Author: Andrew Dunn

Tina played bass in a psychobilly band on Mars. She was telling Tim all about it, how she leaned skin and bones into that carbon fiber instrument and thumped those heavy strings in time with the beat. Tim was taking all she said in, because Tina had neon tattoos that glowed underneath her fishnet in the bar’s dim light.

I should’ve put my hand on Tim’s shoulder, and whispered in his ear, “Do you really believe what she’s telling you?” I didn’t.

Tim would’ve brushed my hand away and bought me another round, because he had a plastic card loaded up with cryptocurrency he couldn’t spend fast enough.
The bartender was taking his card, swiping it through the thing, and rocket-fueling Tim into closer orbit around Tina.

“Steg’s bad.” The bartender groused.

Oldest. Scam. In. The. Book.

How does it work? Like this: A guy like Tim stops off to wet his whistle at a watering hole in orbit around Deimos. Or Phobos. Whichever. You get the picture. The guy starts buying drinks, and then Tina shows up. So the guy is buying and paying with his crypto card, the kind with a picture on one side. That picture contains code. Steganography. The code has to validate to complete each sale, and then it changes to keep the code, well, a code. Tim buys a few rounds and then…

“Steg’s bad.” The bartender isn’t just grousing now, he’s mad.

Tim’s confused, begging, “I just used that card,”
because he did. And every time he did, the picture on the card changed because the embedded code validated, and a little more of his money was gone.

Tina wasn’t confused. She was urging Tim, “Maybe try it again?”

The bartender was squinting skeptically until my hand rested on Tim’s shoulder. I leaned in close and whispered, “It can’t hurt, right?”

Tim stared into his drink, and then up into neon designed to make the low orbit dive look like a terrestrial dive back on Earth.

“Yeah,” Tim bellows, “try it again.”

And the bartender does, again and again, the picture on the card changing from the Mona Lisa to the Queen of Hearts to Marianne from Gilligan’s Island and the phone in my pocket buzzing as the bucks kept pouring in. I was feeling good knowing even after I split it with the bartender, I’d be sitting pretty, until…

“Hands up.” Tina demanded, phaser in her hand at once on me, then on the bartender, and back on me again. “I want your phones and your crypto. Now!

“But you play bass in a psychobilly band on Mars!” Tim whined.

“She ain’t lying no more buddy.” I mumbled, the carbon fiber body of this android’s hull creaking as my mechanical fingers fished through polyester pockets, wishing I’d never been programmed to lie.