Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
“I was expecting somebody older.”
Basil shrugged. He waited patiently, and finally the man in the suit also shrugged and turned away. Basil followed him along the worn platform and up an escalator. In the stone façade of an ancient building that served as the foundation of the station, two bare-breasted stone women stared down absently, holding laurels up over an old catwalk. Basil watched as the escalator slowly pulled them past the two sentinels. At the top of the line, he was dropped onto a sterling, scrubbed plaza. A glass roof filtered the sunlight into a golden haze filled with bugs.
The man led Basil across the celestial courtyard of Five Points Station to where a private car sat waiting, its door open. Basil climbed into the back and the door shut behind him. Driverless, the car eased into the light midmorning traffic.
Basil had never been to the Proper before and Padre had told him not to be seduced. But it was hard not to look as they glided past one after another of the colonnaded buildings of stone and glass, set off from the street by cultivated lawns with bright flower gardens and sleek plastic sculptures with brand names. Exterminators were everywhere, spraying to keep the endless bugs in check. A holographic band played commercials from a bandstand by a statue of someone named Talmadge. Basil’s own world seemed drab by comparison; even the interior of the Church, which was beautiful and always clean, seemed ordinary in his memory. Everything here was new. Even the bugs in the air sparkled.
An immaculate woman, her skin glowing like a copper plate in the sun, led her two children and a perfectly groomed chow westward, balancing in her high heels on the marble sidewalk. Across the lush expanse of Centennial Olympic Park, happy pequeños could be seen screaming with delight as they romped naked in the light fountains.
The car continued down Maynard Jackson for about ten minutes and then slowed at the base of a large pyramid. Before it floated a holographic sign that read NokeCUSA LLP in ornate Spanish letters. The car swung around in a smooth “u” until it was parallel to the walkway neatly sheltered beneath the pyramid’s base.
Basil got out, clutching his bag close to his side. The man was standing there. Basil had no idea how he had gotten to the pyramid first. Had he run behind the car?
He followed his guide through a revolving door and into a plush, spacious lobby bustling with prim, suited workers. They were lined up in rows before AVEs that sang the promise of various nutrition-bowls and beverages. “Oooo, yes…I never had anything like it before, Lotta. Are you thirsty?”
Again, Basil noticed the perfectly manicured air of the place, filtered and cool, nothing like the stifling, close drug-church with its sweet-smelling smoke. An elevator shaft shot diagonally up the spine of the pyramid into the undersides of the office-homes that took up the bulk of the building’s mass. Bypassing the curious receptionists with a sly nod, the man took Basil across the lobby where a lift was waiting patiently for them. As they ascended Basil watched the floors collapsing beneath him, stacking like a deck of cards. For a moment, the elevator was enveloped by darkness as it moved towards the top floor.
An electric pulse seemed to eat the man alive, traveling diagonally down his body until he was gone from sight. Before he had completely vanished, his head blinked and the body reappeared. Now Basil understood. This was a holographic projection. The man was here to make sure Basil didn’t get lost, but he wasn’t here.
“Where do you live?” Basil asked him.
“In a coffin at the Mariott Marquis,” the man replied, twiddling his thumbs. “You ever been Proper?”
Basil shook his head. The man, who did not see the gesture, looked down and said, “Eh?”
“No,” Basil said.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”
“Where do you live?” the man wanted to know.
“You really have drugs in that bag?”
“Anybody ever try and take that bag from you before?”
Basil had never considered that possibility. As far as he knew, no one had ever stolen from a Padre in sight of an AVE. Uniforms would arrive to arrest anyone stupid enough to attempt it. Of course, he wasn’t a real Padre. He folded his hands and looked away.
When the elevator finally hit top, the man took Basil up a short escalator. Now he could see the uppermost expanse of offices, the desks of the secretaries laid out like watch posts in front of the huge mirrored glass doors and walls of the veeps. All the voices combined and floated up to the blue sky which seemed to be trapped in the pyramid’s ceiling-point.
“Wait here, okay?” the man said to Basil.
He went on to one of the desks and exchanged words with the secretary behind it. She directed him with a transparent-nailed finger to a spiral crystal staircase a little way off. The man nodded, turned around, and walked back to Basil.
“You sit here, capitán. He’ll call you up when he’s ready to see you. Dow!” With a cordial wave, the man bowed and was gone.
The secretary, who was talking simultaneously to three holographic heads that floated in various places around her, did not seem to notice Basil. He sat down in a nearby chair. It molded to fit his bottom. Then it began to vibrate a little.
“They don’t believe. They have no souls.”
“No one can quit but them.”
“Little boy?” the secretary called down, standing over him. Basil had fallen asleep in the vibrating, form-fitting chair. Basil blinked, dazed. As if on cue, the chair ceased to shake. “You can go up.” The secretary watched Basil get to his feet. He clutched his bag and plodded to the crystal stair.
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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