Coming in 2021
A New Series of Nine Books
Albacron: #1 The Heart of the One
All character graphics ©2019 by Dakota Orlando and drawn by Nancy Niharika. Click her name to see her art.
First in a Series
If you think the election of a president will lead to the undermining of the greatest democracy on Earth, then you should see what the future could look like 700 years after the last President of the United States is elected. It’s George Orwell’s 1984 meets … The Hunger Games, but without the games … where history has culminated in seven centuries of wealth exploiting poverty! Well—what if poverty fights back?
PART 1: NO HOPE
Mary Amity, The Encyclopedia of the Modern Era (2755 edition): “Seven hundred years after the Great War, known as the Magnus Bellum, the morbidly wealthy placed the few surviving ordinary citizens into a servitude worse than what had occurred during the most egregious slavery of ancient times. Poverty existed among the unfortunate few—that was an infinite number of times greater than during the worst economic disasters that preceded the Magnus Bellum. They worked half the day, seven days a week, and rarely earned enough to eat throughout the year—every year. And for nearly seven hundred years, their families slept in the worst dilapidated housing and produced more children to serve their overly rich masters. The masters, who called themselves the Albacronians, maintained and developed the only real technology—and that is how they ruled over the impoverished Vercundi and kept their less fortunate brethren in line.”
Ronald I. Pravus: “I have created GREAT things … GREAT things for the Albacronian race.”
1 – BEYOND THE PERIMETER
305 Years Ago, 360 Post Bellum (2425 by the old calendar):
Next to a tranquil body of water, an eighty-foot cliff rose from a narrow, silty beach. A disk-shaped platform sped fifty feet above the shoreline. Two humans stood on the heliocruiser. The one in front, dressed in a silver, skin-tight, bodysuit, grasped a golden crossbar connected to the platform. The other stood behind him with her hands on a gray crossbar, her tattered dress flapping behind her.
The cruiser dipped toward the beach, swung left over the water, and banked sharply right before climbing toward the cliff top. When impact seemed imminent, it lurched up and over the rim.
August’s setting sun reflected off the pilot’s black helmet but burned the woman’s exposed skin. The corners of her lips drew downward, and the wind whipped her dirty, tangled hair.
The treetops shot past beneath them as the heliocruiser gained height. A distant village leaped into view. On approach, a multitude of run-down shanties appeared encircling a group of official-looking buildings in the village square. A hexagonal, six-story mansion dominated the center.
They climbed higher, revealing woods beyond the village to the west. On the right, a single-story textile mill extended three hundred yards. A perimeter fence stretched from either end and surrounded the village like a snake encircling its prey. More woods spread north of the mill.
Slowing, the cruiser descended toward the mansion’s courtyard. Six spiral towers stood at regular intervals guarding its perimeter. When the cruiser landed, three gray-helmeted militiamen in yellow, skin-tight bodysuits rushed toward it with batons at the ready.
After speaking with the pilot, two of them grasped the woman’s arms and escorted her toward the mansion. She broke free and bolted. One militiaman sprinted after her and jabbed his prodding wand against her back. A flash of sizzling light enveloped her, and she fell to the ground.
They grabbed her arms and dragged the unconscious woman toward the mansion entrance.
2 – HOME TO ROOST
A well-dressed man sat behind a semicircular desk. One hand gripped a turkey leg while the other hovered over pans and bowls brimming with succulent foods. In the wall, twenty feet to his left, a vertical seam formed and expanded into a rectangular opening. Two militiamen marched through it, pulling a young woman in a tattered dress. She struggled to keep up, her tousled hair splaying in every direction. They yanked her toward the desk and forced her to stand opposite the yellow-suited man.
The man set down the turkey leg, dabbed his mouth with his royal-blue, cloth napkin, then wiped his hands on it. “Another perimeter violator?”
One militiaman bowed his head. “Yes, Supreme Mayor.”
The mayor stared at the woman. “I know you.” He shook an index finger at her. “Mintaka. You’ve done this before.”
Mintaka looked away, tears flowing down her emaciated face like rain on a window.
The mayor glanced at the militiamen as he tossed his napkin onto the desktop. “You may leave her with me.”
They stiffened. “Yes, Supreme Mayor,” one said. Executing a smart right face, they marched through the opening, and it closed behind them. Only the lift symbol remained on the wall, a gold rectangle surrounding two, back-to-back arrows, one pointing up and one pointing down.
The mayor stared at the woman. “Hungry, Mintaka?”
Saliva dripped from her dangling tongue as it flopped in time with her nodding head.
“I bet you are.” Picking up his turkey leg, he bit into it. Mintaka’s midsection growled as the Supreme Mayor swallowed. “You Vercundi would say that rumbling noise is the sound of your poverty … the poverty we Albacronians know you deserve. Your history proves that.” He set his turkey leg down, retrieved the napkin, and dabbed his mouth again. “When were you here last?”
“Six days ago, Supreme Mayor.” She drew a deep breath, inhaling the scrumptious smells.
He cocked his head, squinted one eye, and pointed at her. “And you were here before that, I think.”
She nodded. “Two weeks earlier.”
Rising, he sauntered around his desk and thrust a hand toward her neck. She jerked her head back. “I won’t hurt you, my dear. I am, if anything, a peaceful man. You should be aware of that from my presiding over the daily ‘Nurturing’ gatherings.”
He grasped a brownish-red, hexagonal crystal hanging from a thin cord around her neck. The lower end terminated in a point, and the cord passed through a ring attached to a silver cap on the upper end. “I see you were awarded the ‘Crystal of Shame.’” His gaze shifted to Mintaka’s eyes. “Did you receive it after your second violation?”
“Yes, Supreme Mayor.”
“Just six days ago. That should have kept you from going beyond the perimeter fence again.” He strutted to the chair behind his desk. “And how long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
He rolled his eyes. “That’s odd.” Sitting, he eased his elbows onto the golden armrests and steepled his fingers. “We administered a punishment of no food for three days. Why the discrepancy?”
“I drew high numbers for my younger siblings and myself at the last three ‘Nurturings.’”
“Poor, young Alheena and Bellatrix. And, with the ‘Crystal of Shame,’ you could not accept any food from other Vercundi.” He bounced his fingers off one another several times. “You understand you brought this on yourself by violating the perimeter fence?”
She stretched forward, her eyes on the food. “We were hungry. I thought there might be living things in the Big Sea.”
The mayor shook his head. “The sea is as dead as your dream of the Vercundi people ever being free, and there are no sizable animals outside the perimeter to speak of.” He lowered his hands and leaned forward. “We provide the food in exchange for your work in the textile mill. You make the clothing the Albacronians need and draw numbers for ‘The Nurturing.’ If your people meet the quotas, everyone who draws a number receives one day’s food ration for their entire family. It’s quite elementary.” He shrugged, extended an arm, and smiled. “And it’s totally under your control. All directives originate from the capital in Adelphy.” He eased the outstretched hand onto his chest. “I simply administer them.”
Mintaka wiped the tears dripping down her face and sniffed. “I certainly am sorry. I promise I’ll never go beyond the perimeter fence again.”
He folded his arms. “You seem sincere, but you should have considered the consequences for your little brother, Bellatrix, and his older sister, Alheena. After all, they’re not yet twelve.”
“I know, Supreme Mayor. I’m all they have since our parents disappeared.”
His eyebrows peaked. “They wandered off, I believe … perhaps beyond the perimeter.” He shrugged and swept his hands outward, leaving them hovering. “Who knows what happened to them?”
Mintaka clenched her fists. “Maybe my father did, but I know my mother did not.”
Lowering his arms, he 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, yanked them away, and stood erect. “Yes, Supreme Mayor. That is how it must have been.”
He smiled and cocked his head. “I’m so glad you agree.” He rose and adjusted his lavender tie. “I think you have had enough bad luck.” He pointed at the desktop. “Have something to eat.”
Her eyes met his, and she waited.
He swept his hand toward the food. “Go ahead.”
Mintaka bent forward, grabbed a handful of breaded fish, and crammed it into her mouth.
The mayor laughed. “That’s right. Eat up. Then we’re sending you home, and you will never again go beyond the perimeter fence.”
She turned her head toward him. “No, Supreme Mayor. Never!” Bits of food dribbled from her mouth as she turned back to her feast. Breaking off the end of a golden-crusted loaf of bread, she dipped it into a creamy sauce and jammed it into her mouth.
The mayor chuckled, walked to the left corner of his desk, and pressed a button. Minutes later, the wall opening re-appeared. Two militiamen marched in and snapped to attention.
“See to it that this one returns home to roost. She will be the first.” The Supreme Mayor’s eyes flared as he turned to her and smiled. “One day, you may be remembered for this.”
Mintaka swallowed and crammed more food into her mouth.
“To roost, Supreme Mayor?” one of the militiamen said.
Stepping behind her, each grabbed an arm.
The Supreme Mayor pointed to a second arrow symbol on the wall to his right. “You may use my private lift. It is a more direct route.”
They escorted her toward the other lift, and one of them placed a hand over the down arrow. Part of the wall slid to the left.
The mayor lifted one hand and wiggled his fingers. “Say hello to Bellatrix and Alheena for me.”
Still chewing, Mintaka turned her head, tried to speak, and nodded instead.
The opening closed behind them, and the little room jiggled as it moved downward. It stopped, and part of the opposite wall slid left into itself. They exited and marched her down the passageway to their right.
Mintaka pulled back. “Wait. This isn’t the first floor.”
One militiaman yanked her forward and pushed a protruding knob, causing a door-shaped seam to form around it. He shoved the knob to the left, and the door slid open. “Wait in this room first. We must get clearance papers to let you go home.”
The other militiaman shoved her into the tiny, windowless room.
Mintaka stumbled toward a chair next to a round table and turned. The door closed, leaving an unblemished, white wall.
Outside, one militiaman swiped a hand over the center of the door at head height, and a window appeared. They stared through it.
Mintaka sat and gawked at the militiamen. One of them extended an arm toward his right as though reaching for the knob again. She waited, expecting the window to disappear. A bright-orange light filled the room, and she shielded her eyes with her arms. The glow seemed to emanate from everywhere.
As her body warmed, she panted. Pulling out her collar as the temperature rose to an intolerable level, she screamed and collapsed to the floor.
Outside, the militiamen watched as Mintaka’s clothing singed brown, then ash-gray before bursting into flames. The orange color of the room changed to red as her body exploded. Ash debris plumed into the air, pulsating between orange and black. It drifted over the remaining flames before settling like a black and gray snowfall.
One militiaman twisted the knob triggering a sucking sound. After watching the flames extinguish and the smoke and ash race into the walls, he turned to his companion. “Well, she’s the first.”
The other nodded. “Home to roost.”
The first militiaman giggled. “More like home to roast.” They laughed as he swiped his hand across the window. The opaque whiteness of the door replaced it.
The other pulled the knob, and the door perimeter vanished. They spun and marched away.
3 – WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
305 years later, 665 Post Bellum: (2730 by the old calendar)
Leaving the outhouse, I entered my drab, little kitchen through the back door to discover a scrawny, medium-sized dog standing by the wooden dining table.
I clapped my hands several times. “Hey, hey, hey! Scat!”
The dog jumped onto the bench, grabbed the food sack, and fled toward the front door.
Rushing into the living room, I noticed the door gaping open. I slapped my thigh. “Come back here!”
I bolted to the exit in time to see the dog sprint along the dirt road between the other crumbling shacks. Whimpering, I ran my fingers through my cinnamon hair and slumped against the flimsy doorframe.
That sack held all our extra food. Abem Dinkun, what will we eat tonight?
Chara dashed from the only bedroom and skidded to a stop in the living room. “Electra, what happened?”
I glanced at her, reached for the front door, and slammed it. “Did you just return from work?”
“A few minutes ago. Why?”
I stomped forward and pointed at the door. “Abem Dinkun, you left it open.” Folding my arms, I tapped a foot on the floor. “You know there’s been a dog roaming the streets stealing food. You’re the only adult left in this family.” I slapped my thighs and leaned forward. “Can’t you take responsibility for anything?”
Chara backed up and pressed her clasped hands against her chest. “I didn’t do it! I know I closed the door behind me!”
I managed to resist a shudder. I’m so tired of watching her back. “Sometimes, I think I should have been the older sister.”
“Well ….” Chara glanced from side to side as she lowered her hands. “You’re almost an adult. I’ll gladly let you take over on your eighteenth birthday.”
I raised the torn hem of my dirty, brown skirt and wiped my hands on its cotton fibers. She’s so irresponsible. Talking to her is like talking to that thieving dog. I stormed toward the kitchen. “I’ve already taken charge.”
“Electra?” another voice called.
I jerked around to discover Meri Diana standing in the bedroom doorway. Her blonde head bowed as she clutched the folds of her ragged dress.
“I left the door open.”
“You did it?” I rushed toward my twelve-year-old sister. I could just strangle…. I pointed at her. “Meri Diana! How careless can you be?”
Meri Diana looked up with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, Electra. I was playing down the street and saw Chara enter the house … and … and ….”
She’s scared to death. I know she didn’t mean to do it, but Abem Dinkun, we have no food for the evening if ‘The Nurturing’ goes badly!
“I ran in to greet her,” Meri Diana continued.
Deneb appeared in the doorway. Meri Diana slipped an arm around our ten-year-old brother and directed a smile into his worried, upraised eyes. She looked at me, and her smile faded.
I jammed my hands behind my back to hide my clenched fists. “We scrimped and scraped to get a day ahead.” I love her and Chara, but …. “What will we eat tonight, Meri Diana?” I stretched my hand toward the open cupboard. “The shelves are as bare as our spirits.” I stared at her. I’m glaring, but I can’t help it. “The dog stole everything we had!”
Chara’s brow furrowed as she edged forward. “We’ll have a good drawing this evening. You wait and see.”
Oh, that does it! Shaking a fist, I leaned forward. “Saying so won’t make it so. If only one section of our textile mill falls short on their quota, it will reduce the number of families getting their daily rations.”
Chara drew in her lips and blew them out again. “I can tell you there was no quota shortfall, at least not in my section. We produced one bundle over quota today.”
I threw out my arms and walked about looking upward. “Great! That’s just great!” I stopped and glared at her. “That only leaves seventeen sections to hear from.”
“But we’ve had a good run of drawing low numbers lately.” Chara nodded. “We will again.”
I lowered my eyes. “Faith! You believe in faith … and luck, I suppose! Well, they’re flimsy threads to sew with.” I stomped toward the table. Let’s face it. I’m the only realist among my siblings. “We’d better plan what we’ll do if we get nothing.”
Deneb stepped into the living room. “We can ask our neighbors for food.”
I turned, leaned against the table, and stared at the loose planks in the low ceiling. “I … hate … begging!”
Chara marched toward me and grabbed my hands. “Trust me. We will draw a good number.”
I squinted at my sister and pressed my lips together. She’s serious! If she thinks that’ll make me feel more secure …. “You’re so exasperating!” I yanked my hands away and stared as though she were a spiritual vision of evil. “Dreamer!” I turned away. “You’re nothing but a twenty-year-old, maga dreamer … a foolish child with your head in the clouds!” A sob escaped my lips. I spun and darted toward the bedroom.
Meri Diana and Deneb parted and let me pass. They gawked at me before I slammed the door and leaned against it. I heard Deneb whimpering on the other side of its thin planks.
“It’s all my fault!” Meri Diana said. The front door squeaked open and banged shut.
I can’t take it anymore! How can anyone live like this? Somehow, I don’t know how … things must change!
I flung myself onto the larger of the two beds, buried my face in a pillow, and let my tears have their way.
4 – THE HEART OF THE ONE
Thirty minutes after running into the bedroom to cry out my frustrations, a knock sounded on my door.
“Electra?” Deneb said. “It’s time for ‘The Nurturing.’ Let’s all go today.”
Like a clock, our masters wind us up, and we respond like the well-trained animals we are, day in, day out. Every day the same. Every day the inferior people.
I dried my eyes with my skirt hem. “Coming.” Rising from the bed, I opened the door to discover Meri Diana’s pleading, puppy eyes. A smile broke my lips. I can’t help it. I love her so much … my favorite sibling.
Meri Diana flew into my arms. “I’m so sorry, Electra. I’ll never leave the door open again. I promise.”
I ran my fingers through her hair. It always feels like bunny fur to me. That’s what Mama used to say about mine. I miss her. I need to be a mother to my sister now. “It’s all right.”
I stared at Chara’s expression as it begged forgiveness. I can’t stay mad at her, either. She can’t help who she is. We sisters must stick together. I smiled. “We will draw a good number. Maybe every mill section met their quotas, and it won’t matter even if we draw the largest.”
Deneb inched forward and grabbed my arm. “A hundred and ninety-eight? Wowowski! I hope not.”
“We’re a family,” Chara said, “and we’ll always stick together, right?” She raised her fist and thrust it forward. The other two did the same until their fists touched.
We are all one … born of the same flesh. For Papa and Mama, we need to hold the remainder of our family together. I forced back tears and thrust my fist forward, touching theirs. “Chara, Electra, Meri Diana, and Deneb. The heart of the one.”
“The heart of the one,” the others repeated.
I raised my eyebrows and smiled. “Let’s go to ‘The Nurturing’ then.”
Deneb’s hands dropped to his sides. “Electra, tell us the legend of how Abem Dinkun saved the first two Vercundi.”
I folded my arms. “Deneb, how many times have you heard it? You could probably tell it.”
Meri Diana grabbed Deneb’s shoulders and smiled at me. “Oh, come on, sis, while we’re in a good mood.”
“Ohhhhhh … all right.”
We stepped onto the dirt road, where the familiar smell of poverty filled the air—garbage strewn beside the shacks, sweat from unbathed bodies, and sewage from the outhouses. We strolled toward the village square. Bawl Mehr must be the foulest place on Earth. When the Albacronians designed it, they did everything to make us uncomfortable. Here we are, surrounded by forest, yet not a single tree grows within the perimeter fence to shade us from the hot, summer sun.
“Now,” I said, “to begin … our great savior, Abem Dinkun, lived among the ancestors of the Albacronians. Those ancestors created the first two Vercundi and allowed them to live in a beautiful garden. They told the male Vercundi, Mashya that he and his wife could eat anything in the garden, except for the fruit of the forbidden pear tree.”
“Yeah!” Deneb bobbed his eyebrows. “But Mashyana wouldn’t listen.”
Meri Diana paused and stomped her foot. “Oh, will you stop it? It’s not always the woman’s fault.”
Deneb grabbed her arm and yanked her forward. “But it was the woman who wouldn’t listen. Remind you of anyone?” He grinned.
Meri Diana smacked his shoulder and laughed.
“Well,” I extended an arm. “I don’t know why you need me to tell the story. You’re doing just fine on your own.”
Deneb jumped ahead of us and bounced along backward. “No. Go ahead. I’ll be quiet.”
I shook my head and frowned. He does this every time. “All right then. The ancestral leader turned into a snake and wrapped himself around the mighty trunk of the forbidden tree. He talked Mashyana into offering a pear to Mashya.”
Meri Diana wrinkled her nose. “Oh, Abem! It’s the snake! I’ve always had trouble believing in a talking snake.”
Deneb pointed. “You don’t want to believe it, because it talks women into doing bad things.” He poked his thumb on his nose and wiggled his fingers. “Gullible!”
Meri Diana shook a fist. “Abem Dinkun, spare me, please!”
I clenched my jaw. “All right, let’s not get into this again.” I lowered my chin and raised my eyebrows. “May I please continue?”
“The arrow! The arrow!” Deneb jumped up and down.
Chara whipped a finger to her lips. “Shhhhhh!”
I grabbed his arm and pulled him toward us. “Yes, Deneb, I’ll get there!” I slipped an arm around his shoulders and smiled. “Abem Dinkun had always lived on the Earth, even before the Albacronian ancestors arrived. He heard about their foul plan to trick the new Vercundi couple into slavery.”
“And just as Mashyana handed the pear to Mashya ….”
I nodded. “Yes, Meri Diana, I’m telling the story. As Mashya laid his fingers upon it, an arrow tore the pear from their hands.”
“Whoa! Yeah!” Deneb shouted. “And it pierced the head of the snake and pinned it to the tree.”
Meri Diana nodded. “And the Vercundi couple were free to go forth and multiply.”
Deneb grinned at her. “They couldn’t add or subtract, but they sure knew how to multiply.”
I smacked his head lightly. “Deneb? Shame on you.”
He laughed and backed away, bobbing his head. “And for a hundred years, they lived free.”
I shook mine and laughed as I looked at Chara. She caught my gaze and laughed as well. Soon, we entered the village square.
We stopped, and our smiles faded. Silence reigned as I glanced at the community well to our left and the Wash Building just beyond it.
“We stink,” Deneb said. “When is our next wash day?”
Meri Diana knitted her brow. “It hasn’t been seven days yet.”
I whipped a finger to my lips. “Hush. Don’t worry about that now.” I pointed to the ‘Nurturing’ platform in front of the Wash Building, where the Supreme Mayor stood.
We lowered our heads and trekked into the square.
5 – THE NURTURING
My three siblings and I walked into the village square and stood with our fellow villagers before a three-foot-high, covered platform—the Ethereal Receiver, perched on it like an eagle eyeing its helpless prey.
The bowl-shaped plate of the ER, nine feet across, sat on the platform. Its upside-down twin hung twelve feet above it from a pointed roof. A hollow, metal barrel, suspended in a wooden frame on wheels, rested to the right of the ER at the front of the platform. A handle stuck out from the right side of the frame toward the Supreme Mayor.
No Vercundi knew how the ER operated. By keeping the Vercundi in ignorance, it kept us in misery. Our only happiness came from our love, having children, and occasionally getting enough food to fill our bellies.
The Supreme Mayor stood between the barrel and lectern dressed in a yellow, frilly shirt and an emerald-green coat with matching pants. To us, he seemed mightier than a god.
About seventy-five of the hundreds milling around had formed a line before the barrel. The queue lengthened as more villagers arrived. I stepped in the queue and turned to my siblings. “Let me be the one to draw today. You wait with the crowd.”
Chara eased her hand on my arm and smiled. “Get us a good number, Electra.”
The hope pouring from my sister’s eyes is contagious. I nodded, and my family melted into the crowd.
After an attendant cranked the handle on the barrel full of small, tan cubes, the line began to move. My turn came, and I chose one. Burying it in my palm without looking, I carried it to my waiting siblings and stopped beside Chara. Meri Diana lunged for my hand and nearly pulled my arm off.
I jerked the cube away. “Wait a minute, sis.”
“Is it a good number?” Deneb bounced up and down.
I pushed Meri Diana away. “I haven’t looked yet.”
Chara drew a hand to her throat. “You haven’t looked?”
“Give it to me!” Deneb pulled at my arm. “I’ll look for you!”
I yanked the cube away, but Meri Diana snatched it.
I reached for it, but she blocked my hand.
The nerve of …!
Meri Diana smiled and waved it before my nose. “Not bad,” her voice bubbled. “One hundred and twenty.” She surrendered the cube and cupped a hand over her eyes, blocking the hot, evening sun. “What percent is that?”
I paused. “Around forty percent.”
She clapped like a three-year-old. “Abem Dinkun! We’re ahead of nearly half the other villagers. We’ll eat well tonight!”
Look at her. She’s so full of hope. I don’t want to ruin it.
Twenty minutes later, one member from every household had drawn a number.
The Supreme Mayor strutted behind the lectern and raised his hands. “All are present. We are ready for the transmission.”
Every eye turned toward the metal disks on the platform as a villager wheeled the podium away. Two others pushed the barrel aside.
Streaks of crackling lightning flashed between the upper and lower disks. A green fog swirled from the bottom to the top. The white bolts and fog cleared, revealing the nine-foot-tall figure of the Superior Albacronian, his arms spread wide.
The usual moldy smell washed over the crowd, and my nose wrinkled. A second later, I felt sick to my stomach. Every day the same thing happens.
The Superior Albacronian stood draped in a golden robe with frills hanging off its full sleeves and billowy collar. The Crown of Albacron rested atop his head. The large insignia in the front featured a torch with moving red and orange flames against a gold shield. Three pointed, horizontal bars of gray iron stretched to either side, the middle ones longer than the others. A set of nine alternating blue and clear gems spread across its base.
Every day we draw numbers. Every day he spouts the same nonsense.
“Good evening, fine citizens of the world. We, the Albacronians of Adelphy, guardians of the Vercundi people, and your line of defense against the meteor showers, welcome you to the nightly drawing at your local ‘Nurturing.’ All of you have your numbers, and I know you are eagerly waiting to begin. I hope everyone helped to make their quotas for today.”
Chara leaned toward me. “We’ll be all right.”
“I think so,” I whispered. Look at me. Now, I have hope. That could be reckless, but I don’t care. Let today be different somehow.
The Superior Albacronian lowered his head and dropped his arms. “It was not a good day.” He looked up. “Although Lily Lock, Lanta, Nork, Cho Bee, and Troyt did fine, the Beaton village turned in their seafood two shipping containers short. The Roon Oak coal mines delivered three carloads under their quota, and Fore Wert had so many cattle die off that they turned in only two-thirds of their quota.”
He drew his hands together. “But Bawl Mehr … oh, my, Bawl Mehr was the worst disaster we have ever seen. Several bad Vercundi mismanaged many of the textile looms, and they turned in less than half their quota.”
Chara clutched my elbow. “I swear we never heard a thing from the other sections.”
“Of course, you didn’t,” I spat. “That’s because you’re released one section at a time. The Albacronians don’t want us to mingle, because we might learn things.” Me and my stupid hope! When will I learn? Why should living always make us angry?
Someone tapped my shoulder, and I turned to see Deneb staring at me. “Electra, we’re in really big trouble, aren’t we?” Blinking back tears, I nodded.
The Superior Albacronian shook his head. “Albacron may have to send in technicians to help, which has hardly ever happened in the history of the Post Bellum. Every Vercundi citizen knows what that means. All the villages will suffer from fewer rations until Bawl Mehr is up and running normally.” He shook his head again. “And I hope it isn’t for too many days.”
That’s right. Punish the many for the sins of the few. Albacronians distribute justice the way angry bees administer their stings … to any bystander, guilty or not.
The Superior Albacronian stretched his hands to either side again. “And now, your Supreme Mayor will read your cutoff number.”
Crackling lightning streaked through his image. He faded, and soon only the moldy smell remained.
“Abem Dinkun!” I looked around as angry chatter filled the air.
Chara patted my arm. “We should still be all right.”
My pulse pounded in my ears until I heard nothing else. “Dreamer!”
The Supreme Mayor swaggered before the disks and raised his hands. “I’ve calculated the cutoff point. After figuring in the quota loss, it comes to one hundred nineteen point ninety-six.”
I grabbed Chara, and we jumped up and down. “They’ll round it off at one hundred twenty.”
They always do. This is where our luck changes. I can feel it.
Chara nodded. “We made it!”
“Abem Dinkun!” said Meri Diana.
“Wowowski!” added Deneb.
“Those with one hundred nineteen or lower can go to the food distribution center, but your rations will be half until we meet the full quota again. The others ….” He pointed to the drum. “Bring up your ‘Nurturing’ cubes. My attendants will take them from you.”
Chara’s expression turned as cold as an ice-glazed tree. “They didn’t round up.” Her eyes shot to mine. “They always round up.”
“It’s not fair!” Deneb stomped the ground.
No, it’s not fair. It’s Albacronian. The corners of my mouth sagged. “They don’t care if it’s fair. We’re nothing to them!”
Deneb jabbed a thumb on his chest. “So, they take it out on one family … us!”
Meri Diana’s posture drooped. “It’s all my fault.”
There she goes taking the world onto her shoulders again. I can’t let her do it over this. “It’s going to be all right.” I turned to discover Deneb crying.
Chara stomped off, stopped, and whirled around. “Saying so won’t make it so!” She turned and ran.
“Chara!” I reached toward her as she disappeared into the crowd.
She’s right to throw my words back in my face. I’m wrong to think that anything about our lives will ever change. What is that ancient word for ‘fool’ from the land of A-Fricka …? Maga! Why am I such a maga? Why are the Albacronians the masters and the Vercundi the slaves? Why does anyone have to be a slave? Hope is for dreamers, and I’m just another maga dreamer.
Meri Diana frowned. “What do we do now?”
My shoulders sagged. “It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve gone without eating. Come on. Let’s go home.”
Go to Book 2
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