Sunday, January 22, 2012

Goldstein Republic Chapter 6 & 7

Chapter Six

“Is there anything else, Axel?” asked President Mellon as he swung his putter which tapped a golf ball emblazoned with the Presidential Seal sending it rolling across twelve feet of green, Oval Office carpet. The ‘hole’ was a brandy snifter resting on its side. The putt missed by more than a meter.
“There’s one more thing, sir,” explained Director Morgenthau.
“There’s the Goldstein situation, sir.”
“I know where you’re going and I want no part of that redneck mess. The Chinks would have my ass.”
“Sir,” continued Morgenthau, “they’re a real thorn in the side of NaPol. They’re costing my department a great deal of prestige. And they’re breathing life into insurrections all over the country. Pardon the expression Mr. President, but they’re sitting up there behind their ray fields giving you the finger. They’re mocking the President of the United States. We must make an example of them or things might spin out of control.”

“Axel,” President Mellon replied, “you know I can’t risk pissing off the Chinese any more than I have already. They’re already edgy about the Taiwan thing.” He put his putter back in a golf bag leaning against the Oval Office desk. “The Chinks have got investments up there, fusion or something. If we go in and shock-and-awe Goldstein, the Chinks are gonna want reparations. They might get so pissed that they might cut off Treasury.” President Mellon kicked his golf ball into the snifter, picked the glass up off the floor and set it on the desk. “If they get pissed off enough to dump our debt then we’ll have to start that god damn keystroking money again. I don’t want any more hyperinflation.”
“Sir, I think our domestic security is at stake here. Besides, I…”
“I didn’t even explain how upset Numenor would get. Axel, you should know better. They make all your shit, don’t they? All your surveillance equipment and dragonflies and your cloaking suits and…what are those little zapper things…those pulse emitter things and your brain chips…all that creepy shit that you Stasi types enjoy fucking around with.”
Axel grinned.
“What is it with those Chink-lovers down there at Numenor, anyway? They got a bunch of commie-sympathizers running that outfit? Aren’t you on the Board? Do you admire those little commie bastards or something?”
“You know as well as I that Numenor has several multi-billion dollar, joint op agreements with China.”
“Why do you got such a hard-on for those Eskimo-rednecks up there in Alaska, anyway? You still bitter ‘cause they kicked your ass twenty years ago?”
“With all due respect, sir, they didn’t kick our ass.”
“Yes they did. They ran you pussies right on out of there. What a disgrace: National Police, routed by a bunch of Eskimo-militia.”
“That’s not entirely accurate, sir.”
“It got a little cold and you guys retreated like the French. You got your ass handed to you by five hundred lumberjacks on snow machines.”
“I wasn’t in charge then, sir. Had I been, I would have executed the assault differently.”
“Well, you were on the team and your team got their ass kicked regardless. So now you want me to risk a currency-war with China by giving you a green light just so you can replay your homecoming game? Get over it, Axel. Go get some payback on some compound in Idaho or something. Those Mormons are getting out of line, too. I’ll green light that right now.”
Axel picked the golf ball out of the President’s snifter and poured brandy into the glass.
“What if I told you I could get a green light from China?”
“Get the hell out of here, Axel. It’s over. Talk to me about it in my second term when I need a media distraction. Shit, I’ll probably get Twenty-Two overturned, anyway so come back in the third term.”
“Seriously, sir. I’ve been talking to the Chinese. They said they’ve got enough tech to build their own fusion reactor back home. They’re fine with us taking an aggressive posture so long as we play by their rules.”
“Their rules? Those Chinese bastards are always trying to tell us what to do. They act like they own us.”
“Listen,” Axel explained as he poured himself a brandy. “The Chinese will green light you to green light me so long as NaPol lets their inspectors in to examine the Goldstein fusion plant afterwards.”
“Not good enough,” President Mellon replied before gulping down his brandy. “I don’t want Chinks getting their little, yellow paws on our technology. No way.”
“Well, I think you need to consider this as well.”
“Quick. I’ve got a ballgame to catch.”
“Well sir, there’s the problem of the Singularity.”
“The what?”
Axel was making it up on the fly. “The Singularity. Goldstein is only months away from assembling its first computer with super-human intelligence.” Axel knew this was not entirely accurate but proceeded out of desperation.
“So I should be worried about a computer that can kick our ass at chess?”
“Frankly, yes. It’s a game-changer. They’re already ten years ahead of us. Once they get machines that can outthink their developers, their progress will accelerate. The technology gap between them and us will widen exponentially. This will have huge repercussions for national security. Our containment strategy will no longer suffice. They will be able undermine our security systems and take us on directly. We really need to act soon. The integrity of our security demands action.”
President Mellon refilled his brandy glass and walked over to the window behind the desk. He stared out at the Whitehouse lawn. The sun was nearly down.
“What security integrity?” His face became ashen. “You’re joking, right? I’ve got Hajis and Crusaders shooting each other up in fifty cities. I’ve got Mormons ready to take over Idaho or New Deseret or whatever they call it. Even the blacks and Mexicans are one price hike away from burning down the District of L.A. So tell me, Axel, what ‘security integrity’ are you referring too?”
“Sir, I’m referring to the illusion of security. If that dissolves in the wake of some future conventional defeat against Goldstein, anti-patriots everywhere will be emboldened. Things could unravel rather quickly. We are already stretched thin. We need to make a bold statement. Let all these anti-patriots know that disobedience will not be tolerated. Besides, you don’t want to be remembered as some sort of Neville Chamberlain, do you?”
“So what are the risks?”
“Frankly, waiting too long. There’s some intelligence that indicates that they are planning to make a so-called Delivery at some point in the near future.”
“A Delivery? What is it? Deliver what?”
Morgenthau knew he had the President on the ropes. It was time to go in for the knockout.
“No one knows for sure, bio maybe, maybe a dirty bomb, maybe cyber. It’ll be some kind of weapon mass destruction for sure. They know that we’re coming back at some point so they want to hurt us while they still have the opportunity.”
“I can’t afford any god damn nuke going off, Axel. You better sterilize that issue before you proceed.”
“Well,” Morgenthau was interjecting his straw man option, “hypothetically speaking, of course, think of how unified a terror attack would make the country. The sheeple love a reason to rally around the President. They’d go bananas. You’d get twenty points instantly.”
“Letting a nuke go off is a little bit out there, Axel.”
“Just a brainstorm,” Axel replied. It was time for the knockout blow. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll make arrangements to pick up a Goldstein ex-patriot and squeeze him for more information before we take any action, just to be safe, of course. I think I have one marked already. Picked him off at a transit checkpoint. Already had a savant get him to self-reveal.”
“What are you waiting for, then?”
“Is that a green light, then?” Axel asked.
“No. Interview your anti-pat. Tell me what you find out. If they don’t have a retaliatory capability then I’ll give you the green light.”
“Excellent. Thank you, sir.”
“Just don’t screw this up or it’s your ass. I’ll hang it all on you, Axel. And I want the Chinks to let me know it’s okay, too.”
“I wouldn’t expect it any other way.”
Mellon drained his brandy. Morgenthau quickly refilled it and the two stared out at the White House lawn while the last of the evening glow faded into hazy night.

Chapter Seven

“Hey, Peter Kowalski!” shouted a female voice from behind   Devin.  He ignored it.  “Peter Kowalski!  Hey, Polish black dude!” 
Devin suddenly recognized the voice and remembered that Kowalski was an alias from earlier.  He turned to look for Ramielle the Gaia-cab driver.  “Kowalski, over here!” came the voice again, this time to his left from the street.  He scanned through a multitude of unfamiliar faces.  “Kowalski!  Kowalski! Over here!  It’s me, Ramielle!”  Devin finally locked on to her black opal eyes that were peering out from the passenger window of her electro.  “Get in!” she ordered.
Devin complied and the whiney electo accelerated down Mugabe Boulevard dodging rickshaws, mopeds, and soot huffing public buses along the way.  He buckled the waist and shoulder restraints and pulled the basal skull fracture inhibitors down over his head.  The flimsy car creaked and squealed as it weaved through the traffic.  It felt as if the slightest pothole would crumble the flimsy car into dust.
“So, how are you, Ramielle?” Devin asked.
“Not good,” Ramielle replied.  “I’ve been driving by your hotel all morning hoping to spot you.  I’m not making any money today.”
“I’ve done a bad thing, Peter,” she said in a sober tone.  “I don’t know if I can make it right but I had to try.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I don’t know you from Adam.”
“So I really shouldn’t give a damn what happens to you.”
“All right.”
“But I have a code that I live by.”
“Really?” Devin asked sarcastically.
“Hold on, I gotta get off this street.  Too much traffic and I can’t talk while I’m dodging potholes.”
Ramielle maneuvered the electro across two lanes of traffic and into a double turn lane, just missing getting broadsided by a bus by no more than an arm’s length.  The dome light in the cab flashed violently red and “1.7 VIOLATION” appeared on the windshield in orange font. 
She tapped the wheel with her thumbs until the green arrow illuminated on her dash permitting her to make the turn.  They drove fifty meters or so down the quiet side street and parked alongside the stone buttress of a nineteenth century church. 
“Hang on a second,” she said as she frantically typed into her dashboard keypad.
While she fiddled with her onboard computer, Devin looked up at the church’s spire.  It had a massive crack running down its length all the way to the sidewalk.
“What happened there?” Devin asked.
Ramielle glanced up.  “The steeple?  Lightning got it.”
“No kidding?”
“Yep.  Twice.  The first time the Church fixed it.  The second time, the city owned it so it couldn’t be repaired.”
“Huh?  Why not?”
“It’s a religious building and it’s illegal to mix church and state.  Listen, I don’t mean to change the subject but I brought you here to warn you.”
“What if it falls over?” Devin continued.
“What?  The steeple?  Well, they can’t demolish it because it’s a protected landmark.”
“So they can’t repair it and they can’t demolish it?”
“That’s right.  Now stop getting me off track.  I have a cheap scrambler in this cab.  I’ve got like two minutes or I’m in deep shit.”
“Okay, go.” 
“So here’s the deal…”
Devin pretended to listen intently but his eyes were fixated on the structure that appeared as if it might topple over at any instant.
“They are on to you!”
“Who?” Devin asked, barely attentive. 
“Who’s they?”
“It’s Possible.  Listen to me.  When I checked in last night they called me into the manager’s office.  They had two men in there and they were definitely nats.”
“All right, so?”
“Hello.  National Police!  Jesus.  They didn’t say anything at first.  Then my manager shows me my surveillance record and the loops my scrambler built in to cover up our driver cycling racket.  I never realized how obvious it looked before it was played back to me.  Then he tells me that I’m fired.  Fired!  I couldn’t believe it.  Do you know how hard it is to find a job that pays seventeen hundred bucks per hour?  I’ll never get a decent job with unemployment like it is.  I’d be stuck on public assistance and unlike you black dudes, Asians don’t get any modifiers.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.  But you’re still driving, no?  So how does this involve me?”
“It involves you because as I was in tears leaving the manager’s office wondering where I was going to make enough money to feed my cat after I eat his cat food one of the nats stopped me.  He grabbed my arm right here, see?”  Ramielle rolled up her sleeve revealing a hand-sized bruise on her upper arm.  Devin admired the sharp definition of her triceps muscle.   “He told me to sit back down.  Then he had my manager play more video.  This time they showed the cab video and guess who’s face was on it?”
Devin felt as if ice cold water had been poured down the back of his neck. 
“It was you, Peter, even though I know that’s not your name.  They wanted to know who you were.  I was scared.  I don’t want to eat cat food so I told them everything I knew about you.  They checked your multi-card entries and figured it was randomizing aliases.  They asked where I took you.  They’ve probably already been to Rigoberto and interviewed him too.”
“Well what should I do, then?”
“Peter, or whatever your name is, I don’t care what your story is.  I don’t really want to know.  Live and let live, I say.  As for me, I try to live by a code.  I know that’s old fashioned but that’s the one thing my dad taught me before he blew his brains out.  You’ve got to have a code.  Don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t have them do unto you.  He called it the Silver Rule.  That was his code and now it’s my code, too.   But I went and did something to you that was no good.  I gave you up and that was wrong.  I violated my code.  So now I’m making it right the best I can.  I’m letting you know.  You’ve got to get out of here.  You’ve got to get your face changed or something.  They will be all over you in no time.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your dad.”
“He was a Em addict and a loser.  But he was right about that one thing and it’s never done me wrong.  I was weak because the nats were going to take my job and my job is all I have— my job and my cat.  I’m sorry, but being on assistance is no kind of life.  Plus you’ve got to submit to counseling and attitude adjustment meds and twenty-four-seven surveillance.  I don’t like being monitored.  I don’t want a bunch of perverts at NaPol watching me all the time.”  Ramielle started to weep.
“It’s okay.  I’m not upset with you.  I appreciate you telling me this but…”
“Then you are a dumbass!  You have no idea what I’ve done.  Listen to me!  They are coming to get you.”
“I haven’t done anything too major.  If they want to pay me a visit then let them pay me a visit.  Maybe I’ll have to pay a fine or do some community service or something.  It’s not like I’m a violent offender or anything.  I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Haven’t hurt anyone?  What does hurting anyone have to do with anything?  Are you a moron?  You broke the law!  You broke the law and they enforce the law.  And they make all kinds of new laws every day.  So many that you can’t even keep track of them.  You can’t drink this or eat that or go there or read that.  Pay more for this.  Pay less for that.  Wear this.  Can’t wear that.  Live here, not there.  Drive this, not that.  You can be fined for not having a damn flag sticker on your electro, now.  It’s a misdemeanor for not standing during the anthem.  Some asshole nat’ll pulse you if you step out of a crosswalk.  You can’t even grow your own vegetable garden without a license from the The Department of Urban Agriculture. 
So you didn’t hurt anyone, you say?  What does hurting anyone have to do with anything?  You broke their law and they don’t like that.  They make the law and they love to enforce them.  That’s what they do and they like their job and we all better obey or we get our brains hotwired.”
Devin was at a loss.  Ramielle continued, “You’ve broken several big laws from what I can tell.  They’ll have a hard on for you.  How about you’re undocumented for starters.  You can’t just go running around the country from city to city and state to state without a security visa approved by the Department of Internal Migration.  That alone could land you in a federal gulag for six months.  What about changing money with an unlicensed agent?  That’s a serious violation.  How about…how about possessing gold?  That’s a class one federal offense for Pete’s sake.  You’re in deep shit.  You’ve got all the markers of an ‘anti-pat’, a real terrorist.  You’ve got to get the hell out of here while you still have a chance, before they catch you and torture you and hotwire your brain.” 
Devin felt that Ramielle was getting a bit carried away.  Still, she maintained an endearing quality in the midst of her boorishness.  He attempted to diffuse her rant.  “I got it.  I appreciate your help.  I forgive you.”   
Ramielle lit a hand rolled cigarette that she produced from her money belt, deeply inhaled the illegal contraband and carefully exhaled the blue smoke through a crack in her window.  Then she took a small black widget from her bag, set it on her dashboard and switched it on.  It puffed out wisps of odor-masking ozone as it hummed. 
“You’re not listening to me.  I don’t want your damn forgiveness,” she said as she calmly took another drag from the lumpy cigarette and again carefully exhaled it through the crack in the window.  Then she turned fully towards Devin and grabbed him by the collar.  Devin was caught off guard by the force of her grip.  “Listen to me you dumbass.  They will come to your hotel room.  They’ll blast the door off the hinges.  There’s a good chance that one of the hothead nats will probably shoot you in the head.  Then they’ll plant a gun on you and no one will ever know the difference.  Then they’ll tell the media that you were a terrorist and the talking heads will report it that way because they’re a bunch of fascist yes men. 
And if they don’t kill you, they’ll drag you down to the station and interrogate you.  Do you understand what ‘hotwire’ means?  It means they’ll hook neuro-transmitters up to your brain and get inside your head.  They’ll download all your thoughts, all your dark perversions and your hatreds and self-loathing stuff.  Then they’ll use that crap to humiliate you and break you down.  They are serious bastards.  Never screw around with NaPol.”
“Well then,” Devin calmly replied, his voice muffled by his face being smashed against the pads of the basal skull fracture inhibitors by Ramielle’s powerful grip.  “What do you suggest I do?”
“I already told you, idiot.  Don’t let them get to you.  Get your face changed.  Disappear.  They think you’re an ‘anti-pat’ and that’s the worst kind of criminal there is.  Worse than, murderer, pedophile, and drug dealer put together.” 
“Why’d you risk taking me to the pawn broker in the first place?”
“Because I like to get paid.  Everyone that wants to eat has a black market gig.  They don’t want me, anyway.  I’m just some dumbass Asian broad to them.  They’re after you, the black, Pollock terrorist.”
“Are you finished, now?” Devin asked prying her fist off his collar.  She triggered the passenger door lock and he slipped out of the electro.
“Wait,” Ramielle commanded before Devin started down the sidewalk.  “At least do this.  At least change hotels.  The farther east you get the better.  Think seedy.  Seedier equals safer.  You can disappear in plain view.  There’s thousands of Peter Kowalskis on the east side.”
            “Where do you suggest I go?”
“Try the Red White and Blue Hotel.”  Ramielle’s dented Gaia-cab whizzed away leaving Devin alone under the fractured steeple.  He headed back to the subway station and took the eastbound train to his hotel.


Devin passed through the subway gate without incident and found the train less crowded than it was in the morning but it still smelled like piss.  He wrapped his arm around the grimy hand pole as the train’s electric motors wound up and accelerated the aluminum tube down through the concrete tunnel.  The diode lights dimmed and changed colors. 
Holographic advertisements fluttered in the smudged, plexi-glass windows.  Surgically enhanced smiles with glistening eyes hocked weight loss medications, marijuana cigarettes (tobacco was illegal), DNA profiling, one hour lyposuction, holographic pornography, all of it on easy credit supplied by Fedbank and only one click away. 
“Demand creates consumption,” he mused.  “Consumption creates production.  Production creates employment.  Employment creates demand.”  It was a limitless, infinite, ‘circular flow’ unbound by the limits of reality; a positive ‘feedback loop’ to utopian prosperity.  “What a sham,” Devin thought.  He saw it for what it was— a huckster’s perpetual motion machine.
He laughed.  The old cars, the potholed streets, the staggering prices were all making sense to him now.  As the serfs consumed every fraction of their incomes before prices rose further, they sucked dry the pool of savings that would have made its way into investment in machines and tools and factories which are the very things that are necessary for producing the consumption goods that people desired.  The machines and tools and factories that produced consumption goods were withering and rusting and eroding away. 
Faced with falling living standards, the politicians, cartel executives, and bankers had resorted to the only means of maintaining power they could devise.  They created an illusion of wealth by key-stroking money and doling it out in the form of easy credit, bailouts, and welfare. 
This potent elixir had kept the party going for a long time.  The serfs were as contented frogs, frogs that were slowly warming in a cauldron of inflation, regulation and surveillance as their wealth was robbed, their self reliance was destroyed, and their standards of living began a long, slow decent back into to the Stone Age.  “But who cares,” Devin thought, “so long as one can watch a million channels in three dimensions?”
            “Washington Street,” advised a female voice over the loudspeaker.  The train decelerated.  The doors slid open but no one got on.  Everything hung for a moment in the stillness.  Then the doors whisked shut.  The train accelerated again.  The diode lights phased from blue to purple to red.  The holographic pitchmen renewed their droning, verbal assault. 
Devin pondered Ramielle’s warning.  “I’ll case the hotel”, he thought.  “I’ll watch for an hour or so to see who is watching for me.  Make it two hours.  I must be patient.  When the coast is clear I’ll go up to my room.  I’ll listen at the door.  No, they might have sensors.  They’ll spring out and tackle me.” 
“This is ridiculous.  They aren’t going to torture me.  I’m not violent.  So I broke some petty laws.  They’re not Stasi, they’re Americans for God’s sake.  They’ve got better things to do than spend resources on me.  I’m nobody.  She’s just being dramatic.  She’s got some issues that she’s projecting.  Yeah, that’s it.  Her father blew his brains out for heaven’s sake.  That’ll make anyone a little nuts.  All cabbies are a little nuts to begin with.”  He sat without thinking for a few moments, watching blankly as a hologram patient took a fat needled inoculation to thwart the goat flu pandemic which had already killed a whopping two people worldwide.  The train began to decelerate.
            “I’ll just walk in and go to my room and get my stuff,” he thought.  “I won’t check out.  I’ll take the subway to the east side.  I’ll go to Red White and Blue just to be safe.”  He noticed a knot forming in his stomach.  “Calm down.  Why am I anxious?  There’s nothing to worry about.”
            The train came to a stop.  The holograms went silent and the diode lights turned white.  The doors slide open.  Again, there was no one coming or going.  The doors hung open for thirty seconds.  Finally, a man got on board and sat across from Devin at the opposite end of the car.  It was the man in the white jump suit from the day before, the disabled fellow, the one who might be a NaPol agent.  A chill splashed over Devin. 
The disabled fellow bobbed back and forth as the train accelerated.  Devin watched him from the corner of his eye.  He searched for a signal that the man was actually an agent, a whisper into a hidden radio, a suspicious glare, a micro expression of some sort.  There was no indication. 
The diode lights phased from green to teal to blue.  The holovisions chirped away.  The car rattled through the concrete tunnel.  “This was a strange coincidence,” Devin thought.  “No, you’re paranoid.”     
The disabled man started to mumble.  “Sunday is the seventeenth anniversary of Freedom Day.  On that day, 38,245 patriots died.”  Devin did not acknowledge him from across the car.  “That’s illegal,” the man continued.  “You are in violation of the law.”  This got Devin’s attention.  He looked up thinking that the man was talking to him.  He wasn’t.
“What you talkin’ about, retard?” asked a punky looking teenage kid sitting nearby.
“You are in violation of three laws,” the man replied.
“Oh really?”
“Yes.  One: You are wearing clothing that is offensive and is prohibited on public transportation.  Two: You are carrying a plastic food container that is made of unrecyclable materials and prohibited on public transportation.  Three: you are a minor in possession of an unapproved food containing unlawful amounts of sugar or sugar substitute.  Each of these three offenses could result in a $20,000 fine, three days in detention and the confiscation of your parent’s electro.”
“Fuck you, retard,” replied the kid as he wiped his chocolate stained face on his sleeve.   
Devin now closely watched the disabled fellow as he stopped talking.  If he was a spy, he would assuredly reveal something now.  His head was hanging to one side.  Dark glasses concealed his eyes but he was clearly fixated on the belligerent kid who was just trying to ignore him and finish his fudge brownie. 
“Stop looking at me, retard.  Mind your own business.”
The mentally challenged fellow did not speak.  The train rolled on.  The kid finished his brownie and wiped his fingers on his shirt leaving six brown streaks across his chest. 
The challenged fellow chimed in again.  “The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in…”
A massive jolt rattled the car drowning out the disabled man’s voice.  The train rapidly decelerated nearly throwing Devin onto the floor.  The kid didn’t budge as he had braced for it in advance.  The diodes flickered but the holovision advertisements continued pitching their wares without so much as missing a syllable.  The car’s pace resumed.  The disabled man was silent the rest of the way. 
The train finally stopped but the doors did not immediately open.  It was utterly still for a few moments.  Sensing something was amiss, the belligerent kid turned towards the door with a look of concern on his face.  Then the doors burst open and in sprung two nats dressed in black fatigues who immediately tackled the kid, throwing him onto the floor.
“Teasing retards, eh?  You punk ass kid!” shouted one of the nats.  The kid screamed out for mercy.  The other nat pulsed him.  The kid writhed with the jolt.  “You’re resisting arrest you little piece of shit.  Stop resisting!”
“I’m not resisting!” the kid screamed.  “Please.  It hurts.  Don’t pulse me.  I’m sorry.  I’m…”
The two nats started to laugh as they held the ninety-five pound kid down, smashing his face into a dried puddle of urine on the car’s floor. 
“Pulse him!” ordered one nat to the other.  “Watch him squeal.  You catchin’ all this retard?”
“It is unlawful to use pulse emitters on minors,” the disabled man declared.
“What?” asked one of the nats.  “Why you ungrateful, piece of shit retard.  We’re doing this all for you.”
The man just watched in catatonic silence.
“What the hell are you looking at, Sambo?” asked the same nat as he turned to Devin.  Devin averted his eyes, got up and hurriedly exited the train before the doors shut.  He convinced himself that there was nothing he could do.  “Or was there?” He thought.  “Forget that punk.” 
He crossed LBJ Street and walked two blocks up to the prefabricated Baldwin Hotel.  He walked past the entrance and briefly scanned for faces that might be tuned in to him.  A security guard seemed somehwat interested.  A woman with a burlap net filled with groceries was walking up to him.  She glanced at him as they passed.  A young man with a face surgically altered in shape and color so as to make him look like Lucifer passed him.  Apparently the devil wasn’t interested in Devin that day.
He walked half a block past the hotel, stopping at the corner.  Covertly looking back, he saw no one following or watching him and no one standing around looking intentionally nonchalant. 
“This is ridiculous,” He thought to himself.  He started back for the hotel but a black car pulled up beside him.  He froze.  The rear passenger door opened right beside him and a man in a navy suit got out.  They stood face to face for a moment, staring into each other’s eyes.  Then Devin realized that he was in the man’s way and stepped aside.  The man scurried past.  Devin continued to the entrance of the hotel and went in.
Inside the lobby there were a half dozen people.  Two appeared to be hotel employees as indicated by their white, short-sleeved shirts, black trousers, and brown skin.  Two old men were playing video games.  A large woman was sitting on a scooter sniffing wisps from her oxytank. 
There was a young woman at the elevator who had just pushed the ‘up’ button.   She exchanged a glance with Devin as he stepped up next to her.  The elevator door opened.
The woman pushed the button which was Devin’s floor.  The doors closed and the elevator rose.  They rode in silence.  The doors opened revealing a sinister-looking man in black uniform.  It was a nat.  Terror knifed through Devin’s chest.  He had nowhere to run.  He was trapped in the elevator.  He stood there waiting for the nat to do something.  The woman slipped past the two of them and down the hall. 
“Are you getting off or what?” the nat barked.
“Pardon me,” Devin answered.  He exited as the nat pushed his way on.  The doors closed behind him.  He walked down the hall to his door listening carefully even though it was pointless.  If they were there they would have seen him coming on the monitors long before. 
He waved his multi card at the handle.  The door clicked and unlocked.  He pushed it open.  It was dark inside as the sensor had failed to illuminate the room.  What was lurking in the blackness?  He slid his palm along the wall until it triggered the touch light.  The room was empty. 
Devin packed up his meager possessions: his thermo-jacket, a dirty shirt, his leather satchel.  He opened the safe and removed his coins.  He went to the window and looked out towards the direction of the gun battle two days before.  It was calm now, as if nothing had happened.  He imagined the bullet holes and broken windows, and gore.  Maybe he would go check out the scene before he went to the Red White and Blue hotel.  Devin didn’t know that the signs of carnage had been dutifully and efficiently repaired by midday.  Allowing the evidence of insurrection to be viewed by the public was inconceivable to NaPol whose justification for existence was the illusion of security.  A landlord slow to patch and paint away the remnants of insurrection would face crippling fines and possible property forfeiture. 
Leaving the room, Devin turned back to the small desk along the wall opposite the bed.  There was a form.  He waved his multi and “Paid in Full” appeared at the bottom along with “Thank you Mr. Mfume.”
Devin left the Baldwin Hotel and went back to the subway station on Mugabe Avenue.  “Paranoid,” he muttered to himself as the train doors closed.  The train accelerated east.         

Chapter 5                    Chapters 8

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