Lime meets me downstairs and we zoom together through the street. I spot the tunnel to duck down. It's dark. I pull my goggles back on to see in the dark. Lime showed me this route months ago but it still feels unfamiliar. Like I might miss a turn. It doesn't help that the tunnels all look the same. We push up the exit ramp and out of the tunnel onto an empty alley. The Flea Market is just though this building in a giant open-air courtyard several blocks large.

The Flea Market has a combination of permanent and mobile storefronts. They range from completely above ground stores with a constantly rotating supply of used clothing bought and sold with legal credit accounts that pay taxes, to tarps on the ground covered in stolen electronic parts on a huge drawstring, waiting to be scooped up and hauled off never to be seen again. But keep in mind that even the most "above ground" shop will take CASH payment. This could mean a trade. In the case of the clothing shops, if you have a few decent items, they'll trade you for one or two of their products and call it "store credit." It's still illegal but the police aren't very motivated to shut down shops. Trades aren't as common as what folks really mean when they say, "You can pay with cash." They mean CASH - Collective Allowance Sharing... something. I don't know what the H stands for. House? Who cares. CASH is a currency system devised by a bunch of hackers years ago who were sick of people hoarding water and nonperishable goods from folks who needed them, just so that they could afford to buy and run huge drug manufacturing and delivery rings. They wanted to have a controlled currency that kept the flow of illegal goods moving and prevented any major economic exploitation. It balances on a couple rules-

1. No one holds more than 10000CASH in their account at a time. If you try to deposit 10001CASH, then it stays at 10000CASH.

2. Any deposit has an expiration date of 3 weeks. So if I, by some miraculous means, got paid 10000CASH for something today and then got paid another 35CASH tomorrow, I would only have 10000CASH. And 3 weeks from today, I would have 0CASH. So most people keep their accounts active with purchases throughout the month.

3. Nothing can be bought or sold with CASH that is needed for survival. Obviously people attempt to circumvent this. Luckily the CASH "bank" is enthusiastically self-policed by the people who use and depend on it every day. After all, most criminals have to have at least a basic programming knowledge to stay under the radar of the police, and the code for the bank is open. If I really wanted to, I could see how much was in anyone's account at any time. And if I tried to hack my account to bump my balance up to 10000CASH so I could afford to buy that nice stereo I've had my ears on, I'd be seen and my balance would be corrected in minutes. Massive hacks, like the production of multiple accounts, and filling them or even just half way filling them with a stream of payments to create CASH out of nothing- sure that happens every so often, and when it does, CASH shuts down for a few days, and everyone's account gets wiped, and everyone who reapplies gets 50CASH to start over. It sounds tragic but it's not that awful. Everyone gets back up and running quickly enough. Because everyone's money expires regularly, most users don't wait to buy what they need, so starting over doesn't mean starting with nothing, it just means starting with no money. And money is easy to make. It's ephemeral. People will gladly pay you some CASH to do them a quick favor, or for a small thing of yours that they want. It's not like they're saving up to buy a house or whatever it is that people do with money when they have more than enough to live on.

And if there was some underground business deal about to go down when everyone's account was wiped- I don't know. We get along just fine without it.

There have been attempts to destroy the CASH bank, or so I've been told. But it's hard to believe anyone would want to. Except maybe to seek revenge for a spoiled purchase, or I guess by the police. But it seems to always rebuild and protect itself. It's pretty remarkable that people find the time to police things. But it's a small world underground and no one can work alone. Mention your scheme to the wrong person and in no time they are informing the boards and suddenly everyone is waiting for your first suspicious transaction. I've heard people complain that it's dangerous. That it turns into a witch hunt and any time someone is "doing well" then they get victimized by CASH and suddenly all their stock is gone. But I don't know. I mean, it's clear enough to everyone that it's not the kind of system to reward ambition. If you want to do that- then start an above-ground company. Working underground isn't a secret passageway to untaxed and unregulated wealth. Working underground is a door to new worlds, or in Lime's case- old worlds.

©2018 by Zita