Coming in 2019
A New Series of Four Books
Capitolium: #1 The Heart of the One
First in a Series
“The Hunger Games without the games. Where humankind’s inhumanity to humankind is the game in the 28th Century—and where wealth rules poverty!” Could this be our future?”
1 – BEYOND THE PERIMETER
305 Years Ago, 360 A.W. (2370 by the old calendar):
Above a large body of water, a disk-shaped, flying platform sped above a narrow beach next to a hundred-foot cliff. Two humans stood on the cruiser. One in front, dressed in a silver, tight-fitting uniform, held onto a golden crossbar connected to the platform. Another stood behind him with hands on a gray crossbar. Her stained and tattered dress streamed a short distance behind her.
The cruiser sped fifty feet above the shore before dipping toward the silty ground, the dirt cliff looming a hundred yards to its right. The platform swung out over the water, then after a sharp right, climbed toward the cliff top. When it seemed as though it would impact, it lurched up and over the rim.
The sun’s glare off the pilot’s helmet masked his face. The young woman, disheveled, dirty hair streaming out behind her, drew the outside edges of her lips downward.
The treetops shot past beneath them as the cruiser gained height, and a distant village leaped into view. On approach, a multitude of rundown shanties encircled a group of finer buildings in the village square, the center one a hexagonal, six-story mansion.
Climbing higher, woods appeared beyond the village. To the right, a single-story factory stretched three hundred yards. A perimeter fence extended from either end encircling the village. Beyond the factory, more woods.
Slowing, the cruiser descended toward the mansion and landed in a courtyard surrounded by nine, spiral towers. Gray-helmeted militiamen, dressed in yellow, skin-tight suits and armed with batons, rushed toward it.
The militiamen talked to the pilot, removed the woman, and escorted her toward the mansion. Two of them held her from either side. She broke free and bolted. One militiaman sprinted after her, caught up, and jabbed his wand onto her back. A quick flash of light enveloped her, and she fell to the ground.
The militiamen lifted the unconscious woman, her feet dragged behind as they lugged her toward the mansion.
2 – HOME TO ROOST
A well-dressed man in a yellow suit sat behind his semi-circular desk holding a turkey leg in one hand. Pans and bowls, each brimming with succulent food, stretched before him on a royal-blue tablecloth. A rectangular opening expanded in the wall to his right, and two militiamen entered standing on either side of a twenty-year-old woman in a tattered dress, her tousled hair splayed in every direction. They yanked her by the arms, marched toward the desk, and forced her to stand facing it.
The man behind the desk swallowed, sat back, and wiped his mouth and hands with his crimson, cloth napkin. “Another perimeter violator?”
One militiaman bowed his head. “Yes, Supreme Mayor.”
The mayor stared at the woman. “I know you. Mintaka. You’ve done this before.”
Mintaka shifted her gaze aside, tears streaking past the sorrow lines in her face.
The mayor glanced at the militiamen. “You may leave her with me.”
They jerked upright and remained rigid. “Yes, Supreme Mayor.” Turning into a smart left face, they marched toward the opening and stepped inside. It closed behind them leaving the wall unbroken.
The mayor stared at the woman. “Hungry, Mintaka?”
Nodding dislodged her tongue. She let it dangle.
“I bet you are.” He picked up his turkey leg and bit into it. Chewing, he scrutinized her. A growl issued from the Mintaka’s midsection. He swallowed. “You Vercundi would say that is the sound of your poverty. A poverty, by the way, we Asterians know you deserve. Your history proves that.” He sat back and wiped his mouth again. “When were you here last?”
“Six days ago, Supreme Mayor.”
He cocked his head, closed one eye, and raised a pointing finger toward her. “And you were here before that, I think.”
She nodded. “Two weeks earlier.” He rose and walked around his desk stopping in front of her. Thrusting a hand toward her neck caused her to jerk backward. “I’m not going to hurt you, my dear. If I am anything, I am not a violent man. You should be aware of that from my presiding over the daily Nurturing gatherings.
He eased his hand toward her neck and grasped the dark-green crystal hanging from a string. “I see you were awarded the Crystal of Shame.” His gaze shifted from the crystal to Mintaka’s eyes. “Did you receive it after your first perimeter infraction or your second?”
“The second, Supreme Mayor.”
“Just six days ago. One would think that would have scared you into not going beyond the perimeter fence.” He walked back around his desk. “And how long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
He rolled his eyes. “What a coincidence.” Sitting, he eased his elbows on the golden armrests with his fingers spread, each touching their corresponding finger on the opposite hand. “The punishment was no food for three days. Why the discrepancy?”
“I drew high numbers for me and my younger siblings after that.”
“Poor, young Alheena and Bellatrix. And with the Crystal of Shame, you could not accept any gifts of food from other Vercundi.” He bounced his fingers off one another several times. “You brought this on yourself, you understand … by violating the perimeter fence.”
She stretched forward, her eyes on the food. “We were hungry. I thought perhaps there may be living things in the Big Sea.”
The mayor shook his head. “There’s nothing in the Big Sea. It’s dead … and there are no sizable animals outside the perimeter to speak of.” He dropped his hands and leaned forward. “We provide the food in exchange for your work in the textile factory. You work, draw numbers, and if the quotas are met, everyone winds up with a lottery number worthy of one day’s food ration. It’s quite simple … and it’s totally under your control. We Asterians simply administer it.”
Tears ran down Mintaka’s face. She wiped them and sniffed. “I certainly am sorry. I promise you I’ll never go outside the perimeter fence again.”
He folded his arms. “I think you’re sincere. You have to think … what would happen to that wonderful little brother of yours … Bellatrix. And his older sister, Alheena. Both are under twelve years old.”
“I know, Supreme Mayor. I’m all they have since our parents disappeared.”
“They wandered off, I believe. Perhaps beyond the perimeter. Who knows what happened to them?”
Mintaka clenched her fists. “Maybe my father did, but I know my mother did not.”
“What are you saying?”
“I saw her after a Nurturing gathering … and she simply disappeared.”
He laughed. “Disappeared into the crowd, maybe. After that …” He glared into her eyes. “Who knows?”
She grasped the edge of his desk and leaned forward. “Yes, but I know what I ….” She noticed him staring at her hands. Yanking them off the desk, she stood up straight again. “Yes, Supreme Mayor. That is how it must have been.”
He looked up, smiled, and cocked his head. “I’m so glad you see it my way.” He rose and adjusted his lavender tie. “I think you have had enough bad luck.” He thrust an arm toward the food. “Have something to eat.”
She darted her eyes into his and waited.
He waved his hand three times toward the food. “Go ahead.”
Mintaka bent over and thrust her hands toward a headless, breaded fish, grabbed handfuls, and crammed them into her mouth.
The mayor laughed. “That’s right. Eat up. Then we’re sending you home … and you never again will go beyond the perimeter fence.”
She turned her head toward him and said inaudibly, “No, Supreme Mayor. Never!” She turned back to the food and broke off the end of a light-tan loaf of bread. After dipping it into a yellow, creamy sauce, she attempted to jam the whole piece into her mouth.
The mayor laughed again, walked to the end of his desk, and pressed a button. Minutes later, the opening appeared in the right wall, and two militiamen entered and stood at attention.
“See to it that this one is returned home to roost. She will be the first.” The Supreme Mayor stared at her, a gleam in his eye. “You may be remembered for this one day.”
Mintaka swallowed. “What … to go home and return again the next day?” She crammed more food in her mouth.
“To roost, Supreme Mayor?” one of the militiamen said.
“To roost,” the Supreme Mayor repeated.
They strode behind her, each grabbing an arm and escorting her toward the opening.
“Say hello to Bellatrix and Athena for me.”
Mintaka turned her head still chewing, tried to speak, gave up, and nodded instead.
After they passed through the opening, it closed behind them. The little room jiggled as though it moved downward. It stopped, and part of the opposite wall slid into itself leaving an opening. They marched her down the hall and stopped by a knob protruding from an unbroken, white wall.
Mintaka jerked her head to either side. “Wait. This isn’t the first floor. What is this?”
One militiaman pushed the knob and a perimeter the size of a door formed to the left of it. “Wait in this room first. We must get clearance papers to let you go home.”
The same militiaman tugged the knob to the left, and the area inside the perimeter flew toward the left retracting into the wall. The other militiaman shoved her forward into a small, white, windowless room.
Mintaka stepped toward a chair next to a table and turned. The door closed. Outside, one guard swiped a hand over the center of the door at head height. A window sprang into view. They peered through the transparent material at the woman inside.
Mintaka focused on the militiamen on the other side of the window and sat down. She watched one of the militiamen raise an arm off to the side but could not see his hand. Expecting to see the window disappear, a bright orange light filled the room instead. She shielded her eyes with her arms and tried to detect from where the light emanated. It seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Warmth consumed her and she panted, her mouth feeling dry. The temperature rose to an intolerable level. She jumped up, pulled at her collar, and screamed, but by the time she realized she was losing consciousness, but it was too late. She collapsed to the floor.
Outside, the militiamen watched as Mintaka’s clothing darkened to brown, then black before bursting into flames. The orange color of the room changed to red, and her body exploded hurling ash into the air. They watched it settle around the remaining flames.
One militiaman twisted the knob triggering a sucking sound. They watched the flame extinguish and the smoke raced into the walls. They turned toward one another.
“Home to roost,” one of them said. He swiped his hand across the window and it disappeared replaced by the opaque whiteness of the door. They spun and marched away.
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