Read A Long Road Back: Final Dawn: Book 8 Online
Authors: Darrell Maloney
“What are you guys talking about?”
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
David was a man with a level head, a dentist with his own practice before Saris 7 collided with the earth. And still a qualified medical professional to the group. He was seldom short with anyone. Especially Bryan, who he considered one of his very best friends. But it was obvious Brad had frustrated him, and that he was no longer in a mood to talk. Or even to sit down for a few minutes and share a cup of coffee with his friends.
As he walked away, Bryan asked Brad, “What’s eating him?”
Brad told him of his and Bryan Too’s plans for dealing with Nathan Martel.
Bryan listened intently. He offered none of the arguments or concerns that David had voiced.
When Brad was finished Bryan said, “Count me in.”
Now it was Brad’s turn to object.
“Shouldn’t you be spending every minute you can with Sarah? I mean, she probably needs you more now than ever.”
“Debbie asked the Air Force to send in a medical evaluation team. They’re going to examine Sarah thoroughly to see if they think she has swelling in her brain. And if they think that surgery might be appropriate.”
“Brain surgery? Holy crap!”
“Yeah. That’s what I said. She said not to panic yet. That they may not find evidence of swelling. And if they do, it’s a fairly common procedure. She said it basically means taking off a piece of skull so that the brain can expand a bit while it heals. That in most cases as the brain heals it shrinks again and they can replace the skull section. She says that allowing it to expand prevents further damage and may help her recover her past.”
“And you don’t want to be here for that?”
“She said it would take them several hours. That I could be there with them during the examination but that I wouldn’t understand any of it. That maybe it would be better to let Sarah have a little bit of space while they were here.”
“Are you sure you want to get involved in this?”
“Brad, that was my wife he hit and then dragged off like an animal. It was my wife he beat and raped. If anyone deserves the right to go along and see that he’s punished for what he did, it’s me.”
“We’re leaving at the crack of dawn. So we can be back before too many people miss us.”
“Where did you put Martel?”
“Hell, Bryan, we never took him out of the truck. He’s been there ever since we got back.”
“Wow. I’m guessing he’s getting pretty uncomfortable.”
“Yes, and I don’t give a shit. And you shouldn’t either. We tried to give him water and he’d have none of it. We would have given him food, but didn’t want to get cursed at again. So yes, he’s been out there for several hours, hobbled in the back of a pickup, unable to move, without food or water. You got any problem with that?”
“No, not really. It just makes me wonder whether we’ve become the same type of animal he is.”
As quickly as the thought found its way into Bryan’s mind, he dismissed it.
“I’m going with you. Sarah will be sleeping for a while anyway, so she’ll never even know I’m gone.”
“Well, like I said, we’re leaving at the crack of dawn. But I’m not going to look for you. If you’re here, we’ll take you with us. If you’re not, then you’ll stay behind and your conscience will be clear.”
Bryan had returned to his room and had started to set his alarm. Then he remembered it might wake up Sarah. She might demand to know where he was going so early in the morning.
No, the alarm was a bad idea.
But Bryan’s body clock had always done a good job of waking him up for important events. He had no doubt it would wake him up for this one.
And it did.
Early the next morning he awoke with a start. Sarah was still out, but was starting to stir a bit. He eased out of bed and quickly dressed. Then he went to meet Bryan Too and Brad at the main gate, just as the first rays of the sun peeked over the high wall.
This promised to be an interesting day for all concerned.
Many things happened after Saris 7 collided with the earth. The most devastating, of course, was that over ninety percent of the industrialized world perished, either as a result of the freeze, or of the plagues that followed the thaw.
Actually, the United States was lucky in that regard. Third world countries were hit much harder. In some places in the world, humans became extinct, as did most of the wildlife.
Those humans who were strong enough to have survived counted themselves lucky. The smarter among them stopped dwelling on the past and the way things used to be. For those kinds of thoughts merely brought heartache.
Most merely accepted the past as gone forever, never to return, and not worth their time thinking about. Instead, they focused on the task at hand: surviving from day to day in a newly harsh world.
In the United States, citizens stopped worrying about anything not directly related to putting food on their tables and surviving to see another day.
In a way, Americans had always been that way. In the years leading up to the collision of Saris 7, Americans had stopped watching news for the most part. Had stopped being engaged in the world around them. Had been way too busy walking around with their attention focused on their cell phones and tablets to care one way or the other what earth-shattering events might be unfolding.
Facebook replaced the nightly news, Twitter replaced human physical interaction, and Americans at large relied on Government agencies or the media to force-feed them information they really needed to know.
Like NASA, for example. Before Saris 7 was discovered, most earthlings forgot that space even existed. Most didn’t know the difference between a meteorite and a comet, and couldn’t really have cared less.
If NASA scientists Hannah Jelinovic and Sarah Anna Speer hadn’t sounded the alarm in the media, most citizens of the world would never had known what was coming. Until the skies were covered with a thick mass of dust and the temperatures started to drop.
In the chaos that followed, NASA shut down like virtually every other government agency. Later on, after the thaw, FEMA tried to get the government running again. The Department of Defense was now operational, though in a limited capacity. So was the Federal Housing Agency and the National Security Agency. The FBI was working again, although there were damn few criminals left to pursue.
In the finest display of irony, though, NASA pretty much ceased to exist. FEMA’s efforts to revive it were met with a lackadaisical attitude among the movers and shakers in Congress.
“We won’t have the resources or the inclination to go back to the moon or anywhere else for decades. Maybe longer. Why should we bother bringing NASA back to life?”
They wouldn’t have been able to anyway. Nearly all of the qualified scientists were dead. So were the technicians who knew how to compile data from the heavens, or the analysts who knew how to interpret it.
NASA these days was nothing but a bunch of rusting and looted abandoned buildings spread throughout the country.
For all practical purposes, NASA was dead, except in the recesses of the memories of the few people left alive who cared.
And that was too bad. Because with the demise of NASA was also the demise of the NASA contractors who once employed hundreds of astrophysicists to watch the heavens.
Like the one Hannah and Sarah once worked for.
And since there were no contractors watching the movements of celestial bodies, no one knew about Cupid 23.
Cupid 23 was a misnomer if there ever was one. For the class two meteorite slowly tumbling through space had no love at all for the people of earth or anywhere else.
Cupid 23 was once a part of Saris 7, until Saris 7 collided with another meteorite and broke into pieces. It was that collision which changed the course of Saris 7 and sent it speeding toward the planet earth years before.
NASA’s computers noticed the chunk that broke off of Saris 7 and assigned it a new designation: Cupid 23.
But they went no further than that.
Their sights were so much set on Saris 7’s new collision course that the slower Cupid 23 was overlooked as nonconsequential.
Except that it wasn’t.
Yes, it was rather odd shaped. Most heavenly bodies are after they survive collisions with other bodies.
And Cupid 23 moved at a much slower pace than its mother Saris 7. It tumbled through space, rather than shooting through it.
But that didn’t make it any less dangerous.
The problem with Cupid 23 was that it wanted to follow Saris 7, not unlike a baby who trails in a straight line behind its mother.
Hannah was the one who first discovered that Saris 7’s course had been altered and it was headed straight for earth.
Or so she thought.
It turned out that her superiors already knew about the pending collision, but were trying to keep it under wraps.
“We’ve got plenty of time to destroy or divert it,” they’d told her. “There’s no reason to alarm the public unnecessarily.”
Hannah and Sarah had an uneasy feeling. Their superiors, after all, worked for the federal government. And the federal government, especially in those days, wasn’t exactly known for telling the truth.
Or for watching out for anyone’s backs other than their own.
In the end it turned out that their suspicions were well founded. Their superiors had no intentions of protecting anyone other than themselves and their political cronies in Washington.
They eventually paid the ultimate price, along with the Washington insiders who thought themselves insulated from an outraged public.
Hannah and Sarah saved many lives by going to the media to announce the imminent collision with Saris 7, thus giving the common people time to prepare for the worst.
And that would have been the end of it, had Hannah not been severely injured in a helicopter crash.
Hannah was treated by morphine while in her initial stages of recovery.
Morphine was a very effective painkiller.
But those who’d ever used it could attest that it was a very powerful narcotic as well. Some patients experienced deep sleep and wild dreams. Others hallucinated.
Hannah didn’t experience any adverse effects during her waking hours.
However, when she slept her dreams were very vivid.
And one dream in particular had been much more vivid than the others.
And also terrifying.
Actually, it wasn’t a dream inasmuch as it was a recollection. A recollection of a meeting she’d had with Sarah and several other astrophysicists after Saris 7 collided with the large meteor and broken into two.
They’d been pondering the possibility of Cupid 23 following the same path through space that its mother, Saris 7 did. It sometimes happened that way. There was even a term for it: flightpath duplication.
What it basically meant was that sometimes when a meteorite broke into pieces, it still followed the same path as before. The smaller piece frequently got sucked into the same path as the larger piece, as the larger piece created a vacuum and gave it an easier path to follow.
It was not unlike two people trekking through heavy snow. The first person did the bulk of the work, forcing the snow out of the way and giving the follower a set of footprints to walk in.
One of NASA’s concerns following Saris 7’s breakup was that Cupid 23 might follow Saris 7 into the earth just as the earth was recovering. A one-two punch, they called it. It was just a theory, and they had no hard proof to make the theory plausible. But it made sense.
The trouble was everyone in the scientific community got so freaked out by Saris 7 and possible ways to stop it that Cupid 23 got swept into the background. They simply put it out of their minds to focus on the problem at hand: stopping Saris 7.
Saris 7 wasn’t stopped, and did its damage. Nearly all the scientists who knew about Cupid 23’s existence were dead now. Or, like Hannah and Sarah, survived and got on with the hard new business of staying alive, and forgot all about Cupid 23.
That was, until the nightmare Hannah had while she was recovering.