Amy, Karina and I sit in the tech expo cafe and each of us is sipping on drinks. Amy has a Coke Zero bottle, while I have a cafe latte and Karina has a black coffee. I want to say this is indicative of our personalities or something, but I don’t think something as stupid as caffeinated beverages works for that.
(Also, that pigtails girl Tony (Tony with an “ah”) is still here and every time I look her way, she’s glaring at me. Help. I’m scared.)
Right now, Karina, out of her skimpy outfit and into a gray hoodie, is absorbed in her portable PC, tapping on the screen with a flustered grimace.
“Is is that bad?” I ask her.
She slowly nods her head. “Someone made a remix video already where it’s set to the song Sandstorm.”
“That’s pretty bad.”
“I can’t believe I did that…”
“You ruined an entire press conference for a major business conglomerate with one wrong step,” I say. “You should revel in the power that your feet have. You are stronger than anyone else. You can change reality.”
“Shut up, Morgan…” she whines. “I don’t want to be an internet meme…”
“I think you should stop looking at all that stuff.”
“But I’m trending on Netnect! Look!” she turns her arm and shows me the screen where #SakaGirl is the number one topic on the website.
“‘SakaGirl,’ eh. Can I nickname you that?”
“Can I stab you to death?”
“Yes you can, SakaGirl.”
“You’re such a fucking– Oh.” She grabs her mouth after she swears when she remembers the kid next to us. “Um, sorry, hi. I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. So you’re Amy, right?”
Amy giggles and turns to me, saying, “This bitch actually tried to self-censor in front of me. What a card. She’s a keeper.”
“Hey! I am not a bitch. That’s rude,” she says.
“Bitch got offended. Maybe she’s not a keeper.”
Amy’s trying to involve me, but I’m staying out of this. I have officially decided to stay out of this.
“You know, Amy, you shouldn’t say that kind of stuff to other people, even as a joke. It’s not nice.”
“It’s just a joke,” Amy says. “Anyway, I forgot your name. What was it?”
“Karina, like Karen?”
“I have been called Karen for entire semesters by high school teachers, yes,” she says. “But my name is Karina. It’s the name I was born with, and the only one that I want.”
“I like my name too,” Amy says. “But I think it’s better since I picked it myself. It’s my name and nobody else got to decide.”
Karina takes a softer expression all of a sudden. “Oh, you’re…”
But Amy’s expression hardens. “I’m what? Different? Transgender? What’s it to you, anyway?”
“Well, I didn’t want to misspeak or anything. I just wanted to make sure…”
“I know how it goes,” Amy says. She slams her Coke Zero bottle on the table and a bunch of the remaining liquid splashes up to the top and hits the cap. “Y’all always want to pity the poor trans girls to make yourselves feel better, but nobody wants to actually do the shit to fix our lives.”
“I didn’t say any of that,” Karina says.
“You meant it. It came across through your tone. Listen, honey, I’m a woman, and I’m proud of it. I’m not taking any shit from anyone else, and I don’t want to be pitied or condescended to. I’m me.”
Karina’s face was already flush from watching the internet laugh at her antics from the press conference, but now she’s full-on scarlet. “I’m sorry, I just… You know, I’m queer, too. I’m pansexual,” she says. “So I just want you to know that I’m standing there with you. It’s been a tough life for me too.”
Amy laughs at her. Literally laughs. “Cis people are so fuckin’ crazy. It’s a billion times easier for some cute cis Asian girl to say she kisses girls sometimes than a black trans girl to even exist.”
Karina’s face goes red, and she responds saying, “That may be true, but the LGBT community should stick together! We are all–”
“Are we really doing this?” I interrupt.
Both of them look at me with puzzled glares. I reflect the glares back with a shrug of indifference.
“Ah, maybe you’d like to weigh in, Morgan,” Amy says, narrowing her eyes and smirking slyly. “After all, you’ve been real quiet the whole conversation.”
“Maybe we should move onto a topic that matters at this exact moment,” I say. “There is something slightly relevant in front of us that I was hoping we would discuss.”
Karina’s face goes from red to white. “Oh yeah, the thing.”
“Yes, the thing.”
“Well, I already told you that the Holos are going to interrupt the whole thing before the big Blyth Industries press conference,” Amy said. “My friends are going to be plants in the crowd and are gonna start protesting evil technology and stuff, and then they’re gonna try and rile everything up into a full-on riot. Everything will go crazy, and then… I don’t know.”
“That seems like and easy plan to stop,” Karina says. “Just find the teenagers and kick them out.”
“Well, I don’t know EVERY Holo,” Amy says. “There’s hundreds of us. So I don’t know who’s gonna be here. Plus… I don’t really wanna help you find them.”
“You have to,” I say.
“How many do you think you could spot? Even just a few could help,” Karina says.
Amy looks out past the edge of the cafe into the crowd at the main hall. I do the same. A whole lot of people are gathered there waiting for the conference hall doors to open so they can sit down for the Blyth Industries press conference. It’s just so, so many people. If there’s any chaos, a lot of people could get seriously hurt.
I gaze at the crowd and try to pick out anything suspicious, just like I did when I was trying to pick the Social Media Killer out at those movie shoots all those months ago. Only this time, it’s not just one person I’m looking for, it’s the potential for dozens. The fact that so many people are here, and so many young people at that, makes it almost impossible for me to spot someone who might be a Holo in disguise. I don’t even know what the average Holo looks like. I didn’t even know the gang existed until very recently… This is really frustrating me.
The idea that people would try to disrupt a large convention and harm others for a political statement is mind boggling already… but this Holo plan isn’t even about anything in specific, not that Amy knows about. Why? Is it for a real reason, or just because they can?
The Holos’ leader, Street Rat… Whoever she is, she is no friend of mine. Never will be. But that fight will come another day, because for now, I have to thwart her current plan as best I can.
“This is going to be really tough,” I say.
“You know it,” Amy says. “The Holos are the best.”
I tense up–
My eyes register it before my brain can even process it–
Donald Blyth is out there, surrounded by a cohort of bodyguards, all of whom are dead giveaways as Motokawa’s men. All except for that tall man with the mohawk following close behind. They’re wading through the crowd and going towards the entrance to the conference hall. But… why? Isn’t Blyth supposed to be getting ready for his own company’s press conference?
The mohawked man turns his gaze to the cafe, where he meets my eyes and smiles coldly. We stare at each other for a good moment, and he starts moving away from the other bodyguards and in my direction. He’s coming right toward us.
That is, until the yelling starts.
“We want freedom! Freedom from tech!” one pitchy teenage boy yells in the crowd. It’s echoed by the cheers of a dozen others nearby.
“Here we go,” Amy says. “That’s them.”
Karina gulps down the rest of her coffee. Then looks at me and notices that I’m ignoring the fake protests. “Morgan, what are you looking at?”
“Donald Blyth is out there.”
“Huh? You mean… in the main hall?”
“Right in the crowd,” I say. “And the man with the mohawk.”
“The one from the warehouse?”
“The terrifying one? Yes.”
“I don’t know what you two are blabbing about,” Amy says, “But shouldn’t we stop the Holos?”
“Yeah, I guess we probably should.” I get up from the table and start towards the protest. Amy and Karina quickly follow. It’s getting really hectic really quick, with the crowd disoriented and growing in size as onlookers join from other parts of the convention center. The Holos are basically hidden in different places throughout the hall, all shouting in unison; without banding together into one protest group they’re able to make it almost impossible to discern who exactly is actually yelling.
And the voices are growing; either the Holos planned to stagger the fake protesting on purpose, or completely unrelated people are already joining in.
“DEPORT NATHAN NGUYEN!” one man shouts, loud. Judging by his deep voice and bizarre demand, he doesn’t seem to be a teenager.
Oh, no, is this turning into a real thing this fast? I’m not even into the crowd yet!
How will I–
Ah, fuck me.
Beelining through the masses straight in my direction are three men with deep scowls and torn leather jackets–three of the Earth Group punks I beat up last night.
“Amy, do you see that?” I ask.
“Uh, yeah.” She takes a a few steps back and gets behind me. “I’m just gonna… Um, tell me if things turn out alright, alright?”
Before she bolts away, I grab her by the arm. “No you don’t,” I say. “You caused all this mess.”
“Morgan Harding!” one of the Earth Group punks shouts. “You stay right where you are!”
A terrifying mohawk man coming in one direction, some non-terrifying mohawk men coming in another, all while holding the arm of a very non-terrifying mohawk girl. What’s up with the hairdos around here? Also, why do I get the feeling like I’m about to be beaten up?
Karina, still taken by the protest, goes, “It’s funny when the Labor Party is so bad that a bunch of protestors can emulate their style flawlessly.”
“Is this really the best time for a political dig?!” I shout.
“Well, they gave me the ammo, I had to–
An explosion from the east wing of the convention center rocks the main hall.
Within seconds, half a dozen Sakaguchi Knights are flying this way.
The fake protest stops. The screams begin.
And then the robots begin shooting.