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Chapter 9

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Awkward much…

He sat directly across from Isla not wanting to crowd her space.

From her face, he could tell she wasn’t happy about his showing up unannounced in her neighborhood. Wasn’t like I planned it.

The Tube back to the city was almost empty except for themselves as Ger pretended to ignore Isla clearly sulking across the aisle from him. What’s her problem?

Smiling at Isla, he leaned forward and tapped her sneakers with his toe. Earth to GNGR.

Isla looked up from the comm-link she had been buried in.

It was clear to Ger from her slump alone that she felt just as awkward as he did.

‘What’s he like?’

‘Who?’

‘Your boyfriend…what’s he do?’

He watched Isla thinking — her brow furrowed as she put down the link and shrugged.

‘He’s a guy. You know. ‘

Ger smiled. Needling her.

‘No, I don’t. That’s why I’m asking.’

Hey, maybe she didn’t have a boyfriend? Maybe she’s just pretending?

Isla brightened, a coy smile playing across her lips.

‘He’s a geek. Like you, very code savvy.’

Ger nodded. Figuring on a different approach,

‘You ever do anything like we did with him..?’

Isla blushed. A red hue flushing her face as she poked Ger in the chest hard.

He fell back in his seat faking an injury.

‘All we did was sleep. Nothing happened.’

Ger laughed — ‘That wasn’t what I was asking. I mean ditching the HT last night. Being on the run…’

If possible, Isla blushed even more and quickly looked away from Ger.

‘Oh, I thought you meant something else…’

Ger kept laughing.

‘No kidding. You thought I meant sleeping together…’

Isla jumped across the aisle and smashed into the seat next to Ger, casting a quick glance about the train looking to see if anyone heard him.The car’s occupants were too engrossed in the usual train-ride activities - reading the comm-links and talking - to notice what Ger had said.

‘Loud much!’ Isla said lowering her voice making Ger lean closer to her. She smells like bubblegum.

Ger raised his hands in defeat. The last thing he wanted to do is anger her again so he backed off on the questions. Stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets he stared at the advertisements lining the tube’s walls.

‘ No, I never did anything like that before.’ Isla whispered. ‘Have you?’

Ger nodded his head in agreement. Puffing out his chest, he turned to her and whispered quietly, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve had tons of run ins with 'bots and cops. They never catch me though. I’m too fast.’

Isla scoffed next to him. ‘Too fast? I believe I dusted you on the roof…’

‘Yeah, but who figured out how to get us outta there anyway?’

Isla laughed, punching Ger in the shoulder. ‘By knocking me off the fire escape?’

Ger sighed, folding his arms across his chest. Looking away. She has a point. If I didn’t wipe out, we wouldn’t have fallen.

“Yeah, but none of this would have happened if you hadn’t ratted me out in the first place to the 'bot at The Emporium?

Now Isla looked away.

Ger could tell he’d hit a nerve as she slunk down into her seat and toyed with her comm-link with nervous fingers.

‘Why were they after you anyway?’ Ger asked.

Isla looked up. Brows furrowed.

‘Whataya mean?’

Ger leaned in again, looking about the car to make sure that no one heard what he was about to say.

The coast was still clear.

‘The HT… it called out your name. It was hunting you. Not me.’

Isla shrugged trying to blow off what Ger told her. He tracked her CT’s sneakers tapping on the floor. Nervous tic. She can’t help but bop her toes when she’s worried.

‘Look, if I tell you something… you promise to keep it to yourself?’

Ger nodded. ‘You can trust me.’

Glancing about, Isla moved closer still to whisper in Ger’s ear. He sat up a little straighter as a chill ran through him as her sweet breath hit his ear. She uses mint toothpaste.

‘I was talking to that guy that was on the news. Jericho…’

Ger shrugged. Who dat?

Isla caught Ger’s look of ignorance and blew out a frustrated breath.

‘You know, Jericho. The guy who hacked that public school and outted all the administrators and made their deets public.

Hank shrugged again. ‘ Nah, I missed that. I haven’t been following the news too much. I’m a busy guy.’ He smiled at Isla, bragging a little, hoping to impress her.

‘It was huge. The Admins were stealing all kind of money and totally shorting the teachers. The videos and photos they had on their comm-links too were pretty — gross.’

‘Did you see any of them?’ Ger smiled.

Isla shook her head as Ger watched her shiver under her leather jacket.

‘Uh no. Totally not interested. Like I said, gross.

Ger nodded. He could tell she wasn’t impressed that he didn’t know anything about what happened. As if I care about some stupid school and their secrets.

‘Is that who your boyfriend is, this Jericho?’

Isla paused —  deciding whether she could trust Ger or not clearly. He gazed into her eyes noticing the odd flecks of violet reflected in the tube light.

Ger waited for her to tell him. Not that I care.

‘Yeah, sort of… It’s complicated.’

Isla fidgeted as she looked out into the car faking interest in the scenery. Outside, the beginning of the city flashed by as they dropped down into the lower tube tunnels leading further downtown.

‘Yeah, I get it. Complicated, I get.’

‘What about you, DD? Did you get a chance to see your Mom?’

Ger blanched, trying not to show Isla how his visit to his Mom’s rehab had gone. He bit his ragged nails, looking the other way in the train. Avoiding Isla.

‘Uh, yeah… I caught up with her. It’s all… good.’

Ger had shared with Isla during their marathon BERSERKER game that he was going to visit his Mom in hospital. He hadn’t told her everything — about her pill addiction or how he had financed her pain meds with his dark web crimes — so he played it cool. Turning to Isla, he changed the topic again.

‘Hey, I need to make some fast credit. I got caught skimming today at Bristol place and lost a big fish I had hooked. You think your boyfriend might hook me up with a gig? Like you said, I’m code savvy.’

Isla sighed. Shaking her head at Ger.

‘I don’t know, I’d feel kind of weird introducing you to him. You know?’

Ger grunted an acknowledgement. Burrowing his head down onto his chest as he stuck his hands deep in his pockets. Whatever.

‘It’s cool. I was just wondering.’ I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

Isla stood.

Looking about the car as she glanced at the LED station display.

Daemon Avenue was coming up — and it was clear she was getting ready to bail.

A loud sigh from Ger drew Isla’s attention.

‘Ger, what’s up?’

Ger waved goodbye to Isla in slow-motion bye-bye as a deep scowl etched itself on his face. F-it. What do I got to lose?

‘Hey Isla? My mom’s in a bad way. I gotta get her some more credit or they’re gonna put her back on the stuff they were giving her before.’

A tear spattered Ger’s cheek as he looked away from Isla.

‘She’s gonna die if I don’t help,’ Ger said.

Is he crying?

Isla looked at Ger slumped on the Tube seat. Is that a tear? For reals?

Sighing, she grabbed the scrawny gamer and pulled him to his feet. He snuffled and wiped at his face as he joined her at the door. Definitely a tear.

He’s having a Game Jam kinda tonight and a whole buncha people will be there. You could tag along if you want. I can’t promise anything — but it might be a place to start.’

< Daemon Avenue Station> pinged the station ID.

Ger nodded.

Glancing out at the platform as the tube slowed down for the stop.

‘Hey, you ever have a chance to go to Reckless?’ Ger asked.

Isla beamed. I ❤️ Reckless.

‘My Dad took me there when I was a kid. I’ve been going forever.’ Isla answered as the doors opened. Together, they spilled out onto the platform as Isla pointed at the stairs at the end of the platform. ‘Race ya?’

Isla took off, her feet pounding on the tile surface as she rushed towards the exit. Behind her, Ger raced.

 

Reckless Records was a throwback to the old-school stores of the last century with stacks of vinyl records filling the deep racks. Posters from classic rock bands crowded the walls as customers of all ages and sizes cruised the racks.

Isla nodded her head in time to the loud music blaring over the in-house sound system. She’d raced Ger up the stairs and out onto the streets of MegaCity One racing ahead of him in the slick sidewalk. They slipped and slid their way through the cramped section of Bucktown, hipster central in the sprawling metropolis as all about them, shoebox stores catering to old archival clothes, hi-tech junk and barista coffee did brisk business with those into vintage or unusual stuff. Robots and drones were tolerated here but it was clear that many of the stores enforced a ‘human-only’ policy requiring actual people to frequent their establishments IRL. Uptown, robot shopping and drone picking was common on the Miracle Mile section of the Megacity with 'bot’s purchasing goods at the request of their owners — but here, it was so not cool to be a machine. Breathless, they arrived at the store together claiming the race a tie. Isla chanced a look at Ger’s flushed face and smiled to see a bright grin instead of the frown he had been sporting on his face. This is perfect. I can get Dad something. He looks happy too. And cute when he smiles. He should do that more.

 

Isla eyeballed an early Iggy Pop album for her Dad for when he got back home. She had the credits to buy it but didn’t want Ger to see that she had the money. I don’t want him to feel bad. Especially if he’s really broke and all.

Ger was crate-digging at the back of the store with a small stack of 45 vinyl next to him as she wandered over and hip-bumped him, grabbing at his stash. She flipped through the little pile of records nodding at his picks.

The Jam, The Clash, The Dead Boys… ‘ Isla listed as she dug through the brightly-covered sleeves.

She glanced at the 45 records inside. “Hey, these are colored vinyl?’

Ger nodded grabbing the old records and flipped through them.

‘Yeah, the older ones on colored disc are the real collector items. They don’t know what they got here.’ Ger whispered.

‘I thought you didn’t have any money,’ Isla glared. ‘How you gonna pay for these?’

Ger slid the records behind a dusty bookcase sitting next to them. Well-thumbed record guides and toy magazines spilled out of the overstuffed case as Ger patted his secret stash goodbye. ‘I can’t buy ‘em now. But when my Mom gets out and we’re set up, I’ll come back and get ‘em.’

Isla nodded. Her stomach growled as she glanced at the time on her comm-link.

‘You wanna go get a soy dog? On me. We’ve got time’

Ger scuffed his foot against the warped floorboards of the store. Hiding beneath his hair, he mumbled an answer. What was that?

Isla listed up his chin as he tried hard not to look at her. He’s embarrassed. ‘C’mon, it’s my treat. You did save my butt last night. Remember?’

Ger pulled his face away, nodding in agreement. Isla couldn’t help but smile herself as she snagged the Raw Power album on her way out of the store dragging Ger behind her.

 

Devil Dawgs was nestled right next to the station as the noisy tubes thundered overhead. The basement decor leaned towards Mexicali style and the soy dogs on sale were enormous. Isla loaded hers up with hot peppers and chilis while Ger gobbled down three of the All-American Dawgs complete with ketchup and mustard. At the same time?

‘You know, you don’t put ketchup on hotdogs, right?’

Ger shrugged. Licking his fingers, he popped the last bite of his third dog into his mouth as he glanced about the room. Customers were two-deep at the counter and business was booming as Isla snagged one of the last tables against the wall.

‘Who says?’ Ger asked. Clearly he has never heard the rules of good eating.

Doesn’t matter,’ smiled Isla. ‘You do you.’

Ger nodded and leaned it to Isla.

‘So where we going then?’

Isla glanced about the crowded restaurant and slid her comm-link onto the sticky table. ‘Here, get a tag.’

She fired up the unit as Ger snapped the QRC code on her display. Flipping over his comm-link, he watched as Jericho’s promo jumped to life at their table. Isla slapped her hand over Ger’s display killing the loud hologram dead.

‘Jeez, Ger. Have a little respect, huh? It is supposed to be a secret, okay?’

Ger nodded, turning away from her and muted the display. With his back turned to her, Isla sighed and wondered if she did the right thing. And what would happen when she finally met Jericho? And now I’m bringing another guy along. So — not done.

Ger turned back to Isla having finished watching the tag from Jericho. ‘This can totally work. Thank you. I really appreciate it.’

Isla shrugged. ‘I’ll probably have to ditch you when we get there. Nothing personal right. I just…’ Ger interrupted her, his head bobbing in understanding, ’Totally get it. You got things to do. And this guy Jericho to see…’

‘Keep it down,’ Isla hissed.

She snatched a look about them. Nobody cared what they were doing. ‘You may not know who he is — but a lot of people are looking for him. My Mom thinks he should do time.’

Ger scoffed. ‘Do time? For what? Outing a buncha pervs and cheats. They should give him a freaking medal.’

Isla smiled, glad to see that Ger agreed with her.

‘Just keep it totally on the down-low and do not rip anyone off while you are there. Okay? No skimming or hacking anyone at the event. If you got caught and linked to me, that would so not be okay. Got it?’

Ger patted her hand in agreement. She flicked off his fingers. Please.

‘Right. Hey, I never heard that Iggy Pop album before, Raw Power. Is it any good?’

Isla groaned at Ger and pulled the album out of her messenger bag, turning it over so they could look at the back of it as Ger slurped on his soda. Maybe Jericho looks like Iggy. That would be so sweet if he did. Yum. Yum.

Of course it’s good, Ger. If they got a record player there tonight, I’ll see if they’ll put it on. You gotta hear it. Especially track 2, Gimme Danger.

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