Goldstein: Chapter Two
It was a perfect day for an execution, sunny and clear with a cool whisper of wind coming from the north. An accused man, shackled in leg irons and handcuffs, stood before a council of twelve robed jurists. He maintained a defiant posture despite the burden of his chains and he wore an indignant expression despite the fatefulness of his situation. His name was Devin Moore.
The rectangular hall was completely still, frozen in anticipation. One jurist arose.
“We’ve reached a verdict,” proclaimed the white-haired man who had thick black glasses and a pipe that hung from the corner of his mouth.
A din arose amongst the hundred or so gathered in the hall’s gallery. The standing jurist held the stem of his glasses with one hand and impatiently hammered his gavel three times with the other. Puffs of smoke leaked out from the corner of his mouth with each violent hammering. The murmur began to subside.
“We’ve reached a verdict!” he shouted again, taking a long draw on his pipe.
The eleven other black-robed jurists remained seated and expressionless. These twelve adjudicators, selected annually by lottery, were known as The Council and they were the ‘deciders’ for the Goldstein colony. Their position was unpaid, unheralded, and generally undesired as it required them to pass judgment upon and to arbitrate the disputes between their neighbors which was often damaging to their business relationships. They looked unanimously uncomfortable slouching in their flowing, priestly robes.
The walls behind The Council were adorned with holovision fields which projected three-dimensional images of court exhibits and witness’ testimonies. Their floating avatars were all muted, frozen in space time.
The standing jurist, who was still waiting for the din to fully subside, was Lysander Brooks or Mr. Brooks for short. Blinded by the arc of a laser-fusion accident, his physiological disability was revealed by the complete opacity of his lenses. But although his physiological eyes might have been useless he was not without sight. Built into his lenses were optical sensors which converted stereoscopic images into brainwaves and transmitted them into his visual cortex by way of tiny arrays buried in the stems of the frames. One could have eye or brain surgery to correct nearly all forms of blindness, but the glasses were a far less invasive and far less expensive alternative. Seeing eye frames were cheaply available at either of Goldstein’s convenience stores and could be calibrated by virtual instruction manual. No visit to a government sanctioned, optometrist’s-guild was required in Goldstein.
The accused man, Mr. Moore, had no issues with visual acuity or any other physical handicaps of any significance. He was young, lean, and strong. He stood alone, facing The Council, chained up like some medieval felon.
“Are these chains absolutely necessary?” he asked holding them up as he spoke. The throng began to murmur again.
“Quiet, please!” ordered Brooks, his baritone voice echoing through the hall. Devin wasn’t entirely sure if Brooks was ordering him or the gallery or both. The noise finally subsided. “Thank you,” Brooks continued. He puffed out a ring of smoke. “After much deliberation, The Council has come to the conclusion that Mr. Devin Moore, standing before you now, is GUILTY of breaking The Law.”
Devin shook his head. “Bullshit!” he shouted.
“Mr. Moore, the surveillance video was particularly damning evidence in this case,” Brooks explained.
“You call that evidence?” Devin protested. “It was doctored!”
Brooks pounded his gavel. “Quiet! The Council has rendered its verdict. You are guilty of breaking The Law.”
“The Law…” Devin mocked.
“Thou Shalt Not Steal, Devin Moore,” preached another jurist.
“You know The Law, Devin,” Brooks continued, trying to sound patient. “It is the only law. Now, do you wish to make a statement?”
“I do.” Devin turned towards the gallery, his chains jingling. He scanned their faces but they averted their eyes. He turned back to The Council and took a deep breath. “This trial’s a sham. You can’t sentence me. I’m an Amerikan and I have rights.”
“Boo! Thief! Liar!” called the crowd.
Brooks pounded the gavel.
“I have a right to a trial in a real court—not this kangaroo court. You have no authority.”
“Boo! Traitor! Execute the Traitor!”
“Quiet, please!” shouted Brooks, pounding his gavel again. “Do you have anything to say that is relevant before we sentence you?”
Devin stared into Brooks’ dead black lenses. Then he scanned the rest of The Council. Their eyes remained fixed on him. They knew he was guilty. He knew he was guilty. He had always wondered if he would be able to delude himself into thinking that he was somehow the victim in all of this mess but he couldn’t bend his mind that way. His luck, which had enabled him to get out of past jams, had run out; he would not be able to get out of this one.
Once the Council rules it is finished.
Devin’s only hope was for a spectacular, fantastical, perfectly-timed, miracle rescue by the National Police. He prayed for the appearance of the black-clad, NaPol tactical troops, repelling from hovering dragonfly airships, smashing through the hall’s sensor-glass windows and wildly firing their heat-seeking, laser-guided assault rifles into the throng. The ‘nats’ would rescue him and take him back to Amerika where he would be released on his own recognizance awaiting a larceny trial that would be delayed ten years. That was a much more preferable outcome to being stoned to death by a bunch of Bohemian Alaskans.
“I demand you turn me over to NaPol. This is not a real court,” Devin ordered.
Goldstein was certainly outside the bounds of the Amerikan justice bureaucracy, but its court was indeed real. The Colony had its share of thieves, swindlers and bandits, lured into it from the Lower Fifty Three. Its insulation from the omnipresent eyes and omnipotent pulse-emitters of National Police made the Colony a prime destination for those lacking in moral inhibition. But the skeptical nature of the colonists quickly flushed the criminal element into the open. A life of crime rarely paid well in Goldstein.
The Council was notoriously ruthless at sentencing. They had very few resources by which to enforce The Law so justice had to be swift and decisive. It was a Draconian system but very efficient.
After mumbling to each other, Brooks spoke again. “The Council has taken your position into consideration. Mr. Moore,” he continued while holding a stem of his glasses, “in light of your numerous declarations during this trial about the invalidity of this court and your desire to be turned over to the National Police, we think you’ll find the sentence for your crimes to be to your liking.”
“What is it? Hard labor?”
“That might be one aspect of it.”
“That is very likely.”
“That is possible.”
“So you’re going to put me in a labor camp and then execute me?”
Signaled by a vibration in his multi, a burly man of six and a half feet sidled up to Devin’s side. The man rolled up his sleeves revealing his tattooed forearms, covered in a sprawling Gadsden snake. He was the Sheriff—the sole, elected law enforcement of the Colony.
Devin began to come to the realization of what his sentence was going to be. His head dropped as he was overtaken with the dread of it. He didn’t seriously expect to be executed but this might actually be worse.
“Have you named a custodian for your property?”
“What?” asked Devin, distracted by his grim thoughts. “I uh…I don’t have anything worth worrying about.” His mind began to race. He needed a plan. He had to figure out how to escape since it was increasingly unlikely that the NaPol gods were going to save him.
“I believe we have nothing more to do here except carry out the sentence,” concluded Brooks. “Sheriff, will you take Mr. Moore to the river?”
Ryland put his massive paw on Devin’s shoulder.
“Get your damn hands off me, pig!” Devin barked. “I’ll go peacefully.”
“Fair enough,” replied the sheriff.
Devin, weighed down by his jingling chains, turned towards the gallery facing their condescending glare as he lumbered out of the hall. He was followed by the sheriff, Mr. Brooks, and a dozen or so gawking colonists.
The procession made their way to a utility truck where Devin was helped into the back. The sheriff got in next to him. The gasoline engine roared to life and they motored slowly out of the cobblestone plaza and onto a paved thoroughfare. The road was flanked by stone and log row houses which were capped with whirling wind turbines and smokeless chimneys. Ice still coated the narrow alleyways and shaded surfaces between the buildings. The snow had receded into the cooler places but the road itself was dark and wet from the thaw.
As they drove out of the plaza, the tightly packed storefronts and houses of the village gave way to small industrial and agricultural kwanset huts tucked into the dense spruce and budding birch trees. Inside their arched plastic skins, articulated robot arms were knitting textiles, sowing seeds and scribing millions upon millions of nano-processors.
The road took them by several construction sites. Construction was an ever-present phenomenon in Goldstein. Cranes and scaffolds and robotics were the predominant feature of the colonial village skyline.
An excavation near the road had made a deep scar in the tundra and an elegant spider web of steel lattice rose up from the pebbly mud. Steel was an unusual and fantastically expensive commodity in Goldstein. ‘BROOKS’ was emblazoned in black on every beam.
The site was alive with a mixed crew of brown, smooth-faced Natives and pale, red-bearded Anglos buzzing around the hive-like foundation, hoisting and hanging and welding and riveting. They were building a laser fusion reactor. It was rumored that some venture capitalists from Hong Kong were bankrolling the project.
The road wound on, down into a gauntlet of birch trees. Down for two miles past a scrap yard and a quarry, dropping a hundred meters in altitude along the way. Down through the pulse-emitting field array that fenced the inner colony from human and animal intruders with an invisible beam of coma-inducing microwaves.
Brooks keyed some digits into his multi unit and a segment of the field turned off. They drove through the invisible fence to the banks of a meandering gray river where the truck stopped and the driver turned the engine off.
“Get out!” The sheriff rudely barked. Devin held his chains up with an expression of helplessness etched in his face. The sheriff huffed and summoned the driver to help Devin out. The three of them along with Brooks walked down to the stony banks of the river.
“So you’re really going to do this to me?” Devin asked.
“You did it to yourself, thief,” the sheriff replied.
“Isn’t there another way, Brooks? I can make things right. You know me. Give me a chance.”
They gathered around a dilapidated wooden rowboat pulled up onto the shore. Devin felt even more dread. “You know this is a death sentence,” he exclaimed.
“A slow death by starvation,” added the sheriff, mockingly, as he unlocked Devin’s shackles. “You shouldn’t have broken The Law. Now get in.”
He palmed his 9mm as Devin slowly climbed into the tiny boat. But Brooks stayed the sheriff’s hand. Devin took a seat in the boat and pretended to row. The sheriff tossed him a thermal which hit Devin in the face as he pulled on the oars. Devin scowled back while he rolled it up and tucked it under his seat. He had given up. There was no getting out of it. He wondered how long he would last. Would the animals get him first? The cold? Hunger?
“Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Shove me in, you bastards,” Devin ordered.
“Hold on,” Brooks intervened. “You know, this need not be a death sentence…”
“Right…” Devin replied without enthusiasm.
“You can still be pardoned. The Council has signed off on it.”
“I’ll be dead before I get to McGrath.”
“Probably,” Brooks continued, “Certainly if you give up. But things aren’t as hopeless as you insist. Just make The Delivery and you’ll be pardoned.”
“Here, catch…” Brooks tossed Devin a leather satchel which landed with a thud at Devin’s feet but before Devin could open it and look inside, the sheriff grabbed hold of the splintery boat with his massive hands and shoved it off into the gray, swirling water.
“…And I better not see you back here unless you deliver it!” the sheriff shouted.
“Deliver what?” Devin asked again. “To who?”
“It’s all there, in the satchel. Don’t worry. Just read the instructions,” Brooks shouted. “They’ll find you. Make The Delivery and you’ll be pardoned. Then we’ll come get you.”
Devin began to row. “Maybe I’ll come back and make a delivery to you,” he blustered at the sheriff as he rowed the bobbing boat through the icy gray water.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” replied the sheriff as he fastened the snap on his holster. “Watch out for those moose, they kill more people then bears, you know!”
The three stayed behind on the shoreline until the current swept the frantically, haplessly rowing Devin around a bend and out of sight. He was an exile, now. If he was to return, the mandatory colonial response would be to shoot him dead on sight which was not a problem because most people carried guns at all times. But that had never happened in the thirty plus years of Goldstein history. Several dozen exiles had tried to return either overtly by groveling on their hands and knees, or covertly by slipping into the perimeter when the field was down but the vast majority of colonials lacked sufficient ruthlessness to shoot them. They were, however, always disciplined enough to maintain the total boycott of exiles. And with no possibilities to exchange with the colonials for food, shelter, or clothing, the exiles would soon give up in frustration and drag their starving, emaciated, carcasses back into the wilderness. Sometimes, usually not more than two miles from the perimeter, their half-gnawed skulls would be discovered by hunting parties.
Brooks took a moment to ponder Devin’s fate. “Would he make it?” he asked himself. There was something in Devin’s persona that gave Brook’s hope. Devin was a loner and mentally tough. That gave him a better chance than most. Brooks imagined him washing up on shore somewhere fifty kilometers downstream, hungry and shivering. Would someone find him? Would someone help him? We’ve got to give him a chance, Brooks thought.
“Do you think the son-of-a-bitch’ll make it?” asked the sheriff.
“You mean make it or make The Delivery?” asked Brooks.
Brooks didn’t answer the Sheriff as he placed a call on his multi.