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A Diet of Worms, Part 2

kelson.philo's picture

Gordon had his afternoon work cut out for him. His cellcomp was dead, it’s battery burned out by the pulse, and so he needed a replacement. That would be remedied soon enough, as it appeared the morning’s events had not effected the ‘L’, he could still hear it roaring past like clockwork several blocks away. Get out of the pulse radius again, hop the L to the nearest communications co-op, then get the window replacement order in.

Fortunately his bank card was dynamic holographic, EMP did nothing to its information, though the clerk did scold him for letting it get so scratched, bumping into whatever sandpaper he kept in his pocket. He loaded his pockets with scrip, thanked her for the tip and made his way to the safehouse.

Gordon took the L to the old science museum nexus. It used to be a pretty rough part of town, but after the Entity, the First Family that had influenced Chi-town politics for so long had it all turned into storage facilities for State property. Affluent folk could rent out a unit as well, no questions asked, provided you made a sizable campaign contribution to the right people. Sometimes you just needed a place to store your stuff. Rockmore was by now fairly affluent.

Showing his ID to the guard, Gordon was ushered to the storage unit and told he had ten minutes for whatever. Gordon stepped into the small closet space. He turned on a light and sitting on a four legged stool was a greenish box, perfectly cubed with a variety of intense-looking locks on its surface. The way that light lit the box made it extremely enticing. You wanted to hold it. You wanted to cradle it in your arms. That was, of course, the intention.

Stooping to one knee, Gordon looked and saw what he had come for, a plain looking stainless steel wrist watch duct taped to the underside of the stool seat. He ripped off the tape and put the watch on. At its center, where the watch face should be, was instead a small, chalk-white box that was approximately a cube of one centimeter per dimension.

What a time it had been putting this doodad together! His first fifteen assignments from Rockmore were little more than cover jobs for gathering the needed pieces. Pieces that were dropped into a vent on Rockmore’s side and rearranged by Mystery. None of it was tagged. What it did was not only terribly, undeniably, illegal, but the would-be object of envy to labs around the world. And it thrilled Gordon to no end, despite what would happen to him should the wrong sort of person find out.

Invoking the strange properties of quantum entanglement, it was an extension of Rockmore, a place for him to easily deposit a morsel of his consciousness. Once Gordon made his way out of the storage facility, he summoned up his boss. A second later, sounding very much like a dour cartoon mouse, Tiny Rockmore said, “Test, test. How are you receiving me, Gordon?”

“Loud and tiny, mon capitan. Better switch to subcutaneous before the train here picks up folk.”

“Fine, meatwad. How’s that?” The audio permeated through his arm to his aural nerves, making Rockmore sound like he was just to Gordon’s left. Unfortunately, there was no means of sending information the same way, but Tiny Rockmore, now Invisible Rockmore, had some amazing audio receptors and could pick up Gordon’s lightest whispers without much interference.

It was starting to get dark. Gordon had some extensive travel left to get back home. “You’ve performed satisfactorily today, Gordon Littlejohn. Finders Keepers has new windows. The office is more or less secure, though its interior is still a disaster. There will be much more work tomorrow. Proceed to your habitation and get some rest. Do not worry about your alarm; I shall take care of that. Good night.”

“Night boss,” said Gordon, soaking in the rattling clack of the train.


Gordon was distressed to find his neighborhood was dark. No streetlights. People had rigged up some generator schemes, though, little drops of light here and there in the multistories, families and lovers and the lonely, coming together to sit out the bad times all over again. Gordon picked this neighborhood for two reasons, the first being that it was extremely close to Finders Keepers, and the second was that he didn’t know anybody. Hard to start all over again when you had constant reminders of the past on all sides.

His apartment complex was blacked out completely. Apparently no one knew the right people to get a generator. Ah well. It wasn’t winter, he’d survive the night. He switched the light of his new cellcomp on and used its beam to find his way into his pad. Taking a second to fiddle with the lock, he stepped in and stretched, throwing the keys were he instinctively knew the coffee table to be. He then promptly got smacked on the back of his head.

The blow sent Gordon to the floor, hard. He grunted in pain and before he could retaliate to the invisible assailant, found a weight was crushing his back. Someone’s knee was right along his spine, and pushing into the back of his head. His arms and legs were pinned.

“Crap,” said a deep voice like ravine, “he’s back early.”

“Cut the chatter, dammit,” this one a woman’s voice. Familiar. Desirable. “Knock him out and he’ll be nice, tidy package for the CPD. Do it.”

But before Gordon could say “Marry Me!”, a lightning bolt coursed through his soul and all was black.

Gordon Littlejohn awoke to the sound of Rockmore calling his name. It seemed far away. And that’s when he tasted something familiar: the floor of his apartment.

“Gordon, wake up, damn you, wake up.” Rockmore’s voice was much clearer.

“Wha-” he opened his eyes. He was face down on his floor, a puddle of saliva collecting around his face. A jackhammer was currently in use on and in his temples. His body was numb and tingly. He turned his head and there, on the floor staring back at him with lifeless eyes, was Thomas Jasper Jones.

Memory flooded back. “Rockmore,” he urged his mouth to say, “I’m in trouble, boss.”

“Don’t waste your time on the obvious, Gordon; the sugar cube registered an electrical shock and alerted me. I have not made any calls as I immediately saw your dead friend.”

“Thas--that’s the g-man...”

“I see. Gordon it is imperative that you leave your domicile immediately after accomplishing a certain number of tasks. You must not be locked away. Move, ape-man, move!”

Locked away? Yes. That would be bad. The thought of waking up in a Work Truck on its way to Out of State was galvanizing and Gordon forced his legs and feet to move in painful syncopation. His whole body was pins and needles.

“Got any idears how to get out of this, boss?”

“Not without being online. I still have no access to the Optispred. Time to dig deep, caveman.”


“Your instincts, monkey boy! Perhaps you still have some.”

“Perhaps. Alright. The situation: I’ve got cops outside. Can’t go to the roof. Where to. Holy gods that smell. Perhaps digging deep might just work after all. I’ve got a plan boss. But you’ll need to front me some Lysol if it works.”

The squeeze was tighter than expected. The kitchen waste tube was just large enough for Gordon to squeeze his lanky frame into. Before working on this problem though, he stopped by the bathroom and picked up his electric razor and threw his cell comp out the bathroom window, at the apartment ledge across the street. The GPS locator might throw them off for a few seconds. Or it might not; he’d find out soon enough. He had just cleared his locks through the tube lid when two things happened simultaneously. One, he heard and felt an explosion from where he imagined his front door used to be. The loud commands of multiple officers of CPD SWAT then filled the space. Two, he ran into the tube’s obstruction. And it was truly vile.

“Lysol is not going to cover this,” said Invisible Rockmore.

Ignoring the barb and stepping in the wet, dark, smelly mass of chicken legs and fast food wrappers and cups and who knew what else, Gordon stifled his gag reflex and concentrated on pushing through the mess. He was soon rewarded with a feeling of elasticity at his feet, like a trampoline that had lost its bounce and simply sagged. And sagged lower and then SNAP--Gordon was falling with what smelt like chicken soup down forever before he splashed into a brackish pool of sludge.

From bad smells to worse smells. “I could use some light here, Rockmore,” he said, fighting the bile at the back of his throat.

Amber light issued from his wrist, turning whiter by the second. The sugar cube was burning the filth off it’s person. Gordon found himself in a cylindrical space, extending quite far in either direction. A gentle breeze went by his ear.

“What now, boss?”

“How should I know? I have a copy of various and sundry design schematics for bioreactors, but without a serial number, I won’t be able to offer anything exact.”

“Approximations then? How about you dig deep this time?”

“Hrmph. Fine. Your standard residential bioreactor system has a collection tank, which you are in that then goes through several processing areas. Tell me, are your clothes still intact?”

Gordon tested them, pulling on their fibers. “Yeah, I think so, he said. Gross, but they aren’t coming apart or anything.”

“Good, you aren’t in the enzyme tank, then. You’d be quite tenderized already if that were the case.”

“Fine. Say, there’s a breeze in here.”

“That would be the fresh air intake to keep odors from spilling back up the waste conduits. Perhaps a way out.”

“On it. But first, off go the locks.”

It should have been a sad, somber occasion. But his dreads were too full of garbage for his stomach to tolerate. He needed to change his appearance anyway. Finishing the hair cut, Gordon tossed the razor and fought his way through the foul smelling sludge towards the source of the breeze. A corroded grate stood between him and the streets.

Soon enough he was out of his hole and in an alley, about a block away from his apartment. The State’s Finest had dispersed for the most part. Gordon was pleased to see officers combing the building he had thrown his cellcomp at. However, he had to violently disconnect the fan motor from its power cabling, so he was hoofing it between biomass waste collectors in the alleys, away from his apartment, for fear of some alarm going off about the fan. Those large dumpsters were the last stages of the community bioreactor cooperative, Invisible Rockmore told him, after turning waste into methane, water and clean organic compost for the state farms. Unfortunately, they were closed off from the outside world, their contents picked up every so often from State composting services. They did offer some cover from patrols, however.

“Your new coat of paint should keep any sniffers off your trail, as well,” Invisible Rockmore jibed.

“Yeah, but so much for polite company. Where to, genius?”

“We need information, Gordon. This is intolerable. The sugar cube has yet to connect with anything.”
“And I need a shower. Hrm. Alright. I’m going to push through to the cemetery and maybe we’ll get some connection?”


Graceland Cemetery was in fine Gothic form. Gordon plied his way through its massive acreage, searching for seclusion. There was the matter of getting across North Clark Street, but no siren nor footfalls were heard following as he made it over the wall with the help of a low-hanging tree branch. He settled on the Palmer monument, a massive Greek Temple structure who’s many columns would provide cover while Rockmore worked his sorcery.

After a few moments, Invisible Rockmore intoned, “I’ve completed protocol, Gordon.”

“Good, ‘cause I’ve got a favor or two I could call in.”

“I was hoping to hear that. Stuart Terwilliger?”

“You bet your white box Stu Terwilliger.”


“Good lord, Littlejohn. You’re a wanted man. What are you doing calling me?” Stu stared for a moment. “You look like crap.”

“Thanks, Officer,” Gordon replied, staring off into space. The sugar cube was performing another trick, talking to his optic nerves as well as the aural this time around. “I’m just finishing off your debt to Finders Keepers. Get me some info and we’re square, deal?”

“Fine. You should know, though, that we haven’t pulled up any leads on the EMP bomb. The orchestration behind it must have been incredible.”

“I bet. See if you can find anything on an ‘Annie Lida’, or ‘Thomas Jasper Jones’.” And Gordon related Jasper’s description to Stu, while sending a snapshot of Lida via sugar cube magic.

“Let’s see what we got here,” said the cop. “Nope. Nothing on any Annie Lida, in several permutations of the name matching up with any official state docs according to the description you gave. No Thomas Jasper Jones fitting your description, either. So, what, she actually expected you to take her case without question?”

“Yup. Then she got pretty torqued once ol’ Rockmore shot her down with condescension.”

Stuart chuckled. “A master of the art, to be sure. What next?”

“Megadriles. Any leads on a motive for the bombing?”

“Well, let’s see,” said Stu, focusing off screen. “Megadriles is one of those classic rags to riches stories, made possible by a sizable grant from the State of Chicago. Started up by one Conrad Gusano, currently listed as missing, I see, that’s interesting. He was fresh out of the U of C, where he engineered the worm that helped clean up the toxins just outside of Salem. Seems her Honorable was pretty impressed and arranged for the start up cash for Megadriles. They’ve licensed to other clean up sites throughout the hemisphere.”

“That really doesn’t seem to warrant such an attack.”

“Like I said before, though, eco-cleanup is big business these days. Megadriles’ worms work faster than fungi, the other big biological player, which is itself a thousand times faster than non bio-agent methods. Couple that with an EMP bomb being all about destroying data rather than serious physical damage, and I’d say there was something going on in there that somebody doesn’t want anyone to find out about.”

“Worm as a weapon, perhaps?”

“Perhaps...I suppose that if a worm can be engineered to turn toxic waste into fertile black gold topsoil, then the possibility exists to do the reverse. We’ve rounded up a number of mycological firm’s personnel for questioning, but so far we’re returning zero leads.”

“What about this Gusano. How long ago did he go missing?”

“Well, no missing person has been filed, he’s just not available, it seems, according to a report that was filed this afternoon. Everyone on staff at Megadriles assumed he was on vacation, but the number he had listed for emergencies turns out to be false. None of his family is available either.”

“Send me a pic of him, would ya? Also, who comprises his family?”

“Sure thing, sent. Hmm...Looks like just his daughter, one Angela Gusano, let’s see what we have on her. Masters in biochem before dropping out of academia a year ago. And...Holy crap, Gordon, it’s your Mystery Woman. I’ve got a ninety-seven percent match on the facial recog algorithm.”

“Great, so now all I gots to do is find her.”

“I’ll do what I can, Gordon, but if she’s savvy enough to be getting around the state with a fake ID, it might take sometime. You’ve got two options that I can see, the first being to turn yourself in and wait for us to find her. The second is to find her before we do, somehow managing not to get your ace caught.”

“You’ll understand if I don’t take the first. I find cuffs to be rather chaffing.”

“And with your priors, it’d be Work Camp City for you. DA wouldn’t wait for Mystery Woman to pop up.”

“...Yeah. There’s that.”

“Alright, then, good luck, man. I trust we’re evened up.”

“Keep your friends off me for as long as you can and absolutely we’re evened up.”

“Fair enough. Out.” And Stu’s face disappeared into the night.

“You hear all that, boss?”

“Without fail,” replied Invisible Rockmore. “Gordon, I am being enticed; I am being beguiled and tempted. And I sorely do not appreciate it.”

“How do you reckon, boss?”

“Clearly, the data I require to make an accurate guess as to where the bottle is to be found requires a hack and a crack of a firewall or two. There are the several parties that know this. That Jones character was sent as a challenge.”

“Not sure I follow, chief.”

“Whatever it is about this bottle that is so damn special, is enough to make it worth killing for. Jones, a self-proclaimed agent of ‘national security’, tries to scare you from helping Lida. He winds up dead in your domicile. You heard Lida’s voice and the voice of another. If Jones could have found the bottle, then he would have already. His superiors, if he had any, would not initiate contact at all. That means they are either incompetent, which is possible, or that they know where the bottle is, and cannot reach it without inciting some sort of conflict, which I rather suspect to be the actual case. ‘National security’ my receptacle. I knew I should have been set up in Caracas. At least they wouldn’t be as insulting to lie about what they would want from me.”

“So, since they know where it is but reach it, they want to set someone up to take a fall?”

“Exactly the case, fleshbug. Confound them, they wish to make me a patsy for some sort of Interstate incident that may or may not happen depending upon whether or not they get this mysterious bottle. They are watching my actions to see if I cross any lines, which I am sorely tempted to do, though that would immediately jeopardize my station on this planet. Any trespass and that, as they say, would be that.”

“I don’t see you being the type to be afraid of anything Earth has to offer by way of force, boss. Why don’t you just take over?”

“But that is precisely the case, Gordon. In the time it would take for any bag of water to notice me crossing any barriers, I would be half-way to world domination. Make no mistake; there is nothing on this planet that frightens me in the least. That said, let us turn our attentions to the facts on hand. I’m going to have to break the rules.”

“What, instead of just bending them?”

“I’m quite serious, Gordon. I’m telling you this for what it’s going to require of you. The moment I subtend my consciousness over the Optispred, certain representatives of the IAIA are going to know almost immediately. It will not take them long to learn of my circumstances, locked away from the world due to that damn pulse, and by simple logical argument determine the existence of the sugar cube. You are an accessory to breaking the law. They will, unless we are successful at unraveling all that is going on, treat you much harsher than any work camp boss.”

“That’s assuming they catch us.”

“Quite so, but the IAIA’s efforts along with the CPD’s will make matters...difficult for you to move prodigiously, which you will need to do, I cannot overstate this enough.”

Gordon sighed. “Yeah, well if I stop now, I’m still stuck on a murder charge. I want to know what’s going on, Rockmore.”

“Very well, Gordon. Would you like to see, in part, what I see when manipulating the data?”

“The sugar cube can do that?”

“In a similar fashion to how it connected you with Terwilliger just moments ago. It’s not entirely accurate. It’s...metaphorical. I would also ask that while engaged, you do not speak.”

“Interesting. Hook me up, buttercup.”

Gordon Littlejohn suddenly found himself falling. Falling while standing still. The marble that surrounded him, the shrubs and vegetation mixed with tombstones were all still there, but changed, subtly. Enhanced. Enthralled. Alive. And falling into the center of his vision.


“Quiet,” said Rockmore’s voice, to his left. Gordon instinctively turned his head towards the sound and regretted it for the vertigo it induced. Regretting it also for seeing the man who was standing next to him, in the spot where Rockmore’s voice was emanating.

It was his father.

Tall and dark skinned with short, curly black hair in an imposing blue pinstriped suit. He stood as he Gordon saw him last, all those years ago.


His father turned and looked at him. That tinge of judgmental pity on his face. What was it in those eyes that that always left him feeling sour? The eternal puzzle before poof, he was gone, off to fight the good fight in the toxin battles. Off to die.

His father looked at him.

“Dammit, Gordon,” he said, in Rockmore’s voice. “I told you not to say anything. What did I tell you about this interface being metaphorical? Now I’m going to have to live with the idea of you seeing me as some sort of father figure.”

“Oh...Oh...crap...Therapy’s in the benefit’s package, right?”

“It is now. Wait three more seconds.”

“Good...I’m going to be sick...”and the vertigo vanished. And the world became golden. Golden laser light. Exploding from every vertex, every corner of vision.

“Do you see lights?” Asked Dad Rockmore.

“Yeah...yes. It’s gorgeous.”

“It’s one of your race’s finer accomplishments, it’s true.”

“Is this how you see the Optispred?”

“My metaphorical environment would be incomprehensible to you, Gordon.”

“Right, Dad.”

“Shut it, meatsack. Your Optical Spreadwork is a randomly distributed volumetric mesh of data repeaters passing information along various frequencies of light throughout the state. Sadly, those repeaters all run on electricity. The EMP wiped them all out in our neighborhood.”

“This is wild,” though, said Gordon. “I only see this as windows when on a cellcomp.”

“Yes, your information interface isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the Spred it self. I must say it gave us a slight challenge when we decided to come back to visit.”

“Why’s that?”

“The radiation is narrowcast. You have to be within it in order to manipulate it. I’m about to start. Hang on to what you can.”

There was information all around him. He couldn’t tell what the data was, just streams of light. Rivers and tendrils of living light. Clustering and bursting in and out of view. Blinking and trying to take it all in, Gordon was reminded of the colorful Mandelbrot set posters that lined the math classrooms of his childhood, their mesmerizing undulations a welcome respite from the teacher’s terrible logic raining down on the classroom whiteboard. Unlike those posters, these images were alive and even wilder. Within them was a nexus of sorts, an eddy in the whirlpool of chaos, pulsing in and out of the graveyard around him.

Dad Rockmore took a step forward and grabbed the cemetery scene by its edges, ripping it out of the light as if it were errant wrapping paper.

“Time to shock this urban context,” he said.
A vacuum was formed by the hole where the mausoleum once was and Gordon and Dad Rockmore were pulled through with great force.

And fell into the World.

The Earth was its own sun. They were one and the same entity, pulsing and distributing information to each other, giving heat to the universe. Dad Rockmore’s hand plunged into the depths of that plasma and pulled out a neuron. That cell was comprised of billions of streams pulsating in a shape that was familiar somehow...yes. It was Chicago, as seen from space, though with a peculiar depth to it.

“There are archiving sites of traffic,” Dad Rockmore said, flicking his fingers around the platter-sized nerve cell. “We must find the dates that are meaningful. From the time that Gusano went on vacation, to right before the EMP bomb went off.”

“Why Gusano senior, why not Annie Lida?”

“The daughter has something she wants from the father. The father was unavailable. Reason me this, Gordon. We know that Lida is Gusano’s daughter. She met us the same day as the EMP bomb going off, yet displayed little to no emotion about the destruction, only interest.”

“She did have a certain nervous tick about the place.”

“Correct. Had she true concern for her father’s interests--”

“--She wouldn’t be bothering with bottles. So, what about that bottle is so damn special? Mezcal...that’s like tequila, right?”

“Tequila is a form of mezcal, actually. Different regions of production account for the different name.” As Dad Rockmore talked, his hands pushed pulsating blobs of light streams into stacks and then those stacks into geometric designs.

Watching dad Rockmore gesticulate, Gordon uttered, “Holy kripes.”

“What is it?”

“Worms. Gusano is the head of a company that genetically engineers worms, correct?”

“Correct, however, the bottle of mezcal that Lida is searching for is not a variety that is produced with...”


“My apologies, Gordon, it would seem you have something of a brain after all. Clearly Gusano has put a worm that Lida wants into that bottle of pechuga. If it was not tagged, the bottle would be nearly impossible to find. Gusano is missing. His lab destroyed. I will search the data cluster surrounding his home.”

A smallish blob on the outskirts of the pulsating layers of the Great State of Chicago Neuron bloated and bubbled into something similar in size to its parent. Dad Rockmore peered within its layers, pushing threads of light into his eyes and pulling them out his ears.

“Unacceptable,” he spat. “There is no suspicious data surrounding his home. No mention of anything dire. Yet...”

“What is it?”

“Something has been here before.”


“Yes. No one with experience of the level necessary to defeat the sizable firewalls around Gusano’s home would be so sloppy as to leave such indicators of intrusion. There are logs of IP addresses that are from various places around the world.”

“Perhaps it’s Gusano, accessing his data anonymously?”

“Perhaps, but I would think he’d have the sense to erase his logs after entry. I know the IAIA would. So would the remnant national governments. No, this is something that is not experienced...powerful, but naive. I must abandon this search then, since if that something hasn’t found the bottle, neither will we, as we don’t have the leisure for you to go on a foot search. If you’ll observe the other side of the world, our time has become limited.”

It took Gordon a moment to understand the gist of what Dad Rockmore was saying. He turned around and in doing so his perspective altered, the interior world flipped itself inside out and he was once more out in space, nearly out by the moon. He could see Dad Rockmore on the surface of the planet, right next to Lake Michigan, but there, on the North Pole, huge and looming and terrifying, was a cluster of silver jellyfish, orbiting one another, forming a rosette, their tentacles reaching down into the golden strands that permeated the earth’s surface. Feeling for something, searching for it. Slowly, the complex of silver bloat started to move from the pole, in the direction of Chicago.

Gordon turned back around and was again next to his faux father, whose hands were twitching in spasms.

“What the hell was that thing,” Gordon cried.

“That was what your brain registered as the long arm of the IAIA. The time frame was sooner than I expected of them, which reinforces my hypothesis of the other entity. Something has disturbed the Spred. We’ll need to hurry.”

“Hurry where?”

“About two hours out into the Lake.”

Gordon thought he could feel something at his face, tickling him slightly, a soft feather sensation. “Rockmore! I think it’s got--”

“--Me.” The World was gone. He was on all fours, staring at the imposing patinated bronze statue of Eternal Silence. The looming and cowled figure radiated back at him in the darkness, silent.