Commonwealth: A Novel of Utopia, part 1, chapter 9
Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my novel Commonwealth. The rest of today’s installment is free, but only on my Patreon site. If you want to read the next part today, it’s already up on Patreon as well. You can sign up for as little as $1/month, or $2 for exclusive author’s notes and behind-the-scenes material. There’s also a table of contents for all published chapters.
Secretary Asha Remington was hard at work.
It was late in the afternoon of November 12, and Northeast Regional train no. 238 was speeding south through the wilds of New York State. Across miles of desolation, the train was the only source of living power. Its headlights cut a swath through the murky air, its chrome flanks smoldered with the heat of the engines within. Its wheels blurred with speed, striking red-orange sparks from each bend in the tracks.
It had been a chilly, blustery day, with a heavy overcast sky and unpredictable squalls of rain. The sun had gleamed weakly through gaps in the clouds, a pale and exhausted light. Now, as afternoon shaded into evening, a gray pallor was settling over the world. Twilight seeped into the sky like rust, like an oil slick, like rising seas.
The winding line of the tracks led south along the Hudson River, through faded memories of prosperity. As the train sped onward, it passed small towns huddled in the bends of river valleys, once bustling depots full of life, now silent and sullen.
Crossing gates came down as the train flashed past deserted main streets, where ivy crept over boarded-up windows and cars decayed quietly in the long grass. It passed abandoned factories, desolate hulks of brick pockmarked with broken windows. It passed vacant stores where weeds sprouted in the cracks of parking lots and dusty signs in windows promised going-out-of-business sales. It passed crumbling barns with caved-in roofs and fallow fields choked with dead tangles of growth.
With a huff of annoyance, Secretary Remington pulled down the window shade of her private car, shutting out the world.
I have no time for these trivialities, she thought. There’s work to be done. Always more work.
She rubbed tired eyes and focused on the table in front of her, which was littered with papers covered in handwritten notes and corrections. In the green shade of a lamp, an ashtray was filled to overflowing.
She took another cigarette from a glittering gold pack labeled “Apex,” lit it and took a deep drag. With a sigh of pleasure, she exhaled a cloud of smoke.
Her eye fell on the top sheet of her pad. She scowled at it as if it had offended her, then crumpled it up, took a fresh page and began writing.