Crossword Conundrum – Chapter 8: It Couldn’t Have Been Anyone Else

“Ah shit, it’s Marge.”

“Bad word…”

All I wanted was to rest for a few minutes in the park and let AR73 explore its curiosities by playing with children. And now I’m cornered by my worst nightmare– my sister while she is, for some reason, sunbathing in the park.

Marge, putting a small sundress over her bikini, saunters up to us and smirks. She places a fedora on her head. “Look at the two darlings I’ve just run into. Didn’t know you knew each other.”

“Hey, Marge,” I say.

There’s absolutely no way she wasn’t following me here.

“You look a bit annoyed. Is there anything wrong?”

AR73 looks up at me. “Morgan, who is this? Has she met me?”

“No, but she probably knows of you since you’re famous and all.”

“Hehehe, I guess I am.” It rubs the back of its forehead as it giggles.

“Yeah I know about you, AR73,” Marge says. “Morgan’s told me a lot about you.” Don’t forget that I met AR73 like two hours ago. “So, how’s it going?”

“We’re just getting ready to head off,” I say. “It was nice meeting–”

“Did I ever tell you about my new job?” Marge asks. “After getting hacked by the Social Media Killer and everything, I thought I was going to have a tough time in the business. But I got a really nice assignment right now that’s been a boon. Wanna know about it?”

I look down at AR73, who is moving its head around observing everything around it, probably the robot version of being antsy to move on. “Nah, sorry, we’re kinda in a hurry.”

“I’m searching for the whereabouts of Jones Burrow.”

Dammit.

“Yeah, and?”

“Well, I know you’re trying to find her too,” she says. “How about we do a little trade?”

“The robot for all your info? Will do,” I say. “AR73, meet your new owner.”

“I’m under exclusive lease to Mr. O’Conner…” it says.

“Come on, Marge, walk with me,” I say. At least if I have to have a conversation with her, I can do it while we’re walking towards the store.

“So, remember when I was hired to investigate Donald Blyth for Mayor Epstein?” Marge asks.

“Yeah, I especially remember how you basically got the mayor to kidnap and extort me because he wanted me to help him cover everything up.”

“Well, it turns out that Donald Blyth was quite impressed by my work. He even hired me for my current assignment.”

“Blyth? You’re working for Blyth? That guy is bad business and you know it. You did not pick the right team with this one.”

“Work is work,” Marge says. “I have a whole team with me. Five people with me doing research work on the Social Media Killer. Do you know what it’s like to have an assistant work for you, Morgan?”

“I know what it’s like to work as an assistant for someone,” I say. “I can’t imagine working for you, though…”

“We’re covering a lot of ground, Morgan. Jones is out there somewhere, and we’re going to find her pretty soon. Whatever you do, Morgan, try to stay out of trouble the next couple weeks. Something big’s coming.”

“If you say it like that, trouble’s definitely going to find me. It always does.”

“Seems to, doesn’t it?”

In all of this, AR73 stays silent, more focused on analyzing the scattered leaves on the concrete sidewalk than our conversation. As a robot I’m sure it is listening to all of this, but I wonder how much it actually understands.

“I’ve got to hand it to your Jones girl,” Marge says. “My” Jones girl? What does she even mean by that? “She was the best detective there ever was. It might not have been on purpose, but that girl has really toppled the world. Everything’s connected like a Jenga tower, and she pulled out just the right pieces. It’s pretty good for my line of work.” She pauses, keeping the smirk on her face. “Even if that included me getting caught in the crossfire.”

“She’s something else,” I say. “I don’t even know how a teenager came to get the kinds of skills she has.”

“Not a trace of her in over two months,” Marge says. “My team’s not had a bit of luck on finding any physical location. However, I– Oh, I probably shouldn’t spill any confidential information.”

“You were never going to spill any confidential information,” I say.

AR73 pauses on the sidewalk to stare at a passing squirrel.

“What’s wrong?” Marge asks it. “You never seen a squirrel before?”

“I had no idea they are so… twitchy,” it responds. “If I speed up my photoreceptors enough and play the recording back at normal speed, I can see every bodily movement it makes. These critters never stop moving.”

“That’s part of how small mammals move,” I say. “Bunnies and chipmunks and the like, they all move in short bursts and stand still for long periods. They can avoid predators because they have quick reflexes and can jump into motion at any second.”

“Interesting.” There it goes again.

“Isn’t it such a cute robot?” Marge says to me. “I bet once its tests are done, they’ll implement its systems into every new robot that’s manufactured. There’s probably some good military applications for it, too.”

“Even when you think something is cute you’re cynical,” I say. “Why can’t you look on the bright side of things once in awhile?”

“Hypocrite.”

“Morgan’s a huge hypocrite, but that’s okay,” AR73 says. “I like Morgan anyway.”

Marge bursts into laughter.

I don’t.

We’re getting closer to the art supply store, I can tell; there’s more and more shops appearing on the sidewalk, and fewer residential buildings. Out of the Auto Area, and nearing the shopping district, where all the big malls are located. I could probably walk home from here, if I didn’t know I’d get lost.

“So what is it you actually want? Is there any information you want?” I finally ask the most pertinent question. “What’s all this about some ‘trade’ anyway?”

“Ah, that ‘trade’ thing was just my way of playing a practical joke. I just wanted to drop by and see my Morgan.” Her perpetual smirk widens into a full smile.

So whatever information she was looking for, I already gave it to her, is what she means.

“Well, I’m so glad to be spending this wonderful afternoon with you, Marge,” I say. “I couldn’t imagine anything better.”

“Yeah, it’s just sad you won’t introduce me to your friends. I bet you haven’t even acknowledged I exist to your new girlfriend.”

Without admitting to her that I don’t actually have a girlfriend, which was probably her entire goal here, I issue the ultimate retort, “Do you really exist?”

“She exists,” AR73 says matter-of-factly.

“They call you experimental for a reason.”

“I don’t get it.”

Marge laughs. “If I didn’t exist, that would just mean I’m part of your imagination. Therefore, that would just mean you have a really fun, interesting part of you locked inside your brain.”

“Sad that it couldn’t stay locked up forever…”

“Say, Morgan.” Marge points to the magazine in my hand. “That’s the latest Rotten Peach issue, isn’t it? How are you finding the crossword puzzle?”

“Wait a minute… Agh, I forgot you’re a stupid fan of this stupid magazine.” Marge used to take up an entire bookshelf with stacks of back issues from The Rotten Peach. I had convinced myself that she didn’t read them and only subscribed and kept them as a power move. Even now, I can’t know for sure if she actually likes it.

“How’s 20-vertical? Have you figured out the answer yet?”

The lengths this woman will go to tease me are almost unknowable. “Yes, I have the answer,” I say. I show her the page, filled out completely.

She narrows her eyes. “Check again.”

I respond only with an “ugh.”

We reach a crosswalk, and the light shifts green going rightward, though we’re supposed to be headed forwards. “I’ve got to go now, but if there’s any information you have…” she pauses for a moment. “Or if you just want to chat… You know my phone number. Give a call.” She pats AR73 on the head. “Be seeing you, Mr. Roboto,” she tells it.

“I’m not a mister!” it chirps.

But by then she’s already down the rightward crosswalk, holding her fedora as a car zooms by in front of her and blows wind in her face.

“What an interesting person,” AR73 says. “How well acquainted are you two?”

“Don’t ask.”

“Noted.”

We continue to make our way to the store, but the sudden visit by one Marge Eisenhower has honestly gotten me a bit shaken. If she’s searching for the Social Media Killer, and doing so at the behest of Donald Blyth himself, then it’s imperative that R8PR, Karina, and I find her before something truly awful happens to her.

It seems like everything I do, everyone I meet, there’s always something related to this grand conspiracy set within Atlanta. People act like it’s a ticking time bomb, but from my perspective it’s a lot more like a snowball rolling downhill.

Ever since the Social Media Killer set on the scene– or earlier, if we’re counting R8PR as the initial slosh of ice falling off a tree and tumbling down a slope– it’s gotten gradually more common to have maniac robots on the loose attacking people, or technological malfunctions that shut down a subway line, or washed-up cyber-criminals committing large-scale heists.. People high up on the corporate ladder are getting worried, but so far the effects have mostly been down here at the lowest rung.

I wonder if whatever’s coming is going to be something I can handle, or if I’m just as screwed as everyone else. I’ll try to keep a good mood for the rest of my leisurely trip with AR73, but things got a whole lot more worrisome all of a sudden.

Art by Ash Szymanik

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5 comments

  1. Great chapter, many questions were asked that even the likes of Isaac Asimov would scratch his head at.

    And the new art makes me wonder even more whether Morgan is a boy or a girl.

    1. In a world where Asimov’s Three Laws clearly don’t apply (considering those robots that pulverized Morgan in Trials of the Cybermancer!), I wonder what Asimov ended up doing. Probably didn’t become a writer. I’m going to say that it’s canon now that Asimov was a secret agent in a war the world never knew about.

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