Jill, A nation reborn. The lost years

Sullivan Island, June 2055.
Meoghan climbed out of the car that had brought her to the old House on Sullivan island. It was one of the very few homes that still stood here on the island from the time of the Rising.

The home was lovingly maintained and had a incredible view of the harbor and Fort Moultrie. She turned to gaze at the old fort for a moment thinking of the history of the place. not the ancient pre rising history, but the History of the men and women who had used it as a base and a safe haven while surviving the undead.

She had written half a dozen papers for the National University and the Library of Congress over the history of the place and had interviewed as many of the old timers that still lived during that time, trying to get as much on record as possible. Yes there were already plenty of records available, Jared Stone had made sure, early on, that every survivor wrote down what they could remember of the old world and what he or she had seen and experience during the rising. but she wanted to hear the things that hadn’t been written down for posterity.
She had spoke to so many of the survivors who had still lived, But not the one Survivor she had most wanted to talk to. oh his children and grandchildren had spoken with her and shared a few stories but out of respect for their father and grandfather they had avoided any stories about the Dirty Dozen. She had never even found out where the nick name had come from aside from the fact there had been twelve friends in the group.

But all that had changed three days ago, Jared McBride the Second had arrived at her house in DC with an invitation from his Grandfather. Meoghan had broken land speed records in getting here. she ignored the nervous flutter in her stomach, this man was a legend like his friends had been and no one had publicly spoken to him since his role as leader of the Zone council and his work in organizing then participating in the constitutional convention.

A tall wide shouldered blond man stepped down from the porch, smiling in welcome. “Ms. Cramer, thank you for coming.” He said. He had a deep warm, welcoming Baritone voice. He was also distractingly attractive. “I’m Chris McBride welcome to our home” he said.

“thank you for inviting me. I admit to being surprised by the request.” She said as she followed him up the wide steps and onto the wrap around porch with its very old fashioned Gingerbread wood work. She fell silent as she saw the old man she had come to speak with sitting in a rocker, a brown bottle of Ale in his palsied hand.

He still had a thick head of hair, though the blond color had been replaced with silver years before and despite the wrinkles, he gave the impression of being young. She could see the resemblance between the old man and the two Grandsons she had met so far.

“Mr. McBride, its …”

“Call me Ori” the old man said gesturing at the chair beside his rocker.

“Ori, Sir it’s a real honor to meet you. I have dreamed of this since I was a girl.” Meoghan said and she was serious and hoped he heard it in her voice. She was no sycophant, but a real admirer of this man and his friends, Especially Jillian Stone, Jared Stones Wife. Called the First Lady of the New United States.”

“if I were forty years younger and not married, I would have dreamed of meeting you too” Ori said, a twinkle of humor in his eyes. Meoghan blushed; she had heard he was pretty irreverent. She was not arrogant in the least but she knew that with her short petite body type, reddish blond hair and soft classic looks men found her attractive. “Pardon my acting like Pappy Sloan, you’ve heard of him correct?”

“of course, he was something of a curmudgeon if I recall.” She said tactfully.

“Curmudgeon?” Ori said then laughed. “there are many words I would use to describe Pappy, but Curmudgeon wasn’t one of them. Though my late wife always said I had the vocabulary of a dimwit.” Ori said with a sad smile. Beth McBride had died several years ago, in her sleep beside her husband, peacefully by all accounts.

“ I met your wife once, When she came to DC to give a talk about how she had helped establish not just the education system here on sullivan, but had helped organize and establish the university here on Sullivan as well as a library. She was an incredible woman, Ori. One of my personal hero’s”

“she didn’t help” Ori said another sad smile flickering across his lips. “It was all her idea, well with some input from Jared.”

“really, I had no idea” she said as she pulled out a pad and made a note.

“he was involved in a lot of things wasn’t he?”

Ori’s old pale, almost colorless eyes studied her intently for a moment, then he shrugged. “Depends on how you mean that. Jared had ideas, and he did what he could to get other people interested and let them run with it how ever they wanted to. he never liked being a leader.” Ori said then reached down into a bucket and pulled a bottle of beer out of the Ice. “Beer” He offered. “its from my brewery, though another man was responsible for the beer and ale recipes. Me I was a whiskey man. But my annoying Grandkids rarely let me touch the stuff these days.”

“its not good for you Grandpa” Chris said from where he stood beside the door.

“Kiss my hairy butt” Ori grumbled then chuckled. “I really do sound more and more like pappy the older I get.”

Chris gave her a look and shrugged as if to say, see what I have to deal with all the time. then smiled fondly at his grandfather. “I supposed you want to know why I invited you here after ignoring all the letters you’ve sent asking me for an interview over the last few years. I suppose it was rude to ignore them. But to be honest, I was tired of talking. Every one kept asking questions, I had to talk as the Leader of the council and during the convention, I talked for years, and the questions never stopped so I did.”

“and now?” she asked.

“I’m wrapping up a few things before I die. I’ve read your papers, and listened to what people had to say about you, you’re the person I want to talk to.”

he said die so matter of factly that Meoghan was taken aback. It must have showed on her face. “Don’t worry I’m not about to kill myself, but Its coming down the pike and when it happens I will be going home to my wife and my friends” he said then looked at his grandson. “stop looking so disapproving at the idea. Every one dies, and I’ve lived longer than most of the people who survived the dead.”

“I think I will take that beer” Meoghan said. Ori grinned like a fool as he popped the top and passed the bottle to her.

“So what do you want to hear about first.” Ori asked after she had taken a sip of her beer and sighed in appreciation. She reached into her large bag and removed the ancient lap top and set it up to record.

“The day Jared Stone died for starters, did he really know he was going to die that day”

“Yes” Ori said softly, the humor of a second ago gone. His eyes brightened suspiciously like he was about to cry. “Most people don’t know that Ronny blamed himself for Jared dying. Jared had told both of us that when he and Mikhail faced off again that he was going to die.

Ronny encountered that Russian ass hole first and tried his best to kill him before he could get to Jared.” he paused for a moment and wiped at his eyes, then looked up at the sky beyond the porch as appropriately a plane buzzed over head. “its why Ronny ended up leaving for Alaska. I really wish that I knew what happened to him and the others, but I will find out on the other side so no use getting maudlin about it.” Ori said trying to make his voice sound light. he sat there quietly for a moment regaining his composure. Meoghan waited till he nodded before resuming.

“the stories of the wars and the explorations of the dead lands every one knows about, but one of the things that seems to be lacking in Detail was Jill Stones role in the convention. I mean we all know she worked with you as a delegate at the Convention and asked to give a speech and read the Preamble from the Steps of the Capital building. But that’s about all we know.”

Ori smiled fondly. “you know, the stories you hear about how much those two loved each other were true.” His comment had nothing to do with Her questions but she said nothing. She wanted him to talk, wanted the little details so that others in the future could know who Jill Stone and her friends really were. “ It was like they were destined to be together, almost like the end of the world had to happen for that kind of love to exist.” Ori said then fell silent as he drank some more of his beer. “but that’s not what you asked., Jill, Jillian Stone was an incredible woman, highly educated, tough as hell and after Jared died was determined to see his dream of rebuilding his nation come true. Which takes us to back a few years before the convention. Jill came by the house one day…….”

“are you insane,” Beth McBride asked, with barely a glance at Ori who was already running his hand through his hair. “you want Ori to assume Leadership of the Zone. That would be like Ronny becoming a celibate priest.”

Jill laughed at the mental image but shook her head. “it’s the only way to get a vote on moving forward. The council is playing games and will drag it out for years to come, because the convention will mean their losing power to the new federal government.

With the allies we do have on the council and if Ori steps into the leadership position, all we need then is support from the old Military, and half of the Zone’s members and Ori can force a vote that will pass.”

“I remind you that the elections are not for another year” Beth said firmly against the idea. She knew Ori and knew how big of a toll dealing with so many people in day in and day out would take on him. he was a quiet man, but circumstances had forced him into a more active role for years and now he had a chance to be himself again and she didn’t want him to lose that.

“Cole is prepared to force a vote of no confidence on Victor Mills, by the rules an election to the Chief seat has to be held with in three days of a no confidence vote. He has a quorum Beth we can make this happen. I’ve already done the foot work, Ori will win by a landslide.”

“Jill you know I love you, and I loved Jared as well. But Ori is my Husband, and I love him more and I don’t want to see….”

“Beth” Ori said softly, placing a hand on her arm. “I love you but this is my decision.”

She started to say something, neither Jill nor Ori had to guess what she might have said. Once more You put Jared before yourself Ori, Its not right, or something close. And she knew it wouldn’t stop Ori, it never had in the past.

“Make it happen Jill, but understand when this is over, I’m done. I am out.”
Meoghan sat back listening to Ori talk some what amazed. She had never heard that Jill had actually engineered the Council election that had ultimately led to the convention and the first mass elections since the dead.

“Shocked? Ori asked seeing the look on Meoghans face. “it gets better, that woman was willing to move heaven and earth to get that convention going. Because about a year after I was elected she had the ground work laid and really got started. Lets see it started with a meeting about getting Hopkins on board, Admiral Hopkins USN in case you don’t know who he was. Any way Jill called a meeting of what she liked to call the Convention crusaders…..
Sullivan Island, May 2025

Luke Cross sprawled in the obscenely comfortable pre-walking dead chair, a chilled beer in one hand. Beer was no longer considered rare, in short supply but not really rare here on Sullivan Island. Chilled beer, how ever was a rare luxury. He took a sip and smiled in pleasure at the taste as he watched the attractive dark haired woman who moved about the room like a caged tiger.

Jillian Stone paced the room stopping occasionally to look out the window gazing out to the ocean. She was an attractive woman, especially for her age, he thought keeping himself from obviously looking.

Long dark hair, a body that was firm and athletic but still curvy with high full breasts. She had expressive, intense eyes that were currently narrowed in thought, set in a face that was both delicate and strong at the same time. Her personality was exactly like her looks he reflected she had compassion and could be gentle as a lamb but there was a hard nosed, kick butt and take no names personality that she was not afraid to show the world. In a way she was duality personified, he thought hiding a smile of amusement.

Her looks were another weapon in her new political arsenal, one that she hated using but employed frequently. She had once told him “if they want to be so stupid as to stare at my boobs instead of actually paying attention to what I am actually saying or doing then I could care less.” No matter how you looked at it Jill Stone was exceptional in every way that mattered.

“Well” Ori McBride finally asked impatiently. The first time he had spoken in an hour, Luke noted.

“I don’t know Ori, just getting the ball rolling hinges on the Navy and US Army support.” Jill said turning to face the room. Other than Ori only two other of the Friends known as the Dirty Dozen sat around the room, the rest were people she had only just gotten to know.

“I can see that for the Bahamas, but not for Puerto Rico” Ori replied turning to look at his friend Chris, who nodded in agreement. Chris, Luke thought, was as close to an invalid as could be. He could move around for short periods of time, but grew quickly tired and was in pain almost constantly most days. The result of being poisoned years earlier Luke knew.

“I wasn’t referring to Puerto Rico or really the Bahama’s just the overall situation.” She said as she paced across the room. “Navy personnel and the Army backing a constitutional convention would give the movement legitimacy and some small level of trust. Instead of people thinking we are going to suggest a monarchy or a cult to Jared, or something equally idiotic.”

“Okay I see your point on that, whats their sticking point” Ori asked.

“Admiral Jeremy Hopkins has pretty much stated he is doubtful of our intentions to restore the constitution.” She said bitterly. “He also thinks we have placed far to many demands on the use of his people. I think he fails to realize that other than a few ships crew, the majority of the Marines and Swabbies consider themselves civilians now and most of those are behind us.”

“So forget the Admiral.” Selena Garcia said from her seat. no one would ever really call her pretty, her features were to blunt and her body, which had not one once of fat that Luke could see, could best be described as wide. On the personality side how ever, she was as blunt as her features, kind and smart as a whip when it came to dealing with people on a one on one or small group level. She had kept a group of forty people alive in the ruins of New York city during the dead years, not just alive but being proactive in security, gathering needed resources and Planning their supply runs to reduce the risk of dying at the hands of the dead.

“We can’t, those former marines and sailors respect and admire Hopkins for how he kept them alive, organized and with a purpose during the Dead years. Lets face it, they spent the first year doing Search and rescue missions, bringing in every ship, every aircraft they encountered, They never stopped serving their country and it was because of Hopkins. They know it was because of the example he set and how he led them and civilian or not, they trust and admire him. and they know that because of his leadership the Bahama base, had the largest surviving human population on the planet. And that means that no matter their civilian status if Hopkins has doubts about our motives and wont support us, Many of those former sailers and marines will follow his lead and to make this work we have to show unified support. Frankly he deserves a leadership role” Jill said.

She came to a stop and looked out the window. Not really seeing the leaden sky or the gray choppy water out on the bay, that was beginning to show white capped waves as a storm rolled in.

“aaah” Ori said softly.

Luke nodded, Ori had caught that last part too.

“What?” Chris asked looking puzzled.

“He is demanding a position, probably a high one in our group.” Ori said. “Remember he tried to get on the Zones council and was pretty furious about the game playing that the other councilors used to keep him off. Which is how he ended up Securing Charleston, and setting up his own defacto state, that is still part of the Zone.”

Chris was still not used to Ori talking so much or showing evidence of paying so much attention to the whole political map and the movements on it, gave his friend a look of surprise then nodded.

“Can’t blame him,” Luke said speaking up. Jill glanced at him then away, a slight frown on her face as she was once more reminded of how much Luke looked like her dead husband.

He had seen pictures of Jared and personally didn’t see the resemblance beyond the fact they both had Red hair.

“He believes in his responsibility to his crew, to his people. He wasn’t going to settle his people in the area Sullivan directly claimed as theirs and let them have unrestricted control over the people he had led for so long with out having a position in that government. That’s what’s going on here too.
He is the Last real, official Admiral of the US Navy beyond the knowledge and skill sets he brings to the Table, He is a legitimate ‘American’ leader. Lets not forget he has fabrication ships, and the people to run them as well as all kinds of tech specialists, and maybe most importantly for the future, Men and women trained to maintain and operate Nuclear reactors.” Luke said.

In fact those Fabrication ships, had proven to be worth their weight in any precious metal that could be named. They had been largely responsible for producing the Major parts needed to get the two fuel production facilities finished, and to build the new steel mill just down the coast from Sullivan. Currently they were making parts for a new bridge that would replace the bridge that connected the Isle of Palms to the mainland. Its current bridge was slowly failing after all the damage it had sustained during the fighting ten years or so earlier.

But it was the holy grail of the reactors, that once more centered their thoughts on the one man that could make that happen. Hopkins. Even Ori who did not love nuclear plants, couldn’t deny that if one reactor could be brought online, everything would change in the Zone and rebuilding would speed up as high tech manufacturing could then be brought on line to supply parts and materials that if made with the current level of technology would be a slow process with a low number of parts that could be made in a year.
Silence fell over the room as they considered his point. Jared had occasionally talked about getting a Reactor up and running, but not a single survivor in the zone at the time had the skills or knowledge to do so and if there had been one, a single man or woman couldn’t have operated a reactor alone.

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Chris said after a moment.

“Neither had I” Selena said with passing off motion of her hand. “as important as that might be for our future, Luke is right in his read of the Admiral and his motivations at least that is my opinions and I have met and talked with the man several times over the last six months. He is either one hell of an actor, which I don’t discount, or he truly has the well being of his people and his country at heart. I say bring him in, But not in charge, Give him equal status in deliberations with Jill and that should make him happy.”

“and if it doesn’t?” Ori asked.

“Then we convince him.” Selena said with that calm, I am not going to argue this tone she had.

“a show of hands then” Jill said.

“No point, we all agree.” Ori said as the others nodded.

“Good. Then its settled. Next item, Newspapers, we need to set them up.”

“Great, next will be lawyers” Ori muttered disgustedly.

* * *

August 2025, New Charleston S.C.

“I have to say Mrs. Stone that is had been a pleasure working so closely with you over the last three months” Admiral Hopkins said as he wiped at his mouth with a napkin. Breakfast had been, incredible Jill thought. Its been years since I’ve had an omelet.

Hopkins was immaculate in his uniform, wide shouldered, trim and fit for a man almost sixty. His dark brown hair was liberally sprinkled with silver as was his neatly trimmed moustache and Dagger beard. A civilian style he had affected to the amusement of his senior officers. There had been a few quietly circulated nicknames for the Admiral since the beard, Dread Pirate Robert was by far the more popular one.

“I agree Admiral, to be honest I didn’t expect to enjoy dealing with you from your reputation you’re supposed to be..” Jill said with a smile.

“Difficult” He finished for her then chuckled. “I can be and I have often been difficult. But that’s part of the job. Evaluate the situation, listen to the opinions of your officers when possible, then make the hard decisions. As an Admiral my decisions are final, how ever as I have learned as a political leader, I should be willing to listen to counter arguments and amend my law’s when necessary. You might say I wear two hats and yes on occasion it gets hard to separate them.”

“I’ve avoided that kind of responsibility” she said.

“The one you’ve shouldered is even more burdensome.” The Admiral said as he neatly folded the napkin and placed it on his plate. “do you mind my inquiring on why you’ve stayed out of a leadership role in both Sullivan and the Zone council.”

“I spent to long being in the middle of things, so once we got organized and the dead were gone I wanted as close to normal life as possible. I had a child and being there for him was important especially after Jared died.

The only reason I have been so active in setting up the Convention is because it was Jared’s dream. Not that I am against the idea,” She said hastily. “I just couldn’t sit back and let others with different motives try to move it forward sometime down the road.”

“ I see” Hopkins said thoughtfully. “I should point out to you that if this gets off the ground your going to be in the middle of it again. In fact I suspect you will end up as a Delegate to the convention.”

“I know” she said forcing herself not to sigh like a little kid. “but if that’s the price I have to pay to get the Convention started then so be it. Besides I will be in good company, with you as a delegate from Charleston.”

Hopkins grinned, looking ten years younger. “I might even run for President, I suspect I already have enough votes to win”

“you will have mine and probably Ori’s too, that’s a job I would not want.” She said with such passion that Hopkins laughed once the moment passed he gazed at her for a moment then said. “ Be prepared to have your husbands name dragged through the mud as this moves forward Jill. They will point out every mistake he made, every person killed following him, there will be lies and distortions and all to many people think your husband as brave as he was. Was to much of an Idealist, a dreamer to face the harsh realities of what it takes to run a country.

In fact I happen to agree with he was an idealist and that was one of the reasons I hesitated in supporting you at first. Idealism can be a good thing at times, but to often Idealism can hide poor knowledge and the inability to deal with reality when it comes along to smack you in the head.

How ever, as time has passed I’ve come to the conclusion that your husband was right. I think its time we started practicing what we preach. We can do better and the only reason idealism never works is because we are to busy justifying ignoring our better nature.. I warn you Its not going to be easy, and it will probably fail Jill.” He said, surprising her by using her first name. “what ever happens it wont be fast or easy.”

His steward, appeared at the table with something like coffee and poured them both a cup before silently leaving the room again.

“no it wont” She agreed. “but if we don’t try, we fail anyway.”

“Agreed” Hopkins said with a smile. “With that said, my people have brought word that the newly formed Government of Puerto Rico wants to improve ties with the Zone, I have the Eagle standing by to take you and a delegation to meet with them.”

“I need to run it past Ori so he can shove official approval of such a meeting through the council.” Jill said. “the foot draggers will suspect exactly why I am going there, but we have the votes to get our way.”

“That was another thing I have to applaud you on. It was a master stroke getting Mr. McBride elected as the President of the council.” Hopkins said.

“It was, wasn’t it” Jill agreed with a small smile. “the weasels who had pretty much taken over were determined to keep the Zone exactly the way it was. they really didn’t expect an upset or realize just how much support there was for Ori because of his being one of the dirty dozen.
Now of course, half of them are out and we are moving forward. Honestly we are moving faster than I had anticipated. There is real popular support behind the movement.” She said watching his eyes. “I know you wanted to be on the council, I’m sorry that your not. But with the convention in the future, would you want to run for the Zones council”

“In some ways it might enhance my chances for any future runs I might make at a national level assuming I ran for the head of the council and won. How ever I suspect that Mr. Mcbride will be relected by a landslide. I understand his Moonshine and Bikini weekend bill is pretty popular.”

Jill laughed aloud at that. Ori routinely inserted ridiculous bills into the vote queue just to make the other councilors pay attention to the queue and do their jobs. His bullets and steel bra bill had passed easily much to the chagrin of the council who hadn’t bothered to read the bills they were voting on. Since then and under the relentless tide of stupid bills Ori put in the queue, they were now actually taking the time to read the bills put before them.

“That one was a collaborative effort between Ori and Ronny.” She said shaking her head in amusement. “I have to ask, and please do not take this as I have interest in Puerto Rico joining our effort. But the question that many will ask will be ‘what benefit will there be for Puerto Rico joining us’, just as the Puerto Ricans will have to see some benefit to want to join.”

Hopkins leaned back in his seat and steepled his fingers together over his flat stomach. “Historically the Islands economic power rested on Growing Coffee, sugarcane and Tobacco. We both know there is a demand for Sugar and Coffee today. Turner Farm cant supply enough of their coffee to bring prices down and the demand is sky high.

Not to mention the benefits of having a secure port in the Caribbean. The Patrols we can send out from there will cut back on the damn pirates that have been springing up like roachs.
And with Puerto Rico in our court, we might even be able to get more of the islands in the area to join up. Though I doubt that, more likely trade agreements will end up the rule of the day.
From our perspective that would be best, we just don’t have the ships, the manpower or the economy to prop up the smaller islands at least not till we get enough fuel produced to start using the modern ships we possess.”

Jill looked thoughtful as she considered his information “I think, I need to do some research on this entire subject. I am an engineer not a sociologist. Building a nation is a complicated business”

Hopkins laughed aloud. “Lt. Commander Benjamin Nodon has a masters in Economics, Captain Karen Harlen has a Masters and a PHD in American History and Political science. In addition, there are almost ten other officers who have college degrees on a variety of relevant subjects. I think we can set up a think tank that can assist our little enterprise.” He said once he had stopped laughing.

“I knew you would be a major asset to the cause” Jill said feeling more hopefully than she had that they might succeed.
* * *

El Palacio de Santa Catalina
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 2025

It was like something out of a movie, Jill thought as she stepped out of the Iron bound wooden door and into the interior patio of the Governors house with its hanging lanterns, pale blue arches and enclosed upstairs walkways.

Tables set with glittering crystal and gleaming plates were carefully arraigned around the patio leaving a space large enough to dance in and with a band playing she assumed that was exactly what that space would be used for.

Caleb looked around carefully trying to memorize every detail. He was starting Pathfinder school on their return and currently hoped to be assigned to Caribbean. I still think he is too young, but Daws and the others have a point that starting their training and education between 13 and 15 was ideal considering the average five years it took to complete all the training and education.

“This way to your table.” A young Puerto Rican male said politely as he stepped to her side. She followed the young man, the elegant dress she had been given . It was dark blue with gold highlights and strapless. It fit snuggly, some might say tight to her torso. Jared would have liked the amount of cleavage it showed but she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the view, at her knees the dress flared out swishing and swirling around her lower legs as she walked

Her hair had been gathered up in a thick braid that hung down her back. the fan that hung from her wrist swung gently with each step.

She was happy to note that she was not the only woman present and that many of them wore dresses in the same style that she wore.
Ramon “el Aguila” DeSoto, the Governor of Puerto Rico rose from his chair and with exquisite courtesy pulled her own chair back from the table so she could sit. The Zone could damn well take a few lessons from Puerto Rico, she told herself.

His English was also very good, which was nice since her Spanish was not as good and coupled with added difficulty of the local dialect she might as well not bother trying to have a conversation. Luckily, Jason Biggsly a former Navy officer that Admiral Hopkins had sent along spoke the dialect fluently and had lived here for some years having been based at Roosevelt Roads Naval base.
“I hope you enjoy this evening, we do not often get to host a Diplomatic party.” Ramon said with a wide smile as he returned to his own seat. He was quite popular with the survivors of the island, having been responsible for saving so many people and not just in San Juan. The death toll had still been horrific on the island just like every where else but a larger percentage of people had survived on the island than in many other places.
“How do you like your dress, My wife Valery picked it out especially for you” Ramon said gesturing with a hand towards the attractive dark haired woman who sat on his other side.

“I am already enjoying this evening and it hasn’t even started yet” Jill replied, giving Caleb a stern look of warning to behave himself. “and thank you Mrs. Desoto for a beautiful dress.”

Caleb grinned back at her, the same grin his father had used when he did not plan on listening. She managed not to sigh as she turned her attention to the arrival of the rest of her party.

All of them had been given a suit that was much like a Tux, with white on white embroidered shirt. For a moment her eyes lingered on Thor, he looked confident and relaxed in his monkey suit. The rest of the men looked resigned to wearing their
suits.

Once they were all seated and the food was brought out, a veritable feast actually. Goat, Fish, Plantains, Rice dishes and other foods. A wide variety of food actually. She suspected her hosts were making a subtle point that the island did not really need the Zone to supply the basics.

What drew her attention was the small party of men with British accents, seated across the patio from her. She puzzled over the cool glances the members of that group sent her way occasionally.

As they ate conversation swirled around the tables, some of it was in English and political. If they wanted to talk shop over dinner she had no problems with it.

In fact she was thrilled by the chance, it had only taken two days to hammer out the closer ties that Ramon had wanted part of which had been what Hopkins and Ashton had wanted in the first place, a home port for Zone ships to base patrols out of. With that out of the way she had begun her own mission. She knew these men were reluctant and with the history of the Islands association with the US she didn’t really blame them. But she was making progress in getting their support for the convention.

“not to be rude, But how has the death of your husband affected the Zone. I realize that he never held an official position inside the zone. But it was common knowledge that he had considerable influence and authority.” George Santos, a middle aged businessman and head of the Department of Food production, a newly established office in charge of keeping food production up and hunger and starvation away.

“in some ways its unaffected in others, I have to admit there have been impacts. At least till Ori McBride was elected as President of the council.” She said completely honest.

“I’ve heard a few things about bills your Mr. McBride has slipped into the queue” He said with a faint smile. Laughter rippled around the patio, apparently Ori’s pay attention and do your jobs joke was popular.

“Personally Mrs. Stone, I would like to know what the Zone has to offer the island” One of the Brits said. The level of conversation dropped to a low hum as many attempted to hear. The man was close to her age, still fit with a broad masculine face and heavy lidded eyes. There were still strands of black hair threaded through the silver.

“We have many things to offer in fair trade” Jill replied. “Fuel, particularly fuel for ships. Granted currently the amount is limited, but even limited bunker oil is better than none”:

“I will grant you that, but your trying to entice the island into backing your attempt to bring the US back from the dead and I have to say your going to need more than Bunker fuel for that.”

“I see Mr..”

“Sutton, William Sutton.” The man replied.

“thank you, Well Mr. Sutton we are still working on that aspect. The Governor knows the needs of his island, and if we can supply what they need then we can reach an accord. Anything I might say at this point about what that need might be and what we could do about it would be pure speculation.” Jill said. “to be honest Mr. Sutton, we have fuel production plants, a still mill, ammunition production centers, we can make batteries to run any number of things including vehicles. Steam and gasifier technology, Solar, tidal genies. In short we have more than enough to trade.
“Mr. Sutton and his Party represent the United British Virgin island common wealth.” Ramon offered.

Sutton, iron faced and angry sat silently. Jill had no doubt that the Common wealth had beach towels and jet ski’s and that was about it. With the exception of Puerto Rico, none of the islands to windward had ever had any kind of manufacturing, at least that she was aware of and instead had relied on food crops and tourism for money, and off shore banking, she amended.
“I would be interested to know what the common wealth has to offer” Jill said instantly realizing that Sutton and his people were probably here to derail her mission. Why she didn’t know.

“We are currently negotiating, so nothing is concrete as of yet” Sutton replied smugly.

“Being non-biased I would think you would want to deal with us as well.”

“I’m sure you would Mrs. Stone, but Sullivan Island is just as remote from our islands as old D.C was.” Sutton said. “And with as little concern for local culture as the old US government had been.”

Anger flashed in Jills eyes, she calmed herself considering Suttons words. The Zone had never even heard of his Common wealth before now, but the opinion he had expressed was shared by many out here, which was the whole point to her visiting to try and reshape their opinions.

“I’m sure there’s a good reason for your distrust Mr. Sutton, but the tourist trade has died off and the cruise ships have stopped calling. At some point your going to need things that you will not be able to find on the islands, we can provide the knowledge, items and or the materials to help you rebuild, that’s really the whole point of the Zone.” Jill stated.

Sutton’s eyes flashed and he opened his mouth to reply only to be cut off.

“Enough Business” Ramon said loudly. “Tonight is a time to celebrate. Tomorrow there will be a city wide celebration as well. You will probably enjoy that Mrs. Stone, A chance to see the culture of our fair island.”

Fully aware of the angry gaze coming from Sutton, Jill smiled at her host as if nothing had happened.

“I would love to attend” Jill said, in reality she would rather spend an evening in bed sleeping.

“I didn’t know you knew how to dance” Caleb said as Jill brushed her hair.

“Its been a long time since I have” She admitted. She had missed it to.

“Did you and Dad dance” he asked curious.

“sometimes we did,” she replied. “we didn’t have a lot of opportunities to dance.”

Which was true, more importantly Jared hadn’t known how to Tango or Salsa, She thought. Ramon how ever did know how as had David Gutierrez and both men had asked her to dance several times during the course of the night. She had loved every minute of it and only felt slightly guilty at the thought of Thor sitting there watching all night.

“Did you and Dad ever come here and lay naked on the beach?”

“what?” She asked turning in her seat giving her son a pointed looked. “I swear, I am going to kill Ori.” She muttered. “No we didn’t, and you had better not either.”

“Marie said…”

“I don’t care what Marie said, your 13 and I had better not hear you did.”

“yes mom” Caleb said glumly.

“now get to bed” She said reaching out and ruffling his hair. He rose to his feet in that same fluid grace that had been his fathers and headed off to his bed. She waited till he shut the adjoining door then smiled. From the Stories Eric told, Caleb was just like his dad at that age. I just hope not exactly like his father.
The conference room was stifling, even with the windows open letting the wind off the bay inside. the delicate looking gold drapes fluttered in the wind. a highly polished circular table dominated the space with comfortable chairs scattered along the walls of the room.
“…We will need to see a commitment before we will finalize such a deal” Jose Padilla said looking around the table at the other members of his delegation. “let us be honest Mrs. Stone, if we join you in this convention, we are taking a great chance that it will not come back to ruin what we have built since the dead.”

“I can understand that Mr. Padilla, at the same time, you will have a voice in how it all shakes out and the option to withdraw if you truly do not agree with what the convention decides. As far a commitment, that can be set up immediately if you desire” Jill said with a gesture towards Thor Jansen who rose from the table and left the room.

Seeing the puzzled looks on the Puerto Rican delegates faces she smiled. “it will be a couple of minutes, talk amongst yourselves” She urged.

The casual conversations that had filled the room during the wait stopped as Thor Jansen returned pulled a large trunk. He opened the trunk and began to pull out the equipment inside. “I realize that most of you have heard stories about the technology we have available. Yes its limited, but …” She said pointing to the communications system that Thor was setting up.

Ramon gave her a small smile and a nod, “we were given a HAM system when we first joined the trade alliance with your zone. But that system looks far more advanced.”

“It is,” she said then chuckled. “just don’t ask me to explain how it is, I am only taking the word of an expert.”

“That Gentleman is a Codan 2110M Manpack with 3G ALE , LMR & HF Radio ,” Jason Biggsly stated. “it is, or was State of the art.”

Thor finished connecting the comm. system to its power supply then powered up the system.
Sutton who sat against the wall gave Jill a surly look. She would need to get a pathfinder out to the common wealth as soon as possible but for now she had to see if there was some way to lessen the animosity Sutton held against the Zone and her goal.

“and this system is for?” Ramon asked.

“you wanted us to show our commitment,” Jill pointed out.

“a radio no matter how good or fancy is not exactly the commitment we were looking for.” Reynolda Garcia commented.
Thor glanced at Jill who nodded. Picking up the hand set that looked like a phone handset he spoke. “Tango Lima four, Bravo niner charley. Condition Berlin.”

“Roger, Bravo Niner Charley, Tango Lima four copies condition Berlin. Eta Twenty
minutes.” Said a voice from the small speaker.

“What exactly is condition Berlin” Ramon asked to much a politician to let his worry show.

“you know how military types are they make up code names for everything. In this case it’s a signal to send in the cargo ship we have sitting just off shore. Its loaded with fuel, medicines, spare parts and other items to show our commitment to going forward with you.”

“and if we ultimately decide not to join you on this agreement?”

“then you get to keep it Sir. You are our allies and trade partners regardless of your support on the issue of the convention and joining the new US.” Jill said refusing to lie about that.
“May I ask a question” Sutton asked rising from his chair.

“You may” Ramon said as he settled back in his own chair.

“Mrs. Stone, I have to ask why should the Puerto Ricans trust that this ship contains supplies and not troops. As an outsider I have no vested interest in the outcome of your negotiations but representing the Common wealth I have an interest in anything that might affect the Common wealth and an invasion of Puerto Rico would be of interest.”

“I would ASSUME,” Jill said stressing the word. “that your presence here indicates that your more than a disinterested third party. Be that as it may Mr. Sutton, to put it bluntly there is nothing here that the Zone would want badly enough to send troops to take if we felt it was necessary.
That is not an insult but fact, anything we might need badly can be found in the ruins of the cities and towns all along the east coast and into the interior there would be no point to attack a friend and killing a bunch of people to take something from an island when all we would have to do is fuel up some trucks and send a team into a empty city to recover it.
I am not a politician, nor a diplomat by training so I can speak bluntly. We believe that’s its important to include Puerto Rico in the Convention and ratification of the constitution as well as giving them a chance to be represented in congress. Why because they were Americans before the Dead. And more to the point, We have set out to gather as many survivors as we could into a united group to help each other, to rebuild and to restore some semblance of peace and order.

“You failed to contact my people and make such an offer.” Sutton pointed out.

“because we didn’t know you existed till now. None of our ships have made it that far which means no pathfinders have explored there. We move slowly because of many factors, supplies and repairs being at the top of the list. If you wish to officially, meet with me or another representative of the zone for trade and mutual defense we will gladly do so. We have no desire or intention to drag unwilling communities into the Zone or the New united states, assuming we get that off the ground. Because ultimately Mr. Sutton there is no guarantee that the groups that attend the convention will decide to go forward with joining the new US and it will die right there.”

Ramon ignored the brit his gaze fixed on Jill. “what do you personally want Mrs.Stone” he asked.

“I want my grandkids to grow up in a country that has peace and security, where there are no raiders, no bandits, no warlords lurking just out side of town. I want what my husband dreamed of, his country reborn.”

“and what do you want from Puerto Rico” Sutton demanded with out asking Ramon for permission. .

“I would think that question should be coming from a representative of the island, not from a rep from the common wealth.” Jill said pointedly. “but I will answer it anyway. Support, a port for our ships and sugar are at the top of the list, a list that I have discussed in depth with the Puerto Rican delegation. You sir are not part of the negotiations and have no real need to know. But since we are on this topic, what are your goals.”

“Mr.Sutton” Ramon said in warning. “Please take your seat.”

Ramon waited for a three count then turned back to Jill.
“Mr Sutton and his party believe that the Zone is dangerous to our way of life, how ever if you succeed and reestablish the US Government the danger to our way of life, culture and freedom will be even greater.”

“I am sorry to hear that, of course there is no way I can refute such an opinion. How ever time and our actions will reveal the truth.” Jill said shaking her head.
The meeting broke up at noon, Jill was confident she had grained ground especially when the supply ship had arrived at the dock and Hastily commissioned customs men had swarmed aboard to inventory the supplies.

Ramon urged her to take the afternoon to attend the celebration while he and his council considered her proposals.

To her relief her escort to the City celebration was Valery Sanchez y De Soto the Governors wife. Valery was shorter than Jill and younger, slender, athletic and curvy. She was also intelligent which was a big relief and had a sense of humor.
Dressed in more casual clothing than last night, Jeans and a blouse with knee high boots for Jill, a saffron yellow dress for Valery, the two women strolled through the narrow cobble stoned streets between brightly painted buildings. Live bands played in the plaza’s where food venders and other merchants hawked their wares.

The City was alive in a way that few places in the Zone were, Jill wondered if that was because of their culture. She had no clue but wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Jared she decided would have loved it here.

“I hadn’t realized how many people survived here” Jill said as they entered the Plaza De Barandilla, much changed from the time before the dead. They paused before one vender selling pre dead jewelry.

“Close to nine thousand people live here in the old city now. Initially I think there were something like twenty eight thousand scattered across the city with the bulk here in old San Juan, mostly hiding in the forts till we got the bridges blocked” Valery said as a group of children rushed up and surrounded them asking for candy.

Jill did know some of what the people here had gone through, and it had been bad. but not nearly as bad as other places. Ramon and several others had come out of the experience as hero’s and with good reason.

Jorge Mendoza had been a simple police officer who had started getting people moved into the San Cristobal and El Morro, the two fortress’s had sheltered thousands.

Ricardo Diaz, a paramedic and Tony Centeno y Santos a doctor had managed to recover and transport medicines and hospital equipment into Old San Juan, the two hundred men involved in the operation had almost been wiped out, but they had done it.

There were many tales just like that, normal every day people taking responsibility and organizing others to do what needed to be done while the Guard and the police held back the ever growing tide of undead.
While the children clamored for attention Valery produced a cloth bag and began handing out treats which the kids accepted with thanks and scattered no doubt to seek out more candy.

”We figured out early on that those who died came back and took steps to minimize the dangers but as you know, that helped, but nothing we did could completely protect us. So occasionally, some one would die, suddenly and unexpectedly and kill or bite others and we would have to put them all down. we were sending teams into the city and across the bay to gather needed supplies and lost people.

Ramon and his friends risked their lives repeatedly flying their planes to remote areas to rescue survivors and gather supplies like pigs, chickens and goats.” She said the pride she felt for her husband rang in her words.

“Many of our people would say you folks did more than our Government, considering how many died in the US.” Jill said flatly.

“I take it you don’t share that belief” Valery said as they stopped at vender and bought Empanada’s with coins minted by the local Government. The coins called Soveriegns, go figure, were made of some alloy that almost looked like gold but wasn’t. .

“Not really, or at least not in whole.” Jill admitted. “neither did my husband. There was something like half a million people here on the island when the dead rose and look how hard it was for you. Don’t get me wrong, You did a fantastic job protecting and organizing your people.

But in comparison I have to look at the Millions who lived in cities just on America’s east coast, many of whom refused to evacuate. Who refused to restrain dying family members. Who refused to believe in what was happening and more importantly refused to work together to survive.

I know, from files we have found, that the Government did have a plan and they did manage to get thousands, possibly even tens of thousands evacuated to secure facilities, which were mostly out West.
We even picked up some government and military transmission from there for several years. But we have never been able to establish contact with them.” she said then took a bite of the Empanada, which looked something like a hand made hot pocket.

“Oh my god that is so good!” she exclaimed as they continued to walk. “I believe that in the face of such a world wide disaster that no plan, no matter how well thought out, would have saved any more than ultimately ended up surviving. It was just to chaotic.”

“I would disagree with the word disaster as it implies something of the Natural world.” Valery said, her eyes dark with remembered pain and horror. “Ay Dios Mio” She muttered after a moment. “this is too dark a subject for a glorious day like today.”

“I agree,” Jill said feeling the connection that had sprung up between them. she smiled warmly at Valery. “lets just enjoy the day”

They wandered down to the piers where, a cruise ship still lay tied up. A crowd had gathered along Pier 2 where the supply ship now lay. They were cheering as pallets and crates were being offloaded.

“I think you will get what you wont” Valery said suddenly, then gestured for Jill to follow her. They stopped and bought a little more food and a bottle of local wine with old plastic cups to go with it. Then made their way up to an observation point on the old City wall. During one of the many renovation over the years a copper sheathed dome had been placed over the point, brilliant colored flowers vined up the decorative trellis work that only complimented the view of the bay.

Once they were seated with the wine poured, Thor stood just outside the entrance, Caleb was no where in sight. Thor assured her that Caleb was safe. “he spotted that Girl Maria back at the docks and he asked permission to go with her. Since she has her own bodyguards I figured he would be safe enough and she would be safe from him.”

As much as she trusted Thors instincts she was not a happy camper. This was not Sullivan island, there could be dangers here they knew nothing about that Caleb could fall afoul of . But there wasn’t a lot she could about it at the moment and since she had often allowed Thor use his own judgment and give Caleb permission to do things when she was busy, she couldn’t jump down his throat now.

Valery chuckled as Jill vented. “He is a boy and in love and Maria she is a pretty young woman who will grow up to beautiful.”

“You know the girl?” Jill asked.

“Certainly, she is the daughter of Victor Jesus Ramirez the.. what is the word, Director of our recovery department. You have met him already.” Jill nodded in recognition, Ramirez was doing a great job recovering every bit of salvageable technology, fuel, parts, and what ever else that could be found in San Juan and across the island.

“Oh lord” Jill said. “if he creates a diplomatic problem I will kill him” She muttered then decided it was time to get Valery to expand on her comment earlier at the pier. “Assuming my son doesn’t torpedo the talks, I would like to hear why you believe I will succeed.”

“The Majority of the delegation supports you, including my husband. You offer us not just the choice but a voice in framing our future. Despite Mr. Sutton and the commonwealth’s fears on the matter. The Zone has dealt fairly with us since we signed on and that has influenced their thinking. So yes with out anything major happening, I feel that they will vote yes today or tomorrow.” She said. Jill knew she was speaking for her husband of course, but there were polite fictions to be observed.

“This common wealth, what’s it like, we have heard literally nothing about it.”

“it is a loose alliance of the former Virgin islands, including the old US virgin island. they do not have a large population, and only half of that are natives to the islands they live on. The other half were tourists and others trapped there when the dead rose.

They can feed themselves, even build sailing boats but that’s about all. They have been trying to get Puerto Rico to join them, in the hopes of having access to our small but growing manufacturing capability and our limited ethanol production.”

“”And they don’t trust the zone, wonderful” Jill said with a shake of her head.

“they do not trust Americans, out here in the Caribbean Americans were both loved and hated. To many times we were belittled, insulted or ignored. We Puerto Ricans and most of the other islanders are a proud people with a old culture and proud traditions and to often we were mocked or ridiculed for not being European enough, or American enough.

These things are not easily forgotten and your talk of restoring the United states, makes many of us leery that we will end up facing the same political, military and economic mess that we had before the dead.”

“ I can understand that, All I can say is we are trying to change that kind of thing.” Jill said knowing she sounded lame.

“this is a good meal” Valery said changing the subject as she took another bite of goat. “oh I almost forgot.” She said reaching into her bag and pulled out what to Jill looked like a few strings and some small pieces of bright fabric. “you can not come to our island and not go swimming so I picked out a suit for you.” Jill took the swim suit and held it up to the light.

“I take it you have a moth problem, most of this suit is missing” She said with a half smile.

Valery smiled “It will look good on you Jill trust me. Not a man on the beach will fail to notice you.”

“it will only be parts of me, parts of me barely covered, that will be noticed.” Jill said. Oh what the hell, I would have worn this ten years ago and its not like hundreds of men haven’t seen me naked while showering. “it’s a nice color though,” she said suddenly. “when in San Juan” She paraphrased.

“Good, I will wear something equally scandalous and between us we will have the men of San Juan panting at our heels.” Valery said with a laugh.

Jill placed the bikini on the small table. “So they will vote today or tomorrow” she said thoughtfully. Once the vote was in, good or bad her time here was over and she found she wanted a few more days of just seeing the island being a normal person.

“ Officially the Vote should be taken and announced by lunch tomorrow and I thought that you, your son and I, and your guard of course can take a trip to Dorado beach. Its many miles from here but quite beautiful.”

“and your guards as well I assume” Jill said, nodding towards the three men lingering almost out of sight.

“yes and my guards” Valery said with a frustrated sigh. “ Poor Pepe looks horrible in a swimsuit. Much like that creature in the Stars Wars movie, a nookie or something like that.”

Jill didn’t quite manage to choke off the laugh, “as excellent as your English is, you probably shouldn’t use the word nookie again.” Jill said then explained why.

“oh my” Valery said then began to laugh. “Ramon would fall all over himself if he had heard it.”

“You should hear my Spanish.” Jill said with a laugh. “there is a reason I do not try to speak it.”
There are points in history that every one can point to and say this is where things changed, but more often than not those moments are missed. It can be as simple a moment as taking a left turn instead of a right turn and meeting some one on a sidewalk that changes a life forever. Sometimes it could even be as simple as sleeping an extra half hour that puts a man or woman in the right place at the right time that sets a train of events in play that leads to huge changes down the road.

In Puerto Rico two things happened One a small thing, the visit of Jill Stone which lead to the major event.
The Crowd of people that moved around the Plaza Colon had shrunk in size only slightly since lunch time. Tropical trees swayed in the breeze, sunlight shone of the gaily painted buildings. The riot of colors on the buildings ranged from Coral pink to vivid blue and almost every color between and it still dazzled Jills eyes. The Average American was used to mostly dull colors for homes, white being the primary color of choice with the occasionally colored faux shutters. Every know and then someone back before the dead might get a little bold and paint a house yellow or even purple stirring up a storm of protest from neighbors. But that kind of paint job was common, at least in old San Juan, Jill thought as she gazed at a small coffee shop on the edge of the plaza, real coffee locally grown, that was painted canary yellow.

Because she was busy enjoying herself and her surroundings, a rare occurrence to be sure, she didn’t note the way the motions of the crowd around her changed. Thor Jansen how ever did and he reacted just as the first attacker emerged from the throng a pistol in his hand.

Thor Shouted a warning even as he pushed Valery down on his way to remove Jill from the threat. Four other men appeared out of the crowd, spread around the two women and Thor all of them armed but only one other held a fire arm.

Thor, seeing the first attacker had drawn his firearm, thankfully the Puerto Rican Government had allowed him to carry. As Valery hit the ground he put four rounds into the first man he had spotted. Blood flew as the attacker went down firing his own weapon. There were screams from the crowd as the bullets missed Thor but not the people behind him.

Thor paid no attention he was already turning , to face the second man with a fire arm. They fired at the same time, Thor grunted in pain as a bullet took him high in the left arm and another struck his lower right side. His assailant wasn’t so lucky, the man went down hard .

Jill having seen Valery going to the ground and hearing the first shot, spun and ducked trying to see the entire situation. It wasn’t good, she thought as a burly man wielding a machete hurled himself at her.

Her attacker expected her to cower and scream in terror. Women were of course unable to face danger with out pants wetting and screaming. He didn’t expect his victim to suddenly levitate up, extending a leg out striking the side of his head with what felt like a steel ball instead of a foot. Then strong agile fingers latched onto his arm, twisting and bending to remove the machete he held breaking his arm in three places.

Jill gracefully turned towards the next closest man and glided towards him. He was a knife man and though surprised at how easily she had taken down his friend felt nothing but confidence in his ability to kill his victim.

She pressed in fast and hard blocking a thrust with the machete, and a second with a fore arm deflection. Then she was inside his reach, the machete spun in her hand as she aligned it and then in a lightening speed move brought the machete up in a slash that started at his right hip and ended at his left shoulder.

The weapon was not as sharp as the sword she normally carried but it still opened the man up, a good doctor might even be able to save him, assuming said doctor could get to the man before the arterial blood spraying out onto the cobblestones killed him.

Valerys Guards were pushing people down and out of the way, weapons drawn. There must be more of attackers than I saw, Thor thought as the two of the guards fired towards a roof top, while the third exchanged fire with two other men who were trying to use a park bench for cover.

But all of that was noticed in a split second, Thor was busy dropping to one knee as he swung his pistol around dropping his sights center mass on a man that was holding a large knife in each ham sized fist. His dark eyes as flat and dead a sharks.

“Independecia” the man shouted. He wasn’t heading for Jill Thor realized, he was trying to reach the Governors wife. Thor knew he couldn’t take the man in a hand to hand fight, The attacker was too young and to fit and Thor was already wounded. He emptied his weapon into the charging man instead. The younger man tumbled to the ground dead.

The final man turned to run, but came up short as a blood soaked Banshee with a machete removed his right hand and the weapon it held then beat him down with two swift spinning kicks that sent him sprawling. He lay there screaming and trying to staunch the flow of blood from the wrist that had once sported a callused hand. He didn’t succeed.

Jill sat on the small beach below the Condado, watching Caleb and his first crush, Maria swim in the Laguna Del Condado. Guards were in evidence nearby, which was to be expected after the attempt on Valery’s life and presumably her own. Ramon and Valery sat beside her.

Two boats stood off near the mouth of the Lagoon, where sharks were known to sleep. While another stayed closer to the beach, to haul in the kids or any one else in case of a barracuda which were known to lurk in the area.

Old San Jaun lay across the Lagoon, and from here she could see the old Carib Hilton that lay behind an ancient fort called San Geronimo de Boqueron that was part of the old cities fortifications.

This was the second time she had been to the beach since the attack. Valery had been insistent that they go to Dorada, since the vote was delayed and Thor was recovering.

She had to admit she had loved Dorado beach, it was the kind of place that Jared had dreamed of. Caleb and his sweet heart, complete with chaperone and body guards had, had a lot of fun as well.

But this beach as small as it was and so close to the old city was far more enjoyable in many ways. Even with its potential dangers.

She sat with her arms wrapped around her legs watching the sunlight sparkle on the water and wanted to just lose herself in the moment.

“would you like some thing to eat” Valery asked as she opened the basket that sat beside her mat.

“No thank you,” Jill replied brushing wind blown hair out of her eyes. “as much as I hate to admit, I cant get business out of my mind and I want to, its such a beautiful day.”

Ramon, wearing only board shorts, sat back on his elbows, ankles crossed smiled. “we are much a like Jill, you do not mind that I call you Jill?”

“I don’t mind at all” Jill replied.

“Good, I was going to wait till this evening to give you the news, but I guess now is as good a time.” Ramon said. “As you know, We thought it was better to delay till we find out if the attackers held a popular belief or were agitators trying to derail our talks.”

“Yes I was aware of that and I take it since you’ve scheduled the vote for the day after tomorrow, you’ve concluded your investigation then “ Jill said still feeling odd to be wearing a bikini and relaxing on a beach. A string bikini at that, granted Jared would have loved it, and from the glances that Thor and other men sent her way they did too. Most of them, especially Thor tried to be covert, but failed.
“Yes, we have and I am not happy with the result” he said then lifted a hand realizing how that sounded. “so far, the majority of the people here support the idea of the convention, especially since we will have a voice in the formation and the option to withdraw if we are not happy with the final outcome before ratification. This is of course good news. But the information we discovered investigating the assassins was not. They were not from Puerto Rico.
In fact they arrived from the Common wealth two days before Sutton and his delegation. The same delegation that abruptly left after the assassins failed. Not only did we end up linking the assassins to a member of Suttons delegation but uncovered evidence that the pirates who have been raiding our shipping are operating out of the Common wealth.

Their ambassador of course denies any involvement and that will be their official stance. But I suspect that the Zone will end up having to deal with them one way or another before to much longer.”

“Your probably right, but that is not my business thank god.” Jill said. “I am not cut out for all this diplomatic stuff or to hunt down pirates. Especially not in this get up” she said waving a hand over the swimsuit she wore, or almost wore, she thought with a mental smile.

She watched Caleb swim for a moment, and smiled. For a little while he has gotten to be just a kid, a kid with a crush. I’m glad he’s had this chance when we get back he will be entering Pathfinder school and from then on he will taking on adult responsibilities

It saddened her in a way that he would never have all the years of childhood memories that she’d had, but that was the old world. There was no place and no time to pamper kids once they passed puberty in this new world. Maybe by the time she had Grandkids it might be better.

“I also would like to say that you’ve gained quite a reputation here, not only for the forthright and fair dealings you’ve had with us. But what you did to save my wife in the Plaza Colon has become quite a folk tale.” He chuckled “I know that you were just as busy protecting yourself but that is not how the by standers saw it. So you will become a hero here. The Santa Rojo, Red saint.”

Jill shivered, then forced smile. “I’m just glad that Valery is okay, and that Caleb was not there. if anything had happened to him.”

“As I am” Valery said as she rose to her feet. She looks incredible, Jill thought with out any jealousy, and so damn young. “I think its time we ladies cooled off.” She said holding out a slim delicate hand to Jill who flowed upright as easily and gracefully as she had in her youth. Determined to enjoy this little slice of her old life for the short time she had. Laughing the two women plunged into the water.

Jill stood on the deck of the Eagle peering through the misting rain, eager to step foot on dry land reflecting on what had happened on her journey. Puerto Rico was in and that brought the Bahama’s fully onboard. Her quick jaunt to Florida to visit the two most distant Members of the Zone had yielded positive results. Combined with the Hilton Head and ten other communities she had the leverage and the power to call for the convention at last. Now if only the group we contacted in Maine would join up, we could claim the whole east coast as part of the new US.
As she saw Fort Moultrie looming out of the rain she smiled, I promised you I would make this happen Jared. I just wish you were here to see it.
“I never heard about the attempt on her life” Meoghan remarked.

“Jill kept it quiet, besides she wanted to believe that it was soley aimed at Valery.” Ori said “in fact there were four more attempts over the years, two of them during the convention. Tempers were running high then and some people felt their power was under threat because of her.”

“Do you have anything to back that up” Meoghan asked excitedly.

Ori nodded slowly “I do, and I will make sure you get it before you leave.”

“I know she went back to Puerto Rico for a short while after the Signing, but I’ve heard rumors she had gone several times before that.”

“she did actually, she loved it there. she went twice during the convention breaks, and three or four more times when she had a chance to sit back and take a breathe.

“between the convention and her return from Puerto Rico what was she doing.

“Organizing mostly, traveling to the larger communities. She got them thinking early about organizing state borders and to come up with issues the people in each community wanted to address during the convention. I think she might have actually tried to relax twice during that time. But I wont swear to that.” Ori said with a chuckle. “But once that convention started, she was involved up to her ears.” He added

2028 Washington D.C.

“… it is in our best interest that any pay for the House and the Senate is kept as low as possible. We do not want another group of parasites living well off the taxpayers.” Thomas Mathison thundered from the podium. “Furthermore I propose that we state unequivocally that Congress shall not be allowed to receive any …”

Jill tuned him out, this was his favorite theme. Not that she disagreed with his overall sentiment of restricting the perks of being elected would help to keep corruption down and weed out those who were seeking money and power. Of course, the restrictions would not limit their power in any way, but that was why the checks and balances were so important and that was on the docket for debate the day after tomorrow.

Already one hundred and twenty proposals to tighten the checks and balances were on the list for consideration and she had no doubt that probably twice that number would end up being proposed.

Her only real job so far, was to ride herd on the people who proposed truly outrageous ideas. So far the rules that had been established for the convention were being adhered to, but every so often some one went off the deep end and had to be hauled, choking and screaming back to reality.

At least the majority of the decisions have been simply clarifications of intent of a specific line, or paragraph, almost all of those clarifications had been based on the writings of the original founding fathers that had been kept in the library of congress. Of course some of those had been argued over as well.

But that was the whole point to the convention, if and when this ended, the result would be the document that would be the foundation for all laws and courts and she would much prefer clarifications of intent than removal of old provisions and the insertion of new ones.

“I am so bored” Ori said from his seat beside her.

“You did good with your speech yesterday” she said, ignoring his comment.

“and that keeps me from being bored how” Ori asked, then straightened up as Mathison finished and stepped down and Luke Cross climbed up behind the podium. Cross had been a mere child when the world ended, but now he was a popular delegate and had gained influence for his clear thinking and his refusal to rush into decisions. “I bet he is about to poke Mathison in the eye again” Ori predicated. She nodded in agreement, she and Ori had been working with him behind the scenes for a couple of years now and knew that he had little tolerance for firebrands like Mathison.

Jill chuckled aloud, despite the fact that she was very uncomfortable around Cross, who looked remarkably like Jared, she respected him and even like the delegate from Knoxville. She just had trouble getting past his resemblance to her dead husband.

“ My fellow Delegates, we must first remember that the old world is dead and that what we do here will define the nation that comes after us. To that end we must find common ground that allows us to agree on ways to stop the abuses of the past while we have that chance instead of passing the problem to future Senators and Representatives.

Now that we have established the physical boundaries of the new states, that we address one of the single most import issues, States rights..” He continued to talk, become more eloquent as the minutes ticked past.

Jill nodded in agreement with many of the things that he said including the fact that since none of the new states had constitutions that they should be bound by only one the US constitution..

It had taken almost a year to lay out the state lines, she thought and that had been a bitter fight that more than once almost ended any chance of the convention being held. But in the end they had reached a compromise. What Cross was suggesting might be just as big as a political bomb, but he was right in many respects as well. She wasn’t sure which side she would come down on in the end on this issue, but she knew that she would never support states rights that allowed it to place itself above the people it was supposed to serve.

There would be no state right to issue privileges, or restrict freedoms of any one group of citizens because of another group or their religion, limit travel by any means for any reason and those were just her pet peeves.

And god help them when they addressed freedom of religion, she was pretty sure at least a couple of fist fights would break out that day.

I am doing this for you Jared, so you had better appreciate the misery I and your friends feel having to sit through this day after day, she said silently suppressing a half annoyed smile.

At least the issue of guns was quickly settled and there would be no ambiguities in the future for any group to try and use to ban, restrict weapons or ammuntion from any citizen. After the undead there was not a single surviving anti gun voice left in the US and probably wouldn’t be for a couple of generations to come.

Cross finished his impassioned speech and stepped down, as he passed Ori’s seat, Ori spoke quietly to him.

“dinner at Six, wear that dress you got in Puerto Rico” Ori said as he leaned in close to her ear.

“Like hell,”Jill replied “it shows far to much for me to want to wear that again.”

“your really unnatural for a woman did you know that” Ori remarked with a grin. “wear it for Jared then”

“bite me Ori” Jill whispered back as the next speaker began to try and counter Crosses proposal.”
Jill was wearing pants, riding boots and a off white silk blouse when Dinner rolled around. Cross arrived exactly on time, and joined the rest of her party around the dinner table. For awhile the conversation revolved around the food and their lives since the dead rose and then died off again.

It wasn’t his fault that he looked so much like Jared, She thought as she greeted Luke with more warmth than when they had first met so long ago.   he was slightly taller, his red hair was didn’t have that golden cast to it and he had eyes she could only describe as Topaz, instead of the Bright Emerald Green eyes of her husband. At least he didn’t sound or move like Jared that would have been to much for her.

The conversation of course turned to business, which she largely stayed out of content to let Ori and the others talk. After three hours of it she rose and excused her self.

Outside she decided to walk to the National Mall which had only recently become the National American University. Its museums and librarys were still open to the public but would be closed by now.

She made it three blocks before she felt a gentle touch on her elbow. “Jill are you all right” Thor asked quietly. I should have known he would follow me,she thought.

“Yes, thank you. I…” she stopped suddenly there on the sidewalk. “with out Caleb here with me, I feel alone and out of sorts and to be honest this whole convention thing is almost to much for me Thor. Who the hell am I to be making decisions about how a nation should run and things that will affect the lives of every single person in that nation.”

“It’s a terrible responsibility” Thor state. “and one that I trust you to handle. Your doing it because you believe your doing the right thing to do. which is not what some of those delegates feel.”

“Would you do it, if you could.” She asked.

“Hell no, I would end making a mess of the whole thing. Probaby have Ronny talk me into some amendment about women going topless and public spankings”

she laughed softly for a moment and leaned against him. His arm slid around her shoulders, tight and protective. There were times, she wished things could be different between them. They stood that way for several minutes then she pulled back. “lets walk.”
The weeks rolled by and things grew both easier and yet tougher. The arguments more intense and both sides had very good points. But each time she, Ori, Cross or another would trot out something written by a founding father to guide them and the balance would shift towards original meaning. Not all the time certainly, they had all lived through the various abuses, refusals to do constitutional duties, and power plays of the system and were determined to limit as much of that crap as possible.

She wasn’t certain that they had made all the right and wise decisions but as Ben Franklin had said before the signing of the constitution.
“I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?”

and like Franklin she would keep any doubts about the wisdom of various items “with in these walls” because they had done their best to reach agreement with compromise of course. Only time would tell if it worked and she would be long dead by then and future generations would be responsible for amending it.

She smiled at that thought, Cross had pushed for and gotten an amendment that Congress might amend the constitution but before it became law it was subject to approval by the people through vote..

There were other changes too, the rules of operation for the senate and house were laid down in an amendment. there would not be any more game playing with procedure, no more riders, no more tacking on items that wouldn’t pass unless attached to a must pass bill or budget.

Congress would no longer be living in D.C. year round either, they were now required to spend six months of the year living and working real jobs in their districts. Most of the changes, were nothing major but would have major consequences down the road. Especially the specific and carefully worded section that made public officials not only subject to all laws they passed, but would face twice the sentencing requirements of the average citizen for breaking the law.

All in all, she was happy with their efforts and the final result. Now all that was left was to return home, where the delegates were supposed to confer with their citizens and then return next July for a final vote and then to sign the documents. Hopefully there would be no protests which would return them to the convention or withdrawals from the process.

Once she had signed, it would be over and she was looking forward to exiting public life more than Ori at this point.

* * *
July 1st 2032 Washington D.C.
Luke Cross grabbed a handhold as the trained slowed with a jerk and a rattle, smoke billowed up around the car as it came to a stop. At Five foot ten, he was one of the taller people in the train car. His curly red hair and topaz colored eyes only made him stand out even more.

“D.C. and the National American University stop” a porter bellowed entering the car.
People began to rise from their seats and gather their bags, talking excitedly.

A woman trying to grab a carry bag and balance her baby stumbled as he reached for the net strung above the windows to retrieve his own bag. He reached out a large hand and steadied her before she could fall.

“thank you” she said.

“not a Problem” Luke replied with another smile as he grabbed his own bag and made his way to the door and stepped outside.

It wasn’t often that people traveled these days so these kinds of moments had become like Holidays. But for the people coming to DC on this date it was more than just a holiday, it was a homecoming. Lucas thought as he took a moment to look around the crowded train platform. The majority of the crowd were older, the survivors of the Dead and their children. They were talking loudly and laughing often, and the one impression that rolled off them was Hope.

It was infectious that hope, that spirit of happiness and like the others he found himself grinning for no real reason. He was proud of the part he had played in bringing that hope for the future to life even if he did nothing else with his life after this his part in this was enough to last him a lifetime.
He made his way across the platform to the Stationhouse which had been built ten years before. It looked like something from another era with its gabled roof and ornate wood work.

Passengers waiting for trains sat on pre dead metal benches under slate shingled overhangs. Porters wove their way through the crowd pushing carts loaded with baggage racing to beat the disembarking passengers to the baggage pick up area.
Back before this station was built there had been talk about restoring the old Union Station, but that idea had been scrapped because the tools, supplies and materials needed were in short supply and for the simple fact there were few people still alive who had the skills and knowledge to work on something so massive and complex. It was the same reason that restoring the capitol building was progressing so slowly. But that situation was improving, slowly, but still improving.

He gathered his bags from the porters cart then made his way to the street. Even expecting it, he was still surprised to see so many people crowding the street. He headed to the line of wagons that waited along side the crumbling curb. “The Regent” He told the driver then settled back to enjoy the ride into Town with four others who had never been to D.C and were talking excitedly about everything they saw along the way.
The Regent was a new hotel in an old Historic building near Fords theater. Alicea Winters had opened the place eight years ago, when the Entire National mall and its attendant museums had been turned into the Zones University.

When the wagon rolled to a stop, he climbed down onto the neatly kept sidewalk. The decorative planters filled with sweet smelling flowers were a new addition as was the gold trimmed scarlet awning over the etched glass door.

Porters rushed out from the lobby, gathering Lukes’s things they carried them inside while he paid the driver. A truck rumbled past, foul smelling smoke issuing from the stack of the Gassifier mounted behind the cab. The Driver watched it pass frowning.

“Nasty smelling things,” The Driver said. “but damn if they don’t make me think of the old days.”

Luke nodded in agreement, as another truck this one from one of the outlying farms rolled past, its slat board bed filled with potatoes and onions for the Market. Even now with fuel production plants, vehicles were still not all that common for personal transportation. Mainly they were used for work, Transporting goods, foods and materials. The Military still needed vehicles and Aircraft and used the bulk of them.

The average person usually walked, or rode bicycles and even horses to get aroud. Luke had been partial to the three wheeled bike he had used during the year he has spent here for the constitutional convention.

He had liked that bike, the basket between the two rear wheels had been large enough to carry plenty of groceries or other things that he might buy shopping and it was a lot speedier getting around D.C on it than walking to any of the far flung communities scattered around the pre dead city.
He stepped into the lobby finding it was cooler than the muggy temperatures outside, thanks to the slow moving ceiling fans that turned continuously overhead. Potted plants dotted the lobby and ornate wood dividers provided semi private areas for people to talk quietly.

He approached the desk and smiled at the thin man in a newly made suit who greeted him by name. He shouldn’t have been surprised that the desk manager remembered him; He had practically lived here during the year and a half of the Constitutional convention. Luke smiled and asked after the mans wife “She’s right as rain sir, pregnant with our seventh little one”

“she was pregnant with your fourth the last time we talked. And that wasn’t all that long ago.” Luke said with a smile.

“aah yes sir, she gave birth to our fourth boy on the 1st of April.” The manager said beaming. Fourth son, sixth child.” The manager beamed proudly.

you are not wasting time cranking them out. The thought was amused, No wonder the populations are booming in the zone. Amazing what a little boredom, plenty of feed and a lot of free time after dark will do, he thought with amusement.

Most of the larger communities had a night life of sorts these days, usually a couple of restaurants and a bar or two. Sullivan had started the practice of live bands in a central park on Saturday’s and sometimes plays in the evenings. He had even attended a play based on star wars, which had been almost surreal to see. The kids had loved it, the adults had waxed nostalgic for the film.

. “We have your normal room available sir.” The manager said taking a key from a hook and passing it to Luke. “ and again welcome back sir and if there is anything you need, let us know.”

Once he was in his room, Luke threw open the doors to the balcony, letting the warm air flow in, tipped the bell hop then waited only long enough for the door to close behind the kid before sprawling on the couch, a pre dead fabric covered sofa that was incredibly soft and relaxing. The grandfather clock, Made in Hilton head chimed the half hour.

Tonight he would have the luxury of powered lights too, he thought feeling all hedonistic at the idea. The hotel had a generator run by a gasifier that powered various sections of the hotel like the lobby, dining area and the lights in guests rooms from sunset to midnight.

He poured himself a scotch from the rooms bar, then lay back on the couch staring at the ceiling. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day there would be a meeting of the convention, followed by the final vote. After that, assuming there were no delays in the final vote, the relevant committees would meet to finalize the transition plans that would dissolve the zone, and transfer power, as well as all zone held materials, equipment and supplies, to the new national government.

There had been a lot of problems to overcome along the way, and Luke doubted that even Jill Stone would have worked so hard to make this happen if she had known all the headaches before hand. He grinned to himself, no she probably would have anyway. That is one determined lady.

Unlike the first convention by the founding fathers, there had not been any states in existence with their own constitutions, no real offices or governments beyond local councils and that had posed a lot of problems to overcome.

And each time one of those problems came up, He, Jill, Hopkins or Ori would present a solution, thanks to the Think Tank that Hopkins had created to study the entire situation.

One of the many hotly contested solutions had been State constitutions, or rather the lack of said constitutions, since no states had really existed before the convention.

As Jill had pointed out in her speech on the subject, one of the requirements for joining the Zone had been accepting the US constitution, therefore the US constitution should be considered the Constitution of each newly created State. But each state would have the power to legislate state specific amendments to reflect the local will, assuming such amendments didn’t violate the US constitution, or personal rights, the amendments would be enforced only inside that state.

To be honest it was creating the states that had proven to be immensely difficult, leading to several hours long shouting matches and not a few fist fights, of course that fight had really boiled down to resources, and salvage. Such as Degasso who represented Lakewood Enclave in what had been old New Jersey argued long and forcefully about his peoples right to salvage in New York city and Newark, both of which were included in the new New York State now.

Until he had been convinced that his new State had access to salvage grounds as rich or richer than those he was arguing for, the man had wasted hours of the conventions time.

Thank God, we specifically laid down rules forbidding any social engineering, or there would have been blood in the aisles. Luke thought, laughing silently. There were so many different communities with opposing social norms now that it would have been impossible to reach an accord on that. Jill had done an end run by pointing out that they had expressly stated in a clarification, that all people had the right to chose how they lived their lives, socially, sexually and religiously. Neither the federal government or State governments had the right or privilege to dictate how those lives were lived outside of punishing Murder, theft, rape or molestation.

Her speech had of course been much more in depth, laying out both the opinions of the original founding fathers, and philosophers of the time but the conventions own rules and mission statements.

It had been a long and emotional ride, and thank god it was finally over, or would be after tomorrow. Then I will be faced with accepting the nomination of provisional Senator for the New State of Tennesee till the elections. He let himself sigh, he was still undecided on that, but he was leaning towards accepting. He laughed suddenly. Lets face it I find this crap as annoying as I find it exciting.

July 4th had always been a special Day for Americans and today it was being reaffirmed.

Luke thought as he entered the old Capitol Rotunda stopping before the Sergeant at Arms to show his invitation. The older man pointed out the block of seats sat aside for the delegation from the new state of Tennessee.

He smiled and thanked the man, who had to have been in his thirties when the Dead had risen. He made his way over to the seat, smiling politely at all the others milling around and talking excitedly. It had taken a full year of meetings and conferences to reach this point and it still amazed him that he had become a part of history.

The sound level dropped suddenly causing Luke to look up and towards the doors where every one else was looking. The Sullivan island Delegates had arrived. Ori McBride the head Delegate for the island walked protectively beside Jill Stone and his god son Caleb. Every here and even the spectators knew that no matter what was officially said Jillian Stone was the Head delegate. Where she went the rest followed.

Luke had enjoyed working with her over the last several years and was proud to have been included in her small circle of friends. She was and is an amazing woman who didn’t just exist in her husbands shadow, in the minds of most people she was equal to her husband and in some ways had moved beyond Jared Stone with all the work she had put into bringing places like Puerto Rico into the zone, getting the national university established and in her work both before and during the Constitutional convention to make her dead husbands dream come true. She had been for all intents and purposes the conventions moral conscience.
The University, now that was a heated topic for a conversation. The First post dead college had been established on Sullivan island and it had done a fantastic job, but before his death Jared had begun to talk about setting up a second one, a larger one in the one place that had almost everything that would be needed for such a undertaking.

He had died before that had happened, but to the chagrin of the those who wanted to see the Sullivan University expanded, Jill had taken up the cause after her husbands death and just four years ago she had officiated the Opening of the American National University, or national university as most called it now. The ANU covered half the old US capital Mall, Every museum and the old Library of Congress were part of the campus.

His thoughts drifted off as the Sullivan island delegation took their seats up front and the other delegates quickly assumed their own seats as the President of the convention stepped up onto the small stage that had been built for today.

This was only the first of speeches for the morning, but the main event would be just after lunch and held on the Capitol buildings west veranda that gave a view of the Mall and where The Zone had battled both Kronnen’s forces and the undead. The day that the world had changed once more Luke thought. That day led us directly here, he thought.

The head of each delegation rose one by one to give a short speech, most were pat on the back, I am so special speeches, but some were not. Some were truly emotionally moving speeches about how far they had come and where they as a nation could end up if they stayed true to the principals they had enshrined. After each delegate spoke they walked to the large table that sat in front of the podium and signed the document that lay there.

The document that would launch the new nation, Luke thought suddenly. As he in turn leaned over the Document pen in hand. He couldn’t begin to describe the swell of emotions he felt standing there as he realized, fully realized what he had been part of. If it all worked out the way they hoped, he had just help guide generations to come to a better life. Laid down the rules that would bring tranquility and security. It was sobering to realize the impact he and the other delegates would have on people not yet born. I hope we were wise enough, and I hope that did not fail our descendants. He signed the document, his eyes bright then headed back to his seat.
The room fell silent as the last delegate rose and made his way to the podium.
Every reporter present, and yes that breed had survived the dead and were growing in number, began to write, describing the moment as Ori McBride stood silently before them composing himself. He cleared his throat looking around the chamber.

“Today” he said with out any prepared speech. “I stand here facing a moment that I didn’t think I would ever see. My Friend…” Ori paused, the word was heavy with emotion that had some in the room teared up. even from here Luke could see the mans eyes glistening with unshed tears. “ dreamed of this moment. Gave his life for this moment.” Ori looked towards Jill and Caleb stone as did almost every one else in the chamber.

She sat there calm and composed a serene look on her face. She seemed completely unaware she was the focus of attention as she gave Ori an encouraging smile and a nod.

“I know you expected me to give some well written speech about the country and the constitution. But in my mind both are inexorably tied to My Friend.” He continued, running a hand over his thick, still mostly blond hair. “People who traveled with him during the dead years and fought beside him from Tennessee to this very building would line up to tell you how brave he was, how good a man he was. But what drove him, what made him the Brave man, the good man is the one thing that some people over the last couple of years have used against him. ‘He was an idealist,’ they say, ‘and as nice as that was. Idealism never wins.’

But people followed him because of those ideals, he inspired people, pushed them with out a word, with out trying, to be better than they were and because of his dream, his idealism and inspiration made him the man he was,.

And those ideals are the reason we are standing here today. “ he looked around again, almost fidgeting. Luke knew him well enough to know Ori was tired of talking and wanted nothing more than to get out of the spotlight and sit quietly somewhere and maybe have a beer.

“ On this day, of all days, Jared Stone deserves to be remembered, do not doubt that for a second, Remembered not as a larger than life figure but as a man who lived, loved and gave his life to bring his nation back from the dead, because he loved the ideals his Nation stood for.

Our Government and our people failed to live up to those ideals more than once. But those ideals never faded from our lives even when we missed the point.

I hope that like Jared we as a people let those ideals guide and shape us and our nation as we go forward, that we try to be our better angels.” He fell silent once more as applause started to ripple around the chamber. For a moment he looked like he was going to say more then he shrugged and walked slowly to the table and signed his name then just as slowly returned to his seat, the applause growing into a storm of sound, He stopped only long enough to hug Jillian Stone and shake Caleb Stones hand before hugging the teenager too.

When Jill rose, the room fell silent. She stood there at the podium, gazing at the assembled delegates, the reporters and spectators that thronged the spaces around the room and on the walkway that circled the Rotunda.
“it was almost twenty two years ago that our world died, we have struggled against nature, fought enemies out of nightmare, we joined common cause to eat, and protect each other and as time has passed we have thrived. At times we have despaired that things would improve, or that we would survive at all. But there were people who gave us hope, that pushed us out of our fear and showed us that we could handle more, go further than we had thought possible and because of that hope of those examples we have reached this point. .” She paused looking around the chamber, a bemused smile on her lips, no one knew what she was thinking that caused that smile except maybe Ori. “I only wish my husband could be here, he dreamed of this moment, fought for this moment and died hoping that this moment would come for his son and all the other children born after the dead.” Her voice caught for a second as she looked lovingly on her son. “I want to thank you for the privilege and honor of being a part of this.” she said as she stepped down from the podium then walked to the table.

The room seemed to hold its breath as the one person who had worked hard to make this moment a reality out of love and duty, stood before the table pen in hand. This was the moment, the final moment of the past. History waited in the wings for her signature.

I wonder what she is thinking, Luke asked himself his heart pounding in his chest.
Jill looked down and saw the elegant script of the pre amble on the large cream colored page and felt elation for their success and a strong pride in what they had accomplished.

Her people were dragging themselves back from the brink after the world had collapsed and there on that table was proof they were moving forward, putting the dead behind them and hopefully their best days lay before them.

She signed her name and left tears welling in her eyes. We did it Jared. We did it
* * * .

After lunch Luke walked to the west Veranda overlooking the west lawn and the Grant memorial to join the other delegates and found himself standing beside Ori and Jill Stone as they waited for the ceremony to begin.

He looked out across the mall, amazed at the huge number of people out there. A sea of humanity all here for the a moment that meant far more to them than they could ever put into words that those that were still babies or born after the dead would understand. But it all boiled down to They were reclaiming their past and their futures today.

“Nice to see you again” Ori said shaking Luke’s hand. “Its been what six months?”

“Something like that you ass.” Luke said with a grin. “I seem to remember you promising to send me a couple of bottles of your best Apple pie whiskey.”

Ori grinned back at him, “I have a case in my room, drop by and pick it up after this. I plan on getting drunk as hell.” He said then cast a guilty look at the woman who stood behind him. Beth McBride smiled at him. she had aged well, Luke thought, but so had Jill. It must be something in the water on Sullivan, he decided.

“I think all of us might be getting a bit tipsy this evening” She said as she took her husbands hand and smiled. “and you had better take advantage of me too.” .

“Thank god” Ori muttered as he smiled back at her. “and I will, I promise”

“Jill I’m glad to see you again” Luke said leaving Ori and Beth to stare into each others eyes. What a pair of sappy love birds, he thought smiling. .

“Thank you Luke, your looking good as usual” She said. Her eyes lingering on his face. When they had first met she had been stand offish but once Ori had explained that Luke reminded her of Jared, which he had been inordinately proud of, he understood completely. Over the course of their working together to first setting up the convention then in the debates that followed, they had become good friends.

from a strictly physical side, Luke could see exactly why Jared Stone had fallen for her. but once a man got to know her, the mind behind those looks was more incredible. She was thoughtful, smart and considered every bit of evidence before she offered an opinion. Even when she offered off the cuff opinions, it was obvious she had given thought to her answer, trying to consider every permutation of the situation.

“So whose doing the big speech” Luke asked. that had been one things the committee that had organized this even had kept a close secret. “have you heard?”

Ori nodded casually then glanced at Jill. “Thank god” Luke said. He had pushed for Jill Stone to be involved in this moment and find out it was going to happen only made this day even more special.
It was hard being here, Jill thought looking around. over there where the podium had been set up, Two of her friends had died. The stairs leading up here had been covered in the bodies of men and women who had followed Jared. She remembered the mad rush to get the every one inside the capitol building as the undead had finally broken through. While a battle raged inside the building to drive out Kronnen’s people.

At least she hadn’t had to enter the old senate chambers since that damned day, she never wanted to see that room again.

But even those memories as rough as they were, as much as they had haunted her were no match for the joy and sense of accomplishment that she felt standing here today. People had died here fighting for what they, what Jared believed was right and it was only fitting that the culmination of Jared’s Dream be held here where his people had died.

I wish you here to share it with me, she said silently. But if he wasn’t’ the last of the Dirty dozen were here in his honor and that would just have to do. she thought looking to her left where their friends stood watching.

And it wasn’t just the dirty Dozen who had attended either, she thought. Ed, Cole, Logan, Daws, Ashton, even Darius had made the trip from Thebes to be here.

The Speaker of the convention rose from his seat and silence rippled across the veranda and then across the crowd that filled this area of the mall. Close to Twenty thousand, she had heard. The largest gathering of people since before the dead rose.

He tapped the microphone and the crowd went wild as the speakers transmitted the sound. “as you can see, the Reactor was brought online last night.” He said. The applause was almost deafening.

Jill smiled; there had been no announcement about the reactor being brought online, just in case something had happened. Thank god for the Nuclear specialists from the US Navy, she thought with a smile. In fact the Navy had played a huge part in rebuilding, they still had people with all the critical skills and knowledge. It had taken a couple of years to run new power lines, and build or recover critical equipment needed for power transmission.

Right now and for the fore seeable future, the power would go to public lighting, and the two hospitals being set up right now. but that would change as more power lines were run and more power producing plants like solar, hydro and for now, even coal were brought online.

The Speaker got every one quiet again, smiling out over the crowd. “This is a moment we will never forget. One we will share with our kids and grandkids and those who were not here. It is the most important moment in our lives and in the lives of the people not yet born that will come after us.” He said smiling hugely, as excited as any one in the crowd. “Ladies and Gentleman, Jillian Stone will do the honors.”

Jill stood there stunned for a moment till Ori poked her in the side. “if you don’t get up there I will and my knock knock jokes will ruin the moment.” She started forward, head high. She had hoped for this honor but had doubted it would actually happen. now she knew why Ori had been pulled to the side as they were leaving the Rotunda and the little ass hadn’t told her.
It had been a long time coming Luke thought, as his skin prickled and excitement and awe flowed through him as Jillian Stone, stepped up onto the platform that had been set up on the Veranda. He doubted that there was one person in that crowd that didn’t know who she was.

She stood there for a moment gazing down the steps where so many had fought and died against a Warlord and the undead there on that last desperate day.

Today there was no blood, no bodies of the living dead. Only sunlight and people crowded the steps spilling out onto the old lawn and even beyond the Grant Memorial onto the National Mall itself.

No one had seen so many people in one place since the Dead had risen, they had come from all over to be here for this moment in time, where a part of their old world would come to life again and they would be in truth one people, Americans again.

Some might later belittle the moment, but for these people who had been adrift, survived on their own when every thing else had fallen apart, it Meant they had an identity again. They were no longer alone, no longer just small bands of survivors eking out an existence in the ruins of their old homes in the land of their birth.

Luke had no idea how long it might last, no one did. But the people of today were stronger than they had been. It would be a long time before the horror and desperation faded and people became complacent and out of touch with the reality around them again. hopefully that day would never come.

He gazed up a Jill feeling a thrill of anticipation, a wild exultation that made him want to shout for joy.
Jill gripped the podium with both hands to still the turmoil of emotions inside her. It should be Jared who stood here; this was what he had believed in, what he had pushed people towards and in the end died for.

I’ve done all I could to make this happen Jared, she said silently a tear trickling down her cheek as she turned on the microphone, for many out there this would be the first time since the dead that they had seen power used for something so mundane. But the people down there deserved, needed to hear what she had come here to say today.

Down there on the steps standing behind Ori, she thought she saw a flash of red hair and a familiar face smiling broadly. She smiled back, took a deep breath and spoke into the Microphone, her voice carried by the speakers out onto the mall and into the streets beyond.

“I will not stand up here and give a long speech, that’s not what we are here for.

Ten years ago, our lives, our homes, our families, our nation was stripped from us. We fought and we scratched and we grieved when we could and we never really believed that we would recover. But we have, The dark was defeated right here, on these steps when men and women stood their ground against it, determined to fight and die for what they believed in.

It was defeated by every one of you who refused to give in, to take the easy route and kill others for supplies..

And here we are, the powers coming back on, “ she paused as a distant rumble reached them. She might not have known she had been chosen to give the speech, but she had about the aircraft from friends on the committee. On the Veranda and across the mall Every eye looked up as a formation of f15’s flew low over head. it had taken a month to guarantee those planes were mechanically sound and make sure there was enough fuel to fly them but the effect they generated on the people assembled here was enormous. It was a bit of theater but was still true. “and planes are flying again, trains are running and slowly but surely we are recovering more each year.” She paused as the crowd roared and the applause rolled over her.

She stood there erect and elegant, wrapped in dignity and pride of the moment Her lips trembled as more tears spilled down her cheek. She took a deep breath and entered history
“ WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more
perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Pos-
terity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America…” she spoke clearly and from the heart, and with out reading from notes, she didn’t need them and every one in the range of her voice knew she believed in those words. She could feel the tide emotion that rose over them all and the hope that spread like wild fire.

Admiral Jeremy Hopkins, The last Real Admiral of the US Navy in full mess dress was mouthing the words with her, tears streaking his lined and battered face as he heard the words. He had hoped for, schemed, and planned for this moment now there were no words adequate to describe the emotions that battered him. .
Thor Jansen stood behind Jill, smiling as he placed a hand on Caleb Stones shoulder as he watched the woman he had silently loved for years bring his country back to life. “your dad would be proud as hell of her and this moment” he told Caleb.

Caleb only nodded unable to speak and trying to pretend he wasn’t getting swept away by his own emotions as his dads dream came true.

Ori stood there proud and straight eyes bright with unshed tears, clutching his wifes hand as Jills voice rolled over the assembled people. he only wished that all of his friends could be here for this moment.

Silence had spread across the mall as the listeners soaked in the words. No one would ever really be able to describe the moment, the emotions that swept them away and nothing else in their lives afterwards would even come close. There were tears, and thousands of voices that said the words along with Jill Stone.

Jill’s voice faded away as she spoke the last words and the cheers rose echoing back from the walls of the old city. Then Someone out there began to sing the old national anthem and it spread across the huge crowd almost as fast as the speed of light till twenty thousand voices were joined together. .

Jill stood there smiling and crying and she wasn’t alone as the singing ended she leaned towards the microphone and simply said “welcome home” and the crowd went wild.
by sunset the crowd still celebrating on the Mall were witness to another wonder of the old world a fireworks show. The children present had never seen anything like the bursting blooms of dazzling light that blazed across the sky as the sun sank below the horizon and the fireworks were almost as enchanting as the lights along the mall came to light.
From the roof of the hotel they were staying in Jill, Ori, Thor Jansen, Caleb and the rest of her party watched the celebration. Somewhere out on the mall they could hear music and of course the low surf roar of thousands of conversations and cheers with each exploding firework.

“He would have loved this” Beth said, no one had to ask who the He was she was referring to.

“yeah” Ori said lifting the glass of apple pie whiskey to the night sky in salute. “I wish Ronny were here to see this too”

“Jared was always an odd duck” Eric Stone, Jared’s Brother said from where he sat on an A/C.

“Your still pissed about the San Diego MILF incident aren’t you” Ori asked.

“she wasn’t a MILF” Eric protested with a laugh. “She was damned F ..UH..” He stopped there at the pointed look that Beth gave him as she gestured at the kids on the roof. “Hot” He ended lamely as his friends laughed.

Luke chuckled with them, he hadn’t met Beth but a few times of the last couple of years. But it was apparent she was strong willed and had very definite opinions on what was appropriate when around kids.

“he was here today” Jill said suddenly with a sad wistful smile.

“Jill” Ori said gently placing a hand on her shoulder.

“I know, I know but I saw a guy down there on the steps just as I started my speech and he looked like Jared.” She said. Ori knew that she hoped it was Jared. during the time of the dead, many people had sworn that dead friends and family had come to them in dreams to say goodbye. He wasn’t going to say Jill had imagined it, who knows if any one might be able to come back to spend a moment with the woman he loved it would be Jared. But it was pretty damn unlikely all the same.

She gazed up at the sky and smiled, it was an incredible finale. Wade Parks and his committee should be applauded for making this an incredible moment for the First National event since before the dead. Some one would no doubt complain later about the amount of resources that had been used to make this moment possible but she was pretty sure that who ever was that stupid would be dragged out and thrashed soundly.

Reminds me of Puerto Rico” Ori said suddenly. “the emotions not the fireworks” he added to clarify.

She nodded, casting a look at Caleb. He had met his first love there, both kids had been convinced they were in love and would marry each other when the dim witted adults finally let them.

Now, he was nineteen as tall as his dad. He kept his dark hair cut in a flat top like Jared had worn. He was just as muscular and moved with the same fluid grace. She was always struck by how much he looked like Jared in face.

Caleb was talking with Thor Jansen, probably about girls. She thought feeling a pang of guilt. Thor still loved her after all these years, she did love him but it was nothing close to how she felt about Jared. I know Jared wanted Thor and I to end up together, she thought. He had known his death was coming and had tried to set things up so that I wouldn’t be alone and know that he approved of Thor.

But she hadn’t, oh she loved Thor but she had never been ready or able to move on and Thor who had loved her for so long had stayed by her side as a friend and protector. I wish he would have found some one. But then he wouldn’t be the man you love would he. We are to screwed up people, she decided.

“you okay” Ori asked, he had noticed where her attention had been focused. He and Beth both had hoped that sooner or later Jill would move forward with her life and love some one else. But he had known deep down that she wouldn’t. Sad really those two do love each other and they would have been a great couple.

“I’m fine” she said with a smile that she probably didn’t realize how strained and sad that smile looked.

“Perk up, this monkey show will be over in another two days and then its back home for us.”

“for you maybe, I have been asked to attend the celebration in Puerto Rico as a guest of honor then another event in the Bahamas.” She said with a heavy sigh.

“oh I am sure that will be so tough, Probably will have to dress up in a Bikini or something more skimpy. Oh the horror” Ori quipped. “at least this time you will have time to actually relax, hit the beach do a little swimming.”

“And lay naked on the sand” she said quoting Jared as she smiled.

“well if you want to, Personally if I were you I wouldn’t. the minute men start oogling you either Caleb or Thor will have to kill some one and that’s not a great way to start off as a new nation. I can see the head lines now. Nations first lady, lures men to their deaths by posing nude on beach blanket.”

“you know, you still aren’t funny” Jill said with a laugh. Ignoring the nick name that the new press had placed on her.

“Nuff talk more drink” Ori said with a grin as h handed her a glass of his best stuff.
“oh god my head” Jill moaned as she woke up in her hotel bed. She didn’t remember going to bed, in fact she didn’t remember undressing either’ She thought noting the absence of clothing. She rolled over and saw Sharon and Bridget squeezed into the bed with her, and both were equally naked.

“oh this is going to start rumors” Jill muttered as she climbed out of the bed, wishing her head would explode to end the pain.

She donned a robe and headed down to the bathroom at the end of the hall, where hot water was waiting. Another blast from the past, she thought as she sunk down into one of the ten tubs that the guests on this floor shared.

Luke Cross was already here, she noted feeling a wistful something for a moment as she saw the flame colored hair.

“Morning” Luke said as he washed the soap out of his eyes and saw her.

“Good morning.” she said as she picked a bar of soap off the tray beside the tub and set to scrubbing herself. her head ache was slowly receding thank god.

“Are you going to the ceremony at the Castle,:” He asked. The castle was the oldest building of what had once been the Smithsonian.

“Yes, though I wont be speaking at it.” She said. She really wasn’t all that interested in the follow up celebrations scheduled for today. Yesterday’s celebration was the only one that she had cared about. But she couldn’t tell the any one else that, especially not the people who ran the National university that she had helped establish and truth to tell she was emotionally and physically exhausted after yesterday.

“I’m supposed to speak, but I’m making it a short one.” Luke commented as he stood and gabbed a towel to dry himself. “to be honest I can’t wait to get back home. The elections are not far off and I have a lot to do.”

“Your running for office” she asked some what surprised.

“yes,” He said with a shrug of muscular shoulders. “that’s the plan any way. I was nominated as a Temporary Senator till the elections, like most of the main delegates. So if I want to stay a Senator, then I have to run for office in the Election. Who knows by then I might hate the job and want to retire to farm or something.”

“good luck” Jill said with a smile. Luke was a good man, and she had no doubt he would do a good job as an elected official. He was like Jared in his idealism and she only hoped that the others that ended up elected would be the same way.

“Thanks.” He said tying the towel around his trim waist. He stood there for a moment, his eyes lingering on her. his gaze was not in any way sexual she realized, only thoughtful.

“You know if you run for president, you would win by a landslide.” He said suddenly. “people love you Jill and for a lot more reasons than your Jared’s wife.”

She started to say something then giggled instead, god she hated it when she giggled. I sound like a preteen Justin Bieber fan when I giggle. “sorry,”she said when the moment had passed. “I suddenly thought of being elected and how the history books would record that the fateful moment I decided to run for office was sitting in a bath tub being encouraged by a man in a towel.”

Luke laughed at that, it was absurdly amusing when you thought about it. “well I guess we could lie and claim it was last night on the roof before you got toasted and carried to bed by your son.”

“That will look only slightly better than the truth,” she said laughing. “but since I refuse to run for any office, it won’t ever be an issue.”

“Why not?” Luke asked curious as he perched on the side of her tub. His eyes never once darted any lower than her face she noted. A very good man.

“I’ve spent years working to save people and then to rebuild. Once this whole show is over I plan on retiring from anything smelling of politics and public service and spend the rest of my life teaching engineering, math and martial arts and in my off time herding cats and knitting exciting underwear.” She said that last one of the lines Jared had tossed out all the time from one of his favorite movies. In the present situation that line might have been a mistake. But luckily Luke didn’t take it as flirting or a come on.

“well it was an idea. Personally I think you would make an excellent President, and I think you as the first elected president of the new United States would send a message to our descendants on exactly who we are and what we believe in and hope to be.” Luke said. He rose with a sigh. “time to go get dressed, the speech awaits.”

July 5th

Luke walked down the set of shallow steps glancing at the Grant Memorial and the reflecting pond where so many had died. The pool had been badly damaged during the Battle for D.C on what had turned out to be the last day of the dead and had only been repaired two years ago. The statue of Grant would forever carrying the chips and dings of the bullets and shrapnel that had scarred it.

The mall seemed empty today, with the huge crowd absent. There were still plenty of people on the mall, some sitting and doing homework others hurrying to reach classrooms.

When the Mall had been turned into the Nations University, some had wanted to name it after Jill Stone who had worked tirelessly to make it happen or after her Husband who had first suggested the idea of setting up a National University. Jill had laughed at the suggestion and insisted they name it anything but after her or her husband and so it had been named the US National University.

He started towards the Castle, it had once been the seat of the Smithsonian. A red sandstone building of Romanesque/Norman Gothic design. Most of the class rooms were installed in the former office space, the museum sections had been preserved as had the archives.

He walked with his hands in his pockets enjoying the early morning. Wondering what the place had been like before the dead. He had been only ten when the world had died, so his only memories of DC where from what few movies and magazine pictures he could remember.

“Last day in DC?” Luke turned to see Ori McBride sitting on a bench between two planters.

“almost, I actually leave day after tomorrow.” Luke said with a smile. “have to get back to Knoxville to assume the office of Senator.”

“Don’t let it corrupt you” Ori said seriously.

“I won’t.” Luke promised.

“You were the one who pushed to have all those restrictions placed into the articles, like forcing Reps and senators to spending six months of each year living in their districts instead of in the Capitol smoozing and wheeling and dealing with special interests. So I am at least confident your not a power hungry moron. Well not yet at any rate” Ori said then grinned at the much younger man.

“that would be me yes, its what a lot of constituents wanted, demanded actually. To make sure that their elected officials remained in touch with their districts.” Luke said as he looked towards the Capitol building where a newly made American Flag fly once more.

Ori chuckled, it hadn’t taken as much of a fight to get most of the issues passed as the older survivors had expected. Ori suspected that was because the bulk of the people behind this had been young when the world had tanked and hadn’t developed the life long commitment to ideologies and political parties like the older survivors had.

What ever the reasons, new rules had been added, loopholes and vagueness had been removed from old ones and things had been simplified. Above all firm wording had been put in place to keep semantic games from being played in the future. Whether it would end up working out the way they hoped was for the future to find out, but no one today could deny it had been done with the best interests of the People and their new old nation in mind and not for political purposes.

“so are you going to accept the nomination to the new Senate” Luke asked the normally taciturn older man.

“Hell no” Ori replied with a grin. “I’ve spoken more in the last year than I have most of my life. I just want to go back to being a no body who runs a still and owns a bar. Maybe do some hunting with my kids, go visit a tropical island for a friend who never got to. just do normal stuff.”

Luke shrugged, Ori had worked almost as hard as Jill Stone to see this happen. He had even served as President of the Safe zone for a year. But Luke h ad gotten to know him well over the last year and knew that Ori valued his family and friends more than ‘this political shit’ has he had called it more than once.

“My Son Cam might run for office, he wants to once he finishes his six years in the pathfinders” Ori commented. “but me, no way.”

“Too bad, you might be remembered up there with Ben Franklin and Jefferson.”

Ori snorted a laugh at that. “I might be remembered but it wouldn’t be in the same way those men are. More like the Guy who passed shine around the Senate and passed out under his desk.” Luke didn’t believe that for an instant, Ori wasn’t a drunk despite running a brewery and owning a bar the man rarely drank. But Luke suspected if it kept him from being elected Ori would drink himself into a stupor every day for a year.

“I can tell you this, if you can get Jill to run for President she will be elected. It wont even be a contest.” Luke said changing the subject.

“you have a better chance of getting me to run for the senate than getting Jill to run for an office. She has no interest beyond what she has already done.” Ori relied. “she’s like Jared neither of them wanted to be in charge of anything but their own lives but for a while life and duty pushed them into roles they hated.” Ori explained.

The fact that the dirty Dozen were almost legendary, their story had spread as the zone had spread and after for their work in getting technology back and rebuilding in general.

“are you going to be at the lighting ceremony tonight.” Luke asked.

“No we are all leaving on the train back to Sullivan this afternoon. You should come visit, I know this woman you would really like.”

Luke chuckled “thanks but I think I can find my own girlfriend.”

“I did have a reason to be sitting here waiting for you” Ori said suddenly. As he leaned to one side and picked up the leather satchel that had been leaning against the bench leg. He extracted a thick binder and passed it to Luke.

“To be honest, Jill was the one that wanted to make sure this got into your hands.”Ori said. “that’s a list of all the places where fuel, supplies, materials and other things were stored by the government back before the dead. Its what allowed Sullivan to do all that it did.

Now its up to you the new government to do what we did and that means my part and my friends part in all this is finally over. Don’t screw it up Luke, at least not till I am dead.” Ori said as he closed the satchel and rose to his feet.

Luke stared at the binder realizing its full potential and future implications then looked up at Ori. “thank you.”

“Good luck kid, and I’m serious you come to visit us on Sullivan. Jill has really come to like you, we all have.” Ori said then turned and walked away whistling an old tune that Luke didn’t recognize.
Sullivan island 2031

Caleb strode down the gang plank eager to get home and see his mom. She would want to hear all about what he had found on the various islands he had explored in his sector. he paused at the top seeing Uncle Ori and Uncle Eric waiting on the quay.
They looked grim he thought, his stomach starting to twist with unease.

He stepped down and joined them on the quay, worried and almost afraid to ask what was wrong. “Welcome home Caleb” Eric Stone said hugging his nephew tightly. For his age, he was heavy set and muscular. Solid was the word that came to mind, and still one of the most dangerous men Caleb had ever met. His dark hair was more silver now and the mustache he had grown out a few years ago was almost white now.

“whats wrong” he made himself ask.

“nothing’s wrong, can’t family meet you at the dock with out something being wrong” Eric asked almost sounding normal.

“Don’t bullshit me Uncle Eric, wheres my mom?” he asked hoping that he didn’t sound as desperate to them as he did to himself.

“she’s at home Caleb, a little under the weather but fine.” Eric replied. “Thors with her.”

“I wish those two would just get married instead of mooning over each other while staying apart for Jared.” Ori groused. “hell Your dad wanted them to marry after he was dead.”

Caleb didn’t say anything but he had heard the stories about that over the years. he had grown up considering Thor to be his second father. Which the man had been for all intents and purposes. He had never pushed his mother on the subject but there had been a couple of times when he was younger that he had bluntly stated she needed to get real and marry the man who had stood by her for years asking for nothing and giving everything.

“Your worried” He said finally giving Ori a piercing gaze.

“yes” Ori admitted. “but that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your mom.”

“lets get you to the house we can talk there” Eric said taking his Nephews duffel bag and leading the way towards the waiting Humvee.

Sullivan hadn’t really changed, he thought, not that he had been gone for all that long. But he felt so different it seemed strange that Sullivan hadn’t changed with him. People still walked along its streets, Poes was doing booming business, a second bar had been opened two doors down called “The ball and chain” a year ago and it was packed with customers as well. An old pre dead military LAV rolled past and the drone of an aircraft engine taking off from the islands airport could be heard.

They pulled up in front of the castle and parked. Caleb climbed out and left his gear in the Hummer as he headed inside.

Jill was in bed when he found her, she looked older he thought but happy. “Caleb!” she said sitting up and hugging him as he leaned over to kiss her on the forehead.

“Mom” he said “are you feeling okay”

“of course, I’m just tired. Believe it or not I have decided to retire.” She said. Which was a big deal as far as Caleb was concerned. She loved teaching engineering and martial arts at her dojo. If she was retiring there was a problem even if she wouldn’t tell him about it.

“if you think its best” Caleb said sitting on the edge of the bed.

“It is, I’m thinking about moving to Puerto Rico. Live in a place on the beach, your dad would have liked that.” she said looking past him at something only she could see. “anyway, Thor would you get the things I set out.”

Thor damned sure looked older Caleb thought noting the white hair, the wrinkles around his eyes and he was slimmer too. The hard muscle of his youth fading with age. When Thor had left the room Jill gripped his hand, her hand felt light and papery. “tell me about what you saw on your islands” She said.

He forced a smile and told her all about finding a small village on a island, its people had been survivors of a plane crash when the dead had first risen. he told her about their struggles over the years and how the village had grown to almost three hundred people now.

He told her about helping guide the Navy to the right place to wipe out a nest of pirates and his covert travels through the common wealth gathering info and trying to determine if the Zone, sorry the New United States, would have an interest or reason to open talks with the islands.

He was just about to tell her about the society of Swingers he had discovered living on a cruise ship anchored off St. Johns when Thor returned carry a small black case and his mothers sword.

“whats going on?” He asked as she took the items from thor and held them tightly for a moment.

“What’s going on is that I am too old to be hanging on to this stuff and I want to make sure you get them before anything happens to me.” She said as she unzipped the case and extracted a matte black pistol and tac holster. “this was your dads, he was hell on wheels when he reached for that pistol” she said softly then handed him the weapon and harness then passed him the case. “there’s a hundred rounds in the case and more can be bought.”

He swallowed heavily, as he looked at the pistol. The weapon that had killed the Russian and been the last thing his father had held.

“and this” she said holding up her sword and partially drawing it to reveal the gleaming steel of its blade. “is my weapon. This is the soul of a samurai” she stated passing him the sheathed blade, “I called it Shukumei which as it turned out was fitting.” She said with a sad soft smile. “never sheath it with out blooding the blade, treat it with reverence. It might be silly superstition as far as most people are concerned, but it’s the traditions that count.,”

“why now” Caleb asked quietly.

She sat there studying him for a moment, then gently touched his cheek. “Because I don’t think I have long Caleb. I’m not worried about it either, your dad is waiting for me and as much as I will miss you and my friends, I’m tired of all this.” she said her energy fading. She lowered her hand and sighed.

“you still have years left mom” Caleb said with conviction.

“Maybe I do, but promise me when I do go on you will not waste your life grieving for me.” She said her voice soft.

“I Promise mom.”

“good now, let me nap for a little bit then we can go see that new play and maybe take in some music this evening.” Jill said.
Jill sat on a blanket listening to the music, smiling to herself. It was a lovely evening she thought with glance up at the full moon that floated in the star filled sky. She was surrounded by her friends and family and a woman couldn’t ask for more.

“I feel old” Ori said suddenly.

“with all the kids you have, I’m surprised your still alive” Eric stone said with a laugh. “I would have figured Beth would have killed you in your sleep.”

“please, a man fathers nine kids and every one becomes a critic” Ori said with a theatrical sigh.

“Nine plus twenty three equals?” Eric mused. “you’re a masochist.”

Beth laughed and wrapped her arms around Ori. “we might be trying for number ten”

“oh god do not say that, I do not need that mental image. Especially since no shrinks survived to give me therapy.” Eric laughed. “speaking of, Caleb are you even dating right now.”

“He has probably been seeing that girl Maria he met in San Juan a few years ago,” Ori said glad he was not the center of Erics sense of humor.

“She’s getting Married” Caleb said. “but we are still friends.”

“You need to make your mother a grandmother.” Sharon said. Caleb had, had a crush on Sharon when he was younger it had faded some over the years. Even now, she was an attractive woman for her age. Her blond hair was now mostly gray but her body was still a source of temptation for a man at any age. .

“well Aunt Sharon if your offering to help, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind.” Caleb said with a grin.

“Jill your son is a pervert” Sharon protested, then grinned at Caleb and winked. “I think I like him.”

“Keep your hands off my son, Jared never warned me what kind of freaks you people really are.” Jill said, feeling more like her old self.

“He did I was there,” Ori assured her. “he said, Jill all my friends but Ori are unnatural freaks. Do not trust them around any kids you may have.” He said then laughed, “oh come on that was funny” he protested as the others groaned and booed him.

“this is like a nursing home skit gone bad” Bridget said shaking her head. .

Jill sat back on her elbows listening to the jokes and the laughter and loving every minute of it. Ed was the only one that wasn’t laughing much, but he could be excused, he was still dealing with losing his husband at the beginning of the year.

She reached over and patted his hand for a moment and gave him a warm smile.
The pain in her chest had dulled during the day and for that she was thankful, it allowed her to really enjoy the evening and especially Caleb’s company. He had grown into such a fine man. Tall and muscular like his father, with the same chiseled good looks. Dark haired instead of flame and when he moved he had same gliding, hunting cat prowl of Jared’s.
for a moment she could see Caleb at five streaking through the house with Jared hot on his trail trying to corral him before he wrecked anything else. she chuckled as her mind replayed the many instances of Caleb’s antics like locking her in a closet.

What was it Jared had called him, a “stiff necked, stubborn, little hellion.” She smiled again then glanced at Thor who sat beside her close enough for intimate conversations, just far enough for propriety.

I’ve wasted so many years, she told herself. and now there are no more years left to make amends. It was unfair of me to distance myself from him. Jared wouldn’t have minded and now it just seems like my desire to remain faithful to the man I loved was selfish and an attempt to hide from any more pain and loss and yet here I am.

She scooted over and leaned against Thor, daring to say what she had avoided for so long. “I love you Thor, and thank you for your friendship.” She whispered. She wanted to tell him to leave, to find some one to love before it was too late for him too but knew it was worthless to try. He’d refuse to leave her side for the last ten years, he wasn’t about to leave now.

The concert ended and people began drifting out of the park in clumps of friends and loved ones. Thor helped her stand, another sign of her age, she thought. Her knees and back hurt badly these days. She leaned against Thor once more but this time for support as she looked around the park remembering what had looked like in the past. The pain was back and she could feel tingling in her left arm.

The trip home was slow as she stopped several places just to stand there and look. Thor said nothing though he had his suspicions. Once home, she was too weak to climb the stairs so Thor carried her up to her room, a worried Caleb by his side.

As he got her into bed, she kissed him tenderly on the cheek. “I’m sorry Thor.” She said then layback and closed her eyes. Thor sat beside her gently holding her thin hand his eyes wet and shining in the lamplight. Caleb knelt beside the bed weeping silently as he placed a hand on Thor and his mothers shoulders
* * *
The sky through the trees was a deep blue, with a few wisps of white cloud. Jill smiled as she looked around and saw the Cabins. It was Jared’s camp, just as it had been before their arrival. Three off road trucks were parked by the old barn. And white flowers, the kind Jared had brought her twice a year covered the green grass in front of the cabins.

She took a deep breath of the perfumed air and started towards the largest of the three cabins only to stop a few paces from the steps as the door opened and a muscular red head stepped out, a huge smile on his face.

Her own face split in an answering smile as Jared bounded down the stairs and swept her into his arms.

“your as beautiful as ever” Jared laughed, holding her tightly.

“I’ve missed you so much” She said into his chest.

“I’ve missed you too” he said. She could feel the rumble of his voice through his chest and smiled.

“We did it Jared, Ori and I” she said even though here and now it seemed unimportant compared to seeing him again.
.

“I know honey, you didn’t have to do it but thank you.” Jared said then kissed her lightly on the lips. His lips seemed incredible solid for a dream. “I just wish you hadn’t been so lonely. But that’s past now.” he said with a smile.

“You mean…” Her voice trailed off as the door opened again and Steve emerged from the cabin, still the same smiling hugely muscled man she remembered, followed by her sister, then her parents, Mark and so many others she had lost.

“Yes, no more pain Jill.” Jared said cupping her chin and tilting her face up so he could look in her eyes. “No more grief. I waited, we all waited.” He said holding her close. I love you honey.” With his arms around her, she felt it all fall away and joy filled her. she was home and they had all eternity to be in love.
Ori McBride woke from his dreams, his face wet with tears. Some how she and Jared had come to him so she could say good-bye. ‘Just keep an eye on Caleb for us, he will need you’, she had said there at the end.

“ I will, you have my word on it.” he vowed as he noticed the smell of flowers hanging in the air. By the time, he was dressed, the smell had faded and someone was knocking at the door bringing him the news. Jill Stone had passed away in her sleep.

 
“So that’s the entire story?”, Meoghan asked.

“It is” Ori said

“Jared actually brought her flowers, that’s the kind of detail I was looking for.”

“He did, every Christmas and her birthday for as long as they were here on the island till his death. He picked them across the channel in some field” Ori said as he dragged out another beer for himself.

“and she really visited you in your dream that night.”

“she did”

“Did you ever find out what happened to Thor or your friend Ronny.”

“No. I wish I had. Thor was a good man and I hope he finally found some one to love who could love him back. I doubt it, but I hope he did. As Far as Ronny, I heard a few years ago that a Ham operator picked up a short broadcast that from the call sign and a couple of details in the broadcast might have been from Ronnys people. one day a pathfinder will end up there and the truth will be known. I will how ever be long dead by then.”

“She really loved him, didn’t she.” Meoghan asked thinking about Jill again. she finished her second beer and looked out across the neat lawn, the sun had gone down over an hour ago. the sounds of night insects and the distant surf could be heard clearly.

Ori said nothing, He and Jared both had found the kind of love that was rare and priceless. How could you explain that to some one who had never experienced it personally. He smiled sadly missing Beth’s presence.

Meoghan turned off the recorder on her laptop, closed the unit and rose from her chair. “If you don’t mind I would like to come back tomorrow and get some of the more personal details that will help me show who she was and what she was like

“if I’m’ still breathing tomorrow then your more than welcome to stop by.” Ori said, his voice weak and hoarse after speaking so long. “and one more thing,” he said placing hand on her forearm. His hand felt hot and dry, she noted absently. “Never waste a damn moment of your life or a chance at real love. That was what we almost lost because of the dead, Love and hope.” He said his voice dropping to a whisper. “hope most of all.”
Authors note:

Ori McBride died, December 25th, 2058, surrounded by his family. I believe at the end, he reunited with his wife and friends who had gone before him. It was said that he smiled there at the last and said Jared’s name.

I only knew him for a short time, but in that time I found that he, to use the highest compliment he ever gave, “was a good man” It would be fair to say that over the years, he was involved in some of the most crucial events and decisions that ultimately shaped our Nation. He was the last of the Dirty Dozen and with his death an era has ended.

He would have told us to get on with living and probably quoted an old song “Live like you were dying” to make his point. All I know is that he lived that motto every day of his eighty six years and I for one hope to do the same thing.

His body as per his wishes was buried with out ceremony beside his wife and friends. President Carol Marks, has declared a three day period of Mourning calling Ori, a national hero as well as a National Treasure.

Ori would have found that amusing, He once said he only did his duty and stood by his friends it wasn’t a big deal.

For my part, He was a good and dear friend, despite the short time we knew each other, I am proud to have known him and I will miss him. Rest in Peace Ori.

Meoghan Cramer, January 7th, 2059. National University Washington D.C.

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