MONTAG SHORT FICTION #007
MONTAG publishes curious short fiction, exploring our strange future and what it will feel like when we get there. They take the technology you're interested in as a starting point and show where it might take us. The stories are outré, evocative, and atypical; they're also closer to today than you think.
When our laptops are hacked, we feel violated. In Ransomwear, we find out that when our wearables are hacked, we might feel something closer to terror...
Bounding up to her apartment building after a sweaty several-kilometer run in the early evening, Victoria stopped and tapped her WristLit. The tiny LED screen lit up, displaying the number of calories she just burned. Not bad, she thought, entering the lobby of her building. She swiped her wrist to get on the elevator and into her apartment on the ninth floor.
The lights came on as she entered and sat down on the floor of the apartment, stretching her hamstrings and swiping through some evening news headlines. More missile testing from North Korea... ransomware of unknown origin spreading all over the world... ooh! and a video of a cute dog that was trained to stand up and wear little pants.
She marked the dog video “watch later.”
She took her running shoes off and walked to the kitchen to heat up a microwave meal for dinner. Her WristLit buzzed to remind her that she had a meeting tomorrow at 9 AM, and suggested an optimized bedtime. It would wake her up after the appropriate number of REM cycles for maximum refreshment, based on what time she managed to get to sleep.
After showering and eating quickly, and chuckling at the little dog wearing human pants, she got into bed. Checking the time on her wrist, she noticed the WristLit needed a software update, so she tapped “Update overnight” and fell asleep.
The next morning, her arm felt warm when the WristLit woke her up. The band, a woven metal mesh made of tiny plates that rearranged themselves to accommodate wrist movement, was definitely at its tightest setting. I must have been really tossing and turning, she thought, ...but I slept fine.
Turning off the alarm, an alert popped up to remind her of the morning’s meeting. She got out of bed to get ready. Dressed and armed with a smoothie for the road, she grabbed her purse and headed for the door.
But it wouldn’t open. She swiped her WristLit several times, and it stayed locked. That’s strange, she thought. She inspected the door frame, nothing seemed to be blocking the sensor. She inspected her wrist.
There was a bright red screen overlaid on the main display.
“OOOPS, UR WRISTLIT HAS BEEN ENCRYPTED! NOTHING WORKS UNTIL U PAY. U HAVE 2 DAYS AND 16 HOURS LEFT. TO PAY, CLICK ‘PAY NOW.’”
The message scrolled across, followed by a big green button marked “PAY NOW” and a countdown marked 02:16:58:28, ticking off seconds.
This has to be some kind of joke, she thought, stunned. Then, I can’t miss this meeting! She panicked, putting down her smoothie to rummage through her purse for her smartphone. I have to call them and let them know I’m running late.
Shit, she thought. I can’t unlock it, it’s paired with the WristLit.
She wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone or leave her house until she paid to get all of the functions of the WristLit back. She put the phone down and looked back at the glaring red screen on her wrist.
She tapped “PAY NOW.”
The next screen already had all of her banking information, which was also conveniently stored on the WristLit for mobile payments. Next to it was the bitcoin equivalent of what they wanted her to pay, and another button that said “PAY NOW.”
The number made her eyes feel like they were going to bug out of her head.
That’s more than my college tuition and I’m still going to be paying that loan back for the rest of my life! This can’t be real. There’s no way people are paying that.
She could feel blood rushing to her face, and her pulse quickening as she started to really freak out. She could feel her heartbeat against the wrist band, which was becoming increasingly irritating. She tried scratching underneath it to lessen the pressure a little, but could barely fit a fingernail beneath it. And it seemed like the more she tried to pry it up, the tighter it got.
A red mark was already forming where it dug into her flesh.
There’s no way this is happening.
She tapped the WristLit’s screen to decline the payment and swiped to go back to the first message. But a different message appeared on the screen next to the countdown timer.
IF U DO NOT PAY U LOSE UR HAND.