A City Stranded Cowboy's Robot Mercy Killing Business

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 19 (v.1) - Tex's Ex

Submitted: March 25, 2020

Reads: 6

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 25, 2020

A A A

A A A

For the second time in two days, Tex awoke on the wood floor of their motel room with a kink in both his neck and morning wood.

Tala was sitting on one bed while Junji was on the other. After stumbling in and out of the bathroom for a shower, Tex concluded that Barton was nowhere to be found.

"What time is it?" Tex asked Tala.

"Two PM." answered Tala. "Ying's picking us up in two hours."

"Hell's Barton?"

"She went back to see Dr. Lofgren."

"Why?"

Tala opened her mouth in a silent scoff.

"I don't know everything, okay?" she replied.

Tex took another look at his friends. Tala was still on her phone, while Junji was busy studying Swedish news articles and not wearing pants.

"Why don't we go get her?" Tex suggested as he dropped a pair of pants on Junji's head.

Both Tala and Junji ended up agreeing. Tex checked them out of the motel after making sure they hadn't forgotten anything. They got to Dr. Lofgren's place even faster than the day before, as they knew which buses to take.

Tex opened the door of the theater for Tala and Junji before stepping in himself.

Past the rows of velvet seats, Dr. Lofgren sat on the stage at a round wooden table that hadn't been there the day before. On the other side was Barton, and they seemed to be engaged in conversation.

Roffe napped on the ground by Dr. Lofgren's feet.

"...said 'Not if we nuke you first!' and mooned all the Russians." Barton monologued. "Anyway, they didn't send us aid."

"Ooh." Dr. Lofgren replied. "Were these things related?"

"Nah."

Tex cleared his throat.

Upon noticing him, Barton crossed her hands over her chest. Tex was unsure what she was doing there.

"Hello!" Dr. Lofgren greeted with a wide smile. "Friends! Please come down."

Tex complied along with Junji and Tala and hopped onto the stage upon arrival. There weren't enough seats at the table for all of them, so Tex stayed standing.

"Good to see you again, ma'am." Tex said to Dr. Lofgren.

"Yes, good." she replied. "Now that you're all here, I have something for you to see."

Tex knew he should probably give a flat no for time's sake, but Dr. Lofgren looked so excited that he couldn't bear to.

"Uh, how long will it take?" he wondered. "We gotta mosey on out in about an hour."

"Won't take that long. Here."

Dr. Lofgren reached into her pocket with intent, but she frowned and pulled out an empty hand.

"Roffe, did you see where I left my phone?" she asked.

"I last saw you leave it on the counter in the kitchen." Roffe barked.

"Oh, thank you."

Dr. Lofgren scurried off to a door by the side of the stage that Tex hadn't even noticed was there. While she was gone from sight, Roffe rolled over next to Tex's feet.

Tex felt it would be impolite not to say anything.

“So.” he started. “You’re a dog?”

“I was originally created as a computer that assembled nuclear missiles.” Roffe replied. “Dr. Lofgren upgraded my body and added a canine's brain to my own to give me a new purpose.

“... Alright.”

"Here it is!" Dr. Lofgren said as she emerged from the room with a rectangle in her hand.

Upon climbing back on stage, Dr. Lofgren handed her phone to Tex. Everyone crowded around him to look at the screen.

The screen showed several graphics. Tex examined the one on top first.

barton%27s+gif3.gif?format=1000w

 

"What is it?" asked Tala.

"I ran your DNA over every simulation between ancient Rome and modern China last night." Dr. Lofgren explained. "These are compiled results of average desire to do good, and average impact on the world."

"Woah..." Tex trailed off.

"I think of it like soul."

Before he could get too lost trying to wrap his head around what Dr. Lofgren had said, Tex examined the other three graphics.

tala%27s+gif3.gif?format=1000w
 
?format=1000w
 
junji%27s+gif3.gif?format=1000w

 

"Your middle name is Jogging Bear?" Tex muttered to Tala.

"How do you determine impact on society?" Junji asked.

“Not objectively.” answered Dr. Lofgren.

Tex looked over just in time to see Junji nod fondly.

"Neither I nor machine is perfect." Dr. Lofgren continued. "Machine can only analyse reality and try to make guesses based on its understanding of what is probable, and I can only give opinion on results."

"Wait." Tex said as he touched his forehead.

"Hmm?"

"If it's always--analysis, can it view the present?"

"Only immediate present, to ninety-five percentage average accuracy."

"Then couldn't you use it to predict everything?"

Dr. Lofgren shook her head no.

"Even if something is probable to happen, does not mean it will happen." she answered. "Machine is better for hypotheticals."

"Guess that makes sense." Tex replied.

"But I can make it do this!"

Dr. Lofgren messed with her remote for the next minute and a half. Once she'd finished, the screen hummed to life.

The new scene was more modern. Tex examined the screen in amazement to see himself, Barton, Junji, and Tala all sitting around the table in the main office having a respectful discussion on gun control that they might’ve had any other day when they had too much time on their hands.

"Oh." Tala said. "Did you change anything?"

"Just one thing." answered Dr. Lofgren.

|

"...disagree with that?" Tala continued. "They've proved that countries with bans on assault rifles don't have--"

"Please stop." Tex begged as he hid his face in his hands. "I just wanna be friends."

"What,” Barton replied, “you wanna live in some boot-licker European country where grown men kiss each other--”

“Yes, I would.” Tala interrupted.

“--and everyone wears shoes made of a fine swiss cheese? They've proven that the media doesn't report--"

Barton’s voice was overpowered by the sound of the office door getting kicked open. Tex peeked through his fingers to see Junji wearing his usual backwards baseball cap and pair of baggy sweats.

"Ah, fuck off." said Junji, loud enough for the neighbors to hear. "You chuckleheads ain't gonna get nowhere arguing with yourselves if you don't agree on what da baseline facts are. And you know what? There ain't no facts. It's just a bunch a' big wigs conducting bias studies to back up campaigns--"

"Junji, you’re getting spray tan on the floor." Tala cut in.

"Hey Einstein, you know who said you couldn't prove shit? Einstein, dats who. We all tawlk and tawlk about how much of a genius he was, but..."

Tex stopped listening as Junji droned on. He didn't know much about Junji, as he'd never cared to find out.

|

The simulation ended.

"... Thank you." Tex muttered to no one in particular. "Thank you, I needed that."

"Dr. Lofgren, where did you get this machine?" asked Tala.

"Ah, see, it is very simple." Dr. Lofgren answered with excitement. "I steal from Area 51!"

Tex's head was still spinning by the time they had to go, but thankfully not as much as the day before.

He just barely managed to pull everyone away from Dr. Lofgren.

"Hejdå!" Dr. Lofgren sang as she waved them off. "Visit me again someday."

"It was nice meeting you." Roffe barked to Tex.

"Nice meeting you too, pardner." he replied.

While Barton ordered a cab, Junji scribbled something on a scrap of paper. Tex caught a glance to see it was the address of the theater they'd just been at.

Junji pocketed the scrap before the cab came.

The cab took them to another industrial district, and a short walk got them to an abandoned parking lot that Tex doubted Ying had permission to use. But she clearly had, as was evident from the single guard who Tex recognized from the time he'd picked Junji up.

"Where's the plane?" Tala wondered.

"You'll see." Tex replied.

Junji led them to the guard, who opened the invisible hatch and stepped aside without a second glance.

"You got a Chameleon cloak?" Barton asked the guard.

"Yes." he answered.

"You get that from the Russians, or...?"

"I believe the technology was invented for the McDonald's corporation."

"Good for them."

Barton stepped inside after Junji. Tex was the last to climb the stairs, save for the guard.

The inside of Ying's jet hadn't changed since the last time Tex had seen it. Ying herself no longer looked sick, although the bags under her eyes implied they'd kept her up.

"Whoa." said Barton. "That really is Ying Kwan."

"Yes." Ying replied.

The jet took off after just a few minutes. Tex wasn't sure how long the ride was going to be, but he hoped it would be shorter than the one there.

Tala and Junji got to work on one of their world building projects while Barton fell asleep, leaving Tex with Ying. Which he figured was for the best, as he wasn't sure Junji had mentioned Japan to her yet.

He was cautious as he approached her.

"Hey, uh, can I talk to you 'bout something?" he asked.

"Okay." Ying answered.

"Was hoping I could get a favor."

"What favor?"

Tex chewed on his lower lip as he tried to find the best way to make his request.

"It's pretty simple." he replied. "We got a job in Japan, but Junji can't come. We need a fourth."

"Okay."

Ying didn't look like she knew where the conversation was going.

"I was hoping you could do it." Tex pushed.

"When?"

"Soon as we can."

Ying frowned.

"I’ve not slept in two days." said Ying.

"We don't gotta go today."

"I would be willing to go tomorrow."

"Thank you. That works."

Ying pulled out her phone and quickly checked the screen.

"I will spend the night here." she said as she put her phone away. "Tomorrow afternoon I will take us to Japan and help you, but I will return home after that."

"That's more than enough."

The ride to King County only ended up taking about four hours, which was better than Tex could have hoped for. Still, they had to take a ten minute bus ride to the train station so they could get back to Seattle.

It was Tuesday afternoon by the time they got off the train, local time.

"So Ying said she could help us tomorrow?" Tala asked as they left the station.

"Yeah." Tex answered.

"Tomorrow's Wednesday. Guess we'll have to miss Bianca's meeting."

"Ah, shit. Lemme see if I can reschedule."

Tex pulled out his phone and navigated to his messages after booting it up.

To Tala Doesn't Wash Her Hands After She Pees
would yall be up for meeting tonight instead of tomorrow? we had some messy scheduling on our next job.

Tex's phone buzzed in response right away.

From Bianca
i can't i'm pooping

From Sean
i need a ride

To Tala Doesn't Wash Her Hands After She Pees
sean, where do you live?

From Bianca
i finished pooping i can go

From Sean
1428 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101

To Tala Doesn't Wash Her Hands After She Pees
that address is downtown. i thought you lived on a farm

From Sean
i don't live downtown. i just got a chore I do here every tuesday

To Tala Doesn't Wash Her Hands After She Pees
alright, i can pick you up

From Sean
thanks, man!

From Luke's Wife
We can go.

From Caverly's Husband
But we might be a few minutes late.

From Spoodge King
Yain't still trying to conceive, by any chance?

From Gamer Gril
omg junji

From Caverly's Husband
We already did.

From Bianca
woah, you're pregnant?

From Caverly's Husband
No, I'm a man.

From Sean
men can get pregnant

From Sean
this one time I gave birth to myself

Tex put his phone back in his pocket.

"Tonight works." he said to Tala.

"Thanks, I wasn't just in that conversation or anything." she replied.

Tex's phone buzzed once again. At first, he thought it was just a straggler message from his work group, but he found it was from Lida instead.

From Lida
how'd it go? we still meeting today?

After making sure Barton's eyes weren't anywhere near his phone, Tex typed out his response.

To Lida
sure

Lida didn't reply. Tex gave his coworkers one more look before sidestepping away, his phone still in his hand.

"Well, guess I'll see y'all tonight." he said slowly. "Have--owww!"

"Where do you think you're going?" Barton asked as she grabbed a handful of his collar.

"Home?"

"We're being hunted by a bullet-proof Priestess. We're sticking together for at least a week."

Tex sighed and rubbed the back of his neck when Barton let him go.

"Ok, goober," he started, "if you're really that worried about Charlotte--"

Tex cut himself off and looked down when his phone dinged.

"Displaying results for if you're really that worried about Charlotte." replied Google's voice assistant.

Tala swiped Tex's phone out of his hand.

"...Point taken." Tex muttered to Barton.

"That was a great use of goober, though." Tala said as she disabled Google voice assistant and installed Linux.

Tex navigated back to his messenger app the moment his phone was returned.

To Lida
barton's making me stick with everybody for

To Lida
reasons

To Lida
that alright?

From Lida
you want me to hang out with yall?

To Lida
sure

To Lida
i’ll explain why in person

From Lida
where are you?

To Lida
by the train station. should be back to the junction in a half hour

From Lida
no, that's where i am. i'll come get you

To Lida
get me in what?

A minute passed, but Lida didn't respond.

"What are we doing?" Tala wondered.

"Lida's coming to us." Tex answered. "I was thinking we could take her to the meeting."

"So you really wanna rope all of us into this, then?" asked Barton.

"Hey, it was your idea for us to stick together."

While Barton bit her lip, Tala's face contorted with confusion.

"Wait." Tala said. "How's Lida going to get us?"

A horn honked twice. Tex looked over in time to see a car roll up to the parking lane on the same side of the street they were standing on.

"Uh-oh." Tex muttered.

"Howdy!" Lida greeted as she rolled down the window.

The car was a brand new silver Mercedes-Benz. Tex was certain Lida had the money, although he wasn't sure what had sparked the decision.

Tex walked over and bent down so he could get a good view of Lida.

"You got a car?" he asked.

"Uh-huh." she replied. "Figured if I'm gonna be down here so much, might as well have a way to get around."

"...Guess that makes sense."

"Yeah, Barton was the one who suggested it."

Tex turned his head towards Barton with a hard jaw.

"So you were talking to Lida, huh?" he muttered.

Barton coughed. Tala bent down next to Tex.

"Since you have a car, could you help us pick up Sean?" she asked.

Lida shrugged.

"Don’t see why not." she replied.

"Oh, but actually," Tala continued, her voice twisting with second thoughts, "you would have to drive downtown to get--"

"Sounds like a great idea." Barton cut in.

"...What?" asked Tex.

"Lida got all upset last time because the uptown hippies are mean. So we should take her downtown."

"Are downtown folks friendlier?" Lida wondered.

"Hell, yeah. Sometimes they give me free drugs."

Tex wasn't sure it was a good idea, but he supposed they did need to pick up Sean.

"Hang on." Tala said. "Before we go downtown, I need to change into my ass-kicking outfit."

While Tala bolted off towards the train station bathrooms with her bag in hand, Tex grabbed Barton by the shoulder and turned them both around.

"What are you doing?" he whispered to her.

"I'm speed running this shit." she muttered back.

Tex grit his teeth but turned back towards Lida before she could get suspicious. Lida unlocked the doors, and Tex snagged shotgun.

He ran his finger over the dashboard and tried not to think about how much money Lida must have spent. He'd never been one for new cars, but he had to appreciate how sleek the inside was.

"Want me to drive?" Tex wondered.

Lida squinted her eyes into a look that immediately told Tex he'd said something wrong.

"What, is driving too hard or something?" Lida replied in a deceptively light tone.

"...Thought you might want a break."

"You thought wrong."

Tala's ass-kicking outfit ended up being an oversized hoodie picturing dozens of open-mouthed anime girls and a pair of sweatpants with the words Safe Space on the butt. She'd also grabbed a ring of plastic horseshoes, although Tex had no idea what they were for.

"Here you go, Lida." Tala said as she leaned forward to hand Lida her phone. "I pulled up the address on Google Maps."

"Thank you." Lida replied.

With Barton, Junji, and Tala in the back and Tex in the front, Lida put her car in drive and rolled onto the road.

"Fuck the police!" a white man yelled as he ran across the street in front of their car.

"Great start." Barton grunted while Lida slammed on the brakes.

The jay runner ended up not being the only obstacle before the freeway ramp. At a cross street about thirty feet in front of them, a red car drifted a good five feet after the stop sign. Tex looked at Lida to see that one hundred percent of her focus had turned to the red car.

The car came to a complete stop. Lida's body relaxed, but she was still forced to drive slightly into the left turn lane to avoid a collision.

'Asshole.' Tex thought as they passed the car.

There were three lights before the freeway. Each one was green, but traffic was so backed up that no one moved.

They settled near the back of the line with an empty space on both sides. Tex groaned to himself at the sound of steadily advancing bass, and then again when a white sports car with the windows rolled down snuck up to their left.

"I’m in the hills, bitch, my song just did a hunnid' mil." the car's radio oozed alongside a cookie-cutter beat. "They tellin’ me to stop flexing but I’m stuntin' still."

The windows in Lida's car were up, but the muffled bass seeping from the white car was so powerful that Tex could feel his sperm count drop.

"I ran it up, all of the sudden bitches wanna chill. Ayy, you done crawled out your little cave."

Barton rolled down her window. The volume of the music only increased, but it did nothing to stop her.

"It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go." Barton scream-sung. "It's a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know!"

"Yo, what the fuck?" the driver shouted.

"Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square!" Tex sang with Barton. "It's a long long way to Tipperary, but my heart's right--"

Unfortunately, their shenanigans were cut short when a car behind them honked. Tex considered sticking his head out the window to shoot them a dirty look, but traffic started to move again.

The next light was even trickier. Out of the four lanes leading up to the freeway entrance, two of them were blocked off by construction workers hacking away at the pavement.

"Woah." said Lida. "What's going on here?"

"I dunno." Tex replied. "But it's been going on for a while."

"When's it supposed to be finished?"

"November of 2019."

"...Think I'm gonna go around."

Lida took the first available right and ended up in a residential area. When they came to the end of the block, she was forced to make a left to drive up the next street.

Tex's eyebrow twitched out of empathy when he saw that two walls of parked cars had left it a double blind turn. Lida was forced to drift about five feet past the stop sign so she could see. She immediately put the car in reverse and scooted back when another car zoomed by, but the other car still had to drive slightly into the left turn lane.

"Asshole." the man in the car shouted in a muffled voice.

Lida was forced to repeat the process of moving forward and back several times. Tex could feel the stress pouring from her as she conducted the gear stick.

She finally found an opening, although it was small enough that she had to slam on the gas.

Lida breathed out a sigh of relief as they rolled up to the last light before the freeway. Tex almost congratulated her, but stopped himself out of fear.

"Should I take Portland or--ah, fuck off." Lida managed as they rolled onto the freeway, momentarily slamming on the brakes when another car cut her off.

"Take ninety-nine." Tala replied.

"Thanks."

Things started to move faster when they got off the ramp, although not by much. The Portland exit was always clogged enough to back-up the entire bridge.

Lida scoffed when a blue sports car with darkened windows began to creep up on her bumper, and again when it flashed its lights after she refused to speed up.

Junji rolled his window down and stuck out his head.

"We are driving at the same speed as the car in front of us, and the car in front of them." Junji yelled politely. "Even if we were to go faster, we would only be decreasing the amount of distance between the two of us until we were forced to slow--"

The car interrupted Junji with a loud honk.

Lida switched lanes so she could get onto the exit ramp, and swore loudly when she unintentionally cut another driver off who she hadn't been able to see with the tailgater hogging her mirrors.

"Fuck off." the second driver mouthed.

Exit ninety-nine wrapped around a two hundred and seventy degree turn. Another car started to tailgate them, but Lida just ignored them.

Tex turned his head towards the window as downtown came into view. There was only one more exit to take, and Lida managed it with ease.

They rolled up to another red light immediately upon leaving the ramp.

"Welcome to downtown Seattle." Barton said as a homeless man on a bike pedaled up the street between the two rows of cars waiting for the light to change.

The light turned green. Thirty seconds later, traffic began to inch forward. Lida was careful as she made her left turn, but another cyclist zoomed into the street.

Lida was just a foot away from smashing into him and ruining both their lives when she slammed on the brakes.

"Did you know car accidents are tied for the eighth most common cause of death?" Tala asked.

"What's it tied with?" Tex wondered.

"Febreze."

They came to a six way stop. Four cars were already present, and a fifth to the left of them rolled up to the stop at the same time.

"Jackass." Lida muttered when the car to their left decided to go ahead of her.

Tex could see that Google was telling them to go straight, but in a thrilling twist of fate, the street coming towards them was blocked off. Tex looked at a sign hanging over the light to see the cross street was a one way.

Immediately, another car rolled up behind them.

"Which way am I supposed to go here?" asked Lida.

The car behind them honked.

"It's a one way." Barton answered.

The car behind them honked twice in rapid succession, first short (.) and then long (-).

"It just says one way." Lida replied. "It don't say which way."

"Think it's one way left before five." Tex offered. "Otherwise it's a one way right."

"-.-- --- ..- --- ... - . -. - .- - .. --- ..- ... -.-. .... .. .-.. -.. --- ..-. .- .-- .... --- .-. ." the car behind them honked.

"What time is it?" Lida wondered.

"It's two minutes after five." answered Tala.

There was no traffic coming in either direction to set an example. When the car behind them turned on its high beams, Lida shielded her eyes with her hand.

"Guess I'll take a right." she muttered as she turned the car.

Although the street had appeared empty before they'd turned, Tex was quickly confronted with the sight of another car hurtling towards them in the opposite direction.

Time slowed down for Tex as the other car continued to advance. It was only because of the adrenaline rushing into his system that he was able to see the face of the other woman, as well as her dyed blue hair. He could even make out the buttons at the top of her rainbow suspenders, which read 'they/them', 'eat the rich', 'got privilege?', and 'out of the closet, into the street'.

Lida pulled into the bus lane. The woman in the car rolled down her window and opened her mouth as she passed by.

"Watch where you're going, f*ggot!" she yelled at Lida.

Tex choked on a mouthful of his own spit while Lida turned the car around. Thankfully, Google updated before she'd gotten to the next intersection.

"The next street's kinda hard." Tex said to Lida.

Tex was shot another side scowl.

The next street was also a six way stop. Tex wasn't sure whose idea it had been to make streets at miscellaneous angles, but he knew he didn't like them.

"Jeez, how many of these can y'all fit into one city?" asked Lida.

"Seattle is three cities in a trench coat trying to sneak into an R rated movie." Tala answered.

"Ah, shoot, I can't remember the order we got here in."

"I think you're next."

Lida inched forwards with little certainty. She'd gotten about halfway across the street when the car to her right flashed its lights.

"Jackass." the person in the car mouthed.

"Oh, I wasn't supposed to go..." Lida trailed off.

"You're never going to see them again. It's fine." Tala replied.

Google informed them that they'd arrived at their destination, but Lida wasn't able to pull over for another half mile. Even though he hadn't been the one driving, Tex's mood and opinion of his fellow man had both managed to drop by the time Lida'd found a spot to parallel park.

"What do you think?" Barton asked Lida as they took off.

"It's--alright." she replied.

Downtown Seattle was just like uptown Seattle, except with less racial segregation and zero public bathrooms instead of one. Tex inhaled the smell of urine and grey market opium deals while Lida shot a second glance at the multi-plexus of tents housing dozens of homeless people under a nearby bridge.

"People downtown are a lot friendlier than uptown." said Barton. "See, this guy's coming over to us."

Tex turned his attention in the direction Barton was looking to see a man in an overcoat rapidly advancing towards them.

It at first could have been written off as the man walking to a destination that happened to be behind them, but he slowed down upon getting within ten feet of Tala.

"Hello." Junji greeted.

The man replied by opening his coat, exposing a penis that was pointed at the heavens.

"Ahh!" Lida yelped.

"Twenty points!" Tala shouted as she tossed one of her plastic horseshoes at the man's penis.

It missed.

The man pulled his coat back together and bolted across the street. Tex tried to keep track of him, but he quickly blended in with the dozens of other people on the sidewalk.

"You alright?" Tex muttered to Lida.

"I'm fi--oh, lord." she replied.

"What?"

Lida pointed her finger in the direction of a bus stop in their immediate path. Tex followed her finger to see a man equipped with the attire of a mountain troll and a sign that read ALIENS ARE HELPING THE GOVERNMENT STEAL OUR CHILDREN.

"Uh-oh." said Tex.

"Don't make eye contact." Barton instructed as Lida made eye contact.

The man noticed them staring and began to stumble over to them with a smile.

"Yo!" the man greeted.

"Hello." Tala replied.

"Listen here, guys. You ever seen a spaceship?"

Lida took a backwards step away from the man. Tex would have liked to do the same, but the man put one hand on his shoulder and the other on Barton's.

"I've seen a real spaceships on the corner of King street, down at the--street at the waterfront." the man said as he squeezed the two of them. "No jokes."

"That's it." Barton said as she lifted his arm off herself. "A life outside of prison isn't worth not getting to kill this one, specific man."

Junji scoffed a scoff of deep disapproval.

"Why must you be so violent?" he asked.

"They took a little baby from its mother and--the men in black suits was there," the man continued to Tex, "and they take the kids up and drug them, then they use them as agents of the government with the aliens."

"Oh, come on." Barton said to Junji. "This guy's fucking nuts."

"How is he remotely nut-like?" Junji replied.

Barton and Junji launched into an argument while the man continued to hold Tex close. Tala snapped a picture with her phone.

"You can listen to me." the man continued. "I'm Tupac."

"Whoa, man, it's an honor." Tala said with wide eyes.

"The media said I was dead. It was a lie."

"Is this always what y'all do?" Lida whispered to Tex.

"Kinda, yeah." he answered.

Lida stopped talking and shifted her expression to neutral. After being presented with the choice of either listening to Barton and Junji's discussion or to Tupac ramble to himself, Tex just barely chose Barton and Junji.

"...irrational to try and warn people of an alien invasion after witnessing evidence with your own eyes." Junji finished.

"Because there wasn't really a spaceship, dumbass." Barton replied.

"Oh, so bees are irrational for seeing colors we can't?"

"Colors are real. This guy's alien isn't."

"I'm not saying he saw an alien. He either has schizophrenia, or the CIA abducted him for research purposes, or his ideologies place too much value on the merit of psychedelic drugs. He's experienced something that he had every right to interpret as alien--"

"Junji." Tala interrupted. "Are you saying the government abducts people and experiments on them?"

"Yes, all the--"

Junji cut himself off with wide eyes of realization.

"No." he stated blankly. "The CIA exists for our protection and our protection alone. Project MKUltra was a myth."

"...What the hell?" Tex muttered.

Junji replied with a high pitched tone and an illegal scurry across the street.

"Guess I win the argument, then." Barton said loudly.

"No you didn't!" Junji shouted from the other side of the street.

Tex was just close enough to see Junji pull a sheet of paper from his pocket and hold it against the flat surface of the wall.

"Oh, god, he's making a chart." Barton muttered as Junji pulled out a pen and a colored pencil.

Lida didn't look any less confused, but at the very least, she seemed to be enjoying the activity more than everything else she'd done in the city.

"You kinda look like a government agent." Tupac said as he pinched one of Tex's cheeks.

"...Thanks." Tex replied.

"But you wouldn't do that. You the kinda guy who keep it real, I can tell."

"Alright."

The man broke into a fit of raspy laughter and bent over, putting more weight on Tex's shoulder.

"I can't get enough of this dude!" he shouted to a car waiting for the light, pointed at Tex.

"Get a job, cuckhead!" the woman in the car replied.

The man gave Tex's shoulder another little pat.

"You know what? Real talk." the man continued. "You guys are some of my best friends."

"Oh..." Tex replied, unprepared to deal with the responsibility of a stranger's emotional investment in him.

"Should we--uh, should we pick Sean up?" Lida stammered.

Before anyone could respond to Lida, Junji came running back across the street.

"I've made a chart." Junji managed when he caught up to them. "Defending the sensibility of this man. Please look at it."

"The aliens have never taken me for a ride before, but I think they're onto me." Tupac continued.

"Look at my chart."

Tex looked at Junji's chart.

crazy+guy+flow.png?format=1000w

 

"In the end, can you not say you would've done the same?" Junji asked the sky.

"Is that about me?" Tupac wondered.

Junji handed the chart to Tupac. Tupac examined it for a moment before folding it into a paper hat.

Tupac gave Junji the hat.

Junji wrote not a garbage human being on the hat and placed it on Tupac's head.

"This man has received endless ridicule but continues to dedicate his life to warning us of abduction." Junji said fondly.

"And he's doing a great job." Barton replied.

With a frown, Junji touched his chin. He turned to Tupac with a sullen expression.

"It is true that your efforts are in vain." said Junji. "Perhaps you should try a different approach of advocating your cause."

"Did you got any suggestions?" Tupac replied.

"You could befriend people and expose them more slowly to your ideologies. Or you could always make propaganda. For example, I've written several erotic novellas in defense of imperialism."

Tupac took off his hat and looked down. Tex could see in his eyes that Junji's words had touched him.

"You know? You've really opened my eyes here." Tupac managed. "If I--if I wanna help people, I'll do it. I'll start giving it my all."

After giving them one more look of gratitude, Tupac turned on his heels and walked back onto the sidewalk with an air of self-revolution.

"He's not going to do it." Tala said as they took back off on the sidewalk.

Tex pulled up Google Maps on his phone to see they were coming up on the address Sean had given him. He kept his eyes peeled, just in case Sean had decided to wait outside.

"You doing alright?" Tex asked Lida.

"That was real strange." she replied.

"Junji and Barton can get kinda..."

Tex trailed off when he noticed that Sean was standing next to the wall of the building directly in front of them.

Specifically, Sean was standing so close to the wall that his nose was touching it. Tex couldn't make out much of his face, but he could see from the corner of Sean's mouth and his furled eyebrow that his expression was one of unadulterated rage.

"What the hell?" Tex managed.

"Oh, hey Tex!" Sean replied as he popped away from the wall with a bright smile.

Lida was more confused than ever, but to Tex's amazement, Sean behaved during introductions.

The walk back was less eventful than the way there. The only surprise came when they got back to the car, where Lida handed Tex the keys and climbed into the passenger seat.

She didn't look very happy with herself.

"Think it'd be a lot faster if everyone took the bus." Lida noted as they hit their first of many congested streets.

"...Yeah, it would." Tex replied.

"Man, That's a good idea." Sean said from his spot in Tala's lap. "You should do a presentation about it at the meeting."

"Presentation?" Lida wondered.

"Oh, you didn't tell her?"

It took Tex a moment to realize Sean's words were aimed at him.

"Sometimes we do little presentations at the fellowship meetings." Tex explained. "If there's an idea you wanna share, or a proposition."

Tex didn't need to look at Lida to see the consideration pass over her face.

"You know what?" she started slowly. "That sounds real nice."

"Would you like assistance?" Junji asked. "I've given a presentation before."

"Sure. Sounds swell."

"Here, you guys can use my laptop." Tala offered.

Since most of Tex's attention was on the road, he missed the chaos of Lida crawling into the backseat as Sean moved to the front.

While Lida and Junji got to work, Tex did his best to keep his road rage under control.

It wasn't easy. Thanks to the limits of front windshields, it was always so difficult to communicate with the people inside of other cars that Tex ended up thinking of them less as humans and more as interchangeable metal boxes. And he could tell the other cars thought of him the same way, considering the way they treated him.

"Are you two in Paint?" Tala asked Lida and Junji.

"...No." Lida replied.

There wasn't any parking close to their building, and Tex's own car was already in his work space, so he was forced to pull over in a thirty minute zone.

"Hey Lida, would you mind dropping us all off at my place after this?" Barton announced. "Except for Sean. Don't bring Sean."

"Don't bring me." said Sean.

"Why are we going to your place?" Tex wondered.

"I'm not sleeping on your floor."

Tex 'ooh-ed' to himself when he remembered they were sticking together.

"Uh, guess I don't mind." Lida said to Barton.

"Thanks." Barton replied. "I'll pay you back by staying in the car and moving it a foot forward every twenty-nine minutes."

"Alright."

Barton was snoring by the time they'd left the car.

"It'll prolly be fine." Tex shrugged as he led them into the building.

Lida was still carrying Tala's laptop as they walked down the hall, and she scooted up close to Tex when they neared the door of Bianca's office.

"You told everybody I was coming, right?" Lida whispered to Tex as they walked through the door.

"Oh, good, Lida's here." Luke said immediately, prompting everyone to halt their personal conversations.

Tex cleared his throat.

"Lida is here." he stated. "And she wants to give a presentation, if y'all don't mind."

Luke and Caverly both seemed put off, but Tex supposed it was understandable. Although on the other side of things, he was surprised Bianca didn't look bothered at all.

"Oh, on what?" asked Bianca.

"Actually, I need a minute to get some stuff printed out." Lida replied. "That alright?"

"Sure. Tala can show you how to use the printer."

Tala didn't look particularly thrilled to be on printing duty, but she didn't make too much of a fuss about it.

The chatter in the room started up again. It took Tex a hot second to work up the courage to approach Caverly and Bianca's conversation, but he knew he had to stop avoiding Bianca eventually.

Caverly stepped to the left to let Tex into their circle once he'd made his way over.

"Hey, Tex." Bianca greeted.

"Hey." he replied. "What’re you two ladies talking about?"

Caverly and Bianca exchanged a look before turning back to Tex.

"A bunch of famous people just died. Like, really famous." answered Caverly.

"...Oh?" Tex pushed.

"Yeah. The queen, a bunch of producers, and the Wells."

"CNN and Fox are both saying it was a terrorist attack," Bianca added. "but it sorta seems like some pedo--"

"Oh, come on." Caverly scoffed. "Are you really buying into this now?"

"Yeah, actually. I asked my family about it and they said everybody in Mexico knows about it."

"Your family knows every Mexican?"

“They are every Mexican.”

Bianca and Caverly continued to talk, but Tex thought it best to sidestep away.

Tex made a break for the wine and cheese table. He was quickly intercepted by Luke, who pulled him into a conversation before Tex could lie and say he had to use the bathroom.

Five minutes later, Lida was still busy with Tala and Junji.

"...people think it'll be bad if corporations take over, but they're crazy." Luke explained for the umpteenth time. "Like the roads. Corporations need to get their trucks from place to place, so they'll make sure the highways stay paved and we'll always have paved roads."

"Mm-hmm." Tex replied through a closed mouth.

"We're ready!" Lida called from the printer.

Caverly looked over at Lida with confusion.

"Who's we?" she asked.

"Junji's helping me out." answered Lida.

Everyone stepped out of the way so that Lida and Junji could take the stage. Lida had two pieces of paper in her hand, although she kept them both out of view.

"What's your presentation on?" Bianca wondered.

"Traffic." Lida replied. "Mind if I just jump into things?"

"Go ahead."

"Thanks. So I don't know about all y'all. But--"

"Woo!" Sean shouted as he clapped his hands above his head.

"Thank you. Point is, I ain't never seen traffic this bad in my life. And I don't guess it would be that controversial of a statement to say we need to do something."

"That's true." Luke nodded. "Last week, the freeway was backed up so bad I had time to change my tire while a guy in an ambulance died next to me."

"And you can see why, cause a car's so big. Here's my proposal."

Lida pinned her first picture to the white board.

Lida+pres+1.png?format=1500w

 

"If we say there's an average of one and a half people in each of these cars, that adds up to just thirty people." she continued. "Yes, Tala?"

"That drawing is really good." Tala replied.

"Thank you."

Lida pinned the other picture to the whiteboard.

"Here's another way to transport thirty people." she followed.

Lida+pres+2.png?format=1000w

 

"Wait, so what's the idea?" asked Bianca.

"The idea's real simple. If we all start taking the bus, we'll all get everywhere faster."

Everyone shifted their weight uncomfortably.

"What?" Lida wondered. "Something wrong?"

"I can't really afford to take the bus everyday." Caverly replied. "Time wise, I mean."

"Yeah, it's a good idea, but the bus doesn't go close enough to where I work." Bianca added.

Lida poked her tongue against the inside of her cheek.

"But if we did this, we'd be funding the metro system." she explained. "They could set up more routes."

"Eventually that would happen, but we'd have to get way more people doing it than just us." Luke replied.

"We could have a bigger meeting."

"Not that much bigger."

Lida scoffed.

"Hell with that." said Lida. "Tex, you remember when the city council snuck a photo toll into town?"

"Yeah, I think so." Tex answered.

"It was the year after we started running weed down to Austin, and--"

"Not relevant."

"--we all got together and made these little shades we could pull down over our front license plates when we passed through the toll."

Tex twisted his mouth to the side as he thought of better times.

"It worked when we did it then." Lida finished. "Why can't we all do this?"

"Cause we only had twelve hundred people in our town." Tex replied.

"How many people live here?"

"A million."

Lida's mouth dropped open into an 'o' shape.

On one hand, Tex knew she shouldn't be surprised, considering she'd been downtown. But on the other, Tex had reacted the same way when he'd been told the exact number.

"How do things change?" Lida asked.

"They get worse." answered Luke.

"...Is that sustainable?"

"Sometimes the city council does stuff."

"What does it do?"

"I don't know."

After turning over her shoulder to give a last look at the schematics she'd put up, Lida let out a sigh of defeat.

"Welp." she said. "Guess it's Junji's turn."

Everyone's attention turned to Junji as Lida left the stage.

It was only at that moment that Tex noticed the bags under Junji's eyes. When he thought back on it, he couldn't remember Junji sleeping much the two nights before.

"Junji, what did you do?" Tala asked.

"Oh, I had a separate idea." he explained. "And by separate, I mean I took Lida's idea and restructured it in the form of a government regulation."

Junji's idea was met by a chorus of boos. Still, he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and opened his mouth to continue.

"I've long since gathered incriminating photos of all the city council members." Junji followed happily. "Using this, we can extort them into creating heavy fines for driving distances shorter than twenty miles."

"Why do I feel like there's a step two?" Bianca mumbled.

"There is a step two. After the success of step one, we can use the money we've made through fines to take over the federal transportation center and enlist the same regulations across the country in a web-like fashion."

Junji placed another two diagrams on the board, the first one that he'd labeled 'bad' and the second that he'd labeled 'good'.

state+powers.png?format=1500w
 
?format=1500w

 

"Junji, how can you support using federal power over supporting state's rights?" asked Caverly.

"It's very simple." Junji answered. "The common man makes bad choices. Bad choices lead to bad things. So by restricting the amount of choices the common man can make, more good things will surely come."

Tex touched his forehead with two fingers.

"Commie!" Caverly shouted.

"Maoist!" Luke yelled.

"Pinko!"

"Fascist!"

"Tankie!"

"Federalist!"

"Bolshevik!"

"Com•mu•nist (k?m?y?-n?z?t)? 1) noun A person who advocates a theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members 2) noun A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people!" said Sean.

"Eh, at least he's open about it." Bianca shrugged.

Needless to say, Junji's idea wasn't a hit with the kids. But things still managed to return to normal after about ten minutes, for which Tex was grateful.

The rest of the meeting went like any other. There was a brief discussion of finances, and then they all broke apart again to talk and eat cheese.

Tex was just about to make sure Barton was still in the car when he was approached by both Luke and Caverly.

"Howdy." Tex greeted.

"Hi." Caverly replied.

"...Something up?"

"We were just wondering how, uh--"

Caverly jabbed her thumb in Lida's direction.

"--that happened." she finished.

Tex closed his eyes and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows.

"Don't worry about it." he replied. "I'm doing alright."

"You sure?" Luke wondered.

"Yeah."

"Just saying. Sometimes people are just too much alike to date."

Tex did his best not to stare as Luke and Caverly left. As put off as he was by their reasoning, he felt a strange compulsion to prove them wrong.

He found Lida by the cheese.

"Hey." she said once she'd finished chewing.

"Hi." Tex replied. "Wanted to say that I liked your idea."

Lida looked up from her plate of cheese. One of her eyebrows was lifted, but other than that, there was no intensity in her expression.

"Thank you." she stated.

"Did you know Junji was gonna do all that?" asked Tex.

"Didn't know how far he was gonna go. But it was pretty funny."

"Junji’s a wack-job."

"Eh, he ain't that weird for a mafioso."

"Really."

"Yeah. You'd know that if you ran a bigger business."

Tex felt his eyebrow shoot up.

"And what business would that be?" he asked. "Racketeering or embezzling?"

Lida's tongue tapped against her upper teeth as she turned to face him.

"Like you never stole a damn thing in your life." she said.

"Oh, tell me. Do your girls call you daddy?"

"Not just the girls."

Tex did his best not to bite through his cheek as he stared Lida down. Her eyes were as communicative as ever, although not a word was passed between the two of them.

"Hello." Junji greeted.

Tex nearly jumped to see that Junji had gotten right next to him. After sucking in a slow breath, Tex opened his mouth to respond.

"Howdy." Tex replied.

"Will we be leaving soon?" asked Junji.

"Leaving?"

"We're going to Barton's."

Lida bit her bottom lip with a look of consideration.

"Sure." she said. "I promised I'd drive."

Tex ran up and down to his apartment to grab some spare clothes and a toothbrush before they left. He would've thought the chore would calm him down, but it did little to.

When he returned, he found Tala, Junji, and Lida in a little group by the door.

"We ready?" Lida wondered.

"Yup." Tex replied.

"Did you find any sense up there?"

"Must've left it at your place."

Tala's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them.

"I think I'll just take the bus." she said as she bolted out the door.

Barton was still in the car when they returned to it. Lida was happy she hadn't gotten a ticket, although she scowled to see that her Anteteracy bumper sticker had been keyed off.

"Let's make this quick." she muttered as she unlocked the doors.

Traffic was better than it had been at rush hour, especially when they got to the freeway. Still, they couldn't go more than twenty until they passed by the downtown exits.

"You remember the exit number?" asked Tex.

"Yeah, I remember the exit number." Lida snapped.

Tex bit the inside of his cheek. He couldn't understand why she took everything as an insult, which did its job to piss him off.

"Ain't you a firecracker." he replied.

Lida grit her teeth as a four by four Range Rover rolled up behind her, close enough to light up all three of her mirrors.

"You know," Lida started, keeping the speed of the car steady, "firecracker was my nickname when I was a pin-up girl."

"You were a pin-up girl?" Barton wondered.

"Yeah. Tex was real happy about it."

"Oh, please tell us more."

"Look up Trucker Babes of '62. I'm November."

As Barton pulled out her phone, the Range Rover behind them switched on its high beams.

Lida kept her speed consistent. There were several other open lanes, but the Rover stayed put.

"That's a pretty good picture." Barton said as she squinted hard. "Here, Junji, you wanna see?"

Tex just barely bit his tongue in time to keep from snapping at Junji not to look. He knew it was just what Lida wanted, and that Junji didn't deserve it.

The Range Rover behind them began to let out a single, continuous honk.

"That is a nice photo." Junji said, raising his voice to be heard over the horn. "I've never thought to use flowers as undergarments before."

"Thank you." Lida replied as she slowed down slightly to adjust to the traffic in front of her.

"You sure like showing off, don't you." Tex snapped.

"And you sure like it when you're the only one in the ro--"

Lida was cut off by the sound of a crash and the sensation of being jolted forward.

It took Tex a moment to realize they'd been rear ended. When he turned his head to look through the now cracked back window, he caught sight of an overweight man in a wife beater with alarm behind his eyes.

The Range Rover drifted into the right lane without signalling and began to accelerate. Tex didn't think he'd be pulling over.

"...What are you doing?" Tex asked as Lida signaled to the right.

"What'd you think?" she replied.

Lida began to rapidly increase in speed after getting over to the rightmost lane. When the Range Rover took the closest exit, she followed right behind.

Tex dug his hand into his thigh.

"This seems unwise." said Junji.

The exit ramp led them to a winding main road with a giant conservation park on one side and a cemetery on the other. Tex had driven by it a few times, and he knew they wouldn't get to any living spaces or businesses unless they drove down another few miles.

Besides the man in the Range Rover that was now going a good twenty over the speed limit, there wasn't another person in sight.

Tex turned around when Junji began to tug on his sleeve.

"Dallas." Junji muttered. "However erotic this is has been overshadowed with fear for my life."

Junji seemed far from panicking, although Tex had never seen him so frantic.

"Lida, don't do this." Tex begged.

Lida refused to slow down, although she did hit cruise control.

"What if he reads your license plate?" followed Tex.

Lida smiled dirty and hit a button on her dashboard. Although Tex couldn't see it happen, a familiar whirring noise told him she'd just dropped a sheet over her front license plate.

"Driving is the most dangerous thing we do," Junji continued, "which makes it our moral responsibility--"

"I'm doing my moral responsibility right now." Lida cut in as she rolled down her window and pulled a revolver from the center console.

All the color rushed out of Tex's face.

"What are you--" he managed. "Hell are you--"

"Steady the wheel." Lida ordered.

"I ain't doing nothing till you calm down."

"Fine, then I'll steer and shoot."

Tex yelped and grabbed the wheel. Lida undid her seat belt and stuck her whole upper body out the window.

"Barton, please help." Junji begged.

"Nah." Barton replied as she reclined the back of her seat. "This part of life sucks, I'm just gonna sleep through it."

Tex could see the dedication in Lida's eyes as she held the pistol steady and waited for the left rear tire to pass under her sight. In three ear-splitting bangs, she managed to take out the sidewalls of the tire. Tex did his best to maneuver the car around the chunk of rubber that bounced into the street.

The Range Rover slowed down to a third of its original speed as the back left of it began to sag, and then a forth.

The driver pulled over.

Lida was fuming as she parked twenty feet behind the Rover. Tex's heart began to pound even harder when Lida threw open her door and stomped onto the curb.

"Lida, no!" Tex yelped as Lida ran up to the Rover. "You hurt him and it's over."

"Save it, Tex." Lida replied. "I got balls to bust."

"Please!"

Tex's reservations did nothing to stop her. He unhooked his seat belt and shook Barton awake, but she didn't seem keen on leaving the car after she saw what was going on.

"Stay in here." she instructed. "It'll be better for all our asses if he only sees one of us."

Tex groaned but didn't argue.

Lida knocked on the driver's side window of the Rover. The driver was yelling nonsense as he opened his door. Tex couldn't see much of his face, but the red color was as clear as day.

The driver took a stand upon exiting his car and started to advance towards Lida, and Tex wondered if he would try to take a swing at her.

Lida grabbed the back of his neck with one hand and his right shoulder with the other. He did his best to pull away, but she'd already half-crouched underneath him. She then swept her weight forward, moving her hands to the backs of his legs before pushing and pulling them both to the ground.

They landed about a foot away from the rear bumper. Lida threw her fist at the man's face the moment she'd gotten on top.

"Welp." Barton said as she lit a cigar.

"Don't enjoy this." Tex scolded with a jab of his finger.

"We're here. We might as well."

Barton had a point. As worried as he was about the consequences, there was a certain catharsis to be gleaned from watching Lida work.

He just hoped Lida didn't kill him.

Blood poured from the man's nose, and he didn't seem to be struggling anymore. Lida got back to her feet, although Tex got the feeling it wasn't over.

His suspicion was confirmed when Lida pulled a long and thin fixed-blade knife from her boot.

She was tapping her fingers against the hilt as she walked up to the man. Tex watched with a pounding heart as she kneeled over, put a hand on the man's knee, and slashed her blade in a clean line through the strings of the Range Rover's truck nuts.

She tossed them neatly onto his crotch.

The man was still on the ground when Lida made her way back to her car. Tex couldn't stop staring at her as she pulled the driver's side door open and climbed inside.

No one said a word.

"If y'all would excuse me." Lida said with her eyes straight forward. "I'd like a moment alone with my ex husband."

"Can do." Barton happily replied.

Barton and Junji left the car after Lida unlocked the doors. They both wandered off into the conservatory, close by but out of sight.

Tex marinated in the silence that passed over them. He felt like he should speak first, although he couldn't bring himself to until Lida locked the car back up with a click.

"How could you do this?" Tex asked.

Lida turned her head towards Tex with a look nothing short of amazement.

"How could I do this?" she replied. "How can you live here?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, how can you live in this hell hole? I've been here twice and I can already feel myself starting to hate the very idea of a--human."

Tex squeezed his eyes shut.

"Cause I have to." he answered.

"For the love of god, will you please tell me why?"

"Tala and Barton won't move."

"So quit. Come live with me."

Tex felt his mouth open with a tiny pop.

"I'd do anything for this business." he explained. "Nobody else wants to do my job."

"You really gonna let life walk all over you for some robots?"

"I need to do this. I can't sleep if I don't do this."

Lida didn't reply. As Tex examined her face, he realized for the first time how much older they'd both gotten.

Although they were still fighting about the same things.

"Guess I'm gonna have to leave town." said Lida.

"Yeah."

"And I don't think I can come back."

Tex knew she was right. It was a poor enough part of town that gunshots weren't unheard of, but he doubted the man in the Range Rover would forget her face.

"I really want us to work." Lida followed.

"It don't always feel that way."

"I don't know why we can't stop fighting."

"...Maybe it'd be better if I came down there."

"Let's hope so."

It took Lida a while to respond. Multiple times, Tex caught her glancing at the man in the street.

"Cops could show up any minute." she said.

"Yeah."

"Otherwise, I'd give you a ride."

Tex wasn't sure why his heart dropped as much as it did when Lida unlocked the doors. He had the money to come down to Arkansas every once in a while, but he still felt like he'd lost.

"I'm sorry, Tex." Lida followed as Tex stepped out. "I'll--I'll call you."

Tex had gotten so good at swallowing the lump in his throat that he didn't notice when he did. After shoving his hands in his front pockets, he took off in the direction Junji and Barton had gone.

He found them on the sidewalk, about twenty feet down the hill. He didn't watch as Lida's car zoomed past them.

"Classic Lida." said Barton.

Tex gave Barton a look of amazement. He knew he should be furious with her, but he was too spent to manage it.

"Thanks. That's real helpful." he replied.

While Barton ordered a cab, Tex made a final call on Junji's burner phone to request an ambulance. He gave them the proper location, although he claimed he'd only stumbled upon the man without witnessing any of the incident.

"Should be there in fifteen minutes." said Barton. "We gotta head over now."

They took off down the street. Tex handed the burner phone back to Junji.

"Thanks for letting me use this." Tex muttered to Junji.

Junji looked more exhausted than Tex had ever seen him, although it didn't seem like he was in a bad mood.

"You're welcome." Junji replied as he carefully took the phone back and chucked it into the street.

It was at that moment that the guilt of what he'd done to Junji hit Tex in the shoulders like a ton of bricks. After Barton drifted a few feet in the lead, Tex motioned for Junji to lag behind with him.

"Hmm?" Junji hummed.

Tex had to bite down on his thumbnail for a moment before he felt ready to talk.

"I'm so sorry I got you involved in this." Tex replied.

"It's alright. I've gotten you involved in worse."

Tex twisted his mouth to the side.

"Although I would like to say," followed Junji. "I've recently found myself understanding less of your decisions."

"Huh. You didn't hear it from me, but you and me both."

"I hope someday you are granted understanding."

"Maybe there's nothing to understand. Maybe I'm just a loon."

Junji's face twisted with disgust. Tex repressed his smile as a kernel of amusement burned within him at the sight.

"Have you learned nothing?" Junji asked.


© Copyright 2020 Adonav Longwood. All rights reserved.

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