This is almost fun.
I’m nearly enjoying it.
Cleaning the abandoned church, that is.
Broom and dustpan in hand, I pace around the tiny room, trying to clear out the clods of dirt and dust that have gathered here over the years.
This place used to be called the First Temple of the Rock Baptist Church. It was a thriving center for a predominantly-black neighborhood several decades ago, but as technology advanced and the nearby manufacturing jobs dried up, the middle-class families fled, the population dwindled, and the entire section of town became something of a ruins.
Now, keeping up a place so far in disrepair seems a bit silly– there’s seriously wild growth in this former Sunday School classroom– but R8PR thinks it’s a good sign of respect to the gods, that it will appease them to tidy up their shrine. I’m not entirely sure how well he gets Christianity.
I don’t have work today and Karina is deep into her final exams, so it’s not like I have anything better to do. So cleaning it is.
There was so much garbage scattered around the floors in a couple of these rooms that I just went and brought over a few recycling bags to sort everything out. There must have been a long string of squatters here before R8PR took up the place, because the floors were littered with empty cans of spaghetti and plastic wrappers from Yum Mart meat buns. That or R8PR’s bringing over a secret lover he’s not telling about, or something similarly juicy.
There is no chance that a garbage truck comes anywhere near this church so I’m not sure how we are going to transport any of this to a drop-off location. I’ll let R8PR sort that one out later; I’m just here to clean.
And that I do. If there’s anything I learned in repairing my apartment after a couple thugs tore it to pieces, it’s how to turn a huge mess into a small mess. The trick isn’t in making things spotless, but in making them just bearable enough that you stop getting a headache every time you look at your surroundings.
…And this room is just about beyond my reach because I am not dealing with weeds sprouting up underneath the floorboards. I’m heading back to the sanctuary.
At this moment, R8PR is rearranging all the overturned pews and setting them where they may actually have gone when this place was functioning. Not all of the pews are still standing on four legs, though, so even when he places them in the correct position sometimes they fall back over. The seat cushions, generally, are too degraded to be useful. But it’s better than nothing.
I dump out my dustpan into the compost can and toss the cans and plastic wrap into their respective recycling bags.
If this were a month ago, I’d be grumbling incessantly right now. Being forced to help clean up a dilapidated place of worship instead of doing whatever extremely productive activity I’d otherwise be doing (the Vintage Channel has a special retrospective of The Brady Bunch playing all afternoon, so… probably that) would have made me real mad. And, being a month ago, I’d have used as yet another mental excuse to try and leave Atlanta and abandon everything I care about.
And I almost did leave back then, except on account of The Social Media Killer.
The virtual vigilante.
R8PR and I may be spending this afternoon cleaning a building but the real cloud lingering over everything has been, and continues to be, the fate of the girl that turned Atlanta upside down. I can’t believe it’s been a month already.
A month spent searching for Jones.
The girl I ended up chasing across the city for a week as everything crumbled around me. The most difficult mission I’ve ever been through and I only barely succeeded at keeping Atlanta from falling apart. The mayor of the city pointed a gun at my head.
Somehow, through all of that, Jones got me realizing what the city really means to me and pretty much forced me into trying to be the kind of hero I swore I’d never become. All with her crusade of petty justice, her digital serial killing that nearly upended the city.
Despite every possible hindrance working against us, we succeeded at stopping her from destroying herself as well as everything in Atlanta around her. She ruined the lives of over a hundred people directly and countless more indirectly, but she also exposed the biggest political cover-up in Atlanta’s history, so… it wasn’t all bad.
But despite everything, Jones still escaped, from her pursuers, from the police, and from us. I was no hero after all, but just some dumb kid caught up in a mess started by another dumb kid.
We still haven’t found her.
Not a hint as to where she could have run off to.
It’s been over a month and we haven’t come across anything in our searches. I don’t understand how that could have happened; either Jones is an expert at lying low or someone else already reached her and… well, I’m hoping for the former option.
“Say, Morgan,” R8PR says as he holds the modified pulpit that makes up a makeshift throne in his arms. “Should I keep this in the center of the room or move it up to where the altar should be?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. It’s the same thing either way.”
“It’s not the same thing. It would have a completely different effect if I placed my seat further in the back of the room.”
“Uhh…” What. “Like, if this were some medieval high fantasy novel, I guess putting the seat up at the altar would raise your prominence and give you more assurance against backstabbing, literally, because you’re closer to the wall. Putting it in the center of the room makes you more of a meditative monk. But seeing as this is real life, I don’t think it matters.”
“So you think moving it gives off a better image?”
“It depends on the image you want,” I say.
“What image should that be? I want to give off something that really says what kind of robot I am.”
“It seriously doesn’t matter.”
“I just want to know your opinion,” he says.
“Oh. I see where this is going,” I groan. “I’m going to tell you if I think you should be more lordly and domineering or more cooperative and… sagely… and then you’ll give me a lesson on whatever philosophical mumbo jumbo.”
R8PR winks with his digital eye. “And I see you have wisely chosen neither of them, because you keep your options open whenever you can. Morgan Harding, the realpolitik.”
“Ah, dammit. Don’t you dare turn this into a lesson–”
“You know I won’t be here forever, however much it pains either of us to say it,” R8PR begins. “And while I do my best to keep Atlanta safe, there is so much that limits me from performing at my highest levels. You, on the other hand, are limitless. Whatever you have gone through, you have more potential than I could ever dream of, not least of which is because you can actually walk around in the daylight without attracting suspicion.”
“Just buy an Epstein mask from the Halloween liquidation store,” I say. “You’ll fit right in.”
“I admire your ability to see both sides of any discussion, to think rationally while still keeping your human emotions in play. It gives you an optimal sense of the playing field, and then the emotional drive to make up your mind when all else seems equal.”
Stop praising me… It’s weird…
“When you’re faced with an insurmountable challenge with an unpleasant choice, Morgan, you still tend to figure out a solution that makes everyone satisfied. Your work in settling that gang war last summer was the stuff of miracles, and somehow you pulled it off like it was nothing.”
“I had plenty of help.”
“And what about the Titans? Who was helping you then?”
“You and Karina.”
“Hardly. And it was just like with the Social Media Killer. You stopped Jones, which kept the establishment at bay, and at the same time you saved her too. You’re the middleman that preserves the peace.”
“I sure don’t feel like I ‘saved’ Jones,” I say.
“You don’t have to feel like it,” R8PR says. “But the facts don’t change no matter what you feel. Your feeling only influences how you act and react. And that’s what interests me most.”
“How is forcing a teenage girl into hiding ‘saving’ her, though? Where’s the facts in that?”
R8PR winks with his flickering LED eyes. “I’ll leave it up to my prime underling to figure that one out.”
“At this rate, I’ll probably just ask my sister to do it for me and let her take all the credit.”
“That would only make you more of a middleman than you already are.”
I grumble back a few swears in response. “You know what? I’ve figured it out,” I tell R8PR. “Leave the seat where it is now.”
“And why is that?”
“That’s where it already was. It works, so why change it?”
He laughs. “That’s a whole ‘nother can of philosophical worms. Oh, Morgan…”
The rest of the day goes pretty much like this.