ONLY 4 CHAPTERS LEFT!
Chapter Twenty One
The distant thumping of the dragonflies gave the threesome plenty of advance warning. As soon as one of them heard the faint beats, they would scurry a few feet off the trail and into the thick canopy of spruce and birch trees. Their diode-silk cloaks were highly effective camouflage, and in the trees even their motion was nearly imperceptible to any nat patrols. Proceeding with extreme caution was Roth’s tactic as he guided them through the taiga. Direct confrontation with NaPol was to be avoided.
They walked mostly in silence, plodding through the narrow trails, crawling over felled logs, double-timing it across open meadows where patrols might hear them or spot their blurry signatures. Ramielle had hoped there might be horses for them to ride. She loved horses but, to her disappointment, she was informed that horses don’t do well in the bitter cold winters of Alaska and horse-sized diode-silk ponchos were not abundantly available, anyway.
For Roth, beating the wilderness was an old familiar game. He had smuggled many tons of Goldstein manufactures through the wilds by dogsled, all terrain vehicle, or on foot, delivering his payloads safely to waiting boat planes and tractor trailers. Getting caught would have resulted in very serious consequences, but he knew that the chances of a well-camouflaged, experienced traveler stumbling into a Trade Enforcement Agent were fantastically slim in the vastness of the Alaskan bush. It was something akin to two bumble bees bumping into each other in an area as big as a hundred football fields. But now, the area was teeming with NaPol recon patrols, listening posts, cameras, and drones and dragonflies circling above. He had to be extra careful.
Roth had made hundreds of millions of dollars as a smuggler. But he knew, as all smugglers know, that his spectacular profits were a direct result of the prohibitions on trade enforced by the very agents he was seeking to evade. Without trade enforcement and chance of arrest, Roth’s job would become riskless and mundane. Every hick with a pickup truck would get into the ‘transportation’ business. Soon, the exorbitant profits would be driven down to nearly nothing. Roth was exploiting the smuggler’s paradox— the biggest proponents of prohibition are always the smugglers.
Roth contemplated his future after the Liberation Event. If NaPol routed the colony, he would be out of work. If Goldstein executed its plan, the NaPol presence would be destroyed and he would still be out of work. A victory for either side meant the loss of his living. The only way he could keep his job would be for maintenance of the status quo and that wasn’t going to happen.
Roth loved making money more than money itself. He lived frugally and tucked his profits away in overseas accounts. After his smuggling operation was destroyed, he planned to make his way to one of the relatively free countries left in the world like Vietnam or Angola. He would live on the coast somewhere and live off his savings, at least until he figured out a new way to earn huge profits.
The Goldsteiners had no plans of escaping to start anew in far away lands. There would be no more running and hiding in the frontier. There were no frontiers left to run too anyway. They decided that this was to be their final stand. They would live free or die. Triumph or Gotterdamerung.
The threesome spent their first twighlight nestled within a perimeter of motion sensors, snuggling their heat packets.
“I can’t sleep,” Ramielle complained. “Does it stay light all night? I hate these damn mosquitoes. What was that noise? Are there grizzly bears out there?”
“Yes,” Roth replied.
“Will they attack us?” Ramielle asked.
“Probably,” Roth answered. “Now, try to get some sleep.”
Ramielle curled into a fetal position in her sleeping bag, nervously staring out into the 2 A.M. twilight.
“Don’t tease her,” said Devin.
“Don’t worry,” Roth continued, “when they come we’ll sick your cat on them.”
Ramielle covered her eyes with the sleeping bag.
“Roth,” Devin asked.
“If you don’t mind…what makes you the most money when you smuggle?”
“That’s easy, nano-processors,” Roth answered. “Millions and millions and millions of them. It’s Goldstein’s number one export.”
“Who buys them? What are they used for?” asked Devin.
“They’re used in everything, anything that uses computations or processing. They’re everywhere. They control car engines. They’re in the roads. They’re in food and building materials. They’re embedded in window glass to control opacity. Doctors use them for pico-surgeries— just swallow a pill and a little machine works its way through your body and takes out the disease. They’re in rockets and cameras and satellite guidance systems. They control the flight of airplanes and the navigation of ships and the trajectory of bullets. They’re in clothing and prosthetics and even embedded in people’s brains— just like yours, I might add. They’re the fastest, most reliable, most advanced, smallest, cheapest processors available. Goldstein chips are ten years ahead of the world. Everyone wants them, especially the Chinese because they’re the ones that make all that shit.”
“Are they in dragonflies?” asked Ramielle.
The chopping beat of a dragonfly rapidly grew until they could feel the wind whipped up by its rotors.
“Be still!” Roth shouted. “Breathe into your sleeping bags.”
It was at first difficult to discern where it was from their vantage point on the think forest floor. Then its black, faceted silhouette came into view above, hovering between the spires of spruce tops sharply contrasted against the pale gray sky. It hovered over them for a few seconds, its bottom mounted sensors rotating and scanning their general vicinity. The green glowing lenses swept left, then right, then they stopped and locked directly on to them.
Devin, expecting the Gatlin guns to open up a barrage of molten lead prepared to make a run for it into the woods.
“Don’t move,” Roth commanded in a voice that was calm but loud enough to hear over the thumping chopper blades. “If you move you are a dead man!”
They remained as still as possible, wrapped in their diode-silk sleeping bags, covered under ferns and undergrowth, peering carefully out from their camouflage at the titanium dragonfly above with its cameras and cannons affixed on them.
“Your eyes! He sees your eyes!” Roth shouted.
The three buried their faces in their bags as the thumping, thundering blades chopped the cool night air into a swirling vortex of projectile pine needles and bark chip flak.
“When will they shoot?” Devin asked himself. “Will death be instantaneous? Will I be blown apart into a million fragments of exploded flesh?”
“Be still!” Roth ordered. “We don’t know if they realize we’re human. Stay calm!”
The helicopter hung there, blades cutting, chopping, mixing the air, sending wind torrents rippling through the tall ferns and bending and flexing and swishing the spindly birches. The bottom mounted scanning devices remained honed on them.
“Is it a heat sensor?” asked Devin.
“Probably multiple signatures,” Roth answered. “No guarantee it can make us out, though.”
“I say we make a run for it,” replied Devin.
“I said stay still or I’ll kill you myself. If they see us take off they’ll open fire for sure.”
The helicopter’s blades angled forward and the dragonfly launched itself over their heads to the northeast. “Let’s go,” Roth ordered.
They packed up their things and headed out in less than three minutes.
“Do you think they saw us?” Ramielle asked Devin as they tried to negotiate through the thick undergrowth.
“I think so.”
“Why didn’t they do something?”
“Not sure. I imagine we’ll have company soon.”
They double-timed it for about half an hour until they came to the muddy banks of a river.
“Change of plans,” Roth informed them. “We’re going down the river.”
“You can’t be serious,” Ramielle asked. “It’s freezing.”
“I am. Just be glad it’s July and not April. Here…” Roth dug through his backpack and handed them each a light wetsuit. Put these on. They’ll keep you dry at least.”
“Do you have one for my cat?” Ramielle asked.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave just about everything but the explosives behind.”
“What about Mercurius?” asked Ramielle.
“Why are we going on the river? Won’t it be easier for them to spot us?” asked Devin.
“No. They rely too much on their devices and not enough on their brains. If we’re in the water, it’ll be impossible for them to pick us up with their sensors.”
“What about Mercurius?” Ramielle demanded.
“To hell with your damn cat!” Roth replied. “I recommend euthanizing it.”
“I’m not going with you, then,” Ramielle screamed.
“Suit yourself,” answered Roth as he stripped down to his underclothes. “Stay on that trail there and keep heading west. When you get close, if you get close, a Goldstein patrol will pick you up. Good luck.”
“I’m not going without her,” Devin replied.
“What?” asked Roth.
“I can’t leave her here. I owe her. She saved my life.”
Roth growled. “She was paid to save your life, Devin. Don’t get sentimental on me now.”
“Still,” Devin continued, “she saved my life. I can’t leave her out here to the nats.”
“We can’t take the trail, Devin,” Roth explained. “They will spot us and pick us up for sure. Believe me when I say this, you do not want to be in custody when the Liberation Event goes down.”
“Why do we want to go to Goldstein, anyway?” yelled Ramielle. “Why would I want to be there when ten thousand troops go marching in and blow that place to hell? I’ve seen what they do to compounds on the net. No one ever gets out alive. Ever!”
“These aren’t your typical fanatical nuts that we’re talking about, Chinagirl,” sniped Roth. “They know what they’re doing.”
“What’d you call me?!” Ramielle barked.
Roth ignored her, zipping up his wetsuit instead.
“I asked you a question,” Ramielle shouted. Roth was oblivious. “Listen to me you fat ass, Eskimo!”
Roth lunged at her with surprising quickness, taking her by her collar with his left hand and yanking her down onto her knees. His right fist was cocked back, ready to knock her lights out. Devin stepped forward and grabbed Roth’s right arm but Roth slipped his grip and grabbed Devin by the throat with his right hand applying just enough pressure to inflict upon Devin a paralyzing fear of a crushed windpipe.
“You people need to understand something,” Roth explained calmly in his half-zipped wet suit with Ramielle’s collar in the grip of one hand and Devin’s throat in the grip of the other. “My job is to bring him back to Goldstein, alive. You, China girl, I don’t give a damn about. You’re along for the ride. So you and your cat are free to go it alone. Devin doesn’t have that option.”
“I’m free to do as I please,” Devin whispered.
“Bullshit. This isn’t Goldstein out here. I’m in charge. If you don’t like it, I will knock you out, tie you up and drag you back.”
“I won’t leave Mercurius to die,” Ramielle sobbed.
“And I won’t leave her,” Devin explained.
“Damn it!” Roth shouted. “Damn…damn it! Damn it!” Roth released his grips on both of them. “Damn son of a bitch!” Ramielle and Devin stood there motionless watching Roth’s meltdown in confusion. Roth sighed. “All right,” he continued calmly, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Maybe this might actually work to our advantage. We’re gonna take your cat back that way about a half mile or so.”
“What?’ Ramielle exclaimed.
“Just listen. Calm down,” Roth assured her. “We’re going to take him back through the woods. We’re going to find a safe spot, kind of in the open, and we’re going to leave him there in his cage. It won’t be too obvious but it’ll be obvious enough for NaPol to find him.”
“Will he be okay?” Ramielle asked.
“They won’t hurt him because PETA would have their ass. The good thing is it might confuse them a little. What do you say?”
Ramielle pondered in the darkness, wiping a tear away.
“So I’ll never see him again?”
“Probably not. But he’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m ninety five percent sure.”
Ramielle held the carrier up and stared into Mercurius’ glassy, emotionless eyes and smiled.
“Okay. I’ll do it, then. As long as he’ll be okay.”
“Great. He’ll be fine. They’ll pick him up and take good care of him. We, however, need to get going. We don’t want to be in custody when The Delivery is made.”
“What do you mean when The Delivery is made?” asked Devin. “I already made it.”
“Oh Crap!” sighed Roth with renewed exasperation. “What is it with you? Are you brain damaged or something? Did they scramble your brain back in that Fed Center?”
“But I already made the Delivery,” Devin argued.
“Can I be totally blunt with you, Devin?”
“You didn’t make The Delivery. You delivered a bullshit manifesto, that’s all. You delivered a g-d piece of paper. You were a decoy, designed to give the nats a false sense of security and to send them off on some pointless tangent.”
“You mean Goldstein used me?”
“Yes! Yes. For goodness sake, YES! Of course they did. You’re a criminal. You were exiled. You chose to go to Amerika. You let the nats find you. You let yourself be captured. And you chose to make The Delivery— at least what you thought was The Delivery. You did a great thing, Devin. It took great courage to do that; great courage or great incompetence. You bought Goldstein some precious time and they are grateful. And now everything’s fully in place. One keystroke and the liberation will begin.”
“Why bring me back, then?”
“You were promised that if you delivered and you held up your end of the bargain. The Council are people of honor, Devin. They always hold up their end, too. They would’ve brought you home at any cost if possible.”
“But they exploited me?”
“Yes, they exploited you. Yes! But in the end, it was good for you.”
Devin was at first unsure of what to feel. Anger? Disappointment? Disillusionment? He had been through so much since his exile. He had been tortured. He had been nearly shot and burned alive. But Roth was right. Devin had chosen his path. Goldstein did not put him in Amerika, he put himself there. Now the men of Goldstein had, at great expense, brought him back to within a few kilometers of freedom. He saw it all clearly. The doubt and indecision evaporated.
“Let’s get going, then,” Devin commanded. “I want to get home.”
Chapter 20 Chapter 22 will be available Sunday, and THE FINAL 2 CHAPTERS 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