With a sickness mask, sunglasses, and a winter scarf wrapped around my neck, Karina and I walk towards the highway entrance. The bright afternoon sun is shining down and scorching me, but that’s okay for now.
So far, no robots to harass me. No middle aged dudes with trench coats stalking me. This disguise, while making me seem like the Invisible Being from Outer Space trying to fit into society, has been flawless so far. Being a doofus is an acceptable outcome.
Both of us have on our rocket boots, because we’re about to take the quickest path to the Data Farm– the rocket lanes on the highway.
Of course cars and buses and trucks get their normal lanes, and then the streetcars get their own section as well, but every major highway in Atlanta is also given a protected, gravity propulsed lane for those using rocket skates or magna-bikes or hoverboards or other types of advanced single-person transportation, and these lanes are linked throughout the entire city into an entire network.
The fatality rate here on the rocket highways is five times that of any other form of transportation though, so it’s mostly reckless young people and mid-life crisis men who use it. It’s still a big way to get where you want to go fast, if you’re really desperate to save on time.
I’m not that desperate. But blah blah Karina says blah blah.
“Blah blah,” Karina says. “You aren’t a wuss. This whole trip is going to take like five minutes.”
“But it’s only twenty on the subway,” I say.
“I am far from a wuss. I proved that in Columbus.”
“You were the ultimate wuss in Columbus.”
Karina steps on the platform and activates her rocket boots, lifting her about six inches off the ground.
I take off my impeccable disguise and put on my safety gear before doing the same. The lift itself is smooth and steady enough that you might not even notice it, and the higher vantage point is what gives it away. Of course once you do notice is when you start wobbling a bit, and losing your sense of balance, and now suddenly you are being asked to skate at extremely unsafe speeds down a highway. By you I mean me.
Since Karina doesn’t even hesitate to take off onto the entrance ramp I have no choice but to follow close behind.
The rocket thrusters launch and I move my feet back and forth to keep myself steady. I really feel like I could die at any moment, even if it’s technically mostly safe. I’ve fought techno-zombies and a cyborg madwoman, and just one month ago I climbed something like ten floors on an elevator cable. Why I’m so instinctively scared about skating while floating in midair is beyond me. Probably because, if I die here it’s entirely my fault and the news will only be able to phrase it as a tragic accident. If a heinous villain was the cause of my death, I’d be remembered as a hero, or at least as a dumbass.
I catch up to Karina pretty quickly and I slow my speed to match hers. She’s using her portable PC right now, absolutely unfazed by the fact her body is being propelled at speeds as fast as a car.
We pass some signs with advertisements– “micro-billboards” I think they call them. Bustable Lemons soda, of course, some Magitek rocket jousting gear, a couple movie posters… Oh, there’s that one I keep seeing commercials for on TV (I’m stuck at Karina’s house all day, it’s all I’m ever able to do, okay?). The commercial is for this pretty shitty-looking thriller movie called Dogsitter. It’s about a young woman who’s staying at a friend’s house looking after their dog, when there’s a home invasion all of a sudden. She has to escape, but there are… secrets…. or whatever…. It looks dumb enough that I actually do want to go to a theater to see it.
Despite having movie-loving Karina as a best friend we don’t really go to the movie theater together very often. It’s partly thanks to her schedule and partly thanks to my… predicaments. Not that I enjoy spending that ghastly six dollars for a single ticket to a 3D showing, but it’s always such a quality improvement over the fuzzy television boxes at home. I’ve heard they were experimenting with LED TVs at one point, ones with flat, thin screens more similar to theatrical projection, but consumer interest was too low. Consumers are dumb. Just like Dogsitter.
Maybe after all this Cybermancer stuff I’ll ask Karina out to the movies.
Uh, wait, rephrase that. I will ask Karina if she wants to go out with me. To the movies.
My cheeks are flushing.
I can’t believe what came over me last night. It was just a stupid result of being cooped up in a small house all day for several days in a row, and nothing that should have ever gone anywhere. I’m actually secretly glad her father showed up when he did. Is it weird to feel that way?
Probably not. We’re friends. Best friends. I don’t want to risk ruining that because of some weird hormonal urges to… I’m blushing just thinking about all this. Wow. Karina is really nice, and I’d trust her with my life, but I don’t think we should ever sleep together. I mean, we literally sleep together on occasion, which is also kind of nice… But I mean figuratively. I mean sex, okay? I don’t want us to have sex.
Fuck, I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to say that.
I apparently like to mentally torture myself for no reason at all. It isn’t like Karina cares about any of this stuff. I doubt she really has thought about any of this at all because… we’re friends, after all. Nothing else.
Anything beyond that and we’d no longer be friends. It’d propel towards something passionate and messy and it’d ruin the only real connection I’ve made with another human since all the stuff I went through with R8PR. Losing that would just destroy me. It’d be a hundred times worse than that stupid idea to move to Tallahassee because at least then we would have left each other on good terms. This road here would only lead to hurt feelings on all sides.
I want to stop thinking about this. Please? Can something please distract me?
Suddenly, one of my rocket boots’ thrusters starts flickering out, and half my body drops halfway to the ground. I’m still going the same speed, but now I am much closer to dying.
I’m going to die. I’m going to crash and flail around on the highway and bleed to death from a thousand gashes.
It stops flickering after half a second. It’s back to normal.
I catch up to Karina, who didn’t appear to notice a thing about what just happened, and soon we get off the exit closest to the Data Farm. This all feels like some sort of metaphor for something significant, but I’m mostly just deciding never to use these rocket boots ever again.