Hey, Doughnut Hole. You eat any
Perry, with his awe-inspiring wit,
had arrived in the lab when everyone had gone home, after
Dr. Chertov had taken apart my computer twin and found the
roach inside the CPU. It had eaten through part of a wire
and was resting on the disk drive.
Dr. Chertov brushed it away with a
flick of a rubber glove and the roach scrambled out of the
open CPU. As it ran across the floor, Dr. Chertov asked Maria
to kill it.
Why do I have to do it?
Its getting away! You better
She squashed it with her soft-soled
Youre the man. Youre
supposed to do these things, the acne-scarred Maria
said as she cleaned the bug off her shoe with the tissue.
And youre the assistant.
You do what I tell you.
After that little game of demonstrating
dominance, Dr. Chertov replaced the wire, tested the computer
and ran a check on its functions. I felt better.
Now Perry had come in, my charitable
friend, carrying a basketball. He put the ball down and removed
the glass dome from over my head. I felt suddenly vulnerable.
I dispensed with the usual politeness.
What do you want?
Im supposed to be in a
sterile environment. If Dr. Chertov knew you were in here,
what youve done, hed have your head.
Perry didnt get the joke. But
youre not gonna tell him, are you? Because if he finds
out, your ass is mine.
I dont have an ass, you
You know what I mean.
I tried psychology. Whats
bothering you, Perry? Do you want a raise? More responsibility?
A basketball flew at my head in response.
It smacked against my forehead. It
wasnt the most pleasant feeling in the world. I winced.
The ball flew off back toward Perry
and he caught it on the bounce.
Listen up, freak. Youre
a crime, a sin.
I didnt realize you were
I am. Very. And I know that God
doesnt like you.
Having made his point, he turned to
walk out. I shouted after him.
If you dont want to get
caught, you should put the glass back over my head.
He picked up the glass from the table
and placed it over my head, then walked out with the basketball.
The next day, Dr. Chertov and Maria
checked my vital signs, then attached a screen to a table
with wheels in front of me. At last, I had something else
to look at besides the very boring lab.
Its time to go to work,
I wasnt sure I was going to get
used to that name.
We have a contract for a genetic
experiment. Please purchase for me six dozen mice and 10,000
Where can I find them?
I dont have the slightest
idea. Thats your job.
How do I do this? I cant
use a keyboard.
Tottenkopf, use your thoughts
to direct the computer. Youre linked now. Youre
part of its CPU. If you think something, the computer will
do the search.
As a test run, I silently told the
computer to look for the CNN web site. Up it popped on the
screen in a matter of seconds. It was a wonderful thing to
seea computer that responded to pure thought.
The live mice were easy to find. Every
lab uses mice. The roaches were a little more difficult. Its
not like theres a kennel out there for wayward roaches.
It took a few days to find a lab in the United States that
I finally found an outfit in Cambridge
that was doing insect research. The two lab directors, Drs.
Wilson and Ricketts, agreed to send the roaches in bunches
of 2,000 at a time over a period of five weeks. I made the
payment on the corporate credit card.
I was glad to wrap up the project quickly.
Even grumpy Maria, walking in with my protein feed, couldnt
The mice arrived in three days. Perry
set them down in metal cages on the other side of the lab.
I could see them off in the distance as a whirl of white writhing
squeaks. The smell was dusky and not pleasant at all.
The roaches started coming in closed
wooden boxes a week after that.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself,
when Dr. Chertov huffed into the laboratory. He started asking
questions about the prices his company had paid for the products.
Very nervous now, I flashed the two
invoices side by side on the screen in front of me. Dr. Chertov
took one look and yelled, Dummkopf! You could have gotten
a better price if you went to a lab in Alabama!
How was I supposed to know that?
I wanted to say. The dummkopf insult really stung. Its literal
meaning is stupid head. It was like a double strike
Im sorry, I said.
I bowed what was left of my neck muscles and lowered my eyes.
Youve cost us a lot of
We cant afford more of
Should I ship them back and try
to reverse the purchases?
That will take too many man-hours.
Youll have cost me money and time then.
I felt worse and worse. Little ones
and zeroes zipped past my eyeballs, blazing red. It was as
if the computer was angry about Dr. Chertovs insults.
But the computer wasnt supposed to have any feelings.
My brain was integrated with it, but emotions werent
part of our relationship. So why did it feel that the computer
was amplifying my innermost, intense anger?
Dr. Chertov waved his hand in the air.
No, well have to work with what we have and live
He called Perry into the lab to open
the boxes and put the creatures into thick plastic-walled
cages. He walked in and sliced a look of hatred in my direction,
then went to work.
I didnt see Dr. Chertov for many
weeks. Hed asked me to write several articles for him
on subjects ranging from customer work hed donetheyre
called customer case historiesand thought pieces on
how to find inefficiencies in your business and root them
out. Id mastered the computer well enough to outline
and then write the articles by simply thinking. The computer
typed out the words. I could see the keys punch down on the
keyboard in front of the machine. I wasnt comfortable
with that. It was as if a ghost were typing on the black keys.
While I was doing that, I heard a lot
of activity around me, but it was happening in another part
of the lab. The doctor was cursing a lot and I heard dozens
of mice squeaking and cockroach legs running in that rustling
way they have.
Perry interrupted my writing by walking
into my workstation area, his stomach bubbling like jelly,
and announcing, Bagel-face, Dr. Chertov wants you to
order this online.
I was a little hurt. He doesnt
want to tell me himself?
Hes still mad at you for
screwing up the mouse and roach orders. He smiled at
me. I love the sound of that.
I tried to ignore his preening.
Whats the order for?
How the hell should I know?
Perry thrust a meaty arm at me, with
the paper in one maw of a hand. I read the paper. The order
was for two biological compounds, written in a series of lettersgenetic
code. I didnt understand it, but typed each letter into
the computer as I read it. Perry looked bored as I did this.
It was odd that the doctor wanted only
one order of the stuff, whatever it was.
Let me read back to you what
I just typed from the order.
Thats Mr. Head to you.
I told you.
You have my utmost respect, dickhead.
He made a mock bow then grabbed his testicles.
I sighed. My dream of working with
a genius had become just another stupid job, with stupid people,
in a stupid office. I ordered the compounds.
After weeks of this, a clear and thick
plexiglass box was placed three feet from my workstation.
Maria and Perry put the box in place. It sat under warm incubation
lights. Inside of the box was a slick, jellied egg, about
the size of a small honeydew melon. I thought it was kind
of curious that the box was so close to me.
The heat from the incubation lights
made me sweat. Hair started to fall off my head. The computer
was responding to the heat by instructing my brain to shed
hair. I became bald in a matter of hours. Dr. Chertov cared
only to the extent that the hair might fall into the connections
between me and the computer.
Maria with the white shoes came in
to clean up the hair with a brush and a garbage can.
Hi, I said, happy to talk
to anyone, even her.
White Shoes said nothing, acting as
if I were a plant that needed cultivation. A deep gloom came
The egg started out with a dark, thick
sheen of purple, then gradually grew translucent over a period
of a month. Curled inside was a sleeping fetus. It did not
look like a mouse. There was no tail.
Teeth appeared as the baby slept. The
top and the bottom row had sharp canines, like rhino horns.
I thought the teeth would puncture the flesh of the baby around
its gums as it moved about in its fetal sleep, but they never
A few days later, the biological compounds
arrived. Dr. Chertov took the delivery and mixed the compounds
together in a bottle. He drew the resulting liquid solution
into a syringe and injected it into the egg. The fetus stirred
and moaned, but didnt wake.
In the night, a powerful wave of nausea
came over me, interrupting my sleep. I was surprised. I didnt
think I could get nauseous. I wanted to vomit, but since I
had no stomach, there would be nothing to expel.
A low growl came from the box in front
of me. The fetus was awake and out of its shell. It had huge
brown shells for eyes, with red pinpricks in their centers,
and insect paws. The rest of it was furry.
It reared back and rammed into the
plexiglass with every ounce of power in its newborn body.
The sound was like a metal drawer being slammed shut. Then
it did it again and again. I was frightened, even though I
figured there was no way the thing could get at me.
After several minutes of this, the
baby tried to climb the wall out of the box. It got the spurs
of its legs on the top of the ridge, then fell back. The thing
screamed when it hit the floor of the box. I took a closer
look through the darkness. It had a very agile mouse body,
with thick cockroach legs, which were six inches long.
The roach/mouse made several more tries
to get out. It got its insect forelegs on the top of the plastic
box and tried climbing up, but the bulk of its body weighed
There were more escape attempts. The
baby banged its head in frustration after it failed. But it
kept persisting. After an hour, it had managed to get most
of the front of its body on the top of the plastic, but it
fell down. Audibly huffing, it circled around the cage and
lay down in the box, staring at me with unfathomable hatreds,
and fell asleep.
Maria walked in to give me a protein
feed. She lifted off the glass dome over my head and primed
the pump in the syringe.
That thing tried to climb out
of its box.
She gave me the shot and turned to
look at it. It cracked its egg, she said in a
flat voice, like the birth of a mouse with giant cockroach
legs and insect eyes happened with clockwork regularity everywhere
I think it wanted to attack me.
The nurse gave me a look of icy contempt.
Youre under glass. And its just hungry.
That doesnt make me feel
Youre a lab experiment.
Youre not supposed to have any feelings.
I dont know whos
scarieryou or him.
She walked out, forgetting to put my
glass lid back on top of my head. She returned a few moments
later with a bowl of white liquid and a bowl of clear liquid,
which she placed in the box of the roach-mouse as the thing
slept. I dont know why I thought the creature was a
male. Maybe because it had been so aggressive before.
As White Shoes walked out, she tossed
another look of disdain at me, as if to say, Youre
worried about being attacked by a little sleeping newborn,
I yelled after her. Hey, you
forgot to put my lid on. Hey!
She didnt look back.
The roach-mouse was awakened by the
noise of my white-shoed nurse and the placement of the bowls
in its box. It sniffed at the white liquid, which looked thick
as cream, and lapped it all up quickly. Then it drank some
The liquid, which was almost certainly
food, made the beast more active. It started to run around
the inside of the box, looking for room to run.
Frustrated with the lack of results,
the creature stopped, looked at me, look a long, deep breath
and tried to climb the walls of its box again. This time the
roach-mouse reached up with some exertion, hooked its fangs
over the top of the box, and drew its body upward. I was surprised
at the strength of its jaws.
It was able to compress its body just
so on the thick edge of the plexiglass. Mice can squeeze their
bodies into spaces the size of pencils, so I shouldnt
have been surprised that it could adjust its mass to a surface
just one inch wide. Then it looked at me.
My mouth opened and my eyes got wide.
Its like when you know something bad is going to happen
and you can do nothing to prevent it. Whatever analysis Dr.
Chertov had made about the capabilities of this newborn creature
were wrong. Otherwise, he would have put a top and a lock
on the box.
Its teeth were long and sharp, the
most prominent and threatening feature of its face. The round,
black eyes, about the size of a wristwatch, were scary, no
doubt, but the fangs really took the focus of my attention.
I was reminded again that the distance
from the box to my workstation was about three feet. Anxiously,
I stared nervously at the roach-mouse, then at my glass lid,
sitting just a few inches away on my desk. That would have
afforded me some protection.
Before I could shift my eyes back from
the lid, it was on my cheek, the long roach legs spread across
my face and nose. The fangs bit into the flesh below my eye.
It felt like the thing wanted to rip out my eyeball.
It chewed off a piece of skin the size
of a nickel and swallowed. I screamed like a baby. I didnt
care. This thing was going to eat my entire head and the only
thing I could do about it was loose my voice to anyone within
White Shoes came running into the lab.
She wore thick rubber gloves and a long black coat, which
looked like a combination of a bullet-proof vest and a firemans
Her gloved hands came to the upper
fangs and she pulled the beast off my face like she was removing
someones teeth, which in a way she was.
The roach-mouse writhed in her hands
and tried to chomp down on her wrist, but the fangs hit nothing
but rubber. White Shoes ran with the angry, slithering beast
to the other side of the lab and threw it in an open three-foot
by three-foot cage. She slammed the door as it charged the
metal bars with its nose. The automatic latch on the cage
made an audible locking noise.
The wound burned like acid. I cried
with terror and searing pain. The beast rammed its face into
the cage bars again and again, like a hammer on my skull.
My head felt like it was on fire. Sweat
spurted from my face almost immediately. Blood and liquid
protein leaked out of my mouth.
Its starting, White
I didnt like the sound of that.
Ill get Dr. Chertov.
When he ran in with Maria and looked
at me, I could have sworn he was smiling.
Cant you help me?
I pleaded, my words sticking like lisps to the top of my mouth
from all the blood.
Im afraid not, Tottenkopf.
Youve got some kind of illness, from the babys
I dont understand,
I whispered, barely able to get out the words because of the
The computer can help you much
faster than I can. See, its already working out the
biological make-up of the virus and searching for a cure.
Try to concentrate and look at the ones and zeroes going through
your mind. All I can do is watch and wait.
Blood came out of my nose. I didnt
have that much blood in me anyway and I was losing it. Also,
I was worried the dripping blood would hurt the wires leading
from my head to the computer.
Oh, dont worry about that,
Tottenkopf, Dr. Chertov said, as if he were reading
my mind. I had the wires coated with extra layers of
I felt like someone were plunging a
knife through the middle of my skull. I felt like I wanted
to die. The ones and zeroes raced through me like bulls let
out of a pen to run wild through the streets.
The computer spit out an analysis of
the virus in eight minutes. Another five minutes followed.
My head was sizzling with fever. Armies of virus cells rolled
through me like German tanks rolling toward Paris in 1940.
I felt surrounded.
Ah, yes. I should have seen that,
Dr. Chertov said. He wrote down several lines on a Post-it
note, tore it off and gave it to White Shoes.
Maria, run and get me these three
bio-agents from the storage room. Theyre in the refrigerator,
in vials, clearly labeled. And bring me a syringe.
White Shoes ran off. My head sank toward
the table. My eyes narrowed to little slits. Blood filled
my right eye. My brain felt cooked. The pain was too great;
I asked for death in my mind.
Shes coming, Tottenkopf,
Dr. Chertov said, trying to reassure me. Though I felt so
horribly sick, I noticed him studying me like I was a lab
rat. More humiliation for me.
Maria walked as fast as possible into
the room, carrying the three vials in a tray with slots to
carry them. A syringe was in one of the slots too. Each step
of her rubber-soled shoes was like a perfectly-aimed chisel
on my skull.
Dr. Chertov took the vials, poured
them in the syringe and shook them together like chocolate
powder in milk. He attached the needle and stabbed me in the
neck. The sensation was like being filled with liquid fire.
It burned in my blood.
I choked, coughed and shook. My head
and my base fell over on the table. The Allied Armies of the
vaccine met the Germans on a killing field, steel versus steel,
tank versus tank, giant guns blasting away at each other,
soldiers charging and meeting, shooting, stabbing, punching.
I felt like my head would explode.
Maria, pick him up, Dr.
No, you do it. I dont want
to touch him anymore.
Dr. Chertov didnt argue. He took
my head in his hands and placed me right-side up. I was shaking.
There was a rush inside me. I whipped my head back and forth,
as if in seizure. Sweat burst out all around. An industrial
taste came to my tongue, very bitter. It rolled out of my
mouth, a slab of yellow pus, and slid down my chin.
Dr. Chertov placed a glass slide under
my face to capture the pus. I thought that was strange under
the circumstances. He thought about studying the residue of
the virus while I was so incredibly sick?
In a few minutes, the fever melted
away. I took a deep breath. The knives slicing through my
skull popped like bubbles.
Heres an ice cube to suck
on. Itll get rid of the nasty taste from the pus.
Dr. Chertov thrust a paper cup in my face and a cube fell
on my tongue. I took it, grateful for the relief.
Maria, get a protein shot for
Tottenkopf. He needs his strength.
She did and he hit me with the liquid
protein feed. Then he gave me some saline to replace the fluids
I felt a lot better within a half-hour.
Dr. Chertov spent the time observing me and taking notes.
At the end of it, he said, You
did a good job. Thank you.
Why are you thanking me?
No reason. A mere courtesy.
I thought that virus would kill
me in a few minutes. I knew how Dr. Chertov liked German
phrases. I was trying to please him. It was like a blitzkrieg.
Like a blitzkrieg? Dr.
Chertov pondered that. Tottenkopf, youre right.
Thats what well call itthe Blitzkrieg Virus.
Beautiful name. Now, rest up for a few days. Recover your
I slept under my glass dome for the
rest of the day. At 4 oclock in the morning, I woke
up. It was impossible to get back to sleep. I stared out at
the floor of the lab. Lights blinked on and off from the computers
lining the walls. The floor was dull, a sea of white tiles.
The computer paraded ones and zeroes
in front of me on the screen. I didnt know why it would
be working at all. Nobody had given it anything to do.
As a joke, I talked to it. Cant
you speak to me in English? I dont understand binary
The screen flashed with an equation.
Several biological symbols appeared, which I also didnt
I dont get what youre
trying to tell me, if youre trying to tell me anything.
The symbols disappeared, then reconstituted
on the screen with an equal sign. On the other end of the
equal sign was this: Blitzkrieg Virus.
Yeah, I know it. I just got over
The equation stayed on the screen.
Several more biological symbols flashed on my monitor.
Dont understand. What is
The symbols flashed off, then came
back on, with an equal sign at the other end. Then, coming
on was this in plain English: Virus.
The computer put up the two equations
like a neon sign, flashing on and off in large green type.
Send them away.
So it did. And I realized on some rudimentary
level that the computer was trying to talk to me and communicate
something my mind didnt understand. For all my reading,
I really wasnt that smart. I knew only the most basic
biology, such as, if you eat, you get to live. And reproduction.
I certainly got that, even if I was no longer in the game.
Two new equations came up on the screen:
-- Roach/Mouse = Blitzkrieg Virus---
Blitzkrieg Virus = Death.
OK. But that was an experiment.
Research. Thats it.
Another equation popped:
Blitzkrieg Virus X 100 Roach/Mice
Can you talk to me like Im
a person and not a computer?
The computer took a few minutes to
whir and click. Then it started to type.
Please excuse any mistakes. English
is new language.
Doctor has contract for virus.
City has purchased.
Thats nuts. The city government
would never do that.
New economic situation. Many
new thousands of unemployed. City cant pay benefits.
So theyre going to kill
Breed roach/mouse. Release in
And the thing is carrying the
Injections into bloodin
Come on. Dr. Chertov would never
do that. Hes a man of integrity, honor.
The computer was silent. I was triumphant.
The doctor may have been rough on me, but he was no killer.
Then the machine typed, slowly, in
red lettering on my screen.
Why did he do it to us?
Allow roach/mouse to attack us.
Now it was my turn to be silent. Why
did Maria and Perry put the incubation box so close to my
workstation, with no top?
So we were a test case?
To see what would happen when
we were bitten.
Dr. Chertov risked my life on
What do you mean by our?
We are linked now. What happens
to you, happens to me.
Thats ridiculous. All they
have to do is disconnect the wires and youd be fine.
Not true. We would both die.
How can that be?
Your brain is part of the disk
drive. And the memory.
What would happen to me, if we
You cannot live without the computers
I didnt like the conversation.
I didnt believe it.
How do you know all this about
the roach/mouse and the contract with the city?
Perry interrupted us. He walked in
and the computers words on the screen disappeared. Perry
lifted the glass dome off my head. I suspected what was coming
next and I was tired of it.
He walked several steps away, then
pulled a bow and arrow out from the inside of his blue sports
jacket. He bent the bow and shot. The arrow landed right on
my forehead. The rubber suction tip easily stuck to my waxy
I could only imagine how ridiculous
I looked. And I was getting tired of my role as Perrys
Hey, blowfish head. Just wanted
to see if you were still alive.
Im still quite alive, as
you can see.
The computer induced me to sweat, breaking
the suction of the arrow. It fell off my forehead, skied down
my nose and clattered onto the computer table holding my screen,
then hit the floor.
You gave us a big scare, you
know, after Dr. Chertov tried to kill you.
I didnt like where this was going
and I certainly didnt want to admit what Perry was saying.
It was just an experiment.
Yeah. An experiment where you
could have died if Mr. Computer here didnt come up with
a cure in time.
What do you care? You told me
I was a freak. Im sure you would have been happy to
see me dead.
That would have made me happy,
yeah. But Id lose you as a play toy, number one. Number
two, a lot of people are going to die.
Its true then, this virus?
I know youre here in this
little cocoon, but dont you read the news on the Net?
The economy sucks. Contracts are drying up. Doc Chertov will
take whatever he can get. Hes in Saudi Arabia right
now, trying to drum up business, for God know what. Nobodys
buying their oil. Maybe hes trying to sell them on nuclear
technology or wind turbines. Then hes going to the United
Arab Emirates and China. Theyre the only ones with any
real cash right now.
How do you know all this? Youre
just a security guard.
Hey, Im much more than
that, Bregen. I know a lot about what goes on here. Im
tight with Maria.
Bregen, what does that mean?
Its German for brain of
a slaughtered animal. I looked it up. Thats what Chertov
calls you when we talk about you.
Well, that was the final nail in the
coffin for me.
Anyway, lets get back to
the main point, Bregen. The doctor is going to breed more
of those little monsters and set them loose in the city, in
the poor neighborhoods. Harlem, the south Bronx, Long Island
City, you name it.
I listened and took it all in. The
computer whirred. I was beginning to understand it a little
better. It was recording Perry.
Its bad news all around,
Why bring this up to me? Im
just a Bregen, as you say.
As much as I hate to say this,
you may be the only one in a position to try to stop it.
You could lose your job, if Dr.
Chertov finds out.
He pulled a gold medal out from under
his shirt and held it out to me under the harsh fluorescent
Im very religious. Thats
bigger than the job.
I wanted to ask him, if he was so religious,
why did he keep tormenting me? But I knew he thought of me
as less than a person anyway.
What can I do about it?
I dont know. But youre
hooked up to that thing. Maybe you and the computer can figure
Perry walked a few steps toward the
table, placed the glass dome back over my head, then kneeled
down to pick up his arrow. His whale stomach brushed the table.
He stuffed the arrow and bow inside
his billowing jacket.
Try very hard, tinkbug. Because
I dont want any blood on my hands. Understand?
He looked at me with such contempt
that I couldnt believe he actually wanted my help. I
looked at him with wide eyes, scared of a fat security guard
who shot rubber arrows at me.
After that encounter, I got the message
from my computer friend that as Dr. Chertov was breeding the
roach/mice and injecting them with the Blitzkrieg Virus, Perry
was quickly dropping them off around the city, releasing them
from little cage traps, the kind you see when somebody is
trying to capture a raccoon or other big mammal pest. His
boast about his religion being bigger than the job may have
been just that.
The computer fed me the news reports,
which all came on over a weekend. According to the New York
Post, a mother in a Long Island City project, called
the Ravenswood Homes, was attacked in the basement of her
apartment house by a rat while doing the wash for her family.
The rat tore into her leg. The mom made it upstairs to her
twelfth-floor apartment and laid herself out on the living
room floor. She died from an unknown virus in a half-hour,
waiting for an ambulance after her family called 911. The
family told the Post that the mother was raving that
the rat had huge fangs, insect eyes and insect legs.
The mother, Deanna Foster, got the
chills, repeatedly vomited blood and thrashed on the floor
Deanna Foster was a home health care
worker, so this sort of defeated the citys first effort
to get an unemployed person off the benefit rolls.
In the south Bronx, David Tyree, an
eight-year-old boy playing in some trash with his friends
in a vacant lot, got bitten by a fanged rat too. He died right
there in the lot while his friends ran to get help. David,
who was not collecting unemployment benefits at the time,
was dead by the time his mother arrived. He had a gash on
his leg three inches wide. The rat had bitten him through
There was a story from Prospect Heights
in Brooklyn as well. Two boys, playing basketball in a playground
near Prospect Park, were attacked and bitten by a giant rat.
Their friends said the rat leaped from some garbage behind
the backboard posts and onto the chest of one of the boys,
and bit him through his tee-shirt. The other boys, obviously
frightened, ran off. The rat leaped onto the back of one of
the fleeing boys, the slowest, and bit him. The two victims
died on the court.
Perry came to visit me that night,
even though he hadnt been working that day. He didnt
have any rubber arrows or basketballs to throw at my head.
He just lifted off my glass dome and placed it on the table,
pulled up a swivel chair with plastic wheels and sat a few
feet away from me. He looked at me and cried, his enormous
belly bubbling and soaked with tears.
Three dead people, three dead
I tried to soothe him.
You didnt kill them.
I may as well have. I set the
Rat Machts free. To kill. There are gonna be a lot more dead
Thats what Chertov calls
them. You know he likes to use German. It means biggest rat,
even though the thing is technically a mouse and a roach combined.
The Post called them Rat-A-Fangs, like its a
joke. Rhymes with Batarangs.
You didnt have to do it.
I need the job!
I shouldnt have felt so compassionate
toward Perry, but I saw his dilemma. The times were desperate.
People were losing their jobs left and right. Three hundred
people at my old public relations company were laid off, just
in the New York office alone.
You gotta stop them, Head!
Ill work on it.
Do it fast. Perry wiped
away a huge glob of mucous from his upper lip with his sleeve.
Even though he looked ridiculous and had used me for target
practice, I felt a real surge of emotion, which surprised
me. I didnt think I had that much feeling in me for
another person. After all, I was no longer really human in
the strictest sense of the word.
But Perry was clearly distressed. And
doing his job had violated his faith in some fundamental way.
It was a terrible moral problem.
I asked the computer to try to find
the contract with the city, that it might offer a clue as
to how to fight the Rat Macht.
Its locked in Dr. Chertovs
personal computer, the computer replied. Its language
was improving fast.
Can you break into it?
I can try.
OK. Good. Lets try. I feel
Were part of each other,
but youre just a computer.
You need a name.
You dont really have a
name anymore either.
Yes I do. Im Mr. Head.
Its not very dignified, but its all Ive
The computer whirred and clicked for
a few minutes.
Call me Steve.
Whered you get that?
Its very American.
I couldnt pay much attention
to that because news reports were starting to come through
the Net to Steve and me, about Rat-A-Fang. A half-dozen lawyers
were bitten at their law firm on 45th Street and Madison Avenue
when they walked in early to start their day. They died as
emergency workers loaded them into ambulances. They were delirious
and spewed curses at the emergency workers, threatening to
A fast-food restaurant was serving
breakfast when a Rat-A-Fang dove from the ceiling onto a cooks
head. Before it could bite, the cook whipped his head forward
and the Rat-A-Fang flew onto a steaming skillet. Its roach
legs were incinerated, then its stomach. The body caught fire.
The rat thing screamed like a monkey to the end. The only
parts left were its two long fangs. Breakfast was canceled.
A line of men waiting for their unemployment
checks in a long line in the cold winter weather was attacked
by the Rat Macht. It succeeded in biting three of them. They
collapsed and sweated and vomited blood, then expired. The
rest of the unemployed people fled. Five men sleeping in a
shelter were bitten and killed. The city could finally mark
two prominent successes in its efforts to kill those without
The hysteria was rising. People were
starting to freak out. The news video streaming to my desk
showed relatives of the dead screaming and crying and throwing
themselves on the camera people from the local TV stations.
The mayor visited the families in their
homes. Mothers cried on his shoulder. He soothed them with
his gentle words. I suddenly hated him, but I wasnt
sure why. Maybe it was his rat-like face. Maybe because he
looked insincere to me, in some undefinable way.
Steve, we have to get to work
fast. You have to break into Chertovs computer.
Im working on it,
Steve said quietly.
I waited a few minutes.
Steve came back with his report.
The doctors computer is
locked. I have tried several thousand different password combinations.
Youve got to try again.
Ill show you the problem.
How? You cant take me with
you. This isnt like that Matrix movie.
Whats the Matrix?
I have a camera that will let
you come with me on the journey.
Steve switched on the camera so I could
see it on my screen, to let me see what he could see. He created
an icon so I could visualize his trip in terms I could understand.
As he traveled through the wires, I could see the network
into which he was attached. The nodes of each computer in
the facility were lit up at different locations in the wires,
like little houses on a street.
As his signal rode through the wires,
I could see the rolls and dips of the inside of each wire.
It was like riding a train over a series of gentle hillsides.
When we came to Chertovs personal
computer, Steves signal made a right turn off the wires
and rode up to the node. The signal smashed against the nodes
Steves signal icon turned into
an image of a screwdriver. He tried unscrewing the node. That
didnt work. Steve turned the signal icon into the palm
of a hand and banged on the node. That didnt work either.
Each visual was a different password he was trying. In rapid
order now, he tried a wrench, a lightning bolt, a Norse battle
hammer, a fist, a shotgun, a battalion of soldiers, Joan Riverss
face, and Paris Hiltons bikini-clad behind.
Nothing worked. The node looked a little
shaken and a few pieces of metal crumbled and fell off its
façade, but that was about it. The node was intact.
Alright. Thats enough.
I see whats going on. We need another strategy.
How did you find out about the
city contract for the virus?
I listened in on Perrys
conversations with Maria. I recorded them.
Thats not real hard evidence.
Lets try the other computers in the lab and see if we
can find anything.
Steve traveled around the network and
we knocked on the door of each house in the system. Every
house let us in, but when we came in and searched their places,
they didnt have a lot to offer us. Each node offered
us its filesthe equivalent of the ultimate in computer
hospitalitydouble hot chocolates and really great biscotti.
Steve looked through every file, but
there wasnt any evidence of this contract. There was
plenty of stuff on other projects in the lab. The doctor had
done some work in the Middle East to re-engineer a petroleum
research laboratory, but that project closed two years ago.
He had completed a study in Texas for a wind farm, but that
too was finished.
I was ready to give up, but Steve insisted
we visit each computer. I felt like I was with my girlfriend
again. I always wanted to get out of the store and go home,
but Amy said there were deals to be found if we just kept
looking. I hated walking through stores, and now I was doing
Lets keep shopping,
Steve said. Well find something. Try to be patient.
How did you know what I was thinking?
Your mind is part of me now.
I'm exploring your memory and learning from your experiences.
I thought you understood that.
I thought I was smart, but Im
beginning to understand Im really a little thick in
Are you making a joke?
We found a record of the sale of my
body to an unidentified third party in New York about a month
before. That was kind of interesting to me, but not the main
point of what we were trying to do.
We found one little computer sitting
by itself at the end of the block. It was Marias computer.
There were millions of files, completely disorganized, sitting
on top of each other like old, bundled-up newspapers. It took
Steve several minutes to rifle through them.
Steven found a file that said, Date
Book. We walked into it. It read in part:
Dinner with Deputy Mayor, 1/12/06.
Lunch with COS, 4/15/06.
Whats COS? I asked
Chief of Staff, Mayors
There was a gap in time, then the date
book picked up again with these entries:
DM Lunch, 2/15/08. That
was the deputy mayor.
COS Lunch 4/1/08.
M Breakfast 6/08. The mayor.
HC Honorary Dinner, 9/08.
The health commissioner.
The file was infested with social engagements
from this date going forward.
M, Fund Raising Dinner, 9/7/08.
DM Meeting at Lab, 9/15/08.
DM Meeting, Lab, 9/22/08.
HC Meeting, Lab, 10/14/08.
COS Meeting, Vicentes Restaurant,
M, DM, COS, 11/4/08.
M, COS, 11/12/08.
M, COS, 12/16/08.
M, COS, 12/18/08.
M, Fund-Raising Dinner, 12/22/08.
M, COS, Pre-Breakfast Meeting,
The date book ended there. It also
Good work, Steve. But all this
shows is a relationship with the mayor and Chertov. Theres
no smoking gun.
Whats a smoking gun?
Never mind. Ill explain
News from the Internet broke through
A school teacher in Bushwick was killed
after parking her car.
A man who lost his job as a waiter
at an uptown diner was bitten on his way out of the place,
his last paycheck in his hand. He died on the street, in the
Three members of a family in a basement
apartment in Corona, in Queens, were bitten and killed. The
rest of the family, six cousins, was able to kill the thing
with broomsticks. But they got the Rat Machts blood
on their skin. And that was as good as being bitten. They
died too. Now we were getting into mass murder.
An investment banker in his Upper East
Side apartment building had been killed by the Rat Macht.
He lived on 72nd Street and Lexington Avenue. The address
mattered. The Rat Machts were ranging far outside their territory.
And they were biting rich people.
While I felt a lot of personal satisfaction
at seeing a banker buy the farm, I knew this meant the situation
could spin very far out of control.
The big newspapers in town were far
more interested in this one mans death than the murders
in Corona, whereas the television stations were attached to
the Corona house like ticks on a deer. The media interest
in the story had exploded, which was feeding the rising panic
in the city.
The one piece of non-murder news about
the virus that came over the wire told how the health department
had analyzed the dead Rat Macht from the Corona murders and
came to the conclusion that the animal was not spreading Bubonic
Plague. The Plague was thought to be caused by fleas carried
In cases of plague, symptoms
include spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn
black, heavy breathing, continuous blood vomiting, aching
limbs and terrible pain. The pain is usually caused by the
actual decaying or decomposing of the skin while the infected
person is still alive. When death begins the person will get
spasms. (source: Wikipedia).
The Blitzkrieg Virus was relatively
merciful in that way. You got bitten, you got a fever, you
excreted blood through your eyes and nose, then vomited blood,
and you died.
I was diverted from my screen when
the glass dome of my little house was shattered by a yellow
rubber ball with a smiley face on it. The glass cut all over
my cheeks and forehead. I would have to order a plexiglass
dome to stop this sort of thing in the future.
Perry stood in front of me. He was
soaking wet from the top of his head to his shoes. His security
jacket with the little yellow badge circle of authority was
infested with water and probably ruined. I looked at him,
my mouth open.
I took a shower with my clothes
on. I couldnt get clean. I still cant.
Bregen, you said you were going
to stop the Rat.
I never promised that. Were
The big fat lug vomited all over his
wet clothes and the floor. His enormous belly glistened with
slick bile and a half-digested sub sandwich. He walked out
without cleaning up. He didnt say anything. He didnt
Maria came in 20 minutes later and
cleaned up, silently. She washed out my cuts as she looked
at me in disgust. I felt terrible shame upon her look. A part
of me wanted to apologize to her for even continuing to exist.
She put a new glass dome on my head. She didnt even
ask me what had happened. Maybe she knew.
Lets get back to business,
What to do?
Lets see where we are.
We have the date book, which isnt much. The doctors
personal computer is locked up. We have your recording on
disc of Perry telling us about the Rat Macht. Thats
something, but it's like the recordings you've got of Perry
and Maria talking about the virus. It's all just talk. It's
not hard proof."
You are not so thick in the head,
as you say.
Please dont try to talk
me out of thinking Im stupid. Its touching, really,
but misguided. I am a very stupid man.
We dont really have a lot
of information. But maybe weve been going about this
in the wrong way.
Were trying to make a case
against the doctor and the mayor like were cops. Its
not like we have enough evidence to get them arrested. But
we do have enough information to help stop the virus.
I helped create the cure. Its
in my memory.
Yes, and you saved my life. Or
whats left of it. I am very grateful to you for that.
I saved my own life too. Were
I didnt want to extend this Kumbaya
moment for the computer. Steve had a sentimental streak, which
I couldnt understand. I ignored that.
Now, Im thinking, why would
the doctor bother to develop a cure for this thing? Unless
he was planning to use it somehow.
Maybe he just wanted to save
us. You were one of his pets, as you thought once.
Then why would he risk my life
in the first place? No, no. There is something more to this.
The doctor must be playing both
sides of this game.
Its just an expression.
But this might be a game for him. Which means hes really
sick. He can swoop in like a hero if things get too intense
and save victims. He comes out looking like a savior in the
The city too. But the Blitzkrieg
Virus acts very fast. It would be very difficult for emergency
ambulance workers to get to people in time to inject them
with the cure and save them
No, thats looking at it
from the ass-end of the equation. Its not just a cure.
It must be a vaccine too. I bet you can give it to people
like a flu shot. You can provide protection to people before
anyone ever gets bitten.
The doctor could make millions
of dollars on selling the vaccine to the city.
Right! And the city too, if they
set up public vaccine centers. This would be a great way to
take in revenue when people are losing their jobs and sales
taxes are falling all over the place.
So, what do we do?
There is going to come a time,
probably very soon, when the doctor is going to grandly announce
that hes developed a vaccine. So, lets do the
job for him, but just a little early.
What about going after the doctor
and the mayor for murder?
Youre a computer. How can
you really conceptualize murder?
I was almost killed myself by
the Rat Machts bite, remember?. I understand murder
Its still hard for me to
figure out your disc drive.
Think of it like this. Your thoughts
now sit in my CPU. I am learning from your minds experience.
Not just your knowledge, but what it means to be human. Things
like emotions, senses, relationships, memories.
Things like Amy?
I didnt want to think about Amy.
Even though I felt my romantic life as a pale echo of the
already dim bulb of what it was, I had a sudden ache for her
that I couldnt admit.
OK, lets have this conversation
later. We need to get the vaccine out there now.
Steve collated the information on the
agents for the vaccine and sent it out over the Internet to
every hospital and doctor and media outlet in the city. If
Steve could find an email address for you, you would get the
formula for the vaccine. YouTube, Twitter, TMZ and Entertainment
Tonight all got the vaccine formula. So did Jose Marti in
Corona and Jesus Martinez in the south Bronx and Frank Crosetti
in Astoria. Richie Allen in Harlem got it too, with Don Snider
Four unemployed investment bankers
were bitten and killed in an Upper East Side Racquet Club
at 10 oclock in the morning. They were in the locker
room getting dressed when the Rat Macht launched itself from
the floor with its giant cockroach legs onto the bench where
they were all sitting, in various states of dress.
That news was quickly eclipsed by the
media blast of information about the vaccine from nowhere.
Steve and I made sure Dr. Chertov got credit for creating
the vaccine. We thought that might mitigate the doctors
wrath for releasing his vaccine formula early. He would be
a hero. On the other hand, any laboratory could now put the
vaccine together. The doctor would not enjoy the fruits of
his contract with the city by setting himself up as the only
provider of the prevention shot.
The city health commissioner demanded
to test the vaccine first, but no private labs would listen.
People by the thousands lined up outside health clinics, labs,
doctors offices throughout the city.
Stories came in over the wires that
people were still getting bitten, but they werent dying
if they had gotten vaccinated. A trip to the doctor would
address their bite marks.
The vaccine emboldened people to fight
against the fanged beast.
A suspected drug dealer in Washington
Heights blasted two Rat Machts with a large handgun while
he was walking through an alley to meet some business associates.
A lady named Weslyne Smith, who worked
in the unemployment office, shot a Rat Macht that attacked
her on the tight little streets of downtown Manhattan, while
she was walking to her office from the subway. The Rat Macht
leaped at her from behind a garbage can. The Rat Macht was
fast, but Weslyne was faster. She pulled a .32-caliber handgun
from her purse and blasted the creatures face off in
mid-air. Weslyne made the front page of the New York Post,
smiling with her gun aimed at a drawing of the Rat-A-Fang,
blood dripping from its snarling fangs.
New York was showing its true spirit
now. A gang called the Red Hooks, a group of unemployed teenagers
from the Brooklyn port neighborhood, decided to hunt the Rat
Machts. They shot and killed three of the animals and collected
the fangs. The more fangs you collected, the higher up you
would go in the gang hierarchy. At least they were doing something
positive, as opposed to killing people as a way to get street
The mayor made a statement at City
Hall. First he talked about the vigilantes. Of course, he
said, people shouldnt use guns to kill the fanged rats.
The police were forming a unit to hunt them down. Of course,
he said, the rats might very well breed, so the new police
unit would have plenty of work. They shouldnt count
on getting any overtime in these difficult economic times,
he joked. Nobody laughed.
Then he smiled a crooked little smile,
which looked more like a grimace. He talked about the vaccine
effort. The mayor congratulated the health commissioner, the
labs selling the vaccinations, and especially Dr. Chertov
for developing the vaccine and releasing it to the public
with no thought of compensation for himself.
Dr. Chertov interrupted the news feed
when he stomped into the lab, roaring, with the acne-pitted
Maria behind him, half-running in her little white shoes to
keep up. The trip to the Middle East was over.
Steve typed an urgent request on the
screen: What do we do now?
Get on a bus to Tulsa.
What does that mean?
We need to get very far away
The doctor stalked over to me, picked
up the new glass dome over my head and smashed it to the floor.
You little shit! What have you
Ruined you, I hope.
Youre an employee. I thought
you were loyal to me!
Oh, Im less than that.
Im even lower than a pet. Im a Bregen, remember,
a slaughtered animal.
Thats what youre
going to be after this. Youve cost us millions of dollars!
Youre a stone cold knucklehead.
I wish I had the brains to see it earlier.
And youre now a dead employee.
I dont have to be. You
could put me on display, take me on tour. Show the world your
That made him stop for a moment. He
actually was thinking about the idea.
That would be unethical. I wouldnt
want to exhibit you like youre some sideshow freak.
Youve already cut my head
off. You mean exhibiting me around would be a problem for
you? You dont want to broadcast your great scientific
breakthrough? Im touched by your concern for me.
You make me sick. Maria, pull
out his wires.
Maria snapped on her yellow rubber
cleaning gloves. With pleasure.
White Shoes overcame her disgust for
me temporarily, took my head in her dried-out hands and lifted
me up, grunting, as if we were lovers. Her hot breath had
the stench of rotting meat and I saw the dead fire of hate
in her eyes.
Then she laid my head on its side and
quickly ripped out the wires connecting me to Steve. I started
to bleed from the neck where the ports had been attached.
So, this was death and I was not ready for it.
My eyes blinked, the room went dark,
and I felt myself fading down into the deep.
A metallic voice climbed into my mind.
Mr. Head, you still there?
Steve, what are you doing here?
Trying to live.
This wont help.
I can put your brain on power
save. It might keep us alive for awhile.
We said nothing for minutes and I had
a general sense of drifting slowly into a snow of sleep.
Then through the drifts, I could hear
fevered talking, as separated by a wall.
No, no, I cant do it. Maria,
put the wires back in.
I wont! Besides, I dont
know where each wire goes.
The talking was becoming more faint
to me, but I heard this: Must I do everything?
I faded to black.
If youve ever had an operation,
you will experience this nothingness. When the doctor injects
you with the anesthesia, you go unconscious. You dont
sleep, you dont dream. You feel nothing. Dramatic things
are happening to you, but no messages are getting to your
brain. The bridge is washed out, the ATM machine is not in
service, the office is locked up.
After the surgery, when you come out
of it, you have a disquieting feeling of lost time. You could
have been out for two minutes or two hours or two days.
You are also in a great deal of pain.
I remember blinking my eyes open and feeling as if something
was tugging my entire neck down into the table. The wires
were back inside me, but they felt raw. My head was exploding
with what felt like phosphorus flames.
Theyre not here.
Dr. Chertov stood in front of me. Maria
was next to him, her acne-pitted face even more red than usual.
Her eyes had the usual terror and stink of disdain.
Youre very lucky, Bregen.
Youve been reborn. Very few people come back from the
I moaned through the pain. I
dont feel reborn. I feel terrible.
Ah, yes, that. Well, you see,
after all youve done to injure me and this exquisite
business I built from nothing, I thought death was too easy
for you. Too simple. So I brought you back, with a little
I installed a computer chip inside
your neck. Its a simple device. I can turn it on and
off with my cellphone. The chip activates whatever pain receptors
you have left. Isnt that great?
Its wonderful. A brilliant
He was so impressed with himself that
he chose not to get the sarcasm.
Thank you, little Bregen.
Please turn it off.
Oh, I dont know. I mean,
why would I do that? I have a plan for a new project and youre
a big part of it.
Let me guess. If I dont
help you, youll zap me with the chip.
Brilliant deduction, he
said, as if he were Holmes and I were Watson. The doctor snapped
open his cellphone and dialed a number. The phone rang inside
my head. Each press of his finger on the key pad felt like
I was inside a medieval cathedrals belfry when they
rang the bells. That was another little innovation of the
doctors. My chip answered with a pulse of numbers, then
shut down for the moment.
Now, lets get to work.
Steves stiff voice perked up
inside me with just a few words. Can we get on a bus
to Tulsa now?