“Please sign, Mr. Rosenthal,” instructed a cosmetically frozen-faced clerk at Devin’s new hotel, the Red White and Blue. The woman made a waving motion with her hand. Devin’s brain finally clicked and he waved his multi over the virtual document embedded in the clipboard held out in front of him. The name “Demetrius Rosenthal” appeared at the bottom along with his photo, morphed slightly in geometry so as to pass the human eye test but fail a cyber-eye comparison. “Thank you. Room 217. Take the elevator. Last door on your left.”
Devin took the elevator up one floor, went to his door, unlocked it by waving his multi and went in. The room was even more Spartan than the Baldwin. The grime-stained walls were cement block. There was a single bed in the corner with a small window above it which was not quite large enough for a grown man to leap out of. The dresser had a holovision sitting on top. The small, white-tile bathroom with filthy, black grout had another, smaller holovision opposite the toilet. Devin went to the window and cranked it open.
The east side of town was definitely seedier, just as Ramielle had alluded. There were liquor stores. Down on the street, bums loitered in front of them asking patrons to use their drinking licenses to purchase them cheap booze. Devin laid himself out on the bed and logged on the holovision. He dozed off to an advetisement for discreet liaisons.
It was early evening when he was awakened by a cool breeze upon his face. Stiff from the nap, he laboriously pulled himself out of bed and made his way to the bathroom where he splashed some water on his face.
He heard the sound of heavy footfalls and swishing, polyester pant-legs coming down the hallway in a stampede of polyester and rubber. The rumble grew until it abruptly stopped directly outside his room.
“Anti-patriot!” shouted one of the voices from the hall. Devin remained frozen at the mirror with water still dripping off his face. “Anti-patriot! This is National Police! We know who you are. We know you’re in there! We are watching you on surveillance! Remain standing where you are! Put your hands on your head! Do not attempt to escape!” Devin put his hands on his head with the faucet still running. Sensing that it was wasting water, a signal sent from the Department of Conservation finally shut it off. “In ten seconds we will enter your room and apprehend you! Do not undertake any action that can be interpreted as uncooperative! Uncooperative behavior is justification for lethal force!”
Devin thought about his stash of gold coins in the safe where the nats would quickly find them. His multi was on the nightstand. After examining it, they would quickly discover its illegal aliasing capabilities.
“Shit! Ramielle set me up!” he thought to himself.
How was he going to explain things to the nats? The illegal gold? The illegal multi? “I found it”, he thought. “Yeah, right. Like they’ll believe that.” Who could he roll over on? Ramielle? She already rolled over on him. What about the pawnbroker? No. They knew about him, too. “Who, then?” he thought. “Roth? Yes, Roth!” He thought to himself. He would give them Roth to get off. That would explain the gold and multi. It was true, after all. “Perfect!” Roth was of higher value. The nats would love to have information on him.
There was a crash in the hallway and shouting and stomping, stamping, and stumbling but Devin’s door did not explode into his room and there were no black shirts pouncing on him. The commotion came from the room opposite his in the hallway. He scrambled to the peep hole to take a look.
“Don’t move, terrorist! Get on the ground! Search him for weapons, he could be hiding something! Wand him! Grab his multi! Download it! Cuff him!”
The victim was stripped of his clothes by three nats in black fatigues and sunglasses. “I’m not wired!” he pleaded.
“Strip him down! He’s a liar! Wand him! Hurry up!”
“You’ve got nothing on me,” the anti-patriot explained calmly.
“Careful with his multi! Disable it! Use the magneto-jammer!”
Devin saw a look of odd serenity in the man’s face. It was almost a smirk. It disappeared when the commanding nat booted him in the face and his lips filled with blood.
“Don’t look at me that way, anti-pat! Pulse him again!”
“One second, I’m not done with the body cavity search…” explained another.
“Get your finger out of his ass! Pulse him, now!”
The naked, hogtied man’s eyes rolled back into his head with the pulse-triggered seizure. His teeth ground together and his joints stiffened as far as they could against the nylon restraints.
“Cover those damn peep holes! We’ve got onlookers!” Devin’s peep hole went black. “Which one of you idiots forgot to neutralize onlookers?”
Devin went back to his bed and waited while the commotion died down and the hogtied, naked terrorist was drug down the hallway. He felt ashamed.
“Roth helped me,” he thought. “He helped me and I was going to give him up just like that.” He shook his head in disgust. “I’m weak.”
He made a pact with himself. He would not give up any person who had helped him in the event he was apprehended. “But what if I have to do time?” he asked himself. “No! No rolling over on people that have helped you. No matter what! Not even if it will save your life. No matter what!”
He felt invigorated by having a conviction for the first time in his life but he knew that it was easy to have convictions when one was tucked safely into an insulated hotel room.
Devin got up and looked out his window. Towering cumulus clouds were breaking apart overhead. The sun sank below the pre-fabricated and reflective gold glass buildings to the west. Slivers of golden sunlight illuminated the shadowy, litter filled, bum strewn alleyways. He contemplated hiding his coins in the hollows of the bed frame but determined that everything he did in the room was probably being surveilled, anyway. A covert act as such would merely draw attention. He dressed and left his room, leaving the gold coins in the safe.
He walked briskly about a block and a half down the street until he came to a fast food restaurant. There was no line and he was hungry so he went in.
He was greeted by a feebly-smiling octogenarian who stood behind a counter which projected a menu of animated, three dimensional depictions of various menu items. There were spinning eco-burgers, dancing freedom fries, and splashing liberty sodas, all arranged into various combinations designed to entice him. The prices were indicated below the pictures; $899 would buy Devin one tofu burger with a side of non-hydrogenated fries and a sugar free soda. He touched the hologram. It asked him to wave his multi. He complied.
“Thank you, Mr. Hammerstein,” came a perky female voice from a hidden speaker.
“What the hell is taking so long?” whined a chubby teenager with glowing, blue-within-blue eyes and an anti-mohawk. The kid noticed Devin looking at him and glared back.
Devin smiled politely at him but the punk just sneered while collecting his five burgers that had just slid down a shoot above the counter. The old man feebly handed him his drink. The portly kid pulled out a small packet from his pocket, dumped the contents into the fizzing soda and waddled off.
“We try to make it healthy for them,” came the old man. “You know it’s the law to make people eat healthy. But they’ll just order twice as much and add their own sweetners. These kids nowadays don’t respect nuthin’,” explained the old man.
Devin’s food slid down the chute and the old man passed him his drink. Devin took a seat facing the window and ate his tofu burger and de-fattened fries. He spiced up the numbingly bland food with ketchup packets and salt which came in packets so small that it required ten doses of each.
In four minutes, his meal was done and another senior citizen attempted to collect his waste paper wrappers. She wore a pin that read “Recycling in Real Time”. The senior hovered within Devin’s immediate space, making him anxious. Some corporate spreadsheet jockey somewhere had deduced that a five-minute customer experience was optimal for profit maximization. Devin got the hint from the hovering attendant and exited the empty restaurant.
He looked to cross the street. The traffic of puny, civilian electros and the gas-burning, government behemoths zipped past on the one way street in front of him. He waited. Then there was a break.
He started forward but as he stepped off the curb his muscles seized and violently contracted. His knees buckled and he collapsed into the gutter. He tried to cry out but his voice was useless. All he could see were overlapping blobs of light. The sounds of the traffic from the street phased in and out between his left and right ears. There was excruciating pain and the terrifyingly helpless sensation of being paralyzed— like being rolled up into a carpet and set ablaze.
“What is happening? Am I dying?” Then his muscles relaxed. His eyes regained focus. Still in shock and afraid to move, he remained catatonic in the gutter trying to regain his breath. He could feel water seeping into his pants.
“Freeze!” ordered an authoritative voice
Devin turned toward the sound and caught a glimpse of a nat wearing the customary black uniform and opaque shades. He was aiming a pen-sized device at Devin. Devin’s vision once again went blurry and his muscles contracted as the cop re-pulsed him. His teeth ground together so hard that they creaked and squealed under the intense pressure.
Devin remained helplessly frozen in the gutter as the nat yanked his rigid arms behind his back, nearly pulling his shoulders loose from their sockets, cuffed him, and dragged him up against the outside wall of the restaurant. The pulsing paralysis finally stopped as the nat released the emitter. The device retracted into his sleeve.
“Do not resist!” the nat barked.
“What did I do?” asked Devin feebly, feeling an intense burn in his abdominal muscles.
The nat whispered something inaudible into his wrist as he stood imposingly over him. He was scanning through reams of data that was scrolling across the insides of his lenses. He took out his detector and wanded Devin’s shoulder. He paused. Then he wanded him again.
“Where’s your chip?” the nat barked.
Already being in custody and softened by the pulse emitter, Devin responded bluntly, “I don’t have one.” He hoped his honesty would elicit mercy. Instead, his response was greeted with a look of disappointment on the officer’s face, followed by a gloved hand gripping his face.
“Are you resisting?” asked the officer.
Passersby averted their eyes and continued on down the sidewalk pretending not to notice the scene. The sheeple knew that onlookers were perceived as obstructions to justice and were often arrested too.
“Did you cut it out? Where’s the scar?” The nat asked as he examined Devin’s wrists, then stretched the neck of Devin’s shirt down over his shoulder and examined his upper arm.
“Don’t you have to read me my rights or something?” Devin asked reflexively, then regretted asking it out of fear that it would illicit another shock.
“Your rights?” the cop laughed as he examined Devin for scars. “You’ve been watching too much classic holovision. You know what your rights are. You have the right to shut your fucking mouth until I ask you a question. Now, get up.” The officer dragged him to his feet and started patting him down. “You got a multi? Never mind, I found it.”
Devin prayed that it generated a new and plausible alias as he doubted this cop would believe he was really a “Hammerstein”.
“Mengistu Selassie?” the cop asked. “What is that? Is that African?” Devin was at a loss. He stalled by pretending to cramp severely. “Hello! I asked you a question. Is that African? Are you an immigrant? How long have you been here?”
Devin mustered an innocent look. “Yes sir. I’ve only been here three days.”
“Well, I guess that explains it.”
“Explains why you are an ignorant dumbass.”
“Ignorant of what?”
“Ignorant of the law regarding crossing the street.”
“Don’t you know that jaywalking is illegal? You could’ve been seriously injured.” Devin, still writhing managed an imperceptible chuckle.
The nat unlatched Devin’s cuffs and handed him back his multi. “Listen to me,” he continued condescendingly wagging his gloved finger a centimeter from Devin’s face. “Ignorance is no defense for breaking the law. This is a zero-tolerance city. Jaywalking is strictly prohibited. Do you have any idea how much jaywalking costs this city annually in terms of lost productivity and medical bills?” Devin shook his head. “I’m sure it’s in the billions. You see those signs over there? Those are crosswalks. Use them to cross the street and you won’t have any trouble with me. Remember, it’s for your own good.”
“Yes sir,” answered Devin.
“A fine of $1000 has been deducted from your account. Have a nice day.”
“Thank you, sir.” Devin went back to the hotel and up to his room. He removed his soiled, stretched out clothes and ran a shower. He stood there motionless as the hot water ran down his neck.
His stomach still ached and his wrists were bruised and tender where the nylon cuffs had cut into his skin. His chest ached as if he had a cracked sternum. The concrete of the gutter had sanded patches of skin from his hip, knees, and elbows. But the soothing hot water of the shower relaxed him. He soaked under the stream without moving.
Just as his mind began to calm, the water was shut off. Four minutes was the maximum allowable time for a shower as determined by the Department of Conservation. He stood leaning forward against the tiled wall allowing the water run off, dried off and went to bed.
He heard the whistle of a superjet passing far overhead carried in by the cool evening air through his open window. He reached up and slammed the window shut, cinching off the noise and the air from the outside world. He laid back and stared at the ceiling. His ribs ached. His open wounds tightened as they dried out.
He thought about making The Delivery and chuckled. Returning to Goldstein would be an acknowledgement of the Colony’s rightness. Worse yet, it would be an acknowledgement of his wrongness. He was not ready to embrace Goldstein’s ethic. The Delivery was absurd, anyway.
How was he going to make it in Amerika? So far, he was either horribly unlucky, or this was just a much more difficult place than he had envisioned.
Maybe the city wasn’t for him. Maybe he could make his way to the country. He could find work there. Surely there was a place free of nats and surveillance and checkpoints, a ranch, somewhere. What did he know about ranching? Nothing, he was a programmer but it didn’t matter. He would figure it out, somehow. Devin decided he would try to go into the mountains. There had to be small towns and farms and ranches up in there.
He leaned up in bed and logged on the holovision. It was a gossip show. Apparently some celebrity had made a video of her six-year-old taking mind altering drugs. Devin’s mind went numb as he watched.
The holovision took him on a journey of impulse— stimulus, response, stimulus, response. It required no mental effort. The holovision pushed all the buttons and turned all the knobs in one’s mind. It guided the viewer’s consciousness as if it were on a rail. It was like sleeping with one’s eyes wide open.
It droned on senselessly, filling the spaces between his thoughts. Then it drowned out his thoughts entirely, replacing them with its own interpretation of reality. After an hour, he began to appreciate the numbing quality of the holovision. He got comfortable with it, then addicted to it. He didn’t leave his room for six days.
Chapters 6&7 Chapter 9
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here from Amazon.com