I know it’s breaking with convention, but I was recently asked to submit a work of fiction to the Silver Circle Blog. Silver Circle is a web comic which is currently being adapted to film. It takes place in our world after a massive economic collapse and a band of rebels wage economic mayhem on the Federal Reserve. They first showed up on my radar when I heard about their “Federal Reserve Note (FRN) burning ceremony” at the Porcupine Freedom Festival this year. That prompted me to write the article, “Confessions of an FRN Pyromaniac.” Here is the short story I submitted to their blog.
Chapter One: The Aftermath
The first light of dawn these days is not white but amber when the sun hangs in the penumbra between the horizon and the haze left from the Great Fire.
The morning poured through a broken window, between gimcracks and gadgets, and found the sleeping face of young Hakim. As he stirred he reached over to his night stand to activate an electric generator.
A few coughs and whirls and the room sprang to life. Lights flashed and flickered, screens ignited and the haunting chords of Auslander blasted at full volume. Hakim rolled out of bed into a pile of clothes and emerged in ragged jeans and “Disobey” t-shirt. He walked down an empty hallway of dusty bedrooms to the kitchen where he boiled water for tea and prepared a simple meal of cornmeal porridge, sweet bread and sesame oil.
It was important to conserve the generator as petrol was becoming scarce. Hakim generally allowed only an hour for his mobile devices to charge. While he waited he perused the news of the day. Locally, the weather was clear and the cease fire had held through the night, which was good for business. Globally, governments continued to collapse in a heap of paper under the weight of their own tedious make-work bureaucracies. The headlines announced that this week Uganda had joined the ranks of the stateless, while the government of New Zealand had followed the precedent led by America and resolved it’s national debt crisis by auctioning off most of it’s territory to sovereign business franchises, in this case a number of competing pastoral farming and agricultural companies. Hakim was pleased to see that the expected result was a drop in global food prices, but the price of petrol continued to rise as government subsidies dried up. Yesterday it spiked 10,000 Cred a barrel.
Hakim was too young to have ever lived under a government. It simply wasn’t the custom of the Somali people. To him it was utterly alien to divide society into two classes, the rulers and the ruled, and it seemed to him that the only purpose of government was to harass people and eat out their substance.
He finished his breakfast, freshened up, and powered down the generator. No sense leaving it running all day. In his neighborhood streets were so run down vehicles couldn’t navigate them, not that many people drove anymore. His only neighbors lived in disheveled housing developments defended by private security. Herds of goats grazed grasses that punctuated the concrete guarded by shepherds armed with Kalashnikovs. Vegetable gardens sprang up in any gated lot that had soil. The public rail no longer ran. Public power and water were gone too. Almost all commerce took place near the port, but to get there you had to walk three full kilometers to reach the private roads.
Chapter Two: New Mogadishu
Once you get within ten kilometers of the port you have a choice. The local taxi and bus drivers formed Jidkha Lines which privately repairs the public roads. Local divers know the best routes, and you could negotiate a good price to get anywhere in the city, especially if you don’t mind ride-sharing. In addition Breezeways, a foreign company, has invested in constructing and maintaining a higher quality network of privately owned expressways. The catch was that to gain access to the expressways you had to rent an electric vehicle from their fleet, which were not rugged enough for most of the public roads. They were designed for smoother rides.
Hakim had determined that the most cost effective solution for him was to rent a bicycle from any one of the local shops because neither company objected to pedestrians and bicyclists using their roads, and it meant his transportation expenses were not subject to the fluctuating price of petrol.
Mogadishu had been thrown into chaos by the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic, torn by decades of civil war. Warlords eager to claim the foreign aid promised by developed nations struggled to establish themselves as the new central government at the exclusion of all others. But as the developed nations began to collapse themselves, the promise of foreign aid disappeared, and with it the incentive for civil war. New Mogadishu was raised out of the ashes of the old city. Commerce returned, and with it new prosperity. The lure of completely free trade drew both local entrepreneurs and foreign investors. New Mogadishu quickly become a bustling metropolis, and the telecommunications capital of the world.
Hakim works as a programmer for Credo Communications. Credo began in the US, shielding customers from government attempts to acquire their phone records by every legal means available. They then developed numerous encryption algorithms to secure the privacy of their customers. But as populist revolutions began springing around the world they recognized the urgent need for telecommunications that could not be interrupted or intercepted by existing governments. Establishing their headquarters in New Mogadishu made that possible. Credo quickly became the world’s largest most impenetrable data haven.
In addition, Credo launched a private currency called Cred that quickly because the international standard for Internet commerce. Recognizing the roll of hyperinflation in the global economic collapse the Cred is entirely digital, which has numerous advantages. First, it can not be manipulated by inflation because the supply is fixed based on the total number of transactions occurring in the system. Second, it can be transferred using any Credo Communications device from mobile phones to vehicle GPS systems. The third, and perhaps most innovative advantage, is that Cred represents both “credit” and “credibility.” Built into each transaction is an approval rating so that users all have a published reputation rating. If users lose their credibility due to dishonest business practices their Cred is devalued accordingly. The result is an untraceable, decentralized, internationally accepted currency that governments can neither seize nor stop.
Chapter Three: The Pirate Beigh
When Hakim arrived at work he plugged in all his mobile devises and logged into a half dozen social networking sites. This was actually encouraged by his employer, the idea being that frequent mental micro-breaks leave employees more refreshed and creative than a rigid break schedule. Internet access was his favorite perk which he used to manage his more entrepreneurial online activities. This was also encouraged. Credo’s policy was that allowing thousands of employees to test their ideas in the market directly was the most fluid laboratory of research and development. The Credo Communications office was a truly modern work environment. Their philosophy was that any free time an employee acquired by completing their regular responsibilities ahead of schedule belonged to them, and that this would not only encourage efficient time management, but that everyone would mutually benefit from allowing innovation at all levels of the company.
A message popped on Hakim’s home screen. It was a request from his department head to come to her office. When he walked in, Rose asked him to close the door and have a seat. Whenever this happened Hakim felt a pit in his stomach as he scanned his recent memory for anything he might be in trouble for. He rarely was. In fact, he never had been. But there was something about authority itself that made him uneasy. It usually passed as soon as Rose explained the purpose of the meeting.
“I want to talk to you about transferring to a new position in client relations. It would mean a 30,000,000 Cred raise, but there’s potentially a whale of a client on the line. It would mean a lot more responsibility.”
Something had changed. Rose seemed unusually humble, even conciliatory. Something had spooked her.
“I don’t really know that much about client relations. I’m happy to try, but why are you offering this position to me?” Hakim asked.
“The client asked for you by name. But I don’t want to say too much. It’s better if he tells you himself.”
Hakim was given instructions to meet with the client, a man named Beigh, upstairs in the executive lounge. It was a huge circular room with tall windows overlooking New Mogadishu. Business people from around the world, speaking dozens of languages met here to eat and socialize between meetings. A sense of privacy was still maintained by the sheer vastness of the space. Hakim was clearly out of place, both for his age and his clothes. Even the waitstaff looked more professional, but there was no dress code in the programming office.
Across the room a man stood waving to Hakim. He was unusually tall, like the Mandinka people in West Africa, but darker skinned. He extended his hand, with long round fingers and shook Hakim’s.
“You must be Hakim! I am Beigh. I am very excited to meet you. Please, sit down. Order whatever you like.”
Beigh motioned to the menu as Hakim took a seat across from him and began to browse the menu. He’d never eaten anywhere so expensive, or with such diverse cuisine. He wondered if Beigh knew that the custom in New Mogadishu was for the person who extended the invitation to foot the bill. He thought he better not risk it, but even the appetizers were over 20,000 Cred a plate.
Beigh asked, “Do you mind if I conduct a small test of… cognitive ability?” Hakim agreed. “Excellent! Just keep reading the menu. You won’t feel a thing.”
Beigh jumped up and removed some kind of electronic device from his pocket. It looked like a smart phone, or maybe a camera. He held it up to Hakim’s head as he walked around him, a detailed schematic of the inside of Hakim’s brain appeared on the screen.
“Beautiful! Just as I’d hoped.” Beigh exclaimed.
“What is it?”
“Your brain. It’s marvelous. Not a bruise. Not a hint of scar tissue.”
“Scar tissue?” Hakim jumped up, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “How are you looking in my head?”
Beigh snapped the device closed. “Oh Hakim. I have so much to share with you! But first I must ask you… do you want to live on a free world?”
“Good. Let me show you something.” Beigh set the device on the table and activated some kind of a projector that suspended a holographic screen above the table. Far more advanced than anything Credo was even close to. The display scrolled through scenes from science fiction movies. A flying saucer demolishing a building with an energy beam. Rows of green men marching in lock stop. A cartoon martian training his cross hairs on Earth. Laser battles and bug armies and on and on.
The movie clips scrolled on as Beigh continued. “Do you know what all these stories have in common Hakim?”
“Well, yes. But more than that they all represent tragic expressions of a primitive psychoclass. They all contain depictions of xenophobia, racial supremacy and naked collectivism. On this planet individuals of extra terrestrial origin are presumed to be hostile, hive minded, and fundamentally defined by their planet of birth rather than the content of their character. Frankly it’s obscene.”
“What’s your point? I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
Beigh laughed softly. “The point is that I am prepared to bring hundreds, maybe thousands of foreign merchants bringing fantastic new technology to this market, but the aggregate of them are only going to feel comfortable coming here if I can demonstrate that a new psychoclass is being born here.”
Hakim puzzled it over and asked, “thousands of foreign merchants coming… to Somalia?”
“No Hakim… coming to Earth.”
Hakim jumped back, wide eyed. “You’re an Alien! What do you want with me?”
“You are the key, Hakim. The brain scan shows it. You can spot the primitive psychoclass by physical changes in the brain. Scar-tissue really. Adverse childhood experiences cause decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex and a hyperactive amygdala. Tribalism, nationalism, bigotry. These are the symptoms of a damaged brain. A brain incapable of natural empathy. You probably believe this behavior is normal because every generation of your species until now has shared these traits. But you are the proof, maybe the first of your kind, that a generation is coming to this planet that is on the path to Astaiwah.”
“Where is Astaiwah?”
“I forget… it has no equivalent in your language. Astaiwah is not a place. It is a direction. It is the future that is approached by the tendency of all sentient life that seeks harmony and autonomy. It is the aggregate of all consensual, mutually beneficial associations.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Well… first, you’ll have to see my world.”
To be continued.