Not on the Old Maps
The nightmares were growing worse. Myra no longer doubted that’s what they were. Every morning, she woke shaking and drenched in sweat. She couldn’t remember what they were about exactly. Only a vague residue of terror lingered once she opened her eyes, but somehow she knew that Aero wasn’t in them. In the dawn light, she gazed out over the dead landscape and felt a shudder run through her. They were the only things alive out here. This world was primordial and volcanic. Was it even considered a world without life on it?
Despite their collective weariness, they shouldered their packs and set out following Elianna’s directions. As they walked, the weather turned colder. Thick clouds skirted the mountain range. A damp, icy wind gusted out toward the sea.
Winter will be here soon, Elianna communicated. Myra didn’t need to see the accompanying images of blizzards and storms to know that wasn’t good news. But she kept it to herself for the same reason that she didn’t mention their dwindling supply of rations. She didn’t want to worry them, not when they couldn’t do anything about it.
About an hour after they stopped for lunch on a cluster of rocks, they crested a steep ridge and were forced to halt. Before them, spreading out in every direction, was an enormous crater. Seawater swelled into the basin, smashing up against the blackened, twisted rocks. The drop-off was perilously steep. Myra signaled for the others to hold back and peered into it. Elianna’s voice echoed through her head:
This shouldn’t be here.
Myra could sense the confusion in her voice. What do you mean? she thought back.
This crater isn’t on the old maps, Elianna responded.
What were you expecting to find here?
A city . . . I thought maybe something would be left.
Elianna’s words were freighted with sadness. An image from her memories flashed through Myra’s head, superimposing itself over the crater. She saw skyscrapers and streets and stoplights and cars and traffic and pedestrians and sidewalks, and rising above the city, a single spire—magnificent and snowy white and pointing steadfastly toward the heavens.
Myra wished the others could witness these visions, but only she carried the Beacon. As she watched the memories, a realization dawned on her.
Elianna, did you live here? This city was your home, wasn’t it?
Once upon a time, I lived here with my family, she confirmed. We moved here after my father won the election. Millions of people lived here. This was the capital of our nation. We called it Washington, DC. But it’s gone. All of it. There’s nothing left.
The image of the ancient city held fast for a moment before dissolving into thin air, leaving only a massive crater where this grand metropolis once stood. Myra wondered what could have caused such a vast wound in the earth.
Elianna heard her thought and answered:
Only one thing.
Her voice did not waver.
Elianna . . . please tell me . . . I want to know what happened here.
I can’t tell you—but I can show you. This city must have been a target. This isn’t a memory for I wasn’t here to witness it, but it’s what I believe happened.
The vision pierced through Myra’s brain as if it were stabbing her. The city appeared again superimposed over the crater, but this time it was burning . . . no, it wasn’t just burning . . . it was melting. The heat was so intense that Myra flinched back and screamed. The pedestrians were melting. The cars were melting. The buildings were melting. And that magnificent spire that rose above the city? It was melting, too.
Even the earth itself was melting.
Until there was only a smoldering hole left.
When the image faded, Myra was panting and her cheeks felt hot. She wanted to sink to her knees and cry out in pain. Elianna’s voice rang through her head. There’s nothing more to see here. The daylight is wasting. We must continue onward. Let it go.
o o o
Elianna directed them around the crater, and they curved inland. Now the shoreline was behind them, and the mountain range was straight ahead. As Myra walked, her Beacon began to pulse faster and grew warmer to the touch. A few hours later, when the sun was already well into its descent, they reached the westernmost edge of the crater.
Myra stopped and probed the Beacon for guidance; she expected Elianna to keep leading them around the crater, eventually turning them back toward the coast and then northward again. But Elianna’s voice sounded uncertain. Myra . . . do you feel that?
You mean the Beacon? Myra said, glancing down at her wrist and the pulsing green light. It’s been doing that all afternoon. Wait . . . it’s growing stronger, isn’t it?
Stronger and stronger. It’s picking up a signal of some kind.
Aero, Myra thought right away. His name shot through her head. Elianna heard it. Their conversations—held only in Myra’s head—were growing more fluid and natural.
The signal could be from another Carrier, but it’s weak, so I can’t be sure. As far as I can tell, it’s coming from somewhere in that mountain range. That could be why it’s so hard to trace. The mountains could be blocking it.
Myra’s gaze locked onto the mountains. She had never seen something so immense or forbidding in her life. Not to mention the dark clouds encircling the peaks and the cold wind emanating from them. She chewed at her lower lip while she considered their options. Should we follow the signal? she thought to Elianna.
Elianna’s response echoed through her head:
You’re the Carrier now—it’s your decision.
Myra was so lost in the exchange that she almost forgot she wasn’t alone. The others had stopped and were staring at her with worried expressions.
“Myra, what’s going on?” Kaleb said, tapping her on the shoulder. “Are we camping here for the night?”
“Great idea. I’m beat,” Paige said and slung off her pack. She plopped down on the bag and wiped the sweat from her brow with her sleeve.
But Tinker cocked his head at Myra.
“It’s the Beacon, isn’t it?” he said in his raspy voice. His eyes were fixed on the device peeking out of Myra’s sleeve. “It looks like it’s glowing brighter.”
Indeed, it was glowing brighter. Myra felt that protective instinct rear up inside her. Before she knew what she was doing, she yanked her sleeve down to hide it from view. But then she relaxed and shrugged off her pack.
“Come over here,” she said. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
They gathered around in a circle by the edge of the crater with their heavy packs slumped around them. She told them about the mysterious signal from the mountains and how it could be from another Carrier. She finished by confessing about the strange dreams but omitted the parts about bonding with Aero. It just felt . . . well . . . too intimate.
“Other survivors?” Paige said after Myra had finished. “By the Oracle…you’re positive?”
“Well, not positive,” Myra admitted. “So far he’s only visited me in my dreams. But I think he’s a Carrier from one of the other Continuums. His name is Aero. From what I could tell, he also had to flee from his home and crashed on the Surface.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Kaleb asked, unable to hide the hurt in his voice.
“They were just dreams,” Myra said, feeling her cheeks turning hot; she couldn’t meet his eyes. “And I wasn’t sure what they meant, or if they were even real. Plus, the signal is weak. Elianna doesn’t know if it’s coming from Aero. It could be nothing, only a glitch in the device. Or it could be coming from something else.”
“Don’t you see?” Kaleb said. “That doesn’t matter. If there’s even a chance there are other survivors out there, then we have to find them. You said the signal’s weak, right? What if something happened to them, and they need our help?”
Paige frowned. “But what about our colony? They’re still running out of oxygen, remember? Our families, our friends, everyone we love—they’re all depending on us reaching the First Continuum. We can’t waste time on wild detours.”
“Paige has a point,” Myra agreed, dragging her finger through the dirt. “Also, those mountains look steep. Climbing them could prove tricky, to say the least.”
“Yeah, and look at the sky,” Paige said. “It looks . . . angry.”
They turned to look at the peaks shrouded by their halo of dark clouds.
Myra nodded. “I’m worried about that, too.”
“Also, there’s something else we haven’t talked about yet,” Paige said. “If something bad happened to the survivors . . . well . . . then it could happen to us, too.”
They lapsed into silence while they all considered the enormity of their decision. Myra, you have to tell them the rest of it, Elianna communicated. Now is the time. Myra knew that she was right; she’d waited too long as it was. She looked down and fiddled with the strap of her pack, feeling guilt sweep through her. “There’s something else I haven’t told you guys. I guess I didn’t want to worry you.”
Paige snapped her head up. “Myra, what is it? Just spit it out already.”
“Well, you know how I’ve been rationing our supplies?” Myra said.
“How could I forget?” Kaleb said and patted his rapidly thinning midsection. “My stomach hasn’t stopped growling at me this whole bloody trip.”
Myra stifled a smile. Kaleb could always lighten the mood. But then she turned more serious again and forced herself to continue. “As you know, we lost a lot of supplies when the kraken attacked our sub. Our provisions are running pretty low—”
“How much is pretty?” Paige cut in.
Myra bit her lower lip. “Based on how I’ve been rationing them, we’ve got enough to last for about another two weeks. According to Elianna, we won’t make it to the First Continuum before we run out.” She pulled open her pack and spilled out the meager contents for them to see. The satchels of beans and rice had shrunk markedly. Sugar seemed a distant memory. Only a tiny pinch of green tea remained; she was hoarding it. They had some kelp bars left—one of their staple foods that the Hockers relied on to stave off malnutrition and starvation— but even those would be gone soon.
Kaleb paled. “I knew it was bad, but two weeks?”
“How are we supposed . . . to get more food?” Paige stammered. “We haven’t seen anything remotely edible since we got here. Just rocks, rocks, and more rocks!”
Tinker took it all in soundlessly. Maybe he had known about the provisions running low, or maybe he realized that nothing he could say would change their situation. Myra turned to gaze at the mountains. Her Beacon throbbed stronger than ever. It took every bit of her willpower not to run straight after the signal. “Right, I admit it’s a long shot, but if the signal is coming from the other survivors, they probably have provisions. We’re a whole lot closer to those mountains than the First Continuum.”
“But you’re not even sure that the signal is coming from he other Carrier,” Paige pointed out. “Not to mention you’ve only ever met him in your dreams. How do you know he’s real? And even if he is, how do you know we can trust him?”
Myra looked down in frustration. “I don’t know . . . you’re right. It’s not logical, I get that. But I can feel that Aero is out there—just look at the Beacon!” She held up her wrist. The device was pulsing faster and brighter, that much was undeniable.
“So let me get this straight,” Kaleb said. “The way I see it we’ve got two choices—possible chance of starvation versus definite chance of starvation.”
Paige didn’t find that funny. “Those are some really great choices. I love how this adventure is shaping up so far.” She aimed a pointed look at Myra. “Anything else you haven’t told us?”
Silence descended over the group. Life on the road was wearing on Paige more than the others, Myra noticed. Her best friend’s eyes had lost their sparkle, and her face looked hollowed out as though somebody had scooped the flesh from her cheeks. While the journey had also taken a toll on Kaleb, it had chiseled away his soft edges and added lean muscle to his tall frame, making him look even more handsome somehow. Tinker had also fared well. He seemed to have sprouted a whole inch since they’d gotten here.
In the end, they took a vote. The results spoke clearly— three to one in favor of following the signal. Paige was in the minority, and though she agreed to abide by the group’s decision, she wouldn’t take her eyes off the mountains. The clouds hovering over them seemed to have grown thicker and darker. Paige was right—they did look angry.
Paige chucked a rock toward them, but it landed only a few feet away with a dull thud.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about those mountains,” she said before they started off again—this time to the west. “By the Oracle, I just hope I’m wrong.”
Book Two of the Continuums Trilogy, Return of the Contiuums is available November 1, 2016. Like this chapter? You can pre-order the full book here.