“Wait—so, how did you do this to yourself again?” Ernie asks, poking at Theo’s monochrome Tarzan-boy shoulder. They’re sitting together at the edge of Theo’s bed. Well, Theo’s sitting. Ernie’s sprawled in a kind of sideways shrug that’s allowed the bottom of his belly to peek out from underneath his sweater.
“I didn’t do anything,” Theo replies, and slaps Ernie’s hand away. “I was standing in line at GimmeGimme, and this notification pops up on my phone. The next thing I know, I’m Joey Martin.”
Picking up Theo’s naked Goten trophy, Ernie leans back on the bed, scrutinizes the trophy shrewdly. “Mm-hm. And you won Best Butt because…?”
“Ugh,” I say, scowling at him. “You’re absolutely no help.” To Theo: “Why don’t you coax the genie out of the bottle and figure us up some answers?”
“Genie?” Theo asks.
I point at Beta’s collection of hard drives. “The talented Mr. Wong.”
“Oh. He wasn’t on his server, so I left him a text.” Theo gets up, goes over to the mirror. Frowns at his reflection. “Is this going to happen to me every time SuperMegaNet updates?” He runs a hand through his impeccably coiffed hair. “I look so fourth grade.”
“To be fair,” Ernie chimes in, “you look fourth grade even when you’re not skinned.”
“When and where, Best Butt.”
I sigh. “Can you turn off automatic updates until Taurus maybe works things out?”
“You can’t disable automatic updates,” Theo replies, examining his toy dagger.
Ernie looks surprised. “Really?”
“Wow. That’s very Microsoft.”
“Forced updates that haven’t been fully tested prior to release?” I chuckle. “Totally MS.”
“Fucking Mac users,” Ernie hisses at me under his breath.
Re-sheathing his dagger, Theo sits back down, using one hand to check his phone, his other to keep Ernie from flicking his nipple. “It’s not just me. There are a bunch of people tweeting about the same thing happening to them.”
“They’re all being persistently skinned as Joey Martin?” Ernie asks.
“No, fat stuff. Their most recently installed skins are going persistent.”
“Wait, wait.” Ernie struggles back into his sideways sitting position. “Wait.” He looks thoughtful. “Are you sure it’s not just Donald Trump having some fun?”
Theo and I exchange glances.
“You said Twitter…? The wonky stepchild of social media…? You know…because it’s a Facebook world…? Because only the Trump uses Twitter anymore…?” Ernie looks annoyed. “Fuck you. The joke was apt.” He flicks us off. “In other news, has anyone considered paying a visit to the SMN help desk? Hm?”
Theo looks at Ernie, at me.
Lifts his phone and swipes us forth.
And this is the SuperMegaNet help desk server: a gigantic, pale-walled room easily the size of the Chick-fil-A Convention Center downtown and packed to capacity with users who’ve been persistently skinned against their will. It looks like a cosplay convention. Ever see the queue toward the end of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? That’s no match for the line we step into now.
A blob of vaguely-familiar pixels standing in front of us turns around and waves. “Můj bože! You too?”
It’s Jan, in pixel monster form.
Ernie deadpans a nonexistent camera. “See, this is why forced updates suck.”