“The Hacker”

This sounds like one of those stories, but I swear it’s true.

D-mat wasn’t always free. It cost money–remember money?–and it was rationed. If you used up your allowance at the beginning of the week, then you’d be stuck at home on the weekend, unable to go out with your friends. We were always looking for ways to get around the quota, such as cramming as many people as possible into a single booth in the hope the system would forget to charge one of them. Naturally, that never worked. No one ever got themselves a free ride. The system was foolproof.

Nearly foolproof, I should say. There was this one guy. He called himself The Hacker with a capital T, and we went along with that because he could do what no one else could. He could give you a free ride just by typing in a string of digits at the end of your address. The string would go into the system, where he’d see it, and then you’d be diverted to a different booth than the one you had asked for. It was always the same. There was no door and no system address. People wondered if it might be in space or at the bottom of an ocean, but it was probably in an ordinary basement. The guy was a hacker, after all.

Anyway. You’d arrive in this booth and there you’d wait. It didn’t matter if you said anything or not. You’d fidget a minute or so, looking around at the mirrors, not really bored because you knew you were being watched. There were cameras. And you could feel it, someone watching you every moment you were there.

Eventually the lights would flash and you’d be back on your way, quota unchanged. When you arrived, you’d find a tattoo on the inside of your wrist that said “Pass”. No one knew what that meant, but it faded within the hour so no one cared. No one cared that you could only use the string once, either. A free ride is a free ride, right?

Wrong. There was a girl about your age, and she looked a lot like you do. I forget her name. She did the same thing as everyone else: typed in her address, added the code, and presumably ended up in the mystery booth just like everyone else.

It’s said that when she arrived she didn’t have “Pass” tattooed on her wrist. The word “Fail” was written in blood on the wall. She was on the floor, hacked up so bad her friends barely recognized her. Resting on her remains was a photo of a woman who had killed herself twenty years earlier. A woman who looked exactly like the dead girl. A woman who had tried to take her young son with her, but failed. The Hacker’s mother.

That’s what his nickname really meant. The free rides were just a crazy way of getting revenge. But how can you get revenge against someone who’s already dead? He killed three other girls that way, and then stopped, I guess d-mat became free and no one, no matter how desperate, needed his string anymore. But they never caught him, and as far as anyone knows he’s still out there and still hacking the system . . . still looking for girls who look like just you.

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