R8PR takes a long look at Jones.
She does the same at him.
Karina takes a step to the side to avoid being caught in the staredown, and automatically blushes.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” R8PR says to Jones. “I am Sage, the first sentient robot.”
“Don’t call yourself ‘Sage.’ Stop it.”
He ignores me. “I’ve taken a great interest in your work. Truly, you belong in the hall of fame for human beings with incredible tenacity. The fire in your eyes… it’s stronger than I ever imagined.”
I roll my eyes. Jones seems unperturbed.
“I’ve read rumors about you,” she says. “In the Dreamtech corporate files, they talk about some robot that was supposed to premiere at that big summer tech expo, and how it was supposed to change the world. It never showed up and the company folded later that year.”
“If you’re involved with whatever the Ascendants are, I want to know.”
“The who?” R8PR’s LED eyes turn into question marks.
Jones turns to me. “Morgan, I think your robot friend is less of a genius than he realizes.”
“I tell him the same thing every day,” I say.
Karina, who has been slinking off to the corner of my still-a-wreck living room, finally decides to speak. “So this meeting is fine and all, but… why is the Social Media Killer here in your apartment, Morgan…?”
“She’s giving up.”
“I am absolutely not.”
“Yeah, she’s decided she has hurt too many people and–”
Jones shoots a sharp glance at me. “–And it’s too late to repent. I can’t apologize and I can’t turn back now.”
“She… wants to destroy Dreamtech. Like, in real life.”
“Any way we can help?” R8PR asks.
“No, only I can do it. And I can only do that with drastic measures.”
She’s still insane.
“I can’t say it’s a bad idea to uproot the things that are hurting Atlanta,” R8PR says. “But you’re going to get yourself killed, which is good for no-one involved except Dreamtech itself.”
“Don’t worry, I already uploaded incriminating documents to the Dreamtech Netnect account. They will be publishing right about now,” Jones says. “But like I said, unless I take drastic measures, nothing will happen. Epstein will get off scot-free, and whoever the Ascendants are, they’re going to… well, whatever it is will be bad.”
“Well, it’s not like you can escape the three of us,” I say. “You should just calm down and–”
Jones charges at R8PR, trying to push him out of the way and make for the front door. Being made of metal and weighing hundreds of pounds, he does not easily budge.
He pushes her backwards with a simple raising of his palm.
“Let me go,” she commands.
“If you are telling the truth about those Dreamtech corporate files, and they have any knowledge of my existence, then you should not under any circumstance pursue this line of action,” R8PR says. “The kind of people that are after me, the reason I hide in the outskirts of the city, is–”
Jones touches her palm to R8PR’s metallic arm and shocks him with an electric blast. He freezes in place for a few moments, and Jones tries to push past him–
But Karina grabs her by the arm.
She drops the knife. It stabs into the carpet. Again. Come on, people.
“Please, we’re trying to help you,” Karina says.
“For the last time, I don’t want that,” Jones says. “I’m done with you three trying to do what you think is best for me. You don’t have a clue what I’ve been through.”
Something occurs to me. “Say, Jones, you wouldn’t happen to remember that deadly MARTA derailment last summer, would you?” I ask.
She stops struggling with Karina.
R8PR comes back online. “–is because these people have immense power. They will pursue you to the ends of the Earth and they control so much you can never defeat them alone.”
I forgot what he was talking about already.
“Morgan, what do you know about the MARTA derailment?” she asks me.
“I was there.”
“Why were you…”
“I stopped it.”
She looks at the three of us and her expression is suddenly disconcerted. “Who the hell are you three?”
“I’m normal, I swear,” says Karina. “I just tag along.”
“I am the first sentient robot,” says R8PR. “Morgan is the first sentient robot’s semi-sentient lackey.”
“But this semi-sentient lackey is also pretty scrappy in a fight,” I add. “I mean, um, I am also ‘enhanced’ from my normal human capabilities.”
“And together, the three of us have been protecting Atlanta from the kinds of people and organizations that threaten to bring it great harm,” R8PR says. “We are the Sages.”
“Seriously stop it,” I say. “We don’t have a name, and we haven’t even done that much. This is like, my seventh time being in danger for my life since I met R8PR.”
“Seventh?” Karina raises an eyebrow and then silently counts on her fingers. “Wh… that’s three adventures you haven’t even told me about!”
“It’s irrelevant if you are the heroes Atlanta deserves or if you’re bumbling vigilantes,” Jones says. “Because no matter what you accomplished, you didn’t stop the scum from sending our city into a swamp of corruption for the past two decades. You let them fester.”
“I wasn’t even born yet,” says R8PR. “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Doesn’t mean I think you should be harming people in real life, even if they deserve it. It’s not ethical or moral.” Listening to a robot defending the concepts of human morality and ethics is a sign of the decay of society, isn’t it? It feels like it.
Jones sighs and crosses her arms. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter,” Jones says. “I’ve already done it, anyway.”
“Turn on the news. You’ll see it.”
We look over to my broken TV and then back to Jones.
“Oh, um.” Jones pulls out her portable PC and loads up an internet news site. It buffers for several minutes. My wireless modem is not known for its high speeds.
Live TV eventually starts playing. Two robot anchors prattle away at the latest headlines. “…updates as the night goes on. Nobody has been reported hurt so far, but the damage is extensive. The explosion has not been ruled definitively as an accident, and investigators are still looking into the cause of the incident. This comes on the heels of a tough week for Dreamtech, which has fallen into controversy after the Social…”
“You see?” Jones asks. “I made some improvised explosives, went over to the factory, and made sure I planted them in the most vulnerable spots. That’s going to set back production by months.”
Jones is now officially a terrorist. A new development, to be sure. I look at Karina, who looks at R8PR, whose eyes are flickering with computations galore.
“That’s what I’m saying.” Tears fill in Jones’s eyes again. “You CAN’T save me. It’s too late.”
“Shit, what are we going to do?” I ask to no-one in particular.
“Uh….” R8PR is still saying nothing.
“I’m going to find out who or what the Ascendants are and that’s all I can do now,” Jones says. “Now at least you won’t try to–”
Karina steps up to her and pats her on the shoulder. “It’s okay.”
“Anyway, I don’t want you to leave right now,” I tell Jones. “We should wait it out until the morning and then decide what to do.”
“S-stop!”” Jones shouts. “Why are you…” She collapses onto the ground and wraps her arms around herself. “I just don’t understand you… I injure you, hack your sister, threaten you with a knife, blow up a factory… and you still want to help me? What kind of monsters are you?”
Karina kneels down and grabs her by both shoulders with great force, this time looking her in the eyes with a determined stare. “What’s done is done, Jones. It doesn’t matter what you think about yourself or what you’ve done. We care about you.”
I… guess she’s right. At this point if I didn’t care about Jones none of this would be happening. I would have given up long ago.
“I just want to go home…” she mutters.
“We’ll get you home,” Karina tells her. “You can’t do this by yourself is all, okay?”
R8PR suddenly jolts into movement after a couple of minutes of silence. “Okay, I have a plan. I’ve calculated all the variables and I know how to succeed based on the knowledge I have. I’ll adjust it later in the morning when we can huddle around and iron this thing out but… I think I know how to save Jones.”
Well, this isn’t how I expected this day to end.
“This is going to be a fun time,” I say, mostly to myself. “It’s like a sleepover. We just have to… clean up all the wreckage off the floor and take out the garbage. And it’s what, only three in the morning by now?”
“It’s ten at night,” Karina says.
“Close enough. Yeah, this will be fun. I only have one bed though so..”
“Don’t worry, I’ll sleep on the couch,” Jones says. “That way the robot doesn’t have to try too hard to keep track of me.”
“That won’t be a problem,” R8PR tells her. “You won’t be able to surprise me again. Unlike humans, I don’t wrap myself in a dozen different trains of thought at the same time. I can focus. So I won’t have any trouble.”
“Well at least humans have more than a one-core processor in our minds,” I say. “We can do a little thing called multitasking. It’s really useful.”
“I have 1096 cores. Also, I could really show you a few academic studies about multitasking that would show you otherwise.”
He’s not very good at taking jokes.
Jones meets my eyes again.
We keep them locked for a while, this time. I give her a reassuring smile, as if everything was going to be alright. It’s not. But whatever’s happened, the Social Media Killer who has wreaked so much havoc on Atlanta, who has caused destruction both virtual and literal, Jones is still a teenage girl. So I keep that smile as wide as I can, until she looks away and wipes her face with her sleeve.