The Antisocial Network – Chapter Thirteen

Eric caught a glimpse of sensible women’s shoes coming towards him before the brainworm collapsed into scrap metal and buried him underneath. The pressure on him was immense for another second or two then there was a strange popping sensation and Eric found himself in empty headspace with the metal ring still clenched in his hands. He took a few steadying breaths as the beginning of a migraine built behind his sinuses. Sensory deprivation was starting to sound more and more like a perk of working in headspace rather than a drawback.

His abused cranium was really starting to protest when a door appeared, swung open and Vent stepped through, his ten year old form shifting back into the familiar Victorian persona. Eric spared a brief glance for the door, which was’t attached to any thing and vanished as soon as it swung shut behind behind the other meme. Vent hurried over to him, his meme visibly relaxing as he looked Eric over, patting him down as if to ensure everything was still there.

“Relax, Vent, I’m fine.” Eric gently pushed Vent’s hands away.

“Do you feel dizzy? Is there any sensation returning to your limbs?” Vent continued to look him over but kept his hands to himself. “Are you experiencing any synesthesia?”

“Any wha- no, never mind. I just have a headache.” Eric pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled, it was a lot less therapeutic when he wasn’t inside his own head. “Is that normal?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of someone’s meme being forgotten while they were in someone else’s headspace. I guess it just bounces back to running in your own head? It’s not like your memes were ever dependent on someone else’s mind.” Vent’s voice trailed off in the same way Eric’s father’s did when he was deep in thought.

Not that Eric was sure what he was thinking about it. Now that he wasn’t under the threat of brainworm attack the idea that someone else’s bad memory could pose a danger to him seemed silly, even with telepathy in the mix. Eric decided to investigate the ring he’d gotten from the worm instead. It seemed like a featureless circle of metal until he ran his fingertips along the inside of the ring. Then it suddenly sprouted teeth and wrapped tightly around his hand.

“Gah!” Eric yelled, trying to work his fingers out from under the ring.

“Ah!” Vent snapped out of his reverie and crowded in to help.

Neither one managed to get a grip on it before it vanished under the skin. Both of them stared at Eric’s hand for a moment. With exaggerated calm Eric looked at Vent and asked, “What happened?”

“Well…”

“This is another thing you’ve never heard of happening before, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.” Vent produced the tools he’d used earlier to examine the brainworm. “But if you don’t mind, we can take a look and try and figure it out now.”

Eric rolled his eyes. “Fine. Take a look.”

Ten minutes of uncomfortable poking and prodding later, Vent tucked his tools away and humphed.

“Humph what?” Eric asked.

“You know how a telepath wakes up, right?”

“The nontelepath,” Eric put out one hand flat, “synchronizes with the telepath.” He put his other hand under the first hand. “Then the telepath slowly cranks the nontelepath up to speed,” he pushed his top hand up with the bottom, “and you have two telepaths.”

“Pretty much. As near as I can tell, what happened that the part of the brainworm that took care of the synchronization just synchronized with you.” He ran one hand along his jaw sheepishly. “But I’m not sure what happens now. I think the rest of the process was handled by other parts of the brainworm so there’s nothing left there for it to do.”

Eric rubbed his hand uncomfortably. “Right. Well, I guess that’s one problem dealt with. But it kind of leaves a bigger issue, don’t you think?”

Vent shot him a look as he adjusted a new top hat on his meme’s head. “What’s that?”

“You said the First Teep knew everything he needs to make more brainworms.” Eric gestured broadly to encompass everything that happened in the last half hour. “And I can’t image that we won’t end up right back here if he does.”

“That’s true…” Vent struck a thoughtful pose. “At the same time what do you suppose we do about it?”

Eric threw his hands in the air. “Well you’re the expert, right? Couldn’t you convince him that the thing is dangerous?”

“He wouldn’t believe us.” Vent shrugged. “It wasn’t dangerous when he first built it.”

“But it became dangerous over time. It took you five minutes to figure that out, couldn’t you explain it to him?”

Vent looked away and didn’t answer. Eric grunted in disgust. “Is there some reason he wouldn’t believe you?”

“We might not have parted on the best of terms.” Vent heaved a sigh and looked back. “Fine. We’ll go talk to FT. Maybe he’ll be in a mood to listen to sense this time.”

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Thunder Clap: Melting And Entering

Izzy

“You know, whichever one of your minions thought that this would be a good way to get around is going to be put in for extra jail time. You know that, right?”

“What’s your problem with it, Helix? The lack of control or being suspended over seventy floors of empty space with no safety net?”

“Not so much the lack of control as who’s in control.”

If it was still working I would have been recording Helix and Circuit’s bickering on my phone. There was a strong resemblance to couples I’d known in high school right before they broke up and I knew no one from the Project would believe me if I told them about it without evidence. It was weird to say the least.

I grabbed the edge of the elevator shaft and leaned out to catch a glimpse of the two of them hovering several floors up. “I don’t mean to bug you two but are you going to clear the shaft any time soon?”

“Just a moment, Rodriguez.” Circuit held his hands out towards the side of the elevator shaft and there was a sharp popping noise and a flash of light.

“What was that?” Helix asked.

“Quick shock intended to knock out a specific set of countermeasures,” Circuit answered.

“Well why didn’t you just do that before?” I asked, annoyed at the thought of all the time he’d wasted checking for and disarming traps the old fashioned way while we were on our way up the tower earlier.

“I was conserving power in case we had to search a large portion of the top floors one at a time,” he said. “Good work on that interrogation, by the way. I doubt we’d have had time to get any useful information out of those three we caught using any of the other interrogation techniques we had available to us.”

I felt a quick surge of satisfaction that only lasted as long as it took me to remember who was paying the compliment. “So is it safe to go through the door now?”

“No. I never forgot that there were more talents at Sumter’s disposal than just Helix, even if he was the one I expected to see the most.” He reached for the tool compartment on his chair. “There’s a mechanical lock – no electronics at all – on the doors to the floors where command stations might be set up. It was included in the plans in case Project Sumter ever found a fuse box capable of countering my safeguards. You could probably break through it if you had good footing, Agent Rodriguez, but I’d rather not run the risk that you find you can’t in the middle of one of your spectacular jumps.”

I winced at the mental image of my hitting the door and sliding off like a Looney Toons character. “Yeah, there’s limits to how far even a taxman can fall and survive.”

Helix kicked his heels against the far side of the elevator shaft and shot over to the door. His hands seemed to freeze to the door and the metal started to warp. I realized that my hair was standing on end and it was suddenly very cool in the shaft. “Anything I should know about this lock of yours before I melt it?” He asked. “Is it an exotic compound that becomes a toxic aerosol when it melts?”

“Nothing so exotic,” Circuit said dryly. “What’s your hurry?”

By now Helix was up to his elbows in melting door. It was kind of unsettling to see. “Circuit, you take your time before you do anything, am I right? Every scheme of yours is carefully thought out a dozen steps ahead and with contingencies every step along the way.”

“That’s a fair assessment.”

“Well it seems to me that you’ve never really developed an appreciation for the time crunch involved in real law enforcement work. You always take the fastest way because that means you have the best chance of catching the bad guy before he gets away, no matter what obstacles he’s come up with to slow you down.” There was a loud clunk and Helix pulled his hands out of the door, drops of glowing red metal scattering from his hands as he shook them off. “Door’s ready. Let’s go.”

Circuit grunted, I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or just amused, and the two of them moved up the shaft. I gathered my feet under me and made the jump, taking an extra split second to adjust my trajectory as I came in contact with the far wall. I’d gotten the timing and angle for a ten story jump down cold but we’d made our way up the stairs, with me carrying Circuit’s chair, until we got to the seventy-fifth floor, so I was only looking at a three story jump this time and I wanted the timing to be right.

Fortunately there were no problems on that front.

Unfortunately, after I crashed into the hallway beyond the elevator door I found myself staring at six armed men in a line across the far end of the hall with the squarish looking man, who Circuit kept calling Davis, standing behind them. He smiled when he saw me. “Well, it’s our escapee come back to us. Now would be a good time to think about surrendering again.”

“I didn’t surrender last time,” I said, cautiously getting to my feet. “I believe you gassed me.”

The smile quickly changed to something much darker. “Then why don’t we see if we can get you to surrender this time, shall we?”

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