Just me alone, wandering the mostly abandoned neighborhood around the fully abandoned church. I’ve been down this street so many times it’s practically etched into my memory, but this is the very first time I’ve ever gone on a simple walk around here.
At night, the overgrowth and cracked up asphalt, the boarded up windows on long-forgotten houses and the complete lack of vehicles of any sort, takes on a completely new character, turning a sad display of urban decay into something eerie, almost dreamlike. While the area in Druid Hills around the CDC quarantine scared me, this place has a very different effect. I feel captivated, somehow.
And, as weird as it sounds, that’s a nice atmosphere to be in when you’re taking a late-night walk to reflect on things.
I just feel like I’m useless these days. Like I’m a board game character that someone out there is pushing around, with rolls of dice and drawings of cards that I’m not privy to, with some grand design for my life that I’ll be completely unaware of until the moment I die.
R8PR’s also been straight-up lying to me lately. I get that he’s full of riddles like some silly mountain wizard, and I understand that his robot mind has some trouble processing the fact that humans sometimes don’t jump immediately to the same conclusions that he does. But it’s wearing me down in a big way. He’s a trusted ally of mine, someone who saved my life and I owe an eternal debt to, but… I want to be more informed about whatever is ACTUALLY going on.
He’s getting a reputation as “Sage” on the streets, a mysterious savior with a silly name. He’s undertaking secret plots and not telling me about them. He’s a hyper genius who reveals only about five percent of his knowledge. So… are we SURE he isn’t actually this Dr. Gonzales guy, too? If R8PR were a Data Broker, I would be so unsurprised that it feels unrealistic to me.
I am glad about one thing he’s done lately– not telling me about the GPS tracker microbots he put into Amy’s tea. It was is probably the best thing he could have done, because if I had known, I don’t think I would have been able to keep that a secret for long enough to keep his plan going. He knew things were going to go south with the Holos, and he pulled it off a whole lot better than I ever would have.
Amy actually cooperating still feels like a pipe dream, but we’ll see.
All this walking around, and the fact that it’s like three in the morning and I haven’t eaten since dinner at Neddrick’s, is making me pretty hungry. Luckily, as sparse as the businesses are around here, there actually is one single convenience store a few blocks away– it’s just that it’s also a liquor store.
Pat’s Place. It’s pretty dingy, and I’ve mostly only been in here the time that R8PR and I stocked up on supplies when we were cleaning the church a couple months ago, and then earlier today out of desperation. I try to avoid it, but my sheer hunger prevents me from walking further to find somewhere else. Sketchiness fails when matched with the desire for cheap food.
When I enter, the aroma of dirty floors and illicit tobacco hits my nose and nearly kills my appetite.
The hot food still looks pretty good–a couple bento boxes still left, a hot dog two-pack, a box of nachos–but I know that looking good is absolutely not the same as tasting good. The fact those have been sitting out all day, too… I think I’ll treat this meal like a snack and just get a bag of sun chips. Maybe a beer. Yeah, definitely a beer.
I grab the sun chips and then go to the back to pick out a drink. Beer taxes are stupidly high so they are always a bit more expensive than the other stuff, but I’m not feeling like a vodka soda tonight, just something to help me sleep.
As I scan the refrigerated section for a suitable drink, I notice an elderly man, likely homeless by his clothing, sitting over in the corner of the store, in the gap dividing the convenience store side and the liquor store side. He greets me with a mostly toothless smile.
“Hey,” I say.
“Don’t see kids like you here that often,” he says. “Usually just that one from over yonder.”
“Ah, I’m just, um, in the neighborhood for the night.”
The man chuckles. “Ain’t we all.”
“Have a nice night, sir,” I say, taking an Asahi Plus and giving the man one final nod.
I go up to the cash register robot and pay for my items. Before I leave, I take a look back at the man in the corner and can’t help but frown. From the sound of it, he basically lives here in this convenience store, only not thrown out due to, I guess, the cashier robot’s visual systems being faulty.
Seeing the poorest parts of Atlanta the same day I went to a convention featuring the cutting edge expensive technology of the future is… an experience. I’m too tired to be processing that right now, but I really feel something here. Guilt? Anger? Pity? Who knows. Not me.
I crack my beer open and soak in the quiet night.
When I get back to the church, I enter through the main sanctuary and an immediately greeted by an unpleasant, loud sound. As you may be able to guess, it’s Snorin’ Amy, fast asleep on one of the pews. Resting so peaceful that you’d think she was at home in a comfy bed. Seeing as she’s been homeless for the better part of two years, she’s probably gotten used to situations like this.
I, on the other hand, am sure to get a poor night’s sleep here, so I’m going to one of the prayer rooms on the second floor where I can at least block out some of the sound.
But then, as I approach the stairs– R8PR descends from the top floor and greets me with two blinking, glowing eyes.
“What’s happening, Morgan?” he asks.
“Oh, hey,” I greet.
“Wanna chat?” he asks.
“Well, I was just about to go to bed, but…”
“Yeah, let’s chat.”
We go into the kitchen area, where the table and chairs are already put away. I don’t really feel like chatting or saying that much to R8PR right now, like interacting with him or anyone else. It feels a bit like I’m trapped in my thoughts, and it certainly makes me wish I had the chance to sleep right now. But even so. Despite my unwillingness to actually chat, the first words out of my mouth are, “I wish I could trust you more.”
R8PR nods. “I wish you could, too.”
“Why are you keeping so much from me? Why can’t you be more honest? Is there more danger you’re not telling me about?”
“The answer to all your questions is this, Morgan: I’ll always be your ally,” he says. “I might be ‘Sage’ on the side, but my first and foremost position is in being the robot that helps you save Atlanta. You may feel mistrustful or confused. Just know that, no matter what you feel, the fact is that I’m doing all of this for you.”
“And that’s all.”
I shake my head slowly. I can’t buy it. Not what he’s saying, or in the way he’s saying it.
He continues. “You and your friends are the future of Atlanta. Where the police, where the Blade Runners are mired in the swamps of stagnation, someone has to step up to fight the worst of the world. You’re the new knights to be those someones.”
“Not this again…”
“And as long as you’re a hero, Morgan, I’ll be your ally, no matter what it takes.” R8PR nods again and leaves the kitchen. Or starts to, before he stops and turns back to say, “Oh, and please sleep in the sanctuary. The second floor isn’t good for sleeping right now.” And then he goes.
He might have made some inspirational speech… but it didn’t reassure me at all.