Just so you have some context, this excerpt is from my first novel, THE AMADEUS NET. In the story, Mozart is alive and well, and living in a utopian city-state he’s helped create, called Ipolis; the year is 2028. Mozart has spent the past 200 years trying to figure out why he’s immortal. Meanwhile, he’s lived in style through funds raised by selling “lost” Mozart works.
But a few complications mar Mozart’s perfect world. The woman he loves won’t have him and the city’s best reporter has figured out he’s still alive and will stop at nothing to expose him. The stakes are higher than he knows, because if the reporter finds him, so will the spy planning to sell Mozart’s DNA to the highest bidder. Oh, and, by the way, the world might end in seven days. His only allies are a psychotic American artist, a bland Canadian diplomat, and the city itself: a sapient, thinking machine that is screwing up as only a sapient, thinking machine can.
Bella is the psychotic American artist, and this is the chapter where she tells the story of how she got to the “utopia” of Ipolis. And yes, this is a satire!
Born in the Great Wal-Mart Stand (Bella’s Story: An Excerpt from THE AMADEUS NET)
by Mark A. Rayner
I’m supposed to tell you how I got to Ipolis, like it was particularly interestin’ or somethin’. Well, maybe it is, when you look at all the other softies in this town.
You know what I hate about Ipolis?
It’s just a little thing. You can’t buy guns here. Not a single one. No Smith & Wessons, no Colts, no Luggers, no Saturday Night Specials, nothing. Nada. Zero. And the ones I brought with me were confiscated. I used to have three pistols, and my rifle, of course.
Where I come from, they were absolutely necessary. A fact of life.
I’ve killed about twenty men, or somethin’ like that. I don’t have an exact tally or anythin’, because sometimes gun battles get a little confusin’, especially when you’re outnumbered. You know?
But this is bound to give you the wrong idea about me. I’m an artist. No. I’m an art student. I study at the Academy here at IU, which is what all us ex-Americans call Ipolis University. I specialize in oils and sculpture, but I also dabble a little bit in experimental forms, mostly holographic paint. It’s great here. Tame, but great.
I should probably start from the beginnin’, shouldn’t I? They always do in those novels we have to read in English literature class. (Yeah, a drag, ain’t it? I’m here to study art, and they force literature down my throat, too. And that’s not all–we get music, history, philosophy, science courses, and mathematics. I like math. It’s very applicable to my art, but the literature? I don’t know.)
Anyways, the start.
I was born in the year of the Shudder. 2010. So don’t ask me where I was when “it” happened, because I wasn’t born yet. I was born about a week afterwards, in what is now called “the Great Wal-Mart Stand.” My father was an ex-Special Forces operative, and my mother was his devoted servant, from all reports. They were survivalists. You might not remember them; they believed that the world was goin’ to come to an end, and after the apocalypse, they would have to fend for themselves. The only savin’ grace to my father’s philosophy, as far as I’m concerned, is that he weren’t religious, too.
Dad was their leader. At least, that’s what he told me. The history books don’t even mention him, but they do mention my mother, so I’m pretty sure he told me the truth about the story. His version was that the Shudder was the beginnin’ of the end, the big one. Armageddon. The problem was they weren’t properly prepared. So, they decided to take over a Wal-Mart in East Lansing, Michigan. It’s kind of funny, but it has a certain kind of logic.
There were about thirty of them, and they were all armed to the teeth. They attacked at about two in the mornin’, booted the security guards off the premises, and then set up their perimeter. The Wal-Mart was, of course, a huge, warehouse-like building, with an enormous parking lot surroundin’ it, and an equally large area for deliveries. Dad always gloated on this point. He used to say: “Beautiful field of fire, honey. Couldn’t come within two hundred yards without comin’ into our sights.”
They set up machine guns, mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles on the roof, soldered, and then cemented the doors shut. The assault team had split into three groups. One drove a huge water-truck, another a tanker of gas, and the last, a tractor-trailer haulin’ huge anti-tank traps and caltrops. Dad never told me where they hid those before the assault.
One team installed the rooftop defenses, one team put the anti-tank traps on the two approach roads, still within the sight of the roof, and the third safely “secured” the water and gas. That last team was just as important as the first two, for they had anticipated a lengthy siege. The Wal-Mart would provide the rest. It is a huge repository of food, supplies, and goods, which, after the collapse of society, Dad’s survivalists could parley into a new fiefdom. They were crackpots–I can see that, even if Dad never could.
Anyway, they jumped the gun, so to speak. They invaded the Wal-Mart about three days after the Shudder, but society failed to collapse that quickly. First the local police, then the state troopers responded to the survivalists, and seein’ they were out of their depth, called upon the National Guard. The Guard arrived, and quickly launched an attack.
They were massacred, accordin’ to Dad. They didn’t wait for air cover, and I don’t know, made all kinds of tactical mistakes, which resulted in their absolute slaughter. Now you have to remember that this was in the days when the East Coast had been practically swamped by floods, and the West Coast had either fallen into the sea, or gone “boom.” It’s all there, in the history books. So, a wacky bunch of survivalists in the relatively unscathed state of Michigan was hardly as pressin’ a problem as it seemed at the time. The National Guard was left to deal with us, and to the day of his death, Dad thought that if they hadn’t been so incompetent, the survivalists would have held out in the siege. But the National Guard tried a second and third assault, to horrendous loses, and a company of Marines was sent to deal with the survivalists. They had artillery and air support, which was probably overkill.
In the meantime, Mom, who was pregnant with me, had gone into labor, and Dad was downstairs, tryin’ to help with my delivery. Almost at the exact moment when I was born, the Marines attacked. The survivalists put up a violent defense, but a smart bomb landed right on the gas supply, and blew the place sky-high. The survivin’ survivalists fought on, while Dad, who understood the “survival” part of their creed best, escaped through a hole in the wall, with me. Dad says that Mom died givin’ childbirth, but I’ve always thought that she told him to escape with me. He once told me that at the time, he’d thought I was a boy, and didn’t discover I was a girl until hours later, when he found a hideout.
I always wondered why he told me that. Was I supposed to think that, “Ah ha, that’s why you treat me like a boy!” or what? Or was it just another little fact of the story?
We escaped up to the Upper Peninsula, the UP, a land of relative plenty for someone who has been trained to live off the land, to survive in any conditions, like my father was. He raised me in the woods, while society really did collapse. (I don’t know what he did for formula–he must’ve taken some from the Wal-Mart.) In some ways, it was a great childhood.
I spent all of my time with Dad, learnin’ how to listen to the wind, smell it, learn its secrets. We mainly hunted for food–with bows and arrows. However, Dad also trained me in the use of all of our pistols, a 9-mm Glock, which he let me keep, two revolvers, a .38 and a magnum, plus his own service .45. Durin’ the winter, I carried the .38, because there was less chance of it jammin’. Dad insisted I learn “hand-to-hand,” so I spent a lot of time trainin’ with knives, and a staff, and my hands, knees, elbows, and feet. Always in that order, I remember. In addition to the karate, I learned aikido from him. He really was amazin’.
We also trained with several assault rifles, Kalashnikovs. My Dad swore by them”–Best gun ever invented, Bella, even if it is made by the Ruskies”–and two 3030s. We had a very strict ration of bullets, and once a year, Dad would go south and replenish our supplies. He mostly brought back ammunition, but he always made sure he brought me somethin’ nice, too. A new compass, a new sleepin’ bag, you know. He never brought me anythin’ girlish–he always had the practicalities in mind. I never liked it when he went away. I’d stay holed up in our shelter, a concealed cave, and only roam out when he was gone long enough for me to want a little fresh meat, or fish. Usually, he went in the summer, when the huntin’ was easiest for me, and the ground good for travelin’.
He was my schoolteacher. He usually brought back a few books with him every trip. I read them all. I was an avid reader, then. The Bible, Sung Tsu’s Art of War, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I liked those. A few huntin’ books. A book on Indian lore; I can’t remember its name. A few books on cookin’ with wild plants, a couple of books on medicine. A lot of it was stuff we could both read. Mostly, I read the Brothers Grimm, and the other book I really liked, somethin’ called Green Eggs and Ham. It was a funny book, SamIAm, with no covers, and faded, brown pages. I can’t imagine why Dad brought it with him that one trip, but I’m glad he did.
At about twelve, I started to get antsy. I’d only ever met one other person, and Dad had killed him . . . I wanted to go away into the world, to see what was happenin’. Dad always talked me out of it, except when I was thirteen; I badgered him enough that he finally agreed to show me the local town. It was about fifty miles away, to the south. Dad said the people there were fairly civilized, but definitely not to be trusted. We stashed our extra pistols and two extra rifles on the outskirts of town, and agreed to meet there if anythin’ should happen.
Dad went into the store, which was open for business, despite all the difficulties. And I waited on the street, where I met a few of the local youths. Some boys, actually. They were a noisy, smelly bunch of kids really. All about fifteen or sixteen, and soft. But there were five of them, and when they started gropin’ me, I just panicked. Before I knew it, I’d stabbed two, right in the groin, and the other three were whalin’ on me with pipes. I managed to block the first flurry, because they were comin’ all unorganized, and stabbed another guy, right in the chest. He fell like a big pine, takin’ my knife with him, blood gushin’ out around the knife. The other two charged me, and just at that moment, Dad appeared in the doorway with a bag of supplies.
He shot them both with his .45. Right in the heart. Boom! Boom! So that got everyone’s attention–that, and the sound of the two I’d sliced in the groin, screamin’ like wounded pigs. The exact same sound. Believe me.
The townspeople came runnin’, and Dad told me to take off. I calmly got my knife, sheathed it, and pulled out my Glock. “I’m stayin’ here, Dad,” I said. He smiled at me then, it was only the second time he’d smiled at me, and told me to watch behind us. We backed out of town, my eyes lookin’ behind, and Dad watchin’ the crowd gather before us. Soon enough they got enough courage to charge us, but Dad dropped a couple more–he was a hell of a shot, my dad, and it was all over. We ran back to our stashed guns, and then headed for home.
The villagers tracked us for a while, but they couldn’t follow us in a mob. One or two of them were really good, so we had to set up an ambush to kill them. It was too bad, ”˜cause they were ace trackers.
And I never asked to see town after that. Besides, it wasn’t long until Dad got himself killed. The next summer, he surprised a bear feedin’, and it charged. What he should have done, what he taught me to do, was to empty a pistol in its head, but he tried a bow shot. He got it in the eye, but it didn’t die right away. I heard the bear and ran towards the sound. It had chewed Dad up pretty bad. He had a big flap hangin’ off his side, where the bear had slashed him, and the bad part, it had bit Dad’s left hand almost off.
I dragged him home, and did what I could–sewed up the flap, but the hand was beyond my ability. I had to cut it off, and then I had to cauterize the wound. Dad was unconscious the whole time, ”˜cause of blood loss, I think. The hand didn’t come off easy, even with the sharp saw we kept just in case. He lost a lot more blood, and I started to get real worried. But he came around, in a lot of pain, and asked me how bad it was. I told him he’d live, but I was wrong.
I guess he just didn’t have enough blood left to fight the infection, even with the antibiotics we had. Maybe there was some kind of internal injury–in my rush to take off the hand and cauterize it, I coulda missed somethin’. I don’t know. He died about a week later.
I cried that night.
Bein’ alone was my worst fear. (My only fear.) And it just kind of descended on me like a blanket. I buried my dad, next to the man he’d killed. I’ll tell you about him some other time, ”˜cause I’m supposed to tell you how I got to Ipolis.
Well. I tried to stay in the Bunker, as Dad liked to call our cave, but I couldn’t. All I could hear were the sounds of the forest, and not a single human noise. Dad was a nonstop talker, did I mention that? The whole time in the Bunker, he just rattled on and on, about life, how important it was to survive, the sanctity of freedom, and doing what you wanted. The American Way. In the forest, he blended his sounds with the wind he taught me about, but at home, he was a loudmouth.
I couldn’t take the solitude. I’d never been lonely with Dad around. Funny, you know. Most people would have gone berserk with only Dad as company, but he was reassurin’. I guess I didn’t like him a whole lot, but he was good company. When he was gone, I needed company. Bad.
So I headed south. I packed up three pistols–the Glock, the .38 and the .45–I’d buried the other .45 with Dad, kind of to tell him how stupid he was for gettin’ himself killed. And one assault rifle. Plus my bow, of course, ”˜cause I can always make more ammunition for it. I buried the other guns, and I took all the ammunition I could with me. That’s all I took. Oh, and a compass and my knife. I figured I could find everythin’ else I needed, if everythin’ Dad had reported to me was true.
It wasn’t really. Sure. There were some bad places, but there was a Provisional Government in charge of most of Illinois and Michigan, under President Booker, or somethin’ like that, and there was a semblance of order–they were just starting to rebuild the States then. My assault rifle got a lot of long looks in some towns, but nobody said nothin’ about it. But when I got closer to Detroit, it got worser. I don’t know why I was goin’ that way, but it was my destination.
I got into a bad fight about thirty miles from downtown. I ran into this gang of a dozen men, and they said they was gonna rape me and do things I couldn’t even imagine to me, which didn’t sound so good, so I just opened fire. They weren’t expectin’ that. When the Kalashnikov was empty, I used the .45, for effect. Two of them got away, with pretty ugly wounds. And here’s the amazin’ thin’ about this little story, as gruesome as it is: they were all wearin’ gold jewelry, and they all had little pouches filled with jewelry. It was a fortune.
I took it all and put it in my pack. About an hour after that, this other gang pulls up on motorcycles–you have to remember I’d never seen a motorcycle at the time, so I hid as soon as I heard them. They knew I was around though, so they waited. They were very patient, so I figured that their leader must have been pretty smart. I looked for him.
That night, they made a campfire, though they still had people on the lookout for me down both ends of the road. I was hidin’ in a little copse of trees, “belly down, ear to ground,” as my dad would say. I waited for the fire to get real bright, and then I shot the leader. Bang!
Then the shit hit the fan. They freaked, started yellin’ at one another. They had the presence of mind to put out the fire. I crept to a new spot, and waited for things to quiet down. Then I strung my bow and took out the guards on the Detroit end of the road. Thup, thup! Gone. It was too easy, and with the leader gone, they didn’t expect me to do somethin’ like that. I crept up to the dead guards, pulled out my arrows, and then pushed one of their motorcycles away. After a coupla miles, I pushed it off the road into a deserted house. Inside I figured out how to turn it on, and how to make it work.
I was in Detroit that night.
It was amazin’. The inner part of the city was like a fortress. The border patrol stopped me at the wall. They asked me what I wanted there, and what I could do, and how old I was and all kinds of questions at this border post. I almost started shootin’ again, but they had machine guns set up in two guard posts, and I knew I’d be dead if I started anythin’. I sweated it out there for a while, ”˜cause I could lose everythin’. All my guns, my bow, the new motorcycle, and the jewelry. But they were okay. I found out later that durin’ the confusion which followed the Shudder, a bunch of Canadian soldiers had invaded Detroit and set up a perimeter around the bridge. Apparently, the crazy Canucks were afraid of the ragged citizens of Detroit spillin’ over the bridge and into little ol’ Windsor.
Ha! The people in Detroit were too busy killin’ one another. As far as they were concerned, Canada barely existed.
The end result was that after years of decay under the good old U.S. of A., the Canadians finally cleaned up downtown Detroit. It was still poor, but safer than the surroundin’ area. At that time, President Booker was makin’ noises like he was goin’ to “repatriate” Detroit, so everyone was on a hair-trigger. But they let me in; they did confiscate my weapons, everythin’ but my knife, and they also confiscated my motorcycle. They didn’t touch the jewelry, and that’s why I trusted them. Of course, with no guns, they could just take the jewelry when they wanted. I didn’t even know why I wanted to keep the jewelry; maybe in the back of my head, I remembered what Dad had always said about money. It was the root of all evil, but in other times, it made the world go round. I took up residence in a nice hostel with some other Michiganites, recently arrived in town. They were a shell-shocked bunch. Most of the women had been raped a number of times, and the men were too hollowed out to be any use.
But I was strong, and very well-trained, thanks to Dad. So they let me join their militia, even though I was so young. In fact, I was a natural, and in a couple of months, I had my own squad. It was great. I was never alone, unless I wanted to be.
Except one day that winter–I was walkin’ around town on my day off, a day I always hated ”˜cause it left me to my own devices–and I saw this big buildin’. Never noticed it before. And inside were things called “paintin’s” and “sculptures.” There was a guard at the door, but anyone was allowed in. It was empty, at least I thought so.
I was amazed. Really amazed. It had never occurred to me that such a place could be. A huge buildin’ filled with paintin’s and sculptures and things, which people had made, just for the hell of it. I wandered from room to room, my eyes streamin’ with tears. At first, I didn’t know why I was cryin’, maybe for joy, I’d thought. But then, I came into this room, a smaller room, and on one wall was a picture of a woman, sucklin’ a baby. I knew what it was, ”˜cause Dad had explained to me about my breasts, but it stopped me like a slug from the 3030. I fell to my knees and started weepin’.
I never knew till that moment, how much I’d lost.
A boy–probably no more than 16 or 17–found me there, I can’t remember his name, and he knelt down and asked me what was the matter. I put my head into his chest, and held on to him, and the next thing I knew, I was rippin’ his clothes off, kissin’ him, almost devourin’ him. He didn’t seem to mind, and when I thrust myself down on him, I just started weepin’ again, and then screamin’. It was over quickly, and the poor boy just kind of gathered his clothes and ran out of the room, lookin’ back at me like I was a demon or somethin’. But he had come, nonetheless. They almost always do.
I pulled myself together and decided right there that I was goin’ to make art. If only one person could feel the way I just had about a paintin’ I made, then that would really be somethin’. After that, I asked around about goin’ to some kind of artist’s school or somethin’, and I found out the best one was in a place called Ipolis. So that’s where I went.
It was a long trip–it took two years. All the way across Canada by motorcycle to New Juneau, where I cashed in my jewelry for a one-way ticket on a clipper ship, you know the kind, with AI-run sails. And here I am.
Without a single weapon–unless you count a knife or a paintbrush.
You can purchase a copy of THE AMADEUS NET directly from ENC Press.