Authors: Jason Kristopher
The Dying of the Light
By Jason Kristopher
to my editors, Hilary and Josh,
who are without equal at what they do
to my friends on Team Armageddon,
who read this book for over a year
and still thought it worth publishing
to my extended family and friends,
who have supported me through thick and thin
and to my fellow authors, my comrades-in-words,
who remind me every day that our stories must be told
New Salisbury, PA
Z-Day + 23 Years (Present Day)
He awoke and, for the first time in almost twenty-five years, remembered who he was.
It wasn’t like they used to show in the movies; he didn’t get his memory back in dribs and drabs. It was just
, as if it had never gone away. As if he hadn’t languished, a prisoner of his own mind, for the past quarter-century. The truth of his identity hit him hard. It was a hammer blow to his consciousness, and it staggered him. If he hadn’t already been lying down, he would’ve fallen.
As it was, he needed to get up, to tell someone—anyone—the truth before he forgot again, before he went back to being the scarred, weird, old man everyone called Harvard. He eased his creaky legs over the side of his cot and tossed aside the now-sweltering light blanket. He’d used it as a shield against the cool Pennsylvania night air, but now it was far too hot. He pushed himself to his feet with the cane that was always at hand. Harvard shook his head to clear the last of the cobwebs and wiped a hand across his forehead to clear some of the sweat.
He stumbled to the door of his cabin, threw the wooden door open, and raised a hand against the bright morning sunlight as he tried to adjust to the glare. A sudden stab of pain just behind his eyes and the nausea it brought along for the ride doubled him over.
One hand thrown out to the door frame steadied him for the moment, and he took several deep breaths. The rough wood under his hands reminded him of the trip he’d taken with his daughter, Madeline. They were backpacking for the day in the woods near Camp David all those years ago. Or was it Michael? Damn, it was already fading.
He picked up his cane from where it had fallen, straightened his back as much as he could, and began the trek over to Marjorie’s house. She would know what to do. She always knew. And she was the only person in the whole village as old as he was. Older, even, if he was any judge, but he’d never have guessed out loud.
Besides, he owed her. His health, his mobility, such as it was. Hell, he owed her his
. And she would know what to do.
As he hobbled around the corner of the dentist’s office, he headed down the main street for Marjorie’s home and shop in one.
, of course. But his age and the constant download of memories betrayed him and he tripped. Unable to catch himself, Harvard caromed off the porch rail and fell onto the horse trough, overturning it and spilling water everywhere. The dirt street turned muddy, and the stench of horse manure filled his nose. He was glad he’d missed the pile, if only by a few inches. His cane wasn’t so lucky, falling square in the steaming mess.
He’d always hated the damn thing. At least now he had a reason to get rid of it.
His cry of pain and embarrassment drew attention, though, and just the sort he needed. Young Darnell happened to be leaving the general store, and Harvard saw the boy drop his purchases and rush over. Boy was a relative term, of course. Darnell must’ve been going on forty by now.
“Lemme help you, Mr. Harvard,” Darnell said, suiting actions to words and levering the old man back up. “Wow, you’re burning up. Better get you over to see my ma.” He threw the old man’s right arm over his shoulders. “Want me to get the cane?”
“No. Been wanting a new one for a while now, anyway.” Harvard grunted and said, “Thank ya, boy. Funny, I was just coming to see your ma. I need her help.” At least, that’s what he meant to say. For some reason, his mouth wasn’t working right, and he felt all fuzzy. The memories were starting to fade faster, and he knew he had to get to Marjorie before they were gone completely. “‘S’go!” he managed to mumble, doing his best to put one foot in front of the other as they trudged down the street.
He saw Darnell glance at the townsfolk who stood to each side of the street, watching the young man helping the scarred cripple. He saw Darnell’s face darken. Harvard tried to tell him that it wasn’t their fault, that those watching were just scared folk. But nothing came out with his tongue tied in knots. Frustrated, he concentrated on, walking faster.
Soon enough, they reached Marjorie’s place, and Darnell dragged him inside. He cleared off an old coffee table that his mother referred to as her examination table. The overpowering scent of the ever-burning candles in the shop made Harvard sneeze, and he raised a hand to his head in pain.
“Ma! Harvard’s hurt!” Darnell yelled, moving toward the beaded curtain that led into the back of the shop, intent on finding the old woman.
Before Darnell could get out of reach, Harvard grabbed his wrist in an iron grip and pulled him close. Harvard struggled, forcing his lips and tongue to move, to say something, to say anything before the memories drained back out of him. Before they were gone for who knew how long, probably forever. In the end, the only thing he could manage to croak out was his name.
“I’m… Norman,” he said, coughing and wiping away the sweat from his eyes. Confusion and what he now realized was a fever took over. “I’m… Ennis… Norma—” Just before he passed out, he saw the old woman come through the curtain and wondered if the boy would remember what he’d said.
Marjorie saw to the unconscious old man named Harvard, cleaning him up and wiping his brow. “Go and get the straps now, honey,” she said, pointing toward the back room.
The young man returned, worried. “What’s wrong with him, Ma?” he asked. He helped her secure the tossing and turning man’s arms and legs to the edge of the table with the padded straps.
“I’m not sure. He’s got one helluva fever, and that’s no mistake. You said he was on his way here?”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s what he said when I picked him up. He didn’t look like hisself, though. At first, I thought he was drunk.”
“Before noon? It don’t matter, the man never touched a drop o’ shine the whole time I known him. Did he say anything else?”
Darnell nodded. “Yeah. He said his name was Norman.”
“Norman? Well, that’s no help.” She ran her hands over Harvard’s face as she had countless times before. Marjorie traced the pattern of the burn scars she hadn’t been able to get rid of all those years ago. “Norman? As if that helps,” she repeated.
She turned to her small kitchen area and held her hands out before her as she moved toward the small wood-burning stove in one corner. She ran her hands over the teapot and poured some tea into a cup sitting on a cupboard nearby. There was a ringlike stain on the top of the small cupboard, darkened from years of dripped tea. Sipping the tea as it cooled, Marjorie felt her way over to her favorite rocking chair near the window and took a seat. Darnell took his usual place in the other chair at her side, and she patted his arm. “Did he say that was his first name or last name, by any chance?” she asked.
“Last name, I think,” Darnell said. “I think he said his first name was Ennis, but—ow, Ma, that hurts!” he yelled, snatching his arm away.
Her tea lay forgotten on the table next to the chair. Marjorie grabbed Darnell and turned her milky, sightless eyes on him. “Did you say Ennis?
“Yeah, Ma, that’s what he said. Why? Damn, you cut me with your nails!”
“Oh my God,” she said, her son forgotten in that moment. “
Oh my God!
Here, Darnell, help me over to the cedar chest.” With his help, she reached the big box, sweeping the bric-a-brac that lay atop it into a careless pile on the wooden floor. She tossed the contents of the box out in every direction until she felt what she was searching for and pulled it out. She thrust a faded but still pliant magazine into Darnell’s hands. A subtle and pleasant aroma of old paper drifted up from the yellowing pages.
“Shaddup, boy, and tell me what it says on the cover!”
“It’s kinda dark, lemme move to the window,” he said. He read at a measured pace as he moved closer to the daylight streaming through the dirty window. “It says ‘Can he save us?’ and has a picture… holy shit, Ma!” he said, eliciting a slap on the shoulder from her.
“Sorry, Ma, it’s just…” The man looked back and forth from Harvard to the cover of the magazine. “With all those scars… and he ain’t old in the picture… but Ma… is that really…?”
Marjorie came to him and clung to his arm. “You tell me. Tell me, Darnell. Be sure of it, now.”
He looked back and forth three more times, then shook his head in disbelief. “Ma, it’s him and no mistake.”
The old woman shuffled away and sat down hard in her rocking chair, spilling her tea from the table. The metal cup clanged on the wooden floor and rolled away into the dust underneath the cupboard. “I can’t believe it. I always thought his voice sounded so familiar. . .”
Marjorie grabbed his arm and yanked him down beside her. “You can’t tell anyone, boy. Not anyone. Not ever.”
“Tell who what, Ma? What’s going on?”
“Swear to me, Darnell!” she said, not letting go. “Swear to me you won’t tell anyone.”
“All right, all right, I swear! Jesus!” She let go and slapped him on the shoulder again, but without much force. “Now will you tell me why he’s on that magazine?”
She pulled her shawl tighter around her trembling body and pointed a shaking finger at the man on the table, moaning in his fever dream. “That man, boy… That man is Ennis Norman.”
“I know that, Ma. But who is he?”
“It’s not who he
, Darnell. It’s who he
that matters. He might be the most important man in the country, and everyone thinks he’s dead.” She shook her head. “We have to make sure he survives. Whatever it takes, Darnell,” she said as she patted his hand.
“Whatever it takes.”
Level Twenty-three—Temporary Lab Storage
Wheeler Peak, New Mexico
Z-Day + 12 years
The scavenging teams had come back from White Sands, and AEGIS’s two main scientists were excited to go over the haul. Jim Atkins and Mary Maxwell watched as the crews unloaded several trucks into the storage area.
Jim also noticed machines of all sizes, most wrapped in plastic and bubble wrap for safe travel. It was nearly four hundred miles from the bunker to the laboratory in southern New Mexico, and the cargo trucks weren’t known for being gentle.
“Do you think they found everything?” Mary asked without turning his way.
“Who knows,” Jim replied. “It’s not as though they were doing advanced genetic testing and development down there, but I remember reading some papers from their folks, so anything is possible. We might need to make that trip to Stanford if not.”
Jim, Mary, Bill Shaw, and Governor Ridgely had discussed using some of their limited jet fuel to make a flight to Palo Alto or nearby San Jose to find the equipment they needed for their work on the prion treatment. But everyone had agreed that finding it a lot closer to home would be the better option. Who knew what they might need the jet fuel for in the future.
Jim shouted with delight as he recognized a piece of equipment. “That’s a turbo-blotter! And I think that one over there is a spectrophotometer or maybe a luminometer or gene pulser electroporator! Hard to tell through the plastic.”
“I’m just surprised that we didn’t have everything down here already,” Mary said with a shake of her head. “They stocked up with a billion or so pipettes but not some of the advanced genetic equipment that we needed. It makes no sense.”