Editor’s Note: In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Galt's Gulch was a physical place where the best minds could retreat – withdraw their skills and support from a corrupt system. In the novel Crypto Shrugged, authors Ed Teja and J. Lee Porter recontextualize Rand’s classic in terms of distributed ledger technologies, such as Bitcoin, that allow anyone to "Go Galt" when, where, and how they choose. There's no need for a utopian land to escape to. But what happens when authoritarian governments, international organizations, and criminals find ways to control transactions? Can the anarcho-capitalists who create the technology, the ones who implement it, keep cryptocurrency from becoming a tool of authoritarian social control? Crypto Shrugged is part of The Writers Series, our highly popular series featuring the work of contemporary novelists influenced by Ayn Rand. In the following excerpt from chapter three, hacker Peggy Anne Dory and Mitch Childer, from the International Monetary Fund, meet in a hotel bar in Zurich, Switzerland to discuss plans for implementing a national cryptocurrency in Tanzania.
“I trust your suite is satisfactory?” he asked.
That was an incredible understatement. “It’s lovely.”
“Excellent. And Mr. Hoenig…”
“My employer thinks I’m enjoying myself at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun,” she said. “As we discussed.”
“Excellent. Form matters.” He put an envelope on the table.
“What is this?”
“Receipts from your trip to Mexico. I suggest you put some in the desk drawers in your office and leave some in your apartment.”
“You think Claude would…”
“He is former CIA,” the man said. “He is an exceptional man; however, I don’t think trust is one of his strengths.”
The thought startled her. She’d wondered about her boss being an ex-spook, but oddly enough, the idea that he’d spy on her hadn’t occurred to her. Now it made her mouth dry. She raised a hand and caught the waiter’s eye. “You should have a drink.” He pursed his lips. She was sure he was about to tell her it was too early in the day. “Form matters and we are in a bar.”
“Just so,” he said. She heard approval.
As the waiter walked up, he looked at her companion and gave her a puzzled look. “What can I get you, sir? The lady is enjoying our saffron mojito.”
The man looked at Peggy’s mojito. “Certainly not something as gauche as that. How about a glass of your best brandy?”
“Excellent choice, sir.”
“I’ll have the same,” Peggy said, pushing the mojito away.
When the waiter left, the man reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “These are the initial requirements for the modifications I require to the project.” He put it on the table and pushed it over to her.
She looked at it, thinking it was smaller than she expected, and telling herself to be studied, not rushed.
“Can you tell me why all the secrecy? And why contact me? I’m sure Claude, my boss, would be happy to accommodate requests from the IMF.”
“For my own reasons, I’d rather he didn’t know, just as I set this meeting up so that he won’t know about it.”
She nodded. She was aware that this man, Mitch Childer, was a top official in the IMF. She’d thought he was proposing a side project for the IMF. Suddenly, she wasn’t so sure. “So he knows about your involvement through the IMF—”
“And nothing more. That is why I’m offering a great deal of money—to ensure that he doesn’t. That should be enough explanation to satisfy you.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
“Do this well, and I promise you many other projects of this type.”
“What can you tell me about these requirements?”
He tipped his head. “I’m not a programmer. I’m barely technical, but these are some additions, adjustments you will make to the sidechain you’ll develop. They are the core. We can’t know what other changes will be needed until we have the complete specification and the work starts.”
“Adding things, changing things later in a project is always more difficult and harder to conceal.”
He nodded. “Just so. Which is why we are paying you a substantial amount of money. We intend to keep changes to the minimum; however, we must anticipate events or situations that will force us to adapt. Your job, your paycheck, depends on you accommodating those things.”
“If it was easy, anyone could do it, right?”
He scowled. “I’m not sure…”
“It’s just a saying. You obviously don’t spend enough time in your office in America.”
His face twisted into a sneer. “Washington DC is not my favorite place. I have a comfortable life here in Zurich, where it is civilized.”
She took the envelope from the table, slipping it into her purse, which sat on the seat beside her. She’d examine it later. “I’ll take care of it.”
“You seem confident.”
She smiled. She was quite sure the man knew that she’d been a serious hacker. He wouldn’t have come to her without thinking she could work covertly and well. He sure wouldn’t be paying her such a large amount—and in lovely Bitcoin that could never be traced to her. “I am. Claude, like you, doesn’t get into project details—he has people like me to do that. If the code works, he wouldn’t think to ask what else it might do.”
“That sounds like the voice of experience.”
The question caught her by surprise and made her wonder if he knew about some of the back doors she’d put into Hoenig’s recent projects. Then she decided he didn’t. “I know he doesn’t spend time going over the code and wouldn’t know if I’d changed things. So unless there is something incredibly large or a high volume of changes that delay things…”
“Nothing of the sort,” he said. “We aren’t interested in altering the project goals. We simply wish to add some subtle things that will enable us to monitor things and ensure that things go… smoothly.”
With the discussion shifting into technology, Peggy was pleased to find herself able to go toe-to-toe with the man. He was clever and possibly dangerous. He didn’t need to spell things out and didn’t care too. That would make him a formidable ally or enemy. It was good to be on his side. He’d take her places.
As a man, however, she was disappointed in him. Although he had the regal bearing of a power broker, there wasn’t any real life force in him. No personal juice or zest for life. That he was calculating and cold might make him great at his job, but he wasn’t her cup of tea. And she could tell that his interest in her was limited to the role she’d play in his game.
J. Lee Porter and Ed Teja
J. Lee Porter is a former IT specialist, programmer, and data analyst for banking, security, and government agencies. He left the IT world behind on July 4, 2016, declaring it his personal independence day to travel the world full time in search of inspiration for his writing. Ed Teja is a writer, poet, musician, and boat bum. He writes about the places he knows and the people who live in the margins of the world. After being friends with tech giants, pirates, fishermen, and a coterie of strange people for many years, he finds the world an amazing place filled with intriguing, if sometimes crazed, characters.