“What’s her name?”
Bill Martin teetered back in his chair, leering at the new I.T. girl across the office.
“Kara something,” said Enrique, Bill’s desk-mate.
“I know that. What’s her last name?”
Bill scrunched his eyes trying to make out the woman’s badge. “Looks like… Wormley? Is it Wormley?”
“That doesn’t sound right,” Enrique said.
“Just tell me what her last name is, Rick.”
“How should I know?”
“Weren’t you with Stan when he hired her? I thought you were his right-hand man now.”
“Is that bitterness, Billy? You said you wouldn’t have taken my promotion even if they had offered it to you.”
“That’s right, Rick. You can be a corporate douche. Not for me.”
“Sure, Bill.” Enrique swiveled around in his chair. “Why do you want to know her name anyway?”
Enrique grimaced. “That’s it? You want to invade the poor woman’s privacy just to find a bikini pic to jerk off to?”
“Exactly.” Bill grinned.
A notification sounded from Enrique’s computer. “Sorry perv, but you’ll have to call off your search.”
“There’s a shortage in the server room. And, the new I.T. girl isn’t on the payroll till Monday so I need you to check it out.”
“Goddamn rats are chewing on the wires.”
“You’re probably right. Better take a hammer, for protection.”
Bill sighed as he pulled a small ball-peen from his desk drawer. It was stained red from his last trip to the server room.
“Try not to get bit. I doubt workers comp will cover rabies.”
Bill got up from his desk. “Fuck you, fag.” It was a whisper.
“What was that?”
Bill made his way down to the basement which housed the building’s servers. Row upon row of buzzing towers lined the floor. The lights were out, but Bill could hear the rats shuffling around. He shuddered. The light switch was at the bottom of the staircase, half way down the wall. Bill would have to grope for the switch in the darkness. In his mind’s eye he saw fat, greasy rats with beady red eyes, scurrying under his feet, and crawling up the server racks. He hurried to the switch and flipped it. The room was flooded with buzzing, florescent light, and a single rat scurried beneath a rack.
Bill searched for the loose wire, and for the new girl’s various social pages. He glanced up from his phone in time to spot two stray network cables that had come unplugged. He reached down for the cables still staring at his phone.
“What was her damn name? Warby, Warmely? Wor… SHIT!”
The rat plunged its teeth deep into Bill’s thumb, and blood ran down his forearm. Bill let out a yelp, and shook his hand wildly. Black tufts of fur filled the air, but the rat’s jaws only tightened. “Fuck. Get off… HELP!” Bill felt the comforting weight of the hammer tucked into his belt. He grabbed the bludgeon and raised it. Just then, a blue cord wrapped around the rat’s torso and squeezed until its eyes bulged. The vermin let go of Bill’s hand, and the cord swung it against the wall where it dropped to the ground and scurried away. Bill saw that the cord wasn’t a cord, but a tail. A long blue-grey, prehensile tail attached to a creature.
The thing was almost human, but smaller, only half Bill’s height. It was covered in grayish skin that was peeling, flaking. Its face was pointed like an iguana, and wispy white fuzz covered its body. At first glance Bill thought it was some little mutant monkey, but then it spoke.
“Her name is Warner. You weren’t even close.” The creature’s voice was raspy. The sound of it made Bill’s anus tighten. He turned to run, but the creature’s tail wrapped around his ankle and pulled him to the ground.
“What, no thank you?”
Bill lay on the linoleum, his finger dripping blood. “What the hell are you?”
“That’s complicated. The name’s Bugg, though.” The creature extended his claw. Bill flipped and scooted backwards, on his ass, banging his head into a server. “Shit!”
“You need to learn some manners, friend. I can help you with those social graces.”
“What are you? Was someone fucking rats down here, and your some rat-human hybrid? Was it Enrique? That deviant. I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“I’ve already told you, I’m Bugg. I live down here with the rats, and the server racks. Soaking up all the wonderful information that runs through these wires.” Bugg held a network cable between his fingers.
Bill sat up. “I should go. Try to forget. Maybe get a CAT scan.” He tried for the door.
“There’s no need to run. We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. How about a peace offering?” Bugg walked behind the server for a moment. Bill’s phone buzzed in his pocket, but he was too afraid to move. Bugg reemerged. “Go ahead. Answer it.”
Bill got out his phone. “It’s a text message. A picture file.”
“I’m not going to download it. This isn’t even a real number. It’s only five digits: 8-7-4-2-5.”
“It’s from me, Bill. A gift.”
“What is it?”
“Okay, okay.” Bill downloaded the photo. His eyes lit. “Holy shit! The new girl.”
“That’s better than what you’d find on her Instagram.”
“Where did you get this?”
“Nothing is safe from me, Bill. If the file is plugged into a network I can get it.”
“You can get more of these?” Bill asked.
“I could, Bill. I could get you anything on anyone. Data, Bill. Information. Knowledge. Power. How would you like to be a CEO?”
Bill wrinkled his forehead. “So you can tell me anything about those people up there?”
“What do you want to know?”
He considered the offer for a moment. A spiteful grin stretched across his face.
On Monday Kara found a box of dark chocolate wrapped and placed on her desk. It was the third time that she had found a gift sitting there, all from the same person. Bill, again. Dark chocolate, she thought. My favorite. How the fuck did he know that. The day before it was a bouquet of peonies. Peonies were Kara’s favorite flower. Last week it was a vinyl record from the first band she ever saw live in concert. How could he know she had a record player?
Kara saw Bill beaming at her from his desk, leaning back in his chair to see past the fake fern. She glanced down breaking eye contact. He’s spying on me. The fucking creep.
Kara met Enrique at lunch. “Your friend Bill is really starting to worry me.”
“We’re not friends, Kara. Let me make that clear. We share a cubicle. That doesn’t make us friends.”
“It doesn’t matter, Enrique. You know him best. That’s why I came to you. I think he’s spying on me.”
Enrique glanced up from his food. “How do you mean?”
“He knows things about me, Enrique. Personal things. I’ve worked here a month, and he knows the bands I like, the food I eat, and the places I go. How good is he with computers? I swear he’s hacked mine.”
“Bill’s good for plugging in a loose wires. Beyond that, well he couldn’t even figure out the new contact software you gave us last week.”
“I know. He’s sent me a dozen emails about it. I thought maybe that was a ploy. You know, an excuse to talk to me. You sure he doesn’t know what he’s doing?”
“I don’t know, Kara. He could be hiding something from us. He does seem to know things.”
Kara placed her hand on Enrique’s. “He knows something about you, doesn’t he?”
Enrique sighed. “Stan was chewing me out at our last sales meeting. My numbers are down this month, by a lot, and Bill’s numbers have skyrocketed. Bill. He’s an idiot. He tries to fuck half his clients.
“So how did he become the top seller?”
“It’s simple. He stole my leads. All of his new clients are people I scouted.”
“So he is hacking us!”
“Could be. Except I don’t keep the leads here. I keep them in my home office.”
“He stole from your house?”
“He’s never been there. I don’t know how he got those leads. That’s not the worst, though.”
“What is? Kara asked.
“We we’re at this sales meeting, and Stan was reaming me. I guess Bill sees this as a good chance to pile on. He outted me. Told Stan that I was seeing Louis from accounting.”
“Is that true?”
“Yes, but how did Bill know? We’re very careful. Stan already had a grudge against me because of my name. This is just one more strike on my record. I’ll be gone in a month, Kara. Louis too.
“I’m so sorry, Enrique. I wish there was a way I could help.”
“I wish we knew what that bastard, Bill, was up to.”
“We have to confront him, Enrique.”
Enrique frowned. “He’ll just lie to us.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t care either way. I just want him to know that we won’t take it anymore.”
“Okay, Kara. I’m with you.”
“They’re starting to suspect me,” Bill said to an annoyed-looking Bugg.
“They should. You were sloppy. You outted a co-worker in the middle of a meeting. Have you never heard of subtly?”
“I thought Stan would fire him, but nothing has happened.”
“Of course not. You tied his hands. If he fires Enrique now it’ll be discrimination.”
“Well give me something else on Enrique. Something better.”
“I don’t have anything else. Enrique is a model employee, unlike you. His homosexuality was your best play. Stan is a bigot, but he’s not stupid. He won’t invite a lawsuit.”
“What about Kara? She won’t talk to me.”
“Did you give her the gifts like I told you?”
“Yes, but I don’t think she liked them. She won’t even make eye contact with me.”
“Really?” Bugg smiled. “That’s a shame. I was hoping that would work out for you.”
“So what do we do?”
“Nothing? You’re supposed to help me.”
“You’re beyond help. I’m not a genie. Besides, we have a bigger problem.”
“It seems I over-estimated you, Bill. Now I’ve tapped out all the information I can get from this office. I need a new source.” Bugg circled Bill.
“Do you need to move to another building?” Bill asked trying to track Bugg with his eyes.
“That won’t be necessary, Bill. By the way, do you know how much data is stored within the human brain?”
“What does that have to do with any-”
“-On average, ten terabytes.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“It means that even a feeble minded individual, like you Bill, is a goldmine of information. Every person you’ve known, every secret you’ve overheard, every intimate detail you’ve ever had privilege to, it’s all up there. You may not be able to recall it, but it’s there. Tucked away in all those bundles of neurons is every bit and byte of your existence. An entire human experience. Do you know what that’s worth to a creature like me?” Bugg was behind Bill now.
“Yeah, uh, a lot. Maybe. Problem is-”
“What problem?” Bugg was only an echo now.
“Well how could you get at it?”
“I could just crack your head open like a melon. Once I get in there I’m sure I can figure it out,” Bugg said from somewhere above Bill.
“Where’d you go?” Bill’s voice cracked. He had spent weeks in commune with a troll, and never stopped to ask how it was able to produce this information, or why he was giving it away, for free. Bill feasted on every sordid detail that was served, not once worrying that Bugg might be watching Bill closer than anyone else.
“I’m outta here, Bugg. I don’t want anything else from you.” Bill started to back out of the basement, but tripped. He plopped down on his backside.
“What if I want something from you?” The voice came from directly above Bill. He looked up to see Bugg perched atop a nearby server rack. His tufts of gray hair were standing on end, forming a ridged back. He was staring at Bill with his mouth open, drooling.
Bill turned to run, but in a second Bugg was on his back. Bill tore at him, trying to throw Bugg to the ground, but that tail had wrapped around his neck, choking him. He had almost blacked out when he saw the rat-stained hammer laying on the ground. It was his last hope. Bill dropped to his knees and reached for it. Bugg was tightening his grip now. Bill had a finger on the hammer when he felt Bugg’s tail loosen.
“Thank you, Bugg. Let’s talk reasonably.” Bill saw the tail whip out and grasp the hammer. “Oh shit!” It came down on Bill’s crown with a dull thud. Then the lights went out.
“He’s down here?” Enrique asked Kara as they made their way down to the basement.
“Stan said he’s been spending a lot of time down here. Said he was laying rat traps. Who knows what he was really doing.”
“Lights are off.”
“Do you know were the switch is?” Kara asked.
“Yes.” Enrique ran his palm along the wall until he felt the switch. “Got it.”
The lights flickered on.
“Do you see him, Enrique?”
“No.” Enrique cupped his hands to his mouth. “Bill, you down here?”
Kara and Enrique exchanged glances.
“Who is that?” asked Kara.
“That doesn’t sound like Bill,” Enrique said.
“No. That isn’t Bill,” Kara’s eyes darted around the room. She followed Bugg’s voice.
Enrique stumbled over a bundle of cables as they walked. Kara reached out, catching him. “Kara, what’s going on? Do you know who that is?”
“Yes.” Kara turned to Enrique. “Look, you may want to go back upstairs.”
“Why? Is this person dangerous? I’m not leaving you down here.”
“He’s not a threat. He’s… different.”
“What are you talking about, Kara?”
“If you’re not going back upstairs then you need to brace yourself.”
Kara and Enrique turned a corner and found Bugg perched on an unconscious Bill. “Oh shit!” Enriqued backed up.
Kara surveyed the scene. “Damnit, Bugg! What did you do?”
“Hey Kara, funny running into you here.” Bugg said with a sheepish grin.
“Is it, Bugg? I work here.”
“You work here? That’s a coincidence. I’ve been staying here. After you threw me out I needed somewhere to stay.”
Enrique’s eyes darted from Bugg to Kara, back to Bugg. “What the hell is going on? Kara, who… what is this thing?”
“Sorry Enrique. This is Bugg. Bugg is what you call a… gremlin.”
“Sure. A gremlin. Why the fuck not. Why have I never met one of these gremlins?”
“We like to stay out of sight.”
“What are you doing down here?” Enrique squared off with Bugg.
“We gremlin’s have always had a an obsession with human technology. We tinker with your creations, taking them apart, putting them back together. My father could dismantle a plane’s landing gear mid-flight, a real thing of beauty. Lately, we deal with information technology, like these servers. Were actually pretty handy. In fact that’s how Kara and I met. Isn’t that right, sweetie?”
“Don’t call me sweetie. What the hell did you do to Bill?”
Bill laid on the ground drooling. “Oh right, him. He got a little over-excited. I had to whack him with a hammer. He should be fine… I think.”
“You were helping him, weren’t you? You broke in to Enrique’s house.”
“Well… Yes. Sorry about that, pal.” Bugg nodded at Enrique.
“I don’t get it. Why were you helping Bill?” Enrique asked.
“Yes. I would like to know that as well.” added Kara.
“After we broke up I was keeping up with you. Checking your Facebook, Twitter, Google alerts, federal records.” Bugg mumbled that last part. “Just to make sure you were safe. You know how I worry about you, baby.”
“Get on with it, Bugg.”
“I was… around… on your first day. I saw Bill leering at you so I followed him down here. I may have implied that I could syphon information for him from the office computers. Hell, I think I even convinced him I could tap a human brain. It was all for you, Kara.” Bugg looked at Kara with wide eyes. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get wrapped with the wrong kinda guy.”
“You’re the one who told him to get all those gifts for me.”
“Yeah. I know how you hate it when men come on too strong. I figured the gifts would scare you off. It worked too. I saved you from the little perv, baby, but I had to give him something real. You know, to make the whole thing believable. That’s why I stole your leads, Enrique.”
Enrique rolled his eyes. “I’m glad it was for a good cause. How did you know about Louis and me?”
“Your profile photo on Facebook is you and Louis sharing a booth at the Cheesecake Factory. I figured it was a safe bet.”
Kara eyed Bugg. “Did you really think you could win me back by stalking me, sharing private information about me, breaking in to my friend’s homes, and assaulting a man just because he was interested in me?”
Bugg looked down at his tiny clawed feet. “I guess so.”
Kara glared at him. “I know we’ve had our problems, Bugg, but that… that’s so sweet. I know my parents say you’re all wrong for me, but I don’t care. I want you back, baby!”
Bugg looked at Kara with glassy eyes. “Let’s get out of here sweetie.” He ran and jumped into Kara’s arms. Kara squeezed the little gremlin tightly.
“Enrique, tell Stan I’m taking the rest of the day off.”
Kara carried Bugg out of the basement. He glanced over her shoulder, and back at Enrique. Bugg gave him a single wink, and they were gone.
Bill groaned from the floor.
“Yeah Bill. How are you feeling?”
“Like shit. What the hell happened?”
Enrique stared at the door where Kara and Bugg had exited. He sighed, and looked down at Bill. “I have no fucking idea.”