Seeding Hope Among the Ashes


"I wondered where you disappeared to." David turned at the sound of Greg's voice. The one-time cable repairman trudged up the side of the cliff high over David's house. David often retreated here to contemplate difficult issues without the distraction of others. "Normally when you disappear, you're either out communing with nature, cleaning what the rest of us can't, or up here scheming."

"I was considering where we stand and where we're heading." David spread his arms, incorporating the expansive terrain arraigned before him. "Just think, there are hundreds of people out there only a short distance from us. People we haven't reached, or who have no clue what we've learned. We've achieved a lot, but there's so much left to be done and so little time available. If this winter is bad and the plagues worsen in severity, many more might die."

Greg scratched the back of his head. "You're only one man. You've accomplished a tremendous amount, but you can't expect to do everything yourself. You can't reach every individual, animal or plant hiding out across the country." Greg started to pat David on the shoulder, but thought better of it. "You've provided the world with a solution, but it's out of your hands. The recovery is now in the hands of the people you've touched. You've got to allow them to spread your treatment and knowledge. Once they do, people won't be so hesitant of other people. When that occurs, they'll all begin reaching out again.

"You can't get morose over the speed of recovery. Things happen at their own pace. Instead, you prepare for those who do reach out. They'll turn to your broadcasts, desperate for the latest updates and revelations. You've been replaced as the individual responsible for spreading your message a person at a time. Now you're a figurehead, a leader of people through example and persuasion rather than the power of authority. You need to motivate a nation. Let the girls do their work and focus on encouraging the already converted."

David didn't respond, still staring wordlessly into the distance.

"I suspect this is due to Natalie leaving for Europe, too far away for you to watch over."

"That's part of it," David admitted, tossing a rock over the side of the cliff. "It's also a feeling of isolation. There are plenty of people here. But those I've grown closest to, who I've carried through the worst moments of their lives, are all somewhere else. They're facing battles I can't help or participate in. Meanwhile, I'm surrounded by people who, while supportive, can't console or touch me. They can't relate to what those of us who are immune have experienced. It seems the more people I rescue, the more isolated I feel."

Greg shuffled his feet before changing topics. "I heard the latest news. The rabbits finally had their leverets. That answers one of the most essential questions. Tom's been busy examining their blood and skin cells, but feels confident what he'll find."

David looked up, the corner of his mouth curling up. "That the fetuses inherit the mother's immunity and carrier status? Yeah, that's a major win on our part."

"It not a single win; it's the whole series. If immunity isn't transferred, the infant would contract the plague from the mother and both would combat the resulting autoimmune attack. If we can't have children, there's no way any species could continue."

"That'll be my next message. Many people's response to tragedy is to create new life to counter all they've lost. I'll emphasize there's a time and place for that. We need to reach as many people as we can. Reproducing this soon will limit our responses and expose mothers and children to unnecessary risks. We can't risk anyone giving birth until we can get more medical expertise. However, if I take a carrot and stick approach, I'm hoping I can accelerate things. If women know they can't risk having children until we're more secure, they'll work that much harder to get there. Hopefully many will turn to medicine themselves, which should further shift the imbalance of power between men and women. We can't afford to lose many survivors to the complications of childbirth."

"Speaking of Tom's work, that's another major advance. He was so worried about the risks in transfusing your plasma to Jacob that he initiated an evolution in your treatments. By filtering the plasma, he's diluted the infectious components in it. It's possible that soon, we may move beyond treating the plagues and have an actual inoculation. If we can spread your genetic link, then when those treated finally contract it, they'll already have your modified immunity. Fewer will die as a result. We won't need to rush treatment. We can inoculate thousands while those who do become ill will have people nearby to treat them. Since an inoculation would only transfer the capacity to survive the plague, the treatment would consist of guiding them through the illness. What's more, suffering a single plague at a time will be less traumatic. Tom thinks people can recover in as few as two days, rather than the week it now takes. What's more, we've already eliminated the coma stage where we lost so many before you came along. If that's the case, the intense treatment we're providing won't be as onerous. We can free up resources, treat more people, encounter fewer deaths and those capable of treating others won't need to isolate themselves."

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