BOOK III World On a String


9.1 STAN the Man
"Cryptogamous fungoid mushrooms!" Stan dragged Alban deeper among the old redwoods excitedly espousing the delights of the ancient forest. Alban knew Stan was overdoing it for his benefit. He had seen a mountain wall collapse plunging his lover, Hooper, to a certain death. Catatonia had set in; a blessed numbing, but Stan had kept at him and in the end Alban had agreed to make the trip. Stan needed help on his 'research and camping expedition', and also to keep away from a sizable list of people who wanted to 'talk' with him. He convinced Alban that a camping trip to the AC was just the thing to break with his employers and keep out of their reach. The huge forest only served to heighten Alban's feelings of loneliness. "Armillaria Bulbosa! Honey Mushroom!" Stan turned and lowered his voice to a respectful tone, " This is THE largest living organism on earth." Alban nodded and tried to look enthusiastic.

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9.2 NightHawks
The two women walked through the town of Huddersfield each disclosing bits and pieces of a story that was too complex and vast in its implications to readily understand. Eventually they entered a cafe with a vertical sign that read, 'SUEY' in white letters against a red background. Lightbulbs were imbedded in the letters and around the edges of the sign. They sat and a waiter placed a small brown teapot between them. It was square and the handle pointed away from the women. Neither picked it up. A small dish perhaps to be used as an ashtray was also between them. A lamp with a green shade sat on the window sill which, at night would be bright with the 'SUEY' sign's light. Linda took off her brown coat and hung it on a hook on the wall behind her chair. Both women coincidentally wore flapper-like hats which covered their heads down to their eyebrows. Qi's hat was blue and she wore a thin, matching scarf. The white table top gave off a light of it's own and the waning sun cast an almost pastel hue on the afternoon. Soon the two women felt they could trust each other. A calm rapport was established which enabled them to distill and filter their individual experiences. Qi told Agent Smith of her father's empire including the fact that she believed a bizarre financial connection to the Telethon Network was implicated in Ziggy's unrest and Vanessa Cardui's death... Smith added information on a group of corporate executives living in a mysterious 'spiritual' trance who were also connected to the TN. Qi suggested that Ziggy was somehow the key, the heart of the matter. "Most of the world believes that Ziggy's pictures are a hoax or some kind of rockin' multimedia special fx scam." Smith gestured to a bench. Qi continued as the two women sat down, "I'm not religious and Ziggy, from my research has always been fiercely secular, but there is some kind of powerful, unified process at work here. I only hope it's a benevolent one."

Linda's eyes narrowed, "We can't assume that. I like the guy. He's genuine. But he could be working to channel all the unclaimed DataCrash wealth into some cracked vision of his own. The TN isn't the only show in town." They sat in thought a while and Qi finally spoke up, "It's time to visit Daddy. Will you come with me?" Linda's mouth puckered and her eyebrows went up. Qi added, "I can tell by the way you spoke of him, that Frederik Keele means something to you. More than just professional." Qi brought this up for a reason. She wanted to see her father but she wanted a third party present.
"Well, he's a friend but you're wrong. It is professional. Friends are hard to find."

To which Qi added, "Come with me. We can set my father to looking for him." Qi leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. She glanced nervously over Linda's shoulder at a man lighting a cigarette. His face was in shadow but the woman seated with him could be seen clearly. She also wore a tight, head fitting hat but this one was red. She seemed to be waiting for the man to look up at her. Qi relaxed a little. The two women sat a little longer quietly conjuring the enemy before them. There was a long night of travel ahead.

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9.3 Motor City Meltdown
After a thorough debriefing the Network reassured Keele that his claims of mobs of zombies in Indonesia would be taken seriously and investigated. The short answer was that River Blindness was the cause. Keele suggested that someone was bottling it. He was ordered back on active duty and re-assigned to find Ziggy Acetate. "Here we go again. Maybe I should have stayed with the meat puppets." He took a shuttle to D/W from Washington and found he was learning more about Ruby Yablonsky from walking the streets than he had gleaned from the 50meg file he had studied on the flight in. The city functioned like any large city. Nothing of any importance was happening elsewhere. "Jazz and Bowling" Keele muttered. He had met with a few homeless and the pimps and scam artists who ran them. Ruby had a 'name' here and it wasn't always a pleasant one. Keele picked up a shuttle to Precinct 9 on Gratiot Street. Lieutenant Thurwell in Enforcement had worked with Ruby when she ran a small but successful private detective agency. He told Keele she'd always been a straight arrow, working jobs few could handle. He explained, "She once described her passion for the job as, 'gouging a way of life out of the stone of God's indifference'. A woman wants to stand tall too, Thurwell, she says".


The key to all this x files stuff was with the artist Acetate and the best lead he had was Ruby. Thurwell was a large man with grey hair and a bushy moustache that still had some black patches in it. "Ruby and I are buddies alright but I haven't seen her for six months. Not since she got Hardwickii on her butt. Then she kept her distance. Wouldn't let any of her department friends help out. Hard headed. A loner."

Keele nodded and asked, "Know where she is?"

Thurwell jotted some notes on a yellow pad, tore it off and handed it to him, "Nope, she's a loner like I said. Here's the name of a decent hotel in town and my phone number."

Keele glanced at the note not showing any reaction as he read, "Don't reply, memorize and destroy, Ruby will meet you at latitude 47° , longitude 119° at 5 am."

Keele took the message and shook Thurwell's hand. "Thanks for the tip."

After Keele had left, Thurwell turned his monitor around. Hardwickii was grinning widely. Thurwell began to chuckle slowly, "Those boys just love the secret agent stuff don't they?" and both men began laughing loudly.


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9.4 Food?
Sara Carver scraped bits of food off the frying pan into the stream that ran along their campsite. She put the frying pan next to the rest of the clean pots and pans so that her seven year old son, Jeremy, could reassemble the mess kit. Sammy, the ten year old, carefully put out the fire.
Every year for the last three, since their father had died, Sara had brought them to Washington State to camp out.
"Where's Jeremy?" she called to Sam.
"He went back to the moss" called Sam. Sara shook her head and grinned. She too was mesmerized by the opalescence of the moss. The white glow of the tiny shoots that covered the deep green moss bed had held the three of them transfixed into the early evening. She had finally become concerned that they wouldn't find their way back to camp.

Sara rose from her crouch and tilted her head west, "Let's go get him, Sam."

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9.5 The Root of the Matter

Stan set up an antenna dish and tethered it to a rollout keypad. An email notification blinked as soon as he powered up and his dish received the satellite waves above Oregon. The subject read, "a wired from the wordless either-JJ" Stan looked at the subject and smiled, "It's Joyce. It's a James Joyce quote! Alban! I think you'll want to see this!"

Alban was jumping up and down to the news of Hooper's survival as two things happened. One kilometer north of them Fred Keele landed. He shrugged off his parachute and began walking south looking down at the compass he held in his hand. The geosat l.e.d. window told him that lat 47° , long 119° was half a click away. His pocket vibrated. He removed his phone, "Who?"

"There you are, you bad little boy."

The other thing that happened was that Jeremy Carver was lifted from his spongy bed of moss, his daydream interrupted by a tendril of tar that extended some twenty feet from the ground and whisked the boy about like a fly tied to a thread.

Keele smiled, "Smith."
"Wasn't hard to find you. You're back, huh?"
"You wanna go camping? I've only got one sleeping bag but you're welcome to share it."
"Another time, Sweetie. I called to tell you that I'm following the money. I'm going to check into the Telethon Network and the Apostles."

"Apostles?" Keele hadn't heard about them.

They're weirdos that are afflicted with some combination of Acetate tattoo and/or trauma or brainwash of some kind. You want in?"


"Can't make it but keep in touch. Let me know what you find. And Linda, I saw some guy pour a vial of something on a corpse in Jakarta. The body stood up and walked off. Be careful. They make your apostles sound like Saints."
Smith smirked, "Did those guys down there pay you in merchandise?"
"Check it if you want. I'm just saying watch it." Keele disconnected as a horrific shriek echoed through the forest



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9.6 Wang
Qi's father Wang Zheng sat at on an onyx chair at an oak table draped with a large tapestry of stone armies embroidered in red satin. A Glyph monitor sat in the middle of the table, beautifully balanced on a cone-shaped pedestal. A hat lay beside the monitor, something that wasn't lost on Agent Smith as she entered. Wang rose as she and Qi walked in.

Linda pulled a small cometic case out of her purse saying to Qi as she approached her father, "Hold on Qi. I don't want to alarm you but I need some assurance that your dad isn't about to call some Yakuza party animals in to play with me." She took her plastic lipstick and pointed it at Wang. "Small explosive, a rocket really." Smith walked up to Wang and held it in front of him. "Let's move over here...neutral space." Smith pushed Wang back to an empty part of the room and had him sit on the floor. She sat between him and Qi. She pointed the lipstick lower and said, "Ok Wang, you're covered. Start talking."
Wang Zheng looked at Qi and his eyes softened, his irritation melting. Then he turned his attention to Linda Smith. "Your friendship with my daughter may garner a certain lenience on my part, but I will only tolerate this inconvenience for so long."

Linda pointed the lipstick at Wang's crotch and smiled, "Try something. Go ahead and I'll blow your balls off."
Wang smiled. "I scan everything. I suggest you color your lips before we haul you off to a courthouse. But go ahead, what do you want?"

Qi spoke up, "Father, you are involved in a very large money-laundering by the World Telethon Network. They are siphoning great sums to Ming. Do you know what that company does with the money?"

Wang arose and moved toward his desk. Smith got up and rushed forward. "Hold it Wang!" to which he waved his hand and replied, "If you want to know the answer to my daughter's question I will have to check my computer. And you should try to be less melodramatic." Wang went to his monitor and began making small, gracefull hand-gestures in front of it. "You are only still waving that ridiculous prop around because I allow you to." After a few moments Wang turned to Qi and Smith with a new intensity. "How did you know about this?" Qi answered, "I was in the database and found Li Yong Shiang's file. It led me to Ming."

Her father's eyes softened, "You are a constant source of pride to me Qi. I wish you would come home and help me run our business. I am getting old and you are ready. I never, in my youth, would have let this slip past me. "

Qi was completely taken aback. This was not what she expected. "Father, I..."

Wang turned back to the monitor, "As it happens, and this is very disturbing, Shiang is in my back office right now. He came here to close his account and see that all computer documents were deleted according to the rights of privacy declaration of 2002. I was about to see him when you arrived."

Smith lightly interjected, "Perhaps we should bring him in."

Wang touched his monitor and a door opened behind him. A very elegant young man entered dressed in an Armani suit with an Iridium collar. Smith figured the collar was alert.

"No reason for intimidation or concern of any kind", he drawled, "I will supply you with all the information you want."

"I am agent Linda Smith. I am here on official business with Mr. Zheng. Why do you think we want information from you?"

"I am here to supply you with what you want", Shiang replied and took a small bottle from his pocket. "Here, this is for you." He brought his other hand up and placed it on the bottle cap. In an instant his head disappeared. Smith dropped the red hot lipstick to the floor where the plastic casing melted into the plush carpet. Licking her fingers she said, "Sorry, that will never come out. You'll have to buy a new carpet." She knelt down and picked up the bottle. "I don't think we should open this."

A crowd of security guards entered from all directions. Wang held his hand up and they froze. "It's alright", he said. "Leave us." He sat down heavily in his chair and looked at Smith. "How did you do that? I scanned you for weapons. Any known weapon would have triggered an immediate response."

"Well you've answered your own question haven't you?" Smith looked at the body. "Something weird about him. There must be some kind of parasite in that jar and he was already infected. Mind control or something. Wang, if you didn't know anything about this I suggest you help us find out who's using your multinational as a petri dish."

Qi was at her father's side, stroking his head. "Father needs some rest, Linda. Perhaps we can get him out of here and let him regain his strength." Wang gratefully took his daughter's hands in his, kissed them and said, "Yes, Qi knows what is best." With visible effort he rose, "I know a place. Wait, I will lock out the transmissions and freeze this part of whatever plan is being carried out. " Wang Zheng keyed in commands at his terminal and grunted. "That will slow them down."

"Or just get them mad. I suggest we hurry," Linda Smith glanced into her compact and jotted some lipstick on.

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9.7 Fruit of Our Labour

"Soon, soon. Mmm hmmm. Yep." The blanket kicked about. Playtime for all. The child whipped back and forth kicking and trying to call for help."The frisky little thing is soo much fun. "Soon. Soon little one. I will embrace you, absorb you into the family. THE ONE TRUE FAMILY OF MAN AND EARTH!!!" Two more tendrils emerged from the moss. The child was thrown from tentacle to tentacle like a football. "This beats an Armani fitting any day!" He screamed.

"Why are they in Washington?" Hooper looked from Ruby to Dr. Kerby and back. The small doctor with his bushy eyebrows and puckered mouth reminded him of an owl-like cartoon character he had seen in a classic animation series.

"It's like the bloodstream," Kerby finally said, "They have been carried to a place where an intersection of synaptic pulse and molecular irregularity meet. It started with a leak in a Waste Internment Project in New Mexico and has branched to the rainforests of Washington State. Not a big surprise. The surprising thing is that Ziggy hasn't shown up there yet. There's also got to be a human manifestation. The mime. The craze. The big spiritual fad. I'm going to the WIP. It's time to catalyze this thing. If we take the initiative we may be able to catch a runaway train while its passengers are too busy partying to be aware. Get some leverage. Let's take a copter."

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9.8 St Nazaire

"Used to be a harbour for slave traders. Then in the middle of the last century, the Germans built these U-boat pens." Qi and Linda listened to Zheng as he landed on top of the immense concrete slab that lay on the west bank of the basin at St. Nazaire. The three of them got out of the hoverjet. Zheng led them to a stairwell that descended into the concrete. Smith wondered how this sluice was included in the construction of what otherwise seemed a solid mass. Green fluorescents glowed as they stepped down. Their ears registered the pressure changing as the corridor narrowed. "We must be beneath sea level." Smith's voice was soft and steady but Qi knew she was as uncomfortable as she and her father were. They reached a small door and Zheng tapped in a rhythm that Smith guessed was a recognizable code. The door swung in and they felt warm fresh air rush up at them. Once inside Smith looked at the man who opened the door. "You look very familiar. Do I know you.?"

"Everyone knows me sweetie. I'm the hot property of a television station run by an artificial intelligence. I'm toast. I am baked. I'm the real Reverend. I am the Reverend M Jesus Baker at your service . The Bakerman. Rolling the dough. Folding, rolling, folding. The farthest points become the closest. The closest ones get rolled out and away. Hurry, come on in. Nothing can find me in here once that door is closed."

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9.9 WIP(ped)

Tinker had insisted on escorting Ruby and Kerby to the Waste Internment Project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Kerby's research had uncovered the fact that 77,000 tons of waste had been stored there by 2010. Tests were done to certify that extreme heat and earthquake tremors would not upset the thousands of years it would take nuclear wastes to break down. The tests were judged successful and the project went ahead. Fiz had stowed away on the chopper and now she too, wore an internally cooled suit that could protect a human from radiation levels the intensity of a small atomic bomb.

Tinker smiled through his blue visor and kept close to Ruby. They were 1,200 feet below the surface walking through brightly lit tunnels toward the first stockpile. Kerby consulted a hard copy of the site map. He was worried that any ordering of magnetized plastic paper kernels would be gibberish down here. "Around this bend and then through the double doors.." He hurried ahead.

"Wait up, Doc," Tinker shooed Fiz and Ruby along in front of him. He shouted ahead even though the helmets were transmitting and Fiz kept thinking that whoever was talking was right behind or next to her. "There are traces of methyl isocyanate in this chamber. How could that be?" The doctor didn't answer right away. When the other three joined him around the curve they understood.

The door to the chamber was open. Actually it was dissolved. It lay at their feet as though it had liquified and then solidified. The walls were covered in black and white pictures and letters. They were like early cave drawings in charcoal but the images were contemporary and the detail, at times like black and white photos, enormous ones.

Ruby finally whispered, "Ziggy?"

Kerby turned to look at her and said slowly, "His evil twin. Tink, get Fiz out of here and keep watch. Ruby and I will have a look a little further down. We don't want someone coming home unannounced."

As Fiz walked back up the tunnel toward the elevator she called back, "True be back soon ootoooo!" Kerby was taking a reading, "Nothing horrific. The methyl isocyanate is in traces. Not enough to do the kind of harm that occurred in Bhopal, but without our suits we couldn't breathe down here for long. The fact there is MIC here is a mystery, but look, there are other gasses and elements that shouldn't be here as well. Our squatter might be bringing the stuff, but I can't understand why?" "Doc," Ruby called and pointed at a set of arrows on the wall, "Look, these point to fissures in the wall and have the names of cities and places on them. Like a road map. All marked up. I'm getting the creeps in here."

"Ohhhh, the creepies! Tooo baaad." A voice resounded in the room but they couldn't see anyone in the vast shadows around them. "Welcome to Jimmy's World Travel Agency. We can find a place for you in any old crack in the wall!" The shadows moved and a shapeless mass hovered in front of them. A human face emerged and was almost touching Ruby's visor. "Hi there! Let me take you on a world tour. I just need to squeeze you through one of these little cracks and next thing you know we'll be having tea in Singapore! They'd love that conservative plastic neo-retro-whatever over there. White is really a summer color don't you think?"

Fiz ran back down the tunnel with Tinker behind her. He was reaching to grab her when she stopped still. They looked on in disbelief. Ruby remained calm even though she thought her knees were knocking together in a deafening drumroll. She managed to smile and say through closed teeth, "What crack did you squeeze through?" She almost fainted as rolled through the cavern.


On to World on a String Part 10




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