UP THE COAST, TOWARD AURORA
Jim Hilton glanced behind him, to the open ocean and, farther south, to distant Eureka. For a fraction of a stolen moment the clouds shifted and he thought he glimpsed a ship. Then the wind veered and the curtain closed and the vessel vanished.
Jim’s attention came back to the land, and he wrinkled his forehead at the realization that he’d been careless. He’d been surviving in the ravaged world for long enough to know that if you wanted to stay alive, you checked and then you checked again.
But there was no sign of life.
Heather was standing up as the boat drifted in, almost silently, its keel grating in the dirt. She turned around and grinned at her father.
“Like Columbus or the Pilgrim fathers. Shall I claim this new and unknown land in the name of the Hilton family? Or in the name of Aurora?”
The shot came from somewhere inland, close to the road, the explosion echoing flatly out to sea. Jim spotted a puff of smoke, blown instantly away.
But that wasn’t what mattered.
Heather screamed once, her arms thrown wide, the rope dropping from her hands. Her feet slipped and she pitched over the side of the boat into the shallow water with a resounding splash.
#3 in the EarthBlood series
Having scattered themselves to every quarter of what used to be the United States of America, the survivors of the Aquila, in their two groups, were gradually drawing closer to each other.
Jim, Heather, Carrie, Kyle and Sly had seen the amended billboard for the Acme Coyote Trap, a little way north of the Bolinas turnoff. They saw it as potential encouragement for their unguessable future.
At the moment that the other group—Nanci Simms, Jeff Thomas and the McGill family stopped to stare at the same billboard, they were less than fifty miles apart.
The highway had been completely blocked by a massive landslide at Tomales, sending Jim and his group on a detour to the east, toward Petaluma. But they were able to cut north again before they’d lost too much time and distance. They were traveling in two four-bys, with Jim driving one and Carrie the other.
“Must’ve been a big quake,” observed Kyle.
Carrie was at the wheel and she nodded. “Sure must. That crack across the highway was a good fifty feet wide in places.”
“Was it the San Andreas?”
“That went macro at the end of the nineties, didn’t it? Lot of folks chilled in San Francisco and around.”
Sly had been dozing in the back and he came awake with a start. “Where are me?”
“We’re just moving on to that place where we might find us some new friends,” replied Carrie.
He grinned, the smile lighting up his entire face. “Sly looked forward to that. Dad’ll be there, won’t he?”
Kyle turned around to face the boy. “No. Remember that Steve’s gone to a special place. He can see and hear you all the time. But you can’t see him.”
“Not as never and ever, amen?”
“No. But there should be some more children in Aurora, Sly.” He turned back to raise his eyebrows at Carrie. “If we ever get there,” he said.
THE NEXT MORNING, after a late start, they carried on through a torrential storm. The wipers worked overtime, but visibility dropped to less than twenty yards. With dumped and wrecked cars everywhere, it became impossible to drive much above ten miles per hour. Even then, Jim nearly crashed into a burned-out Army half-track that had been left slewed halfway across the median line.
There was another fierce shower a little later, heralded by strong gusts of westerly wind.
They were going up a steep incline when Carrie encountered more evidence of recent quake activity. Half the highway had slipped yards to the right, and she suddenly found to her dismay that the rear end of their truck was going a whole lot faster than the front end. It took all of her skill behind the wheel to correct the skid and bring everything back on line.
“That was fun,” she said once her breathing had slowed a little. She and the others were silent most of the day, anxiously intent on the road and weather conditions.