Tattoo

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 Author's Note - This story was originally written as part of the Grandprix Challege - and appeared in my collection - Sun Spots. 

Prompt was "You must write a cyberpunk setting in which tattoos are the equivalent of implanted tech ... and somebody has hacked your tattoo."

I stepped onto the walkway, happy to have finished work for the day and eager to get home to the man who was both my master and my lover.

I spared a quiet thank you to the Administrators for having installed the latest walkway—it made the journey so much easier for me. Not that my work at the factory was particularly strenuous, the Council had laws forbidding that, but nevertheless I was usually tired by the end of a day spent monitoring the conveyor belt, checking that every product was perfect and discarding those with flaws. I felt the customary twinge of satisfied pride whenever I thought about the importance of my job. No shopper would have to buy flawed apples while I was on duty.

I was thinking ahead to what I would cook for my master's evening meal, when a panicked shout from the walkway below jarred me out of my musings. I glanced down. A woman was on the very edge of the walkway, watching helplessly as a small child spiralled downwards, ever faster between the walkways to the invisible depths below.

I could see a large hovercar, continuing along the walkway, oblivious to the chaos it had caused behind.

I frowned to myself as I continued on my journey; everyone knew the cars had right of way. Stupid woman, she should have kept better control of her child. I found my right hand was absently rubbing my left wrist, where my caste code was tattooed. I smiled. Mine was a red Hammer and Sickle, signifying industry and agriculture, the tattoo of the Worker's caste.

Beneath the all-powerful Council, our society was divided into six castes, Administrator, Soldier, Scientist, Artist, Worker and Service. Each caste had its immutable place in society and was marked by a symbol, tattooed on the wrist above the unique barcode which identified every individual. Administrators had a set of scales, perfectly balanced; Scientists had a stylised Atom; Artists a C inside a circle, protecting them and their work; Service a Crossed Knife and Fork.

Only the Council had no tattoos.

My master was of the prestigious Soldier class, one of those brave men and women who protected us from our enemies. His tattoo was a glorious blue sword. I loved to press my lips against it when we were in bed together and hear his breath quicken.

I turned my thoughts back to the evening ahead. Perhaps, tonight, after I had cleared away the evening meal, he would ask for me. My heart beat a little faster in anticipation.

"You may clear away now, Tom. I'm going to the gymnasium for an hour or so." My master spoke absently, his mind already focussed on the gym, the tortuous exercises he would do to keep his body in prime condition. I bowed, and collected the dishes, respectfully backing out of the room as usual. I tried not to feel disappointed. After hours in the gymnasium, he would come home too tired for anything else tonight.

I gave myself a little scold. I should be grateful that he had taken me into his home at all. I knew most Soldiers had at least one Service person to look after their homes, but some, like my master, preferred the more intelligent company of a Worker, male or female, for personal services. Many, in fact, had both.

Maria, the woman who cleaned my master's house, was middle-aged, dull and hard-working and we got on well enough for the most part. I knew I had no right to feel any sort of jealousy, but I felt a guilty relief to know my master was not interested in her, personally. He preferred men, like me. I knew he took other lovers from time to time, but I would have found it difficult to bear if I had to share the house with one of them.

My master came home just before midnight and went straight to his room, having showered at the gymnasium. I helped him out of his clothes and into the large four-poster bed, drawing the curtains around it before I returned to my own small cot in the adjoining alcove.

Tomorrow was Saturday, our day of rest. Perhaps, after we had been to the clinic, we could go out to see an entertainer somewhere or... I brought myself up sharply. There was no sense in daydreaming. Rik, my master, would do what he would do, and I would accommodate myself as usual. I found my right hand was absently rubbing my left wrist, over my caste code tattoo.

I frowned, this discontent wasn't like me. Perhaps I was getting run-down. I was sure I'd feel more myself after my visit to the Clinic tomorrow.

Every Saturday, our small household would line up at the local Clinic to have our weekly dose of Shield, a cocktail of vitamins, anti-radiation medicine and biotics, administered via the socket in the back of our necks.

This Saturday was no different. At least, at first.

I placed my wrist over the scanner. The tattoo would tell the Doctor which precise formula of Shield to administer; Worker's Shield for me, Soldier's Shield for Rik and Service Shield for Maria. As I waited for the tube to be inserted into the socket behind my neck, I wondered why the Doctor was one of the few robots still doing the work that a well-trained human could do.

Robots were for important things, for tasks which required minute precision and superior intelligence, for repairing machines. Machines maintained the dome which covered our city, protecting us from the radiation outside. Even the city itself was one vast construct, the buildings and walkways all merely the visible part of the whole. Machines were too valuable to waste on mundane tasks, so I supposed the Council had its reasons for not using a human doctor—no doubt something beyond my understanding.

If there was one thing you could be sure of, it was that the Council did what was best for society as a whole. As their motto proudly declared, you could 'Trust the Council'. I smiled as I repeated the motto under my breath, giving thanks once again that I was lucky enough to be part of this society.

I wish I could say I felt a strange sensation or at least a premonition when the Shield was administered, but the truth is, I felt nothing out of the ordinary—at the time.

It wasn't until later that evening that I realised something was wrong.

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