Separation



   Most people are on the world, not in it - have no conscious sympathy to anything about them - undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.

   - John Muir
   1838-1912



   The book starts with Dean's POV; as the group arrives at a new redoubt, he's having a jump dream about his mother, Sharona. Once he and the others recover from the jump, they sweep the redoubt to find it empty of inhabitants, though fully stocked.
   After a couple days' rest, they go outside to find themselves on an isolated peninsula cut off from land by a collapsed natural bridge (and no other way to get across); the only other land in sight is an island a couple miles offshore. JB determines they're somewhere in the Carolinas. After some discussion, they decide to head for the island instead of jumping out. A search of the redoubt turns up a pair of rubber rafts, which they inflate and take to the sea.
   Midway between them and the island, though, is a band of vicious rip currents. Additionally, they're attacked by a gigantic mutie eel, which slams into the boat in which Mildred is riding, sending her flying into the water. She lands hard and is knocked unconscious, but the others manage to kill the eel and rescue her.
   They make landfall and carry her into the forest there, where they build a fire and tend to her wounds. Krysty, worried that Mildred isn't awakening, roots through her jacket for a syringe of adrenaline.
   Unfortunately, she doesn't get to administer it. Out of the forest come over a dozen black men armed with automatic weapons. They think that the Mildred is the companions' slave, not their friend, and so take everyone prisoner. When they return to the men's ville, Mildred is taken away elsewhere and the rest of the companions are imprisoned in a single hut.
   Mildred awakens to find herself on a bed in a nicely appointed hut. There's a black woman there who names herself Sineta, daughter of the baron; Sineta explains that Markos - the chief sec man - and his patrol found them and brought them back. Mildred explains that she's not their slave and asks Sineta to tell her what's going on. Sineta explains that the island has been the home of black people for generations - since before slavery was abolished. The community, called Pilatu, was created by former slaves fleeing their masters, or black people who wished to make a life away from white oppressors. She says that the companions have arrived at a pivotal moment - resources on the island are growing scarce, the population is increasing, and they must move to the mainland. Markos advocates staying where they are, while another man named Elias advocates moving. Both men seek Sineta's hand in marriage, as only males can rule Pilatu, and whoever marries her can dictate their goals.
   The next morning, the sec guards come to the companions' hut. They think Jak is also a slave, and have come to "free" him. Jak refuses to go, but Ryan gives him permission, and he's set free.
   A couple days pass; Jak joins the hunters, and Mildred spends her time recovering and learning more about the ville. The others remain imprisoned, recovering from the battering they took in the crossing.
   Finally, Mildred is taken to see Barras, the baron, who is dying of cancer. He talks to her and decides to release her friends. Ryan decides it's best to simply leave, but Mildred wants to stay.
   Later, Mildred talks to Barras again. He decides that Pilatu must move to the mainland, and gives the order to Markos. The companions are set to help build more boats and pack supplies, while Mildred spends most of her time with Markos, checking up on everything. One day, they're out cutting wood when Mildred and Markos stop by. They talk to the companions briefly, then move on, but they hear a scream. They find a Pilatan man lying against a tree, his throat slit, and one of Jak's knives embedded in the tree (Jak lost a couple knives when they were captured). Elias, however, vouches for the companions - they were all in his sight the entire time, so Markos lets the matter lie.
   A short while later, JB heads to a nearby creek for some water. One of the separatists (those who wish to stay) follows him and shoots at him, but he dives into the water and the shooter only wings his leg. Everyone else hears the shots and comes to JB's aid, capturing the shooter.
   The next day, Mildred goes to check on Barras, and he reveals a secret to her - over the years, immigrants to the island have brought wealth with them. Money and gold have no real use on the island, so they've been stored in a cave for emergencies. Now that the community is moving, though, they'll need the treasure. Barras has decided to tell her since she's an outsider - he trusts her and the companions to transport the loot and keep it safe until they reach the mainland, whereupon they can give it to Sineta.
   Mildred meets with JB to tell him what Barras told her, and JB said he'd pass the word on to Ryan. After their meeting, she wanders the side streets, lost in thought, and is attacked by someone swathed in black clothing, wielding JB's knife. They struggle for a couple minutes, then a sec patrol happens by, pulling her away and letting the man escape.
   A couple days later, she's wandering the ville again when someone starts shooting at her. One shot clips her across the forehead, knocking her unconscious. She awakens just before two men arrive; from their voices, she identifies them as Elias and Chan, Markos' brother (who's also a separatist). She plays possum, and they take her into the woods to finish her off. As Chan is about to shoot her, she opens her eyes, which surprises him long enough for her to knock him off-balance and grab his gun.
   Luckily for her, Jak shows up and shoots at Chan, but misses. Chan and Elias flee into the forest. He just happened to see Chan and Elias shooting at her, though he was too far away to help, then followed when they picked her up and took her into the forest. He escorts her back to the ville, where Krysty patches her up; she then seeks out Sineta and Markos and tells them everything - she learned from Elias and Chan talking that they overheard her conversation with the baron and know about the treasure.
   That night, Jak, Sineta, Markos, and Mildred return to the cave, knowing Elias and Chan will be back, and set up an ambush. They kill both men and recover the loot the next day.
   Eventually, the ships are complete and everything is loaded up. Barras, seeing that his time has come, declares Sineta the new baron and gives up the ghost.
   The next day, the Pilatans leave the island. They make it to the mainland with only a little trouble, finding a safe place to land, and climb up a long slope to a plateau. Several days' walk brings them to a broad valley, where they find a small forest to make camp. They also spot a couple villes in the valley, several miles away.
   That night, one of the villes' sec wag patrols comes near the forest; the guards would be content to let them ride past, but the turn would run right over a concealed guard's position, so they open fire on the sec men, driving them off. The next day, the ville sends out a platoon of men, along with a single woman. The Pilatans ambush them and slaughter nearly everyone, but the woman remains behind.
   As the Pilatans are cleaning up, the woman reveals herself to be Sharona. She wasn't dying of rad cancer, as everyone thought - she'd merely had tuberculosis and a thyroid problem. She joined a trader's convoy, and the healer fixed her up. She started to get a "feeling" that Dean would be nearby, though, and she decided to stop in Broadmead (the ville that attacked them) to wait for him. When the call for sec men went out, she joined up.
   They move on, following an old road for several days. At one point, they find a small lake, but it's also inhabited by stickies. They move on and finally find an uninhabited valley. Ryan and the others decide that it's time for them to part company, as they happened to notice the entrance to a redoubt nearby.
   Once inside the redoubt, they find very little in the way of supplies. Sharona, wishing to get Dean away from the companions, lures him down to the mat-trans while the others are asleep and activates the device, jumping them away. Ryan and the others awaken too late to follow.