It was quiet. Way too quiet. Of all the things Trent Haygood hated about the seventeenth century, the quiet was the worst. He missed the sounds of engines. Internal combustion engines. Hell, he'd be happy with some noise from a steam engine. As he sat on the front porch of his parents' home, he leaned forward and listened.

He held his breath and focused his hearing for some sign of mechanized civilization, anything. He listened carefully.

Only a cow mooed in the distance.

He sighed, leaned back into the chair, and put his hands behind his head. Back up-time, he could almost always tell you what kind of vehicle was coming down the road just by the sound of the motor. Mopar, Chevy, Ford, old KW or Freightliner.

Things were getting a little noisier lately, he had to admit. It had been a slow rebuilding. There was the occasional airplane now, built from Formica and car engines. Someone else was also building aircraft, having bought up a lot of motorcycle engines for propulsion. Cars and trucks never did go away altogether. Folks were pretty creative in these parts, so if there was something to be had that was sorta liquid and flammable, then someone modified a motor to run on it. His old man had reestablished the family distilled spirits business while he was away, and that was always good for fuel or trade.

He still missed the background noise of motors. He considered it the basis of true civilization. Not the stinky, organic things—like horses and oxen—that moved people and goods from place to place in this time. Or the dreadfully slow barges, lolling up and down the river like some demented version of "Life on the Mississippi" that went horribly bad.

There was the train. A bunch of folks had gotten together and built an honest-to-God steam engine. Still, it wasn't the same thing. It was slow, maybe five miles per hour. But it worked. He sighed. Maybe by the time I'm fifty or sixty, there will be real racing again. Not horse racing, but NASCAR. God, he missed NASCAR. Big E and Little E were the thing in 2000. Daytona had happened, the season was underway, and it was looking like another great year. Ford had a good car, and Jeff Gordon was as still strong. Trent never liked Jeff Gordon. Too pretty. Plus he was from California, of all places. Who ever heard of a NASCAR driver from California for crying out loud?

It was still quiet. No engines anywhere to be heard. He sighed again.

Trent had been a high school senior when the Ring of Fire hit Grantville and had been conscripted into the military at graduation, along with the rest of his class. He had spent most of his time drilling, marching, and waiting. He never got to fire a shot in any battle. In the first his rifle had jammed, and in the second he had been held in reserve, and in the last one he had broken his ankle marching and sat out the whole thing in the rear. It wasn't like he was trying to avoid things; it just worked out that way. He didn't even have any good stories.

He had been transferred to Grantville, detailed to work with the phone company as a trainee, but still stuck in the army. It was boring. He knew that wasn't what he wanted to do with his life, telephones or the army. He had known back home, back up-time. He had gotten a small scholarship to become a race mechanic at a school in North Carolina. He was going to work for a NASCAR team. He had built and raced his own car senior year and had done pretty well. He finished third at Tyler County speedway in his first season. It was not what you would call a big time racecar, just an old P-Stock Camaro that he had welded a cage into, and built a motor to meet—well, exceed actually—the rules. His dad and a couple of buddies had been the crew. They didn't spend a lot of money, as it was a basic car, running in a basic class on a small dirt oval track. Towing the car to the track was the toughest part of the deal. God, he loved that stuff. The odor of racing gasoline and the smell of hot brake pads were perfume to his nose. They had called him Mario Haygood at school.

Some of the funds for the racecar came from the little side business his old man had, back before the Ring of Fire. Trent smiled as he recalled the fun he had making the "runs" over to Clarksburg.

Today, all that remained of that car was the V-8 engine on a stand in the garage, a transmission, front subframe, drive shaft, and the wheels and tires. Everything else had been salvaged, scrapped, sold or substituted for something else. The fuel cell and most of the safety equipment and the racing seat went to the air force, the battered body went to the scrap yard and the roll cage tubing was pulled out and sold. Other than some glass and wiring odds and ends, it was all gone.

He stood up and stretched. The family home was not in Grantville proper, but on a road off Route 250, about a mile and a half from town. Dad moved here because it was quiet, before the Ring of Fire happened. Quiet. Still too quiet. He sat back down into the lawn chair.

Times like this, up-time, he would get into his street car, an old beat up Ford Fairmont and go blasting around the back roads, chewing up the already old tires, and overheating the inadequate brakes. The thing had an old straight six in it, and it barely had enough power to get out of its own way. But it was still driving, and West Virginia hill country had some challenging and twisty back roads that were his playground. Guys would make fun of his beater, but all his extra money went to the racecar. Even in the land where beaters were almost an art form, his was a beater. He smiled at the memory of that car. That one, too, had gone to the scrap yard, after stripping some of the items out of it. He kept the steering wheel, almost everything else was gone.

That old beater was special. After all it was in that car that he and his first girlfriend had—he paused again. His old girlfriend had gone off and gotten married while he was off getting bored to death in the army. He started to feel even more depressed.

"I wish I could go for a drive. Somewhere. Fast. Push it to some limit, screw conserving resources. Fast." He paused, surprised that he had been speaking out loud. "Way too frigging quiet. I am talking to myself, for heaven's sake. Out loud." He walked to the front yard, and shouted at the top of his lungs. "This SUCKS! It REALLY SUCKS! I WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW THAT THIS REALLY, REALLY SUCKS!" He paused to listen.

The cow mooed again, off in the distance.

Trent gave the unseen cow a defeated shrug, walked back into the house, and flopped onto the couch.

Face down on the couch, he mumbled into the cushions, "This still sucks." He rolled over onto his back, and put his feet up and stared at the ceiling. "What are you going to do with your life, Trent, old buddy? What the heck does a gearhead like you do for a living? There is absolutely nothing here that goes fast. Nothing." He paused, looked out the front window, and sighed again.

At least before the Ring of Fire, when his old man would have him make a run over the mountains into Clarksburg to drop off some of his special distilled spirits, he could have some fun. But since the Feds went away, and Clarksburg went away, and the racetrack went away, motor sports excitement was hard to come by. He smiled as he remembered some of the high-speed runs he made. Dad liked to use him for runs. At the time, he was only sixteen and still a minor. He wouldn't get in as much trouble if he got caught.

The thoughts of those good times made him itchy. He jumped up from the couch, went to his room and grabbed a few dollars, and headed out the door.

He finally ended up at a little joint on Main Street. He took a seat at the window and watched the traffic go by. Foot traffic. Occasionally a horse. Some sheep went by. He grimaced. A couple of years ago, he would have been astounded at a bunch of sheep being driven through town, down to the banks of Buffalo Creek. From where he was sitting in the front window, he could look down the street. He could see the place in the streets where the Croats were cut down as they tried to take the town At the end of the street, the road split into a Y shape and each road crossed Buffalo Creek on a pair of concrete bridges that had made the trip, along with everything else from up-time.

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