That’s a piece of bacon floating in front of me.
I hate bacon.
Or, do I? I forget.
It’s hard to tell with all the candy dancing around on the horizon. As much as I love bacon, I love candy so much more. Mmm… peppermint.
It’s too bad about the war over there. I see a whole lot of people fighting, some cute cat boy punching out a bunch of soldiers in helmets. Then after he punches them, they just evaporate.
Kind of a bizarre situation right here. A cat boy and now a human girl with a gun fighting against hordes of faceless enemies. And I’m just here on the sidelines watching with a piece of bacon right beside me.
I greet the piece of bacon, trying to be courteous. It greets me back; I can’t hear the words but I can understand it very well. Its wordless words make me happy. Very happy. It’s almost like I’m dreaming.
That was weird. I don’t dream that often.
Don’t know what caused that, but I certainly feel a lot more relaxed than I usually do when I wake up. And a lot warmer, too.
Oh, Karina’s arms are wrapped around me, and my head is on her shoulder. That would explain a lot of this. We’re on the couch, the TV playing on mute, and the morning sun’s starting to flicker through the blinds in the front window. Some news broadcast is going on the TV, a lot of flashes to different clips of some guy I recognize but couldn’t name, but other than that, my entire apartment is kind of still. Like time frozen. But a very warm freeze.
Karina’s fast asleep, still in her work clothes from yesterday minus pants, while I’m in pajamas. She’s holding me kind of tight right now, but I don’t dislike that at all.
This is really nice. I don’t really remember how we ended up like this, but being in her arms makes me feel really, really–
The news is on?
What’s the time? Why doesn’t the news display the time during commercials?
I don’t have the willpower to get out of Karina’s warm hold on me, so I wrestle one arm loose and grab the remote from the coffee table, where I flip to the TV Guide station, the most reliable source of what time it actually is.
“Shit, we’re going to be late to the expo!” I shout.
Karina yelps awake, and squeezes me so tight I feel like I’m going to burst.
We get ready quickly. Or at least I do. I took a shower last night so all I had to do was get into a new underwear and now I’m ready to go. I mean, besides like, actually having clothes on, but you know.
Karina hops out of the bathroom–literally hops– and begins rapidly scrubbing her head with a towel to get her hair dry, with another wrapped around her chest.
“What, you’re using both towels? Who gave you permission for that?” I complain.
“You weren’t going to take a shower, were you?” Karina asks.
“No, but those are the last clean towels,” I say. “I’ll have to do the laundry…” I crunch on my apple and down in my apple-flavored sorrows about having to wash my clothes. Apples are a good breakfast food, by the way. But not meals.
“You can use a towel more than once,” Karina says.
“No you can’t. That isn’t allowed.”
Karina comes up to me and hands me the towel from her hair. She sticks her nose up close to mine and says, “Then here you go.”
It’s right at that moment where I realize that I am inches away from a very naked, very attractive young lady, and I am growing very flustered about that fact.
I take a step back, instinctively. Karina giggles, and says, “You’re so funny, Morgan.”
“People tell me that a lot,” I say, tossing the towel in the direction of the hamper (it misses) and biting again into my apple. “I feel like my real calling might be stand-up comedian.”
“We could go on tour together,” Karina says. “Kinda like the Blues Siblings, or something.”
“Blues Siblings… don’t say that name to me,” I mutter with great bitterness.
Ever since Akyroyd died in the war, Belushi’s been trying to keep the Blues Brothers going, but his new gimmick is that he’s got some girl half his age singing along with him, so they rebranded and everything. Except the “brother” and “sister” kinda act way closer than I’d like. He claims they’re actual real-life siblings, but that just makes it creepier. Also the music isn’t good anymore.
I can’t believe I’m the one who cares about this and not Karina. Karina’s all, “Wow I love how cute Ellen Blues is” about it, which tells you a lot about her priorities when it comes to bluegrass and soul rock music.
Ellen Blues is really cute though.
And so is Karina.
I take another bite of my apple, and now it’s basically done for, so I chuck it into the sink into the food catcher, until I realize that there’s a bunch of dishes in there and actually that apple plopped right into the water of a dirty pot. Yuck.
So, Karina’s been staying over a lot lately. In fact, since her dad is hosting several Sakaguchi Automations executives at their house this week, Karina’s basically moved into my apartment since they came to Atlanta. She hasn’t been around all that much, helping set up for the expo and all, but it’s still been a bit hectic around here, surprisingly even moreso than when Kobi or Lamar were here. So I have learned more valuable lessons in the art of cohabitation, like that I still am too lazy to be clean in my house, even when I have a roommate.
Or, the more valuable lesson, which is that you shouldn’t live with someone else when there is a lot of tension between the two of you.
My word, it’s been a little… tension-filled is the correct term, yes.
I was worried that things wouldn’t go back to normal after all of that stuff the other week, where I nearly ruined our friendship out of stupidity and selfishness. Luckily, they… Well, I’m not sure it has gone back to normal, exactly, because it feels like the relationship between the two of us has sort of… shifted.
Karina takes out some underwear and a camisole from the dresser she commandeered from me (in my own home!), and then puts them on just as she slips her towel off. Really, I– I’m right here, Karina. I do exist.
It’s been really tough making sure neither of us do anything to potentially ruin things between us, not before Karina goes on a months-long trip to the Eastern Union to visit her grandmother. But we’re trying. Or at least, I am. Karina is playing this fast and loose sometimes.
“You almost ready?” I ask her.
“Are you? You’re still in your underwear too, you know.”
“Yeah, it’s almost like we–” I stop myself and blush before I even make a joke.
It’s been really, really tough.
“We won’t be that late,” I say. “We’ll be fine.”
“Are you SURE about that?” Karina raises her eyebrow as she looks on the line stretching back from the sky rail stop closest to my house.
Karina and I are both in black suits, standing in the heat of June in Atlanta, and the wait for the next sky rail bus is already starting to get to the both of us.
Living in downtown Atlanta is nice when it means you can get to work in less than half an hour, or when all the shops you need are right by. Living in downtown Atlanta is decidedly not nice when mega-sized press events take place at the convention center and every nearby hotel and private lodging is packed with–bleck–journalists. Tech people, too, of course; no matter if your company is based in Georgia or Eastern Union, the Great Lakes or Switzerland, the Atlanta Annual Tech Expo is the absolute number one place each year to show off your technology and pitch it either to investors or to the public.
Which means, of course, that all public transportation across the city becomes jam-packed for about a week. Just yesterday, I took this same route to work at Peach Towers, and there was nobody else on the zipline bus. Literally nobody else.
Today, I’m not entirely sure we’ll even be able to squeeze our way in.
“I’m sure we can squeeze our way in,” I tell Karina. “Those buses can hold way more people than they seem to. Those little back areas behind the last seats can fit like ten people. Trust me, it was like this last year too.”
“Are you sure?”
The next bus comes down the sky rail and… it’s already nearly full. Nobody gets off, either.
“Positive,” I repeat. “Just gotta wait, two more buses tops.”
“That’s twenty more minutes… Shouldn’t we just walk?”
“No, because both of us have tough days ahead of us, and getting our suits super sweaty this early in the morning will ruin the rest of the day. Being late is better than doing a bad job.”
“My dad’s gonna kill me…” Karina moans. “Wait, ‘both of us?’ I thought you were only coming because your boss was making you.”
“Well, yeah, but I know I’ll have to carry all his electronics or whatever. Mr. Larkins is a big impulse buyer, I hear.”
“Never would have thought it,” she says.
Neither would I; Larkins is way too stingy for that. He decided to switch us to digital-only files for most office statements… only after we ran out of a two-year supply of staples.
Karina’s cellular vibrates, and she opens the clamshell. “Father? Yeah, yeah. はい。」
She begins talking to her dad on the phone, apparently a very unpleasant conversation from her tone of voice and constant eye rolling. Those two are very weird sometimes.
Actually, I made the whole thing up, about Larkins making me go. It’s part of that ten percent dishonesty Karina and I allow each other–she’s been real stressed lately with work, with getting ready to leave the country, and with helping her dad out, so she does not need to know anything about my real reason for going to the tech expo today.
I’m going, of course, on behest of R8PR, who thinks that our search for the “Ascendants” will have a whole lot to find at the expo. And with the way things have been unraveling, with the microbot-filled Magitek Soda cans, with Jones’s secret research server, I wouldn’t doubt that myself.
But Karina doesn’t have to know that. She just needs to relax and have as much fun as she’s able to after spending all her time helping out with the expo. I can do this on my own, but only because I have to.
Twenty-eight minutes later, we finally board a bus that isn’t maxed out, and make our way toward a tech expo sure to be filled with wonder, mystery… and danger.
That was the worst thing I’ve ever said.