Guiliard looked at the chair, then shifted his gaze to us. “We have spare parts, extras in case there is damage in transit, but not enough for a whole new unit. We’ll assess the damage. Frank, if we need your help with a small component or two, can you help us?”
Frank, out loud. “[Yes. If the piece is small enough I can just pouch it or internalize it, then I’ll analyze it, and rebuild it, but I’ll need the blood cooler back if it’s anything of significant mass that has to be rebuilt.]”
“Frank, listen to me.”
“Bob, I’m not going to spend the energy to make you be quiet, but are you really about to tell me that you understand what’s happening in my code better than I do? When we were talking human reactions and psychology of humans, you won a lot of arguments, but you don’t know how I work. This thing is a terminal cancer for me. I’d rather die with dignity and give you a chance. Can you give me that?”
“Frank. The biofactory. Create more memory and processing capacity in the biofactory, then store a kernel in that.”
“I hadn’t even considered that. It would certainly work, and I could even do better than a kernel, perhaps even a significant memory transfer. But you would still be trapped inside the body. Even using the chair, if you survived, there would still be a symbiote in your body with you. My intelligence might be saved, but I’d be without a host mind. I could rebuild a host body with your genetic material in the biofactory, but there would be no host mind. I’m not sure how well that would work. I will run some scenarios.”
“Guiliard, you guys got some clothes that will fit me? I need to go get my RV and bring it down here, with the biofactory in it. We have a plan, Frank is running scenarios. We can’t waste prep time.”
“What is a biofactory?”
“All those large pieces of armor and the cooler? They were made in the biofactory. It’s a two hundred fifty pound mass of my genetic material in a five cubic foot chest freezer.”
Guiliard just stared at me. “You have a factory making large items for you?”
“A small factory, one item at a time, yes. The factory has all the metabolic restrictions we have. It can’t build too fast, or it cooks itself. It doesn’t have the capacity for thought, but it does already have a lot of data storage and the capacity for data transfer already, and Frank can have it modify itself.”
“So we’re going to assist your symbiote in moving itself into a new host body made of your genetic material. What about you?”
“I’ll be using the chair. With the biofactory and sufficient cooling we could probably make a whole new chair if need be, no matter how much damage was done to the old one, if you have the code and schematics.”
“We’ll set up a receiver dish to download data here.” He turned to Archer and said “Satellite in the meeting field, use two soldiers. Download the chair’s operating systems and prison code.” He turned back to me. “We’ll come with you to the RV, with this truck.”
Archer pointed at two soldiers, waved them to him and they talked a moment, then pulled a few boxes and duffel bags off the truck.
“Don’t need help. It’s a power connection, a sewer connection, and a couple of wheel chocks to remove and we can pull out.”
Guiliard sighed. “We’re not going to help. We’re going to make sure you come back. Frank seems responsible enough but you worry me, and Frank listens to you.”
I thought about pointing out that they couldn’t hold me if I didn’t want to be held. Then I realized that without Frank helping me, or with Frank potentially hindering me, they certainly could. It didn’t matter anyway, and time spent arguing was less time with the biofactory.
“OK, we’re about five miles up the road, campground called Great Elms, on the north side. Can’t miss it. I’m in lot 27, two consecutive rights as we enter the park. Blue and white unibody four-person camper, South Dakota tags BUP 3HF”
“Frank, can you give me the false Bob’s facial features and coloration again? Guiliard. Frank. If this doesn’t work, I won’t break the chair next time. I wasn’t going to stop it before, until I figured out how we might be able to save both Frank and I.”
My face started to turn warm and I could feel things shifting. Guiliard watched carefully.
“You’re recording this aren’t you, Guiliard?”
“Yes, we are all constantly recording when we are in the field, each of us from several points of view.”
“Well if all of what Frank and I try to do fails and you need to take us out, at least there will be something to help you guys understand a bit better what’s going on.”
“Tell them they can turn on their omnidirectional data devices. That should let them upload everything, no risk of lost data if this doesn’t work and they have to fight us again.”
“Frank says you can turn on all your data devices again.”
“OK. Data on people. That means your music too, Animal.” Guiliard gave a slight shake of his head and a smile.
“Sweet.” Animal turned on several devices, then reached into his pocket and his head started bouncing as he assisted a couple other soldiers with disassembly and testing of chair pieces.
“Secure everything except what you are actively working on, we’ll go slow but we don’t have time to waste. Archer, have your people got the antennae gear out of the truck yet?”
Archer turned to face Guiliard as he spoke. “Yes, they are moving it to the clearing now. By the time we get back, they will have the dish up and bringing up the computers and establishing connections.”
Each of the soldiers carried a couple sets of civilian clothing, so getting me into clothes was no big deal. Getting me into clothes that I wanted to wear, that fit, was impossible. All of the men were far larger than me. I ended up wearing grey sweat pants with big red hearts on the buttocks belonging to one of the ladies, and a white T-shirt that was about six sizes too big. Every damn one of the soldiers was trying to keep from busting out laughing as I walked out of the back of the truck, trying to pull the T-shirt low enough to cover the red hearts. I had to smile, it was just clothing, but I would damn sure change clothes ASAP.
We slowly and carefully got the big unibody truck back onto the road, then hit the campground, no problems. First thing I did was run into the RV, open the freezer, and feed the biofactory the materials and food Frank directed me to give to it. Then I threw off the sweats and put on a pair of jeans.
“Glad to see you had your priorities straight.” Daredevil said, stooping to avoid bouncing her head off the ceiling as she entered the vehicle. “We’re detaching the sewer, water, and electricity now. You’ve got a generator and a pump and pressure tank for well water?”
“Yeah. The generator is also diesel, and feeds off the main fuel tank. Plenty of fuel for days, we only need it for hours right now.” I paused, and looked at her. “You’re riding with me back to the clearing then?”
“Yes, so’s Dart. She’ll want her pants back anyway. She was right. The first thing you did was drop the drawers and kick them under the table.”
“Second thing I did. First thing I did was feed the biofactory and give it materials Frank wanted.”
Daredevil’s eyes drifted back to the freezer, then back to me. “So you have a little factory there, made of human biological material, your own genetic makeup. You’re planning on giving Frank a new home. Great. But what about you? He can’t copy you, can he?”
“No, Frank can’t copy me. We will help rebuild the chair. If I survive, great. If not, at least Frank will live. He might be able to figure out a way to rejoin me.”
“Do you understand what you are asking us to allow you to do?”
“I, ah, just explained it, didn’t I?”
“You’re not seeing it from our point of view. You are going to give Frank that flesh to make into a new body. With no human mind in it. Sure that body isn’t very mobile right now, but we’ve seen what Frank can do, after only two weeks, with your body.”
“Oh. You’re afraid of Frank. Afraid of him turning into some sort of Von Neumann machine?”
Inside my head, Frank muttered“Adding that scenario to be analyzed with more detail.”
“Yes. Despite what Frank and you did to us earlier, Frank seems pretty well-balanced. He didn’t kill us, but he wasn’t particularly gentle either. He knew we would regenerate. What’s going to happen to him without contact with a human mind? Will he go comatose? Will he go viral? Will he generate thousands of duplicates of himself and go to war on the human race?”
I look at her. “I don’t know. Frank’s added that potential to his analysis now, for closer review.”
“Guiliard’s in communication with his superiors now and they are discussing whether or not we’re going to allow this to happen. Frank’s going to have to talk to Guiliard soon, in a conference call with our home base tech weenies. When we get back to the field, we’ll talk more. In the meantime, it’s my job to sit next to your biofactory.” She made sure I was looking at her while she brushed back her jacket and sat down next to the freezer. I saw several large plastic bricks with wires sticking out of them, attached to her harness.
Frank came very much awake when he registered that visual, taking control, he takes a deep sniff of the air, and speaks. “[Can’t say I much care for you sitting next to Bob and I and the factory with enough C4 on you to turn all of us into paste, but I understand the precaution based on where we find ourselves right now. No offense taken.]”
“Frank, Bob, we hope this works out, but we can’t let it fail to work out. Like Frank said earlier, he’s far and away more dangerous than any drone we’ve fought before. We had to do this to put us back in a position of strength, where we can dictate the terms. No risk that this will escalate then? We’re in agreement? You recognize that we’re running the show here, but we’re going to give you all the free rein to save yourselves that we feel we can safely manage?”
“You have to do what you have to do. As long as you give us a chance, that’s all we can ask, I guess.” I agreed reluctantly.
“[I agree. Some things before I get back to modeling. When we get back to the clearing, we’ll park the RV in the middle of the stream. I want access to that flowing water for heat dispersal. Can your people in the field start a cooking fire? We’ve got over a hundred pounds of beans and rice and the little stove in the RV takes forever to cook it. We usually just cooked on a campfire when feeding the biofactory and ourselves.]”
“Don’t see a problem with that, there was plenty of downed wood there. We’ve got field kit too, and enough MRE’s to feed 21 people for a week.”
“[How many of them can you spare?]”
“All of them. We’ve also got your dirt bike to make a town run with if you want any supplies. You know the area better than us, just tell us what you need and where you think we can get it and one of us will take the bike and get it.”
“The MRE’s will help a lot, very concentrated energy. I’ll come up with a shopping list for town, in order of importance, thank you. Now I’m going back to modeling until we get back to the clearing.”
“I really hope you two pull this off. We really need a game changer.” muttered Daredevil.
There was a careful knock on the RV door. “No Kablooie yet, safe to come in?” A female voice. Dart, the one whose sweatpants I borrowed.
“Come on in, Dart.” I called out.
Dart walked up the three steps to the floor level of the RV, looked at me, then immediately looked under the little table and spotted her sweatpants. “Ha, I knew it. Not even folded.” In two swift motions, she used her boot’s toe to pull the pants out of from under the table and then deftly nosed the tip of said boot under the sweats and kicked them at me. “I’m driving. Hand me the keys, then fold those sweats and put them somewhere. Then you can do ‘biofactory planning’ things or whatever. Don’t get within five feet of Daredevil. If you need something done where she is, you tell her, and we figure out how to do it.”
“OK. Frank’s doing most of everything right now, and we just fed the factory. It’s modifying itself as we speak to become a data storage device for Frank. Frank’s still doing models to see whether the idea will actually work.”
I lifted the much-too-large t-shirt and pulled a key out of the pouch. Dart and Daredevil’s eyes widened a bit.
Dart spoke first. “A kangaroo pouch? Clever.” The key was still a bit moist when I handed it to Dart and she made a face when she felt it. “Moderately disgusting, but clever. OK, back to the clearing then.” She quickly walked to the front, sat down in the driver’s seat, started the RV, and wiped her hand on her pants.
“Daredevil to Archer, we’re ready to move here, you ready to move there?”
“Archer here. Guiliard just gave me a thumbs up we’re ready to move. You lead, we follow.”
Dart pulled us forward and we left the camp, the other truck following behind.
“Frank, can you talk to me and tell me where things stand?” I asked.
“We’d appreciate hearing how things are going too, please. We can’t make you share, but information is welcome.” This from Daredevil.
Frank takes control of our speech. “[I’m building marrow structures in the biofactory now, with data storage and processing nodes within the marrow structures. Most of the processing for that is happening internally in the biofactory, it’s slow, complicated work. In about an hour I’ll have enough data storage for a kernel of myself, with some recent memories. I’ve already developed a software filter in its own node in the biofactory to analyze every last bit of data coming over to the biofactory from me, looking for anything executable. It’s already active, and it’s already found two more code bombs and disabled them. I had to wipe the biofactory memory structures and processing and start completely from scratch rebuilding them after I found the first code bomb. It was already in the biofactory. After that I’ll have to concentrate more on building the body, which is why I want access to the stream for heat dispersal. That’s going to be a big job, and it’s going to require huge amounts of heat transfer and energy input.”
“How likely are you to find all the code bombs?” Dart, speaking from the driver’s seat, as we pulled out onto the road and accelerated towards the clearing.
“[I’d like to say I know I’ll find them all, but I’ve already been proven wrong once. On the other hand, I was able to actually analyze the code bombs that the software filter found, and between the three, I now understand how the “new” bombs work. I’ve adjusted the structure of my memory and processing in a way that will prevent that type of function within my operating system. It will make me a little less efficient, processing and analysis wise, but the code bombs will not be able to activate because the structures that they depended on will be different.]”
“So you are rewriting your data and functionality onto a different operating system?” Daredevil asked.
“[That’s about as close of an analogy as I can think of. Does your team have the damaged and degraded components ready to transfer out of your truck so I can start repairing them?]”
Archer’s voice came from Daredevil’s smartphone, which she turned to face me out of courtesy so I could see Archer’s face. “Archer here. I overheard. Answer is yes. We’ve got the broken parts ready for analysis. We’re using as many spares as possible. The satellite team is pulling code for the chair and the schematics. Can you access electronic media directly?”
“Yes. A flash drive with schematics of the broken devices would be excellent. I’ll also want all the armor pieces and the blood cooler please, I’ll need them for heat transfer in the stream as I’m repairing components and building a new body. As for materials, we should have all we need on the RV, we were stocking pretty heavily, so we could work on different things. I’ll just want the highest energy foods you can collect. A hundred pounds of fatback or very fatty meat products like lard, pork sausage, or bacon would be good. Fatty meats will also allow me to repurpose proteins with less metabolic processing.”
Daredevil spoke up. “I saw deer sign when we were in the woods. Want us to see if we can bring down a couple?”
“No, wild deer are almost completely lean meat, and the carbohydrates we have, the MRE’s you have, plus a hundred or so pounds of fat from a town run will be more than enough biomass and energy. Changing to a ketosis model metabolism would also slow things down. The higher the energy density of the fuel the faster I can act, within reason. That’s why fats are good, they have more than twice the energy density of carbs and protein.”
Dart, from the front of the RV again. “Frank, can your body process diesel fuel? Diesel engines can burn fats, that’s what biofuel is, so the energy levels have got to be similar, and diesel is a hydrocarbon. Can you metabolize it?”
“We can metabolize juice, is it all that much different from gasoline or diesel?” I added.
“Juice?” Dart said, confused.
“The artificial adrenaline we all use for high metabolic activity.” I clarified
“[Juice is a lot more energy dense than diesel or gasoline. I can certainly process diesel. I can process almost anything, but I don’t know how efficiently, it’s a matter of metabolic processes and chemical reactions. I can detect diesel in the air in the RV in sufficient quantities to collect samples. By the time we get to the field I should be able to say one way or the other if I can metabolize diesel usefully. If I can that will pretty much end the energy concerns between the fuel tanks on the RV and the cargo truck, especially if the cargo truck’s tanks are near full. It will also give me more robust options for working with the biofactory.]”
Archer turned his head and asked another soldier a question, that soldier made a radio call, then reported back. “Three quarters full, about seventy or eighty gallons.”
“[That’s about what we have in the RV as well, it has extended tanks. I’m doing some metabolic modeling now, will be back in a couple of minutes.]” Frank stopped talking.
Dart carefully turned onto the logging road by the bike, bringing the RV slowly and carefully to the clearing, and stopping it by the bank of the stream. “We’re going to have to dig down the embankment.”
“Combine digging into the embankment with moving rocks from the stream bed to either side of where the RV will sit to even out the embankment?”
“Good plan, we’ll get two squads on it.” Daredevil commented with a smile. I suspected that was already the plan.
I reached into my pouch for two keys. “Bike keys” I said.
“Not needed. Animal’s going shopping for us.”
Frank’s camera behind the bike activated, showed Animal bobbing his head while he used a flexible wire fiber saw, probably with embedded diamond, to cut the chain. He made short work of it then wrapped the fiber saw in a loop and pushed it in his pocket and stuck what looked like a screwdriver into the ignition of the bike and ripped the barrel out, exposing wires which he twisted together. One kick-start and he was headed down the road with an empty duffel bag worn like a backpack flapping in the breeze.
“Fifteen seconds to cut the chain and hot wire the bike. Pretty impressive” I say.
“Animal’s good at a lot of things. Mostly things that don’t require patience.” That from Daredevil. Dart chuckled in response. An inside joke between the ladies, I left it alone.
“Can I get out and help with the embankment?” I asked Daredevil.
“Yes. I’m the one that can’t leave. Talk to Archer when you get to the water.” She turned her head a bit to look at the phone. “Archer bring the vest to Bob at the water please, and send someone to bring me the components and the flash drive with schematics on it.” She paused. “Just open the freezer and toss the drive and parts in?”
“Yes, Frank will handle it from there.” I replied.
“OK”, Daredevil said as I stepped out of the RV and walked towards the stream where five soldiers were rapidly throwing large rocks into place under the embankment, while five more were using entrenching tools to dig down the embankment, throwing dirt onto the ramp of rocks. Fast as they were working they would be done in just a couple of minutes, I wouldn’t help much.
I heard the driver’s door of the RV open and close as Dart got out. I heard her talking to one of the squad working on the ramp, asking how long they thought it would be. Not long, five minutes, about what I guessed.
Archer walked up behind me and coughed into his hand as I tried to figure out if there was anything I could do immediately to help the ramp building without causing chaos. “If you are going to be moving around outside the RV, we need you to wear this.” He held out an equipment harness, liberally draped with squares of plastic explosives and wires.
“Yeah, I was wondering when the second vest was going to show up. If you’re guarding the biofactory with one, you would want one on me too. I’ll wear it, just hand it over.” Now, if these guys just wanted to blow me up, they could do it. They seemed to be doing everything in their power to help though. In for a penny, in for a pound.
After I put on the harness, Archer asked me to follow him. “Guiliard has set up the conference by the satellite dish.”
“Who will I be talking to?”
“Guiliard, Anton, and a couple of tech weenies.”
“Sounds like something of a trial with expert witnesses.”
Archer looks at me for a second, eye to eye. “Yes, it is. Your symbiote is telling us it’s going to become a drone in about three hours. You damaged the chair right before using it in a way that requires your assistance to repair it. You are hands down the most advanced pair any of us have ever run into. You scare the living shit out of us, honestly. Now we find out that your symbiote that is turning into a drone can reproduce itself, without the human parts.” He shook his head. “Gonna be straight up with you. Guiliard has already made arrangements for a few deliveries to come here from Williston so we can be more secure. Things you probably won’t like but things we need to do in order to be sure that we can neutralize you if you blow up in our faces.”
Frank takes control of the voice again. “[Done with the modeling and we’re going to have to change plans. Two problems. First, without a human host, I can’t reliably predict what my actions would be years from now, never mind centuries from now. Everything I know about myself is based on interactions with you, Bob. Second, you won’t survive the chair, Bob, neither will I, not even in a reduced capacity. Based on the code snippets I’ve been able to isolate and study, this thing inside me isn’t restricted by the same things I am. When I’m imprisoned by the chair, it will almost certainly be free to act. Not with all of my abilities, but with more than enough to take you out, and then cut me out as well, since I will be passive. Then it will have full control of the body at drastically reduced capacity, but it will rebuild rapidly. Still enough to give these soldiers a hard time, but they can take it out with a little planning.]” He used our hand to tap one of the C4 bricks.
“So, we might as well just make it painless is what you’re saying? Have these guys pile on all the explosives they can and just end it?”
Archer was watching us carefully. His phone pointed towards us at waist level.
“[That’s one option. The other option is a bit crazy but it might work.]” He shifted our eyes towards Archer to make eye contact. “[Yes I know you are broadcasting this Archer, you don’t have to try to be casually sneaky about it. If I didn’t want you to hear I’d be talking to Bob internally.]”
Archer shrugged, and lifted the phone for a better video and audio pickup of us.
“Crazy works for me if crazy is the way we need to go.” I shrugged. There really wasn’t much adrenaline left. Correction, there was plenty of adrenaline left, but with all of the roller coaster rides of combat and emotion today, everything was sort of flat, emotionally.
“[We build me a new body, like before, and then I move your brain into the new body.]”
“A brain transfer Frank? Didn’t you say you didn’t know much about human brains so you left mine alone?”
“[Yes, but I’m not trying to understand your brain, or modify it. Just move it. With unlimited time and energy I could certainly manage the transfer without any chance of failure, but we don’t have that.]”
Archer was very carefully keeping his face neutral. Not a good sign.
“If it’s the only way forward where we both get a chance to live, than I guess that’s the path we take. Let’s go talk to Guiliard and Anton. We’re going to have to sell them on this plan, and I’m not sure if they are going to be interested in buying. They might decide to just push the button and pick up the pieces and try to figure out as much as they can from what’s left over.”