13 Epilogue Hope
Three months, two weeks, four days later and the majority of Cameron's wounds had healed. That much could be said of the physical ones. But there were some wounds that would take much longer to heal. He hated to admit that the pain had ebbed somewhat. Nastia and Robert were coping better, but however close they had been to Jaira, his Jaira, they were not as close as him.
Nastia had removed the sixty odd stitches, giving him a fresh collection of scars and cursed him as the "world's most stubborn, pigheaded patient any doctor could have the misfortune to have." And he'd actually laughed. It was the first time he'd ever laughed since the funeral and everyone around him released a breath that they didn't realize they had been holding.
But then again, Peter had been the one, to be of greatest help to Cameron, providing him with an outlet, to let everything out when he had shown up outside what had been their – Cameron and Jaira's – room in the Redding Inn, barely a week after the mass funeral service for the fifty-seven who had fallen in battle, "I just hope you know how to use Windows." It was all he said but Cameron knew what it was in reference too. Both men had made promises and Cameron kept to his promises, to Peter, and Jaira. After almost two years away from any computer system, he was surprised by how much he still remembered as he used both the keyboard and the mouse to fly through menus, folders and directories like he'd been working on a laptop yesterday.
Writers claim that out of every part of book, the beginning tends to be the hardest to write, and the end the easiest. Cameron found that he disagreed with that as his fingers hammered out the first sentence of twenty three chapters, "The car swerved hard and just narrowly avoided the burning vehicle in the middle of the road." The first sentence turned in to a paragraph.
It had taken Cameron only thirteen weeks to reach the epilogue of the book that detailed everything in from the first hints of Armageddon in Portland, to the rise and fall of Sparta, the result being the construction of the Fortress in a Portland Junkyard in ten chapters. Then he had written extensively on events in California from Parks Army Base to Redding, and the first war in a post apocalyptic world. Cameron's tale that he titled "Against a Dying World," was almost complete.
Four months after the war christened the "First War of Armageddon," the Fortress was repaired, her wounded crew had healed, and her fallen had been replaced. The wanderlust within Cameron awoke: It was time to return to the wilds of America to raid, salvage, supply and rebuild. Their final checks were routine, when they were asked if they would be willing to meet one of Redding's doctors. They agreed.
Doctor Karen Jennings was considered something of a genius, and many were convinced that she had been involved in high tech, cutting edge research before Armageddon. She was a stunningly beautiful woman who was known for both her beauty and intelligence but well known for using the later to keep men interested in the former at arm's length, "I presume that you know the basics about what causes the dead to walk?" she asked blunt and direct to the point, which made Robert and Nastia blink.
Cameron took it in stride, "Just the basics," he replied and waited when she said nothing. He hazarded a guess, "Probably a virus or bacteria that can be found in blood and saliva. Commonly spread through a bite, but infection is possible through contact with the tainted corpse or bodily fluid. Once infected, you've got between twelve and twenty four hours before you turn in to one of them."
She nodded, "At this point, I have nothing but unsupported, unsubstantiated but scientific theory." she said, "But based on what we've seen, I'm guessing it was some kind of research project that went, really, really wrong. Most likely it was some brain related research, perhaps trying to repair or restart brains damaged by trauma, disease or even both."
"Alzheimer or Parkinson's?" asked Nastia.
She nodded, "Something along those lines. But the human genome is incredibly complicated and we had barely begun to pierce the veil of secrecy around it. There's a chance, that about 1 in 100,000 people would be immune to this disease."
They blinked for a moment, digesting what she was saying, "You mean that somebody could have been bitten but not turn?"
"Yes," the tone was patronizing, and it was clear that talking to them was giving her a headache, "If you can bring in such a survivor then it might be possible to create a vaccine, or some kind of treatment." She shook her head, "Not a cure for those already infected, but something that could combat infection if administered immediately after exposure." She went to explain that such a thing was only a remote possibility.
She would need high end equipment and also a laboratory that would involve raids on research labs, hospitals and possibility universities to get whatever would be required, "We're planning a three month run," said Cameron, "When we get back, make sure you have a list of all the heavy hardware you'll need. In the mean time, smaller items we can pick up if you keep in touch by radio."
Cameron didn't stay long at the farewell party that night, opting to try to get some sleep. That failed, his feet seemed determined to get him somewhere, as he got dressed and started walking. It was just after dawn when he blinked and realized where he was, scant feet from where she lay. He knelt, resting one hand gently upon the tombstone. He studied it, and the wildflowers that already graced the stone. Her grave was the last one in its row, and in the last row of the cemetery. Over a hundred men and women now rested beneath the earth, every single one of them a hero.
His eyes traced the inscription on the tombstone, even as his fingers traced the outlined of the angel that graced the top half of the tombstone. His fingers descended lower to trace her name and the two dates upon the black marble. He stole a glance around him, running his fingers through the words, a comfort, and a balm of sorts for the wounds that still marred his soul. They were healing, and it would take time, lots of time, but he had the rest of his life for those wounds to heal, even though they would only heal fully once he was with her again.
"I miss you," he whispered, "Jaira, you and me… there was a lot that could have been, and all of it should have been. I know that you're in Heaven, that you can see me." He stood and looked down at her grave, and then over at the tree in the distance, where his carving had faded slightly, "You're with us in spirit and you watch over me and the others… albeit there are only three of us left, from Sparta." He looked down at the grave where she lay, now at peace with the carnage of the outside world, "Just do me a favor, if you're going to watch over us, make sure you watch over all six of us. We all need watching, and a Guardian Angel of sorts, especially when it's my turn to cook."
The footsteps were loud, obvious, and also very deliberate, "I'll talk to you next chance I get." He kissed the tombstone, "And I'll see you again when the time comes." He turned towards Robert, pulling a pair of sunglasses from the pocket of his vest, "Is is that time already?"
Robert simply nodded, "It's that time and we're all waiting on you," he paused, "Boss," he drew the word out, making it sound part sarcastic and part serious. Robert tossed it and Cameron caught the rifle with one hand and the clip with the other. He slapped the two together, and worked the bolt, chambering a single round before locking the safety and slinging the rifle across his back.
"Are you going to actually say anything to our trio of new recruits before we actually hit the open road?"
Cameron shrugged, "Do I need to say anything? Tanya Bannenberg is former LAPD SWAT. Specialized as a markswoman and had plenty of experience. Mitchell Myers is your average guy, decent shot and a bit of a mechanic. Joshua McNeil: Mechanic, medic, sniper, cook, and probably tax accountant. He's a jack of all trades."
The walk back to the Fortress was quiet. Neither of them had anything to say and Robert knew better than to fill the silence with noise. Peter stood by the gates, saying his farewells as Cameron walked up to him. The studied each other for a brief moment, and the exchanged a brief, manly hug that was more of a slap on the back, "In my room, on the table, next to printer, in the plastic folder. It's printed, and there is only one file on the Pc's desktop."
Peter blinked in confusion and then everything clicked in to place, "You mean?"
Cameron nodded and smiled as he climbed up, "Keep your end of the deal!" Cameron slapped the side of the Fortress, "Mount up!" he shouted as he grasped the handle of the heavy sliding door, "You better have it published by the time I get back!"
The door closed with a clang of metal on metal as he threw the bolts and locked the door. Some twenty meters ahead, the gates of Redding swung back smoothly on the well oiled hinges. A cheer went up from the residents, as the 625 horsepower engine gave off a deep throaty growl and then roar. Fifty feet of matte black and gun metal grey steel moved on its twenty four wheels through the gates. Robert blew three short blasts from the horn that were barely able to cut through the cheering that came from the gathered well wishers.
A new crew and new beginnings but no matter what would come to pass, they understood the big picture including who they fought, whether human or dead, and more importantly why they fought: For mankind to have a future in this world, in a war that may never end, against a dying world.