Friday, February 13, 2015

The Last Smartphone in John Stoian's Front Closet, Part III

This is the third part of the first of two short stories I've written which take place in the same "universe": one possible near future, in which a collective consisting of technologists and creatives has carved out a niche for themselves in a world of diminishing opportunity.

She found the power button, an abnormally long, white bar just above the bright red LED at the top. Pressing it made the screen burst to life, going straight to an unfamiliar start layout. This must have been some flavor of Linux for mobile. It looked intuitive enough, but after a couple of seconds staring at the screen, a password interface popped up. She tried a few obvious possibilities: "benevolent", "password", "opensource", but eventually the system locked her out with a screen that said, "Naughty human, trying to break into someone else's personal property. In the event you're not a naughty human, you get one call to get your password straight. Make it count." A dialer interface appeared.

Lucy considered her options: call Chung or dial the map service. If Chung had gone to the conference already, there was a possibility that he wouldn't answer. If the GPS on the phone wasn't connected, Google might not be able to give her directions. As she stood deliberating, she heard a shout over the distant noise. "Hey, anybody need more gas? You wanna come do a pump jump?"

Lucy had no idea what a pump jump was, but she was clearly a lost woman in wild territory and she didn't want to stick around long enough to do any anthropological surveys. She opened the backup phone and meticulously copied the numbers for the map service to the smartphone and hit the Send button. A roar from the sidestreets emerged and approached. From a street to her left, Lucy could see a flood of light in the air, and soon spotted individual headlights growing brighter and larger. She could barely hear the artificial voice repeating, "Please wait while we determine your location." She would not be waiting while they determined her location. Mounting the scooter, she could feel the electric zing of her motor and of her nervous system. She didn't have time or access to pair the headset to the new phone, so she steered with one hand and held the phone with the other. It was dangerous and, under certain interpretations of the law, illegal, but probably worth it.

Lucy parked the scooter alongside the bike rack and in what amounted to a very rare moment of security-mindedness, fished the long lock out of her bag and secured the little vehicle. Maybe this phone is more trouble than it's worth, she thought briefly. She was instantly reminded of Chungy's frequent complaints that she wasn't scientific enough about these sorts of things. One experience is not a trend, he used to say, ad nauseam, until one day she informed him that she found it insulting.

If she was going to give the phone a chance, it would be nice if it used her number, so she pried open the back of the smartphone's translucent chassis and grabbed the dumbphone to get her SIM card. A piercing beep erupted from the phone, so she turned it over to see what was the matter. Bright red text flashed WARNING, with the following message: "I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Chief. You see, if you stole this phone, and I think you did, taking out the SIM card means we'll never catch you. And we so want to catch you. So, no pulling out the card, or I'll fry it up nice. Kthxbai."

"Damn it!", Lucy shouted again. She hopped on the computer and sought out Chung again. Somehow, he was connected to instant messaging.

hey chungy, hows it going?

Pretty good Johns about to start his pres. You?

not great, honey. stupid phone locked me out. password plz?

Well, I don't know it, but I bet John does.
Hold on...
aw, crap
Hold on again...
Yeah, john is up now. I'll see if I can get Dan. I bet he knows it.


Nope, Dan's in a different session.


I'll see him right after John's talk, ok? If you can't wait till then, there’s a backdoor. I’m not sure I recommend it.

what is it?

It’s a game, or at least that’s what Trish says. She’s telling me that Dan puts a backdoor on each of the phones, it’s some sort of game. They call it “Project ICE”.

a game?? what kind of demented psychos are you guys? i neeeeed this phone nooooow. i’m soooo tired
literally and metaphorically

Well, the game is apparently really fun, but also really hard.

iiii dooooont waaaaant toooo plaaaaay a gaaaaame. i just want this damn phone to work now

I just asked Trish and she said that if you’re good, the game only takes 15 minutes.

and if i suck? then the game takes what? 3 hours? and then i don’t get any sleep and botch all my interviews and die poor and alone
and you run off with trish
its just you and trish in the session right now isnt it?
don’t run off with her - she’s hot, but she’s trouble, ok?

Trish laughed at that, and said you have nothing to worry about.
Kinda hurt my feelings :)


Well, you can wait or you can play. That's basically the whole list of options.

i'll let you know which one i pick. thanks love, gonna go cry now.

Aw come on baby, it's not as bad as all that. You're gonna do fine. If you need me to, I'll stay up all night and be your personal map service.

thanks, chung, you're the best. love you.

I love you too. Goodnight.

Lucy clicked the bar button at the top of the phone. A screen popped up that said, "ENTER PASSWORD OR HOLD POWER BUTTON FOR OTHER OPTIONS."

Let's do this, thought Lucy.

She depressed the button for three seconds, then the screen blanked. A light gray terminal font showed the following message on a black background, "Would you like to play a game?" After a brief moment, a sound terrified Lucy. It took her mind a few seconds to register that it was a truly awful speech synthesizer, reading the text back to her. She knew it was some sort of joke she didn't understand.

Sure, she thought. Let's see what you got. She typed "yes" with the onscreen keys. More blocky text rushed from the top of the black screen. It said: "Available games:

Global Thermonuclear War

> Global thermonuclear war

"How about a nice game of chess?" The terrible synthesizer croaked again.

Fine. ICE.

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