“Well, specifically, I’m looking for Magitek Soda,” Karina says.
“Magitek… Soda…” Sorry, I’m not exactly in my most eloquent mood after sprinting down a busy sidewalk for a good ten minutes.
I can feel the sweat dripping from my armpits down my sides. And here Karina is, in a yellow sundress, the most perilous thing about her the fact that she looks like she might have gotten a sunburn being out here.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Yeah just fine…”
“Okay, you just look kinda… sweaty.”
“I just got back from the… gym.”
“I’m training for when we have to fight Jones again.”
She nods, not remotely buying my obvious lie.
Right now we’re still in downtown Atlanta, where the business suits proliferate and the salarymen wander around in groups pretending to be busy. There’s a pack of five of them right now on the other side of the street, shambling like they’re some gang of ruffians prowling the night, rather than lazy office workers returning to work too slowly from their lunch at Applebee’s.
Karina continues, saying, “There’s a new rumor spreading around town recently. It’s called Magitek Soda, and it’s been driving certain circles on Netnect crazy the past few weeks. It’s alleged to be sold at certain vending machines and convenience stores throughout the city, but there is no proof of it yet, not from anyone. And now I’m here looking for it.”
“It’s a lot of things. Some say it’s the first sugary soda sold in vending machines in a decade. Some say it is imbued with electrical properties. Some say it’s all part of some weird experiment by a university on social media sociology.” Karina looks up into the sky and her glasses reflect the sunlight.
“Sugary soda…” I gasp. “If that’s truly the case, then everything Epstein did will have been for naught. All his work with the health initiatives will be gone.”
Karina nods. “Sad, isn’t it. The guy who tried to shoot me will have his legacy undone.”
“A tragedy, to be sure.”
“But, whatever the case is with Magitek Soda, soft drink enthusiasts are scouring the city for clues, huddled up on internet forums compiling clues… but I’m going to be the one to find it first.” I expect an evil laugh, but nothing comes.
Another reason why social media is not for me. I have no doubt I would disparage such meaningless, niche circles obsessed with things everyone else takes for granted, but I also imagine I’d end up being sucked into one of these niche circles against my will. It appears Karina already has been.
Also, I still don’t have a computer. I know, I know, it’s been two months, how the hell am I such a pathetic human being, I just haven’t gotten enough saved up for something that isn’t a real priority to me, especially when I usually just borrow Karina’s. Though, it’s pretty sad that someone who fights technological menaces for a living doesn’t even have internet access at home.
“And you want me to help you with this?” I ask.
“Not really…” Darn, that hits hard. “I mean, not because I hate you or anything. I definitely don’t despise you.” Ouch. “I just didn’t want you to get in the way while I was doing my very own investigations… Not that you are really bad at investigating or anything, of course!” It’s almost like she’s trying to make me feel like I’m worthless.
“But… you have to turn to dear Morgan Harding anyway, forced to rely on such an overwhelming skill level,” I say, pointing my thumb towards my chest. I am definitely not doing so just because my feelings were hurt a second ago.
“Yeah, I thought you’d be good at this sort of thing,” she says. I am vindicated. “I don’t think I have the chops for it. I haven’t had a lick of success so far.”
“Don’t worry about it, girl, sometimes this sort of thing just runs in your blood,” I say, ignoring all the times I’ve argued against this exact proposition. “It’s just genetics.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, my si–” I cough to cover up what I just said, stopping short of revealing the horrifying fact that my older sister, as despicable as she is, is a private detective currently working for Blyth Industries. Or that I have a sister at all. In a best-case scenario, Karina is never finding this out. “I mean, my system. Yeah. Being all technologically-enhanced and whatnot makes me better at investigating than the average human.”
“That’s pretty cool. So, are you up for this Magitek Soda challenge?”
“No. I don’t want to do it.”
“I knew you wouldn’t care…”
“I care! I care! About you, that is.”
“But not about my own investigation…”
“I care more about it than you could ever know. Magitek Soda is my number one priority in life right now.”
Karina’s face lights up. “Thanks, Morgan.”
I feel like I was roped into this, but that I was the one doing the roping in the first place. Hoist by my own lasso, as the saying goes. Well, might as well get into the sleuthing mood.
“Okay, give me the details, then,” I say. “Give me the lowdown, and the highdown too while you’re at it.”
“So, I started looking around the area for any signs of sodas I’ve never seen before,” Karina begins. “I thought Midtown would be a good place to start because it’s big and busy and it’s easy to miss stuff.”
“Uh huh, but doesn’t that go against the part where nobody’s found a single bit of evidence?”
“Well, not if it was in some back-alley vending machine nestled in between two closed nightclubs, or something like that,” she says. “Somewhere close by, but nowhere people would think to look normally.”
“Why is a teenage girl going to back-alleys by herself…”
Her eyes turn into a sharp glare. “Nineteen is not a teenager.”
“It’s literally there in the word. ‘NineTEEN.’”
“Plus, I know judo.” I start to make a snarky retort, but she holds up her palm. “ANYWAY, the reason I texted you so suddenly is because… I found it.”
“I mean, I saw it,” she says. “On one of those auto-conbinis that stopped by a street corner for a few minutes. But before I could get a better look, it drove off again. I’m absolutely sure it was Magitek Soda, with a purple can and the company logo pasted on, but I didn’t get close enough to get one. And so… we’ve gotta find it again.”
Oh. By the way.
I don’t think I’ve ever deemed it necessary to bring it up, being as common as they are, but if you somehow don’t know, “auto-conbinis” have been a huge part of Atlanta for a long time. As the name might suggest, they are robot-operated convenience stores that travel the streets and come up to you to give you immediate satisfaction of food or other goods, right when you need them. They circle around the city, and park momentarily along certain curbsides. Utterly killed the hot dog vendor industry a couple decades back.
Some of them also act as bathrooms, holo-booths, bus-cafe hybrids, and even a few capsule hotels, though those are almost exclusively used by drunks too inebriated to commute back to their neighborhoods..
Along with buses and taxis and police cars, auto-conbinis practically the only vehicles allowed to drive on the streets in downtown Atlanta, and are thus a fixture in urban spaces. Though, the convenience store items are usually pretty overpriced so it’s kind of a bad deal to use them too much when you’re a poor kid like me.
Apparently, one of these things has a mythic soft beverage inside of it.
“I never thought the day would come where I’m chasing a moving vending machine,” I say. “Aren’t there like, thousands of these things driving around?”
“Not just any moving vending machine,” she says. “We get to chase one of the Zenith model Street Chasers. Designed by Nathan Nguyen himself.”
“You have to forgive me for not being the daughter of an engineer, but I have no idea what you just said.”
Karina sighs. “There’s another spot I want to check. I’ll give you the lowdown on the way over there.”
“And the highdown?”
“I’m not exactly sure what that means…”
So, Karina and I are about to employ the highest of our sleuthing skills to track down an alleged brand of soda by chasing around robot-driven convenience vehicles. This truly may be the worst mystery I’ve ever had to solve.
Nonetheless, here we go.