Chapter Fifteen

Croft broke the news to the handful of survivors gathered in the assembly hall before heading back upstairs to look after the heavily sedated Sonya. The range of drugs available to him had been desperately limited. He'd pumped the devastated girl full of whatever he could find until she'd finally stopped screaming and slipped into unconsciousness. Jack Baxter sat with Bernard Heath in a corner of the hall. Clare lay on a foam mattress next to them. They had talked intermittently for a few hours with neither man able to even contemplate sleep. In that time Baxter had been given the opportunity to ask some of the questions which had weighed heavy on his mind since last Tuesday morning. Heath, of course, had been unable to answer any of them, but the conversation seemed to have helped nevertheless. On hearing the news that the baby had died, Heath began to cry. He seemed ashamed by his show of emotion and tried unsuccessfully to hide his tears from Baxter. 'You know what this means, don't you?' he said after a few minutes of silence, his voice unsteady. 'What?' Baxter replied. 'It means that this is definitely the end.' 'Why do you say that?' 'It's got to be over now, hasn't it? There are only a handful of us left now and it looks like we can't reproduce. So as far as I can see that's the end of the human race, Jack.'

Baxter stared into the darkness. 'You can't be sure,' he said quietly. 'We can't be sure about anything, but you've got to admit, it doesn't look good, does it? I'd started to think that there might have been some hope for us. I'd been thinking that whatever makes people like you and I immune might make our children immune or our brothers or...' Tears began rolling freely down his tired face. 'You might still be right,' Baxter whispered. Heath shook his head. 'I've got a son,' he continued, wiping his eyes again. 'He lives in Australia. My wife's been over there with them. She flew over three weeks ago to see the grandchildren. I know she's...' 'She's probably with them now,' he interrupted, anticipating what he was about to say and instinctively saying the opposite. 'For all you know they could be safe.

It might only be this country that's affected. We might...' 'I know they're dead,' Heath interrupted sadly. 'Doesn't matter what you say, I know they're dead.' Baxter rubbed his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. He knew what he was hearing was right. 'Until we know for certain though...' he began, about to try pointlessly to persuade Heath that there was still some hope. 'Don't waste your time, Jack,' Heath interrupted, sitting upright and staring into the other man's face. 'There's no point holding on to dreams or halfbaked ideas or...' 'But you can't just dismiss everything that...' 'Listen, can you really say you've stopped to try and appreciate the scale of what's happened here?'

'Well I...' 'I hadn't. But something struck me a couple of days ago that puts all of this into perspective. Did you own a car?' 'Never learnt to drive,' Baxter answered, surprised by the question he'd been asked. 'Why?' 'I remember when I brought my first car home. My mother thought it was a death trap and my old dad spent the day outside with me trying to get the engine tuned. I'll never forget that day...' 'What point are you making?' 'How many crashed cars have you seen? How many abandoned cars have you seen round here?' 'Hundreds, probably thousands, why?' 'Because somebody owned every single one of them. Every single one of those cars was someone's pride and joy.'

'I'm not sure I understand what you're saying...' 'What about your home? Did you own your house?' 'Yes.' 'Remember the feeling when you picked up the key and walked inside? Remember your first night there when it was your house and you could shut the front door and forget about everyone else?' A faint smile crossed Jack's face as he remembered setting up home with his dear departed Denise. 'God, yes,' he said quietly. 'We had such a laugh. We hardly had anything. We sat on boxes and ate chips from a...' 'Just think about the fact that someone had memories like that about every single house you've passed, and chances are they're all dead now. Hundreds of them. Millions of them.'

'It doesn't bare thinking about.' 'But we should think about it. And what about children? Did you have children, Jack?' He shook his head sadly. 'No, we wanted to but...' 'Every single corpse lying and rotting on the streets and every one of those bloody things outside this building, they were all somebody. They were all someone's son or daughter or brother or sister or...' Heath stopped talking again. More tears trickled from his tired eyes. 'You okay?' Jack asked, hesitantly. He shook his head. 'This is the end,' he replied. 'I tell you there's no doubt about it, this is the end.'

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