At the Greendome home of a young lady named Inge Hahn, a Sanitation Auditor mentions that in recent months she has gone from a seven dollar subscription to five dollar a month can, and he wants to know why.
“The war’s over now and I lost my job to a returning soldier,” Inge explains. “You know how it is. Money never seems to go far enough. I had to get my budget more in line with my income and trash pickup was a big item.”
“How did you manage it?”
“Oh, you know, I just got a little smarter in the groceries I buy and in the way I prepare my trash. You can nest trash within trash within trash if you just give it a little thought. There isn’t a weight surcharge, is there?”
“Only if there’s evidence of compacting, which you’ve so far managed to avoid. Would you mind if I looked in your backyard?”
Inge is a little too savvy for that. “Show me a search warrant,” she says firmly.
“How about your husband, Miss Hahn?” the Auditor tries. “Is he home? Would he invite me out back?”
“It’s just me here,” Inge says sternly. “And even if I had a husband, he wouldn’t be the sort of fellow who does an end run around his own wife.”
“You say you’re looking for work?” he tries again. “You know, your future employer might blame the inconvenience of any greater scrutiny of their dumpsters on the uncooperative attitude of one of their new employees, if word got back.”
“Get a warrant, clown!” she barks. “I know my rights!” The door is slammed in the Sanitation Auditor’s face.
Damnation! he thinks. And the way liberal judges are ruling nowadays, it would take more than going from a medium can to a small can to get a search warrant. So he leaves for the easier target next door who had gone from a family-size jumbo ten dollar a month can to the five dollar one. They certainly had some explaining to do. He made a note that if Inge Hahn’s trash was so much as one inch overflowing, to charge her the full seven dollars of the next can up in size.
As soon as the door slams shut, Jerry, Robyn, Hunky, and Dory come out from hiding to join Inge in her modest living room. Doris Day is belting one out on the large radio that is the center of entertainment in the home. Hunky and Dory, as usual, are holding hands. Robyn is a few months along in har pregnancy and starting to show.
“That was very satisfying,” Inge tells them. She is only a few years older than the four members of the Boda, and so blond that her hair is almost white, plus there is an outrageous storm of brown freckles all over her face and body. She is being meticulously groomed to be the first new member to join the Boda.
“It only gets better,” Jerry Shybear tells her. “Are you ready to go to your training house?”
“Ready when you are.”
Jerry brings out the macro he has manufactured for Inge. It looks like an ordinary flashlight, but when Jerry turns it on the thing glows purple, and hisses like an acetylene torch. He feeds a banana peel into the lens of the flashlight, which gobbles it up with not a trace left over.
“Where did it go?”
“Each atom of the banana peel is scattered to a random point somewhere in a huge ball, fourteen miles wide and centered on your house. A couple three atoms of the banana peel might even be inside you, Inge, but you didn’t feel them pop in.”
“Why is it hissing like that?”
“That’s the air in the house being sucked in,” Jerry explains.
“Let me show you a neat trick,” Hunky says. She tosses a bottle cap from six feet away. It would have missed, but the hissing air near the flashlight lens guides it in to its doom.
“What is that purple glow?”
“That’s the actual macro effect.”
“It looks more like a steady flame. Why is it shaped like a cone?”
“It’s because fresh air comes in from the edges, so the particles of the macro effect meet them sooner, but in the middle there’s a vacuum created so the ray goes higher before meeting their first atom of air.”
“Is that as high as it gets?”
“Nope, more juice makes it taller,” Jerry says, carefully twisting the lens of the flashlight and making the purple “flame” grow to three feet.
“It’s good for cutting too,” Robyn says. Sha passes Inge’s softball bat through the purple light. The bat falls into two pieces with the middle section effortlessly carved out.
So with Jerry leading the way, he shows Inge how to open the macro to wide beam and cut a tunnel from her basement to the next door neighbor’s house, which has no basement. The new tunnel is tall enough for them to walk through it without crouching. It ends with a little cave-in of earth. A small ladder from Inge’s garage is brought forward. All of them quietly gather under the floorboards of House Ten and wait for the sounds of footsteps above to stop. When they do, that means everyone in the house has gone to work or school.
Inge and the Boda all enter through an access hatch in the floor of a closet that had been constructed to allow the owner to make an inspection under the house.
The womenfolk go to the kitchen. “Just grab a couple dinner plates,” Dory says. “Just a couple of coffee cups. Not enough to raise alarms.”
“I get it,” Inge says. “Even if they miss them, they’ll just assume someone broke them washing them or something.”
Jerry takes care of the trash. “I’m leaving just enough to fill a five dollar can.”
“Why not zap all the trash?” Inge asks him.
“We learned our lesson the hard way. No trash raises alarms. Less trash just raises eyebrows. Now if your hosts here in House Ten go to a smaller can just like you did, you’ll be saving them five dollars a month. So you can skim five dollars a month in value from this host.”
“Value in what?”
“A little food from the fridge, a little beer, electric power. I’m going to show you how to tap into their lines safely. When you get seven or eight host homes on your grid they shouldn’t even notice the drain of your own use.”
“Ah, but living in caves underground, though,” Inge murmurs, as though having second thoughts.
“It’s not that bad,” Hunky says. “Most days you spend in houses while the occupants are away, just like we are doing right now. Besides, no one is looking for you yet. There’s no reason you can’t keep living out of your own house for the time being.”
“Until I get caught.”
“If you get caught being the Trash Fairy,” Robyn said, “do what I did when you caught me. Try to convert them.”
“And if they refuse?”
“If they refuse,” sha says with a wicked grin, “just remember a macro is the perfect tool to make problems disappear.”
Everyone sees the hundred dollars of cash lying on the top of a dresser drawer in the master bedroom, but it remains to be seen what Inge Hahn will do.
Inga sees Jerry watching him. She looks at the money, then back at Jerry. “What, are you crazy? We take that money and our whole structure comes crashing down.”
Jerry Shybear breathes a sigh of relief. A hurdle had been passed. In that moment, in fact, he believes he has won.
In truth, Inge has all the money she could want or need. She lied to the Sanitation Auditor when she said she lost her job after the war. Inge has never held a job. She lives on a bottomless allowance from her father, but not even the Boda know about that. She is, in fact, something of a mystery to them, but if Inge ever truly becomes one of them, and participates in the Sharing, everything about her would be laid out under the light of day. So they bide their time and guide her along.
Several months earlier when Robyn gave Hunky and Dory their own macros and told them to think of something to do with them, they started to dig under the ground just like Robyn’s father Erik had once done, but they did it to create a network of tunnels between many of the houses in Greendome. Their happy pastime was to explore empty houses when the owners were away at work or else on vacations.
Due to the ongoing persecution of the Church by DECON, many of the houses on the Boda’s network were never occupied and became “Safe Houses” much of the time, at least when realtors were not showcasing them to potential buyers. Inge had caught Robyn trying Hunky and Dory’s game solo.
The Boda recruited women looking for work. It was light industrial labor. Here and there in a variety of Safe Houses gals would do hit-and-run stints assembling parts for macros. They had no idea what they were working on. There was no paper trail whatsoever, all the records were kept in the nanotechnology-enhanced minds of Boda members.
The workers were paid in cash, every day. Their partially completed units would be walked to other Safe Houses where only Boda members performed the final assembly and armed the self-destruct devices inside them before they could be signed out to new homes on the network.
When the Boda’s secret network grew to cover the entire city of Greendome forty percent of the people were only using the small five dollar cans. The county government, which was thoroughly infiltrated by DECON now, made up for the shortfall by charging a flat ten dollars no matter what size can was used.
The Boda retaliated by going to total trash disposal…one hundred percent of their host’s garbage was zapped, and many of the citizens dropped weekly pick-up service altogether.
Citizens who cooperated with the Sanitation Auditors and allowed them to come inside their homes were punished by the Boda most severely. The Trash Fairy never visited them again. But those citizens who were ordered by a judge to allow a Sanitation Auditor to inspect their homes were not punished. Trash pickup continued through a small hole in the bottom of their trash can. All of the citizens treated in this way resented DECON and the courts enough not to mention the neat round hole that had appeared at the bottom of their trash can.
The City’s next move was a ten dollar surcharge on electric power for every home not subscribed to weekly trash pickup service. Jerry Shybear countered with a type of macro that ate only electrons. Tie your circuit to earth ground for a source of free electrons, and Jerry’s macro constantly disposed of them. You got a current flow. Part of this was diverted to run the macro itself but the rest was free juice. The electricity was run through an inverter, phase-matched to the existing 60 HZ AC line current, and soon many houses went off the City’s power grid for good.
The Boda wasn’t just confined to the neighborhoods. A large fraction of the cost of doing any kind of manufacturing was in disposing of hazardous wastes. The Boda would do that for one company at ridiculously low prices, allowing that company to pass the savings on to the consumer and drive all their competitors out of business. Then, armed with their monopoly, prices would creep back up and the Boda would in turn squeeze them for a share.
Drilling for water costs five hundred bucks? The Boda will do it for one hundred. Drilling for oil costs ten thousand bucks? The Boda will do it for $200 with a macro and a ball of twine to hang it from.
Given sufficient time even bumbling government operatives eventually had a few successes. DECON managed to capture a handful of macros to see what the fuss was about and to see what could be done to neutralize them. The government even found a use for their commandeered macros. They were far more efficient at destroying incriminating documents than the much slower paper shredders, which tended to jam. But any attempt to penetrate the secrets of the macro by disassembly or X-ray resulted in an inert unit as the crucial components somehow disappeared.