The Antisocial Network – Chapter Twelve

Eric and Vent broke through the featureless headspace and found themselves in a living room straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting. A quick look around revealed that they were standing in front of the front door, looking at a small but well furnished room with a tan colored sofa along the opposite wall. An round table with a lamp and vase on it sat immediately to their left, beyond it was a door to what looked like a dining room.  A closed door to the right of the sofa led to the back of the house, a curio cabinet full of knickknack was the only feature on the wall to the right.

There wasn’t anything that struck Eric as particularly useful against a rampaging brainworm. He gave Vent a curious look. “Where are we?”

Vent’s meme removed his top hat in a respectful fashion. “The mind of an Alzheimer’s patient.”

“Alzheimer’s.” Eric cast about for the word. “That’s the condition where you forget everything, right?”

“No.” Vent strode across the quiet room, absently running one hand along the top of the cabinet. “Alzheimer’s is a state of permanent short term memory loss. People will remember events from ten or twenty years ago just fine but won’t be able to retain memories of things that happened a few days, a few hours or, in extreme cases, a few minutes ago.”

Eric picked the vase up off the table at his side, turning the thing over in his hands and marveling at how tacky it looked. That was pretty much the only sensation he got off of it, there was no feeling of porcelain or any sense of weight to the object. He put it back on the table and, without his touching it in any way, it scooted a few inches to one side, stopping exactly where he’d picked it up. Eric suppressed a shudder. “Weird.”

“The human mind is incredible. It can completely recover from any kind of intrusion as long as it can forget.” Vent strode across the room, his meme losing coherency for a moment, wavering between the snappily dressed, pseudo-Victorian Eric was used to and a much smaller figure, half Vent’s normal height at a guess, with sloppy hair and poorly fitting clothes. “If you could duplicate Alzheimer’s in a controlled fashion you could cure any mental disorder.”

The vase may not have had much in the way of weight but it sure shattered nicely against the side of the table when Eric swung it. The pieces actually froze in mid air before most of them even hit the ground, flying back upward and reassembling on the table as if nothing had happened. “So they call stasis a cure now?”

Vent gave him a nasty look over his shoulder, the shifting, protean aspect he wore at the moment making it even more sinister than the blank disapproval of the typical meme. “Don’t draw attention, Echoes. You don’t belong here.”

“What?”

“As long as we’re in the subconscious we can’t get forgotten, not really. But if you catch the attention of the conscious mind and you can’t fit into the memories that are here you’re on the road to oblivion.” Vent’s meme tossed it’s hat on the floor. For a moment it sat there and then it crumpled flat, into a ball, then finally a tiny point of darkness before disappearing entirely. “I don’t know what that will do to your mind or body and frankly I don’t want to find out.”

“Point taken.” Eric moved to the rough center of the room, staying as far as possible from the furniture and anything else he might disturb and get unwanted attention.

Vent’s meme had settled on an actual size and shape, no longer the imposing Victorian scientist but instead a tennish year old boy in an oversized shirt and shorts. Large blue eyes stared out from under a fringe of blonde hair and he had a nose that would probably be strong and handsome someday but for the moment was just comical. Eric stared but Vent didn’t seem to notice. “Now listen, because that brainworm could be here any second.”

“Wait,” Eric hissed, trying to keep his meme’s ‘voice’ quiet since he wasn’t sure whether that would attract attention or now. “You’re going to dump the brainworm in the middle of a mentally unstable person’s brain?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s nothing more stable than an Alzheimer’s patient’s mind. They’re basically in stasis, you said it yourself. If a brainworm comes in here it will have to be processed by the conscious mind, but this mind can’t hold thoughts together long enough to make anything of something as complicated as a brainworm. Long before it can do lasting damage it will be entirely forgotten.” Vent made a poofing motion with one hand. “The problem is, the worm’s coming here for you. If it finds you odds are you’ll be noticed along with it, so you run the same risk of being forgotten as it does.”

Before Eric could ask the obvious question the door to the house shook with the sound of something heavy crashing into it. Eric and Vent both jumped and slowly backed away from the door. “Okay, Vent, how do I do this without getting myself forgotten?”

Vent pointed frantically towards the kitchen. “Hide. Without interacting with the headspace too much.” Vent turned and scampered towards the other door, his now-boyish voice shrill as he started yelling, “Mom! Mom, there’s someone at the door!”

The door thumped again and this time the sound of splintering wood came along with it. Eric backed into the kitchen and crouched down behind a cabinet, his attention still focused on the door, which sported a spiderweb of cracks. The damage was already vanishing when the door took a third hit and it fell apart completely.

It didn’t look much like when they’d first found it. Any vestiges of its pseudo-Vent appearance had fallen away to be replaced with a clattering, whirling mass of wires and pistons that bore more resemblance to a headless buffalo than a worm. In spite of his efforts at hiding the brainworm made a beeline for Eric, who backpedaled through the kitchen and banged into a table he hadn’t noticed. With the brainworm smashing through the kitchen doorfram and concern for staying hidden now in the wind Eric turned and grabbed the first thing that came to hand, a chair set at the table, and threw it threw it at the brainworm. Naturally the worm didn’t pay it any attention.

There was a door out of the kitchen in to the back of the house and Eric did his best to drag the table across the doorway as he continued his frantic retreat. The brainworm crashed through the remaining chairs in the dining room and stomped the table into twigs with a single bounding leap.

The table did make the brainworm stumble, a dozen leglike pistons churning as it tried to force its way through the door frame. As it twisted one way Eric tried to push through the gap on the other side but the flailing hooks and wires caught his arm and yanked him up short. A second later Eric was trapped under the brainworm, trying to deflect the churning limbs that threatened to crush him.

Over the noise he caught fragments of a feminine voice yelling, “What is going on, Harold?”

If there was an answer Eric missed it as a piston slammed him down into the floor hard enough to splinter it. Which made him kind of glad he couldn’t feel anything that was happening to him. The sudden change in altitude put Eric in a perfect position to see the table remnants vanish. Not good.

Eric made a frantic scramble for freedom but he suddenly felt much heavier than a moment ago. The brainworm creaked and groaned, trying to pull itself along on legs that were starting to bend and buckle under its own weight. As it got closer to Eric its center of mass split open and it extended the metal crown of teeth it had put on his head the last time they’d met.

Eric managed to get his hands on it and pushed back as hard as he could. But that left him sinking deeper into the floor as the pressure to restore the house to normal crushed ever harder.

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