The mushroom-shaped silhouette against the curtains of acid snow was something of a giveaway that this Christmas was even weirder than I’d thought. The advertising billboard outside the window had flickered a neon picture of the cloud covered in baubles with the caption “WINTER WONDERLAND SIM – Spaces now available!” before going dark.
Seconds later, the emergency biolight tubes snapped into action, turning our room night vision green. Beside me, Dan’s laughing face turned into a cubist patchwork of glowing planes as he said: ‘See! Told you only the idiots spend the holidays in cyberspace. Of course, if you’re actually logged into Winter Wonderland, it probably looks like the fricking raptor. Like that ranter on the corner kept serenading us about every night a couple of years back. He’s probably having the best night of his life right about now. HA!‘
‘No, seriously, I saw a cloud.’ I said ‘You know, like in those old horror movies we used to watch in history education. The ones with the blond guy who looks like an old version of Duke Nukem.‘
‘Nah, I think it was just the guy on the corner, ANOTHER corner thankfully, reacting positively to the power cut.‘ Dan kept laughing. ‘Power cut, now THAT’s an old word.‘
Getting up, he got a can of Masterton’s Magnificent Mojito from the shiny green square where our fridge unit normally stood. He passed me one too. We cracked them open and drank in silence for a what seemed like half an hour, before I said: ‘Hold on, I’ll just check the news… right. I don’t know, maybe there’s something in the text buffer from before the power went.’
Walking over to the terminal, I connected. I disconnected. I connected again. Nothing changed. Dan smirked at me.
Sighing, I said: ‘Even the battery backup won’t activate. If I remember the horror movies, this can only be caused by the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear detonation.‘
Dan finished his drink and wandered over to the window. I joined him. The cloud still stood tall and proud, now illuminated by the multicoloured neon moonlight and the glowing windows of distant city blocks. It almost looked beautiful. Putting his arm around my shoulder, Dan looked at the sky and said: ‘Bet the people up there are having a right laugh. I didn’t even know it was possible for the people on Luna to be twice as smug as they already are.‘
I rolled my eyes ‘ Not a chance! They’ve probably already disappeared the first person who transmitted a joke about this. Have you ever read their news sites? I mean, not actually read read them, but seen screenshots from someone with the right tech. Say the wrong thing there and…‘
‘Yeah, THAT happens.‘ I said.
Trying to contain his laughter, Dan walked over to the door and pulled the emergency release lever. With a groan, the doors slid open. A thin guy with a biolight green hoodie and a bulging green bag on his hip stood in the doorway. Smiling, Dan said: ‘I know old movies always show people looting after something like this, but I didn’t expect anyone to knock.’
The guy just let out a low chuckle and said: ‘If I had a credit for every time I’d heard THAT one in the last ten minutes.‘
I wandered over to the fridge and got a can of mojito. The guy just shook his head: ‘If I’d had a drink every time during the last ten minutes, I’d be deader to the world than many are at this time of year, no offence.‘ Shrugging, I cracked open the mojito and took a sip.
The guy calmly opened his bag and pulled out a small synth-plastic wrapped square, about the size of an old magnetic storage drive. Handing it to Dan, he said: ‘No need to thank me, I’ve got like fifty other apartments to do.‘
With that, he was gone. Dan stared at the package for a second, before cautiously tearing away the wrapper. As he dropped it on the floor under the biolight, I noticed that it contained the “Murkport Automated Industries 3D factory” logo, with “h4ck3d by Gl0w1Nc3ll” stamped underneath in phosphorescent letters.
Turning back to Dan, I saw that he was munching on what looked like a mince pie bar. After handing one to me, he unfolded a small stack of thick synth-plastic sheets. In bold letters, the first one read “POLICE DRONE GOES HAYWIRE – DISTRICT 76 NUKED“, with lots of microtext beneath it.
Whilst Dan pored over that sheet, I took a look at the others: ‘No way! These are auto-transcripts of the latest Game SIM Roundup show, lists of Netsports scores and there’s even some 2D stills from the pleasure sites too. Ha! I guess that the net always finds a way.‘
Dan just sighed.