Uncanny Valley

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Chapter 9

I woke to sunlight streaming through the dark green curtains of my flat, which I’d forgotten to draw closed when I got home the night before. Something pricked at the back of my mind, the nagging feeling that I’d found out something disturbing the night before. For one brief groggy second, I couldn’t recall what it was. Then it came back to me.

Treblar’s Disease. The West French Indies.

It was Sunday; I still had a full day before I was expected back in the lab, or in class. I did have a rehearsal for The Tempest, but it was the first one, so probably we’d just be doing blocking and such. I could get all that from Henry, who was the student director for this one. He’d understand.

I sat up, swinging my legs around to dangle off of my twin bed, hunching over to think.

First things first. Coffee.

I powered Madeline up as I passed by her, moving toward my little tea kettle and tearing open some of the instant coffee I hated but would drink in a pinch. Lavazza was closed on Sundays, and I didn’t want to waste time going all the way into town to get the good stuff. Maybe after I’d made some headway.

Once I had a steaming cup in front of me and my hair swept back into a messy bun, I decided that the first thing I should do was call Mom. She might know more about the connection between my dad and those other men who had also died of the unusual strain of Treblar’s. And also, why did the article say he’d gone to the West French Indies when he hadn’t?

But just as I was about to type in my mom’s number on the holograph, another call came in. It was Andy. My heart skipped.

“Andy!” I said, smoothing my hair self-consciously and wishing I’d washed my face at least. “Good morning!”

“It’s evening here,” he grinned. “How was London?”

“Oh! Yeah. Um…” I tried to think of the details he’d probably want to know about, which were the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. “It was good to see Jake. Pretty sure he and Julie hit it off—”

“Yeah, Jake commed me about her, but he’s not answering this morning.”

So that’s why he was calling—he wanted to know about Jake and Julie. I tried not to feel disappointed; I’d take what I could get.

“I caught them holding hands under the table,” I told him. “I assume you’ll be meeting her at some point.”

“He doesn’t waste any time!”

“No, Jake never does.” Pause. “I found out something else too.”

“What’s that?”

I didn’t know how advisable it was to tell him, when I didn’t know much yet, but it was Andy. I mean… one day I’d marry him and tell him everything. Why not start now?

I took a deep breath. “Well, background first: so I’ve told you about Liam?”

“Yeah, the guy you had over for dinner a few nights ago?”

“Right, that’s him. Well, he’s a big conspiracy theorist, and he has this locus with millions of followers worldwide that’s all doom-and-gloom, apocalyptic stuff. You know, the S.R. will destroy humanity and all that.”

Andy gave a short, snide laugh. “Surprised you’re hanging out with a guy like that.”

“Yeah, well—he’s my boss. Don’t have a lot of choice. The point is, on Friday all his pages got black-listed on the labyrinth. They’re not searchable anymore. And he says the same thing happened to all his buddies who have similar loci to his.”

Andy shrugged. “So?”

I felt a flash of annoyance that he didn’t think this at all interesting. “So… my dad used to go on and on about how the media is censored, as a way of enforcing control. I always thought he was paranoid, but I searched the labyrinth on Halpert’s challenge, too, and the bots in general.

Literally everything I find says there’s only one side to the story, and anyone who thinks otherwise is basically an idiot who ‘ignores all the facts.’ But what facts? It’s like they’re intentionally stifling any dissenting opinions. But why, and who’s doing it?”

Andy shook his head, but his eyes darted elsewhere in his own dorm room, like he was checking the clock or something. “No idea,” he said absently. “Sounds interesting, though.”

I hadn’t even told him the main point yet, but clearly he didn’t care. Before I had a chance to filter myself, I snapped, “I’ve gotta go, Andy. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

If he caught my irritation, he didn’t show it. “Sure. What?” he said off-hologram, and then he told me, “Ivan says to say hello.”

“Hello to Ivan,” I mumbled, and pressed end.

Madeline rolled up beside me and said in an unnecessary whisper, “Is all that true? The labyrinth is being censored?”

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself, and nodded. Andy was a sensitive guy—that was one of the things I liked so much about him. He had strong, deep emotions, and I could just tell that when he finally fell in love, it would be forever. He just… didn’t listen all that well.

I sighed. I’d learn to live with it, when the time came. Maybe he’d be better by then.

I turned back to Madeline, who watched me with that tilt to her eyebrows and down-turn of her mouth that looked for all the world like sympathy.

“Gotta call Mom,” I told her, dialing her number.

“Um… isn’t it like midnight where she is?” Madeline pointed out.

“She works late sometimes,” I said.

Mom was in her pajamas, in an unfamiliar room: yet another hotel room, I was sure. But she wore her specs, which meant she was probably working still when I called her. She could do most of her work using her A.E. chip, but like me, she preferred to use a netscreen instead whenever possible.

“Hi, how was London?”

“Fine,” I told her, and forced myself to make small-talk for a few minutes about the trip, her last few days, and the town. I didn’t want to alarm her. But within a few minutes, I said, “I need to ask you about something, though.” I pulled out my handheld, and Odessa’s last comm. “It’s about Dad.”

Mom’s eyebrows knitted together. “Okay…”

“Did he ever say anything to you about—” I read off the names, “Jason Yimenez, Valerie Trewlecki, Cameron Clark, Kade Williams, Fred Biltmore, Janie MacDouglas…”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Mom held up her hand, her brow furrowed. “What’s this for?”

I sighed. “I’ll go into detail if it turns into anything. But I think there might be a connection between Liam’s black-listed pages and what Dad was doing before he died.” I’d already told Mom about Liam’s locus via comm. “Did Dad ever mention any of those people?”

Mom blinked for a minute, like she was trying to orient herself. “Some of those names sound familiar, yeah,” she said noncommittally. “But his main buddy was Randall Loomis. Randy.”

I checked Odessa’s list, scanning for the name. It wasn’t there. I felt a jolt of something I couldn’t quite name. It wasn’t there.

Is he still alive then?

“Rebecca?” Mom added, cautious. “What’s this for? What kind of a connection do you think there could possibly be?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I murmured. “I promise to tell you if I find out anything worth sharing.”

“Please tell me you’re not turning into a conspiracy theorist, too.”

“I’m not,” I assured her. “I’m just trying to fill in some blanks, that’s all. Don’t worry about me.”

“Don’t give me a reason to worry,” Mom said pointedly.

When we hung up, I sent Odessa a comm: “Please find out anything you can about Randall Loomis. Where he is. Next of kin. Anything.”

“I will get back to you with any information,” was her comm reply.

I waited. And waited.

I suppose I could go to rehearsal, I thought, even though the idea made me grimace: I imagined getting Odessa’s reply in the middle of blocking a scene, and then having to pretend I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

I got dressed while I waited, deciding I would go into town after all. Find an open coffee shop and write. I’d last left Nicolai and Elizabeth in an abandoned stairwell having a very intense moment in which he almost kissed her, and would have, if she’d stayed and let him…

But I couldn’t concentrate on even that. I messaged Odessa, impatient.

“Have you found anything?”

A few minutes later, Odessa wrote, “Randall Loomis appears to be a ghost. All traces of him end six years ago.”

The same time Dad and the others on that list died.

“Any mention of Loomis contracting Treblar’s Disease? Or, was he also in the French West Indies with the others?”

“No illnesses of any kind recorded, nor accidents, death, name changes, nothing,” Odessa replied. “He never closed his bank account, but the trace on his bank chip stopped transmitting at his place of residence, also six years ago. Presumably destroyed. He simply vanished.”

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