Mouse87 had let one day pass since he took over their screens.
It was time for the next chapter.
Determined, he pushed the enter button. Everyone would soon receive a notification.
Bruce stared at his laptop screen in complete concentration. Megan looked from him to her blank canvas, slowly drawing lines of what would become his face.
Bruce’s website was almost finished. The funny thing was, he worked long hours to make his idea a reality, but to him it felt entirely different from making those long hours at the law firm. It felt liberating.
Megan spent most of her time observing and drawing her boyfriend. She was making a series of drawings and paintings about him and his entrepreneurial trajectory. Combined with her work at the kindergarten, she was happy.
Both their phones rang, but it was neither a phone call nor a regular notification sound. This sound was different, it was loud and arduous.
His concentration vanished. She put down her pencil. They looked at each other, whilst the same question took shape in their faces as they read the same notification:
Today marks the day that we enter a true democracy.
No more politicking or hidden agendas.
No more representatives.
We decide. Democratically. Together.
Please open the “Democr App”.
Megan started laughing nervously, feeling uneasy. She looked at her boyfriend. He looked back. He said he was surprised and curious. With the message came a link to the app. He opened the app and read the instructions of this so called ‘true democracy’. She read along as well.
It appeared they had the power to help decide on every national issue. From issues including how many refugees would be welcomed into their nation to international trade barriers. Former government workers could go back to their jobs carrying out the decisions of the people. Decisions they had to help make.
One could view it as having one or multiple referendums each day. People were allowed to vote either yes or no on all matters. The app advised the public to vote on all issues, but they were free to choose specific ones. Urgent and striking matters were compulsory. If someone did not cast their vote more than three times in a month, they would lose the right to their upcoming monthly payment.
Every day, people could propose issues to decide upon, besides the ones provided in the app itself. These issues could get up voted by all users, ranking some issues as more important. The highest ranking issue with the most votes had to be decided upon. Every person would receive a push notification fifteen minutes prior to voting and they would have to make a decision before time runs out.
Computer apps were available as well to reach more people, especially those without smartphones, they could respond via text message with either yes or no.
Interesting, he thought. Weird, she thought. Right at that moment their first question appeared:
Do you want to keep this new and current system in place?
All over the country people were voting.
Bruce and Megan looked at each other. They both voted yes.
After five minutes the result appeared: 92% of the people had voted yes.
Do you want to keep this new and current system in place?
Please reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this number.
The widow voted yes via text message. She did not own a smartphone. She felt too old for that. For years on end, she tried to keep up with the world. With the changes, with technology, with gadgets, but at her age her interest had simply diminished. However, in this society, or in whatever new society type was forming, she was dependent on technology. Even if she did not want to be. She was dependent on other people to help her navigate her digital life.
Luckily, her grandchildren or upstairs neighbor would help her from time to time.
She received another text message. It said that 92% of the people had voted yes. That is settled then, she thought.
After reading the initial text message explaining this new form of democracy, she felt some sort of satisfaction. Finally.
She switched on her computer to try to install the Democr App. While her old computer was launching its operating system, she went to the kitchen to make some tea.
When the widow came back to her computer, it was still launching. She sighed and thought about buying a laptop or one of those other thingies with screens as large as paper one could touch. Something she was finally able to afford due to the changes of the last couple of months. But what to get?
After over an hour of trying to find the app on the internet, she gave up. She put her glasses down and dialed his number. Something she only did once before, in order for him to have her number programmed in his phone. They agreed to never call, only if there was an urgent matter. However, circumstances change, and with change different actions are required.
He picked up the phone. She recognized his raspy voice. The widow asked him if he could help her pick out a simple laptop or the touch thing. A tablet, he replied. She said she had already had her tablets with dinner. He laughed hoarsely, a freaky sound of someone who is not used to laughing.
The widow smiled, but did not get the joke. If he would help her, she would in return make dinner for him and her granddaughter when she was in town. The man with the raspy voice agreed.
His daughter opened the door, looking at him curiously. She called out to her mom and asked her mother who this man at the doorstep was.
The man once known as the Vagabond cried and fell to his knees.
His wife walked towards the door. She gasped. For a while, she just stared at him, unable to say anything. Then she snapped into a rollercoaster of emotions: anger, sadness, relief, happiness. She walked towards him and hugged him. They stood there for what felt like hours.
Their daughter stood next to them, looking from her mom to the man, puzzled.
After a while, the woman recovered herself. It was time for anger to come out like a lioness deprived of her prey. She slapped him. She became more distant, determined. He was not welcome in their house. The woman was afraid. Afraid that this was real - if he were to stay - what it would mean for her and her daughter.
She crossed her arms and looked at him sternly.
All the while, the Vagabond did not speak. He was simply unable to. What do you say to the woman and child you abandoned three years ago? There were no words that could undo that, let alone retrieve those years.
His wife bombarded him with questions. Where had he been? What was he thinking? How could he? Did he even think about what he did to his family?
This went on for a while, the Vagabond still lost for words.
He approached his daughter, but his wife held up her hand. She told her daughter to go play in her room.
She told him to go, there was nothing here for him. She had to process the fact that he was back, that he was well. However, there was no room for him to walk back into their lives. At least for now. Deep in her heart, she wanted to let him in. She was desperate to, but she was just too afraid to lose him again. Did he have a place to sleep?
He stood up straight and used his handkerchief to wipe away his tears. After clearing his throat, he was finally able to say something. He said that he still loved her and handed her the lilies. He urged her that he would turn his life around. In a week, he would contact her. With that he turned around. Nothing in the world would make him happier right now than to enter his old house, to be with his family, but he knew it would take time. And then, his phone made an unusual, pressing sound.
They woke up dazed and confused. Three elderly, formerly rich men had been sleeping on the floor. Last night, they were completely knocked out by weed. At that moment, they felt young and vibrant again. Now they felt their true age and it was not pretty.
That day, they too had received the notification and accessed the app. Obviously, they voted no to the first question posed. In a way, Jonathan was happy this happened. Apparently, they were not alone. They were not the only ones who did not agree with this new system. Eight percent of the country was with them.
Jonathan organized a gathering of protesting former rich folk at his house, there was no time to loose. The former men and women of fortune had to unite.
They were people of action. Nothing drove these men and women more than their shared desperation for taking back their once held power - and most importantly their money.
Jonathan’s business partner and childhood friend were both there. The others included former directors of the biggest companies of the country, people who once held high positions in the government, lords, lady’s, there was even a prince present.
It was his moment to take the initiative. They all had come just because of his invitation. He would lay out his plan. The plan that arose during their stoned conversation. He laughed at the silliness of it.
In addressing his fellow sufferers, Jonathan first tried to get everyone in the same mindset. After all, they could be stronger, faster if they would unite to get their old position in society back. Now, they were merely as common as the rest. They were “the rest”. And they did not like it. The plan to print more cash came into place easily. A few of the men had the right connections to realize this. That was the easy part. Getting people to use cash again after it was banned would be trickier.
There was a murmur around the former politicians. Everyone looked at them. The former Prime Minister turned red, then composed himself. They had an idea as well.
The PM without power told them he was working with a group of hackers, together with some former ministers. Their first step was to retrieve their access to their foreign bank accounts. Naturally, all men in the room had one or more offshore accounts, accounts not tied to their national bank accounts, accounts that could not be controlled once they got back their access. If that would be possible, their position would improve drastically.
The former rich let that sink in for a moment. A man cheered and began singing the song of their elite boarding school. Almost all of the men in the room had attended that school. Together they sang it at the top of their lungs.
The host smiled while he was singing along. They might just be able to turn their situation around. Especially since he had another trick up his sleeve.
Mouse87 was smiling. A phenomenon that was as natural to him as talking to women. Maybe someday he would. He laughed at the idea.
It had been a week since he had launched the Democr App. The results were astounding. The majority ruled on all important issues. Former government workers were coming back to work en masse, happy to carry out the decisions of the people. Decisions were made on climate control, immigration, trade, international alliances, art budgets, education, and many more issues. If he was honest with himself, he had difficulty with some of the decisions being made. It seemed that the people were still divided. He had never reached a 92% consensus again.
He thought once people had the same income, and when there would be no more classes, people would become more like minded. Alas, that had been a naive thought.
Mouse87 still wondered if the majority could decide what is true and just for the entire nation. Could the people govern themselves? He believed they could. He had to. It was part of his design. His design to dissolve the class system, to change the economic system, to unite people, to let democracy shine in its truest form. But he made one mistake. Mouse87 wanted people to become equal, but no two persons are the same, let alone a whole nation.
Mouse87 was raised by a single mother in the outskirts of this city. She immigrated to his country ten years before he was born. She left a country in ruins and tried to build up a new life for herself. Unfortunately, that was not what was awarded to her. For years, she tried to make ends meet with a handful of odd jobs until she met a soldier. Blinded by love, she thought he would be her savior. However, the only thing he did was father her son.
She was on national welfare, having no man or job to support them. She was a drunk and a bad mother, often neglecting her child. Sometimes, she forgot to feed him. Welfare money was spent on liquor and drugs. Unknown men frequented their flat. At the age of two, Mouse87 was taken from her. He had spent almost a day alone in the flat, crying. That’s what one of the caretakers of the orphanage told him. From that moment on, he was raised in foster homes. Never able to fit in with another family. He became a shy little boy who did not like to interact with other human beings. He found refuge in the magical world of computers, and computers found their wizard in him. Hacking was his forte. Gaming a close second. At the age of fifteen, he tried to find his mother, by hacking into the municipalities system. He found her, but he never went to visit her. He wondered if she would spend her newfound fortune well, if she would vote with his app, his creation. If other mothers would improve their lives and that of their children.
That was odd, he thought. When he was looking into the suggested questions for up voting, he found one he had not expected: Do you want to have cash back as a currency?
It was the top voted question of the day.
Their doorbell rang. Bruce had his first client. He was excited. Probably not as excited as his girlfriend. She set up her drawing corner close to their dining table, in order for her to capture his first client meeting in one of her drawings.
A man entered, he was wearing a brown turtleneck sweater and a navy blue jacket, with dark blue jeans and brown leather shoes. He seemed a bit ill at ease and walked quite stiffly.
Megan offered him some refreshments and went back to her canvas. She asked if it would be ok if she would draw them. The stranger nodded.
Bruce asked his client to tell him something about himself.
The man told them his story. Of who he once was, who he had become and who he was now trying to change back to. He had one mission, to get his life in order. For that he needed help. He could not possibly stay in his shack. He needed an apartment, a job, more clothes, a laptop. Even though he had money now, he was not used to it anymore. He was afraid he would spend it all irresponsibly. Bruce assured him that together they would manage to turn his life around.
Their phones rang, it was that daily, arduous sound again. Their daily duty.
Do you want to have cash back as a currency?
Megan was surprised, she had up voted this question! Even though she was happy with the new system, she thought that eliminating cash was wrong. For what would happen when someone with bad intentions took control over their digital money? Over the newly distributed system? She preferred to have some cash just in case, it provides people with more security, she thought. She voted yes. Indifferent, their visitor voted yes too. Her boyfriend voted no, but did not tell the others for he was afraid of what they might think of him.
Bruce and his client continued their conversation, contemplating a strategy. Megan got back to her drawing. After five minutes, the results came in: 57% had voted yes. She celebrated silently and let the men talk for a while.
As the man was about to leave, he asked Megan if she could show him what she had drawn. She said yes, anxious, for the man would be the first to see her work apart from her boyfriend. He smiled at her and said she was talented. When he saw himself, he shivered. He asked her if he looked that gloomy. Unsure how to respond, she said something about his eyes, she saw so much sadness in them. When the man walked to the door, he turned and asked if they could both help him become a happier man. The couple nodded enthusiastically.
Another week went by. More questions posed, more votes cast.
Tonight, the widow had her granddaughter and her upstairs neighbor over for dinner. All day she had been preparing. To let it remain a surprise, she had her groceries delivered, that way her neighbor did not have to get them. Besides, she had sent him on another quest: to get her a tablet.
She had made Italian food, naturally. She was the second generation of Italians in her family living in this country.
The doorbell rang. Her granddaughter. At least she made a bit of an effort, the widow thought. Usually her granddaughter liked to hide the fact that she was a woman, wearing baggy clothes in grey or black. Also, usually she could not be bothered to comb her hair, let alone wear make-up. Tonight, she made some effort. She had combed her hair and put on tight jeans and a black and white polka dot blouse.
The widow’s neighbor entered minutes later and was in a bad mood, she could tell. In all her encounters with him he was quiet, shy and grumpy. Now he was just grumpy and he had the utmost difficulty making an effort.
The conversation during entrée was as vibrant and energetic as the widow had expected. Both her guests had not said more than five sentences. Maybe this was a bad idea, she thought, but they could also be a perfect fit. After all they are both shy and awkward, maybe it would create a bond.
She poured them more wine, hoping alcohol would loosen their tongues.
To conjure up a conversation, the widow asked about her tablet. Winking at her neighbor, as if they were both in a conspirative joke. He got a package out of his bag and gave it to her. She unwrapped the package to find her touchscreen computer as she would now call it. For a while, no one said anything.
Her neighbor showed the widow how to use the tablet. How to get on the internet, how to lock and unlock it. Plus, he installed some apps for her. In addition, he had made her a manual app, so she could learn how to use it properly.
The widow suggested her granddaughter tell her neighbor something about her job while she heated the main course.
When she got back, her guests had changed. They were laughing at something, but she could not understand what they were talking about. She laughed along awkwardly, prompting their laughter to end. She asked what was so funny. She would not understand it, her granddaughter assured her. It had something to do with a role playing game on the internet.
At least they found common ground, the widow thought.
Their conversations slowly took off for the better, but the widow was not included. She played a bit with her tablet when they had just finished dessert. Then she dozed off.
When she woke, the widow discovered that someone had put a blanket over her. Her granddaughter was sleeping on the couch. She unlocked her tablet and saw a note from her neighbor, typed on the tablet. He had installed the Democr App for her.
On his way up to his apartment Mouse87 had an idea. He posed a question and made it obligatory, something he swore not to do.
Must the stock portfolio’s held by the former rich be distributed equally across the nation?
The Vagabond answered yes. Now that he was taking part in this new societal form and adjusting to his new persona it would only seem fit.
He put his phone back in his pocket. In his other hand he had the keys to his own apartment. Interesting, he thought, when you put your mind to it, accept change and go for it, anything is indeed possible. For year’s he thought this was cheesy, but was it?
Jonathan’s high of the past few days had vanished quickly. Like a balloon being popped in the air, he quickly fell down. Within a few minutes his hatred for the new system had grown. 67% of the nation voted yes for the stock portfolio of the former rich to be distributed equally across the nation. This would mean he and his former rich friends would soon belong to the average.
This was the game he was in, once they made their move, a counterattack was to be expected. Unfortunately for his opponent, this only fueled his drive.
They had managed to create the first cracks, now it needed only a few big strikes for it to end with a bang. Oh, how Jonathan was excited for that.
He had his friends, the former Prime Minister and a couple of former members of cabinet over. Inside his former library, a few servers, desks and computers were installed. Seventeen hackers worked around the clock to find a glitch in this new societal form. What is in it for them you think? Redemption, fame, glory. Beating one of the best hackers out there would automatically make them the best. Plus, they would be highly rewarded once they achieved what they were hired for.
The Hacker Army, as they were now called, managed to open the offshore accounts of all former rich men in the country. A major strike together with the – democratically chosen – reinstatement of cash. But their plan would not end there.
It was Jonathan’s idea to suggest referendum questions for their cause in the app. He knew that people would up vote them in time and with the right stimulation via media outlets.
If only he could add to the inequality still present in society. For a society so freshly awakened with equal chances, only time would tear it apart.
Stimulated by him and his greedy friends.
It would just be a matter of sheer manipulation. Similar psychoanalytic theories had been used to stimulate consumerism. Speaking to emotion, luring instinctive drives, and using it to their advantage.
He was exhausted from all his planning and scheming, but he had not felt this alive since he first took over his father’s company. He went to his bedroom, poured himself a glass of whiskey and smiled a cunning smile. It was time to submit his next question to be up voted. He had a feeling this would not be picked up on immediately. If the inventor of this new system was smart, he would delete the question as soon as he saw it.
Jonathan’s childhood friend came in, excited. He had come up with another revolutionary idea. His friend was thinking, there were cryptocurrencies, that were still in use, but only by a select few. Evidently these few people were former rich folk. Together with their Hacker Army, he had managed to have them agree to issuing more of it, only to them.
Jonathan laughed. He poured another glass and hugged his friend.
Must this newfound democracy system stop? Mouse87 panicked. How was this possible? How naive he was, thinking that all would be well and happy with the world once he installed the new society. But no system can truly serve all, all have different wants and needs. He should have thought this through more carefully.
He had already suffered one blow. Having cash reinstated was not part of his grand design. It would allow too much financial freedom, something he wanted to control fully to maintain the system. However, the people had spoken.
For the second time in a short while, he neglected one of his own rules. He deleted the question. Little did he know that this would be used against him one day.
He thought about his date a few nights ago. If you call a date eating with a woman your age and her grandmother. In the beginning he felt uneasy. He just wanted to get it over with. Besides, he had too much on his mind to even take this seriously. She was kind of attractive, but very reserved, hostile even. Then, she made a subtle joke. A joke only people who play Dungeons and Dragons would understand. Of course he knew that women played that game as well, but he had never met one in person. For the first time in years, he forgot about his mission. She awoke something in him. How he enjoyed that night… Naturally, he did a thorough online check on her. Unfortunately, her social profiles were all hidden. A simple hack into one of her dumb friends account, granted him access to her profiles. It was child play.
Mouse87 woke up from his daydream to a noisy alert on all his screens, he was under attack! Someone was trying to break into his system. Instinctively he had prepared for this. He had never expected it to happen, at least not this soon. This person was good, he thought. He corrected himself, they were good, this was no attempt from one simple hacker. He fired off their attack, leading them into a maze of code and troubles. It would occupy them for a while. Mouse87 decided to build another wall around his system for extra protection. And although he countered their attack, he felt vulnerable for the first time. This was no coincidence. They were setting all these things in motion to overthrow his grand design.
He had to get some fresh air. After he had walked for half an hour he passed an ice-cream parlor. He was not particularly fond of ice-cream, but on the window they had put signs stating ‘cash only’. He walked in and ordered. Mouse87 asked the man behind the counter if he was the owner. The old man nodded. Mouse87 asked another question, the one burning on his lips the moment he saw the sign. The old man responded saying that by only allowing cash payments he would be able to earn some extra money. His wife had been ill, but since the Change, they were not responsible for the bills anymore, something he was grateful for. Now he and his wife wanted to save extra money to buy a house overseas.
So simple and so stupid, Mouse87 thought. People always want more, whatever their reasons might be.
His phone vibrated. A news notification: an article about the upcoming greed. After months of prosperity and quiet, the people’s inherent nature to want more wore its ugly face again. There was more. Mouse87 gasped. The article stated that more cryptocurrency was to be issued.
He felt as if the earth beneath his feet was about to crumble and collapse. He hurried home, but not before he posed a new mandatory referendum in the Democr App:
Cryptocurrencies need to be declared worthless.
That was his third offense. Why was it so easy for him to break his own vows? Was he so desperate for his design to work the way he envisioned it?
Back home, more bad news was waiting for him. He was unable to access the offshore accounts from the citizens of his country. This could only mean one thing, the former rich had access to their offshore accounts again. It was only a matter of time before the former rich would become rich again. He cursed.
The results from his question were in: 79% voted yes. At least one win.
Two weeks had passed. Unrest lingered in the air, in the streets, in people’s homes.
In their own home, there was tension between Bruce and Megan.
Every day, they had the same debate, about whether this new society was for the better or not. If it brought people closer together, if people were better able to prosper.
What started as a casual discussion between two lovers, had slowly escalated by the day. Bruce was under the impression that this new societal form was for the better, for everyone. Megan was not so sure anymore. She saw what was happening to the public, on the news, in the mall. Dissatisfaction grew. People had enough, but still wanted more. It had been months since there was anything stolen in shops. Now it happened on multiple occasions, every day. People were finding ways to get their hands on cash. International currencies were in circulation. And who had access to all this cash? More importantly, where did the extra cash come from?
Bruce could only think about what it meant for the people who came from nothing. Like his client. They had already come so far, his client had come so far. How many more people was he able to help? How much did he enjoy his new life?
Their phones made that sound again.
For the past few days Megan had up voted that question again and again. Would today be the day?
They looked at each other just when they saw the new question. Bruce looked angry, Megan tried to hide her happiness.
She lived in a busy street, flanked by former bank buildings, government buildings and offices. On one end there were people protesting, screaming for more transparency, for more money, for the former society. On the other end, they protested for the opposite.
The widow sighed as she watched them, taking in a drag from her cigarette.
Her granddaughter was with her. The widow had asked her if the upstairs neighbor had called already. A question she repeated every once in a while, as if it was the only thing the widow was able to say.
Her tablet made a sound, her granddaughter’s phone too. Simultaneously she heard a cacophony of sounds in the streets. People looked at their phones. On the one side people cheered, and on the other, protestors were in anguish.
They were having dinner in his new apartment. The Vagabond cooked. He had loved to cook when he was younger. He forgot how much fun it was. To think he had not done it in years!
It took him a while to persuade her, but his wife had finally agreed to come over, bringing with her their daughter. She was open to see his effort. This was a good sign, he thought.
The former couple had to find ways to talk to each other again. It was hard. Their reunion was still so fresh.
It was a blessing their daughter was there, since she had no troubles breaking the long silences. She was telling her father what she had learned in school that day. She was still not accustomed to the fact that he was her father.
As their daughter spoke, the phones of her parents made that daily sound again.
After they had seen the new topic for today, they looked at each other in silence, worried.
Jonathan’s house had become the headquarters of their mission. The former rich man who was now a bit richer again was well tempered. A glass of expensive wine in one hand, a cigar in the other. There were more than a hundred guests in his house. The Hacker Army, former rich folk and more followers to their cause.
As he looked outside, his former butler walked up his driveway, a bit uneasy. Jonathan blew some smoke at the window. The old butler knew what was inevitable. Jonathan toyed with the idea of giving the old snob a hard time. He passed on that idea. He had more important things to take care of. He closed his bedroom with a lock, nodding at a pile of cash before he went out.
This morning, his army had leaked a story to the press about the online identity of the puppet master. The man behind this new society. The man behind the Democr App. He smiled at the name. Clever, but unwise.
Although they did not have physical evidence as to who he was or where he lived, they had more powerful information. Information about how this Mouse87 had manipulated his fellow people. The people he cared about so much, as he would like them to believe. The multiple offenses of manipulating the app and the questions posed. Part one of his plan succeeded. Now it was time for the final blow.
He walked into his former library, where all his guests had gathered. It was time for part two, the best idea he ever had in his life. Or at least, that was what its inventor thought of it. The Hackers Army was about to pretend to be some millions of people participating in the app, up voting one single question. It was almost too easy.
His question popped up. A loud noise of excitement. People voted.
Anxious for the result, all guests quietly stared at their phones for five minutes. The plan to take back power was already in place. Jonathan hoped that by creating and stimulating unrest in the last few weeks had contributed to a future victory.
Mouse87 could not believe it when he saw it, but he knew enough. He did not even wait for the response. The outcome would be obvious. And so it was. 53% of the population had voted to quit his new society. His baby, his design, his life’s work.
His brain had never been this busy. What was he to do? Would he ignore the people’s choice and continue with his plan? Would he give up on his principles? He wondered if his newly created democracy was still a democracy. Was it really the truest form? Were the people even ready? Had the few again decided for the many?
He had always believed in the fact that the people in power would do anything to hold on to it. Those people would not truly serve the population of the world. He understood that. Maybe it did not even matter what system was used in the end, he thought.
Money would always be an evil mistress, controlling lives.
Mouse87 was tired. He was insecure. He was vulnerable. What would he do?
Before he could decide, Mouse87 had to do one thing first. He sent the widow downstairs a message and invited her granddaughter for lunch. It was time.
What is the best societal system? No one knows. People coexists. People improvise and develop. People try their best. Mouse87 sighed, composing himself.
Man should not be in the service of a society, to be a slave to its perils. Rather, a society should serve the people.
Mouse87 could stop the Democr App, his creation, with the click of a button. He could also neglect the people’s choice and force the app upon them. Sweat formed around his temples. He was as nervous as he was when he first initiated his plan. His finger lingered above the enter button on his keyboard. He hesitated, but only for one moment.
- The End -
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