Deep in the Innovation District of Atlanta, there is a certain tech shop close to a certain apartment complex, a few blocks down from a certain convenience store.
It is said that in that tech shop, anything could be found if one were to look long and hard enough, that it is the place where lost or discarded items end up as per the Law of the Recycle.
There is rumor and hearsay about its management and its history. Some say they remember the shop being around as far back as the Second World War. Others swear that its owner is a mere holographic projection.
When searching Nostradamus’s texts of prophecies forged centuries ago, some have found a striking similarity to one of his quatrains about an endless void of unlimited supply, and believe this to be related to our present-day situation.
And in such a place of endless abundance of chatter, the legends may actually measure up to reality. No-one can be certain what will be found within.
That certain tech shop is known as Chuck’s Tech Emporium.
The door makes a little jingle when you open it, a chattering of broken computer parts fashioned into a makeshift set of chimes.
There’s loads of junk everywhere you look. A mountain of one man’s garbage that is hoping really hard to become another man’s treasure.
The store’s owner peeks his gray-haired head over the counter.
He pops up with a wide, toothy grin as he makes his way over to me.
He reaches me and gives me a bear hug, lifting me a foot off the ground. “Morgan! It’s been so long.” He is of no blood relation to me, but he still acts like he’s my great-uncle or something.
“It’s been… three months?”
“One week is too long not to see your shining face,” he says.
“Yeah… You can let go now.”
He sets me down and laughs.
“You still fighting those techno-zombies and whatnot?” he laughs.
“No, that was a year ago,” I say.
“Uh, so is the the weird druggie gang members?”
“No, that was also a year ago.”
“Did you take that trip to Columbus you were on about?”
“Unfortunately. And that was also last year.”
“Ah well, you kids move so fast it’s hard to keep up!” He walks over to a table containing ancient computers of innumerable varieties. “You wanna buy one of these? They’re on clearance. Forty percent off. And they work like brand new, too!”
I actually do need a new computer; it’s the one thing I haven’t replaced from the Social Media Killer stuff that got my apartment torn up. But I don’t think a Commodore 128 will do the trick, sorry little dude…
“Actually, I’m not here for business,” I say. “I mean, it’s business, but not the kind that you like.”
Chuck continues to smile but looks somewhat befuddled.
“What I mean is I need your help.”
“Oh? With what?”
I gesture to behind me to the entrance of the store, where there are dozens of robots standing by the door.
“Seriously, with what?” he repeats.
“The… robots at the door,” I say. “They’ve been chasing me across the city trying to get me to sell them my copy of Genesis Crush.”
“Great game,” he says.
“I… haven’t gotten to play it yet.”
“That’s tragic. I have to say, the progression system is truly remarkable. You know how normal RPGs let you choose a class and then you rank up your stats every time you level up? Well, here, they only level you up based on what you actually did. Use your magic a lot, and you get extra magic stats. But you won’t be getting any strength stats unless you punch.”
“That’s… really realistic.”
“And for a fantasy game, too. Isn’t that crazy?”
“I really want to play it, but…”
“There’s a thing when it comes to fantasy stories that everything ought to be as realistic as possible, which interests me at the same time that it disappoints me. Everyone wants to take this world of strange happenings and apply real-world sociological and technological standards onto it. Sometimes you end up with a fantasy world that’s more real than real life! While it’s interesting, it’s a whole lot less fun than if they just let your imagination run wild and turned the story loose. And don’t get me started on science fiction. I love ya, but do you really gotta spend entire pages on worldbuilding? Just give us a story about some spaceships and aliens and advanced rice cookers that know the exact amount of nutritional value each grain holds, and let the reader or player figure out what daily life might be like by themselves. That’s why movies are sometimes a lot better, because they can put a lot of that worldbuilding in the background for the careful viewer. They don’t have to just describe it to everyone.”
“Chuck. The, uh, robots.”
“Ah, yes. The robots. It sounds like you have a case of the Bidbay Blues,” says Chuck, starting to pace back and forth in serious contemplation mode. “Someone must have set up a fake account for you, which is pretty difficult with their stringent security measures. Truly nefarious, if you ask me. The work of a real dedicated foe. Someone who knows their way around a computer.”
Someone who really knows their way around a computer who wanted to pull a nefarious trick on me, huh? My mind points in one direction.
Could it be…
Could it be Jones?
I thought for sure she might have been “reformed” in a way, trying to make up for herself and the things she did as the Social Media Killer. But is it also possible that it was all some sort of guise and she’s back to tormenting the people who have wronged her?
I certainly hope not. For all the wrongs she committed, I’m pretty sure I did a whole lot more to her. Not only did I foil her ultimate plan, but I full-on broke into her house by pretending to be a magazine interviewer.
Without getting Chuck started on a six-hour long conversation on the ethics of the Social Media Killer’s actions, I try to ask him about it. “Does this type of work seem… familiar to you in any way?”
“Well, these kinds of incidents are a dime a dozen in my business,” says Chuck. He picks up a rubik’s cube off the counter and begins flipping through it. “Why, last week I got a New Year’s envelope from my family back in Shizuoka. In April, no less! April is such a strange month to be giving a New Year’s gift, even when you account for overseas mailing and other factors that might have gotten it delayed, such as an incorrect ZIP code or a minor typo on the street name. I didn’t open it, but lo and behold when I took it through my metal scanner, there was a full-functioning micro-bomb in there. Enough to blow your head clear off, but enough to slip past some of the less advanced security checking methods that some post offices use. People just aren’t themselves these days. By the way, I’ll sell you a metal scanner for real cheap. Fifty bucks. They saved my life, you know. They might just save yours.”
Well, someone seems to be themselves these days, that’s for sure. “I’m not sure if this is the same situation, Chuck.”
“Oh, but it is. We who travel in technological circles are befallen to the curse of technological threats. Wherever we go, we are infinitely more likely to encounter a glitch, a hack, a malfunction, a manifestation of bits and bytes that tries to tear you limb from limb while you’re walking home…”
“An old man who really won’t stop trying to sell you junk…”
“Yeah. Along those lines,” he says, apparently not hearing me. “I even hear you got involved with the Social Media Killer last month, but… this clearly isn’t that one’s M.O., so I’d have to rule out this pickle being related to her. That Social Media Killer, she was a very interesting young girl. Can’t say I quite approve of her, though!”
“You were up close and personal to witness her, so I imagine you have plenty of stories to tell about her methods. What was her thought process on that whole justice thing?”
“Honestly, it was a bit less exciting than it seemed,” I say. “It turned out she had been keeping a list of enemies since she was a grade schooler and used all the info she compiled to get revenge. It was called ‘The List.’”
“A list called ‘The List,’ huh. I like it. Direct. To the point. Doesn’t meander around in circles for an hour before telling you what it’s all about. Maybe she isn’t such a bad one after all.”
“Yep, I definitely like things that get to the point and don’t meander around.”
“You’re in agreement with me here? You know, I’ve been trying to optimize my efficiency lately for the same reason. Sometimes I’ll find myself waking up in the morning, making a goal, planning on how to approach it, but by the time I get ready to start, it’s already dinnertime and it’s too late to start anything new. I meandered around too much during the day and now I’m too tired to do anything at night. So I do that the next day, and then the next day, and then my goal for one day turns out to be a goal across five days. Do you ever feel that way?”
“I usually accomplish my goals pretty quickly,” I say. “My problem is more in actually figuring out what I want. Like with the Social Media Killer stuff for instance, as soon as I started that, it took me a week and I got all that sorted out. Not to boast or anything. I had a lot of help from friends, so it wasn’t just me. But what I mean is I set myself a goal and I do it. What I have trouble with is actually setting goals in the first place. If I’m off work for the weekend, I’ll kind of want to do stuff outside the house, but usually I just end up lazing around watching TV all weekend instead. It’ll make me feel bad, but then if I actually wanted to do anything maybe I should have done anything, right?”
“That’s the two types of people in this world. The people with ambition dilly-dally, and the people who take charge don’t have ideas.”
“If we could just combine both types of people into one, we could have the perfect human.”
“And that might be the Social Media Killer herself.”
“That is true. People with ambition and who accomplish stuff are often the very people who end up turning out bad for the world. But then I guess a lot of ambitious people would be the same if not for the fact that they procrastinate on everything.”
“Procrastination has probably prevented more wars than it has ever started.”
“That’s a very optimistic way to look at the world,” I say. “The Social Media Killer would hate you.”
“Well, I hate her actions. Even if she’s great at getting to the point.”
“I sure wish we could get to the point…”
“Well, since it’s probably not her, I’ve just got one thing to say: you’ve got yourself a new arch-enemy, here.”
“A new… arch-enemy…”
“A villain. A foe. A 敵 of the highest order.”
“Don’t you flash that kanji at me. I can’t understand it. But what concerns me is that I have no idea who it might be, this new arch-enemy.”
“Nobody relevant to– Ah, crap, maybe I do.”
“Ah, is it coming back to you? Some miscreant?”
“There was this dude I kind of… injured the other day by getting him trampled by a bunch of robots he had hacked. He was some K-Store department supervisor named, uh, Edd Rockatansky I think. That guy was doing modifications on other peoples’ robots to reprogram them, so he can’t be too bad at internet stuff either, I’m sure.”
“What does that mean, ‘Hmm?’”
“That’s all it means. Did you file a police report with this K-Store man?”
“I cannot say I did.”
“That’s one thing you hero types never do. You never let the police know what’s going on so they can help you out!”
“I’m not a hero. But even if I were, I’d fall under the ‘ruthless vigilante’ label and I really doubt we would be cooperating well if I went to the police.”
“They’re more trustworthy than you think.”
“Hmm.” Chuck puts his hand to his hairless chin and rubs it.
“What did he look like? This Edd Rockatansky.”
“Uh, overweight, greasy hair, thick glasses, kind of sneering. That describes most of the tech industry in Atlanta but really that’s all I can say.”
“Hmm. Listen, I’ll do a little looking myself on all this. See if I can’t find any information that you might find useful.”
“Is it… serious?”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that.”
“I have every right to worry about that.”
“Just go have some fun. Do some of that ambitionless fun you always get around to doing.”
“That sure is a positive way to spin the certainty that I’m about to really slack off.”
“I think I’m going to go to the skate park, actually. Learn how to use rocket boots from my friend. Something that I am excited for and am in no way terrified about.”
“Ah, THAT’s what’s been missing here. Don’t you usually have that one friend of yours with you when you come over? I can’t seem to…”
“Yeah, Karina? Remember her?”
“Uh, yeah. Always the fun one. Oh, good times to be had with Karina.” It doesn’t seem like he does. “Anyway, go relax and let me take care of this deal for you. I’ll have your pickle solved in a jiffy.”
“Okay. Thanks, Chuck.”
“It ain’t no problem!” Chuck exclaims. “Just take care. And tell all your folks about my shop. I need more business!”
I’ll do one of those two things, that’s for sure.
I turn around to leave, and see the robots still standing in front of the door.
“Ninety-five, it’s the highest my owner will go!” shouts one of them.