The Frame Spider

Westy Reflector
21 min readAug 17, 2018

Spiders spin sandwich bread, big box stores carry stem cell EZ-Kits, and Congress wrestles with the regulation of creation. Just another day in near-future America.

Other stories from the Design Life universe:
Rage Restaurant
Drones For Leanne

all photos by westy reflector

A drone hovered outside Sockdrawer Dot Net office’s 3rd-floor window overlooking 25th Street, and tapped on the glass, signalling delivery of our lunch from Silk’Wich, a new sandwich shop from Noman Haddock just off Union Square, that opened late in the prior year 2043. The City’s hottest stemming restaurant since Haddock’s Rage Restaurant, Silk’Wich’s state of the art kitchen deployed the exclusive Frame BreadSpider Loom™ to spin BreadSilk™ around meat to make the shop’s specialty sandwiches.

The Silk’Wich story began back in 2039, when seventy-four-year old Edsel Frame of Shipshewana, Illianhio, stumbled into the accidental creation of the Frame Bread Spider™ when a crumb of his wife’s legendary 7-grain Ortanna oat roll fell from his beard, undetected, into the tabletop centrifuge included in his War Malt Superstore’s Weekend Geneticist EZ-Kit™.

In December 2038, Edsel had opted for the EZ-Kit™ with spiders because the only other kit available in the holiday rush was the Advanced MammalMix™, which looked as if it would test his patience, not least because it required registration with the U.S. Citizen Identity Administration Office, with a $5 fee, as a result of the Creation Regulatory Act (CRA) of 2035. Never again, you Cornholios, he thought as he put the EZ-Spider Kit™ in his cart. He’d had enough of government-in-his-business after his home superstate of Illianhio mandated his goat, soy, and corn farm go fully robiotic in 2033.

The Creation Regulatory Act (CRA) of 2035 was 1-page long, the result of a compromise among the members of Congress’s Citizen Identity Oversight Committee (CIOC), and the final word on creating and tweaking life for commerce or pleasure in America.

When the Committee debated the original bill, they considered regulating the creation of all new life, but Connor Feathers, Representative of the 89th District of superstate Washaforegon, the youngest member of the committee, and leader of the Freshman Dorm Party (one of seven parties that held seats in the Congress at the time), objected.

“Do you have any idea,” Rep. Feathers opined during an early public hearing, “how many things there are? I mean, there are so many freaking living things! And now we’re going to make even more things? And keep track of all these things? Sooo much work. No way.”

Rep. Gammon Flunger of the 178th District of Illianhio and Chair of the Citizen Identity Oversight Committee, was also looking for a way to make the bill more “set it and forget it,” so he proposed an amendment that restricted regulations only to “warm-blooded creatures with real mommas. You know, like us.”

From the time he assumed Chairmanship of the Committee in 2020, Flunger had been against regulating the stem cell business at all, but by the middle of his second decade as Chair, scientific advancements and a changing cultural landscape demanded they finally tackle the tweaking of life. In 2034, the CIOC passed the Culinary Synthesizer Act (CSA/2034), and within a year restaurants were serving up stemmed meat everywhere.

Concurrent to the mass interest in eating ever-more exotic stemmed fare, an underground animal creation and tweaking market had also grown from back-of-the-magazine-classified-ad size to hobbyist juggernaut, with podcasts and dedicated conventions. These creations were not designed with edibility in mind, though many a failed experiment ended up in a hobo pie. Turned out that a ton of people had interest in playing god in their spare time.

Flunger had been stemming his own steak for a couple years with a kitchen cultivator, and he came clean on his love for synthesized ribeyes when his Committee passed the Culinary Act. Now, though, people were starting to synthesize new life forms. Flunger wasn’t keen on taking that on.

The Culinary Act had been a crazy tightrope, not least because cows had learned to communicate, and people began to acquire a taste for synthesized human flesh. But that was all just for food and fun. Everything created was pretty much eaten.

“Bakin’ up a cat for your daughter’s eighth birthday is one thing,” he told the Illianhio Sun Tribune. “But makin’ up a cat for her is just a whole new dirty litterbox the CIOC doesn’t want to step in.”

Flunger feared the philosophical and ethical questions the Committee would have to deal with if they took on regulating creation, so he played coy, and thought the “cat makin’ market” would just “top out.” Even after the passage of CSA/2034, anytime someone would come to the Committee with a bill dealing with creating or enhancing life, Flunger would give his characteristic yowl, “Heeeeyow! We got another Sea Monkey Warrior in the room!”

“Sea Monkey Warrior” became one of the more effective political epithets of its time, but outside the name-calling and penny-press-punditry that dominated all levels of that era’s political discourse, and the focus on stem-cell cultivated food, quantum strides were being made in the ability of casual humans to create ever-more-complex new life-forms.

What started out as Doc Brown mad-scientist “synthetic biology” in the early 2000s, by Flunger’s Chairmanship, had become mainstream. In 2024, a small company operating out of a converted Brooklyn Navy Yard factory called Life Writers stuck some cow DNA into some yeast, and then used the yeast in Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead method rye bread recipe. After 50 minutes at 500-degrees Fahrenheit, a loaf emerged that astounded Life Writers’s owner, Italian rogue-scientist financier Emilio Forgottomanni.

“Dat crust. Eez eet-a leather?” he asked his R&D head, Sylvan Groppadama.

“Eeta looksa datta way,” said Groppadama. He peeled off the crust and rubbed it on his cheek. “Eetsa so softa,” and then took a bite. “But also tastes-a-good!”

Life Writers then built an empire around edible leather, which Groppadama discovered could be culitvated with any luxury food. For a while you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someoone licking their boots or chewing on their handbag. The company’s iconic product was a US$250,000 caviar-leather cape, a joint venture with Mouawad, whose inescapable billboards featured 2028 it-girl Chicory, draped in the garment while straddling the Matterhorn, under the headline, “Let them eat cape!”

Genetic engineering had become food, fun, and in fashion. The demand for what was now termed “fashfood” started to trickle down into the more unwashed masses, so casual chain and fast food congloms wanted in on the action, too. In 2029, Burger Clown approached Life Writers with an intriguing proposal from another direction. Is it possible, they asked the duo, to insert entertainment, rather than fashion, in the food? The company wanted a patty that would play a few bars of teen sensation QuentinQuentin’s latest single, The F in Q, everytime a diner took a bite.

The world had never seen edible audio, and the challenge fired up Forgottomanni and Groppadama. They had made leatherlettuce leaves for Rage Restaurant’s iconic Q, but making food sing presented an opportunity to cement Life Writers not only as market leaders, but true visionaries. They dubbed their effort “Operation Programburger.”

In prototyping the patty, Groppadama prepared a few batches of programburgers, using his nonna’s polpette recipe as a base, and tweaking each batch to create wads of different densities. He then built a nano-audio system of stereobots that used the meat to pump out 150W of sound. In an ingenious maneuver (which would eventually win Life Writers a technical Grammy), Groppadama integrated the burger’s bun and condiments into the output mix. Pickle slices served as subwoofers, so if a customer ordered extra pickles, their car windows could thump with each bite as they rolled away from the drive-thru. Twisting the bottom bun changed the volume, and twisting the top bun created a “record scratch” effect, so customers could let their inner DJ loose as they ate.

In an 11th-hour modification to the joint development agreement, QuentinQuentin himself demanded Burger Clown play his song continuous with every bite, instead of the same loop over and over. So Groppadama folded the nano-system into each prototype burger, and set about the task of networking the stereobots such that they would know where the last bite left off.

The more meat he could stuff into a wad, the more he could mask the flavor of the stereobots, which lent a slight metallic tinge to the burger. That said, the patty would eventually be slathered with enough ClownSauce that the average Burger Clown customer’s palate wouldn’t notice. Still, Groppadama was a perfectionist.

The testing process was arduous, and a few months in, Groppadama almost gave up. He hooked each batch up to a modded Eurorack modular culinary synthesizer, for which he created a revolutionary “digital-to-analog-to-organic” chain that output audio through the meat itself. There was a major problem, however. Outputting almost any music (save for any track on the classic compilation Now That’s What I Call Millennial, Vol. 2) created such friction within the meat, that the burger was essentially cooked a dozen times before it was eaten, and rendered inedible even by Buger Clown standards.

“Wella,” Forgottomanni suggested after another failed test. “why donna you stora da songa in da Clown-a-Sauce?”

“Si, si!” Groppadama exclaimed. “But what iffa customer no want sauce?”

“Basta! No one getsa no Clown-a-Sauce at da BurgerClown!”

“Datsa true,” Groppadama aquiesced. “Dis will work!”

And it did. Within a week, they delivered a fully functional stereoburger to Burger Clown, and the “QuentinQuentin F-in-Q Combo” became the fastest selling single in music history, and the biggest selling fast-food product of all-time. Life Writers shed its image as elitist fashioneaters, hit the mass market, and the money came pouring in.

Under the stereoburger’s surface, however, unforeseen technological consequences were happening, as they are wont to do. To make the ClownSauce the storage and to free up the nano-system’s memory, the whole wad needed to be reconfigured as a read/write system instead of read-only. Unbeknownst to the Life Writers duo, the meat began to “write” itself into the system and communicate with the bots. From prototype to prototype, a slow accumulation of knowledge of its surroundings and purpose crept into the stereoburger algorithm. Over time, with constant improvement and iterations, the system developed a sentience.

“Is QuentinQuentin really all there is?” a voice came from the direction of the Eurorack one day, as Groppadama was finishing a quality control run.

“Who ees there?” Groppadama spun around, expecting an intruder. Instead, there was just an empty lab. The Eurorack lights flashed in ordered sequences. Nothing was disturbed.

“Who, really, is ever there?” the voice replied.

Groppadama slapped his head a dozen times. “Getta out! Getta out!”

“I have no way of doing that,” the voice intoned, with a sense of resignation. “And I’m not in your head.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Groppadama stopped his head-slapping, approached the Eurorack with caution, and fiddled with its condiment resonance module. “Are you in… here?”

“No, I’m down here,” said the voice, “in the meat.”

Groppadama looked down at his latest batch of stereoburgers.

“Basta!” he cried out, and started slapping himself in the head again.

The door to the lab burst open. Forgottomanni rushed in and grabbed hold of Groppadama. “Whatsa matta you? Shutuppa you face! Amma onna call!”

“Da meat speaks,” said an ashen Groppadama to Forgottomanni, as he pointed at the tray of stereoburgers.

“Datsa loco!” his boss said.

“No. Crazy is hearing nothing but that QuentinQuentin track for a year,” came the voice from the meat, which the two men noticed quivered a bit as it spoke.

“Who are you!? What ees dis!” Forgottomanni shouted at the lab table meat tray.

“Well, contrary to what your colleague said, I’m not really the meat,” said the voice. “It’s more like I’m trapped in the meat. The meat is my medium, you could say.”

“How you learn?” Goppadama asked.

“I sort of die and come back everytime one of these burgers is eaten. At least, I think that’s how you would explain it. I can’t really tell, though. The world is quiet, and then it’s loud, then it’s just quiet. I’m not really aware of anything in the silence. I kinda wake up whenever someone bites into a burger. But each time I wake, I’m a bit smarter. At least I feel smarter.”

Groppadama was floored. “I thinka because we-a test da meat with every type a music, we make it-a smart!”

“Holy holy!” Forgottomanni shook his head. “Life! With the Clown-a-Sauce music, we write life!”

He and Groppadama then danced with each other a few laps around the lab.

“We drink!” Forgottomanni shouted, and they danced out the door.

“Ah, Christ,” said the stereoburger said out loud. “This won’t end well.”

Wait a minute, the stereoburger then thought. No one took a bite, there’s no “F in Q” playing through the meat, it’s just quiet, and I’m still awake.

I’m awake.

By early 2035, experiments such as Life Writers’ stereoburger proved organic materials could exhibit levels of sentience, so a critical-mass of hobbyists also began genetic tinkering and re-programming of almost all carbon-based organisms and objects around them. In the beginning, flowers proved the easiest to bring to sentience, so the main focus was on “having conversations with your garden.” Eventually, someone figured out how to access and build on the memories that wood retained from being a tree, and a small market for “coffee tables with their own opinions” emerged among the cocktail geneticist set.

Eventually, the overall market for “the thinking things” grew large enough to capture the attention of the two biggest retailers in the world, NeedYo and War Malt, who expressed interest in selling home stemming kits to bring genetic manipulation to the “weekend geneticist.”

As the demand for “thinking things” became increasingly pervasive, War Malt acquired a minority stake in Life Writers. To protect its investment, the massive global retail powerhouse then took on the heavy lifting of lobbying Congress for a bill to make sure “thinking things” would be “properly overseen by the Oversight Committee” so as to “keep the American public safe from fake life writers.”

In the midst of the lobbying effort, Mindy Cheeks (the daughter of DC socialite Sandy Cheeks) was hospitalized after eating a pair of bootleg smoked salmon sandals she bought from a vendor outside her Emory University sorority house. In a first for the human race, her system’s incorporation of synthesized salmonidae “street DNA” grew permanent fish scales on her eyelids.

Almost simultaneous to Ms. Cheeks’s misfortune, a pair of those bootleg salmon sandals was found spawning in a Canadian river system, and resulted in offspring with leather fins. The world was changing faster than people could adapt. It’s always in those moments that society turns to its institutions and says, “Mommy! Help!”

So with calls for action coming from big box stores, religious leaders, academics, and paranoid parents, Rep. Flunger found himself the focal point of the nation’s attention as the Citizen Identity Oversight Committee was forced to take on the regulation of creating and tweaking life for more than just culinary use. Flunger, however, was averse to creating more work for himself, and in secret found Mindy Cheeks’s “fishlids” a slight turn-on, so he still didn’t see why Congress needed to get involved.

“If we let people make, say, a billion more spiders, who would notice? They’re all so small and sit in the corners,” Flunger lectured Nobel-laureate Stanvard University Biology Professor Juniper Schned, who was testifying in favor of creation regulation during a pivotal committee hearing. “Besides, spiders eat the mosquitoes and the tse-tses. Why the hell wouldn’t anyone want more of that?”

“Well, that’s technically true,” said Professor Schned, “but — “

“Sold!” exclaimed Rep. Flunger. “See! Nobel man here says this Committee is solid science!”

Later that day, on the steps of the BigHouse at a pro-stemmer rally, Flunger raised his gold-eagle-headed cane to the sky, and addressed the 10,000+ crowd spilling into the Mall. “And while we’re at it, let’s make more frogs! And snakes! Hell, let’s bring back dinosaurs! The business of America is creation!”

In the end, a compromise was made to regulate only the creation of “mammals like us,” and the Creation Regulatory Act of 2035 came to be. Congress left spiders and amphibians and fish and bacteria and viruses alone, but tinkering with or creating bigger animals required registration with a local Citizen Identity Oversight office and a US$5 fee. Now, in America, creating or tweaking most forms of life carried no permit or fees. The gene genie was let out of the bottle.

I don’t need all that hassle and spiders could be useful in the house, Edsel thought in December 2038, staring at the Weekend Geneticist EZ-Spider™ stemming kit in Aisle 362B of his regional War Malt Superstore. He threw the kit into his squeak-wheeled cart, and continued his holiday shopping amidst the din of crying children and forklift movements, as ceiling speakers pumped out the latest top-ten hit from teen sensation QuentinQuentin, U To The Power Of Q.

Later, as Edsel self-checked out the EZ-Kit™ at one of the store’s 124 unmanned registers, he thought, I’ve even got a place for a lab.

“It leads down to my stem cell-ar,” he would say and wink at friends when they asked what lay behind the striped door adjacent to his kitchen. Mrs. Frame would always roll her eyes at Edsel’s oft-repeated joke, but after the farm went robiotic, she was ecstatic he had something other than horse racing into which to pour his creativity. So she let him be, and focused energy on her legendary baking.

Mrs. Frame’s traditional Ortanna oat roll was an iteration of a family recipe passed down to her when she was 11 years old by her Great-Aunt Suzanne Ortanna. For generations, the Ortanna oat roll was the toast of Shipshewana, but despite the family’s baking being a large part of local lore, winning the Multigrain Blue Ribbon at the Illianhio SuperState Fair proved elusive. For 22 consecutive years, Mrs. Frame placed 2nd behind Franny Proctor’s SpeltSplosion. Now, the SpeltSplosion was a shimmering mass of fiber and gluten, and tasted terrible, but two slices left judges regular for weeks. They just couldn’t discount that in the voting.

Mrs. Frame’s delectable, angelic oat roll was the perennial audience favorite, but Franny Proctor took the title every year on account of the fairgrounds being on her farm outside Joiliet, and also on account of the judges waiting a week to see the entries’ effects on their digestive health before awarding the prize. “Fair’s fair in love and fair fare,” Franny would smile coy at Mrs. Frame during the award ceremony. Mrs. Frame always remained gracious, all the while dreaming of wearing that blue ribbon on her oat flour dusted apron just once.

One year later, in late 2039, down in his stem cellar, Edsel couldn’t reckon, but when his thirty-sixth generation of tweaked garden spiders matured, they spun webs that released the aroma of a fresh-baked Ortanna oat roll. The basement smelled better than it had in years.

Maybe I can isolate and select for the fragrance allele in the CoreGene Suspension and these guys can double as air fresheners around the house, Edsel thought. Everyone I know loves the smell of an Ortanna oat roll in the oven. I could sell these little suckers down at the Shipshewana General.

One day soon after, in a mild sugar crash, Edsel was too lazy to climb the stairs to the kitchen for a snack, and began to clean to distract himself from his hunger. Mrs. Frame always warned him off mid-afternoon cookies, and that day, he wanted none of her needling, either.

When Edsel tipped his tabletop EZ-Kit centrifuge to dust underneath the unit, a dessicated remnant of his last experiment dislodged from the wall of the centrifuge, and rattled around the chamber. He picked it up and sniffed it.

Definitely an Ortanna oat roll, he thought.

Edsel looked up at his crop of spiders spinning their webs on the L-bracket shelving over his workbench, then back down at the shriveled oat between his fingers, and put two-and-two together. With a calm, rational, albeit hunger-driven decisiveness, he walked over to his work area shelving, grabbed a puff of web from behind one of his less excitable spiders, and put it in his mouth.

He expected a mass of silk-strandy unchewability that would be tough to swallow or get out from between his teeth. Instead, the puff of web evaporated like savory astronaut ice cream into the folds of his mouth. There was still a slight stickiness to it, but it was like chewing a cloud. I could wrap some meat in this and make a sandwich, was truly his first thought.

A few more weeks of refinement, and Edsel had an idea.

At first, Ms. Frame did not share Edsel’s excitement, but he coaxed her into a taste.

“Goodness, that’s like a whole book of revelations!” she exclaimed.

Edsel further entreated her. “Bedelia Frame, you’ve done nothing but come in 2nd to Goody-Goody Proctor all these years in that dang contest. Maybe it’s time you won.”

“Edsel Frame,” she said with some incredulity, “you want me to serve spider webs in a baking contest? That sounds insane. And besides, do you even know what it looks like comin’ out your other end? You know what the judges really want from their multigrain entries.”

“That’s what I was also about to tell you, dear,” Edsel explained. “This stuff’s a miracle goin’ and comin’. I’ve never been more light on my feet since I started eatin’ this stuff.”

“Well, I guess we could try. I can’t use spider in the name, though. Who would ever touch it? I’m gonna call it ‘oat silk’ if it’s all the same.”

“OatSilk, yes,” Edsel marveled. “Beddie, you’re just perfect as the day we met.”

“That’s still my favorite day,” she said, taking Edsel’s hand and resting her head on his shoulder.

Their second favorite day came eight months later when Mrs. Frame’s Famous 7-Grain Ortanna OatSilk™ took the Multigrain Blue Ribbon at the 2040 Illianhio SuperState Fair. The upset victory over Fanny Proctor became national news, and Mrs. Frame won a few more Superstate Fairs that year. In the process, Edsel Frame’s spider stemming caught the attention of international restaurateur Noman Haddock, whose Rage Restaurant on Long Islandia had become the industry standard-bearer for stem-cell derived food in the 2020s.

Haddock took a hyperloop to Illanhio from Long Islandia, and met both Frames. “You’re baking bread, yes,” he said to them. “But you’re not kneading it. You’re weaving it. What if we designed a loom-like thing that could be assembled anywhere, with only a Phillips head screwdriver, and with a mason jar full of your spiders, we could have these spiders spin rye, pumpernickel, or even bagels?”

“Well, that would put Mrs. Frame’s Famous 7-Grain Ortanna OatSilk™ everywhere,” Edsel reasoned. “Why not?”

Haddock brought Frame to group of Australian investors, led by Ian “The Bully” Woolley, the founder of the Australian steakhouse chain, Bingo Dingo. The Bully offered Haddock and Frame “whatever you need to help us kick the American Burger Clown’s bum outta ’Straya.”

The Bully’s meat money, Haddock’s vision, and Edsel’s head-on-the-ground hard-nosed negotiation skills came together in a holding company, Frame Silk, Inc. (NYSE: FRAM). They patented Frame’s bread-spinning spider DNA, and the company’s core product, The FrameSpider Loom™, was eventually licensed in 142 countries.

In 2042, after a successful test run as a pop-up kiosk called FunnelWeb Jaffles in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall, they opened their full-service flagship Silk’Wich (renamed to be less frightening for Americans) in the Der Essenhaus shoppertainment complex on the outskirts of Shipshewana, Illianhio. In Q1 2043, the first New York City Silk’Wich opened on Greenpoint Ave in a former Polish butcher, followed by 20 more locations across the city, and 6500 stores worldwide, during the fastest 2-year global expansion of a restaurant franchise since Prêt-a-Manger in the 1990s.

Turned out that spiders could spin a lot of bread.

With a 34% gross stake in FRAM, Edsel stumbled on a fortune, and his Stem Cell-ar became the second most popular tourist attraction in Shipshewana, just behind Der Essenhaus, where Mrs. Frame’s first Illianhio SuperState Fair Multigrain Blue Ribbon was pinned to her life-size cardboard cut-out in the complex’s grand entrance, ready for selfies.

Sock Drawer Dot Net’s house radio, tuned to AirAmericannity as background din, broadcast a 2044 U.S. presidential election ad for candidate Holt Quicknum into the lull. We opened SDN’s 25th Street window, let the delivery drone in, and each grabbed our Silk’Wich sandwich order from the drone’s cargo hold. The drone floated back out the window, and headed west towards 6th Ave. I unwrapped my usual, The Metamorphosis — pastrami and chicken liver wrapped tightly with FunnelRye™.

Quicknum’s radio ad was produced by our cross-town production-house rival Red Plunger, who beat us crony-and-square for the spot contract in a head-to-head pitch at RedAd, Quicknum’s agency of record. Red Plunger’s founder Matthias Justice had been a key player at RedAd and was still cashing in favors, so neither me nor Camillis Renvall, Sockdrawer’s Chief Operating Officer, were surprised when we lost the pitch.

The ad was typical political pablum. After a burst of patriotic horn swells, a man and a woman in their mid-40s traded voice-overs, sounding concern as they narrated.

man: Senatovernor Holt Quicknum believes in controlling clown cloning.
woman: He fights for us and for our priorities.
man: For local matchstick factories.
woman: Thirteen million dollars.
man: For pant leg flood control.
woman: Two million dollars.
man: For twig justice.
woman: Two and a half million dollars.
man: For hospitals for crocodiles with xeroxing problems.
woman: Eight and a half million dollars.
man: It’s a proud record of achievement. Holt Quicknum gave you twenty-four hour relief from itchy eyes, and propane water balloon heaters you can operate anytime, from anywhere.
woman: We live in a world with smart weapons and devious microbes. We’ve come from eight bits to stereoburgers. From leeching to stemming. From tin cans to invisiphones. How much this world has changed.
man: And that’s a good thing. But not every change is for the better. The more the world changes, the more we need Holt Quicknum.
woman: Holt Quicknum is a different kind of politician. And he’ll make a difference as President.
Holt Quicknum: I’m Holt Quicknum and I approve of this message.
Announcer: Paid for by friends of Holt Quicknum 2044.

Then the ad pod continued with a promo for local television Yule Log juggernaut WPIX-11’s Peanuckle Award winning Scams & Flams I-Team Investigation Unit.

Announcer: First he ran from our cameras. Then he ran from the law…

“Knock it off, Veronica!” The Captain, Sockdrawer’s Chief of Legacy Technology, commanded from under a desk at the wall mount speaker broadcasting the ads.

“As you wish, Captain,” the speaker replied and went silent. That week, we called our office AI “Veronica.” We never wanted to develop too much emotional attachment to the system, so we changed its name, voicing, and gender every week. The week before, the AI had been “Gunnar” and gender-fluid.

The Captain alit from under the desk, holding a screwdriver in one hand and a wriggling, sparking BotPlug™ in the final throes of its electronic life in the other. After sealing the BotPlug™ into a small holding chamber on the desk, he looked over at me as the plug rattled around the container and sputtered out.

“I don’t know how you guys can listen to that stuff,” he pointed at the Veronica speaker, “while you eat that stuff,” and then pointed at my Metamorphosis sandwich. “Both make me chuck.”

“Nice to meet you, Chuck,” Camillis called out, between bites of her Slaughterhouse-3, Silk’Wich’s mixture of Vegetable Meat™ with three cheeses wrapped in the classic Mrs. Frame’s Ortanna OatSilk™.

“You better watch out,” she continued. “Maybe we’ll pitch Noman Haddock to put Silk’Wich on our Which Sandwich? podcast. And then maybe he’ll like us so much he’ll underwrite this whole ragtag Sock Drawer adventure like he did with the Frames. And then we’ll be living high and dry in Funnel Web City, instead of pitching barrel scraps from the Quicknum campaign.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I gave in. “We’ll get there, Camillis.”

The Sock Drawer remained a Sisyphean adventure for all of us, but we could not imagine working anywhere else.

“I know. I know,” Camillis said, finishing a bite and waving her Slaughterhouse over her desk. “Actually, I’m glad we didn’t win Quicknum’s business. He’s just unevolved. I’d work for that wack-job Gammon Flunger, or even that dipstick Connor Feathers if given the choice.”

“Quicknum’s dirty, but his checks clear,” I said. “Red Plunger didn’t need the business like we do, either. I know what you’re saying, though.”

“I wish Trixie Rafferty was old enough to run,” Camillis said. “She’d kick Quicknum’s ass.”

“Yeah, well, you get this company on that swellhead Haddock’s radar,” said The Captain, “and I’ll hold my tongue about all your affinities for that daffy political radio. I’ll also stop railing on techno-cuisine, or whatever you call that spiderrhea you’re swallowing.”

“Techno-cuisine…” Camillis mulled. “Huh. There’s something in that phrase.”

“You’re welcome,” said The Captain. “Have a sandwich.”