The Presidential advisory committee had been listening to experts and witnesses for days. Most of the committee already knew what side they were on, but a couple were either unsure, or were concealing their positions. The threat from Bob Benson was played, again. For what must have been the twentieth time. It had found its way into mainstream media and caused a huge uproar, with so many extreme positions in the debate that rational discussion in front of public media wasn’t possible.
“You want to engage us on laws and regulations and whatnot for integrating into society, sure, that’s fine. We’ll welcome that, but symbiote hunting season is over unless you want to be hunted right back.”
The recording ended. Senator Bixley was the first to speak, according to established order. “Colonel Gantt, what is your impression of this ‘pair’? They seem extremely agitated and perhaps a bit unstable to me.”
“Senator, we know that Bob, the human part of that pair, is an ex-soldier, but was not exposed to combat, nor given any more than the standard basic combat training that all army soldiers get in basic training. He’s done a lot of different jobs throughout his life, giving him an extremely broad base of fairly shallow knowledge. He’s very creative with what he knows, which can be surprisingly effective, or cause his ideas to fall flat. Most of the reports in the agency comment on this, that he can discuss just about any topic with some degree of comprehension, but easily gets lost in the presence of experts.” A pause. “His symbiote, however, is a different story, and should be discussed separately in regards to technical expertise. We have extensive files built up on the pair, and each of them individually from their time in the Agency, but nothing I’ve seen seems to indicate either half of the pair is unstable. Quite the opposite, really. They have a strange combination of holding themselves under tight control, but still being risk takers. A lot like some of the best military scouts and point men. I didn’t get any sense of instability from them. Agitated? Yes. Definitely agitated – highly agitated in fact, but holding themselves under strict control, and very confident.”
“Haven’t we determined that this is the same person who killed four gunmen in a vigilante style killing in Birmingham last year?” Again from Senator Bixley.
Senator Felder nodded. “Yes. He’s also the same one who fought off over a dozen gang thugs on video without taking any wounds, including two of them that had guns, and he didn’t do permanent damage to any of them. It also seems like he took out two full companies of infantry troops after waltzing through some of our most advanced perimeter defense hardware, again without killing anyone. I have no question for the Colonel at this time, I would like to defer my question until after other senators have asked their questions.”
Senator Smith spoke next. “Colonel Gantt, if you were in our position, with what you know, what would you consider a prudent course of action?”
Colonel Gantt thought carefully. “Trying to put myself in your shoes is a difficult exercise, senator. I would suggest extreme caution. One of the other things we’ve picked up from Bob’s psych profile is that he rarely says anything that he won’t back up. He rarely lies, and when he does, it’s typically a lie of omission. If he says he will do something, he can be counted on to do his best to make it happen. This has been remarked on in every job with serious reviews of his performance all the way back to his college years. Discounting a threat of this magnitude from a man who has the power at his fingertips that Bob has might be a bad idea.”
Senator Smith steepled his fingers in front of his face, closing his eyes for a moment. Perhaps a deep thought, though it might have been a prayer. “That doesn’t actually answer my question, but I can respect that you won’t answer it with more than a warning. Thank you Colonel.”
Senator Winder’s turn to speak arrived. “One man. Are we this afraid of one man? Yes, he appears to be an exceptional man, with abilities straight out of a science fiction book, but we have a military and security apparatus that numbers in the millions. Do we let a single man dictate terms to us? That is a rhetorical statement, senators. I don’t understand why we haven’t sent a request for a national state of emergency and martial law declaration to the senate and house floors already. Having this meeting before there has been a legislative action is premature.”
“You have had four days to introduce such a bill, and haven’t yet, Senator. Others apparently share the same hesitation.” A mild rebuke from the chair of the investigative committee, Senator Cross. “Do you have a non-rhetorical question or statement for us before we see who is ready to vote?”
Senator Winder glared daggers but his voice was calm. “Yes, I do have a question. Colonel, if you were given free rein to use any military capabilities you liked, would you be able to take out this Bob character, despite his ‘super powers’?”
“Are you willing to use nuclear weapons on US soil? We know where Bob is now, and the Agency personnel as well. They dropped off the radar after the attempt to eradicate them failed, but the Homeland Security people found them again within a day. If you were willing to use a nuclear weapon in the outskirts of Shreveport, Louisiana, we could offer a high probability of a successful kill against Bob and most of the rest of the Agency, if not all of them. This would leave the other group, Recovery, which was much larger than expected, more difficult to find, and far more militarily capable than expected, but we have leads on where most of their membership can be found. None of the Recovery members are as capable as Bob is, though this may not remain true in the medium term. It will certainly be untrue in the long term. Their methods of preventing the emergence of berserker symbiotes causes reduced mental capacity in both the human host and the symbiote. With proper precautions, follow up assaults on their positions would be possible with proper air and heavy weapons support.”
“How high is a high probability of a successful kill on the Agency base with the nuclear option?”
“Maybe 75%. We do not know how extensive or how well armored the underground facilities are, but we know there are some.”
“Without using nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, what other options do we have, Colonel?”
“Just to be clear in case the topic comes back around to nonconventional weapons again. Biological or chemical weapons are pretty much useless against normal agency Agents due to their symbiotes, Bob is no exception to this. If anything, he’s more resistant to them because his symbiote is self-aware and can take active countermeasures rather than passive countermeasures.”
“Please answer the question that was asked, Colonel. Based on the information we have, could we stop Bob with conventional weapons?”
“If Project Thor were released to us to break open underground bunkers, we could use that, in conjunction with a napalm bombardment, to produce perhaps a fifty percent chance of killing Bob, and a ninety percent kill percentage on the rest of the Agency within a few minutes. Subsequent assault by ground troops should be sufficient to finish off any survivors before they recuperate from injuries.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Senator Winder leaned back in his seat.
Senator Cross spoke “Senator Felder, do you wish to ask your deferred question now?”
Senator Felder responded. “No, I have no questions.”
“All in favor of a vote now, raise your hands.”
Two hands were raised.
Two hands were raised. Then Senator Cross raised his hand. “I will side with those opposing a vote. We will convene again the day after tomorrow. Remember that we are not allowed to discuss this matter with anyone not cleared directly through the office of the President. Colonel Gantt, General Nordstrom is now on the list of persons cleared by the President and has been briefed to prepare plans for several potential operations – please place yourself at his disposal. You may provide any information to the General that you feel is relevant, except those things sealed under different projects.”
“Understood Senator Cross. I will report to General Nordstrom immediately, if permission is granted for me to leave?”
“Permission granted, Colonel.”
Colonel Gantt saluted Senator Cross, then gathered his notes into his briefcase, and walked quickly out the door.
Rubbing his eyes with his fists, Senator Cross asked “Off the record, does anyone have anything to say about this fiasco?”
Senator Felder spoke up. “This is going to be a pretty long statement. My understanding is that in the last sixty years, there has only been a single fully adult, fully active symbiote on Earth – this Bob fellow. Under dubious circumstances he killed four contract killers, saving the life of a woman who we know was attached to the cartels at one point, but who apparently has gone clean enough that it’s not worth law enforcement’s time to go after her to get her out of Brazil. Since then he’s beaten over a dozen thugs at once on video, showing ludicrous fighting skill, then he beat the crap out of an Agency team of twenty suppressed symbiote soldiers, who are generally considered to be the equivalent of six to ten normal human soldiers each. Then he waltzes into a trap specifically set for him and humiliates two companies of the Army’s best, and promises to take revenge if we try to kill other symbiotes.”
Senator Felder took a drink of water. “He is immune to biological and chemical warfare. He can change his appearance and even his size at will, with the degree of change dependent on how much food he has available. Based on Agency files, he can run at speeds up to around sixty miles per hour for up to several minutes, depending on weather conditions. His armor is at least equivalent to the Agency armor which was provided for study a couple months ago, which is off the charts for protection per pound, several orders of magnitude better protection than anything we can mass produce. That armor is able to ignore most man portable weapons fire, and he’s supposedly replaced his bones with the same materials. He can breathe under water and has been documented to lift around ten times his weight over his head with moderate effort in his human form. This strength apparently scales with his weight, which we know can reach up to six hundred or so pounds, based on his one-time transformation into a gorilla shape, where he casually buckled a steel cargo container door and snapped a half inch steel chain. If you do injure him, he regenerates within seconds. His reaction speed is practically instantaneous, allowing him to literally dodge bullets. He can create and control remote acting life forms of his own design which are grown at need, and has the ability to manufacture a huge range of chemicals at will. His only real weakness seems to be heat-inducing weapons, and because of that, he has a heat radiation system designed into his armor which can apparently allow him to dump massive amounts of heat from his body core in seconds. Pretty much the only way to kill him instantly is with a direct hit to the head or torso with a weapon equivalent to an antitank weapon – and even that is questionable because he has so little mass that the penetration effect of antitank rounds against that absurd armor of his might not actually work properly.”
Another drink of water. “On top of all that, according to Colonel Gantt and Agency files, he still seems to match his adult psych profile for the last twenty years before he reached ‘synergy’ with his symbiote. Oh, and apparently he’s immortal due to the regenerative abilities of the symbiote, just like the Project Boomerang experimental soldiers.”
Senator Felder paused. “In essence he’s become superhuman, almost like he stepped straight out of a comic book. Doesn’t it seem strange to the rest of you that we are trying to figure out how to kill Bob Benson and others like him, rather than figure out if we can get symbiotes for all humans? I must admit that living forever in the body of a woman in her physical prime has a lot of attraction to me. Thank you for your patience. That is all.”
Senator Winder spoke next. “I’ll be brief. It’s on the record that when I was a teenager, I went through drug rehab for cocaine use. Cocaine is the most incredible thing when you are riding the high, but the crash is brutal. I see symbiotes in the same light. They seem incredible and desirable on their face, but there will be a price to pay. For decades we used the Agency to enforce imprisonment of symbiotes, because every symbiote that wasn’t imprisoned become an insane, human killing monster. Now we have a single instance of a symbiote that seems to be benign. One case against sixty years of experience. Are we really willing to throw away sixty years of experience for a fluke? Are we so sure that this isn’t some sort of evolution of the symbiotes? We were controlling them so well that they change tactics? I believe that rather than just going berserk on maturation, now they are trying to infect humanity like a virus until they have enough of a population that they can attack simultaneously and destroy humanity with a single overwhelming attack. That is all.”
Senator Smith began to speak. “Wasn’t Bob’s case determined to be abnormal due to an accidental body mutilation interfering with the normal development of his symbiote? I was unclear on the technical files but some of the meeting transcripts seemed fairly clear that he was a special case, and that he used some aspects of his abnormal development to prevent Bob from being killed by a berserker. He created a whole new body, and created a new operating system for himself. He later worked with another splinter group of symbiotes led by another of the initial project Boomerang subjects, Doctor Meilin, to isolate a cure for the berserker code. Furthermore, I believe the berserker behavior was inflicted on human symbiotes when we tried to prevent the original symbiote enhanced alien from leaving Earth after they provided the payment that we requested on them for raw materials to repair their ship? We betrayed them, they sabotaged their payment to us. That is all.”
Senator Bixley rubbed his forehead. “Do we take yet another fruit from the serpent, and trust that this time it will not be poison?”
Senator Felder broke in, angrily, standing to make her point. “Maybe if General Crofter hadn’t shot the serpent’s mother out of the sky as she tried to run away, there wouldn’t have ever been poisoned fruit.”
“Order, Senator Felder. These are informal statements, not a formal debate, nor an intellectual brawl.” Senator Cross stared at Senator Felder until she apologized. He continued to wait, watching, as she seated herself, and then he continued. “Based on the wide spread of differences we have here, I suspect we’re in for a long argument. Meeting adjourned until two business days from now at nine AM.”
Senator Felder and her aide sat in the back seats of the limousine as they went over the week’s schedule.
“Your daughter’s medical team has requested a meeting with you after you visit with her today.” Said the aide. “They say the meeting should take no more than fifteen minutes.”
“Shift everything around as needed to make it happen. Will my husband also be there?”
The aide poked at her tablet for a couple seconds. “Yes, and he’s already made arrangements to stay for the meeting, as well.”
“Good. Let me know if there is anything critical that comes up between now and then, otherwise I need to think.” The senator stared out the window for the next two hours as they drove to the cancer treatment center.
Seeing Ellen so weak and helpless at such a young age, when only months before she had been a vibrant person, seemingly addicted to exercise and constant motion, was terribly painful. By the time her daughter, or anyone else, had noticed there was anything wrong, the pancreatic cancer had already spread outside the pancreas. The options for treatment were few, the outlook dismal. That was when Senator Felder had been approached and given the option of blood or country. The question hadn’t been nearly so hard to answer as she had occasionally imagined it might be, in idle moments of introspection before imagination became terrifying reality. The life of her daughter compared against her country, a country now wrapped up in lunacy, power hunger, warmongering and irrational fear that would almost certainly lead to an attempt to destroy the only thing that had any reasonable chance to save her daughter?
The tiny elfin woman on the other side of the desk sat and placed a small smooth box with a button and two LED lights on the desk and pushed the box’s button. When a green LED light appeared, she began speaking. “The treatment will be successful. At this time, the cancer is under control, and slowly shrinking. We would like to take her to the home clinic in Australia for careful monitoring. She is healthy enough now to make the trip, as we discussed. You will accompany her?”
Senator Felder answered. “William will go with her. I have to stay.”
Her husband nodded, then squeezed her hand. Hard but not hard enough to hurt. She squeezed right back. “I wish you would go with Ellen and me, Julie.” He said, trying to look her in the eyes, but she avoided his eyes.
“We’ve talked about this, Bill, I have to stay. I’ll join you after my term is up.” They both knew this wasn’t very likely.
The doctor looked from one of them to the other. “Please sign these waivers and permission forms. Ellen’s flight will leave tonight. There will be two seats reserved for your use, if there is a change of heart.”
She ‘accidentally’ left the pen with the recording of the day’s meeting in it. Betrayal with this price tag was so easy, and worth whatever price she would eventually pay for it. Still, she wouldn’t run from the decision.