“You really thought I wouldn’t show up?” Lamar asks, meeting Karina and me at the street corner we’ve been waiting at for the past half-hour.
We actually wandered off a bit from where that one auto-conbini let off, mostly because a nearby Labor Party protest was getting closer, and louder. Also, I was apparently very thirsty because I bought yet another unsweet tea. Anyway, saying all of that was pointless because we’re back in the same spot, and now we’re ready for action, with Lamar in tow.
This street’s turning into something of a hill, one of those times where you desperately hope not to have to keep walking because you know you’ll be dead by the time you get to the top. Luckily, Karina has even less stamina than me, so she’s taken the lead in us waiting by a street corner where road is still flat. Next to us is a park, about one block long on each side, where kids are playing in the sandbox and a few robots are walking their owners’ dogs.
“I have to admit, I didn’t think you’d want to,” I say. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
Lamar, sporting a tobaggan and wearing an unbuttoned green plaid shirt over a tanktop (the number-one hottest butch girl style, by the way. Lamar is not a butch girl though), manages a soft smile. He says, “I’m a little disappointed you only wanted to hang out to use my AI, but I’ll survive.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say. “Really, I’ve been meaning to call you up, but what with Kobi moving out and the other stuff with–”
“Joke.” Lamar retains his smile and blinks a few times.
Karina cracks up, laughing so hard she has to clutch her stomach to keep from falling over.
“I’m glad to help out,” he says. “Honestly, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. Living with a computer inside me and all. It’s not too bad anymore.”
I know Lamar well enough to know he’s exaggerating how well he’s coping, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt when he says he can handle it.
“Well, thank you so much for– Karina, are you STILL laughing?”
Karina shakes her head. She coughs a few times to cover up the fact that she is totally still laughing. Like, dude. I’m glad her mood is improving though.
“So… What is it exactly that we’re doing here?” Lamar asks. “We aren’t doing anything illegal, are we?”
“Illegal is a very complex concept,” I say. “I can’t say for certain what may be considered ‘the law’ in any objective sense, and I’m sure neither can you. So it’s impossible to know what’s against ‘the law’ if we can’t define it.”
“I’m going to go home,” Lamar says.
“No, we aren’t going to do anything that will get us arrested,” I say, making the statement just vague enough to avoid declaring definitively that we won’t be breaking the law. “The only thing we’re doing is looking for the right mobile convenience store to find a special brand of soda.”
“What Morgan means,” Karina says,”is that R8PR has assigned us to search for something called ‘Magitek Soda.’ It’s apparently pretty dangerous, but it’s only being sold in very secretive locations. I saw it in one of the auto-conbinis earlier, but there isn’t any good way to track it.” Huh, interesting to note that Karina said “we” instead of “I.” This is her case, not mine. I take no responsibility. “The Street Chaser model of vehicles is manned and supplied entirely by robots and AIs though,” she continues. “So we were thinking that there might be a pattern to trace if we try hard enough.”
“Ah…” Lamar nods. “So that’s where I come in.”
“If you’d like to…” Karina says. “We don’t want to impose or anything, if you feel uncomfortable…”
“It’s fine, really.” He cracks his knuckles. “I’m getting better at controlling this thing. Or letting it control me. I’m not sure. Either way… this should be fine.”
“What are you going to–” I can’t finish my sentence before Lamar starts convulsing. I start to reach out and grab ahold of him, but after only a second, he stops, and he looks forward with that same glazed look in his eyes, that faraway look he had when he had been possessed by the spirit of Earthbound all those weeks ago… I’m not sure I like the sound of this idea after all.
Lamar, or rather his AI, begins prattling off random words. “Street Chaser brand auto-conbini. Nathan Nguyen. Recursive routes. Metadata street analysis. Magitek Soda. Fifteen results. Page four, subject line, ‘Re: Magitek’s new drink?’, content, ‘i totally saw this the other day but i didnt know it existed until now, i swear. i was by 12th street.’ Analyzing.”
And then he stops. Freezes completely in place.
“Uh, Lamar? You okay?”
No response. I feel the impulse to flick him in the arm, but I don’t want to risk getting punched into the nearest glass window. But man, he is frozen like a statue.
Other people walking on the street are starting to give us weird looks. I’m used to this by now, but Karina is starting to worry. “Is he okay?”
“Yeah, of course he’s okay. You are okay, right, Lamar?”
He’s breathing and blinking, so he’s alive, at least.
But he certainly isn’t moving at all.
I sure hope this doesn’t turn into a whole thing.