cover art by Emmanomia
“Please help. Corner of Peachtree and Juniper.”
That’s all it says. And that’s all I need to know.
Karina is in trouble.
I spring from my desk, where up until this moment I was collating stacks of paper that got knocked off the copy machine this morning, and grab all my things as quickly as I can.
Mr. Larkins, sitting at a front service counter and watching TV over on the tiny CRT on the wall, sees me and immediately starts growling.
“Harding! You aren’t sneaking out on me,” he says. “We’re Atlanta Cares, and leaving early means you don’t care. That ain’t–”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Larkins,” I say. “It’s serious.”
He’s taken aback for a moment, but then regains his composure long enough to reply, “You know, if it weren’t so dead around here today, I’d…”
I nod. “Thank you.”
Mr. Larkins continues grumbling unintelligible gripes, but lets me pass without any further resistance.
And before I know it, I’m on the sky rail, sitting with an anxious fervor as the zipline bus glides from stop to stop. My foot is nervously bouncing up and down, and other people around me are starting to take notice. What’s this random kid doing, in the middle of the day, acting like a war is about to break out?
They don’t know what’s going on in their city.
I sometimes wish I also didn’t know, that I kept my normal life as a layabout wandering between jobs and remained wholly apart from the world of underground criminals and technological disasters waiting to happen. From time to time, I even still feel pangs of regret for not moving down to quiet, peaceful Tallahassee with my brother.
But hypotheticals don’t matter now. Not when Karina’s in danger.
Karina is my best friend. In some respects, my only friend. I wouldn’t trust anyone else more with my life. There isn’t another person outside of family that I care about as much as her. And if she needs help, I’m going to be there
The moment the sky rail lets off at its Midtown Central stop, I bolt.
She sent that message almost twenty minutes ago. That’s twenty minutes more than I wanted to spend getting over here. If it’s as serious as I think it is, then every second I take is the difference between a happy end and a tragedy.
I weave through the crowd of people on the sidewalk, going about their day leisurely, not knowing how close to disaster they are in at any given moment from the myriad of threats that Atlanta faces. With any luck, I’m going to keep it that way, but I can’t let a single wasted moment pass.
Karina, you’ve got to be okay.
I’m running as fast as I can without bumping into everyone around me. This is the best I can do. And if that’s not good enough.. You know what? I’m not going to think that way. That isn’t going to happen.
Here I am. The corner of Peachtree and Juniper.
It’s a busy intersection, its crosswalks filled with pedestrians, and streets filled with vehicles of all sorts. But I have no trouble spotting exactly who I came for– Karina is standing at the corner, using her portable PC.
I almost have to skid to get myself to stop; I barely avoid colliding with her, and when she notices me, she yelps and jumps backwards.
“Morgan!” Karina shouts. “How did you…”
I’m having trouble speaking for how out of breath I am, but I manage to say, “I’m here, Karina… I’m here to help.”
“Oh, okay,” she says. “I didn’t think you’d get here so quick… But I guess if you’re ready, we can start. I’m trying to find some soda.”