Authors: L. A. Weatherly
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
PRAISE FOR THE BESTSELLING
“Packed with suspense and drama.”
The Daily Mail
“A sparkling trilogy.”
Books for Keeps
Once Upon a Bookcase
“Will leave you breathless.”
Daisy Chain Book Reviews
Book Angel Booktopia
“Made me laugh, smile and cry.”
Open Book Society
“Fresh, imaginative…highly addictive.”
Empire of Books
“Will suck you in and take you on a thrill ride.”
Jess Hearts Books
“Mind-blowing, spine-tingling, absolutely brilliant.”
Book Passion for Life
L.A. WEATHERLY was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. She now lives with her husband and their cat, Bernard, in Hampshire, England, where she spends her days – and nights! – writing.
L.A. WEATHERLY is the author of over thirty books, which have been published in over ten different languages.
To the memory of my father, Jack Weatherly.
FF, I wouldn’t have traded you. So much of me is you. Thank you.
First published in the UK in 2013 by Usborne Publishing Ltd., Usborne House, 83-85 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8RT, England.
Copyright © L.A. Weatherly, 2013
The right of L.A. Weatherly to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Cover photographs of boy (left) and girl by Pawel Piatek.
Cover photograph of boy (right) © Edgardo Contreras/Getty Images
The name Usborne and the devices
are Trade Marks of Usborne Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or used in any way except as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or loaned or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Kindle ISBN 9781409541783
Batch no 02172-02
Willow gasped. She was leaning over the stream, her long blonde hair a slithering mass of shampoo. She shrieked, half laughing, as Alex poured a canful of water over it.
Oh! That is so cold!
Alex started laughing too.
You’re the one who wanted to wash it.
I had to; it was getting disgusting
Is all the shampoo out?
He grinned as he scooped more chilly water from the stream.
Nope. Not even close.
As Alex woke up, Willow’s laughter faded into silence.
There was no stream, no ramshackle cabin nearby. He was lying in a sleeping bag in a tent, its nylon walls a deep blue in the predawn light. Even Willow was different. The girl asleep in his arms had short red-gold hair now; it framed her face in untidy spikes.
A dream. Alex smiled as he stretched, remembering that day up at the cabin – and then everything came slamming back and his smile vanished. Christ, no wonder he’d been dreaming about the cabin: back then their biggest problem had been hiding out from the Church of Angels. Now…Alex let out a breath and rubbed his temples with one hand.
Now things were a little different.
The uncertainty was the worst part, he thought grimly. If they just knew what the hell was going on, they could start to deal with it. But it had been three days –
– and he and the rest of his team still had no clue.
They were finally almost out of the Sierra Madre; their journey north through Mexico had been spent mostly on mountain back roads so they could keep out of sight. Three days of the truck lurching over rough terrain; three days of dust and plummeting views. Three days of sending Seb, the only native Spanish speaker, ahead to high, isolated farms to purchase gas.
“They don’t know yet that something has happened,” Seb had reported each time he returned, lugging enough gas to keep them going – along with food pressed on him by the farmers’ wives. “All they know is that the TV stations aren’t working and the internet is down.”
Alex had felt his team’s tension increase with every rendition of this. The words didn’t begin to tell them what they were all so desperate to know. Homes up here had generators; it meant nothing that the farms still had electricity. What was going on everywhere else?
Did dead TV and internet mean that more of the world than just Mexico City was gone?
With a soft rustle, Willow stirred in his arms. As her green eyes flickered open, they at first held only sleepy confusion – and then Alex saw her remember.
She swallowed and shifted so that her arms were folded across his chest. She rested her chin on them. “Morning,” she whispered.
“Morning.” Alex stroked her spiky hair, smoothing it from her face. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Not really.” She pressed her cheek against his palm. “I – I still can’t stop seeing it,” she admitted in a small voice. “Every time I close my eyes.”
“I know. Me too,” Alex said roughly. The sight of Mexico City as it had gone down – buildings shuddering into nothing; cars and people tumbling into gaping cracks – was one that would never leave him.
Willow’s eyes were haunted. “And I just keep thinking…if Mexico City was the only place affected, then we should be seeing helicopters heading down there to help. The Red Cross or the army or…” She trailed off. She didn’t need to add how silent the skies had been.
Alex gripped her hand hard. “The US could still be okay,” he told her. “If only one or two cities were hit there, they’ll be focusing relief efforts on those for now – not here.” He’d been saying the same thing for days, trying to keep his team calm. Besides – please, god – it could actually be true.
Willow’s gaze was steady. If she’d psychically sensed his jumble of hope and dread, she didn’t comment. Looking down, she trailed a finger across his chest. Finally she cleared her throat.
“So…tell me something about you I don’t know,” she said.
Surprise touched him; it was a game they’d played back at the cabin. “You already know everything about me,” he said softly. He pulled her fully on top of him and wrapped his arms around her.
Her voice was strained. “Oh, I bet there are still one or two mysteries left, if you try… Please?” she added.
Alex knew she was trying to take his mind off what had happened – and her own, for that matter. “Okay, give me a time frame,” he said at last.
“Preteen,” suggested Willow. “Say, between nine and twelve.”
His father’s training camp in the New Mexico desert: cement buildings, burning white in the sun. Alex thought, stroking Willow’s spine. “Have I told you that I broke my arm when I was ten?”
She shook her head. “No, how?”
“I crashed Juan’s motorcycle. He’d just taught me how to ride it, and I thought it’d be cool to go for a night drive through the desert.”
Willow’s body relaxed a little. “You mean you stole his bike?”
Alex nodded, remembering. “Yeah, pretty much. There was a full moon, and I was doing donuts in the sand – and then these two headlights came at me out of nowhere, and I skidded and hit my arm on a rock.”
“Yeah – and, man, he was pissed. Especially since he had to take me to Alamogordo to the hospital.”
Silence fell. With an effort, Alex kept his thoughts from what might have happened to the world.
he started to say, and then they heard the echo of a truck door closing.
Willow glanced up. “Someone else must be awake.”
“We’d better get moving,” said Alex.
Their eyes met. Once they were out of the mountains, the plan was to return to the main highways; with luck they’d be back in the US by noon. The question was, what would they find?
Willow licked her lips. “So…how long do you think it’ll take us to reach Nevada once we cross the border?”
“Normally less than a day,” Alex said. “Now, though – I guess it depends.”
Willow started to say something else but didn’t. She nodded tensely, and sat up and reached for their tangle of clothes.
Watching her get dressed, there was suddenly so much Alex wanted to say: that no matter what had happened, their group of Angel Killers would somehow be all right. That as long as the two of them were together, they’d get through anything. The words felt hollow, even to him.
At least Raziel’s gone,
he reminded himself harshly. The angel’s fiery death above Mexico City had been the one positive in all this.
Willow pulled on her blue hoodie; her tousled head emerged. Alex touched her face, caressing her cheekbone with one thumb. “You are so beautiful, you know that?” he said in a low voice.
Abruptly, Willow looked close to tears. She clutched his hand. “It’ll be okay,” she said. “Oh god, Alex, it just has to be.”
He had no answer. He cradled her face and kissed her deeply, and for a few seconds lost himself in the feel of their lips together.
The low, worried buzz of voices came from outside. Seb, Liz and Sam were all up. He and Willow drew apart, and Alex let out a breath.
“We’d better go,” he said.
The journey to Nevada took three more days.
On his first glimpse of the small brick building in the middle of the desert, Alex was so tired that all he could think was,
Oh, shit, we’re in the wrong place.
Then his brain cleared a little, and he realized this was it after all.
“What the hell?” Sam demanded from the back. “This is just an electricity substation!” They could see pylons clustered in the building’s yard, stabbing at the sky.
“That’s all it’s supposed to look like,” Alex said sharply as he steered the 4 × 4 over the uneven dirt road.
Willow glanced at him from the front passenger seat but didn’t say anything. They were all exhausted, on edge…and hardly any wiser about what had happened to the world.
Though the signs don’t look great so far,
thought Alex grimly. The fact that there’d been no border control was kind of a tip-off.
As they’d neared the United States, they’d heard people shouting gleefully about the abandoned border. If true, the ramifications were chilling, but Alex had decided to try it for the sake of speed. And when they’d reached Ciudad Juárez, it had been true all right: people swarming over the fence into El Paso, dropping into the US unchallenged; cars cruising straight through the unmanned gates, honking joyfully.
– they still think there’s something better here,” Seb had murmured.
No one had paid attention to their dusty 4 × 4. They’d drawn their guns anyway. Willow had been driving; she’d sped them across the border, knuckles white on the wheel – and then they were home again.
It was nothing at all like the place they’d left.
Even without the border chaos, it was obvious there’d been major earthquakes in the US too. Whole swathes of the nation’s electricity grids had been knocked out – the night-time portion of the drive had been shrouded in an eerie darkness, without a single light showing. Things were even worse in daylight, with panicked looting going on everywhere they passed, until Alex had decided to stick to back roads again.
he kept thinking. The question pounded at his brain.
How much of the world has been destroyed?
They’d almost reached the brick building now. It looked as if it had crouched undisturbed here in the desert for decades.
DANGER OF ELECTROCUTION. KEEP OUT!
read the weathered sign.
A CIA agent had tipped them off about this place back in Mexico City. The code that she’d given them worked; the gate gave a jerk and slid open. A garage door raised up, leading into the building itself, and inside there was a light. Of course, realized Alex, the place must really be a substation, which meant it had its own power supply. The door slid shut as they drove inside.
The small room contained only a desk with a display of video monitors. On the wall facing them were two elevators: one car-size and the other smaller.
No one spoke as they got out of the truck. Alex drew his pistol. He’d done a scan for energy and knew there wasn’t anyone inside – but he still felt better armed.
They took the smaller elevator down. After nearly a minute, its doors opened onto a large garage. A dozen shiny 4 × 4s were parked, waiting. At one end stood a pair of gasoline pumps, like a miniature gas station.
They stepped out and stared. “Do you think there’s actually
in those?” Liz asked finally.
“Yeah, definitely.” Alex gave a short, humourless laugh. “Ever wonder where your tax dollars went?”
Their footsteps echoed down gleaming corridors as they explored the bunker. The details they’d been given had done nothing to prepare Alex for actually being here. The vast underground base could support a thousand people for up to two years. It just went on and on: a fully stocked armoury, an industrial-size kitchen, closets piled high with sheets and pillowcases. The silence got to you after a while; Alex kept bracing himself with every door he opened, not knowing what he was about to see.
But there was no sign that anyone had been here recently. And no sign of their missing teammates, Kara and Brendan – last seen in Mexico City.
Willow stood peering into a closet full of cleaning supplies. She gave Alex a worried glance as the others went on ahead.
“Kara definitely knows where this place is, right?” she asked in an undertone.
Alex nodded, not surprised that she’d picked up on his thoughts. Kara had seen the specs on the base. If she and Brendan had made it out, this was where they’d have come.
Willow touched his arm. “Alex, they could still show up.”
She didn’t add that the odds of them having made it through the lurching Mexico City streets in Juan’s old van were infinitesimal…if they’d managed to escape the Church of Angels mob at all. Alex saw again the hundreds of bloodthirsty people, all intent on killing the AKs, and his jaw tightened.
“Yeah, they could still show up.” He heard his voice shut a door on the conversation. How many people he cared about had he now lost to the fight with the angels?
Silently, Willow stepped close and slipped her arms around him. Alex let out a breath and held her, dropping his head down to her shoulder.
“Hey, we’ve found something,” said Sam, coming back to them.
Alex glanced up. “What?”
“Shortwave radio.” The big, muscular Texan still wore the same rumpled clothes he’d had on when they escaped Mexico City. “And it works,” he added.
Alex’s pulse leaped. Shortwave radios could broadcast worldwide – they were the one way the planet could still communicate even if other systems were gone. They followed Sam quickly to what was clearly a communications room, where a curved metal desk held a gleaming radio.
Seb stood with his hands propped on the desk; Liz sat frowning as she twiddled the dial. A few times she paused, fine-tuning. Each time there was only static.
She shook her head. “I don’t think anyone’s—”