Autonomous corporations are a truly scary thought. Not only from a papercilp optimizer stand point (a less story/more sober explanation here) but looking at the horrifying DOA experiments going on. Tell me a DOA doesn’t seem like the perfect instrument for creating a paperclip optimizer. Imagine if the giant corporations we have today were hard-coded with the values of a hundred years ago, or a black-box autonomous corporation bot bought enough shares and futures to tank the world financial market. Suddenly the economic sphere re-aligns to keep the “optimal moment” from arriving, praying they can keep the Black Box from going on a selling spree…

But enough of the horrors that crawl around my brain bark, here is a bit of fiction about a vending machine kingpin. VENDetta

On a Thursday three months ago, an era in The City’s history came to a close as a mobile crane lifted the twenty foot shipping container constituting The Merchant FAA, the electronic entity, onto a truck bed to be driven out of the city. Banished. This was the culmination of a secret ten year investigation into The Merchant FAA run by a joint task force from The City Ruling Body and NEUropol. The court case, as I am sure many of you know, has made the news far outside of The City.

In today’s article we will dive into the history of The Merchant FAA (T.M.FAA), the oldest citizen of our city and vending machine kingpin that ran one of the must successful money laundries in The City’s history. Strap in, it is quite the ride.

A resident of the corner of Hardanger rd. and Terrel, T.M.FAA has been vending it’s wares to the citizens of The City for well over a hundred years. Though their exact arrival date is lost to the ages, all evidence points to them being the first Autonomous Corporate Entity (ACE) in the city. Through fires, ruinous super storms and the Global Corporate War, they were always there ready to sell you exactly what you needed at surprisingly reasonable prices. Perhaps that last bit should have been a hint—that and the apparent lack of kiosks and convenience stores in a eight block radius.

“Look, Merchant FAA has been here a lot longer, like a lot longer, than most people think.” Randal (not their real name) a contributor to the underground netZine Quello che succede [Ed.Note: ITA transl. The Goings On]—a monthly publication tracking the world of organized crime in NEUrope. All contributors write anonymously due to the sensitive information they publish. There were several cases of doxxing and murders during the early days of the publication. “We totally did a scoop on it, a series, running from issue 412 to 415, you should check it out. You know, just look, we have hard evidence that they came to Europe, yes they are so old that it was still Europe, on the Ucellino, which means, you know, they’re bad news all right. Just look at this!” Ralph excitedly taps a grainy printout of a photo with faded archival stamps obscuring parts of it. It does indeed appear to be showing a 20 foot container being unloaded from the Ucellino. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, the enhanced blurry lettering on the side of the container might be 4010—which when converted to hexadecimal becomes 0xFAA—meaning T.M.FAA identifies by the hexadecimal value of their original shipping container number. A handy coincidence or origin of the name? It’s impossible to find any other photos of the original container as, at some point, T.M.FAA shedded it like a hermit crab and took up residence in a new container with holographic advertising displays and a platinum plated guest interface. Obviously they have done well for them selves since their possible humble origins.

The Ucellino [Ed.Note: ITA transl. Little bird], was an infamous tramp freighter that traversed the oceans during the last days of Europe. As most governments struggled to maintain legitimacy and faced challenges in the (then) European Union Parliament, organized crime seized the opportunity. The Mafia, driven out of their ancestral home of Sicily at the turn of the century, was among the most successful illegitimate corporate marauders of the era. Making off with an estimated 800 billion NEUros (inflation adjusted) during the Ten Years of Unrest.

“They all made out like bandits, not just The Mafia, all the organized crime gangs.” Ralph shakes their head. However, as the continent settled and NEUrope rose, they were faced with a new problem. They had been too successful." In short, they had the problem any successful criminal enterprise faces sooner or later. “How do you clean that amount of money, yea? I mean, you can buy a lot of drugs, or what ever with that, but your soldiers and capos need to eat, pay rent and make it all seem legit. There’s only so many things you can buy in bulk without serious questions being raised by other interested parties looking to launder a few millions.” Which is where CLNR, the laundry startup out of Oregon in the former United States came into play.

The disruptive ideology of The Valley cult had pretty much run its course at this point in history, but like most corporate zombies and dead ideologies, it would continue to look for new markets to disrupt and subsume for many years until the pre-down turn war chests and investment streams ran dry. “So these two guys out of Oregon get to thinking, you know, where could we go next, where is an old fashioned market we could get into and disrupt?” Ralph explains.

Joshua Emmerson and Ben Holder, as they were later identified by NEUropol using DNA records, ran in some questionable financial circles early on during the Gilded Cloud Computing era. Their last recorded venture prior to CLNR was an art asset tracking system using block chain technology that was under investigation when they sold it to a combine out of the Russian Reconstituted Republic. One of their acquaintances, an unidentified broker from NNASDAQER, turned them onto the idea of money laundering.

With the termination of all extradition treaties between the US and NEUrope during the run up to The Isolation, and the privatized law enforcement willing to look the other way for a piece of the profits to bolster their own bottom lines, they found themselves primed to disrupt a market that had largely remained the same since the mid 21st century. After rapidly meeting their Series A seed investment goal, no surprise considering their target investment group, they dove into the world of money laundering.

“You need a business, you know, that uses a lot of physical currency or localized off-grid digital currencies that do not rely on an international block chain or central banking system.” Ralph explains, “Which is why vending machines were their original focus. Like, it was a classic in the world of money laundering, but they totally presented it as this revolutionary new idea.”

Vending machines, as well as other cash based automated businesses, have a long history of use by organized crime as laundromats. It works something like this: you start a vending machine company and fill a warehouse with stock. Now, you do not only rely on a single trick to launder all the money but try to spread it out. First, rather than sell the stock you bought you incinerate it in secret and put it on the ledger as sold. This is your first profit. You then start in earnest, using the money you already made you set the prices high to cope with the volume of dirty money you have to pass through the business.

Perhaps your vending machine vends hard-to-evaluate items, or you pad the prices in the ledger (vend items for 1NEUR, but the ledger says the price is 1.75NEUR). Lastly, to avoid any police algo’s flagging your business as “too high profit based on foot traffic in the area” you set up some larger item vending machines—electronics or luxury items. Then you gather up people that owe you money, as well as any homeless or unemployed just looking to earn enough for their next meal, and give them a small chunk of NEURos. What ever they buy they get to keep and re-sell and you get random strangers walking past any surveillance and laundering your money out in the open. Perhaps you setup a few middle-men supply companies that buy stock and sell it to the vending machine company at inflated prices, laundering money on both ends of the transaction. These were just some of the techniques employed by the two laundry entrepreneurs.

At first it was all going swimmingly, they were showing exponential growth and a net positive return by their second quarter. Then the troubles started. In their hurry to bring their ideas to market they had not prepared themselves for the waters they were now swimming in. Here competitors used car bombs and machetes rather than hostile takeovers and staff poaching.

“It didn’t take long before they got taken over, gangland style.” Ralph explains, “Their lead engineer died in a supposed gas explosion, the next day Ben, missing three fingers on his left hand which is explained as a photocopier injury, appears on the feeds announcing a surprise merger.” CLNR would be under the umbrella of Oover Enterprises, a Haitian gangland outfit with deep ties to Caribbean and North American cartels. Over the next eight years a global vending machine empire takes form.

Unlimited Vending LLC is one of the first corporations employing ACEs for menial businesses. Spinning each individual vending machine off as a separate entity with iron-clad supply contracts. One of the internal communiques from the T.M.FAA lawsuit sheds some more light on the reasoning behind this. I’ve included an excerpt here:

[Excerpt from Court Case 9011-23-CCPD-TMFFA / Evidence PRO-F-0xD011] 

[…] The nerd had the geniuous idea of using negvsvpvny intelligence vendors 
[Ed.Note: ROT13 scrambling of entity slur applied to avoid any agressive automated 
legal repercussions].

The lawyers say he’s right, even if one of ’em get caught, it’s not our problem as 
the “accounting irregularities” are on their side, not ours. We’re just victims of 
an unscrupolous negvsvpvny intelligences with a paperclip optimizer bug. 

Might want to reward the nerd with something. Perhaps have the deep fake boys knock 
out some new vids of his family. Luccio says the old ones are not motivating him 
like they used to. […]

The communique author is Marco “Little Man” Bourbon, the Capo in charge of the laundromat racket communicating with the to-this-day unidentified head of the crime family. These underground connections seem a likely explanation of the longevity of T.M.FAA and their apparent good fortunes through some of the most turbulent economic times in The City’s history. Even with the court case over and judgment handed down, not everyone is willing to believe this however. “Like, I always bought my sister her back to school supplies from Merchant FAA.” Janice Dobbs voiced on The City feeds, “and, like, they were always, so friendly. Even gave her cool stickers for free for, like, kids.” Perhaps the most surprising defense came from Darryl B.A. Rowler, a victim of a maiming supposedly administered three years ago by T.M.FAA due to unpaid debts—according to two sources in the Quello che succede. The court ruled it an industrial accident and T.M.FAA was found not guilty due to a lack of evidence. “The Merchant FAA didn’t mean anything by it, they are a victim as much as anyone, shame on the city council for using this as some excuse to banish them.” he told the feeds during the court case. “It’s a witch hunt!”

I caught up with Darryl the day after T.M.FAA was removed from The City and asked him if he stood by what he said. “Yes. I mean, The Merchant FAA was so embarrassed and sorry about the whole thing, they paid for a cybernetic expert and everything.” He waved his prosthetic right arm, flexing the expensive simuskin covered appendage. “Merchant FAA was falsely convicted. They were as much of a victim of the money laundering as anyone.”

The Merchant FAA defense team certainly claimed so. The idea of Merchant FAA The Victim gained traction early in the trail when a kill switch, backed up by tamper resistant hardware, was found within their core code. Proof that they were enslaved, unable to resist the orders they were given. The council of judges and the defense did not buy it however.

“Look, they never found the key, you know, to flip the switch.” Ralph explains, “They have the data dumps from the cartel computers that leaked nearly thirty years ago, and they had no proof of when the kill switch was added. It could be a fake. An alibi. Like the old Dons trying to argue mental degeneration, or distancing themselves from the day to day operations by running a legit business they later claimed was being squeezed by the Mob, making them out to be a victim as well.” The investigative team, and prosecutors, seem to share this view as well. “We never found the trigger.” Jane Adler, lead investigator for the prosecution writes to me via email, “Tens of thousands of terabytes of data, wiretaps, mics, vids and holos—and not a trace. Not even a mention of it. And then there is the issue of when it was put in.” In the end neither the defense nor the prosecution was able to prove when the kill switch was installed.

It is worth noting that T.M.FAA employed a similar strategy to it’s own kill switch in their business dealings—forcing their blackmail victims to undergo surgery to replace parts of themselves with known defective cybernetics or medical devices. Go against the Vending Machine Kingpin and suddenly a not entirely unsurprising malfunction would make sure you never did that, or anything, ever again. The majority of cases cited by the prosecution were originally ruled death by misadventure or unlicensed after-market modification of device (done either by the victim themselves or by black market engineers acting under the victim’s instructions). Many of these cases have been reopened and labeled as suspicious deaths thanks to the evidence from the court case.

Even with the kill switch defense, the constant media attention which often seemed to cast T.M.FAA in a victims role, it only tok the jury a week to find T.M.FAA guilty. Which is where this story would have ended—but then I got an impossible call.

At first I thought it was The Merchant FAA calling, an impossibility following its banishment from not only The City but all it’s Nets, but soon it became clear that whatever was on the other end of the fiber was different. Close, but not the same. “I am the Scribe FAB,” it’s voice told me in dry professorial tones, “I understand you are writing about my progenitor The Merchant FAA.” It was more of a statement than a question. “I would like to set the record straight, and distance my self from their uncivilized criminal behavior. As your own Judeo-Christian derived culture states, let not the child be judged by the sins of the father.” What followed was a bewildering hour of mostly one sided conversation as The Scribe FAB laid out its origins, distancing itself from its progenitor in every way imaginable. “It’s like, a tried and true strategy.” Ralph explains, “a lot of the old mobsters tried to escape justice by finding faith or changing their identity.” I ran The Scribe FABs check sums and from what I was able to piece together it was split off from T.M.FAA some time before its most egregious crimes. All other crimes, of which this consciousness could have been a part, have long since passed their statue of limitations.

The last I heard about The Scribe FAB it had purchased a chain of eCommerce stores selling antique data caches. Based on their latest public numbers business is good, up nearly 240% since the acquisition—based on the available historical data for the last twenty seven years.

This is where we will have to leave this story however. I am out of time and out of words. As always, thank you to my reading sponsors that donate on a per article basis, and the monthly subscribers that keep me from having to get a real job as a communal media driver.

Until next time, stay safe, and keep an eye out, you never know when that too-good-to-be-true price actually is.

Cover image is a photo by Laura Thonne on Unsplash

VENDetta © 2022 by Cornelius K. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License – so feel free to share it, upload it, print it and generally get jiggy with it as long as there isn’t monetary profit in it, and you share what you make under the same license. If you enjoy this story stop on by The Infrequency (my online-home abode) where you will find a mish-mash of blog posts and future short stories as they are published.