Long rows of old and dilapidated buildings, covered with rust, stretched as far as the eye could see. In their windows, rotten blinds were shaking, shaken by the intense and cold breeze that swept the desert sand around that ruin, which was once the largest of Hephaestus' mining towns.
-Are you sure this is it? -said Romina, dropping her heavy rucksack on the floor -. I can't walk any more, we had to rent a slider.
-Come on Romina, we have to go on -said Giovanna, stretching out to pull her partner-. It will soon be dawn and the day will begin to heat up, and you know how much the temperature rises at this time of year.
-How much longer till we get there?. -Romina asked.
-We are close, according to the positioning system we are half a kilometre away, -she said, pointing in the direction of two twin buildings, located at the end of the street they were walking -. It must be in the central square, in front of those two towers, it must be down there.
Romina reluctantly lifted her heavy rucksack and they continued to advance through the dusty streets of the ruined city.
Talos, was for a little over two thousand years, the main industrial and mining center of Hephaestus, several dozens of companies manufacturing mechanisms, nanomachines and engines, for all types of buildings, had their main headquarters in the now abandoned and rusty buildings. Even the Consortium, the largest technological corporation that has ever existed, had its origin in these old ruins.
-These are the exact coordinates, -said Giovanna, looking at the positioner flashing on her bracelet-. According to the old man, we should dig here about five meters and we should find it.
-Well, I'll assemble the excavator, you install the power source- -Romina said, dropping the backpack on the ground again -. It's a relief to get this off my chest -she said -. You still haven't explained to me where you got the information.
-Ten years ago, I worked for a few months servicing the machines in a homeless shelter, -she explained, as she took out of her backpack the source of batteries to run the excavator, which her partner was unpacking-. There I met an old man, about nine hundred years old, named Leonard or at least that's what he told me, he liked to flirt with me and tell me about his past glories, he said that in his youth he had been part of the Grim Reaper.
-The Grim Reaper, what's that? -Interrupted Romina, as she adjusted the denturbation roller of the excavator.
-It was an old mafia, which had its territory between Heracles, Niobe and Hephaestus, they were traffickers and smugglers, they were not really a big deal, they could not attract much attention, being under the very nose of the Parliament, -explained Giovanna-. The Niobe police arrested most of their leaders about five hundred years ago and they ended up disintegrating into small, unimportant gangs, just a few small-time criminals.
-You said he was an old man of about nine hundred, what was he doing in a shelter, at that age he couldn't be that bad, -Romina asked.
-He hadn't had an easy life, it seems, the crime didn't pay off with him, because his nanobots were almost depleted, and he was over three hundred years old that he didn't get an upgrade, plus he was addicted to THC, in short, he was finished.
-I understand, but you haven't finished telling me how you found out about this place -interrupted Romina.
-You didn't let me explain either -said Giovanna, and then she turned on the power source and saw how the excavator started to turn its roller while emitting an annoying buzz -. The old man told me that on one occasion he and several of his comrades had to flee from the Hephaestus police and take refuge in the ruins of Talos, there, while hiding in the basement of an old factory, they found it, and thought of hiding it from the police so that they could come later and sell it on the black market.
-And why, if they found him in a basement, are we here digging? -Romina said.
-Because we are over that basement, she said, as they moved away to make room for the excavator to do its work-. Look around, there are fifteen buildings and all of them must have extensive basements below, I don't know which one the entrance is, but the old man, in one of his THC delusions, told me the coordinates of the place where he was.
-So here we are, after walking several miles in the middle of the night, carrying two heavy backpacks, for leaving the ship behind the hills, to avoid being detected by the patrols, only to dig in the place that an old addict, sick and probably insane, told you was buried - said Romina, raising her voice.
-That's right, and be quiet, we don't know when the patrols can start their rounds, it's going to be dawn soon - said Giovanna.
-Damn, 'cause I always follow you around in your craziness.
The excavator moved around drawing a circle while expelling the earth around it. After ten minutes a deep circular hole five meters deep was in front of the two women.
-Well, it's done, let's go down then and get it over with, -said Romina. Both dropped into the hole and continued to dig with shovels, until they hit the slab of what could be the roof of the basement they were looking for.
Using a plasma torch they opened a hole in the roof and entered a large room, crowded with old, rusty metal containers, abandoned shelves and old, possibly useless machines, right under the hole they had opened was a dirty old black polymer container.
-This must be it, it's right under the coordinates the old man said, -said Giovanna.
-It seems it was true then, -said Romina-. Let's open it up and see if it has what he told you.
Romina took an extendable bar from one of the pockets of her overalls and used it to pry open the container's zipper without putting up much resistance.
They lifted the thin but hard lid of the container and inside was just what the old man had said. Carefully arranged in several layers, which were piled up to the bottom of the box, were about five hundred small containers, five by five centimeters, each containing a tiny device called Accela, a neuronal stimulator, which implanted in the skull of a person, was able to simulate in the brain, the same effect of several types of recreational drugs, according to the wishes of its carrier.
Accela was once sponsored by Parliament, as part of research into the effects of some drugs, but then, given its potential, it was produced en masse by several unscrupulous laboratories, due to the legal vacuum over its distribution. Finally, Parliament banned its distribution and it was completely withdrawn from the market.
A few containers, like the one in front of Giovanna and Romina, had survived, but most of them were destroyed by the same gangs of traffickers, due to the "unfair" competition for their products. That is why, now, more than a thousand years after its almost total disappearance, the existence of Accela was almost a myth, one that, if true, would have great value on the black market.