Chapter Fifty-One

Safe. Oblivious to the danger of the weapons pointed at them, the survivors stood close together and waited for instructions. One of the soldiers stepped forward. Cooper took a similar step forward to meet him. 'Sir!' he snapped instinctively, saluting and standing to attention.

He couldn't see who was behind the soldier's protective facemask. 'Cooper?' the faceless officer said with surprise clearly evident in his voice, despite it being muffled and distorted by the heavy breathing apparatus. 'Where the hell have you been, soldier? We thought you were long gone. Welcome back.' The weapons were lowered.

No more words. Under continuous guard the survivors were crammed into a decontamination chamber.

Those troops who had ventured out into the open with them laughed and joked in a similar chamber adjacent to the first. The initial relief and euphoria felt by the people from outside quickly disappeared. Exhausted and empty they sat and stared into space or slept or cried as their bodies were cleaned and every last trace of the disease was removed from them. Emma lay on a hard wooden bench, her head resting on Michael's lap. She looked up into his tired face and wondered what would happen next.

Would the questions they'd both been asking since the first morning of the nightmare finally be answered by someone in this cavernous base? Would someone be able to explain what had happened to their world? From the little that Cooper had been able to tell them, the decontamination process would last for more than a day.

As the hours crept slowly by she drifted in and out of consciousness. Although still restless and uneasy in these new and alien surroundings, for the first time she was able to move and speak freely without fear of being hunted out and attacked by vicious bodies. No matter how highly trained they were, the soldiers with their guns and masks seemed to be nowhere near as much a threat as what remained of the rest of the population outside. These people, she hoped, were rational and controlled. The millions of decaying bodies on the surface were not.

In order to conserve power the electric light in the decontamination chamber was switched off.

Emma curled up with Michael and waited silently for the next day to arrive. Although she wasn't completely sure, she thought it would be Friday. Almost four weeks since it had begun. Almost two weeks since they'd lost the farmhouse.

Maybe tomorrow would be the day when everything would begin to make sense again. In the arms of the man who had come to mean everything to her, and surrounded by more survivors than she'd ever thought she'd see again, Emma relaxed and slept and began to feel human again. Safe.

Coming in 2004...


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