by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

"100k" The smaller man hands Valencia the pluggable GPU.

"100k, like mined, or you mean a fresh algo." Valencia sneers. He takes the GPU with one hand, and flourishes three black vapes from an inside pocket.

"It's cool man, I already got minNet™ validation on the first 10k, all mined out man."

"It will take the blockchain a week to validate the first 100k of a fresh algo, if I drop this on my Thimble™. I'll keep the GPU, however."

"That's fine, you're the boss" The smaller man holds his hands up.. "I can probably score another GPU in a few days."

He wipes his nose on his sleeve, and shrinks. "Please, man. It's good, it'll validate in just a few minutes.. work' ors been done."

Valencia holds the three small vapes up, begins to hand them over, then pulls back. "Three now, and the rest when the coins finish mining out, make 'em last." A large smile creeps across the face of the smaller man, relieved, he accepts the three vapes in his open palms. "After this, man - you gotta start paying in local scrip or in solid goods."

"I will, man."

"Really, It's a pain in the ass moving algo. I gotta buy product, getit shipped - all that, and the family isn't keen on crypto."

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Chapter 22. [UNEDITED]

Jesse peeks his head up over the roof ledge from the top of the ladder. A red oily stain running down the wall of the nearby building ledge helps him spot the body of the sniper, who's white armored hand sticks out over the edge. He listens. He looks down and waves to Tony, who starts the climb up. Jesse steps up on the roof and stands on his toes to peek over the concrete chimney and short wall to spot the bleeding body of the first gunman. Even at a distance of several meters, the cloud of flies is appreciable, crawling over the corpse, lined up to drink at the congealed pool around him. He makes a face, pulls his revolver from his pocket and checks the ammunition.

"A little help?" Tony whispers from the ladder, fighting with the bulky shield on the device to get it up and over the looped top of the ladder.

"Oh, yeah." Jesse drops the sidearm into his pocket again and scrambles to grab the device and give Tony a hand up.

Once Tony is standing, Jesse hands him the shield back and they both walk to the chimney to get a closer look.

The body stares up at the sky, thousands of flies crawling over his face and twisted frame, his open mouth slowly drips clots of blood into the syrupy pool. His white on white armor smeared with brownish red, the footprints of thousands of tiny feasting flies.

"I wish we could bury him."

Tony clears his throat and looks at the gun. He hands it to Jesse, "All you buddy."

"Me?" Jesse takes the gun. "Should I just toss it on him?"

Tony crosses his arms "You wanna get your hands dirty, you gotta do all the messy jobs. It's gotta be believable.", but then makes a little gesture for Jesse to get a move on, and re-folds his arms.

Jesse takes a few steps, and stops. "Should we say something?"

"We don't have time, Jess. Plus, what are you gonna say? He was a good hired hitman? Deep down in his heart he probably was a great guy?" Tony sighs. "He was sent to kill you, just drop the gun and let's go."

Jesse steps over the low wall and takes a few more steps, looking at the gun. Listening to the horde of flies. "They'll know if it's in the old blood."

"What do you mean?" Tony leans over to see the body better.

"The blood's all thick and gross.. it won't stain right and they'll get suspicious."

"Well, then what do you want to do?"

Jesse hefts the device in his hands for a second, and smashes the shield against the brick behind him, pushes hard to mar the surface. "It got damaged a little, see? Scratched right across the visor." Then he takes a kerchief from his pocket and wipes the device down, and pitches it across the roof to the far corner. "And when he got attacked, he pitched it." He folds the kerchief pointedly and stuffs it back in his pocket.

Tony chuckles. "Except you forgot the bracelet."

Jesse stomps his foot, "Damn!" Taking a deep breath he skirts the body, walks over to the device and pulls out a knife. He cuts the bracelet, which causes a small red point of heat in the base of the gun to begin burning through from the inside, "Good call on the bracelet earlier!" He turns around laughing, rolling it around in his hand as a little stream of smoke eases up behind him. "It just burned the gun near the base. I hope it didn't jack your mods."

"Probably not, most of my stuff is further along the barrel, not in the base."

Jesse smiles, looks at the bracelet, and starts walking back to Tony. His smile fades. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Turning, he looks at the bracelet again and then at the body.

"One more thing?" Tony looks a little more concerned this time, Jesse pleads with his eyes.

Tony raises an eyebrow. "You gotta."

Jesse swears under his breath, takes a few deep breaths, holds the last and rushes in to slip the bracelet onto the gunman's hand.The flies swarm into the air when he disturbs them, rushing all over the body, and now him.. crawling on his face, down his shirt and over his arms the wings a roar. He takes a few tries to clasp the bracelet, and drops the hand into the sticky pool. His face turning bright red, he staggers back several meters before plopping down on his backside, his breath bursting out with a rush, swatting all around himself and spitting.

Tony walks around the edge of the building and helps him up, pulling a small plastic HydroTex™ (Whet your Whistle!®) packet from his pocket, and tears the corner. "You might want to wash off a little." Jesse pulls out his kerchief and wets it, scrubbing his face and hands, behind his ears. "Bleah!" he shivers a little.\

Tony pats him on the back, "All done little buddy, let's go home. We have a nice long walk ahead of us."

Jesse looks up at him and smiles, "I think I could use a little walk."

Climbing down, they head further along their original route, walking several more blocks before turning into a barrio on a street heading back toward town. The properties here are surrounded with high walls of brick and stone, with occasional wrought iron fences, but almost all topped with broken glass bottles, or razor wire. Through the occasional fencing, many have gardens and fruit trees inside, little islands down the rough dirt road. If it had ever been paved, it hasn't been repaved in many decades, the packed parched dirt lined on both sides with defacto trails through the scrub.

Jesse runs his hand on the wall as they walk, "Quite a few people around here." He puts his hands in his pokets and strolls along.

"Yeah, but I get a definite 'leave us alone' vibe."

Up ahead, as the road arcs up a lazy hill toward a copse of trees, the see a tiny older woman unlock her gate on the opposite side of the street up a ways and begin dragging a large refrigerator through the opening on an old cart. Once through, she relocks the gate and begins dragging the thing slowly up the hill, pulling as hard as she can. While they continue walking toward her, she stops every few meters or so, and pauses to wipe her forehead with the white towel draped around her shoulders. She rubs her back occasionally, and tugs at the brace she wears under her shirt that keeps her posture stiff.

Tony perks up a little, and swats at Jessie. "Is that an Everfrost?"

Jesse tries to see, "I really wouldn't know one. They good?"

Tony puffs out his cheeks, and nods "Woah, yeah. Built to be repaired, good old hardware."

Jesse peaks an eyebrow. "Nice."

"My parents had one, I'd love to get a look at it."

Trotting forward, Tony stops about ten meters back from the woman and cups his hand to his mouth. "Excuse me."

The woman appears startled and begins to look around. "Wha?"

"Ma'am, excuse me" Tony stays back. Jesse trots up, but stops next to Tony as well, pulls his hands out of his pockets

The woman, pulling the cart from the front stops and peers back around the fridge. A look of shock registers on her darkly tanned face. She sees the two men "No trouble! I don't want any trouble." She redoubles her pulling, alternating with one hand waving away the trouble.

"Ma'am, we just want to talk about your EverFrost"

"Tha frigerator?" She stops again. She pants with her hands on her legs, wipes her face again, and points to it "He's broke."

"Does it work?" Tony takes a few steps forward, she doesn't react.

"Does he look like he work?"

"My parents had the same kind when I was a kid, it's easy to fix. Most of the time, it's just the microcontroller." A few more steps.

"My Harry, mayherestinpeace, he swapped the chip a few years ago. It won't hold gas."

"Do you mind if we look at it? We might be able to fix it for you."

The tiny woman stops pulling, she points behind her "If you drag it up the hill there, I don't care what you do with him."

"What if we can fix it?"

"Then you keep him. I don't have money, so I can't pay you."

Tony smiles, "That's ok. Maybe you could make us dinner."

She laughs, a great big smile. "You fix him, the frigerator, and I'll make you dinner. Good luck with that!"

Tony looks at the EverFrost™ and purses his lips. "Can we borrow your cart?" He squints at the refridgerator and runs his hand along the lines of the back.

"Sure, boys. Here." She stands back and hands him the handle of the cart. "As long as someone takes it away, I'm happy. " One hand on her hip she waves back toward the house with the other holding the scarf, as if she were smacking someone on the head. "Petra is too lazy, she won't take him up to the dump." She gestures back up the hill.

Tony grabs the handle, and nods. "Thanks..." he trails off

"Sophia" she pats him on the arm.

"Sophia. Thanks, Sophia. We'll see what can do for you."

"Anything that's easier for my poor back." She leans back and puts her hands on the brace, she looks knowingly at Jesse, points at him. "You come ring the bell, and I'll get you some food if you fix it."

Jesse smiles, glancing at Tony, "You, ah, wouldn't happen to have coffee would you?"

"I don't drink it, but we might have some around from Harry – he loved his coffee in the morning."

She starts heading back down the hill one hand bracing her back, "either way, you made my life a little easier today. You're good boys." She wipes her face and waves goodbye with the scarf, not looking back.

Tony smiles and lugs the cart up the hill, his face beaming.

Jesse steps along next to him ... "So, dies that count as a handman gig?"

Tony shows a toothy grin, "And a good profit when we fix it."

"If we can fix it." Jesse smacks the cracked red paint, "Wow this thing is thick."

"It's actually designed for service life." Tony switches arms pulling up the hill. "Everfrost™ originally designed these to be maintainable over efficient, but they didn't scrimp on insulation.. so it's a bit... " he looks around for the word, " 'thick'".

Jesse chuckles, "Chunky. I mean it looks like an antique car."

"Well, it'll run forever if we can find out what went wrong."

"Do you think we can find dox on it?"

Tony switches hands again, turns to pull it backwards turning to Jesse. "Won't need to, it should have all the schematics, dox, and diagrams inside."

Jesse shrugs, "Nice. So should be easy?"

"And then we'll have some supplies without blowing through our cash"

Jesse shakes his head, "She's probably only expect two of us for one meal."

"We'll have to see."

"So," Jesse kicks a small rock and looks off, " you think bartering is really a good idea? I mean, we got a lot of mouths to feed.. and we need supplies that most people probably don't have. That'll take hard currency."

Tony raises and eyebrow and shrugs, switching arms again. "I dunno. I think it'll be fine. If we're gonna be the crew for the little guy, then we gotta give them a fair shake. " Waving around at all the buildings, "out here, that's gonna be food and barter goods, possibly fuel."

They walk along in silence for a while, only the squeaking of the wheels, which pauses when Tony switches hands. Near the top, he stops.

"Hm?" Jesse doesn't stop for a few seconds, lost in thought.

"You, ah..." offering Jesse at the handle.

"Oh, yeah sure." Jesse scurries back and grabs the handle, pulling.

Tony massages his wrists, and the continue on.

"Maybe," Jesse says after a while, "we could have Valencia sell off the supplies we get in surplus or duplicates."

Tony's eyebrows rise, "Hmm.. maybe. Someone, at any rate. Almost another side business, selling the stuff we get in trade."

At the top of the hill, they can see the dump in a washout off to the left. Trash, rusted appliances and vehicles stuff the small ravine, weaving its way down to a creekbed hidden by weeds.

"It's a shame when people just toss stuff like that." Jesse nods at the mess with his head while switching hands near the top of the hill.

"Yeah, so many beautiful machines." Tony steps over and looks down the washout. "They don't know how to fix 'em – so they just toss 'em"

Jesse begins to struggle less as they top the hill. "Assuming you even can fix them anymore. So many embedded chips, or printed into the frame there isn't a good way to fix them without just replacing it."

Tony scratches his scruffy chin. "Not like this thing. Beautiful," running his hand over the coils on the back, " easily repaired, maintainable, will last a lifetime."

"And no profit in it" stabbing the point into the air with a finger. "They can't make money on this bad boy, when are you going to buy a new one."

Tony nods, "They could always sell parts"

Jesse smirks, "Which can be made by someone else for less money. Planned obscolescence is the only way they can stay in business".

As the slope of the hill eases, Jesse's burden eases and they pick the pace up a little.

Jesse looks over at Tony, "I've heard of the company, but I can't say I remember them makign anything like this."

Tony shrugs, "They don't anymore. I think they built a few models along this line when my parents were young, and the phased them out once they had built up a reputation for reliability." He smiles," Talk about playing the long game – 30 years of incredible products, just to phase them out and build standard disposable crap covered in DRM."

Jesse bobs his head back and forth, weighing the idea. "Maybe it was more a gradual shift – gotta make money, so I imagine it was more like 30 years of small compromises."

They walk along for a long time in silence after this, occasionally stopping to switch pulling the load. The villa-style homesteads thin out to more overgrown scrap and industrial buildings as they near their new home. The squeaky cart eeks along as they come to the ramp in the back loading dock by the supplies, the truck parked by the bay.

Tony runs his hands over the bullet holes in the truck door as Jesse pulls the refrigerator up the ramp. "Jess?"

Grunting, "Yeah?" pulling on the cart with both hands to get it up the ramp. "What?" a little annoyed.

"Let's keep an eye out for those kinds of compromises?"

Finally up and on the floor, Jesse leans on the refrigerator, "Sure thing Tony."


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