Evan Angler

Evan Angler is safe, for now. He lives without the Mark, evading DOME and writing in the shadows of Beacon. But if anyone asks, you know nothing about him. Don’t make eye contact if you see him. Don’t call his name out loud. He’s in enough trouble already. And so are you, if you read his books.

Evan Angler

Jerry Dunn’s Stepwise Motion

American Union’s West Coast is a baffling, lawless place. I made my way out here recently after hearing the rumors that DOME’s hold in Sierra wasn’t as strong as it is out East, and so far, the city hasn’t let me down.

It’s the tech capital of the world; that’s first off. What Beacon has in economics and New Chicago has in manufacturing, Sierra undoubtedly has in technology. And it makes sense. Even beyond DOME’s diminished presence, there isn’t nearly the same level of oversight and restrictions out here—fewer prying eyes, more space to experiment . . . not to mention a healthy community of entrepreneurs and tech start-ups that traces back to pre-Unity.

Sierra City fosters a certain amount of, let’s just say, “outside the box” creative success over the years, but to my mind, nothing better encapsulates this than the story of Jerry Dunn.

I met Jerry a short while back while strolling through Sierra’s Westerbury Street, the famously posh residential area overlooking Sierra’s Pacific beaches. Jerry was on his porch when I walked past, hanging clothing out to dry, and it caught my attention that Jerry was Unmarked.

“You’re Markless?” I said, staring at his empty wrist but somehow not believing it.

“All my life.” Jerry smiled and went back to hanging a particularly fancy shirt.

“This your house?”

Jerry laughed. “Be awfully rude of me to dry my clothes here if it weren’t.”

Still I couldn’t believe it. To be Markless was to be out of the system, off the grid, flat broke without any prospects for work or money. So how could a guy like that end up with a house like this?

“Name’s Evan,” I said.

“Jerry. Jerry Dunn.” He stepped down from his porch and shook my hand, a friendly smile plastered across his face.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry. I’ve . . . well, I’ve never seen a Markless with such a nice place. Not to mention a wardrobe and furniture and—” I stopped myself, though Jerry must have seen me sneaking a peek through the open window over his shoulder.

He laughed. “Hey, why don’t you come on in. You look like you haven’t eaten in a while.”

And maybe that was true. Or maybe I couldn’t turn down the chance to see inside this Markless man’s mystery house. Either way, Jerry soon took me inside and showed me around.

He had a pre-Unity grand piano in the living room, sofas and chairs surrounding it. A fireplace stood off to the side; books and paintings filled the shelves and walls. Patterned carpets lined the floors, kitchen shelves were neatly stocked with food, the dining room held a thick oak table with candles at the center.

We talked over lunch—home-cooked soup and sandwiches.

“You couldn’t have bought any of this,” I said. “So I can’t help but wonder—”

Jerry held his hand out before I said anything insulting. “I traded for it. Don’t need to have a Mark to trade something with a person. You give me what’s in your hand, I give you what’s in mine—that’s as complicated as it needs to be.”

But now I really didn’t understand. Traded? Traded what? What could Jerry have that was worth trading a house over? Under the circumstances, his success seemed totally impossible.

“No offense, but what could you possibly have had that be worth this home?”

“Well,” he said proudly. “I happened to be the lucky owner of a pre-Unity combustion engine sports car. Flame red. Only one left of its kind. A priceless antique, some might say. But to me—” he smiled “—it was worth precisely as much as this here house.”

“But then where’d you get the car?

And this was when things slowly started coming into focus.

Jerry hadn’t lucked out. He hadn’t stumbled upon some insane deal. He hadn’t done anything unethical. He’d simply worked. Hard. The only way he could without getting a Mark.

It all began when Jerry picked up an old, pre-Unity pencil off the shore of one of Sierra’s many junkyard beaches. Pre-Unity-style graphite pencils aren’t worth much, but they aren’t so common either. So Jerry had the bright idea that some Marked person might think the piece of garbage was interesting enough to trade

for. He carried that pencil in his pocket for two days before he found anyone who wanted it. He came across a Marked teenager who liked to draw and was sick of doodling exclusively on her virtual tablet. So she traded Jerry his pencil for a wristwatch.

Now Jerry had a wristwatch. And he carried that for nearly a week before some Marked man approached him and asked for the time. Jerry told the man that he could do better than give him the time—he could give him the watch! But only in exchange for a fair trade—something like, say, the man’s fedora hat.

Now Jerry had a hat! He wore that hat on his head for a couple of weeks before he found a Marked woman willing to trade her winter jacket for it. Her husband loved hats, and this one seemed unique. Her jacket, meanwhile, was not—even though it was worth quite a bit more than the hat.

You can imagine how things continued from here. Jerry traded that winter jacket for a nicer winter jacket (a perfectly fair trade; the trader had specific tastes that trumped pure material value). He then traded that winter jacket for a rollerstick. The rollerstick for a tablet. The tablet for a tablescreen computer. The tablescreen computer for a wallscreen television. The wallscreen television for a vintage bicycle. The vintage bicycle for a jet ski; the jet ski for a beat-up pre-Unity combustion car; that car for the sports car; and finally, the sports car for the house. This chain of trades took Jerry five and a half years of searching endlessly for bargains, of talking to everyone he could find, of following leads and knocking on doors and making mistakes along the way.

But the bottom line was that by the end of it, Jerry had turned a chewed-up pre-Unity pencil into a house.

From there, Jerry used the same, remarkable brand of patience and stick-to-itiveness to fill that house with everything he could ever want. And to this day, ten years later, he trades what he has in his house for food or other disposable items.

Jerry has, quite literally, turned one man’s garbage into another man’s treasure.

This got me thinking that maybe this is what success is. On the outside, it looks like magic, like someone turned a pencil into a beachside mansion. It looks impossible, and it is easy to dismiss the whole thing as luck or a fluke or whatever.

But the secret behind that magic isn’t slight of hand or trickery. It’s a readiness to look where other people don’t; it’s a belief in the inherent worth of everything—and everyone—it’s a confidence that anything is possible given enough time, energy, passion; and (perhaps above all) it’s a willingness to submit to the frustratingly incremental nature of progress. Success doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds. It’s stepwise, iterative. It’s in tiptoes and sidesteps and the occasional hop, skip, or jump. It’s a grind! Luck is involved—plenty of it—but it’s a game of luck that can be played as many times over. A game that starts modestly, humbly, and hopefully. A game that can be played until it is won.

This is not to say that Jerry’s story could have happened to everyone. But it could happen to anyone who’s willing to play the game by its own tiresome rules.

I left Jerry’s house that day with a new Markless friend. But I walked out having learned something, too: big victories are no more than the long, arduously total of many tiny victories along the way; it is always worth striving for goals, whatever they may be, far off as they may seem; it is worth it even if—especially if—you have to begin by rooting through the trash.

We are not entitled to our dreams. No one will give them to us. But we can earn them. And people will always be willing to lend a helping hand, one very small step at a time.