Jessica couldn’t believe her eyes. A shipwreck? The beach scattered with dead bodies and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam? What the hell was going on?
She stared in disgust at the offending images on her wall screen for a few moments before she could decide what to do. Then she took her phone and dialled the ScreenWise customer support service.
She patiently listened to a string of commercials, wishing she would one day be able to afford a more expensive advertising-free phone connection, and looked away from the apparently malfunctioning screen. She stared through the window instead, preferring the invariably grey sky and the unending rain to the inexplicable horrors marring the tropical beach scene.
When her call was finally put through, she said angrily:
“I’m paying good money for my ScreenWise subscription, and there’s all sorts of depressing stuff on the screen right now. A shipwreck, dead bodies all over the beach, really sickening stuff. I can’t have that. I hope you know what’s wrong and how to fix it.”
A mechanical voice replied: “We are aware of the problem. It is caused by hackers who managed to enter your system.”
“The runaway success of our line of wall screens has apparently attracted hackers who take great pleasure in entering unprotected systems and uploading undesired items.”
“And what can we do about that?”
“If you currently have a basic subscription, the best thing would be to upgrade to a version that includes a hacking and virus blocker. It will cost you more, but you will be rid of the problems you mentioned. Ultimately you will consider it good value for money. I would strongly suggest you order an adequate upgrade as soon as possible. You will find more information on all our subscription types and rates on our website.”
Jessica considered her options for a while, but as dead bodies kept washing onto the shore on her screen, she ordered a relatively inexpensive upgrade later that evening.
Another gruelling day at work, overcrowded commuter trains, an overcast sky producing a soot-filled drizzle and long lines waiting for the elevators in the Tower where she lived: Jessica was glad to be home. She took a quick shower and switched on her wall-filling screen, happy to see it sported its usual splendid view of a tropical beach, complete with the sound of lapping water and the breeze that made the palm trees gently sway.
She called her friend Moira and said:
“How you doing? I’m fine, thanks. I had some trouble with my wall screen yesterday, but I ordered an upgrade and it appears to be all right again.”
“Great, Jessica. None of us can do without a wall screen these days. It’s the only way to see some bright sunlight. I have mine switched on all the time. I even keep my curtains closed. Who cares about the view?”
“Yes, it’s so nice to always have sun, sand and blue sky at your fingertips, and forget what’s it like out there. When did we last have good weather? I don’t even remember.”
“And I’m not counting on any. It’s so depressing. A good thing we have our sunshine inside.”
Something on her screen distracted Jessica for a moment, and she said: “One moment. Oh no, there’s something wrong again there. What was that? A commercial? Could it be a commercial flashed by on my screen? I never had any before. What the hell could it be?”
“Maybe those hackers managed to get through again. I’d call customer support if I were you.”
She did, after she noticed commercial banners appearing on her screen on a regular basis. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday’s problems, but still, she wanted an explanation.
“You ordered a cheap upgrade,” the mechanical voice explained, “which is sponsored by advertisers. Their commercials are featured on your screen for obvious reasons.”
“But I’d like to have a perfect view,” Jessica insisted. “No weird stuff, no commercials, just the beach and the sun and everything I want to see.”
“In that case I suggest you order an upgrade including a commercial blocker. This will be more expensive, as there is no sponsoring, but it will suit your needs perfectly.”
“I see,” Jessica said, sighing. “I’ll check on the website what you guys are offering.”
Jessica picked up her phone and heard her friend Moira’s voice.
“I remember you told me you ran into problems with your wall screen,” she said.
“Yes, but now I have a more expensive upgrade and everything is back to normal. I’ve got sunshine in the house again all the time.”
“Well, there’s something strange going on here, and I’d like to hear your opinion, as you have some experience with these problems. You see, every now and then the sun on my screen is obscured by clouds. I wonder what might cause this glitch.”
“What type of subscription do you have?”
“An expensive one with a hacking and virus blocker as well as a commercial blocker. So I guess I should have bright sunlight without any interruption. I have no idea what’s wrong.”
“You should call customer support,” Jessica suggested. “But I have this feeling they’re trying to sell upgrades with a bad weather blocker.”
“A what?” Moira asked.
“It’s just an inkling of mine,” Jessica said, and threw a glance at her screen to check if the first clouds had arrived there as well.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 700 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 30 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.