OUT OF THE ASHES
At Hall's insistence, they all turned in and caught some sleep. Stone had nothing left. He moved like a zombie, shuffling out of the Conference Room, saying nothing and proceeding down the curved corridor to his room. Leavitt walked with him and saw him in. She then turned to Hall and Newberry and said, "I'll get him in the morning and we'll let Rollins and the rest of the staff know." Hall nodded and then took Marsha to her room. He set the automatic alarm beside the bed, just as midnight Day Seven struck. He then stripped down to his underwear and got into the bed.
Marsha went to the bathroom. She came back a minute later, smiled lightly at Hall, and then took off her jumpsuit and crawled into bed with him. He held her, propped up on the pillows. Neither spoke for a while. "Where will we go?" he finally asked her. Without hesitation, she said "Nebraska." He laughed and said "What?" Marsha turned and looked at him. "Hemingford Home" "Okay? Sounds quaint," he shrugged, "You know somebody there?" She nodded. "Family?" "No, not exactly," she replied, but reiterated, "But that's where we have to go." Hall shrugged again. "Good a place as any," he said smiling. She smiled back.
"By the way," he said, "You were wrong." "About what?" "What you said in Autopsy when we examined Campion and his wife and kid….you're not a racist." She frowned slightly. "I don't know, Mark…it's just…" "No," he interrupted, "You forgot something." "What's that?" "A real racist…doesn't ever think they're a racist, or doesn't see anything wrong with being one." Hall stared intently in her eyes. "You're a good person, Marsha." She smiled at him again. Then she kissed him. Then they began making love to each other.
Stone finally fell to sleep after an hour in the bed. Then he dreamed. It was an old dream, familiar given his current position. It was the dream he had of his wife, laid over their couch in the living room from 1970 dead from "Andromeda". She was still in her late thirties, as she had been then, but instead of powdered blood, draining out of her broken arteries like sand through a pipe, now she was blackened and flush, nose oozing yellow mucous as a "Blue" victim would be. And he was in the dream. Walking towards her in a bio-protection suit, the same one he had worn at Piedmont twenty-odd years earlier. "You let her die, Stone!" came a voice. He turned and standing before him was Hall in his bio-suit, eyes glaring at Stone through the visor. "You let her…die!"
Stone screamed "No!" echoing in his own ears inside the helmet and rushed at "Hall". As he got closer, the figure changed into a smirking man in a Levi jacket, with a mane of blonde hair and high cowboy boots. He caught Stone by the arms and then with a fury, red eyes gleaming an inch from Stone's visor, yelled "YOU LET THEM ALL DIE!" And then Jeremy Stone woke up.
Leavitt had Mother Abigail again. She once again told Ruth to "get your friends and get up here to Nebraska", but with the additional warning, "But don't go through his land, child!" Leavitt understood without understanding how she understood. "Las Vegas." Mother Abigail nodded. "Steer well clear of it. His forces will be arriving there soon!" The dream ended peacefully, with the lilting sounds of the old woman's guitar playing.
Hall had no dreams and awoke the morning of Day Seven. Dressing, he made his way to the Conference Room. "One last meal of that god-awful protein crap," he said to himself. Stone caught up to him in the corridor. "Morning, Hall," Stone seemed almost…chipper. "Jeremy," he responded. Together they entered the room and Hall got two servings of the nutrient drink for them. Stone meanwhile called up Rollins on the video display.
Rollins looked like hell. His uniform was disheveled and his sleeplessness was even more pronounced. "Oh…Dr. Stone…sorry, sir," he began, "Yes?" "Rollins, on my authority, " Stone began slowly in a speech he had obviously prepared, "We're calling an end to the crises. Crack the doors, order your people to start evacuating." Rollins smiled. "You found the cure, sir?" Stone shook his head and started again slowly, "Frank…it's Frank, right?" Rollins nodded. "Frank, there is no cure. We're not going to find one and it's too late anyway. " The Army officer's shoulders slumped again. Stone continued. "By the time you and your people get to any major population centers, the virus will have probably played itself out. There won't be anybody left to infect you. Just to be sure you might want to spend the first day isolated." Rollins nodded almost without thought.
Final preparations were made for the lab evacuation. Fortunately even with the stolen vehicles, there were buses (which were used to shuttle personnel between "Wildfire" and Las Vegas) as well as another half dozen Humvees. Within two hours, the ninety-five or so lab personnel were filing up the service elevators to the ground level. Rollins was coordinating with McMahon, the handful of officers and non-comms, loading technicians and workers onto the buses. One by one they pulled out of the "EnviroCore" parking lot and trundled down the dirt road to the main one.
Nobody knew exactly where to go. Some insisted they wanted to return home to their families, though all knew they were most likely dead. Some wanted to proceed to Nellis or Indian Springs Air Force bases, figuring there might still be surviving uninfected military personnel who knew what was happening. Oddly, several wanted to go to Las Vegas, but could offer no explanation of why. A few others wanted to go to an even stranger locale…a small, almost unknown town in Nebraska. Newberry and Leavitt nodded knowingly at that group. The groups divided up by vehicle and began pulling out of the facility, heading in different directions.
Hall and Stone were the last ones out of the lab; Hall carrying a small bag filled with bottled waters and some rations. Stone carrying something wrapped in a towel, that Hall figured had to be a personal item or "one last notebook".
When they got to the elevator controls, Hall set down his bag and turned to Stone. He was pointing a 9mm pistol at Hall. Mark Hall stared at the weapon, aimed straight at his heart. "Jeremy, what the he…" Stone interrupted, "Give me your key, Hall." "My what?" "Give me your key," the older man repeated. Suddenly Hall realized what he was talking about…and realized what Stone was going to do.
"Jeremy," he began, "You don't have to do this." Stone shook his head with a slight smile. "You can live with me and Marsha and Ruth." "No thanks, Mark. If it's the end of civilization, then I'm going out with it." Hall tried to step forward and Stone pointed the gun at his head. He stopped and tried again. "Jeremy, the people who survive…they're going to need MDs. There's still diseases out there, stuff that's going to pop up without working sewers and pharmaceutical plants. Cholera, typhus, diphtheria." Stone continued to smile. "I'm sure you'll do a great job at helping them, Mark. But my mind's made up. " Then he stopped smiling. "And as an old friend, I'm going to give you a chance to get away with the women. But I swear to God, I'll kill you, take the key, and blow the whole place, killing me and them in the blast." Hall stared into the eyes of his old friend…and knew he meant every word.
Slowly he took the necklace and red key from around his neck. Stone motioned for him to toss it down the corridor behind him and Hall did. He backed up and still pointing the gun at Hall, grabbed the key and looped it over his neck. "I'll give you twenty minutes," Stone began, "The blast will be mostly contained underground…so that should give you plenty of distance if you start driving now." Hall tried again. "Jeremy, listen to me," he said, "This wasn't your fault. There's no reason for you to kill yourself." Jeremy Stone smiled. "Still trying to save people, huh, Mark? Well, take it from me…it's a wasted effort." He backed up to the entry to "Wildfire." "You've got twenty minutes. Starting now." And with that, he went through the door.
Hall watched the door indicator go from green to red. He then looked at his watch and hurriedly pressed the button on the service elevator. Reaching the surface, he ran across the parking lot to the last remaining Humvee. Marsha and Ruth were already loaded in it with the engine running for the air conditioning. He hopped in the driver's seat and put it in gear. "Wait, where's Stone?" Ruth yelled.
"He's not coming," Mark Hall stated bluntly. "WHAT?" Leavitt screamed, "What are the hell are you talking about, Hall. Stop this car!" But he had already peeled out of the gravel parking lot and was heading for the gate. "He's not coming, Ruth," Marsha Newberry confirmed. "What? What?" Ruth got quieter, but was still nearly hysterical, "What the fuck do you mean 'he's not coming'. Goddammit, Hall, stop this fucking car and go back for him." Hall ignored her, but Marsha in the backseat with Leavitt put her hand on the older woman's hand. "He's not coming, " she repeated quietly. Ruth Leavitt turned and stared at Newberry and opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing. She looked out the rear window as the "toxic waste facility" began to disappear behind them. "Jeremy" was the last sound she made for the next twenty minutes.
"Mark?" Marsha leaned forward, "Go due east. Don't go towards Vegas." Hall, still processing what Stone was going to do, was slightly confused. "But we can hit I-15 and make good time?" Newberry shook her head as he looked at her in the rearview mirror. "No…we need to stay away from Vegas. Trust me." Hall nodded and turned south on to Nevada Highway 95.
They drove on. With nineteen minutes expired, Hall figured they had covered maybe ten miles or more. The highway had climbed upward to a small ridge, so he pulled off to the side of the road and grabbed a pair of binoculars out of the glove box. The women joined him. "Wildfire" wasn't even visible. A slight shimmering of tarmac, barely a dot, that was the airfield where they had landed just a week ago, was the only sign on the horizon. He looked at his watch again…twenty minutes since he had left Stone in the access corridor.
Two more minutes passed and Hall almost thought Stone might have changed his mind. He was about to go back to the Hummer and turn on the base radio, thinking he might call from "Wildfire" and tell them to come back for him; when it happened. There was a low rumbling sound and peering through the binoculars, Hall could see a concentric wave of dust, barely visible on the horizon. The dust obscured the tarmac and looked like a small sandstorm. A moment later, the ground shook beneath them ever slightly. His eyes were locked on the spot, until he heard something behind him. And he turned to see the strangest sight he had seen in his life…Ruth Leavitt was crying.
They slowly got back in the Humvee and continued driving. Through northern Arizona and into New Mexico for the first day, stopping only to refill the gas tank and eat a quick meal. They spent the night in an empty motel near Santa Fe. That night, Marsha Newberry dreamed. Ruth Leavitt dreamed. And Mark Hall dreamed. And when they awoke, without saying a word about it to each other, they altered their plans…and started driving towards Boulder, Colorado.