The first thing Frank did was send a shopping list to Doctor Meilin’s phone, copied to mine. Hundreds of pounds of high energy food types, hundreds of pounds of fatty meat, several pounds of graphite dust, copper, silver, gold, platinum, rare earth magnets, lots of high-end human computer parts, and requests for at least fifty but up to two hundred old computer motherboards. Fifty high-end video cards and twenty-five computer power supplies with cables. Twenty-five power conditioning, voltage regulating, and surge suppressing uninterruptible power supplies. Seventy-five optical data transfer cables. A powerful server with a massive solid state hard drive JBOD and several optical data switches. A couple hundred gallons of juice.
“Umm Frank we’re looking at a minimum of half a million dollars in computer parts for the server, JBOD and the video cards. And where are we getting that much juice from?”
Doctor Meilin spoke up. “These are all within the ability of Recovery to acquire on short notice. Even the server, though I may have to pull some strings. Star knows a lot about what we can do, she probably advised Frank on what would be available.”
“[Yes, she did.]” Frank agreed, aloud.
“I’m sure the Agency could supply these things as well. I wish our two organizations were able to openly work together at this point. It looks like Frank is building a big biofactory again, and we have one at the agency right now that is producing armor and other products. Wait. We saw the small amount of juice your scouts carried for their drones but you can supply hundreds of gallons?”
“Remember, we can communicate with our symbiotes, Bob. We have collection facilities for fuel, what you call ‘juice’ in each restroom. Toilets, urinals, sinks, showers and tubs like normal restrooms, but also a catheter-like system that we connect to organic ports our symbiotes grew for us that we use to drain a bit of fuel each time we use the restroom, if our fuel level is full.” She raised up the side of her flannel shirt and touched her finger to the side of her torso a bit above waist level. I could see a slightly discolored spot under her finger.
“[Do you have that set up here? A little juice to start with would be helpful.]” asked Frank.
“Sorry, no, not at this facility.” Doctor Meilin replied.
“What do you use the juice for? Do your drones fight and use that much juice?”
Doctor Meilin laughed. “High test fuel for racing motors, aircraft, and rockets. We sell what we don’t need. Star provided us with a description of a human chemical process which could be used to generate it, and we were able to patent it using that information.”
“Well done. Is it that valuable?” I asked.
“Not as valuable as a few other things we can make but not petty cash either. Every pair can make about five hundred dollars per day in waste fuel if they aren’t using it for fighting or training. It adds up with a couple hundred contributing every day. It’s a highly energetic fuel that is easy to store, and non-toxic to humans. Several auto racing teams love it.”
“I see. Frank and I will help contribute anyway, even if it’s well within your means. Frank can you shift all of our stored diamonds into my mouth so we don’t have to fool around with getting to the pouch?”
“[Sure, give me about thirty seconds.]”
Thirty seconds later, after a really strange sensation moving up from my stomach, through my chest and neck and then up to my cheek, I had a couple dozen diamonds of different sizes in my mouth, some cut, some rough, total weight around fifty carats. I folded up one of the advertisement papers in the smart phone package into a little pouch, then dried my mouth out as much as I could and spat the diamonds into my hand rolling them around a bit to dry them out some more. I couldn’t help but stare at them for a couple of seconds. Some of the things Frank could do were still hard to get used to. Then I poured them into the folded up paper envelope and put the package into the bank teller sliding box and pushed it over.
Doctor Meilin looked from our face down to the diamonds in the envelope briefly then folded them up carefully and put them in her shirt pocket. “Unnecessary but appreciated. We can move these. One of our people has family in the gemstone business. Another of our people is able to make a few valuable stones, but not diamonds, she can do rubies and sapphires – mostly mid-grade, but very dark colors. They are frequently significantly flawed, depending on how many mistakes are made in the process. Rubies are much more forgiving than other stones though. Flawed rubies can be made more valuable with several types of treatments, and the extremely deep red of her rubies gives them value despite flaws that can’t be removed.” She paused. “Sorry, I went a bit off track there, watching a lump of diamonds going up the side of your neck and into your mouth was a bit shocking, lost focus there for a bit talking about rubies.”
I laughed “No problem. Frank and I considered rubies too, but diamonds are more valuable, and we can make them from charcoal.”
Doctor Meilin smiled. “Charcoal eh? Nice.” Then she got serious again. “Frank, we feed a few hundred people three meals a day. Your food needs are fairly trivial compared to our stores. We actually buy beef and pork quarters and process them in-house. Would pork quarters, untrimmed, do for your fat and protein needs, and can they be frozen? ”
Frank answered, again out loud. “[If you have a thousand pounds or so of untrimmed pork quarters that will do for most of the protein and fat needs, yes. I’ll still need the vegetable products and grains. Anything you can get that is frozen is best, except the grains – they need to be cooked first, but if you can get them pre-cooked and frozen, that works.]”
“We’ll have all the foodstuff here within two hours. Hans has already made the calls to start cooking the grains and beans, and Franz has ordered the pork, since our current meat supplier is actually closer than our facility. Don, Julius, and Al have arranged for people to go buy the electronics and metals from local stores, it will take some time to get all of that together, but the first batches of hardware and metals will arrive in about an hour. Where will you want to work? The pork will be here in thirty minutes. The fuel is coming before the rice and beans, and should arrive shortly after the pork does. We have a small amount of food storage here that you are welcome to start with. I have to make a personal phone call for the server. That’s probably not coming in before tomorrow AM.”
“[Show me the bathrooms in this facility, especially ones with either a garden tub or a full tub and shower combination. I will also want to see your kitchen, if it’s a kitchen with floor drains. What goes in must come out, and we’re about to feed a growing biofactory a couple thousand pounds of food in a few hours, so we need access to sewer lines.]”
In the end, we chose a bathroom that was configured to be able to wash bedridden patients, the entire floor of the bathroom was waterproofed, with a large drain right in the middle. There were two shower stalls that wheelchairs could be rolled into. Frank was more than happy to have two showers as water sources for cooling.
There was enough suitable pre-cooked food in the facility to start, so we asked for an extension cord and headed to the restroom. A couple of the facility’s staff were preparing more food. A very tasty smelling apple sausage salad was part of the menu tonight, and they had plenty to make more, so Doctor Meilin asked the staff to make as much as they could, and deliver it to us in the handicapped bathroom, which got a couple of blank looks before they nodded. A chest freezer was being emptied and brought to the bathroom, because the last time we made a big biofactory in the field, the freezer we had then was extremely useful for storing the massive amounts of food.
“Ready to start, Frank? Anything else we need first before we get started?”
“Please let us know if there is anything else. I’ll be right outside the door making some calls for the server equipment.” Doctor Meilin walked outside the restroom and sat down in a chair nearby, starting to make a phone call.
“We can’t do much until the majority of the food gets here, but thirty kilos of food is more than enough to start.” Frank walked our body over to the counter and picked up the huge bowl of apple sausage salad and the fork. We raised the helmet up enough to expose our mouth and I started shoveling apple sausage salad in as we walked over to the shower, and turned it on, standing partly under the water as we ate. Frank then began to extrude flesh from our right leg.
This was too big of a learning opportunity to miss, but we still didn’t trust Recovery enough to remove armor completely. Frank and I had agreed earlier that any actions we took would not leave us incapable of escaping or fighting. Frank simply expanded a large mass out of our lower leg, which required him to split the lower leg armor open so a pseudopod of flesh could form and extrude. At the first sign of a fight, Frank could flip the blade edge on the leg forward, and kick to the left with the right leg, severing our connection to the biofactory. Doctor Meilin happened to turn our way and I saw her eyes get large when she noticed the mass of flesh forming, then she shook her head and turned away and kept talking on the phone.
Her reaction was expected. It was quite startling. I still got a bit queasy looking at some of the things Frank did to our body. I had watched a bit of Japanese anime in my time, and what Frank was doing looked a lot like some of the more unnerving transformations in those shows. The pseudopod of flesh stretched off our leg, looking something like an amoeba with huge visible blood vessels, the skin of the growing part thin and transparent. Frank was routing a very large amount of our body’s blood into the pseudopod and I felt our heartbeat begin to pick up and breathing rate increase as the pseudopod got larger and required more oxygen transport.
The whole time this was happening, we were standing at the edge of the shower, water hitting us at waist level, washing across the cooling tubes of the leg armor. No heat discomfort yet. I was shoveling apple sausage salad into us as fast as I could manage. Apples, eggs, sausage, mayonnaise, it was a very high energy food for Frank to work with.
The biofactory was a nearly self-contained unit the size of a basketball by the time the first deliveries arrived. The chest freezer had been brought into the bathroom, and Frank reached over and sealed the defrosting vents with epoxy applied from his fingers after we briefly removed a glove. Sure, we could have used duct tape, but we forgot to ask, even though it was pretty certain we could have gotten it.
Five full barrels of juice were rolled into the bathroom with a hand truck and set along one wall, and the freezer next to them. The pork quarters started to arrive, carried by the staff on a hand truck as well. The delivery truck driver probably would have had stories to tell about delivering a thousand or so pounds of frozen pork quarters to a guy in a black exoskeleton, connected to a blob of flesh in a bathroom, so I guess it made sense for the staff to carry them.
Frank stuck a finger in each barrel of fuel, verifying there were no surprises, then extruded a pseudopod from the biofactory towards each of the five barrels.
“I’m going to top off from the fuel as well, but I’m going to pull it from the barrels through the biofactory before I disconnect the biofactory from us.” Frank told me.
I blinked once. My mouth was full of salad. Made sense to me.
Once the factory was connected to the juice barrels, Frank asked the next staff member to leave the pork quarter they were carrying next to the bathroom drain instead of in the pile with the rest against the wall. They did, and Frank moved us and the biofactory, now the size of a small trash can, to the center of the room. The biofactory dissolved the drain cover and extruded a pseudopod into the sewer. Then it moved itself over the drain, and flattened out to also cover the pork quarter. I could feel the heat coming off the biofactory as it consumed the pork quarter, despite the fact that is was frozen. In about two minutes the entire pork quarter was gone, bones and all. The biofactory now had an obvious heartbeat and respiration, and we disconnected from it. I kept eating though, for a couple more minutes, until we felt full, then I walked over to the biofactory and dropped the last five or so kilos of the apple sausage salad on top of the biofactory, which rapidly consumed it.
Frank was extending more pseudopods from the biofactory. One to each shower, one to each sink, and one to each toilet and urinal. The length of the pseudopods and the number of them started to draw the biofactory a bit thin. We walked over to the pile of pork quarters and picked up another one, carrying it over to the biofactory and carefully setting the heavy piece of pork on top of the small biofactory. The pork rapidly disappeared, and I could feel the heat rolling off the biofactory once again. The pseudopods finally connected to each of the water appliances, covering where the water would normally drain from the appliances with plugs attached to the ends of tubes that would draw water. The pseudopods branched and the new branches gripped themselves onto the levers, buttons, and light sensors, using them like a human might, to control the water flow. Both showers, all three sinks, both toilets and the urinal all started pushing cooling water through the biofactory. The radiant heat coming off the biofactory rapidly dispersed as the cold water was passed from all the appliances through the body of the biofactory, and then into the drain underneath. After a few seconds of simply passing water through itself, Frank had the biofactory begin to collect water to act as a heat sink, rapidly inflating, and then maintaining a stable volume. The next pork quarter we put on top of the biofactory was gone by the time we carried the fourth to it.
At this point the body of the biofactory was robust, and we wouldn’t hurt it by throwing sizable pieces of frozen pork on it. Frank stopped walking back and forth, and we simply tossed the pork quarters from the pile onto the biofactory, which then internalized them. It wasn’t consuming them all immediately, we were throwing the pork too fast for that, but it was consuming the masses of meat and bone rapidly. It didn’t take Frank and I much longer to finish tossing the rest of the pile of frozen meat to the biofactory.
“This is going much faster than when we did this in the stream or in the Agency HQ. Frank, you must be burning through that juice?”
“Very much so. Used one of the barrels of juice already, rolling it off now.” We walked over to the barrel closest to the door and rolled it on its bottom edge to the door, then put a foot under the edge and picked it up with both hands and the foot, and put it outside the door, getting another stunned look from Doctor Meilin. I gave her a thumbs up signal. She nodded and turned away again. Hans and Franz just looked at one another, then one of them followed us into the restroom and looked around. “The tap water here is very cold, and there’s very good pressure. The sewer system is apparently capable of handling the full output of all water devices in the bathroom here, so far, unless there’s a blockage a long way from here. The air pressure in the sewer system will warn me long before any potential backflow occurs”
“Why did you connect to all five barrels if you are emptying them one at a time?” I asked Frank.
“When I pull from them I pull from each of them, all at the same time. I just drained that one by rerouting all its fuel into the other barrels. Initial growth is one of the biggest juice burners. No need to keep all five barrels. Marrow and bone structure formation is next. Then integration of all the electronics, which is going to require a lot of power. The other food will arrive soon, and I’ll be able to metabolize that as well as the fuel for the rebuilding. But for now I’m still forming bones and shaping the biofactory.”
“Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call this a biocomputer, if I understand what you are doing?”
“OK, biocomputer it is.” I looked at it again. It was about twelve feet long and five feet wide now, and a few inches thick. There was no visible sign of any of the pork. The skin on its surface was mostly opaque, but you could still see muscle and bone under the skin, faintly. “Looks like a living flying carpet. Sort-of. Maybe.”
Frank chuckled in my head “If you insist. Right now I’m programming it, trying to get it ready for the next stage. The electronics, metals, and other materials should arrive soon.”
Over the next two hours the video cards, mainboards, uninterruptible power supplies and the metals and other materials arrived, as well as the cooked grains, beans, veggies, and other foods. The UPS’s all went into the room with the symbiote that we were going to be monitoring. When the first of the electronics arrived, Frank plugged the extension cord into the wall then tossed the end of if into the biocomputer, which internalized it. Frank just tossed the rest of the metals and materials, including the motherboards, onto the biocomputer which absorbed them and started repurposing them, modifying them into custom mounts for the graphics cards that extended out of the skin of the biocomputer. I was surprised when the power supplies were simply mounted on the top of the biocomputer and the graphics cards plugged in, untouched, into the devices that were being made from the mainboards.
Two graphics cards, two optical data cables, and one power supply connected to each of the custom electronics devices. All of this covered only the first six feet of the biocomputer in a small forest of upright video cards and power supplies. The last six feet had no electronics mounted in it at first, then I noticed that there were optical cable connections growing on it as well. Frank started plugging them in, each graphics card’s optical cable plugging into a corresponding port on the other half of the biocomputer. Each cable had about twenty spare feet of slack line, which seemed excessive, the loops of extra cable were carefully draped over a lump in the top middle of the biocomputer. Frank hadn’t told me everything but I was beginning to suspect the biocomputer was going to split in half before we were done.
The cooked foods were all dumped into the chest freezer and a large pseudopod extruded over to it and began sucking huge amounts of food out of the freezer, emptying the entire thing in five minutes, creating a huge lump in the biocomputer, which rapidly diminished as the electronics were modified and the metals were processed. Even with all the water moving through it, the heat around the biocomputer was noticeable.
After Frank stopped plugging in cables, he went back to being physically passive and I looked at the biocomputer more closely. I could see clouds of tiny microfilaments leading off of root like structures growing from the bottom of the modified motherboards, the microfilaments had a metallic sheen to them, as did the root like structures themselves. There were whorls of different colors of metal evenly spaced under the skin, and a widely spaced but regular grid of metallic filaments under the whorls.
“All of this is to monitor the other symbiote Frank? The grid, the whorls, the roots?”
“Yes. Sorry to be terse. There’s a lot of programming complexity now. I’m trying to design an interface that will allow the graphics cards to monitor for state change data from a symbiote’s memory. The problem being that the graphics cards are low order technology, though they are bordering on higher order, and the data storage system of the biocomputer is higher order, so I’m having to filter data through the biocomputer’s processors. It would be a lot worse if I had to monitor the processors themselves, since symbiote processors have some highest order components. I am confident that the berserker protocol is inside the data storage system, not bootstrapped into the processors somehow, and Star was able to confirm that.”
“All of these optical cables. What sort of throughput are you expecting?” I asked
“I’m hoping that there’s enough data transfer capacity. Two terabits per second is pretty extreme for human technology. At least for non-institutional throughput on short notice. In a mostly idle state, that much data transfer would allow me to monitor a substantial part of my own data storage changes of state, so it should be enough, I think.”
“So the video cards are basically only acting as scanners, looking for changes of state within the data storage system of the symbiote? Human GPU processing is actually good enough to be useful for analysis of symbiote data changes?”
“Yes. High end modern video cards of human manufacture are actually respectably powerful computing systems. Each one has about two-tenths of a percent of my processing power. If you program them right. Which I’m trying to do right now. Hint.”
I laughed, stopped talking to Frank, and walked out to talk with Doctor Meilin, who was still making calls, raising my hand to get her attention.
She looked up and raised her index finger, to tell me she was nearly finished. I nodded and waited. A minute later she ended her call, which sounded like it was routine leadership related stuff.
“How do we stand on the server components?” I asked.
“I was able to get them far more rapidly than I expected. They have been on the way for an hour, but it will take another hour for them to arrive, then an hour after that to de-box, rack mount, connect them together and test them. They are coming with a technician and an engineer who knows the hardware and software inside and out, on the off chance there are any questions. Frank, do you know Debian Linux?”
“[I do.]” He spoke aloud
“That’s the operating system that the server will be running. It’s a preconfigured system, the server and JBOD anyway, but you will have to configure the switches and their connections after the server and JBOD are ready.” Doctor Meilin waited for a response.
“[Are the technician and engineer part of your organization, do they know about symbiotes?]”
“[Tell them it’s a dark site then and keep them in a nearby restaurant with a cellphone that we can call if I do have a question. I’ll do the assembly and testing. The model you acquired is the same one I asked for?]”
“Yes, same model. It was a lab unit at a nearby company’s corporate headquarters.”
I was a bit lost. “Frank, when did you learn Debian?”
“[Three weeks ago one night when you were asleep.]”
“I’ll never get used to you doing that.”
“[It’s easier to think when you are asleep.]”
“I’m really beginning to think that Smartass would have been a better name for you.”
“[Promises, promises. It can’t be any worse than being named after a tube of processed meat.]”
Hans, Franz, and Doctor Meilin all laughed. Simultaneously, literally all three of them with the exact same motion and cadence. It was very unreal and unsettling to see. That also indicated that perhaps Doctor Meilin wasn’t as comfortable with us as she was trying to act like she was, if she was controlling both drones all the time while she was around us.
Doctor Meilin turned to Hans and Franz with a big grin. “Boys, is Frank being a bad influence on your symbiotes too? Karen is listening far too intently here, I think.”
They both nodded.
“Now you’ve done it Frank, corrupting the pure of thought with your seditious attitude.” I quipped, taking the opportunity to poke at Frank.
We all laughed, a good long laugh. Then all of the water turned off in the bathroom. It was eerily quiet after the faucets and showers flow stopped and the toilets and urinal stopped flushing constantly. A few seconds after that, the sound of water draining through the sewer pipes ended, and the biocomputer came through the door, its five foot wide twelve foot long, flat body arched up like a horseshoe along the five foot dimension, making it look like a twelve foot long inchworm. It was actually propelling itself like an inchworm too. I could see gripping elements along the strip of itself on either side, where it touched the ground. Looking at it straight on, it had the appearance of a horseshoe held so the luck would run out. I hoped that wasn’t some kind of foreshadowing.
“Done programming, Frank?”
“[Yes, we’ll test it on ourselves in this body shortly, but we need to get it near the test symbiote so when the server arrives, we’ll be able to rapidly begin to get the server ready. It will be at least another two hours before we are ready to begin. Once we do begin it might be days before the transformation occurs, but we want to get ready ASAP.]”
Doctor Meilin nodded, and everyone got serious again as we moved down towards the holding facility, one step closer to intentionally releasing a berserker.