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Authors: Edward W. Robertson

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Novels, #eotwawki, #postapocalyptic, #Plague, #Fiction, #post-apocalypse, #Breakers, #post apocalypse, #Knifepoint, #dystopia, #Sci-Fi, #Meltdown, #influenza, #High Tech, #virus, #Melt Down, #Futuristic, #science fiction series, #postapocalypse, #Captives, #Thriller, #Sci-Fi Thriller, #books, #Post-Apocalyptic, #post apocalyptic

Captives

BOOK: Captives
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Edward W. Robertson

 

 

© 2014

 

 

THE
BREAKERS
SERIES

 

Breakers (Book 1)

Melt Down (Book 2)

Knifepoint (Book 3)

Outcome (Novella)

Reapers (Book 4)

Cut Off (Book 5)

Captives (Book 6)

 

To hear when the next book is out, please sign up for my
mailing list
.

 

To my mom and dad, who never seemed to think this was a silly idea.

 

Cover art by Stephanie Mooney.

I:
HUNTERS

1

The rumble of the engine faded into the morning, taking her further from him with each moment. Walt tore his gaze from her sandy footprints and sprinted uphill toward the road.

Though the walk from the shack to the beach was an easy and painless stretch of grass and sand, as always, he'd worn his sneakers. Carrie teased him on a weekly basis about his refusal to go barefoot. On one occasion, rather than teasing her back, he had run down the list of all the times in which he'd found himself or been actively rendered shoeless, along with the lengths he'd had to go to in order to prevent his precious feet from getting torn to shreds—wrapping them in shirts, cardboard, leather belts, and his favorite, the agave leaves.

He found it quite impressive, personally. When he'd finished, Carrie gave him a blank look, then laughed harder than ever.

But his shoes might be about to save her life.

He tore through the sand, the ocean glinting to his right, the wind basting him with the smell of the kelp that heaped the shore. The sand sloped up to a swath of tough beach grass that gave way to jumbles of rock and patches of thorny flowers. He could no longer hear the engine. Rocks turned under his soles, but he kept his footing and speared into the line of firs guarding the coast.

As soon as he was inside the treeline, the noise of the surf diminished like someone had twisted the volume knob from 8 down to 2. He dashed through dried needles, stirring the scent of the pines. He crossed the ridge and veered toward a shelf of rock looking inland over the forest. The drone of the car was as faint as a basement TV. He stopped at the edge of the cliff and stared across the dark green treetops. Should have been carrying his binoculars. Or a rifle. Or left the shack on a bike.

And while he was at it, he should have been carrying a collapsible helicopter armed with six banks of car-seeking missiles.

He was serious about the binoculars, though. Being able to see people from further away than they could see you—you couldn't put a price on that, and not just because there was no money anymore.

This would be his only moment. His only chance. To his left, a crow flapped from the crown of a pine, drawing his eye. A drab green shape zipped through a gap in the trees hundreds of yards away. Bulky. A van. It disappeared down a dip, then hauled itself up the incline on the ridge across the valley. And then it was gone.

He ran back to the beach before the tide and winds could take what little evidence had been left behind. After a few hundred feet, Carrie's barefoot tracks were joined by a pair of shoes, with at least two more sets of tracks beginning another twenty yards further down the beach; she had been approached by a lone man, his backup lingering out of sight. The tracks were regular, placid. No sign of torn-up sand or any kind of struggle. So they'd had guns. Either that or she had known them, was even expecting them, and had happily gone with them—but that was ridiculous. They never had visitors. Only a handful of people knew they
existed
. If Carrie had been expecting a visit from one of their very limited repertoire of guests, she would have said something.

She had been taken.

He explored the rocks, but found nothing along their passage to the road. He ran back into the trees and followed the path to the shack. Originally, he'd kept his shelter on the beach, but within two weeks of her arrival, they had moved it into the woods for protection from strangers and storms. The idea had been mutual, which meant it had been hers, but once they'd settled in, he'd agreed the move was a good idea.

In the year-plus since, they'd tacked on a second room, built another shack for storage (separated from the first by a short walk to insulate them from wandering bears), added a large-scale water filter and a latrine. Prior to that, he had been a definite shit-in-the-woods type, and as for drinking water, the stream had seemed pretty clean. The way he'd seen it, if it
wasn't
pure, exposure to it would only make his immune system stronger. Be that as it may, he had to admit that it was nice to be able to wander around the woods without being concerned about stepping in a pile of his old shit.

For the sake of the other end of the alimentary system, they'd scavenged a hibachi and put together a stone-lined fire pit. As a former New Yorker, where balcony grills had sometimes existed but were fully illegal, the concept of grilling continued to strike him as black magic: wonderful, but to be feared.

The air around the shack still smelled like the previous night's crab boil. He flung open the door, grabbed his pack from inside, then ran back out and hopped on the bike he kept beneath the side awning. Its fat tires tore through the dirt and needles. He hit the access road and pedaled hard through the trees. The road climbed a steep hill, flattened out in a clearing with an irrelevantly gorgeous view of the Northern California sea battering itself into mist against the rocky shores, and connected to the highway.

Walt zipped north along the blacktop, swerving around the cracks and potholes beginning to lay serious claim to the surface. At the very least, he was reasonably sure this wasn't about cannibalism. If you moved to the right spot, there was enough wild game and farms gone to seed that you'd only be compelled to eat another person if you were psychotic, or your untreated syphilis had grated your brain like the parmesan cheese that no longer existed.

Somewhat more likely: it was a thrill kidnapping. Carrie was a woman, after all, and thus available as prey to a certain class (or sub-class) of survivor. Not that men were immune from being targeted, but he suspected women continued to pull more than their share of forced abductions. Even those like Carrie, who had survived on her own for the three-year interval between when her group had splintered and when she'd met Walt. Who was a better shot than him (with a human weapon, anyway) and significantly more motivated and skilled at little things like "building shelter."

But the abduction felt a little too organized to be about one-off thrills. Anyway, life wasn't as cheap as it once had been. If he were to bet tradable goods on it, he'd go for slavery. Be it sexual, matrimonial, domestic, agrarian, or technical, there were more uses than ever for unpaid and unwilling sources of labor. The only thing stopping people from taking it was their conscience. These days, that was in as short supply as parmesan.

Overall, then, Walt was optimistic. Not so much about the booming slavery industry. But for Carrie, whose captors likely intended to subject her to the sort of abuse that destroys you over years or even decades rather than days or hours.

And that meant they were walking dead men.

A mile and a half north, he cut from the highway onto a hard dirt road snaking through the trees. Banking on the probability Bob Dutton wouldn't shoot him, he pedaled straight to the man's front yard and jumped from the bike. It crashed into the unkempt grass, wheels still spinning. Tomatoes grew within cylindrical wire trellises. Beans curled through netting hung from wooden beams. A faux log cabin rested in the shade of the pines, surrounded by work benches and tarped projects.

Walt tore past these on his way to the porch. "Don't shoot, man! I'm not as crazy as I look!"

He pounded the door and stepped back so Bob would have a good look at him. With no answer, he jogged around the side of the cabin. Vegetables were just beginning to sprout from the planters and rows. Pines cast shade across stacks of firewood and lumber. Walt hollered Bob's name, then ran around front and pulled his bike from the grass and sped north along the highway. Ahead, the long-dead wreck of a BMW and a pickup clogged both lanes. None of the locals had bothered to move it—Ben, from tomb-like reverence for its dead; Sirita, from the desire to make the area look uninhabited; Walt, from not giving a shit—and he slowed to detour across the gravel shoulder.

He took a long hill, the ocean glinting to his left, and paused at the top to catch his breath and listen for the van. But there were too many hills, too much surf and wind-tossed needles. He moved on.

Like him and Carrie, Sirita lived inside the woods above the shore. When he got to her house, she was out front, a rifle crooked in her arm, watching him ride down the trail. A hoe had been flung across the dirt beside her. Massacred weeds sprinkled the churned brown earth. She wore a green sari and a light sheen of sweat.

She lowered the tip of her gun. "A man who runs wants to get shot."

"So do women with aphorisms. Did you see a green van go past here?"

"I did not."

"Carrie was down at the beach," Walt panted. "She was taken."

Sirita lifted her chin a fraction of an inch. "A green van?"

"At least three men. Strangers. If you know anything about them, I'd really like to kill them right now."

"I heard the engine." She nodded to the north. "But that was twenty minutes ago."

"That's all you've got?"

She eyed him. "I have never understood why a woman like her bothered with you."

"Will you knock it off?" He splayed his hands. "Resume calling me a bastard as soon as I walk away. Right now, all I need to know—"

"I know nothing of a green van nor of its crew," she said deliberately. "But if you will stop interrupting for three seconds, due to my respect for Carrie, I will tell you about someone who might. He's a tom."

"Atom? What's his last name? Where's he live?"

"Not
Atom
. He isn't a superhero. A tom." She raised her brows, then rolled her eyes at the blank look on his face. "A traveling storyteller. If these men are known, he will have heard of them."

"And he's nearby? Not, you know, traveling around telling stories?"

She waved a dismissive hand. "He doesn't like to tour until the nights get warmer. He lives in Salinas. The house of Steinbeck."

Walt's brain hit a snag. "
John
Steinbeck?"

"Rueben Steinbeck, the famous purveyor of beds and their frames. Of course John Steinbeck, are you an illiterate man?"

"I'll have you know I'm an English major. This tom of yours—will he be willing to help me?"

"I imagine he will be inclined." She eyed him. "He's heard the stories about you. What do you think he'll give to get them straight from the horse's mouth?"

She rattled off directions. Walt was restless enough to have checked out Salinas on more than one occasion, and though Sirita wasn't able to provide him an exact address, her description of the section of town the tom named Dim lived within rang a bell in his memory.

"Thanks," he said, saddling up on his bike. "If I don't come back, you can have all my stuff."

She smiled thinly. "If you don't come back, I won't need your blessing to take what you've left."

As soon as he got back on the highway, he drew his laser, holding it in his right hand while he rode. The morning was growing late, but the marine air remained dense and chilly, and the wind on his skin made him wish he'd brought a thicker jacket. He supposed he could steal something along the way.

It was a long ride to Salinas, twenty or twenty-five miles. He decided to stick with the coastal highway rather than looping inward on 68, which led straight into the city—scumbag assholes of the universe generally preferred to avoid settlements, and if he stuck to the less-traveled path, there was the chance, however slight, that he'd overtake them.

"Slight" being the operative word. They had an automobile, complete with functioning internal combustion engine, and he was pedaling around like… well, like one of the dorks who'd used to live in this part of Northern California. He doubted the kidnappers would stop until they returned to their nest.

BOOK: Captives
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