“Why do they think we can just get rid of robots and make all the old jobs come back…” Karina grumbles. “It’s ridiculous. They can’t actually believe it, can they… Honestly, sometimes they’re worse than the Earth Group…”
“You’re comparing a political party you don’t like to an eco-terror organization,” I say. “Are you sure you’re not the bad guy here?”
“Sorry, I just get really, really annoyed by Labors when they do all their stupid protests…”
“You know, I’ve actually fought the Earth Group a couple times.” I take a sip of my already-half-empty can of soda, empty of course because it blew up in my face. I must have accidentally shaken it while I wasn’t paying attention, or I’m the victim of the world’s lamest prank. “They’re not guys to mess with. Even the weird crust punk guys that loiter around bars half the time. If you go down to the wrong part of town dressed like a hi-tech hippie, you will get the crap beaten out of you.”
“I GUESS Labors are better,” Karina says. “Even if they are worse than basically every party in Atlanta.”
“If you say they’re worse than the Values Party, I can’t be your friend anymore.”
“I’m actually serious about that,” I add.
“No, but it would make me question your judgment significantly.” Anyone who holds even the slightest amount of positivity towards the party dedicated to, among other things, re-banning gay marriage and instituting a halt to all foreign aid to the West, is someone who earns my ire. Like, that Kevin O’Conner guy who keeps AR73 is probably a Values Party voter. Let that sink in for a moment when you are considering whether or not to support them.
Karina shrugs. “The Labor Party is better. But that’s comparing an idiot to someone pretending to be an idiot so they can snatch your wallet when you aren’t looking.”
“Gosh, you have a way with words.”
I take a few steps to the side and face the cashier robot standing motionlessly. “Doesn’t Karina have a way with words?”
It doesn’t respond at all. Not even an automated response about buying stuff. Huh. Must be an old model or something. I grab a bag of chips and wave it in front of its face. Its eye sockets light up and it chirps, “One bag of Sun Chips. Two dollars, please.”
“No, than– Actually, I’m a bit hungry.” I buy the bag and start munching away, though I have to set down my can of soda dangerously on a shelf full of other food items because there’s nowhere else to do it. “You’d think if they designed this thing to be able to be ridden in, that they’d put some chairs in or something. Want some?” I tilt the bag in Karina’s direction.
“No thanks, I’m watching my figure.” Not commenting on that one in any direction. That is a way to get myself eviscerated. “And I think the reason they don’t put chairs in is because they don’t want ‘undesirables’ getting a free ride across town.”
She means homeless people. “Yeah… sucks.”
The Labor Party does have one pretty big point in that, yeah, the unemployment rate in Atlanta has grown a lot in the past few years. Like, almost twenty percent when you count the rural areas at the outskirts. The homeless population is large, especially among young people who flunk out of school and take to the streets, and even when Mayor Epstein was in power and still popular, he couldn’t change that much. Robots just swooped in most of the jobs you can do without a good education. And a good education… is pretty hard to get for a lot of people.
But enough of that. These chips are pretty good. The Bustable Lemons soda… is also pretty good. I’m mildly satisfied with everything right now. I just wish I could say the same about Karina. She’s looking pretty frustrated right now, staring at the floor in thought. Is she upset about how badly our investigation, or lack thereof, has gone so far?
“You know…” I say. “I’ll admit something to you. When you sent that text, I thought it was something actually serious. I ran over to you as fast as I could. That’s why I was so gross and sweaty.”
Karina looks up at me. “What? This IS serious,” she says.
“I know this is a big deal to you to find this soda, but it’s just soda. Even if we don’t find anything, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Huh? No, this really is serious. R8PR assigned this mission to me, and he’s counting on me to figure it out.”
“Wh…What? Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?!”
“He told you to search for this soda? And also, you met with R8PR without me?”
“Yeah, it’s the first mission he’s ever given me. And also yeah, I check up on him sometimes without you. R8PR is my friend too, Morgan.”
“I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call him my ‘friend.’”
“That’s why I didn’t want to ask you for help so quickly,” Karina says. “I was hoping I could do it all on my own. But this one’s way too hard, it looks like. Whatever Magitek Soda is, it’s important enough that R8PR thinks it’s worth looking for, but… After a week I still don’t have a clue.”
“Besides the fact you actually saw it with your own two eyes.”
“Well, yeah, but–”
“No buts,” I say. “You haven’t failed. You’ve actually seen the damn thing to know for sure it exists. You’re halfway there already.”
“That’s a good way to look at it… And I guess when we get off, we could still stumble into something if we try hard. Yeah.” Karina crushes the can in her hand and tosses it across the auto-conbini into a recycling bin. It circles around the rim and then falls in. “Yeah! We’re gonna do this.”
“That’s the gumption we need.”
She raises her hand in the air, and I wait for her to do something, but… she just kind of lowers it. “I… thought we were going to high-five.”
“Uh, no, I’m holding a bag of chips.”
Things quiet down quickly from there. I finish the chips and drop the bag into the compost bin, and then finish the rest of my soda. Actually, drinking this further, it’s kind of bad. The aftertaste makes it really obvious that there’s no added sugar, and it’s too sour. Maybe this would be a good mixer with whiskey, but by itself it’s just a mediocre carbonated drink.
I imagine that, whatever Magitek Soda is, it probably tastes similarly lame. Just like the company it’s named after.
“Heh.” Karina starts laughing to herself.
“I just thought… I bet there’s a ton of pornos that use ‘trapped in an auto-conbini alone… IN TRAFFIC’ as their setup.”
“Pfffft. You’re right. I can see it now. The cashier robot barely works, so the countertop is free. And then the wall if you’re into that kind of thing. Just throw in two young, desperate actors, and…” We realize where the nature of this conversation is going.
The rest of the ride is very quiet.