The “boardwalk” has been closed for probably ten years, by this point.
Atlanta, obviously, has no shoreline to build a pier onto. There is absolutely no possible way for there to be a boardwalk in the traditional sense (or, any sense at all that is comprehensible by normal people).
Hell, aside from the Chattahoochee River that flows in the north part of the city up in Bucukhead and Roswell and all those rich people neighborhoods, Atlanta doesn’t have much in the way of water at all. I guess that’s part of the reason Georgia fought that battle in the Civil War to get Chattanooga acquired from Tennessee, because without it we’d be facing a drought every couple of summers.
So this “boardwalk” is nothing but an imitation, a story-high row of concrete disguised as wood planks, with all sorts of novelty businesses and games and cotton candy sellers. Or there would have been ten or fifteen years ago, at least. I don’t know much about this history of this place, other than what I can glean from its ruinous remains. But its origins are obvious to anyone who’s paid attention to recent history.
I’m sure it came directly from the influx of immigrants and refugees into Georgia’s borders over the course of the late nineties. After the war, survivors from all over the former United States flooded into what states still remained, and Georgia just happened to be one of them. People from the Northeast, in particular, moved into Atlanta faster than you could say “carpetbagger.” My own father came from New York City, though he moved back when he was a young adult looking for new opportunities. And the man doesn’t talk about it much, but I believe Mr. Larkins himself came to Atlanta in the postwar era. Most of those people moved into their own little communities in the west part of the city, or out further south towards the Macon districts. But they still needed a place to call home that reminded them of themselves.
So, instead of just moving to Savannah and trying to turn that into Hoboken 2.0, I guess all the Northeasterners rallied together and got this imitation boardwalk built in the middle of the city and filled it with all the generic boardwalk stuff you’d see in the movies.
I pass a pizza parlor whose sign is covered in broken LED lights. this place must have been pretty fun back in the day. I certainly never heard about it when I was a kid, though, so it probably exclusively catered to the crowds of Atlanta that don’t fall squarely into the bracket of “Southern-fried yokel.” And it must not have catered well, considering that it’s no longer in operation.
It’s another rusting, weed-covered relic of a time that no longer exists. Half of Atlanta is ruins, and instead of fixing what’s here it just keeps expanding outwards. Soon Atlanta is likely to annex Talladega and everything surrounding it. That’ll net a bunch more farmland in the far west, but also force everyone else to pay extra taxes while they set up transportation and security and all that. Why does Atlanta insist on making itself bigger and bigger even while its core slowly rots?
Oh wait, that would imply that I myself am part of that rot since I live in downtown Atlanta. Eh, it’s probably true. All I do is drink peach vodka sodas and complain about robots, so I’m far from a contributing member of society like all those outlying suburb dwellers who are probably volunteering on the weekends and making care packages to send out West every Christmas. (For some reason I have a feeling that you might be a little tired of me putting myself down sarcastically. Perhaps I should tone it down, because I’m even getting to myself a little at this point.)
But Atlanta’s just packed to the brim with these spots that constitute nothing of economic value, not for the city or even its people. Why are there so many abandoned stadiums and sports arenas? Why is the area around the CDC still quarantined after all these years? Why is there an abandoned imitation boardwalk sitting right where a nice apartment complex could have been? All these questions and more, only to be answered by the City Council and Mayor, who obviously don’t care. As long as Atlanta keeps growing, it never needs to get any better.
But, on the positive side, that makes places like this boardwalk really nice for covert meetings with gold-smuggling criminals.
So… The place where I’m supposed to meet is an arcade of some sort, at least according to the person I called on the way over. I haven’t come across an arcade yet, though I may have missed it. Usually you can spot an arcade thanks to the flashing lights and giant posters of video game characters. Here, I doubt there will even be any games installed in the first place.
I walk past a tree whose foliage is blocking my view—yes, there is a tree growing a hundred feet up in the air, on a fake boardwalk. THAT’s how long this place has gone unused for. There’s a fountain filled with stagnant water, as well as a bunch of crows hopping around the place. A fox scurries out of a store called “POPCORN” and dashes into another store across the street called “PARLOR GAME.” I track the fox over to that shack and see some rotted, chewed-up stuffed animals stuck to the walls and scattered on the floor.
Still no sign of the arcade, but holy wow this place is right out of a horror movie, or at least some crappy post-apocalyptic thriller. It’s so peaceful that I expect at every single moment to be attacked by a fat man with a chainsaw, or to stumble on a hover-bike gang of mutant warlords.
But the peace is not interrupted, at least not for a while. I continue strolling just like ever, with nothing but the occasional animal to break the silence.
Then, after a while, it finally pops into my ears. Music. And not the creepy theme park, abandoned boardwalk kind. It’s upbeat, hyperactive, positively electric. And my feet follow along to the beat as my ears track the source of this mightily entertaining sound.
The music is someone singing in Japanese, but their voice chopped up and overproduced to the point that it is no longer so much a singer’s vocals as it is yet another instrumental layered on the countless others that make up this tune. It’s vaguely annoying and the tempo must be close to two hundred beats per minute, but it’s so catchy that I hardly give a shit. It’s really catchy!
There it is. The arcade, dark and nearly empty except for one loud dancing machine blasting its music as a young woman taps her feet to the beat.
So… this is it. How’s this gonna go down?
“Hey,” I say.
The woman turns her head to face me, but continues dancing away without even watching.
She’s East Asian, probably ethnic Japanese. Her hair is neon blue and her eyes are as sharp and piercing as the jagged miniskirt that barely covers the top of her thighs. She wears a modified sailor uniform for a top, complete with a bright red bowtie, even though it’s clear she’s nowhere near her teens any longer.
“I am Nami,” she says with a deep, crooked smile. “Do you want to play?” She motions with her head to the vacant Player 2 spot on the arcade machine.
As soon as the current song finishes, I join her.
Nami selects a new song, “My Blues” by Soli⭐. I’ve never heard this one, but if it’s anything like the rapid beat of the previous one, I’m going to be in for a real workout for the first time in a long while.
Surprisingly, though, it’s not too bad. It’s been a long time since the last dance machine arcade game I’ve played, but I do pretty well here. The song is slow and moody, half in English, talking about missed opportunities in life and the color blue, half in Japanese, talking about something but I don’t know Japanese so who knows. The English half is really well-written. I’m kind of moved by it, besides the literal movements my feet are already making.
“So… want to talk shop?” I ask Nami.
“Yes, let us talk shop,” she says. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to know who was on the other end of the line, that’s all,” I tell her. “And I’m still not sure what the answer is.”
“You came here just for questions,” Nami says, as if pondering her questions out loud. “You are a stupid fellow, eh?”
“I’m just the right kind of stupid,” I say. “The kind of stupid who will figure out everything they need at any cost. So, I gotta ask. What’s the deal here?”
“I do not know what you mean.” She does a spin kick on the dancing machine and gets a triple combo, completely outpacing anything I’m doing on my side.
“What’s this with you and Mighty Slammer? Is she working for you? Why?”
She does not look back over at me, but she does reply, saying, “I have no idea what you are saying. You are more stupid than I expected before our meeting.”
“Is that a compliment or an insult? Because that could go either way, and I just want to be sure—”
Another spin kick from Nami, this time right into my chest instead of the dancing machine. I tumble off the arcade game and roll on the dirty concrete floor. This shirt’s as good as ruined.
Nami keeps dancing, however. Instead of a follow-up from her, out of the darkness of the rest of the arcade comes four goons, rushing at me trying to get as many kicks in as possible. Before I can even get back up, I’m slammed against the wall and gashed across the cheek with a steel-toed boot.
I manage to grab ahold of one of their knees and yank hard. The goon falls over and gives me an opening to escape this circle of violence with a jump and a roll.
Finally, I get up and try to orient myself. I’m not sure I’ve taken so much damage in a fight before I even get a chance to try my own hand. It’s pretty unfair to jump me like that, you know.
These goons, whoever they are associated with, are all East Asian just like Nami. I don’t know what that might mean, but I don’t have the time to really think it through anyway. I fell into the world’s most obvious trap, and somehow I wasn’t prepared enough not to get beat senseless.
The three standing, though, don’t take even a moment before they begin smashing away at my remaining unbroken ribs. No witty lines or bickering between each other. They’re not hitmen, or I’d already be dead, but they’re certainly having their fun with me.
I get a punch in, and another guy falls, but two on one is still too much when I’m this badly outmaneuvered.
There’s not much I can do.
Another punch from both goons and I’m crashing out of the nonexistent window of the arcade, tumbling out onto the fake wood planks outside. The goons follow me out there.
I’m probably going to lose this one. Sorry, folks. Badass Morgan isn’t coming out for this fight, unless I can miracle whip up a new power out of the blue, like ice breath or something. Or maybe poision darts that can shoot from my wrists; that’d be pretty c—
A silver blur passes me by and smashes right into one of the two goons, knocking them over. The other one fights back, up until they get a giant electric shock slicing through them.
All four are on the ground already.
I’m helped up back onto my feet, but I’m in too much shock to process it.
Is this really…
“All good tidings, I hope.”
It’s the friggin’ Crusader, coming to my rescue like I’m a damsel in distress.
And he’s, as usual, dressed head to doe in Magitek-brand equipment. From the helmet to the chest plate (bulletproof vest), from the jousting boots to the electrified scabbard he holds in his left hand, the Crusader is every bit as stupid as I remember.
He saved me, so I should thank him. But before I can say anything, he rushes into the arcade and screams about honor and victory and all that sort of stuff. A real protector of Atlanta, apparently.
All his screaming did was, naturally, give that Nami woman enough time to escape without me confronting her again.
“Come ON,” I shout. “I was so close to getting more info!”
“You are welcome to use my hero services at any time,” the Crusader says. “I’m glad I was patrolling the area right now. This boardwalk is an excellent vantage point from which to watch for criminal activities below, you know, so I use it quite often.”
“Ah, thanks for the explanation. I just thought you had followed me here,” I say.
“Nonsense. Following people would just take away from my hero time.”
“Yeah, I guess…” I’m seething with anger at the fact that he got in the way and let Nami escape. And I doubt any of these goons here know any English, if this is what I think it is. (The mob, that is.) “Well, uh, thank you, I guess.”
“All in a night’s work! Fare ye well, fellow traveler!”
“I bid you adieu!”
I roll my eyes.
The Crusader leaves just as quickly as he came. Whether he really just happened to show up at the right time to save my life or not, that guy is still completely delusional… though I may be as well, so fair enough.
I don’t bother to drag any of the goons in to get questioned by R8PR or anything like that. It was hard enough when I did that with Amy way back when. I’m just going to give up for the night and hope getting the shit beaten out of me tonight will end up having been worth it whatsoever.
All in a night’s work, I guess…