I feel like, every time I accomplish something in my life, it all gets undone or flipped upside-down the moment I come back here to the abandoned church.
No matter if it’s defeating a Cybermancer or solving a great mystery, finding new info about Jones or discovering a terrifying secret about the corporations that practically own the city, whatever my opinion is going in, almost certainly won’t be my opinion going out.
And I’m already braced for something that this know-it-all sentient robot has in store, because I know he loves doing it.
Except… this time, he’s been awfully mum. Quiet, even, as shocking as it may be to believe.
R8PR is once again sitting at his cobbled-together throne right in the center of the sanctuary, and Karina’s sitting down at a pew playing a game on her portable PC. I’m standing, pacing around like an old person. And apparently I’ve been doing it for a while, because Karina finally looks up from her game to tell me, “Why don’t you sit down and relax for a minute, Morgan?”
“I can’t. Everything’s just…”
“Not until I figure this out! It’s been stumping me for days now.”
R8PR lets out a quiet laugh. “Morgan, Morgan.”
“Morgan’s been like this all week,” Karina says. “Truly in detective mode.”
“I’m not a detective,” I say extremely quickly. “And… that’s probably why I haven’t been able to figure any of this out. Why were those Earth Group guys at that convention when they clearly weren’t involved with the robot attack? Why was the guy with the mohawk with Blyth, and then blocking the way into the conference hall? What were the Holos REALLY planning? Nothing adds up. I’ve got a puzzle set, but like, two pieces are missing and those just happened to be the ones smack dab in the middle. It’s just… augh!”
“Morgan…” Karina compresses her portable PC and gets up. She comes over to me and places a hand on my shoulder. “We’ll work through this together. You don’t have to do this all by yourself right this instant.”
“But if we don’t figure it out now, I think even more people will be in danger,” I say. “Seven people died, Karina. We can’t let that happen again. Every second counts.”
“Not RIGHT this instant. You can spare a couple days, at least. Let R8PR do the data crunching and then we can go. Especially, you know… I don’t have that long left.”
She’s referring to the fact she’s leaving for a several-months long trip to Japan in less than two weeks. I was trying to keep that out of my mind, but… Well, that’s one more thing to worry about.
“Karina, you’re always the voice of reason,” R8PR says.
“But this time, Morgan’s completely right.”
R8PR adjusts his position in his seat. “We have maybe a week at best before the Ascendants find the Social Media Killer. Every second counts.”
“What? How do you know that?” I ask.
“And that’s where I ought to lift the curtains a little, eh?” R8PR says, but I’m not sure what he means.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I haven’t been very honest with the two of you lately. And for that, you’re both probably a lot more confused than you should be. For your own safety I’ve kept some important information secret, and I think now’s the best time to tell you some of it. You… should sit down for this.”
We do. “If this isn’t big, I’m gonna be real disappointed in you,” I say.
“I’ll be fine though,” says Karina. “I appreciate everything you do.”
“There’s three parts to this,” he begins. “The first part is that that data drive Amy gave me was real. I told her that it was all junk data in order to try and push her away from the Holos, but, actually, whatever that Street Rat obtained is completely legitimate. In fact, this data comes straight from the Data Broker’s archives, which means the rich and powerful probably all have access to it. And that means we’re in trouble.”
“Um, why?” I ask.
“Because this data contains information about Jones’s whereabouts that are extremely accurate. I expect that, if they have not yet discovered her location, they will do so extremely soon. And they’ll kill her for sure.”
“That’s awful,” Karina says. “Well, do you know where she is? Maybe we can find her first and rescue her!”
“There’s a second part,” R8PR says. “The entire event at the tech expo was staged.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Staged? Like, fake? No, R8PR, people died at that thing.”
“Almost all of it was a setup. There is no John Vann pledging to return to Atlanta. His whereabouts are still unknown and he isn’t even confirmed to still be alive. The Earth Group had no involvement in the Sakaguchi Knights sabotage, and every bit of what happened was coordinated beforehand.”
“Even… Blyth’s death?”
“From the looks of it,” he says, “that was the main purpose of the entire event. The Ascendants, whoever they are or whatever it is, wanted Blyth dead. And it’s very likely connected to the fact that the Ascendants almost have Jones in its hands. Once she’s gone, there will be nobody in the way to stop what’s coming next.”
“Well, if Jones is gone, so are we.”
“I don’t follow,” I say.
“And that brings us to the third part. For everything the Ascendants have on us, we’ve got one major advantage. One ace in the hole, one plan of ambush. We have the upper hand in almost every way because of one simple thing.”
“And that is…?”
“The reason Jones has been a ghost for nearly three months,” R8PR says. “The reason they still haven’t found her. The reason you still haven’t found her.”
I hear a creaking sound.
The door at the back of the sanctuary opens, and out steps, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, with dark black hair all the way down to her waist, a girl.
The girl who is none other than Jones Burrow, the Social Media Killer.
R8PR clasps his fingers. “The advantage is that she’s been here with me since March.”
Jones makes no attempt to smile. Only makes a small nod.
I try to nod back.
I can’t. My face is frozen.
“With Jones, we’re prepared for anything the Ascendants throw at us.”