Like with the smartphone fad of the early 21st century, neural image backups used to be all the rage. You’d take a snapshot of your brain patterns and keep it on hand in case a trip into the net went wrong. The idea was good, it probably saved hundreds of lives within the first few years.
But, it sure made solving crimes a whole lot harder. You see, it didn’t take long for people to realise that they could use other people’s patterns. As long as you set the burn timer right, you could quite literally become an expert in anything for a few hours. Sure, you’d have no memory of it. But, you’d have a new piece of music, a new program, a new game or an upgraded machine when you were back to your usual self. It caught on like wildfire.
Of course, the usual copyright bureaucrats went ballistic about this. They were constantly pestering us to divert department resources into catching people who became the latest gods and goddesses of the media. We’d get lecturing messages every day bewailing how imitation celebrities cost them literally quintillions of credits. I didn’t need to turn myself into Sergio the Super Statistician to realise that this was an exaggeration.
But, as much as I just wanted to tell them to cram it, the official line was that we had more serious neural image crimes to deal with. You see, whilst becoming a pop singer, vid star or game dev for the evening was one thing – it didn’t take long for the gangs to realise that they could clone their best hackers, killers and leaders. Worst of all, since the subject had no memory of it afterwards, it made getting a polygraph next to impossible.
And then there was the guy who turned himself into Santa Claus. Yeah, it sounds cute, but you’ve gotta remember that the man in red is supposed to be a myth. Most likely, he’d cludged together several neural images to create some kind of frankenbrain. He’d probably pumped himself full of more stims than is healthy and modified several hoverboards into some kind of sled-like contraption too.
When it happened, I was one of the skeleton crew. Most of the department were taking their annual strike allowance to spend the holidays in LANCorp’s “Winter Wonderland” SIM. I’d have done the same if it wasn’t for the fact that the commissioner still hadn’t forgiven me for that incident with the chameleon, her coffee and the bio-synthesiser gel. So, I was left to hold down the fort whilst everyone else took an extended trip into cyberspace.
The old RADAR screen had tipped me off that something was wrong. Unidentified Aircraft Within City Limits! Of course, it was probably a glitch. The unidentified aircraft was flickering and jumping around the city map at such a speed that it either had to be an experimental near-light-speed craft or just a simple software glitch. The latter seemed more likely. So, I ignored it.
Of course, the pattern recognition bot was having none of it. Just as I’d settled down again, it started bleeping at me too. Although the craft’s movements seemed random to me, the bot had told me that it was systematically visiting every apartment and industrial building in the district. No foreign government would be so blatant with their espionage, so it had to be one of the gangs.
I took the pattern recognition bot with me and set off in one of the few hovercars that had been serviced before the holidays. According to the bot, the craft would set down for two minutes on top of the old multi-storey car park. But, when I got there, there was nothing but mounds of acid snow and the kind of bitter cold that could freeze your neural port off. Still, the view was spectacular.
The bot was an old model, with a five minute margin of error. Despite our requests, the stylus pushers at central wouldn’t let us upgrade. So, I sat in the car and waited whilst the bot “helpfully” informed me that there was a 52% probability that our mysterious aircraft had already left. The lack of thruster burns on the ground told me otherwise.
Two minutes later, I heard a quiet jangling sound and saw a long thin shadow in the light-polluted sky above. Drawing my stunner pistol, I slipped out of the car and hid behind a burnt-out ground car. The sight that greeted me when the craft landed was like something out of Winter Wonderland itself. There was a fat bearded man in a blood-red suit with a bulging sack slung over one shoulder.
‘Police! Freeze! You are under arrest for violation of the civic aerospace code!‘ I shouted, levelling my stunner at the man.
‘Ho! Ho! Ho! And a Merry Christmas to you too detective.‘ The man laughed, clutching his ample stomach. ‘Why, I’m afraid that you aren’t on my list.‘
‘Your list? Ok, I’m adding data theft to the charge sheet. Drop the bag, put your hands up and walk towards me slowly.‘
‘But, my elves have been working hard all year to make these presents.‘ The man said jovially, glancing over his shoulder at the sack.
I wrapped my finger around the trigger: ‘Child labour too? You’re only making it worse for yourself! Now, drop the fricking bag!‘
The man frowned at me ‘No wonder you aren’t on my list, you naught- AAAURGGH!’
I fired. He twitched and screamed for a second, before falling to the ground. Not wanting a lawsuit or my own case of hypothermia, I got him into the car as soon as possible. After tethering the craft to my rear bumper, I headed back to the station.
Once he’d been processed, I examined the evidence. The sled would have to be sent to the lab for analysis, but the sack was a lot more interesting. It was filled with literally hundreds of freshly-painted wooden toys.
Best of all, there was a gift in there for me too. A promotion! I mean, the guy must have chainsawed at least three trees to get that much precious wood. It was the seizure of the century!