Ice Cream ©2014 Yohann Schepacz,
The Ice Cream Man
by John Reiher
Zeyad Moghadam sat in the front seat of his ice cream van as it drove autonomously through the spaceship boneyard. He was going over his numbers for the day so far. His fingers played over the touch screen, as the data from his past sales were correlated with his existing customer database. Patterns arose and correlations formed, while his predictive inventory control was updated. On another tablet ran the current DigiCoin™ to Euro market prices. That tablet was on a much more secure connection to the market data.
DigiCoins were hot right now, so he’d be losing money on his trades if he didn’t cash his current balance in soon. Still, one more sale and he’d be good. At that thought, the van pinged him, letting him know a potential customer had signaled for a sale. The van’s computers quickly identified him as “Mazen Dagher”, occupation “Dremadary Herder”. It quickly did a calculation based on his past purchases and predicted that a watermelon flavored Bomb Pop™ would be his purchase today, with 95% certainty.
Zeyad sat up straight, adjusted his paper hat, smiled in the mirror to his right to make sure there was no food stuck between his teeth, turned on the musical tune, and waited for the van to come to a stop by his waiting customer. It pulled up next to a pair of rusted out oxidizer tanks, perfectly aligning the service window with the customer.
With a smile, Zeyad slid the window open, letting in a blast of hot air into his cabin. “Greetings! How may I serve you?” he asked.
“Hello,” said Mazen, who was intently looking at the rolling price numbers on the ice cream van’s menu card. Prices were based on current market value for DigiCoins, and only when the customer decided to make a purchase, were they frozen. They all played the game, wishing the value down, while Zeyad willed it to plateau for a while. He really didn’t make money when the prices were too low, but he also would lose money if they went too high. He really wanted them to plateau for a while. But today, the market was volatile. Rumors were a foot about another scheme to create DigiCoins outside of the DigiCurrency ServerNet.
The first such known scheme was the infamous “PrivateNet Mining Ops” a couple of years ago. In that scheme, a private DigiCurrency ServerNet was created with no outside connections. Then a DigiWallet with a real Digicoin was introduced into the private network, and used to start a series of automated transactions and mining processes. Because there was only one coin, the mining process algorithm would produce dozens of DigiCoins during the time period the PNMO was run. The biggest PNMOs produced hundreds of Digicoins in a matter of weeks. The more miners, the faster the DigiCoins were produced. The last transaction was back to the original DigiWallet and then sold on the market for over a thousand Euros each.
This scheme was only found out because analysts saw that more coins were being produced than there should have been over a short period of time. While DigiWallet to DigiWallet transactions were totally anonymous, the sale of DigiCoins on the open market were not. The sellers were tracked down and their server farms shutdown by court order. Since DigiCoins were only considered a currency in only a few countries, no laws outside of them were broken. But in the meantime, DigiGold, the creator of the digital currency, put out a patch for servers, miners, and wallets to “fix” the problem. They also pursued several civil suits against the PMNOs. Those cases would take years before a judgment would be found.
However, that patch that DigiGold produced, took months to create, test, and spread worldwide. In the meantime, the value of DigiCoins dropped to the mere tens of Euros. At that time, Zeyad wasn’t in the business of selling ice cream. When this occurred, he was working in Cairo and he didn’t trust this faux currency one bit. But his fellow workers did and they all took a bath in the drop in value. That’s when Zeyad had a brainwave and offered to buy up his coworker’s devalued DigiCoins at that opening value, even though it had already dropped by 2% by the time he had made the offer to his coworkers. They gladly sold him their coins and swore off digital currency.
Then the patch was released and confidence in DigiCoins went back up. Within a year of his initial investment, Zeyad was able to sell off his DigiCoins for five times the value he had paid for them. It was enough for him to consider a new line of work. That’s when he purchased an autonomous ice cream van, and started selling ice cream to the spaceship boneyard workers near Ain Sokhna. The desert was the best place to bring down the great spaceships and then take them apart for their useful parts, by men and women who all wanted to be paid under the table in DigiCoins.
So Zeyad started a service that had guaranteed customers, one where he could keep his costs down by using marketing software that learned what his customer’s tastes in frozen confections were, and allowed him to do a version of Just In Time ice cream sales. Most days, he would come back to his rented warehouse stall with an empty van.
But not all of his customers were boneyard workers. Folks like Mazen for instance. Mazen grazed his horned Dremadaries, a cross between cattle and camels, on the scrubland the ships rested on. He did so for free, as the land had no other use and was considered hazardous.
Speaking of which, Mazen finally saw something in the numbers and said, “I want to buy something.” The smart system caught that and froze the prices at that instant. Mazen smiled, satisfied by the price, and said, “I’d like a watermelon Bomb Pop and a pint of vanilla ice cream.”
That caught Zeyad off guard for a moment. “A pint of vanilla ice cream?” he asked.
Mazen hooked a thumb at the Dremadary and said, “She’s pregnant and decided to do it around here. Give birth that is. She’s hungry and I figure, a pint of vanilla would be fine with her.” He waved his phone at Zeyad, and continued, “I checked, she can eat vanilla ice cream, so no worries on your part. OK?”
“I see, yes,” replied Zeyad, “Let me see if I still have some.” He knew that he did, he was worried that it would be a missed sale with one of his customers over by the great ship that dominated the horizon. As he got the Bomb Pop, the system indicated that his other customer would be fine with another treat that he had an extra of. So he pulled the pint and placed the two confections on his small counter. He tapped his tablet and the price appeared outside for Mazen to verify. Mazen looked at it and did the mental math and then nodded.
Zeyad activated his phone’s DigiWallet and touched it to Mazen’s proffered phone. The transaction took place, but… he thought he saw something on Mazen’s DigiWallet. The total currency on his wallet didn’t drop, he thought. He looked at his wallet setting on his counter. It had registered the sale. Satisfied he picked up the two treats and handed them over to his customer.
As he did, he asked, “Is that a new phone?”
Mazen froze for an instant, and then took the two treats, “Um, yes,” he hesitantly replied. “I bought it from a Chinese man over at the office over there.” He indicated the hulking ship in the distance. “It’s the latest design.”
“Ah, I was worried for a moment,” said Zeyad, as he handed over some napkins and wooden stick used as a spoon for the ice cream. “I thought I had a glitch, but the transaction went through. Do you remember his name, this man?”
“Lee, I think,” replied a worried Mazen, “Mister Lee.”
“I might want to get a new phone myself,” said Zeyad thoughtfully. “I’ll be back around this way tomorrow. Do you think you’ll still be here with your expectant mother?”
“Maybe, I’m not sure,” said Mazen looking at his charge.
“I’ll put in an extra pint of vanilla just in case she’s still here. God be with you!”
“And may he be with you as well!”
Zeyad sat back down as his van started up and drove off. He sat in contemplation, wondering if what he had seen was the new hack that everyone was talking about. The model Mazen had wasn’t the latest in design, Zeyad’s, however, was. He wondered who would benefit from this new hack. He tapped into the financial boards and saw speculation that perhaps China or Singapore was buying up DigiCoins, though no one could confirm this. That only made sense if they planned to sell them when the currency hit a peak. But the official markets didn’t show any large buyers. That perplexed him.
He thought for a moment, then opened his DigiWallet and put in a sell order on 90% of his DigiCoins. The remaining 10% was for purchases he’d have to make when he got back to his warehouse stall. After today, he’ll have to make his purchases with Euro’s. He’d sell his DigiCoins as soon as he’d get them.
Looking up, he saw that his van was heading towards the rusting hulk. Sparks flew as workers cut components off, systems removed and the hull slowly hacked apart for its scrap value. The engines were roped off with radiation signs prominently displayed. Those would wait for a specialty crew from the UN to dispose of.
Fixing his hat and putting on a smile, he saw his customers lining up, waiting for him and his treats. Business was brisk, and he saw the hack on about a quarter of the phones, a Chinese model from a year ago. Since it happened so often, he caught what was happening. Their totals were dropping, but were then instantly raised back up with a different transaction ID.
‘A looping transaction?’ he thought. ‘Tricky, and that wouldn’t work back in Cairo.’
After his last transaction, he put his van into park and went to use the lavatory on site. He debated on confronting this “Mr. Lee” but he knew that surname was more than likely a false one. There were no Lee’s working here, he knew them all. But still, someone was selling these hacked phones. And as best as he could tell, it was to create another spike in DigiCoin numbers. That would cause DigiGold to issue another patch, and another crash in the market. He was starting to wonder if he should get out of the DigiCoin market altogether. If there were a crash, his customers would suddenly become poor…
Then he suddenly realized why he was seeing the hacked phones among his customers. The corporation was paying them under the table in DigiCoins. They could do so without actually spending any DigiCoins in the process…
He figured that this was happening across the boneyard, and some enterprising junior manager decided to sell the phones to his workers. Since their wallets wouldn’t empty, they could be paid less, and watch as their DigiCoins totals kept growing, while buying whatever they wanted.
It wasn’t right. The corp was getting away with wage theft and had to be stopped. It was then that he realized that it was up to him to break the news to the world about this new scam and to do that he’d needed a hacked phone. But the corp may be tracking these phones. This “Mr. Lee” would cover his tracks. So that was not an avenue for Zeyad to pursue. As he walked back to his van he had a thought.
Putting on his professional smile, he got back in and ordered his van back to the oxidizer tanks, hoping that Mazen was still there.
Mazen was and he was watching his Dremadary give birth to a fairly large calf, in Zeyad’s opinion. Next to the Dremadary was the empty pint container with a wooden spoon on top. Zeyad got out of his van and walked over to Mazen, who was now watching him cautiously.
Zeyad decided to be abrupt and said “Mazen, give me your phone. Your hacked phone.”
“What?” exclaimed Mazen. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Hacked phone indeed!”
Zeyad sighed and said, “I saw the hack on your phone, and I’ve seen it on a dozen others back there.” He pointed at the ship being dismantled. “You have to give me that phone,” he demanded.
“No, it is my family’s life savings!” replied Mazen. “I have over 20 DigiCoins on it! That is my family’s fortune!”
Taken aback by that sum, nearly €27,000, Zeyad faltered for a moment. Closing his eyes, he steeled himself. “If you don’t give it to me,” he said quietly, “you’ll lose it all.”
At that moment, the Dremadary bleated loudly, catching Mazen’s attention. Zeyad chose that moment to spring forward and take the phone by force. He tried to tackle the herder, but Mazen caught the movement from the corner of his eye and dodged out of the way.
Turning around, Zeyad swung his arm at the other man, but Mazen was ready for the blow and grabbed the arm and began twisting it. Zeyad tried to twist out of the hold, but only succeeded in tripping up the other and the two of them fell into a heap, with the herder on top.
“Yield!” commanded Mazen.
Grabbing a handful of dirt, Zeyad yelled “No!” and then tried flinging the dirt in the other’s face. Mazen blocked the blow, only to result in both men coughing and gagging from the spray of dirt and dust.
“You’ll never steal my family’s money!” said Mazen as he tried to throttle Zeyad.
Pulling the hands from his throat, Zeyad coughed out, “I… don’t want… to steal your money… you fool!”
Breathing heavily, Mazen looked into Zeyad’s eyes. He saw honest eyes staring back at him. “Make me believe that,” he said, releasing his hold, getting off the other man and then sitting on the ground nearby.
Coughing, Zeyad rolled over on his side and then sat up. Swallowing, he said, “The corp is using those phones to pay their workers while not really paying them. They can use the same coins over and over and make maximum profit. They are cheating them.”
He brushed the dust off his jacket and continued. “I know that you can’t use that phone at any store in Cairo or Ain Sokhna, they’d catch the hack. So the first time you or anyone tries, an alert will go out. DigiGold will get a hold of one of those phones, work out a patch and send it out. And you know what will happen? If they find a hacked phone, the patch will erase the contents. You’ll lose it all. And you know what, neither you nor any of the workers over there would report the loss.” He looked at Mazen for agreement.
Mazen looked away and then sighed and nodded.
“I want to save you from losing any money. We’ll have to sell all your DigiCoins, right now,” said Zeyad. “Do you have an account at a Wadiah?”
With a grimace, Mazen replied, “Do I look like a man who would have a Wadiah account? No.”
“Well you’re going to become that man and have one,” replied Zeyad, and then mused for a second, “Not an online one, that can be traced. I know of a couple of offline Wadiahs that I use for my cash. They can’t be traced.” He paused again in thought and asked, “Do you have another phone? One that isn’t hacked?”
Mazen fished about his gallibaya and produced another, newer phone. “I haven’t agreed to this yet, you know.”
Pulling out his phone, Zeyad reached out and tapped the phones together. “There, you have my contact information and I have yours. It really doesn’t matter if you agree or not. If I can’t get your phone, I’ll find another. You’ll be worse off and swearing to God why you didn’t listen to me.”
Crossing his arms, Mazen said, “You still haven’t convinced me.”
With a quick check of his phone, Zeyad sat back and said, “In a few days the market is going to crash, and I don’t want you to suffer. I’m going to send that phone of yours to a journalist I know of, who has no love of the Chinese corporations in our country and he’ll make sure the world will know about this hack. And when he does, that, if you pardon the expression, will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
The Dremadary mooed loudly in agreement.
Nodding, he continued, “Everyone will try to sell off their DigiCoins, but the market will crash as there will be no trust, no proof that the coins up for sale are real or forgeries. This will be such a crash that I don’t think the DigiCoin will survive it.”
“But…” started Mazen.
Zeyad held up his hand and said, “Consider it.”
Mazen looked pensive for a moment, then stood up and attended the Dremadary and calf. As he brushed the mother, he said, “Why do I need a Wadiah? Why not keep the Euros on my other phone?”
“Because if someone steals your phone,” replied Zeyad, “they will get at your eWallet and that money. They are not as secure as you think. Also, that can be traced and it would look awfully strange that a phone that used to be in your possession ended up in some journalist’s office and you with a large amount of cash. The Wadiah I’m thinking of is a cash only operation. It is next to untraceable. When the fury dies down, your cash will still be there and you can access it anytime… in person.”
“But to do that,” countered Mazen, “you’d need to be my Wakalah and I don’t know if I trust you enough for that.”
Tilting his head to one side, Zeyad ventured, “It sounds like you’re thinking of doing it.”
Watching as the mother licked the calf clean, Mazen said, “I… You have the serpent’s tongue Ice Cream Man. But…” He turned to face Zeyad, “You are right. One of the workers convinced me against my better judgment to get one of these phones. Just having this phone has weighed heavily on me these past few months. Is using this phone right? Or am I committing a sin just by holding it in my hands?” He held the hacked phone purposefully in his left hand. He looked at it, and then held it out. “Take the damned thing. I don’t want to see it ever again.”
Zeyad took it and looked it over. Getting the gesture passwipe to open it, brought up the hacked DigiWallet.
As Zeyad examined the phone and the transaction record, he said, “These virtual currencies aren’t worth investing in. Hackers will always find a way to circumvent the security guards put into place.” He looked up at Mazen. “There is no such thing as a hackproof application.”
The latter nodded, “I’ve used that phone for the past three months, so I am well off now. Twenty DigiCoins will be a lot of Euros. Will the Euro drop as well?”
Zeyad shrugged, “It might, or it might gain. I don’t know. The currency market is crazy.” He looked over at the newborn calf, and said “And I think your future is secure.” He paused in thought again. “In a couple of days, if you encounter Mr. Lee again, you might want to mention that you’ve lost your phone. You had a hard calving and it might have fallen near there. I think the Americans call that ‘plausible deniability’. But don’t do it right away.”
He got authorization to be Mazen’s Wakalah and headed for Cairo. Mazen wasn’t happy, but he really had no other choice. On the way back, Zeyad transferred the DigiCoins from the hacked phone into a new wallet he created. He watched as the coins magically reappeared in the hacked wallet. He thought for a moment, then did it three more times into the same wallet and smiled.
Three months later, and Zeyad was driving back out to the scrublands, near the boneyards. He had had enough savings put away to sit out the storm that brewed once the phone ended up in a Cairo news office and was shown in operation across the nets. It was a hellacious crash. DigiGold went out of business, the DigiCoin market collapsed completely, and the Euro and the Dollar both took a short dip. The corporation was fined and forced to pay its workers their lost wages. That meant the work at the boneyards stopped as the corporation worked out how to recoup their losses.
The workers were now paid above the table, and taxes assessed. They didn’t take as much home with them as before, but at least now it was in a stable currency. However, as much as they wanted their frozen confections, Zeyad was person non grata at the boneyards. A perimeter fence with a razor wire top was going up around the boneyards. Only authorized personnel were allowed to enter. The Ice Cream Man was not one of those. He knew that his business was going to be short term, but he had hoped it would have lasted for a bit longer.
As his van drove itself through the scrub, kicking up dust, he spotted Mazen tending to his herd. He redirected his van to stop nearby. He pulled a watermelon Bomb Pop from a cooler lined with dry ice and got out of the van and headed towards the herder.
“Hello my friend! How are you!” he called out.
Mazen gave him a look and sighed, “What evil do you intend to rain down upon me now Ice Cream Man?”
“A peace offering?” Zeyad said with a shrug, offering the Bomb Pop to the other man.
Looking at it, Mazen pursed his lips and took it. “I haven’t had one of these in the past three months. Where have you been?”
Pulling out a czig and taking a nicotine vapor drag, Zeyad said, “Hiding. My journalist friend may have let slip that he got the phone from someone who frequents the boneyards. That brought undue attention to me and my operation, as well as others who service… serviced,” he corrected, “the workers in the boneyards. The governmental investigation is still ongoing, so it may be years before any true decisions are made in regards to the corporation. So, let me repeat myself, how are you doing?”
Mazen smiled and replied “Very well. Look, he is going to be a massive bull.” He pointed to a very large calf still nursing from his mother. “Other people besides yourself are barred from entering the boneyards,” He said. He unwrapped his Bomb Pop and tasted it. “I really have missed these. I can’t let my Dremadaries graze in the boneyard anymore. Seems the corporation has clamped down on things. Which is fine with me. I think the soil there is tainted anyway”
He looked at the gift for a moment, then said quietly, “And thank you for that other present. I was surprised at how much money was in my Wadiah account. Even with the current drop in the Euro, I’m well off.”
“Think of it as your reward for unmasking a crime,” said Zeyad. “I, myself, am out of the Ice Cream business.”
“Surely you could sell your wares in Cairo?” asked Mazen.
Taking another drag on his czig, Zeyad said, “Of course I could, but my margins were thin, and not having a captive market means that I would return with unsold product. That costs money, when I can’t predict what a customer would want… Like a watermelon Bomb Pop.” He gave the other man a sly smile.
“So, what are you going to do now?” Mazen asked.
Zeyad replied, “That’s a good question my friend, a good question…”
They stood in silence watching the herd mill about, Mazen eating his Bomb Pop, when Zeyad said, “So, what’s the market like for Dremadaries…”
Written by John Reiher
Image: “Ice Cream” ©2014 Yohann Schepacz