Content warning: This story contains moderate sexual references, mild police conflict , moderate coarse language.
“This is garbage. Redo the assignment.”
Arissana grit her teeth. “Could you tell me what you don’t like about it?”
Professor Vidreiro looked at her as though she had slapped him. “What I don’t like about it? Girl, it’s not a question of taste, it’s a question of skill. The assignment was to use a single colour and emulate the work of a master, focusing on brushwork and technique. You send me this?” He flicked his PAD and a holo of Arissana’s graffito submission hovered in the space between them. “Be honest, how long did this take you? Five seconds, ten? It’s just your signature in spray paint. Even if I buy your argument that this ‘Kobra’ should rank among the masters, there’s no technical skill on display here. It’s not even good as calligraphy. The lines are uneven, your loops are asymmetrical, and there’s no flourish.”
She could feel the red creep into her cheeks. “You’re missing the context—”
“Context!? There’s no context to technical skill! If I sat down at a restaurant and they gave me dog food, I’d send it back; the same applies here. Honestly, child, this is the best you can do? They must be giving scholarships to anyone poor these days. Do it again.” He pulled Arissana’s piece back into his PAD and turned his full attention to the document he had been editing.
Arissana stood, tears welling in her eyes. “You don’t understand! If you pulled your head out of—”
His attention snapped back to her. “Don’t understand? What I understand is that I could accept this assignment, fail you on it, fail you out of the course. What I understand is you need to maintain a 3.0 GPA for your scholarship, and…” He flicked open some files on his PAD. “you’re swimming pretty close to that line already. So, you’re going to redo the assignment how I told you to do it, and hopefully you learn something in the process.”
Arissana opened her mouth to say more but swallowed a long stream of curses. Instead, she bent forward and swept her arm across the professor’s desk, knocking his PAD, papers, and tchotchkes to the floor.
“Out!” he shouted, but Arissana had already turned on her heel with the momentum of the dramatic gesture and was storming towards the doorway.
Arissana found herself on a bench at a nearby skatepark, scribbling furiously in her sketchPAD. She sighed and deleted everything with a practiced flick of her stylus; the skatepark graffiti just wasn’t inspiring her as much as it used to. Instead, she apathetically observed the skaters, mostly gangly teens, practicing tricks and occasionally succeeding but more often wiping out and laughing at each other.
There was this one woman, however, dark-skinned with a bushy afro expertly wrapped beneath her helmet, wearing a plain white tank top and board shorts. She was a pro on the pipes and rails, expertly grinding and handplanting, building up speed until she launched a jump off one of the quarter pipes, then soared through the air and kicked off a tree overhanging the park before landing back on the pipe and skating backwards down the ramp. Arissana’s mouth fell open a little, and all the teens applauded the sick trick.
The woman skated over to the teens and started chatting with them, pointing to their feet, and they nodded along with her explanations. The teens broke their little huddle and started trying their tricks again and the woman skated up to a bench and started to unlace her hoverskates.
Arissana took a deep breath and strode semi-confidently over to the star skater.
“That was really cool. The way you moved out there was like a dancer. Like waves crashing on a rocky shore..”
The skater looked up with a genuine smile. “Thanks! I noticed you sketching, did you draw me? Can I see?”
“I… uh… no sorry. I was sketching the graffiti on the… pipes?” Arissana flicked up a couple holos of sketches. “I just thought you looked really good. Uh… at skating, I mean.”
The skater pulled her gaze away from the drawings. “Do you skate?”
Arissana looked away. “No. I could never do that.”
“Girl! You totally could! You’d look really good doing it, too.”
Arissana flushed deeply. “What, you think so?”
“I know it. I teach free skate classes weekends over at St. Michael’s— it’s an old Starlight cathedral that got converted to a skate park about a decade ago. You should come by. We’ve got loaner skates you can borrow, even.”
She winced. “Six a.m. That’s the only spot I could get. It’s the only hard part of the pitch.”
“I’ll be there. Who should I ask for?”
“The name’s Beatriz. But everyone just calls me ‘Bad Beatz.’” She stuck out a sweaty hand.
Arissana gladly took it. “Arissana.”
So Arissana woke up at five a.m. to attend Beatriz’s skate class along with some other bleary-eyed wannabes. Most of them were in their teens, and all pretty much as inexperienced as Arissana was. The loaner skates and pads smelled heavily of disinfectant, and Arissana was terrified of falling and twisting an ankle. By her twentieth fall, she stopped being so worried, and by her twenty-fifth, she’d stopped counting.
After the first skate class, she went back to her apartment and fell asleep on the couch. But she was back Sunday morning at six sharp, with dark purple bruises all over her body. After the Sunday class, she went online and bought herself a pair of hoverskates. She skipped classes for the next few weeks and either practiced skating on the weekdays or took a day or two off to rest, and she still went to every six a.m. skate classes on the weekends.
The two women grew closer and closer, chatting during and after classes. Beatriz noticed Arissana was seriously improving and asked her out to coffee. There was a YucaBean nearby, and Arissana ended up talking the whole time, telling Beatriz her life story: the favelas, her transition, and art school.
“Wait, you’re telling me you’ve been completely flaking on art school this whole time?”
Arissana sagged under her guilt. “Yeah. I just… I applied to the art scholarship because… well, I like art. In the favelas, there’s graffiti everywhere. It’s what I grew up with. And I’m good at it, or… at least I thought I was…”
“Girl, I know what you need. Meet me at Carioca Station tomorrow.”
“You’ll see!” Beatriz gave her a quick beijo and a wink, and left the coffee shop.
Carioca Station was super crowded when Arissana disembarked, but she was still able to find Beatriz near one of the exits. She was wearing denim overalls and a white tank top with a large dufflebag slung over one shoulder.
“What’s going on?” Arissana asked.
Beatriz threw her arm around Arissana. “It’s a protest! You’ll love this.”
Immediately, every muscle in Arissana’s body tensed. Beatriz felt the subtle shifts in her muscles. “Hey, don’t worry.” She looked Arissana dead in the eye. “I’ll watch out for you.” Arissana took some deep breaths and followed Beatriz and the crowd up to street level. Already, a mass of people hundreds strong had taken over the street from ground traffic. There were placards and banners and cardboard signs, all plastered with a dozen different slogans and gripes.
“What exactly are we protesting?” Arissana shouted over the noise of the crowd.
“Bioroid rights! Have you heard what Senator Ribeiro is trying to pull?”
“I think so…”
The two of them marched along with the crowd, Beatriz watching Arissana, Arissana nervously glancing about. Beatriz seemed to be looking for something in particular, dragging Arissana along. Eventually, she spotted it. “Look, look!” She grabbed Arissana by the shoulders and turned her to face some buildings down the street. There, a couple graffiti artists were quickly tagging the storefront of a Thunderbolt affiliate. “That’s the kind of art you’re interested in, yeah?” Beatriz asked.
Arissana was giddy with excitement. “Oh, yes! That’s it! That’s the… oh it’s so cool to see it being created. They’re like…”
Beatriz nodded and smiled at Arissana, prompting her to continue.
“That’s art! In the process, powerful, political. Medium and message wrapped together! Look at how the rushed nature of the technique speaks to the statement of the piece. It’s fast and rushed because it’s illegal, it’s illegal because it’s political.”
Her mood deflated.
“I wish I could make art like that. Instead, I’m just– I was– sitting in classrooms. No one sees my work.”
Beatriz punched her in the arm. “Don’t be so down on yourself. I thought you might say that…” She unslung and unzipped the duffle bag, revealing two pairs of hoverskates and a couple cans of spray paint.
“I… can’t. Do you know how much trouble I’ll be in if I get arrested? I’ll lose my scholarship, my money…”
“Girl, you’ve been skipping class for a month now, you’ve already lost that scholarship. And plus, what’re you afraid of? If you want to be an artist, be an artist.”
Arissana looked down at the duffle bag, and then up at the half-finished graffiti, and then into Beatriz’s eyes.
“I can do this.”
“You can do this!”
“I can do this!”
“You can do this!”
The two of them slipped out of their shoes and into the hoverskates. Arissana grabbed a can of navy blue spray paint, and hugged Beatriz. “I’ll watch out for you,” said Beatriz, and then she quickly kissed Arissana on the lips. Beatriz foisted off the duffle bag with their shoes to an acquaintance, and the two of them broke free of the crowd and began scouting locations for Arissana’s debut piece.
Arissana spotted the perfect canvas— one alleyway over, a bullfrog wagon was being loaded up with arrested protesters. She pointed it out to Beatriz. “Oh, that is delicious!” The two of them skated as stealthily as they could, down the alleyway, watching the cop hopper from a distance. Once the cops had cleared out to look for new stragglers to arrest, Beatriz skated closer to scope out the canvas. “Coast’s clear!” she whisper-shouted to Arissana.
They skated up to the back of the wagon. Arissana took a few seconds to hype herself up: “I got this, I got this.” She popped off the lid of the spray can with a flick of her thumb and got to work, writing in large, looping letters. All the while, Beatriz kept a watch out for any cops returning with more arrestees. Arissana could feel Beatriz’s calm energy without looking at her, and it helped calm her own nerves in turn.
“Hey, cops incoming.” whispered Beatriz.
“I’m almost done…”
Two cops, rounding the corner with a couple roughed-up protesters in tow, had noticed the women defacing police property. “Shit!” said Beatriz, patting Arissana’s shoulder. “We gotta go!”
“Done!” Arissana shouted, and the two women skated up the street.
Beatriz looked over at her and saw the brightest smile sprayed across Arissana’s face. “You did it, girl!” she shouted.
Behind them, the cops gave pursuit. The two women bobbed and weaved through parked hoppers, and they could hear the hum of synap pistols firing at them. They came to the first intersection, and Arissana’s heart dropped—there was a police barricade set up to corral the main protesters. A couple of officers on the line had noticed the women heading towards them and had their stun batons at the ready. Beatriz and Arissana were trapped.
Beatriz grabbed Arissana’s hand. “Hey, babe. Follow my lead, and it’ll all be okay.”
Arissana closed her eyes for a split second and nodded.
Beatriz skated dead on towards the barricade, building up speed, but switched tack last minute to a nearby parked hopper. She leaped onto the hood, Arissana in tow. From there, the two of them jumped onto the roof and off the hopper, soaring through the air towards the wall of a building. Ten feet up the wall, they kicked off the wall and landed well away from the police on the other side of the barricade, the anti-grav of the hoverskates cushioning their hard landing.
They both turned and flipped the bird to the stunned officers now stuck on the wrong side of the barriers and skated away to a safer street.
“Beatz, that was awesome!”
“I know, right!?”
Once they felt they were safely away from the protest and the police, the two women sat down on the sidewalk and paused to catch their breath.
Arissana broached the subject first. “About that kiss…”
Beatriz grinned mischievously. “Yeah?”
“I… that was really nice.”
“Nice? I can do better than nice. Why don’t you come back to my place right now, and I’ll show you ‘nice’.”
“Girl, have I not been obvious enough? You’re hot, you’re smart, and I really wanna sleep with you.”
Arissana blushed. “Yes!”
Beatriz’s apartment was ten minutes of back alleys and side streets away. Arissana saw none of it, her eyes locked on Beatriz the whole route.
Later, in bed. Arissana turned to Beatriz. “Somewhere in Rio-São-Paulo, a police hopper wagon is driving sheepishly back to its precinct with the words Contents: Political Prisoners spray painted on its rear. Anyone who looks out of their arcology window will see it. Back at school, I had to pay my school to exhibit my work in a tiny gallery that maybe fifty people saw.”
Arissana groaned and rolled over. “Ugh, my scholarship. What am I going to do for work, for money?” She threw her arms dramatically in the air and let them flop by her sides.
Beatriz “What’s important is that you made real art today. We’ll figure something out.”
Arissana bolted upright and slowly turned to look at Beatriz. “Okay, this is crazy, but you know, like… illegal people, right?”
Beatriz cocked an eye at her lover.
“You mean runners? I… know somebody who knows somebodies.”
“Yeah, can you get me in contact with them?”
“That depends. What exactly are you thinking of doing?”
“Well…” Arissana ventured slowly. “My scholarship money was for ‘the promotion and promulgation of art’,” she added air quotes, “not to attend some snooty school for rich brats.”
“You want to steal your scholarship?”
“Technically, it’s already my money. And what I want to do is make art. Most artists have to sell out to survive. Me? I’m going to learn to steal.”
A wicked grin crept across Beatriz’s face. “I’ll put you in touch.”
CYBER-ATTACK STUNS JSFA
By Staff Reporters
Administrative staff have confirmed that the disruption to Júnior School of Fine Arts’ Net services was the result of a single massive cyber-attack.
JSFA Head of Net Security, Vladomiro Branco, confirmed on Tuesday the scope of the breach.
“We’re seeing randomized GPAs, we’re seeing course syllabi replaced with inappropriate political manifestos. Netmail is offline too—none of our techs can get past the damn minigame.”
Administrative officials have so far refused to comment on the significance of the phrase appearing on university Netpages in neon graffiti, How’s this for technique?
A rumor in JSFA-FreeWall, an unofficial Netroom frequented by teaching assistants and student workers, claims the attack was perpetrated by a recently expelled student. The student suspected was one of the arts scholarship admittances from the favelas, and was in frequent clashes with her professors, remarked TA’s and fellow students, and was let go from the school after failing to meet the minimum GPA.
Further investigation is ongoing.
Arissana flicked the JSFA student newsfeed close and smiled. No one seemed to have noticed the thousands in unclaimed scholarship money having been collected during the attack. And now, she could start to make real art.