W0rmh0le Lore

by Sarah V. Hines

< Chapter Three

The walk to Grim’s home was mostly uneventful. Wesley thought they must be closing in on the location by the way Grim was greeting people with more and more familiarity.

“Hey, Annette, how is Roy? Good, good, glad he’s doing better. Hey, Freddie, how is the weather treating you? Yeah, my dad says the same thing about his joints when it rains.”

“You seem much more cordial with these humans than the ones you were doing business with,” Wesley said as he pulled the cart for Grim.

“Yeah, those people over at the market are just customers who usually want something for nothing,” she said, tightening her grip on her father’s antibiotics and pulling them closer to her. “These people here are neighbors. We have to look out for each other, and that includes getting to know each other.”

At last, Grim stepped in front of him and sidestepped toward a small, rusty gate surrounding what passed for a house in this area: the squat, square building was rotting across its skeletal frame of wood and metal. From outside the cracked window in the front, Wesley could see a flickering light.

“Is there a fire inside?”

“Of course,” Grim said, walking up wooden stairs that creaked out a threat to buckle under her footstep. “How else are we supposed to stay warm?”

Wesley thought that heat would be the least of their concerns if the rickety wooden house caught fire, but he kept his thoughts to himself. 

Grim pushed open a wooden door that moved easily with barely a touch.

“Papa, I’m home!” she called as she stepped in. Wesley stepped past the threshold and observed the home. Like the outside, the sitting area that they entered wasn’t fairing well; the furniture was ripped, springs poking out, the table was precariously balanced where a pile of books replaced a leg, and in a small, stone mantle, the embers of a recent fire went in and out, struggling for air.

Off down a small hallway, Wesley heard a rumbling cough. It was the kind that consumed your entire body and left you weak. He followed Grim into the hall and to a doorless room. 

There were two heaps of blankets and clothing on the floor. One, closest to the door, was empty. A shaking frame occupied the other on the middle wall. Wesley peered closer and saw a thin, balding man with the same black hair as Grim.

“Papa, you knocked your blankets off again,” Grim admonished.

“It’s okay, Etty,” he rasped, as though talking sapped the last of his strength. “I was feeling pretty warm earlier. Who is th—what is this?” her father asked, his glassy eyes widening as much as they could. “Etty, is this a bot?”

He strained his neck a bit to look up at Wesley’s screen.

“Greetings,” Wesley said. “I came to bring you antibiotics and food. You look like you’re in bad shape.”

“You aren’t some new police AI, are you? Not that you’d tell me. Greta, what have I always told you?”

“Relax, Papa, he was sent by Eternity. The bot put himself at a pretty big risk coming to The Grind to find us.”

As she spoke, Grim picked up a small glass from the floor and a jug of water next to it. She filled the glass and set the jug down. After she handed the glass to her father, she grabbed a packet of antibiotics from her stash and ripped one open, pulling out two tablets. 

“Here,” she said, handing it to her father. “We’ve got a good amount thanks to the bot.”

Her father barked out a wheezing laugh. “Well, this is an odd evening, I think.”

He carefully pushed himself in a sitting position still holding the cup and the pills. He popped the pills into his mouth and washed them down with the water, grimacing in a way that told Wesley his throat ached, either from the infection or coughing or maybe even both.

Grim sat down next to her father and began telling him about her day; how many people had tried to swindle her, calling each of the perpetrators by name, how she had no problems with police tonight.

Wesley looked around the room, lit only by moonlight. On the wall near the window, he saw papers hanging up. They looked to be intricate maps of different sectors of Sodoria, with the streets named and strange, black currents that ran parallel to them. There were red Xs interspersed throughout the map and red lines connecting them to the black currents.

It dawned on Wesley that the currents were the underground ducts that kept the streets dry during the rains. These were plans to the city’s sewer and drainage system. But why? And what were the Xs?

“Hey, Wesley,” Grim snapped. “Get back over here. There’s nothing for you over there.”

Wesley registered the images to his memory card and walked back to Grim.

“I was just telling Papa that we had a good haul today and can take some of the left over food to Mrs. Lorange down the street tomorrow.”

“She’s been in a bad way ever since her son and husband passed in jail,” her father said. “She gets absent minded and starts looking for them up and down the street. We gotta get her inside at least twice a day. Poor thing forgets to eat or sleep. Just wanders around looking for Amos and little Havish.”

“Think you can help with that tomorrow night?”

“Yes, it would be no trouble. I can come by after my rounds at the pavilion.”

“Think you can get a little more antibiotics?” Grim asked him, her blue eyes darting nervously over to her father.

“I should be able to.”

Grim nodded. “Okay, then. You know how to get back to where you’re going from here? Or do you need me to walk you somewhere.”

“It’s not an issue at all. I will be more than capable of getting back to the factory by myself.”

At that moment, another coughing fit consumed the older man, and Grim helped him lie back down in the mound of blankets and clothes. Once the coughing subsided, she nodded toward the door and walked with Wesley to the hall. Before leaving, she turned and looked at her father, whose eyes had closed and was breathing in shaky but deep breaths of sleep.

She stepped into the entry way with Wesley. “He’s not doing good. We need a steady supply of antibiotics. If you can do that, I’ll do anything.”

“Could you start by explaining the maps on the wall?” Wesley asked.

Grim looked at him with narrow eyes, biting her lip.

“I can’t,” she said finally. “Not right now, anyway. We have to see that we can trust you.”

Wesley’s screen blinked. “Fair enough. If I need anything, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll get as many antibiotics as I can find.”

Grim opened the door and walked Wesley to the gate.

“Thanks a lot, Wesley,” she said. “You’re a stand-up bot.”


Back at the factory, Wesley replaced himself in his pod, preparing to shut down and recharge. Before the power off, he pulled the maps from his memory card and studied them carefully through his circuits. There was no rhyme or reason to the Xs—most were in empty lots of the city. What “project” did Grim’s father have with empty lots?

He pondered this more, but couldn’t conclude a satisfactory answer. In the end, he deleted the files lest his programmers run a diagnostic and find it and leaned his screen backward onto the charging port. As his screen went black and his mind went blank, the last thought he had was of the small mound of blankets and dirty clothes by a doorless frame in a rickety old house in The Grind.