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Freedom Zone Confronts City Council

“Let’s bring this meeting to order,” said the Mayor. “Order, please.” He banged the gavel. Quiet emerged in the packed City Council Chambers. Cameras flashed.

“All right, to begin, this is a highly informal meeting, at the request of a group which calls themselves the Freedom Zone. This group, and the area where they reside, have no legal basis, but the City has agreed to work with them informally, to move this forward and try to come to a resolution.”

In the back, somebody whispered “windbag.”

“hush” whispered another.

The Mayor continued. “I’d like to give the floor to our Finance Director, Sasha Baldwin. Sasha.”

Sasha rose. “You can read a summary of our findings up on screen. As you can see, landowners and retail establishments are in arrears on property taxes, sales taxes, and wage taxes. These property taxes are based on assessed values. The sales and wage figures are guesstimates, since the people in arrears have filed no reports; they have not complied with laws which require them to file tax forms. In addition, no fees have been paid for inspections, licensing, and other matters which are deemed vital for public safety.”

After further speechification and verbiage, the Mayor invited Troy Freeman-Li to the stand. An aide made an adjustment to the video projector; a map appeared, showing the informal Freedom Zone, and the words “Speaking: Troy Freeman-Li.”

About 1.9 meters tall, dark haired, athletic in build, wearing a bespoke suit, Troy commanded attention. He introduced himself in strong, confident tones. “Hello, my name is Troy Freeman-Li, of the Freedom Zone. I speak for myself and, by their request, the interests of the others who have been described by the finance minister as ‘in arrears.’ They remain free to speak for themselves or to separate themselves from my informal representation, should I depart from their intentions.” As he spoke, captions appeared, in sync; all of this video generated by Troy’s Interface.

The Mayor had scrawled “A kid?” on his scratch paper. His aide wrote “Owns 1/2 zone. Could buy 1/2 city. Respect.”

“I’d like to address two issues with the property tax. First, the assessed value; the City has raised appraised values by 140%, not because it spends more money on us in the Zone, but because the City believes that we have no choice but to pay; it seeks to charge the highest price that we will tolerate. Second, with respect to school tax: No child in Freedom Zone attends city schools, and some outside of this zone have chosen to study within it. Twelve thousand students are educated at our own expense. We see no reason to continue to pay City school taxes, nor to pay these huge increases, simply because of arbitrary increases in assessed value.”

Graphics compared the increases in assessed values and taxes, versus the drop in cost of actual services, since the Zone had begun providing better and cheaper alternatives.

Troy took a sip of water. “Furthermore, I’d like the Police Chief to speak a moment about crime statistics, and demand for police services in this Zone. Chief, please.”

The Police Chief stood. “It may cost my job to say this, but any of my officers will tell you the same story. There is hardly any violent crime in this area; it is a ‘Safe Zone.’ One officer has been killed in the past three years; it was found that he was attempting to rape a woman, who shot him. This was ruled a regrettable but justifiable homicide; no charges were filed. Two officers who were beating a homeless man, and got themselves a bit of a beat-down; they chose to file no charges. A few purses have been snatched; the perpetrators were caught, the property returned. In short, the zone does a great job of policing itself. Furthermore, ambulance services run out of a facility adjacent to ours. They report zero calls from this zone, the past three years. The same for fire services. This zone resolves their own problems.”

The Chief sat down. Troy continued. “To sum up our position, we hardly need the City; the City needs us. We’ve happily paid for and supported city water and sewage, which we do use. We have our own waste disposal firms. We police our streets. We educate our children. We are asking only to keep what is our own, and to put it to better use for our own purposes.”

A Council Member stood up: “You are asking for tax subsidies.”

“No. We are asking to be left alone. We have little need for your ‘services.” And I, personally, have offered to buy your decrepit water treatment facilities, improve them at my expense, and to sell better water to city residents at lower prices than they now pay.”

Another Council Member: “Your 12,000 children don’t seem to go to school at all. They’re in the streets and shops at all hours of the day.”

A boy stood and requested attention. He looked to be about twelve years old. He approached the mike. Troy stepped aside.

“Hello everyone. My name is Isaac Kaplan. I don’t go to school, because I want to learn all the time, every day. I learn when I read at the library; I learn when I play with my friends; I learn when I visit with Rabbi Small; I learn when I work in my Aunt Tilda’s book store. I’m learning right now, and I don’t need somebody to make this an ‘assignment’, nor to tell me to write a report. I’ll write my own report in a newsletter for my paying customers, and the better I write, the more I get paid. I write for incentives which are real to me, not for gold stars.”

Audience members applauded.

Another Council Member rose. “What about drugs and prostitution?”

Troy answered. “Both are openly available, of high quality, offered under conditions which are safe for both customers and providers.”

“What about licensing and code enforcement?”

“Were somebody to explain the benefits of specific programs, we would be more than happy to find ways to provide better services at lower cost. In fact, as a landlord, I fund inspectors who examine every property I own, and fix problems so that my tenants and I can have a good working relationship in a safe and healthy environment. This is how we do things in the Zone.”

The audience ooohed. The Mayor called for order. “Anything further, Mr. Freeman-Li?”

“To sum up, the City has broken faith with us. It collects taxes under false pretenses. These taxes, we have been told, are merely the ‘price we pay for civilization’; the price for safe street, for good schools, for paved roads, and so forth. By any honest assessment, the City has hardly ever delivered on its promises. Any contract between equal parties would be voided by such egregious non-performance, but the City claims special status – the power to demand taxes without actually having to deliver on its side of the bargain. I ask that a new bargain be struck, a bargain which more fairly reflects the interests of those who carry the burden and bear the costs.”

“We choose to protect our neighbors because we want to live in a clean and safe neighborhood. We provide food, health, and lodging for the indigent because they are our neighbors, and when we help them, we help all of our neighbors. And we are able to do this because we have refused to been pay millions of dollars in unjust taxes for services which the City is actually not providing. I’d be happy to sit down and talk with the folks in your city who provide services which we do use – such as water and sewage – and find ways to pay a reasonable price for reasonable service. But the attitude of the city is not based upon service, nor upon voluntary exchange; it is based upon their determination to use law suits and the threat of police action and account seizures to pick a price – your price, not ours – and to demand it, whether or not we even wish to be included with what you have decided is the “right” package of goods and services.”

“As I said earlier, we do not use your schools. If your city had to pay for the 12,000 childdrenn within our boundaries, you’d have even worse finanical problems – and both parents and children would be deeply unhappy with your services.”

“This young man” – Troy put an arm around Isaac – “can run rings around most of your high school graduates, and he is six years younger than they. Neither he, nor his parents, nor I wish to pay top-drawer prices for bottom-drawer goods.”

“So I conclude. Please let me know when we can negotiate terms which respect our needs and wants, where you and we are not enemies, nor master and subjects, but voluntary, equitable partners. Until this happens, we will not send a dime to the City, except for the water and sewage.”

“Is that an ultimatum?” asked the Mayor.

“It is what it is – a reasonable position which we hope that any reasonable person would at least consider.”

“Or else?”

“Or else, we will leave. You can have your empty property. We will take ourselves away. You’ll not be bothered by our presence. You’ll have empty land and buildings, and nothing to show for it.”

Behind Troy, people began to disappear, one by one. Seats emptied. Only Troy and Isaac remained, calmly gazing at the Mayor and City Council.

An Aide to the Mayor spoke in a stage whisper. “I wasn’t kidding about Wallenberg. Troy Li-Freeman is the brother of the girl who invented the teleporters, and their father helped to organize the evacuation of Wallenberg, the Rapture.”

“I thought that was a tabloid story.”

“My dad was there, sir.”

The Mayor stood. “I take your point, sir. My council and I will withdraw and consult amongst ourselves. Thank you for your time.”

“One more thing, please.”

Isaac walked up to the Mayor, and hung a bright golden sun amulet around the Mayor’s neck, and proceeded down the line.

“This State has a Sunshine Law. In the interests of Sunshine, I’ve made it easy for you to keep a transparent and open record of all your conversations. Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to our next meeting.”

The Mayor looked at the amulet with some distaste. But he did not remove it. He nodded his head, and watched as Troy and Isaac winked out.

The Meshdek – A Demonstration

An early episode, from Jim’s college days, has surfaced.

Jim Wallenberg stepped onto the mat. He was facing Bruce Lee, the legendary martial artist – or, in any event, a lifelike simulacrum. The two sparred, trading blows, dodging, leaping, striking, kicking, spinning. He felt every blow as it landed; by the time the session stopped, he was dripping with sweat, panting, and feeling hurt all over.

“End Simulation,” he signaled. The scene faded. He accepted a glass of water from his father, Anthony Wallenberg.

“Wow. You did it. You really did it. That was amazing.”

Anthony beamed.

“Now, explain it to me. You implemented Dr. John Storrs Hall’s Utility Fog, right? Only you prefer to call it Utility Mesh?”

“Yes. It was originally designed to protect the body in the event of an automobile crash, by dynamically filling the space, and decelerating the human body in a controlled, safe manner. Normally, it allows movement, almost as if it were fog. I figured that, if it could react that swiftly, it could simulate an opponent in a match, such as this. That, combined with Interface access to your sensorium, creates an amazingly realistic simulation. You feel it, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I sure do.”

A new icon appeared in Jim’s vision, sent by Anthony. Jim pressed it, requesting a massage; a table appeared – using the same mesh technology. Jim laid on its surface, and disembodied hands worked on his aching muscles.

“Oh, there’s gonna be a market for that app,” he sighed.

“We have to bring the costs down. But yes, that will sell.” replied Anthony.

“You call this a Meshdeck?”

“Meshdek” corrected Anthony. “without the ‘c’. It’s like the holodeck, but using mesh technology and the Interface.”

“What if somebody else accesses my Interface? Could they harm me?”

“They could make you suffer,” replied Anthony. “Which is why you pay attention to cybersecurity, lad.”

Old Man in NY Times Eludes Police

“Unhand me!” said the stooped, elderly, white-haired bum. He stank of rotting fish. “I have freedom of speech, no?”
His accent was thick, hinting that his first language was not English, but perhaps Spanish. Black threads showed in his hair, especially his bushy eyebrows. He swung his heavy thick cane with surprising alacrity, managing somehow to elude pursuit, as he ran in his peculiar, hunched, crabbed gait, across the Times Square.
Moments below, he had been haranguing the crowd. A news segment had flashed on the big screen – police pouring bleach over confiscated food, food which had been donated to those at a tent city. It was if he controlled the giant video screen. Well, there was no as if; he did control it.
“You say you want to help us. You ask, what can you do? I say, for the love of mankind, stop the doing. Stop the destruction of our food.”
The image changed, showing tiny homes being towed away from a homeless encampment in Los Angeles.
“I say to you, if you would help us, stop destroying our homes.” His amplified voice rang out.
Scenes flashed, showing other homes being destroyed by bulldozers.
“Stop the destruction of our livelihood.” The screen showed a street vendor, in handcuffs, his tiny cart loaded into a police truck.
“Stop kidnapping us and incarcerating us for these victimless ‘crimes’ of which you speak. The United States has more people behind bars, per capita, than any other. This is a crime against humanity.”
The speaker thumped his cane.
“Stop destroying our schools.” The screen showed students and teachers huddled, as their “illegal” school was torn down.
“Stop destroying the education of our children.” The screen showed children being herded off, separately from their parents. “These parents performed no crime, but the education of their children.”
“Stop criminalizing our love. Stop criminalizing our sharing. Stop criminalizing our speech, our healing, our medicines, our caregiving. In the name of all that is humane, stop!”
The elderly man thumped his cane. Two burly policemen reached for him. The NYC Police chief stood directly in front of him. “Dr. Anthony Wallenberg, I must ask you to come with me.”
“Doctor who?” the man said. He pointed to the screen, which had switched channels. There, live, on CNN, was Dr. Anthony Wallenberg, speaking before the International Sysadmin Conference, in Bonn.
“Is not Bonn in Europe, sir? Or has my education failed me? Are you accusing me of being this man, who is speaking live, on another continent entirely?”
At that moment, the one known mostly as the “Old Man” fled. He located his escape pod, which looked like a door – a locked door – in what had been a narrow alleyway, barely large enough for a person to enter. Provided they had the proper key. “Open Sesame,” said the Old Man. The door irised open, admitting him.
A warm alto voice answered. “Voiceprint recognized, Dr. Anthony Wallenberg.”
“I am getting too old for this,” he muttered.
“I do not understand. Your corporate form is merely 212 years old. You are in excellent health, sir.”
“I am. I am also wearing this infernal harness, which makes me look like a hunchback and run like a broken-legged crab, and it weighs 20 kilos! Take me to the Redoubt, please!”
Anthony peeled off his mask, long bushy hair included, and shucked his smelly clothing and harness. He stepped into the Sonic Shower briefly, then pitched his clothing and gear into the nano-Shower, setting the controls to “deep fumigate.”
He selected a far more comfortable set of nanosilk lounging pajamas, and took the copilot’s seat.
“Hello, Grandpa.” said Troy.
“Hello Grandson,” he replied. “Thanks for meeting me here. Are your siblings well?”
“Yes, Grandpa. Alia’s in Central Park, actually.”
They landed in the Redoubt, deep in a mountain in Wallenberg.
“You turned off your transponder?” asked Anthony.
“Yes, sir. Radio silence all the way.”
“And your cover story is?”
“Taking a retreat, sir. Too much for my growing teen brain to process. I’m hiking in the mountains somewhere. Why all the cloak-and-dagger, sir?”
“I’m really not supposed to be here,” answered Anthony. He raided the larder, pressed a tab on the sardine-can-sized MRE, which expanded to form a turkey club sandwich, with chips and a crunchy pickle on the side. Thank nanomek for 24th century tech, he said. The MREs of the early 21st century were simply ghastly.
“You want anything, Troy?”
“I’m good, thanks. But maybe I’ll take one to go. Got a Reuben in there?”
“Take two. I’ll bring a spare for me. We’ll get beverages topside.”
“Topside” meant an underground bunker, one which Troy had never seen before. It wasn’t on the maps he had memorized, and radio silence meant he couldn’t ask the local Artillect.
“So what do you call that?” asked Troy, as he pointed backward.
“That? It’s a TimeShip.”
“It’s meant to travel through time?”
“Yes. But please forget that, it’s not to appear on the records.”
“Are you really 200 years old, Grandpa?”
“And change, Grandson.”
“You’re from the future then.”
“Shh. Ears.” Anthony pointed. He closed his eyes briefly, communing with his first Artillect, Lugh. DeepLugh, as ve preferred to be called nowadays; Lugh had grown and split vimself into multiple entities. DeepLugh edited away their presence and speech from its public memories. Even from the security tapes, which were known to be inviolable, for 21st century technology.
“Do Artillects have sex?” Anthony mused.
“What?” asked Troy.
“I was remembering an ancient conversation. Do you know how Artillects reproduced, in the early days?”
“Genetic Algorithms?”
“Right, Troy. Well, the Artillect here reproduced by fission; by calving off parts of vimself.”
“I know that. That’s so last year.” answered Troy.
Anthony laughed. “I retain over 200 years of long and very detailed memories. I’ve seen so much change – created so much change – that I have to ask myself to consciously remember dates and places. And now I am overlapping my own timeline.”
“What happened in the future? To you, I mean.”
“Just at the point of my return? From their point of view, I disappeared. I died, actually. They saw my casket soaring into the Sun. My estate has been dispersed, to thousands of beneficiaries, great and small. Beyond a certain year, I have no future. Or more precisely, this is my future.”
“What brings you here?”
“The love of my grandchildren is not enough? I come to plant a few miracles. We are greatly in need of them.”

A Bad Encounter

“Papa, up.” Robert stooped to lift his little girl. Biologically, his niece. Mama Traci, unawares, turned a corner. They were heading to a Sysadmin convention.

As she passed a dark alcove, an arm snaked out, encircling her neck. “Pretty girl,” a voice murmured.

Just as quickly, Traci ducked and twisted, and he spotted a pistol in her hand.

“Uh, I guess you’re not happy to see me.”

“Not the least bit.”

“Do you want to kill me?”

“No, I want you gone.”

He went.

Robert arrived just then. He had Alia in one arm, a pistol in the other hand. At the same moment, a conference attendee arrived. Seeing pistols, he put up his hands. “Are you all right, ma’am?”

“All good.” replied Traci. She returned her pistol to its hidden pocket. “Heading to the convention? May we buy you a coffee?”

Giovanni was visiting from France. He held a chair for Traci, and helped Robert and Alia settle. Introductions were made.

“Wait, you’re Robert and Traci Li? Of the backdoor paper? And the PIMASA distro?”

Robert nodded. “Part of the team, yes.”

Traci suckled Alia. She mindspoke a waiter, and a security firm, placing orders with the one, requesting surveillance from the other.

“I hate to be all fan-boyish, but I am in awe of you and your fellow authors. The PIMASA distro is super! May I ask, what does PIMASA stand for?”

Robert began, “An ancient Sanskrit word …”

Traci shooshed him. “My brother is a tease. If you request a Free Slap, I’d like to watch.”

“Uh, perhaps I’ll let that one go.” Giovanni was mystified, but courteous enough to leave some questions unasked. “Did you call the police?”

Traci replied. “The acronym is Peace Is Morally And Socially Acceptable. He’s being watched.”

“Should I worry about your weapons?”

“Only if you wish to do harm.”

“In that case, I feel very safe indeed.”


Encounter With LGBTQAI Protester

My family and I were walking through the Wallenberg Airport Mall. A middle-aged woman, wearing a shirt died in rainbow hues, held a sign: “Wallenberg Hostile To LGBTQAI rights.”

Curious, I introduced myself. “Hi, my name is Manus.”

“Hi, my name is Gloria.”

“How are you, Gloria? May I introduce my husband, Robert, and wife Traci? and this is little Alia.”

Gloria did a double take. “Thanks for your support.”

“I’m not sure what it is you think I might be supporting. I’m trying to find this alleged hostility.”

“Well, you have no anti-discrimination laws.”

“We have hardly any law at all. We don’t like to clutter the field.”

“But what if someone refuses to hire you?”

“I’d truly hate to work for someone who did not wish to associate with me.”

“But do you feel no solidarity with LGTBQAI folk?”

“I guess we might be at least a little bit LGBTQAI. Robert and I often do have sex, and he also has a pair of fully-functional milk-production units.” Robert began discreetly suckling Alia.

“We’d be delighted to share a cuppa tea with you. Could you tell me, is your sole objection to Wallenberg the mere lack of a law, or is there something more?”

“This is a serious issue, sir.”

“I’m sure. We have many serious people today. There is Felps, protesting the lack of laws against nudity, public sex, and gay sex. The gent next to him is protesting the lack of laws against drugs. Others are calling for regulation of education, firearms, and unattended children. We have a few 3D channels devoted to interviewing earnest protesters. These seem to be mainly of interest to folks who are curious about Wallenberg, or about protest culture. ”

“You allow firearms in this mall? That makes me feel terribly unsafe.”

My lovely wife Traci answered “My firearm improved my safety when a man attempted to rape me.”

“Did you shoot him?” Gloria’s lip curled in distaste.

“No need. It was enough to express my desire that he leave.”

“And he didn’t wrest your gun from you?”

“It isn’t so easy to disarm a lady, when you’re not Jackie Chan. The fellow left.”

“This place must be awfully violent.”

“Quite the opposite.”

Interview With The Advocate

Next was a young fellow from the Advocate. He too was a perky blonde, but rather more stylish.

“Could we talk about gay rights?”

“Could we not talk about rights at all?”

“Could you explain?”

“It seems any time people talk about rights, we get into a complicated discussion. Is this a right? Is that a right? I wonder if it isn’t better to look for simpler, neater approaches.”

“We have freedom. Freedom isn’t like a pie, something for people to divide and squabble over. We have a saying.” Jim pointed to the plaque:

“Peace is morally and socially acceptable.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever you wish to do, is it peaceful and honest? Alternatively, do you wish to rape, murder, steal, or otherwise do unjustifiable violence to someone? If the answer to the former is yes, and no to the latter, we’re good. Enjoy!”

“What do you think about gay marriage?”

“Are you aware that my son is happily married to a man? It was a lovely, very popular wedding.”

The lad brightened. Hadn’t he done his research?

“What about the ENDA?”

“Could you explain it to me like I’m not an American? Since I’m not.”

“Well, uh, that’s the Employment Non Discrimination Law. it …”

Jim raised a hand. “Please stop. May I show you the Constitution of the government of Wallenberg?”

The reporter perused the sheet. Twice. “This is it? No taxes? No laws?”

“No taxes. We have, by far, the tiniest government imaginable. Any smaller, you might lose it when pulling the drain plug. As for the laws, the people of Wallenberg have as many laws as they deem necessary. And I don’t recall any discrimination laws. But I could be wrong.”

“But aren’t you concerned about discrimination?”

“These issues don’t seem to matter here. I don’t have any idea what to say to you folks in America.”

“What about hate crimes?”

When Jim heard what that was, he was perplexed. “I don’t like to talk about freedom of X, can’t see the point of divvying up freedom like it was a prize. But don’t Americans have freedom of speech?”

“But don’t gays and lesbians suffer more from violent crime?”

“Not in Wallenberg. Let me show a surveillance clip.”

The reporter watched an altercation between a white guy and a mixed-race couple, resolved when Ted prevented the hateful criminal from tumbling over a railing. It concluded with a conversation.

“We need to talk.”

Ted squatted. Daryl followed. “I tried to boost a car today. The <bleep> owner kept the car, but bought me lunch. How am I supposed to live?”

“Kept the car, did he? Sucks to be you. Have you tried living peacefully?”

Ted left a card. It read “Fresh Start. Peace is morally and socially acceptable.”

The reporter from the Advocate was stunned.

“This guy,” Jim said, “was the leader of a group of three thieves who crossed the border. To the best of our knowledge, those three were the only violent criminals in all of Wallenberg so far, this year.”

“Why wasn’t the guy arrested?”

“For being stupid?”

“Why not report him to the police?”

“Would it shock you if I said we have no police?”

“Yes, it would. But … Only three criminals in the entire country? How does that happen?”

“We seem to have no vice laws at all. People care about rape, murder, theft, that sort of thing. Who sleeps with whom, who smokes what, not important.”

“You see this fellow, Ted? He’s from Nigeria, one of my best and brightest students. The girl Sarah arrived about the same time, from South Carolina. Ted works part time with the militia.”

“Anyhow, Ted and I chatted. He didn’t meet this guy by accident. It was their second meet. Ted’s objective, both times, was to keep the guy out of trouble.”

“Why didn’t Ted take the guy’s gun?”

“That would be theft. Ted doesn’t do theft.”

“But isn’t it risky?”

“It is. That’s why we’re keeping an eye on him. We hope to keep him out of trouble. Trouble that could get him killed.”

“Wow. Not what I expected. I got to go. Thank you very much, sir.”

“And thank you, sir.”


Interview With A Christian

Perhaps I should vet these reporters, thought Jim.

A perky blonde reporter from some religious birdcage-liner asked “Are you a man of faith, your Majesty?”

“Ma’am, I must apologize, but I never discuss such private matters.”

“But, are you a Christian?”

Jim said nothing.

“OK, moving along. Does Wallenberg have religious freedom?”

“We have freedom. Freedom isn’t like a pie, something for people to divide and squabble over. We have a saying, which sort of exemplifies my way of thinking, and it seems not unpopular. ”


Jim pointed to a plaque on his desk, which read Peace is morally and socially acceptable.

“What does that mean?”

Jim answered “Does your religion – whatever it may be – require you to use violence, for any other reason than legitimate defense? If not, your religion can be practiced peacefully. I’m good with that. Your Thomas Jefferson wrote this:”

The legitimate powers of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

“Thank you, sir.”

“And thank you, Ma’am.”

Interview With A Christian

Perhaps I should vet these reporters, thought Jim.

A perky blonde reporter from some religious birdcage-liner asked “Are you a man of faith, your Majesty?”

“Ma’am, I must apologize, but I never discuss such private matters.”

“But, are you a Christian?”

Jim said nothing.

“OK, moving along. Does Wallenberg have religious freedom?”

“We have freedom. Freedom isn’t like a pie, something for people to divide and squabble over. We have a saying, which sort of exemplifies my way of thinking, and it seems not unpopular. ”


Jim pointed to a plaque on his desk, which read Peace is morally and socially acceptable.

“What does that mean?”

Jim answered “Does your religion – whatever it may be – require you to use violence, for any other reason than legitimate defense? If not, your religion can be practiced peacefully. I’m good with that. Your Thomas Jefferson wrote this:”

The legitimate powers of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

“Thank you, sir.”

“And thank you, Ma’am.”

Wallenberg Society of Vagrants

Gary had been on his last nickel for a long time, ever since the war. He carried his few belongings in a grimy duffel bag. His shoes were held together with duct tape. He sat on a sheet of cardboard, cup in hand, only half awake.

He heard the plink of a coin, looked up, and said “bless you, sir.”

“You’re welcome, bud. Can I offer you a bite to eat?”

“Can’t turn that down, sir. But I don’t do sex or nothin'”

“I want only two things, bud. First, you get a shower, and second, conversation.”

Gary was a bit confused. “Shower? What are you talking about?”

“Bud, my name’s Jason. I’m a vagrant myself. You’re new, let me show you around.”

“Name’s Gary.”

Jason steered Gary toward an auto-lavatory. It was clean, single-occupancy.

“I told you, no sex.”

“Gary, I’m going to step outside. Then, I want you to step into that shower, and push that button – the one that looks like a shower spray. And the one that looks like you’re putting laundry into a washer. Capiche?”

Gary nodded. Feeling foolish, he followed instructions. He saw an icon which looked like a barber at work, and pushed that too. A sort of foam arose, enveloping him, insinuating itself into his clothes, washing away grime. A kind of bushy fog engulfed his beard and hair. He learned later that it was something called a “bush robot” – each branch bifurcated, until the ends were tiny scissors, equipped with sensors, which did a fine job of trimming hair and beard.

When he stepped outside, Gary felt like a new man.

“Were you going for the buzz cut?” asked Jason.

“I didn’t know I had a choice,” replied Gary.

“You can speak to the SonicShower, and ask for a different look.”

The two sat down at an eatery, and ordered burgers, fries, and beer.

“Why are you so nice to me,” asked Gary.

“Karma. Somebody did the same for me. Every city is different, and it helps if somebody shows you around. First off, the showers are free at the Airport Mall. Why? It improves the atmosphere. It’s easier to give you a free shower and clean clothes and a hair cut, than to run you off.”

After they had finished, Gary was sleepy; he hadn’t had a meal in some while.

“Let me show you where to sleep,” said Jason. He flagged down an auto-cart, which looked much like a golf cart. “Take us to the Free Hostel, please.” The cart replied “Free Hostel” and accelerated. It went through an unmarked door, and down a long hallway, and stopped.

Jason spoke to a holo-teller. “A room for my friend Gary, please.”

Jason accepted a key, and tossed a dime into the donation slot. “You can get in free if you want, but most people pitch in a bit.”

Gary pitched in another dime. The two found Gary’s capsule. It was the lower of two enclosed beds, modeled after the kapuseru hoteru of Japan. There was room to sleep, to sit. A light permitted reading. A shelf held Gary’s bag. A door secured the contents.

“Auto-lavatories are down the hall. Take your key with you. The capsules let for 24 hours; your key will flash when it’s time to renew or vacate. If you forget, your bag will be stored for a week. You can ask for a longer lease, up to a week.”

“Who pays for this?”

“Former vagrants, mostly.”

The next morning, Gary found his way to the lobby of the hostel. He nibbled at a danish, and sipped coffee. He asked a neighbor where to find booze.

“Place on the main level sells the cheap stuff. The Booze Shop. Right next to a MediClinix.”

“How do I get there?”

“Just down the hall, see the yellow stanchions? Wait there, an autocart will come around.”

“Thanks, bud.”

Gary waited, flagged an AutoCab, asked for the Booze Shop. He had enough for a pint of rotgut.

He winced when he swallowed. His gut was bothering him.

“Heartburn, mate? The MediClinix will check you.”

Gary shuffled next door. The HoloNurse asked him to wait a moment, then showed him to a cubicle.

“Please remove your clothes and be seated.”

Gary did so. He would have panicked when the foam enveloped him, but it reminded him of the SonicShower, and a mild sedative caused him to relax. He felt twinges and tickles and pricks as blood was drawn, and heard odd noises.

The HoloNurse reappeared. Gary covered himself.

“You have an ulcer. A course of antibiotics will be injected. Your liver requires more extensive work; we can rejuvenate it for you. I can refer you to a specialist for the back injuries and arthritis.”

“What will this cost?”

“Our investigation shows that you have no financial resources. Your tab will be picked up by the charity of your choice.”

Gary looked at a list – several veterans organizations, of different nationality; several churches; the Socity of Vagrants of Wallenberg; other groups called Friends of so-and-so and Jolly Good Blokes and Atheists For Love.

“You will usually be contacted by the charity of your choice. You have no obligation.”

“What do people usually pick?”

“People usually pick somebody whose company they can stand. Some Veterans like to connect with other veterans; some do not. Some like to listen to preaching.”

“And what would I expect from Society of Vagrants?”

“An ear, and a bit of advice about how to get around. You have already been in contact with a member.”

Gary chose the Vagrants.

A day later, he was feeling much better. He stopped in at a local Veterans Hall. The conversation wasn’t to his taste; he wandered a bit, and found a pleasant garden, where people wandered, conversed, and smoked pleasant herbs.

A week later, Gary spied Jason, sitting alone at a table. “May I join you?” asked Gary.

“But of course! Will you have a bite? How are you?”

“Better. I’ve got a place to sleep, I’m getting enough to pay for meals, and my liver and gut are in much better shape. I’m starting to wonder, actually, if there’s any kind of work I’d be fit for.”

“What did you used to do?” asked Jason.

“Well, I was in combat, and I’m not wanting to do that again. I was a corpsman, and that’s OK, but I think you’ve got HoloNurses and AutoDocs doing most of that now. Mostly I just bum around, be nice to people, and hope they’ll put a few coins in my cup.”

“I have two ideas. One, you hear about how we organize our ‘first response’ teams?”

“Not really.”

“We call it Skill Sharing. You advertise a skill – such as corpsman – and you get a bit just for being available at a certain time and place; you get more when you actually use your skill.”

“Kind of like ride sharing.”


“But I’m rusty.”

“That’s no matter. Part of the deal is, you get an Interface.” Jason tapped his temple. “and up-to-date training. And if you’re in a crisis, an expert can talk you through it.”

“OK, what’s the second idea?”

“I’ve watched you. You’re actually a good conversationalist. You make people feel good.”

“Brings in the coins,” replied Gary.

“Let me show you to the Kinder Garten.”

The Kinder Garten wasn’t what Gary had expected. It was a large park/mall area, filled with people, mostly pre-teen.

“These young folks don’t yet have their own Interfaces. They like to hang out here. They mostly look out for themselves, but sometimes things get a bit too much. Say somebody falls out of a tree. There are autodocs here – see that gazebo? – but it helps to have an adult with some experience and maturity.”

“And what would I do, when there isn’t a crisis?”

“Converse with anybody who is interested. They’ll seek you out.”

“I get paid for that?”

“You get paid for making the place a bit safer and friendlier and more attractive. Do you like to read?”

“Used to. Need new glasses.”

“Get your eyes fixed, and park yourself there, by the library.”

Geezer Gary, as he was known, became a regular. He told stories of primitive times when people had to drive their own cars and dial their own cellphones. He read stories; he helped younger kids learn to piece together words; he helped expand the vocabulary of those who wanted to better understand the speech patterns and slang of retired veterans.