Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 67

In which Jones tries to make the desert bloom

The two men crouched behind a monument. Two giant winged figures stretched their arms to the sky, shielding them from view. Now that they were closer, Jones recognized several of the cyborgs as they paced restlessly around the bed of a parked pickup truck. Tasty was there, and he seemed to be the leader. The wind wasn’t as bad as it was up on the memorial bridge, but it was blowing in the wrong direction. Jones couldn’t hear a word of the conversation as the cyborgs debated amongst themselves.

They were still too far away. Jones closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was pulsing with anxiety. After weeks of aimless, hazy investigation, he’d finally closed in on the prize. There was no time left for contemplation.

“Let’s move,” he said.

“Now? But they’ll see us!” Bugs protested.

“If we don’t make a move now, then when?” Jones hissed. The wind shifted, and Tasty’s voice floated towards them. Jones paused. The beefy, taciturn cyborg seemed rattled. He was berating the others.

“Why did you bring the computer up here? How are we going to get it down to the electric plant?”

Bugs nudged Jones, and raised his eyebrows. Jones elbowed him to stay still. He couldn’t hear the answer, but none of the cyborgs would make eye contact with their leader. One of them shrugged. Tasty kept going. 

“Why do I always walk into a disorganized mess? Where the fuck is Fran?”

Suddenly, Jones heard the voice of his ex-wife. Startled, he nearly jumped to his feet as he looked around wildly, trying to see where she was. She was everywhere, but here? Again, Bugs steadied him. Jones sank back on his haunches. The wind had died, and the voice came from a bluetooth speaker Tasty had strapped to his shoulder. It didn’t sound like his ex-wife, but he knew it was her.

“Fran went on an unauthorized mission. She’s on her way.”

“Typical Fran,” another cyborg groused. “How come she gets special treatment?”

The bluetooth speaker crackled with feedback, then recovered.

“Fran gets special treatment because besides myself, she is the only one present who has any idea how quantum mechanics works. Fran is also the only one who knows how to get this quantum supercomputer hooked up to the power grid, and she is the only one who has any idea how to handle the cooling system. If anyone in this group has the same technical capabilities, please, speak up, and do so quickly, because you’ve already wasted enough time.”

“She hasn’t changed much,” whispered Bugs. Jones ignored him. Something had caught his eye on the ridge of the opposite mountain.

“What are you going to do with all your bitcoin, Tasty?” One of the cyborgs was trying to lighten the mood. “I’m gonna get a full exoskeleton. Upper and lower body.”

“I’m gonna get infrared vision,” another said. “And bat hearing.”

“Sonar?”

“Yeah, sonar, then I’m going to explore every cave in the country.”

“I’m going to get memory implants,” Tasty suddenly said. “My mind will never go the way my father’s did.”

On the opposite side of the dam, Jones saw a car curving its way down the side of the mountain. “Fran is here,” he hissed at Bugs. “We’re out of time.”

“Calm down,” said Bugs. “You’re making me nervous.”

Every time Bugs told him to calm down, Jones felt his blood pressure rise higher. In his minds eye, Jones watched helplessly as Mr. Tasty and Fran cabled the quantum supercomputer’s motherboard to the Hoover Dam’s power system. He imagined it whirring to life, Mad Crab finally obtaining the power supply they needed to crack bitcoin and gain control over the Mojave Desert and its fledgling alternative economy. BeyondMelinda would shut down the cities. Mad Crab would be free to tyrannize whomever remained with their superior strength and technology. He couldn’t bear it any longer. Dashing out from his hiding place behind the memorial, he ran up to the truck.

“Halt!” he cried. 

Tasty looked at him, confused. “Aren’t you Fred’s buddy?”

“I’m Information Jones, Database Detective, and I demand that you surrender that quantum supercomputer!”

After a long, agonizing pause, the entire group broke into laughter. Only Tasty and BeyondMelinda were silent.

“Why would we surrender?” asked one of Tasty’s lieutenants.

Jones looked at his hands. They were weak. He was exhausted, dehydrated, and completely defenseless. He decided to bluff. 

“You might as well,” he said. “We’ve figured out your plan. You want to crack bitcoin, and gain control of the alternative money supply for your own ends. So be it. There are other cryptocurrencies.”

“Potatocoin,” offered Bugs, venturing out from behind the statue. “Backed by real tubers. Qubitcoin. Backed by quantum mechanics. We can invent more. Once we let everyone know bitcoin is compromised by Mad Crab, it will be worthless again.”

Tasty cocked his head. “Qubitcoin is a great idea. Especially now that we have this quantum supercomputer.” He pointed at Bugs. “You’re an idea man.”

BeyondMelinda’s voice crackled out from the bluetooth speaker strapped to Tasty’s back. “Stay out of this, Jones! You don’t understand the bigger picture.”

“You always say that!” Jones cried. “It’s been the same damn story for twenty years!”

Memories of Melinda at Oracle, encouraging him not to protest, not to quit over the surveillance contracts, came rushing back to him. Late evening fights when Jones returned from union organizing. Sunday breakfasts devolving into frigid silence over cold, uneaten eggs when Jones brought up the NSA. A garden full of wilted, unripe tomatoes because Jones refused to update the water meter. A family deferred, Melinda in tears, because Jones did not want to register his children’s DNA.

 Pushing past Tasty, Jones leapt up on the bed of the truck and threw his arms around the quantum supercomputer. Behind him, he heard Bugs shouting to stop.

It was too late. 

Jones looked down, and realized how high the dam rose above the reservoir below. He felt dizzy. The dam started to spin around him. He clutched the computer tighter to steady himself. He pressed his face  against the cool metal case of the machine he’d been working so hard to find. 

Jones heard tires screeching. In his peripheral vision, the sleek, aerodynamic body of a four-door autonomous vehicle swerved across the dam. It was Marvin. Unbelievably, Hal was behind the wheel. Agent Moss clutched the dashboard of the passenger seat. Hal tried to bring the car to a stop behind the truck, but, unfamiliar with the act of driving, he spun out of control. Marvin skidded towards the bed of the truck and crashed into it, sending the quantum supercomputer flying. Jones went with it. 

Afterwards, he only remembered his nausea as he somersaulted through the air, and the gleam of the military-grade quantum supercomputer as it tumbled towards Lake Mead. When a metallic grey arm reached out to grab him, Jones had already made peace with his life. He was unconscious when the hand hooked his collar and hauled him back towards the sky.