Chapter 21

Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner

Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 21 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.

Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Ma/ft   Fa/ft   Consensual   Reluctant   BiSexual   Science Fiction   Post Apocalypse   Group Sex   Sex Toys   Violent   comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story

It was approaching 4:00 PM on the afternoon following the battle and Brett was in a room in the El Dorado Hills elementary school that had been converted to a hospital room. It had once been one of the smaller classrooms just off of the former administration area. The desks had been removed and replaced with a four portable beds of varying type. The one that Brett was lying on had once been someone's hide-a-bed. His closest neighbor, Susan, who was only four feet away, was lying in a cot. She still had a bloody bandage covering her shoulder wound. She, like Brett, had yet to be operated on. Both of them had IV locks installed in their arms through which they were given injections of Dilaudid and Torridol every two hours to help with the pain and inflammation. Across the room from them were Rhonda and Sarah, both of whom had already been through their surgical procedures by the weary, overworked general practitioner and were now sleeping the sleep of the very heavily drugged. On the chalkboard at the front of the room the four occupant's names were chalked in and separated into columns by vertical lines. In these columns were vital signs, which were taken and charted every fifteen minutes, and the last drug dosages. Near the front of the room was Jennifer Harris, a middle-aged woman who had once been a teacher at the school and who was now one of the newly christened nurses. She was sitting down in a chair reading through a physician's desk reference manual.

Brett had been here for a little more than three hours now, one of the last group to come over after the battle. It had been hard leaving the cockpit of the helicopter and allowing Jason to solo for the first time, harder than he had ever imagined it would be despite the uncanny speed with which the young man had picked up the basics of flight and landing. But leave it he had too. His wounded leg had been screaming for relief by the time they finished circling and observing the retreating militia members as they went back to the highway and flying the other wounded to El Dorado Hills.

Brett was much more relaxed now, thanks mostly to the intoxicating quality of the narcotics he had been given. He was in fact, having a deep, philosophical conversation with Susan, who was flying about as high.

"I think Charmander is definitely the best," Brett said. "I mean, he can start a fire, can burn shit up with his tail. Squirtle is totally useless in a fight. What's the point of squirting water at people? You can't win a battle with water for God's sake."

"Not true," Susan said seriously, her words thick and slurred. "I saw him knock Team Rocket right the fuck down one time while they were battling Ash and Misty. Right on their asses! Tell me that's not a serious-ass stream of water. And Squirtle is cuter too."

"But you can't kill someone with a stream of water," Brett protested. "Ask those assholes we napalmed. Fire is the way to go."

"Nobody dies in Pokemon," Susan reminded him. "It doesn't matter if they get burned or squirted. They just get knocked out."

"That's true," Brett allowed. "And they always wear the same clothes too. Don't they ever wash them?" He smiled a little, thinking about it. "I've always wondered what Misty looks like naked. Or maybe Officer Jenny. Yeah."

This gave Susan the giggles, which in turn gave Brett the giggles. Both of them laughed so hard that they caused pain from their various injuries by the jostling of their bodies this produced. They were still chuckling a little when Pat entered the room. He was wearing his traditional jeans and flannel shirt. Matt and Michelle were behind him, both obviously having bathed and changed clothes since the battle.

"Matt, Michelle," Brett hailed, seeing them. "What are you doing here? Is there trouble?"

"No, no trouble," Matt said. "We just got done dropping the food supplies for the militia and we thought we'd swing out here real quick to check on everyone so we can give a report at the community meeting tonight."

"So you had Jason fly you all the way out here for that?"

"We also thought you'd like a report on things back in town," Michelle told him, leaning down and taking his hand in hers. "And I wanted to see you too. I haven't had a chance to lay my eyes on you since we assembled this morning. I was worried about you."

"I should yell at you guys for wasting jet fuel to fly out here," he said, squeezing Michelle's hand back. "But to tell you the truth, I'm really glad to see you too."

They discussed the health and well being of all of the wounded for a few moments, starting with Brett himself and working their way to the most severely injured. Brett and Pat both assured them that they were all doing fine - or at least as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

"Renee tells us that the most dangerous thing to worry about now is infection or emboli in those with bone injuries," Brett explained. "She's putting us all on antibiotics and anticoagulants."

"What about your leg?" Michelle asked. "I heard it was pretty torn up. Will you walk again?"

He frowned a little. "Renee only had a chance to take a quick look at it between other patients," he said. "She doesn't know yet. She thinks she might be able to put it back together but the bone is pretty shattered and some of the tendons are torn." He shrugged. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Michelle leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. "You'll be all right," she said stoically. "I just know you will."

"So anyway," Brett said, changing the subject in order to keep his mind off of his leg, "how're things back in town? I assume you finished clearing the battle area?"

"Yes," Matt said, nodding and grimacing a little. "That was actually worse than the battle I think. It really bothered a lot of the troops."

"Not so much the bodies," Michelle put in. "Although that was pretty bad, but the... you know... the wounded."

"How many were there?" Brett asked.

"Well, you saw that they hauled five of them out when they withdrew, right?" Matt asked.

"Right," Brett said. They had taken two from the battle area itself and three from the staging area behind the lines, carrying them out on crude litters made out of sleeping bags and limbs from trees. That was in addition to the five or so that seemed able to propel themselves. In all, thirty-eight men made their way back to the highway to start their long trip home - thirty-eight out of four hundred that had started the journey. That was more than ninety percent casualties or desertions.

"There were about thirty of them that were still alive in some way out there," Matt said. "A lot of them were unconscious and pretty much beyond salvation anyway, but a few... a few could've been saved maybe. We shot all of them in the head with pistols."

"It was the only way," Brett said. "There's no way we could afford to waste the fuel to transport them here or the resources of the doctor here treating the enemy. No way."

"I know," Matt said. "I explained that to everyone and they all understood it. But still, it's not easy shooting an unarmed, wounded man in the head. Especially when they're begging for help or crying for their mothers. I shot several of them myself. I know."

"There's going to be quite a few people who are going to have trouble sleeping tonight," Michelle said, her eyes saying that she was going to be one of them.

"I wish I could tell everyone that it was the right thing to do," Brett said. "I really do. But I can't. It was wrong to shoot wounded prisoners. It goes against everything that we've been taught and raised with. But unfortunately, that morality is something else we can't afford anymore. Did anyone refuse to do it?"

"No," Matt said. "Not everyone did it of course, but no one who was faced with it actually refused."

"I hope we never have to do anything like that again," Michelle said.

"There's always hope," Brett said. "Never promises though. How about weapons? Did we recover all of them?"

"More than a hundred and fifty rifles," Matt confirmed. "That includes twelve fully automatic M-16s and AK-47s and nearly sixty semi-autos of various type and caliber. We hauled them all back to the community center and we'll get a crew together to clean them up when we have the time. We also got nearly seventy pistols from the dead bodies. Rifle ammo wasn't as good as we'd hoped though."


"No," he confirmed. "They probably smuggled most of what they had left out with them. All that we found was what was in the weapons themselves and even that wasn't too terribly much. Maybe three hundred rounds total for the assault weapons and about the same for the rifles."

"Not nearly enough to replace what we shot up at them," Brett said, although that was pretty much what he had expected.

"No, but I don't think we'll have to worry about that bunch anymore for a while. Hopefully there are no other Placer County Militia type groups on their way to us. If there is, we might have problems. We'll need to keep a real close eye on the surrounding area from now on. We got lucky by having advanced warning of this attack. The next time we might not."

"That's true," Brett said. "And remember, there's only so much life left in that helicopter. We need to find another one as quick as we can and from there we need to find spare parts, more fuel, and more ammo. All stuff to work on when I get out of here. How far did the militia make it out of town anyway?"

"They made it just past the border sign the last time we checked on them," said Michelle, who had been adopted as the new observer for the time being. "We dropped them three hundred cans of chicken noodle about a mile to the west, just before the first mudfall on our side. They should reach it just about sunset if they keep moving."

"Tell Jason to make at least one flight before sunset, just to make sure they're still where they're supposed to be."

"We will," Michelle promised.

"And what about our bodies?" Brett asked next.

Another sad look passed between the two of them. "All recovered," Michelle said. "That wasn't a lot of fun either."

"No, I don't imagine it was."

"They're all in the storage room for now, in sleeping bags," Matt told him. "We're going to get some people out digging graves tomorrow in the park near where Dale and the others are buried. Steve's already working on making some crosses with their names and dates on them. Paul suggested having a ceremony of some sort after we bury them, just to honor them you know. Of course we don't have a priest or anything to give a proper funeral, but all the same, I think they deserve something other than just being tossed in the holes and covered up."

"I think that's a very good idea too," Brett said. "I want to be there when you do it. I want to say a few words."

"How long are you going to have to stay in here?" Matt asked.

"I'm coming home the day after she fixes my leg," he said. "Whether she likes it or not."

At 10:30 the next morning, in Auburn, Jessica finally stirred and raised her head from her pillow in the bedroom of the high school administration building. This was her typical awakening time these days, particularly when she had been drinking heavily the night before, as she had been the previous night - as she did almost every night. Her eyes were bleary and bloodshot and her head pounded sickeningly. Worst of all was her stomach, which was rumbling like a volcano about to erupt. Experience told her that it soon would.

"Oh God," she mumbled, refusing to open her eyes completely. She fumbled her hand across the nightstand next to the bed until she encountered the walkie-talkie that she carried with her at all hours. She picked it up and put it next to her mouth. "Alice?" she groaned into the mouthpiece after keying up. "Are you there?"

The reply was almost instant. "I'm here, Ma'am," she said. "Good morning."

"Right," Jessica said sourly. "Bring me up a bloody Mary and some Tylenol, will you? I'm feeling a little under the weather."

"Right away," Alice replied. "Would you like breakfast brought in to you?"

"Not for another hour or so," she said, the thought of food making her stomach turn over a few more times. "And make that bloody Mary a pale one, if you know what I mean."

"I know what you mean. I'll have it in to you in five minutes."

Jessica put the radio back down, not bothering to thank her assistant. She covered her eyes with her hand, trying to lie as still as possible to fight off the nausea and the headache. It was a losing battle at best. Christ, how many drinks had she had last night? Ten? Twelve maybe? She wasn't entirely clear on exactly what had happened after 11:00 PM or so. She and ten of her closest acquaintances had been having themselves a little party - as they did every Wednesday and Saturday evening. There had been food, music, booze of course, and one of the men that had been captured with the town had been brought in for entertainment. They had been... well... what had they done with him? She remembered having him lick everyone's ass - that had been rather early in the festivities. And then there had been the inevitable reaming of his ass with the huge dildo that was such a favorite at parties. There had been a lot of drinks consumed during this portion of the party and things were a little hazy after that. She had the sense that things had gone a little bit too far - it had happened before - but she was not at all sure just how.

While she was still sifting through the opaque haze of memories her stomach insisted that it was not going to hold its contents down any longer. With another groan, she rolled out of bed, landing on her hands and knees on the floor. Moving quickly she crawled to the private bathroom and put her head in the toilet, arriving just in time to disgorge a small amount of stomach acid and watery liquid that smelled strongly of vodka and orange juice. She retched a few more times, mostly dry heaves, and then finally her stomach settled the tiniest bit, allowing her to pull her head out of the bowl and stagger to her feet.

She panted weakly for a few moments, trying to get her equilibrium. She was still dressed in the pantsuit and blouse that she'd worn the night before (she would never wear anything as common as blue jeans and a flannel shirt now that she was in charge) although there were several nasty looking stains on them now. When she felt she could do it without falling, she turned herself around, lowered the toilet seat, and then unbuttoned her pants, pushing them down to her ankles along with her silk panties. She sat herself down on the toilet and began to urinate, relieving her drink-swollen bladder of its burden. As she peed she looked down at the crotch of her panties, hoping to see the telltale stain of menses there, instead seeing nothing but a few urine stains.

"Damn," she cursed, shaking her head a little in frustration. When she finished peeing she pulled some toilet paper from the roll and wiped carefully, pushing the wad well inside of her vagina. She looked at it. A little moisture but no blood. Not a single drop. Her period still hadn't started. What was wrong? It was almost four weeks late now, a little bit longer than could be blamed on simple stress. Surely she was too young for menopause. Her mother hadn't gone through the change of life until she was 54 years old. So logically, shouldn't she be about the same? She had never even heard of anyone going through it at 34.

She stood up and pulled her pants back up, staggering a little as she did so. As she fumbled through the snapping and zipping process she wondered if maybe that asshole Stinson or some of his cronies had... well... done something to her when they had raped her all of those times. Could they have done some damage to her reproductive system that would have broken her cycle in some way? Was that possible?

Even as that thought came into her mind another thought, this one much darker, tried to push its way forward. The thought was of Linda, one of the other "wives" that had shared the hell of living with Stinson with her. She was now nearly five months pregnant with Stinson's baby, just now starting to show. Was it possible that she, Jessica, could be... ?

She groaned as if in pain, pushing that thought away and burying it before it could be fully formed. She did not want to even think about the possibility of that being a possibility. She was having a physical problem, or maybe a stress problem - leadership was challenging, wasn't it? That was what was wrong, not... well anything else. Certainly not!

She heard the door to the main room open a moment later, just as she was finishing up with the flushing process. She walked out of the bathroom and beheld Alice, who was dressed in blue jeans and a sweater and had a pistol strapped to her waist. Alice's eyes were bright and alert, her expression non-committal as she took in her boss. She had seen Jessica under much worse conditions than this. She had a large glass that contained maybe five ounces of vodka and six of tomato juice. It was so pale that it was almost pink in color.

"Give it to me," Jessica said, walking quickly across the room and nearly snatching it out of her hand. She downed almost half of it at a single gulp, feeling the burning of the booze as it poured down her throat and into her abused stomach. It almost made her retch again for a moment but this was an effect she was familiar with. After a few moments the opposite occurred and her stomach settled as the booze took hold.

"Here's your Tylenol," Alice said, handing her four of the red and white pills.

Jessica popped them into her mouth and then washed them down with about half of the remaining drink. That would take care of the headache in about twenty minutes. In an hour, after two more bloody Marys and a little breakfast, she would feel almost normal again. She wondered if maybe she was drinking a little too much lately and then dismissed that thought as quickly as she'd dismissed her earlier one.

"Is there anything else?" Alice asked her, still standing there obediently.

"Another bloody Mary in about five minutes," she said, taking one more sip of her drink and then setting the glass down on the nightstand. She began unbuttoning her blouse. "And get someone in here to clean this place up. The bathroom needs a real going over."

"Right away," Alice replied. "Will you be taking your bath soon?"

"Yes," she said. "As soon as I get changed into my robe. Have them start running it now and then you can have breakfast up in the office for me when I get back."

An hour later Madeline entered the main admin building, walking past the two guards out front with hardly a word. She was one of less than ten women in town who had unlimited access to the main building with its heat and power, who could get in to see Jessica without an appointment. She was the only one who could do this that didn't consider herself to be a friend of Jessica, who didn't regularly attend the barbarous gatherings that she referred to as parties. In fact, the relationship between the two of them was becoming increasingly antagonistic as Jessica's reign as Auburn leader rolled onward. So far they had avoided any really nasty confrontations with each other but Madeline knew that that was about to come to an end. Jessica was getting too strange, too unstable lately. She was prone to irrational outbursts that bordered on outright paranoia at times. And after what had happened last night, the time had finally come for some plain talk.

"Hi, Alice," Madeline said with a sigh as she entered the outer reception for Jessica's office. "Is Jessica in?"

"She's in," Alice said with a sigh. "She's just finishing up her breakfast."

"Is she sober?" she asked next. She was really hoping to catch her before she too many morning drinks - something that was an exercise in timing.

Alice seesawed her hand back and forth in the air. "She's working on the fourth bloody Mary right now," she said. "The last two haven't been as strong though. It's about another hour before she starts on the screwdrivers."

"Well," Madeline said, "I guess that's about as good as it's going to get. Will you tell her that I need to have a word with her?"

"Sure," she said, picking up the walkie-talkie. She keyed it up. "Ma'am?" she said into it. "Madeline is out here to see you. She says she needs to talk to you."

"Tell her to come back later," Jessica's voice replied a little testily. "I'm busy right now."

Alice looked up at her apologetically but Madeline was not going to be dissuaded that easily. She reached over and plucked the radio from Alice's hand. "Jess," she said into it. "This is really important. I need to talk to you now."

Jessica refused to answer Madeline directly but this seemed to do the trick. "Alice," she said, "go ahead and send her in."

"Thanks, Alice," Madeline told her, dropping the radio back onto the desk. She walked to the door and opened it. Jessica was sitting behind her large desk, a half eaten tray of food pushed off to the side. She was sipping out of a glass and going over some sort of paperwork - God knew what it was. Jessica enjoyed keeping lists and ledgers and notations on every little thing that occurred in the town.

"What is it?" she said shortly, not even looking up at her security chief.

Madeline closed the door behind her and walked over to the desk. She sat down in a chair across from it without being asked.

"Well?" Jessica said, finally looking up, showing bloodshot eyes. "You were so anxious to get in here. What's the problem?"

"Greg Rollins is the problem," Madeline told her.

"Greg Rollins?" she said blankly, the name obviously meaning very little to her.

"The man that you and your friends utilized for your little party last night," she reminded her.

"Oh... of course," she said with a disinterested shrug. "What about him? Why would he be a problem?"

"He's dead," Madeline said plainly. "He died about four this morning." She paused a little. "From internal bleeding."

Jessica showed no particular emotion at this news. "What happened to him?"

"What happened to him?" Madeline said, leaning forward. "Do you really not remember what you and your friends did to him last night? Did it slip your mind? Or were you just so drunk that you can't recall it?"

Jessica face flushed with instant anger. "How dare you come in here and speak to me in that tone!" she said. "You are forgetting your place, little missy! I am the leader of this community. What makes you think that you can come marching in here..."

"You don't remember the crowbar, do you?" Madeline asked softly. "You really don't."

This startled Jessica a little, bringing back a blurb of a memory, which she quickly buried again. "Crowbar?" she said.

"Jesus," Madeline said, somehow more bothered by the fact that Jessica didn't remember than by the act in the first place. "Let me refresh your memory a little for you, shall I? Apparently during your little gathering last night, after you finished raping him with that dildo you use, you decided that the dildo wasn't humiliating or painful enough and you ordered Alice to go find you a crowbar."

"I wouldn't have been serious about that," Jessica said.

"You were," Madeline said. "Alice brought you one and you and your friends took turns putting it up inside of him and twisting it. You ripped him open rather badly and it would seem that you managed to push the thing all the way up into his stomach cavity."

"That's impossible!"

"I was the one with the honor of getting rid of the crowbar after the party," she told her. "It had pieces of what I'm pretty sure were intestine stuck to it. Greg was brought to the medical office writhing in pain and vomiting blood. He suffered in agony for several hours before he finally died."

Jessica paled during the story but finally recovered herself. She shook off the image and then turned on Madeline for providing it to her. "So what if we did do that?" she asked. "What the hell is the difference? He's one of the men that used to rape us. Why should anyone care what happens to those scum? Do they deserve any better?"

"Yes," Madeline said, "they do. For God's sake, Jessica, what you did was barbaric. It was beyond an atrocity. And it's not the first time either. We've had a total of three deaths now because of the abuses that you and your friends do during your little parties."

"You listen to me, little missy," Jessica said, glaring at her. "How dare you come in here and talk to me like this. I am the leader of this community and I will do whatever I see fit. If a few scum-sucking pieces of shit that call themselves men are hurt being punished for the way that they treated us, what the hell business is it of yours? You're just the head security guard! And didn't you kill the man that was raping you when this all started? As I recall, you cut his throat open while he was sleeping, didn't you?"

"And that was a tactical act of warfare," Madeline told her. "Granted, I enjoyed it a great deal, but I did not torture him, nor did I do it as party entertainment. Do you really not see a difference?"

"There is no difference," Jessica hissed. "I'm sorry that my parties offend your little sensibilities. I didn't realize you cared so much for those animals."

"Those animals are human beings," she said, "despite their crimes. And animals are not even treated the way you're treating them. They didn't treat us the way you're treating them, not even Stu's men."

"I've had about enough out of you for today," Jessica said dismissively, not wanting to discuss this any further. "You may leave now."

"I have some other things that I need to talk about as well," Madeline told her.

"What other things?"

"The guards," she told her. "You've been encouraging my guards to go over my head directly to you for reassignment to day and night shift. And then you've been granting the changes without consulting me."

"It is my prerogative as leader," Jessica said. "If you treat them unfairly, I have the right and the obligation to make things right."

"Unfair?" Madeline said, her eyes widening. "You call assigning people that just happen to be your cronies to night shift unfair? That's bullshit, Jess, absolute bullshit. I treat every one of my people the same. Everyone works the day shift for a week and then everyone works the night shift for a week. But just because certain people have your ear and they've been to your parties, they're going to you and asking to be taken off their night shift obligations and you're granting it. And then nobody is telling me this until someone shows up for a shift I'm not expecting them on and telling the woman who is not one of your cronies that she is now working the night shift again. Or, I have to force people to work double shifts because someone wanted the night off to go to one of your parties, or they're too hung over to work their day shift. I can't maintain discipline this way. Our guard force is becoming a joke."

"I do not engage in favoritism," she said. "I simply reassign where you have been displaying it for your friends. Don't try to twist this around on me. And remember who is in charge of this town."

Madeline trembled a little in frustration, grappling with control. How she wanted to slap this idiotic woman and try to drive some sense into her. How she just wanted to slap her for the sheer pleasure of it. But she didn't. That was not the answer, would not accomplish anything. Instead, she tried reasoning. "Jess," she said, "the militia will be back soon, any day now. That means that four hundred men with guns are going to be showing up expecting to come back into town and resume their lives."

"I know what it means," Jessica said. "So shouldn't you be out there preparing for them and watching for them instead of being in here bothering me?"

"If we don't have discipline in the ranks," Madeline said, "then we're going to lose. You have got to stop interfering with my scheduling and my training. You have got to stop showing favoritism for certain women."

"I don't have to do anything," Jessica said. "That is what being in charge is all about. It is me who makes the decisions here and it is me who decides what kind of discipline is needed or expected. You are nothing but a scheduling person and you're not even very good about that. Now I suggest you leave this office right now before you end up on the kitchen detail or the laundry detail instead. It is well within my power to put you there you know."

"Jess," Madeline tried again.

"Go now," she said. "Not another word or you'll be in the laundry room so fast it'll make your head swim."

"You need to listen to me, Goddammit!" Madeline yelled, finally reaching the breaking point. "For the love of God, what are you doing? You're risking our entire revolution, our entire town because you just have to have your little fingers in everything. Is your little power trip that important to you? So important that you'll risk it all before you admit you're being a fucking idiot?"

Jessica's hands clenched into fists and her face turned beet red. "You're relieved of your duties," she hissed. "As of this moment, you're on laundry detail."

"You can't remove me from the security detail," Madeline shot back at her. "I'm the only one in this town with the training and experience to lead a battle against the men!"

"I have relieved you," she yelled, slamming her fist down hard enough to knock over her drink. Tomato juice and vodka spilled over the surface and onto the floor. "I want you down there washing laundry right now." She picked up her walkie-talkie. "Alice, get in here."

"Jessica," Madeline said again, calming herself. "You..."

"Shut up," Jessica barked at her. The outside door opened and Alice put her head in. She looked at her. "Have the guards escort Madeline down to the laundry room," she told her. "As of this moment she is relieved of her former duties."

Alice looked very doubtful. "Ma'am?" she said. "Are you sure that's a good..."

"Don't you question me!" Jessica screamed at her. "You are little more than a secretary and I did not ask you for your opinion! I gave you an order and I expect you to carry it out!"

"Yes, Ma'am," Alice said, withdrawing from the room and leaving the door open. She looked very frightened as she went.

"Leave your gun here," Jessica said, looking at Madeline again. "You won't be needing it in the laundry room."

Madeline unsnapped the .45 she carried from its holster and removed it. She tossed it down onto Jessica's desk where it landed with a clunk. "You're making a big mistake," she said.

"Oh, I don't think so," Jessica replied icily. "I don't think so at all."

The pain was certainly there, a deep, constant throb that pulsed up and down his leg rhythmically, as regular as a ticking clock or a beating heart. But it was not nearly as deep, as gripping as it had been in the helicopter or in the bed the previous night. It would seem that Renee, the former family practitioner who was now a general surgeon, had done something right in there. Of course he had no way of knowing if that was true or not. He could not move his left leg, not even the tiniest inch. The entire thing, from just below the pelvis to the bottom of his ankle, was strapped into a very improvised brace made from metal poles that looked like they'd been taken from a child's swing set. These poles were held together with flexible aluminum straps of the sort that held an automatic garage door opener on its mounting. If Brett tried to move his lower leg at all, it didn't budge. He could lift it slightly upward by lifting with his upper thigh muscles but the entire leg came up with it when he did this. Renee and her assistants had basically immobilized the leg into a straight position.

It was about an hour since he'd awakened from the anesthesia he'd been given for the surgical procedure. He was back in the same room that he'd spent the previous day in with the same roommates, although Sarah was looking a little livelier on this day. His throat was dry and scratchy and hurt like fire when he tried to swallow - a result of the breathing tube that Renee had placed in his trachea while he'd been out. His mind had been very cloudy at first - indeed it took him more than fifteen minutes to remember where he was and what had happened to him - but now his thinking, such as it was, was pretty much back to normal. Jennifer, the nurse, had given him a shot of morphine a little while after he'd awakened and had told him that the surgery had gone well, but other than that he had talked to no one yet.

"How are you doing?" a female voice, approaching from behind, enquired of him. He recognized it as Renee.

He looked up at her, seeing the bags under her eyes that came from being almost constantly awake for the last 30 hours. He could smell cigarette smoke on her, as if she'd just stepped out for one. "I don't know," he said pleasantly. "How am I doing?"

She grabbed a rolling chair from next to Susan's bed and brought it over, plopping herself down into it. She looked at him. "You're kneecap is not quite in the same position it used to be in," she told him. "The underlying bone structure was pretty much mangled and I had to fit it in there the best I could. It kind of leans to the right a little and is tilted upward on the left."

"I see," Brett said, although he really couldn't. "So you're saying that my leg will be kind of funny looking?"

"That's right," she said. "It'll be kind of funny looking and it will be perhaps an inch shorter than the right leg. That bullet smashed through the lower part of your femur and the upper part of your tibia and fibula. It also cut through some of the tendons that hold your knee together."

"So will I be able to walk?" he asked her.

She gave him a half-smile. "I think so," she said. "It'll take you a little getting used to and you'll almost certainly have a pronounced limp for the rest of your life, but I think that you'll be able to recover most of the functions of that leg."

He gave her a full smile. "That's really good to hear, doc," he told her. "Thank you."

She shrugged. "I did what I could," she said. "Back in the old days, before the comet, I could've sent you to an orthopedic surgeon who could've fixed you up so that you were better than you had been before. But we seem to be all out of orthopedic surgeons these days."

"I'm sure you did the best you could," Brett told her. "Really, I'm just grateful that there was doctor to work on me and the others at all. You saved most of us, doc. Sarah sure as hell wouldn't have made it without you and I probably wouldn't have either. At the very least I would've been bedridden forever."

"Well, I'm not saying for sure that you won't be yet," she said. "Keep in mind that I did an orthopedic rotation once when I was back in medical school. That was the extent of my training for you and for Susan over there. I put your leg back together with some pretty strange things - things that were never meant to be put into a human body. I put screws from the hardware store into your femur and tibia. I cut the damaged bone away with a pair of bolt cutters from Frank Edwards' garage. I used a Makita reversible drill to screw in the screws. I'm telling you, I felt like I was in woodshop back in high school instead of operating on a human being."

"But it worked didn't it?" Brett asked, actually finding it somewhat amusing that she'd put ordinary wood screws into his leg with a Makita.

"I'm pretty sure it did," she agreed. "And I sterilized them of course, if you were wondering about that."

"Actually, I wasn't. But thanks for letting me know anyway. So how long will I be in this get-up?"

"Six weeks minimum," she told him. "Probably more. I don't have an X-ray machine to check on the progress of the mend so we'll have to play it safe. After it looks like its healing up, you'll be able to try walking on it and getting it back up to strength. You're going to lose muscle tone while you're convalescing. And of course you're going to have to take Coumadin for at least a month."

"Do you have that much Coumadin?" he asked her. "We used up our entire town's supply treating Sherrie's leg."

"Well, we had a pharmacy available to us so we have a fairly good supply of it," Renee told him. "But we'll probably exhaust a good portion of that treating all of the bone injuries that resulted from the war."

Brett wondered if she was hinting at something. She seemed to have something that she wanted to discuss but it didn't seem to be a trading issue - at least not exactly. "What can we do about that?" he asked carefully.

"We need to get more medical supplies," Renee said simply.

"Look," Brett said, "I'm sorry that we've burdened you with our wounded, really I am. But..."

"No," Renee said, shaking her head. "You misunderstand me. I'm not trying to point out a debt that you owe to us. Not at all."


"No," she said. "While it's true we have treated your wounded here in our town, using our supplies, I am not trying to hint to you that you now owe us something in return. On the contrary, I believe - and Pat shares this attitude I'm sure - that it is you that did us a favor. You fought the war. You sacrificed the people to beat those fascists in Auburn. Now we won't have to deal with them in the future. If you would've lost I'm sure they eventually would have worked their way down to us at some point."

"I suppose you're right," Brett said.

"So you see," she said, "treating your wounded and using our supplies to do it with was the least we could do. In truth, I'm somewhat ashamed that we didn't send troops down your way to help you out. We had volunteers you know."

"No," he said, a little surprised. "I didn't know."

"More than fifty of us, men and women alike, volunteered to take up arms for your cause. It was only the logistics of getting them there that prevented us from making an official offer. In a way I feel like we were the United States during the early part of World War II and you folks over in Garden Hill were the Russians or the English. We supplied the ammunition and the guns for you and you did the killing of the enemy and the sacrificing of your own people."

"It's over now," Brett said, wondering where all of this was leading. "We've beat them back and they shouldn't be a threat to anyone again for a long time. Don't let your actions or lack of actions keep you awake at night."

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