“Gentlemen, Secretary Smith of the Treasury is no longer in government. I am here in his place. He has just been served an execution order by DRI. He has stepped down as acting President and under the 1947 Presidential Succession Act, I am next in line. I will be sworn in as President. Most of the government has gone or in the process of and now it is up to us to restore order. As crazy as it may be, we have to accept that at this time we are powerless to resist DRI. It seems that I have been cleared by DRI. I have been briefed in the last few hours but forgive me if I am not totally clued in. I ask you to be co-operative and open. I will not tolerate politics or deceit. As long as I am in power, I will run an open ship. I want you all to speak your minds without fear of recrimination. This is a pivotal moment in US history. This is no time for personal gain or conflict. The decisions we make today will ensure the future of the USA. Three things are on the agenda today; DRI, Hoff, law and order. Now, I understand that the techs are working flat out to find a way in but DRI are firmly in control. I’ve read the latest report and it makes disturbing reading. It seems that Hoff has eluded capture, at least by us. It is vital to the future of our country that we find him first, assuming he hasn’t been captured. Intel is investigating sightings across Africa. We have a very positive sighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is second hand information leaked out of France but I understand, verified. We have forces out there now but it’s a dangerous place, more so since the government has fallen. I have spoken at length to the Attorney General about the law and order issue. I am considering use of the army to restore order. Any questions?”
“Yes. Mr Secretary, excuse me I mean Mr President. May I say….”
“Cut the bull.”
“Yes Mr President, how far do we go with Hoff’s lawyer? He claims that Hoff has agreed to give himself up with conditions.”
“We need to catch him. No deals. That traitor is not going to dictate to us. If we give in to him, he’s free. There’ll be no trial by jury. We are going to find him and lock him up until he rots. No lawyers, no visits, no god-damned parole. The son of a bitch is going to help us bring down DRI. No deals, is that clear?”
“Sir, we simply cannot risk his capture by someone else. It could be the end of the US as we know it. We have no choice. We have to accept his terms. Let him have his trial.”
“There’s not a jury in the world that would convict him. He will be a free man. The US would be complicit in the greatest criminal mind in history escaping justice. Not on my watch. I will not give the order.”
“I agree with Ely, it’s a grave mistake not to agree to his conditions. Let him have his trial. Mr President there are many ways of conducting a fair trial. We are a great democracy when it suits. We can guarantee the outcome Mr Secretary. We will select the judge and the jury and he will be convicted. If you want the death sentence, we can arrange it.”
“I don’t like what you’re suggesting. I will not be party to a crime. I will not manipulate the legal system.”
“This is a matter of National Security. If Hoff is captured by someone else, the repercussions are unthinkable. If we bring him in subject to his conditions and comply with them, he gets away with it. Is that justice? No it is not. We are simply going to ensure justice. Perhaps that is a technical crime but in my books it’s the right thing to do and history will prove it.”
“No I can’t agree to it. And if I did, the press would crucify us.”
“Not a problem sir. The media is seducible.”
“His wife could be a problem. She is well connected and wealthy.”
“Connected to whom? There’s no-one left. Anyway, we’ll deal with her too. She has a daughter and her lawyer is very amenable.”
“I hear what you say but our priority is to catch the son of a bitch. Still, I want you to talk to the lawyer. Get some terms drawn up. See what he wants. Get the report to me asap. Now let’s talk about the riots. I want to know what the hell’s going on in Atlanta and Tennessee.”
“The police chief, the mayor, senator all executed. DRI. It’s the usual suspects taking advantage but it’s under control I’ve been assured. It hasn’t helped with some of the banks being closed. The run on the banks has been stopped but the people aren’t happy. There’s panic and quite frankly I don’t blame them Sir. I can only see it getting worse until things get back to normal.”
“That’s a joke. How are things going to get back to normal whilst we’ve got our balls in a vice? Let’s face it, we’re not running the show any more.”
“That’s true for now and that’s why we need to bring in Hoff. Mr Secretary, you’ve got to give the order. We can’t risk the Russians or the Chinese getting hold of him. It’s chaos out there and his capture might calm things a bit. It will be a media show on our terms.”
“Ok, 72 hours if we haven’t got him, I’ll sign the order. In the meantime, placate his lawyer, agree what you need, start the process. William, I want everyone on the hunt for Hoff. All troops in the region are to be deployed to the Congo today. Get on it now. No excuses from anyone. I don’t give a damn what they’re doing, they go today. I want a report on my desk in two hours. I want to know how many troops, from where and when they’re operational. Get the Congo boys on the phone. Find someone to talk to. I understand there’s no government left. I’m sure you can find someone to talk to. You get us full co-operation whatever the cost. Give them what they want. Cash, weapons, drugs, anything they want. Just do it.”
“Is the Senator here?...Well bring him in.”
“Ok gentlemen, you all know what you have to do. Please leave us alone. Senator Roman. Thank you for your time. Whisky?”
“Thank you, on the rocks. I believe it’s I who should thank you since you’re acting President.”
“Not officially yet. Ben, there’s not many of us left. I want to combine forces, put aside politics and form a cross party government. There are 58 Senators and 265 Representatives remaining at the moment. Can we get agreement for a temporary coalition government?”
“I think we could. We have no choice.”
“And do I have your support Ben?
“Of course you do. Will you accept the office?”
“If I have the support of the houses and I mean real support not negotiated. I want you to organise a secret ballot, nothing official. If I get a majority of supporters then I’ll accept, in the interim.”
“Yes Mr President. How does it sound?”
“Frightening. You and I are dinosaurs, old school. I just wonder if the US can function without oil in the machine.”
“Sadly I doubt it but I for one am glad for the clean-up. DRI may be a little extreme but I can’t help a smile when I see another corrupt leader or politician being executed and as far as the super-rich, they deserve everything they get. Let’s hope that once the filth has been destroyed, it will be a fairer world. Is there any news on Goris Hoff? You have to admire the guy. You do know that he is a friend of mine?”
“I do and there’s no real news. Yes I do admire him but that won’t stop me carrying out justice. We’ve had a few sightings which we’re following up. We have an unconfirmed offer of a deal to return.”
“What do you mean? From Goris?”
“His lawyer. He said that he could get Hoff to return under certain ‘conditions’. I don’t think the US will ever be forgiven if we negotiate with him.”
“But Andrew, he’s done nothing criminal and I think that we won’t be forgiven if we don’t negotiate. He may have inadvertently pulled the rug from under our feet but at least for a noble cause. He is not a criminal.”
“We know but we need him to help us stop DRI. He’s not just going to walk through the door and too many people want blood. If we capture him, it will restore confidence. We can’t just let him get away with it. He created it, let’s not forget. Are we supposed to let him off because he didn’t realise what he was doing? I don’t think so. Somehow, history won’t look kindly on the US if he gets away with it because it was an accident.”
“I think it was inevitable. We have ourselves to blame. He weeded out the corrupt and criminal. He should be worshipped not punished.”
“It’s not about punishment. The truth is that we don’t really know what he knows but whatever he does know, we know that he is the only tool we have to counter DRI. The Tech guys have come up with a theory and it looks pretty robust. This goes no further Ben. Do I have your word?....Good. I don’t need to tell you that DRI operates through a system of Artificial Intelligence. I’m sure you know as much as me. It works on the basis of mathematical analysis. It takes a huge library of data and works out the most effective solution. Apparently, it’s only a theory but it’s all we have – if we hold the founder of DRI, we might hold the key to controlling DRI. The boys in AI believe that as the founder of DRI, Hoff would be able to influence outcome and with the right input, we would be able to take control. DRI might expose itself enough for us to take it over.”
“And what about Goris?”
“What about him? Ben this is no time for loyalty or friendship. I’m sorry. No guarantees. We are fighting for the future of the US, possibly more and that will mean sacrifice.”
“I am not comfortable with this.”
“And neither am I. You and I Ben have always been reading the same book, different page maybe, but same book. This is survival of the fittest.”
“Alright but give me your word, you won’t harm Goris or Gallie and you’ll keep me in the loop throughout.”
“You have my word. I will not authorise any action against them without informing you first. It does not mean that they are safe. I cannot guarantee the actions of others. Ben, be assured that I will do what I have to do for the greater good.”
I opened my eyes and sat up. We hadn’t moved. Everything inside and outside the car was identical. The red dust dirt track, surprising green landscape, a few, scattered undernourished cattle, the children asleep, Destiny and John leaning against each other eyes open but away, John magnetised to the road and in some far place.
“Welcome back. I thought you would never return. You made so much noise.”
“Where are we?”
“I have no idea.”
“How long have I been asleep?”
“Maybe two hours. The road has been good. I would say we have gone 200 kilometers. The tripometer is a bit slow I think. I think that we are near a small town called Lubefu. We need to stop and get some fuel and food and maybe something to eat. We must be getting near because I have seen a few farmers and some children. I saw a car a while back.”
“I have a bad feeling John. I didn’t care before but now I do. I am sure we are heading into danger. I think they probably know we’re coming. I think we should drive straight through and not stop.”
“You have really changed your mood Goris. Did you have a bad dream? A few hours ago you were happy as a snake with a rat in its mouth.”
“Yes I was but now I feel differently. I was half awake for a while and I have to be realistic. I meant what I said before about going back. I am putting you and your family at risk. I have done enough to you. No John, let me finish. I know you’d be happy for me to stay because you don’t see life like I do. You know how to live for the day but I am spoiled. For a while I wanted to believe that I could live here and start a new life but I know that I have to go back as soon as possible before someone catches us all. Let’s keep driving until we get to Ikela. I really don’t think we should stop.”
“We will be safe and anyway we need fuel. We are hungry. We have to stop. It is a very small town. For sure there is no internet here. No police, just simple people.”
“Ok but it doesn’t feel right.”
Lubefu was a very small community of about 2000 people, spreading across huts and leftover colonial homes, a few shabby stores and a church inhabited by a few families, occasional aid worker, prospector, rebel gang, businessman and passer-by. Now it was out turn to raise suspicion and turn heads. John stopped the car in the main street and all of us emerged, stiff and slow, stretching and clicking our bodies back into varying degrees of working order. The street was busy and the few shops seemed to be selling whatever they had, filled with the wives and children of the absent men. We were so obviously out of place and this was attracting attention. The children wandered down the road towards some other children playing a game in the road and the rest of the family went into the grocery shop and I followed them. They filled a box with fruit and biscuits and water, various packets of nibbles, coffee, dried fish and meats. John spoke to the owner in French and after some discussion which I partly understood, he handed her some money. A teenage man followed us out under strict instruction from the storekeeper, carrying a few more provisions to the car. He went off to the side of the shop and quickly returned with a barrel of fuel and then a stream of boys came out from behind him, all rolling barrels of fuel. Destiny rounded up the children while the two Johns monitored the things being put into the car. I stood by useless, fully aware that they did not need me nor would they lose a thing without me.
“Destiny come on let’s go. Hurry up I want to move on before it gets too late.”
“Okay, the kids are in the car and I’m ready. John come on, go in. Where’s Goris? I can’t see him? Where did he go? He just disappeared.”
“I didn’t see him. He was just there a minute ago. We are not leaving without him. John did you see where he went?”
“I think you should read this. A letter. Goris has gone.”
My great friends,
I have been waiting for the right time to let you go. Please do not come after me. It is better for us all. You must think about the children now. They are the future perhaps in a better world. I am proud of our achievement whatever the consequences for me. I know that I have gained far more than I have lost. I would change nothing. John you have opened my eyes and my heart and I will never be the same. I am going to find a way back to America and face my demons. I hope that you all find a place to live good and fair lives. One day we will find each other again.
John, below are details of my online bank account which I give to you and your family. This is your money. I do not want it. I do not need it. It will be an insult to our friendship if you refuse this and I will never forgive you.
I have left some dollars in a plastic bag under the front seat. If you have any problems, you must try to email me.
“He didn’t even say goodbye. How much money did he leave us?”
“Destiny, that is not nice. I am ashamed of you after all we have been through. I do not care about the money. He was the most important person I have ever known in my life. I am very sad that I may never see him again. I am afraid for him now. Come on, we have a long way to go.”
“John we cannot leave him alone. It is far too dangerous.”
“You are right but we must honour his wish. We have to go.”
I watched from inside the shop as the family departed. A feeling of panic and total fear filled me as they left me behind. I watched the car until it was out of sight and then I turned around. The owner was watching me, a child either side of her, both staring at the white stranger in their shop. I spoke to her in as much French as I could string together from the depths of my buried schooling. I told her that I wanted to go to Ikela and that I would pay Dollars. She explained that it was too dangerous to travel in the night and that I would have to stay here in Lubefu. She led me to a room in the back of the shop and gestured me to sleep there. Her children were now giggling and looking at me with interest. They asked her who I was and why I was there. She said that I was a friend.
A man stood in the doorway looking down on me. He told me to get up. He ushered me quickly out of the shop and into an old truck, making sure that nobody was watching. It was early as the sun was just rising. He quickly drove off, offering me a bag with biscuits and fruit. He told me that his name was Emanuel, that he was 32 years old and he was married to the store owner and the two girls were his children and that he cannot read or write, that he worked in the fields growing maize. I told him that I was a reporter. It was about 9 hours to Ikela. I stared out of the window for hours as Emanuel drove fast and carefully, no attempts to talk apart from necessities. We arrived in Ikela in the early evening. Emanuel followed signs to the airport. I gave him $200 and he shook my hand and smiled.
I walked into the airport hotel. The man at reception looked up, attempted to hide his shock at the sight of a white man in his hotel. He told me that there was a flight to Kinshasa in the morning which he could book from the hotel and that it would be a good idea if I took it. I asked him to book the flight and to arrange a room for the night, a meal and a girl. I told him that I wanted to make a call to America.
“Ricardo, I’m ready to do a deal. These are my conditions. Write them down. I will come back to the US. I want to be met at the airport with a full CNN TV crew where I will go straight into a press conference. I want Senator Ben Roman, Gallie, Jazzy and Walter Caring there. I want full immunity for Gallie and Jazzy in writing. I want a trial by jury. I want a guarantee that the District Attorney will not oppose bail.”
“Ok, I’m sure that’s acceptable. Anything else?”
“Yes. I want the agreement posted in full on DRI and printed on the front page of The Times and then I will hand myself in to the US embassy.”
“And where will that be?”
I gave the phone back to the receptionist and told him that I wanted to use a computer. Another $100 bill and it was allowed. I went into a small room and on the desk was a huge box that ten years earlier might have turned a few heads but now it was a slow, almost useless machine. I managed to log on to DRI.
’I am Goris Hoff. I am the creator of DRI. Last time I addressed you, the process of redistribution had not begun. We have since borne witness to the end of the super-rich, a re-balancing of economies, a cleansing of government. We have exposed endemic corruption and greed. We are in the midst of an unstoppable revolution for equality. We have started to fill the valleys, level the mountains and hills, straighten the crooked places and smooth the rough ways.
Distributors, in its last attempt to hold on to the old world, I am being hunted by governments, mercenaries and rebels. I will not be captured. I have contacted the US government and agreed to hand myself in subject to the agreement of certain conditions. I have asked for the release of my wife and daughter and I have asked for a trial by jury. This is all I ask of the government of the United States. I ask you to ensure that these terms are honoured.’
I read it through thoroughly dissatisfied with the content. I knew that I had to find some way to clear my mind so I told the boy in reception that I wanted to go to my room, that I would be back soon and to organise a girl immediately. I went up the vinyl clad stairs, holding on to the flaking gold painted, metal bannisters for I was truly exhausted. The decision to surrender had broken me. It was the result of years of fighting and weighed too heavy on my soul. It was as if I had given in to a disease that I had been refusing for years. I showered in the warm, light brown water and as I emerged naked, subdued and vulnerable, there on my bed was a beautiful little black gift, wrapped in white. I walked over to this smiling angel, lifted the wrapping and slipped inside.
I came down the stairs refreshed and at peace with my decision at last.
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