The things I do for friendship.
Sometimes those things involve risking my life and fighting giant cyborg assassins. Sometimes those things involve humiliating myself in front of a huge crowd as a distraction. And sometimes those things involve solving the world’s worst mystery because your friend really wants to do it and you don’t want to let her down.
So far, it’s just the latter, but if it evolves into the other two, I’ll be able to use this as a way to say “told you so” to my future self.
But still, this case is about finding a mysterious can of soda. I don’t think it’s going to result in anything spectacular beyond a few insightful banter conversations between the two of us and maybe accidentally bringing up certain topics that we haven’t really brought up because of reasons.
God, I still get war flashbacks to that moment. The look in Mr. Kodama’s eyes as he caught us in a compromising position with no way to get out of it. They were not eyes of scorn, or shock. Just silent disappointment. I’ve literally died, and I got worse PTSD from that event.
Okay, now I desperately hope we don’t get a quiet moment to reflect or anything because I am not having that conversation with myself today.
For the moment, though, we’re just walking down a sidewalk, talking about automated vehicle drive-up shops. A much better thing to talk about, for sure.
“So, Nguyen’s whole deal is that he thinks more robots can solve most issues we have with current technology,” Karina says. We pass by a flower shop, where a light-skinned man in a dark blue suit is carrying out a gigantic bouquet of assorted flowers. “So not that our robots are bad on their own, but they’re meant to cooperate with others.”
The man carrying flowers behind us trips and drops his bouquet, scattering the flowers everywhere. If he had had a robot to help him carry them… Wait, no, I won’t buy this logic.
“I had to fight a small army of robots like, three weeks ago,” I say. “I can attest that robots, as useless as they are, work very well in hordes.”
“Kinda the same thing, but with a supply chain,” she says. “The Street Chaser line is entirely robot-operated, from the stocking, to the driving, the route planning… and so, to us humans, the way they drive around town seems completely random. But it’s some sort of complex algorithm that’s calculated every day by the robots controlling everything.”
“A whole network of robots… My personal hell personified.”
“I think Nguyen’s a genius. Once he developed it, everyone else followed suit. He started running for mayor a few weeks ago and I really love his UBR proposal.”
“Oh, so this is all a SiPub thing.”
“Yes, it is. The SiPubs are the only political party that care about the free market,” Karina says. “And if Nguyen has his way, every single household in Atlanta will be given a free robot to do whatever they want with. It’ll change the city forever.”
“Again, my personal hell. Every single house I ever visit will have a robot butler… Can you imagine a worse way to go?”
Karina sneers. “It’s not just a butler. People could lease out their robots to stores for passive income, or they could use them to prep meals while everyone else is busy with jobs or school. Disabled people could get better assistance. It would really help low-income households to have a robot.
“AR73 would be nice to have around,” I say.
“I don’t think it would be very useful.”
“It seemed like it was a pretty good mechanic! It would be a real help out here if we wanted to break apart all these auto-conbinis. Maybe we could train it to become a detective.”
“It’d look adorable in a Sherlock Holmes hat, that’s for sure,” Karina giggles. “But I think it’d get distracted by looking at everything and going, ‘Interesting…” for five minutes.”
“Right. It’d be tough, but I think we could train it.”
“Uh, um, yeah, if that’s what you want,” I say. Quickly, I turn my face in another direction to hide the fact I’m blushing.
Karina doesn’t seem to notice it. Whew. “So, here’s the part of the street I was at when I saw the Magitek Soda,” she says, stopping at the curb next to a collection of recycling bins and a tree.
“Wait, if you were here when you saw the soda, then why did you ask me to go to that street corner over there? That’s like a ten-minute walk.”
“Because, Morgan, I know you would have gotten lost if I didn’t specify one of the most obvious intersections in the city.”
“Fair point. I concede.”
“So,” she continues. “Theoretically, if we wait here long enough, the same auto-conbini will return to this spot, and we’ll be able to see it again. But…”
“But, the robot algorithms might change everything and so it’ll never come back?”
“Yeah. So I’m not sure exactly what we should do…”
“Well, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll be in this one pulling up now,” I say.
An auto-conbini, not Street Chaser model but a small bus-sized vehicle with Seftali branding on top, pulls up to the curb and opens up its side door entrance.
“Want to hop on?” I ask.
“Morgan, that’s not… Oh, fine.”
We enter the pop-up convenience store and browse its selection, which basically just consists of one shelf and a row of refrigerators because there isn’t room for anything more.
“It’s so hot out here today,” I say, venting my shirt collar to cool myself off. “I need an unsweet tea, stat.” I did say everything in these shops was overpriced. I am going against that anyway.
Karina flashes her glasses. “Are you sure you don’t need… Magitek Soda?” I suddenly feel a freezing sensation at the back of my neck, and yelp in surprise.
I turn around, and she’s holding… Bustable Lemons soda. “Real funny,” I say.
“The tables have turned on our friendship,” she says. “The teaser has become the teasee.”
“But are you really going to buy a Bustable Lemons soda? Really?”
“Yeah, they’re pretty good.”
“…I’m not buying this.”
Karina takes out another can from the fridge and hands it to me. “Try one.”
“But… unsweet tea…”
I can’t force myself to choose, and with an air of defiance I step up to the cash register robot with the can and bottle together. My rationalization is that it’s very hot, and I’ll end up buying another drink before the day’s out anyway. This holds up.
“SEFTALI? MORE LIKE THEFTALI!” several voices scream.
Karina and I go towards the side doors to see what the commotion is about, only to find, well, a group of people blocking it from the curb side. About twelve in all, some of them holding signs, and all of them yelling.
One portly old woman jabs into the air with a finger, and says, “You two are the reason Atlanta’s failing.”
I hold up the soda can. “Is it that bad?”
She doesn’t even hear me make the remark, because it’s completely drowned out by more chanting of “SEFTALI? MORE LIKE THEFTALI!”
“It’s a Labor Party protest,” Karina says, her tone more bitter than ever. “Their party’s mayoral debate is tonight. Aisha Baker must be siccing her supporters on all the robots in the city.”
“PROGRESS FOR HUMANS, NOT FOR CORPORATIONS!”
“GIVE ATLANTA BACK TO THE PEOPLE!”
No judgments politically. I don’t care to do it. However, I would be a lot more open to these guys’s arguments if they would let us off the auto-conbini. At the moment i doesn’t appear like they will, and I can’t exactly ask while they are making all of this noise.
Soon, the doors to the auto-conbini shut, and Karina and I are stuck inside while the vehicle pulls away and heads towards its next stop.
“Great,” Karina says.
“Well, at least we have some peace and quiet,” I say.
“Stuck in traffic inside a convenience store so we can’t actually search for any clues,” Karina says.
“Well, maybe we can make the best of it,” I say. “Like, your reaction when I try th–” I open the can and it fizzes out in a geyserous burst, spraying on my face.