The last bastion of the.., p.70
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       The Last Bastion of the Living, p.70
 

           Rhiannon Frater
Page 70

 

  “He’s a prick,” Caitlyn said, disapproval in her voice.

  “Yes, but it’s better to have an official elected by the people, than a dictatorship,” Commandant Pierce reminded her.

  “So no one is going to care about Vanguard Martinez and her people? That they were slaughtered trying to save us?” Caitlyn shook her head. “I don’t believe it. ”

  “They won’t care right now,” Petra corrected her. “They will once they realize how the SWD manipulated the situation. Plus, Dr. Curran is going to lie and tell everyone there was a cure, right, Dr. Curran?”

  Dr. Beverly Curran, brilliant scientist and former member of the SWD, looked up at them with weary eyes and said, “Anything to fuck over Petersen. ” And grinned.

  * * *

  The hard bark of the trees, the scratching branches and nettles, and razor sharp rock wall had Maria’s exposed arms and neck covered with cuts and welts. Her boots and the lower half of her armor were weighted down with lake water that sloshed as she climbed through the foliage lining the lake.

  In spite of the hindrance, they were still moving faster than she expected. Part climbing, part hiking, the trek was tedious and dangerous, but she still didn’t feel tired from all the exertion. There were odd internal twinges that were a little alarming though. A few had been sharp pains that had made her gasp for breath, but nothing that incapacitated her. Denman didn’t dare stop to scan her, so she kept her mouth silent whenever a wave of pain rippled through her.

  The hydroelectric station was now far behind them. The sun had set on a fiery valley filled with death and destruction. The wind carried the sound of the Inferi Scourge howls, the tiltrotors firing, and the Maelstrom Platforms. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought she heard a great crowd crying out in triumph. The Inferi Boon had reduced the numbers of the undead masses so significantly, the battle was extremely short-lived. Now the valley was filled with smoke from the smoldering fires. It was providing greatly-needed cover to her and Denman.

  The sparse tree line they were moving along ended abruptly just ahead. They would have to sprint across open ground toward the foothills. The formations were steep, but Denman was hoping the higher they climbed the more hiding places they might find.

  “What about the last two Anomalies?” Maria wondered aloud. “Did you see what happened to them?”

  Denman shook his head. “No, no. Though, I somewhat suspect they may have ducked into the carrier. At least, let’s hope so. ”

  With a sigh, Maria scrambled over some roots jutting out of the rock, tilting her head to gaze up along the steep incline that seemed to rise up to the very top of the mountain itself. She wasn’t too sure how well she would be able to climb. The pains in her body were worsening.

  “Okay, we need to run until we reach that patch of pines over there, then start climbing. There are plenty of boulders and spots to hide up there. ” Denman pointed to their destination as she stepped closer to him.

  “Okay. I’m ready. ”

  “You sure?” Denman touched her sweating face lightly with one hand. His hand was icy against her skin.

  “Yeah, I’m sure. ” Maria gave him a slight smile. “I’m a total bad ass. ”

  “So I noticed. ” Denman said, returning the smile.

  “I’m glad you’re with me,” Maria said, tears suddenly in her eyes. In her mind, she saw Omondi and the others engulfed in flame.

  “I’m glad I’m here. ” Denman enfolded her in his arms and rested his chin on her shoulder.

  Clinging to him, Maria felt hot tears sliding over her flushed cheeks. “If we make it we have to have that barbecue by the lake. Just your family and mine. ”

  “I’d love that,” Denman answered. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You and Megan will be best friends. I know it. ”

  “You and Dwayne will get along really well. ”

  “You’ll have to tell me more about him when we’re somewhere safe. ”

  Maria peered into the darkness as Denman stepped away. A handful of tiltrotors were skimming low over the ground. The rest of the fleet had returned to the city. There would most likely be patrols and cleanup crews out in the valley for weeks before declaring it officially cleared. Denman and Maria hopefully wouldn’t be trapped out here that long. Evading the patrols for so long would be difficult, if not impossible.

  Denman extended his hand toward her. She took it.

  Together they ran across the wide expanse of empty land through trails of smoke drifting on the wind. The city loomed to their left, alive with lights. Behind them were the smoldering remains of the hydroelectric station. Their heavy boots pounded against the dark earth and patches of new grass. The foothills loomed beyond a thin smattering of pine trees that were black in the pale light emanating from the city and moon.

  Plunging into the deep gloom of the trees, they were among the Scourge before they realized it. A cluster of thirty or so stood in the pines staring silently toward the rock face of the mountain.

  Maria gasped, her heart beating violently in her chest. She tugged at Denman’s hand, trying to escape his hold and the Scourge surrounding her.

  Instead of letting her go, Denman pulled her into his arms. Cradling her against him, her back to his chest, he slowly scooted them past the swaying forms. Maria clutched his forearms with her fingers, her eyes wide with fright.

  She was alive again. Would they sense her?

  The Scourge remained silent as they passed. None even acknowledged their presence.

  “Your father said that it’s the virus inside that tells the Inferi Scourge which are their own,” Denman whispered.

  Maria kept herself pressed against the hard surface of Denman’s armor. They moved carefully in sync past the swaying Scourge, the pine needles and dry twigs crackling under their feet. The milky eyes and vacant faces didn’t alter in the wake of their passing. At the edge of the trees, Denman let Maria slip from his arms and took her hand.

  Studying the path they had just taken, Maria noted that not one Scourge had awakened from its torpor. For a second she considered going back and hitting one of them to see if it responded.

  Instead, she followed Denman over the rugged ground.

  Chapter 34

  “Dad, this is so beast!”

  Dwayne couldn’t help but grin at his son’s exuberance. Studying his child, he could see his genetics stamped on his features. This was true immortality. Not a virus. One generation carrying forward the genes of the former. “Hunter, is Allison with you?”

  “Yeah! We’re out near the capital with our friends. You should be here. It’s wild!” Hunter’s face kept blurring across the screen as he was jostled about by the crowd.

  Allison’s cute face peeked at her father. It was off-center on the screen, but he could see her bright blue eyes gazing at him happily. “Dad, this is so freakin’ cool! The Maelstroms sounded like thunder! This party is so wild. I wish you were here with us! We keep trying to reach Caitlyn, but I guess she’s working. ”

  Caitlyn shook her head, keeping out of frame. Like her mother, she wore her emotions too clearly on her face. It was best if her younger siblings didn’t see her, or they would know something was amiss.

  The twins scrunched their faces together so they could both gaze into the camera and smile at their dad. Dwayne felt his heart stutter and the overwhelming love he had for his kids stole his voice for a few seconds. The twins chattered on about all they were seeing, gleefully carried along by the crowd converging on the capital building.

  “No more Inferi Scourge,” the crowd was chanting.

  “Dad, come see us soon, okay? We totally need to celebrate as a family,” Hunter said excitedly. “Maybe you and mom won’t even fight. ”

  Dwayne chuckled. “Maybe. I love you both. You know that, right?”

  “We love you, Daddy!” Allison shouted as the chanting of the crowd drowned out
all other sound.

  “You’re beast, Dad!” Hunter yelled, then cut the feed.

  “Beast?” Dwayne looked at Caitlyn curiously.

  “Old slang that is making a comeback. I’m pretty sure it’s a compliment. ” She hesitated. “You’re not going to tell them. ”

  Dwayne shook his head sorrowfully. “Can you tell them goodbye for me?”

  The sheen of tears made her eyes sparkle as she nodded. “Yeah. ”

  Commandant Pierce was overseeing crowd control per President Cabot’s request. Constabulary patrols were in the streets trying to maintain order. The command center was once again a hub of activity. Dwayne and the others had relocated to another room off the main center. Vaja had joined Lindsey and wore a special badge on his worn and patched black sweater. Dr. Curran had finally shaken off her malaise. She was on a secure workstation diligently putting together a report that would be leaked to the media.

  Petra slid in through a door, struggling to heave the heavy bags she was carrying into the room. They had SWD emblems on them. Dwayne rushed over to alleviate the burden. The heavy black bags contained everything he would need.

  “You’re the best, Petra,” he said with a grin.
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