Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
Prologue – What Happened to Basil
November, 2071 – Atlanta Hub, CUSA
In the America that Basil lived in you had to wait a long time for a train. But here, standing on the shiny north platform at the Peachtree Woods Station, Basil Ortega stuck his face into a holographic envelope and within twenty seconds the sensation-generating AVE that produced it knew him and a train rolled into the station. They had sent him a train reserved for veeps because he had just become one.
In the first week after the thunderstorm season, Basil was called to the headquarters of the Noke corporation. He would be providing drug entertainment at one of their parties. He remained in the AVE’s glow for a moment, wondering about the thirty minute ride that would turn him from an eleven-year old toter into a full fledged drug-man.
When his Padre had first told him he’d be going to Atlanta Proper, Basil assumed it was to help administer the drugs, not to disseminate them himself. He had been amazed when Padre had told him that he’d be going alone. He had never been to the heart of the Proper, much less inside a big CUSA building. He still wasn’t even sure he’d be allowed in; he thought that somehow the embodied city would know who he was and reject him.
Basil stepped forward out of the pool of light, the dust-flecks flying inside it like fish in a fishbowl. Even though it was just a holographic space, it seemed to release him reluctantly, the light-ball in front of him closing like a disappointed pair of lips. He heard the train doors coming together, and he looked for a seat.
The air in the train was a nice contrast from the searing November heat. Meanwhile, the acceleration was so smooth he hardly noticed the transition to flying towards the City Proper. The ramshackle buildings rocketing by him seemed to be fleeing from the growing mass of golden towers that made up the Proper. Those buildings, lying on the other side of the woods, loomed larger by the minute.
This far out the train was generally empty. It only came to Atlanta’s run-down outer neighborhoods to bring Shareholders who were making in-person evaluations of real estate or other consultations in the land of the cricket-eaters. Padre had told Basil that as the train got closer to the Proper it would pick up more veeps, some Uniforms. Would they be surprised to see the eleven-year-old boy riding by himself? Maybe if they saw the canvas bag he carried over his shoulder, the bag of a Padre, they wouldn’t think twice about it.
At the back of every seat was a site-based AVE, an Audio-Visual Envelope, which generated commercials all the time. If you had good number—that is, if you were rich—you could buy anything from them you wanted. All you had to do was speak to it or touch the pool of light, and it would respond like a budding flower. But Basil didn’t have any number at all yet, and he wouldn’t have been allowed to buy something if he had.
“Are you thirsty?”
A drink was hovering right in front of his hand, and if he were to move through the image, he knew the AVE would go crazy trying to sell it to him. He kept his hand still while his thoughts spun backwards to the memory of his Padre’s words.
“You’re just a servant. As am I. Don’t forget your sacred obligation, not to stand in the way of the Body and Blood, or you will receive another beating.”
Basil had nodded quietly, even though the sound of Padre’s voice was only in his imagination. He had been beaten several times and was generally learning how to avoid it. You did a lot of nodding.
Coasting above the canopy of the forest, the train afforded an unobstructed view of the golden towers of the City Proper, wrapped in a loving network of alternate rail lines sailing high above the sparkling Peachtree Esplanade. They loomed so large now that their shadows darkened the windows. On either side of the empty car the lush green alleys that had been planted full of briars with the bright red berries blurred into a messy brown. Basil opened his drowsy eyes to see a car lying on its side by some abandoned railroad tracks, filled with dirt, purple and yellow flowers sprouting out the windows.
How did it get there? What was it? Honda? Prius? The train ran on the old expressways heading in and out of the city, but the pavement had been wrecked years and years ago and no one could have driven on it. Maybe he’d tell Rosa about it if she looked like she cared.
A few minutes later the train pulled into the massive Five Points Terminal, where it became a local. As he stepped off, hundreds of suit- and skirt-clad Shareholders stepped on. A few gave him an odd stare, this little coffee-colored boy with his hemp shoulder-bag nearly as large as himself. Most just stepped around him, as though he were one of the vacumen gliding around sucking the dust off the pavement.
He didn’t mind. He was too young to be in awe of Shareholders, young enough to be able to maintain a slight attitude of indifference. Besides, he had too much to think about. He had to remember the routine.
“We do not encourage the indulgences of the unfaithful. But we are in no position to resist. They know we can arrange them and we are legally obligated to comply. That is why we take our duties even more seriously with the infidels than we do with our own flock. Who are the six who do not lock the gates?”
“Amphetamine,” Basil answered. “Cocaine hydrochloride. Methamphetamine. Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, methylphenidate, nicotine.”
“Who are the three who sleep but do not die?”
“Benzodiazepine, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, methaqualone.”
“How is the lion brought to sleep with the lamb?”
“By the—” Basil paused. He could not remember.
He involuntarily winced and huddled inward. He had been hit many times for forgetting that last one. By the China Girl. He could not forget it now. The words came to him along with a dull ache every time he moved his shoulder.
Someone had decided to do more than stare at him or ignore him. A squat man in a grey charcoal suit and a matching cap approached him.
“Ortega?” he asked.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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