A thud stirred Devin from his sleep. He wasn’t sure if he had dreamt it or if it was real. He sat up. It was light outside. After shaking the sleep out of his head he deciphered the time on his multi. It was 10:17. The several days of solitude was beginning to slow his mental clock. He had been sleeping in later and later each successive day.
He turned on the holovision.
“You are seeing pictures of an explosion that just occurred not thirty seconds ago at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Lincoln Ave. The pictures are courtesy of Numenor’s Cityscape Security network. Numenor: making the world safe for democracy.”
A burning façade of a storefront filled the holovision’s field. The view switched to the face of an attractive female.
“What you are seeing now is what remains of a storefront. It is burning.”
“Obviously,” Devin replied sarcastically. His thumb crept toward the off command.
“Approximately 35 seconds ago, there was an explosion of some sort which blew out the windows of this store which you are seeing right now.” The reporter touched her ear. “Apparently we have the Numenor Cityscape footage of the actual explosion. Stand by.”
The image switched back to the storefront prior to its immolation. Then, with a flash, the windows blew out and a ball of fire rolled out into the street and up into the sky.
The field switched back to the reporter. “As you can see, there was a fireball, possibly caused by an explosion, which blew out the windows of this storefront,” she repeated. “It is still on fire. Patriots from the Department of Fire and Code Security will be on the scene shortly. I can hear the sirens, now.” Devin heard the sirens as well. “The street signals in the vicinity are all flashing ‘Alert’ now. I’ve just been told that a three block radius around the site of the explosion is now in security lockdown. If you attempt to drive into the area, your electro will be disabled. This is for your safety.”
The reporter continued, “We will check back here in a moment. In other news, The New York Yankees and there ten billion dollar payroll come to town to play our…”
Devin’s thumb flipped the stereovision to another news channel, then another. They all had the exact same footage. But in seven minutes time, the event had become stale news and was replaced by Bollywood megastar, Buster McDougal, who had just been apprehended under suspicion of sodomizing a goat.
Devin opened his small window and could see the plume of black smoke billowing up to the west several blocks away. The civil alert sirens on his street finally activated and the ear-piercing wail drowned out the baritone pulses of the armored NaPol gas-cruisers racing to the scene. Devin shut the window and retreated to the corner of his room attempting to evade the noise. His multi-card beeped. It was Roth Smith.
“Roth?” Devin asked.
“It is me, your favorite Eskimo,” he replied.
“What’s going on?” Devin asked.
“Not a whole lot. We just got snow yesterday.”
“Snow? In May?”
“It’s a little late. How’s the weather there?”
“It’s been cool. They say we might get freezing rain tomorrow.”
“How are you doing, my friend?”
Devin was hesitant to answer remembering that he nearly betrayed Roth a few days earlier. He also recalled how he was filled with hubris before he embarked for Amerika and he felt ashamed. “It’s good to hear from you, Roth. I’m not doing so well,” he admitted.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s this place. It’s not what I thought. People are strange here. Nats are everywhere. I got pulsed a few days ago.”
“Pulsed? For what?”
“Apparently they have a zero tolerance policy towards jay walking.”
“They pulsed you for jay walking?”
“That’s right. I’d hate to see what they’d do to me if I robbed a bank.”
“They’d probably just write you a ticket.”
They both chuckled.
“I just don’t know about this place, Roth.”
“So what are you going to do? Come back to Alaska? Back to Goldstein?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure I can make The Delivery. The entire thing seems ridiculous.”
“I see,” Roth replied.
“Why should I do The Council’s bidding, anyway? They exiled me.”
“I think I need to lay low for a couple more days and sort things out. Oh, funny story…”
“Funnier than the jay walking story?”
“No, not really, more funny as in strange. I got this cabbie when I was leaving the station who tracked me down while I was looking for work. She seems a little nuts. She goes on this rant about how the nats are looking for me and I got to get out of sight ‘cause they know I’m there and are coming to get me.”
“Sounds to me like they already got you.”
“Not like that, more like they want to bring me in as an anti-pat.”
“What’s her name?”
“So what did you do?”
“I did what she said. She sent me to this hotel on the east side. You don’t think NaPol would really be after me do you? At least not if I’m obeying all crosswalks.”
“Well, you are from Goldstein. If they learn that, they’ll probably want to at least keep a close eye on you.”
“I thought she was right and I was done for when I got pulsed the other day, but then the nat let me go after getting my name because he thought I was just some dumb immigrant. Thanks for that multi, again. It saved me.”
“Don’t mention it. The transit nats probably won’t take you in unless you do something really stupid. They prefer to deliver justice on the spot. Just be compliant with them and they’ll let you go with a fine. The nats with brainpower don’t work transit beats, they work for the feds. The feds are the ones interested in anti-pats. If you meet one, you are probably in big trouble. And when they’re done with you, you’ll be begging for the pulse emitter.”
“Well, they’re not on to me.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m not in custody yet, am I?”
“They might just be watching and waiting. If they come to get you, you won’t even know it’s happening. They’ll be on top of you like a bear on a backpacker. Be careful. Don’t trust anyone in the city.”
“I’m going to transmit some dollars to you.”
“I’m fine, Roth. Brooks set me up with enough to last a while. Besides, I’ve got social assistance payments coming.”
“Well, do you need anything else?”
“I’m fine, really. I appreciate you looking in on me. It means a lot. I’ll call you in a couple weeks and give you an update.”
“Well, be careful and don’t jaywalk anymore. Don’t trust anyone, not even your cabbie friend. If you decide to come back to Alaska just give me a ring. I’ll make all the arrangements at a good rate.”
Roth clicked out. Devin set his multi on the desk by a power outlet. In five minutes, the card’s stamp-sized battery was fully charged and good for five more days. Normally, it charged by his kinetics but it had run down with his recent inactivity.
Feeling uplifted, Devin dressed himself and went out. He carefully looked both ways upon exiting the hotel’s smudged front doors. The street in front was clear and he had a sudden urge to dart out into it but caught himself at the last moment. He looked around once more for suspicious faces, the sideways glances and contrived nonchalant-ness of spies.
There was a heavy black woman across the street dressed in a sky blue pants suit. She didn’t break stride as Devin looked at her. There was a chubby white teenager with tattoos on his face and an ill-fitting t-shirt sitting on a bus stop bench to his right. His thumb and forefinger were busy digging something from his nose. There was a middle aged Latino with a thick, black mustache and snakeskin cowboy boots. He was talking on his multi in Mandarin. He paid Devin no heed.
Then Devin saw the transit nat, the same nat who had pulsed him nearly a week ago. He was sitting in his gas-cruiser scanning the intersection for lawbreakers. His fat head scanned from left to right like an animatron. Then his black glasses locked on to Devin.
Devin averted his eyes. He felt the loathing boil up within him. It bubbled up like a fast acting corrosive. He stared down at his shoes while he envisioned himself walking up to the cruiser, pulling a twelve-gauge shotgun out from his thermal, pumping the shell into the chamber, dropping the barrel into the passenger window and…
He glanced back at the nat. The nat grinned at him mockingly, as if he could read Devin’s thoughts and was daring him to try something. Devin looked away again to his right and lawfully started up the sidewalk fully expecting to hear the gas-cruiser roll up behind and switch on it’s sirens. The nat didn’t follow.
Devin approached the razor-wired confines of Liberty Elementary School. Clustered about the concrete courtyard were some two hundred kids dressed in miniature khaki pants and navy blue shirts. Boys and girls were all in the same uniform with identical hair styles. It was a sea of bowl-cut androgyny.
Scattered amongst them were some fifty or so child socialization supervisors ensuring that every non-competitive game was played without exploitation (meaning no winners and no losers). The brigade of clones unenthusiastically immersed in a game of ‘share-soccer’— an activity where several dozen kids stand at various fixed positions and work together in collectivist harmony to kick a ball into an untended net by passing it between them from player to player.
A husky kid, who had sufficient athleticism to boot the ball from his distant, pre-assigned position past the other sentries and into the net, was quickly pounced on by the counselors and scolded for ‘selfish, exploitative behavior’. With tears welling up in his eyes, he was perp-walked into a timeout square where he was publicly mocked and ridiculed by the other, more enlightened children.
An alarm sounded which was not unlike the pulsating and terrifying NaPol sirens. The little blue shirts aligned themselves into files by age group and were driven back into the windowless, cinderblock building under an archway that read:
“BUILDING A BETTER CITIZEN”
“Move along!” came a voice directed at Devin. “Loitering in front of a school is a Class 1 Misdemeanor!”
Devin continued north until he reached Mugabe Ave. Across the avenue was a stairwell down to the westbound train. He waited patiently for the signal to give him permission to cross.
“Walk (in Vietnamese)”, shouted a voice from a speaker on the signal pole. Devin looked at his multi as he crossed. His current alias was ‘Trung Trac’.
He crossed legally and went down the stairs into a glass, arbor-like gate. He winced as he went through but it did not lock him in. His multi was bug free again. A faint beep indicated $400 had been deducted from his account. After the naked scan of him was transmitted to the NaPol database, he was passed through. He sat down on a plastic bench.
Devin waited for several minutes until the next train arrived. He boarded it and sat down fully expecting the autistic fellow in the white jumpsuit from days before to appear but he was nowhere in sight. There was, however, a priest as indicated by his black wardrobe and collar. He was scanning a holozine issue of “Christian Soldier”.
The subway train accelerated west and for the next two minutes, Devin fought off the grime and encroaching urine-smell of the filthy public car. Would he abandon the city? He was nearly convinced. Maybe the priest might give him a compelling reason to stay.
“Hold on,” the priest commanded.
Devin remembered the fault in the rail that had nearly threw him onto the floor the last time his subway car passed this point. Disregarding hygiene, he grabbed on to the grimy pole with his bare hand an instant before the train passed over the gap. The car violently jolted.
“Thank you,” Devin replied.
“You’re welcome.” The priest answered as he put down his holozine and smiled.
Devin, observing the priest’s engaging posture, couldn’t resist. “So how are things going in the soul-saving business these days?”
The priest laughed. “Not as well as I would like,” he answered. “There seems to be a great deal of saving left to do.”
“Sign of the times?” Devin asked as the train rumbled on through the black tunnel.
“What times might these be?” The priest asked.
“End times?” Devin offered with an inflection that made it sound like a question. It wasn’t so much because he believed it but because he thought it was what the priest wanted to hear.
“If it is then I need to work a lot harder,” the priest responded.
“Are you Catholic?” Devin asked, changing the subject.
“Why? Do you want to make a confession?”
“No, not today, thanks.”
“Actually, I’m multi-denominational so I guess you could say that I am Catholic, at least some of the time. I’m actually licensed by the Department of Religion.”
“So priests work for the government, too? What happened to the separation of Church and State?”
“If you want to preach in public, you have to have a license. The license just ensures that we are legitimate. We can’t have false prophets out there preaching hate, can we?”
Devin didn’t even want to try to understand how licensing priests was a proper role for the State. He changed the subject. “Maybe you can answer a question for me…”
“What is it?”
Devin did his best to wipe the crusty grime from his hand where it had gripped the filthy hand pole before asking. Then he let it rip. “Can you help me understand what’s wrong with the world?”
“What do you mean? Spiritually?”
“I mean how did it all come to this?”
“Come to ‘this’?”
“You know, the surveillance, the police state, the brutality of nats, the rudeness of people. Is it a punishment by God?”
“Hmmm. Perhaps,” The priest pondered. “Or perhaps it’s not as bad as you make it out to be. Do you know what is in your heart? Maybe you need to look there to find your answer.”
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty bad here. I’m sure it’s not me.”
“Then perhaps you’re expecting an explanation from me that goes along the lines of, ‘since there is so little God in people’s lives, they have become full of immorality and hate’.”
“Yeah, I guess I was expecting something like that.”
“But that kind of simplistic answer probably wouldn’t appeal to you either, would it?”
“No, probably not,” Devin agreed.
“Well, maybe I’ll give you two answers and you can choose the one that best fits your worldview.”
“Maybe it’s a matter of not needing help anymore from our neighbors that is causing people to be so un-neighborly and awful to one another.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that we have everything at our fingertips, now. We have government counselors and social workers that are available to solve all our problems for us. There’s no need to be neighborly when we don’t need our neighbors.”
“That makes sense. What’s your other explanation?”
The priest gazed into the smudged windows of the train as it zipped past the blur of dimly lit diodes attached to the blackened subway wall. “Perhaps people are just this way, have always been this way, and we just have romanticized notions. What do you think?” asked the priest.
Devin pondered, still trying to rub the last of the grime from his palm. “I think I agree with your first hypothesis. I find it very difficult…” Devin trailed off.
“Find what difficult?”
“I guess I find it difficult not to despise people.”
“But you’ll become one of those you despise if you’re not careful. Don’t let your heart be led astray. Always remember that if it was easy to love your neighbor then there would be no reward in doing it.”
“And what is the reward? Good fortune? Eternal life?”
“Yes. But we are put here to help one another, to do the things that please God. It is our purpose in life. It should be its own reward.”
“…To help even the irredeemable?”
“No one is irredeemable.”
“I think these people are. They’re barely human. They’re more like farm animals, biting and snarling at each other, waiting for their troughs to be refilled. They’re soul-less. Their government is their god, now.”
“You need to let the Holy Spirit into your heart. Do you read the Bible?”
“I’ve read the Gospels,” Devin answered.
“Did they resonate with you?”
“I think I understand the message.”
The priest chuckled. “Tell me then, what is the message?”
Devin rubbed his chin contemplatively. Don’t fall into his trap, he thought. He’s a professional. He’s setting you up to make you look like a fool. Oh, the hell with it, “I imagine it involves having virtue. You know, having freedom to choose and then choosing to do what’s right.”
“Hmmm. That’s an interesting interpretation. How did you arrive at that?”
“Well, it has to do with how Jesus was always hanging around sinners and criminals and how he never tried to force his message onto people. Like he told that prostitute to “sin no more” rather than bludgeon her with a stone. To me, that’s what virtue is about- choosing the right path. If someone forces you to do good then it wasn’t your choice and therefore it has no virtue. Without virtue, you’re just a farm animal waiting for your trough to be refilled.”
“Interesting,” replied the priest.
“What do YOU think the message is, father?”
“That’s easy. Love thy neighbor,” responded the priest condescendingly. Devin choked the priest’s response down with difficulty as if it was some piece of gristle that had to be swallowed as a matter of politeness. “Do you struggle with that?” the priest asked.
“I suppose that it might be an opportunity for spiritual growth but I guess I can accept it.”
“Faith is not easy.”
The train came to a stop and the doors slid open. Devin got up and stepped out the door but turned back to ask a final question. “Before you take off, father, do you have a Bible verse for me? You know, something for me to ponder as I make my way through this wilderness.”
The priest smiled but it wasn’t a warm smile. It was more of a smug smile. “Romans 13. I think it will help you to refocus on what’s important.”
The priest noticed a look of contempt materialize in Devin’s face. It looked as if he were about to wretch. Devin had a heathen’s hatred for that verse. But it made perfect sense to him now. The oligarchs of religion used that verse to bludgeon obedience into the minds of the serfs.
“You look disappointed, my son,” asked the priest.
“I guess I should have expected that verse from a government bureaucrat.”
“Jesus didn’t say that.”
“No, it’s from Paul. Tell me, where’re you headed, now?”
“I’ve decided to dust off my sandals and get the hell out of this place. Thank you for helping me make up my mind.”
The doors of the subway car slammed shut.
Chapter 8 Chapters 10 & 11 will be available next weekend
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here from Amazon.com