Bitcoin and science fiction
A little creative writing exercise
If you’re available today at 8 pm ET, you’re welcome to join me in a group conversation with novelist Libbie Hawker about money and fiction writing. In the meantime, here’s a fictional short story I wrote to prepare for that writing workshop. I hope you enjoy it!
“Money is only an extreme and specialized type of ritual.”
- Mary Douglas
Sometimes, love makes us reckless. And although I’m a cold-hearted loner, when it comes to family I’m still no exception. That’s the only reason I’d go anywhere near the mosque in Santa Monica these days.
The call to prayer rang out of the mosque speakers as palm trees swayed outside the air-conditioned sanctuary. When people started to trickle out after the service, I scanned the crowd, squinting against the sun. Shervin came out, a husky guy with curly hair in black jeans and a black Sex Pistols t-shirt. I hoped no one would notice the Lightning Network tattoo wrapped around his arm. After all, running an in-house Lightning node was almost a status symbol for the wannabe hackers in Calabasas and Santa Monica these days, like expensive cars.
I waited, leaning up against the stucco walls of the strip mall across the street. Considering I didn’t rip him apart with my bare hands, I’d say things went rather well.
“You’ve gone too far this time,” I growled, hand gripping his shirt.
“Omar, chill out,” Shervin sputtered. “We’ll talk. We’ll talk.”
I released his shirt, still glaring, then shoved him toward the car. We climbed into my vintage 2025 yellow Mustang, a true testament to the beauty of engineering and my father’s salvaging skills. We immediately locked the doors, windows rolled up tight. I exploded at Shervin the minute the air conditioning clicked on.
“I won’t run your errands any more after this, Shervin! I’m sick of being your fucking token Jew. Man baziche dast to nistam,” I added in Farsi. As a Persian Jew, it was relatively easy for me to travel around California without anyone flagging my license plate. For Shervin over here, my Muslim cousin-in-law and best friend, not so much.
“This will be the last favor, I swear, Dadash,” he said, “little brother” in Farsi.
I turned on the car and started driving us up the coast. Before Shervin and I got all tangled up in these bitcoin favors, if that’s what you want to call them, I was just a Krav Maga instructor with a small studio on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, minding my own damn business, despite all the idiots running this city. We’ve trained together for years. Shervin even calls my dad Baba.
Five years ago, Shervin stood by me and Baba when my mother passed away from cancer. She had named me after a poet, Omar Khayyam, the one who said heaven and hell were both inside us all. During those months I finally understood the hell part, what it meant to carry destructive wildfire inside my body. There were times after the funeral when it hurt so much I wanted to join her. Shervin pulled me away from the grave one step at a time. He got me up and to the gym at the ass crack of dawn every day for weeks. I’ll never forget that.
At 32, he was only three years older than me, eight inches shorter than my six-foot frame, even in his punk-ass boots. But I still looked up to Shervin, especially the way he got his sisters and mom out of the country safely after that police raid. Typical for Muslim families in California who refused to “assimilate,” whatever that means in times like these.
“Come on, say something,” I muttered to Shervin after a few minutes of driving in tense silence.
He put a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged it off, still intent on scowling until the knot in my stomach subsided.
“Just enjoy driving this baby while you can, ’cause we can’t take it with us when we fly out of San Francisco, Dadash,” Shervin said.
“Don’t remind me,” I sighed, right hand caressing the dashboard as my left gripped the wheel.
All the self-driving cars zipping past us might be faster and more comfortable, but nothing beats an old engine’s roar beneath your feet.
“You’re like one of those Lambros,” Shervin teased. “Your car isn’t your dick. You’ll survive without it.”
I punched him quickly in the side of his arm. He laughed.
By the time we pulled off the freeway, onto yet another street lined with palm trees, traffic slowed to a crawl beneath a perfectly blue sky. “Damn checkpoints,” Shervin huffed.
Trucks, flashy convertibles, and sleek, self-driving transports piled up back to the freeway off-ramp. The line curled around a roadside power station. Someone a few cars ahead honked and shouted out the window, as if we weren’t all stuck in the same mess.
“Turn off your phone and take the car’s GPS offline,” Shervin said, gesturing to a stingray perched on top of the nearby 7-11, fake phone towers that trick devices into connecting with them instead of with the standard corporate providers. Stingrays always seemed to appear at impromptu checkpoints since the last pandemic wave. A uniformed officer motioned for me to roll down my window, so I did.
“Turn over your mobiles and punch in the passwords,” the officer drawled.
“One sec, officer.” Shervin flashed a warm smile, friendly as ever, deliberately keeping the mood light. His ability to mask the hatred for cops that I knew simmered beneath his smile gave me a small shiver. He lied too well.
The officer placed our phones in a hand-held cradle that downloaded their content for further analysis. There wouldn’t be much on my phone for the police to find anyway. I didn’t keep many friends after the police raid three years back took Baba away in cuffs and left Shervin’s dad six feet under. Besides Shervin, Baba, and my Krav Maga students, the only other number I called often with that cellphone was Becca, the building manager’s blonde daughter. We had been hooking up for a few years. But even her perfect tits and predictable sighs were starting to bore me. We have nothing to say afterward.
If the cops wanted to read her texts complaining I’m not “emotionally available,” they could have at it. The officer held an eye scanner up to my face, then Shervin’s. I looked straight at him without flinching, shoulders relaxed. Next he scanned our foreheads to take our temperatures and measure our heart rates. Our phones had all the mandated healthcare apps, since our medical histories determined our toll road rates and where we could travel. If the scanner had beeped red, we’d be forced into quarantine and a violation charge would automatically be deducted from our mobile wallets. Luckily, my family never caught the last virus, so the scanner flashed green.
“You’re clear,” he said. The officer reached in through my window and dumped our mobiles into my lap. His thick moustache twitched irritably as he glanced up at the long line of cars snaking behind us.
Behind him, billboards flashed their rotating wanted ads: Rough sketches of women with red words stamped across their chests. “Terrorists.” “Spies.” “Cultists.” “Traitors.”
Ahead of us, if I squinted, I could barely see the crossroad where traffic was starting to clear up.
There was one last errand to run before Shervin and I drove up north to San Francisco. I took the seaside highway, the long way to Bob’s Antique Auto Parts in the green Malibu hills overlooking the water. Shervin slumped against the window, drooling on his Sex Pistols shirt, passed out asleep in the passenger’s seat.
I pulled up to Bob’s just as the red-fingered moon rose and twilight draped velvet darkness across the beach. The ocean view was almost beautiful enough to distract me from the knot still in my stomach. Crickets woke up, one by one. Stars faintly dotted the skyline beyond the city lights. The garage looked almost empty at first, with the front door left ajar. But I knew better. So I left Shervin to sleep and entered through the metal door.
“Omar!” A gruff voice echoed from beneath a gorgeous 2019 Maserati to my left. “Right on time.”
An old, stout man with a bushy moustache rolled out in front of my feet, a greasy tool in his hand and black smears streaked across his chest. “Aren’t I always?” I said.
He got up and gave me a hearty pat on the back with his (relatively) clean left hand. I’ve been Bob’s zakat dealer at least twice before, ever since the Faith and Opportunity Initiative lobbied for laws like the Religious Freedom & Tithing Act. These suit-and-tie assholes either don’t have any sense of irony, or have far too much of it, when they dream up these names.
“Come here, Son, I wanna show ya something,” Bob gestured toward the window and waddled closer. His baggy jeans slipped down as he shuffled over, gut jiggling. His back was covered in curly hair. “Take a look at that red light,” he said.
When I walked over and followed his gaze, it looked like a cruise ship or an aircraft carrier. But it was too dark to tell.
“Do you think it’s one of those Nonbeliever hotspots, a big-ole hulking ship full of servers and nodes?” He whispered.
In response, I merely raised an eyebrow. No one knew where the original anarchist servers were, or how many mesh nodes supported access to the network. No one who could talk, at least. I didn’t want to know. “What if it is? Ya think they’re getting so close?” He seemed to ask no one in particular, maybe just the wind.
“Yalla,” I told him. “Same mosque?” I held up my phone with a QR code ready to scan.
Similar to my Jewish family, Muslims like Bob changed their names and drank beer but still clung to some Old World habits like giving alms to the poor. They call it zakat, giving 2.5 percent of their wealth beyond the nisab, a savings worth three ounces of gold, to charity and to the Almighty. Basically, once you’re stable you’re supposed to help others.
Since donating to mosques will get a man landed straight on a watch list, customers like Bob buy my freshly mined bitcoin and I donate from a nondescript wallet on their behalf.
“That’s the one,” he said, reaching for his phone. Within a few minutes he paid me with a cash-transfer app, then I showed him how I’d sent his bitcoin. I wanted him to know in case I couldn’t come back for a while. He’d write off the payment as if I’d fixed up one of those cars, which I had in the past but didn’t have time for today.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, arranging each word like fine china on a table.
“Dangerous pastime, Bob,” I replied.
“I’m serious,” he chuckled, his voice low and gravelly. “Them computers you’re so fond of aren’t so different from cars,” he said. “It’s just little pieces of machines swirling around, making fire or not fire, ones and zeros, in lines of traffic.”
And that’s what I always loved about this guy, his ability to condense insights from the vapor of nuance.
“You’re right,” I nodded. The dread in my stomach grew heavier as I realized I needed to get back on the road to San Francisco, city of dreams and nightmares. “What’s your point?”
He licked his lips. Being careful.
“Don’t let those machine-talkers make you think they can work magic,” he said. “Take care of yourself.”
However he knew I’d come to say goodbye, his reply gripped me by the throat and stung my eyes. I turned away.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” I called out over my shoulder as I left, hoping to sound nonchalant. Blowing him off was easier in the moment than admitting I’d miss the guy.
I wish I knew then that I was leaving the City of Angels for good. I had a sneaking suspicion something felt different this time around, helping with Bob’s zakat, like the world holding its breath before lightning strikes.
These past few months, meeting men like Bob, were the first time I started being reckless by helping Shervin, risking my own neck. Before I’d realized it was happening, I went from a dabbler to a full-fledged dealer. A pirate, of sorts. It wasn’t a brave choice I made to become some type of activist. I was just a guy gambling for the resources to get his father out of prison. I couldn’t stop because I was sick of nightmares about the police raid I never saw. If I’d been home that night, there’s no way it would have turned out like this.
Guilt became a monster inside me with vicious fangs. I agreed to drive with Shervin to the airport up north and try our luck from there because I had so few people left.
Sometimes, everything changes overnight. For me, that night was a steady drive up Highway 1. What else was there to do with my reckless heart, still hoping to find a better life than the cards I was dealt?
“I’ll come back as soon as this all settles down. When life goes back to normal,” I lied to myself as I pulled out of the driveway and careened into the black night.
Until next time, take care everybody!