“What the hell is your problem?” Barked a gravelly female voice. Devin looked down to find a bug-eyed, sixtyish woman glaring up at him. “Are you some sort of moron?” She asked. When she spoke, her lip curled up revealing a set of yellowed dental implants. Her scowl stretched an array of creases across her blotchy face. Her thin, oily hair was brownish gray and flat. Her eyes were like bulging mantis orbs which were not quite in synch with each other. She braced herself with hands gripping a walker. Her fingernails were thick and so long that they curled at the tips. She had an oxygen tank that pumped wisps of air through a long green tube into her flaring, hairy nostrils. “Get out of my way, Sub-Saharan!”
“Excuse me?” asked Devin, surprised at the troll’s obnoxious bigotry. It took some effort for him to suppress the urge to backhand her.
“You heard me you moron? Can’t you read? Another damn Sub-Saharan moron, that’s all we need. Another…”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I...”
“Read the sign asshole. See? Over there. Can’t you read?”
Devin scanned the sign which read “The Underprivileged Shall Be Processed First”. He fought back hard against his combative impulses. He was entering Amerika illegally and did not want to draw any attention to himself.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” he continued. “I apologize.”
The old bigot waddled herself and her oxygen bottle towards Devin, stretched her neck upward in a manner resembling a wrinkly tortoise reaching out for a vegetable, and, while gazing into his eyes with a scornful, blotchy, mustachioed expression on her face, she began to lecture him.
“What the hell do I look like to you? What is this?” She picked up and slammed her aluminum walker on the floor. “It’s a walker you dipshit! Don’t they teach you Sub-Saharans any respect?”
“Sub-Saharans?” Devin asked as the urge to backhand her returned.
“Look at this,” she ordered as she jammed her oxygen tank into his leg. “It’s an oxy-tank. Does it look like I’m privileged to you? Huh? No! I’m under-privileged, goddamn it. Now get the hell out of my way, before I sick the nats on your black ass.”
She shoved Devin aside with a surprisingly strong forearm shiver. Her loose underarm skin dangled and flopped to and fro as she muscled past to the front of the line.
In order to distract himself from the violent urges welling up inside, Devin scanned the assembled mass of people in the lines around him. They filed through a series of corrals that zigzagged for what seemed to be a mile, back towards the smudged glass doors that opened from the train platform.
There was a wide assortment of “serfs” present. There was a woman trying to bargain with a screaming child who spit in her face. She dared not discipline her kid lest the security guards pounce on her and haul her brat off to the Department of Family Reconciliation. She continued her pointless negotiations with the little gremlin. A heavy set, twenty-something man with a mullet hairdo, a mottling of facial piercings, and blackened lips stood nearby. His fat, white gut burst out from under his skin-tight, filthy, Che Guevera tee shirt. There were many more people in wheel chairs than one would envision— as many as one in ten. Almost all of the civilians were overweight, poorly postured, poorly groomed, and proudly advertising their serfly ‘status’. Most wore grim expressions and were afflicted by something. Sullen, zombie-like faces drooped off their skulls. Eyes were sunken into puffy faces and ringed in black shadows. The serfs were in far worse shape than Devin had expected. It had been a long time since he was in Amerika.
“Multi please!” barked an officer at the front of the line. This transit nat was wearing opaque glasses and silver skull badges on his lapels.
“One moment,” begged Devin as he fumbled through his pockets.
“Sign says have your multi in hand,” the agent shouted.
“Yes, I know. I was afraid I would drop it. Wait here it is...”
“Too late! You go over there,” the nat barked, directing Devin to a red corral a few feet away.
“What did I do?”
“Don’t make any trouble for yourself. Get moving. Over there!”
“Get moving,” he shouted as his hand worked its way towards a small device attached to his belt.
Devin swallowed hard and walked over to the corral. Awaiting him was a masculine woman wearing yet another set of dark glasses and silver skull lapel pins. She unfastened a device from her belt. Devin noticed the old woman with the oxy-tank glaring back at him with her bulging mantis eyes while shaking her head. The officer pressed a button on the device in her hand and it emitted a short hiss. Devin raised his hands.
“Put your damn hands down,” she commanded. “Are you asking for trouble?”
“What?” asked Devin incredulously.
“Put your hands down or I’ll pulse you. Multi, please.” Devin complied. “Here, stand here. Put your feet on the marks, no right here, you moron. I will pulse your ass right now! Right here!”
In a huff, she squatted down which caused her bulbous breasts, rotund belly and cinched sausage knees to all converge at one geometrical point. It looked as if she were about to explode out of her black polyester uniform. She grabbed his right ankle with her sausage fingers and violently yanked Devin’s foot an entire three centimeters to the left.
“There! Stand still!” She ordered between pants.
She laboriously lurched upright and with one hand still clutching her pulse emitter, used her other paw to pull a viewing device attached to a cantilever arm down into his face.
“Look into the scanner please. Look into the scanner! Right here! You idiot! Look into the scanner!” Devin leaned forward into the device. He could see only featureless blue.
Roth had forecasted Devin’s experience almost a week before. He warned him about the security attendants. He explained that if he was unlucky he would be moved into a special evaluation corral. It was there that his retinas would be mapped while they checked his multi. Then he would be shoved into an imaging tunnel that could scan through his clothing and even his skin, checking for anti-patriotic devices such as electromagnetic disrupters, vials of poison gas, illegal personal pulse emitters, bundles of cash, etcetera. After being fully and thoroughly probed by a cadre of black shirts, he would be passed through into the Land of the Free.
Roth explained that there was nothing really to fear so long as Devin didn’t draw to much attention to himself. Station security attendants were low-level National Police. None of them could properly operate the detectors. So many government testers had passed through the nationwide checkpoints carrying explosives, neurotoxins, and contraband that the only reasonable governmental response to the problem was to halt the real testing all together. The true purpose of the security checkpoint was to intimidate, humiliate, and catalog.
In a millisecond, the retinal scanner created a mathematical equation representing the unique geometry of the vessels within each person’s eye. It would send those images by satellite relay to the Transit Security Database of America— which was curiously located in Ensenada, Mexico. Unfortunately, the fourteen billion dollar system, developed by the Numenor cartel, could not communicate with the National Police database which contained the retinal scans of fifteen million international persons of interest.
The Rosetta stone that would enable this necessary interface was being developed by the Cicero Enterprises cartel. This device was being developed at the bargain basement cost of twelve billion dollars but it was still two years from implementation. It had been two years from implementation for eight years, now.
In the mean time, the main purpose of the retinal scanner was for maintaining the illusion of security. The virtual strip search revealed nothing that the agents could not pick up with a metal detector, an ion counter or a bomb sniffer. The scanner’s real purpose was to humiliate. And the black uniforms and threatening rudeness of the security nats were for intimidation which rounded out their program. Amerikans accepted the illusion in exchange for their liberty. This was the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The terrorist’s own methods had advanced far beyond NaPol’s detection efforts. For instance, the technique of suicide bombing was long ago abandoned by them. Its only practitioners in this day were angry teenagers who strolled into school pep-rallies and pulled their ripcords.
“He’s clear,” muttered a another mustachioed female officer in black polyester and dark glasses. Inside her lenses flashed ‘Threat Level 1’ in three dimensions.
After being handed his multi, Devin was shoved through the last gate of the checkpoint. He made his way down an escalator into the baggage claim area. He was anxious about his satchel. Checking it was the only possibility but Roth assured him beforehand that it would be safe.
There was a mob of some four or five thousand people pushing and clamoring over each other to be the first in line to wait. Devin worked his way into the ocean of sweating, coughing, greasy, bloated humanity.
On every wall, posted every five or six meters, was a tall red and white sign that proclaimed:
‘Danger! Sitting, Standing, or Riding on Conveyor Belt Could Result In Serious Injury or Death As Well as 19 Years in Prison and a $14,000 Fine!’
Devin wondered if he would really have to serve nineteen years in prison if he had managed to get himself killed on the conveyor. He waited patiently.
To pass the time, he glanced occasionally at the holovisions hanging from every wall. There were a million inter-networks to pluck from the cybernetic ether but every one of the hundred or so holovisions in the claim area was set to Freemerica.
On the fields, chirpy, sexed-up, talking heads pitched plastic cars, cosmetic enhancements, and instant credit supplied by Fedbank. “Thrift is Theft!” announced the Fedbank public service announcement. Between infomercials ran the occasional piece telling of the successes of Amerikan troops in one of the four invasions being waged concurrently in the name of freedom and democracy.
Devin waited for some forty minutes until the piercing red sirens went off and the conveyor belts began to move. He muscled his way into the crowd and snatched his single bag.
Than another alarm went off. It was a blaring, repeating, chest pounding alarm. Low pitched, grating, distorted and ominous, it was so loud that many people dropped their bags and covered their ears. Children screamed between the bursts.
The holovisions flashed red, “Threatcon 5!”, “Threatcon 5!” People ran for the doors. Some made it through to the street. Then the doors closed and sealed Devin in with the rest. Rebuffed, the late scramblers turned back in a herd towards the claim area. Children were still screaming but the sounds from their incandescent little faces were drowned out by the pulsing security alarm.
The black shirts appeared, extruded into the calamity through small doors at opposing ends of the claim area. There were ten, then twenty, then thirty of them. Their visors were down, transmitting schematics and target information into their eyes. They were armed with automatic rifles with heat-laser-guided bullets. They jogged though the claim area and back towards the security checkpoint. The alarm blared on.
Devin moved towards the external doors. Finding a clearing along the wall, he unzipped his bag slightly and stuck his hand inside to explore the contents. He fumbled through the wads of clothing, over his plastic shaving kit, searching for his leather satchel.
“Where is it?” He asked himself as he fumbled through it. He took his hand out and unzipped the bag some more. He shoved his clothes aside revealing more clothes. Anxious terror set in. He set the bag down and unzipped it all the way. He frantically plunged both hands into the bag.
“There it is!” He unlatched the satchel and felt inside. The gold coins were still there but only the act of touching the cool metal calmed his racing heartbeat. He refastened the satchel and zipped up the bag.
The alarms finally stopped. Happy music began to play over the PA system. The screaming and panic instantly subsided. Even the wailing babies followed the cue. Serf-life returned exactly to what is was before the alarm, as if it had never happened.
“What now?” Devin asked a stranger standing next to him who had just put away his own multi. The man just looked at him bewilderedly and walked off.
The doors finally opened and the throng squeezed through onto the street. Devin waited for the crowd to disperse.
“Hey you! Over here!” Devin turned towards the voice. “You need a ride?” asked a fit-looking Asian woman standing on the edge on the curb. Her powerful voice didn’t match her petite frame.
“Me?” Devin asked pointing to himself.
“Yes you, not you, yeah you, the black guy. You need a ride?” she shouted back.
“Yes, I do.”
“Then grab your shit and move your ass. I’m triple parked.”
Devin followed her out into the street. They weaved their way through a gridlock of filthy, buzzing, plastic, bubble cars with silhouette drivers behind yellowed, plexi-glass windshields. Most of the electros were badly scratched and dented. Every car had a ‘Gaia-Cab’ stenciled on their hoods. There was apparently only one cab cartel in this town.
They came to a car whose driver, a serious looking Sikh fellow, immediately jumped out, exchanged a brief glance with the Asian woman, then darted back through the congestion.
“Here, give me your bag,” she ordered.
She opened the hatch and threw his bag into the back. She had to slam the flimsy hatch three times to get it to close properly. She pried the dented back door open with a creak and pushed Devin inside. Then she jogged around to the driver side and hopped in.
“Nguyen, Ramielle. License number 7734437,” she barked into a lens located below the rear viewfinder.
There was a click. She pushed a button on the steering control and the faux-engine cranking noise alerted them that the electro was operational.
“Who was that?” Devin asked about the Sikh who had just traded places with his driver moments earlier.
Ramielle turned to Devin and glanced upwards towards the ceiling with her eyes. Devin instantly understood. They were being surveilled. In a hushed voice and without moving her lips she explained.
“He’s my teammate. Five of us rotate four cars. The cabby-guild made it illegal but the only way to get fares without your batteries running out is to go in and get customers. So we run four cars and a hustler at all times.”
“What isn’t illegal these days? Are you a snitch or something? Because if you’re a snitch you can get the hell out of my cab pronto.”
“No, of course not.”
“Your meter’s running. Do you want me to talk or drive?”
“I need a hotel, something cheap, in the city.”
Ramielle laughed. She pressed the accelerator and the whining, rattling, electro accelerated throwing Devin back into his vinyl seat.
“Welcome to Gaia-Cab!” chimed a happy-faced, talking globe of the earth that materialized in three dimensions within the glass dividing the passenger compartment from the driver. “We hope you find your trip with us enjoyable! Now, please buckle up. You don’t want us to have to auto-assess your Fedbank account. It’s for your own safety and comfort.” The globe-face waited with an impatient glare while Devin buckled up. “Thank you. And always remember, the mother earth comes first.” The globe faded away.
“How will it know who to send the fine to?” Devin shouted through the pane as he adjusted the slack in his waist and double-shoulder restraints and then pulled the lateral, Department of Public Safety mandated, basal skull fracture inhibitors close in against his cheeks.
“Your multi,” Ramielle answered. “Where do you come from, the wilderness or something?”
“I guess you could say that. I’ve got to change some money in order to pay you.”
There was a long pause that made Devin uncomfortable. Then Ramielle responded, “How do I know you’re not a nat?”
Ramielle covertly thumbed through several screens on her multi while she drove. Her multi picked off his identity from his own multi and bumped it up against nine million known NaPol agents and snitches. It came up blank.
“I think you’re okay,” she said.
“How do you know that?”
“Because no undercover nat who’s Sub-Saharan would ever take the alias Peter Kowalski.”
They whizzed down a banking slot of concrete, out of the station complex and onto the freeway. Overhead whistled the vulture-like silhouettes of the two hundred metric ton superjets. Long unaffordable for serfs, the skyways belonged exclusively to the cartel big shots, self-absorbed celebrities, and the political elite. Serfs were relegated to the filthy trains.
The walls of the freeway were lined with five meter ad screens which alternated between product pitches and public service announcements.
One screen advertised, “Numenor: The Business of Democracy” and pictured a fighter jet swooping up into the sky emitting a red white and blue contrail. Another ad pictured a disgruntled octogenarian lamenting the price of eggs, “Hoarding: It’s not just immoral, it’s criminal!” Still another starred a smart looking ten year girl holding a torch in the pose of the Statue of Liberty with a banner that decried, “Public Education: United Minds for a United States.”
Over the rims of the ad-walls, Devin spotted the tops of the two hundred story skyscrapers with their gravity defying, faceted, glass architecture.
“What’s in that building?” Devin asked.
“Freemerica’s regional headquarters, I think.”
“What do they make?”
“They make the news.”
Overhead, through the yellowed, plexi-glass sun roof, Devin took in the hazy, white sky. The sun was a dull, yellow orb.
As they merged onto a twelve-lane highway, the plastic cab was buffeted by a vortex cast off by a giant tractor-trailer zooming past at one hundred and forty kilometers per hour. Its wheels alone stood as tall as the roof of their electro. Its exhaust pipes pumped out clouds of black soot as it roared along.
“God damn diesels!” shouted Ramielle as she steered into the wake of air to prevent her flimsy electro from being blown into the ad wall. “They think they own the road. Actually, they do own it but you know what I mean.”
They exited into a concrete canyon with graffiti stained walls. The tags were an incomprehensible urbonic. They turned onto Guevera Boulevard. Ramielle pointed towards a storefront shaded by a faded and cracked marquis that read ‘Pawn’.
“I’m going to drop you off right here. Go in there and ask for Rigoberto. He’s a big fat Mexican. He can change your money. Try not to be too obvious about it.”
She parked the electro. The passenger door unlocked and the back hatch opened.
“Don’t forget to come back out and pay me. If you don’t I’ll put my brother on you, Mr. Kowalski.”
They exchanged winks as Devin jumped out. He grabbed a handful of coins from his bag and went in through the smudged, automatic glass doors.
The inside of the shop was dark and musty, illuminated in a greenish hue by a rack of dying chem-lights.
“Can I help you?” asked a mountain of a man wearing a straw cowboy hat. He stood behind a glass shield that was riddled with the divots of a dozen deflected bullets.
“As a matter of fact, you can,” answered Devin as he stepped up to the window. “I’m looking for Rigoberto.”
“You found him. What can I do for you?” He asked feigning enthusiasm.
Devin reached into his inside coat pocket.
“If you’re packin’, I advise you to think twice. This store locks down. You’ll be stuck in here until the nats show up. If you’re lucky, you won’t be dead by then,” Rigoberto added with a silvery grin.
“I’m not packing anything,” Devin assured. “I would, however, like to change these for dollars.” Devin pulled four one ounce gold coins from his pocket. Rigoberto’s black uni-brow rose as his eyes widened.
“I want you to do me a favor,” Rigoberto explained. “Turn around and walk out the door.”
“Did I come to the wrong places?” Devin asked, confused.
“Not at all. Just do what I say,” he mumbled. “As soon as the door closes all the way, turn around and come back in.”
Devin walked outside and waited for the automatic door to close. The pawnbroker reached under his counter and pushed a touch pad button with his index finger. Devin returned.
“What was that all about?” Devin asked.
“I had to shut the surveillance off. I put the cameras on loop mode. Comprende? We don’t want these sorts of transactions recorded if you get my drift.” Rigoberto grinned a wide smile that revealed even more silvery dental work. “Now let’s have a look at what you’ve got there...”
Devin handed the big man the four gold coins. Rigoberto examined them with a monocle that he swung down over his eye from the sweat-stained brim of his straw cowboy hat. Then he weighed the coins on a scale. Then he placed them in a small steel box, closed the lid and punched in some numbers on a touch pad. The device beeped a few seconds later and Rigoberto read the results to himself. His lips moved slightly as he read. His pupils dialated. His uni-brow rose again.
“Where’d you get these?” he asked excitedly.
“They came from my grandmother,” Devin answered. ”She recently passed.”
“Yeah, right, and I moonlight as a matador.”
There was a startling knock at the automatic door. Outside stood a belligerent looking white kid with a shaved head and a long black beard.
“We’re closed! Go away!” Rigoberto shouted. “God damn neo-hajis.” He scanned the coins again through his monocle. “Okay, so here’s the deal, these coins are good quality. The analyzer says they’re fifty percent pure. I’ll give you $75,000 each.”
Devin laughed. “Give me my coins back. I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Do you want to see the read out on my analyzer? You can check it yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Why would anyone give a shit about your analyzer readout when you have a scale? You know what these coins weigh and that means you know what they’re made of. Give them back please so I can take my business elsewhere.”
“Wait a second. Hold on,” intervened the fat man. “There’s no need to be rude. We can work something out.”
“Those coins are ninety-nine percent pure,” Devin explained.
“Okay, okay, okay. Easy mi amigo. Easy. Where did you get these? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen rands down here.” The neo-haji started banging on the door again. “Hey, what did I say? Get the hell out of here before I come out there and rip your goddamn phony beard off! Okay, easy. Sorry about that kid. All righty, now. So you tell me then, what do you want for these?”
“Last I checked, gold is at $159,000 an ounce. I know you gotta make a living so I’ll be generous. How about $130,000 each?” The Mexican rubbed his neck. Then he took off his straw hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “The price goes up every day,” Devin added.
Rigoberto’s lips began to move as if he were talking through calculations to himself. His uni-brow dropped giving his face a shrewd expression. “Okay,” he replied as he punched in some numbers into another touch pad on the counter. “You got your multi?” Devin held it out. “Just waive it!”
Devin passed it by the touch pad that was bolted to the sheet of bullet riddled plexi-glass. It emitted a click. ‘$520,000’ appeared on its surface.
“Don’t spend it all in one place,” Rigoberto advised. “Is there anything else I can do for you, amigo? Need uh, how should I say this, protection?”
“I think I’m good, thanks.”
Devin turned to leave the pawnshop. The neo-haji outside pounded on the door again.
“Do me a favor and tell muchacho out there to wait until the door closes before he comes in. I gotta get a good splice on the survy-loop.”
“Will do, thanks again.”
Devin left the shop and advised the bearded kid to wait for the door to close but the punk paid him absolutely no heed, storming directly into the shop. Devin heard the Pawnbroker cussing him out in Spanglish as he slipped back into the cab.
“How’d it go?” Ramielle asked.
“Good. Can you take me to a hotel?”
“Fancy or cheap?”
“Some dump somewhere,” he responded. “Someplace anonymous.”
“I’ve got just the place. It’s two blocks away.”
The Gaia-cab whizzed and rattled down the concrete thoroughfare and stopped at the Baldwin Hotel. The building was a smooth, gray, boxlike structure some thirty stories tall. Black stains oozed down from the windows along the building’s gray facade.
“That’ll be eight thousand one hundred dollars, please,” came Ramielle. “Wave your multi.” Devin held it out and the device emitted another click. “I gave you my contact info as well. Give a call if you need something or even if you don’t,” she said with a wink.
Click here for chapter 3. Chapter 5
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here from Amazon.com