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I called her Jingle-jangle. I told Christiane she reminded me of the way it felt to hear the sound spare change made in my pocket whenever I was fading, and I found a machine that would take coins and give me a soda or candy bar. My hands were on the front pockets of her dungarees when I said it. I was stroking Christiane’s hips, thighs; she was giggling, straddling my waist and unbuttoning chambray. Christiane was sweeter than the scent of jasmine breezing in through the window, and we were hoping nobody heard us in the spare bedroom.

I loved Jingle-jangle.

I carried heresy in my pocket – a collection of coins minted years ago. Artifacts of better times. Coins nowadays are cardboard, bearing history on their fronts and complex designs on their backs. Steganography. Code is embedded in those designs so machines can complete a sale when the code validates, or call in drones when it doesn’t. Drones are everywhere.

Why cardboard? Fair question. We learned the hard way a bomb will turn pocketfuls of metal coins into shrapnel, so they were outlawed three years ago. The contents of my left front pocket? Barely enough to buy chewing gum at the vending machine’s price, but enough for a collector to give me a two-grand, or enough to put me away for a decade. It was risky business.

Collectors were paying big money for old coins, mules like me were hiding them in pockets behind leather wallets and cellphones. I got coins from all sorts of places. Buyers didn’t care where they came from, as long as I delivered.

Jingle-jangle would have hated me if she ever knew – she was my love, my competition. She thought I made money running 3-D printers at an artsy place downtown. I didn’t have the guts to tell her the truth.

I glimpsed Christiane through a seam in plywood nailed over an abandoned storefront. Deserted stores were good places to score old coins if you knew where to look, and Jingle-jangle knew. She was in there, orange hoodie loose on her lithe body, searching nooks and crannies dropped coins disappeared into years ago. Orange because she was an activist, part of a credentialed group that gathered old coins, and called in drones to spirt them away. Christiane was as proud of her work as I was ashamed of my own.

‘What if Christiane’s called for a drone?’ I couldn’t ignore the thought – not when the whir of propeller blades was growing louder than usual. Drones carried sensors that could hone in on things like artifact coins if enough of them were together in one spot, like my left front pocket.

I started jogging. I needed distance between me and Jingle-jangle, so the drone would find her and whatever she’d scrounged instead of me; so that if the drone’s sensors locked on me, the only girl I’d ever loved wouldn’t see me face down on pavement, busted.

The whirring was growing louder behind me. Ahead, a crowd was spilling from an underground train station on to the sidewalk as the drone activated its siren, an unnerving klaxon infomercials taught us to recognize – that wail meant explosives had been detected.

A hundred people panicked, some pushing their way back down into the subway, others darting down alleys and into building lobbies. I broke into a sprint.

‘If I can get a block down.’ It wasn’t strategy, it was desperation.

And then I was fading, ears ringing and body broken by shrapnel that jingle-jangled in my pocket, before I failed Christiane.

This story originally appeared in 365 Tomorrows, January 2021.
Edited by Tochukwu Okafor

Andrew writes science-fiction and fantasy from the state of Maryland, often drawing ideas from jogs through forest trails at sunrise. His work has previously appeared in AntipodeanSF, 365 Tomorrows, Daily Science Fiction, Penumbric Speculative Fiction, and in MetaStellar as reprints and MetaStellar Anthhology – his work has also short-listed in several writing contests. Andrew welcomes reader feedback at [email protected].