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Day Fifty-four: Hacked

This was written from the prompt in Writing Excuses Podcast, episode 6.6 – Cyberpunk.


Jenna didn’t understand at first why Luis was laughing at her.

The plaza was packed with summer tourists, and Luis had gotten the last empty table outside a tiny tapas restaurant. The waiter, a handsome, broad-shouldered young man, had run off a torrent of Spanish at Luis, not a word of which Jenna understood. She could’ve gotten the translation implant, sure, but that would’ve taken out a big chunk of her spending money for the trip. And language books were pretty thin on the ground these days now that studying was something only the poor or the terminally studious had to do. But people used to travel to other countries before they got wired up, didn’t they? And they survived just fine. Besides, she’d already learned “gracias” and “hola” and “cerveza,” which Luis told her was pretty good for someone without the translation chip installed.

In any case, the money she saved going in with a naked brain was going to a new set of patterns for her nanotats. There was a really good artist here in Madrid who only sold person-to-person, just like the old days. When she got home, she’d have the nink that everyone was talking about. Today, she’d set it to something discreet – a set of tribal designs that slowly faded in and out across her shoulders and collarbone. She picked a nice sleeveless dress to show them off, and picked up a shawl at the rastro in case they wanted to go inside an old church, where sleeveless women were still something to be frowned upon. At home, she’d probably dial up something raunchy just to make a statement, but she didn’t want to be That Kind of American while abroad. There were too many of them as it is.

The waiter ran back into the cool darkness of his restaurant. “Don’t worry,” Luis said, turning the charm up to eleven, taking Jenna’s hand and gently caressing it. “He’s a friend of my brother’s. He’ll take care of us ”

Which he did, of course. Plate after plate of all kinds of food came out – chicken and beef and ham, all different kinds of bacon and sausage fried and roasted to the kind of delicious perfection that made Jenna glad she didn’t turn vegetarian when her sister did. Sophie would never know what she was missing, the poor woman. There was freshly-baked bread and sliced fruit, cheeses from across Europe, and seafood that she couldn’t identify, but ate anyway. All of this with some of the most wonderful wine she’d ever had. Luis’ brother’s friend was definitely doing well by them.

It was right after the dessert came – some delicate little cakes with sugared strawberries on the side – that Luis looked up at her and let out a sharp laugh. Jenna looked behind her, but there wasn’t anything funny. Street performers could be found anywhere tourists went, but at the moment they seemed to be taking a break. Despite the free wi-fi connection, the digital menus and the crime prevention cameras in every corner, the place looked like it probably did a century ago. And it wasn’t that funny.

When she turned back, Luis was very obviously trying to keep a straight face. Jenna tried a little laugh of her own. “What? What is it, Luis?”

His expression turned uncomfortable. The waiter returned, carrying another bottle of wine, looked at her and nearly dropped it. “What,” she asked, with a little more edge to her voice this time.

Luis reached across and took her hand again. “Darling,” he said. “Your tattoos.”

She looked down at her shoulders and gave out a small scream. The elegant tribal designs were gone, replaced with something Spanish in slowly blinking, jagged font. Upside-down, she could work out what it said – cojeme – but couldn’t understand. Thin runners of digital ink flowed from the words and made crude little dancing penises that marched down her arms. Luis started to laugh in earnest now, though the waiter managed to keep his composure. Jenna stood up. “Dammit, Luis, it’s not funny! My nink’s been hacked!” She rummaged through her purse and found the mini controller that could turn the tattoos off and on. She jabbed the button with her thumb, but nothing happened. The drawings were reversing themselves, and she felt dirty wherever they went. Their animations were getting more lewd, spelling out new – and presumably obscene – things on her skin.

She pressed the button again, to no avail, and cursed loud enough for people at other tables to turn and look. She flushed red, which did little to hide what the tattoos were doing across her chest. Luis was saying something in Spanish to the waiter, who was trying to hold back laughs of his own. “Fine!” Jenna stood up, grabbed the shawl and wrapped herself in it. Her home unit in the hotel should be able to override whatever’d been done to her nink, and she could reset the passwords from there. “Don’t call me again, Luis,” she yelled, jabbing a finger at him. “Not until you learn to grow up!”

Satisfied with her scene, she spun on her heel and stalked out of the plaza, feeling eyes on her as she went. A night of resetting passwords and re-loading patterns in her hotel room. Not the way she wanted to spend time in Madrid.

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