Thanks, guys! It's been fun. =)

85: Epilogue

Time passed. The sun and moon followed each other across the broad skies. Tides churned and receded in unceasing order, while the world ground steadily onward through space.

There were new magnetic poles after that last, desperate Core Mission; slightly shifted, but stronger than before. A few changes had to be made to the satellite GPS system and Tracy Island's private guidance network… John and Brains were extremely busy for awhile… but people swiftly adapted. Certain birds and migratory animals had it rougher, milling about in confusion when they arrived at the wrong nesting and calving sites, but they, too, settled down. Life is resilient.

…And so is malice. Gardens have serpents, apples have worms, and the Cell's core triumvirate lived on. Directionless as the terns and whales, at first, they soon joined forces with Red Path (a toxic enough organization without being spiked by the Hood's foul leavings). And there would be plenty of trouble to come.

XXX

Tracy Island-

Virgil awoke on Tuesday, exactly one year from the day that he first succumbed to the Cell. In all of that time he'd been nourished and maintained by machines; his muscles micro-electrically stimulated to keep them from atrophy.

Not that he knew this, at first. In his mind, he'd gone in a heartbeat from Thunderbird 1 to a hospital bed in his own room, back home. Only with beeping machinery, service mechs and life-support monitor screens all around him.

Okay… not a short nap, then. Question was (and Virgil stiffened with concern as the memories came flooding back) what had he done while not in control of himself? What harm had he caused?

None of the family was present to ask, at the moment, but as Virgil looked around himself, he saw evidence of many visits. Not just flowers, but snapshots and souvenirs of all that he'd missed.

Someone had placed a trio of wedding pictures on the nightstand next to his bed. Peering closer, Virgil saw John and that doctor of his… Gordon and TinTin… even Brains, of all people, smiling at the camera with a small, brunette woman he didn't recognize.

Taped to the wall was a rainbow of crayoned coloring pages, in two different childish scrawls. A poster, too, of Alan in full racing gear, standing beside a bright-red car plastered with decals and adverts.

"Next time, the Daytona 500!" someone had written across it in bold, black marker. Alan himself, most likely, to judge by the misshapen "D".

Classical piano music whispered through the air, each piece played in his mother's elegant, fiery style. From time to time the music would cease, as recorded voice updates told of family triumphs and happenings. Scott and dad, mostly, though Ricky had plenty to say about someone named "Janey".

Then there was Mr. Bear, perched on a seat at Virgil's bedside. Bought new for Scott by Granddad, that bear had been to cub-scout lock-ins and summertime visits to both sets of grandparents; gone to France (by accident) and been mailed to the South Pole (with a camera) by John. Now he was here, watching over God knows how long of a sleep.

Smiling a little, Virgil braced both hands upon the bed's metal rails and then levered himself into a sitting position. Sort of. More or less. Worked better when he just pressed the bed's head-raising feature, but you couldn't be expected to remember everything, first time out of a coma.

As soon as he changed its setting, the bed uttered a cheery sort of 'beep', and then sounded alerts all over the house. Minutes later, Virgil heard rushing footsteps and loud, hopeful voices. Then the bedroom door opened wide and life came flooding inside, in all of its messy and chaotic splendor.