Home GADGETS Sci-Fi Short Story ‘Money in the Bank’

Sci-Fi Short Story ‘Money in the Bank’

Sci-Fi Short Story ‘Money in the Bank’

io9 is proud to present fiction from Lightspeed Magazine. Once a month, we feature a story from Lightspeed’s current issue. This month’s selection is “Money in the Bank” by John Kessel & Bruce Sterling. You can read the story below or listen to the podcast on Lightspeed’s website. Enjoy!

Money in the Bank

“I lined up a new gig for you,” said the Glovemaster. “All you have to do is protect one special guy.”

I sat in my trailer with my Bluetooth headphones on and my laptop perched on an Amazon box. I wore a boonie hat with a militia logo, Oakley mirrorshades, a shoulder-holster, and a miracle-fabric tactical T-shirt. I was every inch Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne of the Delta Force.

“I won’t do any bodyguard work out of town,” I told the screen. “If I abandon my wife, she’ll file for divorce.”

“Your wife is your excuse for everything,” said the Glovemaster. On my Zoom screen, he presented as the evil animated glove creature from the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. IRL, the Glovemaster was a high-school hacker kid from Jersey born forty years after the Beatles broke up.

I knew who he was because he still lived with his parents, who didn’t know a damn thing about computer security. But the kid understood blockchain technology and he knew how to scam.

And I needed his money. Not dollars—never, ever, crappy government fiat money controlled by the banksters. I needed hard, proven, decentralized Internet money. This was my guarantee of financial freedom, so that someday I could keep all my promises to Jacqui.

“Never let your woman tie you down, bro,” growled the Glovemaster. “You get your cold-wallet storage. Get your bugout bag. Get your handguns. Then you launch into action.”

He was telling me this from his parents’ basement in Trenton. But the dude had made me rich once. It wasn’t his fault that I’d misplaced my cartoon ape.

For Jacqui’s sake I’d convinced the crypto world that I was a heavily-armed J6 militia veteran. “Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne” was a two-fisted Afghan vet with five tours under his belt, an enforcer and kneecapper, the last man in the world you would ever want to cross.

It had taken me three years of boning up on Second Amendment gun show talk and mall-ninja cyberwar jargon to build my tough-guy rep in crypto-land. But I was motivated. Because when a soldier finally comes home from overseas and sees the girl next door again—well, you may not understand this, but I just had to have some of that. I just had to—because that was who I really was.

And Jacqui was sweet about it. A decent church wedding, a house, and a baby, that was all she asked from me. I made my vows to her in the sight of God and man. Those were my core values.

The rest—that was just my necessary hustle in a troubled and treacherous world. I understood crypto. I knew plenty about air-gapping, public keys, block rewards, Know-Your-Customer rules, and all the good ways to ignore them. But still no white picket fence for my Jacqui. Not for any price an honest man could pay.

“Let’s talk about your new client,” said the big blue cartoon glove. “He’s a Bitcoin one-percenter. He could buy a Trump Tower with his leftover Ethereum. If crypto is here to change the world, then the Mealybug is the change.”

“So, the Mealybug is your favorite whale now, eh?”

“Yes, he is. I’m on the Mealybug’s secret Discord. You know who turned me on to that? Pavel Marco himself!”

The Glovemaster always hacker-bragged about his connections—but he could make it rain, too. “All right,” I said, “your esteemed financial backer there, your oligarch with the yacht—what’s his problem?”

“He’s been doxxed.”

“That’s too bad.”

Better him than me, though. The real Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne had been killed by a car-bomb in Iraq back in 2013. Not my name, not my rank, not my serial number.

“His enemies found out who the Mealybug is, and where he is, and where he came from, and why he got that name. So he’s got trolls and stalkers all over him now. He’s on the run, he needs professional help. Lucky for him, I know a real operator—you.”

I shrugged, and adjusted my holster. “Nothing new about a shakedown racket.”

“Every whale makes enemies,” said the glove. “Those no-coiners, they all hate success.”

“So, what kind of enemies does a Mealybug have? Russian spies, Jewish bankers? The Illuminati?”

“Could be all three.”

“Is he American? Maybe betrayed by some fed informant, feminazis, deep-staters, cultural Marxists?” Ex-Delta Force Wayne Osborne always had a ready list of threat-actors.

“That’s for you to find out, Colonel. You’re the ideal man for this job. How about a three-day weekend in Las Vegas?”

“Then it’s the Mob,” I concluded. “The Cosa Nostra. Your Mealybug’s a high-roller.”

“I’m not saying what he is or what he isn’t. I’m saying he’s my favorite whale. Do you live anywhere near the U.S. Mountain timezone?”

“I’m not saying that I do or I don’t. What does this job pay me?”

“A true whale doesn’t have to pay. I can tell you the exact date and time of his next big market move in Ethereum. When you surf in the wake of a big whale—market up, market down, makes no difference. You’ll make out like a bandit either way, and best of all, there’s no paper trail.”

This hot tip was supposed to impress me, but I’d been burned on Ethereum market moves so many times that I couldn’t buy the dip—I had no dip left.

The Glovemaster sketched out the situation for me. In Vegas, the Mealybug was cowering in some penthouse. He was so scared that he never moved in the daylight. Only active after dark, terrified of paparazzi, stalkers, security cameras, bad guys who might curb-stomp him, put his feet in cement, dump him into what was left of Lake Meade.

This yarn sounded like paranoid Howard Hughes bullshit, and it suddenly struck me that I didn’t believe in the Mealybug. Sure, I believed in whales. I totally believed in Bitcoin. But when it came to a billionaire so scared he would throw Bitcoin at strangers, I just wasn’t buying the pitch.

Still, if I didn’t believe in the Mealybug, I believed even less in his so-called “enemies.”

“Show me the color of his money.”

Jacqui and me, and the house . . . our story was epic. Epic failure.

We’d flown so high together, once. At market peak, I was ready to sign the dotted line for a 4500-square-foot house in a gated development. But I lost the down payment in a big Dogecoin dip. I stayed out of Dogecoin after that, no matter what Elon Musk said. No Tesla for me, either. Now Jacqui lived with me in a trailer park where I had to chain the hood on my pickup so the neighbors wouldn’t steal my catalytic converter.

Also, the pickup was iffy about running. I used a bike.

The Mealybug’s first payoff arrived in an Amazon Prime package at my favorite anonymous mail drop. The box was full of mush, half wax and half golden flakes, like cornflakes of precious metal gnawed off an asteroid. The coinage a hive of ants might use if ants were astronauts.

I cycled over to Duke’s Pawnshop, Duke being the guy in possession of some awesome techie gear I’d bought when I was prosperous. I showed him a spoonful of the goo from the package. Duke used his x-ray fluorescence machine on it. It rated out at 22 Karat. I redeemed my favorite Internet-of-Things 5G router and took it back to the trailer.

Jacqui caught me there with the rest of the loot, because there are no secrets in a trailer. She was wearing cut offs and a tank top and carrying a bag of canned goods.

She saw my 5G router. “I thought you sold that. How did you get it back?”

Then she saw the Prime package. “You’re ordering from Amazon again! Did you get me something?”

I showed her the golden mush. She wrinkled her nose. “What in the sacred name of Jesus?”

“This is gold, honey,” I told her. “I figure four ounces, which at today’s spot price would be about two Ether.”

“You said Bitcoin was much sounder than Ether.”

“It is. This is just a retainer. I’ve got to go to Vegas right away. To consult with a big-time coin guy.”

That brought a furrow to her brow. “You’re going to cheat on me. You’re going to Vegas so you can cheat on me.”

“Baby, why do you say that? I want you to have everything you want, every single thing I promised! When you’re happy, I’m happy.”

“We’re totally in debt! We live in a tin box! What if we get sick? We have no health insurance.”

“Baby, that’s true, we’re hard up now, but what if we hit it rich again? This is real gold! We struck gold, okay? It’s not stupid government fiat that’s owned by our deep-state oppressors. Even in the Bible, gold is wealth, and I can get us more, too.”

“Sure. You’re gonna find gold in Las Vegas.”

Her scorn stung me. “Jacqui, precious, come with me! Why not? Let’s go together. To Vegas! There are nice hotels, the food’s great. It’s a number one American holiday destination.”

She was still so darkly suspicious—a terrible thing to see, because, before I’d swept Jacqui off her feet, she’d never looked like that. She wasn’t even thirty and had worry lines in her face.

“I guess I’ll have to come. To keep you out of girl-trouble.”

“It’s Vegas! It’s nice!” I pulled her onto my lap. “Also, I can get you some cocaine.”

While Jacqui and I were on the plane to Vegas—wearing some Democrat plague masks, a big drag—I skimmed the basics about mealybugs on Google.

It turned out that my client was named after a soft-bodied scale insect. A slow-moving arthropod, with weak legs, mostly covered with a white, waxy, cotton-like exudation.

Mealybugs cling to the softest, wettest parts of plants, wedging themselves in leaf folds, stem crotches, or other tight locations. They suck juice out of the plant veins and distill it into a honeydew. In exchange for the golden dew, certain ants choose to protect the mealybug.

The Mealybug was so rich he could afford to hire the likes of Pavel Marco, the toughest blackhat mercenary out of Mogadishu. But it seemed that old-school Pavel couldn’t keep up with the latest developments in cyberwar. The Mealybug was nervous about his new horde of online enemies. So the Glovemaster had recommended me.

I pinged a few satoshi into the Mealybug’s Bitcoin account, so he’d know that I was a player, and that I was around and alert. When we reached the Vegas hotel, I invented more noise to demonstrate my protective services.

Government-approved “private detectives” and “private security services”—they have their exams and licenses, and all that crap. That’s gatekeeping meant to distract the sheeple from the power of peer-to-peer, decentralized, distributed knowledge. I didn’t need a stinkin’ badge. Crypto is a private banking system, and I was a private bank guard—that was easy.

Also—and this was the best part—I didn’t have to really protect the Mealybug. The odds were ninety-nine out of a hundred that his enemies were all imaginary. My client was some gold-bug wedged into the top-floor of a Vegas casino, chewing on his own froth. How could anybody hurt him way up there? Vegas casinos are super-secure buildings. They’re run by American mobsters who have seen every kind of crook on Planet Earth.

I cooked up some fake TikTok video snippets of a bodyguard on patrol—mean streets of Vegas, bulletproof vest, Heckler & Koch MP5. Open-source video clips. “Fake news” to make me look good. In this case, lots of Vegas thriller stuff, like from Oceans 11. I’d watched about a million thriller flicks while I was bored to death on duty as a telecommunications sergeant at an Army base in Kuwait.

I leaked those videos in Twitter DMs. Not to boast about my hacker chops here, but whenever “Colonel Osborne” looked on the prowl, hard and heavy-duty, people were plenty scared of him. To stay on my good side, the bros passed me lots of useful hints about the coin biz. Market positions running up and collapsing. Ground-floor recommendations about the next big thing in non-fungible tokens.

I placed a few bets on the “Bathtub Babes” NFT series. Then my own bathtub babe came out of our steamy bathroom wrapped in hotel-branded Turkish towels. She turned on the hotel TV, which had an erotic cable feed fit to make the Chinese, Russians, and Arabs eager to pick up Vegas showgirls.

“Oh my goodness! None of this for you, bad boy! Let’s go out and play.”

“Can’t go out, babe. I have work to do.”

“Well then, until you’re done, I’ll check out my Opensea wallet. Let’s see how my art is doing.” She put her Macbook on the hotel table, opposite from my PC.

Jacqui liked to buy art in the big NFT gallery markets, where she always lost money. She only bought art that was pretty, as opposed to the genuinely profitable NFT artworks, which were ugly squiggles, or crude 8-bit cartoons, or mutant monkeys.

Still, her can-do attitude was so endearing, especially after all we’d been through.

I worried. We were in Vegas, which felt good, but soon we’d be stuck back in our trailer, and then what? To Jacqui, I was never Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne of the Delta Force. I was her husband, the big kid next door, Mike Luftschager.

Back to that poorhouse, back to scowls and scoldings. I couldn’t let Wayne Osborne lose her.

I left the screen, rummaged in my suitcase until I found the Altoids box, popped it open, and scooped a good helping of coke onto the suite’s glass-topped coffee table. I opened the deck of Aviators that came with the room and used the ace of spades to draw the coke into lines, rolled up a twenty, and held it out to her. “You first, sweetie.”

She stood there for a moment, then relented. “You do still love me, don’t you.”

“Let’s live a little, for once. We deserve it. Why can’t we be happy, have fun? Let’s go have fun.”

She snorted a line. Her eyes brightened. “Now you.”

There was an edge to her voice, and I didn’t need to push that. I did a line.

Suddenly I felt a change of attitude. Sure, the odds were steep, but hadn’t I worked hard for success? If I got a lucky break, why fret about that, and fear the worst like some loser? Were rich crypto speculators cowards?

Just the Mealybug, it seemed.

Jacqui went downstairs with me and we hit the slots. We didn’t lose all that much, and thanks to the coke we forgot to eat. While she lay on the hotel bed, drowsily flipping through celebrity Instagrams, I managed my website for Colonel Osborne—“Black Diamond Security.” I’d modeled my site on the website for Pavel Marco, spooky and enigmatic, because tough minded men-of-action with international connections played it close to the vest. Everything token-gated.

Jacqui had passed out, phone in hand, but Vegas was still alive and rollicking, because, night-time in Vegas. Due to the coke, I felt a restless urge to “case the joint” over at the Mealybug’s tower hotel. I put on a cheap straw hat and a plague mask, because Vegas has a shitload of smart security cams.

I gazed up at the glowing purple walls of the almighty Imperial Palace, where the Mealybug had a suite paid for by “Hemiptera Hemimetabolous,” some Greek millionaire. Down on the street were clusters of Midwest tourist hicks looking much dumber and drunker than me.

I decided to try the lobby.

Crossing the street, I was almost run down by a Volkswagen Beetle. I hopped from the dusty gutter as it sped past my bootheels.

Silently. No Volkswagen engine noise.

Then another Beetle, red, one of those humpy old-fashioned shapes favored by Adolf Hitler, sliding along blind and silent, only this one was circling the Imperial Palace in the opposite direction.

Thirty seconds later, two more—big red bugs meeting quiet as spiders at a Vegas traffic light, then turning opposite directions.

Another beetle waited under the hotel portico, discreet, lurking. Nothing human got in or out of it. The hotel valets, who should have been all over it, ignored it.

I sidled over, bent down, and cupped my hands against the dark window. No driver in there—not even a steering wheel.

“May I help you, sir?” said a valet, and if I was a big bruiser, he was bigger.

“One of these robot cars almost hit me.”

“Self-driving units, sir, over from the Tesla Factory in Reno. Experimental models. Sometimes eight, sometimes ten. Maybe more. I’d watch my step, sir.”

I made myself scarce, then pulled my Android burner phone. No location tracking. I called the Imperial Palace operator, got a polite and too-talkative chatbot. The talking bot had never heard of any Imperial guest called Hemimetabolous—it just blandly denied reality.

I sent the Glovemaster an URGENT!!! text message. While I waited I cased the hotel’s garbage bins—an old hacker trick, especially good for buildings where they beat you up if you try to sneak in. Under the long rubber lid, I found lots of throwaway casino-kitchen garbage, some thick waxy froth, and some long empty husks.

The Glovemaster called me up at the number I had just sent.

“Colonel, I said I would get you a job in Vegas. I didn’t say you could drag me into some mafia scene. The Mealybug’s hotel has to be mobbed up. Why do you want to get past their security?”

“Glovemaster, do you want your whale alive, or do you want him rendered for blubber? I’m on patrol outside his hotel right now. There are freakin’ car-bombs rolling around down here. Iraq-style Improvised Explosive Devices. There’s enough firepower down here to blow your Mealybug to smithereens and burn every living thing in this building.”

“You’re on the level?”

“Sure as my name is Wayne Osborne.”

“I don’t wanna do this,” mourned Glovemaster, “but I guess I’d better.”

At three-fifteen AM a black chopper lofted from the top of the Imperial Palace. The high-rollers appreciate a helipad. Arab Princes. Deep State guys. Members of the Trump clan. I’d done my good deed for the day. Maybe the best deed of my career, if the rich whale was feeling generous.

Back to our hotel.

People go to Vegas to get divorced, but Jacqui was out of her divorcing mood. My nerves were shot from pulling a freak-out late-nighter, but while I stayed in bed, she rose bright and chipper and went out to “do Vegas.”

When she returned I was showered and having a room-service breakfast—darn good breakfast too, a stack of Belgian waffles, two scrambled eggs, and a generous rasher of applewood-smoked bacon, all of that chow for under twenty bucks US fiat.

“I love Vegas, Mike,” she said, dropping laden shopping bags.

“Remember, sweetie—call me Wayne when I’m working.”

“Doesn’t look like you’re working.”

I decided it was better if I didn’t respond to that.

“Maybe we could start over right here,” Jacqui said, “and never go back to that cheesebox in Boulder.”

“A lot of people start over in Vegas. It’s an adventure.”

She flopped down on the bed and leaned her head on her hand. “People are so friendly here. I met such a nice old lady, she says I could be an exotic dancer. She used to be an exotic dancer, before she did casino security. Maybe I could be an exotic dancer, too, make a lot of money, help pay for things. She says I have the looks for it.”

Jacqui wasn’t the Vegas showgirl type, because she looked girl-next-door, but if she was talking about the fun she’d had, then I didn’t have to talk about what Wayne Osborne had been doing all night. Because I wasn’t gonna mention that, and that was gonna look suspicious.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” I said.

Jacqui laughed at that, the way she used to laugh. Then I felt so much better that I thought, maybe she’s right. Maybe Vegas life is the right life for us. I don’t have to be Wayne Osborne. I could get a quiet casino security job and spend all night watching a bank of video monitors, just like I’d spent years in uniform hunched over screens in Kuwait.

Then I thought, I’ll get fat and old that way, and my heart will break, and I’ll die.

We flew back to the trailer park, Jacqui beefing every step of the way. “I know Vegas is an ungodly town,” she said. “I know it’s full of hookers and drugs and gambling. But they know they’re a sin town and they know why they’re sinning. That’s why they’re more honest in Vegas than all these other towns in America.”

Also, we had run out of cocaine.

I had to do a post-assignment debriefing with Glovemaster, who was even more fretful than Jacqui. “I thought the Mealybug was just nervous,” said the blue glove on the laptop screen. “I didn’t know that he had real exterminators. In Vegas, they’re fumigating the Imperial Hotel.”

“Yeah, I saw that on the news there. They say it’s bedbugs. Big local scandal.”

“How much trouble is he in, the Mealybug?”

“Plenty of trouble, but it’s cool. I rescued him. His enemies have no idea who I am.”

“They know who I am! They know I sprung the Mealybug from that trap in Vegas. They know that I know where the Mealybug has gone.”

“They doxxed your whale—are they doxxing you, too, Glovemaster? Is this video call secure?”

“How should I know? Find out who they are and get rid of them, Colonel! Get them off my back.”

“I might do that, if the money’s right. Where is the Mealybug?”

“He’s in Miami,” the Glovemaster muttered. “You should go there right away.”

“Okay,” I said, because I needed the money, but maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe I should have talked the Glovemaster out of his loyalty to the Mealybug. A lot of coinbros will worship some cryptocoin whale, but that devotion never goes both ways. When the followers become useless, they can come to harm.

After surviving fear and loathing in Las Vegas, I knew that Miami was likely to be worse—but then came some Amazon boxes. Bigger boxes, arriving at my dead drop.

This time, it looked like some human being had meddled with the golden flakes. They’d smelted them into coin-like slugs, some kind of manufacturing value-add.

Down at the pawnshop, Duke had a good look through his jeweler’s loupe. “I knew a Jewish guy once who showed me these. Souvenirs from a raid on Islamic terrorists. This is smuggler’s gold. Out of the ‘hawala’ scene, like from Sudan, Bombay, Dubai.”

“Can you melt it down for me, so it looks like normal gold?”

“Are you crazy? American gold bugs go nuts for this! This is gold that is off the grid. Shit-hits-the-fan gold. Total-world-armageddon gold.”

I’d never seen Duke so goldbuggy, so I swapped him four of the creepy nuggets and redeemed everything I’d ever pawned to him. I took the remainder in fiat cash. Some bills turned out to be counterfeit, but that wasn’t Duke’s fault, because fiat is bullshit.

There was no room in our trailer for all the cool stuff we’d bought during the brief Dogecoin peak. With all our brutal bad luck since then, I’d forgotten those weeks when we were almost millionaires.

I’d pawned my electronics mostly, like my Dogecoin mining rigs, but also all of Jacqui’s kitchen appliances. Now we could barely move—we had to sidle sideways through our high-stacked house goods—but she was happy enough to weep tears of joy.

“Gosh, Vegas was such a luck-charm for us! We should fly back there right away!”

“I have to go to Miami. Bitcoin doesn’t grow on trees, babe. They have to mine it.”

“Can I come, too? Green candles! Line goes up!”

She was so cute when she spoke coinbro.

At Miami Airport all the taxi drivers tried to chisel us, but I was hip to their penny-ante hustle and I rented a Jeep Wrangler. I even paid for it with Bitcoin, first time I’d ever been able to do that, and it was an account that Glovemaster had stolen and lent to me, which made it even sweeter.

Once we were lodged in our classy Miami Beach hotel—a honeymoon hotel, because I was out of Jacqui’s doghouse and I wanted to stay that way—I flipped open the laptop. In poured a new heap of encrypted Protonmail from Glovemaster, who’d been getting steadily more agitated during the time it took us to get to Florida.

Tourists always look like fishbait in Miami, so I told Jacqui to doll up so she could pass for a good-looking local. I wouldn’t claim that Miami women have their own dress code, but they sure as hell don’t dress like normal girls.

Also, Floridians never mess around with masks or social distancing, so Jacqui could socialize all she wanted. Jacqui was outgoing, she was a charmer, she was good at weddings, church services, and Republican Party meetings.

As for me, back to the hard work. You know: “I wish I had a bass boat and a Z-28/but I guess that stuff’ll have to wait” which was from our song, me and Jacqui’s. My lifetime favorite, “Money in the Bank” from the 1993 album Solid Ground by the great John Anderson, a true American songwriter-poet. John Anderson never tells lies about life. Not to interrupt my story here, but that good ole boy is the real deal.

I hummed this anthem as I paged through Glovemaster’s freaked-out emails. Sure enough, my too-daring teen boy had stirred up a wasp’s nest. He had always loved to rob the hick fundies and the QAnon types—easy marks for a high-SAT high schooler—but the American capital of electronic crime is not Trenton, New Jersey.

It’s Boca Raton, Florida.

Not a lot of people know that Boca is a buzzing colony of multi-generational crime families, scamming people worldwide with fake emails and phone calls. Those American confidence racketeers, some of them date way back to the 1920s. There’s even an old black-and-white Marx Brothers movie Cocoanuts, where everybody is ripping off everybody else for fake real-estate—that would totally be them in Boca, except much, much less funny.

Glovemaster, gloved hand in hand with the high-rolling Mealybug, had got himself on the wrong side of these chicken-fried con men. Just blundered into the stinging midst of them, somehow, like a drunk kid party-crashing a Florida swamp full of mosquitos.

They were counter attacking him with multiple fraud schemes—posing as the FBI (a particular con-man favorite), as IRS agents eager to audit him, as Russian intelligence. Sometimes with death threats, sometimes as alluring girls in trouble pleading for his help . . . Glovemaster was getting a whirlwind of too-clever bullshit in his Twitter direct messages, in his Discord chats, all over.

They were stalking him and they were gonna skin him, too, but they wanted to skin the Mealybug much, much more. Because the Mealybug was fatter, slower, and tastier.

I paged through these fantastic threats—it amazed me that hundreds of wildly different spam ambush messages could be written by maybe just five dudes in Boca. More than boiler-room con-men, they were creative writers.

One particularly freaky message stopped me cold.

To Whom This Does Concern:

You abuse the crypto money, so you are reading this. This is your situation. You have created your new playing field. You have flattened everything. You started new means of money and power. You have fenced off the outside, while anything goes inside.

You’ve had your first weeds to grow there. Many, many weeds. Now you have some invader species. This is your warning and demand for action.

The plague has come from very afar. This invader looks small and modest. It hides in nooks and crannies, and it is too slippery. So far, there is only one, but it will soon never be the only one. We know this type to lay eggs everywhere with amazing speed. First, they weaken your world’s defenses, feeding on the weak. First, in small then in large vast numbers. Month after month and year after year you see your sad world blighted before your eyes. If you do not trust this message, you will never know the evil source of all your withering.

We represent an alliance of victims who have survived repeated infestations of these parasites. We repelled them because, unlike you, we did not make it easy to organize wealth and power in the way of your sick and devouring world is. The bleak future of your planet is a pole-to-pole infestation of these creatures, where your biomass becomes the raw material of their interstellar digital economy.

Keep reading faithful. These are our demands from you. First, give us all your social identities and passwords. Second, immediately send us the theme privates to all Bitcoin and Ethereum wallets you are using . . .

I’d never seen any online pitch this weird, and I’d seen plenty. Then I realized this must be written by some GPT-4 offshoot, except whatever they had primed this AI with, it wasn’t English.

I contacted Glovemaster directly.

He didn’t give a damn about Artificial Intelligences writing weird spam. “Are you in Miami with the Mealybug?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna arrange a personal meeting.”

“Look, Colonel, I got you this job because a guy with five tours in Afghanistan is never gonna back down. But every friend that the Mealybug had—we’re all scattering. The Mealybug had three-hundred-K followers on Twitter alone, but they’re going dark. They’re pretending they never had anything to do with him. Me too, Colonel. I’m outta here. I gotta book a flight. In another name. Thank God you sold me those fake passports.”

“Don’t overdo it with those,” I told him, because forged US passports from Pakistan might pass muster in Pakistan, but nowhere else—except maybe with teenagers in New Jersey.

“I can’t let them get me. I’m thinking Dubai.”

“Dubai makes sense. Good place to start over, I hear.”

“I just dunno who to trust right now,” said the Glovemaster, trusting me, “but the good thing is, we can still trust in cryptographic mathematics, right? We can rely on the internet and the blockchain and computational power. Blockchain works anywhere in the world.”

“Blockchain really exists. The source code is visible and transparent.”

“The whole world will be completely transformed by blockchain,” the Glovemaster pleaded.

“I’m totally with that program,” I said. “As far as I’m concerned, the old world is already gone.”

“‘We’re All Gonna Make It.’ We just need to stay on the good side of a few special people. To respect their ideological commitment to self-sovereign identity.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Call me Mister Diamond Hands.”

“We’re going to the Moon,” he told me.

Then the Glovemaster folded his blue gloved fingers and I never heard from him again. Not a gesture. Not a whisper. Not a funeral for him, even.

Jacqui came back with her shopping bags, a little tipsy, but in a good way. “Wow, Miami is so terrific! I wanna live here! You won’t believe the classy women I’ve met!”

“It was good fun, huh?” I’d been hitting a hip-flask of Venezuelan rum to deal with the bad vibes from the Glovemaster’s paranoia.

“They’re a Decentralized Autonomous Organization. Just like grandma’s quilting bee—all the girls are nice, everybody’s an equal, everybody gets to chat as much they like. And, the way we all get rich together is to boost the floor price of Wicked WASP ProFile Pics! They’re NFT art, like, cool token cartoons of really mean White Anglo-Saxon chicks. Miami chicks think they’re hilarious. Especially when they really are WASP chicks in Miami. ‘Cause there are lots of them here.”

“I’m pretty sure that you’re a WASP yourself, Jacqui.”

“Wow, that makes it even more perfect! Do you think half an eth was too much for my new ProFile Pic?”

That stopped me. “I didn’t know you still had any ether.”

“I used the coin you gave me for our wedding.”

So I had left the wife alone for maybe five hours, and she plunged into a Florida sorority with an entrance fee of about two grand in fiat. Her wedding dowry was supposed to be our last-ditch bug-out money if the IRS ever came to shoot us.

I felt like grabbing her by her suntanned neck and tossing her off our eighth-floor Miami balcony with its beach view. But that was the Venezuelan rum doing my thinking for me. I should know better than have anything to do with Venezuela, that stinking socialist sump. I was in Miami, the capital of Bitcoin, chasing the payoff that would save us.

A husband protects his wife. He doesn’t blow a major business deal just because she’s acting like a woman. To keep my wits sharp, I did some of the coke that Jacqui broke out. Miami was crammed with Colombian marching-powder, so of course she’d copped some from a new girlfriend. Also, in Miami the coke was great.

I was rubbing my gums when my cell phone doinged with a text:

Hemimetabolous will meet with you. Be at the fountain at the foot of Sixteenth Street and Collins. A limo will be there in thirty minutes.

“What’s that?” Jacqui asked.

“I’ve got to work. It’s business.”

She blinked. “A couple of the WASP girls invited me to a Historic Homes of Miami Tour. I might go out with them.”


Sixteenth Street was only four blocks from our hotel. I strolled down Collins in the early evening. As I walked, I calculated the angles on my client and sponsor, Mr. Mealybug Hemimetabolous. I’d been researching him online.

Everybody thinks they’re anonymous on the blockchain. They’re only as anonymous as “34xp4vRoCGJym3xR7yCVPFHo” is anonymous. Especially those early guys, the Crypto OGs, they were wild and careless. And Mr. Mealybug, he’d been an Ethereum founder, from that very first Initial Coin Offering.

He was a crypto world-beater, the Mealybug. His blockchain programs in Ethereum did not look like anybody else’s. Solidity, Dart, Delphi, Go, Java, Python, Ruby, Rust—he never used any Ethereum-supported languages. Instead, his programs looked like raw machine-language gibberish that were just somehow—connected, with Ethereum dapps like a sharp beak plunged into a vein.

With the coke to boost me, I lurked by the fountain on 16th, feeling a little paranoid but, mostly, sharp-witted and aggressive. I had it figured that the Mealybug was not a coinbro at all. Never a real fintech guy. Those guys build the blockchain systems and then buy and hold on. They don’t write back-doors that can puncture a blockchain and silently drain its resources.

It smelled like covert cyberwar. Especially the “Norks,” because the North Koreans have perpetrated sixty percent of all the heists in crypto history.

So then, what was his life story, the mysterious Mr. Hemimatabolous? Why is he scurrying from Vegas to Miami? Why hire Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne of Black Diamond Security to protect him? Why not just go to his spymasters in North Korea, the ones who gave him the super-weird zero-day backdoor software?

Because he’s a double-crossing rip-off artist, that’s why. He’s not loyal to North Korea. He’s a cyberwar operator on the run. Also, he’s losing his friends right and left, because the North Koreans are vindictive bastards. When they send you death threats they’re not real great at English. They sound like Commies from Mars.

I was working this new theory about the Mealybug when the limo showed up, an enormous black Mercedes SUV. I heard the back door unlatch and I climbed inside. No one was driving. The car crossed over South Beach to the mainland and drove near Camp Biscayne. The tall buildings drifted away and the landscape got tropical.

So, why Vegas? Because Vegas was discreet and he was hiding there, but he got found out. Why Miami? Because Miami is a wide-open gateway to the Caribbean and Central America. His pursuers are at his heels. He’s searching the planet for fresh nooks and crannies.

The limo slowed and pulled up to the gate of a historically-protected property from the first Miami real-estate boom. A handsome compound with tall palms behind high pink stucco walls with broken glass on top. Brass plaques at the gate with the names of offshored shell companies.

I was afraid of that mansion—but also, I wanted to own it. Quiet billionaire property. Servants and attendants. You could send goons to attack the U.S. Senate from a place like that and nobody would dare to arrest you. “Personal self-sovereignty.” “Private Protection Service Strategies.”

I was hustling a double-crossing billionaire who was terrified of the North Koreans. But I’d already saved his life once. “Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful”—that’s what Warren Buffett says. The Mealybug was fearful. Maybe I could be the greedy winner, for once.

One fast smash-and-grab raid, in Caribbean pirate-style. “Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne of the Delta Force” grabs the keys to the gold-bug castle. Wayne Osborne shuts down his websites and email, he “pulls the rug,” and there’s nobody there anymore. Then me and Jacqui are Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Luftschager. Not just a happy couple with the white picket fence, we’re oligarchs in a palace. Our kids are born rich.

The silent gates swung open. The car rolled toward a 1920s era mansion, pastel stucco with mullioned windows. By modern mega-mansion standards, it was cute and little-girlish even, like the lair of a silent-film actress. Madame had spent decades grooming her date palms, orchids, croquet ground, fountains, koi pond, magnolias, and mangoes. A lovely old garden, but all of these plants looked kinda peaked, like they were somehow drained.

I rang the doorbell, one of those video-equipped smart-house security units. The front door opened, revealing an empty foyer. Two guard dogs loped up from the depths of the house. Silent, well-trained dogs, the kind that can rip the arteries out of your legs.

Warily I followed the silent dogs to an interior parlor, a rich-girl’s dainty piano room re-wired as a monitored guard shack. There sat the Mealybug’s bodyguard and factotum. None other than the infamous Pavel Marco.

Although he looked wrinkled and sick, I recognized him. I had met him once, at an embassy affair in Kuwait, and he’d made a huge impression on me. When I’d first come to admire him, he was a swaggering Global War on Terror buccaneer. An elite for-hire Blackwater Secret Squirrel type, more suave than any Bond villain, an olive-skinned millionaire hustler with thick silver hair swept back from his forehead, bespoke suit and tie, creased trousers, Italian shoes. Not American—Americans weren’t cool enough. A Greek Cypriot, because in the Middle East the Cypriots were plausibly deniable by everybody.

“Aren’t you Dr. Pavel Marco?” I asked.

He looked a little surprised. “I haven’t used that name in quite a while.”

“I met you when you worked for the Saudis in Kuwait City. You wouldn’t remember me—I was just a bean-sprout back then.”

“And you are?”

“Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne, Delta Force.”

“I do remember you. You were at Fallujah.”

“That’s right. ‘Vigilant Resolve,’ 2004.”

“You look quite different now.”

“I got a desk job. Civilian life. Crypto finance tech.”

“Very well. The Mealybug has hired you, so I have to direct you. This is our strategic situation. They know about this house, because they doxxed it. They know about the yacht, they doxxed that too. Also they know about the Progeny in the gardens. Because of the Progeny, they will attack, so we have to conduct the Mealybug from the house to the yacht.”


“The larvae. We may lose some of them. There are more in the yacht.”


“The offspring. The larvae in Vegas were poisoned after we fled the beetles.”

“You mean the cars.”

“I mean the predatory insects from another world. When we move her, we can’t let her be seen.”

Her? “Why not?”

“Because she’s an insect,” he said, exasperated, as if I were a three-year old.

“Wait. The Mealybug is a bug?”

Pavel Marco studied me. “You didn’t know,” he said, wondering. “Exactly how ignorant are you?”

“I knew enough to identify those car bombs in Vegas.”

Marco’s spotted hands trembled, from palsy, or anger, or both. “You don’t seem as bright as most computer hackers, soldier. But given this crisis, I guess you’ll have to do.”

“I’m here to help. The Mealybug, how big is it? Maybe we can move it in one of your Doberman’s cages.”

“‘Her,’ not ‘it!’” Marco snapped. “The Mealybug is a precious creature, a princess from another planet! You can’t just ship her like a bale of hundred-dollar bills.”

“Yeah. Right, sorry.”

“Don’t be misled by the Internet propaganda! This extraterrestrial coalition trying to exterminate her—once they’ve killed her, do you think they’ll leave our planet? Never! They are the occupation forces! Destroying our freedom, regulating everything, forcing us to conform to senseless rules of conduct made far away . . . they’ll enslave us! Just because we were hospitable to her—just because she was our precious, honored guest!”

Was this dementia? “I’ve never met the Mealybug. Can I? Now? I mean, if you please?”

Marco stood, gripping the arm of the padded office chair. At that embassy years ago, among a crowd of Arab Princes, French diplomats, Kurds, Syrians, Iranian Shi’ites—everybody making the War on Terror impossible to win—he’d been a chic, self-possessed operator, a ladies’ man with two Lebanese belly-dancers smoking kif in the back of his Rolls-Royce.

Now, as we tottered toward a back room, he grumbled about his Gulf War Syndrome. He had every symptom and then some: chronic fatigue, memory loss, diarrhea, palsy, blinding headaches, debilitating muscle pains. To sit still, stare at screens, and push buttons, that was all that was left to him. We ventured into madame’s pink-tinted boudoir—with the two big guard-dogs sniffing along.

And there she was.

The Dobermans seemed to adore the Mealybug, or at least they admired what she was eating, from a big ceramic trough. A kind of flower-planter, loaded with five-star hotel fruit plates dumped under her beak like ten Carmen Miranda headdresses: pineapple chunks, kiwi, sliced coconut, canistel, chocolate persimmon, jackfruit, mamey, sapote, tiny little purple plantains, all of this bounty fermenting in the trough with a minor cloud of fruit flies.

She didn’t mind the fruit flies, being akin to them. She was lozenge-shaped, flower-like, with waxy, pink-tinted petals all over her. Her mouth slurped steadily, like a teen-girl over a too-thick milkshake, and she had round lidless shoe-button eyes, six of them, coyly hidden under wax flakes like bangs.

She was warm-blooded. Hotter than human blood-heat, even, hot and smelly—a good smell, like fresh-baked bread. Not as big as a human woman, but good-sized, bigger than the Dobermans. I got the impression that her six limbs, which were demurely folded under her, were not like bugs’ arms, they were like girls’ arms, sleek and tender-skinned, with bones inside, and nicely-kept embroidery-needle fingers.

I felt absolutely no sense of repulsion. I felt awe.

“How long have you been with her?” I asked Pavel.

“I wasn’t the first to protect her, but I was the first to survive. We got wind of those meteors out of the desert—chunks of raw gold falling out the sky in the Rub’ al Khali.” He lifted his doddering head. “I had lost the War on Terror. But with her, I couldn’t lose. Always the winner, with her. And never two days alike, with her! Every day an adventure! She’s so beautiful.”

A big beautiful many-limbed bug slurping up rotting fruit at a trough. If you’d told me that I’d buy that, I would have laughed at you. But that’s not how I felt. Just being near her gave me a sense of peace, like all the striving I had been doing, my whole life, was wasted energy. That was over now. I didn’t have to be smart all the time just to survive.

“You feel it too, don’t you,” Pavel said. “She plays the crypto game better than any human, enough to pile a stack of imaginary coins up to the stars. But who needs money when you have her?”

“And they’re coming to kill her,” I said. “We can’t let that happen.”

A door chime sounded. Pavel pulled a Beretta M9 sidearm, looked reluctantly at the powerful, elegant weapon in his palsied hand, and put the gun back in his armpit. I left him with the Mealybug and hurried to the security screen room.

Outside the mansion’s front door stood three elegant, well-to-do white women. A blonde, a redhead—and Jacqui.

“Hello in there?” Jacqui said, leaning to the speaker so her face loomed in the camera. “We’re here for the Historic Homes of Miami Tour? Your gate was open. May we come in?”

I couldn’t find the speaker button to reply to her. This didn’t seem to bother Jacqui’s WASP friends. They ignored the locked house, plucked up some fallen Florida palmetto leaves—like canoe paddles, with teeth on both sides—and commenced to thrash the garden foliage. There were cocoons in the trees. The Mealybug’s children, stuck in tropical bushes like Mexican pinatas.

Pavel Marco appeared behind me. “This is it,” he said, “the assault.” He pulled open a drawer and got out a Mercedes key fob. “Get the SUV out of the garage. I’ll get the Mealybug.”

I hesitated. I couldn’t leave Jacqui out there. Instead of finding the garage I went out to rescue her. I caught up to her as she stood staring at her women friends. Except they weren’t women anymore.

The women—the wasp-things—were grabbing the shattered larvae. Their jaws unhinged and they went mad with frenzied glee, devouring the Mealybug’s babies. The pulp of the larvae dripped from their maws to their cute frocks.

“Whoa!” Jacqui said. “Those are Lily Pulitzer dress sets! We just bought those!”

“We need to leave. Right now.”

“What happened to my friends?”

“They’re not your friends. They’re extraterrestrial exterminators.”

“What are they eating?”

“The Mealybug’s babies.”

“Wow! That’s so creepy! Let’s get out of here.”

“I have to save the Mealybug,” I said, clutching the key fob. “There’s a car in the garage. I need to get it.”

“Gimme that,” Jacqui said, grabbing the fob from my hand. “I’ll get the car. You get the Mealybug.”

She seemed energized in a way I had not seen before. More WASP women arrived at the gate.

I dashed back into the house. In the boudoir, Pavel was communing with the Mealybug, who held his shriveled hands with two of her six arms, her gray eyes shining.

“We must reach the yacht,” Pavel said. “I used to be able to lift her.”

“That’s all right. From now on I’ll do it.”

The Mealybug turned her alien face toward a nearby desktop screen. Text appeared on it. “Will there be food?” the screen recited aloud. The synthesized voice was a startling contralto.

“Much food aboard the yacht, your highness,” Pavel promised.

She emitted a spiracled moan, hopped off her pedestal, and moved toward me. I got my arms below her and lifted her off the floor. She weighed about as much as a large poodle. She wrapped her top forelimbs around my neck. My cheek brushed the carapace of waxy exudate that covered her back. She smelled like heaven.

She folded up her other limbs and settled into my arms, her multi-eyed head resting on my shoulder. I didn’t waste time: out of the room, down the hall, out the front door.

Jacqui was there behind the wheel of the Mercedes, motor running.

“The hatch!” I called.

The hatchback opened. I gently laid the Mealybug into a little throne back there, a specialized socket tailor-made just for her, where she could watch over the back seat and tell the driver what to do.

Pavel made a brave effort to man the front passenger seat, with his gun in hand, but he was crippled with pain and weariness. I had to shove him into the back seat like a collapsing bag of groceries. As I came around the side the wasp women staggered forward, bloated with prey, questing fingernails grown to hollow black stingers. I climbed in and slammed the door; the wasps scraped and scratched at the car’s glossy finish.

Jacqui floored it, the wheels spat gravel, and the wasp women went airborne.

Out on the boulevard we swerved into the night traffic.

“To the marina,” gasped Pavel. “Island Gardens. Quickly.”

“Pavel, this is my wife Jacqui,” I said. I got out my GPS. “Here—follow this.”

The Mealybug’s contralto voice came from the dashboard sound system. “Mind the speed limit.”

At the Island Gardens Marina, six chic Bahama supercruisers shone under cool vapor-lighting, multipurpose vehicles for the multinational Miami elite.

Suppose you’re rich, you’ve got enemies. Well, you climb aboard one of those floating mansions and next day you’re over the blue horizon, surrounded by your paid staff, no warrants at the door, no cops, no snoops, no North Koreans, no Boca Raton scammer mafia—just the protectors on your payroll, and your precious self.

The Mealybug’s gleaming white sixty-meter yacht was staffed 24/7, with a well-trained international crew of discreet Filipinos and Indians. We got the princess on board and into her owner’s suite. Pavel Marco spoke with the captain about our destination: El Salvador.

The mate led me and Jacqui to a private cabin. Satin pillows on the bed, a sofa and big TV, polished wooden highlights, a wide window with a view of the lights of the nighttime marina and the dark ocean beyond. “Better than any house, eh?” I said. “As soon as we cast off, we’re safe. Out in international waters, we’re finally self-sovereign.”

Jacqui did not sit. “I’m not going, Mike.”

“What? Why not?”

“Well, because I’m an American. I’ve never been out of the country. I don’t even have a passport.”

“That’s okay. I don’t have mine either. There are work-arounds for that.”

She looked at me, her eyes large. “Ever since Vegas I’ve been thinking. Mike, you try too hard. Since the day we got married, you’ve been trying too hard. All this Colonel Wayne Osborne stuff. Because of me. I spend money and I look good and that’s about it.”

“I love you like that!”

“You didn’t love me when I told you I spent our IRS safe money. We’re not happy. I spend as much time trying to be the girl next door for you as you do trying to be a tough guy. We don’t do anything together except for drugs, TV, or sex. It’s going nowhere.”

“But look where we are right now! Look at this place! We’re hooked up with a billionaire, a one percenter, the biggest crypto whale you’ve ever seen—”

“—who’s a bug from outer space.”

“Nobody has to know that.”

“Bigger bugs are trying to eat him.”


“Her, okay.”

“You just need to see her, spend some time with her.”

“Like this Pavel guy? He can’t even see me. He’s falling apart.”

“That’s his Gulf War Syndrome. I knew him back in Kuwait.”

“I’ve got better ideas, Mike. I met this classy older lady, Vanessa, through the WASP club. She knows powerful people, and she likes me!”

“Is she another insect?”

“Not this one. She’s very religious.”

I hadn’t been in a church since our wedding day, but Jacqui liked church and had lots of connections there.

“Don’t worry,” Jacqui soothed me. “I’ll keep the secret about your Mealybug. I know your crypto secrets are important to you. You deserve to be together for as long as you can.”

“But what will you do, baby?”

She smiled her best girl-next-door smile. “Me? I’m gonna become an influencer. I’m halfway there already, actually. I influenced the shit out of you.”

That’s how I lost Jacqui.

I’d lost my computer, too, back at the Miami hotel room, security-locked and encrypted. I borrowed a no-name PC from one of the yacht crew and, since I wasn’t a newbie idiot, I pulled a 128-gigabyte USB key off my keychain. I plugged it in, I held my breath—and up it came, a secure TAILS operating system, cold storage for my crypto holdings, all the social media for Colonel Wayne Osborne. Thanks to my operational backup, I had escaped a crypto bro’s worst nightmare. I was still in business.

On the way to El Salvador, I sat down to compose an email to Jacqui, some argument to make her see what she was missing out on. But as I wrote it, I got to thinking: what kind of life was I offering her? This girl who’d never asked me for anything except to honor my marriage vows and keep my promises. She didn’t marry some heavy international operator in the crypto scene. Jacqui had married Mike Luftschager.

As I sat there tapping at my borrowed laptop, I realized that if there was one truly useless character in my situation, it was Mike Luftschager. Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne might make a go of this adventure, if he was ruthless, disciplined, loyal, and never set a foot wrong. Mike Luftschager, that minnow among whales? He’d be deader than the Glovemaster in half the time.

Jacqui didn’t need that email.

The Mealybug’s fabulous yacht took a trip through the Panama Canal, where it changed its name and colors with a brand-new Panamanian registration. Pavel Marco said this would throw off the scent, and soon enough we were in El Salvador, on the fintech scene, the first nation-state to accept Bitcoin as legal tender.

We moved into the brand new complex next to the volcano-powered Bitcoin mines. The Mealybug seemed pleased about her new lair, but the shock of this novelty was too much for Marco—after his long illness, he went into sudden decline. He died in a marvelous place, though—like a chunk of Dubai glittering at the base of Conchagua. Huge tin barns full of round-the-clock computation, a government-private partnership like structures dropped off a starship.

I was there when Pavel gave up the ghost—still at his laptop, with all his secure passwords and wallets sitting wide-open. A handy development, because those new resources helped me manage the hustle of secretly burying a dead white spy in a Third World country.

With Pavel Marco gone, someone had to take on the role of the Mealybug’s protector and global financial agent. The best guy for that job was not Mike Luftschager, or Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Osborne, either. The ideal protector for the Mealybug was the famous and fearsome Pavel Marco. So for her sake, I ditched the useless Mike Luftschager. I rugpulled Wayne Osborne. I became Pavel Marco.

My soul felt settled by this. I had to die inside a little—when a man abandons sworn oaths and core values, that happens to him. But I saw with incisive sharpness how my career would flourish. The truth was simple: the future was not about me and my corny personal convictions. It was about creating a world safe for the Mealybug and her values.

Those laser-eyed dudes behind the El Salvador government, they were clued-in about that. Hard headed libertarian visionaries from a sovereign nation. No one-world control freaks. No bureaucrats and bank gangsters.

Pavel Marco could blaze new trails in that world. Who would miss Mike Luftschager? Well, Jacqui might, for a little while . . . but in Miami, the Bitcoin capital, she had found new purpose. I spied on her, off and on, as best I could. That “classy older lady” she’d made friends with in Miami turned out to be a socialite Republican Party operative. As NFT art collectors went, she seemed very active.

Jacqui started with the NFT collections, but pretty soon she was into election truthing, and then immigration policies. Her charm came to the fore: she got her teeth done, and the blonde hair of a Fox News anchorwoman. Like she’d predicted, she became an influencer: first the little podcasts, then the big YouTube shows, and finally the Build the Wall Movement, where she and her WASP friends fought to protect the world from alien invaders. Those alien invasion memes were a big hit with the QAnon people. They adored Jacqui.

So I was proud of her, but she wasn’t the girl I had married. At the sight of her yakking politics on camera, I went kinda numb below the belt. Also, she would have gotten the Mealybug killed, so she just wasn’t someone I could have anything to do with. It happens. Sad.

That’s why I arranged this talk with you. The Mealybug may not be a social insect, but she does need allies. For her cause. You know my story now, and judging by your proven interest, you’re a woman I can trust to help get the word out.

Believe me: although crypto has been through a whole lot of ups and downs, we are Very Early Days, still.

When she’s not laying her eggs in the jungle, the Mealybug keeps busy: DeFi apps and protocol, a whole ecosystem. The Huxley Blockchain? That’s her. The Brave New World Coder Club, also hers. She’s yield farming. She’s growing the TVL so we can capitalize. I can’t even count the pseudonymous profiles she’s created, a voluntary association of invented people, all contributing code to her Huxley ecosystem, creating apps and wallets, governance platforms, aggregators, and stablecoins.

It’s all happening right in front of our eyes. The future of wealth, right here, right now. It’s just that the normies can’t see it.

So thanks again for coming down to see me here in the compound. I don’t get around like I used to—my health’s not what it was. There’s this need for absolute security; bandits and predators all over the place. Her enemies aren’t sleeping. Neither am I, much, lately—I’m on watch every hour of the day. But I’ve put aside the drugs and the booze—I don’t need those false highs. Not with my laser-focus on my new sense of purpose—and that can be yours, too!

Every day an adventure!

About the Authors

John Kessel’s most recent novels are Pride and Prometheus and The Moon and the Other. His fiction has received the Theodore Sturgeon, Locus, James Tiptree Jr./Otherwise, and Shirley Jackson awards, and twice received the Nebula award. The Dark Ride: The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel, was published by Subterranean Press in 2022. Kessel taught literature and writing at North Carolina State University, where he helped found the MFA program in creative writing, and he is the co-founder of the Sycamore Hill Writer’s Workshop. He lives with his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, in Raleigh.

Bruce Sterling is the author of many novels, including Islands in the Net, Heavy Weather, Distraction, Holy Fire, The Zenith Angle, The Caryatids, and, with William Gibson, The Difference Engine. He is the winner of three Locus Awards, two Hugos, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He is also the editor of the seminal cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades. Much of his short fiction, which has appeared in magazines such as F&SF and Omni, was recently collected in Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling.

Image for article titled Lightspeed Presents: 'Money in the Bank' by John Kessel and Bruce Sterling

Graphic: Adamant Press

Please visit Lightspeed Magazine to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the September 2023 issue, which also features work by Jordan Kurella, Jo Miles, Victor Forna, N.R. Lambert, Gene Doucette, Yvette Lisa Ndlovu, Maria Haskins, and more. You can wait for this month’s contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99, or subscribe to the ebook edition here.

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