Coming in early 2020
A New Series of Four Books
Albacron: #1 The Heart of the One
First in a Series
Want to know where the present-day political phenomenon might lead? The Hunger Games without the games. Where humankind’s inhumanity to humankind is the game in the 28th Century. Where history has culminated in seven hundred years of wealth ruling and exploiting poverty! Well—what if poverty fought back?
1 – BEYOND THE PERIMETER
305 Years Ago, 360 A.W. (2425 by the old calendar):
High over a tranquil body of water, a disk-shaped, flying platform sped above a narrow beach next to a hundred-foot cliff. Two humans stood on the open heliocruiser. The 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 beach. The dirt cliff loomed a hundred yards to its right like a tower of impenetrable foreboding. The craft swung out over the water, turned sharply right, then climbed toward the cliff top. When it seemed as though it would impact, it lurched upward and over the rim.
The sun reflected off the pilot’s helmet masking his face. The young woman drew the outside edges of her lips downward, disheveled and dirty hair streaming behind her.
The treetops shot past beneath them as the heliocruiser gained height, and a distant village leaped into view. On approach, a multitude of rundown shanties appeared and encircled a group of finer, official-looking buildings in the village square, the center one a hexagonal, six-story mansion.
Climbing higher revealed woods that extended beyond the village. To the right, a single-story factory stretched three hundred yards. A perimeter fence extended from either end and encircled the village. Beyond the factory, more woods.
Slowing, the cruiser descended toward the mansion and landed in a courtyard surrounded by nine, spiral towers as tall as the building. Several 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 and jabbed his baton onto her back. A 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 man in a yellow suit sat behind a desk that bulged outward in a semi-circle. He held a turkey leg in one hand. Pans and bowls, brimming with succulent foods, stretched before him on a royal-blue tablecloth. A rectangular opening expanded in the wall to his right, and two militiamen entered pulling a twenty-year-old woman in a tattered dress struggling to keep up. Her tousled hair splayed in every direction. They yanked her by the arms 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.” He wagged a finger at her. “Mintaka. You’ve done this before.”
Mintaka looked away, tears streaking past the sorrow lines in her face.
The mayor glanced at the militiamen and tossed the napkin back onto the table. “You may leave her with me.”
They stiffened. “Yes, Supreme Mayor.” Executing a smart left face, they marched toward the opening and stepped inside. It closed behind them leaving the wall with no sign there had ever been an entrance.
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 Mintaka’s midsection. He swallowed. “You Vercundi would say that is the sound of your poverty. A poverty, by the way, we Albacronians know you deserve. Your history proves that.” He sat back and wiped his mouth on the napkin again. “When were you here last?”
“Six days ago, Supreme Mayor.”
He cocked his head, closed one eye, and pointed a finger at her. “And you were here before that, I think.”
She nodded. “Two weeks earlier.”
Rising, he walked around his desk and stopped before her. He thrust a hand toward her neck, and she jerked 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 kept you from 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 onto the golden armrests with his spread fingers touching one another. “The punishment administered was no food for three days. Why the discrepancy?”
“I drew high numbers at The Nurturing 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 mill. 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 elementary.” He shrugged his shoulders, held his hands out in front of him palms up, and smiled. “And it’s totally under your control. We Albacronians simply administer it.”
Tears dripped down Mintaka’s face like rain down a window. 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. “You seem 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 of age.”
“I know, Supreme Mayor. I’m all they have since our parents disappeared.”
His eyebrows peaked upward. “They wandered off, I believe … perhaps beyond the perimeter.” He shrugged and swept one hand in front of him leaving it hovering with palm up. “Who knows what happened to them?”
Mintaka clenched her fists. “Maybe my father did, but I know my mother did not.”
He lowered his hand a gawked at her. “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 erect. “Yes, Supreme Mayor. That is how it must have been.”
He 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 desktop. “Have something to eat.”
Her eyes met his, and she waited.
He flourished his hand three times toward the food. “Go ahead.”
Mintaka bent over and thrust one hand toward a headless, breaded fish, grabbed a handful, and crammed it 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 chuckled, walked to the end of his desk, and pressed a button. Minutes later, the opening appeared in the wall to his right again. Two militiamen entered, stopped, and jerked to attention.
“See to it that this one is returned home to roost. She will be the first.” The Supreme Mayor’s eyes flared slightly as his smile created crow’s feet at their corners. “You may be remembered for this one day.”
Mintaka swallowed and crammed more food into 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.
The Supreme Mayor lifted one hand and waved his fingers. “Say hello to Bellatrix and Alheena for me.”
Still chewing, Mintaka turned her head, 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 left 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 militiaman shoved the same 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 stumbled toward a chair next to a table and turned. The door closed leaving only an unblemished, white wall facing her.
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 looked back at the militiamen through the window and sat down. She watched a militiaman extend an arm toward his right side as though he reached for the handle again. Unable to see it, she expected the window to disappear. Instead, a bright orange light filled the room. She shielded her eyes with her arms and tried to detect the source of the light. It seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Her body warmed, and she panted, her mouth drying out. The temperature rose to an intolerable level. She jumped up, pulled at her collar, and screamed. Her consciousness faded, and she collapsed to the floor.
Outside, the militiamen watched as Mintaka’s clothing singed to a burnt-brown, then an ash-gray before bursting into flames. The orange color of the room changed to red, and her body exploded. Ash debris plumed into the air pulsating orange to black and back again. They watched it settle around the remaining flames.
One militiaman twisted the knob triggering a sucking sound. Watching the flames extinguish and the smoke race 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.
The other militiaman pulled the knob out, and the door perimeter vanished. They spun and marched away.
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