Joel’s Diary – March 25th, 2034.
“We’re fast approaching the end of Spring and I still wrestle with the choices I’ve made on a daily basis, and I suspect Ellie does too. She truly is The Last of Us now. Not that I gave her any real choice in the matter. She’s a smart girl though – I’m sure she knows, deep down, what really happened back there. Did I make the right decision?
I mean, think about what we’ve both gone through for a moment.
Before Ellie was even born into this madness, life had taken a severe turn for the worse – not just for humanity, but close to home too. I’ve since given up celebrating my birthday because it only reminds me of that horrible day, over twenty years ago, when I lost my beloved Sarah thanks to the actions of an over-zealous soldier who was just following the orders of a government that had already lost control. The fungus spread like wildfire, and it still surprises me to this day that we managed to survive at all.
If you can call it that. Before heading out on our quest to deliver Ellie to the Fireflies, the quarantine zone wasn’t exactly a holiday camp. At least I had Tess by my side back then, but even that alliance has been taken from me. It’s no wonder Ellie and I bonded so strongly throughout our tale of four seasons – who else do I have left?
Tess understood Ellie’s importance. She even laid down her life to buy us a few important seconds due to her unshakeable belief that Ellie holds the key to a better future. But is that really true? In a world run and ruined by Hunters, Fireflies and the infected, what good would a vaccine actually do? It’s better this way. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I know others have their opinions, but you’ve got to look out for No. 1.
And who is to say that the world wouldn’t be a better place without us humans anyway? Even when faced with a common foe, we still choose to fight each other for control, constantly. Right now, even as I write this, there are millions of survivors building their clans and taking on their opposition in a never-ending quest to win the day for their faction. Fireflies taking on Hunters, and vice versa. It seems that no two battles are ever quite the same and while they’ve been fighting to control the same turf for months, the soldiers are now finding new places to do battle, new strategic turf to control. They’ve even started changing tactics recently; instead of mindless violence, they’ve taken to interrogating rival captives. I’m certain this just fuels the fire and makes even the most scarred soldiers yearn for more death and destruction. Such is the human condition.
By contrast, and as an illustration of how things could be without us, I’ll never forget our encounter at the zoo. The beauty. The emotion. Whether or not these images I hold so dear are, as some have said, the last of their generation, nobody can take away their clarity and perfection.
The same can be said for all we’ve heard on our journey together. In fact, more often than not, it was sound that made all the difference between staying alive in the dark or being discovered by the infected. Of course, our entire path through Pittsburgh, Wyoming, Salt Lake City and on to Tommy’s settlement wouldn’t have been possible without the highest level of control, something we could thankfully always count on.
Now that we’re here – now that I’ve lied through my teeth to the one person I care about the most – maybe we can build something that will last beyond the shift from this current age to the next. I can’t change what I did, but the fact that so many are still fighting against each other every day gives me reassurance that I chose the right path. What good would a vaccine do anyway in a world where people constantly lay bombs on well-trodden paths to catch out the unwary? What good would it do to eradicate the infected when Hunters and Fireflies spend all day killing each other for supplies and parts? We’re better off here, creating a single, finite life that offers a little hope for just the few of us. The Last of Us, if you will.
And given time, I’m certain Ellie will be able to open up and tell me more of her story. She’s already mentioned her friend Riley in passing. I know it’s still very raw for her; maybe in a month or so she’ll find the courage to take me back to the time before our journey together, before Marlene convinced us to take those first few steps along the road to where we are today.
The more light-hearted things we collected along the way are helping. Ellie gets a lot of comfort from the comic books we discovered – they help her to remember a much more innocent time. Thanks to two decades of infection, fear and survival, she never really had what you’d consider a real childhood, so I try to gather anything I can that will help. It’s easy to forget that she’s only fourteen years old after all she’s had to endure.
On a short recon only the other day, I found a little trinket that I thought she might like. Stuck in the mud outside the gates of the settlement, near the river, something was glinting in the sunlight. After digging it out and washing it off in the stream I could see it was an old silver-coloured trophy. The plaque on it reads “PS4 Attitude Writer’s Game of the Year 2013”; that’s the year Sarah was taken from me. I still have no idea what the inscription means, but I presented it to Ellie last night at the culmination of a fun, surprise awards ceremony. Tommy and I put it together for her and everyone in the camp joined in; it lifted all our spirits. There was even a little singing and dancing, like some crazy musical number from decades ago.
At least now, whenever I think of my own twisted morality and the selfish choice I made, I can remember last night and Ellie’s laughter. I can close my eyes, see her holding her award up high and know that I’ve given her a life worth living, even if in doing so I’ve taken that from others. She may be The Last of Us, but I’ll always consider her the best of us, and now she’s got the trophy to prove it.”