Cassie awoke to the dim rustle of movement around her. Remembering that she was in danger but confused as to what the threat might be, she made to sit up. A hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Stay quiet,” Galahad said. “You took a pretty nasty kick to the head.”
So that was why her head was pounding. She opened her eyes and saw she was in a reception area, lying on the carpet near several bandaged teens resting quietly in the dim light of yellow glow sticks. Nearby, a Thespian nurse in a white uniform and starched cap moved among the patients. She noticed Cassie was awake and came over. “How are you doing?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Galahad smiled. “Let her finish waking up.”
The nurse took her vitals, asked a lot of questions and made Cassie tell her how many fingers she was holding up.
“Three. There’s nothing wrong with my eyes.”
“I think she’s fine,” Galahad told the nurse. He helped Cassie to her feet and held her while she saw spots and swayed. When she was steady on her feet, he led her into the tunnel that would take them to the stairs and daylight.
“Are they all dead?” Cassie asked. There was no need to clarify who she meant.
For a moment the only sound was the echo of their footsteps. “So that’s it, then. No cure.”
Galahad’s arm tightened around her. “It may be possible for May to make something of the lab notes, but… no disrespect to her intelligence, but if a group of elite biomedical researchers couldn’t figure it out….” He held open a door so they could enter the stairwell. They emerged into an open area of marble floors and elevator banks, sunny with the afternoon rays angling through the plate glass windows.
“Well,” Cassie said with a sigh, “It’s not like we expected much.”
“Some kids did. The twins died thinking the cure was real.”
Cassie cringed at mention of the twins. “May tried to warn us. She said we would probably be disappointed.”
They stepped into the sunshine and walked toward the parking lot and the rolling fields beyond. Scattered about were the bodies of the dead and the bloody forms of the injured. Weak voices called to them as they passed, begging for water and medicine, but Galahad steered Cassie away, assuring her that care of the injured was under control and that Pharms and Obits would likely be shot anyway, so it was best not to waste any sympathy on them.
Cassie tried to feel something for the doomed enemy soldiers but found only indifference. This disturbed her more than anything else so far. “I can’t take this any more.”
Galahad looked at her in alarm. “You’ll feel better soon. We’re going to help each other through this.”
Realizing he had misinterpreted her words, Cassie shook her head. “I’m not planning on doing the Telo’s job. What I mean is I can’t go back to the city. I want to go to my family’s retreat.”
“Is that wise?”
“I think I can do it. I know how to forage off the land, and my parents stocked the place like they were preparing for the apocalypse. A different kind, of course.”
“If that’s what you think you need to do.” Galahad looked away, his jaw set and his eyes fixed on an imaginary point of interest on the horizon.
Cassie stopped walking and made him look at her. “I was hoping…” she felt herself blush and hated herself for the sudden wave of bashfulness. “I thought maybe you’d like to come.”
“Are you sure you want me?” His features were stern, but there was no mistaking the spark of hope in his eyes. “There’s things I can’t explain about my past.”
She took his hand, knowing what was troubling him. “You didn’t do it.” When he didn’t answer, she added, “And even if you did, I wouldn’t care. Everything is changing so fast.” Cassie struggled to come up with words that would capture what she meant. “We’re not who we were a year ago, or even last week. I should’ve had faith in you all along, but I do now and…well, can we just start over?”
“On one condition.” He tugged at her necklace and pulled the ring out of her shirt. “That you’ll wear this on your finger instead of around your neck.”
He unclasped the chain and held the ring in his hand for a moment where it sparkled with a fine white light. Then he slipped it onto her finger and closed his hand over hers. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
Cassie sucked in her breath. “We can’t.”
“Who says? The dead people? What did they ever know?”
She pulled her hand out of his and examined the ring in the golden light of late afternoon. There was so little time and she wanted so much!