Chapter 38: No Rest For the Weary

In which she hasn’t quite fulfilled her evil duties.

Finally, Stephanie made her way home to her cozy apartment, after she’d turned in her first farcical news story and slammed the web with horribly pithy attacks on Mark’s opponents—that is, the physical riot leaders in Albuquerque and their cohorts online who were currently concocting spurious articles about Mark, about the JOI league, and conservative JOI papers such as the Albuquerque Daily. Mr. Mast would have laughed in her face if she tried to convince him he was anything other than a pure, enlightened liberal Democrat, and the paper an offering of his Jeffersonian vision.

What was wrong with these people? They lied about everything. That was why she was a JOI. She had the integrity to only mildly fudge the truth in the farcical news section, and even that gave her angst. To be honest, she didn’t want to know what was wrong with them. All that mattered was that Mark wouldn’t see what she had written on his behalf, being that he’d been banned from the internet.

She strolled around her apartment, discarding her clothes. Soon, she was happily wearing nothing but her underwear and relishing the silence and loneliness. She went around picking up and straightening things; she watered her potted cacti, as they needed a few drops every now and again. She was like the cacti, apparently, needing a few drops of time to herself every now and again.

With a sigh of relief, she collapsed onto her bed. Although her body enjoyed the reclined position, and especially the fetal position, her mind still buzzed with activity. Mark could read her articles, if she sent him links to them…on the shadow internet. Did she want to risk going to jail so Mark would know how much she loved him? Gilly hadn’t seemed too concerned about consequences, but he was in his eighties. And he’d invented the shadow net. Or so he claimed. And surely, he had special blockers that would prevent the government from ever knowing about his internet activities. Gilly was paranoid; why wouldn’t he?

Gilly wasn’t paranoid. He was delusional. He believed in aliens. She was the one who was being paranoid.

Perhaps she should do what Javi had advised instead—apologize to Mark for nothing in particular. There was always something to apologize for, such as introducing Mark to her Granddad. If she’d never done that, none of this would have happened.

She reluctantly pushed herself up from her bed. “Call Mark,” she told her phone.

Not that she expected him to answer and, indeed, he didn’t. He didn’t want to talk to her. That was all there was to it. She was in such a desperate state when his voicemail picked up the call that the apology popped out before she could stop it: “I’m sorry, Mark. Please forgive me. I’m going to make everything right again.”

She hung up and threw the phone across the bed. There were now two men who would no doubt not respond to her desperate sounding voicemails—although she didn’t understand why her uncle Adam wouldn’t, unless he’d lied about their family issues not coming between them.

As the phone lay across the bed from her, she noticed it was blinking with unread messages. She snatched it up. Well, Uncle Adam still loved her. He’d called her back—according to the time stamp, when she’d been writing her farcical article this morning. She put the phone on speaker to hear the content of his message:

What are you talking about, Stephie? I’ve never killed a snake in my life. When we were still in New Mexico, I used to put rattlesnakes in a bucket and move them off my property. I’ll tell you what, though. Samson was something else. He was your granddad’s helper and constant companion, before he ran away. He was a great dude. I practically grew up with him.

She closed her eyes. She would sleep for a few minutes, and that was all, and then she would send the links to Mark through a proxy server. The farcical news story would go to press tomorrow. As she drifted off to sleep, something inside her begged her not to sleep because she wasn’t yet satisfied with her efforts.

So she’d condemned JOI-Mark haters on the internet. Who cared? So she’d written an article that was clearly supposed to be farce. It wasn’t enough. If she wanted to make a bold statement, she had to write another front-page Albuquerque Daily article that would be stolen for SportSlut by yet another identity she created, as she was fairly certain the ones she’d used earlier would already be blocked.

Heart pounding, her mind snapped fully awake. Everybody loved Emmett the halftime clown. Emmett would give her the content for her front-page article. “Call Javi,” she told her phone.

The dear brother answered immediately, as if he’d been expecting to hear from her.

“I need your help,” she told him. “Can you set me up an interview with Emmett the halftime clown? And time is of essence. I need this to go to press tomorrow.”

“She’s right here, sitting beside me, watching me blow up the universe. At least in this game. Playing as Mark. Come over and proceed as before, Julia.” He snickered.


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