I’m escorted down the hall and to the left.
There’s office workers pacing the halls and a kind elderly receptionist who looks at me being held against my will in handcuffs. We exchange friendly glances before she gasps at the realization of my current predicament.
Yes, I could break these cuffs. But that would just cause a big fight and a lot of people would get hurt, and I would probably not escape alive except as a fugitive going into hiding the rest of my life. My goal to be productive with my existence would be spoiled forever.
The police officers escort me into the main office, which I can recognize already from the array of paintings adorned on the walls and a turned-off ancient vending machine sitting in middle of the room like some sort of artistic centerpiece.
I see Mayor Ed Epstein, who sits in a desk next to the window overlooking the bright cityscape that stretches on beyond the horizon.
He stands up. Tall, with a dominating presence marked by snow-white hair and damaged, wrinkled skin. Twelve years as the head of Atlanta’s government have taken their toll, and a man that could have mugged most from his gaze alone fifteen years ago now looks more like he just got up from a nap.
“Mayor Epstein,” I say. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
Mayor Epstein, the man who hired thugs to attack me in my own home, those same thugs that are now pursuing Jones Burrow across the city.
“I have heard a lot about you, Morgan,” he says.
“I must apologize for my actions earlier this week. I will compensate you for any damages to your property and hope we can have a more productive relationship from here on out.”
He turns around to face the window, looking out at the skyscrapers nearby. His reflection shows a downcast, almost defeated expression on his face. “I built that building over there. Warren Tower, do you know it?”
“I don’t know it,” I say.
“That’s okay.” He points to one of the many buildings littering the downtown area, one with no distinctive architectural features and not connected to the sky rail line. “It”s that one. Warren Tower was built in the seventies, back when Atlanta was still ruled by Sam Massell. You remember him? Well, I guess you weren’t a glimmer in your momma’s eyes then. Back then, the city was still suffering under segregation and the economy was in shambles. Warren Tower was just about the only thing making progress around here. It was also the only work I could find as a scrawny little twenty-something.”
I can see him through his reflection shedding a tear, but his tone remains unchanged and he breathes normally. An Epstein trademark. I thought he only ever did that for the camera.
“Every day, I went up to the highest floor on the building, only a small harness holding me back from a thousand-foot plunge to my death. I welded and hammered and drilled twelve hours a day, seven days a week. That’s back when we got two dollars an hour. And after half a year, Warren Tower was there, built to bring the finest scientific minds together in a central location to conduct their research and advance the country together. And every time I looked up in the sky, I saw that building that I helped make. I felt proud every time I walked outside.”
He laughs. “And now you’d need a map to point it out, for how many skyscrapers there are around here. Guess what Warren Tower got turned into after the war? Condos. That’s the perfect summary of my tenure, don’t you think?”
I don’t know if I am supposed to respond to any of this, or why he’s telling any of it anyway.
“The Social Media Killer… that girl… she’s going to be all they remember me for,” Mayor Epstein says, turning back around to face me. “For all these years now I have tried to keep Atlanta safe and steady. You know that, don’t you? When the world advances too quickly, it leads to more chaos and conflict, just like what we saw a generation ago. I have tried my best to protect against that.”
“And that you did,” I say. “But now…”
“But now I’m over. The corporations are bigger than ever, the public hates me, and there is a teenager about to cause a fissure in our entire way of life.”
A week ago, I’d say he was being overdramatic.
Today? He’s on the mark.
“So you sent out thugs… to keep Atlanta safe?”
“That was a mistake. As were a great many things I have done recently.” He sighs loudly. “Do you know about those new Dreamtech helmets?”
Oh, here we go again. Dreamtech again.
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you must know my ultimate failure.”
“What is that?”
“I invested in Dreamtech. So when the regulation controversies arose, I simply… made them disappear. And now I see their product about to release, and… I don’t know what is about to happen. I fear that in my quest to keep Atlanta safe from the forces that would seek to destroy it, I simply let them fester beneath the surface.”
Now the Social Media Killer is letting those forces emerge and destroy everything he sought to protect, is the way he sees it. That’s what R8PR keeps saying, too.
“What does any of this matter to me?” I ask, finally.
“I’m going to resign this week,” Mayor Epstein tells me. “And when I’m gone I need your help. I know you are deeply involved in this Social Media Killer case. Whatever you know, whatever side you’re on, I don’t care. I just want peace and you are the one who can make it happen. You did it with the Earth Group and the Angels. You can do it here.”
Mayor Epstein… knows about that? I’ve never told anyone about that case, aside from R8PR of course, and Yuri Motokawa, who was with me at the time. It was hardly my finest hour, but I survived and almost nobody died and the gang war that almost consumed the city was averted at the last second. I guess it’s not hard to imagine my name would come up in conversations between people in the know. But I don’t like the idea of being talked about, especially not by powerful people. Considering my origin and my close connection to an international fugitive, those conversations can turn deadly… as we’ve seen from this week already.
“You have to stop men like Donald Blyth from gaining control of the city,” Epstein pleads. “Atlanta is too beautiful, too valuable for it to fall into the hands of power-hungry tyrants such as him. And I won’t be around to hold anyone back, not anymore. Blyth and teenage girl. Those are the two that will bring us to ruin.”
Blyth… Again with Blyth. Does anyone actually LIKE the guy?
“I’m going to help stop the Social Media Killer as best I can,” I tell him. “Not for you, though. When I do this, I will be doing it for myself and for Atlanta.”
“That’s fine by me,” he says, simply, and then slowly sits down back in his chair. “That is all I wanted to discuss with you. Thank you, Morgan.”
So let me get this straight: if I fail, it’s going to be all on me that the city falls apart?
Well, that’s certainly an interesting burden to put on me.
It looks like I can’t pretend I hate Atlanta anymore, not after this.