The Keepers Of Tomorrow continues the story of the end of civilization and the quest for the Wild Orange Yonder. Eli and Marilyn have been abandoned deep in the wasteland ruins and now find themselves prisoners of a clan of Outsider barbarians. Meanwhile the storms are worsening, the domed cities are dying, and there is little time left to find the Friends of Gustavo and the lost refuge for humanity’s survival.
Okay, here we go…
THE KEEPERS OF TOMORROW (Excerpt)
Eli ran as fast and hard as he could across the dusty earth, ignoring the pain in his side. He kept checking over his shoulder. He’d been captured by a tribe of Outsiders—savages of the desert—and the moment they discovered he’d slipped away, they were sure to come chasing after him. So far he’d seen nobody on the highway but in the darkness it was hard to be certain.
Eli? What’s happening?
He felt movement in his pocket and realized he’d woken his mongoose, Marilyn, who’d been asleep there. Her voice, low and groggy, echoed in his mind—not an audible voice, but a signal created by the mysterious chip that had been implanted in her brain.
“Everything’s fine,” he answered, trying to sound calm even as he continued to run. “Go back to sleep. You need to save your strength.”
Yes, my love. You’re right, she said. I really am exhausted. . . .
Soon she was still again.
Eli was feeling dizzy and weak. An abandoned town lay just ahead. A fallen signpost, weathered and barely readable, said welcome to alpharetta. Along the side of the road was a line of rusted cars, old-style road transports he’d only seen in photos taken decades earlier, before the Great Sickness had killed off most of the world’s population.
Suddenly a distant sound like rolling thunder. But it wasn’t thunder; Eli could tell that right away. Then came a pop! pop! pop! like echoing gunfire.
He spun around.
On the road behind him, rounding the corner at the edge of the trees, a giant shadow appeared. Some kind of road roller—the roar was its engine. It was coming Eli’s way. Fast. For an instant he was almost paralyzed with fear. Had the savages caught up with him? He realized he was exposed near the edge of an open space. If he didn’t find somewhere to hide, then whoever was in that vehicle was bound to see him, assuming they hadn’t already.
He lunged behind a pile of metal and brick debris, the collapsed remains of what might have been part of an old wooden house, and dropped to the ground. Keeping low, he peered through a crack in the rubble.
The thing was close now, whatever it was. It was long and menacing, with an orange metal frame that was dented in countless places and riddled with what appeared to be bullet holes. Part of its side had rusted away and was patched with uneven strips of wood and plastic. A shoddy-looking wire structure, obviously not part of the original design, had been attached to the roof, and there was a dead animal strapped to it. A goat, perhaps? A large, emaciated dog? At the wheel Eli could make out a hulking figure with large goggles. Farther back, a second figure held an old-fashioned rifle through one of the windows, its barrel pointed at the sky. Pop! The rifle went off again, and maniacal laughter followed.
Across the vehicle’s front end, above the empty space where a windshield should have been, were faded black letters, ancient and meaningless: school bus.
Eli held his ears. The engine’s noise was almost deafening.
The terrifying jalopy came to a screeching stop not far away. The air grew thick with the smell of gasoline. The door swung open and the driver’s goggled face turned toward the rubble where Eli was hiding.
“Hey! You there!” he called in a booming voice. “Where you running off to?”
Whoever was in the back of the vehicle snickered.
Eli didn’t move. The machine went quiet, and before he knew what to do the driver had descended a little stairway and stepped onto the road. Eli didn’t recognize this savage—he wasn’t from the tribe that had held him captive. This one was big and broad-shouldered, with a thick beard and a chest the size of a kettledrum. An air-filter mask hung around his neck, and sweaty black hair jutted from under the leather headpiece of his environment suit. He was covered in dust.
“Don’t be thinking I didn’t notice you running up the Long Road,” he called. He spoke slowly, in a lilting accent that was strange to Eli’s ears. He scowled into the rubble. “I know you’re hiding back there somewheres, little desert orphan. Come out and show your face.” He raised his goggles. Eli had to choke back a gasp. The Outsider’s skin was hideously mottled from sun damage, and his eyes were so bloodshot there was hardly any white in them. Part of his upper lip was missing.
“Want help, Frank?” called a reedy voice from inside the vehicle.
“No, sit tight,” the wild-eyed creature called back. “This one shouldn’t take long. I got it.” He stepped forward and spat on the ground, fingering the handle of a curved blade that was strapped to his belt. “Now, we can do this hard or we can do it easy,” he said into the debris in an almost conversational tone, “but either way you ain’t going nowhere, so you might as well give up. If you come easy, you got nothing to worry about, personal-wise. Understand? We likes desert orphans, doesn’t we?”
“Oh yes,” the one still in the vehicle answered. “Oh, we likes them fine! Just fine!” There was another demented cackle.
Fighting panic, Eli checked over his shoulder to see what lay behind the pile of debris that hid him. A crumbling brick wall. An alleyway to the right led to a side street, but a high wooden fence—rotted in places but still mostly intact—blocked the path. He would need a few precious seconds to scale it, and that would leave him exposed. In the other direction, about thirty feet to his left, the brick wall ended near another wall and a passage between two buildings. Eli couldn’t see where it led, but surely it was another way deeper into the maze of ruins that once was the town of Alpharetta He needed a place to hide and that seemed like the better option.
He ran for it.
As soon as he reached the opening of the passage, he realized he’d made a horrible mistake. After no more than ten feet, the path came to an abrupt stop at a concrete wall. He looked behind him. The Outsider’s head was just appearing over the rubble and moving fast.
“So the desert orphan likes to play games, do he? A little hide-and-seek? That’s fine, fine. I’m good at this game! I’m a champ at it!”
There was no time to run back to the wood fence now. Eli knew the Outsider would grab him if he tried. There was nowhere for him to go; he was blocked on all sides.
With no other choice, he ducked into the alley. Along the left wall there was an opening to a closet-sized space lined in metal—a dilapidated elevator, obviously broken. It sat at a dangerous-looking angle, and somebody had ripped out all the wires, which hung from the controls like spaghetti. He had no other options, though, so he stepped inside and pressed his back to the wall, hoping the savage hadn’t seen where he’d gone.
No such luck. Seconds later the footsteps were coming his way, moving along the brick wall. “Not too skilled at this, are we?” called the gruff voice, chuckling. “Not giving ol’ Frankie much of a challenge.”
Eli’s heart was going a mile a minute. He pressed himself even harder to the wall. He could picture the curved knife. He could almost feel it at his neck. It was only a matter of moments.
“Come out, little desert orphan . . . ,” the savage taunted, enjoying himself. “Come out, come out, wherever you are. . . .”
Eli squeezed his eyes tight. He was preparing himself for the worst.
“Quick! Give me your hand!” said a voice.
He opened his eyes. To his astonishment, an arm was extended toward him through a narrow opening in the ceiling. Behind the arm, a shadowed face with beady black eyes stared down at him. “What are you waiting for?” the voice said. “Come on, he’s almost here!”
Eli didn’t need any more urging. He could hear the Outsider rounding the corner at the end of the passage, only a few feet away. Eli reached up and, with help from his unknown rescuer, quickly scaled the wall and squeezed himself through the hole in the ceiling. Just as he slipped into the darkness above, the red-eyed savage’s cruel face appeared below him, his knife brandished. The Outsider’s expression quickly changed from confusion to rage when he looked up and saw Eli staring down at him. He thrust the knife through the opening.
“Get back here, mutant fodder!” he bellowed. “Blast you! Blast you to the Inferno!”
A hand tugged at Eli’s sleeve. “Quick, follow me! Run!”
The Keepers of Tomorrow (Greenhouse Chronicles)
Coming as soon as I finish it – hopefully not too much longer!