In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous.
In the coming centuries, the world's population has exploded and covered the earth with cities, animals are nearly all gone, and drought has taken over so that cloudy water is issued by the quart. It is an unwelcoming world for an orphan like Nadia Stepan, who grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest. She becomes obsessed with it and is determined to somehow find her way there.
In 1863, as the War Between the States creeps inevitably toward its bloody conclusion, former Kentucky slave Britt Johnson ventures west into unknown territory with his wife, Mary, and their three children, searching for a life and a future. But their dreams are abruptly shattered by a brutal Indian raid upon the Johnsons' settlement while Britt is away establishing a business.