Satoshi had a weakness for playing board games, usually online. He’d met Proxy playing Monopoly, at which she excelled. She was using the handle indigo72, and favoured a Railway Stations – Picadilly strategy, with aggressive slumlord variants. He was no slouch himself at the game, and as you do, they’d got to talking over months of play. They shared an interest in crypto and software, and she’d got involved in the Bitcoin project, mostly around the automated test harnesses. Proxy didn’t refer to voting. It alluded to the fake counterparties set up for testing the manufacture and exchange of coins, but never intended for real transactions between people or companies.
Satoshi and his other collaborators had reviewed the test code with care, like the rest of the codebase, but something subtle and infernal had slipped through: something that didn’t make sense by the logic of our world. They had later incidentally rewritten those parts of the test code and the whole harness from scratch, but it was too late. There were one or two coins that had a chance of generating non-computable numbers when exchanged.
It was up to two coins, and within that original 980,000 BTC block. Even more frustratingly, the proof was not constructive: they couldn’t identify the coins, just that there were ≤ 2.
Uncomputable numbers being computed by accident would be a contradiction in terms, except that people in our business knew quirks in the hardware were more frequent than everyone would like to believe. Cosmic radiation, manufacturing errors in 0.001% of chipsets, multiplied by billions of chips; curses by slain indigineous ancestors on fabrication plants across the world: it was a wonder anything got executed deterministically some days.
There were hints that these particular uncomputable numbers were also eldritch runes invoking portals to planes of infinite pain and suffering, inhabited by ancient creatures without pity, only hunger and rage. Satoshi had started with no knowledge of the occult, but had been desperately learning more in his recent quest to uncover the bugs. He felt his subsequent drugging and kidnapping by a spectral being, to be held in a dungeon by death cultists, offered some circumstantial support for this view. On the Internet, no one knows you’re the servant of an Elder God.
Every night, he played Adele at Monopoly, with Bitcoin stakes, at pain of death. He had lasted well at first, but was more recently on a vicious losing streak.
While Satoshi explained, I pulled the jaws of life off the fire truck and bent the bars enough for him to slip through.
“Why the laptop?” Teresa asked. “Why did they let you keep it?”
“A little hope is more useful to a certain type of jailer than none,” Katerina answered, before Satoshi had to.
“Besides, there’s no network, except when I had to pay up,” Satoshi added. “Well, except you can sometimes get one bar of wifi if you stand in that corner with the computer held upside down above your head …”
“Let’s go,” I said.
“It’s too late,” Satoshi said. “She’s here.”
The temperature had dropped down into faulty refrigerator ranges, and a great wind blew, but the first I knew of her presence proper was a quiet voice just behind my left ear.
“I didn’t expect guests,” Adele said.
“Well, not extra guests. I didn’t see an RSVP.” She was speaking German accented English on our behalf, and as she moved through me, chills reached deep into my kidneys and heart and bones. She drifted smoothly into sight, short neck-length hair, diaphanous spectral gown sweeping straight to the ground from her bare, ghostly shoulders.
“I’m sure this lapse of etiquette is just forgetfulness on your part”, she said, drifting backwards like a ballroom dancer. I followed her down the corridor without thought. “I do hope there’s no … intrusion … intended.”
“Let them go, Adele,” Katerina said, switching to German. “You don’t have to do this.” Satoshi walked forward as well; Teresa and Katerina were keeping close.
Adele held her empty hands up with an amused expression of “moi?”.
“It’s not your fault, Adele. It’s not your fault Kurt died.”
The shade’s face turned grim. “Oh, what a shame. It seems you do want to intrude, straight into my private affairs. You know nothing of it.”
“Kurt Gödel, the man who would be your husband. You met him here. You were a dancer.”
There was nothing I would not do for Adele at that moment.
“That brilliant, shy, lost mathematician. You loved him, and he adored you. His family objected. Not posh enough. Not rich enough. They thought you weren’t paid just to dance. It was years before you married.”
The corridor was unlit, and grew darker as we walked.
“You were devoted to one another, while he turned logic and mathematics upside down, even when you went to Princeton, even as he skirted against madness.”
The wind was blowing again.
“All that work, the incompleteness theorem, we always thought he was probing the limits of logic and number. But that’s wrong, isn’t it? He was coming the other way. He had meddled in eldritch unreason and was trying to flee – a swimmer in a sea of power and madness, desperately trying to show there was a way back to shore.”
Somewhere ahead the corridor opened into a large open space, too dark to make out.
“Materialism is false, he said. There are other worlds and rational beings of a different and higher kind, he said. He didn’t believe in God, but he proved it existed – because for both of you, you didn’t need faith to know God – you had met one.”
We stood at the top of a long, deep, stone-cut staircase, going deep into a giant cavern, three or four storeys deep. At the far side, and the only source of light, was an altar. Behind it was a two storey Art Nouveau painting in white, black and faded gilt, split into three tall pieces. On each side a man and a woman in flowing robes flew through the air, looks of ecstasy, fulfillment, and insanity on their faces. In the centre of the triptych, a horrific creature half-octopus, half-Venus flytrap had multiple mouths open, devouring the flying people with jagged, blood-stained teeth.
“Adele, it wasn’t your fault.”
Adele stopped a few steps below, back facing us, disdainfully.
Teresa said, “Boys, snap out of it.”
I sunk to my knees, nauseous and blurry-eyed like a drunkard, as the spectre’s thrall lifted from me.
“It’s not your fault Kurt starved to death in madness. You had already saved him a hundred times before he slipped away.”
“See, I said you knew nothing of it,” said Adele, barely turning to make eye contact. “These are just words to you. I serve another now.” She flicked her ghostly arms towards the cavern.
Satoshi started to run down the stairs, evading a grab from Teresa with surprising quickness. Part of me wanted to follow him, pelting down the stairs as fast as I could, joyous with the chance to obey Adele. Some little part of me still wants that today. Another part, thankfully the stronger, screamed silently in terror, and I remained stuck on all fours, desperately gripping the stone of the stairs with both hands.
Satoshi leapt into space, while Adele gestured throwing something into the air; he was flung through a long parabola for a slow, unbearable moment, before landing in a shattered, sickening mess on the altar, pieces of skull and fragments of plastic and silicon from his laptop scattered all around.
Teresa reached into her jacket and whispered something into her hand. Something small – a dragonfly? – flew out and away.
Long may we speak of that night, my friends! – even if only in secret. Of how Teresa with her umbrella, Katerina with her microphone stand, and myself with last year’s hefty Bundesgesetzblatt, desperately held the stair against the throng of cultists scrambling down to their afterparty apocalypse. Of the ghost of Adele Gödel, wailing and throwing bits of masonry, weeping, clutching for my soul while Teresa chanted a sutra in a low voice and Katerina pleaded with her yet again. Of the bucket loads of counterfeit euro-gremlins, sterling-gremlins, thirty dollar notes with Aaron Burr on them, shooting out in fistful after fistful from cracks in the earth near the altar, running over the stairs, biting us like plague-born rats. Of the three-headed giant cuttlefish spitting acid, and the dolphin-gorillas with heads of babies that tried to rip us to pieces with their bare hands. Of the quaking earth, as the creature beneath tried to draw enough power to get free.
The earth shook not just from below, but from above. The roof of the cavern began to crack, disintegrate and lift. A chunk of roof the size of a tennis court lifted like the lid coming off a tin of paint.
We were flagging, bruised, bleeding; Kat and I were almost collapsing, with Teresa doggedly holding the line, when through the opening to the night sky came the first wave of reinforcements. Black-clad anti-zombie special forces from Frankfurt, three score in number, abseiled into the cavern. Overtaking them, riding spectral horses through the air, were six Polish Hussars, shades from Jan III Siebowski’s army, who had vowed in their victory never to see Vienna fall, and six knights of Black Mustafa’s army, who had vowed in their defeat never to see Vienna fall to someone else. Three witches and two wizards from the Royal Evokation Society rained lightning and fire down onto the foe. An arc of holy water sprayed in, shot from a firehose in the window of the Peterskirche, where it was being blessed by an impromptu bucket brigade of bishops and seminarians.
And then Ben – Ben, Ben himself – out of retirement, circling all evening like a Bangalore eagle, swooped in at the head of his squadron of Black Hawks. Above, “Cranky Bernanke’s” squadron flew close, tight and low through Petersplatz. From below, we could just see a storm of money fluttering down from above, as the helicopters dropped pallet after pallet of notes, freshly printed and animated. Waves of Hamiltons, Gothic arches, Austens and Higuchis, imbued with life by Fort Knox monetary economages, wrestled with the counterfeit euro-gremlins, stuffed themselves down the mouths of the abominations from below and scuttled into cracks deep into the earth to seal the creature in.
The tide was turned. Oblivion would not find the world this time; though it found some warriors on both sides of the fight, may they rest in peace.
It was a spectacle, and a victory, and a tragedy, and a mess. In the press, we blamed it all on anarchists, and an art installation by Christo. Good old Christo.
The clean up took ages. It’s still going in some ways. There’s a team that hunts down any Bitcoins it can find from Satoshi’s original motherlode, buys them up and puts them out of circulation. They haven’t got them all though, not by a long way.
Bitcoin itself is doing fine. Digital state dysfunction insurance commodities don’t turn up every day. And me? I can do my job anywhere with a spreadsheet and a pack of tarot cards. It’s like the old saying: sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear gets eaten by a giant intergalactic swan that despises you and everything your civilization stands for. You might want to hedge that.