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I feel my breath catching as my feet pound and slide against the crumbling gravel and dry grass, and I come rushing down the hillside in the direction of the nearest highway. The girl who cried warning is running about twenty feet away from me, her stringy hair tangling in the breeze.  

More shots and cries sound behind us.

Down, down, down, I go, past shrubs, and rocky inclines, barely missing sharp branches scraping against my loose uniform pants-covered legs.

As I run, a sense of despair comes to me, together with the realization of the immense distance that is before me that I will now have to cross on foot.

Because I don’t have a damn hoverboard.

Could Gracie and Gordie and George be here too, also running for their lives? Are they here now, somewhere on another distant Los Angeles hillside, maybe? Or did they choose some other cities?

For that matter, where is “here?”

From the looks of it, I make a wild guess it’s somewhere east of downtown, with the Pacific directly beyond it, as I’m facing in that direction.

I need to get my bearings, and quickly. . . .

Think, Gwen, think . . . try to remember. . . . This is L.A.

A vague memory comes to me. Mom and Dad had once mentioned some kind of 30-Mile Studio Zone which is a circular area used by old-time Hollywood film studios for union work zoning purposes. If I remember it right, this is the exact 30-mile radius around the center of Los Angeles, and the boundaries of this zone run in a circle pretty much where the Atlanteans have deposited us. So, if I am in a spot along that boundary to the east of the heart of the city, then I am most likely somewhere in Anaheim, or possibly further north in Fullerton, or Pomona. Had I been even higher up north along the circle boundary, I’d be in the middle of Angeles National Forest, but I am not, since I can definitely see populated areas at the foot of the hill.

One easy way to get my bearings is to find the nearest major freeway artery. Once I see it, I will get a better idea of where I am.

Needle in a haystack, is where I am.

This is hopeless.

This is hell.

You are dead.

Breathing fast, clutching the cord lasso in one hand, I keep moving at a light run down hill, and there is definitely a freeway up ahead.

At the place where the shrubbery ends, the hillside runs into a fenced area overhanging a multi-lane freeway. A couple of Candidates are milling around, looking dejectedly at the impassable section of concrete wall overhanging the freeway. The girl with long stringy hair and freckles is one of them. She turns around at me with a nervous glance.

“Hey,” I say. “Thanks for the warning back there. We almost got shot.”

“Yeah, sure,” she says.

The other teen is a skinny older boy with a tan, weather-beaten, sandy blond longish hair, and the vague look of a typical California surfer. He’s holding a long hunting knife, and his armband and token are red. He stares warily at both of us.

“I’m Gwen,” I say to the two of them. “I promise—I don’t want to fight either one of you, so how about we work together? They did say we can cooperate. Might as well pool our resources?”

“Okay,” the girl says immediately, with a look of relief. “I am Sarah. Sarah Thornwald. I certainly don’t want to fight, especially not using that dreadful Er-Du.”

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