Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 8

“It’s not supposed to be a weapon at all.”

“And gunpowder was first just used to make fireworks,” I said.

“I mentioned that we were looking for other methods to read and write into our cells, right?” Garvas said. “Ones that didn’t use the virus?”

I nodded.

“Let’s just say that we started those projects because some of us were concerned about the virus approach. Research on Panos’s project was halted as we tried to find a way to do all of this with amino acids.”

“You still should have gone to the government.”

“And what do you think they’d have done?” Garvas asked, looking me right in the eye. “Pat us on the heads? Thank us? Do you know what happens to laboratories that invent things like this? They vanish. Either they get consumed by the government or they get dismantled. Our research here is important . . . and, well, lucrative. We don’t want to get shut down; we don’t want to be the subject of a huge investigation. We just want this whole problem to go away.”

He pulled open the door and revealed a small, neat office. The walls were decorated with an array of uniformly framed, autographed pictures of science fiction actors.

“Go,” I said to my aspects, holding Garvas back.

The three entered the office, poking and prodding at objects on the desk and walls.

“He was of Greek descent,” Ivy said, inspecting some books on the wall and a set of photos. “Second-generation, I’d say, but still spoke the language.”

“What?” J.C. said. “Panos isn’t a w—”

“Watch it,” Ivy said.

“—Mexican name?”

“No,” Tobias said. He leaned down beside the desk. “Stephen, some aid, please?”

I walked over and moved the papers on the desk so Tobias could get a good look at each of them. “Dues to a local fablab . . .” Tobias said. “Brochure for a Linux convention . . . D.I.Y. magazine . . . Our friend here was a maker.”

“Speak dumb person, please,” J.C. said.

“It’s a subculture of technophiles and creative types, J.C.,” Tobias said. “A parallel, or perhaps an outgrowth, of the open source software movement. They value hands-on craftsmanship and collaboration, particularly in the creative application of technology.”

“He kept each name badge from conventions he attended,” Ivy said, pointing toward a stack of them. “And each is signed not by celebrities, but by—I’d guess—people whose talks he attended. I recognize a few of the names.”

“See that rubber wedge on the floor?” J.C. said with a grunt. “There’s a scuff on the carpet. He often stuffed the wedge under his door to prop it open, circumventing the auto-lock. He liked to leave his office open for people to stop by and chat.”

I poked at a few stickers stuck to the top of his desk. Support Open Source, Information for Every Body, Words Should Be Free.

Tobias had me sit at the computer. It wasn’t password protected. J.C. raised an eyebrow.

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Panos’s latest website visits were forums, where he posted energetically, but politely, about information and technology issues. “He was enthusiastic,” I said, scanning some of his emails, “and talkative. People genuinely liked him. He often attended nerdy conventions, and though he would be reticent to talk about them at first, if you could pry a little bit out of him, the rest would come out like a flood. He was always tinkering with things. The Legos were his idea, weren’t they?”

Garvas stepped up beside me. “How . . .”

“He believed in your work,” I continued, narrowing my eyes at one of Panos’s posts on a Linux forum. “But he didn’t like your corporate structure, did he?”

“Like a lot of us, he felt that investors were an annoying but necessary part of doing what we loved.” Garvas hesitated. “He didn’t sell us out, Leeds, if that’s what you’re wondering. He wouldn’t have sold us out.”

“I agree,” I said, turning around in the chair. “If this man were going to betray his company, he’d just have posted everything on the internet. I find it highly unlikely that he’d sell your files to some other evil corporation rather than just giving them away.”

Garvas relaxed.

“I’ll need that list of your rival companies,” I said. “And coroner’s reports, with photos of the body. Specifics on how the corpse vanished. I’ll also want details about where Panos lived, his family, and any non-work friends you know about.”

“So . . . you’re agreeing to help us?”

“I’ll find the body, Garvas,” I said, standing. “But first I’m going to go strangle your employer.”


I found Yol sitting alone in a cafeteria, surrounded by clean white tables, chairs of green, red, yellow. Each table sported a jar filled with lemons.

Empty, yet decorated with perky colors, the room felt . . . as if it were holding its breath. Waiting for something. I waved for my aspects to wait outside, then walked in to confront Yol alone. He’d removed his garish sunglasses; without them, he looked almost like an ordinary businessman. Did he wear the glasses to pretend he was a star, or did he wear them to keep people from seeing those keen eyes of his, so certain and so wily?

“You set me up,” I said, taking a seat beside him. “Ruthlessly, like a pro.”

Yol said nothing.

“If this story breaks,” I said, “and everything about I3 goes to hell, I’ll be implicated as part owner in the company.”

I waited for Ivy to chastise me for the curse, bland though it was. But she was outside.

“You could tell the truth,” Yol said. “Shouldn’t be too hard to prove that you only got your shares today.”

“No good. I’m a story, Yol. An eccentric. I don’t get the benefit of the doubt with the press. If I’m connected in any way, no protests will keep me out of the tabloids, and you know it. You gave me shares specifically so I’d be in the pot with you, you bastard.”

Yol sighed. He looked far older when you could see his eyes. “Maybe,” he said, “I just wanted you to feel like I do. I knew nothing of the whole cancer fiasco when I bought this place. They dropped the worst of it on me two weeks ago.”

“Yol,” I said, “you need to talk to the authorities. This is bigger than me or you.”