It was early afternoon when the young soldier reached the crossroads. The day was clear and cold, the sun shining in the frosty air and sparkling on snowy mountain peaks. His once elaborate uniform no longer kept the heat of his body, and the makeshift cloak he had fashioned for himself on his journey was full of so many holes that it hardly warmed him.
Half a day’s walk behind him lay the ruins of Tirano, a lifeless husk firebombed into oblivion to keep the infection at bay. Ahead of him rose the Bernina Pass, which would take him high above the burning plains of Italy and deep into the imposing Swiss Alps. These mountains towered in his mind both angelic and demonic. The infection had spread to the high valleys and crags of the Alps only with great difficulty. He would be relatively safe in there.
The Alps, however, posed their own terrible dangers. His errand, one upon which the fate of the world now rested, would lead him to Val Poschiavo and St. Moritz, then on to Brig, following the train tracks toward Luxembourg until he finally reached his destination, the secure city of Geneve. Nearly one hundred tunnels and more then two hundred bridges lay between St. Moritz and Brig alone. The prospect daunted the soldier, sending a barb of icy fear through his heart, making him stop to catch his breath.
Brig was still a long way ahead in his future. He was not even in the Alps yet. Passo del Bernina was his most immediate concern, the start of this next most treacherous leg of his journey. He had failed his sister, his wife, and perhaps his country, but while his infant daughter still lived in Geneve, he would not fail her and he would not fail his species. For his daughter, the human race must survive. For the human race, he must survive the Alps.
Still, chilling fear remained in his heart and he stood for a long time staring down at his decision. He had at last reached the train tracks that would lead him into those grand, terrible mountains.
Such were the soldier’s crossroads. Tirano was lifeless, and thus free of infection. He could return there and hide from his mission, from failure and death, until he succumbed to whatever horrors lay in that decimated wreck of a city. Or he could follow the train tracks and face the fate that the Alps had in store for him.
The moment had come for him to decide. To flee or to go onward; these were now his only choices.