She dressed quickly, donning the bra part of her pink dayglow bikini (she often went topless at home) and pulling on a loosely woven beach sheath over it. Slipping her feet into wooden clogs, she was ready to go in less than a minute. Miami Beach dress code was extremely casual and this outfit would not draw any attention to herself here. Just another bimbo, out for a midnight stroll. Cara took the back stairs down, even though she was perspiring freely by the bottom. Less chance anyone would see her as she slipped out into the alley. The night was tropically breezy, with the hum of airconditioners and perpetual traffic mingling with the rustle of palm leaves. Off in the distance, the banshee wail of a police siren echoed among the tall buildings. A few streets over was the drop point; a nondescript dumpster hulking in the shadows behind a garish T-shirt store. She rooted through the empty boxes and packing material until her hand touched something smooth, compact, and heavy. Her job for the night. Pulling the leather laptop computer case from the trash, she immediately hid it in one of the boxes and headed back to her place. No one had seen her make the pickup.
Cara was a cracker. Every few days Ricki or Juanito or Seth or one of the other 'street boys' would signal her with a coded phone call that there was a computer waiting for her to break into. She never asked where the merchandise came from, but it was obvious they had been stolen. Her task was to extract all the useful data from the hard disk before fencing the machine. Many times in the past the information had been far more valuable than the PC itself. Technology moved too fast, she reflected; these things were obsolete almost as soon as they hit the streets.
This machine, though, brought a smile to her lips. It was almost brand new and was a high-end laptop system. quad-core processor, graphics-co, and a huge display. Cara unpacked the power cord and booted it up. It had been some time since she'd seen such a nice package and she wondered if maybe they'd let her keep it for herself instead of a bonus. The screen lit up with lines of technobabble that she recognized clearly. Just another XP startup. Boring, but at least the owner had the sense not to be running Vista. She got up, untied her top once more, and strolled into the tiny kitchenette. A minute later she returned with a dewy bottle of cold beer.
Cara was the last person anyone would have suspected as being a computer nerd. She was a gorgeous brunette with the body of a model. In fact, she had occasionally added to her income with catalog and swimsuit shoots when the hacking business was slow. Like many young women, she had matured slowly in her teens. It was during her long ugly-duckling phase that she had discovered the world inside of a silicon chip and had become hooked. The net had been just starting out then and she had run up her parents' phone bill downloading all sorts of information from gopherspace, archie, and the Web to her bedroom system at night. It was out there she discovered that there was more to software than just running it. The 2600 site had been her introduction to the underground realms of piracy and code breaking.
By the time her baby fat had vanished and her body developed womanly curves she knew as much about the workings of computers as the most Dilbert-y mouse jockey. While most girls read only Cosmo and Style, Cara picked up Wired and followed the blogs as well as spy books. It was her secret identity. A showgirl with a brain.
Nowadays she made enough money to get by on without having to listen to her father's bombasts or her mother's highbrow social circle. She had left home before her seventeenth birthday and never looked back. There were lots of ways for a pretty girl to make a living. Between 'temp'ing, escorting horny businessmen when conventions were in town, the occasional modeling gig, and her secret hacking she could lead a life of comparative leisure here. She was looking forward to tomorrow when she could get out on the water with Sal and work on her tan. Cara touched her perspiration-slick breasts idly as she daydreamed, fingers circling one nipple and then the other. Arousal was a welcome distraction from the cloying heat.
Her thoughts turned back to the task at hand. So far it had been a piece of cake; she was past the stupid boot password and poring through the folders. Looked like lots of good stuff, but some of the lower levels were encrypted. No trouble, she thought, and started up a sieve program on her own machine. It usually only took a few minutes to zap a Level-1 password. Meanwhile, she riffled through the pockets of the laptop case and started scanning the pages in. The data all went onto a XD chip and then directly onto the net. She really had no idea who she was sending it to, as she addressed the e-mail to the first of what she knew were several remailers. Data out; cybercash back. Payments appeared magically, untraceably, into her account within a few hours of each transmission. They usually compensated her well; she mused that it might even be some clandestine government agency. The beer had condensed the damp air into a small puddle on the desk, threatening to soak the papers. Cara moved the bottle aside as she continued to rifle through someone else's laptop case and life. There was a box of CDs, a few thumb drives, a flashlight, and some headache pills. Signs of an organized person, she thought. Not organized enough to keep from being ripped off, however.
The cracker program played a 'Ah-Ha' sound and listed out the password in clear: G-O-R-G-O-N. Hmm, she thought, it's a short one — no wonder it turned up so quickly. Dictionary word, too. Cara typed it in and felt a little thrill as the protected folder decrypted and opened. There were more dull memos within along with a sub-folder containing a few pictures that looked like they had been loaded off the net. Women, mostly, with rather distant, aloof expressions. They looked like runway models to her. Copying everything to the external, she continued to sweep the hard drive clean. Then the screen blipped, just for a fraction of a second, and restored itself— a glitch. As minutes passed, the rapid blinking continued and seemed to come more frequently. Cara shook her head slowly; sometimes the latest models still have hardware bugs in them. She did not notice that the blinks contained words; fleeting, subliminal messages that her conscious mind missed that went straight into her subconscious. She knew this was an easy crack; there was nothing to worry about. The heat and lateness of the hour left her inattentive, drowsy, and very receptive.
After a few minutes, Cara had drained the beer and fetched another. Even in the middle of the night the studio apartment was still steaming with humidity. She dropped the bikini bottom and slipped off her shoes; this helped to make her a tiny bit cooler as she sat down again and continued her searching, fondling her damp body with one hand while she moved the mouse with the other.
The 'programs' menu held few surprises, but for some reason she felt herself drawn to the utility section where she selected 'Matrix Test' and ran it. The hard disk spun up with a whine as a new window appeared listing choices to be checked; the 'Display Practice' selection was highlighted. There was a box to enter the number of times to run the program, with instructions to enter 1 to 10. On an impulse, Cara entered 'M Q' into the space and pressed Enter. Rather than making the usual rude beep, the screen blanked completely and from the black background a spiral swirl appeared which seemed to change colors subtly as it spun down into infinity. Probably an XGA ripple test, she mused, watching the pattern move on the excellent sharp display and unwittingly falling into a hypnotic trance. Faintly, barely audible, a voice began to say "Concentrate on the center; let it carry you along. You find the sensation pleasant and restful as you begin to feel very peaceful. Let it carry you deeper; deeper....deeper......" She continued to look at the screen blankly as the voice began to give her more detailed suggestions and instructions...
Cara jerked her eyes open; the room was very bright. Her neck had a crick in it; morning had come. Drat — she had fallen asleep in front of the tube again. The sunlight reminded her that her blinds were still up and she was sitting there buck naked. Quickly she jumped up, stuck fast to the vinyl-covered chair which she dragged along for a short distance before it detached itself from her ass with a sucking sound. Putting the blinds down, she shook her head to clear it and tried to remember what had taken up her night. Oh, yeah, that pirate laptop. It was sitting on the desk, running a silly screen-saver program. A spin of the trackball brought back the swirling spiral and she was drawn into its depths. Nothing else seemed more important to her now than gazing at the pattern. The voice spoke once more and deepened her trance state before uttering a single word: "initiate." Cara blinked again, unaware of her recent experiences, as new ideas began to pop into her mind. She felt confident about what she was going to do. Today was going to be grand fun.
She walked over to the phone and dialed a number from memory. After three rings, Rick said a sleepy hello. Immediately she yelled "Johnnie, you creep!" into the mouthpiece. "Knock me up and then skip town! Asshole!!" It sounded convincing, as did his agitated reply that it was just a wrong number, bitch. "Goodbye, prick," she taunted as she slammed the phone down, smiling. It was their signal for a meeting; Rick would be here in an hour. Among her other interests, Cara liked spy stories and detective novels and evolved her clumsy 'fieldcraft' from those wild yarns.
She knew there was just enough time to get herself prepared before he arrived.
Showering, she let the cool water spray against her almond skin and wondered why she had not thought about him earlier. The fan of needle-jets woke her up and stimulated her at the same time. Her hands strayed across her soapy torso and down into her sex. It had been so so long, she thought, almost a week. Desire was like a hunger, burning in her body. Her own fingers were only a brief foretaste of the passion she anticipated. Toweling off, she dusted her curvy figure with scented powder to give it a silky smoothness. Languorously putting on her favorite sexy lingerie, a mostly transparent wisp of lavender silk and lace that brought out the violet in her eyes, she immersed herself in the almost liquid touch of the garment. White nylons, garters, and a pair of backless spike-heeled pumps with puffs of white ostrich feathers on their tops completed her fetching ensemble. Cara sat delicately at her vanity and carefully put on her best face, the one she wore when modeling (or escorting), the one that made her look like a showgirl. Stroking herself, carefully touching her body with flowery perfume, she wondered slightly impatiently what was taking Rik. Just then, the chime sounded and she buzzed him in. Enough time remained to fetch her last magnum of champagne and the two flutes before his knock sounded just outside.
Cara opened the door and was pleased at his open-mouthed stare as he glimpsed her standing in the open portal. She was even more stunning than usual.
Speechless for a few seconds, he managed, "Uhh, g'morning Cari. You're lookin' good, girl!"
She fairly purred, "So why are you still standing out there? Enter, and let the celebration begin."
He didn't have to be hit over the head, although up until now Cara had always been cool to him. Well, he thought, what the hell. She was hot to trot today and no reason to disappoint her. But this conversation did not make any sense. "Celebration?"
"Yes, oh, yes! We scored mega BIG last night. You know that laptop you lifted?" She said while hugging him tightly. He could only nod. Cara kissed him, then continued, "I just got the payoff, and we get to split.... A MILLION DOLLARS!!!"
"Huh? Jesus! What was on that thing?"
Cara walked over to the table, her derriere swaying delectably, and replied over her shoulder "Beats the hell out of me — didn't seem so special. Whatever. Who am I to judge? Celebrate!" The cork popped and a gusher of bubbly liquid spilled on the floor. As it quieted, she poured two glasses then turned and handed him one while holding the other.
"Okay," Ricki smiled at last, "To us; and what we can do with all that loot." Actually, he was only thinking about ten minutes into the future but the rest would sort itself out. First things first. They clinked glasses and drank. Cara was standing close to him, her sheer femaleness acting like a drug, along with her absolute joy. What a score!
Then it suddenly all started to fall apart.
He began to feel strange; dizzy. Putting a hand to his forehead started the whole room spinning. Cara had backed away from him. Instead of looking concerned, or frightened, she merely seemed satisfied. Like she had known this was going to happen. She said nothing, waiting.
"You Bitch!" He yelled, "You planned this!!" Her silence was confirmation enough. "Drugged my champagne — what did you put in there??" She did not answer. He dropped the glass and it shattered on the floor with a 'pop' like a tiny firework. Riki took a few steps forward, slowly, looking like he was wading through deep water. "Tired....can't....walk.....cant..... move......" He stopped, frozen in place, and was still.
Cara walked up to him and began speaking woodenly as she undressed him, "My apologies, dear Ricki, but I can not help myself." His clothes she dropped into heap on the carpet. As she turned back to the table, he could see the girl as she refilled her own flute carefully and emptied the remainder of a small pill bottle into it. The bubbles masked the fizziness of the tablets dissolving. Walking back towards his rigid form, she continued her soliloquy. "It's as if I am watching as someone else goes through these motions, except that it's me." She gazed at him as he glared stiffly back at her. She was still achingly lovely even if she had betrayed him. "All I know," she concluded, "is that all this has something to do with that laptop I cracked last night. I figured that part out, but still I can't do anything to stop myself it's like I've been somehow — programmed — and that program has to be completed."
Entranced like a sleepwalker, she passed within inches of him on her way across the room but completely ignored his angry grunts. Picking up the phone, she dialed it. "Hello, channel six? Please send a news crew to...." Cara gave her own address, and closed "this scoop will make your day." She hung up as the person on the other end was shouting back at her. Dialing again, she continued in the same robot-like monotone, "911? I have some fresh information about local car robberies over the last six months and must speak to the police urgently..." Her fingers relaxed and the phone dropped to the floor and bounced. She did not pay any attention to it.
Lifting the glass to her full red lips, she drank the entire contents in a few swallows, then placed the empty flute back on the table next to the laptop. She pressed the space bar, and the screen list up; something was running on it. Her own program, too, was almost complete.
The voice inside her head was very clear, the instructions simple but puzzling. Cara stepped to the middle of the room and began to pose herself like a fashion model, or mannequin (as the voice had called her) with head held high and arms arranged gracefully. Remembering the poses in the pictures gave her the right style. She began to feel the onset of the tiredness and stiffness that had claimed Rik, but the sensation gave her an intensely sexual, stimulating feeling as she stood there. Her eyes locked open and her expression of pleasure froze on her face while her magnificent body became stiff as a board. The sensation was so wildly erotic she almost climaxed on the spot.
Cara knew, the voice had told her, she was dreaming; that when this vivid dream was over she would awake and be completely happy as long as she could stay on display just like she was now. No further drugs were needed, only her own implanted auto-suggestion to command herself into stillness when she wanted. Her instructions were complete; all recent memory of the laptop, its contents, and her actions faded from her mind. On the table behind her, the utility program had finished erasing itself from the disk and then shut down the system. It was complete, too.
- - -
"In an unusual, drug-related, incident, Miami police today acting on an anonymous tip apprehended two members of a burglary ring. The suspects had apparently overdosed on a rare form of heroin known to cause catatonia when taken in an impure form." A video appeared of a man and a young woman, standing motionless in what looked like a run-down hotel room. The woman was wearing only a few items of lingerie and it was clear as the camera circled her that she could not move at all. She stared vacantly into space. The tape cut to a harried-looking cop who was saying something; the audio picked up at '...got here they were just like you see now, like window dummies or something. We...' and cut to the woman being strapped to a backboard by paramedics and carried out of the room. "Several articles suspected of being stolen in recent robberies were also recovered today. Ricardo Cruz and Caracita Lopez have been placed into custody and are both currently under observation in the infirmary of the county jail. At this time, they have not regained consciousness. This is Fernando Stein, reporting live."
The executive watched the news blurb on the CNN window of his wall monitor, smiling. With a few clicks of the mouse he saved the video file and triggered a watchdog agent to bring any new information about the incident to his attention. That accomplished, he replayed the clip, stopping it on the scenes that showed the girl. She was very attractive, he thought, in a cheap sort of way. Too bad she is going to spend the rest of her life as a living statue, he reflected, before deciding that she really would be better off that way.
He closed his eyes, thinking. The security systems test had been a complete success; now how the devil was he going to market the thing???
~ the end (for now) ~