by Paul du Preez
While Arno convinced Darren that it was mistaken to expect forgiveness from God, Saloni, in the drivers seat of her Jaguar, had challenged Leandré over her history of media addiction, asking her when she had last been to a media addicts anonymous meeting. “I never went back,” confessed Leandré. And then, turning the tables on her friend with radiant tenderness, assured her, “I love you: we’re besties forever.” Gruffly, Saloni ordered her to stow her glasses under the seat, warning her, “We are entering smash-and-grab territory.”
Saloni pulls out of Mandela Boulevard, sweeps round the long curve under the freeway into Roodebloem Road, tyres squealing, and races down the mountainside towards Woodstock – the Jaguar’s engine growling in anticipation.
“And power your glasses down. Completely. There are local-area Wi-Fi hackers here.”
“But you’re still wearing yours,” objects Leandré, her voice uncertain.
“Hah, when this 2.5 kg hand falls on a man he doesn’t rise. He dies†.”
Glasses in hand, Leandré blinks, mystified.
“Let’s just say, I’ve got protection,” purrs Saloni. That I’m not going to explain to you, dear girl.
Her glasses are fortified with potent software (and, in her cougarish way, Saloni is rather proud of her claws). They are guarded by a formidable fire-wall and armed with illegal malware – spyware, worms and Trojans, root-kits and ransomware sourced from clandestine sources and kit-coded by her cunning cousins. (I am a diva of the dark-web she glams.) She has use for only a fraction of this code, but she is the self-appointed mascot of a clan of amateur hackers that like to tinker with nasty bits of software; that they press on her instead of flowers, or diamonds. And that they pit against other clans in nasty backyard bot-fights – a regular, ritual and slowly escalating pissing contest. (Entirely testosterone driven – and by such darling boys, she fondly thinks.)
Boys who pay good money for each new upgrade.
A shadow approaches her window. Dun jacket flapping, stick-thin, intimidatingly insectile AR glasses hiding his face, only stubble and crooked teeth showing. A ghostly praying-mantis.
Rumour has it (It’s only a myth, she simpers) that beyond the boundaries of their playground, deep in the shadows of the dark-web is a truly monstrous spider – the uber-hacker who controls the roll-out of code and rakes in the profits.
But no one’s ever come back to tell…
(Because, smirks Saloni, sure of herself, there’s nothing to tell.)
Her Jaguar continues its swift and effortless downhill charge until the route overlay on her glasses – leading to an address chat-posted at the darker end of the playground – indicates a left turn. Before taking it she steals a glance at Leandré.
I need one truly good person in my life.
And, laying a hand lightly on Leandré’s thigh, toys with a quote: ‘This life was going on…but I started living since you came’‡.
Instead she says, “Have you powered down and stashed your glasses?”
“Yes,” replies Leandré tersely, removing her hand. “Under the seat.”
Saloni slows, takes the turn. And within a block the neighbourhood changes from downmarket urban to desolate. The moon glitters like a poised knife, and beneath it the carcass of an abandoned factory-scape pokes its ribs at the night sky. Broken fences trail like smashed teeth. Ruined windows gasp darkness.
A shadow materializes, flitting from an empty doorway to flag them down, and the Jaguar glides smoothly to a halt, its snarl throttled back.
A red dot blinks on high pole.
“Checkpoint,” growls Saloni. “Stupid padlas [idiots]! Do they really think they can catch me?”
Mostly, it’s newbie buyers that fall prey, their identities exposed: blackmailed after their number-plates check out against hacked motor licensing data-bases, or their faces – scanned in infra-red through their windscreens – tag on social media. Experienced buyers mask up.
But Saloni is neither inexperienced, nor careful. She enjoys a little risk; likes to cyber-strut.
Because, the delinquency of the factory-scape is mirrored in cyber-space: along the left-hand border of her AR glasses Saloni is watching real-time updates of the skirmish between the dealer’s spy-ware and her own applications. So far, they’re more than holding their own. And, if her luck holds good, maybe her malware manager will be able to subvert the dealer’s system, deliver a viral payload – a keylogger, or rootkit. Something she can boast about to her cousins.
If she chose, she could view an animated rendering of the conflict, game-style, but she prefers to keep that for when she’s with the boys, watching them pit their battle-bots against another clan’s in quasi-chivalric rivalry. And watching game-style would also maximally occupy her glasses, and blind her to the outside world.
She wants to keep an eye on the shadow outside the car.
Who approaches her window. Stick-thin, dun jacket flapping, intimidatingly insectile AR glasses hiding his face, only stubble and crooked teeth showing. A ghostly praying-mantis. He taps at the glass, and she rolls it down a crack.
“Wat koop jy [what are you buying]?”
“Een bankie. Dagga. [one plastic bank-bag, marijuana],” she tells the mantis.
Not just a checkpoint then: also the till-point for this squalid drug-n-drive-through.
She passes money through the crack. Mantis waves her on. The road is partly blocked by debris. The jaguar crawls around an L-bend and, thirty metres on, another shadow detaches itself from a dark doorway and waves her down – a chunky, bearded man in a tatty baseball cap holding a package. He taps on the driver’s window. She opens it another crack and he passes it to her.
It’s a branded supermarket bag, thin plastic, wrapped tight. There’s more than a bankie in it.
“What’s this? I only asked for one bankie.” There’s a rising edge to Saloni’s voice as she tenses, preparing for instant flight.
In gear, clutch down, hand-brake up, foot poised above the petrol.
† Sunny Deo, Damini.
‡ Aditya Roy Kapur, Aashiqui 2.
Angel Wings by Sergei Tomakov on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/angel-wings-fairy-isolated-4870050/
Twin Figures Beneath a Starry Sky https://pxhere.com/en/photo/977164
Intro Music (on Podcast)
Excerpt from Black, White and Blue by Paul du Preez
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Syblings the Syrial is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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