By the time we moved into Murkport Shopping Centre, even the vandals had lost interest in the place. From the brittle decorations, faded footprints and gnawed fairy lights, we all knew that it had closed at Christmas, but we weren’t sure when.
My guess is that it was sometime before the great upgrade, but LarAX reckoned that there would be something on the screen net archive about it. There wasn’t. Even Burn’s dive into the museum’s secure database came up with nothing.
It was a place that never officially existed. Just another collection of concrete squares on the city horizon. Another pair of rusty shutters amongst fifty thousand of them. Even the city had decided it was cheaper to keep the power on than to waste time sending a disconnection drone. Not even the “Winter Wonderland” SIM had bothered recreating the place. It was perfect.
‘What about talking to the oldies?‘ I asked, fumbling through a stack of wafer touch drives that I’d found behind crumbling Santa Claus statue in one of the hollowed-out shops near the main doors.
LarAX was too deep in the net to even hear me. Burn just shrugged and dipped his soldering iron back into the board. It was a stupid idea, all of the oldies would be impossible to find at this time of year. Everyone was twenty on the net. And everyone spent Christmas logged into Winter Wonderland.
I returned to the wafer drives. After we’d crashed out of our old multi-storey in a hail of laser beams and targeting markers, we had to leave all the good tech behind. Sure, Burn had wiped our traces from it and LaraX had shot down four of the drones, but the city knew about the place now.
From what I’d seen on the map, it was still standing. But, they’d probably coated everywhere with tracer dust. The instant we went back to get anything, our genetic patterns and neural prints would be logged and transmitted.
So, we were stuck with a cheap third-generation net terminal, some old quantum boards that Burn had nicked and whatever I could find around here. At least the other collectives would just assume that we were taking a couple of weeks off in Winter Wonderland. We’d never hear the end of it if they found out that we were here.
The wafer touch drives I’d found were sill viable, although most of them just contained old SIM games whose servers had died long before anyone had bothered logging them. Even after I’d cracked the write protection and reformatted them, they only gave us a few measly petabytes of extra storage. Hardly enough for a single bot script.
LarAX gasped and convulsed as she pulled out of the net. Cracking open a cheap can of Japanese cider, she rubbed the back of her neck and muttered ‘Worst Christmas ever.’
‘Get anything?‘ Burn asked, still prodding away with the soldering iron. She ignored him. He kept on soldering.
Instead, she turned to me and said: ‘You were right, the security routines wouldn’t even detect this old clunker. But, the processor almost burnt out when I tried to run a cutter algorithm. It’s the frigging paradox of obsolescence.‘
I handed her the wafer drives. She eyed them derisively for a few seconds, before shaking her head. I muttered something about data storage and wandered off back into the corridors of the centre. Even though it hadn’t seen a customer in years, some of the shops still seemed to be open.
After trudging through a swamp of mouldy Christmas cards and nearly getting tetanus from a rusty counter bot, I hit paydirt.
Don’t ask me why, but someone had left a Nexus Classic terminal in the mildewy backroom of what used to be a tropical fish shop. Despite it’s age, the classic could crunch a trillion digits without a single error. Although it took aeons longer, it could run data loads that would kill a modern terminal without even a single groan of complaint. Naturally, it had been discontinued. Once you bought one, you didn’t need to buy another.
When I returned, the look on LarAX’s face was priceless. She handled the terminal like it was some kind of holy relic. Even Burn remained in reverent silence. When LarAX had reconnected and set the cutter algorithm, she pulled out smoothly and asked: ‘What the hell is this thing doing here anyway?‘
Burn grinned and said: ‘Isn’t it obvious? This was the first machine with the power to run Winter Wonderland. It was also the first machine to include a full transaction suite. Once you bought one of these beauties, you never had to visit another shop again.’
I smiled too ‘It’s like in those old detective stories, I guess. The killer always returns to the scene of the crime.’