Excerpt for Love in the Age of Bitcoin by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Love in the
Age of Bitcoin

Guy Lane

Love in the Age of Bitcoin


Guy Lane

Copyright © 2018 Guy Lane

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition.

All titles by Guy Lane.

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The Moogh

The Oil Price

Heart of Bone

The Martian Cat

Love in the Age of Bitcoin

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Author’s Note

The first thing that needs to be realised is that governments will react in a different ways as the impacts of climate change, ecosystem demise, and collapse rise like an inexorable tide. They are rising now; and increasingly, it is unnecessary to have a science degree to see it. Now, all you need to do is watch the world news; super-storms, mass migration, species extinction, pogroms, all unfolding consistent with the prognosis of the climate scientists, and those who study Earth as a whole system.

As a rule, governments leave action far too late, before knee jerk reactions foster heavy-handed response. It will be like that with environmental crime. It’s coming to us all. And in some places, it’s already here.

That’s the world in which Absinthe Rhinohorn lives. A dystopian world in which the Department of Planetary Boundaries Defence issues orders to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’ the perpetrators of environmental crime, with the freedom that a traffic cop hands out speeding tickets.

Besides exploring themes of cryptocurrency mining and wildlife trafficking, this is also a story about emotional maturity, and growing up. Absinthe, the protagonist, is a simple character, one who is easy to comprehend; a testosterone-laden boy-man with the emotional maturity of a teenager. And yet somehow, he has managed to bring a disciplined and emotionally sound woman into his life, a woman who knows exactly what she is doing, and why.

For Absinthe, Turtledove is all that he wants; and what he desperately needs to complete his circle. But she is also a mirror into his own flagrant inadequacies: his impetuousness, his binge-drinking, his general inability to get his shit together, and his inappropriate post-wine communications. So the question is, will the things that brought them together be overwhelmed by the things that move them apart. The odds are not on Absinthe’s side because it is not easy to find love in the age of Bitcoin; and there will always be collateral damage.

We all need a Turtledove to come into our lives, at some point. Granted, they will turn everything upside-down and force you look uncomfortably into the mirror. And while the gnawing sense of imminent extinction will initially persist, the good news is that if we learn fast, if we don’t continually give them reason to leave, and particularly if we don’t pressure them, or close the gate to prevent them from leaving should they feel the need, the Turtledove needn’t go away.

I speak with some authority on these matters as I have first-hand experience. You see, I met a Turtledove once. She fluttered down into my life, caused me to question my certainties, and showed me that there was another way. She helped me do a stock-take on my own short-comings, and gave me new things to dream about. And the great promise of the Turtledove – well not the promise, so much, but the outside chance – is that if you can grow to meet them, there is a possibility, just tiny, that they might just ask you to help them build a nest.

Guy Lane

16 April, 2018

Chapter 1 - Heavy Rain

Heavy rain pummels the rooftops. Strong wind lashes water around in eddies and spirals, dashing against windows and through door seals. Across half the country, the deluge has gone on for days. A large, angry weather system has parked, blocked by upper-level winds that aren’t doing what the meteorology text books say they should.

In an apartment block in Cherry Tree Lane the gutters are blocked, and rainwater gushes over like a waterfall. This is an old red-brick building, and on the fourth and top floor, a man sleeps. He’s a heavy-set man, full of booze.

Absinthe wakes alone to the sound of his mobile phone receiving a text message. He gasps, laying there, confused staring at the dark ceiling. The sound of the rain is like a constant companion, a low droning thrum. Incessant, ever-present.

As he lays there, wondering why he woke, he becomes conscious of a most noticeable sensation. His heart is pounding so hard that it is almost audible above the sound of the rain. Then he recalls what woke him. An incoming message. Is that the message he has been waiting for? “Is that her?” Has Turtledove sent him a message, at last?

Absinthe fumbles in the dark, searching for the phone but it’s not where it ought to be. He has slept fitfully, tossing and turning, anguished by a tormenting dream. The bed sheet is tangled around him. He rises and catches a glimpse of light coming from under the cotton sheet.

The phone sounds again, startling him. Is that the second notification of the first message, or a second message? Maybe Turtledove is in trouble. Absinthe tugs at the sheet, but it is trapped under his body, and he fights against his own weight, exhausting himself.

His heart hammers like the beating rotors of the Bitcrime helicopter. Two days ago he leapt from that chopper into danger but that didn’t make him feel as anxious as he does now.

He has the phone in his hand, but it is wrapped in the bed sheet. A cramp forms in his gut as it sounds once again. Is that three messages, now? What dire trouble is Turtledove in?

And then that regular thought, “How long would he survive without her?” It’s a valid question, for without her he would be an even bigger mess than he is with her; and it’s easy to make deadly mistakes when you work at the pointy end of the Bitcrime Division.

Absinthe sinks his teeth into the sheet and rips it open. He holds the phone away from his face and squints at the screen. He can see words, but he can’t read them. His heart speeds and the tension creeps in. His glasses, where the hell are his glasses? He uses the light from the phone to illuminate the small table next to the bed. That’s where his glasses should be, but they’re not there. 

“Damn you!” he hollers, anguished, wracked with anxiety. The phone sounds again, temporarily blocking out the sound of the rain. How many is that? Is that the second notification from the second message? He sweeps his hand under the bed and his fingers graze across an object. He leans over the side of the bed to extend his reach, but the tangled sheet restricts him and he tumbles onto the floor, crunching his shoulder, and dropping the phone. He grasps the glasses from under the bed only to find that the phone has now dis-illuminated and has disappeared.

Absinthe stumbles out of bed and blindly gropes the walls seeking a light switch. He floods the room with light, revealing a studio apartment heavily lived in. The floor is clear but only because the debris has been shoved to one side. It’s a single man’s apartment and it has that bachelor pad smell, wet towels and pizza.

He locates the phone, his heart hammering like the barrel of the MP5 machine gun that he fired at the crypto-rats – the energy-wasting cryptocurrency miners – in that noisy warehouse full of hot machines, two days before. The bullets slammed into the crypto-mining rigs in a staccato beat. On the phone, the battery indicator is flashing red, calling for recharge. He opens the messenger app, but in that instant the phone goes flat. 

Absinthe grips the phone tightly as he becomes discombobulated with rage. “Raaaarrrrr!” He lets out and anguished howl, inhales deeply, and then exhales at length as the moment passes. 

Calmer now, he plugs the phone into the charger, conscious of the fact that he has a full five minutes to wait before he can read the message. Fancy failing to plug in the phone. What sort of clown-act is that? 

“Get your shit together Absinthe Rhinohorn,” he scolds himself.

Absinthe moves into the bathroom sensing the cold air pushing fine drops of rain water through the gaps in the window frame. He takes stock of his complexion. He’s mid-forties and has that look peculiar to men who produce more testosterone than they need. His angular bone structure casts shadows on his face that resemble defilades on a battlefield. Facial hair grows fast and dark, and prickly like barbed wire. Like the safety switch on a Glock pistol, his eyes have two settings; doleful, or so striking that they can immobilise a man in fear with a single glance. 

His dark hair is trimmed number-two-comb on the back and sides, but left to grow free on top. Normally, the long hair is swept back, and kept in place by the presence of natural oils, but sometimes it gets matted with sweat or blood, and speckled with concrete dust. This is a classic ‘Fury Cut’, suited to men of war, and practically a fashion statement when compared to number-two all over. 

Absinthe stands in front of the mirror, in the cold, swirling air, naked. His strong torso has a thin veneer of chest-hair that goes some ways to hide the scars left behind by shrapnel and the tips of knives. A jagged scar under his armpit was self-inflicted, a drunken unidentified party wound. He’s got a few of those.

As for his complexion; in a word, exhausted. Shattered, maybe. Rings under his eyes. Three day stubble. There is a patch of broken skin on his forehead from when the Monero cryptocurrency mining rig took a bullet and exploded next to his face.

He places his hand on his chest, feeling the heart muscle pounding away. What’s that all about? Anxiety about Turtledove’s wellbeing? Anxiety about the bollocking he is going to get from his Director about the botched mission two days before.

“It’s your job to terminate crypto-rats with extreme prejudice,” the Bitcrime Director had yelled at him down the phone. “It’s your job to destroy the cryptocurrency mining rigs. It is not your job to blow up a fifty-megawatt energy transformer and blackout the city.” 

Boy, didn’t the transformer go up with a bang! The percussion had thrown him off his feet, deafened him temporarily. The rest of his team hospitalised. None killed, thankfully. And all back at work soon after. The transformer had burned, setting fire to the Monero mining rigs, filling the warehouse with acrid smoke. 

Maybe that’s what’s causing the racing heart? There would have been a powerful electromagnetic pulse when the transformer went up. Maybe it had interfered with his pacemaker. That makes sense. The damned pacemaker. But then, where would he be without it? The little electronic device he had worn since he was found to have a defective heart.

One the subject of heart, Turtledove comes back to his thoughts. Where is she? Is she safe? Absinthe becomes gloomy again. Fraught thoughts and mind miles. He looks around the squalid bathroom. How is he faring at being a man who can share his life with a woman? He remembers the lesson, if you’re on your own, you need only think about yourself. But if you want someone in your life, you need to apportion a part of your consciousness for them. That’s the massage that had been reinforced to him, over and over.

Getting hammered last night and forgetting to plug in the phone is okay alone, but not if you want Turtledove to stay. He observes his facial expression, it’s doleful. He glances out of the bathroom and sees the damp, pit of an apartment. Imagine if by some chance Turtledove was rostered to his city and they could get a night together. Is this malodorous man-pad suitable accommodation?

What was that old joke? Absinthe says it aloud, because it amuses him, “I’d never date a woman who’d date a guy like me.” He chuckles dryly, but it makes his face hurt and the apartment doesn’t get any cleaner. Or drier. Clean the apartment, visit the cardiologist for a pacemaker check. Prepare to get routed in the enquiry into the blown up transformer. First things first, check the messages.

Calmer now, but with a heart still heavy and running too fast, Absinthe moves back to his bed, raises the phone and calmly switches it on. Within a minute it is live. He holds his finger over the icon for the messenger app that shows there are two messages. A pang of anxiety flashes. He feels it tingle all the way up his spine and exit the top of his head. He lowers his finger and the app opens.

The messages aren’t from Turtledove. Instead, they are from the Director of Bitcrime Division: his boss. The first message says that the inquiry into the blown up transformer and city-wide blackout has been deferred because they need him back in the field ASAP. That means that there’s a new mission on the cards. That’s good for him. But is that good for him and Turtledove? And is it okay to be conflicted?

The second message tells him to report to Bitcrime Division HQ at 9am. That’s five hours away.

Absinthe lowers the phone, glumly. He ponders for a moment the sentiment that is welling inside him, something that he is compelled to share with Turtledove. He sits there listening to the noise of the raindrops crashing down on the roof. Then he sends Turtledove a message. Just two words, “Be careful.”

Chapter 2 - Planetary Boundaries Diagram

Getting to the office proves to be a much more complicated affair that expected. The rain, falling for a week now, has taken a sudden uptick in intensity. There is now an ‘atmospheric river’ added into the slow-moving, rain-bearing depression. So says the meteorologist on the radio, who went on to explain that for every degree Celsius that the planet warms, about 7% more water is evaporated into the atmosphere; and all that evaporated water has to go somewhere. Indeed, around the world, it falls in intense bursts, short, sharp, destabilizing hill-sides, forcing mud-slides and flash-floods. Entire villages washed away. Entire cities hosed down, the street gutters flushed of thousands of tonnes of plastic trash washed out to sea. What used to a one in a fifty-year flood, is now an annual event.

You’d really think that people would change their behaviour accordingly, but given the most people either don’t know or don’t care about climate change, the inevitable weather change is just written off, as well.

Absinthe navigates his vehicle through streets greyed-out by the heavy clouds and the incessant rain and watches people literally get washed away in the flood. He pulls up at a set of lights as a stream of water cascades down the street in front of him, a half dozen cars entrained in its watery grip. Fortunately, Absinthe drives a car that is not dissimilar to a small tank, so he is able to navigate the streets without too much bother. When he finally arrives at the office, he is twenty minutes late, but compared to the rest of the people, he is early.

As expected, Absinthe has to endure a bollocking from the Director before he gets to learn about his new mission. The Director is in his sixties, white haired, legally trained and harried by the pressures of his job. The faux pas with the transformer only adds to the stress. Fortunately the Director is more bureaucrat that Sergeant Major, so all Absinthe has to do is remain contrite, say “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir,” in the proper order, and he’ll get through in no time. At least, that’s the plan. In fact, the bollocking plays out rather differently than he had anticipated.

The bollocking begins by the Director drawing his attention to a framed diagram on the wall, a segmented circle with multiple colours. Standing in front of the Director’s desk, Absinthe glances at the diagram as instructed.

“I assume that you know what the diagram is,” the Director says, beginning his tirade.

“Yes, Sir. I do.”

“Would you care to name it so that I can hear you say it in your out-loud voice.”

“It’s the Planetary Boundaries diagram, Sir.”

“Top marks, soldier. But what is it about you that makes me feel the need to do ‘Planetary Boundaries for Beginners’ every-time you step into my office?”

“I can’t answer that, Sir.”

“Then answer this. What does that diagram tell us, broadly speaking?”

“It tells us that there are nine global-scale biophysical systems that need to be protected on Earth if the planet is to remain habitable for human beings, Sir.”

“Habitable for humans and most of the other species on this planet. Don’t forget them.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, Sir. It tells us that the status of all nine biophysical systems are beyond safe limits.”

The Director continues, “And we can intuit that unless there is a significant change in behaviour by the humans, we are on the brink of collapsing the entire living skin of this planet.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And our unit, Bitcrime Division, interfaces with which of these nine Planetary Boundaries?”

“Climate Change, Ocean Acidification and Novel Entities, Sir.”

“That’s correct. So the cryptocurrency miners are hoovering up vast amounts of predominantly coal-fired electricity for absolutely no good purpose, preventing us from meeting our climate change targets, and exacerbating the acidification of the overly hot and dangerously deoxygenated ocean. Plus, they are generating kilo-tonnes of techno-junk in all the defunct mining rigs and associated paraphernalia. And your job is to shoot the crypto-miners and destroy their equipment.”

“That’s my understanding, Sir.”

“All this has to be done on the meagre budgets that the government deigns to give us to save humanity.”

“I understand, Sir.”

“Oh, do you, Absinthe? Really? And there’s all those other Planetary Boundaries have to be protected, too. Our compatriots downstairs in Biosphere Integrity are working very hard to keep the biosphere full of living things other than humans and livestock.”

This information is not news to Absinthe. The downstairs department is where Turtledove works. She fights wildlife trafficking in the Pangolin Unit.

“These are all dangerous roles,” the Director continues. ”They lost three from downstairs just yesterday,”

“Lost? Three?” Absinthe stammers, stunned. Instantly, he is conscious that his heart is hammering away in his chest. His stomach tightens. Was Turtledove killed in action? Is that what the awful dream was, last night? Is that why all he could think to text to her was, “Be careful?”

“It’s not the point,” the Director snaps. “The point is my frustration.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I’d like you to picture my frustration, for a minute, Absinthe. Imagine a man tasked with saving humanity from abrupt climate change and ocean acidification on a shoestring budget, then receiving an invoice from a public utility for $12.6 million to replace the electrical transformer that you absent-mindedly machine-gunned and set on fire, causing a city-wide blackout that lasted an hour and a half. Do you understand how that man might be a bit upset by that, Absinthe Rhinohorn?”

“Yes, Sir.” says Absinthe, maybe with just a little less contriteness than was called for as he’s still distracted by the news. Turtledove can’t have been killed in action because she doesn’t go into action. She’s a Chief Administrator – a corporate office worker, not a field operative. But maybe the traffickers came for her. Either way, now he’s anxious as hell.

“And you’ll also understand how frustrated I am that this damned thing should show up in my life.” The Director drops a project file on the desk in front of him.

Absinthe recognises the document. It’s his new mission.

The Director continues, “It seems that some naughty cryptocurrency miners have found their way into the Centre of Nuclear Technology where there is both a nuclear reactor and a supercomputer that is supposed to be modelling the plume of radioactive water pouring out of the three melted-down cores of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan. Instead, it is now mining some new cryptocurrency called Hivemind. You need to go there, find the crypto-rats and kill them. But please don’t destroy the mining rig, it’s very expensive public property.”

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