Devin’s room at the Baldwin had one window overlooking the littered and filthy Mugabe Boulevard some sixty meters below. The window was propped open by a piece of wood and its sheer gray curtains fluttered in the cool morning breeze.
Devin had been lying motionless in his bed for several minutes blankly staring up at the ceiling fan. This was his first morning in Amerika and he was contemplating how he was going to conquer the land of opportunity.
First, he needed to find a temporary job, one that would enable him to meet people and build a network. Then he could begin to identify gullible and pathetic potential victims. He would befriend them. He would earn their trust. They would invite him into their homes. He would charm their families.
With the groundwork laid, he could then sell them on some scheme. Schemes were Devin’s specialty. He wouldn’t ask them to join in outright, that would be far too vulgar. No, he would capture their imagination first with tales of spectacular, riskless profits. Eventually, they would willingly waltz into his trap.
The willing make easy prey. They want to believe so badly that they ignore the alarms going off in their brain. By the time their concerned friends and family bring them back to reality it would be too late. Devin would be off to another city and another pathetic victim.
He turned on the room’s holovision. There were 999,999 preset feeds from which to choose. There used to be a billion or so until the Cyber Security Act handed control of the net to Freemerica Media Corp under the auspices of national security. At the request of NaPol, they rationed the bandwidth and licensed the content, restricting what was available to what was determined to be in the best interests of the country.
Preset One was Citizenet. The morning newsfeed was on.
“American led democratic forces are engaging the freedom-hating insurgents of Nigeria. Unmanned, peacekeeping bombers drop two hundred precision-guided bombs on the village where the insurgents are holed up. Sources indicate that 19 freedom-haters have been terminated.”
Devin switched to 300 which was showing pornography. He flipped to 400. Hang gliding accidents. He flipped to 500. Salmonella epidemic, fifty deaths nationwide! Failure to follow Federal Regulations is the culprit. All tomatoes are to be destroyed by executive order. Congress has drafted a $100 Billion emergency fund to combat the crisis. Channel 100: Feeling tired? Try Neuroboost. 129: Talk show with drug-addled senior citizens. 150: Combat footage from the Phillipines. Ten Americans killed in operation Restore Liberty. 250: Feeling sad? Try Mentanol. 299: Politician railing about the epidemic of obesity and what government has to do about it. More sin taxes on the way. 350: Gascar racing. 387: Cooking with Synthoil. 450: Televangelist reporting that the end is nigh.
“No shit,” Devin thought to himself.
Channel 275: Traffic, weather and sports every minute. 270: Seventy-two car pileup on W670, 5 dead. Video of a nat nonchalantly tossing a child’s severed hand into a plastic bag. 274: 65 car pileup on W670. Three dead...no wait, the reporter touched his ear...five dead. 273: Brass nose rings and simulated gold lip discs for sale. 272: Earth’s magnetosphere collapsing at an alarming rate! Manmade electronic signals to blame. Expect annihilation by solar radiation in less than fifty years unless we legislate radio wave rationing! 271: Next generation multis for sale. 270: One hour breast enlargement, only $16,000. 999: Remember, tampering with your child’s bio-ID is a felony! 269: Fetish porn.
Devin clicked open his bag and grabbed a clean shirt. He put it on. Its memory fibers clutched and relaxed. The wrinkles disappeared.
“Coffee please,” he ordered. The Carbomizer coffee machine nearby began to gurgle. Devin took a sip from his cup. It was lukewarm but bitterly potent.
There was a popping noise outside. Devin went to the window, threw the fluttering curtains aside and looked out. The unmistakable sound of semiautomatic gunfire came from a few blocks down Mugabe Boulevard.
Devin had heard that sound before. When Devin was younger, National Police tried to blast their way into Goldstein. But the colonists knew in advance that they were coming. The colony was always one step ahead of NaPol.
NaPol amassed a small legion of mechanized infantry, dragonfly helicopters, drones, microray-incapacitators, and genuine-sounding, bullhorn-wielding negotiators. The Goldsteiners, however, were well dug in. NaPol tested the lines in the thickly wooded terrain but were rebuffed so they dug in, too. After a month it got cold. After two months it got dark. After three months, NaPol went home.
The bullets from Mugabe Boulevard popped in bursts of seven or eight. A volley from the street, then a volley from an adjacent building. There was a bright flash. Then Devin heard the delayed sound of the explosion. There were more bullets, another flash, then the thunder of another explosion.
Several armored police vehicles zoomed past the Baldwin on the street below. A dragonfly buzzed overhead, then another. More bullets popped. Then it quickly subsided leaving only a residue of haze, the smell of gunpowder, and plumes of billowing, black smoke.
“Surveillance cameras are picking up activity in the Sharia District. Let’s listen in,” interrupted a reporter on the holovision.
The feed was thirty seconds old. A silhouette on the screen was firing haphazardly out of a third floor window. The view then switched to the street. Two more men were hunched behind an electro. One fired into the window, then ducked from the return volley. There was an explosion and the plastic car, along with the two men, were vaporized in a fireball. The NaPol tanks then rolled in and lit the entire building up with heavy caliber machine gun from an unmanned turret. The bullets peppered the entire face of building. The windows exploded. The surface of the walls turned to a mist.
Devin turned the holovision off. “Time to look for work,” he declared as if the entire scenario that had just went down was nothing more than a Bollywood action movie. He left the room and took the elevator to the lobby.
“Good morning, sir,” greeted the eightyish doorman with a wide grin. The smoke from the nearby firefight made him cough. “…Excuse me.”
“Good morning to you.” Devin tipped him with a wave of his multi and a smile on his face. The old man manufactured a phony return smile. The $100 tip was an insult.
The smell of the spent powder and fumes of burning plastic were almost overpowering on the street. Devin gazed down the boulevard towards the action. It was shrouded in a thick white haze. He turned the opposite direction and began to walk.
Before long, he came upon a kiosk. He waved his multi in front of it and keyed in a job search. Several leads appeared.
Up to $7,000 per hour. Licensed Only.
He considered using the kiosk portal to submit an application but then thought better of it. His multi was configured to generate random identities every twenty minutes unless suspended. If he applied, his bogus I.D. could be crosschecked with NaPol’s citizen database. A “no match” would draw attention. It was an unnecessary risk.
He scrolled down to the next post. Same dilemma, “Must Apply Online” appeared over and over again. Finally, after a dozen or so attempts he came to an ad for a job agency.
“Programmers Wanted. Apply in person.”
Devin drew the address into his multi with a touch and strolled leisurely down four littered blocks of the city, soaking in the sights, sounds, and acrid smells.
It had been a long time since he was “in country”. What he found ironic was how so little of the mechanical and physical aspects had changed since he had left. He expected new things in lieu of his twenty year absence but there were the same plastic cars (just older), the same holovision billboards, the same clothing and body-piercing styles.
There was one exception. It was the presence of new, obnoxious, glittering skyscrapers dominating the city’s skyline. They were each cartel headquarters, no doubt. The origami of steel and glass, the orgy of ostentatious engineering inspired nothing in Devin’s imagination except contempt. “Mausoleums, no doubt, paid for by taxes extracted from five hundred million serfs. Well they got theirs and now I get mine.”
He found his way to the subway station purchasing a day pass from a smiling, hologram at the ticket kiosk. But when he attempted to enter the turnstile he was rebuffed.
“I’m sorry,” came a condescending female voice from the speaker above. “Invalid identification. Please present valid I.D. to the attendant.”
Devin had his multi but he was not bio-chipped. ‘Patriot’ bio-chips were surgically removed before anyone was permitted to enter Goldstein. Devin still had a tiny scar on his wrist where they tweezered it out. He examined his wrist as if looking there might somehow cause it to rematerialize. His multi was supposed to mimic the bio-chip signal but it had apparently failed this time through.
“Step back please,” ordered an authoritative voice from behind. “Hands on your head!” Devin complied.
A short, chubby nat with pattern baldness, a mustache, and the all too familiar dark glasses began wanding Devin up and down. He scanned both wrists and shoulders six times.
“Where’s your bio-chip?” he asked Devin while he continued to grope him.
Devin felt a panic building. Every valid Amerikan had a chip in their wrist (or shoulder for apocalyptic Christians). They were inserted at 18 months of age, when parents took their toddlers in for the compulsory autism-HIV-diabetes-herpes-ADD-obesity-depression inoculations. The chipping of babies had managed to reduce child abductions by seventy five percent! That was until pedophiles and kidnappers realized they could just slit the wrists of their captives and pluck out the chip.
Devin decided to improvise. “It’s right there,” he exclaimed pointing to a spot on his unscarred wrist. “I’m not sure why it ain’t working.”
The nat looked at him crosswise as he tucked his wand into his breast pocket.
“Just yesterday I was trying to board and the same thing happened,” Devin continued. “I rubbed my wrist a little and then it started working.” Devin rubbed his wrist where the phantom chip was supposed to be.
“What’s wrong with you, son?” questioned the nat. “You an anti-patriot or something?”
“No sir. I…”
“Because if you was, any bomb you’d be carryin’ should have set off that alarm back there.”
“No sir. I’m no anti…”
“Maybe you one of those Chinese ninjas. Maybe you gonna karate chop someone on that train there?”
“No sir. I don’t know any karate. Aren’t ninja from Japan, anyway?”
“Don’t get smart with me, boy. You lucky you don’t look Chinese or I just might do a full cavity search on you in front of everyone. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Devin’s panic waned in the glow of his burgeoning anger. “I bet you’d enjoy that,” he snarked.
“What was that, boy?” asked the cop as he grabbed Devin by the collar and shoved him against the wall next to the turnstile. The serfs in the nearby vicinity averted their eyes and cleared away.
“Did you call me boy?” Devin asked.
“That’s right, boy,” answered the nat adding extra emphasis. “Whatchya gonna do about it? You gonna report me? ‘Boy’ isn’t a hate word as far as I know so go ahead and try it.”
Devin imagined taking the flabby nat down to the ground, kicking him in the teeth and making a break for it but he reigned his anger in. Roth had warned him that any attempt to resist would surely be met with near lethal force.
“No sir. I was just seeking clarification.”
“Good, ‘cause you see this?” asked the nat as he pulled the silver skull badge off his black polyester shirt and stuck it in Devin’s face.
“Yes, I do.”
“I want you to read the badge number to me.”
“It says, ‘Transit Authority, #4661212’”
“That’s right. Authority! You know what that means?”
“I imagine it means you’ve been deputized to harass people for no good reason,” Devin snorted. He was surprised to find that his remark did not trigger a rage in the nat that he was hoping to induce.
“That’s right,” answered the cop. “Authority means I can do whatever I like whenever I feel like it to serfs like you. This badge here is my authority.”
“Congratulations. Having that kind of power must be cathartic. Your father must be proud.”
“You a criminal?” asked the nat.
“You like little boys or something?”
“You a drug dealer? You dealin’ Em?”
“No sir. I don’t even know what ‘Em’ is.”
“You’re full of shit. Gimme your multi.”
Devin took the slender card off his wristband and handed it to the nat. The nat scanned it with his wand and read the details as they scrolled before his eyes on the insides of his dark sunglasses.
He could have had the readouts hard wired directly into his brain but like most nats, he declined. What if something went wrong? His brain might be permanently jammed by scrambled transmissions with no way to shut them off. Risk of malfunction-induced psychosis scared most nats away from the brain implants. Most but not all.
“Okay Mr. Svenson. You’re free to go. Don’t let me catch you karate choppin’ anybody cuz I will definitely pulse your ass.”
“Thank you, sir. I certainly don’t want to have my ass pulsed,” quipped Devin.
The nat stared dumbly at Devin as he buzzed him through the turnstile. Devin boarded the filthy C line. It smelled of rotting fruit and urine. The plastic walls, plexi-glass windows, and aluminum hand poles were stained with grimy hand prints and graffiti. The car’s occupants were cast in deathlike bluish hues of the diode lights.
Devin breathed through his mouth to avoid the smell. He steadied himself by wrapping his clothed arm around a greasy pole nearest the door. He scanned the other occupants as the buzzing subway car lurched forward.
His eyes caught a slender woman sitting across from him who was clad in a vinyl micro skirt, a tightly clinging tank top and little else. Her hair was frostlike white. She wore oversized, opaque glasses and was probably immersed in some 3D holovision program playing out before for her eyes behind the blocky black lenses.
Devin wondered if she noticed him leering at her. She sat motionless with her long, slender legs furtively crossed. Her china doll face was perfect— flawless and without expression. Her featureless skin glowed under the diode light. Her lips were painted glistening black. She mumbled slightly, silently as if she were singing or speaking to someone in her augmented reality.
Devin’s eyes scanned down along the line of her chin, down along the edge of her slender neck, down past her collarbones, between the curves and shadow of her…
“She’ll catch you,” he thought to himself. “Look away.” He looked away, out the window. Grease stained walls of tile flew past outside. Devin prided himself in his act of self-control. He was not an animal after all.
He stared at an old woman taking puffs of oxygen from a green hose affixed to her nostrils. She had bright orange hair fluffed up into a clown-like afro. The bright, whimsical hairdo topped the otherwise eroded old woman off with a dollop of youthfulness.
In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of the nymph in the suggestive skirt as she uncrossed her legs. His resolve disintegrated. His eyes crept back towards her, aligning with her neck. Then they crept downward. They crept down past her navel, down further. She was sitting just right. Down.
“You’re weak!” he exclaimed to himself. “No. You’re a man. She wants you to look. It’s a game. Be sly. Now’s the moment, she’s not paying attention. Careful.”
He scanned along her hip, along the edge of the skirt, down along her slender leg to the vinyl boot that was nearly painted onto her calf. His eyes crept up to the facets of her knee, along the inside of her thigh.
He couldn’t help himself. He was a prisoner of his inner primate. His helpless eyes were pulled along, up, helplessly up to the fringe of the skirt. Up further. One brief glance…
The car slammed down with a tremendous crash that nearly sent Devin into a heap on the floor. The diode lights flickered. The oxygen tank of the old woman with the orange afro rapped him painfully on the shin.
He regained his balance but found, to his disappointment, that the nymph had changed her position, obstructing his view. The train regained speed and carried on as if nothing had happened. Devin rubbed his shin.
He noticed two young men at the other end of the car. One wore a shirt with scenes of self-immolation playing out on his chest within the diode-silk, fiber-optic material. The other fellow had braided hair that changed colors every three seconds: cyan, magenta, cyan, magenta.
“What you looking at?” asked the cyan then magenta haired fellow.
Devin sized him up. They stared at each other, locked into each other’s eyes, unflinching, frozen in time. Devin was not afraid. He had been in many fistfights in his lifetime.
The thug with the scenes of gore playing out on his shirt leaned in towards the other and joined the staring contest. He pulled up his shirt revealing a pistol tucked into his waistband.
“How the fuck did he get that on here?” Devin asked himself, remembering how he was detained for missing a chip but these thugs managed to board with fucking handguns.
Not liking the newer, less favorable odds, Devin averted his eyes. There was nothing to be gained in a confrontation with these gangbangers other than a bullet to the head. He decided he would live to rebuild his pride another day.
Guns were commonplace back in Goldstein, but the attitude about them was subdued. Weapons were for defense and to be used as a last resort, not for intimidation and thuggery. A gun is significantly less useful as a blunt tool of intimidation when all the potential victims are most likely armed as well. Gun control had more to do with control than public safety. It was about making people helpless and dependant on the State.
The train decelerated for the upcoming station. The thugs exited. Devin did not look directly at them as they passed but kept tabs on them with his peripheral vision. They passed within arm’s length, glaring at him all the way out the doors, rudely shoving the orange-haired, old woman out of their way.
Three other people boarded. One was a man wearing a white jump suit. He had a crew cut and dark glasses. There were several open seats in the car but he chose the one next to where Devin was standing.
The train lurched forward again.
“Hello,” greeted the man in the jumpsuit while staring forward.
“Hello,” Devin answered.
Devin deduced that the fellow was probably disabled in some mental capacity. The man extended his hand without making eye contact. Devin shook it.
“Coldest April in one hundred and sixty six years,” observed the fellow.
“I wouldn’t know, I’m not from here,” Devin replied, waiting for the obligatory follow up question of “Where are you from?” But it didn’t come.
“Did you know that the national debt is twelve quadrillion, one hundred and fifty trillion dollars?”
Devin was now certain that the man had a faulty circuit somewhere. “That’s a lot of money,” he replied while thinking, what kind of idiots would continue lending it to the government.
The train began to build speed.
The man changed topic again. “Nine thousand, four hundred and fifty-nine Americans have lost their lives in the Nigerian War,” he explained. “The family of the ten thousandth KIA wins the Patriot Lottery and gets thirty million dollars from the government. You could buy a whole townhouse for that. You could buy a Mumbai Motors Tiger GT. You could buy forty thousand transit passes. You could…”
“I hope his death is worth it,” Devin interrupted.
The disabled man fell silent, bobbing back and forth until the train decelerated. The doors of the car slid open and the nymph in the skirt flew out. Devin thought for a moment about chasing after her but decided it was a fool’s errand. He released the grimy pole and stepped over the threshold. Just as his sole touched the concrete of the platform, the disabled fellow spoke again.
“The only place on the planet not experiencing global-warming-induced-global-cooling is Alaska.”
Devin froze, straddling the subway car and the platform.
“You are blocking the door! Please exit!” Came a prerecorded voice over the PA.
Devin stepped completely out. The doors closed and the train accelerated carrying the disabled man away. It dissolved into the darkness of the black tube like a dream that quickly fades after waking.
“That was obviously no coincidence,” Devin thought. “How did he know? Maybe he gleaned something from me. Maybe he’s a savant of some kind. Maybe he’s got augmentation and he studied me through his glasses.”
“No, I’m not tagged with anything revealing Alaska. Maybe I forgot something. Maybe I tipped him off visually with my clothes, my accent, or my hairstyle or something.” Devin scanned his own body. Nothing that he could tell indicated his Alaska-ness. “It’s a coincidence, that’s all, he assured himself.”
“No, it can’t be. He’s an agent of some kind. They were checking me out. I revealed too much. They’re watching me. They’re scanning me,” Devin concluded. “But I didn’t reveal anything, did I? Yes! You idiot! You froze when he said Alaska. That’s enough for them. They know, now. They know who I you are for sure. You idiot!”
He walked up the broken escalator to the bright, noisy city street above. The under-privileged escalator, with side-saddle seating designed to carry the obese, ascended in perfect order next to him. It was totally unused. Above the stair he spied a tiny camera surveilling the throng. His thoughts drifted back to the secret agent posing as mentally disabled.
“It’s impossible. You’re paranoid,” he thought. “You’ve been careful. You haven’t been here long enough for them to track you down and put an agent on you. It takes hours for the database to put the facial matches together and identify the trending outliers. It takes days for some data-jockey to go through the reports and push the actionable items out to the field agents. They can’t possibly be on to me, not yet.”
Devin contemplated the billion faces compiled into the NaPol database; a billion faces broken down into twelve mathematical parameters. A billion people, including all five-hundred million plus Amerikans, each assigned a unique, twelve-digit equation. A billion equations interfaced with ten thousand images taken of every person in Amerika every single day. Ten thousand times a billion compilations of Amerikans walking down sidewalks or riding in their electros or immersed in their holovisions or pinging their multis or having their faces altered in walk-in cosmetic salons or indulging themselves in porno kiosks or strolling past any window or city light or signage facing any public street in any city or hamlet or point of interest anywhere in the fifty three contiguous states.
“Wheww,” Devin thought.
There were at least a billion tiny spy cameras integrated into fingernail-sized chipsets, embedded into everything from traffic signals to salt shakers, each costing less than a penny, each scanning skeletal-geometry ten times a second with nano-laser-radar devices. Each beaming their images to a million local relay stations which bundled and sent their packets up to a hundred thousand orbiting satellites which re-bundled and recompiled and beamed the data back down into the great, humming, blinking, black box which housed the NaPol supercomputer database in Ensenada, Mexico.
“They couldn’t triangulate me that quick, there’s not enough data points on me to predict my movement patterns,” he reasoned. “I have no patterns. It’s impossible! It’s a coincidence, that’s all. Coincidence,” he thought as the escalator extruded the herd of sheeple onto the street.
A cacophony of sirens and whining, rattling electos, and roaring, soot-belching, diesel haulers and whistling superjets, way, far, high above, stitching the hazy skies with their gray chem-trails greeted him as he emerged onto the street. Sirens! The ear-piercing, baritone airbursts caused Devin’s teeth to clench.
He scanned the intersection. Diagonal from him was a municipal park with plastic crabapple trees and a field of faux-grass. A herd of wooly-haired bums roamed about the synthetic pasture, leisurely soaking up the warm midday haze.
Across Hugo Chavez Ave stood a fortress-like, seventy story, gray block and glass box of dull, Kruschevian architecture. It was the Federal Department of Employment.
Devin crossed the street, pushed through the glass doors and entered the lobby. He was immediately grabbed by the arm by a security guard and slammed onto the ground.
“Where’re you going?” the guard barked.
“Here, take my multi,” Devin replied, submissively, unsure of why he was thrown to the ground.
The guard went catatonic as he scanned Devin’s multi and the augmented reality played out before his eyes within his lenses. Nothing abnormal turned up on the readouts. He wanded Devin from head to toe. Then he frisked him.
“All clear here,” the guard remarked into his wristwatch. “Get up. Don’t make a scene, please. You can’t storm into government buildings like this. What’s your business here?”
“I’m looking for a job,” Devin explained, still shaken. “Can you point me in a direction?”
“It’s that way.”
Devin strolled down the hall past a bank of elevators to a desk manned by a cherubic woman.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m looking for the employment department. I’m looking for work.”
With robotic proficiency, the woman scanned him with her eyes gathering the requisite information and transferring it to her computer. The data transfer populated a forty six page applicant form with all of Devin’s phony biographical information. Then she wanded him again which was routine at government offices. Too many suicide bombers, lately.
“I must first inform you that you have not been profiled based upon your race, gender, religion, sexual preference, mental or physical challenges, unattractiveness, body type or shape, eye color, odor, atypical facial expression, or visible or invisible deformity, birth defect, scar, or abnormal feature and that all civil servants at this location wand all patrons regardless of the aforementioned for security reasons. Do you understand? If you do, please nod yes for the surveillance devices.” Devin nodded. “Please have a seat, Mr. O’Shea. A counselor will see you momentarily.”
Devin took a seat in the only available, stackable, child-sized, plastic chair. To his left was a table with three holozine tablets. It sprung to life in three-dimensional color as he picked one up. Tinny dialogue and faint music came out of its miniature speakers. There was almost no written language therein beyond one-sentence taglines that exploded off the surface as Devin turned the virtual pages.
“Victory!” exclaimed one. “Patriotic Duty!” popped another. “Security”, “Evil”, “Safety”, “Fanatic”, “War!” The headlines were followed by one-second visuals of young, angry, brown people firing assault rifles and setting things ablaze. Then dragonfly gunships appeared over third world shanty-towns and obliterated them with micro-nukes and heat seeking bullets. Then tanks rolled over blackened corpses all of which played out before a backdrop of a wind-rippling Old Glory.
Devin looked for football scores. Besides war and patriotism, all he found were advertisements for “The Totally Redesigned Flux from Mumbai Motors”, “Numenor Corporation: The Business of Democracy”, A public service announcement warning parents that un-chipped kids might be abducted, “Prescription Extacin: Intensify Your Passion”, and “Forevernet: Virtual Immortality for the Ones you Love”.
Bored, Devin set the tablet down and it immediately went dark. He patiently waited in the hard plastic chair for forty minutes.
“Mr. O’Shea,” barked the receptionist. “Come up to the counter” Devin complied. “A counselor will see you now. Go through that glass door and down the hall. It’s the last room on the right. Room 194.”
Devin opened a glass door and walked down a concrete walled hallway to the last door, room 194, which was a door made of compressed sawdust but made to look like wood. Devin knocked.
“Come in,” came a high-pitched male voice from behind the door. Devin opened the door but there was no one inside. “Take a seat. I will be with you in a minute.”
Devin sat down in another child-sized plastic chair. Its legs were so short that sitting in it made was degrading. The rest of the office was empty except for a giant holovision screen set high on the wall opposite the door.
Devin waited. There was nothing to divert himself from his boredom. No holozines. No music. Definitely no books. No one read books in Amerika, anymore. Who had the time to read with a six hour work shift and ten hours of holovision programming to devour every day. They didn’t even teach archaic, anglo-centric disciplines like reading in public schools anymore.
Devin waited still longer. He loathed sensory deprivation, it made him nervous. He fidgeted. The room was dim and gray. The screen facing him remained dark. The plastic chair became increasingly uncomfortable. He squirmed. An overwhelming sense of being watched came over him. He scanned the featureless concrete walls for the hidden camera.
He knew they could be made so small now that they could be hidden virtually anywhere. “It all depends on who was doing the watching,” he thought, “and what they were watching for.” Big conspicuous cameras were typically found in public. They sent a message that said, YOU ARE BEING WATCHED! But they could also make cameras as small as a grain of sand. They watched you everywhere. But it shouldn’t matter so long as one was doing right. Devin resented it nonetheless.
“C’mon,” he whispered. At that very instant, the holovision filled with life.
The face of a very, very large man appeared. He was a neck-less man with rolls of fat in place of a jaw line. His deep set, beady eyes had no eyebrows. His chubby cheeks squished his red little mouth into a pucker. His hair was greasy and disheveled.
“One moment please,” he said after taking a puff of oxygen from a mask. His sausage fingers typed cuneiform into his keyboard which rested on his whale-like chest.
Devin waited patiently for the man to finish. Several minutes passed. The fat man did not so much as acknowledge Devin while he typed and whispered into his keyboard. While he worked, the nano-processors deciphered and word-smithed his jibberish into a legible report. All that was really needed to properly document agency events was an occasional adjective or noun which could be snatched from the blather and plugged into the appropriate, pre-constructed, government approved sentence.
The fat man whispered and squinted and his sausage fingers danced. Then he’d pause, take a sip of a soft drink through a long straw, then whisper and squint and type some more.
Another few minutes elapsed. Then the fat man cleared his throat with a gurgling cough that dislodged something unpleasant. “O.K. so what do we have here?”
Devin was relieved.
“I’m looking for a…”
“What employment licenses do you have, Mr. O’Shea?” he interrupted.
“Yeah, licenses,” replied the agent indignantly as he brushed his greasy hair out of his face with his sausage fingers.
“I don’t have any that…”
“That’s what I thought,” interrupted the agent with a sigh.
“I’m a skilled programmer,” Devin offered. “I’ve worked quite a bit with Hayekian code. I can…”
“And what good is that without a license?” asked the annoyed agent. “How could you possibly work as a programmer without a license?”
“Well, how would I go about getting a license? Do I need to take a test or something?”
“Yeah,” answered the agent snidely. “Then, if you pass parts one, two, three, and four, taken over fourteen months, you can submit an application. The Programmer’s Guild will review your application and within ninety days— and after you pay the $140,000 fee— you can come back here and I’ll place you with a firm. That is, if they have any openings.”
“I’m a really good programmer. If you could just get me in the door somewhere I’ll prove myself. Entry-level...anything. I know I’ll move up quickly.”
“What does proving yourself have to do with anything? Are you asking me to break the law for you?”
“Break the law?” Devin asked.
“You know you can’t get a job in the programming field without a license. It’s illegal.”
“Why is it illegal?”
“Why is it illegal?” asked the agent sarcastically. “We clearly can’t have anyone who wants to going around and becoming a programmer without a license.”
“Because, you…” the agent paused for a moment to calm himself as he had started to wheeze, “…because of security concerns. Because of safety and fraud issues. Because of social justice. If anyone could work any job they want at any time, everyone would flock to the high paying jobs and drive the wages down to poverty levels. Then everyone would starve. Don’t you understand supply and demand?”
“Is that how it works? Why would everyone go into a line of work that would make them starve?”
“Because they aren’t regulated,” the agent explained. “Unregulated job seekers would destroy the market. Then what would we have? Look, I don’t have time for this. What else can you do?”
Devin pondered for a moment.
“I can set tile.”
“Do you have a license to do that?”
“A license for tile-setting?”
“Then we can cross that off as well,” he responded rudely. “You can’t expect me to send you out to a job site where you might build something that falls apart and kills people, can you? You would be a threat to public safety.”
“What about day labor?” Devin asked in desperation.
“Mr. O’Shea, I think that you would do better on assistance than as a day laborer.”
“Huh? But I want to work.”
“Are you some sort of comedian? First you say you want work as a programmer without a license and now you expect me to believe that you want a day labor job rather than assistance.”
“Mr. O’Shea, you seem like a nice fellow,” the agent continued patronizingly. “Because I like you, I’m going to set you up with assistance. I’ll even file the paperwork on your behalf. Let me go over your dossier.”
Devin scratched his head and watched while the fat man squinted and scrolled through the images on his monitor.
“Oh!” he exclaimed.
“What is it now? Do I need a license to receive assistance?” Devin asked sarcastically.
“No…no…I’m sorry. I assumed you were Sub-Saharan African American.”
“You mean black?”
“There’s no need to be vulgar,” admonished the counselor.
“I wasn’t meaning to be vulgar but you were saying that I look bl…I mean Sub-Saharan African American. What does it matter?”
“It matters naught to me as I am color blind,” he announced with pride. “But as a government employment agent, I am required to check for assistance modifiers on your behalf.”
“Yes. Certain— how should I say this— uh…underprivileged identity groups may receive modifiers to their daily assistance credits.”
“Well, it’s no matter. It says here on your dossier that you are Irish, Mr. O’Shea. Being Irish doesn’t qualify for a modifier. 100% payout only. Sorry.”
Devin chuckled. “Do I look Irish?”
“As I said before, I do not see color. Anyway, the dossier says that you are Irish so that is what you are, officially anyway. You are what the government says you are. If you have an issue with that you can take it up with the Federal Department of Ethnic Determination. I can put the contact info into your multi if you like.”
“I don’t have an issue,” Devin replied. He chuckled to himself as he thought of an old joke. “My mother always talked about how proud my dad was when he first set eyes on me. She said he was utterly amazed when I was born.”
“I wouldn’t know what you mean,” replied the counselor humorlessly. “Anyway, the process has been started. You should start receiving credits in your account by Friday. Check your multi. It appears that we are all finished here. Is there anything else I can do for you before we wrap this up?”
“Yeah, there is one more thing…”
“Where can a Mick get himself a drink around here?”
“That’s easy. Houdinis, down four blocks from the park. But you need a license.”
Chapter 4 Chapter 6 will be available Sunday
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here from Amazon.com