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In 1982, immediately following the Summit, Astrodyne offered a radical redesign of the Micro. The case was slimmed way down. The modem, hard drive and floppy drives were completely removed, replaced by a little black box containing nothing but a self-destruct mechanism which melted itself when it was scanned by x-rays or ultrasound. This black box was simply a locator for El Shaddai to place one end of a wormline linking back to some- thing she called the "Mother Node" deep inside her stellar body. This loca- tor also served as a kind of GPS, something Robyn glimpsed in Reality 2.0.

Files were transferred and stored totally encrypted by El Shaddai herself. Even the latest BOSS operating system and GUIDE windowing environment were downloaded from the Mother Node at each boot, with on-the-fly decryption unpacking files during runtime and absolutely goring Winspire's cash cow of reverse engineering. Customers could now carry just the keyboard unit (with a battery) and a headset and use their Micro as a telephone with no long-distance charges, or as a music player. Storage and bandwidth was ef- fectively infinite and not even limited by the speed of light. This fact was soon exploited by stock market traders until federal regulators caught on and implemented a sixty second delay for every trade.

Movies as well as music began to be shared freely. Over a hundred million Micro-82s were sold. Thousands of songs and films became available in the Swarm for free, which soon impacted sales. The music and film industry re- alized it had a problem with a business model which depended on an artifi- cial scarcity of content. Money sloshed around from lobbyists and soon Ford's Attorney General ordered Astrodyne to suspend all operations until they could be cleared of being accessory to Intellectual Property theft.

Astrodyne complied to this order without filing for a stay in court or even a word of complaint, which by itself sort of threw the government for a loop. The company suspended the manufacture of all new Micros in the Unit- ed States, but continued to make and sell the units internationally, total- ly unabated. The value of unsold Micros already on retail shelves in the United States doubled overnight and would only go up from there. A thriv- ing Micro smuggling trade appeared along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Machines that fell into disrepair were cannibalized for their "black boxes" to be retrofitted into older Micros, or became the heart of a local server tied back into the Mother Node with other Micros networked to it.

Black market sales of Micros in the US were conducted in the Swarm using existing Micros, either owned by users or in computer stores. Micros were manufactured in Mexico, smuggled across the border, and arrived by ad hoc package delivery methods that could not be traced back to the source. With encryption in place, Astrodyne then rolled out the concept of Microbux, electronic money which could be transformed to and from hard currency using local couriers for a nominal fee that included a small kickback to Astro- dyne. Tappers tried their luck getting Microbux, but Astrodyne guaranteed customers against any loss. They could certainly afford to do so, since Micros, as always, remained priced at $499 and the profit margin was huge.

After this quantum leap in technology, the evolution of Astrodyne's hard- ware leveled off. Micros grew incrementally smaller, but the essentials remained the same. A classic Micro-82 would continue to work with the Swarm in the 1990s and far beyond. The United States government continued to put all their eggs in the Winspire basket, but the Redmond systems never approached the technology of even the Micro-81 and they remained more ex- pensive by a factor of at least three. None of them could access the bulk of the Swarm as it migrated over to the Mother Node.

At that point, innovation of the Swarm became democratized, and passed out of the hands of Astrodyne. The Twenty-first Century arrived a generation early to citizens of even the poorest nations, texting or talking to one another with video phones, while the citizens of the United States remained mired in the 1970s as a deliberate policy of the Ford Administration.

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