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The
QWERTY MAN

Type. Swipe. Don’t believe the hype.

Dan Savery Raz















The QWERTY MAN

Copyright © 2017 by Dan Savery Raz

All rights reserved.

The author owns the copyright of this work.

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.

Enquiries should be addressed to:

1984 Books

18 Weisel St

Tel Aviv

Israel

www.1984-books.com

FIRST EDITION 2017

ISBN 9781549774942





Contents











For Shiri, my earth, Hila, my moon, and Maya, my stars.








I have read and agree to accept all the terms and conditions of installing Qwertex on my device and will abide by the rules and regulations set forth, from now until the end of my days, so help me God.








Who knows? Not me,

We never lost control.

You’re face to face

With the man who sold the world.


‘The Man Who Sold the World’, David Bowie, 1970






Prologue

Silicon Valley, San Francisco, July 4, 2010


A simple zip file of JavaScript code was worth the entire earth. For within this compressed software file, these cryptic lines of apparent gibberish, lay the key to unlock every keyboard on every device in the world. Not by chance, this file was in the possession of a young, lone computer programmer named Zach Webman, who was working late at Google on Independence Day night. Most of the lights were switched off, so Zach was sitting in semi-darkness on the fifth floor of the ‘campus’ surrounded by rows of empty computer desks. The building was silent except for the dull monotone hum of a thousand unattended machines. The open-plan office, deliberately designed to give a feeling of space, had the opposite effect on Zach, who often felt suffocated and that somebody somewhere was watching him.

The desk next to Zach was a mess of empty branded paper coffee cups, unused multi-coloured post-it notes and stress-release balls. Tropical plants like the red-and-yellow heliconia, whose natural habitat was the Amazon rainforest, were spiraling up the occasional pillar. The very latest LED screens, presenting real-time data on the walls, were juxtaposed with underground New York warehouse art, Japanese dark-wood designer furniture, giant beanbags and ‘chill-out’ areas. Yet, all this was now empty, thanks to an expensive company party being held on a rooftop overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Geeks have better things to do than watch fireworks, such as hacking into the largest database known to man. Zach had been leading a team of Google developers who were experimenting with keyboard detection technology that could intercept users’ devices. The team had done all the hard work for him, now all the code was waiting there in a repository and ready to be copied, uglified and merged with a new secret branch of robust code that Zach had written and kept secret. At 22:00, with only a cleaner going round with a vacuum and a half-asleep security guard at reception in the building, Zach had the privacy and opportunity to get to work.

He sipped his now cold black coffee from a soggy paper cup then typed the username and password to enter the company’s central code repository. The hum of the cleaner’s vacuum seemed to be getting louder and louder, making Zach edgy. But the cleaner was actually moving further away, almost one hundred metres from Zach, slowly exiting the office into the corridor. It did cross Zach’s mind that this cleaner, a seemingly innocent middle-aged woman, was totally oblivious to the fact she was present at the most audacious computer hack ever attempted.

After logging into the Google development environment, Zach found it was surprisingly easy to copy the keyboard detection code into a nameless folder. During the copying, Zach repeatedly paced up and down, occasionally checking the corridor to see if anyone was coming. But no one did. By 23.34 he received a pop-up message informing him that the code had been copied successfully. He then cleared the system’s history so the copying wasn’t recorded.

Then at 23.48 Zach hacked into a much bigger database, the central user database. It may have been down to the overdose of caffeine, the fact he hadn’t slept for three nights or the realisation that he was about to change his life in a click, but Zach’s heart was racing. He was sweating profusely and his stomach was doing somersaults.

This database was home to over two billion account details including names, addresses, previous addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, alternative phone numbers, occupations, marital status, most-viewed websites, most-viewed pages, most-bought items, IP addresses, preferred operating system, preferred device, preferred browser, passwords, bank details, family history, ethnicity, religious beliefs, suspicious searches, controversial conversations, presumed personality traits, lists of past lovers, and even blood types. It was all there. Everything he needed to start his business was waiting in that database.

It’s all so easy, he thought, picturing himself as a lone David against the Goliath of the internet. He was writing his autobiography in his head, long before he had achieved his goal and in this chapter he was the fearless hacker hero.

He had a feeling of déjà vu but then remembered it was just a flashback to when he was that lonely, spotty, longhaired fifteen-year-old hacking into his high school’s computer system. At midnight on New Years Eve 1995, while it seemed everyone else at his age was out drinking and getting their first grope of a breast or blow job at house parties, a friendless Zach sat alone in his bedroom, gaining access to all his classmates’ reports, grades and personal details. Back then, hacking into the school’s database was relatively risk-free, no one had the technology to track his log-ins. Yet, in 2010, Zach was aware that one wrong move, one mistake in his code and Google would know who performed this criminal invasion.

Zach weighed up the pros and cons of what he was about to do for less than twenty seconds. Not a long time, considering the momentous scale of the cyber theft. He had envisioned this moment a thousand times before. In fact, from the moment he heard he got the job at Google some four years ago, he knew that the day would come when he could execute the biggest hack in history. He even fantasised about the Oscar-winning film made about his life, starring a handsome Leonardo DiCaprio as the young Zach. It was just a matter of time, waiting for the technology to be ready, so that he could carry out his long-held idea. Zach’s secret code was complete and tested on his local device. He just needed to plug-into the whole world. And Google was the world.

He stood up and walked a few feet away from the computer monitor, scratching his now sweaty, curly brown hair. From this viewpoint, he scanned the hundreds of minimalistic, futuristic desks once more, where he saw no future for himself, except for being a cog in someone else’s machine, another dispensable developer on the conveyor belt of code. Zach was one of those people who simply could not work for others. Daily applying his intellect and skills to merely contribute to someone else’s wealth rotted away at him. This is not my future, he thought, he always felt he was different from everyone else and destined for greatness.

After a few minutes of indecision and furtive hallway glances, Zach sighed and sat back down. “Fuck ‘em all.” He clicked ‘COPY’, then ‘ACTIVATE’ and ‘RUN’, sending the entire database to a nameless cloud storage space, which he had created. It took most of the night to run but by 05:38 in the morning of 5 July 2010, Zach had his hands on a goldmine of data, as well as the code to create the most advanced or aggressive – depending on how you viewed it – virus ever known.

Funny, he thought, that it was on Independence Day, a day supposedly meant to celebrate freedom, when he was acting on his own accord, actualising his potential and taking so much information from so many, with such ease.

Part I

Who Can Afford God?

1



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1.1


And so, on December 1, 2034, the keyword ‘God’ was released for sale on Qwertex for the first time.
Qwertex (an acronym for Quantitative Word and Expression Registration and Trading Index), named after the QWERTY keyboard, was a global trading network for all digital words and phrases. That meant every keyword or even letter that was typed, swiped, dictated, copied or pasted on any device, anywhere on earth, was listed on Qwertex with a set fee that was instantly deducted from the user’s bank account.

If a user did not have enough money to type a word, the keyboard on their device would simply freeze and they’d see a message such as this on their screen: Sorry, you don't have sufficient funds in your account for that word. Add funds or continue typing for free on Qchat.

Qchat was the only network in the world, where it was free to type messages, of up to 140 characters (including spaces) to other Qchat users. Little wonder it was the most popular network, with over 6 billion members (global population was now 10.2 billion).

Some basic words, for example ‘the’, ‘in’, ‘is’, ‘you’ and ‘please’, were used so often that they were classified ‘universal’ and free, but each day, more and more words were being traded and God was the most notable reclassification of any keyword since Qwertex began.

Prior to this God was classified in the ‘universal’ category and hence was free to reproduce in written or digital form. But this was going to change. The top analysts at Qwertex had reevaluated the keyword, undertaken extensive user surveys and recommended that it should be available on the marketplace. The analysts decided that the market was ripe and the time was right to sell God, such a word being sold was unthinkable just years earlier. This kind of reclassification of premium keywords, (or ‘PKWs’ as they were more commonly known), happened all the time on Qwertex.1 Indeed, the word ‘indeed’ was once in the ‘universal’ free category until a wealthy network of professors from Harvard University offered a cool $5 million to snap it up.

News networks and blogs all over the world covered the reclassification on their home pages. ‘GOD FOR SALE’ said the New York Times, ‘OMG, YOU CAN BUY THE ULTIMATE PKW’ said VNN2 (Vendigo News Network) and ‘THANK GOD, QWERTEX FINALLY AGREES TO SELL THE WORD’ reported the Financial Times. Though not everyone was initially enthralled by the news. Maktoob (otherwise known as Saudi Arabia’s Islamic News Network) ran with the headline, ‘BLASPHEMY, QWERTEX STARTS HOLY WAR OF WORDS’ and religious groups from all over the world, from all faiths, condemned the sale of God by saying the keyword was sacred, so should remain ‘universal’. Even 45-year-old Pope Luke Johnson, the first African-American Pope, said, “The word God is beyond an earthly price,” a sentence that would later haunt him when he publicly made the case for the Vatican to purchase the PKW for $240 billion.

The deadline for all bids was set for 23:59 (GMT) on December 31, 2034, meaning the new owner of God would begin their 25-year lease at midnight on January 1, 2035. It was the sale of the century, the ultimate real estate on Qwertex – to own God in all languages, typefaces and all synonyms. The sale of God included all translations of the word including Jehovah, Jah, Yahweh, Allah, Lord, Dios, Gott, Dieu, Adonai, Elohim, Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, but not Jesus. The Vatican already owned the name of Jesus, as well as all the disciples, prophets and Bible characters.

Hailed as the most sought-after super PKW for sale, God was attracting a lot of media attention. Every time someone typed or reproduced the PKW, the owner would collect a $1 CPK (cost per keyword). This was the highest CPK evaluation ever awarded on Qwertex and as the word God was reproduced in digital copies of the King James Bible, Gideon’s Bible, Torah, Quran, countless prayer books, sermons, newsletters, legal oaths, ancient scriptures, essays, and other religious texts on a daily basis, it could generate over $700 million a day for its owner.

Other PKWs on Qwertex such as ‘Love’, ‘War’, ‘World’, ‘Sex’, and ‘Fuck’ had a CPK of around $0.26 and fees of the vast majority of regular keywords on Qwertex were usually less than $0.01. For example, ‘Hedgehog’, owned by an anonymous Qwertex syndicate was worth $0.00003 each time the keyword was used.

The most expensive PKW ever bought on Qwertex until today was ‘Ok’, which was bought by Vendigo Media – a vast communications empire owned by Australian media mogul Michael Mendlesohn – in May 2032 for a staggering $324 billion. So whenever anyone typed or clicked ‘Ok’ on their device Vendigo received $0.39. In just over eight months Vendigo had made the value of the word back in returns and still had 24 more years to cash in. For Vendigo, ‘Ok’ was a successful investment, but not everyone could play the game as good as Mendlesohn.

Sometimes companies, or networks, would over-pay for a PKW, failing to make the money back during their lease period. A famous example was when Sony bought the PKW ‘TV’ for $196 billion in 2025, the highest price for any keyword at the time, only to find that the value of ‘TV’ dropped in the first five years of its lease as technology evolved and people stopped reproducing it so much. Sony failed to make back the price they paid in returns and could not find a suitable buyer. They ended up ending their lease early in 2030, reselling ‘TV’ for a mere $43 billion to Samsung, who just wanted the PKW for their archives. The Sony incident showed to businesses all over the world that Qwertex could be as dangerous as it was lucrative and it had to be played right to win big. That’s right, Qwertex was like gambling – you could never know what would happen to a keyword in the future and how trends would affect its value. However, God was a surefire hit, used all over the world, it always was and always would be a keyword to bank on. And its release on Qwertex had started a global media circus. If words were the new currency, Qwertex was the Royal Mint and God was the jewel in the crown.



2



Ty Warner Penthouse Suite, Four Seasons Hotel, New York, December 2, 2034



At 06:22, Zach Webman was awoken in his penthouse suite at the Four Seasons by his bedside table telephone ringing.

Hello?” he said with a croaky morning voice, “Who is this?”

“Sorry for the disturbance, Sir,” said the voice at the other end of the line, “but you have a call on the line, he says it’s urgent.”

Who is it?”

He says he is one of your board members.”

Ok, so put him through,” Zach said, still half asleep and not one hundred per cent sure of his surroundings. He had just been dreaming about his wife Chloe having an affair with an old friend of his called Clarence and Zach was running around in a forest trying to find her. But now he was awake and there she was, lying next to him, also waking up.

“What’s going on?” said Chloe, her eyes still shut.

Got an important call.” Zach sat up straight.

What time is it?” asked Chloe.

Itzchack,” said a voice at the other end of the line. Nobody called him Itzchack except his mother when she was angry with him and his mother had been dead for many years now.

Who the hell is this?”

Itzchack,” the voice repeated, almost whispering. “Listen carefully… Fear God, for God is swift in taking account. Die of rage! God is aware of what your heart contains.”

Fuck you asshole!” Zach shouted down the line but the line was already dead. He slammed the receiver down and sat up straight, momentarily covering his face with the palm of his hands before shaking his head.

“What the hell?” asked Chloe, now also sitting up with her long blonde hair partly covering her face.

“Nothing. It was nothing.” He said, turning to Chloe. “Another prank call, I’m going to talk to the hotel manager and tell him his staff need to be better trained when forwarding calls to guests.”

But Zach…” Chloe put her head back on the pillow. “What did he say?”

Don’t worry,” Zach stroked Chloe’s hair as if she were a puppy, and she attempted to go back to sleep. In these moments, Zach thought Chloe looked like the gentle, English rose that he and many other men were attracted to, not the cold, heartless bitch she had become. A minute later, Zach got out of bed and walked across the hotel suite wearing his boxer shorts and white vest. The hair that covered most of his chest and back was clearly visible, as was the slightly hunched posture caused by years of sitting down staring at computer screens filled with code. He pressed a button on the wall and the curtains slowly rolled back, letting in shafts of bright daylight making his curly greyish hair shine, almost looking blonde for a moment. It was another misty morning overlooking New York’s Central Park and the sparkling skyscrapers, making it look like a city in the clouds.

Fear God, for God is swift in taking account. Die of rage! The line repeated again in his head.Crazy world,” Zach whispered to himself, as if to shrug off the whole episode. Death threats were part and parcel of being founder and CEO of the world’s most valuable corporation, but they still had a tendency to shock when they happened. Like the shock of the first sight of blood after cutting yourself while shaving with a razor blade – a death threat was something you simply couldn’t get used to.

But who could touch him? He had reassured himself that he was the most powerful businessman on earth. He achieved the American dream of becoming the wealthiest and most influential man of his generation. He reminded himself that an impenetrable ring of security guarded his whole life. His home in the hills of San Francisco was more like a fortress than a luxury villa. His offices, which he hardly ever frequented, were sealed off from the outside world, deep underground in the Arizona desert. Every hotel he stayed in was carefully briefed on security and wherever he travelled, he always took his personal bodyguard, Shawn, plus an entire entourage of personnel. This ring of security is the price I pay for my wealth, he regularly told himself, then he realised he had spent too much time thinking about his safety and returned to his other thoughts – the agenda for the day, the challenges ahead and, more pressingly, what he wanted to eat for breakfast.

French toast with maple syrup, followed by two poached eggs and four passion fruits sliced in half – his chosen way to start the day, wherever he was. Living such a jet-setting life, he had to keep some consistency in his days. Zach walked into the oversized ensuite bathroom, where the light from the chandelier hanging from the ceiling made the golden bathtub and sink taps sparkle. Not that Zach noticed, of course. To him it was just another hotel bathroom, somewhere high in the clouds on the 52nd floor. Brushing his teeth, he caught the first sight of himself in the mirror, his slight grey-haired stubble, his eyes looked tired and his overall expression was one of sadness, none of the greatness or dignity as portrayed on the cover of last month’s Time.

He was momentarily shocked by how infantile or apelike he looked, after all he was human, not an android. His thoughts began to wonder – For all of my wealth, like everyone else I have to grow old and occasionally suffer. He thought about his problems like what a bitch it is when his poached eggs are overcooked turning the yolk dry, how annoying it is when his private jet is delayed at takeoff and how inconvenient it is to receive death threats in the morning. But what troubled him most was not really being involved in the daily life of his grown-up son, Ben. He asked himself if he had spent too much time worrying about himself and not his boy over the years. A man can still be brought down to earth from the 52nd floor, he thought. Zach remembered the line from an old Bob Dylan song, ‘You’ll find out when you reach the top. You’re on the bottom.’3 He was aware that to the outside world he was considered to be the most successful man alive but deep down he felt a failure as a son, a husband and a father.

The first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is, ‘Life is suffering’. Zach knew all about Zen Buddhism but it didn’t help prevent his occasional anxiety attacks. That was a long time ago, he thought, when he found a sudden interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, not as a follower but as a scholar. In his university days, back in Oxford, when it seemed all the great books ever written were inviting him, waiting for him to pick them up and read them page by page. In his early twenties he read Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, books by the great Mahatma Gandhi and The Quran, though he couldn’t remember a single line from those books today. I don’t have time for this spiritual, emotional shit, he brought himself back to the man facing the mirror, I’ve got a trillion-dollar business to run. Then those angry words interrupted his consciousness once more…

Die of rage! God is aware of what your heart contains. It sounded like a line from The Quran. After brushing his teeth and spitting out the toothpaste into the designer sink, Zach dried his hands and mouth on the soft white towels and tapped his Qloop 8.9. A Qloop was a fashionable Qwertex-operated ‘smart ring’, designed to have the same shape as a regular ring, usually worn on the middle finger of the left hand.4 Millions of people all over the world were literally married to their Qloops, as if the ring represented an eternal bond between him and technology. A small virtual keyboard popped up and Zach placed it on the sink and typed the words, DIE OF RAGE. GOD IS AWARE OF WHAT YOUR HEART CONTAINS. All versions of Qloops had built-in voice activated search, but Zach did not want to say those words out loud in case Chloe heard him from the bedroom. Lo and behold, the results showed it was indeed a quote from the ‘Family of Imran’ in The Quran.

He asked himself, who in the Muslim world wanted him dead? He immediately thought of the Saudis. The new Prince Abdullah IV was one of the biggest players on Qwertex. He personally owned 3,678 PKWs including ‘oil’, ‘investment’, ‘revenue’, as well as a suite of religious terms such as ‘creator’, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. It made perfect sense that he would want to add God to his collection. But Zach had a good business relationship with the Prince, whose father realised the potential of Qwertex as a money-making machine back in 2017. As one of the biggest investors in Qwertex, the Prince had a direct line to Zach and benefited from exclusive CPK rates and extended 33-year leases on keywords, while most others could only buy a 25-year lease. Perhaps the Prince was upset that he didn’t receive advance notice that God was going to be reclassified, which meant he could have set aside sufficient funds to buy what was likely to be, one of the most expensive keywords ever sold. Zach had to think of all eventualities and was constantly trying to stay ahead of the game by thinking deeper and deeper how his enemies, and Zach had more than a few, were planning to tear apart his empire.

He swiped his index finger and the virtual screen and keyboard disappeared, then he walked back into the bedroom, where Chloe was now getting dressed wearing one of his long Nike T-shirts that came down to her knees and no underwear. Just then he remembered that they had attempted to make love last night but stopped halfway through as Chloe was suddenly not in the mood for sex.

“You Ok?” she asked, walking towards him.

“I am now,” said Zach, smiling. He suddenly forgot about the death threat and was overcome by the urge to have sex right there, right then. But Chloe was not approaching him in a lustful way. She simply walked around him to enter the bathroom. Then Zach heard the shower taps come on and Chloe started humming something to herself. Zach didn’t recognise the tune, but then again, he did not listen to the music she listened to. More than a decade separated them, Chloe was 38 years-old, so she grew up in a different era of music than Zach, who was now 54. Unusual for most CEOs, Zach was a fan of 1970’s reggae music like Bob Marley and Lee Scratch Perry (he always said reggae calmed him down), whereas Chloe was more of a fan of 21st century pop.

Zach suppressed his desire to enter the shower and surprise Chloe by ravishing her naked body. He had tried this before years ago and got slapped in the face by his younger, strong-headed wife. Horny and frustrated, Zach forced open the sliding doors of the wardrobe, causing them to shake, then picked out his shirt for the day and laid it on the bed. He noticed an old-fashioned women’s magazine lying on the bedside table on Chloe’s side. Printed magazines were rare as almost all publishing was digitalised. High-class hotels and doctor’s waiting rooms were the only places you could find them nowadays. On the front cover was the latest supermodel, Elena something-or-other, an East European beauty. Zach looked at her two-dimensional airbrushed face draped with perfect golden blonde hair and wondered how much she would charge to be his escort. The trillionaire filled the momentary dent in his ego caused by Chloe denying him sex with the notion that if he so wished, he could buy a night with a supermodel.

Walking over to the window again, still in his underwear, he looked out across Manhattan and tapped his Qloop again. “Call Shawn,” he said to the Qloop and waited a moment for it to function.

The virtual screen was projected from the Qloop and Shawn’s head appeared. Shawn Pistorius – half Irish, half Greek – definitely looked more Mediterranean with his cropped dark hair, dark brown eyes and tanned skin. “Good morning, Boss,” he said staring into the camera of his Qloop, “Everything Ok?”

“Shawn, I received another threat today, this time a line from The Quran.”

“Ok Boss, what did he say?” Shawn had a thick Irish Bostonian accent.

“Nothing specific, I hung up, but something about ‘dying of rage and fearing God’, the usual bullshit.”

“You alright?”

“Yeah I’m fine. Listen, I just want to make sure that none of these calls get through to me or Chloe in the future, Ok? The hotel needs to intercept these callers. I want you to trace the caller.” Zach noticed a pigeon on a nearby roof, around ten feet away. The pigeon was pecking at an old wire, a strange sight from the past as the world had gone wireless many years earlier. Wires were basically extinct as Qwertex was distributed globally by a system of satellites.

“Can you tell me what time was the call?”

“Oh, like five or ten minutes ago. I need the hotel to understand the seriousness of the situation and block any more suspect calls.”

“Yes Boss, it’s totally fucked-up,” said Shawn. It looked like Shawn was outside.

“Where are you now?”

“I’m walking down Madison Avenue, Boss.” Shawn was wearing his usual outfit – a short-sleeved black suit jacket with a white shirt underneath, partially-visible leather gun holster, designer shades and an earpiece.

“What? Why?”

“Just need to buy some shoe polish.”

“What, get the hell back to the hotel ASAP. We need you here.” Zach snapped. The pigeon stopped pecking and flew away.

“Yes Boss.”

Zach swiped his finger to close the Qloop screen and end the conversation. “Shoe polish,” Zach muttered to himself, “Someone wants to kill me and he’s buying fucking shoe polish.”



3

Private Dining Room, Four Seasons Hotel, New York, December 2, 2034



Zach was in Manhattan for a series of press interviews, most notably a long feature for the New York Times and some important meetings with investors. Like many publications in December, the New York Times was chronicling their ‘100 Most Powerful People of the Year’. Of course, Zach had been featured in this list every year since 2017, when the identity of the genius behind Qwertex came to the surface. Yet this year they wanted a full cover story, much like Time magazine, covering his history, so readers could get to know the man behind the machine that changed the world.

And Qwertex was the machine. A machine for making money out of words. A machine that swallowed up other machines allowing it to grow and extend, not naturally like a flower in spring but more like a disease spread by zombies. It was a virtual machine that influenced almost everything in the real world; a machine that shaped people’s minds; a machine that informed and entertained people; a machine that made one million accessories and devices from Qloops to entire houses powered by Qwertex-activated devices; a machine that pumped the language of advertising into the minds of children, teenagers and adults of all ages; a machine that disseminated news and current affairs; a machine that controlled the way students were educated, business was conducted and personal relationships were formed; an all-encompassing machine, the ultimate database.

Zach ate breakfast in a private dining room on the third floor, accompanied by his wife Chloe, his personal assistant Mariana Rubin and his son Ben, a 24-year-old literature student at Oxford University, who only came back to the States a few times a year to visit his trillionaire father. In the huge carpeted room, adorned with tall bookshelves, a Renaissance-era painting and a chandelier fit for Louis XVI, the four of them sat in silence, as Zach scrolled through the day’s headlines on his Qloop that was projected over his plate of poached eggs. Mariana was engrossed with her Qloop, reading her mails and checking her tasks for the day and Chloe was deleting her Qchat messages.

Only Ben was without his device, as he ate his granola and yoghurt, and stared out of the window. Only Ben noticed that it had started to rain.

“ST. LUKE TAKES ON QWERTEX,” Zach read out loud. He continued, “Pope Luke Johnson has criticised Qwertex for selling God in a strong-worded statement made on the Pope’s Qchat profile, he is quoted as saying, ‘The word God is beyond earthly value. Qwertex should be ashamed for attempting to capitalise on the holy name of our Lord.’ He went on to say that the sale represented a clear breach of the Ten Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.’ What the hell?” Zach looked up momentarily to see that Ben, Mariana and Chloe were not looking at him. Ben was still staring out of the window eating, Chloe was engrossed in choosing a Qmoji (icons formally called Emojis) and Mariana was now typing on her virtual keyboard. “Did you hear that?” There was still no response, but Zach continued to speak.

“Fat Luke is accusing us of committing a sin. So why is the hypocritical bastard posting it on his Qchat profile? If only I could shut down that unholy motherfucker’s profile. Well I could, but the whole world would accuse us of censorship.” He picked up his knife and began spreading some butter on a slice of toast. “I didn’t expect the Vatican to be on my case so soon, after all they own half of the words in the Bible.” He stopped ranting and started spreading butter on his toast. “Are you three Ok?”

He asked them as if they were one person, not separate human beings. The three of them looked at each other for a moment. Chloe frowned her eyebrows slightly, as if confused by the question and who should provide an answer. “Yes I’m perfectly fine, dear. Why is something bothering you?” she said in a soft voice. Chloe looked up from her Qloop. Her greenish blue eyes and long blonde hair made her look angelic, but really she was a ballsy business graduate from West London, and knew how to get what she wanted. She met Zach in 2015 while she was working as a recruitment manager at Qwertex’s New York office. They had a brief affair before getting married at an intimate ceremony in the Bahamas. Immediately after marrying Zach, Chloe retired and never worked again.

“You all seem a little pre-occupied,” Zach wanted to slap one of them in the face. “Like, I just told you what the Pope said and you didn’t react at all.”

“Zach, we’re used to this. Every time there’s a big keyword for sale nowadays there is some kind of controversy or scandal,” said Chloe.

“I’ve also been following the news, it’s everywhere,” said Mariana, looking into Zach’s eyes. She had deep brown eyes and Zach had noticed many times how much more beautiful they were than Chloe’s greenish blue eyes. There was still life in Mariana’s eyes, she was slightly older then Chloe, in her early forties, but seemed a little younger, perhaps more innocent or pure.

“Ben?” asked Zach, “What do you think of this?” It was now raining quite heavily outside.

“I think you’re all fucking crazy,” he answered, taking a sip of tea.

“No we’re not, this is pretty serious. I mean, the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church is publicly saying, ‘We’ve gone too far this time.’”

Zach always use the word ‘we’ when describing Qwertex, even though it was much more like an ‘it’.

“Maybe you have gone too far this time,” said Ben spontaneously, deliberately using the word ‘you’. Being the son of the most powerful businessman on earth was a position of great responsibility, which Ben did not always relish. “It’s a word that means so much to so many people. It’s not a regular word, it’s used in blessings, weddings, funerals, and I guess people don’t want to pay for it.”

“But they’re happy to pay for all kinds of other words like ‘church’, ‘prayer’, ‘soul’, ‘Satan’ even,” Zach answered and took a bite of his buttered toast and continued speaking, trying to keep his cool though he wanted to throw his breakfast plate at someone. “So what’s so special about God?” It sounded strange to say that sentence out loud and Zach was momentarily halted in his train of thought.

Mariana smiled, “Exactly! To millions of people there is something special about God. It’s sacred.” She surprised herself with the choice of word ‘sacred’. She herself was brought up as a Catholic girl, from a big Mexican family with roots tracing back to Andalusia, Spain. Perhaps her childhood Catholicism was rearing its head now? No, she couldn’t care less which words were bought or sold on Qwertex, as long as she got her pay rise, so she could buy an even bigger home, another car and go on another expensive holiday. She had spent so much of the past five years of her career as a personal assistant, tasting the life of the rich and famous, that she wanted to reach the VIP level in her own rite.

“Sacred or not, this sale is going to be huge. See, the media is already talking about it. That means this PKW has caught the public imagination. I may even do a special advertising campaign around it. ‘God bless Qwertex.’” He said it half-jokingly, half-seriously. Zach often had crazy ideas and was constantly testing the reactions of people around him like guinea pigs in his game. Yes, the whole world was playing his game.

“Go ahead, but I think you’ll find it would anger people and create more negative publicity,” said Mariana, who enjoyed talking to Zach in a sarcastic way. Once she feared him but now she knew that she could say anything to him as he was totally dependent on her.

“What’s that old saying? ‘All publicity is good publicity.’ This sale is going to be bigger than we thought. I can feel it.” Zach gritted his teeth and smiled in a way that wasn’t really a display of happiness but more of insanity.

There followed more silence, only interspersed by the quiet finger-tapping on Qloops and Zach scooping out the inside of his passion fruit with a spoon. The world’s first trillionaire had little to say to the three closest people in his life. He was thought to be worth over $8.5 trillion. The only other trillionaire in existence, worth $2.7 trillion, was Vendigo Media founder Michael Mendlesohn.

Ben, whose daydreaming had been interrupted by his father’s rant, now gave in and tapped his designer Qloop to continue reading his latest Qbook, Life of Pi. Qbooks were digital books, only accessible on Qwertex-operated devices. They replaced eBooks and traditional printed books in 2017, when all devices, (computers, mobiles, tablets and wearables) were installed with QOS (Qwertex Operating System).

Ben had a unique Qloop, made especially for him by the top design team at Qwertex, a personal gift from Zach for his 24th birthday. Ben didn’t particularly enjoy reading on the Qloop and preferred the old-fashioned print books of the past. Novels from the 20th and 19th century – Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice in hardback, The Castle by Kafka, Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky in paperback, these print books were immune from Qwertex rates, though, of course, the digital versions were not.

To Ben, there was something refreshing about flicking through an old book, turning the pages with his own hands, placing the book on the shelf and taking its place in his little library. He only had around fifty books in his library, but that was far more than the average person, who often possessed no print books whatsoever.

Indeed, Ben’s love of reading printed books often irritated his father. Zach understood that by reading old printed books, Ben was making a statement that he did not want to be part of the Qwertex world his father had created. It could also be said that Zach was somewhat jealous of his son for his independent thinking and Ben’s love of real books reminded him of himself as a young idealistic man. A man who no longer existed.

Printed books were considered an antique art form, only for collectors or the rich and famous. Almost no books were printed by 2030 as printing houses, which needed digital formats to print, were not able to afford Qwertex fees. For example, to print one copy of Jane Eyre today, which included 188,209 words, would cost more than $75,000. Even old photocopiers and scanners were connected to Qwertex, so the only way to make a copy of a book without paying for every word was to use an old film camera and manually take a picture of every page and get each page developed in a dark room, which was rare to find in this day and age. By 2034, only very few people had access to film cameras and fewer had the patience to photograph an entire book.



***

Shawn had returned from buying his shoe polish and was now sitting in the hotel’s security observation room. He was surrounded by hundreds of monitor screens displaying live footage from hidden CCTV cameras, each one the size of a pea, located all over the Four Seasons. But, being a bodyguard of great experience, he was not paying attention to the screens peeking into people’s bedrooms. The voyeurism that once allured him was now viewed as a dangerous distraction. Even women slipping off their bathrobes and entering showers, which once would have captivated his gaze, just blurred into the background of a sea of screens. And anyway, Shawn had delegated a few members of his team to walk around scanning the hotel corridors and surrounding streets.

More than eighty per cent of Zach’s recent death threats – and the trillionaire received hundreds each month – were traced back to the Qwarrior movement. The Qwarrior movement was an underground international network of protestors – many of them hackers, street artists, academics or writers – who opposed Qwertex fees. Considered a worldwide terrorist organisation by governments today, it was mostly identified with random acts of vandalism on banks and businesses that supported Qwertex.

As he was more than just a meathead, part of Shawn’s job as Zach’s head of security was to research these underground groups. He was reading an old blog post, published six years earlier by The Guardian, tracing the origins and evolution of the anti-Qwertex group, entitled, ‘What happened to the Qwarriors?’ Shawn skim-read and scrolled down the article projected from his Qloop onto the dashboard in front of him.

Of course, he knew about the Qwarriors already but this article had all the details:



The Qwarrior movement was an anti-Qwertex protest community that began in January 2017, shortly after Qwertex was installed on almost every device on earth via an update of the two major operating systems. Qwarriors were angry developers, editors, writers, artists and academics, who mobilised to oppose Qwertex. The Qwarrior uprising rebelled against Qwertex by a series of counter hijacks, which led to the full-on Hacker War of 2017/2018, which the Qwarriors lost. For nearly 18 months, developers, computer engineers and other cyber geeks tried to crack the Qwertex code but each and every one failed. Once installed, Qwertex was virtually impossible to remove. And even if it was temporarily removed, Qwertex found a way of being reinstalled automatically within minutes.

However, the Qwarriors continued their fruitless struggle against Qwertex by encouraging a resurgence in handwritten literature, a form Qwertex could never control. From the outset, Qwarriors were branded ‘technophobes’ by the government and media, which supported and benefited from Qwertex. The anti-Qwertex sentiment intensified in 2019, when over 130,000 keywords were reclassified as ‘premium’ status, causing what became the ‘Media Meltdown’. Up until then, the media had been able to avoid Qwertex fees by using ‘universal’ status words. In just a matter of weeks, newspapers and magazines were forced to shut down, as they could not afford to pay their CPKs. One after the other, the publications collapsed – The Telegraph, The Rolling Stone, National Geographic and even The Wall Street Journal. Only a small number of traditional newspapers survived, those that could make enough money from advertising to pay Qwertex and those that were partly invested in Qwertex and therefore received huge returns on keywords they owned. The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The New York Times, Maktoob and Time magazine were able to survive the Media Meltdown because each of them were owned by companies that invested in Qwertex early on. For instance, The Daily Mail owned keywords like ‘immigrants’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘British’, whereas The Sun bought keywords like ‘boobs’, ‘tits’ and ‘stunner’.

Qwarrior activists also took to the streets with huge protests that steadily grew in number of attendees until 2022. On May 1, 2022, almost one million people marched in London against Qwertex carrying hand-written plaques that read ‘FREE MY KEYBOARD,’ ‘WAR ON QWERTEX’ and ‘DEATH TO QWERTEX’. Yet, by now the UK’s Conservative-led coalition government with UKIP (UK Independence Party), like most of the world’s governments, was profiting from Qwertex (by law governments received a percentage of every word traded) and the streets were lined with armed police and soldiers. Chaos ensued when a small element of Qwarriors clashed with the police as they tried to spray anti-Qwertex slogans on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. The police simply charged through the crowds on horseback, eventually shooting the main protagonist, a 25 year-old graffiti artist, using the pseudonym ‘Resolve’. When the crowds started attacking the police with bottles, cans and fists, the police opened fire, killing nearly 28 people (the official number, though witnesses say it was closer to 50) and thousands more were arrested. After 2022, the Qwarrior movement was pushed further underground and the mass marches were replaced with random acts of vandalism and graffiti on banks and businesses that supported Qwertex.

Also, by the mid-2020’s, a new generation, which had grown-up with Qwertex was less inclined to protest. And Qwertex, after years of clever advertising campaigns and releasing products such as Qloops, convinced many people, even former Qwarrior activists, that it was improving people’s lives and was merely the evolution of the internet. Anyway, Qwertex could not be removed from devices, so any protest movements were ineffectual. Qwarriors continued fighting on the fringes of society, but Qwertex had won the real war of words.



After reading the blog post, Shawn looked up from his Qloop only to see a familiar figure running down the 52nd floor corridor. It was Zach. Shawn kept watching the CCTV monitor right in his line of view to see if some lone attacker was chasing his boss, but Zach was alone. Judging by all the adjacent screens, there was no other soul present on the 52nd floor penthouse suite. Shawn watched the monitor as the trillionaire simply swiped his card to unlock his front door and ran to his bathroom undoing his zip. Then Shawn’s Qloop started beeping.

***



After breakfast, Zach went back to his hotel bedroom to use the bathroom, while Chloe went Barney’s luxury department store, Ben went to the Guggenheim Museum and Mariana went to the Four Season’s reception to organise Zach’s schedule. Zach had a busy morning ahead, starting with a conference call to Qwertex China, followed by a meeting with the head of Qwertex advertising, another call with the head of Qwertex Europe and a press interview with the New York Times. All this before midday. Nobody said being the most influential CEO on the planet was easy.

Zach was constantly in a rush and barely had time to go to the bathroom during the day so he had trained his metabolism to start early. But even as he sat on one of the most expensive toilet seats in New York, Zach was occupied with his Qmail messages on his Qloop. Most of his messages were filtered by Mariana but some managed to get through to him.

He had 55 unread messages, not bad, as most days it was over 250. Most of these messages were updates from various heads of Qwertex departments. He ignored the bulk of these updates, because if there were something important he would have been alerted about it already. But the one message that caught his eye was a personal mail from Omar Gindi, the multi-billionaire Indian tycoon, owner of multiple cricket, football and baseball clubs. Omar Gindi made his fortune in property. The multi-billionaire owned golf resorts and skyscrapers all over the world, and rumour had it that the charismatic Indian was planning his most stupendous development yet – a golf course and leisure park on the surface of the moon. Gindi started his career as a salesman in the 1990s on the streets of Mumbai, sending a line of glow-in-the-dark shoes, socks and condoms, earning him the nickname the ‘Rubber Raj’ which he despised.

Zach touched the mail on his virtual screen and began to read.

Hi Zach,

My dear old friend and favourite tech genius! I would love the chance to discuss a possible business partnership that could benefit both of our enterprises and change the lives of thousands of our employees and millions of users forever. The sale of the PKW God has already captured the imagination of the public and I am writing to personally inform you of my heartfelt intention to acquire the keyword for an historic amount.

I believe that such a purchase would represent the merging of two of this century’s most innovative endeavours – my own Gindi Enterprises and your meteoric Qwertex.

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss details of, what I’m sure you’ll find, is a most generous offer.

Kindest regards,
Omar.



The Indian tycoon had attached a Qmoji of an Indian elephant covered in pink paint to his message that strolled across the bathroom floor before disappearing into thin air. Qmojis were short 3D holographic icons or videos, usually sent as spam or unwanted advertising, projected from a Qloop. Zach chuckled but was intrigued by the mail and what exactly could Gindi have in mind. Yet he could not help thinking that Gindi’s tone was a little arrogant, as Zach’s empire was not a simple entity that could be merged with, on the contrary, usually Qwertex acquired and absorbed other conglomerates. Zach stayed at the top of the tree by being fiercely competitive, aggressive in his business dealings and made very few ‘friends’. The fact that Gindi called him an ‘old friend’ also annoyed him as everyone who knew Zach, knew he had no real friends in the world. Zach had convinced himself that he liked it that way. You can’t run the biggest company on earth and stay likeable; he knew that better than anyone.

Just then Zach’s other Qloop began beeping in his shirt pocket. Like most modern men, he had two Qloops, one for personal use and one for business. Again it was Shawn, the bodyguard, on the line.

“Boss,” he said, “Have I called you at a bad time?”

“No,” said Zach, disabling the ‘VIEW’ button so Shawn wouldn’t see his bathroom surroundings, though he knew that Shawn had continuously watched Zach taking his daily dump.

“What is it Shawn?”

“I just wanted to tell you, though don’t be alarmed,” Shawn spoke with an Irish twang, “that the police just now informed me that they arrested two members of the cleaning staff who were imposters. It’s assumed they were Qwarriors.”

“Oh yeah, them again?” Zach sighed. “Why don’t they just all get fucking jobs and stop blaming me for their shitty lives. What did they have this time?”

“Nothing, they were found with spray cans, so they probably wanted to vandalise your room. We intercepted them on the 43rd floor coming out of a cupboard and then caught on surveillance cameras changing into hotel uniforms.”

“Good work Shawn. Anything else?”

“No, we’re good.” Shawn answered. He was an ex-marine, and served in the North Korean War in the previous decade, when the USA finally overthrew the communist dictatorship, only to replace it with Chinese rule. He had been Zach’s bodyguard for seven years and was therefore one of his closest confidents in a world where everybody was under suspicion. Zach had learned the hard way that all people, even loved ones such as your wife, were willing to betray you for more money. But Shawn was a trustworthy trooper, a man who would die in the line of duty.

“Did you get any more details of the prank call this morning?” Zach asked, tapping his Qloop to check the latest trading figures on Qwertex. Suddenly hundreds of scrawling numbers filled the screen, with keywords on the left column and corresponding highest bids on the right column.

“No,” said Shawn, “The caller identity was hidden and the hotel tracking system that usually records all calls was temporarily out of service. Do you want me to start interrogating members of staff?”

“Fuck yeah!” Zach shouted in a high-pitched squeal.

“Ok, I’ll get right on it.”

“No, I don’t care about the prank call, Shawn. I’m just looking at the latest bidding amounts for God. Vendigo Media started at $52 billion. Do you know what this means?” He didn’t let Shawn answer. “It means by the end of the month we’ll be into at least $400 billion. This PKW is a game-changer for the whole word-trading industry. Sweet Jesus. I mean, dear God, this is going to be big.”




Part II

The Man Who Sold the Word

4

Extracted from ‘Mark My Words’, by Tristan Hobbs,
published in the New York Times, December 6, 2034



What do you get the richest man on the planet for his birthday? The answer: a cheese burger and fries. Zach Webman, CEO and founder of Qwertex, talks exclusively to the New York Times about the words and wonders of his unique life.

It’s 11:15 on a rainy December morning in Manhattan. Waiting in the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel, one wonders if the richest person on earth will notice that his interviewer, yours truly, is drenched to the bone? Umbrellas have been around in some form for more than 4,000 years but not everyone remembers to use this ingenious invention. Yet Qwertex, which began only some 22 years ago in 2012 is used by almost everyone on earth. Like the weather, Qwertex is unavoidable and affects everyone from all walks of life.

Qwertex and devices such as Qloops and Qubes have revolutionised almost every industry, from publishing to jewellery, advertising to law, banking to telecommunications. Yet the man behind the machine is still very much a mystery. Although the name Zach Webman is well known, little is known about the intimate personal life of the man who founded Qwertex. That is, until now. In an exclusive candid interview for the New York Times, Zach Webman has agreed to talk openly about his life and insists no topic is “off the table”.

The trillionaire, dressed in his usual black designer T-shirt and jeans, arrives 20 minutes late for our interview without an apology. Immediately after shaking hands, he taps his Qloop and barely looks up for a few minutes. While reading a message, he insists we conduct our interview in the back of his limousine, as he must get across town to Qwertex’s New York office, Qwerty Tower, one of the city’s most impressive skyscrapers, for a series of meetings. This is clearly a man who is always on the go. Surrounded by his team of security personnel, we make our way across the foyer and he notices my attire. “How do you like the rain?” The trillionaire asks, looking at my wet clothes before answering his own question. “I like the rain. It makes me calm. I need calmness.” Indeed, Webman leads an extraordinarily stressful life, he makes huge decisions affecting billions of people’s lives. His most recent decision, to release the keyword ‘God’ for sale on Qwertex, is his most controversial sale to date and is already causing strong reactions worldwide.

Pope Luke Johnson recently criticised the sale of God by saying, “Qwertex should be ashamed for attempting to capitalise on the holy name of our Lord.” He later accused Webman of sinning and breaking the Ten Commandments. Strong words from the Vatican, but Webman is not afraid to answer back.

“In my view, the word God is a good example of why we need Qwertex,” he says, now sitting in the back of his driverless limousine, still with one eye on his Qloop screen. “By making it a PKW, we can also protect the word and easily monitor, and even block, its misuse in any digital form.”

“The Vatican already has ownership of many important keywords, such as ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christian’,5 so it surprises me that the Pope would react this way. I hope His Holiness will come to see that Qwertex is a global protector of words and our technology is enhancing the lives of billions of people around the world, regardless of faith.”

Although God was only released a week ago, already the scale of bids has been astounding. Attracting attention from Hollywood stars to giant business syndicates, the highest bid at the time of writing is $78 billion from Vendigo Media, headed by the world’s second most powerful businessman, Michael Mendlesohn. Who knows how much it will be sold for at the end of the month? Whatever happens, it looks set to be the biggest sale to date for a company that is already worth $9 trillion.


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