Chapter 35: Gilly’s Shadow

In which Gilly finds his youth again!

Gilly had gotten a bee in his bonnet, as the saying went, for an old CAD design of his. He’d spent his day thinking about his youth, those beautiful heady days. All right, he’d hated life just as much then as now, but he’d had a vision when he was young. It was purer, simpler than creating beautiful, tortured, lobotomized creatures that had later morphed into the mindless robotics of today.

He ransacked his garage until his back cramped from bending over file boxes. And then he found the right era of files and finally, finally, there it was. He didn’t know if he was joyful or disappointed by its reappearance in his life. What if he could start fresh with simple designs such as this? It was basically a smooth, sleek, athletic leg prosthetic. It was ergonomic rather than robotic.

He could—he gasped at the thought of it—fire up an old 3D printer and produce them himself. If he could get a hold of the materials, it would be simplicity itself. And then he could go out to the Minä camps and fit them on the Minäs who had lost their legs to cancerous tumors. Perhaps he could design hands and feet, too.

He sat with a cup of tea, a plate of crackers, and his thoughts spinning with good ideas he hadn’t been enlightened with for years. Long about nine in the evening, the doorbell buzzed, startling him from his delightful reverie.

At first, he didn’t move from his comfortable chair. Anger got the best of him, though, and he had to find out who would dare knock on his door at this hour. What if it was the government? What if they had finally come to confiscate the literature he’d written on true conspiracies?

He checked his videofeed. It was none other than the granddaughter of Oso Beñat, the man who had distracted him from the purity of his imagination in the first place, the man who wanted to be like God, if there was a god, which there wasn’t.

He opened the door a crack. “What do you want?”

“Uncle Gilly, I need your help.”

Her voice sounded desperate. His being needed by such a young woman softened him up a little. “With what?”

“I need to hack into the shadow internet. I know you know how to do it, and I can’t use my home computer or office computer. If I did, I would lose my job.”

“I might lose my job!”

“You don’t have a job. You’re retired.”

“I could spend my last days in prison.”

“Are you telling me you don’t already regularly hack into the shadow internet?”

He sniffed, indignant. “Hack into it? Why should I do that? I created the shadow internet.”

“You did not.”

He opened the door and let her in. “I did. I was one of the original creators. All the years and years worth of free information was going to be lost forever if the government had its way. It would have been internet apocalypse. Oh, by the way, your boyfriend just received a lifetime ban from all versions of the not-shadow internet.”

“What?” Her doe eyes opened wide. “You know about what’s going on with Mark?”

“Would you sit down? My back is killing me.”

“This is no time to sit down and relax! Why was he banned from the internet?”

“I’m almost ninety, for Pete’s sake. Stand if you want, but come in the living room where I can sit.”

“All right. What are you doing there?” she asked, pointing at his CAD drawings. “Designing something new?”

“No, it’s an old design. A beautiful ergonomic prosthetic leg. I was thinking of firing up the old 3D printers and printing some to help people who’ve lost their limbs. Minäs, too. As annoying as they are, I’m like your granddad. I think of them as my wayward children. What do you think of that?”

“Uncle Gilly, that’s a great idea. Why don’t you adopt a Minä like granddad did?”

Gilly glared at her, which apparently inspired her to jump from the chair she’d sat in for all of thirty seconds.

“What about Mark, though? Why was he banned?”

“I’m surprised you don’t know. He’s your boyfriend.”

“I’ve been busy. Talking to Granddad. Talking to my brother. Not talking to Mark because he broke up with me.”

“What an idiot. Who needs him? Let the boy rot.”

“Uncle Gilly, I want to help him. That’s why I need your hacking skills. But I need to know the whole story. Please tell me why he was banned.”

“What do I get out of it?”

“My undying love?” she tried.

“Useless. SportSlut offered him a job with the caveat that he post a rebuttal of the article they stole from him. His so-called rebuttal turned out to be worse than the first. Before SportSlut could pull it, it had already gone viral. So he got the ban. First things first. The Daily should be suing SportSlut for copyright infringement.”

“They won’t. They can’t afford to sue, unless a rich benefactor offers to pay for a lawyer.” She smiled sweetly at him.

Gilly narrowed his eyes.

Her smile turned to a frown. “Mr. Mast is a wuss, though. He’ll probably try to pretend that Mark never worked there and keep going just like before, hoping everybody will forget about it.”

“And what do you want the shadow internet for, pray tell? What are your plans, girlie?”

“Can I have some crackers first? I’m so hungry I could die.”

“Get them yourself. You know where they are. Just don’t make a mess.”

He couldn’t stand the thought of her grubby paws rummaging through his cupboards, though, so he hefted himself up with his cane and followed her into the kitchen.

“I assume,” he said, “what you want is to find all the background information you can on the ringleaders who are after Mark, write articles on their secret pasts, and post them on the front pages of every major news site on the internet. Expose them.”

She looked at him in what was clearly feigned surprise. “Uncle Gilly, you read my mind.”

“Plant that research everywhere, but remember, it won’t be your primary mode of attack.”

“What do you mean? What’s my primary mode of attack, then?”

He chuckled. “You actually thought that would be it, huh? That good journalistic exposés would sway the populace?”

She had the dignity to blush prettily. “Um, yeah?”

“So young and naive.” He rubbed his hands together in glee. “What do you do for a living exactly?”

“Write bylines, mostly,” she muttered. “I want to do serious journalism, though. That’s the point behind the biography.”

“Stick to the serious stuff with your book. Don’t mistake me, girlie; you’ll still write those exposés and plant them everywhere. But you’re primary mode of attack will be writing something like your bylines. Memes, we used to call them. Punchy images and expressions that will puncture them to their very hearts.”

“Oh.”

He could see the wheels turning in her eyes. If he was sizing her up correctly, she was excellent at being punchy and on-point. Oso used to know exactly what to say to hurt his detractors, too, in a way that Gilly couldn’t fathom. Not that Gilly would admit his own shortcomings to the darling granddaughter sitting before him. At the moment, Gilly would pretend to be the guiding expert, prodding her to success. “Can you manage?”

She nodded. “Yes, if you set me up with a few new writer identities. Those sites will take any unpaid writers who provide them with money-making content. The hard part will be getting them to the front page.”

“No, that’s where you’re wrong. That’s the easy part. I have a few identities of my own that leak conspiracy theories to the public.”

“Why am I not surprised?” she asked, as she carefully arranged the crackers on two plates with her bare hands.

“You should be wearing gloves. You’re contaminating the food.”

“Whatever, Uncle Gilly. I’m also going to write human interest stories demonstrating that the athletes identify as androgynes, just as Mark said, and furthermore, that they view Mark as a hero. That’s true, by the way. Javi knows them. But I’m going to post them in the farcical section of the daily, and then leak them one by one to the major news sites, who don’t know the difference and don’t check. The farcical section is the only way I’ll get them past Mr. Mast.”

Gilly rubbed his hands together in anticipation and tried not to cackle. Being altruistic to sick Minäs was well and good, but this was more fun. His heart skipped with joy. He felt young again—her energy was contagious.

After they imbibed their snack of crackers and milk, she cleaned up the plates and glasses—under Gilly’s supervision—and then they both sat at Gilly’s work machine, researching the databases on the shadow net for every little piece of condemning information they could find. Long about dawn, after he’d dozed off in his chair, she shook him awake. The face gazing down at him was pale and tired, certainly, but more than that, it was confused.

“What do you want?” he asked her. She had woken him from a pleasant dream, in which white butterflies were circling in a cloud around a mammoth, friendly bear.

“I just got curious. You know, biographies should have pictures, right?”

“Memes, you mean?”

“No, I’m done with those.”

“One is never done with memes.”

“For now I am. I went searching for a wedding picture of you and your first wife to put in our bio.”

“‘Our bio?’” He tried for snide, but his voice warbled a little too much. “Did you find one?” he asked in a distant, measured tone.

“Yes, but…”

He studied her, reading the questions in her face, but preferring not to answer.

“Cameron looks just like Granddad’s assistant. Is she a daughter? A Minä designed to look like Cameron? Granddad hinted at something of the sort.”

“Or perhaps just a nuisance that won’t go away. You should learn to leave some things alone. This is like the Agnes story. It isn’t going in your biography.”

“I never said it was. I won’t put it in unless it’s relevant.”

“That’s exactly like you journalists. It doesn’t matter if it’s relevant. Ask your granddad. I’m not telling you.”

“Fine, I will,” she said, and pulled out her phone. “Not that I haven’t asked a gazillion times, but now I have more information in my arsenal.”

Stephanie hung up the phone, after having a fruitless conversation with someone other than Oso.

“Well?” Gilly asked.

She answered. I…” He watched as the truth hit her, lighting up her face.

She turned back to her search and typed in the terms: Telomerase anti-aging study participants. The medical articles wouldn’t give participants’ names, though, so the search would turn out to be a dead-end for her. Still, she had figured it out.

“Did they all die of cancer, Uncle Gilly?” she asked, as she scrolled through the articles.

“I’m sure you can find that out from your reading.”

“The injections were halted after the participants began to develop tumors, it says.” She read a little further down the page. “Most died of cancer eventually. A few held out longer. One woman, who refused to take part in further studies, didn’t develop cancer for almost fifty years. When she was diagnosed, she admitted to having taken part in the original study. That’s Cameron, isn’t it? She’s the anomaly. It all makes sense now. The assistant is Cameron, and she looks like she’s in her forties, but instead she’s old and dying of cancer. What I don’t understand is why she wears those hats if she doesn’t have big ears and hasn’t lost her hair. Unless she doesn’t like her wigs? Oh, maybe that’s it. She wears wigs and hats because she’s bald.”

Gilly neither denied nor confirmed the story. It was best not to. In a distant way, he still cared for Cameron and knew that what Cameron desired above all—perhaps even greater than money—was privacy. She had chronically ditched her monetary relationships before her vulnerability could be unmasked by love. He was lucky he’d gotten as far as he had with her. As long as he lived, their night together in Socorro would be one of his best memories.


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