About the book:
IT’S THEIR TERRITORY NOW.
Twenty years ago, venomous parasitic wasps known as “thieves” staged a massive, apocalyptic attack on another species—Homo sapiens—putting them on the brink of extinction.
But some humans did survive. The colony called Refugia is home to a population of 281, including scientists, a pilot, and a tough young woman named Kait. In the African wilderness, there’s Aisha Rose, nearly feral, born at the end of the old world. And in the ruins of New York City, there’s a mysterious, powerful boy, a skilled hunter, isolated and living by his wits.
As the survivors journey through the wastelands, they will find that they are not the only humans left on earth. Not by a long shot.
But they may be the only ones left who are not under the thieves’ control…
Read on for the excerpt!
Kait thought there had been plenty of time for farewells the night before.
Ceremonies and speeches and a party that had gone on almost all night. Scheduled events and casual interactions spreading everywhere but centered around the main plaza, where someone had built a little wooden stage for the proceedings.
Lots of speeches. Kait, at the periphery of the large milling crowd, listened as the head of Refugia’s elected council, Steve Francis—an architect who had helped design the colony—gave the official bon voyage. It was dull enough to make Kait realize that not every old habit had been left in the Last World.
She listened more carefully to Nick Albright, who on the night the world fell had helped Malcolm fly the plane carrying Trey, Kait, and others here. Nick’s speech was interesting, a detailed description reminding everyone staying in Refugia how safe and secure they would be, even with Malcolm and so many others gone.
Malcolm spoke next, commanding as always in his shaggy-haired, hawklike way. Standing on the stage, a glass of something in his hand, he made jokes, cursed without caring who was listening, and in general acted like a fierce-eyed prophet, as he always did.
He described their plans aboard the Trey Gilliard, the time frames he envisioned, and where they hoped to drop anchor to undertake their explorations on land. No one in Refugia had a greater knowledge of the African continent than he did, or had traveled across it more widely when such travel was possible.
Listening, Kait was beginning to understand that every speech had an agenda beyond the actual words being spoken.
Malcolm’s agenda, his true meaning, was simple: I’m smart. I’m strong. I know what I’m doing.
It may be years, but I will bring these people back home, safe.
The last to speak—and the only one Kait made sure to hear—was Mariama.
Mariama Honso, perhaps the single most important figure in Refugia’s brief history. One of the colony’s founders, before even Trey and Sheila knew it existed. The one who’d taught them that human survival depended on the vaccine—and also on gathering experts, from physicians and biochemists to architects and glassblowers, and bringing them to live close to the vaccine’s source.
Mariama had voyaged across the world, risking her life and suffering months of imprisonment, in order to reach Trey and tell him of her plans. Thus she became the one person most responsible for Kait’s own survival as well.
Nor had her role diminished after the Fall. Although never allowing herself to be elected to any official post, Mariama’s strength and determination had helped carry Refugia through its early, hungry, disease-ridden years. She always had a purpose, even if it was just finding the next meal, and she always inspired others to persevere as well.
Most people had thought that Mariama would leap at the chance to head off on the Trey Gilliard, but she’d chosen to stay behind. To stay onshore and wave good-bye to the departing ship and many of the people she loved the most.
Her speech was short and characteristically blunt. No hidden agendas for her. Watching her, Kait marveled once again that this short, gray-haired woman could be so strong, wield so much power.
“It’s going to be hard for us,” she told the others who were going to be staying behind. “Harder than you all think.”
She paused for a moment. “But we’ll get through,” she said. “We always have, and we will again.”
Someone in the crowd shouted out, “Do you promise, Mom?”
Everyone laughed, but Mariama didn’t smile.
“I promise,” she said.
The inside of the ship smelled like fresh-cut wood and shellac and oiled iron and human sweat, overlaid by whatever Esteban and Fiona, the ship’s cooks, were preparing for the first meal on their voyage.
If they ever began voyaging.
Most of the crew would be sleeping in shifts in hammocks strung in one of two dormitories in the center of the ship, but a few had been given private cabins: Kait, Clare Shapiro, Fatou Konte, and Malcolm, the captain. Kait’s place in the hierarchy had been determined, she thought, by her place in Refugia’s history, not by anything she’d done.
Still, she was happy for the solitude provided by her cabin near the bow. It measured seven-by-nine feet, with a single small porthole that right now looked west, onto the open sea. Escape.
Her bed was a mattress on a wooden platform that unfolded from the wall. The only other furniture was a single chair and a small dresser.
But all she needed now was privacy. Glancing over her shoulder, which was unnecessary, she reached into the deep pocket of her cotton jacket and pulled out the small bottle. Holding it up, she checked to make sure that the thief inside was still alive.
Of course it was. Still alive, patient, waiting. Waiting for its best chance to escape, once again to serve the hive mind, or—if things turned out differently—to jam its stinger into her.
Its stinger and ovipositor.
Kait replaced the bottle in her pocket, where the thief would remain safe until she needed it.
There’d been only two people she needed to say good-bye to. The first—and this was more a responsibility than a desire—was her brother, Jack. Her half brother, born here after the Fall.
She’d found him with his teenage friends late in the night, when alcohol and emotions had begun to rule the party. Jack was holding a cup whose contents smelled like palm wine. His face was flushed, his eyes red at the edges, his expression blurred.
He raised the cup, perhaps in a kind of salute, or perhaps to offer her some of the wine. Whatever the intention, when she shook her head, he rolled his eyes. His friends laughed.
Kait ignored that. It was late. They were all drunk, and she wasn’t.
But that was the least of the disconnect between her and Jack. The greatest rift, on the other hand, had proven impossible to overcome: the fact that she’d seen and lived in the Last World, and he hadn’t.
It was a wall that couldn’t be scaled, the unalterable fact that some Fugians had known what it was like to live back then, while others—the natives—never would. Never see cars and airplanes and computers and, above all, people. A world with millions, billions of people in it, not merely a few hundred you knew too well.
A world full of possibilities instead of the same old certainties.
Kait would have traded her past for Jack’s in an instant—the killing of her birth parents by thieves, the terrors she’d lived through as the Fall approached—but there was no point in telling him this. For Jack, and all those born here, the Last World represented a kind of heaven. Dreams of heaven always trumped reality.
Jack gave her a hug good-bye, which surprised her. But then he turned away and, without a word, went back to his friends and his drink, which did not.
Some gulfs really were unbridgeable.
One last good-bye. With Sheila, Trey’s widow, Kait’s adoptive mother. Another of Refugia’s founders who’d chosen to stay behind.
The only good-bye that meant much to Kait but, in the end, it was only a little more meaningful than the one she’d exchanged with Jack. In the end, what could either of you say when one was sailing off the end of the world and the other was not?
You could mouth heartfelt platitudes, which was what Sheila murmured into Kait’s ear as they embraced. “Your father would be so proud of you,” she said. “Both your fathers.”
Kait was quiet.
“I want you to come home,” Sheila said next. Then she stiffened a little, as if the words had surprised her, and she was wondering if she’d said too much.
Kait tightened her grip but still did not speak.
She felt as much as heard Sheila’s sigh, which unexpectedly turned into a laugh.
“But as long as you’re out there,” she said, sounding a little like Trey would have. “For God’s sake, would you finally find whatever the hell it is you’re looking for?”
Kait nodded. And then, surprising herself, she found that she was crying.
The anchor lifted. The wind filled the sails, and the ship began to move, slowly and creakily at first, as if stretching stiff muscles, then faster over the smooth swells. A single noddy tern dipped and wheeled above the wake.
Kait, back on deck, watched the crowd on the beach as the ship left them behind. Though Jack and his friends hadn’t come, most other Fugians had.
Mariama, Sheila waving, Nick. At first she could recognize their faces. Even when distance began to blur the details, she knew them by shape and posture.
As they receded into the distance, becoming patches of color against the white sand, all Kait could think was: There are so few of them.
About ten minutes later, the ship reached the forested headland that lay to Refugia’s south and went around it, and the people left behind were lost to view. Several members of the Trey Gilliard’s crew watched until the last instant, and most of them were crying.
But Kait had long since turned away, and though her eyes were wet as well, her tears were of relief.
Finally, she would learn who else was out there.
Finally, she would be able to see.