I open the fridge and bring out the six-pack of peach vodka sodas (for myself as the fruity drink asshole I am), and the six-pack of beers (for my dear friend with whom an evening of festivities is about to commence). Tonight, Lamar and I (and absolutely not Kobi) are going to have alcohol-fueled fun, and that is a direct order.
Right now, Lamar is sitting quietly in the rocking chair I bought for five dollars at a garage sale out in Powder Springs to replace the beautiful loveseat I used to own. If there is anything more unfortunate to have lost in the home invasion in March, it was definitely the sofa and loveseat, because those things held friggin’ memories. The new furniture pales in comparison to the old stuff, and not only because I bought them for really cheap.
Lamar is looking off to the side right now, staring at my poster of Flash Gordon, instead of the TV where Kobi continues to play Earthbound. Yes, still. I’m not sure if he’s even taken a bathroom break.
Right now, he’s got the hero Ness (named Kobi) and his first companion Paula (named Signy). They are venturing through the town of Threed, which has been taken over by monsters and ghouls at every corner. Zombies, trash can ghosts, and an evil circus tent among many other baddies lie in wait, ready to strike. It may have been a bit dark by this point already, but this is the moment where the game sheds its sense of staying true to RPG genre tropes and goes all-out into craziness, and it looks like Kobi’s hooked.
He bumps into a zombie, which triggers an enemy encounter with three enemies at once. His party isn’t fully healed so he’s in a pretty risky situation; if he doesn’t plan this battle out well, it could mean game over. Literally.
I sit down on the sofa next to Kobi and set the hard drinks down on the coffee table. I pass a beer over to Lamar, who nearly rips it away from my hand. “You sure?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m ready to get this shit out of my mind.”
“Okay. Just tell me if anything feels off.”
R8PR did say something about Lamar’s brain essentially not functioning without the AI sending electrical signals into it. We haven’t given Lamar the full details just yet, but he seems to understand that there is a risk here. Even so, as a computer non-expert, I can’t let a friend turn down a night with free alcohol if that’s what he really wants. (I absolve myself of all responsibility if anything goes wrong.)
I gulp my first can as quickly as I can, letting the liquid singe my throat all at once instead of in staggered swigs. The sweetness masks the vodka taste, but I still have trouble chugging without the stinging at the back of my throat overwhelming me. But I down it in twenty seconds flat. I finish it and slam the can down on the coffee table, making a satisfyingly loud clang. Worth it. Lamar hasn’t started his beer yet. “Come on, Lamar. I can’t get drunk alone. Let’s do this thing.”
“My dad used to get drunk alone,” Kobi said. “Usually on Tuesdays.”
Neither of us are brave enough to respond to a statement like that.
Lamar nods to himself, and cracks open his can. It lets out a nice fizzing pop. “So… Morgan, what have you been up to?” he asks. “It’s been… six years, about?”
“Ah yeah. What year is it, exactly?” His smile quickly turns into a frown and he looks down towards the carpet.
Oh man, Lamar has had it tough. All these years I thought he had just been going out to some small city, making a fortune as a small business owner, or living it up in the party scene, or finding true love. I don’t know, my imagination was very inconsistent when it came to him. With my other high school friends, I at least knew that they were still in town going to university, or touring the world in their famous jazz band, you know, the simple stuff. Lamar was a complete mystery… and still is.
“I’m sorry this all happened to you,” I say. “But we’re going to make it better.”
“You and that robot?”
“No, you and me,” I say. “To answer your question, I’ve been kinda… not amazing the past few years. Just living the life.” Living a life that has consisted of saving Atlanta from certain destruction on numerous occasions, but never mind that for right now.
“Still working at that coffee shop near the CNN Center?”
“Good God no,” I say. “I quit that one the first chance I got.” I pause, and then add, “I quit about a year and a half ago.”
Lamar laughs, then drinks a sip. “I always knew you would stay there longer than you needed to. After you know who, you were way down there.”
“Ha, yeah. I was kinda pathetic around then.”
“What was the coffee girl’s name? Let me guess, Ruth?”
“Worse,” I say. “Reina.” I shouldn’t be giving Lamar this kind of fodder, but I’m starting to feel more honest than usual. I think I need to drink faster so I can stop being coherent.
“Oh MAN,” Lamar says, his grin widening. “You fool. That’s not how you get over someone.”
“I know… I know!”
“You can’t go around trying to get with carbon copies. It’s just not the way it works.”
“Okay, come on. I mean, Reina was nice, too. We kinda… stopped talking after a while. She quit like, six months after you went away.”
“Did you and she…” Lamar eyes Kobi and then says, “Start a real relationship?”
I take another peach vodka soda and begin downing it. It’s the “Flavor of Georgia,” as the label reads, and from how good it tastes I can’t say I disagree. “Reina and I had some fun, which was all I wanted, really. So I was okay.”
“Honest. That’s not me anymore. Though… I’ve kinda wondered what’s happened with her since then, I guess.”
Kobi is venturing behind the waterfall in Earthbound, trying to discover where Master Belch’s lair is located. I want to help him out because the waterfall puzzle is extremely obtuse, but I’m too absorbed in this ex-talk right now.
“You don’t keep in touch? Not through Netnect or anything?” Lamar asks.
“Nah, I don’t really use social networks much,” I say. “Right now I don’t even have a computer–”
Suddenly, Lamar’s eyes widen again, and he says, “Reina Taki, female, age twenty. Employed at K-Store #358, in the cellular department. Currently engaged to Kerry Earhart– No, stop it. Dammit.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just–” Lamar puts his beer can on his forehead. “My thoughts get so confused sometimes.” He goes through the rest of the can and quickly grabs another one. “It sucks, doesn’t it?”
Lamar’s AI can pull information from the internet? It must not be as inactive as R8PR thought, then, because it must be tapping into my wireless modem to access the pages. I’m sure it’s not actually directly interfacing with any networks, but it does sound dangerously close to that…
“It’s like you’re a living search engine,” I say. “Guess you’ve gotten a lot smarter than you were in high school.”
He smirks. “I had a lot more fun than you back then, at least.”
“You’re not wrong.”
We drink a few more beers together and I finish off both the vodka sodas, until there are now eight empty cans and a cardboard box spread out across the coffee table. I’m feeling REALLY good right now. Maybe I’ll go outside and go for a run. I’ve always wanted to exercise for fun. It’s healthy.
Kobi’s still playing Earthbound but I can’t focus on the screen long enough to figure out where he’s at. Who the hell cares, if he needs help he can consult the player’s guide. Ha, consult. What a stupid word.
“Yo, Lamar, go take all this shit off my coffee table,” I tell him.
He shoots a stern glare. “Don’t say ‘yo’ to me,” he says. He crunches the empty can in his hand and for a second I get a little worried. Then he cracks up laughing and gets up. He takes all the cans and drops them in the metal bin before heading over to the fridge. “I’m gonna make a sandwich.”
“Make me one too. Wait, what kind?”
“A Mayonnaise sandwich. Bread, mayonnaise, bread.” I chuckle and look back at the kitchen. He’s actually doing it. He has a huge tub of mayo, a loaf of wheat bread, and a butterknife. “Here I go.”
“I’m rooting for you.”
Lamar squeezes the knife– and then it splits in half, the blade of the knife flying out in some random direction and dinging against the tile.
We both burst out laughing.
“You know what?” I ask.
“Absolutely don’t,” he answers.
“I have a bottle of whiskey in the fridge. Bring that shit out. No more of this weak stuff.”
“What you got to mix it with?”
I laugh. “Pussy. My shot glasses are in the top cabinet.”
“Don’t say bad words, Morgan,” Kobi says.
“You’re not my mom!”
Kobi looks back at me with eyebrows furrowed in bafflement.
“We’re gonna be swearing all night,” I say. “Gotta grow up and get over it, or whatever.” I am winning the Legal Guardian of the Year Award by absolutely nailing some life lessons into this kid. We’ll have him saying “fucking shit!” like it’s nothing by the end of the week.
Lamar brings the shit over and we start some sort of drinking game with Kobi’s game of Earthbound, but we forget to define the rules, and I can hardly see the screen anyway, so we just start taking shots.
I look at Lamar’s face, and then the computer thing on his head, and I just start laughing. “Dude, you could probably get so many chicks if you just wore a hat!”
“Earthbound is a fun game,” he says, now looking at the game with kind of wistful eyes. “I think my favorite when I was a kid was, uh, that one where you play as the superhero who flies through all the hoops and stuff. You know the one?
“Whatever, man! Just tell me if you’ve hooked up since you got the computer or whatever.”
“You’re drunk, Morgan,” he says.
“So are you!”
Lamar looks at me intensely, smirking the whole time. “I have absolutely no memory if I’ve hooked up with anyone recently or not. You may have me beat. How many since high school, six?
“Three,” I say. “Besides Reina. I’m pretty pathetic, man. Ever since I met R8PR it’s been like… a total drain, man. It sucks, man.” I keep adding man to the end of every sentence because it’s the dumbest shit ever.
“Three? Rank them. Please.”
“Ha, like I’d tell you,” he says.
“I bet it was what, Akiko, Kimiko, Kumiko?”
“Fuck you man!” I shout. I look over to Kobi and say, “Sorry, kid.”
“Don’t mind me,” Kobi says. He’s already clocked out of our conversation to the point that he doesn’t notice how I apologized five minutes after saying I’d never apologize.
“You are going to judge me so much if I ever talk about this one girl,” I say.
“Well, we’re friends. Really good friends, man. Spend all our time together and hang out and stuff. But you know what, I keep thinking to myself, what if we’re made for each other? What if it’s like one of those romcoms where we date other people and it never works because we were looking in the wrong direction the whole time? But then it’s one of those sad romcoms where it doesn’t work out and ten years later we see each other at the train station then she disappears in the crowd and I have to go back to my old wife who sucks?”
“Who are you dating now, huh?”
“I told you. My life friggin’ sucks, man.”
“Who’s she dating, then, huh?”
“She’s too busy to date, Lamar! We hang out all the time but we ain’t ever getting to that level. We’re both adults and shit. Adults can’t date.”
Lamar puts his finger to hs chin to calculate this. “If you are both single, and you both wanna do it–”
“I never said that, man.”
“But you do, right?” I laugh, and he nods. “If you spend all your time together already… then just let her fuck you already!”
“Holy shit! I hadn’t thought of that!”
At this point both of us are cackling. It’s not entirely clear why we are. I think I’m laughing at Lamar’s laughing. Or my own. My laugh is so breathy, I could probably choke myself by accident. Death by joke. That’s how I want to go out.
“This is great,” Lamar says.
“I’m friggin’ dying here,” I say, continuing to laugh my lungs away. “Too great.”
“When did this game come out, 1994?” Lamar is staring at the TV screen very intently now. “1995 in America?”
“Why the hell are you talking about EARTHBOUND?”
The way I emphasized Earthbound is so stupid that it feeds back into a loop of cackling and laughing at my cackling and…
I stumble onto my feet and lean against the back of the sofa trying to gather my thoughts.
Wow, what a mess this place has become. The beer cans Lamar tried to empty into the recycling bin are laying all over the floor, and there’s paper plates strewn everywhere for some reason.
I start chuckling and force myself to focus. Okay, what do I do now?
Uh, let’s check up on Kobi first. He’s supposed to be here somewhere.
“Kobi?” I call out.
“Yes?” He’s still sitting on the sofa, playing Earthbound.
“Good, you’re safe. I’m so proud of you. Now… tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
“You have work in two hours,” he says. “It says on the calendar on your wall.”
Oh, that isn’t good. Wait, no, I got that covered. My alpha charm instincts took care of that one. “Don’t worry. I called that–” Ah, shit, I forgot to call that coworker to get my shift covered. The thought didn’t even cross my mind. Well, that’s okay. As long as I get dressed and take a cold shower, I will probably be sober enough to do my job adequately. Nobody will ever notice.
“Wait,” I stop myself. “Go to bed, Kobi. It’s… uh… six-thirty! Stop playing!”
“But I’m already at the Deep Darkness. And sleep is for weak people.”
“Truth to that.” I extend my fist in order to attempt a famous Morgan Fist Bump, but Kobi keeps playing the game instead. “Uh, tell Lamar I said good morning.”
“Oh, Lamar already left,” Kobi says. “He went outside before you woke up.”
“I don’t know, but he watched me play Earthbound all night. He was really excited to watch it, but he didn’t say much.”
“What do you… mean?”
“He mostly just stared at the screen. But I was at Moonside for a long time, and that place is a little strange.”
My mind clears and the drunkenness fades away almost instantly. Ah, shit. It’s one of these situations, where my enhancements kick in to save me.
“Do you… understand what this means, Kobi?”
“We have to go look for Lamar! He could be in trouble!” I start packing my backpack, getting ready to go on a manhunt, before realizing that I don’t need a backpack for this.
Actually, I may still be drunk after all.