Self-proclaimed future billionaire Gaston Mallory had the knowledge and gumption to revolutionize the world. He had the looks of a self-made man, and the disposition; now all he needed was the actual self-made part.
For that he needed a guinea pig.
"For real, Gaston? You wouldn't fool a pal, would you?"
In a world of greed with every man looking out for his pocket book, Gaston needed the perfect guinea pig -- one that wouldn't end up demanding a large chunk of his future profits. So he turned to the one man he knew he could count on. That one individual who wouldn't be in it for the glory or the cash lived right across the hall.
"Honest to God, hope to die if I lie," Gaston said as he placed the last of the electrodes on Bobby's forehead.
Bobby Lipton -- like the tea, like the tea! -- started to pick at one of the electrodes until Gaston slapped his hand away. His over-animated reaction to the slap caused Gaston to bite his tongue to keep from chuckling. "It's all right, Bobby. Just don't mess with them, okay? I need them exactly as they are."
"What they for?"
"Again, I need to monitor what's happening and that's the best I can do for now."
"This won't hurt? I know you said it won't, but whenever I go to the doctor and she says, 'This won't hurt a bit, Bobby!' it always hurts. It never doesn't hurt -- when she jabs me with needles, ouch! And I don't like it when it hurts. Not one bit. But at least I get tea after that! Lipton tea, like my name. You're going to give me tea, right, Gaston? Lipton tea is my favorite. My last name is Lipton, like the tea! Like the tea!"
"Just like the tea," Gaston agreed.
In the cramped apartment, Gaston's future billions lay splayed haphazardly. Machines piled on machines, electronic equipment jumbled in old shoeboxes, several long-dead computer monitors serving as the legs for a makeshift table made out of an unfolded cardboard box -- in the middle of it all sat Bobby. His jubilant face beamed at Gaston as he waited with trust for whatever Gaston had planned.
"I can't wait to show sis!" Bobby said. "She be so surprised -- "
"What did I tell you?"
Even frowning with concentration, Bobby's face swelled with serenity. "Oh, sorry. I not supposed to tell anyone or it won't work."
"That's right. Not even Molly."
"But I tell sis everything. I got to tell her!"
"I know how you feel, Bobby. We'll tell her after we've done all the tests and made sure it's working first. Okay?"
Somewhere in the pit of his mind, Gaston might have felt bad about manipulating Bobby. Really, some part of him might have known that turning his girlfriend's not-so-bright brother into a guinea pig only spelled disaster in the forthcoming days of that relationship. So why did he continue? Well, if anyone asked it was to help Bobby and people like him. The practical applications for this device would reach far beyond people like Bobby, though. Everyone could use it. Man, woman and child alike, despite age or IQ or developmental abilities, would be able to harness the potential his device would soon unleash. In return for such an achievement, his bank account would never stop growing. What was so wrong with that?
Gaston retrieved the "helmet" and placed it over Bobby's head. He adjusted the strap that latched under Bobby's neck until he could see Bobby's pupils though the eye slots. From the outside it looked like nothing more than a metal ball with a hole on the bottom, two slots for eyes, and a switch next to the right-side eyehole.
"Feel okay?" Gaston asked.
"I know. Can you breathe all right?"
"Yup. Smells a little weird."
"All right, Bobby. Just relax now. I'm going to block out the rest of the light and it'll be very dark. Then the show will start. Ready for the show?"
Bobby swallowed audibly at the mention of darkness. His fingers worked at the material of his pants legs. "Okay..." he said.
Gaston flipped the switch on the helmet and Bobby's pupils vanished from his view. He quickly moved to the keyboard and typed out a sequence of commands before darting his eyes toward the monitor displaying the readouts from Bobby's mind and body.
A soft hum filled the room as the helmet came to life.
"Oooh," Bobby said.
"Just relax, Bobby. Don't talk. Just breathe deeply and watch the show."
After a few minutes, Bobby's hands relaxed at his sides and his entire body eased into a steady, almost sleep-like state. Gaston nodded with approval at both Bobby and the readouts on the screen. His brain-activity was beyond anything Gaston had ever witnessed before. The elevated stress levels concerned him a little, but not overly much. At the maximum rate of information flow Gaston expected quite a bit of stress on the subject's part.
On a third screen Gaston watched as his program roared through massive amounts of data at inhuman speeds. He had no way of knowing what actually reached Bobby's mind, or how much of it he would retain, but the ideal setup for Gaston was to just overwhelm the subject with so much information that some of it had to stick. His program called up a random word from the dictionary, plugged the selected word into a random internet search engine, and then began subliminally bombarding the subject with pages upon pages of information gathered from those search results via light and sound and images. The process itself proved slow, at least as far as the mind could assimilate data, so Gaston set up several different computers to run the program and send data to the subject. This would ideally saturate him with the maximum possible amount of information and he'd be able to retain something.
An hour later Bobby's stress levels remained relatively unaffected by the process. A few cursory checks of the equipment didn't reveal any flaws, so Gaston just sat back and continued to monitor the situation. He let the process continue for another hour and then removed Bobby from the helmet.
After a short twenty-minute nap, Bobby returned to the helmet and the process restarted. Gaston didn't want to fry Bobby's brain, and allowed for a short period of rest to try to let Bobby's brain further process the information before feeding it more.
Twice more Bobby went through this process for a total of six hours before Gaston had him go to sleep for the night. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it can be. Bobby refused to sleep until he'd called Molly and said goodnight. As much as Gaston tried to get him to just skip the call, Bobby stubbornly waited for the phone. After a none-to-subtle reminder that Molly was not to know anything of the experiment, Gaston passed the phone to Bobby. Thankfully, Bobby didn't mention anything out of the ordinary to Molly and quickly sank into a deep sleep soon after the call.
Molly returned from her business trip in three days. Until then, Bobby was all Gaston's and Gaston had until then to make sure this experiment worked. He knew Bobby wouldn't be able to keep things quiet for long, and once Molly found out -- assuming it didn't succeed, and probably even if it did -- he'd be single again. At least until he met his new cellmate.
* * *
The following morning Gaston awoke slumped over his keyboard when a pan crashed to the floor in the kitchen area. His nose filled with the smell of frying bacon and his immediate reaction was panic. Jumping out of his chair, oblivious to his body's complaints about the previous night's sleeping arrangements, Gaston tripped over a stack of books about the mind and slammed into the floor knees first. He looked up into the kitchen area, hoping to not find a fiery inferno engulfing everything in sight including Bobby.
"Hungry?" Bobby asked with an amused grin. He stood next to the stove, no fires in sight, turning bacon in a pan with a fork. "You don't got to worship me in order to get some bacon."
Climbing to his feet and mentally noting the unusual repartee, Gaston asked, "What are you doing, Bobby? You're not supposed to be using the stove. Remember when we talked about this?" He stepped into the archway dividing the kitchen area from the rest of the room. "Those burners sometimes cause fires and you're not good with fires."
"The stove. Fixed the gas flow so it don't cause those big bursts of flames when you light it now."
Gaston leaned against the archway and considered this. Was it possible? Bobby had never shown any mechanical aptitude before. He couldn't even operate a dishwasher without causing the thing to overflow and fill the room with soapy water. The bacon tantalizing his senses brought him out of his thoughts. "Sure, Bobby. Get the bacon and let's talk in the other room."
While munching on perhaps the greatest piece of bacon he'd ever had in his life, cooked to just the right crispness and flowing with more flavor than he thought possible from a piece of bacon, Gaston drilled Bobby on random subjects. "What's the capital of Missouri? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Who was the first man on the moon? How many days are in a year? What's the theory of relativity?" Through six pieces of bacon and two glasses of tea each, Gaston probed Bobby's mind with questions. Bobby knew the answers to about a third of the questions; those answers he didn't know he just flat out said, "Dunno." These results surpassed anything Gaston could've hoped for.
Encouraged by Bobby's retention, Gaston proceeded with the day's sessions: three two-hour sessions with twenty-minute naps in between, a two-hour nap, and then three more two-hour sessions before a night's sleep. Molly would be home in two days.
The first round of sessions went by without any problems, not that Gaston expected any. This was almost too easy for him. He knew now that he'd been right on the money all along. He was so sure before the human experimenting that this would net him uncountable fortunes, and now he could taste the high-quality prostitutes and ridiculously oversized cars and homes and boats that would soon be in his possession.
As Bobby stretched and wandered out of Gaston's bedroom from his two-hour nap, Gaston looked up from the guts of his program and smiled. "Good nap?"
"Great nap." Bobby paused in mid-step and eyed Gaston with an appraising look. "I think I have something you need."
"I can get you a superb deal on an all-natural breast enhancing pill that will give you breasts to make even Dolly Parton herself jealous. Just think of it! You'll never get turned down for a date again. Women everywhere will wish they were you."
Gaston stared at Bobby with his mouth gaping. He didn't know what was more astounding: the fact that Bobby pitched him breast enhancement pills or that he did it with a straight face.
All Gaston could say was, "What?"
This was a problem. A very big problem.
"Big bouncy breasts that turn men into bumbling idiots not your thing?" Bobby asked. "No problem! With just one all-natural pill a day -- at a low, low price only I can guarantee -- you can turn your teeny weenie into a colossus Kong. Length and girth! The ladies are all in agreement; girth is great! And you, too, can have a great girth."
Gaston staggered from his chair. "Bobby, Bobby, that's all right. Those things are useless to me."
Nodding knowingly, Bobby said, "I understand." He lifted his index finger, pointing straight up at the ceiling before slowly curling it down. "Wet noodle syndrome. Never fear, Gaston Mallory! Do I have the deal of a lifetime. I can get you --"
Horrified at this turn of events, Gaston grabbed Bobby by the shoulders and led him to the chair in the middle of the room. Pushing him down, Gaston pressed a finger against his lips and shook his head. "No talking, Bobby. Just let me think a minute."
Spam. How had something as simple and annoying as spam slipped passed Gaston's radar? He should have realized from the beginning he'd need to block that invasive crap. A few more rounds with a quick and dirty spam blocker should do the trick of overriding the spam already pervasive in Bobby's mind. But how pervasive was it?
"Bobby," Gaston said. "How are you feeling, Bobby?"
"I feel well, Gaston. Thank you for asking. And you? How are you feeling? Would you like some Prozac? For a limited time --"
"Fine. Good. Okay, who's the president of the United States?"
Bobby tilted his head in a comical manner all too similar to a curious kitten. "That depends," he said quietly. His eyes shifted around the room as if looking for spies. "I think we all know the answer is George Bush of the junior variety."
"Yes... so what do you mean that depends?"
Gaston had to lean closer in order to hear Bobby now as his voice dropped even lower. "I mean the truth, man. The truth they don't want you to know."
"Who? And what truth?"
"The New World Order! The secret conclave of men that run the world from their underground bunker -- they are the ones really in charge. Our president and the one before him and the one before him all the way back to the beginning are nothing more than figureheads, visual placeholders, Gaston. Where have you been? It's all a giant cover up. We're not allowed to know the truth. But I know. You bet I do. Kennedy tried to blow the lid on their activities and look where it got him!"
Gaston pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"The end is near, my friend." Bobby gazed earnestly at Gaston and said, "Have you been saved? The Lord is returning and there's nothing anyone can do, not even these evil men with their evil plans can stop Him. The signs are all in place! The prophecies are coming true. We are living in the end times! Be prepared!"
As Bobby rambled on about conspiracies and free offers and limited time only deals, Gaston hammered away at his keyboard. He added dozens of filters to the program. Bobby had absorbed far more information than expected, and while that was good, the information itself was not so good. Eliminating all the garbage -- impossible. Blocking massive amounts of it, enough to let the actual quality information in, was the best Gaston could do. As long as the good outweighed the bad, Bobby should be able to understand what was useless and what wasn't -- in theory.
After another two rounds of mind flooding, Bobby turned in for the night. Gaston downed five aspirin with a glass of orange juice and leaned back exhausted in his chair. A dull ache that wouldn't go away invaded the center of his brain. His experiment was unraveling. All his work, his dreams were crumbling like an ancient painting.
As he drifted into sleep, the phone startled him awake.
"What?" He said into the receiver.
A familiar voice turned him pale. Why was she calling? "Is everything all right there?" Molly asked.
"Yes, sorry. Just a headache. Staring at the computer too long. You know me."
"It's late and Bobby didn't call so..."
"Oh! That's right. Bobby didn't call..." Bobby didn't even ask to call. Stall. Stall. Think of an excuse. "He was just so tired after all the fun stuff we did today." That was a good excuse, right?
"I see. Fun stuff."
"Yeah. Busy day. Very exciting for Bobby." Shut up. Shut up. Stop talking. Lies are easier when they're vague.
"Make sure he calls me in the morning. We had a situation here; had to fire some of the staff. Stealing. Anyway, I'm going to be taking a later flight tomorrow. Is that all right?"
"Yes! I mean, if you need more time, that's okay. I'm here for you and Bobby."
* * *
The following morning, Gaston yawned heavily and stretched in bed. He wanted to roll over and sleep for -- in bed? He sat up, the blanket tumbling off his chest, and blinked. The clock on the wall told him it was after noon. And he was in his bed.
"Bobby!" Gaston called out as he bolted for the door.
The clicking of keys accompanied his mad rush for the main room where he found Bobby happily typing away, faster than he'd ever seen anyone type.
"Hello, Gaston. How did you sleep?" Bobby asked without missing a keystroke.
Dumbfounded, Gaston stared at the code on the screen. Vague pieces here and there loosely resembled the programming Gaston had originally entered, but for the most part it all appeared new, unusual, not his. Even worse than that, at a quick glance he couldn't even figure out what the code was supposed to do.
"What are you doing, Bobby?"
"Molly called. She was worried when I didn't call her last night or this morning. You should have left me a note."
"What did you tell her?"
The constant clicking of the keys pinged at Gaston's prevalent headache, making it worse. The throbbing evolved into an unrelenting pounding.
"Don't worry, buddy. I kept our little secret. Besides, I think you have a good thing going here. You're just a little too foolhardy to fully appreciate what you can accomplish."
"Stop. Just stop."
Turning his head but still typing, Bobby asked innocently, "Stop what?"
Bobby removed his hands from the keyboard and swiveled toward Gaston. "What is it?" For the first time, Gaston noticed a harder edge to Bobby -- particularly in the eyes. "We only have a short time left. I thought you'd welcome some assistance."
"What did you do to my code?"
Bobby shook his head and shoved Gaston back into the test chair. "You need to relax. You look terrible."
Gaston gazed up into the headgear hanging overhead. "What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Your code was trash. It hurts to tell you that, but we're friends and I think you deserve to know. You had the basic premise and it was a worthwhile attempt. Really, though. Pathetic. I completely rewrote it from the bottom up."
"Impossible. It took me years to write all that."
Bobby shrugged and lowered the helmet onto Gaston's head. "What can I say? You were working with an inefficient skill set. I fixed all your problems, enhanced the code about ten thousand percent and ran it on myself while you slept. The improvements were astounding."
"Get this off of me!" His voice echoed around him inside the helmet. Bobby was right; it did smell funny in here. How had he never tried the thing on before? He pulled at the helmet, trying to yank his head free.
Bobby's hand seized his wrist and twisted it into submission. He strapped it to the arm of the chair and then did the same with the other. "You need to understand something, Gaston. Because I do. I understand a lot. For instance, I understand that you were using me. 'Don't tell Molly or it won't work.' That's akin to a pedophile telling a child that his parents will hate him if he tells them 'their little secret.' Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for what you did for me. You nearly drove me insane with your little experiment, and you would have, had I not taken over. But that's okay. I forgive you. You didn't comprehend the ramifications."
Sweat oozed down Gaston's forehead as his sat impotent in the chair.
"Remember when I was spouting all that spam?" Bobby sounded far away with the helmet on. But that damn clicking and clacking of keys started up again. "My mind was muddled then and getting worse with each round of testing. You didn't fully grasp what you were doing to me. You see -- the internet is a vast pool of information. That's why you wanted to find a way to drop all that information into a human brain. And that was a worthy venture. Think of all the things someone could accomplish with all that knowledge.
"You missed one key thing, though, Gaston. All of that knowledge on the internet? It's all one giant cesspool of contradictions and incorrect data. For every valid piece of information, there are twenty thousand invalid pieces. What would happen, do you think, if a child is taught on Monday that the earth is round, then on Tuesday that the earth is flat, then on Wednesday that the earth is square, and then on Thursday that the earth is triangular? That's going to be one seriously screwed up kid come Friday, no? That's what you were doing to me, Gaston. I had all this knowledge in my head, but none of it made sense. Every time I tried to think about something, I was bombarded with twenty different versions of the truth and it was impossible for me to figure out which was right, to decide which I wanted to believe."
The helmet began to hum around Gaston's head. He closed his eyes, fingers digging into the arms of the chair. "I'm sorry, Bobby. Please. Just let me out of here and we'll talk about it."
"No, Gaston. I don't want you to worry about a thing. I was able to erase all the damage you did to me. There are practical applications for your device, but 'downloading the internet into someone' is not among them. Like programming for example. There's not a lot of room for opinions in programming. Sure, there are tons of styles and ways to do things, but the basic, hard facts are all the same. You do this and it causes that to happen. Straightforward and simple."
"I understand, Bobby. I made a mistake. Just let me go and we can --"
"I hope you do understand. I hope you fully comprehend all your mistakes. I also want you to understand that you'll be all right. I'll be here for you just as you were here for me all those times Molly had to work. Now relax, Gaston. Relax and enjoy the show."
"Wait! Why would you do this? Why would you give me the apparent gift of knowledge that you now possess? And what about Molly?"
"Disappointing," Bobby said. "You say you understand what you were attempting to do, Gaston? I'm going to make sure you understand. In about five minutes, you're going to have the full internet experience. Then you will truly understand what it feels like to have all that knowledge and no way to digest it. As for Molly? She's on her way home right now. I told her everything on the phone. You should be glad. She wouldn't kill a feeble-minded lunatic; so really I'm saving you."
As the mental reprogramming blared to life in the helmet, Gaston Mallory let out a scream.
Originally appeared on May 16 and 23, 2005.