Goldstein: Chapter Three
“Cheechako! Cheechako! Wake up!”
Devin’s eyelids peeled open just as a stick was being jabbed into his ribs.
“Cheechako! Wake up!”
A blurry face appeared hovering over him. Devin rubbed his eyes. His back ached. His left arm was numb. His neck was stiff.
The hovering figure’s features came into focus. It was a round, brown, indigenous face. Clean shaven. It was wearing a faded ball cap with a hard fold down the middle of the brim. The head was attached to a bearish frame. The Alaska Native was all shoulders and a big barrel chest and a little chubby.
“Are you okay? Can you talk? Can you walk?” asked the Native.
“I don’t know,” Devin replied while rubbing his kinked neck and shivering. “Where am I?”
“Here, let me help you.” The Native dropped his poking stick and pulled Devin out of the dingy.
“I can’t stop shivering,” Devin complained.
“It’s cold for April, that’s for sure.” The native replied while steadying Devin on the shore. “If we get any more of this global warming we’re all going to freeze to death.”
Devin chuckled. The Native clutched Devin’s bicep but Devin shook him off.
“I can manage…” he snapped. Devin tried to straighten himself up but a sharp cramp in his abdomen bent him over at the waist.
“Get your bag or it’ll be gone before you come back.”
“Huh?…wait…yeah, can you hand it to me?”
“Sure thing, Cheechako.” The Native plunged his massive forearm into the dingy and grabbed the leather satchel. “Follow me.”
“Follow you where?”
“Follow me to my house. We need to get you in front of a heating element.”
Devin was too tired, too hungry and too cold to be concerned. If it was a trap, so be it. He was a dead man either way.
The two walked up the shore of the river across the muddy beach which was littered with broken beer bottles and knots of fishing line. They climbed up over the rooted bank.
“Will my boat be safe?” Devin asked as he looked back noticing that it had been snared in some sort of dragline.
“No,” the Native answered. “It’ll probably be someone’s firewood tonight.”
The two continued slowly down a path that wound its way through dense spruce dressed in dreary webs of black moss. There were still banks of slushy snow that drifted in the shadier areas. Devin noticed a faint buzzing sound as they walked through the gray mud of the path. They stopped. Roth removed a small device that resembled an archaic garage door opener. He pushed its clunky white button. The buzzing noise ceased. The Native pointed up to a towering spruce tree.
“See my array up there, Cheechako?” He asked.
Devin couldn’t make anything out in the dark, dense evergreen. Apparently some sort of field emitter was tucked in there somewhere.
“Yeah, sure,” Devin answered.
They walked another ten meters down the path to a tall stone which stood unnaturally upright. The Native pushed the button on his garage door opener and the faint, buzzing tinitis returned to Devin’s ears.
“Force field!” The Native proudly proclaimed.
“Of course,” Devin acknowledged.
“Actually it’s just a microwave field. If you cross the threshold you get real hot.”
“What’s it for?”
“Keeps the moose out.”
“I’ve seen them before.”
The Native stopped and turned to Devin. “Where?” He asked with intense curiosity.
Devin didn’t answer.
“You know, in Goldstein, they have a field there that is much stronger. I’ve heard it will stop your heart if you keep going through it.”
Devin didn’t take the bait. They continued on up the path past a battery of silicon panels aimed almost horizontally.
“Are you impressed with my solar array?”
“Very,” answered Devin. “How many kilowatts?”
“A whopping zero for six months a year.”
“And in the summer?”
“Slightly more than zero. But when it’s clear I get ten thousand or so. They’re eighty five percent arrays.”
“Where did you get them?”
“And the microwave array? Not the government, I imagine.”
“I found those parts lying around somewhere.”
“Right,” Devin responded. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“My Athabascan name or my American name?”
“Your American name, I guess.”
“My name is Rothschild Smith.”
“Rothschild? Were your parents bankers or something?”
“No, but mom was an accountant. Pop drove a truck. They’re dead, now. If you would like, you could call me by my Athabascan name.”
“And what would that be?” Devin asked as his cramp subsided and he was finally able to stand fully upright.
“Roth?” laughed Devin.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Roth Smith.”
“Good to meet you, Cheechako. Although it seems you are not Cheechako,” Roth offered as he extended his massive, calloused paw to shake Devin’s hand. “What’s your name?”
“You can keep calling me Cheechako for now,” Devin replied as he shook Roth’s hand.
The two walked for another hundred meters or so, through the frozen mud and black spruce until they came to a clearing. There, stood a box-like, faded, plywood cabin with chipping white paint and badly leaking rain gutters. The gaps between the roof shingles were filled with thick green moss.
As they walked towards the cabin a pit bull came charging out from around the back, healing at Roth’s feet. Roth patted him on the head. Devin reached down towards the dog but the dog started to snarl.
“Don’t take it personal. He hates everyone,” Roth explained. “I like him, though.”
“Good watch dog?”
“Yeah, and he ate cats.”
“He hates cats?”
“No,” Roth replied, “he ate cats. Any dog that eats cats is all right by me.”
Roth walked up to his porch and opened the creaky door. The two stepped inside leaving the dog to guard the porch. There was one, dimly lit room. A flickering, florescent fixture cast a bluish pall. An iron stove and a small, buzzing refrigerator was on the wall to the right. On the door was affixed a peeling, smiling, Gaia label. A white pine table with two aluminum folding chairs stood in the center of the room. Against one wall was a single bed. It was unmade with tangled wool blankets and a silvery mylar sheet.
Devin hobbled over to the table and took a seat.
“Please, sit down,” offered Roth, ex post.
Roth went to the buzzing refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. Then he reached into the cupboard and produced two masonry jars and a packet. He tore open the packet and dumped some white, powdery contents into the jars. Then he topped them off with the water from the fridge.
“Do you have anything stronger than that?” Devin asked.
“Like vodka, maybe?”
“Yeah,” replied Devin shivering. “Like vodka.”
“No,” he answered as he slid one jar to Devin and then walked over to the wall and adjusted the thermostat.
“Why don’t you fire that stove up?”
“No fuel. Besides, it’s illegal, and the smoke might draw attention.”
“Illegal? This fluorescent bulb is illegal. So’s your dog, and your field array. You don’t seem too worried about those. What are you really worried about, Roth?”
“Nats,” Roth answered as he sipped the contents of the jar. It was rehydrated milk.
“National Police? Out here in the bush? I wish.”
“Nats and bandits. They work the same beat shaking down the locals.”
“Don’t you have guns?”
“Guns?” Roth laughed. “No guns except for hunting. Guns are no good against nats, anyway. They’re expert at dealing with people with guns.”
Roth handed Devin the mylar sheet from his bed and took a seat across from him at the table. “Are you surprised to find an Eskimo who doesn’t have vodka.”
“I thought you were Athabascan, not Eskimo,” answered Devin.
The rusty heating element began to tick as its electrified coils warmed and expanded.
“So,” he continued, “are you from Goldstein?”
“No, actually I’m a tourist,” Devin replied sarcastically. “The travel brochure promised me a wilderness adventure with gray water rafting.”
Roth chuckled. “Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone come downstream in such a…how should I say…rickety boat. Not at this time of year, anyway, at least not anyone who wasn’t coming from Goldstein.”
“What’s it to you?” Devin asked.
“Well, if you were from Goldstein and I was a patriotic type, I might find you to be worth something.”
“Worth something to who?”
“Who do you think? Napol,” Roth answered after taking another gulp from his jar. He wiped away a milky mustache with his flannel sleeve.
A faint odor of burnt dust emanated from the ticking register but there was still no perceptible heat coming from the coils.
“They don’t care about colonials anymore,” Devin explained.
“They don’t? What makes you so sure?”
“Because they haven’t been around in a while.”
“How do you know that?” asked Roth.
“Simple, no dragonflies, no drones, no tacticals lurking about. Nothing.”
“So you think that because there are no dragonflies or drones or patrols that they don’t care about Goldstein anymore?”
“Yeah, I do,” answered Devin as he emptied his masonry jar. “They must have more important things to worry about like insurgents or race riots or stuff like that down in the Lower Fifty Three. Where in the hell did you get this disgusting milk?”
“It’s free and it doesn’t give me a stomach ache. We can’t get bread or razor blades or new shoes but we can sure as hell get dehydrated milk. I get thirty five packets a week from the government store downstream in McGrath. I’ve got some cheddar cheese in the back, too. It comes in twenty kilo blocks. I’ll just go hack a piece off. Sit tight…”
“Sounds wonderful but I think I’ll pass right now,” Devin responded. “By the looks of that electric heating system you got, you’d be better off asking for free blankets instead of cheese.”
“No thank you on the blankets,” objected Roth.
“Too much small pox.”
The two chuckled.
“So what do you plan to do with me then, Roth?”
“Well, like I said, if I was a true patriot, I would take you down to the local security post and hand you over.”
“And how would you do that?”
“My powers of persuasion.”
“So you do have a gun?”
“No, just for hunting. I’d probably wire you up with explosives.”
“What would I fetch?”
Roth pondered for a moment. Then he smiled.
“Probably a hundred packets of dehydrated milk.”
“That’s right. Cheese too. A ransom of powdered milk and cheese that I get for free anyway. How could I resist that? Now let’s get going right away.”
“I don’t see you reaching for your bombs. Does that mean that you’re not a patriot?”
“Turning people over to NaPol doesn’t make one a patriot. It doesn’t pay good enough, anyway.”
“I thought everything paid well. It’s boom times according to Freemerica.”
A faint heat finally given off by the ticking register began to fill the room. Devin noticed that his shivering had subsided only to be replaced by hunger pains. The thought of the dry government cheese began to appeal to him.
“Yeah. I guess everything pays well nowadays,” Roth observed. “But it’s not the making of money that’s hard, it’s the spending it that’s getting’ tough. A few packets of this fine government milk probably cost four hundred dollars in the Lower Fifty Three.”
Outside, there was chattering and the sound of splintering wood. “Sounds like they found your boat.”
Devin changed the subject. “Why are you helping me?”
“It’s a boring day,” Roth continued. “Maybe I’m curious about you? Or maybe I’m lonely?”
“Maybe I’m not looking for companionship, at least not the chubby old Native kind.”
“Damn,” exclaimed Roth sarcastically. “I guess I’m just curious, then. I have some questions for you.”
“I’ll tell you what, Roth,” offered Devin. “If you agree to feed me a decent meal, I’ll answer your questions.”
“That’s a fair trade,” Roth replied. “Here it goes, then. Are you from Goldstein?”
“Obviously. But you already know that.”
“Why did you leave?”
“They threw me out. I broke the law.”
“What did you do?”
“I broke the law.”
“Where do you plan to go?”
“Hmmm,” Devin pondered. “I suppose the Lower Fifty-Three. I imagine I can get a job there and start a new life. You know, pursue the American Dream.” The distant and unintelligible chattering coming from the banks of the river grew louder. “Goldstein put me in a boat and sent me downstream to die. But I didn’t die. I ended up here. I wasn’t supposed to make it this far. So maybe I’ll go back there and pay them a surprise visit.”
“If you weren’t supposed to make it then why did they invest so much in you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You looked in my bag?”
“Yes,” Roth confessed looking sheepish. “I looked inside. I don’t think they’d send someone off to die loaded up with all that.”
“Let’s just say that I had what I thought was a friend on The Council. The old blind bastard set me up with some walking around money just in case I made it out.”
“He set you up very well, then.”
There came more shouting down by the river. There was another splintering board.
“To hell with Goldstein! I’ve been liberated.” Devin boasted. “I can’t wait to conquer Amerika.”
“Liberated?” asked Roth. “What do you know about Amerika?”
“I know it’s populated by serfs— mindless, helpless, wards. Everything is free there, too. Free food. Free rent. Free money. It’s all easy meat. So I plan on feasting on some easy meat for a long while.”
“Funny how you describe joining the ranks of a bunch of serfs as being liberated,” observed Roth.
“So be honest, Roth, are you shaking me down or what? Don’t think I didn’t notice the dragline you used to snag my boat. It was as if you knew I was coming.”
“No shakedown,” Roth assured. “I do have a proposition, though.”
“What is it?”
“I propose that you pay me a fee from those gold coins you got there in that satchel, and I’ll get you on your way to Amerika.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“I think you do. Think about it for a second. How will you get around without a multi?”
“I’ll figure it out. I’ll steal one.”
“What good would a stolen multi do you? You can’t get anywhere without one that has a plausible, verifiable identity. You can’t buy food, either. You can’t rent a room. You can’t get a job. You can’t use transportation. A stolen multi will be useless in a few hours. You’ll be arrested for sure.
But before that even, how are you going to get there? Walk? You gonna hike over the Alaska Range? You gonna climb Denali on the way and check out the view? You can’t go downstream because it sounds like you no longer have no boat and I ain’t going out there to ask those bandits to put it back together. And you’ve got no provisions. You have no weapons. Worst of all, those bandits out there are everywhere.”
Roth walked over to the thermostat and pushed the up arrow button a few times.
“Listen to me. I can help you. I don’t really give a damn about you, personally, but I do care about money. I’m a businessman. I like to make deals. I can get you a good multi that generates random aliases. I can get you into Amerika on a container ship. I can get you a rail pass to anywhere. I can help you out if you get in a jam, too. I only ask a fair price.”
“You’ll rip me off.”
“I won’t. That’s bad business. I may see you again, someday. Maybe I help you get back to Goldstein when you’re ready to pay them a visit. Who else would you call? If I was to rip you off now you might be paying me a visit. I don’t like looking over my shoulder. I’m not in the bridge-burning business, Cheechako. The bridge burning business is a dead end job.”
“And if I refuse your help?”
“Then I’ll have to ask you to leave the safety of my little compound here, after you’ve finished your meal, of course.” Devin gazed down at the leather satchel that was leaning against the table at his feet. His host was opportunistic yet his blunt honesty made him seem trustworthy. Devin felt the heat of the register warming his wet socks. Distant gunshots ripped through silence.