Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
The woman reached up to her shoulder and pulled a flap away. Underneath was a pattern of blue bars. It looked like an air-conditioner vent. Members of the Corporation all had one implanted under their skin, and it had all sorts of stuff about them on it, even how much number they had.
She elbowed her husband. “Show them yours,” she told him.
He did what she told him. His tattoo looked a lot like hers. You could see the hair growing all over it. “Don’t you have to shave that for it to work, mister?” asked the oldest Kwang.
The man glowered and looked away. The woman answered for him. “We don’t use them anymore.” The man turned on her suddenly like he wanted to argue, but she shut him up just by looking at him.
Rosa wanted to ask more, but she got a feeling that her Mamma would really pull her away now. The Kwang kids had already gone down the aisle, and Rosa wanted to follow them. “See you,” she said to the Chinese woman.
By the time Rosa got to the middle of the bus, the three Kwang kids were all gathered around and the tennis-racket-case lady was showing them something.
Rosa crept over and peeked across the seat. She couldn’t believe what the woman had taken out of the case: It was made of orange wood, shaped like a kidney bean, with a scrape down near where her hand touched the strings. Rosa couldn’t look away. She’d never seen a tennis racket like that before.
“What is that?” asked the middle child, who had never seen one.
“It’s called a guitar. People used to play them. Want to hear a commercial?”
“Can I play?” the oldest asked.
“Rosa!” her Mamma called.
“I have to go,” Rosa told them. The woman started “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” while Rosa went back to her Mamma and Daddy. She noticed that Firoz had fallen asleep against the window. The rain seemed to pour into his head as it fell in sheets along the glass.
“What are you doing?” Mamma asked her.
“Nothing,” Rosa said. She sat down next to her Mamma and leaned on her arm. Mamma pulled the arm out and wrapped it around her so she was fully surrounded by it.
The darkness had come in on the rain.
Rosa didn’t think she was tired, but when she woke up she couldn’t see at first, feeling the bus bouncing under her. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but everyone was quiet now. When her eyes adjusted, she noticed that even the little kids in front had gone down. Only the bus driver was awake, looking all around as she drove, even though she was just looking into the blackness.
Mamma was still asleep. She had pulled her arm out from around Rosa some time ago. Rosa got up carefully so her Mamma wouldn’t wake up, and started walking towards the front of the bus. The bus driver’s comfy chair was set just a little below the floor, and she moved all around in it as she drove, like she was dancing on her bottom. When the driver heard Rosa coming she looked up out of her little cockpit. Rosa wasn’t sure if she was allowed to come up, but the driver didn’t say anything. She just turned back around and kept dancing.
There were a lot of interesting things in Chassis’ cockpit. All in front of her were dials and switches, some that were lit up, others dark. Some of the big switches were obviously missing, and some metal pieces were showing where plastic used to be on top. Along her left side were a bunch of old photographs taped to the wall. Rosa couldn’t make out the images in them because they were really small and they didn’t move. She wanted to get closer to see them, but she thought it would be rude.
Finally Rosa noticed the little box by Chassis’ left hand that buzzed like it had bees inside. Then instead of buzzing, it squawked.
“What’s that?” Rosa pointed at it.
Chassis looked at Rosa’s finger. “The radio,” she said. “Old-time AVE.”
“Oh,” Rosa said.
“You’ve been asleep five hours,” Chassis said. “You should go back to sleep.”
“When are we going to be there?” Rosa asked.
“By noon tomorrow. Maybe sooner. It depends.”
“On what?” Rosa asked.
“Lots of things,” she said. “I know the roads really well, but things change out here. Depends on the route.”
Rosa nodded like she understood. She tried to look smart because she had decided she liked Chassis and wanted to impress her.
“You log on to school?” the driver asked her.
“Yeah,” Rosa said.
“They up to Ultimate Acquisition VII.”
“They still play UA? You like it?”
“It’s okay.” Rosa said, shrugging. “I wouldn’a chose it, but that’s the one they assigned for my neighborhood.” Before the driver could ask her another question, Rosa said, “Where you from?”
“I’m from everywhere,” Chassis said.
“No you ain’t,” Rosa said, waving her head around.
“Yeh I is,” she said in Spank.
That surprised her. Rosa answered her in Spank. “How you learn to talk like that?”
“Spank been ‘round a lot longer than you!”
“You don’t look like you speak Spank!”
“That ’cause Mamma ’Bangladeshi!” she said. “But I been ‘roun’.”
“You Bangladeshi?” Rosa asked.
“When I was little.”
“Littler than you!” and she smiled. “We gone right before Bangladesh get taken.”
“Nothin’ to remember,” she said, shaking her head. “I been lots of other places since then.”
“Where you go?”
“You name it.”
“Uh huh.” she said.
“Ex-Houston.” “Mmm hmm.”
“How you go so many places?” Rosa asked her.
“’Cause I done so many things.”
She didn’t answer. She was slowing down. She was looking at something in her headlights. She cussed in some language Rosa didn’t know.
“There’s a bridge out,” she said in Spanish. “It’s collapsed.”
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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