I enter work in the morning, wearing the same pretty-dirty cream-colored suit I’ve had since I started staying at Karina’s place the other night. Banks don’t usually open on Sundays, but Atlanta Cares is special. It’s in the name and everything.
Mr. Larkins, standing up front, sees me and gives me a tight embrace, his face beaming. “You did it, kid,” he says. “I don’t know what it was, but it sure damn worked.”
“Blyth scooped up Dreamtech and thanks to our deal, our bank got a huge return on investment. You’re a friggin’ lifesaver, Harding. I knew I could trust you”
I had completely forgotten about all that “investigate Dreamtech” stuff, to be honest. I not only still have a job, but my boss isn’t mad at me for my extremely erratic actions over the past week. I’m not sure if he realizes how direct an influence I had on everything, but he probably shouldn’t know in case he ever gets an insider trading complaint.
I sit down at my desk and prepare for what will likely be another deluge of phone calls and messages on the computer for the rest of my day.
“Did you hear?” Larkins asks.
“Mayor Epstein resigned. He was all a part of the Dreamtech scandal after all. Isn’t that crazy?”
He flips on the CRT in the corner and lets the robot anchors explain the situation.
It shows a clip of the new interim mayor, Ruby Rhodes, speak as she calls for a quick special election in November to decide the next to serve the city. With Epstein awaiting charges and Dreamtech’s executive board under investigation for the disappearance of two of its CEOs, Atlanta needs to turn a new page and acquire new leadership that can take the city out of this dark cloud. At least, that’s what she’s saying.
“We get to start a new election cycle all over again!” he says with a murderous smile. “I can finally be an influential donor this time!”
Maybe saving the Social Media Killer wasn’t such a good idea after all. I just spent all day yesterday getting questioned by the police, and now I get to spend all day today listening to Larkins. A tragic fate.
“Oh, and I’m expecting a phone call very soon. You can take it,” he says. “He asked for you.”
The phone rings almost immediately and I reluctantly pick up. “Hello? Th–”
“Morgan,” the voice says. “It’s Donald Blyth. How are you?”
A shiver goes down my spine.
“I’m doing well,” I say. “Is there anything you needed help with today, sir?”
“No, but I wanted to congratulate you on your successes over this week. Without your help, I would never have been able to purchase the assets at Dreamtech for such a low premium. You and your friends were highly beneficial, and I am indebted to you. I am very interested in finding out if you ever find out where Jones went off to. Maybe we can work together on that.” I can just feel the creepy smile coming from the other end of the line.
“Perhaps,” I say.
“I look forward to meeting you again.”
The phone call ends from there.
I had such a strong hunch that Blyth was involved in all of this, but I just couldn’t find anything. Marge was investigating him, his employees were hacked, he was vying to acquire Dreamtech… and yet, in everything, I couldn’t find proof and all I found was the friggin’ mayor of Atlanta wrapped up in all of this. I’ll just have to let it rest until another day, but something about that man…
“Really though, thank you,” says Mr. Larkins. “The boss asked if I wanted to be promoted to headquarters, but I ain’t doing it. I’m staying at Peach Towers with you.”
“Really? Uh, why?”
“‘Cuz I see something special in you, kid. I don’t wanna miss that something just for a bigger paycheck and a comfier office. You and me, we’re gonna go places.”
Ha, “going places” as a part-time assistant clerk under Larkins. Never a thought in my mind.
“If you say so, sir. But actually… I was about to submit my two weeks’ notice.”
Larkins’s smile turns into a scowl. “What, you want a raise or something?”
That wasn’t exactly what I was considering when I wanted to get the hell out of here, but… “How much are we talking?”
I begin my work day right at eight and, fittingly, we’re busy all the way to lunchtime.
Today at the food court, I’m eating another caesar salad from Soup’n ‘n Green’n. Karina is with me, but she’s sound asleep, her head on the table. Her delivery job shift is already over, but after everything that’s happened in the past week she’s hit her limit.
I nudge her awake. “Hmm… Huh?” she asks groggily.
“What are you doing after this?”
“Tomorrow…. Got a quiz and then… piano practice…”
Poor Karina. I think I say that too often, but it never stops being true.
I’m really glad she’s my friend. If I had actually told her about my plans to leave Atlanta, and then she got really upset with me, I don’t think I could have ever forgiven myself. So let’s just keep this our little secret, okay?
After everything that happened this week, I’m not sure why I felt the way I did about leaving Atlanta. This place sucks, but only as much as the rest of the world sucks. Atlanta’s been my home all my life. I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon. Karina’s my friend. I don’t plan on changing that for the rest of my life.
Back at R8PR’s place a few days later, Karina and I, still as drowsy as ever, stand around as our robot ally paces back and forth around his makeshift throne.
“Epstein being behind bars solves nothing,” he says. “He was clearly just a pawn in some other game. Whoever the Ascendants are, they’re who we need to be looking for. We need to find out who they are or what it is.That’s the only way we can get ahead of… whatever it is that’s coming.”
“We aren’t looking for Jones?” I ask.
“Oh. Well, obviously she takes precedence. Her location is vital to finding the Ascendants as well, I think.”
“Well, that’s just my guess. And–”
“And you only know what you can prove,” I say.
“Well, do you have any leads so far?” Karina asks.
“That’s what I have you two for. Are you up for it?”
Karina groans. “Maybe after finals…”
“Is this something we can opt-out of, or is it in the terms and conditions of being R8PR’s ally?” I ask.
He laughs. “The way Atlanta’s headed, I don’t think any of us could opt-out if we tried.”
“So we need to find Jones. And we need to find this nebulous ‘Ascendants’ thing. Sounds like we can get it done by next Tuesday.”
“Sounds like a plan,” R8PR says. I’m not sure if he got the joke.
Marge and I get off the sky rail from Central Station and enter my apartment complex. She’s still wearing a trenchcoat and fedora even though I am one hundred percent certain she is not working on any cases right now.
“How did Mark take it?” Marge asks.
“He was disappointed, but you know him,” I say. “He was really chipper about the whole thing. I think he knew I was never going to go through with it.”
“Nah, you never were. You love this city,” Marge says.
I want to disagree, but…maybe she’s right. Only this time, she’s not rubbing it in with her smug grinning. Things must really be weighing on her after all that happened. Seeing as she herself was a victim of the Social Media Killer it makes sense.
“So Marge, what are YOU going to do now?” I ask.
“Well, I only lost nineteen clients after the hack went public,” Marge says with a laugh. “I still have plenty to lose before I hit rock bottom.”
“Are you sure you’re… doing okay?” I don’t like pretending to care about my sister but sometimes you can tell she needs a bit of moral support in her life.
“Yeah. If I’m doing really badly I’ll just move in with Mei,” she says.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Or I could move in with you.” There goes her smug grin. “But… I don’t think I’ll have to deal with hitting rock-bottom just yet,” she adds.
I bash against the front door a few times because it’s gotten stuck yet again, and we walk into my apartment.
“I got a new job with a new client. I’m starting next Tuesday.”
“Oh, what’s it about?”
Wow. Look at my apartment.
It’s a shining beacon of being moderately clean. It took a week of hard work and guts from yours truly (and also Karina chipped in in exchange for a few meals’ worth of pad thai), but it actually got cleaned. It’s as spotless as it will ever get.
And guess what I got in an anonymous package a couple days ago that is now hanging up on my wall? Yep. Flash Gordon is back for all to see.
“Uhh…. Morgan, where’s all the furniture?”
My living room is completely empty besides a few boxes and the stand my TV was on. In the place of my poor destroyed TV is another, much smaller replacement. It’s probably temporary, but I’m glad I have it for now.
“It’s at… the cleaners?”
Marge glares at me.
She never ends up telling me about her new investigation. But we do watch several episodes of The Scott Stutzman Show and that’s good enough for me.
Life isn’t going back to normal after the Social Media Killer, as much as it seems like today. We’re facing more and more technological threats to Atlanta, and I already know I’m going to have to deal with more crap that I would rather leave alone. I don’t know what’s going to change, but something will.
I made a promise to the Burrows to protect their daughter. whatever I do, I have to abide by that. I don’t know where they ended up being placed for their safety but whenever I find Jones I will try my best to let them know. But after a serial hacker, after a corrupt company and their insidious benefactors, after a conspiracy that nearly upended the city of Atlanta, I think I deserve a rest.
For now, at least, I can eat food and watch hilarious TV with my older sister. I hope Jones is going to be alright, and I hope R8PR is able to keep himself safe and busy. Hoping doesn’t do too much, but it’s all I have the will to muster at the moment. For the foreseeable future, I feel like wasting as much time as I possibly can. Hell, maybe I’ll set up a Netnect account of my own.
No, not really.