The Worst Mystery – Chapter 8: Chip

There’s a certain period of time people like to call the “magic hour.”

It’s not exactly a full hour necessarily, but it’s a period right as the sun has started to set, where the sky goes soft. The blues are stronger, the oranges are brighter. You’ll even see some purples, some golds, mixed in there. It’s super pretty. Photographers absolutely love the magic hour, and so you’ll see a huge number of images that just happen to be taken sometime around five, six, seven in the evening, depending on the time of year. In fact, it’s probably extremely overrepresented in art for how little time of the day it tends to last. 

For me, it kind of fills me with dread when I start to thinking about it. 

Really, it’s that short period of time when it’s no longer day, but not yet evening– you set on the realization that you’ve wasted an entire morning, an entire afternoon, that your plan to read by the windowsill is shot because the natural light is gone, that you aren’t going to have dinner ready in time to watch the nightly news, that you don’t have any plans for tonight but the sun’s already fading down past the eternal ice wall surrounding the Earth. 

The magic hour really sucks when you’re a loser, is what I am saying. And this as for almost-evening, while I am in the midst of an investigation for a special, mysterious brand of soda, I can say with certainty that the soft-toned sky is making me feel those very same things. 

How did I rope myself into this mess, again? Guilt for seeing Karina struggle with possibly the worst mystery we’ve ever been dealt with? Yeah, I’m going to go with that. She’s been so hard on herself today. Before we split up, she was getting testier than I’ve ever seen her. I’m starting to worry I pissed her off in a way I haven’t figured out yet because girls are an impenetrable sort, though I’m sure I’ve gotten pretty annoying in this investigation anyway.

She still helped me when I got lost like I always do, so it’s not like she can be too mad. I don’t think it’s about me, whatever it is.

The people on the street right now are mostly salarymen returning home, waiting at sky rail platforms or standing in line at bus stops or shopping at the auto-conbinis parked on the curb (but not the ones I care about). It’s not yet the nightlife, and sadly no neon lights are out to guide my way to the nearest dive bar so I can pretend like I’ll actually go out drinking someday. 

So it’s still boring enough outside to make me want to go into a tea shop somewhere, but the sky is a constant reminder that, in another two hours I’ll officially be the lame dork researching robot-driven vehicles while everyone around me is having fun on a causal weeknight, or getting some rest at home.

One day, I always tell myself, I’ll become a real adult that socializes with friends and meets new people and chillaxes to the max, or whatever cool kids say. But we all know “one day” is no day. Morgan Harding isn’t going to tear Morgan Harding’s butt from Morgan Harding’s sofa long enough to try. Uh, other than this exact moment.

Just look at that, over there. A perfectly reasonable example of what I could be doing if I was a bit more proactive, if I didn’t deal with mysteries and mayhem every other week, if I wasn’t Morgan Harding. Walking towards me on the street is an adorable young woman dressed up in a gothic lolita kind of frilly dress, holding a parasol and everything (it hasn’t rained in weeks). She’s probably my age, or a little older, and actually doing something with her life. It takes forever to get dressed up in that kind of fancy outfit, trust me, and without knowing anything about her, she looks like she dresses up often, if not every day. No matter what she does every day or where she’s going right now, that’s admirable.

She passes me. We don’t trade glances. I’ll probably never see her again.

“Morgan, stop minimizing your own successes,” you probably say. I’ll accept that, but I just wish I could take advantage of a weekday evening the same way that girl does. Just… I want to do stuff sometimes. Maybe I could be adorable too, if I ever tried…

There it is though, right in front of a Kirk’s Hot Dogs shop. “It” referring to the Street Chaser auto-conbini, not an end to my introspective rambles. Well, not an auto-conbini either, but the stop where an auto-conbini is seemingly destined to end up. 

There isn’t too much foot traffic on the streets right now though, seeing as there’s an underground walkway to the nearest MARTA station nearby, so I have a hard time imagining those weird robot algorithms would really choose here to park. Though I’m definitely not underestimating Lamar and his insane brain PC thing, and I am not going to second-guess his analysis.

So it’s what, seven o’clock now, and Lamar’s data said the auto-conbini would be here sometime… probably around now. I don’t see anything though. Obviously the timing will be off based on traffic and other such variables, but I don’t feel confident that there will be anything here. So I’m going to stand here another… ten minutes before I call it a miss. 

Ten minutes is a really long time when you’re not doing anything. Especially when the sweet aroma of Kirk’s is right behind me. There’s no chance I’m getting a hot dog though. After we solve this thing, I am eating a nice restaurant dinner with Karina to make up for not being good enough for her, and I am going to pay for it, and I am not going to eat a meal before that. I’ve just decided this plan, whether Karina likes it or not. Also, I guess if I went and ordered a hot dog, I’d probably end up missing the auto-conbini while I’m in the store. That too.

Gosh, it smells good though.

Damn good. 

No, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to stare down at the ground and keep my nose away from the frankfurter fragrance, the sweet nectar of boiling hot dog water. I’ll relish the lack of relish.

I’ll stare at–

Hey, wait a second.

Since when was Blyth Industries in the internet service business? Or, the sewer business, potentially? Because there is a Blyth logo on the manhole I’m standing over. Right in front of… the place where the auto-conbini is maybe going to stop. The same Blyth Industries that was absolutely involved in the Dreamtech Helmet scandals even if I couldn’t find any firm evidence linking it.

And, thanks to the setting sun causing a slight glitter of brightness behind me, I can also see a very small, very strange little thing planted right next to that manhole.

I squat, feet flat on the ground, and take a closer look.

That’s a microchip, all right. 

It’s sealed firmly into the concrete with some protective adhesive that appears to prevent it from getting crushed by pedestrians. It flashes about once every twelve seconds, sometimes red, sometimes violet. And it’s right next to the manhole, suggesting the two things may very well be connected.

I’m being disingenuous. Obviously the two things are connected. Which means that something is afoot. 

This is obviously more important than actually finding the Magitek Soda cans, and so I pull out my cellular to call up– Karina, who is currently calling me herself.

“Hey,” I say. “I actually have some news.”

“So do I!” she exclaims. “I found it!!!!!!”

“Eh? Really?”

“Yeah! Get your ass over here so we can celebrate!”

“Wait, but I have– ah, whatever.” 

As long as she’s happy, I can put off the extremely troubling developments until later.

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3 comments

    1. Who’d have ever thought there’s be a suspicious possible conspiracy going on with these auto-conbinis… Poor Karina :/

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