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Heroine

Epilogue #1

 
About forty miles south of London, the structure sat in a small area on the grounds of the Winston Churchill Memorial Sanatorium. It was bordered by lush greenery, trees and a grassy open yard. The building might have reminded the casual on-looker of a large gazebo. It was circular, trimmed with both elaborate and classic moldings, painted light blue, and was surrounded from all sides with windows. Some of the panes were covered by sheer curtains and others with hanging flowers and ivy.

A lovely child with thick, dark curls, a brilliant smile, and wearing a lacey pink dress ran about the grounds with a butterfly net. She laughed cheerfully as she chased her prey.

A lone figure sat inside the structure, smiling mildly, working steadily on needlepoint, taking a sip occasionally from a tepid brew in the teacup sitting on a table next to her right elbow. Relaxed, the woman gazed out at the child's antics. She wore a dark dress and cream colored shawl. She was strangely at ease with her lot in life, the fact that all her wealth, everything she had worked so hard to create, had been taken away.

She was not allowed to leave her house ... ever.

It wasn't so bad, really. They treated her humanely; allowed her to read the morning paper, gave her meals on fine plates with a serviceable silver set, served to her through an opening in the wall; the same gap where she would push out her arm when blood and skin samples were required for their on-going experiments. Then the white coated scientists, nurses and doctors would leave her, not uttering a word the entire time, and it was almost as if they had never been there at all.

Marguerite hated it at first, fought with them constantly, snapping and arguing with the intruders, even telling poor George Challenger that he had betrayed her, but after awhile - especially when the higher-ups told her she would not be able to see Roxanne if she continued to behave badly - Marguerite calmed.

There was no point rebelling anymore. Intentional or not, she had killed thousands of people and the disease that received her name would go on decimating the world's population as she sat in permanent quarantine -- unless there was a cure.

Marguerite was a damned woman. She had lost her child, freedom and pride. She had also lost the man she loved. He never came to see her after that one evening five years ago … and she had wept, late at night, asking God why it was she had abandoned her.

But then she remembered the words her lover had uttered, during their last night of passion, and knew there was hope. He would not lie to her.

In the present and currently distracted, Marguerite watched as a figure approached, walking anxiously across the lawn. She was a fresh-faced woman wearing a simple bonnet, white blouse and a navy blue skirt. She became more and more familiar the nearer she came.

"Marguerite?" she called in a wary American accent. She came close, pulling the bonnet from her head, revealing striking blond hair. It was pulled up into a simple bun at the back of her lovely head. "Thank God I found you!"

"Veronica." she whispered, not really surprised despite the fact she hadn't seen the jungle beauty for over six years. "You've come." Marguerite spoke through a small slit built into the home's large front pane.

Disturbed, Veronica slowed in her stride and stood in front of the window Marguerite was looking out of, "They told me you were out in back but they didn't …"

"I don't get many visitors." Marguerite said, unintentionally interrupting. "I would invite you in but there really are no doors. Safety first, they say." Marguerite half smiled, attempting humor. She laid her needlework aside and folded her hands in front of her. "So, you made it off the plateau finally. Did you find your parents?"

"No." Veronica stared at her one time treehouse companion with wide, sorrowful eyes. Marguerite had always possessed the most enviable complexion, pale and flawless, but now her skin color was strange, nearly gray. She also had dark circles under her eyes, the corners faintly lined with misery and loneliness. She appeared far older than her years.

Marguerite nodded, "I'm sorry." and she meant it, "Who are you staying with?"

"In America, after I found an outlet from the plateau, I lived with relatives on my father's side. I thought it would be difficult to convince them I was Tom Layton's daughter but it wasn't hard at all. Not only did I have my mother's locket and our family photo but my Aunt Glenda said I look just like my mother." Veronica became conscious that she was babbling, deeply awkward. "But what's strange is that I can't find anyone related to my Mother. It's almost as if she never existed outside of her marriage to my father."

"How did you get here?"

"In England?" Veronica licked her drying lips gently, "I've been off the plateau for two years and found out what had happened to Malone … everyone. I would have been here sooner but because of the plague it's been so hard to get passage overseas. I finally had to bribe the captain of a freighter …"

"I'm impressed." Marguerite smiled impishly, showing a bit of her old character.

Veronica chuckled herself.

"They're all dead, you know." Suddenly serious, Marguerite looked away from Veronica. "Challenger was the last. He died three years ago. His experiments, working so close to the virus and … me. He just finally succumbed."

Veronica stared at her, "I read in an old newspaper that Malone had an infection before he, all of you, came to The United States from South America."

"He seemed like he was getting better but we were too late. Even if we had gotten him home a week early …" She looked up at the woman gazing in on her, "He never had a chance. Poor Ned. I'm so sorry, Veronica. He loved you very much."

Stunned by what Marguerite said, Veronica gulped slightly. "He did? I mean, he told you?"

"He was struggling with the decision of staying with Gladys or going back to the plateau to you -- and he chose you. But it was too late."

Tears, long suppressed over the passing of a good friend and potential lover, appeared in Veronica's eyes. "And now I'm here," Veronica sobbed lightly, "and I can't go back. I may be immune, I'm not sure yet, but I could still carry the infection back to the plateau if I were to return …" She was suddenly stricken. Marguerite was smiling inanely and inappropriately at her, "Why are you looking at me like that?" she cried in frustration.

"Because eventually everything is going to be made right."

Veronica got the impression that if she could Marguerite would reach out and pat her on the head, a mother indulging her child. "What?" she asked, in disbelief.

"Roxton promised me, between the two of us - he and myself - everything would be made right. I didn't understand it at first but after Roxanne was born, after I got a chance to really think about it, I understood." Her eyes moved from Veronica to look out at the four year old playing amongst the butterflies. "She or her children or their children will be our salvation."

Veronica turned around and looked at Roxanne, puzzled. "How?"

"She has my immunity but not the disease. I don't know how exactly it will work but Roxton .... I believe him."

Turning about again, looking into the window, noting how unsound the woman appeared, Veronica tried to speak logically. "Marguerite, Roxton died long before your baby was born. How could he possibly tell you something like that?"

Marguerite's smile widened, "We've been touched by the plateau." she said, mysteriously, almost pleased. Her eyes had grown hazy, as if recalling something wonderful and intimate -- something that could never quite be forgotten. She reached up to where the chain of a small teardrop ruby lay against her upper chest.

"'Touched by the plateau.'?" Veronica repeated, wishing she could read Marguerite's mind.

Hearing a chime toll behind her, Marguerite said: "You'll have to leave now. It's time for my medication. It makes me so sleepy." She put her hand on the pane in front of her, "But it was so nice seeing you again, Veronica."

Taking a deep breath, saddened beyond all comprehension, Veronica looked down at her hands which had balled into fists. She closed her eyes against a display of hysterics. She had come so far, attempting to get the full story from the last remaining plateau explorer, a female of infinite ability that she never would have believe could be reduced to a drugged, weak-minded shell of a woman. "I'll try to come back again." Veronica said but doubted she would ever return. The state Marguerite was in, she would not miss her.

As Veronica swiveled about, ready to return to the inside sanatorium and leave this terrible place, she heard Marguerite call her name.

"Would you do me a favor?" Marguerite asked Veronica's back.

"Yes?" Veronica did not turn around, afraid to reveal emotions best not displayed.

"Veronica, I haven't held my daughter in my arms since she was a month old. Could you …" she stood, anxious now. "That is, before you leave please go to her. Embrace her for me. Tell her that her mother loves her and wishes she could touch her like other mothers do with their children." Marguerite's voice was fading, trembling slightly, as she watch the little girl in the distance, exhausted but still at play. "I would really love if you could do that."

"Yes, of course I will." Veronica looked at the little one, as Marguerite had, and waited a moment before walking the distance to see her. "Goodbye, Marguerite. Be well."

"I will, Veronica. Thank you."

<<<

The child, her pretty round face a mask of concentration, lay on her stomach resting as she stared at the colorful Monarch, perched on a dandelion, its large wings slowly flapping. Her butterfly net lay at her side on the grass.

Veronica came up from behind and called gently, "Roxanne."

"Sh." The four year old commanded, "Pretty-fly."

Amused, remembering her own fascination with insects when she was little, Veronica pulled up her skirt slightly and got down on the ground beside Roxanne, "Is it speaking to you?"

"They don't talk. Only people talk." the child said, annoyed.

"You are definitely Marguerite's daughter." Veronica said under her breath then whispered into the girl's ear, "Your Mama asked me to tell you something."

Distracted, Roxanne looked at the lady laying next to her. She smiled. This fair haired outsider looked harmless enough. "What did she say?"

"She loves you."

"I know that." Roxanne looked over to where her mother's home sat then back at Veronica.

"She also told me to do this." Veronica put her arms around the little one and hugged her close.

Roxanne giggled as a mad rush of tickling began.

After awhile, laughed-out, she parted from Veronica and lay on her back, smiling and looking up at the blue cloudless sky.

Veronica also smiled but it faded ever so slightly. This child was going to have a terrible reality to face but for now she was still an innocent, with her mother's eyes and thick, beautiful hair. And strangely, Veronica thought, she had Lord John Roxton's Cheshire-cat smile.

<<<

Having taken her medication, Marguerite watched as Veronica parted from Roxanne, gently patting her cheek before she left. She was a good, sometimes ornery person and Marguerite was pleased to have known her.

In the former jungle girl's lifetime she may not ever understand the complexities of the world's future -- but Marguerite did.

Stretching, feeling it was time to take a nap, Marguerite stood and was about to go to her bedroom when she heard coughing. She watched as Veronica made it to the back door of the sanatorium and was suddenly wracked by a series of sneezes as well.

It would be the last time, in this world, Marguerite would see Veronica.

Saddened, Marguerite shook her head back and forth and entered her bedroom.

No, not in Veronica's lifetime.

>>>

THE END

OR …. for those of you who need more closure and/or a happier ending.