The Last Bastion of the Living
Page 23

 Rhiannon Frater

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“What did they tell her?”
“She was told that there was a serum that would allow her to walk among the Scrags. That it would make her immune to them and they would identify her as one of their own. Maria volunteered because she is as desperate as the rest of us to be free of the Scrags.”
Lindsey stared at him, her eyes examining his expression and his posture. “You’re in love with her. She’s your mistress, isn’t she?”
“I’m getting a divorce. I wouldn’t call her my mistress. But, yes, we’re involved.”
“But the SWD doesn’t know that and have no idea that her sudden silence would concern anyone. This is why all those soldiers they transferred are single. They want this as quiet as can be.”
“I can’t believe they killed her,” Dwayne whispered.
Lindsey turned away from him to type for a few minutes. Dwayne suspected she was angry, hurt and afraid. He watched her delete all the information she had so carefully extracted. When she finished, she swiveled her chair toward him. Her expression was so intense, he wasn’t sure how to read it.
“The vid is only two hours old. This is updated information. Right now, Maria is the only Inferi Boon they’ve created. You can stop this.”
“You just deleted the information.”
“I have a copy I can give you. I just wanted it off my system. You can take that vid and show The Bastion what the SWD is doing. You can show everyone how they’re killing our own people to make them into Scrags. You can get Maria out of there!”
“Lindsey,” Dwayne said in a gentle tone, “she volunteered.”
“They killed her!”
“I know that. And don’t think I am not as torn up as you’re about this. Frankly, I am horrified, but you saw what she said. I know her as well as you do, Lindsey. Tell me if you think she was lying when she said she would do anything to destroy the Inferi Scourge and make a better future for us all.” Dwayne stared directly into Lindsey’s eyes. “Tell me that she’s not doing exactly what she wants to do right now.”
With a frustrated groan, Lindsey covered her face. “She didn’t know they were going to kill her. I could see it on her face! She had no clue!”
“I agree with you on that point, but she has accepted what has happened. She wants to do this. Even if we’re horrified by what is going on, the truth is that it might work, Lindsey. Maria and the others might destroy the Scrags and save us all.”
He could see the turmoil in the eyes of the young woman as she considered his words. Finally, she shrugged and picked up a small data drive off her desk. “Here. Do with it what you will. This just feels wrong somehow. Maria being a Scrag is wrong. She fought so hard against them.”
“She’s not Inferi Scourge,” Dwayne said firmly. “We both saw that.”
“She’s not alive. Not like she was. She fought so hard to live after we were all wounded and the SWD killed her.” Lindsey shook her head grimly. “Maybe she’s okay with what is going on, but I’m not sure I am. Are you?”
Dwayne thought of Maria’s slightly gray pallor and milky eyes. “No. I’m not. But I know she believes in what she is doing and I will support her.”
“When you finally talk to her what will you say?”
“That I love her. I believe in her. And that I know she will do her best to save us all.”
A bitter laugh escaped Lindsey’s lips. “What sucks is I feel the same way. She’s our best damn hope for a future and I hate that.”
Tucking the drive into his pocket, Dwayne stood. “I should go. If there is any chance at all I might be able to reach her tonight, I should head home.”
Lindsey stared at her screens thoughtfully. “I’m going to try to keep digging.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to. I want to know what’s happening to her.”
Pressing his lips together, Dwayne nodded once in understanding.
Lindsey followed him to the door, hands on her hips. “It’s wrong somehow. They’re lying. About the serum, about something. I can feel it.”
“So can I.”
“Do you think she realizes it?”
“If she does, she will ignore it so she can get her job done.” Dwayne watched Lindsey unlock the door’s many locks. “She’s tough. She can handle anything.”
Resting her hand against the door, Lindsey said in a much lower voice, “I hope so. I don’t want to lose her like I lost Ryan.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
Once outside in the growing darkness of the night, Dwayne pulled the brim of his hat down over his tearing eyes and rushed home.
* * *
Maria was seated on her bed reading a manual on the bolt weapon created specifically for the Inferi Boon mission when her wristlet indicated there was an incoming message from the hidden program. She quickly accessed it and smiled as Dwayne’s face came into view. He smiled the moment he saw her and she was glad she had taken the time to put a little makeup on to hide her condition. She couldn’t hide her eyes, but she hoped the dim light in her room would disguise them.
“Dwayne, I’m so sorry I couldn’t contact you earlier. It’s been a crazy few weeks,” she said in a rush of words.
“Honey, don’t speak. I know what is going on. I know what you are now,” he said in his strong, yet soothing voice.
Confusion washed over her as she raised her hand to her face wondering if he could see that she was no longer truly alive. “Dwayne, I—”
“I just want you to know that I love you, and I’m proud of you. I know you’ll do everything you can to fulfill your duty. I can’t say I’m happy about what they did to you, but I respect your choice.” His voice cracked slightly. She realized his eyes were brimming with tears.
“It’ll be okay. They can restore me when I’m done. I am coming home to you Dwayne.” The vow felt sacred as it passed her lips and she meant it with all her heart. “I love you. I’m doing this for us.”
“I love you,” Dwayne whispered. “And I will be waiting for you to come home.”
She wished she could cry. She wished she could feel her heart harshly beating within her chest. Instead she was wrapped up in a stillness that was rapidly becoming her new norm. Though she didn’t crave food or sleep anymore, she craved Dwayne. If she could have one moment in his arms, she would feel alive again.
“I won’t fail,” she said at last.
“I know,” Dwayne answered, winking. “You’re one hell of a warrior.”
Laughing, she smiled at the tiny image of him on her wristlet. “I’m a mean bitch.”
“Give ‘em hell.”
“The Scrags will never know what hit them.” It was the literal truth. Maria and the others would be virtually invisible.
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I’ll call you again tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here,” she answered.
Then he was gone.
Lying down on her bed, she closed her eyes and thought of Dwayne. Though her body remained not aroused and apart from her emotions, her lips smiled.
Chapter 11
Maria shifted her weight, the chair’s leather seat creaking under her movements. Installed in an observation room off of a debriefing room, she watched as the men and women conscripted for the Inferi Scourge Special Ops filed in and settled onto the benches staggered against one wall. She spotted a few familiar faces. She was surprised to see Special Constable Kurt Jameson and the young scientist with the black hair joining veterans of the final pushback against the Scourge. Crossing her legs, she glanced at Dr. Curran, who was making quick notations on her pad. On the screen were the profiles of all the potential Inferi Boon soldiers.
“I thought they were all going to be veterans,” Maria said.
Dr. Curran glanced up, her eyes studying Maria’s expression thoughtfully. After a slight pause, she answered. “The news vids are filled with the president declaring that the Inferi Scourge will soon be abolished from the valley. Volunteers are overwhelming the recruitment centers. SWD Security Officers petitioned to be included in the mission. We screened a few more potentials and expanded our force to two full squadrons. Forty soldiers in all. Twenty Constabulary, twenty SWD Security Officers.”
“That scientist in there...” Maria pointed “…how is he going to handle himself?”
“Gideon’s going along to monitor the Inferi Boon soldiers. He will be trained with the rest of you. And yes, he volunteered.”
Lifting her eyebrows, Maria sat back and studied the faces of the people in the room beyond the glass. The veteran soldiers of the Constabulary wore placid expressions while the scientist and a few of the newer recruits from the SWD came across as nervous. Jameson looked ready to crawl out of his own skin and his eyes were shining with excitement.
Mr. Petersen entered the debriefing room and took his place on the podium. The vid screen behind him sprang to life, the emblem of The Bastion rotating against a blue backdrop.