Henry is a teenager who lives in a gated subdivision in Dove Canyon, the upper-class section of Orange County. His parents are away on vacation, so he is spending the Tap-Out alone. His mother, a distributor of Agua Viva water, has left him with boxes of water bottles to do with as he pleases.
Spencer, his neighbor, knocks on his door to barter for bottles of Agua Viva. Henry is able to pressure Spencer into trading his autographed Michael Jordan jersey, an autographed Peyton Manning ball, and a bottle of Johnny Walker for two and a half cases of water.
Alyssa and her group reach Dove Canyon, where Uncle Basil is staying with Daphne, his ex-girlfriend. Uncle Basil welcomes them into the house and gives them a drink of water, explaining that the subdivision had running water for a few days. Alyssa notices that her uncle looks very ill, and Kelton pulls her aside to tell her that Uncle Basil likely has dysentery from drinking contaminated water.
Alyssa tells Uncle Basil that she knows he is sick and that he and Daphne should leave for the shelters the government is setting up. However, Uncle Basil refuses because Daphne is too ill to travel.
Jacqui goes upstairs to retrieve Uncle Basil’s first aid kit for herself. In the bathroom, she redresses her infected wound. On the way back, she passes the master bedroom and finds a dying Daphne resting on the bed. The sight unsettles her. Downstairs, Uncle Basil informs the group that he traded his truck to s teenager for bottles of Agua Viva.
The group goes to retrieve Uncle Basil’s truck, forcing their way into Henry’s house and demanding the truck back. When Henry threatens them with a fake gun, Kelton calls his bluff and dislocates Henry’s arm. After talking with him, the group realizes that Henry is oblivious to how drastic the Tap-Out is. Henry turns on the television and sees several disturbing news reports on the Tap-Out. He also learns that Alyssa and the others will be fleeing to an emergency shelter.
Henry slips away from the group to check on his remaining stock of Agua Viva. He is dismayed to find that the last box contains not water bottles but hundreds of brochures. Getting an idea, he secures the box with strapping tape and deceives Alyssa and the others into thinking he still has water. He trades Uncle Basil’s truck and the box for a place in their group.
Alyssa, Garrett, Kelton, Jacqui, and Henry leave the subdivision in Uncle Basil’s truck. Henry tries to size up his companions and work his way into becoming the group leader.
Snapshot 1 of 2: CH-47D Chinook
As a first responder, pilot Alyce Marasco is tasked with delivering water to evacuation centers. She flies above a Target and feels guilty when the crowd below makes room for her to land. Passing by them, she realizes that there won’t be enough water for everyone who needs it.
Snapshot 2 of 2: Target
Hali Hartling waits in the parking lot of a Target as another helicopter flies by them. She and her mother have run out of water at home. She talks with her friend Sydney, who wishes to introduce her to a sleazy-looking man who will give her water in exchange for sexual favors. While initially adverse to the idea, Hali finally agrees when she realizes that no government help is coming.
While looking for a map in the glove compartment, the group finds a bag of cannabis. Suddenly, they...
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come up to a roadblock manned by military personnel. The men insist on redirecting them to El Toro High School, which has been converted into an evacuation center. The group is left with no choice but to follow.
There, one of the military men spots Uncle Basil’s cannabis and orders the group to step out of the truck. Before they can be detained, however, Alyssa threatens to publicize the man’s abuse of authority. He releases them, but they are still forced to join the crowd headed inside the school.
Kelton is very distressed over their situation. In order to convince the others that they will be prisoners at the evacuation center, he tells Alyssa to look at the football field from above the fence. Alyssa finds the field crowded with thousands of “water-zombies.” One of them pleads with Alyssa to help her find water. Jacqui convinces Alyssa to walk away because there is nothing she can do.
Part 3 introduces a mysterious new character, Henry, whose last name is only divulged at the end of the novel. While Jacqui is the character foil to Alyssa, Henry is the character foil to Kelton. Both Henry and Kelton believe themselves to be better than others simply because they are able to accept what they believe to be life’s harsh truth—that it is a dog-eat-dog world. However, while Kelton has learned to use his knowledge and foresight to care for others—such as Alyssa, Garrett, and Jacqui—Henry uses his skills only to take care of himself.
Drawing on Richard’s classification of people as either “sheep, wolves, or herders,” Henry could be considered a “wolf.” He takes advantage of the crisis and sells his mother’s bottles of Agua Viva for absurd prices, reasoning that the free market justifies his actions. While the McCrackens reserve their resources for personal survival, Henry uses his to exploit the situation. It is made clear from when he is first introduced that he is one of the novel’s antagonists, and his bid for power in the group will prove to be a problem in later chapters.
Readers also see in part 3 the first appearance of state government aid or intervention. However, the novel makes it evident that the evacuation shelters fail to deliver either food or water—rather, their purpose is merely to contain and pacify people during the crisis. While the rest of the group is unaware of this, Kelton is at once able to see the truth of the situation.
We can’t let ourselves be herded and corralled like sheep. This is how it all starts. This is the beginning of the end.
Eventually, Kelton tells Alyssa to take a look at the “prisoners” of the evacuation center. The unpleasant sight convinces her that they have to escape.