A couple hours afterwards.
The Georgia World Congress Center is still in a frenzy, but now it’s the frenzy of cleanup and aftermath.
It’s quiet. The kind of quiet you get after events like these. The eerie, mist-filled silence of shock and mourning. There’s whispers, sobs, scattered through the room like single droplets of rain.
I feel drained. I feel like I want to melt into a puddle. But so does everyone else, it’s plain to see.
Karina runs into the conference hall to meet her father. But instead of a hug, she begins yelling something excitedly in Japanese, and he begins yelling back. Then, their conversation takes a much more reserved turn and they seem to be speaking very formally. I can’t make out even a single word, so I have no idea what’s going on.
And there’s not much else here. The Blade Runners, and police, are currently cleaning up everything in the conference hall and main hall, and after my statement to the police, I’m free to go. Only, I don’t exactly feel free.
Coop Yates, who was absent during the chaos but here for the cleanup, is currently giving me a death stare worthy of how flagrantly I ignored everything he said to me the other day.
He doesn’t say anything to me, but looks are all he needs.
I look back, nod, and turn my attention elsewhere. That’s all I can do.
The huge contingent of medics and Secret Service agents surrounding Jimmy Carter are currently causing a big ruckus for what appears to be a perfectly healthy old man. He certainly looks annoyed by all the checking up; I can’t be a hundred percent certain, but I am pretty darn sure that he is looking at me with a knowing, annoyed expression. If this man actually remembers who I am from the other day, I will probably die with excitement. Or, I would if everything else but this situation wasn’t so dire.
Six people dead, aside from Blyth.
That’s what I overhear from the idle chatter of some Blade Runners nearby. The robots were hacked by experts, the kind of people who have the power to take down entire countries with code, they say. Hacked to capture and kill, but only their specific targets. Six people dead, they say, but zero of them dead from bullet wounds. Despite the constant gunfire from the warbots, only six people died, and all of them apparently from getting caught up and trampled by the fleeing crowds.
That gives me pause. A whole lot of pause. Sure, it seems over a hundred people were injured too, though we won’t know those numbers for a while. But for all of that chaos, only six were killed, and none of them by the robots themselves?
And those three Earth Group punks that stormed us right before the Sakaguchi Knights robots attacked… it seemed like they were just here for revenge for me beating them up, but how did they even get here? How are they going to be treated when their apparent leader has just committed a massive terror attack?
How did they manage to hack these robots, take all of these people hostage, and avoid killing anyone except Blyth himself?
It just… Nothing adds up. I’m still missing a puzzle piece, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the picture.
Oh, Amy is awake and conscious again, though she’s currently being treated for a concussion by some medics. She has an icepack tied around her head. Since Karina and her dad are still talking to each other in Japanese, I decide to walk over to Amy and chat with her.
“How are you holding up?” I ask.
“I’m a black, homeless trans girl who just got beaten up by a giant with huge fists,” she says. “I feel like a million bucks.”
Well, she’s either back to normal, or she’s fully shell-shocked. I can’t tell which. “Well, I meant… Oh, whatever. You’re no fun to talk to.”
“Nothing about today was fun,” Amy says. “The Holos’ plan got obliterated by flying robots with guns. Basically, we caused a bunch of people to get hurt by starting that fake protest and getting everyone involved.”
“Basically, yeah,” I say. “Feels pretty bad, huh?”
Amy begins muttering mostly to herself. “Street Rat always has things under control, though… I don’t get it. We couldn’t have been duped by the Earth Group… It’s not possible…”
“Hey, you’re still young. There’s a lot left to learn about the world,” I say.
“Fuck that ageist bullshit,” she snaps. “But… thanks for being pretty cool, Morgan.”
“And thank you for… uh, well, you only betrayed me once.”
“I’ve got a good track record so far.”
As much as I hate to say it, Amy hasn’t been as obnoxious as I thought she’d be when we first met. (Hopefully I didn’t curse myself by saying that.)
Then, Karina ends her conversation with her father and comes over to me.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” I say.
“I’m so glad you’re okay, Morgan.”
We hug. Karina cries. For once, I get to be the strong one.
It comes on TV at work the next day, and everyone in the bank watches it:
Interim Mayor Ruby Rhodes and Former President Jimmy Carter stand side-by-side in front of a podium with the Atlanta seal, where a billion reporters are snapping pictures and yelling out questions. Eventually, when they are able to calm down, Interim Mayor Rhodes speaks:
“We have called you here today to announce that our own Former President Jimmy Carter, who survived the events of Wednesday night, has been cleared of any injury or harm.” The reporters give a round of applause. “And, as was his own request, he would like to say some words. President Carter, if you will.”
Jimmy Carter adjusts the microphone to his side. “Why, hello. I’d just like to say, for everything that happened. We must remember to give thanks to God for everything He helped with. Without Him, I’dda probably not made it through the night. But, let us take a moment of silence and pray for the men and women that did lose their lives.”
He looks down, deep in thought, for about fifteen seconds. At this moment, for just this moment, he stops looking like a leader, like the closest thing to royalty that Georgia has ever had. Instead, he just looks like a sad, tired old man. And that hurts my heart to see.
“Okay,” he says. “Now, Mayor Rhodes and I have had a lot of discussion about this, and I gave my approval of her new plan. But from today on, Atlanta will be done with technological terrorism. We are a city of peace, in a nation of love. And the hateful ideologies that plague us will be eradicated with tremendous force and the power of awe. The Earth Group will be brought to justice, every last member, in a crackdown the city has never yet seen. And the members brought into custody after the attack will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will destroy hate with love.”
Rhodes takes back control of the microphone. “Any questions on the specific policy of this crackdown can be directed to our police department, where Sheriff Baronowsky will be happy to answer–”
Her voice is drowned out by the yelling of the reporters.
I look away from the TV and back to Mr. Larkins, who stands in front of my desk with his arms crossed. He shakes his head.
“What a shame,” he says. “That Blyth guy had spunk. And those idiot hackers got him at his prime.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty horrible,” I say.
Then he chuckles. “Well, it’s a good thing I sold out my Dreamtech stock, eh? I’m all about rare earth minerals these days.”
“Uh, yeah. If you say so.”
“Man, I wouldn’t want to be Sakaguchi right now. They ain’t coming back from press this bad. Probably’ll cost them ten billion. Boy am I glad I didn’t show up to the convention center on the last day. I was having too much fun, uh– entertaining guests.” He winks at me.
I just try to keep from thinking to hard about anything he just said.
Instead, my brain is stuck on a loop, reeling over everything that’s happened. This whole giant plot by the Earth Group, an anti-tech terror gang, to hack robots and take over a convention center all to kill one man. The guys that tried to attack me out in Druid Hills showing up again, and whoever the hell Street Rat is. It’s all connected, and yet none of it connects.
I just… Ugh.
Things feel like they haven’t resolved. They feel like they’re only going to get worse.