I didn’t like how quiet Frank was being as we walked out of the facility.
“Frank, voice mask on, please.”
“Penny for your thoughts. You’re quieter than I expected after that.”
“I’m trying to figure out where the ambush will be. Do you really think they will let us leave? We’ve pretty much declared war on them if they don’t change. And there are three old school military men, all over a hundred years old, in charge of the organization. None of them seem all that flexible to me.”
“I would guess that they will review the data and get Alice’s take on it, and Advudt’s analysis of risk before doing anything crazy. Can’t hurt to be careful though. We’ll just walk out, leaving both vehicles. Too easy for them to pull something crazy on us if we drive out.”
“Sounds like a plan. I hope you are right that they don’t attack us. I really don’t want to fight Agency people. Got no problem with most of them. At the same time though, I’m not terribly concerned if we do have to fight them.”
“Don’t be overconfident. They have had more than enough time to figure out better ways to fight us since we beat up the original team that came after us in North Dakota. I can imagine several ways that they could be serious threats.”
“True. And I am a bit worried while we are indoors. When we get outside, it’s hard to be worried.”
“We need to sit down and brainstorm how we would take out another us, if we were the Agency, or Recovery, or the US military for that matter.”
“Robotic tracking laser weapons. Area effect heat-based attacks like napalm or aerosol fuel air bombs. Extremely powerful explosives.”
“That’s a good start, but let’s wait to brainstorm more until after we’re safe. I didn’t mean to do it now.”
“I’ll run it as a background experiment then, it’s a good idea to try to figure out what I’d do, then compare it against their capabilities. A car bomb would be pretty close to the top of my list.”
“Lovely. I’m not sure if I want to listen to the list of ways you can come up with to kill us, Frank.”
“Hey, you suggested it!”
“Yea, it’s a good idea, just a bit morbid and I can see a bit of paranoia on the mental horizon as a result of it. But like the quote goes: ‘It’s not really paranoia if everyone really is out to get you.’”
We approached reception, and were not challenged as we left, though we were watched closely. “Frank drop the voice mask please.”
Right outside the security doors in the lobby was one of the engineering tech weenies, Bill, and two other, newer, non-field agents standing next to a few boxes of my personal belongings. I didn’t know either of the new agents.
“You can do what you want with those, I won’t be taking them.” I told the two agents. “Give them to other agents, charity, or trash them. Doesn’t matter. Can’t trust anything I take out of here right now, sorry.”
“Understood, Magilla. I read the email.” One of them knew my nickname, at least. The other one just nodded, and they both turned and moved to start carting the boxes back into the facility.
“If you have the time, Alice has requested that you work with one of your biofactories to give us the information you told us about, and give it a human machine interface so we can get the data off onto the main servers for permanent storage. It’s directly behind this wall, and you should be able to interface with it from here.” He tapped the wall directly behind his back.
“OK, yes, we’ll do that, Alice told me to expect this. Give us a few minutes, I’ll tell you when we’re done.”
“Frank, before you touch that thing, be ready for anything. I doubt Alice would set up a code trap for us, but I don’t want to risk it.”
Bill looked insulted.
“Bill, they already tried to take Frank out once. Don’t give me that look.”
“Yea, I get it Magilla, sorry. Hard to hear you talk that way about us. Things got really toxic really fast.”
“Bill, I’ve got no problems with any rank and file agent. I might not have any problems with Agency leadership in a month if they start treating symbiotes like sentient beings – but I’m not coming back as a member, not after what they tried to do to Frank.”
All Bill did was nod, which was fine by me because I didn’t like having that conversation any more than he did.
“Bob, I just formatted everything in the biofactory. There’s zero risk in connecting to it now. If there was any data in there they wanted to keep, tough.”
“OK, give them the data we promised, and make it so they can connect to the human servers, then let’s go.”
After about thirty seconds, Frank told me he was done and we walked out into the parking garage.
“Voice mask on Frank, please.”
“Any new electromagnetic signals that you can see?”
“No, nothing new, but there was always a lot of surveillance here.”
“OK, out the side of the garage then, to the roof, and then let’s look at the other nearby rooftops before we move. I’d like to know for sure if they were planning an ambush before we leave. I hope not.”
Frank took control and we walked to the closest side of the building and hopped up onto the concrete half-wall barrier keeping cars from driving off the building. From there it was a simple matter of a few leaps up from floor to floor and we popped over onto the top floor.
We were greeted by four agents turning to face us, who had already put their rifles down, and were holding their hands to their sides, hands out.
Mako was one of this team’s agents. “None of the security teams are going to interfere with you, Magilla. We got the email. Everyone outside right now is in agreement, but there might be others who don’t agree on their way soon, so get out of here, OK?”
I nodded to Mako, then Frank released our grip on the building and we fell ninety feet down, with Frank slowing us at every floor by briefly grabbing onto that floor’s half wall. We hit the ground and easily rolled forward.
No jacket, no cover, full armor. I wasn’t a part of the Agency any more but I didn’t want to create a spectacle near their facility either, too many people I respected were part of the organization.
At the same time, I was done sneaking around in the shadows. I wasn’t ready to go on any talk shows or anything, but I wasn’t going to hide any more. I figured I would make as good of an example of what a human with a symbiote could be as anyone else, and Recovery would probably be recruiting very heavily soon in any case. How the Agency was going to sort this out, I didn’t know.
“Frank let’s stick to back alleys and crossing side roads for a few blocks, then hit Fourteenth Street North at Bayberry and crank the speed up to eleven for three blocks until we hit the bridge, then jump into the water.”
“That’s ah, going to expose us to daylight traffic, running in armor, in the middle of the road, at highway speeds. Not exactly subtle.”
“I think we’re done with subtle, Frank. With what we know now, I think that trying to stay subtle would damage human-symbiote relations worse in the long run than just coming out and showing we exist. Now that we can control the berserker protocol, there’s no reason to hide ourselves. No matter what we do at this point, a lot of people will fear us. If we show humans what a symbiote and a human can do together, I think that will mitigate the fear.”
“Do you mean to show them your real face?”
“No, I don’t want to completely expose ourselves, I just want to expose the existence of human-symbiote pairs.
“So you want to be a ‘superhero’ person, like from the comic books? A secret identity and all that jazz? Seems a bit over the top for your personality. We’re bound to attract the attention of law enforcement too. They frown on vigilantes.”
“We’ll talk about it later. You make some good points.”
“OK, so you still want to streak along Fourteenth then jump in the river?”
“You realize there’s a very good chance we will cause a wreck as people are shocked by what we’re doing, maybe even get someone killed?”
“… Thank you Frank, I hadn’t considered that. I guess we just take back alleys until we get to the river.”
“I think being a ‘superhero’ might be fun, but we’ll have to be careful too. We’ll probably want to stick to moving fast on vehicles for a while. Being the first real ‘superhero’ means we’ll be a big thing, and if we hurt people out of proportion to the good we do, they will crucify us in the media.”
“Aren’t I supposed to be the one who knows humans better? Why are you thinking of these things and I’m missing them?”
“Sure, but right now you are trying to imagine how to introduce ourselves to humanity as a superhero and representative human-symbiote bonded pair. It’s not exactly something normal that you have any prior experience with to base your expectations of human behavior on. I’m a lot better than you at imagining completely new things and realistically predicting what people will do. Well, usually.”
“I guess you have a point. The last hour or so has stressed me out too. Let’s hit the river to break off any potential pursuit, then start the whole process of starting over from scratch.”
We entered the river, swam downstream underwater with gills for a few miles, and came up in one of the suburban areas near a mall. First object would be to get a long coat to better blend in. Then clothes so we could take off the armor. Then sell diamonds to refill the cash in the pouch wallet, which would allow us to buy a new bike and let us rent or buy a place. We wouldn’t get a good price for the diamonds, selling them to little jewelry shops, but we didn’t need much to get started.
A few hours later, we had a new black rawhide duster, jeans, white T-shirts, running shoes, and a big new street legal dirt bike with saddlebags, rifle holster for the staff, and a luggage rack. Frank convinced me to buy a leather fedora while we were in the leather shop for the duster. I had to admit it looked good on us. He also pointed out that the staff was pretty obvious. Not many bikers had a black quarterstaff in a rifle holster. We would need to be able to break it down into two halves to allow us to hide it from casual visual inspection.
We hit an electronics shop and picked up a tablet machine with accessories, one good phone, two cheap phones, and a few phone cards.
Then we drove a bit out of town and rented a hotel room, and started checking email. There were already several requests to meet from Agency members to have Frank cleanly remove the berserker code. There were also several copies of FYI emails from Guiliard and Anton detailing that the Agency was pulling in all documented pairs, even those that had not reached synergy. The entire organization was moving to a different facility, where arrangements were being made to process everyone so that Agency symbiotes would no longer be at risk of going drone.
Ayva sent me a “What the hell happened?” email then a couple more emails after that over the next few hours. I sent her the phone number to the best of my three new phones, the one I would try to keep.
The Agency was moving very fast. Within a few hours I was getting notes from Ayva about convoys of semis and busses moving materials and people. She was using personal email, but I couldn’t imagine the Agency not be monitoring all outgoing transmissions, and told her they were probably watching what she told me. She said she knew, but she didn’t give a damn after what they tried to do to Frank. After the move was over she was going to leave the Agency and come to me to help me settle in wherever I wanted to go to, and maybe we could talk about some important things when her symbiote was freed. I replied that I was certainly interested in important conversations about the future. The marriage word hadn’t been mentioned, but it didn’t need to be. We’d spoken about it before.
I went and took a nice hot shower, imagining a very interesting future for myself and Ayva, and started talking with Frank about it. He was actually a bit worried about Ayva’s symbiote, as it would be a complete unknown to all of us really. I wasn’t worried about it. If her symbiote lived a few decades in her body before they reached synergy, I’m sure it knew her well, and would almost certainly get along OK with us. Frank wasn’t entirely convinced.
I went to sleep while Frank was looking through a rental properties website, and was woken a couple hours later. Ayva had started a video conference and was letting us see a large number of agents gathering in front of Ellis, Guiliard, Anton, Alice, and Advudt who were standing on the back of a large flatbed truck next to a microphone stand. More agents than I’d ever seen in one place before. There were busses and trucks parked within view around the outskirts. The building they were in appeared to be an extremely large warehouse floor on the scale of a large distribution center warehouse. The pairs who had not yet reached synergy were fairly obvious by their confusion, and many of them were wearing restraints. They ranged from very young to very old.
Ellis stepped up to the microphone, Ayva centered her pickup on him. “Most of you are now aware that earlier today we had information delivered to us by an ex-agent most of you know as Bob, or Magilla. He used his symbiote to crash our mail server security and sent everyone an email to be sure that you were not kept in the dark about discoveries that would allow us to free our symbiotes. Because of his actions we have relocated here in order to make sure none of our symbiotes can ever be a danger to humanity.” He pulled a small box out of his pocket, and pressed a button. A few drops of liquid appeared on Ayva’s phone. They had a rainbow shimmer around their edges.
The other four members of leadership behind him seemed as confused as everyone else. Alice sniffed the air and licked her hand and was close enough to the microphone of Ayva’s phone to be heard asking “Diesel? What the hell is this, Ellis?”
Ellis spoke again, to the crowd. “I’m sorry, I wish there was another way, but we all now represent too great of a threat…”
There was no gunshot or explosion, a large hole simply appeared in the middle of Ellis’ face, and he dropped the box in his hand. Animal moved into the pickup as Ayva’s hand angled the phone towards him, his hand extending to grab the box out of midair as Ellis’s body collapsed in the background, between Alice and Guiliard, who were both gape mouthed in shock. Frank replayed the hole’s appearance in Ellis’s head, and it was a portable music player in an armored case moving at a ridiculous speed, blowing through the ridge of bone between the eyes, and entering the skull.
Animal hopped from the ground onto the truck’s bed next to Ellis’s corpse and looked carefully at the microphone, then spoke loudly without using it. “Do not try to turn on any vehicle. The ignition may light the diesel. Do not turn any electronics on OR off – including phones or flashlights! Do not fire weapons in the building! It won’t be long before we cannot breathe. The pre-synergy pairs are already struggling. Alice, you get in this truck and steer it straight into the wall on the back side of the building opposite where we came in. I want combat squads one, two, three, and four to push this truck, as hard as you can, when Alice closes the truck’s door. We need to get through that wall, and if they loaded the sprinkler system with diesel fuel, there’s no telling what the wall’s made of or what’s outside, so you are going to fucking push this truck like your lives depend on it. Everyone else will follow the truck. The pre-synergy pairs will be guided or carried as needed.”
“If there are unfriendly people on the other side of the wall, the combat squads will handle them. All tech weenies, non-combatants, and pre-synergy pairs will go straight to the river, into the river, and downstream for at least one mile. The combat teams will join you. Combat squads seven and eight will carry the most distressed pre-synergy pairs.”
There was a moment of disbelief and hesitation.
Ayva’s phone was pointed towards Animal, then shifted a little to center Anton as he started to speak.
Anton barked “Stop goldbricking people and do what the man said! It’s GO time.”
Anton’s outburst got people moving. Ayva’s phone tracked this way and that, following actions happening around her. Alice jumped into the cab and closed the door of the truck while forty soldiers started pushing. Anton, Advudt and Guiliard, jumped off and jogged beside the truck. All three of them pulling pistols and checking for spare clips. A couple other squads of soldiers had their rifles out, and were in a line on either side of the truck. Ayva had grabbed one of the children, and was carrying her on one hip as the child panicked, burying her head in Ayva’s shoulder, crying, struggling to breathe. Every couple seconds, Ayva held the phone over her head, tilted barely down a bit, and turned the phone full circle to scan the entire area with the phone, letting Frank and I see everything in line of sight with her.
The truck hit the back wall, hard. The wall was apparently concrete reinforced outside the visible sheet metal, and the truck bounced back several feet, knocking half a dozen soldiers down, but it had done enough damage to the wall that people could fit through the hole one at a time. Anton, Guiliard, Advudt and twenty soldiers rushed the hole and threw themselves through one at a time, and in about ten seconds, all of them were through the hole and gunshots started. The pushing squads ran the truck forward again, and it went completely through the wall. Ayva was one of the first out of the building, as she was carrying a child. She continued panning the phone as she moved to allow us to see what was happening.
As the truck pushed down the wall, bouncing over the broken concrete chunks and coasting out into the blacktop behind the building, a flamethrower silhouetted two humans in flame. They ran, burning, towards the river and went over a fence so fast they had to be Agency soldiers. The truck’s engine turned over a few times slowly, then cranked to life with a roar as the flamethrower swept in an arc and burned another three soldiers, who headed to the river over the fence like human comets. Alice gunned the truck’s engine and ran it straight at the flamethrower wielder, who stupidly tried to use it to burn the diesel covered truck. Alice’s truck was now on fire, ruining the eyesight of any human troops. Alice hit the flamethrower wielding soldier straight on, carrying them twenty feet over pavement, wrapping the fence across the front of the truck, holding the flamethrower wielder against the smashed grill of the truck as it plowed over an embankment and into the water, where it rapidly sank.
Flamethrowers went active with test burns to either side of the breach in the wall, moving closer. Guiliard and Anton and Advudt were directing soldiers. Animal and two others were standing together, directing everyone else, helping where needed, getting everyone out of the building as fast as they could.
The child Ayva was carrying began to panic, or rather, she began to panic with energy, now that she could breathe a little better. Between not being able to breathe properly, fire being all over the place, and constant gunfire, the child became impossible to restrain one-handed without hurting her. Ayva put her phone in her top right shirt pocket, but left it’s video and audio pickup on. We saw darkness but heard a firefight and, in the background, the sounds of people making sure everyone got out of the building.
I was already armored.
“Frank, do we know where they are?”
“No. Working on hacking the cell provider for Ayva’s phone GPS now, won’t be long. Get on the bike. I’ll have it before you get on the bike.
Anton’s voice. “Animal, pick two and run point. Pre-synergy pairs are to be carried and protected. Everyone else in a ring around them, body shield.”
The child had calmed down a little as they were able to breathe better still, perhaps in shock due to the sensory overload, so Ayva was able to briefly use one hand to pull the still-transmitting phone from her pocket as she was running towards the water. She leaned over and very quickly, carefully leaned the phone against a pylon, facing some city lights, with a view of sky. As she stood back up in view of the phone and started running to the river, once again protectively holding the child against her chest with both arms, a bullet punched through her upper arm with a spray of blood. She yelled “City Skyline. Stars. Gotta run!”