His finger lingered above the enter button on his keyboard. He hesitated, but only for one moment. With his other hand, he wiped away the sweat that was forming around his temples. The left part of his mouth turned up in a wry smile. He pressed enter.
They were late for a premiere party. The woman was tall, with dark hair, wearing a purple cocktail dress which did justice to her physique. The man was shorter than the woman, with light brown hair and a two-day beard, wearing a tuxedo. Megan was desperate for a snack but the diner around the corner only accepted cash. And cash was something she did not possess.
As she approached the ATM, she was furiously searching for her card in her bag, cursing loudly. When she finally found it, she promptly checked her balance.
That was odd, she thought. There was more money in her account than she could account for. It was definitely not payday. It was her lucky day.
Megan’s date Bruce told her no such thing happens. No one gets money out of nowhere, without reason. He suggested that she check her bank statement on her phone when they would be in the diner.
Satisfied with that solution, she grabbed the money she needed out of the machine. Time for some fries, she thought. One would think that this woman would be curvy, because she was the type of person who ate all day. Sorry to disappoint, she had a beautiful figure without one ounce of fat. She was one of those people who could eat whatever she wanted. Some people are just born lucky.
Over her fries, Bruce once again suggested she look at her bank statement. She had already forgot, too busy thinking about her food.
Once Megan checked, she found that someone had deposited money into her account. A rather unlikely someone. She looked surprised, showing her phone to the man in the tuxedo.
The description of the payment said: Monthly wage.
His face in disbelief, Bruce felt an urge to check the balance on his phone too. Had he also received money from the same party? And there it was, although he received a lower amount of money, from the same unexpected benefactor, under the same description. Why had he received less than she had? However, when they compared their total balance, it was exactly the same.
Confusion changed into what one would call joy, although they both could still not comprehend what was happening.
Megan called for the waiter and asked for two glasses of champagne.
Bruce thought to himself that she might be a keeper.
A widow was trying to pay this month’s rent online. Her grandson had explained how to do this to her last month. He had even written all the steps down for her to follow. Looking through her spectacles, the text on her computer looked huge, or it would have for for the average person, but not for the widow. She could still barely read what was displayed on her screen.
She managed to navigate to her bank’s website.
Happy with herself, she decided to make some tea. She went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. As she waited for the water to boil, she looked outside, from her 7th floor apartment, onto the street. People were walking around, and although she could not see them sharply, she noticed they had a different pace than they usually do. It was subtle, but she had trained eyes.
The kettle whistled and she poured the water into her teacup.
Back at her computer she went on to the next step, logging in.
When she managed to log in, her tea was cool enough to drink. When she took a sip, she almost choked. She had more money in her account than she would usually have at this time of the month! But surely her monthly elderly benefit was not deposited yet, it wasn’t due for another week.
Amazed, she tried to figure out what had happened.
She cleaned her glasses in order to see clearer, and found an amount deposited she had not expected, from a source that was even more unlikely to hand her money. Shocked, she forgot to transfer this month’s rent.
He was called a lot of names: a Stray, a Hobo, a Vagabond, and even a Tramp. Most people called him a Tramp, like in the Disney movie. Only he had left his Lady a while ago. She was off somewhere continuing to live their old life. He chose a different path. A path of self deprecation, of self loathing. No one in the world was less able to succeed in life as he was at this moment. Or so he thought.
The man himself preferred the term Vagabond, it sounded less harsh.
He once had it all, a beautiful wife, a daughter, a house, a dog, a car and money. But as his life became seemingly more enviable, the more he became depressed. He found a friend in the streets, in anonymity he was awarded. Apart from the streets he had one more friend: alcohol, numbness in liquid form. As long as he took enough.
Just because he played the part of a Vagabond well, didn’t mean he didn’t have a home. At least, he had a roof over his head.
The Vagabond walked into a liquor store. Today’s store was a different one from yesterday, and the day before that, and before that. He disliked familiarity and he preferred not to be a regular customer.
He grabbed the cheapest bottle of whiskey he could find and went to the counter. For a brief moment he contemplated stealing it, but he had already stolen a bottle yesterday and the woman at the counter was eyeing him.
His only connection to the system, to society, was his bank pass. That’s right, a Tramp with a bank pass. But rest assured, the balance was usually lower than what could afford a simple lunch meal. Once a month, he got a small amount of money from an anonymous party, a non-profit organization with a dubious name.
He checked his balance at the ATM in the store. He was surprised. In fact, he was so surprised that he stared at the ATM for a while in disbelief until the clerk snapped him out of it. His balance had increased dramatically. The whiskey bottle fell out of his hand. He had over three years’ worth of his monthly payments received in one deposit. The unexpected benefactor was an institute the Vagabond scammed for years.
The butler walked in, his pace changed. He briskly announced that he was to resign with immediate effect. Without any further explanation, he left. Before he shut the door, he threw his bowtie on the floor.
Jonathan was shocked. His butler had been with him for more than 30 years.
The rich man walked to his liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of scotch. He put the crystal liquor decanter down with a loud bang. He drank it all at once and sat down in his bordeaux chesterfield sofa. His mind was completely blank.
As he left his library, he walked to the tea room to find his third wife there. Her expression had changed as well. Her once lovely puppy eyes had turned pale and cold. She announced that she would be leaving him and would be moving in with her mother.
Another person in his life suddenly left him and it all had happened in a matter of minutes. What the hell was going on? She suggested that he should have a look at his bank account and that he should put on the TV. With that, she left him alone.
As Jonathan looked at his bank account, he cried out in rage. All of his bank accounts were empty, except for the first bank account he had ever opened. He had lost about 99,9% of his money! He looked at the last deposit. This time he let out a loud roar. A glass previously filled with scotch as expensive as his couch was thrown at the wall.
Mouse87 was his name. At least, his alias. No one knew his real name. There was no one in his life who might know his real name. He was lonely, he had not spoken in three years. He radiated loneliness, up to the point that he felt physically invisible. Or maybe I am just physically repellent, he thought. So repellent, that no one would even sit next to him on the bus. Even when the bus was crowded.
But in the digital world, he was popular, worshipped even. Not for his looks. Not for his charm. Not for his good deeds. No, only for his success in destabilizing societies. Because that was what Mouse87 did. Slowly, steadily, and begrudgingly.
Five years ago, he started destabilizing the government in his mother’s native country. A rather easy system to destabilize, since it never really had been stable and it was only just recently participating in the digital world. That is to say its inhabitants finally got access to computers and smartphones after their corrupt government had tried to keep it off for as long as possible. In the end, digital progress was there for everyone to be a part of, one way or another. Slowly the country’s corrupt government was turned over, aided by a conniving little mouse.
Today, his intentions were not as pure as they were then.
As the head of the National Tax Claiming Institute, she knew she had to be the one to tell him. So many thoughts passed in her head. How did this happen? Who is behind this? What are the ramifications of this? How can we overcome this? Will the government become obsolete? And how in the heck did my personal income change?
For now, though, she had a more pressing thought. What would she say to him? How could she possibly explain that the National Tax Account was completely empty and that the money was nowhere to be found? That all reserves were gone?
She was summoned to his room by his secretary.
As she entered the room, he was pacing back and forth behind his desk, the windows open. A glass of liquor in his hand.
The Prime Minister was anxious.
He waited for her to speak, his face expressionless.
She didn’t dare speak. In fact, she had no idea where to begin.
The PM asked her point blank if the country was bankrupt. Her answer was yes.
She tried to defend herself and her office by explaining that they were doing everything in their power to get back control.
He held up his hand in order for her to stop talking. She froze.
Both of them knew instinctively that there was no way to get back control. It had been two weeks since the National Accounts were at zero. Even though many people in office had tried to figure it out, everyone was left in the dark as to what happened. This was not the most important issue. Everyday more people stopped showing up at their jobs for they assumed to receive recurring monthly payments.
In the first days after it happened, the PM and his ministers of Internal Affairs, Domestic Security and Defence, desperately tried to use the National Army to make sure the situation got under control. To keep everything and everyone running as it had before the Breakdown, as it was now called. But to no avail. They tried to use the army to settle affairs and stimulate the people to go on about their regular lives. However, the army itself became less motivated by the day to adhere to their supervisors.
The PM held several press conferences to urge the people to continue their lives as they used to, to adhere to the system, to be good citizens. Never before had so few people tuned into the press conferences held by the PM.
Mouse87 looked at his screen, through to camera’s in public spaces, tapping into people’s camera’s on their devices, turning on their mics to hear their reactions.
His body was more relaxed now that he had fulfilled his first task.
He was satisfied with the people’s reactions. They were still discovering their new world. Trying to see what was possible. Questioning things. Their lives, their part in this world, the role of the government, what equality could look like, how much time they spent with loved ones, and so much more. If only he would be able to spent time with other people.
For now, knowing that the people of his country were on a spectacular adventure that was called change, he found enough satisfaction in that. The only thing he worried about was if they would be ready. Ready for the future. For his future creation.
The premiere party was their eighth date. That was three weeks ago. Bruce paced around her room, worried. When he looked at her still sleeping, his mind was put to rest a bit. She looked beautiful.
More and more people were taking a break from work. Since they had already been paid, they figured they didn’t really need to go to work. When all people think that way, things start to get messy. And apparently, there were still no strings attached to the money.
Bruce decided to work less days. Although he liked becoming a lawyer, he preferred to be with this magnificent girl as much as possible. Plus, it got him thinking, when everyone has the same amount of income each month, when their savings are kept at a similar level (but with continuous growth), will there still be as many disputes between people as before? And as long as the government paid him money, why would he offer himself to an 80-hour workweek, every week?
Megan had to wake up soon to get to school. She was a kindergarten teacher. Even though she had more money that she had before, she refused not to work. When asked why, she answered that her children needed stability, guidance and education. To prepare them for the future that is to come.
Megan woke up. Bruce walked over and kissed her. She asked him what he was thinking about. He told her. She shrugged and said that people have always adapted. It may take some time, but they will. At that he jumped back into bed with her, she giggled.
The widow was watching the news. The anchor was replaced by a rookie. The rookie told her that supermarkets were running empty. Gas stations were without personnel. Most shops were closed. In some, only the owners worked. Demand for goods was at an all time high, but the supply for most goods was spectacularly low. People wanted to get new things, especially when money was being handed out to them and they didn’t need to work for it.
The widow worried. If people were not willing to do their work, how could everyone get their groceries? How could she? Her neighbor did the groceries for her every two weeks. If the supermarkets were mostly out of stock, she would have no food!
The TV showed a supermarket almost empty of food, but filled with people. Some quarreled over the same can of food. Only one cash register was open. An elderly woman sat behind the counter.
In an interview, she pleaded for her colleagues to come back to work. According to her, everyone could do some work. Even though everyone had to get used to their new financial situation, days of doing nothing will become boring. If they would even spend a couple of hours at work, that should be enough. Other people who did not have jobs before this economic change were welcome as well. Maybe they would like to meet new people. She sure would like to, she said. When the TV interviewer was about to end the interview, the interviewee asked if she could also urge the suppliers to do the same. She said that it was simple, as long as everyone did their bit, society could be up and running again in a jiffy.
The next day, the widow saw the face of the woman who was interviewed in the supermarket on the front page of her newspaper, the only one still coming out every day, accompanied by a screaming title: Has Supermarket Clerk Solved Economic Issues of Today? The widow smiled when she read the article. The supermarket woman was a grandmother, working part-time in the supermarket, having had no real education, just common sense. If only more people would tap into that source from time to time. Maybe the world would be a bit better off.
The Vagabond had experienced weeks full of confusion. Years ago, he felt trapped and desperate being part of the system. Having all he could wish for, he felt anxious, like he didn’t deserve it all. He feared loosing it all, and even though he felt that way, he fled from it. Maybe it was because he was too afraid to loose it all, that he decided to leave it behind in order to never loose it. One man’s logic can be so explicable.
Now, he had access to money again. For him it was like getting acquainted with an old friend. He learned that there was nothing to be feared from money. He had already experienced having next to nothing. So why would he be afraid of loosing it again? Poverty was something he had already experienced and he survived. Plus, if this government money would come every month, he could consider himself a wealthy man.
He stood outside his old home. He felt uneasy, like a burglar about to be discovered. From behind the fence, the Vagabond tried to catch a glimpse of his wife through the window on the ground floor. What he saw was a small head full of dark brown hair. His daughter. His stomach turned. He felt tears coming up. In the window, he saw a reflection of himself. His wild hair sticking together, a big brown beard, smudges on his face. His clothes were dirty and too wide, with two different worn out boots and his big left toe sticking out. His family would never recognize him. It had been too long. He made a decision.
He found hope in his hopelessness.
Jonathan had not left his house in weeks. He was still in shock. The former rich man watched the news, a woman who worked in the supermarket was pleading for her colleagues to come back. He turned it off.
His usually tidy and clean TV room was a mess. Empty bottles lying on the floor. Cans of beans and other cans of food open on the table. Bags of crisps empty. He had almost eaten and drank half of his supply of food and liquor. He had barely left the couch.
The first week, Jonathan could simply not believe his newfound loss of riches. Nor the fact that his wife and butler left him. After so many years of servitude. From day one he knew she had only married him for his fortune. He married her for her beauty and in the idle hope to buy her love.
One wouldn’t like to see his former library. The floor filled with ripped pages from books. His desk upside down. All that was once on his desk scattered on the floor, the outcome of a terrifying anger. He had no clue as to how he could get his wealth back. However, he had not lost his intellect. The former rich man knew that nothing would get it back. So there he was now, depressed. Stuffing himself with food and alcohol. He had to get used to his new situation. Soon. And then, he had to come up with a plan. But right know, the world could go to shit for all he cared.
Mouse87 walked back to his apartment block, one bag of groceries in each hand. Dressed in a black hoodie, black jeans, black sneakers. He was not of a colourful nature. He never had been. He usually bought three of each of these clothing items for a year and then replaced them. The hacker believed that time spent on such frivolities was wasted. Besides, he had no one to impress, no one to dress up for. He could not fathom why people dressed up. Was it to feel accepted, to feel desired or envied? People are being manipulated not to think and act for themselves, but for the imagined others. A scary thing it is. A thing he was planning on disrupting. He found that this simple example was a great indicator of how society works.
People are so busy trying to be part of a group, to feel wanted, respected, to get applause. And all the while we people get further from our true selves in the process. For is one man really that different from another? Isn’t everyone made out of the same biological processes?
Then why is there so much inequality? he thought. Maybe he was being short sighted, but it was something he truly believed. Something in which he found his calling. To bring people together again. To diminish inequality. Over a month ago, he had made the first step.
To his surprise, it didn’t take people a long time to figure out how to deal with each other in this new formed society. Poor, moderate or rich, now those classes did not exist anymore. Granted, people had some difficulty in getting back on their feet, how to behave, what to do with their time, how to start coexisting again and get society up and running.
To his astonishment, it took a bit over a month for people to get back to their lives, different lives, but all was up and running again. For Mouse87, this meant he had to get back to work. It was time. Time for his masterpiece. The second phase.
It had been a couple of days since he had moved all his stuff in to Megan's apartment. While they had only been dating for a couple of months, it just felt right. It felt natural.
This month, they both had received their inflated monthly wage again from the national Tax account. And along with them, so had the rest of the nation. The only caveat was that all money that had been earned above the average wage was being put into a nationwide account and distributed equally to the saving accounts amongst all people. A sophisticated system that replenishes what is earned by the people and redistributes it equally to all people.
Unrest and uncertainty passed and the majority of people had come to terms with their free money quite easily. Of course, most of these people were once either poor or earned an average wage. The rich still had difficulty coming to terms with their decreased wealth. But that was not Bruce’s problem.
Megan came back from her day of teaching. She was excited and energetic. The first thing she did was get a snack out of the kitchen.
As she flopped down on the couch with him, Megan gave Bruce a kiss. Immediately, she started talking to him enthusiastically. She had it all figured out. Now that she didn’t need to worry about money anymore, she had decided to work less. She would work for only three days a week in the school because she couldn’t bear to miss her children. Otherwise, she would have probably left altogether. The other days she wanted to spend taking up drawing. Drawing was something she enjoyed doing when she was younger, up until she became a student.
Bruce laughed. Megan looked confused. He assured her that he was proud of her, and that he was laughing because he did some soul searching as well that day. He had also decided to switch gears. He would quit his current corporate lawyer traineeship and he applied for a job at a pro deo firm, but only for three days. The girl cheered, spilling some food on the couch. She didn’t care. Neither did he.
As Bruce went on, he told her that he had another idea. He would like to set up his own business in guiding people to properly take care of their newfound fortune. His business would focus on the people who were once poor and needed some guidance in managing their expenses. Again, Megan cheered.
The widow lit a cigarette. As she inhaled and blew out the smoke, she looked outside. This was her ritual every night. She allowed herself only one cigarette every night. She figured since she had already made it to 81 in good health, one a day couldn’t hurt.
The doorbell rang. It was her upstairs neighbor with the groceries. Right on time. She was out of fresh vegetables for dinner.
The neighbor was a peculiar guy. He was always dressed in black. And as always, he didn’t say anything. She felt for him. He was always gloomy and quiet. She wondered if he had a social life. Once, she had asked if he had a girlfriend. He whispered no, and cleared his throat. As if he never used his voice. It was something the man in the hoody did every time they spoke. For four years, he had brought her groceries every second Thursday of the month. Never missing one night.
As she thanked him, the widow had an idea. She asked him if he would like to go on a date sometime with her granddaughter. Her grandchild was lonely too, ever since her relationship ended two years ago. Initially, he did not show any enthusiasm. Instead, he nervously touched his nose and mumbled something incomprehensible. He nodded uneasily and walked away. He forgot his cash for the groceries. She took it as a yes and smiled. She had been young and insecure once.
The man left his previous alter ego of the Vagabond behind. He went to the barbershop and got a cut and shave. He lost more that two thirds of his hair, they returned his hair to his former dark brown color, his almost three-year-old beard was completely shaved, his eyebrows were plucked. When he looked in the mirror he recognized his past self. He cried.
He figured he needed some clean clothes as well as a matching pair of shoes.
He bought himself a brown turtleneck sweater and a navy blue jacket, some dark blue jeans and leather shoes. He even bought socks.
The man who once answered to the name Vagabond felt different, lighter. As if he had lost some weight. His stance had changed as well, like his new clothes held up his body in a straight position.
A florist caught his attention. He bought white lillies, his wife’s favorite flowers. He took a taxi to his former home. Nervous, he walked towards the door. To him this felt like the longest walk he had ever walked in his life. He rang the doorbell.
Jonathan poured himself and his guests a whiskey. He had invited two of his closest friends, one his business partner and the other his childhood friend. The latter had build himself quite an empire in entertainment. Both friends had lost the lion’s share of their money. Their appearance resembled the one of their host. Weeks of denial, anger and depression could be found in their faces. Their bodies intoxicated with all sorts of liquor and food.
They were having their regular weekly drinks, the first since the economic swift. A gloomy atmosphere was present in the room. The men had been quiet for a while, thinking. Jonathan had posed a simple question: how were they to get their fortunes back? Their old lives. It had been over thirty hours since he posed the question. So far, no one could provide an actionable answer. They could move to another country of course. To one of their mailbox businesses offshore. However, when they checked those accounts, their access had been denied. Whoever was behind this, was thorough. His business partner offered to sell their belongings, but his childhood friend reminded them that the money earned would be gone at the end of the month, distributed amongst the people. None of them had huge amounts of cash on hand, but it was the only thing they had. And then his business partner had an ingenious idea. What if they would be able to print more cash?
As Jonathan finished his whiskey, he opened a box he took out of his apothecary closet. They needed to have a break from thinking, they needed to relax.
He grabbed a bag filled with greenish balls. From another drawer, he got a long glass device. The other men started to laugh, his childhood friend joked that they were not teenagers anymore and that they haven’t used a bong in decades. But the host was serious. He poured some water in the glass device, then he put in some of the greenish stuff. He lit it with a lighter, placing his mouth at the end of the glass. He inhaled. Then he coughed, which was followed by laughter. He passed it to his friends. Gloom was soon replaced by childish gaiety. For the first time in weeks, the three men felt somewhat relaxed, and for the first time they talked about something else than their lost fortunes. They joked around, reminiscing about their shared past adventures. The successes, the women they had met, stories from trips around the world, literary anecdotes, philosophy. For some hours, they were not obsessed about money.
Since she had become more or less obsolete, and money wouldn’t be an issue, she followed her heart’s desire. The former head of the National Tax Claiming Institute put on her beekeeping suit. She was still new to this daunting task. Potentially, it could be dangerous. On her rooftop terrace, she had installed a beehive. One unit would be enough to start out, she gathered. When she walked towards the hive, she let out a small shriek. She had almost forgotten to zip down her veil.
The bees had been doing their jobs quite well in their first couple of weeks. The woman was impressed. To her, the bees represented the ongoing life cycle of all living things. Just like Einstein, she believed that if bees would become extinct, humanity would soon follow. Now that she had time on her hands and no further obligations, she felt it to be only right to support the life cycle of all living things.
To her surprise, the dismantlement of the government happened quite naturally. Of course, there was resistance, even anger at first. But when no one feels the need or the obligation to hold on to a system, no one will.
When a story in which a whole country used to believe seemed nothing more than an old tale they used to tell themselves, people move on and make up a new story.
God, she thought, she was so very excited about how that upcoming story would come to realization.
When Mouse87 got home after he had delivered the groceries to the widow downstairs, it dawned on him. She was about to give him the usual cash amount for what he bought. A huge glitch in his design! Cash couldn’t be fully controlled. People could decide to pay with it, they could still even get withdraw it form the ATM’s. When someone has cash on hands, it can’t be traced by Mouse87’s system. Therefore, income could still be distributed unequally! But how to ban cash?
It took him some minutes to come up with an idea: he would give the people 48 hours to hand in their cash at their local banks. All cash would then be distributed equally among the entire nation. After that, he would simply not allow cash to be deposited again. Completely closing the banking systems as people once knew it. The fact that banks would soon loose their purpose ignited a flame within him. He laughed. However, it had to wait, he had other matters to take care of.
Again, he hovered above the enter button on his keyboard. This time he was more sure of himself. Mouse87 pressed enter.
All screens in the country turned black. Phones, TVs, tablets, watches, laptops. Even displays on microwaves, refrigerators, and other household and kitchen equipment. A cursor waited patiently on every one of them. A message was typed:
Our current democracy has failed you.
This will be solved sooner than you think.
Hang in there and rely on human kinship.
It is better to unite than to divide.
There's more to come.
PART 2 OF THIS STORY WILL BE RELEASED NEXT MONTH. STAY TUNED.
- The End -
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