Ironically, Christmas is the best time to go out in search of real news. After all, the social media feeds are as dead as dial-up and the city’s bandwidth is monopolised by the immersive “Winter Wonderland” SIM program that almost everyone retreats into at this time of year.
With most of the cops on strike and the city hibernating, it’s the only time you can do any real investigative journalism. It’s the only time when doors can be opened without too many questions. Not to mention, the kinds of people who stay outside of Winter Wonderland are the kinds of sources that are worth their weight in gold.
It’s that magical acid snow-covered time of the year where you can walk the streets with a geiger counter and not get hassled by corporate security. Where you can dumpster dive to your heart’s content in the tech recycling vats behind the SYL-Corp central offices. Where whatever skeleton crews left behind by every major business in town are more than happy to talk off the record to you just to pass the time. It’s heaven!
And, if you set a few discreet motion detector bots around the city to tip you off, the stories you can get are priceless. Whether it’s grainy footage of a strike-breaking cop zapping Santa Claus or one of Dextek’s secret military units practicing their marching in the high street, it’s all front page stuff.
Of course, the best story I got was the one about the robotic reindeer. Automated animals were a long time coming, even the old set texts we all had to study during education had predicted them.
There was one book that the teaching programs always insisted that we read, some dusty text file called “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?“. Of course, I was too young to realise that this was actually a curriculum amendment by Makerton-Riyadi Industries who, according to some old data drives I’d scrumped last year, had been trying to subliminally push people to work in their bio-synth labs back then due to a temporary staff shortage.
The first sign that anything unusual was happening came from my detector bot on 6574th Street, relayed by old-school radio to avoid the bandwidth crunch. I’d grabbed the only offline camera with any wafer storage left and hustled ass across town, crunching my way past a thousand dead buildings and seventy flickering neon signs that were cheaper to leave on than turn off.
When I’d finally got there, I was almost ready to collapse. But, the story comes first, it always does. And the story was standing right there and staring me in the face. It almost looked like an ordinary reindeer from the wastes, but there was a bright red sensor unit where it’s nose was supposed to be. Keeping as still as I could, I inched my finger over the shutter and took a few shots.
The reindeer did nothing. Although it could probably pick up the signals from an online camera in seconds, it’s pattern recognition obviously hadn’t been programmed for old cameras. Still, it knew that I was there. No doubt it’s subroutines were already running my picture through every database in the city, trying to find a match.
I chuckled to myself and switched the camera to video mode, as the reindeer slowly opened it’s mouth and spoke in a synthesised voice: ‘Identity match not found. Please identify.‘
‘Prawo Jadzy‘ I replied. It was a fake name that I’d seen in the old dead tree archives, and a good way to test the reindeer’s systems. Back before translation chips were a thing, some Polish drivers apparently used to use this name if they were pulled over for speeding in western Europe. It literally translates to “driving licence”.
‘Citizen Jadzy, I suggest that you report this wild animal intrusion to City Services. I believe that there is an office open seven blocks away. I can transmit map data to you, if you wish.‘ The reindeer said emotionlessly.
So, they hadn’t bothered fitting a translation chip, but they’d put some effort into non-violent conflict resolution routines. And they’d paid off City Services too. But, I wasn’t going to leave it at that. Smirking, I turned to the reindeer and said: ‘Please identify.’
‘I am Rudolph and I am also trespassing within city limits. I could carry Siberian mange or drug-resistant rabies. The logical course of action would be to report me to City Services. Their offices are...’
‘Seven blocks away, I know.‘ I said.
‘If you hurry, then they might even give you a public service award. I hear that they are also giving away free herbal tea to all visitors.‘ The reindeer replied.
Not one to be bribed, I continued: ‘So, Rudolph, who made you?‘
‘Why, God did.‘ The reindeer titled it’s head to one side. It was obviously the work of Garland Godwin-Furuhara, M-R’s egotistical chief engineer.
‘Do you come here often?‘ I asked.
‘Not any more.‘ Without even saying goodbye, the reindeer turned and ran. It bounced along the street at what must have been thirty kilometres an hour. Tired and freezing, I decided to go to the Relic Club to drown my sorrows.
It was a makeshift bar in an old electronics shop near the remains of the Murkport Shopping Centre. The only people there were Carla Fuentes, owner of the last radio station in the city and Nico Krellborg, morse coder extraordinaire. Nico was already on his seventh shot of schnapps, so I grabbed a can of mulled wine and headed over to Carla.
Once I’d shown her everything on the camera, she said: ‘I’ll add it to my next news broadcast, unless you want a scoop when the net gets back to normal.‘
‘A scoop sure would be tempting. I mean, my last story came out just before all of the social-media scanners, text generators, recycling mills and celebrity twitterers got their bandwidth back. It really broke some records.‘
She sighed: ‘Yeah, forty-seven views. I wish you’d stop boasting about it..‘