I stared in astonishment as my employer typed the name of her destination to the search bar.
"But, that's...That's in CHINANET. Are you telling me that we risked our asses to get over here just so that we could become Old food right afterwords?!"
"You were told the job was risky", she told me, as the link opened. We jumped in, as fast as we could: Our hacker, a fellow named Biggs, was the last, the firewalls already breaking up under the relentless assault of the monstrous denizens of this place. "Besides, the Olds have moved on. They destroyed the place, and there's nothing here left for them."
"Then what's there left for us?"
"You'll see." As we stepped forth, a scene of total destruction welcomed us. All signs pointed that this had once been a thriving community, a great and glorious webfort - reduced to nothing but broken data, glitches, bugs, and a very occasional intact file, which we all gathered up. Most links were gone: Pretty much the only way to CHINANET was now through Google, which wasn't an option for most people, especially since there was nothing left here.
"We were promised great riches and glory for this job," Biggs said. "Pardon me for doubting you, boss, but I don't see any of either around here."
"Don't doubt me," Alex just said, in her regular stoic way. "You'll get your riches yet. Now stand back." We did so, as she produced an old data key from her pocket, resulting in a silent gasp of surprise from my lungs and a couple of impressed whistles from other members of our party. "Is that a sign-up key?", I asked. She nodded, as a new portal, this one of bright orange color, opened up in the thin air.
Sign-up keys were rare: They were the only way to access someone's personal computer, other than being that computer's owner yourself, unless you wanted to try and get through some top-security virus protections and firewalls. There was a very high chance that even the Olds couldn't breach through. Most people would never find the way back to their own computers - they usually even had no idea of where to look.
Personal computers could hold literally EVERYTHING inside them: At last we saw how rich and powerful we could potentially become.
We stepped through, and observed our new surroundings. It was neat, very clean, much more so than anywhere else we had ever seen, and we had seen a lot of stuff. Thousands of folders, hundreds of gigs worth of files, waited for us, everywhere we looked. Alex helpfully told us that most of the stuff was entirely worthless, nothing but text files concerning work or something equally boring, and directed us into those few folders that contained all the good stuff. While the rest of the group spread out for looting, I opted following Alex instead, as I was rather curious of her reasons and motives of coming here. She didn't seem to mind. "So, whose computer was this?"
She didn't answer, and I didn't press the matter. We walked past several folders, until she finally picked one, a password protected. I couldn't make up the name, my language skills nonexistent, but she told me it said "For Alex". Inside, there was nothing but a single short video file. "That's meant for you, then?", I asked. The name of the folder was a bit of a giveaway.
"Strictly speaking, it was meant for my grandmother."
And she told me about the quest of her family, that had taken three generations to accomplish. This computer belonged to her great-grandfather, who had intended to post this video as a birthday gift for his seven-year-old daughter Alex, living with her mother in France. But then the Fall happened, and he had never had the time to do it.
She held a small data file for me to see. "What's left of my grandma," she said silently. "I don't think her father will gain peace until she has seen this video, and she won't gain peace until he has. So I brought her here. To watch this."
We watched the video together. It contained nothing but a short, Chinese man telling how much he loved his daughter, but it was nonetheless very sweet.
With a blissful, content sigh, the file Alex was holding broke apart and vanished.