Rather than taking a nap or eating lunch, we got ready. I tossed one of the cans of juice into the stream, in a deep spot, and another into an old stump, on the other side of the clearing, covering it with leaf litter.
We were placing bugs all over the place around the clearing, some were obvious shiny ones, and others were better camouflaged. While we were doing that, we were also putting out random trip wires. All of them were simply trip wires, none were triggers. We tried to make them all look like they might be triggers though. If these people were as good as I expected them to be, they would see the trip wires, but I doubted they would be good enough to immediately tell that they were harmless, since Frank couldn’t tell. However, Frank was thinking about something and not really participating, leaving me to do most of the placing and thinking.
“Frank I’m going to need you one hundred percent here in a little while. What you thinking about?”
“Trying to figure out how a human host might have a symbiote like me active but not able to communicate. It’s not making any sense.”
“It doesn’t have to make sense for now, Frank. Maybe we’ll get some answers later today.”
“That would be nice. It’s disturbing to see evidence pointing to symbiotes like me being in some way suppressed, enslaved, or just rendered inconsequential. I would be amazed if Guiliard doesn’t have a symbiote and based on what we heard Archer certainly has one. Is the normal pattern for me to somehow become subsumed into your intelligence somehow? Or are they somehow intentionally suppressing their symbiotes?”
“It certainly sounds fishy. A symbiote spends years or even decades learning all it can about its host, finally learns enough to talk to the host and have free will, and then it just doesn’t bother anymore? No offense intended Frank, but based on what you were trying to do to me and my body for the first week, I really don’t see symbiotes giving up their ability to communicate and improve their hosts willingly. It doesn’t make sense from a survival point of view either, look at what we have been able to accomplish in such a short time.”
We finished setting up all the little nonlethal tricks around the clearing, then I dug out a big bag of trail mix. I went to sleep while Frank kept an eye out around us, continuing to slowly eat trail mix, making little tweaks and adjustments constantly to our body, getting everything perfectly balanced and ready… and thinking.
Guiliard patiently repeated various parts of his report to the man who had all the tech weenies at his beck and call. “Yes, he’s not even going to try to hide from us, he claims. He is not being friendly, but he’ll let us talk to him in an area where he has purposefully put himself at a disadvantage, he claims. His voice indicates he’s extremely confident. This isn’t some random symbiote pair that hit synergy a couple days ago. He’s a lot more confident sounding than we ever were back then, Anton. It’s encouraging and worrisome at the same time.”
“He seemed lucid?” The tall, dark-haired man again, this time appearing on the screen of a laptop.
“Mostly. More lucid than some of our people, even.”
“Do you have any other thoughts on the matter?”
“Nuke it from orbit while it’s waiting for us to come talk?”
“That’s a bit extreme, Guiliard, don’t you even want to hear what it has to say?”
“Anton, how long has it been since you fought a drone in the wild?”
The man onscreen pursed his lips, angry at being challenged, but his anger was tempered by knowing exactly where the man on the other side was coming from. He’d been there before, and would be there again when Guiliard took the office job back, and Anton went to the field.“Not long enough to sleep a whole night without waking in a cold sweat, but long enough that I’ll probably be back out in the field soon, and someone else who’s been on the sharp end will take my seat while they recover.”
“Now, Anton, with your memories of the last time you fought a drone in the wild fresh on the surface of your mind, I want you to imagine fighting a smart drone. One that has a proven ability to plan at least a full week in advance, is capable of enough self-control to successfully live amongst humans, and has a really damn good reason to be pissed at our organization. Oh, let’s not forget that it was able to reprogram a smart phone GPS within a week of synergy, and was able to further modify the body of the cellphone into a complex hybrid human tech and symbiote nanotech device. It’s not making obvious changes to its own body like almost every drone does, but it’s making remote tools, and improvising. If Bob goes drone, how much of that knowledge might transfer? We know that the older and more experienced the symbiote the nastier the drone will be, and this symbiote has been watching through the eyes of an engineering and computer science student who worked with human mechanical, electrical, and electronic systems for twenty-five years during and after college. Even if the host failed the classes, and eventually went into maintenance fields rather than design fields, the symbiote saw all that the host did.”
The dark-haired man smiled a thin smile. “Now, Guiliard, I want you to imagine a fellow agent by your side with the unfettered power of a symbiote inside a host body that still retains its full human intelligence and emotion. You have said that this pair seems lucid, no sign that the symbiote has lobotomized the human host.” A pause as he leaned closer to the pickup. “We’ve never seen anything like this before. More than two weeks, Guiliard, and still lucid. Maybe he’s immune somehow? Even if we did have a nuke at our disposal, there’s no way we could afford to not learn something from this pair. Vaporizing them would be completely out of the question. Do you see where I’m coming from? Do you see the potential here?”
“I… want to say the risk is too much, despite the potential gains, but I have to agree that you are right, Anton. It would be a huge step forward if we could figure out how to keep a symbiote and its human host in synergy for more than a few days. Even a small chance to fully unlock the power of a symbiote and combine it with the mind of a human would certainly be worth risking an enhanced security team. I’d make the same choice in your seat.” Guiliard was obviously having a hard time making those words come out, but he at least appeared to be trying to stay open-minded about the matter.
“Remember, Guiliard, as long as it’s talking, it’s not a drone.”
“In all prior cases, correct, Anton.”
“I’d probably be making the same argument in your place too, and losing.”
“Are we required to bring it back, Anton?”
“Bring them back, Guiliard. Try to think of them as having a human mind unless they prove otherwise.”
“If they seem stable, but still won’t come back with us?”
“Don’t try to force them. I’m not sure you could. Let your team know in advance that one of them might be chosen as a liaison, and let them all consider that during the encounter. Some of them might actually want to work with him if he’s as impressive as we both suspect he might be, and mostly sane.”
“I’ll do that. One last thing, Anton – I want three minutes of the most vicious drone combat footage you can find, featuring young human casualties if you can. If there’s anything human in that pair, footage like that should make them consider our offer carefully.”