“I love you.”
“I appreciate you.”
“Oh, Morgan. You’re so kind.”
R8PR gives a hearty, digitized chuckle and spins around like a ballerina. He’s in a whole new level of good mood, something I’ve never seen in him before.
Also, we’re in a former comic book store, abandoned so hastily that longboxes full of early nineties superhero comics still line the floor. A poster of some yellow spandex X-Man, bleached blue from the sun, hangs on the wall.
“I know you’ve got a new body, but… What’s the cause for celebration?”
“This body is worth celebrating,” he says. “It’s about thirty percent lighter than my last one. I can practically fly in this thing.” He taps his left wrist. “No portable PC though… I’ll have to buy one on my own. Ask Karina if she has any recommendations.”
“Yeah, I’ll make a long-distance call right now.” I pull out my cellular and mock-dial a number.
He ignores me. “Plus,” R8PR adds. “We’ve finally uncovered the Ascendants. We should be holding a parade for that. Fourteen of those gray-hooded people, and you already got good looks at three of them. Isn’t that great?”
R8PR gives a cheery ^_^ reaction, but I scrunch up my lips and eat any words I could have had.
This guy… this ally of mine… He brutally murdered an incapacitated man in cold blood. No hesitation. He just… did it.
It doesn’t matter that Blyth was a massive threat. It doesn’t even matter if there was a prison that could hold him or anything like that. It matters that this “Sage” lacks the same empathy holding me or Karina or any of my friends back from killing.
He doesn’t even seem to be aware of how upset I am… I’ll just have to ignore it for now. That’s what I usually do when I’m mad at people.
The door opens and into the comic book shop comes our next guest, Jones Burr–
“I had to get it done by a professional.” she says. “It’s summer, I guess.”
Jones is now sporting a haircut so short she could pass for a teenage boy with some baggy clothes. First Marge, now Jones. If Karina comes back with a fresh pixie cut I’m gonna have the longest hair of everyone I know.
“You look really good,” I say.
“Thank you.” Jones darts her eyes away and bites her lower lip.
She does look really good.
But the toll that everything had on her was massive. And it left some permanent marks. Her right arm has nerve damage, and enough burns that she’s wearing a long-sleeve hoodie in the middle of Atlanta summer. And across her face are two long, very visible scars.
Jones promised me not to take pity on her, so I won’t. But I do know it’s been tough for her. And R8PR had the gall to say that her scars will make it easier for her to blend in and avoid police detection… She agreed, though, so maybe I’m the one who’s a jerk.
“So, what’s the plan?” I ask. “Now that we’re all here. What are we doing?”
“I’m going to find a better hideout than this one, that’s for sure,” R8PR says.
“I don’t know, it’s right cozy in here.”
“Too cozy. Robots need their space,” he says. “But while I do that search, you’ll have to figure out where to meet by code. I’ll send you an e-mail every now and then for you to keep up. You’ll have to rely on your expert sleuthing skills to decipher the addresses.”
“Oh, I like puzzles.”
“As for Miss Burrow…”
“You don’t have to do anything for me,” she says. “You’ve done so much already, and look where it’s gotten us.”
“I’ve already done it, though. I got you an apartment in Buford.”
“Buford… Isn’t that… kind of nice?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he says. “I’ve also got you a job interview for this Thursday.”
“Just keep a low profile. No computers, no ideologies, nothing stupid or dangerous. And, of course, no contact with any of us. And… that’s about it.”
Jones takes a moment to respond. Several moments. “I understand,” she says. “Thank you. Thank you for so much. You two are the best friends I’ve ever had.”
I make a move to give Jones a comfort hug, but she pushes me away. Damn.
“So, next stop,” R8PR says. “Finding the Ascendants and stopping their big master plan.”
“Do we even… know what that is?” I ask.
Jones bows her head a little bit. “They wanted to sacrifice me. They wanted my mind for a digital ritual to… I don’t know, yet.”
“And you don’t need to,” our robotic friend replies. “This isn’t your concern anymore.” She says nothing. He continues. “They wanted me, too, which I found quite interesting. I think they’re building something with artificial intelligence. And… that’s as far as I’m willing to assume. Because you know how hunches are.”
It’s going to be a long journey, I can already tell. If searching for Jones for months was tough, the Ascendants are going to be that much harder. And for how confident R8PR sounds right now, I’m not feeling optimistic about any of it. But I know we’ll save the day, because we always do.