Survival isn't about who's right; it's about who's left.
Earth spirals into chaos.
World war ravages every border.
The human race teeters on the edge of extinction.
Survival hinges on the success of one colony located in a decimated valley.
Walt Marshall, government contractor, is no stranger to loss after the death of his wife and son.
Now he'll honor them by doing whatever it takes to ensure the survival of humankind.
But Walt gets more than he bargained for when he uncovers a puzzling clue left behind by a mysterious woman. Destined to unveil the truth, he embarks down a dangerous path of espionage and treason.
He quickly learns the dark truth about the past, and the future in this daring science fiction novel.
"This book was awesome and read like an intense mystery, the way the truth reached out and grabbed me, almost unaware. Be sure to read the prequel short story to get the full impact! I look forward to the next installment of this saga."– Amazon Review
"This story really pulled me in from the beginning! The author elicited my curiosity with something as simple as a dead field. Keeping me reading to find out the story of why? The WHYs continued with discovery after discovery. (I don't want to reveal any spoilers! So read the book!). She keeps the reader engaged continually. I can't wait to continue reading the second book in the series!
P.S. I also read the prequel, though not necessarily required, it was a nice backstory to the characters involved."– Amazon Review
"This Book was a book that kept the reader on the edge with the many turns that took place. You never know what was to come about. The details of Earth prior to would have been good to fill in a bit but the jest of it was caught quickly. The development of the characters and their parts was outstanding. I am so looking forward to the next book which I hope will be coming soon. The Captain on the ship with her demeanor has set the setting for the next book which looks to be a nail biter. I will waiting to see what happened to the girls that are having babies and the locals. The people on the ship also."– Amazon Review
"So," Walt Marshall's deep voice rang out, shattering the eerie silence. "This is it."
His words dripped with disappointment through the thick air. An angry sun glared disapprovingly on the war-torn landscape. His rough, calloused fingers traced the deep wrinkles of his forehead, wiping away the dirt and sweat. Walt squinted at the decimated field, which blurred and danced in the heat. His eyes scanned across the mundane terrain, searching for any hint of the exotic destination he expected. He raised his fingers to his temples and rubbed in small circles in an attempt to ease the throbbing that had bothered him since he landed. This assignment wasn't the glamorous escape he imagined; nonetheless, it was an escape from the living hell he left back home.
"Sir?" a soldier chimed in. He stood at attention, awaiting his next order.
Walt turned to eye the man, annoyed that the beads of sweat rolling down his young, smooth face didn't seem to bother him.
"Do I look like a military man to you? Relax, boy," Walt snapped at the young man.
He turned to survey the scene once more, his dissatisfaction boiling to the surface in a rumbling sigh. He took a damp, grimy handkerchief from his chest pocket and wiped his forehead again. Despite the wretchedness of the area, he was locked into the mission. Even if he weren't contractually committed, he no longer had any place to go.
"Alright, boy, if you're so eager to please, go ahead and unload my equipment."
Walt didn't bother to learn the name of the young soldier. He didn't like to trouble himself with the names of inconsequential people, particularly those who annoyed him. In Walt's eyes, the soldier was little more than an errand boy, one of his many obligatory escorts.
The soldier stacked crates of equipment on the ground. Walt continued to evaluate the area while wearing his trademark sneer, a look perfected over a lifetime of disillusionment. Dust hung in the air, a red fog awakened by the destruction. The soldier told him on the drive to the site that the area had already been cleared by the military.
Walt knelt and scooped up a handful of soil, letting the red-brown dirt sift through his fingers until all that remained was a shell casing. He brushed the soil off with his thumb and eyed the item. The sun glinted off of the only solid piece of evidence that anything had ever happened here.
"That's the last of it, sir," the soldier said, once again standing at attention. Walt awoke from his trance. He dropped the shell casing he had been rolling between his fingers and turned to survey the neatly stacked piles of gear.
"Leave me," Walt snorted. The soldier obeyed his command without question and turned to walk toward the Humvee. Walt had never been a man who could blindly follow orders without thought or input, a trait that frequently got him into trouble, yet he did appreciate when he didn't have to explain himself. His fingertips grazed the crusty ridge of a nearby tire track.
"So much destruction. Typical," Walt mumbled to himself, unimpressed with what they had left him to work with. This was going to be a bigger challenge than he had expected. He picked up a hunk of earth, stood, and skipped the clod of dried soil across the ground, watching chunks chip away with each skip until there was nothing left.
As the rumble of the Humvee faded into the distance, Walt looked out to the horizon, taking in his new home. The land here was flat for roughly ten kilometers until it sloped upward to create a great wall, rimmed with towering trees that framed the entire valley. He could make out the camps and checkpoints surrounding his centralized location. Realistically, he didn't need to be quite so far away from the main camp to do his work. However, he had a preference for solitude and never cared much for people, specifically the military. He was able to convince them he would make faster progress if he were alone and undisturbed.
Walt turned around and examined the terrain for the best place to build camp. The soldier had offered to set up camp for him, but Walt didn't want the boy handling his things more than necessary.
Burnt plant stalks covered most of the immediate area. Deep ruts from heavy vehicles ran through the fields, making much of the ground uneven. A flat, bare patch that resembled the footprint of a structure called out to him as the best site for his tent. Walt grappled with the heavy, musty canvas of his military-issued tent. His muscles were tired and weak from the long journey, yet the motivation to get out of the blazing hot sun fueled him. Walt prevailed over his battle with the tent and stepped inside. He couldn't help but wonder what exactly had happened here.
As he thought back to the briefing given prior to his departure to this forsaken place, it became more apparent how many details were lacking. His eagerness to leave home had exceeded his desire for details at the time, though now he wished he had asked more questions.
It was his understanding that he was setting up his camp at the center of several fields the previous residents of the valley had used for farming. Now, the area hardly resembled anything of the sort. The local flora was charred and beaten down by heavy military movement. Even the wildlife seemed to have abandoned the valley. At first glance, one might think nothing could grow here again, which was why they brought Walt in.
They had sought after him for the many skills he had mastered over the years. His aim was to create a sustainable habitat. He would determine if the local crop was something they could use, and if their own crops would flourish in this environment. The ultimate goal was to make the valley useful again, inhabitable. It wasn't one of his more glamorous assignments, but this mission provided Walt with a rare opportunity he couldn't refuse and he was an ideal candidate for the job. Now that he was here, he saw his work was cut out for him.
Walt finished unpacking, saving his most prized possession for last. He sat a simple wooden picture frame on his flimsy fold-out desk, allowing his thumb to graze the cheek of the beautiful woman in the picture. For the first time since he arrived, the slightest of smiles graced his lips, yet the glimmer of happiness stopped there. He felt his eyes welling up and had to look away from the woman before any tears could escape.
It was early afternoon when Walt stepped out of the tent once more. He grimaced as the harsh sun stung his already pink skin. He ducked back into the tent and dug around in his bag of personal care products until he produced a square device with a large screen. He clenched his jaw while turning the tech around in his hands. He had received the gadget as he went through processing after his arrival. He didn't understand the complexities of the device, but the soldier who provided him with the contraption had explained it offered superior sun protection. Thinking back to the brief tutorial, Walt touched the screen to activate the device.
An outline of a head appeared on the display and a mechanical voice spoke. "Please frame your face within the silhouette for analysis."
The device continued, "Scanning. Remain still."
Walt struggled to maintain a neutral face as the machine did its job.
About a minute later the mechanical voice began to speak again. "Analysis complete. Approximate age, fifty years. Hair, black and gray. Eyes, blue, shade five. Skin color, shade twelve. Skin condition, poor."
Walt glared at the machine as it rambled on. So much for technology. It couldn't even get his age right. He was a mere forty-two years old, though from the look of his scanned, weathered face staring back at him, fifty wasn't much of a stretch.
The machine continued, "Frame your face in the silhouette and close your eyes and mouth."
As soon as he obeyed, a soothing mist flowed over Walt's face.
"You may open your eyes." The machine was done.
"Most ridiculous sunscreen application ever," Walt mumbled to himself, yet he couldn't help but notice his skin felt renewed. Testing the application, he wrinkled his nose and forehead. The sting was gone. He raised his eyebrows, looking at the device. Perhaps this tech wasn't so bad after all. He couldn't imagine sitting in a lab, coming up with the perfect soothing sunscreen for each person's skin type, but one man's tedious work is another man's joy. He set the device down before stepping back outside.
The sun didn't bother Walt at all with his new protective layer, and he set out to survey the land. He closed his eyes and pushed aside feelings of disappointment, then took a deep breath of the foreign air. Upon opening his eyes, he viewed the land with a renewed hope. Like an artist eyeing a canvas, he saw past the seemingly barren landscape to the potential which lay dormant below the surface. Walt would bring life back to this valley. He had to. Everyone on the planet was counting on him.
* * *
The sun sank down behind the rim of the valley as Walt made his way back to camp. The small cart he pulled behind him swayed and shook over the rough terrain. Labeled soil samples jostled against one another on the lower shelf. A few seedlings that had managed to survive the destruction wobbled in the upper-incubator section. A small satchel hung from an arm of the cart, swinging with each bump, and heavy with discoveries.
Throughout the afternoon, Walt had found a few small artifacts buried in the dirt; remnants of a different time. Broken pottery, a child's toy, and a tool of some sort were each gingerly wrapped and placed in the bag to be examined further at his camp. He was hopeful they would give him a hint as to what had happened to the former residents, and a glimpse into their lives. He hadn't received any information about the previous inhabitants, and that bothered him.
Walt kicked at the ground to create a flat area. He parked the cart on it and began the search for a good sample location. After he spotted some loose soil, he knelt down and planted a small numbered flag, and jotted down the location in his log. The power source on his sample gun was running low, so loose dirt would be much easier to collect.
He grabbed a glass tube from the cart and loaded it into the sample-gun, placing the barrel on top of the site. After fiddling with the dial, he pulled the large trigger and the machine retrieved a sample of the brittle topsoil. Walt's dingy handkerchief absorbed the sweat from his brow. He looked toward the receding glow of sunlight and yawned.
Last one, he thought with a sigh of relief.
Walt repeated the steps to take a deeper sampling of the clay-like dirt. The monotony of the task ceased when the machine malfunctioned. Instead of the "plop" sound that signified a successful collection, Walt heard glass shatter. Closing his eyes, he rolled his head back across his shoulders, and looked to the darkening sky.
He shoved the equipment to the side and looked at the contaminated site. Fractured pieces of the glass tube glinted in the twilight.
I don't know why they gave me these damn glass tubes that break every time they hit a rock.
Walt's thoughts trailed off, and he cocked his head to the side. He pursed his lips and looked around before squatting next to the shallow hole. He started to clear the dirt. His fingers brushed soil away from something hard and cold. He pulled it from the earth, turning it over in his hands. It was a metallic cuff of some sort, or so he believed. Clearing a chunk of clay from the outside of the metal, he realized the object was actually a shackle. The seemingly permanent sneer on his face melted into a look of bewilderment. He rubbed his jaw, leaving bits of dirt in his stubble. It didn't make sense; the other items he found had been much more primitive. Walt looked back into the hole for another clue. Something else was there, but it was getting darker. He set the shackle on the ground and fumbled around in the hole. Finding the edges of the item, he pried the new treasure from its grave, and gasped at the discovery.
He scraped the dirt from the cover of a book, shocked to discover one of the last things he would have expected to find here. Rumors on the flight hinted the valley was occupied by an aboriginal race ages ago, yet this latest find was anything but primitive. He gently opened the cover. The amazement of his find rejuvenated him, filling his mind with awe. The pain and discomfort that had been growing in his back and muscles during the day's tasks seemed to fade away. A warm breeze circled him, flipping through the thick pages of the open book. He pinned down the fluttering sheets with a dirty hand. The words were unrecognizable at first glance.
The roar of an approaching vehicle reminded Walt of where he was. The breeze was gone as quickly as it had arrived. With his heart racing, he was overcome by a sense of urgency. He slammed the book shut and slipped it inside his jacket and under his shirt. There was no time to wrap it and place it in the satchel with the others. He tucked his shirt in before he finished collecting his sample, and trotted off toward his camp with the cart in tow.
Walt neared the camp and saw the headlights of the Humvee illuminating a soldier. The man was circling Walt's tent, which admittedly looked better now than it did before he left. Walt and his cart reached the Humvee. The broad-shouldered, well-decorated soldier smiled and nodded. It was Jacobs. Walt had only bothered to learn the man's name because he had been a constant thorn in his side. His sneer returned as if it had never left.
"Jacobs," Walt snarled, "what do you want?" He dropped the handle of his cart, stirring up another small cloud of dust.
"Is that any way to talk to your new boss?" The well-built officer smirked. "I've been watching you, Marshall." Jacobs drummed his fingers on a pair of binoculars that hung around his neck, looking diminutive against the massive man.
"I decided to come by and make sure this heap you call a tent isn't going to come crashing down on top of you when the wind picks up." Jacobs' deep chuckle rang out. "I'm also here to see what you found on your walk." He approached the cart, ignoring Walt's malice.
"I need to collect anything of interest that you may have found." Jacobs spotted the satchel and approached it. He held it open with a finger, and glanced inside, eyes widening. The friendly tone quickly dissolved. "I'll be confiscating this."
Walt focused all his strength into containing accumulating anger and keeping it from escaping his lips. Of course he wouldn't be allowed to examine the artifacts. "What do you need that for? It's junk," he lied. While it was true the objects probably held no monetary value, the historical significance could have been immeasurable.
Jacobs ignored him, carelessly tossing the satchel into the Humvee. He nodded a goodbye to Walt, then hopped into the vehicle, and sped off toward the main camp. Unable to contain his frustration any longer, Walt kicked an apple-sized rock, sending it flying toward the Humvee, but it fell short and rolled across the ground through the cloud of dust left by the vehicle. He had been looking forward to examining the artifacts to see if they offered any clues about the local population. Yet Jacobs stepped into his usual role of getting into his way, something he had become quite good at during the years they'd known each other.
The newly discovered valley was a mystery. Walt hoped he would be able to unlock the secrets and answer the questions no one else was asking. Neither the soldiers nor the other civilian contractors were talking about what had happened here. On the long trip over, there were whispers and speculations among close colleagues and friends, but no one openly discussed the events. Pieces of history were missing, and Walt wanted to complete the puzzle. Filling in the blanks where history was forgotten or erased was a passion of his, one that reminded him fondly of the woman in the picture in his tent.
History and ancient societies interested him far more than present day life. These days, people were materialistic and focused only on instant gratification; they didn't appreciate the past. Walt always felt it was a shame, since so many lessons lay hidden in dusty archives. He believed if people studied and learned from the mistakes of generations past, then the world wouldn't be such a mess. Instead, they were obsessed with counting their money and keeping up with the latest fads. Their behavior disgusted Walt, so he threw himself into the academic field where few people ventured anymore. Walt found solving ancient mysteries few others cared about to be a far better use of his time and resources.
The enigmatic valley was just the sort of thing that would have delighted and engrossed Caroline. In fact, his deep interest in the secrets of the past was one of the things that had caught her eye. She was an archaeologist, sharing his love for history's great mysteries, and one of the few people he was able to open up to. Talking to her had been so easy for Walt, which was unusual for him, and took some getting used to. Luckily for him, she had the patience of several saints.
It was Caroline's picture that sat on Walt's desk. She had filled a hole in his life that he didn't realize even existed until he had met her. Her mere presence had changed his outlook on everything. She had possessed a peace that surrounded her, managing to subdue his cynicism and bitterness. He was a better man with Caroline by his side, and when she had agreed to be his wife, he knew his world had been forever changed.
Great loves, unfortunately, don't always last a lifetime. Caroline's tragic death left Walt worse off than he was when she had found him. His distaste for people grew exponentially, making him more of a loner than ever. Ultimately, Walt severed all ties and became a shut-in.
He found other ways to keep busy. Caroline's passing and Walt's withdrawal from his social life left him with ample time. He opted to develop skills rather than relationships. Skills and knowledge were much more manageable than people and their messy feelings. Most of his interests included ancient languages and artifacts, along with ancient methods of agriculture, and anthropology. He knew he was overqualified for this job and could spend his time in the comforts of an office, but he would rather be in the field getting a firsthand look at everything this mysterious valley had to offer. Getting his hands dirty helped keep his mind occupied. Plus, it wasn't every day he was offered the opportunity to work in such a remote and untouched area.
With a shake of his head, Walt cleared the melancholy thoughts away before throwing one last snarl at the retreating Humvee. Satisfied his ire was suitably expressed, he threw a tarp over the cart before entering the tent and zipping it closed behind him.
Walt removed his jacket and untucked his shirt, letting the dirt spill out onto the ground inside the tent. Dirt wasn't the only thing that fell. The book he had forgotten he stashed away in haste fell to the ground as well, landing with a heavy thud. Walt peered back over his shoulder, watching the dust swirl in the final glimpses of twilight filtering in from the small tent window. Staring at it, he dropped his jacket on his cot and turned to face the book. He approached it cautiously, as though it might bite him, and knelt down beside the artifact, instantly mesmerized. He scooped up the tome, feeling the same rush he had felt when he pulled it from its grave.
Walt lit his solitary lantern. The chill of the night air was quickly upon him, but it was the farthest thing from his mind as he cradled the book. The thick, brown exterior was beaten and scarred. Walt's fingers grazed the wounds of the cover. It was devoid of text, but told a story of its own, of a cruel world, and hostile conditions. Its burial signified someone was trying to hide it, or that it had long since been forgotten after the mysterious event took place.
Upon opening the book, Walt's sneer once again melted away into a look of wonder. He had studied several ancient languages over the years, yet the style here was not anything he immediately recognized. As he studied the curves, climbs, and dips of the words, a vague familiarity began to make itself evident—he had seen this language before, once, long ago.
He stared at the writing, but it blurred before him. He squeezed his eyes shut, then blinked rapidly, but he was unable to focus. With a dissatisfied grunt, Walt shut the book. Rest was the only thing able to revitalize his eyesight.
He then searched his tent for an acceptable place to tuck the book away. He couldn't stash it somewhere it might be discovered if Jacobs suspected him of being up to something. Walt didn't know if his brawny nemesis would come poking around his area again. There were few hiding places in the sparsely furnished tent. Walt slipped the dust jacket off of one of his botany books and discovered it was the perfect fit to camouflage it as something sufficiently boring. After his treasure was hidden in plain sight, Walt collapsed on his cot and let sleep consume him.