“He has another phone?!” Sasha whined to herself as the well-dressed gentleman pulled out a third phone from his coat. The thin glassy cellphone did not look like any phone Sasha recognized. That, along with the gentleman’s apparent wealth made him an easy choice for her. The teenage girl found herself wishing she could check the other two she stole because the third one looked so much like them. But those phones were long gone; handed off to couriers that already disembarked. Internally, Sasha fumed that he had so much money that he didn’t seem concerned about losing two phones already. “I’ll just have to take that one too,” she decided. Hitting the same mark a third time was risky, but she did not have any evidence on her.
Sasha glanced around the train and found a scrawny jr-high student in a red beanie playing on his phone near the rich man. A pin shaped like a hand was affixed to his beanie. She’d never met the kid before, and probably never would; but, his pin advertised him as a courier. Sasha whistled casually, seemingly to herself, and the kid looked up. They locked eyes and Sasha glanced at the gentleman. The kid nodded then focused on his game again.
The next stop was coming up and Sasha started to work her way to the stranger. As the train began to slow, the student in the red beanie stood up and put his phone away; he caught Sasha’s eye and nodded again. The train came to a full stop and Sasha moved with the crowd.
“Oh, sorry,” Sasha apologized. She bumped into the gentleman, dipped into his pocket, then handed his phone off to the passing kid as he left the train. In less than 10 seconds the man’s third phone was off the train.
“No problem, it happens a lot,” the gentleman smiled at her. Sasha felt bold. Stealing from the same mark three times, with no evidence left her feeling cocky. She returned the gentleman’s smile and sat down on the seat her anonymous partner left open; directly in front of the man. She wanted to watch him freak out when he discovered all three of his phones missing. Sasha knew he’d suspect her, but she had nothing to worry about.
When the train started forward to its next stop; Sasha felt a furious fire growing in her stomach. The stranger pulled out a fourth phone, exactly like the others; without even wondering about the first three. He even pulled it from the same pocket. Sasha didn’t feel anything else in there each time she stole a phone. She clenched her teeth and balled her fists.
“How much money does this guy have?” she wondered. “That’s a cool phone!” she said out loud before she could think about what she was doing. She stood from her seat to stand closer to him.
“Thanks,” he smiled at her. “It’s not a phone, though, it’s called a node.” He willingly handed the small glassy rectangle to her, Sasha noticed a tattoo of the number 21 on his hand. The node was slightly larger than a playing card but almost as thin, and completely transparent. He tapped the screen and the display lit up to show the time, like a regular phone.
“Oh, so you can’t make calls on it?” Sasha asked. She decided since she was already in the conversation she might as well learn about it.
“You can,” he said. “You can do everything that can be done on a regular smartphone, or even a computer.”
“So why not just call it a phone?” she asked. She returned the node.
“Because, unlike smartphones, it works with other nodes. Sasha narrowed her eyes and tilted her head at the gentleman.
“I make calls to other phones all the time,” she said. The man chuckled and shook his head.
“Not like that, I mean it works with other nodes. They share processing power. The more nodes you have, the more you can do.”
“Ohhhhh,” Sasha realized why he had so many.
“I’d show you how it works, but I only have the one,” he said with a shrug. “But it’s great. Everyone can set a public allotment to share their processing power with anyone around them.” Sasha could not hold back a giant grin. She only had one more to steal. She could do that and get off at the next stop. He might be able to identify her, but he’ll never be able to prove it.
“Oh, you only have one? Why? What happened to the rest?” The man laughed.
“Unfortunately I only have the one right now. I haven’t been able to save up for another one yet.”
“What?” Sasha was confused enough that the question actually left her mouth. “What?” she asked. “I mean, uh, WOW. That’s a really cool gadget.” He nodded, smiled, and slipped the node back into his pocket. Sasha realized the train was slowing down again for the next stop. “He’s probably putting it away so no one walks off with it,” Sasha smiled to herself. She focused on the task at hand; the mystery of the other nodes could wait. She knew she could get the one that he had.
Thankfully, the crowd around her helped once the train came to a stop. The flow of passengers forced Sasha to rub against him as they moved toward the exit. Sasha smiled and shrugged apologetically, keeping his attention on her eyes. Her hand dipped into his pocket again, grabbed the node, then it was back in her own pocket.
“Uh, see you around, I guess!” she half waved at the stranger while fighting against the crowd with exaggerated motions. She let them force her off the train.
“I look forward to it!” he smiled back. The doors closed and Sasha turned around. She pulled out the node, grinned at it, then put it back in her pocket. She debated keeping it for herself as she climbed the stairs out of the subway. She stepped out into the sunlight and the kid with the red beanie came running at her. He was wheezing and panting.
“Where’d it go!?” he asked her.
“Where’d what go?”
“The phone you handed off, it’s gone!”
“What do you mean it’s gone?” She asked him but reached back into her pocket to double-check. Instead of the cool, solid glass she expected, she felt a flimsy scrap of paper. “What the hell?” she pulled it out and noticed writing on it in pen. The paper looked like it was torn from the corner of a full sheet. Sasha read the note.
“Stop stealing my node, please,” it said. “I’m just going to steal it back.”