, this exact scenario, we have the ability to broadcast over the airwaves and anyone with an antenna within range can pick it up. We can also transmit a broadcast from one shelter to the next.”
“So we can record something and the people in the Barstow shelter could watch it?” Madison asked.
“Record, or broadcast live, and yes. Barstow could watch it. Barstow could send it to Vegas, Vegas could send it to Denver, and so on, until your broadcast reaches the east coast. We have shelters in sixteen states, all with a capacity of anywhere from 500 to several thousand people. The bunker community in South Dakota can hold up to 5000 people in individual bunkers. One of the largest underground shelters like this one is connected to our head office in Barstow.”
Madison’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “Do you know what this means? Gavin! This is it! My big break! My own reality show, on our very own network! We could film video clips and broadcast them to all of the shelters!”
“Would that sort of thing even be allowed?” Gavin asked.
Sanchez laughed. “I think at this point, we’re the ones making the rules. If you want to do a show, go ahead. It could be informative as well as entertaining. You could give news about the apocalypse, from the stuff we hear on the radio, and put your own twist on it. People are going to need a distraction with all that’s happened.”
“Gavin, do you think you could convince Alexxxis Gash to be a guest on the show? Maybe even play some music?”
“I could ask.”
Madison’s dream had finally come true. She would be the star of her very own reality TV show. The show would never be cancelled and the audience was captive. Arguably, it would be the best-rated show on television, given the other limited choices.
* * *
24 HOURS LATER:
“This is Madison Harding, the voice of the apocalypse, broadcasting live from a shelter somewhere in the Los Angeles area!” (Sanchez had warned her not to divulge the exact location of the shelter) “This is our first show, but be sure to tune in daily for news, survival and fashion tips and other important issues in today’s apocalypse. Our musical guest is Alexxxis Gash, star of one of my favorite punk bands, No Lube.” The camera panned over to Alexxxis, who replied with a quick riff on her guitar, and then back to Madison.
“Live, from LA, this is Apocalypse Barbie!”
Copyright © 2021 Mandy White
Featured in my newly released collection, Dysfictional 4: Apocalypse Aplenty
Now available worldwide in ebook and paperback