Baxter Campos looked out the window of the trailer he was not supposed to be in. He could barely make out the soft line where the mountains met the sky in the predawn light. Somewhere, behind him in the east, the sun would make its way over the Rocky Mountains and blast this section of the world. It would show all the desolation this part of the country had endured, but at least now while it was still dark he could pretend the valley extending out south of where they drove on the former Interstate 70 was still filled with fields and orchards. He could imagine miles of peaches and vineyards, just like it was when he was younger. He could see the trees, just barely, in this dim early morning haze, with just enough murk to let his mind add leaves and tiny fruit to what he knew were really dead and desolate carcasses of their former selves.

No, there were no living trees here anymore. There were no vineyards. There was not even a mighty Colorado River that ran through here anymore. There was only waste, just like there was everywhere else on this side of the continental divide. This was his favorite time though. Early enough, dark enough, and moving by so quickly, it was easy to pretend this was just another road trip, another quick visit to the Grand Valley he had known as a child. He could almost smell the fruit. Apricots and peaches, that sweet divine smell.

His family had come here regularly during the fruit harvests to work, before “The Incident.” What a stupid name. No one had a better word for it. Over half of the population of the United States and nearly all the vegetation of half the country, dead in one hour. His family had been fortunate. They were Arvada, a suburb of Denver, Colorado, and on the right side of the Rocky Mountains that day. They were close to the edge of the destruction, close enough to see refugees who were right on the edge that managed to survive, and unfortunately close enough to see the aftermath of a shattered nation, about to break at the seams.

Baxter had watched over four days after “The Incident,” how people initially welcomed strangers and helped them find supplies, shelter, and connections. Then he had seen the hospitality so quickly evaporate, as brother turned on brother, and people started asking why. In the vacuum of power that was left, a nearly destroyed nation broke itself apart. Fighting broke out, faster than anyone could have imagined. A ruined and displaced people become violent, angry, and did as injured animals do. They attacked. The took. They hurt, and as a result, started a cascade of anger, fear, and retaliation that had no guide, no plan, and in the end no way of being stopped.

The fragile union that remained simply dissolved. People everywhere claimed power, tried desperately to hold onto it, and ultimately broke themselves on each other, until there were so few left who sought power, that life calmed, and those who remained endured whatever way they could. Baxter’s family become scavengers. They were left with nothing. Their livelihood had been in the small farms of the Western Rockies, and the work they provided. Without them, Baxter’s family was just like the refugees, lost, without hope, without work, and ultimately without a home.

Unfortunately, for Baxter, and most of the members of his immediate family, scavenging was dangerous. Within a year Baxter had lost both of his parents. Within another year all of his siblings except for one sister, who had been too young to go on these dangerous trips. His less immediate family was mostly lost in the fighting that ensued afterward. Ultimately, all that was left was a single aunt, who decided she would become he and his sister’s guardian.

Even she was not invincible. They had run out of money a long time ago, or at least what was considered currency these days. That was why Baxter, 6 years after “The Incident,” has broken into a stolen camp trailer being hauled by a stolen black 1997 Chevy Silverado, headed toward Green River, Utah in search of supplies. The driver of the pickup, a solitary and bitter drunk that Baxter had seen around, but did not know personally had no idea that he had a passenger. The man had one eye, scars from hand to shoulder on his right side, and not one single hair on his head, save for a long silver goatee that was so crisp it looked like his hair only grew from that spot.

What Baxter did not know when he crawled into that trailer, and what the driver of the Silverado also did not know is that they were both about to learn first hand not only what, but who caused “The Incident,” and just what kind of trouble the rest of world was really in.