The world as they know it is ending, a new world is taking its place. Among the doctors and nurses of a clinic-turned-fortress, Kath is coming of age in this new world, and helping define it. But that doesn't make letting go of the old any easier. "Where Would You Be Now?" is a prequel to Carrie Vaughn's novel Bannerless, a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Her novels include a near-Earth space opera, Martians Abroad, from Tor Books, and the post-apocalyptic murder mysteries Bannerless and The Wild Dead. She's written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She's a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
Kath sat on the roof of the beat-up Tesla S, legs draped down the back window, shotgun in both hands, looking out into the dark for whatever might hurt them. They'd come forty miles or so to an encampment in what had once been a park with a picnic area and duck pond. A playground with a plastic slide and jungle gym was still intact, though weeds came up through the bark mulch footing. A collection of trucks and campers clustered here, circled together with space for a campfire in the middle. The fire was banked now. Some tents and lean-tos had been set up a little further out, along with a couple of rickety sheds. In summer, people didn't need much more shelter than that. Winter, the camp would pick up and move south, if they could get the gas for it. Getting hard to find gas, though. The place was starting to look permanent. One of the trailers had a chicken coop built next to it, and a couple of roosting chickens were visible, feathers plumped out. The camp probably housed about thirty, but this late, everyone had gone to bed.
The packed-dirt mounds of four graves were lined up outside the circle of campers. The doctors didn't ask about them, the ones they couldn't help.
Turned away from the light, Kath kept watch. Nothing around the area moved. No one seemed inclined to charge in and grab such a valuable commodity as a doctor.
They'd parked the Tesla next to a medium-sized RV, from which came the groans of a woman in labor. Only this box of a room was lit up with candles and lanterns. The waiting and noise of effort made the air thick. The tenor of the groans had changed over the last twenty minutes, becoming more urgent, and also more exhausted. Kath could try to peek in the door, at the woman tucked up on her cot, straining. But she just listened.
"You've got this. One more push."
That was Melanie's voice. Did Dr. Dennis have her handling this delivery? She usually assisted him.
One more loud groan, then came silence. Kath held her breath until a tiny wail sounded, the new baby successfully announcing itself. A ruckus followed, the handful of people in the RV talking over each other, making admiring noises.
Unless something went wrong in the next little while, which could involve anything from the mother bleeding out to the baby showing some kind of illness or injury, Dennis and Melanie would wrap up and they could be on their way. Might be smarter to wait until dawn to make the trip back to the clinic. But the road between here and there was still passable, and Kath wanted to get home.
The light from the open door changed as figures stood in front of it. Dr. Dennis was standing with the thirty-something bearded man who'd summoned them here that morning. Dennis was giving him instructions.
"We've still got vaccines lying around. Bring her to the clinic in a couple months, we can give her a good start." The man, presumably the father, nodded with a distracted air. Leaning forward a bit, Kath could peer through the doorway and catch a glimpse of the camper's interior. The new mother was there, nested on a narrow couch, sweat matting her hair to her face, sheets tumbled around her. Melanie was helping her bundle the new baby against her skin, probably explaining everything she could about nursing in a handful of minutes. The mother didn't look up at what Dennis was saying.
They might or might not bring their baby to get her shots. They might decide they had bigger problems than worrying about measles or whooping cough.
Dr. Dennis came down the aluminum steps and paced a moment, hands on hips, looking into the night air. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. No trouble," Kath said.
"Good. I want to get out of here as soon as we can."
So he was on edge, too. The unfamiliar settlement, the warm thick night, might draw out people they didn't want to talk to.
"You okay, Doctor?"
"Six months. I give that baby six months, based on the condition of the rest of the camp. It's so goddamn pointless."
Dennis and the other doctors at the clinic went over the statistics all the time. Without proper nutrition, clean water, medicine, without so many little necessities, infant mortality spiked. And there didn't seem to be anything they could do about it. If they were in the area, maybe one of the doctors could come out to vaccinate. Or maybe the parents really would bring the baby to the clinic.
The man returned to the door and handed over a threadbare pillowcase, half-filled. "Here. It's what we can spare. Thank you. Thank you for coming."
Grimly, Dr. Dennis took the makeshift sack by its bunched-up neck. "You're welcome. Just keep her as safe and healthy as you can, right?"
Dennis took a quick look in the sack, which Kath knew would be filled with canned goods, maybe some wire or screws, some glue. Odds and ends. Whatever salvage the parents thought worth the doctor's attention. Barter. Dennis used to get paid thousands of dollars for delivering a baby.
He looked up. "Kind of a weird question. Do you have any golf balls?"
The man pursed his lips and shook his head. "No, I don't think so."
"Well if you find any, maybe save them for me?"
"Yeah. Yeah, sure."
Two other women came to the doorway to look out. One of them was pregnant, maybe five months. She seemed worried, brow creased, lips tight, hands laced over belly. As if she could use her fingers to cage her unborn child to keep it safe. The other woman looked tired.
Dennis frowned at them. "You all aren't using any birth control at all around here, are you?"
Both women cringed, and the man crossed his arms. "Not like we can pop into Walgreens for condoms."
"It's just ... never mind."
The man added, "I mean, so many people have died — don't we need to think about repopulating —"
"Oh Jesus fuck, no! Look, repopulating the planet or whatever can take care of itself. You — you just worry about keeping the people you already have safe and healthy. Fed. Grow some fucking potatoes!"
For just a moment the man's glowering gaze hardened. He was thinking of trouble, of taking the doctor down a notch for the outburst. Kath straightened, shifting the shotgun on her lap. To show she was watching.
He backed off. "We're trying, here.
Dennis sighed and came around to the other side of the car to wait for Melanie.
She emerged a moment later, shrugging the strap of an equipment bag over her shoulder and pushing a strand of black hair out of her eyes. She looked the most tired of all, even more than the mother, who at least was smiling when Kath glimpsed her.
Kath hopped off the car and opened the back door. "You okay?" she asked.
"I think so," she said, sighing. "Doc made me handle the delivery on this one."
"How was it?"
Melanie shook her head, her eyes widening in a look of half-panicked disbelief. "It's a lot different when the baby is falling into your own hands. I just kept thinking, God, don't drop it." She closed her eyes and sucked in a breath. "I hope everything stays okay."
Kath touched her shoulder. "Let's get out of here."
Melanie practically fell into the back seat, and Dennis started the motor and pulled away. Kath rode in the front passenger seat. Literally shotgun. That had stopped being clever a while back. She kept the window rolled halfway down and listened for the sound of approaching engines.
"You did great," Dennis said, glancing at his assistant in the rearview mirror. "You should have asked them to name the baby after you."
"No, that's okay. What'd they give you?" She went through the bag, to the sound of cans knocking together. "Eh, not bad. A couple boxes of nails. We can always trade that back out. Canned peaches." She paused, looked quizzical, and drew out a glass jar. "Capers. There's a jar of capers in here. They're organic."
"Organic capers," Dennis snorted. "We're saved."
Dennis kept the headlights dimmed to save the battery. If there'd been enough moonlight, he'd have shut off the lights entirely. But the roads had gotten too hazardous, full of potholes and debris, to risk going entirely dark. Still, the doctor didn't see the three kids standing in their path.
"Stop!" Kath screamed when she realized those shapes weren't odd shadows but children, one older gripping the hands of two little ones, there in the middle of the road, unmoving. Like they intended to get run over.
The car lurched to a stop, skidded a few feet. The bag of loot fell clattering to the floor, and Melanie braced herself on the seat. Kath was already out the door, with Dennis calling after her.
The kids stared back at her quietly. Their eyes were sunken, their cheeks hollow. It could have just been odd shadows cast by the dim headlights, but Kath didn't think so. They were hungry, starving. She scanned around for an adult, maybe a caravan they might have wandered off from. But they seemed so purposeful, the way they looked back at her, their eyes round and shining. They didn't seem lost.
"Hey, what're you guys doing here? Are you okay?" She tucked the shotgun under her arm, muzzle down, and approached them.
The older child looked like a girl, stringy brown hair in a loose braid, her eyes big and unblinking. Kath thought she was around eight, then revised up — ten, and malnourished. The other two might have been anywhere from two to five. Upright, but still uncertain in their movements. They clung to the older girl, gripping each hand and hugging her legs. All three wore t-shirts and loose pants. Only the oldest had shoes, dirty sneakers, toes poking through holes.
Kath inched closer, trying to look friendly and harmless even with a gun under her arm, but she stopped short of reaching out. Both Dennis and Melanie had left the car as well.
"It's okay," Kath said softly. "We're not going to hurt you, I just want to find out what's wrong."
The oldest child licked her lips. "She told us to stand here. She told us to wait for the doctor to come and then go with him to the clinic. She said you'd take care of us."
"Who? Who said?"
Her lips pursed, the girl didn't answer. Kath thought she was about to cry, but she just kept staring, any kind of emotion, any response, locked up.
Kath tried again. "Where'd you come from? From the camp back there? From somewhere else?" It had to be the camp, to know that they'd be driving back this way.
"She just said to wait here. She said you'd take care of us."
How did they know that? How could they be sure? Could have been anyone that came along the road here, and the girl seemed to know it. She was trying to be firm, to be confident. But her lip trembled, and her grip on the little kids' hands was white-knuckled. She might have known just how dangerous this was, trusting in the good will of strangers.
Dennis had gotten out a flashlight and panned it around, scanning broken-down buildings and debris-strewn streets in all directions. No movement, nobody watching, nothing. Whoever had abandoned the kids here had fled.
"We need to get moving," Kath said. She was the guard on this run, but Dennis was in charge. It was his call.
"Jesus Christ. Okay, fine. Everybody in the car."
The littlest one started crying. At what in particular, Kath couldn't say. Maybe it was just general exhaustion. She could understand that.
"What's your name?" Kath asked.
"Chloë. These are Tom and Dakota." She sounded relieved. Her shoulders had lowered a notch.
"I'm Kath. Let's go."
* * *
The two little ones fell asleep as soon as the car doors closed, and Kath marveled. How trusting, to climb into a car with strangers and somehow feel safer. This was a different set of rules than what she grew up with. The girl, Chloë, sat in the middle of the back seat, arms draped over both little ones, staring straight ahead.
Dennis drove with both hands on the wheel, clenched. Melanie also fell asleep, not looking at all peaceful. She was going to have a good cry later, Kath was sure.
"Where would you be now?" Dennis asked after a long stretch of silence. His profile was shadow.
"Hm," Kath said. "College. Maybe I'd be at a party. Getting drunk? I dunno."
His smile brightened his voice. "Getting in trouble. Sounds good. I approve."
"Maybe I'd be studying for a test. Would it be exam time right about now?"
"Naw, you should go to the party. Have some fun."
"Where would you be?" she asked in turn.
"Palm Springs. The back nine at Indian Wells. With a Corona in the cup holder of my cart."
"Golfing in the middle of the night?"
"Well, no, not golfing right this minute. But I guess that's where I'd rather be. I suppose that's cliché, the doctor who'd rather be golfing."
"You think it's still there? The golf course?"
He shook his head, a scrap of movement in the otherwise still night. "Even if the grass hasn't all died it wouldn't be getting groomed."
They drove on a little while, tires crunching on pitted asphalt.
"I wish you'd had the chance to go to college," he said. "Even just a year or two. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," she said, because it was what she always said. The entire concept of college was becoming abstract.
Her older brother Eddie had gone to college. He'd gone back east, and that's where he'd been when it all fell apart. She wondered what happened to him. Would always wonder, and it was maddening, not having any way to find out. Maybe even now, five years after his last call, before the power went out, he was still trying to make his way across the country like he said he would. Maybe he'd made it as far as, say, Colorado. Gotten caught in the mountains in winter. Maybe he was just resting. Maybe he'd found a safe place to stay, like the clinic here. Maybe they needed him, so he stayed. How long did it take someone to walk three thousand miles, anyway? She didn't have any idea.
She left a note for him back at the house. Stuck it to the door, covered it with packing tape so it would survive wind and weather. Maybe he'd find it someday. Maybe he'd find her.
They rolled back to the clinic at dawn, when the sky was gray and chilled. Jim was keeping watch on the north side this shift, rifle tucked under his arm, perched on one of the derelict trucks that made up the barricade around the compound. Kath sat up on the edge of the open window and waved an arm high, giving him plenty of time to spot and ID her and the Tesla. She could see him shade his eyes to look out. He waved back and started to open the gate.
The car's charge was just about finished. Eighty miles round trip was at the far end of its range these days; its battery didn't hold as much as it used to. They might need to start rethinking trips like this. Or figure out how to bring solar panels along for a recharge.
A couple of others had come out to help Jim move aside the flatbed trailer stacked with twisted wreckage that served as the north gate. They could move it in and out easy enough, and then use chains and locks to anchor it to rebar loops sunk into concrete pits in the ground. As soon as the Tesla was inside, they shifted and locked the trailer back into place. Dennis rolled the car to a stop in its spot in the back of the clinic, where its charging station was, hooked up to a roof full of solar panels. That had been an epic bit of engineering, to get that all situated. The clinic was the only spot for twenty miles around that still had electricity.
Maggie must have been waiting for them; she came out the front door as soon as the car stopped. "How did it go? Everyone okay?"
"Bouncing baby girl," Dennis said, climbing from the car and stretching his back. "They gave us capers. We can resurrect fine dining."
The other doors opened; Melanie herded out the children. Chloë was carrying the youngest propped on her hip, asleep.
Maggie was a middle-aged woman, tanned, brown hair growing gray, tied up in a bun. She wore a wrinkled blouse, jeans, and workboots. Kath looked at Maggie and saw her own mother, who'd been dead for five years now. Maggie and her mom had been friends; hard not to see her as some kind of stand-in. Kath hadn't wanted to leave home. She'd been waiting, as if her parents might come back. As if Eddie might find her there, and if she left, maybe he never would. Likely, she'd be dead now if Maggie hadn't made her come to the clinic.
Maggie stopped and gaped, looking among the adults for explanation. "What's this? Who're they?"
"Found 'em on the road," Dennis said, casually, like this sort of thing happened all the time.
The older doctor's mouth opened, horrified. "We can't ... we don't ... we don't have enough food! We can't take care of any more people!"
"Were we supposed to just leave them there?" Kath asked.
Maggie put her hand to her forehead. Her mouth had sunk into a deep frown. "No, of course not. It's just ... God." She turned and walked off, scratching her hair.
Excerpted from "Where Would You Be Now?"
Copyright © 2018 Carrie Vaughn.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amazing how much you can come to care about a group of people in a few short pages. I want a series set in this clinic!