Chapter 1 The Red Slum
From the first page of the Ledger:
The black voice said, “Live in fire, wild, souls howl here.”
There are two paths to every man’s life. Some choose hell …
IT’S AS IF I too am running for my life.
I sit transfixed by the scene outside the smudged window. A scrubby looking boy races away from a statehouse guardsman barely out of reach of the angry soldier’s whip. I clench my fists, press closer to the window, and let the pounding in my ears cover my idiot tutor’s droning voice:
“… after the Eurasian Nuclear War of 2049 when North America united into 90 states and declared trade independence from the rest of the world …”
The kid reaches the fence and scrambles up the chain links. The frayed end of the guard’s whip catches him on the ankle. Two small oranges spill from his pockets as he lurches to scurry over the top unfazed by the lashing or the broken barbs. He casts a casual, nonchalant glance over his shoulder and disappears out of sight.
My posture relaxes and my pulse returns to normal, but then my eyes fall to the words the tutor has scrawled on the wallboard: Eurasian Nuclear War. The letters jump around in my head and rearrange themselves into I aware casual runner. My heart skips a beat. I’ve been having more of these strange distractions lately. Words change in my head and I miss several minutes of time.
I slump down in my seat and glance at the three other boys forced to sit through this drivel with me. Not one is paying attention. We’ve heard it a thousand times.
“… post-apocalyptic immigration changed the culture of our new nation. Tattoos on the left elbow, red or blue, were given at birth to differentiate the two classes. Intermarriage is punishable by death and so is killing or breaking the bones of someone of the opposite tattoo.”
I fight the urge to cradle my left elbow even though it doesn’t matter since I’m wearing a long sleeved shirt. I can never draw attention to my fading tattoo. As grandson of the most powerful man in the nation, Executive President Bryer Battista, there should be no doubt that I am a Blue.
But I have a doubt. Something isn’t right. No one else’s royal blue tattoo has purpled like mine. For months now I’ve secretly dabbed blue dye on my skin, as much to hide the suspicion from myself as from anyone else, that maybe, just maybe, the tattoo I was given sixteen years ago was red. And maybe I, Dalton Battista, grandson of the cruelest tyrant ever, am not a true member of the elite ruling class. That maybe I belong to society’s religious outcasts–those poor hoarders, low class rejects, slave labor.
It takes a moment before the silence registers on my ears. The tutor is no longer speaking. Four sets of eyes are turned on me, watching, waiting.
“Excuse me? Could you repeat the question?”
“Certainly,” the tutor smirks. “What is the name of the resistance leader who tried to claim all of Exodia for the Reds?”
“Um,” I clear my throat. I love history actually. Half my life I was raised by a Red nanny whose tales of Ronel captivated me. “Ronel, David Ronel, he, um …” I run a hand through my hair, long by current standards, and simply stop talking. My fear of public speaking muzzles me even in this small group.
And now my mind swirls around the fact that this morning I ran out of blue dye.
* * *
AVAILABLE on AMAZON