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Part 4

Chapter Five
Tuesday, 5.45. Over Lanarkshire:

Carolyn took the thermometer from Herc’s mouth. 37.5, now. Still going down. True, he was still paralysed with botulism, but the temperature was a start, at least.

‘Excuse me.’

Carolyn looked up, startled. Josephine stood awkwardly by her seat, her hammer still clutched in her hand.

‘Do you have anything to eat? Zoë and I were rationing what we had… we didn’t have any lunch today.’

Carolyn nodded, briskly. ‘We put a few of the tins in the galley. It’s just spaghetti hoops – that sort of thing, but the good news is, the microwave works on board, so you can have it hot at least.’

‘After the last two days, hot hoops would be a feast.’ Josephine paused, regarding Herc. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

Carolyn noticed the other woman instinctively raising her weapon.

‘Botulism, if you’d believe,’ Carolyn told her. ‘Ate some bad mushrooms, but then that’s vegetarianism for you.’

Josephine narrowed her eyes slightly. ‘He looks a bit bloody…’

‘You haven’t had to fight any of them,’ snapped Carolyn. ‘We have. Trust me - if there were any of them on board, we’d jolly well know about it by now. So, if you wouldn’t mind, kindly return to your seat.’

Josephine wandered back to where her daughter was still fussing over Snoopadoop, but kept a wary eye on Herc’s seat at the front. Her hammer remained raised and ready.

Carolyn popped the thermometer back into Herc’s mouth.

You realise, she chided him, mentally, if you do turn in to one of them now, you’re going to make me look like a complete prat.

Tuesday, 6.10pm. Over the Highlands:

‘Another coffee, chaps?’

‘Oh dear God, yes.’

‘How’s Herc?’ asked Martin.

‘Mum says his temperature’s normal, now. Looks pretty rough, though.’

‘I can imagine.’

‘I had something to ask, but I’ve forgotten it, now.’ Arthur looked out at the rapidly darkening sky. ‘Oh! Any thoughts of where we’re going, yet?’

‘We’re going to try the Isle of Lewis,’ Douglas told him, ‘failing that, we can push on to Iceland or Greenland again.’ He paused. ‘How are our passengers faring?’

‘Zoë and Josephine, you mean? They’re fine! I found some beans with sausages in – they’re having them for dinner. Oh, that’s a point – which of you wants leek and potato soup for dinner, and which of you wants corned beef?’

‘Surprise us.’

‘Okie Doke!’

‘Will the delights never end?’ asked Douglas with an arched eyebrow, once Arthur had left.

Martin gave no response.

‘Why don’t you take that break, now?’ Douglas asked. ‘It’s all over, now.’

Martin gazed grimly out of the windscreen. ‘No it isn’t.’

Tuesday, 6.30pm. Over The Minch:

‘Do you see that?’

‘That light? Yes. What is that? It can’t be Stornoway – not yet.’

‘Hello, chaps. I remembered that thing I was going to say. You know how everybody’s saying the zombie thing is a virus, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you know how viruses are supposed to be sort-of alive, right?’

‘Right. Go on.’

‘Well, what if… maybe if… if there were two diseases in a body, might they sort-of fight it out, like armies? Can one disease kill another disease?’

‘I don’t know. Can it, Douglas?’

‘I’m a Medical School drop-out – not a Research Scientist at Pfizer. We don’t know the first thing about this virus, but something odd’s happening with Herc. What that is, I just can’t say.’

Tuesday, 6.32pm. Over The Minch:

‘That’s a ship. A big one.’

‘A battleship?’

‘Not just a battleship – it’s an aircraft carrier – look!’

‘Royal Navy?’

‘Hope so. I’m going to try to radio them.’

Distress call recorded by HMS Queen Elizabeth, 18:33:

GT-I: Come in? This is Golf Tango India – the small commercial jet approaching you from the South East. If you’re the rather fine looking Naval Aircraft Carrier currently patrolling the Minch, we’d simply love to have a chat.

HMS Queen Elizabeth: Copy, Golf Tango India. This is the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Do we take it that you’re not exactly jetting off for a lovely holiday somewhere sun soaked?

GT-I: Well, we’re certainly trying to get away from it all, but not in the more traditional, enjoyable sense, no. We have 8 civilians on board – four men, two women, a child and a Cockerpoo. What are your thoughts on offering shelter to a small handful of refugees?

HMS Queen Elizabeth: You may land.

GT-I: Oh, how very kind of you.

HMS Queen Elizabeth: You are to remain on board your aircraft until thoroughly screened for Virus XPT1. If you are all found to be clear of the virus, you may board as refugees.

GT-I: Ah. See, now, there’s going to be a slight hitch with that. And, before you load your anti-aircraft guns, let me say this – we have something on board that you may well find very beneficial. We have what we believe to be a cure.

HMS Queen Elizabeth: Please elaborate.

GT-I: One of our party was infected, almost 2 hours ago. He also has another, unrelated infection – a form of botulism, we believe. He was showing early symptoms of this XPT1 virus, but they passed within an hour or so.

(at this point, a female voice begins to scream in the background of GT-I’s transmission. Seems to be crying “I knew it, I knew it, he’s infected, he’s one of them”)

GT-I: (continues) His temperature’s normal, and he’s still perfectly lucid. I think that’s something you might want to study – don’t you?

HMS Queen Elizabeth: We’re giving you clearance to land. Stay on board your plane until you are met by security and screening teams. Do you copy?

GT-I: Josephine, no. Listen to

Distress call ends.


Tuesday, 6.35pm. Above The Minch:

‘Josephine, no. Listen to me…’

Nobody had noticed Douglas’ ex-wife eavesdropping at the door of the flight deck until it had been too late. Now, she was livid - clutching the hammer with worrying intent, her eyes bright with angry tears.

‘He’s been infected all this time! You knew! You manipulated us into leaving our home, which was safe, and had us get onto a tiny little plane that we couldn’t escape, with one of them! Your own daughter, Douglas!’

‘It is under control,’ Carolyn told her. ‘He hasn’t succumbed to it – if anything, he’s getting better. Added to which, he’s currently paralysed, further added to which, if things do go wrong, I have my gun. And I will use it. I have a child on board too, you know.’

‘Don’t you talk to me about protecting your kid, you old bitch! If you cared for your son, you’d have shot that… thing the moment it became infected.’

‘He is a sick man. He is not a monster.’

‘He will be! They all are!’

‘With the greatest respect, Josephine,’ snarled Carolyn, ‘you don’t know what in the blue blazes you’re wittering about. You haven’t even seen somebody fully infected. I have – I’ve had to kill three of them myself and I’ll do it again if needs be, but he is not one of them.’

‘Well, we’ll see what the Navy have to say about that,’ retorted Josephine. ‘If, that is, they don’t just kill us all for having been so much as in close contact with the virus.’

‘What’s this about the Navy?’ Carolyn asked Douglas.

‘The HMS Queen Elizabeth.’ Douglas pointed down at the ship, gleaming in the dark sea. ‘We’ve been given clearance to land.’

‘How hospitable of them,’ said Carolyn, ‘but I thought we were going to Stornoway.’

‘Carolyn,’ argued Douglas, ‘there is a very good chance that Hercules holds the key to finding a cure for this thing. Do you have any idea how many people that could save, in the right hands?’

‘And the Armed Forces are the right hands, are they?’

‘Well, do you have any better ideas?’

It was Carolyn’s turn to clutch her weapon with a little too much fervour. ‘Do you have any idea what they’ll do to him?’

‘No, but neither do you.’

‘They’ll tear him apart – they’ll dissect him!’

‘You don’t know that!’

‘Best thing for it,’ muttered Josephine.

‘You’ll shut your mouth!’ snapped Carolyn. ‘Douglas, you are not landing on that ship. Do you hear me?’ She lifted her gun a little. ‘I said, do you hear me?’

‘Carolyn,’ said Douglas, ‘tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.’

‘Why – what do you think I’m doing?’

‘Trying to hijack your own aeroplane.’

‘She can’t,’ panicked Josephine. ‘Douglas, she can’t! I won’t have my daughter on my plane with one of those for a moment longer. If you don’t land, I swear, I’ll…’ she hefted up her hammer more.

‘Don’t you dare!’

‘He’s going to kill us all! He’ll rip us to shreds! And our children! Don’t you get that?’

Josephine took a step towards the cabin, and Herc. Zoë screamed. Arthur clutched Snoopadoop to himself.

Carolyn pointed the gun square at Josephine.

‘Carolyn,’ warned Douglas, ‘no…’

‘Not on my plane,’ seethed Carolyn. ‘This is my plane…’

Whenever Douglas thought back to what had happened, he was sure he had actually heard something within Martin snap, even though he knew that that was impossible. He remembered very clearly, however, Martin jamming his blood stained cap onto his head, standing up and turning to the assembled throng.

‘And I am the Captain,’ he announced, loudly, ‘and when we are in the air, I have command, so can everybody just drop your weapons, return to your seats and Calm. The Fuck. DOWN!’

‘No, Martin, you listen to me…’

‘No! You listen to me! If we’ve accidentally discovered a cure, it won’t do anybody any good in Stornoway, or Qaanaaq. So, we’re landing on that ship, and if it looks as if they’re going to hurt Herc, then we’ll just have to take off again. And no, Josephine, you are not going to do anything to him either. You’ve been on the same plane as him for an hour now and nothing’s happened. We are landing in literally two minutes, so sit down, fasten your safety belts and do not disembark until instructed!’

Josephine took another step towards the cabin.

‘Arthur, would you mind holding on to the hammer until we’re safe to disembark?’ added Martin.

Arthur scurried forward.

‘And the gun.’ Martin was getting an odd little twitch in his eye.

‘Martin,’ Carolyn warned. ‘Think very carefully about this. I don’t think…’

Martin’s eye twitched again. ‘ThegunthankyouArthurnowCarolynwouldyoukindlySITDOWN!!’

Arthur took the gun off Carolyn with a quiet ‘sorry, Mum’, and ushered the women back towards their seats.

‘Right,’ said Martin, sitting back down at the controls again. ‘Right. Right. Right.’

‘Didn’t need the lipstick after all,’ said Douglas.

Tuesday, 6.40pm. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

They sat quietly on the landed plane for just over a minute before there was a banging on the door. Arthur opened it up to around 15 Naval officers in Hazmat suits who entered with a tactful sense of urgency. A female Lieutenant with a sympathetic smile explained to them what was going on as Herc was swiftly strapped in to a stretcher.

Carolyn got to her feet, but wasn’t able to get to him. ‘What are you going to do to him?’

‘He’ll be quarantined in a secure area, obviously,’ the Lieutenant told them, ‘most likely restrained, but we’ll make sure he’s comfortable.’

‘Yes, but what are you going to do to him?’

‘Well, I can’t pretend we’re not going to take a lot of samples,’ said the Lieutenant. ‘Not going to be a great time for him if he doesn’t like needles.’

‘And that’s all? You swear, that’s all?’

‘If the virus takes hold of him, we’ll have to take adequate steps to ensure the safety of the crew,’ said the Lieutenant, ‘but believe me – if the patient is managing to fight off XPT1, it’s in everybody’s interest to make certain he lives to tell the tale.’

Eight of the officers, alien in their Hazmat suits, bundled Herc out of the plane and hurried off with the stretcher. Another six remained, along with the Lieutenant.

‘We’re going to have to ask you to stay aboard your aircraft until you’ve all been screened for the virus,’ explained the Lieutenant. ‘We’ll let you know once we’ve had the all-clear, and we’ll see about getting you somewhere more comfortable to stay.’

‘Herc,’ said Carolyn, watching the departing Hazmat suits through the plane’s window. ‘His name is Herc Shipwright, not “the patient”. Would you tell them?’

‘I will, Mrs Shipwright,’ replied the Lieutenant, kindly. She had left the plane and followed after Herc before Carolyn had chance to correct her.

Carolyn was only able to stand there, open her mouth, close it again, and then say ‘oh, shut up,’ to nobody in particular.

Tuesday, 7.30pm. HMS Queen Elizabeth.

All was quiet and still aboard the plane. Snoopadoop was napping on Arthur’s lap. Arthur in turn was listening to Zoë read softly from the copy of Fantastic Mr Fox she’d packed. Josephine listened too, running her fingers gently, soothingly through Zoë’s hair. Douglas had gone to sit in the cabin after their blood samples had been taken, and was just about starting to nod. Carolyn and Martin still sat tensely – Carolyn silently watching the armed personnel that guarded the plane out of the window, Martin at the controls in the flight deck, a tight hand on the yoke, gazing out at the runway and the black sea beyond.

There came another knock at the door. Carolyn was up and opening it in a flash.

‘Well?’

‘All clear,’ announced the Lieutenant with a smile.

‘And Herc…?’

‘Has the virus in his system,’ the Lieutenant told them, matter of factly, ‘but we already all knew that. In practical terms, he’s much the same. Normal temperature, paralysis due to the toxin, but he’s managing to breathe normally. You said it was something your son cooked that gave him the botulism?’

‘”Cooked” is rather stretching the facts, but technically, yes.’

‘If we can borrow you for a bit, Arthur,’ said the Lieutenant, ‘the more you can remember about what your dad ate, the better.’

‘My dad…?’ Arthur frowned. ‘Oh, you mean Herc?’

‘Stepdad,’ the Lieutenant corrected herself. ‘Sorry.’

Arthur continued to frown. ‘But, he’s…’

‘Can we see him?’ interrupted Carolyn, quickly.

‘Not right now, we’re still running tests. But soon.’ The Lieutenant gave the assembled group another little smile. ‘Are you hungry?’

‘We ate on the plane,’ Arthur volunteered. ‘We’ve got loads of Pinto Beans & Spam on board, for some reason.’

The Lieutenant nodded. ‘Well, then let’s just get you all cleaned up and find you lot some bunks. If I don’t mind my saying so, you all look in need of a scrub-up and a decent bed.’

Nobody was offended. In fact, the group agreed with her most wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, 8.10pm. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

It wasn’t the long, hot luxurious shower Douglas had been fantasising about since Qaanaaq, but it was warm enough and got rid of all the sweat and grime and mud and petrol and God only knew what else that had attached itself to him since his strip wash in Greenland the day before. He came out smelling of the ship’s issue soap they’d given him and feeling clean for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. His filthy uniform had been taken away – he could only imagine it was to be burnt – and he had been issued some spare naval uniform. The trousers were a little short and the jumper a little tight, but again, it was warm and clean and dry, which at that point, was a definite plus in Douglas’ book.

‘Did you want me to show you to your cabin?’ asked the young Able Seaman at the shower room door. ‘It actually belongs to some of the guys on night shift, so I’m afraid we’ll have to boot you out at 0700 hours when they’ll be needing their beauty sleep, but any port in a storm, right?’

‘As long as it’s horizontal, human sized and reasonably padded, the stormy port you have to offer sounds delightful.’

‘You’re bunking with the rest of your crew,’ added the Able Seaman. ‘Zoë and her Mum are sharing with some female cadets in a cabin just down from yours. And I hope you don’t mind – the dog’s making quite a lot of friends with some of the lads in the mess. We’ll get her back to you in one piece,’ he added, hurriedly, ‘but she’ll probably be knackered.’

‘A knackered Cockerpoo is, in my opinion, the best kind of Cockerpoo,’ replied Douglas. ‘I must say, you lot are being surprisingly hospitable to a plane full of refugees covered in zombie juice and carrying an infected passenger.’

‘Carrying the cure,’

‘We don’t know that for sure.’

‘Yes,’ said the Able Seaman, ‘but we hope. That’s better than we’ve had in days. Bit of hope. Just seeing civilians make it out alive after 48 hours – and with a kiddie and a mental dog… I don’t think you realise what a sight for sore eyes you lot are. They were starting to say there’d be no survivors by now.’

‘Well, I’m glad we proved them wrong,’ replied Douglas. ‘Would it be all right if I saw Zoë? Just to say goodnight?’

‘It’s fine. I don’t think they’re sleeping, yet.’

He found Zoë and her mother together in the same bunk – Zoë reading to Josephine who ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair, as she had done on the plane. Both looked up as Douglas came in. His ex-wife gave him a quietly apologetic smile.

‘Hello, Douglas. Come to kiss goodnight?’ She swung herself out of Zoë’s bed so that Douglas could crouch down next to their daughter.

Zoë, sweetly swamped by the jumper she’d been given, propped herself up on her elbow. ‘Hiya, Dad.’

‘Are you going to get a good night’s sleep, then?’

Zoë nodded, and smiled. ‘Can I play with Snoopadoop tomorrow?’

‘I’m sure you can.’ Douglas kissed her on the forehead and stood up.

Josephine laid a hand on his arm. ‘Listen – about earlier. I just wanted to say sorry.’

‘Goodness – will miracles never cease, today?’

‘You should have warned me about Herc,’ said Josephine, ‘but I just made things worse, going off on one like that.’

‘Well. No harm done.’

And, for the record,’ she added, ‘I’m glad we got on the plane. Zoë was right about it getting scary back home – I mean, you know the sort of horrible, curtain twitching, Daily Mail reading neighbours we had – can you imagine them, forming a militia?’

‘I’m trying not to.’

‘Well. Thank you for today. That’s all I wanted to say.’

‘It was anything but a selfless act, let me assure you.’

Josephine nodded in understanding. ‘Good night, Douglas.’

‘Night, Josephine.’ He bent down and kissed his daughter again. ‘Night, Zoë.’

‘Night, Dad. Love you.’

‘Love you, too.’

Tuesday, 8.25pm. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

Martin was in the cabin by the time Douglas got back to it. He was seated in a slumped position on one of the lower bunks – an oversized jumper drowning him in wool not unlike the way Zoë’s new clothes had. His face and hands looked as though he’d scrubbed them raw in the shower, they were so red.

‘Ready to turn in, Martin? I daresay Arthur and Carolyn will be hitting the sack as soon as they’ve finished giving their toxicology lesson to the Navy.’

Martin took in a deep breath, and whispered something on exhaling that was so quiet, Douglas couldn’t make it out.

‘What was that?’

‘They took my hat,’ Martin repeated, louder. ‘And my jacket.’

‘Of course they took them, Martin. They had bits of zombie on them. If the Royal Navy have the slightest bit of common sense, they’ll have taken all our clothes, burnt them, had the ashes irradiated, put into a lead lined box and then brought the ship’s Chaplain round to have them Exorcised.’

‘But… it was my hat. And my epaulettes, and my badge.’ He looked down at the jumper. ‘This isn’t a Captain’s jumper.’

‘I doubt the Captain’s jumper would have fit you.’

This jumper doesn’t fit me,’ blurted Martin, miserably. ‘It’s not even an Officer’s jumper and it still doesn’t fit me…’

And here, finally, came the tears. They started quietly – subtly, almost, as Martin tried and failed at first to stop, then at least to hide the flow from Douglas.

‘Oh, Martin,’ sighed Douglas.

Martin must have taken that as the final signal that the jig was well and truly up, and that there was no point in trying to hold back any longer. It was like a dam bursting. Martin curled up on his haunches on the bed, buried his head in his hand and sobbed.

For a moment, Douglas wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t feel he could leave the cabin and let Martin get on with it by himself – not after the day they’d had. Instead, he sat down on the bunk next to Martin. He thought about a supportive pat on the knee, but decided against it.

‘It’s all right, Martin,’ he said. ‘There’ll be other hats.’

‘No it’s not,’ struggled Martin through heaving sobs. ‘Those people – killed all those people…’

‘And what would have happened to us if you hadn’t? We wouldn’t be here, that’s for certain.’

‘But I killed them, I killed them… oh, God, and I shouted at Carolyn!’

‘Yes, you did.’

‘Oh God, oh God…’

‘Martin,’ added Douglas, gently, ‘has it not struck you at all that maybe – just maybe – you were absolutely bloody glorious today?’

Martin raised his head a little from his hands, and gazed sideways at Douglas – no words coming through his hitching breaths.

‘I mean,’ Douglas continued, ‘I’m sure Arthur’s told you you were brilliant, but then he said that when you found that carton of Um Bongo he’d lost last week, so I appreciate that the word can lose its potency when used by him. But seriously, Martin. You diffused a stand-off on the fight deck between two women with a lot to lose, and you did so to follow through with the most sensible decision. I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve saved my bacon today – one of which involved using a prop plane as a weapon. You have been a magnificent man in his flying machine. And, in Tesco.’

Martin took in a deep, shuddering breath. ‘Don’t suppose it matters, now.’

‘Of course it does.’

‘Yes, but… what’s going to happen? I mean – we’ve escaped. But now what?’

‘Now, we sleep.’

‘No, I mean, now what for everybody else? If I was so “magnificent”, I should have saved more than 6 people and a dog.’

‘You might have done. We’ll have to see if they can do anything with Herc’s apparent immunity.’

‘But what if they can’t?’

‘Martin. When we landed and let them have Herc, we – very literally – got out of the driver’s seat and – rather more figuratively – got into the back. This is our chance to sleep in the back seat, just for a bit. Let somebody else – somebody better equipped for now – to take the wheel.’ Douglas shuffled back a little, so that his sleeve was touching Martin’s side. ‘For the time being, let’s just close our eyes, and listen to the thrum of the engines, and feel safe and absolved of responsibility. Even if it’s only temporary. All right?’

Tuesday, 9pm. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

When Carolyn and Arthur got to the cabin, they found both Martin and Douglas fast asleep on the same bunk. Martin was curled into a tight ball, with Douglas half-draped over him – his head wedged between the wall and Martin’s ribs. They tried poking them both, but neither man was in any mood to wake up, so they left them.

Wednesday, 4.30am. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

Douglas woke up briefly, remembered staying with Martin til he fell asleep, and realised he must have nodded off before being able to get into his own bunk. He wondered momentarily why Arthur was curled up asleep in there with them too, and why Carolyn had pulled a mattress and blanket down on to the floor next to them with Snoopadoop at her feet instead of getting into a bed before be dozed off once more.

Wednesday, 6.50am. HMS Queen Elizabeth:

They were woken with a courteous knock at the door. Carolyn was up quickly and opened the door before any of the men could disentangle themselves from one another. It was Lt Barnes again – the officer who had liaised with them ever since they’d landed, and with whom Carolyn and Arthur had spent a frustrating hour trying to determine exactly what strain of botulism her son had put in the Mushroom Delight the night before.

‘Any news?’

‘We took another blood sample at 0600,’ Barnes told her, ‘and the virus was found to be all but eradicated. We do have good reason to believe it’s the strain of botulism he contracted that’s fighting XTP-1 off, rather than any longer term lifestyle factors…’

‘Thank God for that.’

‘Well, yes. It means we can recreate the toxin – we finally have a weapon against the virus.’

‘No, I mean, thank God it’s not just because of his diet. Good Lord, can you imagine how much smugger vegetarians would be if it turned out it made them immune to zombification? It would be unbearable.’

‘So, Herc’s going to be OK?’ Arthur got to his feet. ‘It’s like I said – one disease fighting another one? With big diseasey swords?’

‘He’s going to be pretty ill for some time,’ said Barnes. ‘Botulism’s nothing to be sniffed at. But he should eventually recover. Hopefully you’ll be able to see him later today, Mrs Shipwright.’

‘But Mum’s not…’

Carolyn jabbed her son in the ribs with her elbow.

‘Ow!’

‘Oh, I’m sorry, Arthur. Didn’t see you there.’

‘So, you’re really going to just release botulism all over the country?’ Martin asked.

‘It’s far better than the alternative,’ said Barnes.

‘Anything’s better than just leaving them to it, I suppose,’ added Douglas.

Barnes huffed a little laugh. ‘That’s not how our American, French and Russian friends were planning on tackling the situation. They are very keen to see the virus stopped before it spreads beyond the British mainland. As thoroughly as possible.’

Carolyn blanched. ‘They want to nuke us.’

‘They have been persuaded to hold back and let us use the toxin.’ Barnes paused. ‘I suppose their emergency meetings on how to deal with us have got Russia and the West in agreement again for the first time in an age. Every cloud. Hungry for breakfast?’

‘So,’ muttered Douglas to Carolyn as they were led to the ship’s mess, ‘are we going by “Mrs Shipwright” now just so that they’ll give you more visiting privileges, or has Herc just signed up for something without even knowing about it yet?’

‘Oh, do shut up.’

‘I think it’s sweet. Love triumphing over despair. Or maybe you’re just going soppy in your advancing years.’

‘Have we forgotten whom I discovered fast asleep, cuddling Martin Crieff like a bony, ginger teddy bear?’ Carolyn hissed. ‘I’d take a moment to think before accusing anybody of going soft, Douglas.’

‘Touché, Mrs Shipwright. Touché.’

28 Days Later:

70%. That’s what they were saying. 70% of the population saved. Around 43 million people. It was almost impossible for Martin to get his head around. Especially when people told him that that 43 million would be dead by now had it not been for Arthur and Herc stumbling upon the cure, and Gerti stumbling upon the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

To be honest, Martin tried not to think about that, in general. He just wanted to concentrate on each day as it came and the immediate tasks in hand. The whole country had been ravaged by disease. Huge areas of the land were still uninhabitable. Water, sewage, gas and electricity were still very patchy, and largely only connected to the refugee sites set up in the cities. Almost every one of the 43 million survivors were without homes, jobs or direction, and the 18 million or so who hadn’t made it were still lying dead in the open. It was one Hell of a mess.

But at least there was something left to clean up.

The Armed Forces had stepped in to create some sort of order. There was plenty of voluntary work to go around amongst civilians, helping with the rebuilding of the United Kingdom as much as was possible. It was a very useful time to be a pilot. The skies above the UK were teeming with planes and helicopters ferrying survivors and emergency supplies. Martin was up in the air almost every day, and almost every day was told how vital his work was, and thanked. Rather more official, lofty recognitions were made of their accidental part in the toxin’s discovery, but those were largely directed at Arthur, anyway. Martin was happy enough with a yoke in his hands and somewhere to fly, and a ‘Thank you, Captain’ at the end.

-x-

It was the end of another busy day. Martin arrived back at the little flat in one of the tower blocks of Bristol’s Refugee District. Before the incident, he’d have baulked at sharing a tiny, two bedroom council flat with all of his workmates, as well as Hercules Shipwright and a Cockerpoo, but it was far better than the leisure centre sports hall they’d shared with 150 others for the first six weeks.

This was almost homely. When he got in, Douglas was working wonders with their food rations in the decrepit but clean kitchenette, chatting with Zoë as she played with the dog. There was no going back to Walney Island for Zoë and her mother for the time being – from what the army had been able to piece together, the night they’d left, the virus had got past the barricade. The population had panicked, and turned on one another – paranoid that their neighbours were now harbouring the infection. Between that and the infection itself, nobody had survived. Zoë and Josephine now flat-shared with another single parent family in the same block. Unless Douglas was out working, he would go upstairs at 9.30 every evening to give his daughter a goodnight kiss.

Arthur, Carolyn and Herc were still working out what they were going to wear to the presentation ceremony in Sweden – not the easiest task, since clothes were still in very short supply. Martin smiled a little. Arthur Shappey – Nobel Prize Winner. Accidental inventor of both fizzy yoghurt and the cure for the zombie plague. The only thing that had stood between Great Britain and total annihilation. What was the world coming to?

‘Good day at work?’ called Douglas.

‘It was all right,’ Martin replied, unfolding the table for dinner. ‘I had a few pick-ups at Fitton. Saw Carl.’

‘Really? How’s he doing?’

‘OK. His leg’s seen better days, but he’s not a zombie any more.’

‘Oh, well that’s nice to know.’

‘Mm. I thought so. He sends his regards. And apologised for the whole “trying to bite our faces off” incident.’

Martin laid the table.

‘Oh, was that what he was trying to do?’

‘Apparently, it felt like a good idea at the time.’

‘Well, I suppose that’s all right, then.’

He took a seat in one of the rickety chairs, taking in the hubbub.

Things, he told himself, might never be normal again.

And, he was fine with that.

THE END

Sequel - 'The Little Things' - Part 1
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