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Dropnauts is arriving in just two more weeks, so I thought I’d tease you a bit with another excerpt. 🙂 This one starts a century after The Stark Divide, and reveals what happened back on Earth.

This week, Ally and Aidan:

Ally and Aidan followed the yellow stripes of the old, crumbling two-lane highway through what had once been the Central Valley of California. Aidan imagined it full of cars, commuters rushing back and forth across the now-empty valley.

The land here was mostly open, with small stands of the sky trees here and there. Grass had taken over the world, but other plants dotted the hillsides—small greenish-gray salvia bushes and willow, sycamore and box elder saplings.

In the mid-morning, they’d seen another sky seed blazing a path across the horizon, headed west to land who-knew-where.

Aidan shaded his eyes against the bright sun, staring up at the blue dome. He wondered what it would be like to meet others—strangers. To talk to them. And maybe find someone who could be more. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but the mere idea of it sent goosebumps racing up his arms.

It was a warm morning, but a stiff, cool breeze blew up the delta from the San Francisco Bay, laden with moisture. Martinez Base was still a couple days distant, but Aidan could already feel the change.

His right hand itched. He scratched it unconsciously, and pulled out a slice of sky fruit from his pocket—the savory yellow lemon kind. He unwrapped the tree leaves that kept it fresh. “Want some?”

Ally shook her head. “I’m good.”

They’d spent the night inside an old store that had survived the Great Winter mostly intact. Aidan had even found a couple cans of pears he’d pried open with his knife. They reminded him of home.

Cimber bounded up next to them on the cracked pavement, sniffing the air with her mecha nose.

Aiden frowned. “Storm’s coming.” He hoped it wasn’t a bad one. The Records said it used to rain all the time, but not usually at flood levels. Then again, the Records said a lot of things that were no longer true.

“It’s a clear day.” His sister shared a glance with him. Neither knew where Cimber got her information, but she was usually right.  When she sniffed the air like that, it meant bad weather on the way.

Cimber pawed the ground twice.

“Two days.” Ally pulled out the old plas map and squinted at it. “We should be there by then.”

Aidan looked at the map over her shoulder. The colors were faded, but it was still legible. “Just about, anyway.”

Ally nodded. “Let’s just keep moving.”

Cimber yelped and bounded off the highway toward a nearby thicket of sky trees.

Ally rolled her eyes. “Not again.” She stared longingly at the green hills ahead. “Should we follow her?”

Aidan shrugged. “We can’t afford to lose her.” Cimber had kept them safe from many of the hazards on the way, including a stray war drone back in Sutter Creek. Without her, they would have been dead already half a dozen times. Resigned, they trudged through the tall grass toward the trees.

Cimber was already there, digging furiously at the ground. A pile of rich brown earth was growing rapidly behind her, weighing down the bright green grass.

“What’s she after?”

Aidan shrugged. “Another bone?”

Cimber stopped and pointed her nose at the hole.

Aidan knelt to see what she had uncovered. It was hard to make anything out in the shade of the trees.

He slipped his hand into the soil and lifted it up.

Something wriggled against his palm. “Eeeew!” He threw it down.

“What is it?” Ally looked over his shoulder, her breath warm on his cheek.

Aidan picked up the little creature again, less frightened this time. “I think it’s a worm.” The pink, segmented creature wriggled under his grasp, and he shivered. Hello, little friend. 

They stared at it, fascinated. The global decades-long winter had wiped out just about everything above the surface, and yet somehow a few birds, some insects and this little bit of life had survived the long, dark season.

Or did it? Aidan looked up suspiciously at the trees.

Ally followed his gaze. “You think the sky folk sent it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe? Worms….” He searched for the word. “Worms aerate the soil. They let it breathe.”

Ally snorted. “I guess it’s nice to see a few living bugs—”

“Invertebrates, actually.” Aidan had studied everything he could find in the Records about biology, and his head was stuffed full of mostly useless facts. Useless until now.

“Whatever. But we need to get going. I want to make Vallejo by nightfall.” She started toward the highway, adjusting the heavy pack on her back.

Aidan set the worm down in the hole, and it started to work its way back underground. He swept the loose soil over it and patted it down gently.

Things were changing. He hoped he lived to see it, to spend the rest of his days exploring and experiencing everything this strange new world offered.

He followed Ally back to the highway, and Cimber bounded after them.

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