Hawkeye wondered how far they were from Edge. Investigators had flown to each of the Southern cities after the disappearance (obviously, no one could drive), and no one walked that route now except Scavengers and Neighbors. She could recall nothing about Edge itself, but now that she was thinking about it, the accounts she had read from the investigators who searched that empty city all agreed on one odd point. Each of them reported that periodically they felt the urge to look skyward, as if something might fall on them. None of them saw or heard anything to give them this impression, but each of them said they had looked up in alarm, over and over, until they walked outside city limits. When they gathered at the landing site on the other side of the ruined highway, everyone took one last look at Edge, with much the same urgency they had felt when they looked at the sky. But – nothing. So they all climbed in their aircraft and went home.
They might be passing the investigators’ landing site before sundown, possibly within an hour. She doubted she would know it when they did. She glanced skyward herself, but not because she thought something would fall on her. A shadow had touched her, and a breath of cool air, and when she looked up she saw a massive bank of clouds trying to overtake them. These clouds were dark with rain, and she hoped they didn’t contain lightning and fierce winds, too.
But rain would be nice, perhaps they could contrive a way to capture the water. And now that she knew that no Scavengers were following, she didn’t have to worry they would get a drink as well. Now it didn’t matter.
Daisy smelled the approaching storm and twitched his ears with disapproval. Brat’s ears folded back for the same reason, and Wolfy tsk-tsked. Boss frowned, but Mug’s grimace might have indicated his version of good humor. All this led Hawkeye to wonder if the storm might not be trouble after all. Could they shelter near one of the broken highway chunks? Surely, even if they got wet, one good, hot afternoon would dry them out again.
They all watched the storm, but as the afternoon began to age, it never overtook them, but seemed more inclined to hang back, and Hawkeye’s mind began to drift again, matching the lazy pace of the storm.
Maybe it will be trouble, but right now I rather like it. It smells good, it’s cool, and rain is always interesting.
On the right side of the horizon, past the highway, she saw the remotest outlines of buildings, the tops of skyscrapers. Could this possibly be Edge? Surely they weren’t more than twenty miles from Evernight, they couldn’t be nearing it so soon. But if it wasn’t Edge, why did it have skyscrapers? Perhaps she was wrong about the distance.
One object on the horizon dwarfed the buildings, like a tree with grass at its feet, and she marveled to think how big it must be to do that. Perhaps it merely seemed bigger, it might actually be closer. Hawkeye was still too far away from it to tell.
The sun descended to its late afternoon position, but they didn’t stop for supper, and Hawkeye didn’t ask why. She wanted to nibble a food bar, but didn’t want the beasties to see her eating. It would only remind them that they were hungry too. Boss seemed determined to travel a certain distance, so Hawkeye kept quiet, periodically looking up to check the status of the storm, then toward the horizon at the distant buildings.
The storm might be pouring rain behind them, but it didn’t seem inclined to drip any on them yet, so Hawkeye looked again at the edge of Edge. With a start, she recognized the scene. They must actually be walking past the place where the investigators had taken that photo from The Lost Cities. The same chunk of broken highway still sprawled on the left, and the outline of the city was the same.
But not exactly the same. The thing that had always seemed to be missing was there now, right smack in the middle, the object that dwarfed all others. This tube-shaped thing stood straight above the horizon, and it was obviously man-made, rather like a grain silo except that it was far too large and tall. Patches of color crawled up its side, but she couldn’t see if they were stains or something deliberate. The top part of it had broken off, she could just make out ragged bits along the torn part, things that must have actually been thick and sturdy – probably metal, if the way the sun glinted off them meant anything. Yet they looked as if something had twisted and snapped them without the slightest effort. She squinted, focusing exclusively on these torn bits, until she could see individual strands, frayed like fragile threads. She stared at this as she rode Daisy closer to the city, foot-by-foot, yard-by-yard.
Tornado? she wondered. What else could twist a building like that, yet leave the bottom intact? Her eyes wandered back down the structure, to the smudge of color that crawled up the side, but now she was close enough to see that these were letters, and they said, ALPHA.
The word rattled around inside her head with uncommon familiarity, as if it were something she saw every day, perhaps lettered on the side of a truck, or on an advertising billboard, or in a commercial on the entertainment net, or even stamped on envelopes she received in the mail – yet none of these familiar things seemed to be the right thing, the obvious thing that stood right there in front of her. She rode closer, and realized the thing was even bigger than she had thought, even farther away, so it took a long time for the letters to become clear. Finally she could make out a mass on the ground next to the towering tube, which had at first looked like rocky hills, but was obviously the part that had fallen off the top. She could just see two letters on this fallen part, S and T.
ALPHA ST –
“Alpha Station!” she said aloud, as if she had just solved a crossword puzzle. Then the words and the image came together in her head, and she caught her breath. “Boss.”
He turned from his position at the head of the wedge and stared at her. Everyone else followed suit, like dominoes falling.
She motioned to the towering tube with a trembling hand. “Alpha Station. That’s the space station. The one that’s supposed to be in orbit around Jigsaw.”
from Spirits Of Glory, by Emily Devenport