“Yes. Which ones will help with the fort household and which ones will have children.”

“Yes. Every woman that can have a child will need to produce a future citizen of the fort. We must get our population up so we can make sure to keep things moving toward a secure future.” The Major General gave him a warm smile. “It’ll be rough at first, but the good old American know how will get us through.”

“So, you guys will kinda divide us up, tell us what to do, take over the running of the fort?”

“Yes. Your people won’t have to worry about it. You’ll have an experienced Senator to govern and a trained military force. Sounds good doesn’t it?”

Tilting his head to one side, Bill took a deep breath, eyeing the throng of decaying dead outside the walls.

“What do you think, Bill?”

Bill took a deep breath and in his deep Texan drawl, that he deliberately twanged out, answered, “Born, raised, and lived as a Texan, sir. Aim to die as one. So, about America, she was good to me, but this is frontier land again. And if you don’t see it that way, yer fucked. This is Texas. We don’t take kindly to being told what to do.”

The Major General blinked at him. “I don’t understand.”

“This is Texas, sir. We aim to do what is best for ourselves and our family.

Your government, your military, they don’t exist anymore to us. We’ll do our own thing. Find our own way.”

“You’re saying the people at the fort won’t welcome our leadership?”

“No, sir. I am saying they will tell you to fuck off.”

The Major General slowly nodded and motioned to a soldier to lead Bill back into the mall. Bill was more than glad to get out of the view of all the zombies outside the walls, but the mall wasn’t that welcoming either.

People were eating breakfast and heading off to their work assignments.

The heat was off and the cold made him shiver. It felt more like a prison than a home. He didn’t know how the people had mentally survived so long in such a sterile and cold environment.

He spotted Jenni at a table, sitting down to breakfast, and headed over to her.

“Well?” She flipped her long dark hair over one shoulder. “What was the big deal with that guy wanting to talk to you?”

“He wanted to talk my ear off and show me what is going on outside.” He slid onto the chair next to her and shook his head.

“What is going on outside?” Jenni poked at her congealing oatmeal, her expression one of slight disgust.

“Only difference, Mexicans didn’t eat the people in the Alamo,” Bill muttered.

Jenni leaned her head on his beefy shoulder. “Damn. We sure are good at getting ourselves into trouble.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. This place makes the hospital look like a cake walk.” Bill exhaled long and hard. He slid his arm around Jenni’s shoulders and hugged her to his side. “It’ll be okay, Jenni. We always figure something out. We’ll figure a way out of this.”

“I don’t think my old method of whacking zombies with my ax is going to work,” Jenni decided grimly.

“Nope. But we gotta trust our friends are going to be looking for us and hopefully something can be worked out.”

Jenni lifted a spoonful of the oatmeal and slowly turned it over. The oatmeal clung to the spoon. “Ugh. I hate the food. I’d kill for something sugary and crunchy.”

“Did you notice the people around here?”

Turning her gaze from her spoon, Jenni looked around. “Hmm...”

Bill smiled at a woman sitting across from them, but she looked away.

“They all have given up hope. They’re like ghosts. Just wandering around. Kinda empty.”

Jenni slowly swiveled around in her chair, looking at the people seated around them. There was barely a whisper of conversation among them.

Side by side, they sat in silence watching the people all around them talk, eat, and drink.

“I want to go home,” Jenni whispered.

Travis sighed and tried hard not to look at the clock hanging over the check-in counter in the lobby. He hated waiting. It was sheer torture. It always made him feel as though someone had decided to churn butter in his gut. Charlotte, Belinda and the Reverend were operating on Juan in an attempt to remove the bullet and the suspense was killing him.

He was also completely exhausted even though it was just ten in the morning. He was having trouble focusing. Of course, he hadn’t slept a wink the night before. Rubbing his eyes, he yawned. At least he wasn’t alone as he waited to hear if Juan would pull through. A collection of Juan’s friends and family were gathered in the lobby waiting for the word.

Rosie sat nearby, clutching her rosary, and softly whispering, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…”

Nerit sat next to her, her hand gently resting on Rosie’s, eyes closed, seeming to meditate.

Jason was sprawled on the love seat next to the couch Travis was sitting on reading a Star Trek novel Roger had loaned him. The boy looked absolutely morose and Travis couldn’t blame him considering the drama encompassing the boy’s life. His mother was in the hands of the military, his friend and teacher was missing, and his somewhat stepfather was in surgery. Despite his surly teenager routine with Juan, Travis had noticed a considerable thaw in how Jason felt about Juan. It was just too much for anyone to handle. Jason’s way of handling it seemed to be to sink down into the love seat and read, his hair falling over his eyes to hide his tears while Jack lay next to him looking very sad.

Travis looked down at Katie. She was sprawled out on the sofa, her head resting on his thigh as she slept. He slowly drew his fingers through her hair, once more marveling at the softness of her silky curls. It was a relief that she had fallen asleep. The stress of the last twenty-four hours had worn on her. She had began to suffer from vertigo, and Travis had made her lie down. He knew she had slept fitfully the night before. He was relieved to see her soundly sleeping.

Again, he tried hard not to look at the clock.

Picking up the pencil on the end table next to him, he started to write notes and sketch a possible extension to the fort. Yes, he was most likely a workaholic, but working made him feel more in control and relaxed. He hated feeling helpless. He hated feeling there was nothing he could do to remedy a bad situation.

Most of his life he felt helpless. It wasn’t until the fort had risen from the ashes of the former world that he felt he had found his place.

It had been Travis’ misfortune to be born good-looking. He had even won baby beauty contests that his grandmother had entered him on the sly.

His parents were too busy working to save the earth to notice he was anything more than their smart little boy. But others saw a golden child.

The good-looking shall inherit the earth and all that.

In kindergarten he had been chased around by little girls determined to kiss him while all he had wanted to do was build sand cities in the sandbox.

In junior high, girls had bugged him continuously as he tried to draw buildings and cities of the future.

In high school, he had been stalked relentlessly by the popular girls. He had finally resorted to growing his hair out and being as scruffy as possible his sophomore year. This had just landed him bad boy status, which had the girls mooning over him even more.

By his junior year, his love for running landed him the role of track star.

His enjoyment was short-lived when the school’s football coach decided he wanted to put Travis’ speed to use on the football field. Out of frustration, Travis had quit altogether.

Even his choice of Leilani, an exotic belly dancer, who was also on the school newspaper, had been protested by others. A teacher even told him, “Travis, you could so easily have Jennifer if you’ll give up on Leilani.” Of course, Jennifer was the head cheerleader. He had managed to keep his alternative girlfriend until graduation, but she had to deal with being called “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut” until graduation day by those who felt spurned by Travis.

College had been a bit of a relief. He was finally able to just blend in and he had found joy in pursuing his political interests. He had plunged whole-heartedly into the laid-back, alternative lifestyle community that lived around the University of Texas campus in Austin and spent too many hours stoned out of his mind down near Town Lake.

He had surfaced from the madness a year later, tattooed, long haired, and feeling quite satisfied with his year of wildness. It was then he felt free to jump fully into academia, pursuing a double major. He studied architecture out of sheer love for the art of it and studied to become a city planner for the love of helping people. Things had gone well until he had met Clair, the woman that would change his life.