Chapter 4
by Victor Giannini

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



"You don't seriously expect me to put that in my mouth?"

"Would you prefer a suppository?" Clive asked, arching his brow and pressing the bug closer to Dashiel's face.

Dashiel took the six-inch long glass capsule, turning it round and round and studying the bug within. It resembled a grasshopper, with extra tentacles hanging from the thorax. Six eyes, and fine hair all along the exoskeleton. The mutant spawn of a long dead, haphazardly cloned Cthulu.

It clicked and chirped.

"I can't believe you think I'm going to eat this fucking hell beast," Dashiel said. He shook his head definitively and tossed the vial back to Clive.

Clive nearly fell backwards out of his chair trying to catch the vial. The small gaggle of biohazard suited scientists looked up from their projects.

"I'm quite serious," Clive said, handing the bug back. "The actual insect in question lives within this larger one. That one there is called a Mandicular Theraton. I like to call it Pandora, myself."

"Very cute," Dashiel said.

"We genetically engineered Pandora specifically to support the Monad-Symbiote. Of course, the Monad acts more as a parasite with the Theraton, but…"

"Right, right, right," Dashiel said. "I get it. So I have to chew up this horrid thing so that the other horrid little insect inside of it can… what, swim into my brain?"

"That's fairly accurate," Clive said. "Think of Pandora as an egg, incubating the Monad until it is digested by your stomach acid and absorbed through your digestive system. The Monad will then, in a sense, smell the hormone I injected you with earlier, and swim through your circulatory system until it finds its proper home right around the Sylvian fissure in your brain. Then…"

"Don't you have some kind of… protein gel you could have used instead?"

"We're actively trying to streamline the process at the moment," Clive said. He waved his hand to the silent team of technicians and droids puttering around them. "This is the Beta Brood, and unfortunately, the best we can offer at the moment. But no, we do not have any kind of protein goo sufficiently complex enough to incubate the Monad."

"Well you're always going on about my prized 'multi-lateral consciousness'. Maybe my protein goo is sufficiently complex enough? Eh?" Dashiel said, his head arched forward, eyebrows jumping up and down. "I got plenty of protein goo for you!" He leaned forward and grinned, keeping the vial closed in his palm while he waited for Clive to crack a smile.

"Honestly, I can't even comprehend how you, of the three billion humans on the planet, have a multi-lateral consciousness…"

"I'm the anti-Buddha, man," Dashiel said. "It's impossible for my mind to exist on one boring, ethereal plane. I'm like…"

"What you are is an extremely rare form of human being, so rare, in fact, that you are the only one in the world who happened to also have the chops to be a P.M.C. Elite Agent. You're one in a million, Dashiel Word, but what I'm still trying to figure out is if you're the next step in human evolution, or just a mutant. And right now you're making my job very difficult."

"Oh, fucking lighten up and stop pretending to be the super scientist all the time," Dashiel said, leaning back and clapping Clive on his shoulder.

"Very well, as long as you quit being a baby, and start acting like an Elite and just swallow the damned Pandora! Remember, Dashiel, in order for this to work, I need to eat one as well. If I can handle it, surely you…"

Dashiel rolled his eyes, waved his hand dismissively at Clive, and flicked the vial open. The Pandora looked up at him, mandibles twitching, legs flicking back and forth, tentacles writhing… Oh Christ, Dashiel thought. He closed his eyes and jammed the vial into his mouth. The glass nearly chipped his front teeth. The Pandora began violently fighting against his tongue, biting and scratching, before Dashiel's elite teeth crushed it into a crunchy mess.

Clive winked. His eyebrows arched, then began pushing together. For a moment Dashiel thought Clive's face was on fire. Dash leapt to his feet. Clive's face melted into a fleshy putty, then collapsed into a central vortex, like wet sand pouring into a tunnel.

"Woah, wait a second, what's going on here?" Dashiel said. "Is this some kind of freaky side effect?"

Clive answered, his head now nothing more than a giant fleshy worm protruding from a lab coat. No face, just a maw of jagged teeth and countless wiggling tongues. The face of a scripe.

"No, no Dashiel, not a side effect," Clive said. "I think this is a memory, and I think it's breaking apart. My diagnosis," he said. He paused, his face nothing more than a mouth of clicking jagged teeth. "My diagnosis is that you're in some kind of shock, and this is all a protective thought layer, courtesy of your deliciously multilateral consciousness. A highly detailed and accurate protective thought shell, I must say. Your interpretation of your memory of what I really am is quite impressive. Unfortunately, I suspect it's about to cave in on itself."

"Ugh…" Dashiel moaned, dropping his head into his hands. "And then?" He looked up through his fingers.

"I imagine you're about to wake up into a world of horrific pain and, most probably, terrific danger."

* * *

Dashiel Word awoke to darkness, and blinding pain. Again. But seriously, blinding pain. His right eye was being pulled from his skull, pierced on the tip of the Tower Rat's blade. As the sinews stretched to their breaking point, he struggled to maintain his grip on the Rat's throat, crushing, crushing for all the life in him.

All around, a maelstrom of tentacles and gnashing teeth. Wailing, screaming, hisses in the dark. He saw something red and beautiful, rousing from slumber.

"Emma," he groaned.

The Tower Rat's throat finally collapsed completely, sending a tiny spurt of blood to mix with the healthy pour from Dashiel's face. As it fell to the ground, its death grip on the knife pulled Dashiel's face farther down, threatening to rip the entire eye cord from his skull. He pushed himself forward, straining against the Terriatic scripe's tentacle tongues. They pulsed in anger, squeezing his armor against his flesh.

Everything threatening to burst. Black pulses on the edge of his double vision. Sickness. Heat. He can hear Emma, fighting for her own survival, and the guttural screams of the Tower Rats who met her wrath.

Suddenly, the tentacle tongues loosened. Just enough, enough for Dashiel to wriggle free. He collapsed onto the dirt, breaking his fall on his self-dislocated shoulder. Hidden in darkness, confusion, and pain, he groped for the knife. Found the Tower Rat's dead hand, warm, dry like sand paper. He pried the fingers apart, lying on his belly, licking his lips.

"Come on, you dirty little shits," he hissed, rolling to his back and pushing himself away from the scripe pit with his feet. His head darted wildly in the darkness, waiting for the other Tower Rats to leap to the attack. Nothing.

My eye! the voice in his head screamed. It was his voice, but not his scream. Not his pain. My god, I'm blind! They cut out my eye! he thought. No, I'm not blind, Clive, Dashiel thought. I know you THINK you're feeling this, but please SHUT THE FUCK UP. I'M THE ONE WHO GOT STABBED. Let me concentrate! You start feeding me some kind of plan to get out of here, Dashiel thought. You with me here?

The Elite Agent Dashiel Word rose to his feet, jamming his shoulder back into the socket, gripping the knife that once skewered his eye like an olive, the eye itself now hanging from a thread. It bounced gently from his cheek as he moved his head, felt like a microwaved grape.

His famous multi-lateral consciousness kicked into high gear, separating Clive's thought transmissions from his own, his pain related thoughts relegated to another layer, and yet another layer for the visual data still squeaking through his ravaged right eye. It came through in starts and stops, flashes of pulsing red. Ignore it, he told himself. Save Emma.

Of course Agent Emma Kessler didn't need a stitch of saving, being one of the premiere agents of the Xerxes Private Military Company. Dashiel finally got it together just to see her breaking the last Tower Rat's neck. She was hunched over it, her slender fingers still dug deep into the Rat's neck.

"Hey," Dashiel said. He grinned. "So that's why it was so quiet. Did you leave any for me?"

Emma Kessler turned to see her temporary partner standing there covered in blood, his eye hanging from his face like a dog's tongue, knife in hand, grinning like an idiot.

"Beautiful, beautiful," he said. You mean her work, right? Clive asked inside his head. Yeah Clive, of course. A real pro.

"You're a mess," Emma said. She strode over and grabbed his chin, turning his head left and right. "What are we going to do about that eye?"

"Forget the eye, what are we going to do about the mission? We still have to extract Conrad."

"How very by the book of you, Agent Word. But you're useless to me without that wound tended. Field maintenance first," Emma said. Her words were clinical, clinking through her teeth. She took the knife from Dashiel's hand and held it up. She cupped his eye and draped the cord over the edge.

Dashiel gritted his teeth, forcing a smile. Veins in his neck bulging, fingers clenched so tight they could break bones.

"When this is all over, you should come by my place," he said. "I have this incredibly old recording and…"

"Quiet," Emma said.

Dashiel stood stoicly, happily waiting for Emma to sever his dangling eyeball.

"Trust me, you gotta hear this song. It's called 'Baby It's Cold Outside'," he said. The words came rapidly, tripping over his tongue. "It's super old, we're talking Pre-Panic World here, and it, well, it basically destroyed the old world. This old song is actually the precursor to the Terror Legacy and I have one of the only…"

"Three, two…" she said.

Hang on, Clive, you're not going to like this, Dashiel thought. What? Why what's going on? Dashiel's jaw nearly burst from the tension. Just remember, you only think you're feeling it.


Fade to black.

* * *

"Ok Dash, now pay attention because I don't want to go through this again. Ok?"

Dash nodded and sighed.

"Right now you and I have a microscopic Monad Symbiote lodged within our brains. They are identical clones, and they'll only be able to live for five hours and thirty two minutes before they expire."

"This is so fucking gross. I really wish you had made a jet pack or something instead of this stupid psychic bug."

"Thank you," Clive said. "Although this psychic bug, as you so succinctly put it, is perhaps the first step toward true telepathy in human history. Right now, you and I are making history, Dashiel."

"Ok, ok, go on. I have to be out of here by eight."

"What? Mr. Damascus has not authorized you for…"

"Hey, an Elite Agent's got needs, buddy. Not to mention, a hot date. You can't expect me to retain all this intense training without the proper R and R to… uh, digest it all."

"We haven't even started your training yet!"

"Well then get on with it already! Jeez!"

"As I was saying, our Monads are clones," Clive continued. "When you have a deliberately narrated thought, the Monad will be stimulated by your neurons and synapses firing."

"Only a deliberately narrated thought?"

"Well, theoretically, yes. As I was saying, it will then in turn send signals to my Monad, which will reflexively fire the identical neurons in my brain."

"Voila, telepathy," Dash said, throwing his arms out and leaning back.

"Almost. The problem is, you'll be hearing my 'thoughts' in your own head with your own voice, as if a puppet master were pulling your strings and controlling your mind."


"It's going to take a lot of practice before you're able to deal with the intrusiveness of communicating in such an odd manner. We'll begin as soon as I turn this damping field off," Clive said. He reached for the controls beside his desk. "Are you ready? Once I turn this field off, the monads are coming out of stasis."

"So you think something, the bug sends it over to my brain, and I think I'm thinking it."


"And this is every narrated thought?"

"More or less. Not the subconscious ones, but every primary level self actualized thought, yes."

"And because I have this incredibly awesome multilateral consciousness, I can compartmentalize my sent and received thoughts like I usually do with all our mission data, while I'm kicking ass, right?"

"With the right training, which you are currently delaying… Yes. We're basically setting up radio stations in our brains," Clive said, his hand hovering over the controls for the damping field.

Dashiel leaned forward and put his hand top of Clive's, just over the damping control switch. "Are you ok with this? Is this going to drive you crazy?"

Clive bit his lip. "No, it shouldn't. But this training is as much for me, as it is for you."

"Does this bug transmit feelings, too?"

"Well… we don't really know. This is all pretty much theoretical at this point. Right now, we're about to be the first two people to ever try it."

Dash leapt to his feet. "You haven't tested this on lab rats or anything?"

"I already told you we're… Dash… How could we? There'd be no way to tell if it was working with anything other than live human subjects, and believe it or not, you're just about the only one we've ever encountered that could even theoretically handle it!"

"You could have had me round up some prisoners to test it on first… Jesus, Clive, what do you think I'm here for? Leave that damping field on for a minute. I'll go down to civilian level and round some up."

Clive motioned for Dashiel to leave the lab and enter the training sphere. Dashiel got up like a man going to the guillotine, shoulders slumped, head hanging. The sphere hissed open, and Dash entered the pure bland empty light.

"Ok now, here's what's going to happen," Clive said over the loudspeaker. The walls hummed with his voice, much like how Damascus has every wall of Arcturus Command wired to amplify his voice.

"This is booooooring," Dashiel said, tapping his foot.

"You stand in the center of the chamber. When I activate the training program, a series of beams are going to come flying at you. You won't be able to see them until the last second, but I have the schematics for the entire pattern here in front of me. I'm going to transmit the information to you in rapid fire succession."

"So I hear you tell me where and when to move so I can get through the obstacle course? Simple," Dash said.

"I'm not finished," Clive said, waving his finger. "While that's going on, I'm going to have my computer play a series of increasingly difficult riddles over the loudspeaker. You need to answer these riddles within thirty seconds, or the charge on the energy beams will get progressively stronger."

"Hold on a sec," Dash said. He crossed his arms. "Who designed this freaking training? Damascus?"

"So we're clear? Create a mind layer for my thoughts about the laser pattern. Use your super elite agent physical whatever to dodge the laser beams. It won't be easy. This is class Alpha Plus training."

"Alpha Plus?"

"Also, create a layer of thought to listen to and solve the riddles. Think the answers on the same layer that you receive my thoughts so I can keep the laser beams from charging up."

"How's that work?"

"Well, I don't actually know what the riddles or the solutions are. I'm just going to type in the answer you transmit to me, and hope you got it right."

"Fucking A," Dash said rolling his head back. "Anything else?"

"There's a slight chance the Monad symbiote could cause mild schizophrenia, or worst case scenario, a massive, fatal, stroke."

"That it?"

"Yup. Trust me, Dash, you'll be infinitely grateful for this bio-tech once you're shit deep in the Toxic Tower."

He's right about that, Dashiel thought. Of course I am, he thought. What the fuck, he thought. See, I told you this would be disorienting, he thought.

"You should have warned me before you turned off that damned damping… ah, fine. Ok, Clive, let's get started!" Dashiel shouted. He sighed, cracked his neck, rolled his shoulders. He stepped into the center of the palely luminescent training chamber, waiting for the red beams to come flying at him. Imagining one handed back hand springs, rolling, round offs, flips, split second decisions. Elite shit. "Hey, Clive?"

Yes, Dashiel heard himself think. Oh, Dashiel thought. It felt like the center of his skull slightly burned. How strong do these beams get if I answer the riddle wrong? He waited for his answer. Finally, he heard Clive answer, his own voice echoing the words in his mind. Get three answers wrong, and they could be potentially fatal.

"What the fuck!" Dashiel shouted to the empty chamber. He spun around, but he'd already been sealed in.

Hey, now, Dash, just relax. You are an Elite, and Arcane's got no use for anything less. Right, Dash thought. I am an Elite. Alpha Plus. Wonder if Emma could handle this?

The loudspeaker crackled again.




* * *

Dashiel Word awakens yet again, to pain, yes, but to a strong embrace. He looks up to see the stern, yet mildly concerned face of Emma Kessler staring down at him.

"What's the matter, Elite? Arcane didn't give you enough pain resistance training?"

Dashiel laughed weakly. "Damascus specializes in that. Looks like I tricked you. Just wanted to see if you'd catch me."

"Right," Emma said. She released her grip, and Dashiel crumpled to the dirt. "Pull yourself together. We still need to find Agent Conrad, and there's that to deal with."

She pointed over her shoulder, where the mass of hanging tonguetacles of the Terriatic scripe were starting to stir once more. Dashiel got up on one knee and nodded.

"God damn, I wish our nanotech worked down here," Emma said. "Or any tech."

"I got something up my sleeve," Dashiel said, breathing heavily. "Bio-tech. Way beyond…"

He frowned.

"What is it?" Emma demanded.

"I… I can't remember. How exactly did we get caught?"

"What?" Emma said. He voice rose in pitch with her disbelief.

"Was it my fault, or yours?" He looked up, hands on his knees, eyes rolled toward her perfect frame.

It was your fault, Clive thought to him. You were checking out her ass, and tripped over one of the ledges, right into a Tower Rat main encampment. Dashiel blushed.

Emma turned her back and walked to the edge of the pit where they had been hanging, stepping over the dead Rats. She grabbed one of the tonguetacles and tugged. The hanging mass suddenly became wild, like worms on speed, as the scripe bellowed in pain.

"What are we going to do about this?" Emma said. Her back to Dashiel, she waited for his answer. "Well?" She turned. Dashiel looked like he was in intense concentration. "You ok?"

He looked up. A grin crossed his face as he rose to his feet.

"Just getting the plan."

"Which is?"

"We're going to ride that motherfucker right out of here," he said, pointing up into the darkness.

"We're what?"

"Don't worry, I'm getting instructions right now. I'll be a master scripe wrangler in minutes."

"Getting instructions fed how? No technology works in the Toxic Tower!"

Dashiel waved his finger disapprovingly.

"Tsk, tsk," he said. He tapped his head. "Trade secrets."

Emma eyed him, for the first time, with a bit of interest, and dare we say it, respect?

Dashiel kept smilingly, listening intently to Clive's secret mind instructions, savoring the warm trickle of blood flowing from his empty eye socket down to his lips.

"Hey, wait a second Clive, hold on."

"What did you just say?" Emma asked. "Are you getting delirious? Are you going into shock again?"

"What happened to my eye?"

Emma smiled. Dashiel nearly fell to her knees. The grim enchantress, deigning to show a bit of pleasure. She patted her breast pocket.

"A keepsake," she said. "To remember this fun little excursion. That is, if we make it out of here alive."

"Fair enough, Emma. We are getting out of here alive," Dashiel said, striding over to the pit. "I got this under control. Ahab's going to ride his white whale right out of the abyss."

He motioned for her to hand the knife over. Then, blade in hand, he wrapped his arm around a thick clump of the scripes's tonguetacles.


Dash looked at her, smiled, and then pulled as hard as he could. The scripe roared. Dashiel squeezed tighter, then began sawing into the thick cords of flesh. The scripe screamed once more, and finally, the earth shook, the Toxic Tower shuddered, and the massive Terriatic scripe came hurtling down from the shadows, ten thousand teeth gleaming with rage.

Emma leapt back just in time to see thirty feet of bulging, mutant flesh come rocketing out of the darkness. Without a word, Dashiel hopped forward, right into the path of the great scripe's gaping maw.

Emma reached out, felt her throat tighten, and blinked. Before she could even process the long dead emotion, the scripe had swallowed Dashiel, plummeting deeper into the abyss.


Ahab the anti-Buddha wrangles a massive mutant!
Agent Kessler opens her three eyes!

They're not out of the fire yet, folks.
The Toxic Tower is deep and terrible,
And there's still Agent Conrad to save!
Will our newly cyclopean hero will prevail?
Will Emma come stop by to hear an ancient, chart-topping hit?
Will Dashiel get some?

Tune in next time, for Part 5 of Word of the Psychic Bug!!!




Copyright © 2008 Victor Giannini

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

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 www.doomescape.com.

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.

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