The collective memory elevated consciousness. The small mind units of the past were replaced by more developed aggregates. The collective’s influence accelerated.
Alcan Border, Alaska. May, 2032
Julia turned away from the view of the scrub forest. It was cold despite spring’s sun and she held her rag coat tight. From their knoll she could see the fire smoke from nearby walkers. Their presence warmed her soul if not her flesh.
Higuero would return soon with wood to feed their fire. Winter had been tolerable with walkers sharing quarters but when the snows stopped the walkers needed to separate, the journey in parallel rather than bunched together.
“Julia. Daughter, where are you?”
The cracking voice from the shelter called her. She took a last look for Higuero but couldn’t see him. She went inside to her father.
“I’m here, papa. You had a good sleep. I’ll make tea.” She prodded the embers. “The fire is low but Higuero will bring more wood.” She busied herself with the lone cooking pot and drained the hot water over the pine needles. “Drink this.” She had to hold the cup and her father’s head to trickle the liquid into his mouth.
He took short, gasping sips. “Thank you. No more for now.” He lay back. His face was a map of discolored blotches and partly-healed scabs.
“How do you feel today, papa?”
He turned his head but did not lift it. “I feel well. I can be ready to move today.”
“Not today. Maybe tomorrow.” They would not move on for a time with her father. This was his final stop. The struggle to get this far, losing family along the trek had caught up with Carlos. The pneumonia contracted over the winter in close quarters with the many other travelers had been too strong for his weakened body to resist.
Julia heard Higuero outside the shelter. He brought a few withered branches inside to stoke the fire. “I couldn’t find much, the walkers are beginning to leave. We’ll have to follow soon to keep pace, otherwise fuel and food will be scavenged for stragglers.” He spoke low enough to keep their father from hearing.
“Higuero,” said Carlos, “you are back. Julia thinks we will travel soon.”
“Rest now, papa,” said Julia. “You will be warm.” She exchanged glances with her brother. She knew they would have to move or all starve.
Carlos opened his eyes. “Julia. Higuero. Soon I will join my beloved Elena and my children.” He faced them. “You two are the strongest, you will carry the dream with you.” His breath rasped.
Julia knelt and cradled his head. She stroked his matted hair as she had for her mother and Ramone. “You will be able to walk with us soon. Rest a little while.”
“No, my journey ends. It is up to you. There are others who follow our path. You must join them.” Carlos’s eyelids fluttered briefly then remained open.
Julia bowed her head and continued to hold him. Higuero rested his hand on her shoulder and pointed out the open wall to the other camps. They would join them on their trek over the top of the world.
Olduvai Gorge. September 2032
Pierre examined the metal tripod. One of Sharon’s old monitors. It was half-covered by soil; a solitary weed grew up through the legs. In fifty years, it would be an archeological artifact, Pierre thought. He dribbled water from his canteen onto the small solar panel to clean it.
“It doesn’t work.”
The voice startled him. “Sharon,” he said, without turning. He wiped the panel before facing her. “Haven’t seen you since you returned.”
She looked haggard. A knot of tourists stood fifty meters away all looking east. She came close enough to tap the recorder module. “Nothing. Wouldn’t matter anyway. No one cares about the seismic activity or lack of. There’s something bigger coming. A seismic shift in philosophy.”
She’d aged in the few years since Pierre had seen her last. Heavy lines crisscrossed her eyes and lips. Sharon’s hair was completely grey. What drew you back?” he asked. “Thought you were through with the rift after Krug shut down your permit and you retreated to Kansas.”
“Not here as a researcher. Tourist.” She glanced at the group. “Convinced some friends to join me. Told them this would be a turning point in their lives.”
“You’ve gone over?” Pierre kept his tone light, humourous. His heart didn’t follow his words; Sharon was a final link to understanding all of it. He’d be alone.
“I’ve transited to the logical next step. It’s you who’ve stayed behind.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” He lifted the recorder from the earth and placed it level. “Your readings could still be significant, Sharon. Why don’t we spend a week or two refreshing your equipment? I’m sure I could scrounge up enough hardware to put them back in service.” He took a step toward her.
“Not important. The shift is in the people, their psyches.”
Their faces were a hand’s breadth apart. She wasn’t coming back to his side. Her eyes held generations of unsatisfied spawning drive. “I’ll miss you, Sharon.”
“We’ll talk over old times one day, Pierre.” She touched his cheek and was gone, away with her new clan.
Bering Strait. January, 2038
Julia raised her face into the cutting sleet. She saw nothing but stinging particles of ice and returned her stare to her feet. The wind erased any sounds from the footfalls behind her but she knew they were there. Her turn at the front of the column was almost finished. She would move to the back, out of wind’s full force.
Her foot broke through a crust of snow and she stumbled. A hand quickly steadied her. Her back gave brief shelter.
“Wait for the line to pass, sister. I’ll lead.”
She watched Higuero fade as the line moved past. It was the fourth time they’d tried to cross the Strait. This winter had cooperated with their band, it appeared they would make it. No one knew what or who waited on the other side of the ice-pack. The only thing they knew was the will to go on. Not pushed from behind but pulled by something they’d yet to reach.
Julia steeled herself to fall in and face the gale. Protection was better at the back and her legs resumed the march.
She looked forward to warm days again. Like she remembered as a child. She’d never covered her hands or head when little, not even from the sun. It seemed so long ago. She would have a little girl of her own one day, she thought. I will name her Angelina. Where did that name come from? Can I bear children? Am I too old? I will give it more thought when we reach warm country.
Yunnan Province, China. 2040
The infant wriggled helplessly in the bag and wailed. Julia called from her row. “I will come to you when I can, Carlos. Be patient.”
At the sound of her voice, the baby quieted and contented itself watching the other babies beside him, dozing or monitoring their parents tilling the fields.
“Good boy, Carlos,” Julia called. She kept planting. A routine she could do in her sleep, and did, when she dreamed. She didn’t dream much anymore. She attributed it to exhaustion from the long days. The Chinese working beside her band were grateful for the arrival of Julia’s group. Many of their countrymen had left over the last few years and their labor force dwindled. Julia sensed they continued to plant because they didn’t know what else to do, not because the government told them to nor because the food was needed. It was work and it provided her and her baby Carlos with food and shelter.
The end of another row and Julia took her turn at caring for the infants for a few minutes. She checked all the bags to see if any were soiled enough to require changing. Lastly, she held Carlos so he wouldn’t be jealous of the others. “Mama is planting lots of food for you today. Did you see me wave? One day, maybe next spring, we will find your uncle Higuero. He is ahead of us and will stop when he gets the chance for work.” She kissed him and put him back with the other. He whimpered a little but was soon content. “I’ll be back before you know it.” She slung her sack over a shoulder and bent down to start a row.
Higuero didn’t know he was an uncle. He and two dozen others in the band became separated on an ice flow during the last days of passage across the sea. Julia had heard such a band passed ahead of them through the small Mongolian villages. A year ago? Julia’s group became lost and had to wait until late spring to travel. The pregnant girls had also slowed them. But there was no need to hurry, the band’s future was assured in the babies.
Five springs later, Julia and Higuero were reunited. A camp beside the shore of the Caspian Sea swelled daily with the inrush of travelers. When a group were rested enough to continue the journey, they would gather, often absorbing one or more other bands, and head southwest through the mountains of eastern Turkey and the scorched remains of Syria and Jordan.
On a day of preparation, Julia chased after her young son. “Carlos, come back here. We leave today. Your sister and I are ready to go without you.”
The boy peeked from behind a ragged tent. “I’m coming, mama, don’t leave me.” He darted back between her arms for their camp. He tripped over a man sitting out in the sun, alone and staring at the air before him. His feet shuffled constantly while he sat.
“Be careful, Carlos. You might have hurt that man.”
The man stopped shuffling. “Carlos? I should know that name.”
Julia stared at the man speaking her language. A suspicion became fact when she got close to him. She knelt and hugged the man. “Higuero.”
“Who are you?”
“Julia. Your sister. This ball of energy is your nephew, Carlos. Your niece Angelina, is with my band. We leave soon.”
She saw no recognition in her brother’s eyes. “Carlos, gather your uncle’s things.” The boy disappeared into the tent and emerged in a minute with a tied sack.
“You are coming with us.” She helped Higuero to his feet.
“Carlos was my father’s name,” he said and allowed himself to be led away.
Julia’s joy at finding her brother alive was never tempered by his lack of recognition or memory. She treasured his company and he in turn was content to march with her and her two children. She found new strength in his company. She would talk for hours about their previous lives together. Higuero was always entertained by stories though he rarely showed signs of recognition. Only when Julia spoke of their father did his attention sharpen.
“Do you remember when we rode on the truck from our farm to the city, Higuero? You and Ramone spent hours exploring the trails and papa would come looking for you.” She stopped, thinking of the time after Rafael died. She looked at little Carlos and Angelina scampering ahead. They weren’t the result of rape, they’d been the product of love and loneliness. Their father had been a good man and had perished in the high spring waters in Manchuria, helping the band search for a safe path.
“Carlos, that was his name,” said Higuero. “And mother was Angelina.”
“Mama was Elena. Angelina was out sister. Now Angelina is your niece.”
“I see,” he said firmly.
“You and Ramone were always the happiest ones.” She put her arm about him as they walked. “I hope you’re happy now.”
His eyes cleared for a moment. “You are a good sister, Julia.”
She smiled. “You remember sometimes, Higuero. I’m happy when you do.”
His eyes clouded and the moment was gone. Julia turned away to view their path. It is too easy to forget, I won’t let that happen.
Pierre froze at the sound. A voice, far away. German? He’d known a German years ago. Kraal? No, Krug. A self-important man, Pierre recalled. Not a scholar, a condescending martinet. The memories flooded back and Pierre smiled at his last encounter with Boris Krug. The former Commissioner ran with a sneaking band of his countrymen, never revealing what they searched for, but Pierre knew they sought a great treasure. Krug’s suit hung in rags and his once well-groomed beard reached half-way down his chest.
The voice came closer. Pierre wriggled under the abandoned caravan. He clutched his stick, prepared to defend himself and his food cache salvaged through the years from the abandoned vehicles.
The voice strengthened but was suddenly drowned out by the buzzing between his ears. He swatted at invisible insects then forced himself still.
The voice passed by, a solo wanderer talking or singing alone, calling out to no-one. Pierre resisted the urge to return the call. He wasn’t ready to join, Not yet.
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