“What do you mean ‘the truth behind everything?’” I ask Jones as she continues to cry on my bedroom floor. You know, usually when I have a girl crying in my bedroom, it’s because I’m doing a good job. This is ruining my reputation, here.
No, this isn’t the time for jokes, is it?
She clears her throat, shakes her head rapidly, and then elaborates. “Okay. Last night, while I was running around trying to prepare to take over that film shoot in Piedmont Park, I decided to break into Dreamtech’s corporate headquarters. Their security was lax enough and I disabled most of the guard robots without alerting anybody, so when I went into Sonny Piramal’s office and stumbled upon his personal computer, still logged in with no password protection, I was not surprised. But when I looked at his files… I’m in over my head. I should never have gone this far.”
Tell me about it.
“Do you really want to know why Epstein is sending all these thugs out to beat people up and murder anyone associated with me?” she continues. “Because Dreamtech is not a normal company. They don’t just make some gimmicky helmets designed to help people reach REM sleep. It’s so much more than that. They can scrape marketing data. Insert subliminal messaging. And in extreme circumstances, they can take control of the users, force them to sleepwalk and… That’s just what I read about one memo. But that memo was shared between Piramal and former company President Nigel Nakazawa, and the latter of the two died two years ago. Plane crash. Ruled as an accident and never investigated.”
“That’s certainly suspicious.”
“And it goes further,” Jones says. “Sonny Piramal himself hasn’t been seen in public for over three weeks. The Dreamtech Helmets are supposed to ship in a month and their CEO is missing? It’s… not good.
“It’s all about something called the ‘Ascendants.’ Some of the emails I read mentioned it and some of the schematics used the word in their notes. From what I can tell it’s some sort of group or person. I already know Dreamtech’s helmet is nothing but heinous but this goes far beyond that..”
I scoff. “Why the hell would Atlanta let them sell such a stupidly dangerous… Ah, it all makes sense. I’m so dumb.” I finally understand it. Dreamtech isn’t a small company looking to break into the market– they’re a goldmine waiting to be tapped. “They’re going to turn half of Atlanta into sleepwalking zombies who really want to buy Bustable lemon juice.”
“Yeah,” she says.
“Epstein probably wants out, but he’s too far gone at this point. All he cares about is saving his legacy,” I say.
Jones nods. “I can understand. He’s a lot like me. But someone who’s willing to harm innocent people to save their legacy are not worthy of any sort of legacy. So he can’t be saved. Neither can I.”
“No, you can still get out. I told you–”
“Shut up about the helping thing. Whoever your friend is, they can’t beat the entire world. Everyone is after me. Not just Epstein and Piramal and all the corrupt officials; Blyth and Magitek want me gone, too, for hurting their stock prices. The police want me out so they can focus on a more relevant investigation. The media wants me gone so they can start a new news cycle. I’m the villain here. Jelly already banned my account after my identity was revealed, after someone hacked it.”
So even the Social Media Killer herself is prone to being outed via social media.
Jones stands up and brushes off her tear-stained hoodie. “As you can see, there’s only one thing left for me to do.”
“What exactly is that, Jones? Give yourself up? Keep running?”
“That’s exactly the thing I didn’t want to hear you say.”
“Dreamtech is already opening its factories. The first helmets are going on-sale for the May holidays and if they aren’t stopped now, they’re going to destroy Atlanta. The ‘Ascendants’ will win unless I expose everything.”
“That’s a bit extreme.”
“I’m an extreme girl.”
“Haven’t most of your attacks been… you know… virtual?”
“Yes, and that’s not good enough.” Jones bends down and picks up the knives from my carpet. She puts them back onto the holster hidden under her hoodie.
I stand in front of the sliding door and spread my hands out. “We need to talk about this, Jones. You’re going to do something you will regret forever. You will never be able to return to your normal life if you–”
She rams into me in a headbutt, jumps behind me, and puts a knife up to my throat. I struggle to break free, but considering one of my arms is in a sling, it’s not working.
“I told you, it’s too late for me!” she shouts. “I told you to stop this and you didn’t. You’re breaking our truce!”
“I definitely never agreed to any truce,” I say. “Can you not make me your first murder?”
She lets go but keeps the knife at my neck. “My normal life is over. My family probably hates me, and I’ll be arrested the moment I ever try to see them again. There’s no point in trying to pretend there’s hope for me. So get off my back and leave me be.”
“I feel like I don’t have much of a choice here,” I say.
“Your mouth is going to end up getting you killed.” She begins to slowly remove the knife from my neck, but then there are three loud knocks at the door.
Jones lets go of me and immediately hops into my closet to hide. She’s lucky half my wardrobe was stolen, so it’s empty enough that she can actually fit in there.
That knock was very peculiar. Can’t be Karina. She’s still at whatever she does on Fridays, right? “Who is it?” I call out.
No answer. Considering the circumstances, this may actually be fairly unwise for me to do anything about. It’s too late at night to be a neighbor and the police aren’t going to knock without saying something. I really don’t want to get attacked again. But at least whoever this is is being a lot more courteous than the last three instances of people breaking into my house without asking.
I venture back into the living room, open the door, and it’s–
Oh. It IS Karina.
And R8PR too?
“Here’s your order,” Karina says. “One robot, extra cynicism. That’ll be nine-fifty.”
Snark? Hardly appropriate at this point.
“Hold on, let me get your tip,” I say. “I turn back towards my bedroom.and shout, “It’s okay!”
Jones steps out and sees the two people in front of me.
“Jones, this is Karina and R8PR. Karina and R8PR, this is the Social Media Killer.”