The “Skin Horse” Volume 4 Kickstarter drive is now complete, and I can honestly say that it went better than I possibly could have imagined. I am grateful and a little humbled by the interest you’ve taken in the work Shaenon and I are doing. June’s blog entry is a little teaser of sorts, the opening of “You Are Jonah Yu,” the pick-your-path story that’s part of the incentive package for some of the sponsor tiers. Once again, thank you all…
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It’s a lazy Saturday morning in the publication offices of Grillo Parlante, which is to say, your bedroom. Which is to say, the bedroom your parents picked out for you when your family moved here while you were in second grade because your father accepted a promotion. Which is to say, a “lateral transfer,” because he was asked by the company he works for to do the exact same job he used to do in Galveston out on the east coast, for less pay, because they were phasing out his department in the Galveston branch. Which is to say, technically, a “demotion.”
The clock is ticking over towards noon. You’ve spent all morning working on your blog, the aforementioned Grillo Parlante, researching glimpses and signs of the deep, frightening truths that lurk behind the mundane occurrences of daily life. Which is to say, you’ve been playing this bundle pack of old classic Atari games that your friend Nera Vivaldi downloaded to her tablet computer. You’re getting really, really good at Missile Command. It kind of makes you wish that the Department of Defense really was peeking in on excellent Missile Command players and secretly offering them jobs operating the big counter-ICBM systems out there in Boulder. Sadly, this rumor has been thoroughly debunked by Grillo Parlante‘s crack investigation team, which is to say, you and Nera.
Looking into claims of weird shadow-government programs and exploring evidence both for and against so-called “supranormal phenomena” has been your passion ever since that fateful day when you went to track down the physical location of an online gaming buddy-slash-hated rival of yours who had actually been declared stone dead several years back. Turns out, Nick Zerhakker wasn’t actually dead dead; his brain had merely been extracted by a shady military contractor for use in piloting their next generation of intelligent aircraft. Tunneling into Zerhakker’s past led you to a mysterious government laboratory in Carbondale, where, um, you died. And then died again. And again, and again, and again. Thanks to being bombarded with mysterious energies from some sort of government prognostication program called “Second Gate”, you experienced some sort of quantum phase shift thingy (you are reasonably certain this is the proper technical term) which allowed you to hop between various branching paths of causality until you were able to find one where you escaped the Carbondale facility unharmed. It took a lot of time, and a lot of death on your part, but you eventually pulled it off.
The plus side of having been crushed by spike walls and electrocuted and masered and tasered and burned to death by fire-breathing amphibians, if there can be said to be one, is that you have emerged from the experience with a somewhat unpredictable and unreliable ability to catch occasional glimpses of the future due to the aforementioned trans-dimensional energy exposure. It’s come in handy a couple times during your investigations of cryptic and covert phenomena, and now it’s brought you to the attention of yet another hidden cabal within this shadowy world…
“So, tell me about this AG-I thing,” says Nera, who is sitting at your desk doing the part of investigative reporting that involves tinkering with the site rather than the part where you lay the smack down on a bunch of incoming missiles, thus preventing them from blowing up your little blue cities. (It is your opinion that the two jobs are of similar importance.)
“I can’t say as I really know much, for sure,” you say, totally nailing another inbound ICBM. “According to my research, they appear to be some kind of social action group consisting exclusively of superior and elevated humans. ‘The Best Humanity Has To Offer,’ at least that’s what their little brochure says.”
“I don’t like the Boy Scout vibe,” says Nera. “It looks like they’re setting themselves up as a wholesome “us-only” alternative to all these genetically-enhanced superbeasts that’ve been popping up in the world recently.”
“Like the Hodag.”
“Gawd, J.,” says Nera, rolling her chair away from the desk and staring up at the ceiling. “Don’t remind me about the friggin’ Hodag. Worst fact-finding mission.”
“Best fact-finding mission,” you say, skillfully dismantling her carefully-constructed argument. “Anyway, I don’t see any particular harm in being a little competitive. Apparently, they’re guided by this totally-unbiased universally-wise legacy megacomputer called the Cerebriac, who sends them out on missions and stuff. It’s got a very comic book feel to it.”
“Well, whatever,” says Nera. “I mean, I know they offered you membership and everything because of your weird future-sight thing, but promise me that you’ll think critically about these guys before you just up and throw in with their side. You’re a journalist now, J. You gotta mind your journalistic integrity.”
“Actually, they haven’t offered me membership. They’ve offered me a ‘chance at’ membership.” You put the Missile Command game on pause, which would probably be a handy ability to possess during an actual missile attack, and roll yourself over to the unsettlingly-concise application form that lies nearby on your bed. “‘Dear Jonah Yu,'” you read. “‘We’d like to see if you’ve got the “right stuff” that it takes to be part of the AG-I team. We’re looking for nonlinear thinkers who know how to try unconventional approaches and work “outside the box” in order to achieve extraordinary goals. If you’d like to be a part of our grand social experiment, please affix this document with a notarized signature and drop it in any United States Postal Service mailbox.'” You frown at the document a little. “Actually, it goes on to say that the form has to be postmarked by the end of the day today.”
“Geez, way to wait until the last minute,” says Nera, saving her work on the most recent Grillo Parlante entry, something having to do with the evidence you’ve found of giant squids living in American municipal sewers and feeding off all the giant alligators living down there. “Don’t sweat it. There’s a post box at the South Street substation that’s got a really late Saturday pickup. You just gotta get it there by four.”
“Cool,” you say, picking up Nera’s tablet again and resuming your heroic defense of the surface world.
“Uh,” says Nera, looking quizzically at you. “You… don’t wanna head over there right now, J.?”
“We’ve got hours, don’t we?” you say, not looking up at her. “I can’t help but feel we missed something on that Missile Command story. I want to take this baby all the way to the kill screen and see if anything cool happens.”
“They updated the code when it went to the mobile version,” says Nera, snatching her tablet out of your hands. “They debugged out all the kill screens.”
“Oh,” you say.
“Jonah, getting the inside scoop on AG-I could be the biggest thing we’ve done with this blog since we uncovered that thing about the Australian government trying to create were-kangaroos using homeless street-people from Sydney as test subjects. I refuse to jeopardize this scoop because you want to screw around with Missile Command all day.”
“Okay, fine,” you grouse, rolling off the bed, trying to ignore Nera’s repeated use of the word “scoop,” because it makes her sound like one of those irritating go-get-’em cub reporter ladies you tend to see in old science fiction serials. “Just let me get a pen so I can sign this form and we can head out.”
You get up and start digging around in your desk drawer for a decent, non-leaky ballpoint. After a while, you realize that Nera hasn’t yet responded to your statement with even a little noise of affirmation about this plan. You further realize that there is, in fact, no sound whatsoever coming from Nera’s quarter. This probably means one of two things: one, that she’s been injected with some sort of vile paralytic toxin which has rendered her incapable of speech, or two, that she’s giving you one of those terrible horrified death-glares that she reserves exclusively for your major cock-ups. You look up from the drawer, and, yep, there it is, number two: Nera’s blank, wide-eyed, “Jonah, I Cannot Believe How Completely Constructed Of Stupid You Are” stare.
“What?” you ask.
“You haven’t signed it yet?”
“Well, no,” you admit. “But it’s not like it takes forever to sign a stupid form.”
“This isn’t an ordinary signature!” cries Nera, gesturing agitatedly. “This has to be signed in the presence of a Notary Public!”
‘What’s a ‘note of republic?'” you ask.
“Holy, holy crap,” says Nera, shaking her head at you. “Notaries Public are special people commissioned by the State to bear official witness to signatures. Unless you sign this document in the presence of a Notary, it’s like it’s not signed at all!” She throws her notebook at you, but you dodge. “To heck with lateral thinking, Jonah. Try just thinking for once!”
Well, crud. You guess that you had kind of been going on the presumption that “notarized signature” was just a fancified way of saying “signature.” You learn something new every day, huh? “Okay,” you ask, rapidly shifting to your Solution-Man alter ego, “how do I find one of these guys?”
“On any normal day, we could just take it to a bank or something,” says Nera, pacing back and forth. “But I can’t think of a single bank in this city that’s open past noon, which, for the record, it now is.” She jacks a thumb at the clock on the wall. “My mom’s a Notary, but she doesn’t get in from Singapore until tomorrow, so no help there. Think, Jonah. Do we know any Notaries Public?”
“We might,” you say. “It’s not something that usually comes up in normal conversation.”
“Okay okay okay,” says Nera, her brain clearly spinning. “What about Zerhakker?”
“What about him?”
“He still works for the government, right? I bet some of his co-workers are Notaries. You just need to call in a favor and get the name of a girl or a guy with a stamp from Zerhakker. Be super apologetic for bothering everyone involved on their off day, stress the importance of the situation, pay whatever notarial fee they ask for, and you’ll have your form all nice and proper and ready to drop off at the postal branch on South Street.”
“Sounds like a plan!” you say. “Let’s go!”
“Heck no,” says Nera. “I’ve got a blog to update! This giant squid thing is absolutely burning hot. Squids are trending on YouTube because of this really funny squid-related viral video that just came out, and we need to capitalize on the resulting search engine splash damage. I don’t have a moment to spare!”
“But you’re my Gal Friday!”
“Beg to differ, J. You are my Dude Friday.” Nera cracks her knuckles in the backhand style and returns her attention to the computer. “Seriously, though, this can’t possibly be so complicated as to require me to micromanage you through it. It’s just a little paperwork. What could possibly go wrong?”
“I guess you’re right,” you say, picking up your phone and your trusty crescent wrench, which has rarely left your side ever since it helped save the universe a couple times during the Carbondale affair. You even eat breakfast with it. “I’ll give Zerhakker a buzz; he’ll know what to do next.”
“Sounds like a plan!” says Nera, as you duck out the door to make your call.
(One phone conversation with Nick Zerhakker later…)