There’s a flash, and then there’s white– a lot of white.
My first thought is that I’m in Heaven. Crap, but I don’t even believe in God, so this must mean I’m about to get sent somewhere very hot…
But one moment later I realize I’m just in a hospital room. Okay, okay. That’s fine.
There’s a middle-aged woman standing over me, looking at my arm which sears out in pain every time anything touches it.
“Wow… I don’t even understand how this tissue can already– Oh, you’re awake!”
“What… happened to me?”
“Seems like you werewere assaulted out in the streets earlier this evening,” the nurse says. “You took a nasty blow to your head. Do you remember your name?”
“Morgan. Today’s Friday, March 25th. I’m in Cobb County, Atlanta.” I’ve been through this drill before. Unfortunately.
She begins wrapping my arm in bandages, preparing it for a cast.
“Well, Morgan,” she says. “While your phone was recovered intact, your wallet and ID were stolen, so we could not identify you. You will need to fill out this form for us so we can bill you for–” I stop listening to her as she continues to talk about procedure I’m obviously going to ignore.
Jones Burrow. She was the one all along.
The Social Media Killer.
How didn’t we see this coming? It doesn’t make any sense. Well… I guess between my intuition and R8PR’s analysis, we got it ALMOST right… But… where the hell did any of this come from?
And she stole my wallet. That cannot be good. Ugh, I had fifty bucks in there, and my transit pass!
“–and your tissue is healing remarkably well.” She’s still talking, wow. It’s all about my exceptional healing abilities, but I’m in enough pain right now that just the thought that I’m better than a normal human annoys me.
She slips my cast on, and from this point on I am deprived of the ability to itch my left hand. “I would recommend wearing your cast for the next few weeks, but only as a precaution. I can’t really explain how your wounds have already sealed and–”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “To you I’m just some anonymous person who wandered into an emergency room. I’m really grateful for your help, but you know I’m not going to pay for the ridiculous hospital fees and I’m just going to leave.”
The nurse nods. “I understand.”
I get up and put on my shirt. “Thank you for this cast though.”
“You know, I noticed scar tissue on your head. It isn’t fresh. If you’re doing something dangerous, you really need to cut it out, or you could cause some serious trouble to your brain, Morgan.”
“Trust me, I know.”
I look in my shirt pocket and see a gaping hole inside. Oh, geez.
Now what do I have, four wearable shirts?
I’m glad she didn’t snatch my phone, because I need to call Karina. We’re going to have to have an emergency meeting with R8PR. Now.
Back at the church.
R8PR, Karina, and I are standing around looking at the screen that R8PR’s eyes are projecting onto the wall, a reflection of his built-in portable PC. He is rapidly flipping through pages all across the internet as fast as his wireless modem connection can load them, and making a strange groan. His vocal synthesizer is very advanced for a robot’s, but it still sounds, well, synthesized, so the chirps sound a bit like some experimental noise musician’s mixtape.
“Hmmm…. I just can’t believe this, R8PR says. “Who the hell is Jones Burrow?”
“What do you mean?” Karina asks. She came all the way out in the middle of the night to help me with this, and it was so sudden all she’s wearing is a cardigan over her pajamas, pink with a cute bunny print. It’s pretty cold out tonight by Atlanta standards, so I feel bad for her. “She’s just some girl taking her A-level classes, right?”
“From anything I can find, there is no public mention of Jones on Netnect, none whatsoever. Now that I look at some photos of her family I can see her in them, but she’s almost like a ghost. Absolutely no social media presence beyond that Jelly account, which really seems like a ruse now that I think about it.”
“She’s also a Middlebridge student, and she specializes in physics for her A-levels, but that also means she’s on the math & science track, complete with computer science classes. I should have known,” R8PR says.
“Well, we know who the real Social Media Killer is now, for sure,” I say. “Kylia never looked the type, anyway. During–” I stop for a moment to push away the pain stemming from my left arm. “During the interview, I met her and she just seemed like an average nice girl. I don’t know why we even considered it, now that I think about it.”
“The evidence for Kylia was all related, but it was just one degree away from the truth.” The screen switches to images of Kylia and Jones along with a large gathering of volunteers for a highway cleanup project. She’s next to Kylia, wearing a clearly-fake smile and has her hands by her sides while everyone else poses for the camera. And then it switches to an image of Jones and the rest of her basketball team. “Now this investigation is really picking up. I was worried it would be too easy.”
“Saying that as the one who wasn’t beaten up, threatened, and then stabbed,” I grumble.
“Well, we aren’t done yet,” he says. “There’s still time for you to get fried, sauteed, and smashed too.”
“R8PR… Be nice to Morgan,” Karina says. “It’s true that this is becoming really dangerous. If we know who the Social Media Killer is, then we should just report her to the police and be done with it.”
“I can’t do that,” I say. “Not after all this.”
“Eh?” Karina looks at my cast and then back at me, one eyebrow raised. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with this in the first place.”
“Well… She needs to be stopped, but… she’s not doing anything WRONG. She’s attacking people who deserved to be attacked. Uh, besides me. Putting her in custody will just sweep it all under the rug and I’ll never know why any of this happened. It’s infuriating.” My curiosity’s honestly gotten the better of me now. I want this whole deal to be over as much as the next person, but now that I’m all up and invested in this, I want to see it through to the end.
I’m more like R8PR than I care to admit.
“Morgan’s right,” R8PR says. “We’ve already come pretty far, and we should at least see how it plays out. With everything we’ve learned, we can draw at least a few dots together. Arnold Burrow WAS in the Cobb County School Board, but departed and took a job that some would consider a downgrade. Kendrick Deal was also on that council at the time. If his lips were loose enough, who’s to say his daughter didn’t find out a whole lot she shouldn’t have?”
The dark environment lit dimly by the projection on the wall makes this church an eerie place to be standing around i. It also creates the perfect mood for trying to piece together this strange puzzle.
“I wonder if Jones is connected to any of the other high schoolers that she ‘killed?’” Karina asks.
“Well, let’s see if my databanks come up with anything,” R8PR says.
The computer screen rapidly flips through pictures of Philip Rogers, one of the really early victims, before stopping on one where Philip and fifteen other people, including Jones, are posing for the camera. Jones is giving a stilted pose, her smile lacking any energy. She doesn’t stand out in the image if you’re only glancing, but she really makes the whole picture a lot more unhappy. “This is the only picture with both of them in there on all of Netnect. So they were in one class together, but that’s it.”
“Maybe she’s the ex-girlfriend he cheated on?” I ask.
“That’s hardly the best punishment for a cheater,” Karina says. “Firing squad would be more appropriate.”
“No way to know without more research,” R8PR says.
More research… We’ve done so much recently.
“So we should try and talk to her parents,” Karina says.
“I just did that,” I say, raising my cast towards her.
“Well, I mean… Differently.”
“That will just spook her,” I say. “No, we have to do something different, like–”
R8PR laughs. “You guys are gonna go to Middlebridge High School tomorrow and yourselves!”
When– when did I sign up for THAT?
(When I got saved by R8PR, of course.)
Karina raises an eyebrow. “Won’t that be a bit suspicious?”
“Yes, you should, and no, you can definitely still pass as a high schooler, both of you.”
“Hey.” That is really rude, I think. I’m almost offended.
“What I mean is, Jones did JUST attack Morgan and is probably super prepared for us to do something. We’ll go to the school and end up in the infirmary.”
“She can’t actually attack you without revealing herself, so it’s okay,” R8PR says. “All you have to do is go around and ask about Jones Burrow, and also not get caught and arrested for trespassing on a high school campus.”
“Sounds awesome,” I say.
“You should probably focus on those two early hacks: Philip Rogers and Courtney Trudeau. As we’ve seen, Philip was in a photo with Jones, and Courtney was in a photo with her sister Kylia. Both got hacked, and both are definitely personally-connected.”
“You’re probably right…” Karina seems pretty worried. “Wait, do I really still look like a high schooler?”
“You’re nineteen,” I say. “It’s not really much difference.”
“Oh.” I legitimately can’t tell if Karina is flattered or embarrassed about this. “Well then… I guess we gotta go and get this Social Media Killer case solved.”
“Karina, are you sure about that?” I ask. “This is all getting very dangerous.”
“Yes! I hate just standing around waiting for stuff to happen. No more excluding me.”
As much as I hate seeing Karina fall into peril alongside me…that’s probably the logical option here.
That image of Jones’s eyes looking at mine as we stood in the doorway is now burned into my mind. She seemed curious, her expression neutral and analytic. But that was the key; she didn’t try to appear non-threatening. She didn’t hide anything at all, and that’s how she almost got away with it.
But she blew it. She got cocky and attacked me out in the open. And now, thanks to that, we are going to find out the truth.