One of my very best friends throughout my childhood.
He was the one who dared me to climb the tallest tree in Piedmont Park, and then the one who called the fire department when I got stuck for two hours. He was the one who knocked out a girl who was teasing me on the playground. He was the one who joined me when I ran away from home for a day and a half middle school.
But he’s not the same. Not entirely.
And after all this time, why did he come to me first? Of all people in the world, was I really the one he thought of immediately when he wanted to come for help?
Well, maybe it wasn’t him, but the computer attached to his brain that made that decision, but that would mean it was his subconscious mind that thought of me, so it was a base instinct thing.
I’m definitely not worth that kind of opinion to anyone in any circumstance, let alone when someone is in dire condition. Morgan Harding is not the type of person who people look to for advice or comfort or assistance. No, Morgan Harding is the type of person who people look to when they’re absolutely desperate for help.
And yet Lamar came to my apartment.
The two of us have entered a subway station. We’re about to head back to my apartment in hopes that Lamar can get some decent rest after whatever he’s been through.
This trek from the abandoned hospital is even further out than to the former church that R8PR typically inhabits, but it’s a lot easier of a path, just one obscure train line from West Lake to the middle of nowhere, and then a twenty-minute walk later. Even someone as inept as me couldn’t get lost that way.
I sometimes wonder how that robot is able to avoid detection so easily. I think he may have some sort of special jamming software, acting like a magic force field around him to block out radar or wireless modem tracking or infrared or anything else that could find him. But I don’t actually know enough about any of the technology involved to make more than a random guess.
And I can’t even BEGIN to wonder what kind of technology might be behind the guy standing right next to me.
He hasn’t spoken much since we left the hospital. I’m sure he’s just trying to process everything that’s going on. And no, that pun was not intentional because I’m not a terrible person.
I get out my MARTA card and touch it to the fare reader to open up the turnstile. I look back at Lamar, who grimaces at me.
“Oh, you don’t have a card, do you?”
He shakes his head, but before I can go back and help him buy a new one from the kiosks, he simply walks up to the turnstile and puts his hand against the card reader. The barrier beeps and drops, and he walks through.
I stare. “How did you…”
He taps the computer in his head. “I don’t know.” His grimacing continues.
“Well, uh, that means you can save a bunch of money for the rest of your life, right? I mean, not that you’ll have that thing in for the rest of your life. We’ll find a way to fix it. I don’t know anything about computers or whatever, but I know we’ll fix it, whatever it is. I think I stopped making sense.”
“I know what you mean, Morgan.”
“Are you sure? I’m not a very well-spoken person.”
“That’s real true, Morgan.”
“You should insult me, give me a real verbal walloping,” I say. “I need one because I’ve been a rude dude.”
Lamar looks me up and down with narrowed eyes. “Y’know, you look a lot different than you used to.”
That catches me off-guard. “I do?”
“Yeah, you really changed yourself since high school.”
We get on the escalator going down towards the subway tracks. If we want any chance of getting back before dark, we need to catch the next train, because they rarely come this far out.
“I feel like this is some sort of weird sarcasm, Lamar,” I say. “I’m pretty sure I’ve been wearing the same five t-shirts since the beginning of ninth grade.” Besides the ones that tragically got torn to shreds by the menacing threat of, uh, those thugs who thought I was the Social Media Killer. I don’t remember if I ever caught their names. Also I think their boss put out a hit on them because they failed so badly.
“No, you have a completely different look to you,” Lamar says. “Different aura.”
“Yeah, different aura.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Yeah you do.”
“I mean, maybe my hair’s a bit longer than it used to be…”
He squeezes my bicep. “You’ve been working out, haven’t you?” He smirks. Oh, if he only knew the truth of it. I guess I don’t have to hide my secret cyber-enhanced nature or anything considering his own circumstances, but I don’t feel like getting into my convoluted backstory at the moment.
We reach the subway platform, where the next train is sitting waiting to take off as soon as it hits the top of the hour. The doors are closed to keep the interiors cool, so we have to press the button to get them to open.
I give Lamar a smirk of my own. I like it when he smiles, as rare as that’s been today. “I haven’t been going to the gym, if that’s what you mean.”
Lamar reaches towards the subway door and– his hand shakes, and he punches the button hard enough that it breaks through and dents the door itself.
We look at each other, and then walk down to the next train car. This time I press the button.
“Looks like I have been going to the gym, I guess,” Lamar says. It’s a joke but he says it with a pretty serious tone. Ah, darn it.
We step into the car, where the A/C is blasting at max intensity and cooling us off a ton. Excellent stuff. Though it’s always the coolest places that make you realize how much you were sweating already. I feel gross. The train is pretty packed, which is always the case on this line because it runs so infrequently, so we have to go to one of the standing areas.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I say. “It, uh, happens.” Lamar is silent. “I’m just glad to have you back. I’ve been wanting to hang out with you for forever.”
“Yeah, it’d be nice,” he says. “Now that we can both drink. Legally.”
I eye Lamar suspiciously. “I don’t know if drinking is the best idea when we haven’t even figured out what’s going on with your condition.”
He’s silent again.
“The train is now departing,” the robot conductor announces over the intercom. “Bound for West Lake Station.”
Matching the intercom’s volume, Lamar yells, “Twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds until West Lake Station. Twenty-two– ah, shit. Sorry.”
Everyone is staring at him. Ah, man. He doesn’t look happy. I wave all of that away and try to keep him from dwelling on it. “But yeah, let’s do something fun. Video games and Scott Stutzman?”
“What’s Scott Stutzman?” Lamar asks.
It has been a few years, hasn’t it… Oh man I am making this all worse. This is gonna be a tough situation to get through. “Just uh… we’ll do something cool, okay?”
I really hope he turns out okay.