Trials of the Cybermancer! – Chapter 3: May the Fourth Be with Us

It’s a big crowd, but I spot Karina as soon as her bright-yellow sundress enters my field of vision.

She’s not hard to pick out of a crowd, the way she awkwardly shambles through the scene. I know she’s pretty uncomfortable when a lot of people are around, pretty bad at dealing with talking to strangers, but I have to admit she is consistently adorable in all of these situations. Please don’t tell her I said that.

It’s a sunny spring day, and I’m wearing a ballcap to protect from the sun. It’s a far-cry from the frigid fifty-degree temperatures that pervaded in Atlanta for most of April (with great showers come great flowers, as Uncle Ben says). This is the kind of weather change that really makes me happy just to feel the breeze. Plus I get to wear shorts again. Always a good thing.

The only downside is the sheer number of people out and about today.

The middle of downtown Atlanta, near the Highland Square high-class shopping mall, on May the Fourth? Probably the worst idea I’ve gone through with in a while. But Karina really wants to take me shopping, so I’ll acquiesce, especially if she pays for stuff.

We each make our ways through seas of people. Karina’s dressed up in the full spring getup, with that previously-mentioned yellow sundress shining all the way down to her ankles. It’s in a sunflower pattern that matches with the large floppy hat on her head. “Morgan, hi!”

“Hey, Karina,” I say. “Are you glad to be a free woman again?”

“Uh, not exactly,” she says. “I have work again starting Sunday and orchestra practice is going to go to three times a week, but– oh, you mean done with school. Yeah, it’s great. All Bs this semester. It would make anyone so happy.”

“You’d better be.”

“I just wish I actually felt happy about it… But I feel like I’m going to be even busier… My life is a mess.”

Oh, Karina. I wish you’d go to therapy, but you probably don’t have the time.

Today is a national holiday made to celebrate… well… a lot of things. It started out as a public day to remember the lives lost during the war in California back during the war, which included a lot of the big directors and movie stars who were working together on projects that’ll never be finished. Zemeckis, Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Carpenter, Reagan, Bigelow… you know, those kinds of people. Most of them died in the first seventy-two hours of the Battle of Los Angeles, one of the darkest moments in human history. I try not to think about it too much.

It started as a national day of mourning, then it transformed into a celebration, with everyone watching movies and playing games and stuff. Then the corporations got a hold of it, and now it’s mostly a sales day.

We start walking through Carter Park, named of course after our 39th/41st President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. This park is the second-biggest in Atlanta after Piedmont, and outclasses Centennial Park by quite a bit. But it’s only natural, considering he’s the living icon of the American South. Even though he doesn’t actually live in Atlanta.

“So, are we ready for today?”

“I think so,” she says, flipping open the portable PC on her wrist and looking over the itinerary for the day. “We’ve got to get you some new clothes, and if we have time… we can swing by the Media Gallery. Does that sound good?”

“I guess so. Video games and clothes sounds very good. Can you keep track of the sales on that thing?”

“Yep, but it’s kind of slow to update. You know how they make these darn things.” She smacks the screen a few times and the internet page finishes loading, showing what items are on sale, and when and where.

With Golden Week for the Eastern Union this same week, May Day on the first, and Cinco de Mayo on the fifth for citizens of Mexican descent, the first week of May has turned into a series of holidays that essentially shut down the city for the duration. Aside from the New Year’s celebration, Atlanta is rarely as lively as it is from May first to May eighth each year.

“Oh… There’s a lot of good dresses on sale right now at Tifa’s!”

“Dresses…”

“I’m shopping for myself here too, you know!”

Today we’re mainly looking for clothes to replace the half of my wardrobe that was completely ruined when my house was ransacked back in March. I’ve been surviving since then mostly on work clothes and T-shirts, but Karina insists that I look half-decent for once in my life.

Especially since she’s paying. Says it’s a “late birthday present” even though she already got me something then anyway. Whatever, I accept it shamelessly.

We start to head over to Tifa’s, and I try to clock out my brain. I can stand shopping for clothes for myself, but I am not a fan of it. But when I’m just watching other people shop for clothes and I have to stand there and occupy my time idly, there simply isn’t much I can do other than zone out.

There are a lot of delivery robots out today, understandable since I wouldn’t be willing to brave the crowds to buy cheap items if I didn’t have to. They’re a lot like the drones Atlanta used to use before the Big Glitch, but of course robots instead so they cost much more. All the rich people in the city, or anyone willing to put themselves in enough debt to buy a robot, just send them out to buy all their stuff for them while they sit at home and watch reruns of Freddy Freaker: The Series or whatever pointless shows get marathons during holidays. There’s more robots on the street every year, but the weather’s so nice I think it’d be a shame not to at least try to go out and experience all this yourself.

I hardly remember what life was like back in the old days, but not having drones litter the skies until they blot out the sun is nice enough that it outweighs having to deal with a hundred mindless machines walking around.

You can usually tell where the biggest sales are because you’ll see a sea of delivery robots walking to and from those stores. Sometimes that’s a more accurate indicator than any website of where you want to go. Or, in my case, run away from because I really don’t want to be trampled by a bunch of dimwitted automatons.

We get into Tifa’s and navigate around the hundreds of people examining the clothes, sometimes 50%, 80% off the sticker price, while others form huge lines to the dressing rooms.

Karina is completely overwhelmed. She’s bouncing back and forth between each section, picking up purses and testing them out on her shoulder, then scurrying off to the endless array of hats. I thought she wanted to check out the dresses.

“Does this look cute on me?” she asks me as she puts on a floppy hat nearly identical to the one she was already wearing.

“Yes. It does.

“Say it with more enthusiasm, then…”

“Yeeeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh.”

“You don’t have to be so monotone about it. Tell me I’m cute with some ‘oomph!’”

“I’m not a cheerleader.”

“Then what purpose do you have, Morgan Harding…”

She eventually grabs three dresses, the limit at this store for the dressing room, and stands in line for over fifteen minutes just to try them on. I don’t think I could handle five minutes waiting, myself. Beside the fact I’m technically already waiting.

When it’s her turn, she grabs my arm and makes me stand in front of the door. “Tell me what you think,” she says before slamming the door shut. I see her sundress fly up over the door in a flash, and before I can really register it, she’s already out, wearing… another yellow sundress. To be fair, this one is solid-colored and only goes down to the thighs, but it’s the same kind of deal.

“Well?” she asks, eyebrows raised.

“It looks, uh, sunny.”

Her expression collapses. “Thanks, Morgan.”

She quickly shuts the door and changes again. This time it’s a black-and-white striped dress, sleeveless and casual-looking. It has one yellow sash around the bottom for some reason, like they couldn’t bring themselves to make a colorless outfit. But it looks good on her.

I give the “A-OK” gesture with my hand and she smiles the way a dog does when you pet it, her eyes closing and face flattening out. I resist the temptation to put my hand on her head and rustle through her hair.

She goes back in and gets into her final dress, which is solid-black with some frills and extremely formal-looking. She does a three-sixty-degree spin and I see that this dress has no back. On what occasion is she ever going to wear this?

“How’s it look?”

“Uhh…..”

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” she says, flicking her eyebrows seductively. Almost immediately, her entire face turns bright red. “That was a… joke, by the way…”

She grumbles and puts everything back on the hangers and goes to put the first sundress back. “Stay in the dressing room,” she says.

“Huh?” When she returns several minutes later, she’s holding a plaid-shirt-and-light-jeans combo just for me. They do look pretty nice.

“Try these on.” She shuts the dressing room door on me.

I try the set on, and the jeans are a tighter fit than I was expecting. I wonder if it’s too flashy…

“Are you ever coming out?” Karina asks.

“Don’t rush me!” With this, I step out, and she gives a nod.

“I was right. おしゃれ!”

“What?”

“Nevermind.” She hands me another outfit, leather pants, a tank top, and a moto jacket.

I don’t even have to try this on to know it looks good. Still, I want to see myself how I pull it off.

“How do you know so much about clothes?” I ask from behind the door while I’m changing.

“I don’t, really, not like some sort of fashionista or anything.”

“Well I mean… how to like, dress in a way that doesn’t make you look like… uh, me.”

“Ahh… I see. How do I know how to dress like an adult?”

“Yes. How do you have time to bother with that when you’re busy being the busiest person in Atlanta?”

“Years of practice,” she says. “I always had to make sure I was wearing the right stuff, because my Dad sure as heck didn’t know. It was either that or get bullied in school, so I chose… oh my gosh, look at that.”

She scampers off.

I exit the dressing room in my faux-greaser get-up and strike a pose… but she’s still gone.

Eh?

Karina returns with not exactly a set of clothing items, but two shoes.

Two large, red shoes with small thrusters and magnetic propulsion devices.

“Look! Rocket Boots!” she exclaims. “I passed them on the way back. Fifty percent off! You said you always wanted to learn how to skate, right?”

“Not exactly, but…”

It’s actually kind of scary to think about. People with rocket boots absolutely zip by, wearing minimal protective gear as they race down the highway at blistering speeds.

“Should I get them for you?”

“Yes…….” It’s the path of least resistance.

“Alright. Then there’s only one thing left for us,” she says. She pulls out two sets of denim overalls along with a striped turtleneck top for her and a light-pink t-shirt for me. “We’ll be overall buddies!”

“Ehhhhh……”

“I know your feelings on overalls, but I think you should try them on,” Karina says. “Also, you look great right now. Definitely getting that for you.”

“Ehhhhh……”

“Trust me, Morgan.”

In the end, though…

I actually turn out kind of cute.

She’s good, that woman.

***

Karina ends up buying the second and third dresses she tried on, as well as two purses and a hat. The whole process takes a good two hours and it would have been absolutely mind-numbing if I didn’t at least have a friend to accompany me and pick out the clothes for me.

I was actually kind of hoping to try on more stuff, but I got three new sets of clothes for myself, which means now I only have to do the laundry once a week instead of twice. This is the biggest gain to my wardrobe I could have possibly imagined.

In fact, I’m wearing the overalls out of the store. Imagine that.

We heading over towards Aeris, a jewelry store that’s going out of business so it’s selling off most everything for at least 80% off. Reaping the fruits that capitalism sowed and corporations toiled and liquidation firms got outsourced to harvest. I really don’t care about jewelry… but Karina paid for my outfits, so I can’t complain. She’s on a roll, and if I stop her now it’ll upset the balance of the universe.

Though… I notice a whole lot of delivery robots going in one particular direction, turning right at the next intersection down a busy avenue.

“Do you know where all those robots might be going?” I ask.

“I don’t know… there’s a lot of stores down that street.” She pulls up the internet page again and raises an eyebrow. “K-Store. They’re going to K-Store, it looks like.”

“Why there?” K-Store is just a big box general item store, though the one in downtown Atlanta is more of a department store because of the way it’s laid out. They usually don’t have very big sales because they get good business no matter what time of year it is.

“Oh… There’s a flash sale. Genesis Crush is on sale for four dollars. ‘May the Fourth be with this deal,’ it says.”

“Shit.”

We stop.

Genesis Crush is the most popular video game of the past year, a striking refresh of genre standards in an era where originality is appreciated less and less. After interest in 3D gaming seemed to die down, developers returned to the tried and true 2D genres. This paved the way for tighter platformers, more expansive adventures, and more thrilling action. The gaming industry stagnated from there, and games nowadays kind of feel samey, as if every game that has come out in the last decade was just the same thing but with altered graphics and storylines. Genesis Crush completely reinvents the wheel.

Without going into too much detail, it’s a beat’em up/RPG/grand strategy/dating simulator versus game designed for the sitting-on-a-couch-with-your-friends-eating-takeout experience. Using advanced blast processing, players fight bad guys on the streets and monsters in their lairs to gain points and attempt to romance a selection of characters and eventually settle down and have a family. They fight together and against one another and compete to become the true hero of Genesis City. It’s like that one board game about your life, except actually fun, and with way more monsters.

And four dollars is well over ninety-five percent off the market price, so we both immediately realize this dire situation.

“I’ve wanted that game since they announced it,” Karina says.

“Yeah…”

“Didn’t you say we could split it if it ever dropped down past forty dollars? Right now it’s four!”

“Karina, we can’t… that’s suicide.”

“But Morgannnnnnnnn,” she whines.

“Oh fine. Let’s go!”

We both take off running as soon as the crosswalk turns green and head down the avenue towards the K-Store. There’s people all around us, and a herd of robots is waiting at the crosswalk that is currently red. Once that changes, we’re going to be stampeded.

Karina runs out of breath and has to lean against a small tree for air. “S…Sorry, Morgan!” she shouts. I stop and turn around to meet up with her– And then see the horde of metallic servants charging this way.

“Karina, look out! Don’t get–”

It happens in an instant, almost like a wave. First there is a sidewalk, and then there is nothing but a bunch of stupid robots surrounding me in all directions. I see Karina at the back of the crowd, but I can’t wade my way through the endless ocean to reach her.

They push and grind against me and I fall to the ground–

About to be trampled.

Is this it for me?

Consciousness…fading…

Life… draining…

This is stupid.

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6 comments

  1. First things first, Genesis Crush, Aeris and Tifa’s? Those are a lot of FF7 references if I’ve seen them, haha.

    Nice chapter though, I like how much time we got to spend with Karina. She’s always silly.

    Too bad robots had to come in and ruin it all.

    1. Poor robots always ruining everything 🙁 Maybe one day Karina will actually get the spotlight for more than five minutes…

  2. I love your story, but there is one thing about it that makes me sad almost every chapter: The next button is clickable before the chap is actually online! This links to a 404 message.

    1. That only happens when you read after I pre-upload the next one, which is for about 12 hours every (EST) Monday night and Thursday night. I live in Japan so I have to upload the next chapter early and manually add the next link… One day I’ll figure out how to do it automatically!

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