At first glance, the old Space Invaders cabinet looks as though it has eaten its last quarter. Though it remains plugged into the wall, its monitor has gone black; however, the color is just a few shades too dark to fool an expert. The thief presses his right palm against the screen’s center, then taps its corners with a metal pick in his left hand, checking for resonance. He feels the signature hum, revealing that the machine is in fact still alive. Perhaps this arcade isn’t as abandoned as it seems.
He pulls an oxygen potion from the pocket of his coat, then takes a long draught. The fluid is as fresh as peppermint and as stimulating as nicotine. He pulls his scarf up over his nostrils, then smashes his pick through the glass. The reaction is nearly instantaneous. Jagged clouds of vantablack phosphenes explode through the opening, throwing him backwards several meters and splattering his coat with dead pixels. He can smell black neon in the air, the heaviest of the six impossible gases.
Within minutes, the geyser ends, but the whole arcade is now aglow with virtual shadow. He gets up and coughs, brushing off as much of the residue as he can, but the effect cannot be undone. His coat is peeling apart and folding through itself, failing to rasterize. He can’t even count his own fingers, suggesting that the glitch may have even managed to get under his own skin. This treasure had better be worth it.
He staggers his way back to the machine, then gazes down into its electrical entrails through the hole where its screen used to be. At the bottom of the cabinet, he sees countless points accumulated by anonymous players over the decades, made tangible by soaking in that strange gas. They have been made manifest as millions of tiny transparent coins, each flickering softly in the toxic air. The broken hulls of fingernail-sized spaceships lie scattered among them, tombs to mark ancient game overs.
What the virtual world has forgotten, the physical has learned how to remember.