“Good morning, Mr. Moore.”
Devin opened his eyes finding himself back in the bright, white-tiled infirmary. The Director was sitting next to his bed clad in his black suit. Devin discovered that his own arms and legs were unrestrained. He might have reached out and grabbed the Director by the neck but the Director was holding a pulse emitter.
“Don’t be foolish,” Director Morgenthau warned, noticing that Devin was eying his pulser. “It’s not like you can go anywhere, anyway. You’ve been on your back for a month. You don’t have enough strength to make it to the end of the hall.”
“Is the torture over?” Devin asked.
“Torture? Don’t be ridiculous. We don’t torture anybody here, this is a hospital.” Morgenthau explained with a smirk. “We were just observing you. That’s all.”
“You blasted light in my eyes. You kept me awake.”
“Torture by bright light?” Morgenthau mocked. “Sleep deprivation, too? No, I’m afraid you kept yourself awake with your vivid imagination, Mr. Moore.”
“There were beeps that kept me awake.”
“That was just medical equipment.” The Director stood up and pushed his chair back. “We’re going for a ride into the mountains. I think you’ll enjoy it.
The nurse will get you dressed and help you into a wheelchair. Don’t try anything with her. Any sign of trouble and she’ll switch you off like a holovision.” The Director abruptly left the room.
A stout nurse with broad shoulders entered and helped Devin onto the edge of his bed. Sitting upright sent an intense shard of pain through his head. He rubbed the back of his neck and felt the tiny scars where the doctors had bored into his brain.
“Do you have a mirror?” He asked the nurse.
The nurse produced a small, plastic mirror. He gazed at it in amazement, startled by the change in his appearance. The strange face staring back at him had sunken, bloodshot eyes ringed by dark circles. His hair had been shaved off. There were many new lines carved into his pale, sunken face. Much of the stubble on his chin was coming in white.
“I look like hell.”
The nurse didn’t respond. After dressing him, she eased him into a wheelchair. His legs were heavy and clumsy and it took unusual effort to move them. After sitting, his heavy limbs hung lifeless on the foot and arm rests of the chair. The simple ordeal left him exhausted.
The nurse wheeled him out of the room. The hall was starkly gray and stained with streaks of rust and blotches of black mold. The vinyl tile on the floors was worn through in places. There were steel doors lining either side of the hall; giant, heavy doors with massive hinges and tiny windows. It didn’t look like any hospital Devin had ever been in.
The nurse rolled him down the hall to an elevator. She flashed her multi and the clanking doors opened.
They exited into a lobby populated by a half dozen nats in their customary black uniforms and high boots and silver skull badges but Devin was fixated on the windows. Rays of bright sunlight beamed through in places where the opacity sensors had ceased functioning. The sunlight invigorated him as the nurse wheeled him under the warm rays that formed trapezoidal patterns of light on the floor.
A nat stopped them at a pair of eight foot tall glass doors. He wanded the nurse’s shoulder and Devin’s head and gestured them through. They passed onto a broad sidewalk covered by an awning. Director Morgenthau was there, standing in front of a massive, black, armored transport vehicle. It rumbled as its gasoline powered engine idled away, a rare sound in the era of silent electros.
“Help him in,” Morgenthau commanded. Two nats with assault rifles strapped to their shoulders pulled Devin up from his chair and hoisted him into the back seat of the armored car. Director Morgenthau got in on the opposite side.
The interior was upholstered in black leather and adorned with several holovisions and an assortment of keypads and touch-screens. One of the nats got into the driver’s seat and two more got in to the row of seats behind Devin and the Director. The driver put the vehicle into gear and they accelerated, with a screech of the tires, exploding out of the entry loop, passing through a guarded checkpoint and motoring across the grounds towards another checkpoint which was merely a crossing beam. The driver pushed a button on the steering wheel and the beam lifted. The stoplight at the intersection ahead changed to their favor as well and they turned left onto a main thoroughfare. They roared past a column of feeble civilian electros that would be easily crushed under the wheels of the NaPol transport if they had somehow managed to get in the way.
After a few blocks they merged onto an elevated, twelve-lane superhighway and accelerated to one hundred and seventy kilometers per hour. They blew past the sluggish electros as if their batteries were drained.
They drove for a few minutes before the highway started to climb. They accelerated onward, upward into the foothills through a steep gorge climbing several hundred meters along the way. The armored truck had to decelerate in order to make the tight turns as the highway snaked precariously along the edge of the steep mountainside.
They climbed on, weaving their way up the empty concrete road. They did not see any electros once in the mountains— it was too far from the nearest charging station.
The road carried them into pine forest dotted with the occasional rotting frame of a long-ago-abandoned structure. The grass along the sides of the road was green and lush and Devin spotted a herd of elk grazing only a few meters off the highway. They lifted their shaggy brown necks to check them out as they blew past. It seemed to Devin that in twenty minutes time they had passed into another world.
The truck continued its climb.
They reached a high saddle and, as if a great curtain were drawn back, a magnificent spectacle of rolling black foothills rippling many kilometers to the west, culminated in a ridge of snow-capped peaks.
They started to descend,
They passed through the remnants of an old mining town. It had been resurrected as a suburb many decades before only to die again during the Great Transition. All that remained were the fire blackened studs and broken windows of a ghost town. A rickety water wheel turned slowly under a cascade of late spring runoff. An abandoned service station with a shattered sign advertised gasoline for ‘$99.99 per Liter’. It had been closed for many years. Gas, where available, cost more than three times that amount.
They motored on.
They finally turned off the lonely mountain superhighway and onto a two-lane asphalt road. It snaked through a piney canyon floor then it too began to climb. The asphalt was potted and cracked and the truck frequently swerved to avoid fallen boulders and tree limbs.
Upwards and onwards they went.
Ahead of them, a black bear scurried out of the pine trees and up to a ledge overlooking the road. It paid no heed to the roaring transport vehicle. It was hungry and hunting for berries having just emerged from hibernation.
The truck’s transmission downshifted to get a better bite on the grade. They passed a pristine, high mountain lake and made another big turn. By Devin’s estimation, they were well over 3,000 meters in altitude. The tree line was much lower back in Alaska.
Now the road was now not much more than a heap of fractured asphalt and muddy potholes. There were banks of snow in the shadier areas. The trees got knottier and more twisted with their branches ripped off their windward sides.
The truck roared on.
Then they burst through the tree line and into the alpine tundra. The degraded asphalt road was wavy and unstable. Sections of it had sloughed off to the left as though the ground had melted away from underneath it. They passed another lake, this one still frozen in wind-polished, blue ice.
The road climbed and wound and crawled upwards along the sheer face of the boulder-strewn mountaintop. The turns were tight and dangerous. On one side there was a sheer drop of a thousand meters. There were no guardrails.
Devin looked back. He could see the road snaking its way back down many meters in elevation, down into the trees far below. Then it was lost in a white haze that had just rolled in.
The gasoline engine growled.
They finally reached a flat area where the driver stopped the truck and turned off the engine. Apparently, they had come to the end of the line.
“Get him out,” Morgenthau ordered.
The nats hopped out of the vehicle, pulled Devin from his seat and walked him over to a collapsed wall of an old sandstone building that had once been an observatory many decades before. Devin looked to the west. The view would have been spectacular had the mountain top not been enveloped in haze.
“I don’t suppose this is where you take out a pistol and shoot me in the head, is it?” asked Devin, too weak to even imagine fleeing down the sheer slope of the treeless mountain top.
Morgenthau laughed. “Actually, no. I brought you here because I thought the view might make you more amenable.” Devin chuckled half-heartedly. “Unfortunately, the clouds have moved in.”
“So what happens now?” Devin asked.
The Director picked up a small stone and feebly tossed it over the edge. His throw managed to send the stone plunging downward over a thousand meters. Devin suddenly understood why the Director chuckled when Devin asked him about shooting him in the head. He listened for the sound of the rock hitting below and imagined his head smashing the boulders at terminal velocity. There was no sound. It was too far down.
“I think the problem we’re having is a simple misunderstanding, Devin,” Morgenthau continued. A freezing breeze whipped his thin gray hair about giving him the aura of a mad scientist. “I don’t think you understand.”
“What don’t I understand?” Devin asked.
“You don’t understand our true purpose. I don’t think you understand what your options are. And I don’t think you understand what we are capable of, especially when national security is at stake.” Morgenthau took out his kerchief and wiped the mist from his leathery forehead. “Perhaps if you understood these things you would be more cooperative. Perhaps you would be more willing to help us. Perhaps you would tell us about The Delivery so that we might be able to do our job more effectively.”
“I don’t think there’s anything to tell you,” Devin replied.
Morgenthau lost patience. “Get him up! Bring him over here!” Two nats grabbed Devin and walked him to the edge of the precipice. With his arms held in painfully awkward positions behind his back, it felt as if his shoulders might dislocate from their sockets.
Devin gazed downward into the hazy abyss as they held him at the ledge. It would be a long, long fall if he were to be thrown over. He prayed that he wouldn’t shriek while he plunged. He at least didn’t want to give them that satisfaction.
“Look out that way,” ordered the Director as he pointed his bony finger into the fog. “There’s a hundred and fifty thousand square kilometers of barely habited wilderness out there. Isn’t that spectacular?”
“Huh?” Devin replied.
The Director gazed at him with an exaggerated, wide-eyed expression that some adults condescendingly apply to small children. “It wasn’t always that way, you know. There was a time when a million people lived back through there— a million bohemians with their pickup trucks and flannel. Why, I ask? What a waste it all was— a million unmonitored, inefficient, polluting citizens languishing in the wilderness. They were useless. They contributed nothing to society.”
“What about farmers and ranchers and…”
“Useless! Redundant! The Agricorps cartel does all that now. Agricorps armies can grow all the food we need. They can be rapidly deployed to combat any shortage,” Morgenthau explained as he tried to flatten his hair down against the bone chilling wind.
“Why are there are so many shortages?” Devin asked.
“Hoarders! Speculators! Anti-patriots! People are selfish, Devin. The selfishness of a few causes injury to us all. But we have employed the remedy.”
“And what’s that?”
“Why democracy, of course.”
“Of course. Democracy. Consensus. The political system aggregates preferences and empowers the institutions; empower them to reign in the selfish and the greedy.”
“With guns and pulse emitters?”
“Sometimes, but mostly with taxes and regulation and inflation. The institutions are quite good at grinding the selfish between the millstones of regulation and taxation.”
“Didn’t Lenin say that?”
Morgenthau disregarded Devin’s point. “Greed and selfishness creeps into society slowly, when our guard is down. The selfish tend to migrate into the rural areas where they can escape the order of society and live their polluting, wasteful, non-contributing lives.”
“We had to drive them back into the cities to control them, to force them to be productive. It was for the greater good.”
“We did it by taking away their gasoline.”
“…And I thought we ran out of oil,” Devin snarked.
Morgenthau laughed. His sparse hair flailed about wildly in the wind. “Ran out? There’s fifteen trillion barrels of oil still under those mountains out there just waiting to be sucked out of the rock. It had nothing to do with running out. We’d probably never have run out. No, it was a planned transition— The Great Transition. And it broke our addiction.”
“The oil addiction. Oil is a subversive force, Devin. It’s just like a drug. It creates dependency. It promotes hedonism, individualism. It’s evil.”
“But oil’s just a resource. It powers transportation. It gave people mobility. Mobility was liberty. How can something that gave people liberty be evil?”
“Liberty is anarchy, Devin. Anarchy is evil because people acting freely will destroy themselves. We couldn’t let the country destroy itself. We had to declare war on the addiction.”
“War on a condition? How do you win such a war?”
“Winning is not the intent.”
“How does it end, then?”
“It never ends, Devin. America has always been at war with something. Wars are necessary to mobilize democracies. An un-mobilized democracy is a country on the road to self-destruction and anarchy.”
“Sounds to me like a mobilized democracy is on a road to slavery,” Devin added.
“Wars are necessary. Great democracies are always at war. We had the war against the British crown, the war on the Indians, the wars on fascism, the war on communism, the war on poverty and the war on inflation. We had the war on drugs and the war on racism and the cold war and the war on terror. We had the war on greed and the war on recession and the war on carbon and the war on oil. War! It’s both the means and the end of the democratic state- it’s tool and it’s purpose. War is productive. War is useful. War is elegant.”
“Goldstein exists without war. They hate war,” Devin replied.
“You’re wrong, Devin. Goldstein needs war, too. They need war with Amerika. Without Amerika, Goldstein too would devour itself. But Goldstein is nothing compared to Amerika. It’s a tiny bug that will be squashed at our whim.”
“You’re wrong. No one in Goldstein would profit from war. There’s great wealth there. They have too much to lose. They just want to be left alone.”
“Lies!” Morgenthau shouted. “Goldstein wants it. They need it. Selfishness has turned them into nihilists. They yearn for the ultimate nihilism- suicide. They seek Gotterdammerung.”
“That’s wrong. They choose life. They principles.”
“Principles are a liar’s tool of self deception.”
“America had principles, once.”
“And what were they? That all men are created equal? Lies! What about blacks, Devin? Were they treated equal? What about the Indians? Ever hear of the Trail of Tears? What about the Japs in World War II? What about women? When were they finally granted suffrage?”
“I agree. Those were contradictions, but the principles of America eventually triumphed over the politics.”
“Let him go,” Morgenthau ordered. The nats released Devin and stepped back. “Oh, Devin. Then what about the homosexuals? What about the handicapped? They were not protected. What about the mentally ill? What about the unintelligent, untalented, unhealthy, unattractive and unmotivated? Were they created equal, Devin? How can they achieve the American dream? How can an advantaged person be equal to a disadvantaged one in a laissez faire system? It’s impossible. It isn’t fair. It isn’t equal. None of us are created equal, Devin. The Founding Fathers were frauds and hypocrites.”
“You can’t build up the weak by just hobbling the strong. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Yes we can! Equality is all that matters. Equal outcomes are the only quantifiable measure and we are all keeping score of it all the time. Without equal outcomes, tensions arise, then society cannibalizes itself.”
“So in response, you do the cannibalizing in advance?”
“It’s all pragmatic, Devin. Society must be governed by pragmatism and not ideology.”
“Pragmatism is a lie. It’s an excuse used by tyrants to justify theft and murder,” Devin argued.
“Theft and murder are moral concepts. It’s all relative. Everything is relative in the real world. Pragmatism accepts that constraint and idealism does not. In order to save democracy, you must be pragmatic. You have to take away freedom in order to keep people free.”
“That makes no sense.”
“That’s because you’re naïve. Democracy is the highest ideal. It trumps all other ideals, even liberty.”
“Democracy is rule by mob. It’s tyranny by consensus. It’s fifty one percent looting the other forty-nine.”
“What would you have us be then, Devin? A dictatorship? A monarchy?”
“No, a Republic ruled by just laws, not a democracy ruled by whims.”
“And who would write the laws?”
“No one. There is only one law- ‘Thou shalt not steal’.”
Director Morgenthau laughed. His laughter was a contagion that spread to the nats lurking behind Devin, ready to pounce. Morgenthau’s hair blew about wildly in the gusting wind. “I like you, Devin Moore. I’ve always had a soft spot for idealists. There’s something to be said for your kind- fools that you are.”
“I wasn’t always this way.”
“What changed you?”
Devin wanted to say, “You and your thugs!” but he thought better of it. He remained silent.
Director Morgenthau continued. “We’re the last bastion of democracy, Devin. We have to fight these wars internal and external because no one else will. Amerika is exceptional and with exceptionalism comes great responsibility. Tell me, do you think England will fight? They’re bankrupt. They’re slaves to their German uber-lords. Funny how the Huns eventually took it all over, anyway. France, you ask? They have no political will. They’ve had fifteen percent unemployment for twenty years. Scandinavia? They’ve closed off their borders and isolated themselves from the world. They’re a frozen bastion of neo-Viking pagans. What about the Islamic Republic of Spain? One election from Caliphate. Russia? At war with China. Fascists and communists: ideological twins that just can’t seem to get along. Why? Canada? Never-ending civil war. Quebecois and English blowing up each other’s schools. Mexico? Theocrats and warlords too busy hacking each other to death over drug profits. There’s no one left, Devin. Without Amerika, the entire world would be lost. It would be a new Dark Age- Europe just after the Romans.”
“It sounds like it already is”, Devin thought to himself.
“We’ve accomplished great things in the last fifty years,” Morgenthau continued. “We’ve eliminated the oil addiction. We’ve shackled the libertarians and the free thinkers to corporate careers, mind-numbing holovision, and bloated mortgages. Now everyone lives in manageable, surveillable, metropolitan corridors with their children properly indoctrinated in state schools, all of them one missed paycheck from utter dependence upon the state. Think of the savings in infrastructure costs! Amazingly, we did it all without a civil war. We concocted a little hysteria and injected a little unearned guilt about destroying the earth or enriching Muslims and the people turned over their freedom with barely a whimper.
We’ve stabilized the economy, too. We’ve cartelized all of the major industries into government cooperatives fed by credit issued by a single banking monopoly: Fedbank. Demand falls, Fedbank prints money. Prices rise, Fedbank sells bonds and draws it out. If that fails then President just slaps on the price controls. It’s amazing what capitalism can accomplish when the state takes total control of it.”
“That’s the opposite of capitalism,” Devin thought.
“We are safer now, too. We store pictures and audio of everyone and every conversation in every public setting- even many private ones, too. We know everything everyone does. It is all dumped into the database. We can tap it and solve crimes with mere keystrokes. Security enforcement is remarkably efficient!”
“What about privacy?”
“You have nothing to worry about if you are being good,” Morgenthau grinned while trying to comb down his wind-tasseled hair. “Everyone is cared for from cradle to grave. There’s free healthcare, free education, free housing, free food, free transportation.”
“What about freedom?”
“Freedom of what?” Morgenthau sneered. “We gave everyone the ultimate freedom- we gave them freedom from want.”
“You gave it to them? How? Who pays for it?”
“We gave it to them by making them pay for it.”
“You extorted them in order to give it back to them?”
“Let me use a metaphor here. Amerikans are like the ancient Chinese junk boat crews who would go out and hire a taskmaster to beat them so they would stay on schedule. In Amerika, the state is the taskmaster.”
“You merely turned them into domesticated animals. They’re helpless and brainless, now.”
“But they’re free from want. That’s all they really wanted out of life, anyway.”
“That’s not living. That’s existing. What about the innovators and the inventors and the entrepreneurs? How can you expect standards of living to increase without them? What about growth? What about the next generation being better off? What about the future, the long run?”
“In the long run we’re all dead. The steady state economy is more manageable. Technology just creates displacement and inequality. Inequality foments political dissent. Political dissent leads us back to chaos and anarchy. We actually have a zero growth policy, Devin. Fedbank performs these economic maneuverings with great precision. Think of living standards as quality of life over quantity of goods consumed.”
“And who defines quality?”
“The Democracy, of course! You’re not listening. You don’t appreciate what it took to get here. It took a lot of tribulation. We had to write off the quadrillions of dollars we amassed during the wars and The Transition.”
“We monetized it. Twenty years of printing money will do wonders for a government’s balance sheet.”
“The Great Inflation?”
“We had to fund five hot wars and three hundred million people on the dole. It was the only way.”
“Hyperinflation wiped out my grandparents. It was a terrible time.”
“Inflation and price controls were the only way, Devin. We’ve done it before on a much smaller scale. That’s how we got out of the first Great Depression. We print money, then pay people to dig holes and fill them back up again. We pay farmers to plow their fields under. We pay old people to stop competing for jobs. We pay the corporations who play ball with fat contracts to build pointless weapon systems and bridges to nowhere and mars rockets that will never work. Then we regulate the noncompliant corps out of existence. Then, when the price inflation takes off, we get into another war so the people are amenable to price controls and rationing.”
“So we’re back to the war thing again.”
“The toll was heavy but we made it through. Now things are manageable, steady state, zero growth, no displacement, no chaos, no inequality. There’s reasonable life expectations, social order, an egalitarian society with the wealth spread around.”
“Sounds more like the spreading around of poverty and misery. No reward for achievement? It sounds just like Marxism,” Devin observed.
“Don’t spew that vomit. We’re not Marxists. This is Amerika! This is a capitalist country.”
“In what way?” Devin thought but he bit his tongue.
“We call it ‘managed capitalism’ or ‘the mixed economy’. People need their institutions in order to survive. It’s really quite progressive if you think about it. No one can go it alone. Everyone needs everyone else. Everyone is co-dependant. Everyone is everyone’s keeper.
Perhaps what’s even more important is we’ve created something in their lives that’s bigger than their own selfish, petty, meaningless existence. We’ve given them a greater cause, a more noble purpose, and now everyone can make a contribution to it.”
“So you brought me here to tell me all this?” Devin asked, praying that Morgenthau’s rant was finished.
“I never get tired of talking about the realization of the Great Society but there’s actually a specific reason we brought you here…”
“What is it? To throw me over this cliff?”
“You told us to bring you here, or at least your brain did when we hotwired you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You seem to have a desire to return to the wilderness. Well, this isn’t quite Alaska but it’s pretty close. We got a lot of images from your brain, Devin. There’s a lot of animosity towards authority in there as well. That’s how we know, Devin.”
The two nats stepped forward and grabbed Devin by the arms again, this time taking him right up to the ledge and leaning him over. Devin’s heart began to race as he stared down into the hazy abyss.
“Know what?” He asked trying not to shriek.
“We know that you are the one making The Delivery. You have the motivation. You have the requisite hatred. You have parameters that are off the charts. We know what you are, Devin. You’re a soldier, a soldier motivated by hate who wants to complete his mission of terror and return home to his Alaskan wilderness.”
“I have no love for Goldstein. They exiled me,” Devin screamed.
“Don’t expect us to fall for that. You see, Devin, the state owns you. The state owns everyone. Or let me put it more aptly- we all own each other and there is no escape. But you do have choices. You are in an exceptional position for an anti-patriot.”
“What are they?” Devin shouted as he tried not to struggle against the nat’s painful grip lest they lose their hold of him.
“Well, as I said, we detected your fondness for the wilderness. You were fixated on it when we downloaded you. Going home is absolutely out of the question. However, we are prepared to turn you lose at this very location if you make the right choice. You can make a life for yourself out here in the wide open spaces. There are still a handful of people out there roughing it. They pose no threat to us. It would be a meager and difficult existence but preferable to the alternative
“What do I have to do?”
“Give us The Delivery. Tell us what it is and how to stop it.”
“And what is my other choice?”
A sinister grin formed on Morgenthau’s face.
“You attempt to escape but manage to accidentally fall over the edge of this cliff. But that would involve paperwork and a cleanup crew so I really hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“I think I’ve made my decision then.”
“What is it?”
“I think…” Devin sighed. “I think I’ll give you The Delivery.”
“Splendid. I knew you would see things our way.”
“So how do we do this?” Devin asked. “Do I tell you here and you send me on my way?”
“I’m afraid we’ll need to return to the Federal Center as certain precautions need to be taken. We would like to properly interview you and document the proceedings.” Devin smelled a rat. “After the interview, we’ll load you into a transport with supplies and drop you off right here if you wish. You’ll be free to go wherever you choose so long as you don’t leave the borders of the wilderness district.”
“Free to roam in a giant mountain prison,” Devin waxed.
“Yes, and with a termination chip in your brain. But you have nothing to fear, Devin, so long as you stay out of trouble.”
Chapter 13 Chapters 15 & 16 will be available next weekend
For those who missed the beginning of Devin's journey, click here for Chapter 1
Goldstein Republic can be purchased here at Amazon