“Uh,…” Devon gave the ticket clerk a confused shrug. “How much is that in cash?” He dropped a dusty wad of green bills on the gleaming white counter. The wrinkled, white-haired clerk in a red blazer leaned back in her seat. She discretely angled her nose away from the money and the ragged man that dropped it.
“I’m sorry, sir. Cash is no longer accepted,” she said. She gave Devon a cursory glance up and down. A black canvas bag hung off his shoulders, and he wore a frayed, faded t-shirt and dust-stained blue jeans. “Anywhere,” she added. “It’s been pulled out of circulation, a lot like you I imagine. 50 A.P. to get you from here to California, non-negotiable.” Devon sighed. He expected some difficulty rejoining society, but he couldn’t even afford to get in the door.
“Is there a bank nearby? Somewhere I can trade cash or get A.P.?” The elderly clerk looked around Devon to check for other customers, but the bus terminal was empty.
“Can I guess you don’t have a node?” she asked. Devon shrugged.
“I’d know if I did, right?” he asked and she nodded. “I ditched society about 20 years ago.” Devon leaned on the counter. “So,… I guess fill me in from there. What do I need to get A.P.?”
“20 years huh?” she asked. “You probably have some saved up already.” She placed a clear, glassy rectangle on the wrinkled bills and Devon looked down at it. If it weren’t for the bills the card-sized pane would have vanished on the counter. “This is a node. You generate A.P. naturally every day, but, you can’t access your points without a node.”
“How do I make A.P. without a node?” he asked. “I kind of faked my death,” he said sheepishly. “So it’s not like the government was keeping track.” The old woman giggled.
“That’s hilarious,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. They’re generated by you every day, depending on the kinds of things you do. You probably did a lot of hunting and fishing and stuff off the grid?” she asked.
The system itself went online about… 17 years ago,” she said. Her light brown eyes rolled upward as she searched her memory. “Transition started a few years after that, but you’ve been earning points for 17 years… and not spending them?” Her eyes sparkled. “You’re probably loaded.”
“How?” he asked. “No cameras, no radio.. nothing. The point was to stay off the grid.”
“Nanos,” she said. “They’re everywhere, even off-grid. So, how about this. I’ll sell you a node and your ticket for 1500 A.P.” Devon blinked at the price increase. Even though he had no idea how much nodes regularly went for, he felt like he was being fleeced.
“How can I spend A.P. without a node?” he asked about the obvious flaw in her plan.
“It’s marked as a transaction fee and taken off the top. It’s standard practice when getting a node for the first time. Though, everyone else will charge you a percentage of whatever you’re worth. I’m asking for a low, flat rate,” she smiled.
“Is 1500 a lot?” Devon asked. “Is 50?” he remembered the bus ticket. The cash on the counter was a small portion of what he squirreled away for his return to society. But now all of it was useless.
“An average person earns about ten a day just for being alive. That’s 3650 a year for seventeen years. I’m sure you did a lot more than sit around most of those days, I think you can afford it.”
“Alright,” Devon nodded. “I’ll buy it.” The clerk nodded. She lifted her node from the counter and held an end out to Devon.
“Hold on to that end and pull when I tell you to,” she said. Devon pinched the end. “Do you agree to buy a node from me for 1450 A.P?” she asked.
“Uh.. yes!” Devon said. He felt obligated to vocalize his agreement.
“Pull slowly,” she said. Devon tugged on the node and felt her pulling away from him. As they pulled apart the center seemed to stretch out until it separated into two nodes. Once he pulled his free he brought it up to his face. It was the clearest glass he’d ever seen; it was almost impossible to catch light streaks on it.
“Cooooool. What now?” he asked.
“Tap it here to pay for your ticket,” she pointed at red rectangle outlined on the counter.
“But how do I see how much I’m worth?” he asked.
“It’s like a smartphone. Just swipe it up and you should see an icon that says “A.P. Balance.”
“What’s a smartphone?” he asked. The elderly clerk giggled. She lifted her own node up for him to see; then, she ran her finger vertically up across its surface.
“Do that. And do the tutorial when you have time. You need about half an hour for it; you can do it on the bus.” Devon mimicked the gesture and color filled the transparent screen. A red logo of a pair of scissors on a white background decorated his home screen. Text under it read: “Sharp Development”. He also spotted the ‘A.P.Balance'” icon and tapped at it.
“What’s Sharp Development?” he asked, then his balance came up. He felt the pleasant warmth of financial security melt away all his worries when he saw a number higher than one million. Not quite two million, but more money than he’d ever had. The moment was fleeting; it disappeared as soon as the clerk answered his question with a delighted laugh.
“Sharp Development invented nodes and nanos,” she said. “The corporation that owns Earth.”