Cassia leaned back from her desk with a profound sense of exhaustion and relief: the book was finished.
It was her third book, the final installment of the trilogy, and it had been tough going. The setting which had so excited her while writing the first book now seemed stale and bland; so did the hero, Aemon... and her heroine, the sorceress Mikala, had started picking up on her feelings. Never mind that Aemon was the rightful heir and the only hope for the future of the realm, never mind that he'd grown and developed over the course of the books, never mind that he had finally drawn the Sword of the Sidrohim and gathered an army to bring against the Black Priest. He was still a spoiled little brat of a prince, whiny and arrogant by turns. Every time he started bemoaning the fate that had robbed him of his parents, or brooding about the battle to come, Cassia - and, by extension, Mikala - found herself wanting to drop him down a well.
She could have forced it. Maybe she should have; her agent would certainly have been happier. But the story would have felt less true to her, so she didn't. Instead, she watched as Mikala's frustration grew; she watched Aemon continue his quest, oblivious to the alienation of his strongest ally and nominal love-interest; and she wrote it all down. The rebellion began, and Aemon led his troops into battle. He faced off against the Black Priest, blade to blade, while Mikala held back the worst of the enemy's powers. And when the battle was done and Aemon was safely on the throne, Mikala walked away - and Cassia wrote it all down.
...And now it was done. The story was resolved, the hero and heroine were triumphant - and wiser, if not happier. Cassia been typing on the laptop in her office, with the shades down and a single lamp for light; Ignore Everything And Keep Writing had been her mantra for the last few days. And it had worked.
So, now what? Food, first, she decided. Then call Mason and tell him the story is ready. Or as ready as I can get it, anyway. She rose from her desk, and stretched - and then yawned. What time is it, anyway?
She opened the door to hall. There was light at the far end, spilling in from the windows in the front room. Daytime, obviously. She detoured through the narrow kitchen, and stopped at the sink to splash water on her face. She glanced at the clock on the microwave, but it was blank.
She blinked at it, twice, but the little glowing numbers still weren't there. Weird. She tried the light switch, but nothing happened. "Power's out," she said aloud. That meant that the laptop had been running on battery power for some unknown amount of time. The lamp she'd been using was just a flexible LED light that plugged into the USB port, so it wouldn't have been affected by the power outage. Suddenly panicked, Cassia went back to her office and made sure she'd saved her work. Then she shut the laptop down, and unplugged it. She didn't want it damaged when the power came back on.
She went back to the living room and picked up her phone, which told her two things: first, that it was about eight-thirty in the morning; and second, that her phone had no signal. Probably the phone company having trouble with the network again, she thought, and tucked the phone back in her purse. Her apartment complex was frequently a dead zone for cellular service.
Well, that was fine. She needed food anyway. She'd take her bicycle, and go see if she could find an open restaurant. Her phone would probably work fine once she was away from the complex, too.
Cassia had just stepped out onto the balcony when she saw the people milling around on the grass below. The aimlessness of their directions and the peculiar jerkiness of their movements didn't register for a moment. Then she stopped and looked at them, seeing the torn clothes, the dark stains on mouths and hands, the shambling, stumbling, and limping. One woman was just a torso, dragging itself across the sidewalk by hands and elbows, trailing a long string of intestine behind it. That isn't possible. But she was seeing it.
The low building that housed the front office was a burned-out shell. Cassia vaguely remembered hearing sirens at one point while she was writing; how long ago had that been? A chapter or two... No, she had no idea. Civilization had collapsed around her, and Cassia hadn't noticed.
She'd been busy writing.
Tip o' the Hat to Martha Wells for the story idea.