The Little Shop That Could

Ben Greenaway
Jun 2 · 5 min read

A story written for Tales from the CyberSalon — #2 A New High Street by Vaughan Stanger

Milena stared at the flashing sign hovering above the exhibition’s entrance, then glanced over her shoulder.

“Mum, why is it called moths?”

“M-O-T-H-S stands for the Museum of the High Street. I did say that’s where we’re going.”

“What’s a high street?”

“You’ve heard of Amazon?”

Milena nodded.

“Well, a high street was like a mini-Amazon arranged on either side of a road.”

The double doors swept open to reveal a long, gritty-floored hallway, with lots of signs and doors and tall windows. Fluffy holo-clouds floated beneath the pale blue ceiling.

“So, are those shops?”

Her mum chuckled. “That’s right. Your gran worked in one selling cosmetics and medicines.”

Milena’s gran joined them, having successfully exchanged crypto for something called “hard cash” outside. She pointed towards a blue sign with curvy white lettering.

“Boots was the last shop to close where I lived.”

She sounded sad.

A weird-looking robot made of metal rods wobbled up to them. One of its wheels was spinning like an app that had crashed. Its cyber-eyes blinked a greeting.

“Can I help you?”

Its cheerful voice made Milena smile.

“No, thanks,” said her mum. “We don’t need a guide.”

“It’s not too late to change your — “

“No thanks!”

The robot wobbled away, searching for other visitors. Milena had counted five so far — all adults.

“What was that thing?”

“A shopping trolley,” said her mum. “We won’t need it.”

“Too pushy,” her gran said.

Milena’s mum groaned. “How about we do some window shopping?”

Whatever that was.

“Okay.”

After they’d walked past several shopfronts, Milena pointed to one topped by a bright green sign.

“What did Oxfam sell?”

Her gran sighed. “Second-hand clothes and books, mostly.”

“What’s second-hand?”

“Stuff people donated because they didn’t need it anymore.”

Milena wrinkled her nose. “Who would buy that?”

“Other people.”

Her frown deepened. “But why?”

The two adults exchanged glances.

Her mum said, “Oxfam helped poor people.”

“Oh, I see.”

At least Milena thought she did. She knew poor people were extinct. A bit like moths and tigers and both Amazons.

“Can we go in?”

“I’m not sure — “

“Nonsense,” said Milena’s gran. “We’re here to shop!”

Milena followed her inside. Ignoring the rails of holo-clothes, she headed straight for the tall shelves at the back.

Eyes wide, she said, “Are those real books?”

Her gran shook her head. “I shouldn’t think so.”

Milena reached up for one with a statue of a tiger on its cover.

Her mum snapped, “Don’t touch!”

The book disappeared. Her gran laughed.

“Too late!”

Milena’s mum sighed. “I knew that would happen.”

Outside the shop, the wonky-wheeled trolley waited for them, its cyber-eyes still blinking. The holo-book floated within its metal frame.

“Please pay for your shopping after you leave this exhibition.”

Both adults chuckled.

Her gran said, “Exit via….”

“…gift shop!”

Milena didn’t understand what was so funny, but it didn’t matter. She had been shopping. That’s what counted.

#

The gift shop contained lots of shelves and clothes rails, all empty. An Ubi hummed in the corner. Milena frowned because their trolley was now empty.

“Where’s my book?”

Her gran smiled. “We have to pay for it first.”

“You know, I could still grab the code so we could ubi it at home,” her mum said. “That wouldn’t cost anything.”

Milena crossed her arms. “But it wouldn’t be shopping!”

Her gran nodded vigorously. “Milena’s right! Don’t worry dear, I’ll pay.”

“Are you sure?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

Milena’s mum sighed. “Okay, just this once.”

When her gran fed a plastic note into the indicated slot, the Ubi purred like Milena’s virtual cat.

Her mum frowned as though she now regretted the visit.

“No wonder this place is closing next month. No one really misses shopping.”

“I do,” said her gran.

“Ha! You just miss eating out.”

“Well yes, that too!”

Milena frowned. “What’s eating out?”

Her gran replied: “After the shops disappeared, people still went to the high street to eat. But the Great Pandemic of ’31 ended that. Soon afterwards, the government gave every household an Ubi, so there wasn’t any reason to eat out anymore.”

“But your gran loves a touch of nostalgia,” Milena’s mum said. “She thought you might enjoy this exhibition.”

Her gran gave Milena a serious look. “You did enjoy it, didn’t you?”

Milena nodded but her attention was now on the delivery tray. The Ubi had stopped purring. Her book slid out. She snatched it up before it disappeared too.

Every page delivered magic. She gazed in wonder at the statues of lions and elephants and other extinct things.

Her mum tapped the book’s cover. “Our Ubi could make any of those.”

Milena shook her head. “I’ve got a much better idea!”

She didn’t want something made for her. She wanted to make something for herself. For that, she’d need some modelling clay. Their Ubi could provide it but only if she recycled other stuff first. Unless her gran topped up her feedstock allowance. And once she’d made her animals, she would need somewhere to display them.

Happily, she had an idea about that.

#

The elderly man accompanying the boy frowned.

“Are you sure you want it?”

The boy nodded.

“Why?”

“Cos it wasn’t made by an Ubi. Jamie’s got two already!”

The man muttered something about a “fad”.

“Please!”

The boy didn’t seem to mind that the unicorn wasn’t one of Milena’s better efforts. Keeping up with demand was difficult. The supply of clay was no longer a problem, now that the Ubi which owned the MOTHS building had approved her business plan, but she could only skip so much school.

The man turned to Milena. “Is this thing really an Ubinot?”

She smiled at him. “Yes, it is.”

He sighed while placing his money on the counter. Milena wrapped the unicorn in paper and handed it to the boy.

Once they’d gone, she waved at her gran, who was standing on the opposite side of the “road” but too busy to respond while welcoming families into the café.

The High Street was booming again.

#

During their journey home, Milena asked her gran about fads.

Within a week, she’d opened a new shop selling second-hand Ubinots.

***

Vaughan Stanger

talesfromthecybersalon

Speculative short sci-fi from the think tank on networked culture.

talesfromthecybersalon

Cybersalon is a UK-based collective and think-tank focusing on the process and effect of the digital revolution in industry, society and its emerging digital cultures. Founded 1997. Reformed 2013. https://cybersalon.org

Ben Greenaway

Written by

I write to avoid a life in politics and to shortcut the product development cycle!

talesfromthecybersalon

Cybersalon is a UK-based collective and think-tank focusing on the process and effect of the digital revolution in industry, society and its emerging digital cultures. Founded 1997. Reformed 2013. https://cybersalon.org