I am so excited that VAGABONDER by R.T. Coleman & Aurelia Leo is available now and that I get to share the news!
If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book, be sure to check out all the details below.
This blitz also includes a giveaway for a finished copy of the book courtesy of Aurelia Leo & Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, check out the giveaway info below.
Author: R.T. Coleman
Pub. Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Aurelia Leo
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo
Humans have always feared Caen’s kind.
Survivors of a mysterious virus, Ruĝa Morto, that killed 80% of Earth’s population two centuries ago, they have endured enslavement as Neurologically Compromised Individuals, or NiCIes, owned by OnyxCorp. Now, in 2261, Caen begins a perilous journey to seek the Vagabonders, the original moon colonists, whom many believe hold the key to freeing his people.
He knows he is hunted. He expects death at every turn.
But he doesn’t anticipate meeting Dr. Ligeia Obumbwe, a human biogeneticist desperate to protect her brother Finn, yet another victim of the endemic virus. When OnyxCorp promises to keep Finn safe in exchange for her work in their lunar lab, she accepts despite her increasing unease regarding the Corporation’s motives.
Ligeia and Caen become unlikely partners in a dangerous quest to reach the Vine, the space elevator that is the first step in their journey to the moon.
What they find along the way could help them bring OnyxCorp to its knees…or destroy everything they love.
The woman isn’t dead. She’s sprawled across Paysandú Station’s cracked tile where she collapsed in a heap, the strike from the electristic still sparking across her back. Her bag skids to a halt a half meter from the alcove where I cower. It could have been me. It should have been me.
The station’s traffic flows around her, steps over her. A few humans give her a glance; the Dua try not to look. From the dank alcove, I watch her waist rise, fall; her limbs twitch, then settle. The drone—round, silver—hovers several meters above her. Taunting.
Something dark careens across the cracked tile floor. A human male appears to have kicked the back of the woman’s head, hard. I step forward, my fists doubled.
“Are you crazy?” My sister’s breath cools the back of my neck. Her fingers tighten, her nails dig into my forearm. She jerks me back.
“It’s still up there.”
I shake her off as the Dua’s dark head covering slides to a stop a few meters from the unconscious figure. Wispy white hair spills across the tile, and I run my hand absently through my own. “I can take out a drone.”
She digs her fingernails deeper into my skin. “We can’t just leave her out there, Eisa.”
“It’s too late anyway,” she whispers. I hear the Authority bots first, a steady, metallic thunk, thunk, thunk. Two stop at the woman. One positions as sentry; its sienna eyes glow behind a dark helmet. The other bends, emitting a low whine, retrieves the tattered bag, then lifts the Dua in its subarms. Its hands curve around her wrists and ankles.
The Dua’s thin legs dangle as her head lolls back. Eisa gasps beside me. “Goddamn,” I whisper. “A child. Why?”
“They get scared.” Eisa loosens her grip and retreats to the stone wall at the alcove’s rear. Her blue eyes glisten. “Mama always told them.
Humans know humans. They say it’s like this in all the cities.” She shivers, pulls her arms across her chest, wraps her hands around her shoulders.
The last time I saw her, she was a child herself, standing very close to this same spot. Her face was blotchy and red from crying, and when I’d waved goodbye from the train, she’d buried her face against our mother’s shoulder. Mother’s eyes never left mine.
Now that she’s grown, Eisa’s face is like my mother’s.
Elegant and open.
“Where do they go?”
Eisa shrugs. “These days, we can get most registries to Caracas, but the Station there can’t get them anywhere else, so we’ve been trying Montevideo.” She nods toward the backpack around my shoulders. “That registry didn’t come cheap.”
And you’re definitely cutting the line is unspoken, but I know it’s there. Hundreds of Dua wait for forged registries to a dwindling number of Republic of SoAm stations, bound for the American peninsula, maybe Morocco.
Somewhere OnyxCorp isn’t.
“A child,” I repeat.
“Yes.” Eisa retrieves a drugstic from her pocket. She flicks it on and takes a light drag. “Imagine what they’ll do to you.” She breathes out a soft vapor cloud that encircles her head.
“They have to catch me first.” My voice sounds less confident than I intend.
She scoffs. “Caen. They’re looking all over for you. And you just waltz right in to the one place they know—”
“Our mother was killed.” Eisa looks at me as if I’ve struck her. I breathe in and almost choke on the station’s dank air. Synthohol, anxiety, a protein packet, nanosynthetic hair, fear, burning fossil fuel, anger. Dua and human and machine, a miasma of confusion and uncertainty. It’s my second trip to Paysandú Station in so many days, but only today do I see how everything has changed in those eleven years. I glance at the holographic signage above B Platform, a projection of a grinning human couple. Copy scrolls over their faces in bright red and black letters: OnyxCorp. From the Earth to the moon, making your journey to perfection complete. The woman’s toothy smirk spreads through perfectly generated red lips, her rounded features in sharp contrast to the man’s chiseled jaw and high cheekbones.
Travelers walking beneath the hologram might imagine they could touch the woman’s hair as it flutters down toward the causeway floor. OnyxCorp. Generating perfection. The image fades until only the black O logo fills the screen.
“She knew you’d come back. She always believed, wouldn’t let anyone say otherwise.” Eisa takes another drag. “But you should never have come back, brother.”
“I suddenly had business here.”
“Not anymore.” She juts a thumb behind her, toward the bot standing at C Platform. “If they find you here, we’re all as good as dead.”
I’ve seen this bot type before. Subarms, armored torso, electristic at the ready. The mechanisms that attach its round head to its body are surprisingly vulnerable if you dare to get close enough. Or don’t have a choice. “It’s a Level 1, or a Level 2. You said they’re all here, in the station? I count six bots.”
“Level whatever. They’re all lethal. There were dozens here during the strike, but after—” Her voice wavers. “You can’t take down six bots, brother.”
“By myself, no. But there are hundreds—”
“We’ve tried that.” Her voice breaks, and suddenly she sinks to the ground. Her hand shakes as she brings the drugstic to her mouth.
“I’m sorry.” I settle on the broken tile beside her and pull her to me. “It shouldn’t have gone that way. If I’d been here—”
“It wouldn’t have made a difference. They’re making a move, Caen. We need to make ours. Montevideo is still using reclamation crews. They won’t realize how old the registry is until you’re long gone. From there, you can—”
“I know, I know. Find Lee Chou.” I pull her closer. She is solid, strong. But she is afraid. “If they’re starting to purge the small cities now, more will need to get out of what’s left of SoAm. You need help. Now that Mama’s gone. I should stay.”
She scoffs. “You wouldn’t last a week. And they’d take down everyone in Paysandú to get to you.” Another drone buzzes overhead. The station’s lights glint against it, and Eisa ducks her head instinctively. “You really want to help?” She scrambles to her feet. “Get out of here. Fulfill this destiny of yours.” She spits out the word. “Take that,” she says, pointing to the pack lying in the corner, “to the moon. Find our people. Like Mama said.”
I suppress an eye roll as I get to my feet. “You can’t seriously believe that old story.” I glance at the bot. No change. Its electristic emits a sienna pulse as it charges. “I don’t believe it.”
“Of course I don’t believe it. My brother, the only Dua who can save us all? It’s ludicrous.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “But if you stay here, you’ll die. And they’ll have their prize. Get out of SoAm. Hell, go to the moon. Maybe it’s all true.”
“Vagabonders. Original moon settlers. The fairy tales Mother told us at night.”
“Some tales are based in truth. Maybe this one is one of those.” She dusts off the seat of her threadbare trousers, and for a moment she looks exactly like Mama. Before Mama was the Paysandú Station manager. Before she had the lives of countless Dua children, their mothers and fathers, in her hands. Their dreams of a better life hers to fulfill if she can.
How many dreams had she foregone? Did she have any of her own?
I run a hand over my face. Hot as hell today. Hot and wet and close. “You’re scared. I get it. This,” I say, gesturing to the bustling station beyond our hiding place, “is scary. But it’s real. OnyxCorp is real, something we can fight, together. The Vagabonders—”
“You owe me.” The sharpness in her voice is Mama’s as well. I look down at the broken tiled floor. Tiny weeds and moss push their way through crevices created through time, neglect, apathy. “You haven’t seen it like it is here. You’ve been out there, in the places no one wants to go. You saw how OnyxCorp is working them, drugging them, keeping them under control. Where do you think those Dua are coming from? They’re gathering us up like never before.
They’re realizing what we are, what we can do, Caen. And they’re scared. You know what they’re willing to do when they’re scared.” She grabs the pack and thrusts it toward me. “There’s some unfinished business on that digiscreen.”
Sighing, I take the bag, sling its strap over my shoulder.
Its contents bounce gently across my back. My mother’s digiscreen, an artifact from a different time, a keeper of secrets. “Come with me.”
Eisa shakes her head. “Someone has to keep the station going.
Maybe get a few more out—”
“You’ve done enough. We’ve done enough.”
Her arms are suddenly around me. I’m never going to see her again. My chest tightens.
“You are the wanderer, brother.”
“A Vagabonder?” My voice is harder than I mean. She pulls away and brushes her hand across her cheeks.
“Maybe. Probably not. Either way, what do we have to lose?”
She cups my face between her palms. “I really missed you, big brother. Seeing you, though—” She shakes her head, releases me. “You’re going to miss your transport.”
I glance at the registry interface to my right, maybe ten meters away. Its electronic face glows faintly behind rushing silhouettes of men, women, and children. The bot across the causeway still hasn’t moved.
“I’m coming back for you.” I swallow against the lump in my throat. I hold her gaze. Our father’s azure eyes, our mother’s face.
“She always said this was what you were meant for.” She meets my eyes. “Go find our people. Make this right.”
I pull myself away and plunge into the light, the noise, the buzz. Paysandú Transport Depot. I pass a media screen on my left; a hologram head bobs in the foreground. The Vine looms in the background. The space elevator. Thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean.
I fight the urge to look behind me. At the registry interface, I fumble with the forged ID chip and drop it on the tile. My hands tremble as I retrieve it and hold it beneath the reader. The interface buzzes softly, and five seconds later, a holographic face appears, its features an amalgam of faces that overlap and intertwine.
“Welcome. I’m TES, TechComm Enhancement System. Please state your registry number for voice recognition protocol.” The interface crackles.
Only the worst for Paysandú.
“NCI790—” My voice catches; the last three numbers come out in a hoarse croak.
The interface buzzes.
“Not recognized. Please state your registry number for voice recognition protocol.”
I clear my throat. “NCI790612.” Better.
The interface chirps.
“Thank you, NCI790612. You are authorized for travel to the following locations. Please state your destination.”
An area map displaces the distorted face. The cities to which NCI790612—the falsified identity my sister has given me, an identity meant for a young Dua, the last of his family—is permitted travel flash in green: Montevideo, Belém, Caracas. The rest of the Republic of SoAm, what remains of the South American continent, is red.
“Please state your destination,” TES crackles.
I feel my sister’s eyes on my back, her heart pounding. Or perhaps that’s my heart. “Montevideo.”
The interface chirps. The map flashes green, zooms in to Montevideo. “Destination recorded. NCI790612. You are authorized for travel to Montevideo for four days. Return to Paysandú expected on 07.10.2261. Please proceed to B17 Platform.”
I glance up at the grinning holographic couple as I adjust the bag on my shoulder. …making your journey to perfection complete.
The O grows like a dead, white cornea surrounded by a black limbal ring. I risk a last look toward the alcove. I don’t need to see Eisa to know she’s there, willing me to hurry.
I turn to B Platform, merge with the crowd. A human male behind me stinks of sweat and the chemicals they use to clean their garments.
He runs past me, bumps into a young human female who’s entranced by the station’s crumbling ceiling. She stumbles, all elongated legs, sculpted torso, and bioenhancements in a silver bodysuit. I follow her gaze to a mural, possibly beautiful at one time. Green hills surround a gently cascading stream, lush forests hide long extinct mammals no one in this station has ever seen in reality. I pass the young woman, catching a whiff of lavender. No, not real lavender. Just another bioenhancement. From the Earth to the moon, the humans seek sameness. Perhaps to humans, sameness is perfection. Sameness in humans, sameness in Dua, but difference between. B17 is empty save for the bot, twenty-five meters to my left.
Its black metallic body stretches more than two meters from the floor to its round titanium head. Thick cables connect the head with a bulging, armored chest. Its shielded helmet is dark. A lean woman with light brown hair scuffles past me, her left hand wrapped tightly around a child’s hand. The child struggles to keep up; its head is engulfed in an occulus—their constant connection to TES—far too large. As she draws nearer the bot, she tugs at the child impatiently as she increases her stride.
The child stumbles, and the occulus rolls away. A tuft of stark white hair flashes before the woman covers the child with her body.
A Dua child.
She struggles to readjust the occulus, the only way a Dua child could pass. The child whimpers. Perhaps it senses the woman’s fear. The air is permeated by it.
The Authority engages. Two points of sienna burn through the dark visor. It takes a step.
The woman kneels before the child and whispers against their cheek. She smooths the white hair. The child’s dark blue eyes are wide, frightened.
She clutches the child’s hands, pulls the small body close.
Run, damn you.
The bot advances. Why do they try to pass?
They get scared. The forged ID I just used could have been given to a mother. A child.
I sprint past the Dua toward the bot. It screeches to a halt.
A Level 1. Clunky. Slow. It hasn’t even begun to access its defense protocols when I reach it. Pivoting on one foot, I swing behind the bot, grasp the cables that extend from its back to the base of its round head, and jerk. The bot tries to spin in response, giving me the added leverage I need. The cable bundle tears loose. Bright orange sparks rain down as I twist away from the stumbling bot.
The maglev shrieks into the Station and rumbles to a stop seconds later. The Dua and the child are gone. Good. The bot staggers in a wide circle, searching. Arrivals spill from the maglev’s compartments, humans at the front, Dua in the rear, confusing the bot even more. When a drone finally buzzes into the scene in response to the bot’s sudden malfunction, I am lost in the crowd.
Onboard the maglev, I throw myself into a seat and peer out the window. The drone hovers just above the bot, rotates slowly, scans the crowd as it thins, disperses, human and Dua together.
The maglev lurches forward, shivers as it gains speed. Soon the bot, the drone, the station, and my sister are the past. My future is another world.
My future is the moon.
I take a long breath in and let it out slowly. The pack presses into my back as it lodges between my body and the seat. I shrug it from my shoulders and set it next to me.
What the hell are you doing?
The question pushes through the maglev’s steady pulse and my jumbled thoughts. In less than a week I’ve dismantled everything I’ve built over the last eleven years. My position in the Dua Emancipation Party, abandoned. My objectivity, destroyed. For what?
Your mother died.
The tattered bag next to me is all I have left of her, its weight measured more in expectation and legacy than volume. I place a protective hand over it and close my eyes to remember again the last time I saw my mother’s face, eleven years ago.
It will be hard, son, she said. You will wonder why it must be you. I wondered the same. Why did this information come to me? Why can’t I entrust it to someone else, anyone else besides my own child? I don’t have answers, but I do know that if we are to have any chance at freedom, you must be stronger and faster and smarter than any human. You must learn all you can so you can take this information to the moon and find our people. Only they can help us now.
I came back to Paysandú looking for a fight, an avenging angel for my mother. My people. Brutalized. Arrested. Murdered. All because of what they are.
I leave a coward, running away and leaving behind the only family I have left.
I realize I am not alone when I hear the shuffle of human feet. I place a hand on the pack as the inquisitive face of a human girl rises over the back of the torn seat in front of me. Her dark hair is pulled back in a messy ponytail that contrasts sharply with her crisp silvery uniform. Her occulus, the constant virtual companion of every human child until age fifteen, is pushed back on her head haphazardly.
“Are you a NiCIe?”
I grimace at the slur. She’s maybe ten or eleven; the word sounds somehow harsher from her. She leans over the seat to get a better look at me.
“I am Dua.”
“Is that the same thing as a NiCIe?” I consider setting her straight. Not the way you mean it, like we’re the virus. Like we’re the disease. Instead, I shift closer to the window and look out. “I knew it. Because of your hair. And your eyes.” She slides down the length of the bench to join me at the window.
“Don’t you have parents somewhere?” The girl is one thing.
Human children tend to be curious, not violent. Adults are another matter. Dua don’t transmit Ruĝa Morto, but humans don’t hear that. They only know what the virus does to them. It makes them like us.
The girl shakes her head, her ponytail swinging widely.
“Dad’s in the other car. He’s asleep, but I don’t know how. This maglev is so old. Do you think it’s noisy? I’m going to Buenos Aires. Where are you going?
We’re going to see my mother. She’s sick, in the med facility. Dad says it’s the best in SoAm.”
“I’m sorry your mother is ill.” I say it as warmly as I can, but it’s less warm than she expects because she narrows her eyes. “Mothers are important,” I add, trying to smile.
The girl cocks her head. “She has a virus. Do you know what a virus is?” She speaks slowly, as if I were a particularly dumb NiCIe.
“Yes, I do.”
“I haven’t seen her in a whole month because she was too sick, but Dad says she’s better now.” She leans closer, presses her chest across the top of the seat between us. “I heard my father call it Ruĝa Morto, so I thought that meant she would die. But my learning avatar, Willow,” she taps the occulus, “said Ruĝa Morto doesn’t cause people to die. Not anymore.
But she says it changes people. I mean, humans.”
“You’re going to bring her home, your mother?”
“They’re moving her to a better hospital, Dad says. Until she changes back.” I want to laugh at the absurdity. I look away again, willing her to leave. “My father says NiCIes are stupid. Is it true NiCIes have to do whatever we tell you to do?”
“Why don’t you ask your learning avatar?” This time I mean to sound harsh, and it works. Her face falls, her shoulder slump, and immediately I feel regret. A child. Not her fault. I clench my fists, one of them gathering the pack’s loose material into a ball. “We do what is rational. Many times, what’s most rational is to do for others rather than for oneself.”
The girl’s lips crinkle as she contemplates this information.
She looks out the window at the rushing landscape, pulls the occulus over her eyes. I follow her gaze. Scattered, crumbling, decaying buildings. Remnants of rotting trees and vegetation cluttering deteriorating streets and jabbing through disintegrating walls. Evidence of colossal floods that overran most of the continent a century before.
“No one lives there anymore, do they?” the girl says. “Willow is showing me how it used to look. It was so beautiful. Oh, there was so much water.” She frowns as she watches the scene play through her occulus, and I wonder how the history of the planet’s environmental collapse is told to human children. “She tells me even NiCIes can’t stay there.”
“Where do you live? NiCIes, I mean.” She moves her head from side to side, biting her lip as the occulus continues its instruction.
“Wherever humans don’t want to live.”
The girl turns her head and pushes the occulus back to rest on her forehead. I can see a question forming when the door at the car’s far end swooshes open. An imposing human man with an over-large chest and a bald head enters, glances frantically left and right until he spies us and heads our way. His face is red, his mouth turned down. The girl stiffens as he halts beside her.
“Magret, return to your seat now,” he growls. The girl lowers her head and slides to the floor with a soft thud as he places a heavy hand atop her head. Before he can push her behind him, she rises tall and whirls to face me, her expression a mixture of fear and defiance.
“Goodbye.” Her words pour out. “You seem like a—a good NiCIe.” She ducks around the man, runs down the aisle, and disappears into the next compartment.
The man’s breath is hot on my face. I look up, meeting his eyes. This will set him off, I know, but I can’t help myself.
“They used to keep your kind isolated.” His jaw is clenched and rigid.
“You’re free to leave.”
Fury washes over him, and for a moment it is euphoric. He raises his arms at the elbow, his fists clenched. “You walk around us, they say nothing. You think you can just go where you want, infect who you want—”
I rise slowly to make sure he sees me, really sees me. Sees that I tower over him, sees that I could end any fight he cares to start. His mouth snaps shut. For a moment I think he might go through with it, but he steps backward. “Fuck you, NiCIe. You and all your kind.” He takes a few more backwards steps. He won’t take his eyes from mine, and I respect that. Then he spins on his heel and strides back the way he came, the aura of his anger and sorrow thick between us.
I sink on the bench after the compartment door slides closed behind him and let out a long breath. They, too, have lost. Loved ones. Homes.
Their planet. Hope. I draw the backpack across the seat and hold it tight against my body, the image of my mother’s face suddenly coming to mind. But so have we. So have I.
The maglev slows three hours later as it nears Montevideo.
Ramshackle buildings at the city’s outskirts show signs of habitation. A rusted vehicle here, canisters filled with green vegetation there. Pieces of colorful cloth blow in a light breeze. The permanent labor force, living where they are told, in whatever conditions are allowed.
The Vagabonders are a myth, a dream. A sacred tale tying my people to one another, to a planet that can never be ours, to the barren hunk of rock that orbits the Earth. Our home, the myth says.
We all get to dream.
Copyright © 2022 by R.T. Coleman
About R.T. Coleman:
R. T. Coleman grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she nurtured a passion for reading and writing while nestled among blankets and pillows in her bedroom closet. Her love of science fiction was born when she saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977. Imagine her disappointment when she realized she could never actually be Princess Leia.
She lives in Springfield, Arkansas, with her partner Joe on their 25-acre farm, where she works as an instructional designer by day and a writer and editor by night. Vagabonder is her debut novel.
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