They provided Valerie a chair next to the grave intended for her husband. She sat in silence in a black dress that Hyka had procured from one of the resort’s stores. She had also brought Valerie a pair of sunglasses, though the clouds overhead were still thick bringing daylight to an early end. The wind blew a cold breeze through her cotton dress. She shivered and folded her arms. Words from the other services that began before Scott’s carried on the wind, but she was too exhausted to do more than stare into the hole.
News of her status spread amongst the hotel’s survivors. Some stared at her, others were afraid. No one had explained to them their genetic change and what that meant. They were trying to keep themselves together like she was. She still did not know what to say to them when the opportunity came. Valerie had little solace for herself, much less any to delve out to strangers. They had not even developed a plan moving forward from the funerals.
One by one, the deceased were carried to the burial area. Others walked behind them holding candles and crying. A young couple followed a tiny silhouette hidden under a sheet. They held on to each other; heads hung while they walked. Valerie choked, imagining Caleb under the small covering. She closed her eyes to push the thought from her mind. Inhale, exhale. When she opened them again, three more bodies were carried to the area; American flags covered two of them. Once they reached their prospective plots, Major made his way to a central location. As the other services ended, those who had finished their respects gathered around. The same five-man detail began to fill the graves as the mourners dispersed to the final ceremony.
“I thought retirement meant I didn’t have to do these anymore.” The corner of Major’s mouth frowned, and his chin quivered ever so slightly. He, too, took a deep breath and continued, “Edward Francis Griffin was my best friend. We started our careers in the same infantry unit a couple of decades ago at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He’s seen me at my best and my worst and stuck around. He helped me raise my daughter and was more like a brother to me than a friend. This stubborn guy walked one hundred miles without complaint. He came all this way to be with the woman he loved. Gia Murphy moved to Denver at Mike’s request to keep you and Caleb safe. Griff had a plan to move, too, after he proposed to her.” Major dug into his pocket and produced a ring. “He was bringing this to Gia. Yes, he wanted to be sure we were safe, but love kept him going. And no one deserved love more than these two.”
Valerie got another chill, but not from the wind. From guilt. She felt selfish and ashamed. She had made the journey about her reunion with her family and had never considered that her companions had missions which were just as important. Major continued to talk about his friend and how Gia’s bright and contagious smile could light up a room. Valerie could not hold herself together. She shook with silent sobs remembering her friend who had fought for her son until the end. Who was far more loyal than she would have ever hoped. Valerie could never repay her, or even thank her.
Jack took Major’s place in the center and retrieved a piece of paper from his pocket. His hands shook as he read from it, “Scott Michael Russell served in the U.S. Army from 2001 until about two years ago as an indirect fire infantryman. He completed four tours of duty, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Valerie Russell, and their son. I met Scott on an occasion like this. He was a nice guy who loved his family. Those closest to him will miss him dearly.” Jack looked at Valerie.
She nodded with her approval. Jack then nodded to Hyka who was accompanied by two others. Valerie stood and watched the ceremony, trying to forget why she was there. Hyka and Jack took their place at the foot of the fallen soldiers, and the strangers stood at the head. In unison, all four picked up their designated flag and began folding them. Hyka presented the folded flag that had covered Griffin to her father. Jack approached Valerie with the folded flag of her husband. She had attended military funerals in the past but never imagined she would be on the receiving end of the ceremony. She thanked Jack.
He leaned in, kissed her cheek and said, “We’ll get him. What he did will not go unanswered.” He hugged her and returned to the front of the crowd.
“Let us bow our heads,” Jack announced. He was quiet for a few moments before beginning his prayer. “Over the course of a week, we have come to question everything we know as humans. So, if there is a God orchestrating all this, I pray you take our brothers home to heaven. I also pray their family and friends find peace with their loss. Amen.”
Storm sirens broke the moment of silence, though the skies were as still as they could be. The men who were filling the graves with dirt stopped and put down their shovels to take cover inside the resort. Hyka wrapped her arm under Valerie’s to help her walk back inside.
They found the power restored to the hotel. A fountain sprayed water in a small pond in the lobby, soft music played overhead, and all TV monitors displayed the same message: “Please stand by for an important message from your district DiaZem.”
“Seriously?” Hyka said.
As they made their way to the French restaurant, people watched and whispered as Valerie passed. They knew she was a DiaZem, but soon they would all find out who was in charge at the facility. Valerie had her suspicions but prayed she was wrong.
After fifteen minutes, the sirens outside fell silent, and the hotel’s occupants waited in the restaurant area for the pending announcement. Valerie dreaded hearing anything from the CDC, but she was anxious to see who the other DiaZem was. The lights dimmed, and the screen began to countdown:
3 . . . 2 . . . 1. . .
“Greetings. My name is Dr. Lucas Jarrett, and I am the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and former administrator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. I say former because these organizations no longer exist. I have been reassigned as the Head of Research in the Rocky Mountain Region. I am also the region’s DiaZem. I am addressing all of you this evening to do some much-needed explaining.
“Five days ago, a natural event occurred, waking a gene in one-quarter of the world’s population. This gene was otherwise dormant in humans over the past few thousand years.” As he spoke, graphics filled the screen illustrating his explanation. “Characteristics of this gene revolve around conducting, storing, and releasing electricity. Every human being carries a small amount of electricity in their body to maintain their heartbeat, enable their metabolism, and send information from the nerves to the brain. Your abilities are not so limited. Although your new gift might seem quite the hindrance, causing you to live without power, society is all about to change for the better.
“As you are collecting energy, a DiaZem such as myself can draw stored energy from you and use your power to do a multitude of things. I am responsible for your ability to watch this message. I have returned power to the city of Denver and surrounding areas—although, due to downed planes taking out key infrastructure, conventional means of power are currently impossible in some places. I apologize for having withheld this energy, but as one DiaZem, I am limited in my capabilities. However, there are other DiaZem who cannot control their abilities at all and are a danger to you. I understand last night many people lost their lives in such an incident. Men, women, and children who were not protected by the gene were taken from you, and I want to offer...