Sato: Tragic Beginnings, Tragic Endings
(Edited: This is the revised piece. I mistakenly submitted an earlier draft thinking the deadline was an hour earlier. My deepest apologies for the mistake, please honor this as my entry.)
Sato leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands around the back of his head while watching the number on the screen. His greatest success had been the genesis of an online currency wholly outside the reach of the government's grabby hands. For his efforts, he’d been rewarded handsomely. He rested easy this morning, mentally scratching his name into a personal ledger next to the number thirty-six billion. With a contented sigh, Sato took a sip of steaming coffee and closed his eyes. He could do anything now. Go anywhere with anyone he wanted. Like his creation, he was free from the restrictions of an overseer. He was rich and he was invisible. Twelve years of working out the details of Bitcoin had finally clicked them into place. He had cracked it and delivered Bitcoin to the world. After years of mining the system, he finally had his prize. A ghost with the wallet of a king.
A knock at the door interrupted his reverie.
Sato sighed with irritation and pushed himself up to stand, old legs trembling. He shuffled his sick body to the door and peered through the peephole. On the other side stood two figures in black suits.
There was no need to be dealing with strange men today. This was a day of celebration. Sato took a few steps away from the entrance, but a voice penetrated the door.
“Satoshi Nakamoto, we can hear you moving in your place of living and are hereby authorized to pursue forced entry should we not be voluntarily allowed into your home.”
The voice came in monotone, but each word arrived with a punch. Satoshi felt his heart flutter. Out of instinctive fear and hope they would turn away, Satoshi froze in place. His heartbeat thrummed in his ears and he waited for the voice to call again. Not a sound. After what felt like hours Sato decided the stranger had bluffed.
Who would have the authority to enter someone’s home without a warrant or consent from the inhabitant? Surely, that was illegal.
Relieved at his conclusion, Sato’s tired heart slowed with relief and he took a step forward.
The floorboard whined under his foot and Sato’s heart dropped. In his old heart, he knew he’d made a mistake. At that moment he felt their presence like a phantom breeze.
Sato shrieked as they barreled through the door like an enraged bull. Splintered wood rained down on Sato. The two men in black suits were quickly on top of him and the old man cried out in pain as his legs gave way beneath him. The trespassers hoisted up, each looping an arm over their neck, and carried the protesting man away, his long, wrinkled legs trailing behind him, limp from fear.
In the halls of the residence building, one of his kidnappers wrinkled his nose and snarled in disgust. Sato had wet himself in the shock of the attack and the acidic stench invaded the attacker’s olfactory system. To his dismay, Sato realized that the smell was the only defense he had. Perhaps, in his youth, he could have crafted a clever escape. Today, his frailness overcame him. He sunk onto the shoulders of his kidnappers resigned. Whatever came next, it was his mind that would have to save him. His body was no longer up to the task.
Sato wondered where his destination might be and whether he might be able to signal for help, but the hood placed over his head made the thought obsolete. He would end up wherever these men took him.
He was shoved into a seat - the backseat of a car. Sato’s thoughts drifted, lulled by the hum of the engine and the rhythmic bumping of the ride. The kidnappers took the front seats and exchanged hushed words. Sato couldn’t catch what they might be saying and soon gave up trying. Instead, he found himself in resigned reflection. If this were to be the end of him, what a cruel trick of fate that would be. To have slaved away for years, scheming and hoping that he might one day be a rich man. Destitution be damned. And he’d finally made it. He’d held thirty-six billion dollars in calloused hands. A financial scaffolding to support whatever life he wanted to build.
The car lurched to a halt and Sato’s stomach twisted. His soiled pants now making him nauseous.
Still hooded, Sato was forced from the car and towed on shaky legs down what felt like an endless corridor. Despite the fear still nipping, an observer in Sato’s brain found it curious that they would travel so long without making a turn. What structure could be so large? They walked on, for minutes that stretched into long hours.
They had to be in some sort of tunnel system, Sato thought before fatigue exhausted his ability to think. His body collapsed, but his captors did not slow. They simply moved on like soldiers carrying a prisoner of war back to camp. The enemy was not human. They could be dragged like a sack of vegetables or a bag of rubbish.
Sato began to cry. The tears came by surprise, the first few trembling down his covered face. Then they swarmed him and he began to shake violently. Sato sobbed. He cried for the future he feared he would never have if these men were to kill him. Seventy-years spent in toil and labor, working for the promise of a better future. He’d finally awakened to a cold truth: nobody was coming to save him. And he’d saved himself. How cruel it was now that he would soon likely be the wealthiest corpse in the city.
Sato wept as only one condemned to death can.
The two captors halted and Sato’s body sank into the cold floor. He was picked up and seated in a hard chair, his weak body putting up no resistance to its commandeering.
Sato soon lost consciousness, his body wrung out by the day.
When he regained his senses he became instantly aware of two things. The first was that his clothing had been changed. He wore clean and comfortable pants and a matching shirt. Stitched into each was three letters.
C W J
He did not have time to decipher what the letters in his new clothes meant. Instead, Sato remained still as a frightened fawn. Moving only his eyes, he scanned the room and took in a sea of observers. They were in rows reminding him of a sports stadium, perhaps a dozen rows of faces wearing various expressions, some stern and others curious. They all loomed over him. His chair sat in the center of what felt like a gladiator’s pit.
Across from him, there was another chair. Sato, distracted by the crowd, hadn’t noticed before and saw that the other chair was occupied. The man in the chair stood and nodded to an individual in the stands, a man in a seat raised above the others. He wore long black robes, a long gray beard, and round spectacles. His shrewd eyes moving from studying Sato to the other man. He returned the nod.
The man across Sato cleared his throat and took a deep breath.
“The man you see before you is Satoshi Nakamoto. He is seventy-two years old. He dying and is in the latter stages of pancreatic cancer. Today, he is brought to the Court of Worldly Justice for reasons that shall soon be revealed. Grand Judge Hammond, may we proceed?”’
Sato followed the man’s gaze to the man in the raised chair, who promptly adjusted his spectacles and responded, “Yes, Mr. Vanger, you may proceed.” His voice rasped and made Sato feel as if his ears and been brushed by sandpaper.
“Thank you, Grand Judge.”
Mr. Vanger stood with broad shoulders and a calm face. He clasped his hands behind his back and studied Sato as he spoke.
“Mr. Nakamoto, you are here today to defend yourself against accusations that you have come into an extremely large amount of money through nefarious and devilish means.“
Sato felt bubbling anxiety erupt into a rage at this accusation. The emotion stirred his body back to life and he managed to stand.
“I have not!” He breathed. “I have worked for years, toiled into my old age for what I have. How dare you steal an old man’s purse! How dare you!” Sato spat on the ground, his fear burned up by anger.
Mr. Vanger was unmoved by the outburst. He watched Sato with cool, flashing eyes and continued in a quiet voice.
“Mr. Nakamoto, I have no doubt you will find yourself soon free and with your wealth restored. You seem to be an innocent old man all things considered, and I understand your frustration. But much as we have cleaned your clothing, we shall soon rid you of your stained reputation. However, seeing as you are in our court I do ask that you indulge us with your cooperation. Given your apparent innocence, I’m sure the Court will release you as soon as you’ve proved your case.”
Vanger’s eyes flashed again.
“I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty, the truth shall set you free as they say.”
Before Sato could respond, Vanger projected his voice so that the Grand Judge and other observers could hear.
“Members of the Court and Grand Judge I stand here today as representation for the accuser of these crimes.”
Sato’s chest tightened at the mention of the name and the old man stumbled back a step. With labored breathing, he lowered himself back into his chair.
Vanger shot Sato a look that chilled his blood. The cold truth lurked like a squid in the depths of Sato’s memory.
“Our story begins with Haggard Grier, Members of the Court, a despicable and tragic man. You see, Haggard Grier was a man who came from nothing, lived in nothing, and will die in nothing.”
Vanger watched the room, gauging the audience.
“Grier owned a fish market in a port city in the Pacific Northwest. It’s cold up there in the winter and it can be hard work. As a child, Grier was not educated. His father forced him to work at the markets and though he developed a sound mind for business, he was tortured by his father. Grier was regularly beaten at-“
Sato snarled at Vanger and bared his teeth. “Stop this at once! I-
“Mr. Nakamoto if you cannot calm yourself we will be forced to sedate you.”
The Grand Judge’s eyes pierced Sato and his protest died in his throat. His feet were anchors at the ends of useless legs.
Vanger nodded to the Grand Judge and continued.
“Grier was beaten by a father who despised his son. Grier’s mother had died in giving birth to him and his father crawled into a bottle. The alcoholism quickly consumed him and Grier suffered his childhood under the wrath of a tyrant father. Truly tragic. But then as so often happens he grew to become his father. Some years after his father had passed, Grier sold the family fish market and took his newly replenished coffers on wild escapades with women, and an ocean of alcohol. Though try as he did, he was unable to drown the demons of his past. Alcoholism soon claimed him and like his father he deteriorated. His life crumbled and he found himself on the streets of the city. Though he was out of luck he was not out of ideas, our good Grier.”
Vanger paused and his eyes hardened. The rows of observers were too far to make out his expression, but Sato knew they were not for them. They were for him. His stare spoke to Sato a single word: GUILTY
“So what did Grier do? Our helpless, homeless hero? He wandered over to the local university. He was uneducated, but Haggard Grier was not stupid. And do you know what he did? He found a group of students with their heads bent over books that he could not begin to understand. But our Grier had a good sense about it. The students were whispering in hushed tones. They were part of a study group for a class titled “Economics and Society.” A wonderful class. These students were studying how our financial systems support our societal structure, but one student had come up with a revolutionary idea. He called it cryptocurrency.”
Vanger paused for a breath. Eyes locked on Sato, he continued.
“As you are all aware, Bitcoin has dominated the crypto space and has made billionaires of those who have been able to mine it. The seed of this brilliance was born in the mind of that student, in that study group, in that class, at that university. It was by pure luck that Grier had wandered upon him.”
Vanger spat his next words.
“Haggard Grier decided to kidnap and murder this student so that he could take the idea as his own. Who could blame him, given his sadistic father and nightmarish childhood? But still, this did not give him the right to take this young man’s future for himself. And yet, that is exactly what he did. In the dark of night, he snuck into young Satoshi Nakamoto’s bedroom, stabbed him to death, and stole his binder detailing the Bitcoin’s code.”
Sato sat with horror. White-faced, he would have vomited if his stomach had anything to regurgitate.
“And then Haggard Grier did something disgusting. He took Satoshi’s identity.”
The room was ghost-quiet. They all saw now the truth that had been unmasked.
Mr. Vanger gave a beckoning gesture and out of a dark corner in the room, a man in his mid-thirties wheeled himself forward into the light.
“This,” said Mr. Vanger, “is Satoshi Nakamoto. Alive. And although his legs do not walk, he escaped Haggard Grier with his life. Today, good people of the court. I am here to suggest we sentence Haggard Grier, sitting opposite me now, to imprisonment until death.”
Haggard Grier sobbed again. His body shuddered as he wept and he did not defend himself. As he was carried past the true Satoshi Nakamoto, he recognized the man's face as clear as day. Though a decade of rehabilitation and recovery from the near-fatal assault had weathered him, the man held strength in his eyes. There was defiance there, a trembling fury as one can only have when confronting a treacherous enemy.
Grier's eyes lowered in shame. His face held only sorrow and regret. Anguish coiled itself around his heart.
Weeks later, Haggard Grier was still dying of cancer as he watched the sunset glow dim shades of red from the barred window of a cell, his inevitable death looming before him. His remaining future forever stolen from his gnarled hands.