The Baby Cooper Dollar Bill
an excerpt from
A Day For Damnation
I was minding my own business, happily writing a novel, not thinking beyond the needs of the story, when the following sentence suddenly occurred: “The Baby Cooper Dollar Bill, for example, was only fifty years old….”
I stared at the sentence for 15 seconds. I knew what it meant. The entire anecdote had flashed into my head simultaneous with the creation of that first ominous sentence. I typed, “The short version:” and began. 1741 words later, I had the longest paragraph I’d ever written.
And one of the most terrifying predictions I have ever written:
…That was the nice thing about software entities. You could create the most interesting legal monsters and turn them loose upon society, where they would loose-cannon for decades to come. The Baby Cooper Dollar Bill, for example, was only fifty years old—and the lawyers would probably be fighting over that Trust until the turn of the century, by which time it would probably be worth more than the entire planet.
The short version: Grandpa Cooper thought he was being cute. He bought a one dollar investment trust, the proceeds of which would be delivered to the first-born child of his only daughter (who was at that time only four years old) on the occasion of his/her twenty-first birthday. Then he died, leaving an investment-oriented software entity (which was quickly dubbed a “fairy godmother”) to operate the trust without human overrides. The software entity invested the dollar first into Chinese labor contracts, shifting to optical leverages three weeks before the Pakistan Agreement, and then micro-biotechnical futures eighteen days before Apple announced the Pippin development project. And so on. Within fifteen years the electric-Scrooge had cascaded the yearly earnings of the Baby Cooper Dollar Bill into the millions. Well, hell, if all you had to do was study upwardly directed catastrophic trends—at the rate of 16 billion neurological operations per second—you’d probably make some pretty good decisions too. Then Wilma Cooper gave birth to twins. Cesarean. The doctor would live to regret it. Mommy and Daddy Cooper, thinking to be responsible and wanting to protect their children if anything awful happened to them, had created “guardian angels” to watch over their children’s interests—specialized software entities to monitor and protect the twins’ legal, financial and investment needs. As it happened, the accident that killed Daddy Cooper left Mommy Cooper a quadriplegic; the guardian angels were immediately activated and within three days had filed massive lawsuits on each other’s client. The guardian angel for Twin B was now suing Twin A for half the money, claiming that Twin B would have been first-born if not for the intervention of the doctor. The guardian angel for Twin A was suing Twin B for slander, alienation of affections, attempt to subvert, violation of intention, and malicious litigation. Both guardian angels were also suing the doctor who had delivered the twins, the hospital where they were born, and the now-crippled Wilma Cooper who had signed the Cesarean consent form in the first place, claiming massive damages on the grounds that they were being forced to litigation because of the incompetence of the doctor, the hospital and Wilma Cooper. The twins themselves were unaware of these battles being fought on their behalf because they were only two years old at the time. Still following this? Good. Because now it gets baroque. Turns out that the ever¬-cautious Mommy and Daddy Cooper, fearing accidents, infertility, premature spousal termination, etc., had also deposited three viable eggs and six vials of sperm with the Northridge Community Crèche. The death of Daddy Cooper automatically turned loose three more guardian angels upon the legal network, each one claiming that its “client” had prior claim on the Baby Cooper Dollar Bill despite not yet having been conceived. The argument here was that conception was implied by the storage of sperm and egg despite not yet having occurred in actuality; therefore under the Protection of Intention Amendment, one of these three would-be children was the rightful recipient of the Dollar Bill Trust. Now the religious groups got involved and the case was aiming straight for the Supreme Court. (Already two justices had resigned rather than be forced to rule on any of the issues involved. The guardian angels had resisted all attempts to break the case into its component parts and were demanding total resolution, not particle resolution.) The Fundamentalist Judeo-Islamic Baptists were claiming that the whole case was a blasphemy because of Mommy Cooper’s high school abortion. That had been the first-born child, they claimed. Therefore, upon its death, the money had to revert to the estate of Grandpa Cooper—who, it turned out, had at one time, signed an agreement of financial support for the Ministry for the Salvation of Lesser Souls (meaning cats, dogs, horses, cows, sheep and pigs; but not apes.) Grandpa had not yet honored his pledge (of $5) before he died and therefore the Ministry had filed a lien on the earnings of Grandpa Cooper’s estate. The aforesaid Ministry for the Salvation of Lesser Souls was one of the subdivisions of the Christo-Baptist Coalition, which just happened to be now affiliated with the—are you surprised?—Fundamentalist Judeo-Islamic Baptists. Since filing its lawsuit that group had splintered into six separate schisms, but not before it had created its own software entity to pursue its claims. This particular software harpy was being pursued by six harpies of its own, each created by one of the splinter factions. Then the woodwork really got porous. Turned out Grandpa Cooper owed everybody money. And they were all filing claims against his estate. The legal software churning the net had become a zooful of monsters. Grandpa Cooper’s single fairy godmother had given birth to a whole host of guardian angels, harpies, demons, imps, whirlwinds, berserkers, trolls, and ghouls—not to mention several particularly vicious nameless horrors—all prowling through the system, looking for a throat to rip out. It was a legal firestorm looking for a place to happen—and sure enough it did…. It turned out that the original Baby Cooper Dollar Bill itself—which was still in the vault at McBroker’s, sealed in a glass case—was counterfeit . Somebody had passed it to Grandpa Cooper. Unthinkingly, he’d passed it to the broker. The discovery that the bill was counterfeit was accidentally made during the course of a video feature story about near-sentient software entities. The shitstorm that this triggered made everything that had gone before seem like a fart in a tornado. If the original contract was invalidated because of Grandpa Cooper’s failure to provide one legal dollar, then who owned the resultant fortune? McBroker’s? The McShareholders thought this was a good idea. McBroker’s immediately sued the Baby Cooper Trust for fraud. The Baby Cooper Trust countersued for breach of contract, claiming that McBroker’s original acceptance of the counterfeit dollar validated the deal. True to form, the United States Government adopted a schizophrenic position: the Justice Department argued that to invalidate the original contract would violate the Protection of Intention Amendment; the Treasury Department argued that to not invalidate the contract would legalize the counterfeiting of plastic dollars. Justice argued that the statute of limitations had expired and therefore the dollar had to be treated as legal tender. Treasury argued that under the Seizure of Illegal Profits Act the entire Baby Cooper fortune now belonged to the government. The original counterfeiter came forward and claimed that the fortune was his, arguing that his dollars were works of art and he was only leasing them, not selling them. At least two Presidents had considered revaluing the dollar to zero for about twenty seconds, so as to force the Baby Cooper software to self-destruct in its own economic starvation. The doctor who had delivered the Cooper twins committed suicide; his family promptly sued everybody in sight, claiming that the mental stress of the years of legal harassment had driven him to his death. The twins themselves—remember them?—had been separated shortly after the first lawsuits were filed and reared separately. Neither had spoken to the other or to their mother since their fourth birthday. By the time they turned twenty-one, the Baby Cooper Dollar Bill was worth the better part of a billion dollars, but not a single one of the lawsuits had yet made it to court. On the day that the Baby Cooper Dollar Bill Trust surpassed the Zurich Lottery in value, a class action lawsuit on behalf of the members of the International Monetary Council was filed against the United States Justice Department for impeding the resolution of a case which would significantly affect the world’s economy. This particular action guaranteed an additional twenty years, at minimum, of legal maneuvering—which was the intention all along; the Baby Cooper assets had to be kept frozen. Should that much cash turn liquid all at once, there was no way to predict what kind of hydrostatic shock waves would resonate through the world’s economy. Meanwhile, an international community of software vampires was already looking for ways to buy into the donnybrook. Even though Baby Cooper futures were rated a very high-risk investment, shares of all seven of the major corporate entities involved were being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, not to mention more than a score of remora corporations riding on their earnings or echoing their investments. At least most of the software entities involved were smart enough to hedge their bets against an adverse court ruling; they were starting to expand into other investment areas—including the creation of several new Dollar Bill entities…. Rumor had it that the Supreme Court was reluctant to rule on this case for fear of crashing the market. That more than half of the human participants in this Byzantine affair were already dead was irrelevant to the software entities battling on their behalf. It just triggered a whole new class of software ghouls pursuing Beneficiary Claims; the filing rate for these set a three day record for the New York network. Unfortunately, the record was short-lived. When the National Resource Reclamation Act was passed, so many claims were filed on the first day of business that the system was down before lunch¬time. The commissioners refused to bring the system back online until they could rule the Baby Cooper Trust exempt from further actions. The Federal Appeals Court refused to uphold this ruling and the commissioners promptly allowed the system to crash three more times. (Yes, this also triggered a spate of suits and countersuits—everybody from the court and the commission to the bystanders whose transactions had been lost in the disaster.) Wait, it gets better—Congress’s refusal to grant an exemption opened up everything that had gone before to the entire range of possible Reclamation actions. Yes, this was an open invitation to several hundred thousand more would-be players to leap into the mayhem—and it was deliberate. The Baby Cooper Dollar Bill was now generating more lawsuits per day than any action in human history. The whole thing had become a legal black hole, but the US government was generating almost as much income off the legal fees—these were all pay-as-you-go cases—as the Dollar Bill itself was generating in interest; so the Secretary of the Treasury had a very real stake in continuing the uproar for as long a time as possible.
Now that’s software….
All right. Now you can’t say you haven’t been warned.
David Gerrold is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author. He has written more than 50 books, including "The Man Who Folded Himself" and "When HARLIE Was One," as well as hundreds of short stories and articles. His autobiographical story "The Martian Child" was the basis of the 2007 movie starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet. He has also written for television, including episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, and Land Of The Lost. He is best known for creating tribbles, sleestaks, and Chtorrans. In his spare time, he redesigns his website, www.gerrold.com