Audiophiles, Listen Here:

“Can’t I just give you my name?”

“No, sir, I am not legally allowed to ask for your name. Please provide your LifeSecure User ID.” The girl with the short black hair behind the counter couldn’t have been over 20 years old, and Paul guessed she probably didn’t remember anything before LifeSecure, but it was just a coffee. At home, in his small town of hundreds, they let him get away with using his real name, but he was in the city now.

“What if I just tell you something random?” To be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure he remembered his LifeSecure password, and he really needed the coffee.

“Your LifeSecure User ID, please.” She was as sympathetic as a parking meter. Her nametag had her LifeSecure User ID on it, BEE4ULUK3$5, and Paul knew she’d remember her password. These kids were all programmed to spit the required codes out to get into school, to get out of school, to access their bank and medical care, and they didn’t think anything of it. Paul, gray-haired, stooped, and well into his seventh decade on the planet, remembered carrying a laminated card in his wallet for all his identification needs.

“Okay, fine. Lemme think.” Paul took a few seconds to order the digits in his mind, trying to ignore the tide of impatience behind him in line. “My ID is LOGR1THM@69.” The girl entered the ID with lightning quickness, all these kids typed like the devil.

“Got it. Thank you, please provide your password at the end of the counter.”

Paul hesitated, expecting to pay, and remembered after the woman behind him huffed loudly that using his LifeSecure would automatically deduct the amount from his bank account. Half of these people probably hadn’t ever seen actual currency, he mused, shuffling down to the end of the counter.

He’d ordered a plain, black coffee, and it didn’t take the barista long to pour it and snap a lid on it. “LOGR1THM@69?” the boy yelled, a male version of the girl at the register.

“That’s mine,” Paul said, and reached for his coffee.

“Password?” The boy snatched the cup of coffee backward, leaving Paul looking presumptive and rude.

“Um. Okay.” Paul rattled off a series of letters, numbers, and symbols, the esoteric key to his existence, and the boy punched it into his keypad.

“Sir, that’s not correct. You have two more tries.” Huffy woman was standing behind him again, close enough to overhear, and Paul wanted her to back up. He wasn’t quite brave enough to ask, though. He thought for a moment and gave the boy another set of characters, remembering that he’d gone for exclamation points at his last mandatory change. The boy shook his head again. “You have one more try. Please think carefully.”

Paul wished he was home, where they took his actual money and didn’t ask for his official ID. The trip to the city wasn’t his idea, he’d only come to tie up the last legal details of his mother’s death, but there hadn’t been any option. Like Joseph, he’d been required to travel to his place of birth for it to count, and now he couldn’t get a cup of coffee at the inn. “Never mind then,” he said, and turned to leave the shop.

“Sir! SIR!” the boy called. “You can’t leave without giving your password!” Paul turned around. “You have one more try.” The boy looked worried. Maybe the cost of the coffee came out of his paycheck or something. The door chime sounded behind them. It was getting crowded, and Paul was holding everyone up.

“Okay. Try this one.” Paul gave the boy a string of characters he was about 90% sure was correct.

“Are you sure?” This seemed weird, given how eager the boy was to get the password in the first place.

“No, but that’s what I have.” Paul smiled, trying to put the boy at ease. The barista put the code in with shaking fingers.

Silence. The entire café was silent, Paul realized. That made the buzz from the boy’s terminal crashingly loud. Paul jumped and the people who’d been shoaling up around him all took several steps back. There was a loud click at the front door of the café. Both of the kids behind the counter were ashen now, black and white cartoons with scribbled spiky hair and ghostly faces.

Paul was roughly grabbed from behind, his head pushed forward while his arms were pulled behind him. “Non-entity, you have failed to identify yourself with a valid LifeSecure User ID and password. Under the Fraud Prevention Accords, you will surrender yourself to be identified. Until you have been verified by LifeSecure, you will be held in non-tech containment, and the accounts of LOGR1THM@69 are immediately frozen.” Paul was too confused to fight. He felt his wrists bound together with compression cuffs.

“But I just wanted a coffee!” he protested. “I have money! Let me just pay for it.” He was turned to face two agents in dark blue LifeSecure tactical gear, a blond woman with a severe bun and eating disorder, and a beefy man who currently had hold of the remote controlling his cuffs. Paul knew the cuffs could deliver a disabling shock if the man pushed the wrong button.

“It’s not about the coffee,” the woman barked. “You do not exist. You are a non-entity trying to access an account without authorization. The FPA requires us to detain you until you can prove your existence.”

His existence? Paul was pretty sure he existed, otherwise, what were all these people staring at? The official language went a little too far, denying reality. What was clear to him now was that he should have written his password down in his wallet. Exclamation point on that.

The Story: This was a idea from Paul Caggegi, the talented artist and writer behind Homebased (go check it out, really.) We both enjoy playing in the dystopian future, and the idea that you’d need a password for every damn thing certainly qualifies. I’m also poking at the idea of “security.” We give up privacy and personal freedom for an illusion of security at our peril.

The project is getting close to the end of the year, and I’ll be wrapping up the Story McStoryface Project with a couple more pieces and putting a bow on it. It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’ll talk more about that in a wrap-up in January. Thanks for riding along…let’s screech into the parking lot sideways.