“Me, too. Even after we found the fort. I thought about us and Jason just going away.”

“You would still be alive if we had,” Katie said after a beat. Tears were in her eyes again.

“Maybe,” Jenni agreed. She leaned over the dog and kissed Katie’s cheek and hugged her tight. “You miss me!”

“Well, yeah, you bitch. You went and died on me!”

Jenni laughed. “Yeah, but it was one kick ass exit.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Katie snapped, but couldn’t help but smile.

“It was worth it! Everything was worth it!” Jenni grinned at her. Reaching out, she gripped Katie’s wrist tightly and leaned toward her. “You know it, Katie. You know. Every moment was worth it. Every little tiny bit of it…all building up to this.”

“The beginning of everything new,” Jenni said and winked. “Or the end of it all.”

Katie rolled her eyes. “That is not encouraging.”

“But every moment of happiness we had this year was that much sweeter because of every other horrible moment that we experienced. Admit it, Katie.”

Katie gripped the steering wheel more firmly as she thought of all the loss, the pain, the death, but then of all the good moments. Dancing with Jenni, kissing Travis, her swelling belly, playing with Jack, hugging Juan’s kids, learning how to two step….all of it. “Yeah. You’re right.”

The light caught her again, blinding her, then she blinked to see she was back in the hotel. Travis walked toward her as the sunlight streamed through the window. He drew near her and slid his hand behind her neck and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. Closing her eyes, she relished the moment and felt its sweetness fill her.

“Yeah, well, good. I’m crazy about you, too,” she said.

Ruffling her hair, he winked. “We’ll be okay.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

Out of the throng of people eating breakfast Eric appeared, his brow furrowed. Close behind him was Stacey. She was crying. Pepe, their little dog, stared up at her sadly.

“We have a situation,” Eric answered. His expression was stricken and tears glimmered in his eyes. “Peggy’s gone.”

“What?” Their voices chorused. Travis and Katie glanced at each other briefly.

“Took herself and her kid out last night,” Stacey sobbed.

“Define the whole took herself out part,” Travis said. “Out of the fort?”

“You could say that. She poisoned the little guy and slit her wrists,” Eric explained.

“Oh, Jesus,” Katie murmured, raising her hand to her brow.

“Shit,” Travis said. “Shit!” He shook his head in disbelief. “I knew she was scared, but not that scared.”

“She’s not the only one. We have about four more. At least two jumped over the wall...headfirst. Old Harris took himself out by hanging. Shea took himself with a shot to the head through a pillow.” Eric sighed. “So a lower suicide count than we expected. I was really hoping there would be none.”

“Peggy was going to run communications,” Katie said softly.

“She’s not as experienced as Peggy,” Katie pointed out.

“Without Curtis and Ken, she’s the best we got,” Travis answered.

“I’ll find her,” Stacey said, vanishing into the crowd, Pepe skittering along behind her.

Eric rubbed the bridge of his nose with one finger, shoved his glasses in place, then shook his head. “I better take another swing around the wall.

We don’t need fresh blood luring those things in.” He hurried off.

From the sound of the crowd, people were finding out about the deaths.

There were looks of dismay and a few tears. Word traveled fast in the fort.

As Peggy would joke, “There were no secrets in a small Texas town. If you farted, everyone knew what you had for dinner.”

“I’m sure she did what she thought was right for her and the kid.”

Katie pressed her hand to his cheek. “They need to know there is hope.

That we can do this. You and the Reverend need to speak to the fort before those things get here. Everyone needs it.”

Travis started to protest, but already the Reverend was on his way to Travis through the crowd. As usual, Katie understood very well what was needed.

“Travis,” the Reverend said drawing close. “The people are in despair. We need to rally them.”

“I agree. Let’s head down to communications,” Travis said, kissing her cheek.

Both men moved toward the elevators.

With a sigh, Katie brushed her blond hair from her face and looked out over the desolate swath of land before the fort. In the distance were the edges of the ramshackle mounds that formed a wall around the fort. There was a massive opening right down the middle. It was the killing zone and huge fire traps were set to ignite in the gap.

Taking a deep breath, she thought of Jenni’s words. She knew they were true, but all she could feel was her fear and her fingers trembling against the warming glass of the window.

“Move it, Calhoun. They’re coming and they’re hungry,” Rune said firmly.

He seemed unfazed by the utter reek coming off the old crazy guy. He straddled his Harley and waited for Calhoun to slide on behind him.

Rune had ridden the makeshift elevator, which was a pallet lowered by a crane down to the ground outside the wall, holding his bike firmly to his side. Calhoun had ridden down behind him. The fire line was far from the wall and there was no way Rune was going to be caught without a quick getaway. He shifted the bag of grenades so it rested more firmly against his back. Today seemed like a good day to use them.

“I ain’t as young as you, you long haired hippie,” Calhoun muttered, managing to swing his old leg over the bike.

Calhoun’s response was cut off with a shout as the bike lurched forward and roared over the rough terrain toward the fire line.

“Damn smart ass city folk. They should have started bulldozing those mounds in the middle and worked themselves out. Now we got a huge ass “v” with a big ol hole right where we should have our best defenses,” Rune shouted into the wind.

“Nobody listens to me! I said that from the get go! But they wanted a kill zone! I got the inside information! I know how to deal with this stuff.

Years and years of planning for the clone uprising.”

“You may be a crazy old shithead, Cal, but you know what’s going on in your own way,” Rune’s voice growled. “You’re a mean old codger.”

“Not as mean as Nerit,” Calhoun pouted.

“No one is as mean as Nerit,” Rune admitted as the bike came to standstill.

They were close to the open end of the high walls made of dirt, dead foliage, tree trunks and the remains of houses and buildings. Beyond the opening were the gas tanks half buried into the soil. Beyond that, the hill dipped downward. The wind was moving downhill and away from the fort. The smell was just barely noticeable. The smell of death.

Calhoun fell to his knees and began to dig up the device rigged to explode the fuel tanks. When he had tried to begin the start up sequence, there had been no response from the remote device. He knew the problem had to be right here, where it was set up to transmit and receives. Pulling out the huge metal box, he popped it open and began to examine it closely.

“Cause, you know, it’s almost time,” Rune stared out through the wide opening, arms folded across his chest.

“Yep. I know.” He glared down into the device. “Gawddamn gremlins got into it. I knew it!” Calhoun beat the ground with one fist, then controlled himself and adjusted his satellite dish hat. “Okay, I need Jason.”

“Yeah, the kid! You know, our future leader. Our John Conner? Our freaking salvation! THAT ONE!”

“Take a chill pill, Cal. Calling the fort,” Rune said, then took out his walkie-talkie.

“I don’t need a chill pill,” Calhoun muttered as he began to sort through the wires with his grubby fingers. “I need the freaking gremlins to stay out of my stuff.”

“We need Jason down here, Peggy,” Rune said, then listened to the static for a moment.

“Okay, I let him know,” a voice said that was not Peggy.

“Yeah, things not so good with Peggy.”

“That sucks,” Rune said, and didn’t press it. He didn’t want to know.

Calhoun rubbed his big nose and frowned. “Who’s idea was it to blow up the gawddern fuel tanks?”