Taylor swaggered past the cheap, staticky holographic greeter and into the coffee shop. She was followed by Boon, the two of them wearing suits cut to hide their military augments. She would have preferred something more practical, in case their target caused trouble, but people asked fewer questions when you wore suits. Her boss had been clear, they needed to raise no questions.
The girl was sitting at a shadow-slicked corner table, her computer rolled out in front of her. It had no screen or projection. She wore mirror shades and a scarf patterned in staticky black and white abstraction, an affectation too far.
“Caz Crystal?” Taylor asked.
“What?” The kid didn’t look up, just kept typing.
“You’re coming with us.”
“Why would I do that?”
Taylor held out her ID. Boon opened his jacket just wide enough to flash the butt of his pistol.
“Use your fucking words,” Caz said, still typing.
“Fine. My name is Taylor Grant. I run security for Neon Blue Holdings. Ring a bell?”
Caz stopped typing for a moment, then started again. “Nope.”
It was easier to lie from behind a pair of shades, so Taylor snatched them off Caz’s face. In place of eyes were two gleaming silver orbs pierced by the dead black holes of inoperative camera lenses. Taylor glanced down at the computer and registered the braille on the haptic interface.
“Hey!” A barista said, pointing angrily at the shades. “Not cool. Give her those back.”
Taylor tossed the glasses onto the table.
“Neon Blue security. We have a policing licence.”
“Didn’t you bust up the living wage protest last month?”
“You want us to bust you up?” Boon squared up to the barista, who took a nervous step back, then scurried behind the counter and pulled out his phone.
“You’re coming now,” Taylor said to the kid. “And if we have to arrest you, then we’ll confiscate your fancy shades and your fancier computer.”
“Bitch,” Caz spat, but she rolled the computer up and followed them out.
Taylor leaned against the interrogation room wall, reading a copy of Caz’s file projected by a subdermal chip. The kid sat with her arms crossed, the shades back over her eyes, the lower half of her face buried in her scarf. From the corners of the room, security cameras watched them, the unblinking eyes of a corporate god.
“Second time you’ve hacked Neon Blue property,” Taylor said.
“You stopped providing tech support for my eyes. How was I meant to see without jailbreaking them?”
“Buy the upgrade, like anyone else.”
“You know the price of that upgrade?”
“I know the law, and I know you broke it.”
For the second time in as many hours, Taylor removed Caz’s shades. This time she took the scarf off too and dropped it in a crumpled heap.
“That’s better,” she said. “I like to see who I’m talking to.”
“So would I, but your employers took that from me.” Caz felt about on the floor until her fingers closed around her scarf. She laid it on the table and flattened it out, while her empty gaze settled on a space in the air past Taylor’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t drop other people’s possessions in the dirt.”
“And you shouldn’t hack other people’s drones.”
“It worked then?” Caz’s smile was knife blade thin. Her fingers stretched out across the table like they were feeling for an interface, a way to interact with a world she couldn’t see.
“As far as the press and our corporate partners are concerned, it’s just minor disruption at a depot.” Taylor leaned across the table into Caz’s space. The kid didn’t flinch. “But between you and me, you trashed shipments worth millions, and that’s not the kind of cost my employers can ignore.”
“You fuckers deserved it. You bankrupted me and left me blind.”
“You did that to yourself.”
“Really? So what am I doing to myself this time? Private prison perhaps, assembling your microchips for no wage, one more corporate slave?”
“Eventually.” Taylor cracked her knuckles, pulled out her phone, and brought up the controls for the security cameras. “But first, you need to learn a lesson.”
She tapped the icon to kill the camera feeds.
Nothing happened. She frowned, looked up, and saw the cameras pointing straight at her. A lock clicked and the door of the interrogation room swung open. A drone flew in and laid a rolled-up computer on the table.
“What the hell?”
Caz picked up her scarf and held it out to show the staticky pattern.
“Got this printed specially for today,” she said. “Read by the right sort of camera, the pattern turns into a code, which gets into your system and triggers another code planted by my last hack. One that couldn’t get past your firewall until you walked me in.”
She wrapped the scar back around the lower half of her face, ran a hand across the table, and found her shades.
Taylor fought the urge to hit the kid. She knew how this went, how bad it must be to have earned the big reveal. Suddenly, she was the powerless one.
“Ransomware,” she said. “Only unlockable by you, only from the outside, and only once a large crypto payment has triggered some digital switch.”
“Exactly.” Caz’s smile wasn’t a knife blade anymore. It was a banner announcing her victory. She unrolled the computer and ran her fingers across the raised symbols of its keys, which were lifting up and down, telling her what her program had found. “Now, let’s talk about how you’re going to fix my eyes.”
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.
Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.