Word of the Psychic Bug:
Chapter One

by Victor Giannini
forum: Word of the Psychic Bug: Chapter One
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..  

Word of the Psychic Bug
Chapter One


          War is over.

          At the end of the 21st century, the international banking system collapsed under the strain of prolonged global conflict. Unable to economically maintain their own armed forces, the world's armies dissipated one by one.

          Private Military Corporations have stepped up to the challenge of policing and profiting from an unarmed world. Proxy battles are now fought on behalf of Client Countries on an unending basis.

          It is on this stage that we first find Dashiel Word, Elite Agent of Arcane Industries, premiere PMC to the world's largest Client Country, the United North American Front. Dashiel is laying atop a skyscraper, wind blowing through his hair, convulsing wildly, as he desperately tries keep his guts from spilling one hundred stories to the street below.


          Dashiel Word lay curled on his side, ignoring the dying screams of the people below. The skyscraper's roof was bitter against his cheek, rough and cold like frozen sandpaper. Laying at the edge, he savored the heat rising from his blood as it soaked into his uniform. It provided relief from the pounding winds, like unending waves of ice.

          Trying to ignore his cold skin and burning guts, Dashiel focused on the fading sounds of his rapidly thumping heart, and the "Musical Offering" in his ears.

          As on all missions, his earpiece quietly piped this eerie final piece by the ancient composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Musical Offering's rising organ was steeped in sinister intent, yet Dashiel found the song's complex layers put his mind at ease. It aided all levels of his consciousness to operate both independently and cooperatively.

          At optimal levels, Dashiel could bluff his way through any situation. With his sharpened mind listening to orders from Arcturus Command in one ear, he could still pay attention to his interrogator, lie with ease, size up his opponent's offensive and defensive capabilities, analyze the layout of the environment, calculate how much time was left, identify possible weapons, and relax to the layered, ominous sound of the Musical Offering. But the song was not finished before Bach died, and so, cuts off abruptly, damning the masterpiece to imperfection.

          The music in his ear faded from attention. His neck throbbed as all the blood in his heart rushed to the hole in his stomach, mixing with bile, squeezing out around his fingers, and then onto his legs. The pain coursed like a spider's web, lightning tipped and cold, latching onto the core of his bones and marching toward his brain.

          I am going to die up here, he thought. I'm going to die high. He glanced down the side of the skyscraper and laughed.

          The sun began to set over the shimmering skyline. As it slipped below the horizon, streams of red and pink shot across the orange sky. Dashiel turned his head away.

          This is a glamorous death, he thought. Bleeding to death from my stomach atop the city's tallest building. Whoever finds me will not forget it. Arcane will deny my existence publicly, but they'll have a big ceremony after. My name will be on that plaque up on Arcturus. A legend among PMC Elites! A flashy death… but not a good death. It would have been better to die in combat. Hand to hand. Knife to throat. Or rescuing someone. A woman. Yes, rescuing a babe…she'd never forget me. She'd always wonder what it would have been like if I'd lived, every man she's with afterwards just a mannequin for her to close her eyes and place my face on…

          Ear pressed to roof, Dashiel could hear the deep rumbling below, the sound of concrete, steel, and flesh crackling and consumed. A roar, like a serpent rousing from slumber beneath the earth's crust.

          Oh. Right. This building is going down, he thought. My crushed remains will be burnt to a crisp. No one will find my body. I'll just be listed MIA. Cheaper. This mission is a total failure. It's not my fault. Not this time. They struck first. They did this to themselves.

          He rolled away from the ledge.

          No, he thought. I am not finished. I am perfect. I will not be cut off.

          Keeping one hand firmly clamped over his wound, he used the other to pull his emergency equipment from his belt. He groped blindly, staring out over the city, skin crawling while he awaited the next shot from nowhere.

          He found what he was looking for, a small vial that he popped open with his thumb. He emptied the contents of the vial onto his stomach, spreading it onto the wound and pushing it deep into his split flesh. He winced as the bacteria began working. The nano-machines imbedded in the bacteria's cells would help slow the bleeding and fight infection for a short time. Some would begin knitting a microfiber mesh net around the the wound, a temporary fix until a real medic station could seal him up. The rest of the nanomachines began pumping endorphins and adrenaline into the base of Dashiel's spine.

          Dashiel reached into his vest and pulled another small canister out. He pressed a button on the side and it split apart with a hiss, revealing a needle that he quickly jammed into his neck's artery. The chemicals coursed through his blood, racing to the base of his skull. He felt the effects immediately. A tingling in the nose, like the onset of a cold. The relief of pressure from behind the eyes, warmth in the back of his throat. The flaming ball of glass that enveloped his stomach began sliding away, the sensation of pain falling behind a wall of illusionary relief.

          "Agent Word, this is Arcturus Command. Do you copy?" a faint voice called inside his head.

          Dashiel reached up to his earpiece, tapping it lightly. The hissing, distant voice came in clearer.

          "Dashiel! Come in!" the voice called again. "You've been compromised. The mission is aborted. You have to get out of there now! The whole place is burning down!"

          "Sorry, Clive," Dashiel mumbled.

          "Jesus Christ, his vitals are crashing," Clive said to someone else. "Get someone out there now! Xerxes? Fine! Forget the Director, he'll give clearance later! I don't care, pay them! Arcane's top Agent isn't going to…"

          Dashiel clenched his jaw. Blood flooded up his throat, spilling out around his perfectly aligned teeth. This last bit of stinging warmth flooded onto his chest, greeting the hot pool soaking between his legs. Blood and piss. It all comes down to blood and piss.

          "Clive, I'm on the roof…"

          The marching pain overtook him, but he did not scream. Dashiel sank within himself. His lungs tightened, filled with cement and fear. A white light pulsed behind his eyes. It grew, spreading like a summer breeze cascading between the body armor and his flesh.

          The sky brightened. The stinging light inside his skull left, floating up to fill the blue above. A smell of cooking meat filled the air. Children laughed behind him, beer cans popped open all around. Adults murmured and laughed, bare feet thudded on the soft earth.

          Dashiel sat up, hands no longer pushing against the grainy roof, but soft grass. The sun was directly overhead, keeping his hair warm, like the summer air. Looking down at his arms and legs, they greeted him, hairless, thin, and new.

          The air smelled of real flowers, hot dogs, burgers, and melting cheese. All around him, lush green trees stood proud and firm, keeping the cool ocean hidden from view. Sand mixed with dirt, forming a soft sheen that stretched through the dry grass, filling the clearing and leading down to the ocean.

          Dashiel rolled into the sandy path. The sand was hot and dry, perfect. Ants marched by, dutifully carrying a raspberry cookie.


          A small girl with blonde hair was standing, hands on her hips, waiting for him to say something. The ants marched through his stomach. He smiled. The girl stepped toward him. She began moving quickly, like bad animation, sped up, skipping frames. She was kneeling next to him. She touched his hair and he felt sleepy and dumb.

          Dashiel blinked, and they were on the beach. Night, a full moon glowing over the ocean, leaving a silver snake arching toward the shore. The whole coast soaked in blue and purple, an orange orb burning in the distance. The adults' bonfire. He pressed his lips to her cheek. It felt like a peach. She touched his hand. Marcy.

          Dashiel sighed and found himself in a bedroom, cluttered with stuffed animals, pictures of girls partying, toys scattered on the floor, bed sheets twisted around his calves. Another girl, another soft, shallow breath that smelled of storm rain, another pair of eyelashes caressing his cheek. Erin.

          Things were moving even faster now. Like he was being pulled across the water's surface, trying to look into the depths as he skimmed along. He stared into the water, and saw himself older, running, grasping a light brown hand, strong voices and blinking lights filling the darkness behind them. He leapt around a corner, pulling the hand, the arm, the slender body against cold brick. Boots boomed past, and he tasted her mouth. Shannon.

          The animation grew worse. He was at all places at once. Ten years old on the beach, twelve at the park, eighteen in his car, fourteen in the detention cell, twenty-four in the airship, sixteen along side of the rocket, eleven when the bombs went off.

          Marcy, Erin, Shannon, Eileen, Elizabeth, Stacy, Tina, Renee, Zaida, Jane, Alicia Kay, Yeda, Bonnie, Terry, Alison… As the faces increased, the names faded.

          His blood pulsed, urgent, steaming. Flooding around his ears and pulling him farther back, skimming across the surface of his life, a dark pool stained with rust and sweat, and a hundred smiling lips fading into darkness.

          Images gave way to sound, to feeling and fear. In the darkness, Dashiel grew old and knew loss, made friends and fought, grew strong and conquered. Pride swelled, he gained knowledge, applied it, killed. He was accepted. He rose through ranks, saw enemies fall and beg for mercy, earned rewards. He was celebrated.

          Now he floated in nothing, save for bitter cold. His nerves cried out, raw and exposed, tired of feeding impulses of shock and pain. He heard a low thumping, and a haunting melody, looping and spinning around itself, forward and backwards, defined by its own reflection. An offering.

          The darkness became gray. It congealed, laying on his skin and becoming jelly. It slid off, slowly. Dashiel awoke colder, weaker, seeing the city skyline on its side.

          Back on the skyscraper, he could feel the fire raging beneath him, giving a hint of warmth to the roof. Faint screams and crackles reached his ears. The Musical Offering continued its endless loop.

          It was a good life, he thought. Such women! All those girls to keep me from the edge. All the danger, the glory, the conquest. It was a good life.

          Something blotted out the sun.

          Dashiel saw death's silhouette standing over him. Death turned, sans scythe, nestling a rifle stock on her shoulder instead.

          Dashiel was in awe. What a remarkable thing, he thought. A standard pulse rifle, but with major modifications. The cartridge which super heated each blast for cauterization is gone, meaning the victim will erupt like a fountain after each shot. Messy, and stylish. The elongated stock allows for precise aiming for an attachable thermal grenade launcher. The sight on the rifle's head has three settings, most likely standard, infrared, and night vision. The handle looks as if it encases some sort of pistol, ready to be ejected from the base of the rifle at a moment's notice. A blast shield is fitted around the end, with an opening at the top for the sights. Laying down, this shield can double as legs to further steady one's aim. You could even fit a sniper attachment on the barrel, effectively meaning that one weapon is devastating at short, medium, and long ranges. A weapon made with love, by someone who gets their hands very dirty. A true work of art.

          Death fired her rifle. Short bursts of purple flared out. Distinct cracks echoed across the city canyon. As death continued to fire into the distance, the sun crept around, revealing her form.

          Her hair was sapphire red, short, and sharp. Her eyes were narrow, focused. Her nose was small, smooth curves and perfectly symmetrical. Her cheeks and jaw line were of Old Russian descent, sharp and strong, yet distinctly female. Her sleek neck was framed by strong shoulders. Her red armor fit well, showing off a long body, nothing but tight muscle wrapped around pristine bone. Not a wasted inch of flesh.

          What an ass, he thought. So round and strong. Damn, I bet should could leap to the next building. And her calves! Her form is flawless. Each recoil from the rifle will travel down her perfectly. The force will dissipate through her feet, and her heels are elevated just enough to prevent reverse shock traveling up her lower back. Beautiful!

          A rifle-wielding gazelle!

          Dashiel propped himself up on his elbows.

          "I didn't think the Reaper would have such curves," he said, giving a faint smile. "Unless of course, you're a guardian angel."

          "You look ridiculous. Wipe that blood off your teeth," she said. "Arcturus Command, come in. Agent Word is alive. Delirious, but alive."

          She reeked of professionalism, a killer of mathematical elegance, detached and cool, with hot blood soaring through her veins. Synapses and neurons tightly coiled around mortal sorrow. A machine of flesh.

          Dashiel cocked his head, straining to look down at his legs. With blurring vision, he saw damp, rust colored Kevlar, and slicked armor. Shredded. And he saw a faint bulging at the crotch. The stir of life. He laughed.

          "Clive, can you hear me?" Dashiel said slowly. "You should see this, buddy. I'm bleeding out and I can still get it up!"

          The woman glanced down, her eyebrows arched in disapproval.

          "Excellent work, Agent Kessler," Clive said in her earpiece. "Arcane Industries is very grateful. But remember, payment is for a successful recovery, not body retrieval. Get Agent Word back to Arcturus Command in one piece."

          A great roar shook them. The building was crying out. Its death throes shook them to the core. Agent Kessler dropped down, steadying herself. Dashiel's exposed guts steamed just below her. Another blast, and she fell forward, catching herself on her palms. Her face hovered just over Dashiel's. A bead of sweat dropped from her brow, landing on his nose. He smiled.

          "Green eyes," he said.

          "Tell me when you can get up," she said.

          Dashiel squinted at her.

          "Scratch that," she said. "Don't say a word until you can lift your gun."

          She suddenly dropped her rifle, leaping to the side and grabbing his shoulder. Just as she rolled Dashiel, the spot he'd been laying on splintered away with three sharp cracks. Dashiel looked up at her as she lifted a Denum-grade Handgun that had been encased in the handle of her rifle. She squeezed off six rounds.

          "Tell me, Agent Word. How did you manage to turn a recon mission into the apocalypse?" she asked, still keeping her sights trained on the enemies on the opposite building.

          "Arcane doesn't pay us very well," Dashiel mumbled. "I'm just subbing in. I'm from accounting."

          She didn't respond. She remained kneeling, aiming over Dashiel, now propped up on left side, facing away from the action.

          "Hey, are you using me for a shield?"

          "Shut up. There's two snipers across the street."

          "Mmm, yes," Dashiel said, patting his stomach. "I'm well aware of that."

          She fired again. Dashiel heard a faint yelp.

          "Did you get him?"

          "Yes," she said. Still training her sights into the distance, she reached down to her belt with her left hand and pulled out a canister. Still not looking at Dashiel, she popped the lid off and dumped two pills into his gloved hand. "Swallow those. It will help with the pain, and coagulate your blood more."

          Dashiel couldn't swallow them. As Agent Kessler fired again, Dashiel saw something approach from the sky. As it grew closer, he recognized the familiar hum and bursts of energy that popped behind its thrusters.

          "Shuttle's here," Dashiel said.

          Agent Kessler stood up quickly, yanking Dashiel to his feet by his body armor. He stumbled, trying to get his legs to go firm. He fell onto her chest. She kept him upright, frowning and firing again.

          "Didn't you take those pills? You should be maxing on adrenaline right now," she said.

          "Sorry," Dashiel said. He nuzzled his face into her neck.

          The shuttle hovered just over the roof, gently rocking back and forth. Another explosion shuddered through the building. Both Agents struggled to remain upright as they backed up toward the small shuttle. Kessler kept firing as the sniper's shots struck all around them.

          Kessler dumped Dashiel onto the shuttle's loading bay. He grabbed a handle and pulled himself in, still leaking juice all over. Kessler leapt in backwards, still aiming at their enemy. Her red body armor was stricken with Dashiel's dark stain.

          The shuttle lurched into the air. The pilot leaned his head back and looked at Dashiel.

          "Good to see you survived, sir!" he shouted over the roar of gunfire, flames and engines.

          Dashiel could see his own face reflected in the pilot's visor. His brown hair was black with sweat, his face pale and hanging. His lips and teeth were covered in caking blood. His eyes looked sunken and yellow. I've made better first impressions, he thought.

          "Let's go kill that bastard," Dashiel said, pointing down at the building the other sniper was perched on.

          "No can do, sir," the pilot said as he turned back to the controls. They glided into the air, over the burning skyscraper. "The mission's a bust. I've got direct orders to get you back up to Arcturus Command, ASAP."

          "Bullshit!" Dashiel lay back against the wall, his bloody legs splayed out in front of him. His chin rested on his chest.

          "Seems you're feeling better," Kessler said as she loaded a fresh clip into her handgun. "You're very lucky, Agent Word. I wouldn't push that luck. That armor Arcane slapped on you is top grade. Those sniper shells were at least .50 caliber. You should have been blown in half and flung off the roof."

          "Please, call me Dashiel," he said, suddenly shifting gears. He smiled and extended his hand.

          Kessler stared at his glove, completely soaked in blood. Dashiel shrugged his shoulders, pulled the glove off, and extended his hand again. She took it. As they shook, he made sure to grasp the tips of her fingers, savoring the rough texture of her combat glove.

          "I don't believe I caught your name," Dashiel said. The shuttle banked left. Dashiel could see the skyscraper's roof licked with flames.

          "Agent Kessler," she said, looking down at the skyscraper in disgust.

          "Your first name is Agent?" Dashiel said coyly.

          She stared at him with cold, emerald eyes. He kept smiling, cocking his head to the side and arching an eyebrow.

          "Emma," she said.

          "Pleasure to meet you, Emma Kessler," Dashiel said. "Thank you for saving my life."

          A mighty roar shook the skies. They grabbed onto whatever they could as the shuttle rocked back and forth. Looking out of the loading bay, they saw the skyscraper begin sinking down to the street. Great plumes of ash and smoke shot up around them, as if a long dormant volcano had risen from the sewers, raging with ancient fire. The air shook with the sound of shattering glass and falling concrete.

          "My, my, Agent Word," Emma said. "What the hell did you do to bring that entire building down?"

          "I dropped a satchel of thermal grenades down an elevator shaft," Dashiel said. "I also set off some demo-charges I placed at the scraper's foundation when I cased the place."

          "You did what?" she shouted. "How could a professional pull such an amateurish and wasteful…"

          "Hey, hey," Dashiel said. "All that was after they blew a softball sized hole out of my stomach!"

          "So you saw who shot you?"

          "Nope. They got me while I was still in the office. Right through the window. Some asshole across the street, didn't have the stones to look me in the eye. Maybe even the guy you plugged."

          Emma said nothing.

          "We were compromised," Clive said into their earpieces. "Listen, Dashiel. I'm very relieved you survived, but we have to have an urgent discussion. Arcane is extremely displeased with this little incident. Do you even know why or how you were discovered? In fact…"

          "I'm in the middle of a conversation. We'll chat when I get back to Arcturus, ok? Later, Clive!" Dashiel said. He plucked the transmitter from his ear and tossed it on the shuttle bay floor.

          "Very professional," Emma said. "I can see why that mission went so well."

          "You're not from Arcane Industries," Dashiel said.

          "I see you have some brains to back up that knack for turning recon into demolition."

          "Believe me, I'd remember a face like yours," Dashiel said. He leaned back against the wall. He kept his hands clenched around his middle. "Emergency contract?"

          "I'm a Xerxes agent," she said.

          "Oh yes, Xerxes. The number two PMC for the U.N.A.F.," Dashiel said. "Shame about your pulse rifle." Dashiel nodded his head toward the burning crater below.

          "I have three identical ones back at base," Emma said. "Besides, I'll attach that one to Arcane's bill as an expense."

          "It will probably be deducted from my paycheck," Dashiel said.

          "Shame. You know, Mr. Word, I'm a little confused as to why exactly Arcane would turn to a competitor for an emergency extraction. Why wouldn't they deploy one of their own Elite Agents?"

          "I am their Elite Agent," Dashiel said. "Highest ranking in the U.N.A.F. field. There isn't anyone better to back me up."

          Emma put a hand over her mouth. The skin around her eyes creased.

          "Are you laughing?"

          "No, no. I'm just… of course you are," Emma said. "Lucky for you that Xerxes had me stationed in the city."

          The shuttle arched upwards, preparing to dock at Arcturus, Arcane's mobile airbase. A half mile below, the city writhed in chaos, as bodies and debris rained on the streets. A dull rumble rose from the smoking ruin.

          Dashiel smiled.

          "Very lucky indeed."



copyright 2007 Victor Giannini | illustration by Justin Sanz

Victor Giannini is not starving to death or going mad, but he's found time to pencil both into his schedule. A recursive artist and reluctant cannibal, much of his artwork and comics can be seen at

Victor TG has been lucky enough to see his work published in Silverthought: Ignition, Other Magazine, Italics Mine, 5-0 Skatezine, Thrash Compactor, Focus Skatemag, Beach Plums, Poor Choice, The East
Hampton Star, and The Literary Bone. The jerk also self publishes a comic book called "Skeightfast Dyephun", and recently designed a boardgame for Planet Toys, based on a major undisclosed property.