“I don’t know, tattered t-shirts make a good fashion statement,” I say.
“They might be making a comeback, actually,” Karina says. “I see more people wearing acid-washed jeans around my campus these days. Ripped shirts my be next.”
I ignore Karina’s legitimate response to my snark and let out a huge sigh as I toss clothing item after clothing item aside.
It’s all ruined. What kind of awful people would take the time to throw out all my clothes from my closets onto my bed and tear them to pieces? It’s just rude! I DID give a couple of them concussions, but still. Self-defense.
We left the church, following a bunch of different bus routes as per R8PR’s secrecy instructions, and then the sky rail– I’m terrible at directions so I always let Karina take charge– and came back to my apartment. We wanted to see if there was anything I could take from here while I stay at Karina’s house for the time being; we tend to live in each other’s homes quite a bit already, but we haven’t gotten to the stage where we keep sets of clothing with the other. That would be kind of weird. I sure wish we had done it, though…
Continuing to rummage through my closet looking for something decent that wasn’t ruined, I find.. pretty much nothing. My overalls have a knife slash through them, but I only got those to impress a date one time… There’s a puffy shirt, like George Lazenby style, but I’m not going out in public like that under any circumstances… Ah, hey.
At least there’s a business suit, complete with blazer and pants way back in the back that wasn’t even touched.
Classy, but probably not what people would generally want to wear out in public.
I forgot about this one because it’s cream-colored and a bit tacky to wear on an everyday basis, but I guess I can wear lighter colors now that it’s spring.
Not like I have much choice.
I manage to salvage two dress shirts, one t-shirt, half my underwear, and most of my socks from all this wreckage. So enough to fit in Karina’s purse, but not beyond that. I go and change into the cream-colored suit and throw my old outfit onto the bed with all the other to-discard clothing.
“Looking fancy, Morgan.”
“Ready for a night on the ritz?” I take Karina’s hand and lift it into the air, then spin her around. She giggles.
After I grab some toiletries (except for my toothbrush, which was of course thrown into the commode), we’re about ready to go. I walk into the living room and stand by the front door.
Oh, poor living room. Practically the only thing in my the living room that isn’t ruined is my Super Nintendo, passed on from my older brother to my older sister and then finally to me. If anything had happened to that… I’d have dishonored my entire family.
“Wait.” Karina stops and stares at a large pile of dirty clothes nestled in the corner of the living room. “Morgan, what about this? You’ve completely ignored it, but all these clothes are fine.”
“But then I’d have to go to the effort of going to the laundromat…”
“I mean, I have a washing machine at home,” she says.
No… Karina, you can’t bring me to wash my clothes. I can’t go through this horrible ordeal right now, not after my traumatic encounters all week. I have to get out of this somehow. I’ll have to use my master maneuver, one that works in any situation.
“I can’t take it right now,” I tell her. “Because underneath my laundry pile is… um…”
“My… porn stash. All my porn is there and I don’t want you to see it.”
Before I can finish the sentence my face turns bright red. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a complete falsehood or not; I can’t believe I just said that to Karina.
She blushes too, but then starts laughing.
She saw right through my gambit!
“Oh, fine,” she says. “Well, if you don’t have any clothes, I’m sure I can help out…”
“No, I won’t do it again,” I say. “I’m not repeating the Columbus trip. That was a disaster.”
“Not my clothes, my father’s. He has a big wardrobe in his room. It’s a big bit for you, but it’s better than nothing.”
“We’ll see about that.” Her stomach rumbles. “Let’s just go get something to eat so we won’t be late for the movie shoot.”
“Something quick, right? Let’s go to the Fami and get some stuff before we head over.”
“I’m partial to Yum Mart myself, but sure thing,” Karina says.
We walk across the street and get some quick food. Karina gets a gyro and hot dog, while I try to redeem my failures of last night and get another eclair. I can’t survive without tasting this damn delectable sweet.
Oh, it’s so good. I doubt they make anything this good in Tallahassee… Oh come on brain, don’t try to convince me to stay in Atlanta over some friggin’ snack food.
You can tell the evening’s coming, because the streets are bustling with all the colorful figures wearing bright yellow jackets and glowing aviators. A man in a blue mohawk walks through a crosswalk using his portable PC, unafraid of the steel death traps idling at the stop light just in front of him. That’s the true courage of an urban dweller.
Besides making Karina and me look positively plain by comparison, I find it weird that so many people are dressing up and going out in their presumably party outfits on a Tuesday night. Sure, it’s a Tuesday night in the biggest city on the planet, but weekday nights in downtown Atlanta tend to be pretty calm. I figure Spring might be influencing people’s moods and getting them out of the house a lot more.
Karina and I reach a street corner, where a tall, flat monitor, cracked and discolored, is displaying the latest news. These terminals were provided for free by CNN fifteen years ago to disperse information quickly in the event of any emergency situations, but they were used for that purpose beyond the first Drone Event and anyone looking in the sky could have seen that one. So they still show the news loops, but most of them have fallen into disrepair, like this one.
“I want to see if–” Karina chews on her gyro and swallows. “–if they’re talking about the film shoot any. Do you think they’re shooting in Piedmont Park yet?”
Two human commentators arguing about Kendrick Deal’s political ambitions and his campaign to recall the mayor are on the video display, but it’s a bunch of mindless talking points everyone’s heard before, rather than actually delivering any information. It’s cable news, everyone.
The video stutters and then freezes. Karina smacks the top of the monitor a few times and it resumes.
“Why don’t you just use your portable PC?” I ask.
“There probably aren’t any decent wireless modems to connect to,” she says. “No point if it takes an hour to load the page, right?”
The ticker tape reel at the bottom of the screen starts to, at very slow speeds, spell out a message: “Tonight begins shooting for new Quartermaster pic. 7 PM. Roads and parks will be closed through the weekend. Check online for details.”
Well, that was essentially useless information.
A zipline bus passes overhead, zooming by as it makes its way to the Four Seasons Hotel.
“It’ll probably be near Piedmont Park if they’re closing roads for the whole weekend,” Karina says. “Let’s go.”
It’s not too far of a walk from here to the park, so we keep going, and hope that we can figure out where the movie shoot is from the increasing volume of crowds gathering.
There is a particularly loud volume sound coming from one direction; we head in it and… Oh my… end up finding something we didn’t exactly anticipate.
There is a large group of people gathered around in a circle chanting together as one woman with a megaphone shouts.
Ugh… a protest.
“Atlanta for all! Atlanta for all!” they shout.
That woman is Aisha Baker, a city councilwoman like Deal, and someone who clearly also sees blood in the water with Mayor Epstein’s unpopularity because why else would someone hold a protest on some random Tuesday evening?
“We won’t let the one percent that controls half the wealth continue to block out hard-working Americans in favor of more robots! Boycott any movie production without fifty percent human staffing! Movies for all! Atlanta for all!”
“Movies for all! Atlanta for all!” the crowd echoes.
Karina sighs. “Typical Labor Party drivel. What, are we going to return to an agrarian society and put the poor back into tenement farms or something?”
She isn’t typically as caustic about it, but the Labor Party is a bit of a sore spot for Karina, because she and her father are very staunch voters for the classically-liberal Silver Republican Party, or as they’re usually known, the SiPubs (pronounce it “psy-pubs”). Not exaggerating, they’re like, go-out-to-monthly-party-meetings level of loyal to the party.
Like I said before, toxic politics and constant fighting in the news is one of the big reasons I want to move to Tallahassee. It’s a lot quieter down there and I don’t have to worry about the international implications of every election moment.
It was bad enough back when my parents still lived in Atlanta and argued about current events every night after the evening news.
Karina and I reach a small hill overlooking an intersection that has been blocked off on all sides. There is a gigantic film crew set up in the area, with robots moving around green screens and hundreds of onlookers ogling the production.
Atlanta’s the biggest filming location in the world nowadays. Did you know that? I did, but only because Ms. Kodama is composed of forty percent movie trivia. After the war, it all had to move somewhere, and luckily for the world North Georgia is very diverse geographically, with mountains, hills, forests, and rivers in large supply and cities ranging from hamlets of fifty to the typical pleasant exurbs to, well, Atlanta itself. As long as you don’t need a large desert or grassy plains, you can probably film it here.
I have no idea what’s being filmed here tonight, though. It must be a really big movie if it got the permits to shut down so much of the city over the next few days. “What’s the movie again?” I ask.
“Mega Busters 3: The Search for Drippy,” she says, staring intently at the people in the crowd. As in, she literally has binoculars right now.
“Mega Busters… it’s some new movie series. The first two aren’t actually out yet; they’re filming the whole trilogy at the same time.”
“Oh, that makes sense. Everything about that makes sense.”
“I don’t know much about it, but Leon Pansky is the star, and he’s one of my favorite actors no matter what he’s in. He has such great range!”
“Oh yeah? He can star in horrible studio blockbusters AND dull independent biopics?”
“Shut up, you. I’m not here for your sass,” she growls, her face still covered up by the binoculars.
Piedmont Park being closed always causes a big public uproar, and for a movie nobody’s even heard of before I’m thinking it’s going to make people even more disgruntled, especially when the weekend rolls around and people are looking forward to finally spending a warm Spring afternoon in the sun.
Such is life in Atlanta.
You can see all the robots setting up the cameras and lighting. The second-unit director is way off in the distance, away from the mass of people standing around, as he’s trying to dictate exactly how the robots do their jobs. He sits high up in the air on one of those lift things, shouting down with a megaphone as the crew bungles setting up the set like he wants. Robots of course care about safety and don’t comply as blindly with every order they receive quite as well as underpaid assistants do; they’re not human after all.
The director Martin Quartermaster is famous– even I know who he is. He’s noted for such amazing movies as The Dog Quest and Complacency of the Learned. By that I mean he’s a hack they hire for those sentimental family movies when they can’t wrangle anyone else. Though… I did love Tonight’s Always Music as a kid, so I guess his work does have a bit of nostalgic charm to it. He’s been making these sorts of trite “dog plays field hockey” or “King Kong but with an alien prince” kind of stories since I was in diapers, but people still eat them up so he still makes them.
This is the first time I’ve seen Quartermaster directing such a big budget movie, though. This is the type of movie where they have a poster and trailer before the script is even done, the type where they have tie-ins with Burger Box all summer. He’s the kind of director to do inspirational sports dramas before action extravaganzas, so he seems like an odd choice by the studio.
“I don’t know why we’re watching this shoot though,” I say. “Can’t you just wait until the movies are out?”
“It’s not the movies, it’s the shoot I care about. Once they get ready to do a scene with a lot of extras, I’m going to go down there and join the movie! I just need to see what kind of outfits everyone else is wearing so I can coordinate…”
Don’t they have official casting calls for extras or something?
I guess since it’s just second-unit work today they don’t care enough.
Karina gazes down at the set, where the robots are placing cardboard standees of large, Las Vegas-like buildings in front of the already-placed green screens. “It looks like a party scene of some sort… Leon’s character is outside a casino, I think…. Ah ha.”
“Ah ha what?”
“I’ve got just the outfit for this.”
She digs into her bag and pulls out a full dress, sparkling black. It’s a bit wrinkled on account of being inside a bag all day, but it looks okay, I guess. And then in a feat of magic I’ve never seen in my life, Karina puts it on while simultaneously taking off her Stanley Kubrick t-shirt, beige bra, and jeans without exposing herself whatsoever, all in a five second swoop. It’s genuinely incredible.
“How did you do that?” I ask.
“Lots of practice, and gym class for two years in middle school.”
She puts her hands on her hips and poses.
I want to say Karina looks stunning in her dress, but I think that would sound kind of weird. Plus, she doesn’t quite pull it off as the voluptuous lady she is trying to act as. The dress is a little bit too big for her in certain places, and she’s already having to pull up the neck to adjust it.
The crowd is getting even larger as tiny figures begin to form into a line. “Okay, this is my chance,” she says. “Let’s go!”
“Both of us?”
“C’mon, you’re in a suit already.”
“Only because I have to be!”
She grabs my wrist and pulls me down the hill with her.
No, I don’t want to do this! This is not my idea of a fun time!
I have bad stage fright, believe it or not.
No, that’s not true at all. I just really don’t want to see myself on a theater screen in a year’s time acting like a fool in the background of a shot. Karina won’t let go, though, so I resign myself to my fate.
There’s a huge line for on-the-spot hires for extras. People in all sorts of funny costumes are here ready to appear in Mega Busters (and receive $100).
We reach the back of the line and I snap my hand away from Karina’s grasp.
“Are they really going to put me in with this dumb suit?” I ask, looking down at myself.
“Maybe they’ll hand you a costume,” Karina says.
“I could have just sat and watched you from the hill, you know. I would have been perfectly content doing that.”
“But would it have been as FUN?”
Karina’s got all the heart I don’t care enough to have myself. She’s really passionate about movies, and about trying to prove that she can be an actor, but… well, you know Karina. She gets really nervous easily and it’s hard for her to do stuff like audition. In the year I’ve known her, she’s never done any sort of acting in front of me. Hopefully being an extra will help her get the exposure she needs to start being comfortable with the process, because I really want her to follow her dream.
But I don’t want her to bring me into that dream.
People are getting turned away at very fast rates; Karina and I soon find ourselves right in front of the casting director. He’s a middle aged man devoid of a single strand of hair on his entire head, sitting in a tall chair and glancing back and forth between us with a focused intensity.
Karina blushes harder than she’s ever blushed before. She looks like she’s been sunburned after a day at the beach.
“You…” the casting director says to Karina. “Pull your dress up. You’re showing too much cleavage. Your tits aren’t gonna sell you.”
“Well, are you going to do it, or are you wasting my time?”
She starts scrambling to fix herself, but the neckline won’t stay in place.
“Oh, whatever.” The casting director turns his attention away from her and towards me. “You… you’re perfect. I have just the role for you.” Ah, shit. “You’re going to be a homeless person wandering the streets of Las Vegas. Leon Pansky runs into you and you start begging him for money. Just make up some nonsense or whatever and– Hey, wait up!”
Before I realize what’s happening, Karina’s pulling me away from the casting director and away from the set.
“Wait! No! You’re perfect…” the casting director’s voice fades as we reenter the crowd of onlookers trying to get a glimpse of the set.
For once, Karina has saved me from the maws of doing something I don’t care to do. Even if I was about to get a speaking role in a major studio film.
Then when I look at her, I see the tears in her eyes.
Her frown is so deep it looks like it’s about to fall off her face. “I choked,” she says. “I hate it when people get snappy… it freaks me out..” she starts crying and kneels on the ground. “Morgan, why can’t I do anything right?”
I kneel down as well and pat her on the shoulder a few times. She hugs me around the neck. “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just some dumb bald guy. All bald people are terrible.”
“My dad is bald…”
“Just a joke, Karina…” I get back on my feet and extend my hand to her. “Now come on before you get grass all over that dress.”
She wipes her face and lets me pull her back up onto her feet. “I’ll do better next time,” she says.
I resist the urge to snark, and instead tell her, “Yeah you will.”
Karina’s cellular rings. It’s a restricted number. I don’t know why he always calls her over me, but it stings.
She hands it to me without another word; she’s still trying to dry off her face.
“Yeah, R8PR?” I ask.
“Found him. You’re not gonna like this.”
“What? The thug with the jade robotic hand?”
“Yep. His name is Marco Marcucci,” R8PR says. “Pretty small-time but recently he’s been known as an associate of Motokawa’s group.”
Motokawa… the Mercenary Prince.
That changes a lot. Those weren’t just small-time thugs that attacked me last night. They really were professionals.
Hey, that means I’m better in a fight than I realized.
“Since they didn’t kill you they either didn’t need your information, or they wanted to send you a message,” he says. “They’re probably trailing you right–”
Suddenly there’s loud, screeching feedback on the movie set PA system.
The entire area goes eerily silent.
“I’m going to have to… call you back…” I say before shutting the cellular.
“Listen up,” a distorted voice says over the intercom, blasting at max volume to everyone in the vicinity. “You thought you were safe just because you don’t have a Netnect profile. Deleting your account does not make you impossible to locate, though.”
What is this?
The voice laughs. “No matter how hard you try… the Social Media Killer will still find you.”