Mission Control was in panic mode. The Grid had been throwing out errors for the last few hours and no one really understood the breadth of the situation. Although the World Ship’s automated drone response system was doing its best, the power distribution system had taken a beating.
“What’s the situation?” Elsie asked, looking over a readout she barely understood. “Did we get power to the Upper Level Plateau?”
“Yeah, power was restored there, but the electrical load shifted to another line, which also got damaged, and now both of those loads have been added to another line. It’s creating a cascading buildup and it’s going to trip the entire system!”
“If we force power outages on the overloaded lines, will that alleviate the effect?”
One engineer nodded. “That could do it. The drones have scoped the damage. It’s not terrible, but it’s like someone took a massive razer blade through the whole distribution box…”
“Another problem for another time. I can’t have our World Ship going dark. What do we need to do to stop the buildup?”
“Uh, sections two and three in the Lower Level… and Sections seven and eight in the Upper Level.”
“That includes Town,” Elsie said aloud, finally beginning to accept the situation. “How long do we have before we have to shut those power grids down?”
“We have less than ten minutes at current rates.”
“Drat,” she grumbled. “Try to call Rayland before it goes down.”
“We already tried. He’s not answering.”
“We need to act, Elsie!” the engineer shouted.
Elsie closed her eyes, took a moment, then nodded. “Okay. Go. Initiate a manual shut down to stop the system from overloading. We can try to send out a helicopter to let folks know what has happened.”
“That’s it,” another technician shouted. “Power outage initiated. Repair drones are commencing repairs now.”
“Now,” the lead electrical engineer, Aiden Gonell spoke up as the panic started to subside. “While we wait for repairs, maybe you should let the rest of us know what could cause that kind of damage in the first place.”
“Does Winter Village still have power?” Elsie asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t answer your question, Aiden, but I’ve been given a contact who supposedly can. I suspect it’s time we turn our attention to him while this problem sorts itself out.”
One moment, Bryan Steeles had been looking down on a delicious lemon drop cupcake with sweet buttercream icing. The next moment, he saw only darkness. There were a few screams of surprise from other customers in the Cake n’ Bake Cafe, so he assumed he hadn’t been suddenly struck with a sight impairment.
“Okay, everyone, calm down,” Julia Reynolds spoke up, her voice as calm and soothing as the very first time Bryan had heard it. “It looks like the lights went out. Give me a minute here… I’ve got some battery-powered stuff.”
Bryan recalled the communicator in his pocket, a device issued to him as Chief Financial Officer of Town. He pulled it out, and thankfully the screen exploded into a square of light that he was able to flash around the cafe so folks could at least see their hands in front of their faces.
“Thanks, Bryan,” Julia added, pulling out a large lantern and battery pack. “Aha, here we go. We use this for outdoor activities. I keep the battery charged… should be good to go any second here….”
The entire cafe was suddenly illuminated by the bright lantern. A few other folks seemed to be relaxing now that they at least had an idea of the situation. Bryan looked to his device and saw the network connection had gone down, so communication was out for now.
“Any insight on the cause?” Julia asked, sounding hopeful.
“Unfortunately, no,” Bryan replied. “Elsie is working at the Grid, so we can’t get a quick explanation from here. Man, I wish they hadn’t turned down Mission Control here, at least we could get some information from them.”
Bryan glanced up and saw Julia’s calm composure cracking. “Are you okay?”
“No,” she said, rushing over and wrapping her arms around him. “Oh, Bryan, don’t you understand? It’s always something. I just want to bake cupcakes and live my life!”
Bryan glanced around the room and saw Julia’s response was a shared emotion. Several customers nodded in agreement. At least one patron still sat at their table eating an eclair as though this was just another day.
That’s when Bryan had an idea.
“The lantern,” he said to Julia. “You said you use it for outdoor activities. Do you have any more?”
“A few,” she nodded, wiping away a tear. “I can put them up to light the fountain area out front.”
“Great,” Bryan said, smiling. “How about we throw a party? We can call it the Blackout Bash!”
Julia’s fear seemed to melt away, and she started to nod. “Yeah, that’s a great idea, Bryan. We can take the rest of my goods out to share. We can set up the fold-up tables I have in the back closet.”
Bryan looked around at the faces of the other customers. Some of them were from the Explorer Group, a few were ordinary citizens, and at least one of them was a refugee from another World Ship. He raised a brow as he looked at them all. “What do you all say? Want to help out? Anyone that does will get free snacks!”
A few customers joined in, and that momentum was all Bryan needed. A few minutes later he had everyone, even the seemingly bored eclair man, helping to set up tables, any battery-powered lights, and all of the food that Julia had prepared in the last two days.
By now, the main street was filling up with concerned citizens that had made their way out of their homes. Because the artificial light was gone, it was nearly pitch black in Town, so the appearance of Julia’s outdoor lanterns drew folks like moths to a flame.
Julia found a loudspeaker, and Bryan seized it in an instant, rushing outside into the street before powering it on and pointing up and down the road as he spoke.
“Hey, folks! The power’s out and you know what that means? It’s a Blackout Bash! That’s right. The Cake n’ Bake Cafe is celebrating with free snacks and sandwiches! If you want to join in, carefully navigate on over here! Supplies are limited, and the celebration ends when the power comes back!”
Inspiration. Free food always served as powerful inspiration.
More and more flashlights, lanterns, camping equipment, and other Explorers started to join the fray. A few folks cranked up their vehicles and turned on their headlights to help light up the street. The panic of why the lights had gone out quickly started to become drowned out by the excitement of an impromptu party. It wasn’t bad that it was so dark, because the darkness brought free cupcakes.
Bryan returned to the storefront where Julia was telling a few helpers where to put the next box of refrigerated goods. When she saw him approaching, she rushed over and once again wrapped him in her arms, but this time she was beaming from ear to ear. “Thank you,” she said. “Your idea is wonderful.”
“It’s nothing,” Bryan said, thankful for the darkness to mask his blush. “I just… well I just couldn’t stand to see you cry. I’ll do anything to make you happy, Julia.”
“Well, in that case…” she said smiling. “Would you consider marrying me, Mr. Steeles?”
Bryan’s heart started pounding in his chest and he exclaimed, “Yes!”
She hugged him as tightly as she could, and he returned the gesture, wrapping her up and squeezing tightly. She laughed aloud, and Bryan released her long enough to take her hand and pick up his loudspeaker.
“Hey, everyone!” his voice echoed. “Fun news! This Blackout Bash is also an Engagement Party! Julia Reynolds and I will be getting married!”
“About time!” someone shouted.
The rest of the crowd cheered. Bryan was elated, and he turned back to Julia, his new fiancee, and looked at her very seriously. “The only thing I need now… is a cupcake.”
An hour later, most of Town had gathered to join in the party. Rayland and Samantha had come over from Town Hall after taking the stairs down to the main level, something that Samantha pointed out was rather difficult to do in absolute darkness. Thankfully, they both had communicators, and after a few minutes of panicking, they realized they could use the screen to illuminate the room, as Bryan had done before.
Someone managed to find a battery-powered music player, and the local band had started playing some music, complete with poorly lit dancing and cheering from onlookers and fans alike.
Bryan barely noticed the familiar sound of the helicopter flying in from the Grid. He slipped away from the festivities long enough to watch the vehicle land just outside the stretch of buildings that made up the main street. A particular area had been constructed a while back for the helicopter to land without causing too much of a ruckus for the folks living here.
Elsie Lamarr jumped from the back of the aircraft, and Ruby Rose stepped out of the pilot’s chair at the front. The two of them approached and jumped back anxiously when they realized Bryan was there.
“Hey,” he said. “I thought I’d come to guide you to the party.”
“The party?” Ruby asked.
“Yeah, with the lights out, folks got a bit antsy, so Julia and I threw together a Blackout Bash to help keep everyone’s spirits up. It’s working, but it’s not permanent, so I’m hoping you’ve brought some good news?”
“I… didn’t expect that reaction,” Elsie said, looking and sounding confused.
“You assumed panic and chaos?” Bryan guessed. “Honestly, we’ve been through a lot in the last few years. The lights going out isn’t shocking compared to the other things we’ve experienced.”
Ruby chuckled. “The man’s got a point.”
“So, about that good news?” Bryan added.
“Right,” Elsie said. “The outage should be resolved in a few hours. It’ll take a little time for networking and other subsystems to come back up, but you’ll have a sun in the sky again shortly.”
“That’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to hear,” Bryan said, finally feeling a moment of relief. “Come on, let’s go tell the others.”
When Ruby Rose reached the crowd of partygoers, she couldn’t help but smile. It didn’t take long for folks to notice her arrival, and Flynn Brickshelm was one of the first to approach with raised eyebrows.
“I’m so proud,” Ruby said, smiling wide. “This… this is great.”
“You can thank Bryan for that.”
“I imagine some kind of recognition is in order.”
“He’s getting married, too.”
Flynn laughed. “Julia asked him to marry her. He really stood up today, and I think she decided he was too valuable to wait any longer.”
“I had assumed they’d never get to it,” Ruby said.
“Speaking of which…” Flynn gestured toward Jonathan Davis, busy working for the crowd and saying hello to folks while also spreading Elsie’s good news. Rayland was with him; the two of them never seemed to be far apart now that the election was getting closer. They were always arguing about something, though the live debate undermined many of their talking points. Ruby dared to think that the pair might be relieved by the power outage, as it took the limelight off of them for a moment.
She cut through the crowd, leaving Flynn behind, and cut John off before he could hit the next crowd of people. He smiled the moment he saw her, and he let Rayland run along to spread the word. The Mayor no doubt saw the political advantage of building a positive memory with so many folks. John probably knew that too, but he chose to stay to talk with her over all that, and that made her heart feel full.
“It’s a wonderful day, don’t you think?” John asked as she approached.
“All in all, I’d say it’s quite good,” she agreed. “Of course, I can’t see anything, so I suppose I don’t really know what’s going on at all.”
“I love you, Ruby Rose,” John said, stepping close. “I heard about Julia proposing to Bryan and all I could think was how much I wish I’d come up with the idea first.”
Ruby chuckled, thankful that he couldn’t see her blushing. “There’s always tomorrow.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” he said. “Though, I don’t know if I’m as confident as you.”
“Nor am I,” Elsie Lamarr interjected. She stepped up to them and looked around to make sure they were as isolated as they could get in this situation. “I’ll have to talk to Rayland about this as well, but since I have you here…”
“Is this about why the lights went out?” John asked.
“It is. I can’t speak to it, not yet. Ruby, I actually need you to run an errand.”
“Always. Where am I going?”
“Winter Village. We need to pick up someone that can shed some light on this.”
John was definitely curious now. He was about to ask who she intended to get from Winter Village when a blinding light burst into existence in the sky above them. The live band paused for a second, and more than a handful of folks groaned and winced as the return of the artificial sunlight arrived without warning.
“There we go,” Elsie said. “One crisis averted. Onto the next.”
“Do you want me to go now?” Ruby asked.
“Not yet,” Elsie said. “I need to inform Rayland and the rest of the town council. They all seem to be here, more or less, so I can get them organized while the festivities play out.”
“Shall we dance?” Ruby asked John as the band started to play again.
John nodded. “I’m down if you are.”
Bryan and Julia stood together near the door of the Cake n’ Bake Cafe and watched the citizens as they started to dance to the band’s music. Bryan felt like the last few hours had changed something in him, focused his desires, and reminded him what he really wanted out of life. When the sunlight had returned moments ago, he saw Julia basking in its glow, and he saw that she was the thing he cared about most. He would dedicate himself to her, from this day forward, and he was excited at the very idea.
“Hey, Bryan,” Julia spoke up. “It looks like some folks are heading home. I can’t imagine the party will last all that much longer. Would you want to dance with me?”
Bryan nodded. “Yeah, let’s dance.”
Julia grinned from ear to ear and grabbed his arm, quickly pulling him out into the square where others were throwing themselves around and cheering at the return of daylight. Bryan wasn’t sure how to dance, but he didn’t let that stop him.
Today was a day unlike any other, so he embraced it.
In fact, he realized he loved it.