Fortune and Betrayal

Captain River, always the media buff, made a beeline for “ENTERTAINMENT SINGULARITY.” He spent several minutes walking right past the store while referencing his map in bewilderment before realizing the store with a sign that looked to him like a holographic explosion emoji (the intergalactic symbol for a “PLAY” button, representing the big bang or ‘setting things into motion’) was, in fact, the media trading outlet.

The store wasn’t busy when he strolled in, with no customers save for a couple of giggling white-and-blue android girls in the corner previewing something unfathomable on a small levitating glass screen. Whatever species they were meant to resemble certainly wasn’t humanoid--they had one long leg ending in an omnidirectional rolling ball joint, long flowing blue artificial hair growing from their shoulders, and a face in their chests, with no neck or head to be seen. The only thing even vaguely familiar looking about them were their arms… but even at that, each girl had four, and each arm had three sections and ended in a three fingered hand. River tried not to stare.

The store itself was well lit with a sleek, clean, modern interior. There was a genuine chrome finish across the entire counter, and chrome outlines of various basic geometric shapes were dotted across the store's inner walls as decoration. Surprisingly, there were no aisles of physical media… just a long counter with a series of levitating glass screens, each only a couple millimeters thick and with a nearly unseen black border on each side. There didn’t appear to be any projectors near them, so the technology must have been entirely built into this one millimeter bezel. River didn’t see the advantage over a regular TV, but the tech was admittedly impressive.

“What can I help you with?” an orange, vaguely football shaped man asked. His original language, from the snippet River heard before the translator kicked in, sounded like a series of wet squeaks. He was about River’s height, with two nub-like feet and two identical nubs on his head. His line of five eyes scanned River up and down, curiously.

“I’m looking for movies and music,” River replied.

“English!” the man boomed, with a smooth voice like chocolate. It took River a moment, but he nearly leapt backwards when he realized the translator voice was gone--the man was actually replying to him in English!

“You… know English?” River blurted, amazed.

“All true lovers of Old Earth films do,” he replied. He had a very slight nearly Southern Californian accent, but his English was truly impeccable. And that voice--he sounded like a late night DJ! “I take it that’s what you’re here for, traveler? You must have watched all forty seven--your English is too good to come from textbook learning.”

Oh, right. Nobody but ES members would know English as a native language in space, would they? “Forty seven?” River asked, confused.

“The Forty Seven Relics. Come on, man, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them?”

“I-I’m sure I have,” River stammered, “I’m just not familiar with the term itself. I’m an enthusiast, but I’m not in much contact with the community.”

“Understandable. Old Earth film buffs are the only group worse than regular Earthtaku. At least Earthtaku are fully aware they’re watching schlock.” The alien winked a few times with different eyelids, and the screen in front of River reacted accordingly, loading a clip of Citizen Kane. Since he didn’t have arms, this must be some kind of psionic control method, River reasoned. “The Forty Seven Relics are the term we lost media buffs use to refer to the forty seven films of Old Earth that were salvaged.”

“What happened to the others?” River blurted.

“It’s been four hundred years since the Fall of Man, my dude. The nukes launched in the chaos immediately following the plague destroyed nearly every once inhabited area. EMP strikes were launched by nations mistaking River’s attack for a United States one, intended to kill the cyborg survivors, further damaging existing technology. With the number of survivors of River’s Plague numbering in the triple digits, media servers fell into disrepair and finally gave up the ghost. Archeologists were able to find some ancient physical media, but the majority had either rotted or succumbed to disc rot. In the end, only Forty Seven films were able to be saved, and a handful of episodes of old shows. You know,” he continued, raising his middle three eyebrows, “for a Old Earth film buff, you sure are lacking in your history.”

“I grew up watching what I could salvage from traders here and there on my home planet,” River quickly bluffed. “I love the content, but the context has always been lost on me.”

“Well, I’m certainly glad I could teach you a thing or two then,” the man laughed. “Many are in your predicament, trapped on a planet with only their own culture’s media, walled off from so many masterworks except the few brought in and uploaded to local networks. Data moves too slowly through space for any culture’s media to be shared through SpaceNet--which is why I’m here. My name’s Beach, as you can see, this is my digital media emporium, offering more than any other trader of my kind in the known universe. You want Old Earth movies? I’ve got all 47. You want Plantasian jazz? I’ve got lossless recordings of seventy albums. Jeocolepian smut, illegal in even Jeocolepia? Hours of it, pal. Hours. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. And you are?”

“Joreo. The pleasure’s mine, Beach.” As eager as River was to start learning about space movies and music, he was too fascinated by his entire culture becoming lost media to drop the topic yet. “What Old Earth movies do you recommend?”

“Hmm… well, I could go off on personal favorites, but my tastes are far from the norm and often mocked, so… I’ll go with the five that are usually hailed as Old Earth’s greatest masterpieces. You won’t go wrong with Space Jam, Die Hard, Akira, Down Periscope, or Shrek.”

“Shrek?” River scoffed. “The sequel was so much better.”

Beach froze, all four of his eyes blaring, his pupils shrinking. Uh oh, River thought, must have said something wrong…

“Do you speak of… Shrek… 2?”

“Uh… yeah?”

Beach gulped. “Are you mocking me, sir?” he grumbled softly, leaning ominously across the desk over River. He was nearly eight feet tall and twice as wide, so he cast an imposing shadow.

“You d-don’t like Shrek 2?”

“Nobody,” Beach spat, “and I mean NOBODY, has seen so much as a trailer for Shrek 2 in four hundred years. It is the holy grail of lost media, conflicting tales of its plot details and scene and soundtrack passing down in so many rumors and legends. Some say it ends with an action scene set to a version of Holding Out For a Hero even more incredible than the Bonnie Tyler original, which is hailed across the vast expanses of space as one of the finest surviving Old Earth songs of all. And you--who don’t even know of the Fourty Seven Relics--YOU dare to come in here and say you’ve seen it!?”

“I’ve seen it, like, a hundred times,” River replied, trying not to laugh. “I have a copy of it on a removable drive. I had no idea it was such a big deal.”

Beach inhaled deeply. “If you’re not bluffing, boy,” he growled, “then I am about to make you a very, very wealthy man. Do you know what the bounty I have set on that film is?”

“Not right off.”

“Two hundred thousand tokens,” the man whispered, his eyes trembling.

“Help me envision this,” River suavely replied, trying desperately to cover the fact he had no idea how much a token was. “That’s a lot of money, a lot more than I’ve had in a long time. You’re clearly a high rollin’ kinda guy, so help me envision how much that actually is. What could that get me?”

“One hundred thousand tokens would buy you one of the fastest luxury terrestrial vehicles on the market, or a new, modular home on any of a dozen planets around here,” he replied. “It’s two times that.”

“Do you have a list of these ‘bounties’?” River asked.

Beach, flabbergasted, nodded and blinked different eyes a few times to bring up the list on the screen. “Scroll with your finger,” he instructed.

River’s eyes lit up as he scrolled through the movie list… then the shows list… then the music list. “You’d really pay this? For these?” he asked, putting on his best poker face.

“I’m an honest man, Joreo. I’m a legend in the lost media world, the top rated media trader in any galaxy. I’m good for every amount on that list put together ten times over, and they’re priced where I know for a fact I’ll profit in no time from selling copies to other shoppers.”

“I have nearly everything on this list, and many you haven’t even mentioned that I’m willing to bet you don’t have yet,” River said, glaring seriously into the man’s center eyes.

“You will forgive me for not believing you,” the man replied with a gulp. “But if you’re willing to prove it--”

“Give me ten minutes to grab my things from my ship,” River replied, racing out the door and back to his parking cubicle. He threw on his jacket over his spacesuit, stuffed all his drives in its pockets again, and bounded through the low-gravity crowds back to Entertainment Singularity as he could. When he got back, he was the only customer in the shop. He had Beach’s undivided attention.

“This is the drive with Shrek 2 on it,” he said powerfully, handing over the same drive he’d been streaming Power Rangers off of for Komo from earlier. “Go ahead, flip through the files, click through and see the quality and full length. There’s a petabyte on there.”

Beach telekinetically lifted the drive over the counter and examined it. “Huh, it’s a late USB standard, eh? This thing’s ancient. Where the hell’d you get it from?”

“Estate sale of a local collector,” River replied, not missing a beat.

“Incredible. Don’t worry, I’ve got an adapter for this. Hold on one second.” Beach bent over as much as his tiny nubs could, scrambling psychically through a box of assorted parts and adapters behind the counter, before finding the proper one and using it to plug the drive into the main computer serving all the screens. He floated another glass screen over to face him, mirroring what he was seeing on River’s screen so he could follow along. He headed right for the MOVIES folder, then 2000s, then DREAMWORKS, then Shrek 2. Expecting a prank, he sighed as he opened the file, but right from the logos in the intro he knew it was going to be the real deal.

Beach clicked incredulously through the video’s timeline with a series of carefully calculated blinks, his long, lipless mouth agape. When he jumped to the climax and heard Jennifer Saunders belting Holding Out for a Hero, all four of his large, perfectly circular, protruding eyeballs welled up with happy tears. “Pinch me, cause I must be dreaming,” he said, sniffing.

“No dreams here, my friend. This is all reality. Go ahead, see what else is on there.”

Beach clicked around the file system of the drive, audibly exclaiming every second or two as he came across shows and movies he’d never even heard of as well as many others on his bounty list. “This is outstanding!” he boomed, manic with excitement. “It’s in theater quality, no less! This file alone is massive! This is a treasure trove, the Ark of the Covenant of lost media! The Library of Alexandria! The--”

“This is one of thirty drives of mine,” Riven whispered. Beach fell over backwards and had to psychically lift himself back up.

“I’ll give you fifty million tokens for all of it, sight unseen” Beach boomed, stars in his eyes. “And I’ll back them up on a single drive that’s much more reliable and can interface with old and new technology, along with your originals once I finish copying them.”

“You can do much better than that,” River replied. “Shrek 2 was worth two hundred thousand tokens by itself, and this one drive alone has several thousand hours of content. Music, movies, TV shows... “

“What are you thinking?” Beach replied, failing very hard at his poker face.

“One hundred million.”

“You’re crazy,” Beach chuckled, sweating from the large, crater-like pores spread across his rubbery skin. “The only bounty over fifty thousand was Shrek 2 to begin with. There’s no way I could pay you that--”

“One hundred million, and you include your entire database of media you sell here on that backup drive you’re offering, or I’ll walk out that door right now and you’ll never get to see Shrek 2. Those thirty seconds skipping around you saw will be all that you’ll ever get to experience, your only bragging rights. And there’s so much more on these--”

“Deal!” Beach blurted, desperate. River grinned and emptied his pockets onto the counter. “It’ll take me a while to copy these over. Entertain yourself with some rare media from another planet in the meantime if you’d like. Just give me your token wallet credentials and I’ll go ahead and start that transfer as well. You sure know how to bust a guy’s balls, but in truth I’m making this purchase as a collector and enthusiast, not as a reseller. It'll take me forever to make this much back in sales... but I'll be the world's happiest film buff in the mean time.”

“You need credentials to my… what?” River asked, nervously.

“Your wallet creds. For your token wallet. Your transfer number? So I can send you the dough?”

“I don’t have one.”

Beach glanced shiftily around the entrance of the store. “You’re a space pirate, eh? You didn’t really get these from an estate sale, did y--”

“Do you want Shrek 2 or not?” River interrupted, slamming his fist on the desk.

“Whoah there, big guy,” Beach chuckled, leaning back. “I’m not going to turn you in or anything. I just… offer alternative payment methods, for special clientele.” He fiddled around behind the counter for a moment before floating a small cube onto the counter. “This is a physical token wallet that pairs to your DNA and requires biometric authorization whenever you spend from it. It’s identical to regular physical wallet cubes, but this is a black market model with a few… piratey touches. You can only put money in it once, and it costs a nub and a nub, so I normally don’t offer these and I charge a huge surcharge when I do. But since we’re exchanging a small planet’s economy here in one transaction today, I’ll include it for free. It’s legal tender anywhere, but there’s no trace on it--every time you spend from it, it gives a different transaction ID for the origin, since it generates a digital pre-paid card for each purchase. Nothing illegal, just a whole lotta loopholes--and you and your crew won’t have a single string leading back to you from using it.”

“That sounds acceptable,” River smirked.

“There’s no buyer or seller protection with this, mind you--once I load the money on it, there’s no way I could ever dispute it. So you will forgive me for waiting until I make sure all the drives have content before I complete the transfer, I presume?”

“Of course,” River calmly replied, grinning. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

The process took a while. River browsed through Beach’s media library as he waited, enjoying an unsubtitled Orvebean war serial about small, round beings (Orvebeans, of course) piloting massive bipedal weapons in a planetary war fought over a gorgeous alien princess (a rather offensive stereotype of a human female done with horrid CGI). Beach returned to the counter as soon as the second episode had finished, floating the drives, the cube, and a strange dull-white oval.

“Your drives check out, and I’m done copying them. I don’t care how you got it--I just thank the Zaxons that I got them.” River braced himself for the man to pull a gun out and try to pull a double cross, but no such excitement occurred. “This is an omnidrive,” he continued, placing the strange, slightly pliable, tiny little oval on the counter. “It can hold nearly infinite data, storing slash backing them up in countless storage centers in the pocket dimension inside. Normally a hundred thousand token purchase by itself, but again, given the magnitude of our deal, you can consider it a free gift from your new buddy Beach. Hold it near any port and it will automatically scan and present the proper port adapter from a series of adapters, also stored in the tiny singularity inside. It’ll work with anything from old USB 3 tech all the way up to cutting edge form factors like nanopt7.” River nodded, excitedly. “It’s got all your stuff backed up on it, along with my entire media library as well, again per our agreement.”

To demonstrate its legitimacy, he plugged it into the same port he’d watched Shrek 2 from and let River browse the file system, before unplugging it and placing it back on the counter. The tiny, rounded little adapter it had spawned slowly sank back into the slightly doughy egg-like thing, just as advertised. River played it cool, since this kind of tech might be commonplace in this time period, but he was screaming with awed excitement on the inside.

“As for the most important part of our deal…” Beach telekinetically floated the cube over so it was on the counter directly between them. “I’ve already loaded this with your money. You just need to link it to your DNA.” He blinked a couple eyes, and the top of the black cube slowly pulsated bright red. River somehow intuited the cube’s request, spitting on his gloved finger and pressing the saliva to the cube’s top. The color shifted to green instantly. “PAIRED,” it spoke, directly into River’s mind. “CURRENT BALANCE: ONE HUNDRED MILLION.”

“Well done,” he continued, “you pick things up quickly. You’ll have to do that each time you want to spend it. It’s a bit complicated, but I’ve included the manual on your backup drive. Super simple version--squeeze it to prompt DNA authorization, slobber on it so it turns green, then either hold it near the scanner if using it physically or use its current transfer number for distance sales. Remember, the transfer number changes each time--you’ll have to let it tell you in your mind fresh for every transaction.”

“You got it, buddy,” River beamed, putting the small cube and tiny omnidrive in his jacket’s zipping inner chest pocket (and stuffing the other drives back into the outer pockets). “A pleasure doing business with you, Beach.”

“Right back at you, Joreo!” he chirped back, widely grinning. River skipped excitedly out of the store, a wealth of interplanetary culture and more money than he could even fathom now close to his breast… and he lost nothing at all to do it. Or so he thought. As he watched River race out of the store, a realization struck Beach like lightning. He watched to make sure River was out of sight, then prompted the screens to all display “CLOSED - BACK SOON” in a rotating array of common languages. He slipped into the staff room and shuffled over to a shiny black pyramid on an end table near the back. His eyes blinked wildly with commands. In a moment, the pyramid spoke:


Beach blinked several times, and the call went through “Time to make back some of that hundred mil,” he chuckled to himself.

“You’ve reached the EarthSights HQ emergency FTL [(faster than light)] hotline,” said a bubbly girl on the other end of the line. “What is your emergency?”

“I need to speak to Lady Beb, NOW.”

“One moment.”

On a regular line, they’d ask him to clarify. Here, they knew every second was costing countless money and burning up countless antimatter caches, so they transferred him without giving it a second thought. Only five seconds later, a smooth female voice with a thick, indeterminate European accent picked up the call.

“What do you havings for me today, Beach? This has better be good for you to callings me on this line, it’s eatings up both of our fortune--”

“You’re not going to believe it, Lady Beb. River’s here--at this mall.”

“You’re right, I don’t believings it. It’s been 400 years, Beach. River is dead--”

“A grey-skinned man in an old ES spacesuit just traded in 30 petabytes of archived Old Earth media. Great, great stuff, and I paid him way too much for it--”

“Time is money, darling. I don’t carings about your boring shopkeeper life. Cuttings to the chase, or I will cuttings you!”

“--s-sorry, Lady Beb, I got excited. The thing is, those drives were an old USB standard. Nothing’s been made like that in four hundred years.”

“Old media collectors collectings old tech, Beach. And Jeocolepians are havings grey skin too, yes? You are delirious from stayings up very late watchings Space Jam over and over. You need to takings a vacation to a pleasure planet.”

“They were spotless, Lady Beb--and they still worked! Don’t you get it!? Those things wouldn’t last fifty years in a drawer without failing, and they work like new, all thirty of them!”

“What are you tryings to say?”

“It is impossible for them to work--unless they’re physically only a couple years old, and made it here through a freak hyperspace accident involving time displacement--along with River himself.”

"Very well. Sendings us his wallet credentials and we will goings on high alert for all purchases made with them, just in case."

"W-well," Beach stammered, "a-actually, I gave him a black market wallet that randomizes the ID for every purchase--"

"You dids what!?" she shrieked.

"I-I hadn't even thought about him being that guy yet! That occured to me after I'd gotten too far in to retract my offer!"

A very brief pause. “Very well. I will FTL callings our nearest agents to investigate, just in case your hypothesis turnings out to be accurate. The chances are teeny tiny, but I supposings if he really is runnings around with data from back then, it could meanings some very serious problems for ES.”

“Wh-what do you mean, Bebby?”

“You do not needings to know, peon,” she rumbled. “And how many times have I tolds you--Do! Not! Callings! Me! Bebby! The cost from my end is comings out of your reward moneys if you are right, too!”

“I hope you mean out of the tip-off fee. Since just sending credible information entitles me to fifty million tokens, per--”

“Yes, yes, fifty million minus the call charge. I am well awares. If this should provings credible, even more will be comings your way. Now--stop! Wastings! Money!”

The pyramid went to static, then silence.

“Should I feel guilty about turning in the guy who finally gave me Shrek 2?” Beach mumbled wistfully to himself. Just then, his own, legitimate wallet cube flickered blue, and he got the mental notification that 48 million tokens were now in his account, transferred from EarthSights. “No, you should not Beachy Boy,” he cackled softly, “Not. At. All.”

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