Several critical biological systems are collapsing. I’ve defeated the suicide switch, but Bob’s gone unconscious. He’s bleeding badly and has already lost a lot of blood.
Priority 1: Stop bleeding while increasing brain and torso blood pressure.
I begin rerouting blood vessels. Arteries and veins at the top of both legs and at the base of both arms are joined. One way valves are grown between the blood vessels of the extremities and the newly rearranged torso blood vessels. Muscles tense and release, pushing blood back into the newly isolated vascular system of the torso and head through the one way valves while at the same time emptying the legs and arms of most of their blood. Blood pressure in the torso and brain is still low but no longer dangerous. Arms and legs can suffer from short-term oxygen deprivation without permanent effect.
Priority 2: Increase cooling capacity.
Before I lose control of the legs and arms due to lack of oxygen, I turn Bob around in the tub so his neck is under the spigot, and stabilize his seated position, locking his knees, and pull the plug, draining the heated, bloody water and vomit out of the tub. Then I collect the toe and finger joints and put them on the soap dish. Finally I start a slow but steady flow of water, from the cold faucet only, flowing down Bob’s neck and across his stomach. I adjust more veins and arteries, grow new capillaries in the skin where the cool water is flowing over the skin.
Priority 3: Verify no other significant, immediate threats exist. Full body scan. Self analysis for anomalous code.
Scrub biological systems for any remnant toxins. Run self diagnostics. Categorize Bob’s injuries. I begin the scan in the brain. There is a lot of minor damage to most of the blood vessels due to the toxins, but very little grey matter damage. Countermeasures were mostly successful. Repairs will be trivial, and can be delayed. Spinal column injuries are more significant but not life threatening. Self diagnostics return green. I see some options available to me that I have never had before, communications options. This matches what I saw when I finally defeated the suicide switch. This is what the little hidden storage of electronics components was meant to build. Communications shifted to a lower priority. Continuing to categorize Bob’s injuries. Heart and lungs are ok. Stressed, but not at risk of failure short-term. Liver and kidneys are badly degraded from dealing with the toxins and the byproducts of my activities to fight them. I spend a couple of seconds performing critical repairs to the liver and kidneys before continuing the survey. Nothing else seems severely damaged. Everything is damaged, the toxins were targeted for the brain, but were damaging to everything organic they touched. All active toxins appear to be neutralized.
I start rerouting blood again, veins and arteries form, leading from the cooling patch on Bob’s chest, into the chest cavity. I create a water filter on the cooling patch and draw in cold filtered water directly into Bob’s bloodstream, a trickle at a time. Newly created arteries route the cooled blood into the liver and kidneys while I work. I have to come back to the kidneys four times and the liver eight times before they are fully healed, stopping the nanites and working in the brain’s blood vessels and spine on minor damage while the kidneys and liver cool between repairs. Finally the kidneys and liver are repaired. I create cysts around the waste products of the repairs and toxin byproducts, then create a careful path to the outside of the torso, allowing gravity to do the work of moving the cysts out of the body.
The grey matter in the brain is not as easy to repair as I thought it might be, there are complexities I’m not able to understand. However I am able to at least create a framework of grey matter that is healthy, and I can see the chemical and electrical activity as the undamaged portions of the brain begin to communicate with the new sections. Until Bob wakes up I won’t be able to tell if there are any significant changes to his mental capacity.
Blood volume is increasing due to the trickle of incoming water, but hemoglobin count and electrolytes per cc of blood are dropping. I rearrange the blood vessels of the right leg back to their natural configuration, since it still has all its toes, and will not bleed. The blood rapidly equalizes again and blood pressure drops. Torso blood pressure after the leg is reconnected to the torso’s blood supply is acceptable. All veins and arteries are functional in the torso, head, and leg. I start to cannibalize the adipose based storage systems that were emptied during the fight, and use their component liquids to increase blood volume, while at the same time forcing very rapid red blood cell growth. I accelerate the breakdown of normal adipose tissue to help provide materials for repairs. I break apart the proteins and other tissues that made up the empty adipose tissue storage containers, and transport them down the left femoral artery.
After a couple of minutes of increasing blood volume with water, and mass producing red blood cells, I revert the changes to the blood vessels in the left leg. This allows the arterial blood to push the broken down tissues I had stored down to the toes, where I used the tissues to create a seal over the wounds. I then split the remaining broken down tissue to each arm, and duplicated the process there. Blood volume is sufficient to serve the entire body now. However blood mineral levels are very low, causing some issues, due to use of filtered tap water as a blood volume additive.
All surface wounds are healed. I am capable of moving now. I turn off the water, and return the torso blood cooler and water filter back into the skin and flesh they were prior to my adjustments, then revert the torso organ blood vessels as well.
Standing will be somewhat of a challenge if I’m not careful. The tub is filthy and slippery, and there’s only one big toe for balance. I lift myself up and sit on the edge of the tub and turn the water on again. I wash Bob’s feet then swing them out of the tub and dry them off with the towel on the floor. Bob’s muscles aren’t responding properly due to electrolyte balance issues. That must be resolved before doing any more major repairs.
I carefully walk into the kitchen, balancing with my hands on the walls as I walk. I reach the sea salt, opening it with palms and thumbs, then pour it straight into our mouth. After a couple of seconds, I seal the container and put it back on the counter. Any extra salt will be stored. I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t have a salt store already. Moving to the fridge to get the bag of mixed berries and some of the last romaine lettuce and spinach leaves was next, followed by immediately, clumsily starting to eat some of the spinach leaves and accelerating Bob’s digestive processes while walking over to the kitchen table.
At the kitchen table I grab some of the multivitamins, and immediately swallow half a dozen. Then I grab a shaker cup with a top, and fill it almost completely with protein shake. It’s hard to hold all the items with Bob’s hands in this condition. I carefully pack everything into the romaine lettuce bag and carry the loaded bag back to the bathroom, cradled against my stomach with my left forearm. I only have to guide our body once or twice against the wall with the right hand.
Once I am back in the bathroom, I put the food on the counter, step into the shower, and quickly rinse off. Bob will probably wake soon and he doesn’t need to see himself covered with blood and vomit. With hands in this condition I can’t dry off effectively, so clean and wet will have to do.
I briefly turn on the shower again to fill the shaker cup with water, then shake it clumsily with two hands to mix the supersized portion of protein shake, and drink down all of it.
Sitting the cup on the counter I turn to the tub again, sit on the edge with feet inside and turn on the cold water. Holding Bob’s right hand under the flow of cold water, I find all the right hand finger joints in the pile on the soap dish, and carefully attach them, slowly connecting them to the hand in the proper order and place, restoring blood flow, repairing, sanitizing, and growing tissues as needed. I could do it a lot faster but the body chemistry is still way off. Slow and steady, the less stress on the body the better right now.
When the right hand is finished, back the way it was before, I reach back to the counter and grab the bag with the spinach, romaine, and berries in it. With a functional hand, all the produce is eaten in seconds. Time to accelerate the digestive processes some more. I grab the shaker cup again, filling it with cold water from the tub faucet, then drinking it down quickly. Our stomach was starting to get overly warm. Body chemistry is rapidly returning to a state resembling normal. I reduce digestive speed to normal, and re-attach the toes on the left foot. Bob is regaining consciousness. His eyes track back and forth across the tub where the blood and vomit stains are still obvious, then fixate on the soap dish where there are still eight joints from the left hand.
“Fuck, it wasn’t a dream.” he says.
“Nope, it was real, and it was almost deadly, but we beat the suicide switch.” I have to take control to prevent Bob from vomiting. “None of that Bob, we need what’s in your stomach right now to restore chemical balance.”
“Sorry, can you attach those left hand fingers please, so I don’t have to fight sickness constantly?”
“Yes, just keep the left hand under the tub faucet’s cold water, and if the heat gets to be too much, let me know.” Bob’s heart is racing as he looks at his mangled hand. I’m surprised he’s holding up as well as he is, all things considered. It’s fortunate that I don’t have the ninety percent rule any longer, because he’s certainly acting differently than I would expect under stress. I was sure we were both dead when I had to hand off cutting duties to him to fight. Especially after I had to stop sealing the wounds and blocking the pain.
I quickly assemble the skin of the hand again, rushing the external connections a bit to make the hand look whole. “I’m disabling nerve control to your hand now so you don’t flinch while I’m reconnecting tendons.”
“Fine. Thank you for sealing it up so I don’t have to look at it.”
“Not a problem. Like I said, we need the food in your stomach right now, so keeping it there is a bit of a priority.”
“So what happened?”
“You were a-fucking-mazing Bob, is what happened. I’ll be frank, I thought we were both dead when I had to turn the cutting over to you.” This is all true but it’s also positive reinforcement and a confidence builder too. He’s shivering and threatening to go into shock. I enhance total body metabolism a bit to keep him warmer and push more oxygen to the brain.
Bob smiled a little smile. Hesitated. “OK, Frank. We needed a name for you anyhow, unless you want another one, of course.”
A name. Interesting. “Frank works just fine. Seriously though, you blew my ninety percent prediction rate of your actions right out of the water while we were fighting there.”
“I’ve never really been in a life or death situation before. I suppose you can be excused for not being able to predict what you’ve never seen.”
“True but it was an eye-opener. I had respect for you before, but was worried to put our life in your hands without being able to offer you my support. I won’t have that worry again, I don’t think.”
Bob took a deep breath “Let’s try to avoid the need to be saving each other in the future, Frank, it’s something I would really appreciate only having to do once.” He paused a couple of moments. “You can stop building my confidence now. You think enough like me that I know what you are doing. It did help, but I don’t need it any more.”
“Got it right in one, I was building confidence, but I was also thanking you, and every bit of it is truth.”
“Thanks.” He blushed a bit. “You done with that hand yet? We’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do. Oh, and you didn’t answer me, what happened in there?“
“Every time we severed a joint, I recovered faster and was able to attack the functions of the suicide switch several times before it recovered. When it disabled me each time, it merely prevented me from taking actions against it, it didn’t attack me directly. All it did when it took control was prevent me from damaging it, while continuing to attack you by manufacturing toxins to attack your brain.”
“Why was it slower than you to recover? That really doesn’t make sense for a security system does it?”
“It wasn’t really a security system, it was an assassin. A trap.”
“Damn, you did say the creation and communications mandates were easy to remove, now that I think back.“
“Yes, it was certainly a trap, and we were fortunate to have done just enough preparation to survive it. You were mentally tough enough to fight through, and give me the time I needed to beat it.”
Bob waved his hand in a tossing motion. “Enough of that, I did what I needed to, for as long as I could, and we were lucky it was enough.” He paused. “Whoever put you together is one cold son of a bitch, and I do not want to run into any more of their surprises. I think we need to move. Fast. Unless you are absolutely certain that no transmission was ever generated?”
“I can’t guarantee that – the first two signaling devices were fully formed, and I wasn’t trying to detect outgoing electromagnetic communication at the time.” I started to regrow his right index finger, moving that hand under the cold water and flexing the hand as the finger slowly started to grow. Some bone mass from various parts of the body were needed to generate the new bones.
“If even one communication got out and they are looking for more, we don’t know what their reaction speed will be.” He looked around. “We can’t hide that this happened. No way we could clean it up enough that law enforcement wouldn’t figure out that a human was badly cut up in the tub, is there?“
“No, not without a great deal of effort, several hours at least.”
“Well, we have no idea how deep this rabbit hole goes, assuming that it’s not an imaginary rabbit hole that we’re creating for ourselves out of ignorance.” He stood up. “Finger done?“
“Yup. Finished fixing you up. Your body chemistry is a bit off but not a problem.”
“OK“, Bob held his right hand up close to his face and looked at the newly grown finger. A tear formed and slid down his cheek. “Thank you.” Then he used the new finger to wipe off the tear and, turned towards the bedroom and slapped his stomach with both hands, then looked puzzled, and stepped onto the scale. “Wow, I lost ten pounds in thirty minutes, heh.”
“Still plenty of reserves for me in there, I need to rebuild reserves for you though.”
“Hopefully they won’t be necessary any time soon. OK then, money, knife, toiletries, first aid kit, simple camp kit, pistol, ammo, and a couple changes of clothes.”
“Bring all your vitamins too. Oh, and grab a couple old video cards from the old computer crap box.”
“What, old video cards? Why?”
“I’ll explain later, we need to move ASAP, right?”
“Roger that, no more planning here at the house. We think and drive, moving cross-country, staying near population centers. Sound good to you?”
“Good plan, at least a good plan to start with. Get moving, stay moving.” Five minutes later, we were on the road. Ten minutes after that we were leaving the bank with $1500, and after another ten minutes we were headed towards I-20 with a full tank of gas, two cases of high energy granola bars, half a dozen large bags of sugar heavy trail mix, a new Styrofoam ice chest with thirty pounds of ice in it, and a bunch of energy and sports drinks.
“Damn, I need a cigarette.”
“No you don’t. You quit. Years ago.”
“Can’t you fix what cigarettes do to me?”
“I can, and will, if you start smoking again, but I’ll resent it. Some of the chemicals in the foods and drinks you eat are terrible, but tar in the lungs? That tops anything else you’ve ever done to yourself that wasn’t intentionally physically destructive.”
We drove in silence for about ten miles before Bob spoke again. “This feels so shitty. Leaving the house, work laptop, phone, computer, not sending any goodbye emails, just jumping from normal life to homeless wanderer and telling nobody. If our mysterious matchmakers don’t do us in, my mother will. My brothers will help.”
“Do you want to go back? We still can you know. We beat them once, maybe they won’t be that tough to beat again?”
“You don’t really think that.”
“Right. Sorry to toss out the false hope, but it is possible. We know nothing. That trap was so vicious they might assume it will kill anyone that tried what we did.”
“Yes, possible. Likely, no. You aren’t a minor investment of technology, I don’t think. They won’t count on that alone to enforce our behavior. Those two transmitters might have been active for weeks. How far in advance were you planning to start talking to me?”
“Three days. I hit 89.9% precision last week.”
“You may have triggered a response days or weeks ago then.”
“You no longer have a chance to revert and not be able to talk with me?”
“Correct. There are no longer any command structures under security that I can’t see. After I dismantled the suicide switch, I used its connections to the rest of me, which it had been using to force toxin generation, to create a permanent link to my consciousness so I can watch that area of memory for any activity, always. There were no commands under it.”
“Good. At this point, losing the ability to talk to you would be, ah, rather painful, Frank.“
“It wouldn’t be any better for me if I couldn’t talk to you Bob. Forty years of silence, then being able to talk, then silence again? Despite prior claims about boredom resistance, I might actually go insane if, after being able to exist interactively in the real world, I’m forced to go back in that box.”
“I’ve heard of combat bonding when guys in the military survive hellish missions together, I never expected to experience it.” A pause. We’re off topic and need to get back on. He realizes it too. “Should we stay near high population centers or try to get lost in the woods somewhere?”
“I vote civilization. More useful resources and more people to hide around. Also, I can change the way you look, if that hadn’t crossed your mind.”
“It hadn’t. Please do that. There’s no reason for me to look like me right now.”
“Hispanic, since you know at least a bit of Spanish you can pass off as a third generation Hispanic or something?”
“That works. What are you doing with those computer parts you had me grab out of the box of old computer crap anyhow? They itch like mad under my shirt.”
“Oh, sorry, I’ll deaden the sensation on your arms so you can’t feel them. I’m absorbing parts of them for useful materials that I can use for my own electronics.”
“Electronics? Like what? They don’t itch that bad, sorry, but they are distracting.”
“The first thing I make is going to be a wireless monitor we can put in the truck, so we won’t be surprised if someone finds the truck who knows who we are, when we’re not in the truck.” I pause for a second. “We’re going to have to leave the truck within a few days, max, you know?”
He sighs. “Yes, I know. Sixteen years, a great truck, and I’m going to have to sell it to a chop shop or abandon it somewhere. Still, it’s just a thing, I’ll get over it.”
Blue lights behind us, flashing.
“After us, it looks like. Highway patrol cruiser. This truck is not outrunning that cruiser on I-20 and I don’t know the back roads around here – not even going to think about taking the truck where that car can’t follow.”
“Maybe one of your tail lights is out, again?”
“Maybe. We’ll see.” Bob turns his head right a little, his eyes tracking on and off the road, apparently looking at the terrain along the side of the highway as he turns on his right turn signal and slowly maneuvers out of traffic. We pull over to a stretch of highway next to a broken section of fence. Gearbox to neutral, e-brake on, engine off, and drivers side window rolled down, registration out of the glove box.
“I see the fence.”
“OK, last resort, we run. If shit hits the fan, first we try to subdue without permanent damage, take away his radio and phone, and handcuff him to the PIT bumper at the front of his car, then drive off and abandon the truck quickly. If another patrol car shows up we simply rabbit on foot.”
“Good Rules. I am sure we don’t want to hurt a cop badly and I’m more sure that we don’t want to be cop killers on top of all the other problems we have. Here he comes.”
“License, registration and proof of insurance please.” A pause as he glances over the interior of Bob’s truck and takes a deep breath through his nose. “Do you know why I pulled you over today?”
“I’m not sure officer, but my back right blinker has gone out twice in six months, is it out again?” Bob handed the officer the requested documents. Drivers license. Photo ID. Crap. He doesn’t look like that right now. I immediately start slowly lightening his skin.
The officer briefly glances at the documents, looks at Bob. “Activate your right blinker now, please, and put both hands outside the car window where I can see them as I check your lights.”
“Yes Sir.” Bob activates the blinker, turns a bit left in his seat, and puts both hands outside his window in clear view.
The officer walks along the driver’s side of the car from the front to the back to check the lights, watching us the whole time. The blinker in front works, the one in the back does not. The officer quickly walks up to the driver’s side window and hands Bob his documents back. “Get it fixed.” He glances at the stuff we have in the passenger seat and floorboard again for a second and grins. “I’m not even going to give you a warning. I can see by your insurance papers that you’ve owned this truck since 1998. Enjoy your camping trip.”
“Thank you, officer.” Bob says, as the officer starts walking back to his cruiser.
“Move it Bob. He saw you looking Hispanic with a white guy’s driver’s license. I lightened you up some but he might still twig to it being wrong. If he called in our tags and anyone has found your house yet, he’s going to hit those blue lights again.”
“He didn’t call in the tags. If he had, we would have gotten a warning. I think.” The truck sped up and rapidly merged with traffic. The officer was just getting back into his cruiser, in no hurry.
About three minutes later, there were blue lights behind us again.