"Lori!" Joe's aghast cry brought the captain about. His eyes widened as he saw the gun aimed at him.
"I'm sorry, captain." I said steadily. "We're not going anywhere. Going back to Cairns is a death sentence and the speedboat cannot carry all of us to safety. You leave me no choice."
The captain held my gaze for a long moment.
"You would not kill an innocent man." The captain said confidently.
"You're right." I agreed with a calmness I didn't feel. "But to save my family, I am perfectly willing to shoot an innocent man in the leg." I adjusted the aim of the gun slightly. "And as I am a nurse, I can ensure the wound is treated properly so the risk of death will be low." I hoped I sounded a lot more confident than I actually felt. "If you - and anyone else- are determined to return to Cairns, in spite of all we have told you, then you can take the speedboat. But this boat is not going anywhere."
"For God's sake, Lori, put down the gun!" Joe hissed, appalled. He doesn't really believe me either, I thought sadly, or he wouldn't be trying to stop me.
The captain nodded slowly. "I see. Well, I guess I see your point." He looked at the gun pointedly and then at the other men. "Any of you want to go back to Cairns?" Two of the men in the fishing expedition stood up and joined him. One looked back at us and shrugged helplessly. "If what you are saying is true, I have to go back and try to find my family."
I nodded, keeping the gun raised. "Good luck to all of you."
Silently, we watched them climb into the speedboat and head into the horizon. I knew we would not see them again.
Long after they had disappeared from sight, I stood at the back of the boat, staring into our wake as Ken guided it in a long arc down to the town of Townsville. Joe came and stood silently beside me. As the stillness between us lengthened, I forced myself to face him. "I'm sorry, Joe, but I couldn't let him take us back or force us back onto the speedboat. You don't understand what we've been through. I did what I had to do to protect my family."
His face was somber. "I know you did, Lori. I'm just having trouble coming to grips with...everything."
"Do you believe me?" I asked in a small voice, dreading the answer.
He sighed, resting his elbows on the railing as he gazed out to sea. "You cut off our daughter's arm. Either I'm married to a crazy woman or you're telling the truth." He looked at me, his eyes tender. "Of course I believe you."
Resting my head on his shoulder, I closed my eyes. "I had to believe you were safe out here on the water. The thought that something might have happened to you..."
Joe covered my hand with his. "I had no inkling... it was really only on our way back that we began to even have a clue that something was wrong. No other boats, no radio contact, no satellite phone...nothing."
"I'm glad. If you had come back early, God knows what you would have sailed into." I shivered at the thought. Joe wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "One of these days you are going to have to tell me the whole story. Some of the things Michele has told me...well, I'm sure she must be exaggerating your exploits somewhat."
I laughed. "Oh, is that right? You don't think I'm capable of handling myself, mister?" Giving him a shove, I glared at him with mock outrage. Joe stepped back with a grin, hands raised in surrender.
"Well, come on, we are talking about you, Lori. You are the most harmless person I know. Although after seeing you with that gun..." He stopped abruptly, the blood draining from his face. Slowly, I turned around. The horizon was aglow, a glorious crimson false sunset.
"My God," Joe murmured, eyes wide with disbelief. "They really did it."
All I could see, as I stared at the hauntingly beautiful and dreadful sky, was Mike's face. My heart ached with the knowledge that he was gone. Really and truly gone. Mike with his dry wit and laconic nature would never make me laugh again or give me comfort just by his presence. The only thing that made the loss bearable was knowing he wouldn't have suffered, that he wouldn't have had time to turn into one of those monsters.
One by one, the others joined us.
"Do you think it will work?" Michele ventured eventually. "You know, get rid of the virus?"
I blinked and dragged my eyes away from the rosy horizon. It still seemed impossible that our government would choose to explode a nuclear bomb in their own country. "God, I hope so, Michele." If this virus succeeded in escaping our town, our country was going to be in a whole heap of trouble. "If they destroyed our town with all those innocent people, for nothing...it doesn't bear thinking about." I thought of Travis and his group, of the school hall full of kids - now nothing but ashes.
"What if it doesn't work?" She asked in a small voice. Kaye and I exchanged a glance. It was a thought that had plagued both of us.
"Then we find somewhere safe and hole up." I answered steadily. "We've survived this long by ourselves. We can continue to do so."
A gloomy silence fell over all of us. I sighed and shook myself. "Is anyone looking after the babies or are they running riot downstairs?" I looked around and saw Jessie was missing. Somehow that didn't surprise me. For one so young, she had shown herself to be responsible and motherly towards the babies.
"I'll go check." Michele said and headed belowdecks with Lucas close behind. Smiling, I tried to remember the last time I'd seen them apart. Ken went to check on the new member of the group who was at the wheel.
I looked at Kaye as she hovered nearby, looking like she had something to say. Years seemed to have fallen off her since she'd been reunited with Andy. "It still feels unreal, having my all family together and well. It would never have happened if it hadn't been for you, Lori."
I blinked. "It wasn't just me." I muttered, pain flitting across my face at the memory of those we'd lost.
"I know. But you were the driving force behind us. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you." Impulsively, Kaye hugged me. " I don't think I would have had the strength to face what we went through if you hadn't been there. Heck, I know I wouldn't have survive and neither would my kids. But now we're all together - and safe. I just wanted to say thank you, Lori, for everything." I nodded mutely. As she walked away to join the others downstairs, Joe flung an arm around Michele and me and pulled us close. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?" He whispered fiercely.
"Aw, Dad." Michele protested happily. "Puh-lease." He looked at me over her head and the look in his eyes warmed my heart.
Below decks, Jessie and the dog were keeping my babies happily amused bouncing on the double bed. I winced but let it go. Kaye was right. We had a lot to be grateful for. I had my family together -and they were safe. For the first time in days, my family was safe.
Laughing, I threw myself on the bed in the midst of the mayhem. I grabbed Jessie and tickled her till she squealed in delight. Alex and Sarah demanded to join in while Lizzie the dog hopped around the bed and barked hysterically. It was bedlam and it was wonderful.
Was the danger posed by the virus truly gone? None of us could know what tomorrow would bring, but if the last few days had taught me anything, it was to live for today. And today I had the people I loved with me - and that was enough.