The police in Atlanta are pretty infamous for being not that good at their jobs. Yeah sure, the crime rate’s lowered a lot since the end of the war, but if the police were any better, I’d be out of a career. And, in this circumstance, people would be doing more than just giving very nasty looks.
I will admit that Karina and I carrying Lamar like he’s a dead carcass has bad optics. It looks suspicious, to be completely honest. But it’s not like there was any other way for us to move him.
And even with Karina’s strength and my literal superpowers, carrying a six-foot-tall human male together is a very tiring thing. I could really go for another unsweet tea right about now.
“Why… the hell… are there no benches in this stupid city…” Karina growls between panting breaths.
“Sitting is illegal in urban areas,” I say. “Didn’t you know that?”
This is the second time I’ve had to carry Lamar around while he is unresponsive, but at least last time he had the decency to be unconscious, and R8PR certainly helped with calling a taxi to take us most of the way. This situation is sadly much more stupid, because for all I can tell, this dude’s competely awake. Just completely unresponsive.
We have to go through a crosswalk and to a nearby one-block park before we can find a place to set Lamar down. There are a lot more looks this time. The police are certainly lax about weird stuff, but I’m worried we’ll pass the point of no return soon enough and someone will dial 2-8-5 on us.
Lamar’s been completely catatonic for a good fifteen, twenty minutes by now. As conscious as a human can be, except with no mental capacity whatsoever. None of my poking has provoked anything at all.
Okay… there. Lamar is now sitting on a park bench, eyes wide open, staring off into nothing. Good as new.
“This is all your fault,” Karina says to me, looking at Lamar with her hands on her hips. “Why couldn’t we just have tried to solve this mystery on our own? Why the hell did you think this would work?”
“Because I’m an idiot,” I reply. “You’re the one that trusted an idiot to help you out.”
“You’re not an– Ah, maybe you are.”
“It’s pretty easily to accept the truth when it’s staring you right in the face.”
“Shut up with your snark mode charm schtick,” she says. “This is serious. Your own best friend could be in serious danger.”
“You’re not in danger–”
I try really, really hard to suppress a giggle. I don’t manage to succeed, and she continues to glare like I insulted her grandmother. “I’m sorry Karina, but what do you think we can do? Carry him all the way back to the abandoned hospital and call R8PR over, attracting absolutely all attention to ourselves in the process? We don’t even know what the problem is yet, so there isn’t any point in freaking out just yet. We should stay calm.”
“I… disagree, but now if I disagree I’m just going to look like a jerk,” she says.
“Well, you’re already–”
“Got it,” Lamar says, suddenly. Both of us jump in shock. Lamar takes a second to process the fact that the setting has now changed, and that he is now sitting on a bench. “Huh. Guess some stuff happened.”
“You were out for a bit,” I say.
“Twenty-two minutes and fourteen seconds,” he says. “Apparently, I can track the atomic time now.”
“That’s a pretty useful feature, actually. You could patent that.”
“Are you okay?” Karina asks. “Really okay, I mean?”
“I have a computer stuck to my brain,” he says. “I haven’t been okay in a long time.”
“Oh, I mean, um…”
It’s my turn to crack up laughing as Karina’s cheeks go flush.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Lamar says. “It felt like a couple seconds passed, and I teleported to another part of town. Where are we, by the way?”
“That park on the other side of the street,” I say. “We had to carry you because you were frozen in place and people were staring. I think they’re still staring.”
“That’s not good,” he says. “The other times I’ve tried to access the AI’s stuff, I was alone in my room. I wonder if the same thing happened then.”
“There’s no telling.”
“My grandparents must think I’m on drugs.” He chuckles to himself.
“Eh, we all do some weird stuff sometimes,” I say. “No idea what my parents would think if they saw the pitiful life I was living here.”
Karina shakes her head. “At least you guys don’t have a dad that barely acknowledges your– Wait, no time for pity parties. Lamar, if you’re okay… which you say you are…”
“…then, what did your computer brain find about the auto-conbinis?”
“Ah, that. Yeah, that was interesting,” he says. “I found a lot of information. I– uh, my AI– analyzed the traffic data going back six years, when Nguyen’s first Street Chaser model was implemented. Certain smaller traffic jams for short periods on certain streets were most likely auto-conbinis, and some historical data exists for older Street Chaser routes. Along with that, can use population density and significant local events to find when pedestrians were in high volume and when the historical algorithm would most likely have acted. There is also a live-time map of all of Gamesoft’s holo-booth cars publicly available for additional data. Cross-referencing with internet forums on soda enthusiasts who made possible Magitek Soda sightings, along with Karina’s own sighting, and we get a comprehensive predictive route map that will be accurate for up to one week.”
“Wow, um, Lamar…” My jaw has dropped. “Did the AI take over again, or have you gone and gotten all eloquent recently?”
“I, um. I guess that was kinda weird,” he says. He looks like he doesn’t really understand it either. “That was me, though. I guess.”
“Wow, you can use grown up words now. You’re finally becoming an adult…”
“Shut up Morgan,” Karina says.
“Okay. Wait, no, actually, I have to add that your AI discovered all that information, downloaded it off wireless ethernet, analyzed it, and processed it into your brain in just twenty minutes?”
Lamar once again ponders himself. “It looks like.”
“Huh. I’m going to have to call bullshit on that, unless your AI has somehow broken the First Protocol.”
“You really think it interfaced with the internet?” Karina asks. “Like, evil AI taking over the planet style?”
“How else could it be doing all of this so quickly? Not that I understand anything about computer science… I’m just worried that it’s not going to be the police that takes an interest in our investigation soon…”
Karina and Lamar shrug simultaneously.
I guess I’m the only one that cares. Oh, well. It’ll be me that has to deal with the fallout when everything goes to shit way down the line, but that’s how it usually is.
With one swoop, Karina has aligned herself with Lamar, suddenly making me the third wheel in our too-dynamic trio. My stature shrinks and now I will fade into irrelevance slowly, only for my personable narration to disappear from view forever. Some probably wouldn’t be displeased by that.
“So, what’s on the map?” Karina asks.
“It’s– Okay, the fact I can pull up a map with my mind is messing with me. Um… It’s showing a lot of potential paths, but the specific car that you saw earlier today will be at one of three locations across the downtown.”
“We have to split up then, huh?” I ask.
“Convenient,” Karina says.
“And yet, it may be the only way to find the soda,” she says. “Let’s go, then. Call me when you get lost.” She looks directly at me.
“Hey, now, that’s pretty rude! I don’t always–”
“–got lost,” I say over the cellular. “Do you remember where the place is supposed to be? I see the Varsity in the distance, but I’m next to, uh, I don’t know, but I’m on Pine Street.”
“Morgan… What are you going to do without me?”