"Hey," she said, smiling. "You're still here."
He smiled back. "Of course."
"I was kind of worried this was going to be awkward."
"What? This?" He laughed. "I think this is one of the lest awkward, um, ones of these I've ever had."
"One of these?"
"Yeah. I'm not entirely sure what to call it. I mean, we weren't on a date, we didn't have sex, but...well...here we are."
She reached up and stroked his right cheek, then kissed him on the left. "Plenty of time to worry about that later," she said. "But I believe you promised me that you'd be taking me out today."
"That I did."
* * *
There wasn't much going on in their little corner of suburban Chicago. Things seemed to be slowly returning to normal, but it looked like there was a long way to go. Some shops were open and engaging in desultory trading, bartering in kind as much as, if not more than, dealing in cash. People seemed to trust that cash was still good, but at the moment it was less useful than getting goods in trade.
"This is sad," Dawn said after they'd looked in their dozenth darkened window. "I mean, this is really sad."
"I'm guessing it'll be back," Rob said. "At least it doesn't look like there's been much looting."
"Well," she smiled up at him, "You didn't get to town until yesterday."
"I'm sure you'll have the problem fixed by the weekend." She slipped her arm around his waist and gave him a squeeze. It softened the blow considerably.
"I think I see a big rock over there," he laughed and put his arm around her. "I could show you how it's done."
"So should I feel honored that you decided not to break my window?"
"Nah. I just don't have time to teach you how to pick locks. It's easier for rookies to just throw something heavy."
"How about we just go over to that bar over there?" she pointed down the street.
"You think it's actually open?"
"Looks like it."
He checked his watch. "Well, it is nearly half past noon. And I'm pretty sure we don't have to be anywhere. Let's start drinking."
"Cool," she looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "Colin didn't drink and wouldn't have the stuff in his house. I miss it."
"Ooh, that's rough. I think I'd kill myself if I had to spend two weeks stuck in a house without beer."
"It's my own fault."
"True. Let's go help you repent."
They walked down to the bar. It was open for business and occupied by a few people who obviously didn't have anywhere else to be. They ignored the tables and took a pair of seats at the bar.
"Menus?" the bartender asked, "Or just here for the ambiance?" he jerked his head towards a sullen pair at the far end of the room.
"Menus would be good," Rob said. "What do you have?"
"Pretty much anything 'cept the fish and anything that needs tomatoes."
"You take cash?"
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Cash? Of course. Where do you think we are?"
"You a runner?"
The bartender nodded. "Ah. Yeah, civilization's still here. Best get used to it."
"Hey," Dawn cut in, "Turn that TV up."
There was a TV over the bar that had been playing a re-run of Two and a Half Men on mute. It had switched to a view of a pair of anchors sitting in a studio somewhere. The bartender grabbed a remote and turned the volume on."
"...disturbing video from the temporary U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It shows the new Secretary-General Nicholae Carpathia's first address to the Security Council. The video was uploaded from a camera phone and no one is sure of the source."
The scene shifted to the middle of a grainy, low-fi video. The camera was behind the speaker, pointed more or less at the main table behind which sat the Security Council.
"We must unify to face this threat," the Secretary General was saying. "It is something that is much larger than the petty struggles that have so long divided us. I propose, therefore, that we take a first, symbolic step. We must disband the religions of the world and create a single, unified belief that all people can see, understand, and appreciate."
"What?" The Chinese ambassador stood, face flushed with rage. "You presume to come before this body with promises of assistance and this is what you give us? This...this...I do not even know what to say." The ambassador paused and took a deep breath. "China does not have an official state religion. It is an insult to suggest that we must have one now."
"I believe," Carpathia's voice was quiet, measured, "That you are mistaken in your assessment of the situation. You will go to your government and you will suggest that they comply with my suggestions. There can be no other way."
The Chinese ambassador suddenly seemed to deflate. "Y-yes. I will do as you say," he said mechanically, nodding. Then he sat down.
"Wait," the Russian ambassador stood. "This is foolishness. Even if you do convince the Chinese, Russia will not stand for this." He stopped. For the next several seconds he seemed to be listening to something, but no one was speaking. The ambassador nodded several times, then spoke again. "Ah, yes, I see," he said. "I will go to my government and suggest that they back your proposal."
The American ambassador stood next. "Perhaps we should propose additional measures."
"And what would those be?" Carpathia asked.
"I just had the thought that maybe we should consider drafting a plan to turn military control over to the United Nations. We are not safe as long as the world is an armed camp."
"Why that sounds like a wonderful idea," Carpathia replied. "I do not think I could have said it better myself."
"I second that motion," the British ambassador said.
The video abruptly ended. Rob, Dawn, and the bartender sat in silence, staring at the blank screen. Dawn was the first to find her voice.
"What the hell was that?"