Word felt a spider web slip into the delicate space between his
skull and hair. It tightened. His brain compressed. Gray matter
swelled and pulsed through the web, distended and engorged with
blood. His eyes bulged in their sockets, forced open, forced to
confront the unending blackness. He tried to wipe his eyes but found
himself restrained. He pulled in the darkness, feeling cold steel
bite into his wrists and ankles.
shit, he thought. I thought I escaped. I thought they saved me.
That girl from Xerxes. She saved me. No, wait
I don't need
saving. I'm an Elite Agent for
form approached. A swaying shadow, an hourglass shade.
Dashiel licked his lips. They were dry and chapped. The sound of
his swollen tongue sliding across his lips echoed in the darkness.
I died in the shuttle, he thought. Now I must pay for my sins. Punish
me, Emma. Make me pay for all those lives I took. Balance the world
out. Let's make a baby for every life we stole on this Earth.
woman leaned forward, her face inches from his. It was not Emma
Kessler. Her hair was long and black. Her eyes were yellow, distant.
Like old marbles resting at the ends of tunnels. Her skin looked
like pink sand paper. She smelled of onions. Her lips, full and
wet like worms, brushed against his forehead. Dashiel braced himself.
started with licks and lashes, biting whips and spit. Gradually,
the sensation changed. His veins began to sing out, a harmony of
short, sharp, irritations. Dashiel could feel his entire circulatory
system throbbing like a neon sign under dirt.
feel a lot better if I could hold the back of her hand. Trace her
his hands were numb, dying from the restraints. The numbness spread
down his limbs, condensing in his chest.
focused on her breasts instead, bouncing slowly above him. Each
bounce left an after image, causing a kaleidoscope of breasts. He
smiled. Endless breasts bobbing in the dark.
Dashiel was not sure which way was up. I might be spinning, he thought.
Twirling endlessly in space, never resting, never settled. I can't
can't finish like this. I have to be grounded. Is there no ground
mere possibility that he might be spinning endlessly in the void
while a beautiful woman rode and bit him, invisible chains cutting
the circulation to his hands and feet, made his heart swell up with
such panic that he began to convulse. He focused on her breasts
again. Her nipples looked odd. Hard and purple. They changed. They
split open, revealing blue eyes. They looked directly at him, while
the yellow eyes in her face rolled back.
Jesus, he tried to cry out. He found his mouth was filled with mucus.
She spit on him. He tried to gag, to make himself vomit.
devil woman grabbed his throat and turned his head to face her dual
set of eyes. With her other hand, she punched him in the stomach.
He didn't feel it. She punched again, and again. Harder and harder.
As the rhythm increased, Dashiel felt his abdominal wall swelling,
then splitting. She forced her hand in, twisting her bony fingers
around his intestines. She squeezed them like a water balloon. Something
the hell is wrong with you?"
opened his eyes. Bright blue lenses were shining inches from his
face. A yellow bar slid back and forth between the lenses, flashing
lights into his eyes. Spots of red and black throbbed in the corners
of his vision. His skin was caked with dried sweat. A symphony of
electronic bells and whistles filled the air, the squeals of small
machines pouring attention all over his broken body. The dominatrix
was gone, lost to strands of dream and fancy. Reality filled his
lungs. A trauma-tube. I am traumatized.
you were humping the air," the voice said. "They had to
start the operation over because you wouldn't stop moving. Hey!
Are you listening to me?"
hung in the trauma-tube like a fly in a spider's web. Vulnerable,
limbs splayed in every direction.
front of the tube was open, allowing countless tiny metal fingers
to stitch and sew at his exposed flesh. Each limb strapped to an
array of mechanical arms, each arm stuffed with canisters, each
canister flowering into a network of tubes and wires that dug deep
into his skin. Huge chunks of machinery that Dashiel could not even
name whirred around his head, scanning his heart, his pulse. Clamps
on his wrists, needles in his biceps, potentiators under his ribs,
tyrozomes against his chest.
stomach was almost numb, but he felt the robot hands at work. Cold
metal extensions, each ending in numerous fingers that cut, cauterized,
stitched, rent, tore, sutured, and soothed. Warm chemicals flushing
over his torn veins, stimulating growth, muscle fibers spun and
knit into place.
the while, a galaxy of pleasure fluids pumped directly into the
base of his skull, making him accept the artificial miracle work
the robot spider spun him through.
huge glass wall rested before his swollen eyes. Through it, he could
see the faint image of the city miles below, slowly burning beneath
Arcturus Command. As the air fortress turned, a torrent of sunlight
not your smoothest operation," the voice said.
reflexively tried to turn and look, but felt countless needles and
wires tugging at his flesh. He let his head hang limp. The man who
spoke walked around to the front of the trauma-tube. He was tall
and emaciated. The kind of body that constantly created, yet never
worked on itself. And a complete lack of style. A disheveled lab
coat, ill-fitting green pants, and inexpensive glasses hovering
just in front of gray eyes. His pumpkin shaped head was covered
with short, needle-like black hairs extending in every direction.
A gaunt face. Big, chapped lips. His head rested back on his neck,
as if he were constantly looking down at everyone.
Clive," Dashiel said. "How's it going?"
enough, all things considered," Clive said, still looking down
at a PDA sphere that hovered over his palm.
do you like not having your guts drip down your legs? Is it nice?
I bet it's nice."
very nice, Dashiel," Clive said. He put his hand on Dashiel's
shoulder and bent down to look him in the eye. "What isn't
nice is your little performance anomaly. What isn't nice is the
astronomical costs of your failure. What isn't nice is that our
division is under review because you needed an agent from a rival
PMC to bail you out. Believe me Dashiel, if you didn't have that
impressive resume backing you up, you'd be in the incinerator right
now. Instead of piecing you back together, I'd be harvesting your
brain to salvage something useful for your replacement."
winked. "I love you, Clive."
know," Clive said. He sighed and slipped the PDA sphere into
his coat pocket. "You really scared the hell out of us today,
reflexively pushed his glasses up his nose. They immediately hovered
back into the correct position. He turned around, hands behind his
back, and stared out the massive glass wall at the city below.
it's nice to know I've got pros like you backing me up," Dashiel
not nice is the mission Mr. Damascus is about to send you on. I've
heard rumors. Something big."
mission already?" Dashiel sneered. "I'm not exactly in
prime condition right now. I think a little R and R is in order.
Got to let these wounds heal properly."
will be time to heal. They actually requested specifically that
you and I take some down time together," Clive said.
want us to bond?"
think it's more like they want me to go over just how and why you're
sitting here with a hole in your abdomen, and an entire building
that you were merely supposed to infiltrate is being declared a
terrorist zone," Clive said. "So no more Musical Offering
for your, buddy."
No, unacceptable," Dashiel said. He twisted in the machine.
"I love that song. You know it gets my gears rolling! Shit,
I'm Arcane's god-damned Elite! They can't
you're multilateral consciousness is fascinating, and there's no
doubt whatever that song does to you, makes you perform better.
But that's exactly what got you stuck in this trauma-tube to begin
we're going to need some time to acclimate you to the new tech you're
tech?" Dashiel said. He licked his lips. "Some kind of
a new gun? Tell me it's a disintegrator. Or a jetpack! Did you finally
make a working jetpack? Clive, tell me you finally built a jetpack!"
always, your sense of humor is appreciated," Clive said. "But
no, it's a little crazier than that, and yet a little more practical.
I've had my team slaving on it for months. It's been designed especially
repellant," Dashiel said.
turned to face Dashiel. The sunlight cast him in dark shadow. A
scarecrow, framed in brilliant red light. Dashiel felt strangely
afraid of his friend.
will address the problem that your insistence on that old song brought
what exactly was that problem?"
loud hiss echoed behind them. A cold, artificial air swirled through
the sun-drenched chamber. A man in a black suit strode in. It tapered
down around his legs. The suit rose into a thick collar that stretched
around the helmet like a cobra's hood. Buttoned up to one side,
it gave the impression of a military surgeon. His entire head was
covered by a silver helmet. It reflected the elegant surgical chamber,
giving no hint of the man that lay beneath.
my boy, you really screwed the pooch this time," the man said.
His voice was amplified through the helmet, echoing through the
chamber as if the walls themselves spoke.
winced. Hearing this voice was like listening to shattered glass
echo off concrete.
Damascus," Clive said, bowing his head slightly and taking
a step back.
day, Dr. Gohinn," Damascus said, nodding. He turned to Dashiel
and folded his hands in front of him. "Dashiel, Dashiel, Dashiel."
reached out and cupped Dashiel's chin, turning it toward him. Dashiel
cut?" he asked.
like that," Damascus said. "Listen, we know everyone makes
mistakes. And for someone handling such sensitive and risky things,
sometimes those mistakes are
stood back and shrugged. He turned and walked to the window wall.
wasn't the first time things haven't gone according to plan. But
Arcane Industries has a certain reputation to consider," he
you understand that" Clive began.
boo hoo," Dashiel said. "So I blew up a building full
of people we were probably going to kill anyway. Let's not forget
that they shot me! I didn't just waltz in there and say to myself,
hey, you know what? Screw the mission! I feel like blowing the place
was the first time Arcane has had to turn to another PMC to bail
us out," Damascus hissed. He strode back to the trauma-tube,
placing both of his hands on Dashiel's shoulders. He shook him slightly.
"And I'm afraid that even the payroll of an Elite Agent cannot
recoup the cost of such a thing."
is a second rate PMC," Dashiel said. "They should be grateful
they got to work hand in hand with Arcane."
did not work hand in hand with Arcane!" Damascus shouted. "They
rescued our top agent from a disaster!"
stepped back and cleared his throat. Clive took another step back.
was not a standard op. Agent Kessler is Xerxes' Elite Agent,"
Damascus said. "And now we owe them. I do not like owing anybody
anything. Thankfully, it is you who are indebted to them, not me.
And as displeased as we are, we're not about to waste the considerable
investment we've made in your talents."
Dashiel mumbled. "If it's not too much trouble, I could really
use a drink. Sir."
course," Damascus said. He pressed his cufflink.
door to the chamber hissed open again. A woman walked through. Another
perfect model for humanity, long blonde hair, emerald eyes.
Dashiel said. He tilted his head to the side as much as the trauma
tube would allow. He smiled.
are you feeling, Mr. Word?" Clairice asked.
you know, I'm hanging in there," Dashiel said.
Word would like a drink," Damascus said.
course. What would you like?"
not sure yet," Dashiel said. "How about we figure it out
tonight. Let's say, eight PM. Something strong and splashy. My treat."
blushed. She looked at Damascus briefly.
Word will not be available for social calls this evening,"
Damascus said. "Or any other for the foreseeable future. Water
will be fine, Clairice. Throw in a slice of lemon if you must."
nodded. She glanced at Dashiel who was still grinning. Damascus
cleared his throat. Clairice stepped out.
yeah," Dashiel said.
was referring to your nonchalance in the face of all this,"
Damascus said. "Listen, son. We pamper you, it's true. And
up until today, it's been worth it. Worth it enough to allow you
a chance to rectify this problem. You will pay back the services
of Agent Kessler by going on a mission for Xerxes next week. Pro
bono, of course."
waited for Dashiel to laugh.
she still here?" Dashiel asked.
She left as soon as we got you in the medical bay," Clive said.
It wouldn't be company policy to allow a competing agent to tour
sighed. "Thank you, Dr. Gohinn. I'd like to think Agent Word
is well versed in Arcane's official policies."
sir, that's all well and good," Dashiel said. "I'd be
happy to repay the efforts of my most prestigious employer."
walked over and slipped his arm through the delicate array of mechanical
arms that were stuck in Dashiel's flesh. He looped his arm around
Dashiel's neck and leaned in close. Dashiel's breath condensed on
so nice to hear you speak like that," Damascus said. "Your
mission has already been agreed upon. You're going to locate and
rescue an operative for them."
course not. Naturally, Xerxes will provide an escort, seeing as
it's their interests at stake."
it Agent Kessler?"
That's not your concern. You'll be briefed in full once you've recovered
and Clive has you properly trained with the new tech."
I can't wait."
cold reflective helmet stared blankly at Dashiel. For a full minute
he did not move, did not even seem to breathe. Clive shifted uncomfortably
in the background.
What is it?" Dashiel demanded. He looked down at his stomach.
Only a bit of tender red was showing. The trauma tube was nearly
finished reconstructing his abdominal wall.
going to the Tower," Damascus said.
Dashiel choked out.
Tower?" Clive asked, eyes wide. He composed himself, pushed
his glasses up his nose, and folded his arms. Looking down, he spoke
to himself, "Of course. That's why they pushed development
on the bug so hard."
would they even have an operative in the Tower? No, I'm sorry sir,
no way, I'm not doing it," Dashiel said. "That's insanity.
There's absolutely nothing worthwhile down there. I won't be able
to communicate with Arcturus Command at all! Guns don't even work
down there! There's no way their guy is still alive anyway! It's
a waste of time."
leaned in close once more. He pressed his hand against Dashiel's
stomach. Dashiel's flesh twitched and sucked in reflexively. Damascus
kept stroking the new flesh. Slowly, using the back of his hand
like wiping a newborn's face.
my dear boy," Damascus said, his voice echoing around the chamber.
He ran his fingers around the small opening that was all that was
left of Dashiel's terrible stomach wound. He pressed the tip of
his index and middle finger against the exposed muscle. "Even
dead agents have their uses."
Dashiel winced and looked away. Damascus cupped his chin and turned
his face back.
Word, you are a tool. A very expensive tool, with many fancy settings,
but a tool nonetheless. Do not forget who you are, why you are here,
and what we can do to you when you become more trouble than you're
pushed his fingers into the wound. Dashiel felt the freshly healed
muscle fibers begin splitting apart. Damascus pushed further. Blood
ran down the sides of his fingers, pooling in the cracks of his
fist. Dashiel bit his tongue. His neck was shaking.
be dead right now if not for us."
won't die if you refuse this mission. Not at first. There is nothing
in the Tower worse than what can happen here."
pushed his fingers in to the second knuckle. He could hear Dashiel's
slid his fingers out. He playfully slapped Dashiel in the cheek
with his bloody hand. Without looking back he motioned for Clive
to approach. When Clive was standing beside him, he reached out
and wiped his hand on Clive's lab coat. Still looking at Dashiel,
he took a step back, spun on his heels and walked to the window.
good to know we can rely on you whenever we need to kill hundreds
of people," Damascus said. "But in the future, when you're
on recon, keep it recon."
got the plans," Dashiel mumbled.
was taken aback.
turned around. "Excuse me?"
got them. Before they set me up. Before they blew a chunk out of
flicked his wrist as best he could in the restraints. Damascus strode
over. He grabbed Dashiel's hand, began turning it over and prodding
Dashiel said. "Ring finger."
grabbed Dashiel's ring finger. He picked at the fingernail. Gently,
like a first lover, he tried to decipher how the much-lauded plans
were contained therein. He applied pressure to the base of the nail,
pushed down, and pulled up at the tip. It took a moment. There was
a sound like burned meat being pried from a grill. The root of the
nail slid out from the skin.
held the fingernail up above himself, examining it like a rare diamond.
Dashiel was panting. Damascus held the fingernail out behind him,
waiting for Clive to take it.
this down to your lab and extract the data immediately," Damascus
said. "And set the trauma tube to grow Agent Word a new nail."
sir," Clive said. He took the fingernail and nodded his head.
am an Elite," Dashiel said, his head hanging toward the floor.
still looking toward the exit, patted Dashiel on the shoulder, then
left. As soon as he walked out, Dashiel let out a huge breath.
guy is a major dick," Dashiel said.
certainly rules with conviction," Clive said. "But you
have to admit, slaving under him is better than being a citizen."
was silent. Something danced on his eyelids. Some old memory of
another life, another soul renting the same body. "Way better,"
he said. "You know I heard he doesn't even have a head under
there. Just a brain in some fluid with tons of wires and shit."
stared at his friend's rust stained fingernail resting in his palm.
pretty painful," he said.
been through worse," Dashiel said, nodding down at his stomach.
least they didn't aim a little lower."
god, yeah," Dashiel said.
is the closest you've come to not coming back," Clive said.
laughed. "I'll never stop coming."
shook his head. "Honestly, I can't begin to comprehend how
you pull off the things you do."
one day when I don't come back, you can dissect my head and find
pulled out his PDA sphere again and began fidgeting with it.
the hell is Clairice? I'm really thirsty," Dashiel said.
get her," Clive said as he walked towards the doors, still
playing with the PDA. "I'll get them to pipe the Musical Offering
in here, too."
Dashiel called out. "Hey, when I get out of this thing, come
by my place. I'll show you more of that old music I got from
heard the doors hiss open and close.
now, he finally relaxed. He hadn't realized how tense and rigid
he'd been in front of the others. The tubes and needles pulled at
his skin as he sunk deeper. The Tower, he thought. I'm going to
prove just how great I am. I'll be the first Agent to complete a
mission in the Tower.
chill crossed over his flesh, jumping from bead of sweat to bead
of sweat. He thought of barbeques and warm grass. Shoreline kisses
and silent planes in the sky. Bombs. Hamburgers.
last red wisps of sunlight danced around the chamber. He watched
the pink and orange clouds float by as the trauma-tube made him
NEXT TIME ON WORD OF THE PSYCHIC BUG:
Consequences of the Terror Legacy!
Mastering the Multilateral Consciousness!
Descent Into the Toxic Tower!
Birth of the Psychic Bug!