An essay by S. Van Owen, as provided by Barry King
Art by Leigh Legler
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. It’s the “early adopter paradox.” The most advanced tech-head, the most gadget-crazy user, is the one whose technology goes obsolete first, and they’re stuck using “generation one” when everyone else is using something that actually works. So there I was, interfacing with my corticalImplant. It’s an old WeeJee 100-series. The one they had to laparoscope into you, not the sleek, no-scar version that grows from injected aminoProgramming.
Anyway, I’m real-life commuting home, on a subway back from Reston, and I’m doing routine housecleaning, getting rid of old agentApps, upgrading ones I still use. I’m between Foggy Bottom and Farragut when the connection kicks out on the 19th Street black hole, the one we put in after the bigPhish operation. I wait for us to get past the State Department no-wifi greenZone and when the ‘net comes back, there’s a bogey–some kind of data-injection app–all kitted out in an alien-insect theme, posted by the same freelancer right in the middle of my twitFeed. I scroll down and read the source avatarID: “BugOut.”
Doesn’t mean anything to me, so I think “whoa … shielding leak. Something vectored through the DoS firewall, which means SNAFU or some kind of inside job.” So I hit it, and it comes on like a dev-world multmedia presentation, all heavy Mextico beat and some kind of Persian carpet shit fractalling all across my viewField. I’m about to flip off when there’s a hairy codec squawk, and I’m feeling like my head is full of seltzer. I switch off the audio stream, but my head’s still clanging from the feedback as I get off the train. I keep clearing my ears, but it’s at the nerve layer and won’t go away.
Anyway, this lasts until all the way up the escalator and down K Street two blocks until I’m in Gerry’s, next to Jack’s Deli. I tell Max the bartender about my head while he pulls me an IPA, one eye on his ‘feed. He’s not really listening. So I nix the one-on-one and slurp his proxTags to get the lowdown on this worm he’s checking out that’s ricocheting around the ‘net. First I’ve heard, so it means it’s fast and hot. “There’s a lot of chat about that BugOut guy,” he says when I ask him about it. “Some kind of malware going around.”
I freeze. See … back then, I was with No Such Agency, so I knew that if I was pwned by a malwareApp, I’d be put on ice for a week while they scrubbed my system just to serve me right, so I think about checking myself out first on the QT. I’m microCrediting my tab when he–I shit you not–sneezes this big gob into his hand and smears it on his arm. It goes all white and shimmery like spiderweb and sets–BAM–like that. So I’m staring at this cotton-candy gunk on his arm and thinking maybe it’s time to give Gerry’s a miss, but before I can say anything, some guy walks in, scrapes that shit up with his hand, and walks back out the door. Max looks at me like nothing happened and goes back to his ‘feed.
So I’m so out of there, and a little freaked out, and the beer’s made the fizz in my head fade away. I go out and into the CB building on the corner, go up fifteen floors to this town-gown contractor I do some in-person with. They’ve got a nice office. Looks out over Farragut Square. More important, they’ve got a military-grade scanner, and I have the chipKey to the ops room in my ring finger.
I get off the elevator and look down, and I see some guy–I think it’s some MVP, some celebrity jock, because he’s jogging down the road toward the Mall, high-fiving everyone on the sidewalk. But no, he’s slapping their arms and slapping his own, which is covered in a towel. And I realize it’s the guy from the bar and it’s not a towel he’s carrying. He’s doing the same thing to everyone, scooping up that white silk-stuff and taking it with him.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2015 collection.
S. Van Owen is a retiree who lives on a barstool in Adams Morgan after spending some time in government. He was honorably discharged from the Army Signal Corps in 1993, and awarded the Silver Star for long-time service in 2022. His hobbies include collecting teletype ribbons of famous assassinations and fencing large prime numbers.
Barry King is an IT consultant to NGOs who was born in Greece and lived in Tunisia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Brunei, and the U.S. before finally settling in his wife’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, and converting to Canadianism.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.Follow us online: