The final convoy was ready. A thousand souls in a number of trucks and busses, all set to begin their trek to the East. The previous convoy had left several days ago and with it a sense of accomplishment had fallen over this group. They had done it. The hard part, in many ways, was over.
“Governor,” the driver of the main bus spoke up, “we’re ready to depart at your word.”
Ramirez nodded. He had a hard time thinking of himself as the governor who had been sworn in years before, back when his biggest worry had been providing jobs for the booming population of his state. That seemed like a trivial concern, now. There wasn’t a state left, his population dead or fled or worse. But everyone still insisted on calling him governor. If that’s what they needed to feel better, who was he to dissuade them?
“Give me a second,” Ramirez said. “I’d like to say a final word to the Major and his men.”
The driver nodded and Ramirez climbed down from the bus. He looked at the convoy stretching behind them, a wide fairground that was jammed full of every variety of passenger and cargo vehicles. It could have been a state fair or big music festival. Ramirez wondered if people would ever have something like that again. Instead the razor-wire fences and sentry scaffolds gave it the grim look of a prison camp.
Major Hayes stepped forward as Ramirez approached. “Governor. Is anything wrong?”
“No, no, nothing wrong,” he said with a thin smile. “We’re just about ready to go. I just wanted to take a moment and talk to you and your men before we leave, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure thing,” Hayes said. He turned to the speaker system panel and pressed a button. The PA system they had set up all over the compound crackled to life. “Hayes here. I have the Governor here on the line, he wants to say a few words before the last train pulls out of the station.”
Several of the other soldiers who were nearby gathered around Ramirez. They had been here for weeks now, gathering resources and preparing the convoys. Each departure had been painful for this young circumstantial family, but this one had affected both sides most of all.
“I just wanted to say a small piece,” Ramirez began, “since nobody knows if any of us will ever meet again in this world. In the past few weeks we’ve all been through hell and back, seeing the worst nightmares of our society come true. It is enough to try a man’s soul.
“We all grew up watching movies about these exact situations, every time following the same tired clichés. People turning to madness. Paranoia. Scientists being evil or lynched by panicked mobs. And a military that can’t be trusted. Soldiers turning on citizens.”
The soldiers all shifted uncomfortably. The integration of thousands of civilians and a bunch of on-edge soldiers had initially been rough. Ramirez knew it, the soldiers knew it. But it had been an unspoken tension until now.
“But we all know, despite the events of the past few weeks, that real life isn’t fiction. We’ve been organized and efficient. We’ve acted like people, not animals. And despite all of the trouble the remnants of California have caused all of you, each and every one of you has acted in the most honorable way.
“When we leave, you’ll have nothing left but your own self-reliance. But I don’t doubt that it will carry you. You have been a shining example of the best we have to offer, of the power of humanity in the face of these monsters.
“You are all heroes. You are all the good guys. Never forget that. Without you, none of us would be here right now. There are no words for the gratitude I feel. In many ways, you all have become the saviors of humanity, or at least this small sliver of it.
“There’s no telling what’s out there. But hopefully, someday, we’ll meet up again. Good luck, and godspeed.”
The soldiers nearby all snapped off a salute as Ramirez turned off the PA. Major Hayes turned to face Ramirez, extending his hand. “Good luck to you and yours, Governor. Remember what I told you about firing a weapon.”
“I hope it won’t come to that.”
“So do I,” Hayes said. “Let’s hope your road is clear.”
“If it isn’t, we’ll find a way. That’s all we have left to do,” Ramirez said. He motioned towards the lead bus, the heavy plow that had been welded to the front of it. With a smile, he nodded to the saluting soldiers, turned on his heel, and went back to the bus. With a blast of the horn, the motor started up, and soon the entire convoy was the deep rumble of dozens of engines.
Major Hayes watched as the convoy slowly began to roll out, though the whole thing would take hours. He instead turned and headed back into the main compound. Even left alone, there were still the mass of things coming out of the woods. There was still the pile of bodies they had to burn, thousands of mangled human forms, each with a gruesome rifle shot in the head.
There was no time to be nostalgic for the people who had gone. Even during the end of the world, there was plenty of work to be done.