WELL THIS IS IT! HERE WE GO! *****SADLY, I STILL OWN NOTHING BUT, MY OWN IMAGINATION AND HAVE MADE NOT A DIME ON THIS. THAT BEING SAID. REVIEWS ARE GOLDEN AND, AT LEAST IN MY OWN MIND, I AM A WEALTHY LADY!*********

July 3, 2046

Bethany Sophia Grimes was thirty one years old and had, only recently, left her Country for the first time. Now, a little over a week later, she was seeing land again and the anxiety rising in her chest was unexpected.

Bethany gripped and re-gripped the reflective metal of the railing on the upper deck and breathed deeply of the Atlantic air as she tried to calm her nerves. She felt sorry for poor Alice; she had been so sick the entire trip and, now, she was ill again. Bethany knew she was lucky that she'd acclimated easily to life on the large cruise ship; Marion had too; but, Alice, alas, was the one in three that just couldn't keep anything down.

Bethany sighed and closed her eyes. Leaning down, elbows on the railing, she rested her head in her hands and sent out a silent prayer that her Father was safe. She worried for him in her absence. He hadn't been the same since her mother died. He had become distant, took risks, and disappeared for days at a time but, he'd always come back for her; to her. Now, on this trip, she hoped he found a reason to come back from his hunting trips. Carl had promised he'd look after him while she was gone.

The ship lurched a little and Bethany opened her eyes. Lisbon was close. The Captain was beginning the manual navigation into port. A small smile played on her lips as she watched the building grow as the approached. 'If only Marius had lived to see this," she thought. Marius, her "quirky" Uncle, had given Bethany her first microscope at the tender age of nine. Her mother had taken her by the hand and led her deep into a missile silo to meet the eccentric savant in response to Bethany's school essay: "Living with the Dead; A Primer Guide to Viral Defense." The writing had been so far above Bethany's years that Mrs. Patterson, the K-5 instructor, had, rather rudely, insinuated that it had been written for Bethany by one of her parents.

Bethany had never seen her Mother get so mad.

She had known about Marius by reputation only. He saved people's lives. When people were bitten at the West Georgia development they were immediately rushed to Marius. Most died. But, if they were close enough, some didn't; some survived.

Marius had regarded her with hesitant contempt. Bethany smiled a little more widely at the memory. He had been humming to himself when they entered.

"Mare," her Mother had said to get his attention.

Marius had turned sharply, "Number Forty-Two, who did not die," Marius quipped.

"Carol," her Mother had corrected.

Marius nodded emphatically at this, "Carol," he replied.

"And, this is my Daughter; Bethany," Carol had finished while maneuvering Bethany to stand in front of her.

Marius had examined her critically.

"She wants to learn, about virus activation," her Mother had clarified.

At this information Marius had lit up and yanked Bethany by the shirt sleeve to a large microscope nearest the door. "If you want to learn," he had said, "you must watch."

Bethany remembered her first look at the microscopic world like it was yesterday. It had been her first glimpse into "why." Why the world was the way it was. Why. She couldn't help but think how ironic it was that it took looking at something so small to open her eyes to something so big.

A male voice crackled over the loud speaker informing deck passengers to return to their cabins so docking procedures could begin.

"Lisbon," Bethany breathed out loud. "God, please," Bethany paused trying to figure out what to figure out what exactly she was begging for. After a moment's thought she just repeated "please," and made her way back down to her cabin to collect her Aunt and Sister.

THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL

Daryl Dixon had arthritis. Of all the shit that could have caused him pain; fucking arthritis.

At sixty-nine he still smoked daily, despite the cough, and hunted every chance he got. He didn't really fit in, without Carol, around the prison so he spent his time "away," in the woods, where he truly felt at home. She, Carol, had passed "on," as Maggie put it, eight years ago. She was sixty-eight when she died, or so they estimated.

It was a stroke that took her. Two days after their daughter's marriage, to a MUCH OLDER (thanks for the role model Uncle Merle and Aunt Beth) Carl Grimes, Daryl had woken to a soft moan and, when he realized that his precious angel couldn't move the right side of her body, they had sent for Marion. Carol hadn't looked panicked. He didn't know how she had been so calm. In retrospect maybe she had known. She died, in his arms, shortly before Marion arrived. A soft, lopsided, smile on her lips her last, slurred, words were: "take care of each other."

Marion theorized that the blood clot causing the stroke had moved, caused an aneurism, and ruptured.

Painless

Daryl huffed in the warm summer air at the memory, all she had left him with was pain and joy; no in between. Not even Merle's death had hit him that hard. He expected Merle. Merle led a life of hard living, despite Beth's love, and, even though Merle had slowed down considerably in their fifteen years of marriage, his big brother's clock had been ticking long before the end of the world. On a hunting trip almost eight full years before Carol's death Daryl had sat, alone, with his brother while pain radiated through Merle's left side.

Daryl had tried to get Merle back to the West Georgia walls but, his brother wouldn't have it.

"You tell MJ that I died wrestling a bear," Merle whispered as he rested his head on the bark of a young aspen.

Daryl couldn't help but, chuckle a little.

"You tell that Angel of mine that the only reason I've lived this long, was 'fer her, an I'll be waitin' for 'er on the other side. Herschel said I'm saved 'in shit," Merle rasped through heaving breaths. "And, don't 'cha forget that ornery shit of an eldest," Merle had given the slightest smile at the mention of their favored firecracker of a daughter Margaret, born just days apart from Bethany. "Ya, tell her I love her more than breathin' but, if she really goes an joins the new militia 'fore school's done I'll haunt 'er ass forever."

Merle had died, next to that tree, only twenty, or so, minutes later. Daryl ran his buck knife through his brother's brainstem himself and then fashioned a makeshift cot to drag the body back. Beth hadn't screamed, just cried softly, when Daryl delivered Merle's message. Merle Jr. had spent the next week and a half telling all the children at his primer school how his father had died fighting a bear and, three months later, after she had graduated early, Margaret had signed on to the New Southern Militia.

Merle's death had hit him hard. Daryl had withdrawn but, he had had Carol. After Carol's death he only had Bethany. Their daughter, twenty-three at the time, was a mirror of his beloved. The way she moved, the way she spoke, the way she held her God-Damned fork, was all Carol. In retrospect he could have been a better Father but, every time he looked at Bethany all he saw was Carol. The joy he felt at witnessing Bethany's every accomplishment was only tempered by the pain he felt at witnessing them without his mate. It hurt his heart to admit it now but, somedays, he forgot that she lost a Mother the day he lost his wife.

When Bethany began to travel the South, collecting samples for her studies, Daryl began to hunt more and more until, one day, he realized that he was spending more time hunting then at the West Georgia Development. It was that day he packed his and Carol's cell and left the prison.

Afterward he only returned to visit with Bethany and deliver fresh game.

Daryl winced a little at the pain in his hands as he rubbed the swollen knuckles of his left hand with his right. He pulled on each of the digits individually and listened as joints popped. Looking out over the foothill he sighed as he watched the sunset.

The colors were lovely; magenta, fuchsia, and turquoise banded the horizon just past the tree line. A feeling of calm washed over Daryl Dixon in that moment. It was a painless wave of tranquility painted across his soul with the same divine dexterity that had created that sunset. Daryl flinched in surprise as he felt a slender arm band around his waist from behind. The smell of fresh primrose and daisies filled his nostrils. He turned his head with a start to see Carol's placid younger self resting her forehead against his shoulder.

"Been waitin' for you Pookie," Carol breathed with a dulcet smile.

Daryl held on tight to Carol's arm around his waist. This was real. This was actually happening. He squeezed her hand firmly and, in response, she intertwined her fingers with his.

"How," Daryl whispered. He brought her hand to his lips to kiss her palm and, in doing so, realized that his own swollen joints were now normal in size. The calluses that had riddled his hands were now smooth. The scars on his forearms from years of outdoor living were gone.

Carol worked Daryl, turning him in place to meet her gaze, until they were standing face to face. Her eyes were tranquil endless pools of blue and her skin seemed to glow slightly in the fading light. "How do you think, silly?" She whispered as she ran her hand along his jaw line.

Daryl closed his eyes and pulled her body flush to his. "I'm dead?" He whispered the question secretly hoping that the answer was 'yes' as the alternative was 'I'm crazy.'

"Don't think of it as dead," Carol answered him lightly, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. "Just think of it as home."

Daryl couldn't help himself any longer. He pulled Carol's face to hers and ravaged her mouth with eight years of need, loneliness, and a newly awakened sexual desire. When he pulled away he felt her calm mingle with his own. "I'm home," he whispered.

Carol pulled him towards the woods and Daryl began to pull away. "My walker," he started, "I don't want…"

"Now Baby Brother," Merle boomed as he walked out of the woods, "don't 'cha worry about that."

Daryl marveled at his older brother. Merle now had both hands, he walked with no pain, no scars, and his chest was full, shoulders back but, the most amazing thing was the medium sized black bear following this young Merle out of the woods.

Carol laughed lightly at the look on Daryl's face as Merle directed the bear to Daryl's lifeless body that had crumpled by his campsite. He turned his head away at the last moment when he realized what the bear was meant for. Carol pulled lightly on Daryl's arm again. "Come on," she said, "others are waiting."

Daryl looked back over his shoulder at his brother who was supervising the bear destroying his remains.

"But, Merle," Daryl started.

"Don't 'cha worry bought me," Merle barked with a laugh. "I'm waiting on someone myself but, I'll be there soon."

"It could be years," Daryl started.

Merle only grinned. "Eighteen years, three months, four days, and six hours; stuff works a little different here. My baby's gonna live a long life little brother but, here time goes different. I'm gonna be right here waiting till she's ready to go but, don't worry, I'll be right behind you."

With that Daryl, more than satisfied with Merle's response, walked with his Mate into the woods.

THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL

July 4th

Bethany rose early on the fourth of July. The hotel that had been arranged for the conference didn't have electricity but, the early morning sun was streaming through open curtains and she couldn't have slept even if it wasn't.

Alice groaned from the bed next to Bethany's and rubbed her eyes. "I swear to God, girl, it gets harder and harder to sleep away from home the older you get."

"Give me a break," Bethany replied cheerfully, "you're not even forty-five."

"Well then," Marion said opening the door from the adjoining room, "I'm fifty, do I get to say it's a pain to sleep away from home?"

Bethany made a face as she rifled through her suitcase in search of her 'presentation suit.'

"I already laid it out," Marion said as she covered Bethany's hand with hers. "So it wouldn't get

wrinkled."

Bethany took a steadying breath and let her hands still under her Aunt's. "I just wish Dad," she began before hearing her voice catch.

"Don't worry about it, now, child," Marion admonished lightly. "Your Dad knows you've run off to save the world and you know your Mother's watching you from above; besides Carl is looking out for your Father."

Bethany made another face. She knew Marion was right but, the problem was, even if her Husband knew where her Father was, which he usually didn't, there was no way her Husband could contain her Father. She sighed lightly. Bethany knew, eventually, her Father just wouldn't come home. She'd made peace with that. She only hoped that, when it happened, her Mother was there to show him the way on. At least they'd both been able to be in attendance at her wedding. Bethany closed her eyes willing her emotions back into check. This was a medical conference; time to be logical, time to be factual, time to convince the leaders of the new world that they should give her their resources…. "Oh, God," Bethany suddenly exclaimed and, with that, she ran to the bathroom to throw up before she was due downstairs for her speech.

THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL THE PROTOCOL

Franklin Pires adjusted the microphone in the large dining area of the Lisbon Port Sanctuary. He had been lucky, he knew, to get so many of the world's remaining medical professionals in one place at one time. As he looked around the room he took in the various flags; Germany, Spain, France had made a large showing, Scotland, England, and, surprisingly the tiny Switzerland had sent a representative. There were twenty six reps in all. He had invited over a hundred and expected ten or less. Traveling was still dangerous in their world and, most, countries were not willing to let their top medical minds travel for fear they would not come back.

Franklin didn't blame them. He was thrilled overall with the results.

Even more than the turnout Franklin was more over the moon when he heard back, via. telegram, from overseas. Bethany Grimes, the renowned virologist, who was at the forefront of research in the area of the plague that had taken their world, had dropped off the medical map eight years ago. Now, out of nowhere, she had agreed not only to present at his conference but, to reveal the culmination of her research. Research no one had heard about before now.

Franklin gauged the room. Most of the dignitaries and doctors were finished with their chicken and white coated waiters were lighting chandeliers at the edges of the room. He turned and gave a nod to Sonya Ramirez, the Sanctuary's activities and security director. She fiddled with something behind the podium and then gave Franklin the thumbs up. Franklin took a deep breath before speaking clearly into the battery operated microphone speaker system.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Franklin began. There was some soft murmuring around the room and clattering as forks were laid on plates and crystal water glasses were set down. "I would like to begin this conference by expressing my deep gratitude at the amount of personal risk each and every one of you took in coming here." There were more soft murmurs and nods around the room. Franklin gave a nervous smile. "Our first speaker of this three day conference," Franklin continued, "Is Bethany Sophia Grimes OR you may know her better as Bethany Sophia Dixon." The murmuring around the room got markedly louder.

"Mrs. Grimes," Franklin continued, "has been at the forefront of viral research since she was a young girl. You may recognize her name from the published thesis, "The Protocol," a combined work she made available to the world at the tender age of thirteen with her Uncle Marius Silverton. Many of you here today have utilized the step by step instructions in that manual to save a large population in your own countries." Franklin took a very deep breath and looked to Bethany, who appeared to be reviewing her notes, "So, without further ado, I would like you to give a warm welcome to Bethany Sophia Grimes; the first speaker at the first annual World Medical Conference."

The room was filled with polite applause as Bethany made her way to the stage. She much prefered the lab. Her hands shook slightly as she laid her notes on the podium and she thought, for all the world, that she might faint as she looked out of the small gathered crowd. She met the gaze of Alice and Marion, holding each other's hand in a sign of silent solidarity. Marion smiled and nodded wordlessly encouraging Bethany to begin.

Then it happened.

Bethany Grimes was a child of science, reason, facts but, in that moment of paralyzing fear at that podium she suddenly smelled wildflowers, leather, sweat, and biscuits. She knew in that split second, just like she knew the atomic weight of Sodium and that her husband loved her, she knew in her soul that her Father was dead and that he and her mother were there.

"Honored Guests," Bethany gave them her best smile, "thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. I'll get right to the point. My research has centered around one thing for the last eight years. When my Mother died; she didn't rise."

Twenty-six hands shot into the air.

Bethany smiled, "It was a mystery to us as well. One which I have succeeded in answering. I will have packets available to all of you in just a moment but, what you need to know is this; women who were treated with 'The Protocol' as published have, according to my field research, an eighty percent chance of not rising after death. It appears that those who suffered more severe bites, thereby receiving more of the microbial code-on for the virus, but, then survived, through treatment are those most likely to not rise. In these women a small amount of the mutated microbe remains. As you all well know, from Herr Meiser's paper on Microbial mutations and their impact on the human genome," Bethany took a moment to gesture to Herr Meiser sitting at the table reserved for German, "these mutated microbes can, in rare instances, be copied by faulty tRNA."

"In these instances, this information is passed on to the offspring of these woman as part of their genetic code."

Bethany mentally prepared herself to drop the bomb.

"In the past year I have succeeded in the isolation of the genetic material to produce an abundance of these mutated microbes. A saturation of these microbes will bind with active virus in healthy adults and, thusly, render the virus inurt."

Questions filled the room.

"Everybody," Bethany yelled into the microphone, "everybody, I'll get to everyone!"

The representative from Spain stood; "Are you telling us that you have found a cure?" His accent was almost too thick for Bethany to understand but, when she did a pang of pain hit her heart.

"No," Bethany made sure the word was clear. "I am not. You can not cure this. Once a victim of the virus is legally dead they can not be revived. I'm not here today to sell you snake oil. I need resources to fully test what I have and supplies to mass produce but, I do believe what I have to offer you is a viable solution to our problem."

"Forgive me," the Spanish dignitary said, confused, "my English is not that good. If this is not a cure what is it? Why would we give to you our resources?"

Bethany pursed her lips as she carefully unbuttoned the sleeve of her blouse. Her Father had gone through the roof when he'd seen it, screamed for two days, even though she'd insisted she knew it would work and, anyway, why would she test it on anyone else. When he'd found out Alice had followed suit to test 'non-offspring' treated immunities, he'd gone hunting for three weeks before returning. She'd known the risks but, both Bethany and Alice, knew they would need proof.

Alice stood and approached the podium brandishing her left forearm while Bethany held up her right. The pale candelabra light reflected eirly off the scars from the women's matching set of bites. Bethany leaned in close to the microphone; "Both bites you see here were sustained after a series of six injections of mutated microbial DNA. Titers were tested before and after exposure. Neither bite you see here was treated with 'The Protocol' and neither subject experienced high fever, hallucinations, or heart complications."

"You tested it on yourself," England's representative blurted.

"Yes," Bethany replied simply. "It is not a cure that I have found." Bethany took a steadying breath, "I've found the vaccine."

The room erupted into chaos.

THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE FOR READING. EVERY KIND WORD, REVIEW, AND PM HAS BEEN GREATLY APPRECIATED. I HOPE YOU ENJOYED READING MY LITTLE STORY AS MUCH AS I ENJOYED WRITING IT! SPECIAL THANKS TO ATHLETE GIRL FOR MY "METH" INSPIRATION AND VICKI H FOR ALWAYS HAVING SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE TO SAY! CRYSTAL, DARYLDIXON'SLOVER, AND SO MANY OTHERS THANK YOU AS WELL! WITHOUT YOU THIS STORY PROBABLY WOULD HAVE DIED AROUND CHAPTER FIVE.

YOU GUYS ROCK!

AND, AS ALWAYS, (TILL NEXT TIME ;)

CHEERS AND HAPPY WRITING!

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