Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Plaque Munchers

“Honey, eat your salad, you need those plaque munchers.”

“Mom, they taste like compost. Carnivore compost.”

“No dear, they do not. You have never tasted carnivore compost.” She shuddered at the memory of cleaning out Oma's fridge after the old woman was finally moved to the Ranch. “You can hardly taste them if you use the dressing.”

“I don't like the dressing.”

Melissa sighed. It was a good thing Ellen was still asleep, because she copied everything Chuck did.

“Chuck, honey, do you want me to cook them into the Veggs tomorrow? I know you wouldn't taste them there.” It took her another 20 minutes to get her son to finish the salad. By then, she was about ready to let the disgusting parasitic microbes just eat his teeth.


Shaka checked the time. Damn! She'd better call.


"Hi sweetie. Look, I'm not going to make it home before I have to ship out."

"What did I tell you. You should have done something special with the kids before you went to Luna. They aren't home. I'll have to tell them they won't see you for... what, six weeks?"

Shaka bit her thumb, then stuck it in her pocket. "I know. I don't know why I argue with you about stuff like that. Listen, tell Chuck and Ellen I'll bring them something heavy from the Cluster."

"Do you have plaque munchers? They won't have them yet in the Cluster."

"No! I'll pick some up on the station. The cost here is ridiculous, but it's reimbursable." She swallowed and lowered her voice. "Melissa, I owe you big. When I get back we'll take some time, just the two of us and, you know...."

"Just take care of yourself out there. We'll make some time for us soon."


Melissa was nearing the end of the latest job when a news report tripped her filters and popped up on the screen. The video showed a couple of toothless people with their mouths open wide.

"Sound," Melissa said.

"... brands including plaque munchers, tooth buffers, and no-brush smiles are prone to developing rogue strains. Rogue traits include consumption of tooth enamel, hair cells, and connective tissue. The Health Directorate recommends..." Melissa was already running to the bathroom. She stared at her teeth in the mirror, turning her head this way and that. They looked normal as far as she could tell. Was any of her hair falling out? She rubbed vigorously at her head while leaning over the sink. Five hairs lay in the sink. That didn't seem out of line. She would check the kids when they got home from school.

Shaka! She was headed thru the wormhole ... Melissa checked the time ... 5 minutes ago. Maybe she forgot to buy the plaque munchers. She did have a lot on her mind. And was out of communication for six weeks – worrying would not help. Tell that to her subconscious! Her thoughts were interrupted by the door slamming, followed by Ellen's panicked screaming.

"Mommy, mommy, mommy! They took Chuck! They took him!"

Melissa scooped her daughter up in her arms and stroked her hair, patted her back, said those things parents always say, until Ellen was calm enough to speak coherently. Chuck had collapsed during atomic theory lab and had been taken to the school medical office. From there, medicbots had taken him to the hospital. That was all Ellen knew.


Beige walls, soothing mass-produced "prints," posters full of medical advice for dummies, battered readers full of uplifting human-interest stories. Waiting rooms don't change.

Melissa, pacing, froze when a young woman in a white coat came into the room. She wore the telltale black and green sigil of a doctor. "Ms. Cokran? I'm Dr. Smith."

"What about Chuck?" Melissa lowered her voice. "Is it ... the rogue plaque muncher? Will he live? Can he...." Dr. Smith put a hand on her shoulder.

"He'll be fine. It's just a viroid left over from the MilLab incident. The bug's not a bad one, and I gave him something for it. Take him home and he'll be his normal self before you get there."


Exhausted, Melissa flopped down in the smart chair. It began to massage her shoulders as she leaned her head back and shut her eyes.  Ellen and Chuck ran shrieking past her and into the playroom. Then, dead silence, followed a few moments later by terrified screams and her two children returning at a dead run to leap into her lap.

“What now? Mom is worn out! This better be important.”

Ellen's screams had subsided and she was now sniffling into Melissa's chest.

Chuck pointed a trembling finger at the door to the family room. “The wall, with the stain?”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “There is no stain. Remember? The two of you couldn't wait.  Mommy made a special trip to buy the new universal cleaner. And, for a wonder, it worked. So now, if you make a mess that the cleanbot can't take care of...”

“But Mommy, we don't like the face.”

Eventually Melissa was convinced to struggle out of the chair and let the children push her ahead of them into the playroom. Neither one would enter the room; Ellen stopped a few meters short of the door.

The mark on the wall had returned. No, when she got closer Melissa realized this was different. It was a face, a three-dimensional face sticking out of the wall. It did not look human. The nose was long and curved up to a point, almost like a horn. The eyes were huge, though closed, and had wrinkly lids. The mouth was closed too, but sharp teeth were visible. Evidently there wasn't room behind the lips for them all. The eyes opened. The irises glowed yellow.  The pupils were horizontal lozenges, like those of a goat. The lips writhed open. “Hungry,” the thing said, in a voice of stone and wood. It leaned forward a little out of the wall, stretching the flexipaint. Its as yet invisible stomach rumbled, and the floor and walls trembled.

Melissa wondered when she would receive the warning bulletin about the universal cleaner.

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