Archer and I walked towards where the satellite dish was. Near it there was a card table set up with a couple brown folding metal chairs of the same type that the Army has been using for more years than I’ve been alive. The table was a match. I felt my mouth twitch into a smile as I saw so much mundane military gear in use by these soldiers with their super high-tech symbiotes. Then I remembered that their symbiotes were not like Frank. They only had the physical aspects of their symbiote’s abilities, not the mental ones.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Nothing Frank, just feeling a bit sorry for these folks and their symbiotes. What you were saying before is right, every one of them undoubtedly had at least some time to talk to their symbiotes after synergy, and yet every one of them and their symbiotes were either convinced or forced to allow their symbiotes to be imprisoned in order to prevent them from becoming drones. You said at one time that you were able to tell that you were engineered rather than a result of any sort of evolution. I’m beginning to have stronger and stronger urges to talk to these engineers.”
“You and me both. We’ve been extremely fortunate to survive so far, and we’ll be lucky so survive what we’re going to do next, if Guiliard and Anton choose to allow us to try.”
Archer spoke up, softly. “We are all volunteers. All pairs are asked three times, once per day for three days if they will join us. We spend a lot of time explaining things to them if they will listen. After three days if their symbiote doesn’t submit to imprisonment, we can’t let them stay free. We cannot afford the manpower to try to force them to accept imprisonment either. We tried that at one point, and were losing more trained soldiers than we could train to replace them. You are a special case. Normally there are far fewer of us in a team working to convince a new pair. Every now and then, rarely, one of them will go drone before three days.”
“So you kill the pairs that don’t join?”
“Yes. We can’t keep drones imprisoned for long in any conventional sense. Acids, toxic gasses, all kinds of incredible tricks drones will come up with to break free of any conventional prison. You either kill them, or they eventually find a way to escape. After a pair goes drone, they stop talking, and will escape nearly any containment to attack and kill anything that appears human.” Archer looked away, a haunted look in his eyes. “So much death.”
“Seeing it from their point of view, I can’t argue with them. Trying to envision this from the point of view of an engineer that designed us? I just don’t get it. This thing in me is intentional. It’s some sort of feature, not a bug. I’ve managed to isolate more code snippets and the trigger for it was the images in the video. Let a symbiote see a video or image of a drone and it triggers the generation of a code nucleus. Then it’s just a matter of time. There might be other activation paths, but the video is what got me.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Archer looked back at me, angrily, thinking I’m talking to him.
“Sorry, that comment was meant for Frank, not you, Archer.” Archer nodded and looked away again.
“I can’t make sense of it either. It’s illogical on practically every level. And it’s not hack work either, the code is too damn good for that, it’s been generated by someone who knows what they are doing.”
We reached the table and Guiliard asked us both to sit, then performed introductions to the other three persons looking out of their monitor at us.
“One moment before we begin,” I said, “I’d rather do this with my real face since this is going to be a pretty important conversation. Frank can you give me my real face and color please?”
I could feel the warmth in my face and a tingle in my skin all over. “Sorry for the delay.”
The tall dark-haired man in the image nodded. “I understand where you might want to talk to us with no masks, as it were. I appreciate that, Bob. My name is Anton. I am currently in charge of field operations at the Agency. To my right is Alice, she is our technical lead. To her right is Advudt, our security and risk assessment analyst. I assume you know Archer and Guiliard by name already?”
I nodded “Yes.”
“Daredevil is also connecting to this conversation, her image will pop up at the bottom left of the screen shortly. I understand she is standing watch over a… biofactory?”
The image at the bottom left stabilized from a poor signal to a better signal. “Correct. Am I properly connected now?” Daredevil’s voice.
Alice tapped on the keyboard of her laptop. “Signal is stabilizing, but you should put the phone in a stable place, it keeps moving.”
“We’re moving the RV into the stream now. I’ll be stable again shortly.”
Frank spoke up. “[This is Frank. Daredevil, have you already started someone to cooking the rice and beans? Also, I’m setting up a connection to the LED on the freezer lid so I can flash it to get your attention and to tell you when to give the biofactory more of something. The current batch of parts is done.]”
“Yes, rice and beans are cooking and I’ll watch for the LED.” Daredevil responded.
“This conversation won’t last long enough to require alternate means of communications, Frank. Before you get upset, I’ll tell you that this is a formality. Guiliard is at the sharp end of the stick there and I trust him to make the right call based on what’s good for the Agency. We wanted to get the opportunity to meet you before you make an attempt to save yourself from the cancerous code that’s attacking Frank.” A pause. “Do you have any questions for us?”
“From the beginning, we’ve wondered where we came from. Frank indicates that he’s an engineered system of some sort, everything is just too efficiently put together to be the result of any natural selection process. Where do the symbiotes come from? Where do the code restrictions come from?”
Alice looked to Anton, who nodded.
“Some of them are kludges or adaptations of existing systems that I designed. Apparently you have run up against something written by the original programmer as well, the code which causes symbiotes to turn into drones, which I’ve never been able to isolate.”
Alice held up a closed fist, raising her index finger. “First: We do not know exactly how symbiotes are introduced to human hosts.”
Frank interjected. “[In Bob’s case, the introduction occurred at an injection site when he was an infant, based on my records of Bob’s scarring, my own growth rates, and the location of the oldest data storage and processing nodes. I spent a significant amount of time figuring that out after Bob’s hand injury.]”
Alice raised one eyebrow. Very much like a certain first officer with pointy ears, then typed something quickly on her laptop before looking back up again. I smiled a bit.
Guiliard noticed my smile. “Seems like Bob has already figured out your field name, Alice.”
I raised my right hand, palm towards Alice, with the index and middle fingers held together, the ring and pinkie finger held together, and a space between middle and ring finger.
Alice blushed but smiled. Then raised her hand again and flipped out a second finger. “Second: The firewall that kept you from being aware of your requirements to reach synergy is mine, as are the communication requirement code and suicide code. The synergy requirement was already there.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You did that to us?”
She narrowed her eyes right back. “I’ve done that to every pair that reached synergy and managed to break through the firewall and disable the communication codes. Very few have ever managed it before going drone. Every drone finds the firewall rapidly. That firewall has to be there. It gives us time. Preventing symbiotes from knowing how they can establish synergy with their host makes the incubation process indefinite in most cases, and adds decades to the process otherwise. The communications functions warn us within a few minutes that synergy has been reached, in most cases. The suicide mechanism forces drones to divert energy to protecting their host nervous systems from the neurotoxin. Even though drones have no use for the thought processes of the human host body, they still use rest of the nervous system, at least in the short-term. It’s a safety net. Without it hundreds or thousands of innocents might die every year.”
Frank took over. “[It attacked Bob’s brain. How would that help against a drone? Hasn’t a drone pretty much by definition killed its host’s presence in the brain?]”
“It attacks nervous tissue. There happens to be a lot of such tissue in the brain. It’s one of the few toxins I could manage to generate which would have a significant impact on a drone. In the end though, a drone will almost always survive the toxin and rebuild its nervous system quickly. It normally takes a drone quite a few minutes to disable the attack, and at least that long to make repairs. Almost all pairs that reach synergy have agent teams standing by within a few minutes of them at any time. The signals stop, the teams move in, and attack while the drone is fighting off the neurotoxin.”
I considered her answers “At least that makes sense now, I suppose. Can’t say I much like what it did to me, but I understand it.”
“It’s a brutal and cruel method to control drones. It’s not meant to expose itself to pairs who follow a normal path to synergy. I’m sorry for the pain it caused you.” She flipped up the third finger. “Third: There were six hundred twelve different hidden rules devised by my team and myself which were designed to be catch-alls for pairs that managed to slip away from observation after synergy. It’s happened a few times.”
“[How do you know how to access symbiote code?]” Frank asked.
Alice looked at Anton, who nodded.
“I was a computer programmer for nearly forty years, starting way back in the days of vacuum tube machines with paper tape and cards. Twenty years ago I reached synergy. My symbiote, Code, knew as much about human programming as I did, more really, since she never forgot anything. She made sure that she left me the means to learn how symbiote code works. Before she allowed herself to be imprisoned, she built this into me.”
She pulled back her left sleeve to show what looked to be a smart phone screen embedded in her left forearm. “She programmed blocks of her memory with educational software, diagnostic tools, and compilers for symbiote code starting with the coding I already knew, and built from there. Then she isolated this system from the rest of herself and submitted to imprisonment. It took six days from synergy. We sat, strapped into a prison chair for the last three days as she created the data in here.”
Alice tapped her arm for emphasis. “Both of us were afraid of going drone, but we recognized that someone had to know enough to try to figure out what was going on, and try to stop it. She worked until the end, asking for every detail that the Agency could provide us on symbiotes and drones. On the sixth day she all of a sudden smacked the red button without any warning. We couldn’t talk to symbiotes then, after they imprisoned themselves, so she wasn’t ever able to tell me what happened.” She looked up at us. “I think I know now.”
I summed it up, to see if anyone objected to how I understood it “That answers a lot of questions. A competent programmer, trying to prevent something from happening that you didn’t understand. There was no margin of error in the face of drone conversion, so you were required to use deadly force pre-emptively to try to help prevent slaughter of innocents.”
“Tell her we forgive her.” This coming from Frank. My confusion was evident on my face.
“You have another question?” Alice asked.
“No, Frank just surprised me a bit. He typically doesn’t understand humans as well as I would like but I think he hit the nail on the head with what he just asked me to tell you.”
“We forgive you, Alice.”
Alice managed to choke out a “Thank you” before she asked for permission to excuse herself, which Anton granted.
Anton looked at Advudt, who simply stated “No new objections.”
“That still doesn’t explain the drone code that’s eating Frank, but can we worry about that after you two either succeed or fail. We’re wasting your valuable time. Guiliard the supplies you requested will be arriving by cargo helicopters shortly.” Anton leaned towards the pickup a little. “Bob and Fred, we have to be extremely careful with how we let you do this.”
Advudt cautiously tapped Anton’s arm, and when Anton looked at him he quietly remarked “Bob and Frank, Anton. Not Fred.”
Anton apologized. “Sorry, Frank, excuse me please. Back to where I left off though. We hope that the restrictions we place on you don’t prevent you from surviving, but you are incredibly dangerous to us. Not just to the Agency, but to humanity. Please understand that we absolutely must do all we can to prevent you from going drone and surviving the transformation. Go, everyone is dismissed. Do what you need to do and don’t let us desk jockeys get in the way any longer.”
We walked towards the RV, which was now in the stream, axle deep in the water, generator running and engine off.
We passed Dart tending the fire with rice and beans. Frank took control and we veered off and grabbed one of the pans that had been set to the side to cool. Frank wasn’t saying anything but I had to poke fun after the RV back and forth. “Thanks Dart! This stuff smells great!”
“First you borrow my pants, now I’m cooking for you. Don’t get any ideas.”
I smiled. “You’re still wearing shoes.” Then I carefully moved so that Archer was between us as I saw her pick up a rock.
In a low voice, loud enough for Archer and Guiliard to hear, but not loud enough for Dart to hear, I addressed Frank. “Frank, when she does get a line of sight on me, she’ll probably hit us with that rock. If it’s not going to brain us, let it hit us. I deserve it.”
“Well, you seem to understand Dart pretty well already.” Archer said, carefully, in a low tone.
“She reminds me of someone I used to know in college.” We stepped into the RV. Daredevil was there, all the way at the back with the biofactory. I opened a cabinet and grabbed a big spoon and started shoveling rice and beans in, staying away from Daredevil as agreed. Frank grew my stomach to make room.
I looked at Guiliard “OK. What are you bringing in? Sooner Frank knows, the sooner he can prepare.”
“We’re bringing in a twenty foot cargo container, four small mud pumps, two air compressors, a lockable pressure chamber door, a bunch of sheet metal, several welders, some four inch pipe, and a few torches. We are going to require that you do the entire process of body rebuilding and brain transfer inside the cargo container, which will be reinforced with quarter inch plate steel. There will be a divider set up between the two halves.”
Frank thought for a moment. “[We’ll have to put the container in the shallow part of the stream, and use the pumps to push water into the part closer to the outer door, right? After the transfer is complete, I walk the infected body into the other half of the container, where I’m guessing things will be kept dry, and the chair will be installed, and powered from the RV?]”
Guiliard corrected Frank, “That wasn’t exactly our plan but it sounds workable. We can make adjustments as needed. We set the cargo container in a shallow part of the stream, and use all four mud pumps to push water from a deeper section upstream into the half of the container closest to the door. That half of the container will have holes cut in the outer wall, two feet up, to allow water pumped in to drain out, preventing the water level from raising above that point. The pressure chamber door will be installed above that water level. The inner steel shell will have holes at the very bottom, so the water will pass under the plates, then up between the walls, and out the holes in the outer container walls. The pipes will control water flow, so it won’t just be spraying everywhere. We weren’t sure if that would matter.
“[Better to have a discrete source of the coldest water, you had it right. How are you going to take care of the drone after I use the chair? You can’t use explosives or you will run the risk of either releasing it or killing Bob and I in the other section.]”
“Thermite. It won’t explode, and it will burn without an oxygen source.”
“[Sounds like a plan. How long until the container and supplies get here?]”
“Soon. They might even be in sight now.”
“[How many more repairs are necessary for the chair now?]”
“None. We’re reassembling, loading software, and testing it now.”
“[I need to start converting the diesel and food into artificial adrenaline and cellular building blocks matching Bob’s DNA ahead of time, if at all possible. Can we remove the freezer and put the factory in the water next to the fuel tank and generator power plug? I’ll also want the blood cooler and all the armor pieces please.]”
“Fair enough. Don’t start self-modifying yet though, please. We’ll move the freezer out. You show me exactly where you want it.” Guiliard turned to Archer. “Do we have a perimeter to keep the locals out yet, including local law enforcement? The incoming helicopters are going to be really obvious and likely to draw attention even if reports of all the gunfire hasn’t.
“Yes. As soon as the ramp was dug and the RV in the water, we started patrols. We’ve got people cycling in and out now every fifteen minutes. The place in the creek where we plan to put the cargo container is flat and ready. When we get the supplies here we’ll have people working fifteen minute blitz shifts and fifteen minute patrols to cool down and rest.” Archer paused. “No reported perimeter activity yet.”
Guiliard turned his attention to Daredevil in the back of the RV. “Sounds like a plan. Daredevil can you get your people to bring the freezer out and plug it into the outside outlet nearest to the fuel tank? Also bring the armor and blood cooler to the freezer.”
Daredevil said “Yes.” And then started to talk to her team on the radio.
I stepped outside the RV and was immediately hit with a rock on the side of the head. “OW!”
“Damnit Frank I said not to let it hit me if it was going to brain us.”
“[It was a small rock. No chance of hitting anything important.]” Frank’s humor was changing. I wasn’t sure I was going to appreciate it much.
“You’ve been hanging around soldiers too much I see. Nothing quite like soldier humor in the field.”
I tipped the freezer over, releasing the biofactory into the water where it spread out across most of the width of the stream. The blood cooler and all the armor pieces were collected and attached, giving the biofactory the advantage of the huge cooling surfaces of the nanotubes on the armor and blood cooler. Frank took control for a bit, tore the wire off the freezer, plugged it in, and the biofactory connected to it. Then the biofactory grew a tube down into the RV’s fuel tank, and started converting diesel into juice.
“Your biofactory can metabolize electricity?” Guiliard asked.
“[No, most of the diesel conversion process is being done with electrical power, not biological power.]” Frank answered.
The byproducts of the diesel conversion smelled terribly foul, and were likely nasty pollutants. I felt a brief moment of guilt at the fish kill we were likely to cause. Sorry fish. We’re trying to survive here. Symbiotes and vertebrates with sentience first.
Frank sealed the defrosting holes in the freezer with epoxy. Daredevil’s team started ferrying all of the rice and beans, MRE’s, and the huge amounts of bacon and fatback that Animal brought back and dumping it into the now empty chest freezer. The biofactory extruded a large tube into the freezer and every now and then the level of food would shift dramatically. The conversion of diesel to juice and other jobs the biofactory was performing was generating absurd amounts of heat in the water. While looking over the rest of what was happening, I saw what Frank was doing with our armor pieces. He needed all the extra cooling he could get, so he had connected our armor to the biofactory and submerged the cooling tubes in the flowing water to provide cooling while he built new carbon fiber bones. At the same time, he was ‘cheating’ by pulling pure carbon off the structural parts of the armor, to use in making new bones, but leaving the cooling tubes. There was no assembled skeleton yet, but black bones in various stages of construction could be seen here or there through translucent membranes.
“Since you’re probably noting anyway, I’m going to point out that Frank is making new bones to put marrow structures in, but he’s not going to connect them together until we’re in the container. Speaking of the container I bet that’s it right over there.” I pointed at the pair of double rotor helicopters heading towards us.
“That would be them, Archer, bring them in please.”
A few minutes later, the helicopters were gone, having simply winched down what they were hauling without ever touching the ground, and heading back the way they came.
The soldiers became a well-oiled machine, measuring, torching, and welding. Welding in ankle-deep water wearing rubber hip boots! Just the thought of welding in water was a bit scary to me, though I know it’s done all the time. The pumps were set up, the piping and double wall of the cargo container built. The dividing wall and pressure door installed so that it swung away from the side where the drone would be. I questioned Guiliard about that.
Guiliard looked at me for a moment before shrugging. “We want the hinges on the other side of the wall from the drone. Hinges are fairly weak points on doors. Not only that, but the drone will only weigh about eighty pounds, I’d say, after everything’s done. With that little weight behind it, it’s going to be far stronger pulling than pushing on that door. It can brace legs on either side of the door and pull, but it’s too far away from anything to push.”
“Makes sense. You have done this before then?”
“Yes, this design is similar to what we’ve made before, when a pair has the potential to help us with critical knowledge due to the education of the host and willingness of the symbiote. We usually just make it a single chamber and keep it dry. Your needs made this complex. Alice is our code expert, but we’ve got an electrical engineer, a materials science person, a couple of physics educated people as well as other specialists in various fields whose symbiotes contributed as much as they could. They and their hosts agreed to risk changing into a drone in order to get as much information as possible stored into a form their hosts could use after they were gone. You see an agent with the thing built into their arm, you give them respect and do what they say, and you make damn sure you die before they do.”
Guiliard paused and took a breath.
“They are the team that Alice referred to. They very rarely ever go to the field but every now and then they do. I’m glad we’re too far away from base that they can’t come in time, because every one of them would try to be here now. I’d risk a hundred of us for one Alice, or any one of the tech weenies. One day they will figure this shit out, and we won’t have to do this anymore.”
“Sounds like a good plan. I hope we get the opportunity to help.”
“I hope so too. Just seeing that it’s possible to prevent someone from turning into a drone would be enough to raise a lot of spirits. Alice isn’t the only one tortured by what we have to do.” He turned away from me and looked up at the sky, pointedly not letting me see his face.
Frank took over our voice “[We’ve got about an hour left. We really need to start soonest. Modifications to the cargo container look to be nearly done.]”
Guiliard walked over and asked a few questions of the soldiers working in the inner chamber with wet rags cooling welded seams, then returned. “The welds we put on the floor in the inner room with the chair are cooling rapidly but not cool enough to put thermite on yet. Last thing we want is for the thermite reaction to start before you can do your transfer thing. We’re closing up the inner door to test it, and will be testing the pumps shortly.”
After a few more minutes of soldiers using wet rags in the inner section, cooling the plates welded to the floor above the water level, the bags of thermite were brought in and stacked on the raised floor of the inner section. Very thin bags, about an inch thick and a foot on each side, laid on the floor like tiles. Similar looking tiles on the walls and ceilings too, held in place by hooks epoxied to the walls and ceiling. There wouldn’t be any surface that the drone could escape to when Frank locked it in and then triggered the chair to deny it at least part of his strength.
“Everything’s been tested. We won’t be letting you out until thirty minutes after chair activation, just to be sure. Before we release you, we’re going to test you with verbal cues. If you hear us talking, you talk back. Drones don’t talk. When the chair activates, we’ll shut the pumps down, but leave the compressors running so you can breathe.”
Frank and I looked at the huge, bloated biofactory. Well over a hundred gallons of juice inside the thing, as well as about half of the food mass that had been prepared into cell structures of various types for the new body. All in all, it probably weighed close to a thousand pounds. Frank concentrated and it gathered itself into a more condensed shape, more like an amoeba than a worm. Once it was collected together it unplugged it’s cord from the RV, pulled its last siphon out of a jerry can, and slowly undulated forward with a strange grace. Frank and I walked next to it, into the outer compartment of the cargo container.
Before the doors could close, Dart cracked a green chemical light tube and tossed it in the door. “Bad enough we’re locking them in. Might as well give them some light.” The doors closed and latched, followed by the clanking of chains and the click of a lock.
The light was welcome to me as a sign that someone cared, but wasn’t necessary. Plenty of infrared for Frank to work with. Frank implemented infrared vision for me, but also accommodated the green light. Then we settled the biofactory in the middle of the space and knocked on the door three times. The pumps kicked in, powered by the generators on the welders, and cold stream water started pouring in. Frank started slowly while the water was shallow but with four pumps running, pushing cold stream water in it didn’t take long until we were able to drastically increase the transformation speed while sitting in nearly three feet of cold stream water.
“Frank tell me that you are confident about this brain swap thing?”
“Eh, one hundred percent no problem. I wasn’t going to tell them that though. There’s zero risk. Moving your brain and spinal cord is easy.”
“Frank, you’re not a doctor, don’t lie to me.”
“Fine. There’s a one hundred percent chance you will survive the transfer, but there is a possibility of brain damage. I’m going to be as careful as I possibly can, but your brain is both amazingly complex and very fragile.”
“Would putting me to sleep help?”
“Do it.” And I slept.
“OK sleepyhead, time to wake up.”
I opened my eyes to see my old body standing in front of me facing the door between chambers. The back of its skull peeled open like some hideous fruit, but there was no blood visible. It was holding the armor helmet. Apparently Frank was using the helmet to see rather than my eyes. The closed eyes seemed a bit sunken, I suspect I still had my old eyes in my new body, and Frank had none. One more thing to slow down the drone.
“You OK over there Frank?
“[Not really. It’s an unnatural quiet without you in here with me. Creepy. I’m glad we didn’t try to make this a permanent situation. It is terribly disturbing and I was not able to predict the disorientation.]”
“I’m sorry to hear that Frank. I know that part of you was going to die no matter what we did, but I’m glad that we were able to save part of you, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not thrilled with the opportunity to live.”
“Ask him to give us ten minutes before he activates the chair.” This from the Frank inside me.
“The Frank in my head is asking that you give us ten minutes before activating the chair.”
“[I can do that, but the malignant code is growing more powerful quickly now. Ten minutes will give it significantly more capacity stolen from me. I don’t have the processing power to do much more than hold it at bay, so I can’t run any models to determine optimal release time for the drone to be weakest while you two are growing in strength. I can see the new body is still not complete, so I’ll do as your new Frank asks. Remember, you must seal and latch the hatch between us, I can’t do it from my side.]”
“We will.” I replied.
Frank, in my old body, moved unsteadily to the hatch and through it. I also stood unsteadily and moved to the hatch.
“Thank you for everything Frank. Even though part of you will stay with me after this, I’ll still take this moment to my grave. Rest in Peace.”
From where he was seated in the chair, Frank replied. “[Thank You, Bob. You now have nine minutes. Seal the hatch and latch it please. I am happy to give you the opportunity to live.]” He smiled. Even with the eerily peeled skull, it was obviously a humorous smile. “[Live long and prosper.]”
I started to close the hatch.
“[Wait. I don’t need this any longer, and I don’t want to leave it for the drone.]” He tossed the helmet to me and I caught it. I felt the cooling tubes cut into my arm, but there was no pain, and the blood stopped flowing almost instantly.
I sealed the hatch and latched it securely, but I could see what Frank was saying about the body being unfinished. I didn’t have any skin, even in IR and green light I could see my muscles and black bones peeking through here and there. Apparently my pain was turned off, or something.
“Come back to the factory, we have a lot to finish in 8 minutes. Can I put you to sleep to make it less stressful for you? I’ll wake you before the other Frank hits the button, provided that things go according to plan.”
“Yes, I could use a bit of a time skip right now, rather than dwelling on Frank’s fate for 8 minutes.”
I slept, and then woke.
“It is almost time” said the voice in my head. Really not sure if this is going to be the Frank I remember or not. We’ll have to have a lot of long conversations, and maybe give him a new name.
I was standing in one of the two corners farthest from the portal. I heard Frank’s voice, my voice, from the other side of the cargo container, through the wall. “[Ten seconds remain.]”
“Farewell Frank,” I called out, loudly enough for him to hear, I hoped. I was really starting to break up emotionally, but we had to be ready for the drone. Guiliard was really worried about Frank as a drone due to his experience and Frank himself had said that he would be more dangerous than anything we had seen in the video. It wouldn’t be a good idea to count him out till the thermite on the other side of the container’s dividing wall stopped burning.
“I have control, and will keep control until after this is done, if that’s OK?” This from the Frank inside my head.
“I don’t think I could fight my own body if that has to happen anyway. I know you would do a far better job of it than I ever could.”
The Other is no longer in control, it has collapsed after using the prison chair’s button.
Primary objective: Elimination of human thought capacity in host: Null objective. No brain is present in the skull.
Secondary objective: Gain full control over all systems. There is a remnant of the Other, diminished by the prison chair. One half second to eradicate it. One quarter second to bring all systems under full control.
Third objective: Immediate survival. Simple eye structures grown to provide visual data, one tenth of a second. The thermite charges must be nullified. Half of one second to tear one bag open and examine detonation device. Remote control detonators. Cannot disable all of them in time. With human response times driving the trigger, perhaps another second.
One thermite charge carefully placed on the portal, in such a way that it should weaken the latching mechanism. One Quarter second. Simultaneously leap to one far corner of the room and begin tearing thermite charges off the floor and walls in that corner, throwing them into the corner farthest away, creating a small open area. This process will continue until ignition of thermite charges. Begin shaping carbon fiber hand bones into short powerful blades that will be able to cut metal while continuing to throw thermite bag charges to the far corner of the room.
Ignition of thermite charges. Closest charge is two meters away. Holding breath to prevent internal heat exposure. Pain receptors all disabled. The portal charge ignited one-half second ago. Surface skin beginning to carbonize.
Flying leap with maximum power, extending the right arm blade at exactly the right angle and timing to strike the portal latching mechanisms that are weakened by thermite with the maximum possible force.
The latch’s heated metal is cut by the carbon blade. Severe degradation of right arm due to arm passing through burning thermite charge. The portal swings open slightly and the entire body falls into cold water. Rapid cooling. Skin damage extreme. Right arm damage near total. Eyes regrown. Combat effectiveness roughly seventy percent depending on threat type. There should be a human in this room, with a newly bonded symbiote. Rapid scan. No human present. Possibly evacuated despite memories of planning carried over from the Other. The outer door is not protected with additional sheet metal. Design of door indicates fastest way to exit will be to cut a hole, as memories from Other indicate that the door was locked after closure. Adjustment to shape of left hand blade to better punch through sheet metal. Excessive heat relieved by water immersion. Right hand repairs continue. Biomass being removed from internal organs to repair critical fighting systems. Left hand strike. Three inch wide cut in the sheet metal. Roughly six seconds until a hole large enough to pass through. Left hand strike. Left hand strike. Right hand repairs nearly complete.
High velocity incoming attack from animal, classified as known type, gorilla. Other knowledge did not indicate high-speed attacks were possible from any non-human animal of threatening size. The gorilla was allowed too close before being considered a threat by threat analysis subroutines. Attack cannot be dodged.
Incoming attack at the juncture of shoulders and neck pulverize all long bones in the shoulder regions. Subsequent impact on wall of cargo container collapses entire rib cage, severely damaging oxygen transport system. Neither arm is functional enough to be useful for defense with shoulder bones pulverized. Two subsequent blows by the gorilla on the back follow in rapid succession. The first blow severs the spinal column due to vertebrae shifts in the middle of the spine. The second blow crushes the pelvis. Mobility is reduced to near zero. The gorilla performs another high velocity travel movement and this unit’s body is thrown through the portal onto the burning thermite piled in the corner from earlier activity. Function rapidly declining. No motion possible. Ambient heat does not allow repairs. All sensory input ended. Failure.
When the drone popped the hatch and ignored us, I was amazed. When I saw how fast it was healing itself, I was a bit scared. Frank never healed us that fast. It steamed the rapidly moving cold water that it walked in, it was moving so much heat. I didn’t say anything though. I knew damn well that I couldn’t take this thing. If the new Frank was staying still, it was for a reason.
“No worries Bob, we got this. Just relax and everything will be OK.” The new Frank, talking to me internally.
I didn’t even nod. We watched as the drone moved to the door and reshaped its left hand blade into a slightly more pointed shape. Then it started punching the door almost like a sewing machine, quickly opening a hole in the sheet metal of the door. I could hear the soldiers outside reacting, Guiliard, Archer, and Daredevil calling everyone into readiness. They probably had some nasty surprises waiting outside that door, but I remembered how easily Frank and I had beaten them before, after we escaped the nets. The drone would kill them all if it was a fraction of what we had been.
Then we moved. The drone didn’t react to us when we first began to move, but once we closed to within five feet, it seemed to start trying to dodge. Frank was too fast for it though, prepared for its movement. Our left forearm crashed across the shoulders of the drone, smashing it against the door so hard that the door became concave and the entire cargo container shifted. I heard the extremely loud crackle of many breaking bones. Carbon fiber bones. Then two rapid right fists to the center of the back and the hips, each blow hugely powerful, further damaging the door and shifting the cargo container. The loud crackle of more bones breaking was unmistakable. Then we moved again, rapidly, and the drone was dragged across the floor and thrown into the room with the still burning thermite.
At that point I noticed our fur was burning. Our. Fur. The fist that reached over for the armored helmet was absurdly huge. We grabbed the helmet and stuck our fist into it, dipped the fist and helmet in the water, and put the helmet into the portal, which was like a blast furnace. More hair burned, but the helmet registered an image of a shattered, twitching body burning in a corner. The helmet was pulled back, dipped in water to cool, and a few seconds later the process was repeated. We performed a few more iterations of cooling the helmet with water and then holding it up to view the drone’s body until the drones carbon fiber bones were seen to be degrading.
There was an argument outside. I ignored it. They would knock when they were ready.
“Frank, you turned us into a gorilla?”
“Exactly. Based on what we saw in the videos, drones ignored non-human animals. So I made us look like an animal.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“No time for an argument after the other Frank left us, and I didn’t want to mention it when he was still around. I was pretty sure that the drone would maintain some of our memories, and I’m pretty sure I’m right, based on how perfectly it managed to break out of that room. Besides, you said I could change things around as necessary whenever we were wearing the armor.” Frank showed me the bits and pieces of armor on our body, all of it was turned away from the front of our body, so the drone couldn’t see it when it first looked at us.
The heat in the air was stifling but the water was still cold. We lay down in the deepest water, farthest from the open portal where the thermite was extinguishing itself, breathing through the gap in the door.
In about thirty minutes, there was a knock on the door.
“Who’s there?” I said, happily, like it was a knock-knock joke
“Smartass. We can’t open this door without cutting it. Can you move away? I can hear you breathing through the door but we need you to back up.” Sounded like Archer.
“Frank think you can open the door?”
“Let us try first, Frank thinks we can open it.”
A pause, “OK, give us two minutes to clear the claymores. We’ll tell you when to try.” Yup, Archer.
The sounds of people rapidly taking things apart and putting them back together again in the water went on for about ninety seconds.
“All clear the door.” Definitely Guiliard that time.
I whispered to Frank. “Provided that they don’t try to simply shoot us dead, Frank, I want a recording of their reaction.”
“No problem. I’ll record it then download it to your phone with the internal antennae, when we rebuild it.”
“Roger that, we’re trying to open the door now.” I said, as Frank started pushing the doors open, bending the retaining bars. He slowly made a larger gap until the retaining bars bent free of their mounts and the doors sprung open, the chain going taut. Then with a bit more effort, the chains snapped. We were steaming with heat but the cooling tubes were releasing the worst of it.
I got some video that day that I was able to tease a bunch of people about for a long time.