Colonel Gantt wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t his job to be happy, and it wasn’t anyone else’s job to keep him happy. His job was to defend his country, even if the idiots in charge of the country decided it needed saving from something which looked a whole lot more promising as an ally than an enemy.
All the armed forces were in on this one. Even the Coast Guard sent a few hazmat teams and had several helicopters ready to ferry supplies as needed. The plan was to take down the Agency before they were able to create more soldiers with Bob’s capabilities, and hopefully to take Bob out as well.
It was funny in a sad sort of way. So many lawmakers who were adamant in their rhetoric that the symbiotes were a terrible danger to humanity, that humanity didn’t need all the symbiotes had to offer because they would remove our free will. They were responding viscerally to the threats that Bob made, that any man or woman might easily make: ‘Attack my family or friends, and I will fight back’. Every operations order and command included very specific instructions that Bob was to be killed at all costs. They were afraid of Bob with good reason, from what he had seen.
None of that mattered now though. He had his orders, and he’d thought long and hard about them. The orders were stupid orders. Unfortunately, if said stupid orders were looked at through the eyes of ignorant, fearful people, they would seem straightforward and safe enough to follow. In the eyes of any potential courts martial, they would certainly be considered lawful. Symbiotes, after the information that had become public in the last week, could barely be considered to be a threat to humanity by anyone who believed what he himself knew to be true. Problem was that considering them a viable threat was still plausible in a farfetched manner, especially with all the hate propaganda floating around. Colonel Gantt personally believed humans were a greater threat to humanity than symbiotes. The real problem was that symbiotes threatened practically every major industry with extinction, he thought to himself sarcastically. The medical and pharmaceutical industries would simply implode. Most small item manufacturing would become obsolete when every person with a symbiote could simply turn a part of themselves into a personal 3D printer that was powered by cheeseburgers and apple pie. Not quite a post-need society because these things required food, and food would still need to be grown, but close.
The little guerrilla warfare public information campaign that the symbiotes ran through viral media had been scrappy and won a lot of converts, but fear, greed, and established political power won out over compassion and potential wellbeing for all. The image of Bob doing work on a farm faster than half a dozen experienced farm hands while discussing particle physics with Stephen Hawking on a head mounted smartphone screen came to mind, it had been his favorite. “Strangely”, Mr. Hawking had moved to Australia after that interview, along with a growing number of terminally ill patients and elderly. Buying a ticket to Australia had gotten expensive recently. While this was going on, Australia had basically raised a big middle finger at the US about how they were treating the symbiotes. The political asylum angle had infuriated the US political elite since a political asylum being offered to US citizens based simply on their being of “mixed race” said too many true things about what was about to happen. There were several bills floating around in congress to place an embargo on Australia like was still maintained on Cuba. Most Australian politicians basically gave the political equivalent of a shrug to the US when the possibility of an embargo was raised.
The Australians weren’t offering asylum to the symbiotes out of pure altruism. They weren’t even pretending they were. They were very clear that they understood the sorts of things that an adult symbiote could do. They even had some demonstrations. Stuff from the frivolous to the incredibly useful. A plum-sized ruby the shape of a heart inside a fist-sized square cut diamond as a frivolous example. Each symbiote being able to generate thousands of gallons of any chemical desired per day, including vaccines and medicines was an excellent useful example. There was more. Instant analysis of pathogens. Regeneration and immortality for anyone hosting a symbiote barring extreme head or torso wounds. That was the one that got the most attention – the modern day Fountain of Youth, except it was real. The Australian acceptance of symbiotes wasn’t perfectly blissful though, there were many Australians who were suspicious and didn’t trust symbiotes. As a general rule though, the Australians tended to judge symbiotes more by what they did, rather than what they might do. It also helped that most symbiote pairs coming from the US didn’t go around making ‘Now that’s a knife!’ jokes or praising Foster’s as being some Australian national treasure.
He snorted. The last few minutes before the start of any engagement were always hard, and his mind went to some pretty weird places. Sometimes those places led him to solutions to problems, so he’d never tried to prevent the adrenaline driven free-thinking, but he couldn’t shake how wrong he personally found this to be. He couldn’t claim to be a conscientious objector and avoid this, because he didn’t object to the thought of fighting and killing for his country, he’d been doing so off and on for twenty years in uniform. He objected to political stupidity, but most people did – even when what they believed was stupid was actually a better solution than their own pet solution. Operation White Lightning indeed. Appropriate on so many levels. He looked at his watch: 0628
“Butterfly, this is Canned Tuna, how do you read? Over.”
“Canned Tuna, this is Butterfly, we read you loud and clear. How do you read? Over.”
“Butterfly, we read you loud and clear. Operation White Lightning is still a go. Commence operations in one minute on my mark. Reply when ready for my mark. Over.”
“Canned Tuna, we are ready for your mark. Over”
“Butterfly, on three, 1…2…Mark. Good Luck. Over”
“Canned Tuna, Thank you. Out.”
One minute later, twelve telephone pole sized solid tungsten penetrators with guidance packages separated from a Project Thor satellite. Four minutes after that, the world exploded. Or at least that’s what it looked like from the micro drone video pickups around the compound that had received a signal to go live two seconds before impact. The cloud of dust and dirt was immense. Each of the buildings on the plantation had been replaced by multiple craters fifty feet deep, exposing shattered reinforced concrete underground. The perimeter guards could be seen running back in towards the center of the facility. Random pieces of buildings, furniture, bodies, and vehicles started raining down in a shower of dirt and rock.
The sounds of the initial strikes were still fading and the last of the solid wreckage from the compound was bouncing on the ground when a flight of ten A-10’s popped up into view as they flew in, nape of earth, each dropping four large napalm charges. None of them could see human targets in the cloud of dirt, but the reason for choosing A-10’s for this job became very apparent as the pilots began yelling at each other about taking small arms fire. Seven of them lost one engine to small arms fire from the ground, two of them lost two engines and the pilots had to eject. Ejecting from that low in the air was damn risky.
The napalm hit at about the same time the pilots started yelling at each other about taking turbine hits, then ignited. The gunfire from the facility stopped, except from the facility’s perimeter guards who, despite running at absurd speeds hadn’t gotten to the target area yet, and were still pouring fire into the A-10’s. Pistol fire while running. At 1000 yards. Another A-10 lost a second engine, the pilot bailing. Three parachutes in the air now.
There were six perimeter guards visible to the micro drones. After the napalm ignited, they reversed their motion and were all moving at absurd speeds back towards cover on the outskirts of the plantation. The drones plotted the positions and vectors of the guards with passive optics, and then a dozen AH-64 Apaches popped up around the perimeter. Six of the drones activated targeting lasers on the six perimeter guards. Each drone was immediately shot. One shot, one kill on six different four inch targets hidden in foliage at anywhere from four hundred to six hundred yards with a pistol. Fuck! It wasn’t enough to save the perimeter guards though. There were two Apaches per guard, and the Apaches weren’t using standard ammo, they were each carrying two anti-armor lasers, each of the lasers was fitted with armored shutters and sensors to detect incoming projectiles. Even while the perimeter guards were firing at the Apaches they were being burned down by four lasers each. Not even their miracle armor saved them from that for long. The Apache pilots started talking about weapon pods taking hits but the shutters were successfully protecting the lasers. Then they started talking about the rotors taking hits and they were a lot more excited about that. Apache rotors could take small arms fire better than A-10 turbine engines could though. All twelve Apaches stayed up and all six perimeter guards went down. The Apaches kept lasers on the targets until they stopped moving, then another five seconds of exposure, just to be sure.
That’s when the Marines roared in with their armored HMMWVs, each of them with a turret mounted version of the anti-armor laser, complete with hauled generator. As the Hummers spread around the perimeter of the plantation and started setting up, one of the perimeter guards stood up and fired twice at the nearest Hummer. The shots blew power and coolant lines on the laser, making it useless. The symbiote guard then holstered its pistol, and picked up… its arm, which it held against the opposite shoulder as it ran towards an outbuilding. The marines weren’t having any of that, and they cut loose with their rifles, the rounds alternating between tracers and armor piercing. They were using a new counter-symbiote firing tactic where one third of a squad would fire at a target center mess, one third would fire one body width to the right of center mess, and the last third the other one body width left of center mass. The symbiote then jumped, as expected, and the marines all targeted the ballistic target which could not avoid nearly as well. This guard didn’t have a staff to block bullets like Bob did, and its armor had been severely degraded by the laser attack it had survived. It went down hard. The arm that had been detached was already attached well enough that it stayed connected.
“Fuck if I couldn’t have used soldiers this hard to stop the last time I got in a serious firefight.” He thought.
The Marines finished setting up their perimeter, and shortly after, the bodies of the six symbiote perimeter guards were melted down to bones by the marine lasers. No chances were taken after the Marines’ commander got notice that one of the hostiles had gotten up, shot out a laser, and started carrying its arm towards cover.
The Army came next, with hundreds of troops, each of them in a specialized self-contained flame retardant suit, each of them with a flame thrower.
That’s when Bob appeared at the crater where the main house used to be, along with four others like him in identical armor. Each of them was missing more than half their armor, and two of them had no staff. Wherever they stored their equipment must have taken a hit. They tore into the Army troops, the three with staves leading, the one in the most complete armor on point. They weren’t making killing blows but they weren’t making any effort to be kind either, and Army soldiers were being thrown up to twenty feet if they got in the way. None of them even had a chance to use their flame throwers until all five armored figures cleared the ring of soldiers, and then all attempts to use the flame throwers simply missed, the figures dodging or simply outrunning the aim of the flame throwers. He made a mental note that flamethrower tactics for ground troops would need to be rethought.
They were heading straight towards the main entrance, where command vehicles had just entering the area. The vehicles immediately stopped. The Army soldiers all dropped prone on command via radio, and the command vehicles started firing antipersonnel lasers as the Marines carefully started firing their anti-armor lasers fitted with IFF devices to prevent shooting friendlies. The armored figures went from about forty to sixty miles per hour in less than a second, rapidly and randomly changing heading to throw off targeting, but running mostly straight at the command vehicles. One of the less armored figures fell, spinning out of control like a NASCAR wreck, and two marine anti-armor lasers converged on it until it started to burn. The other four armored figures reached the command vehicles
With something like regret, Colonel Gantt hit the detonation button, and the thin shelled vehicles burst, spraying napalm everywhere, soaking each armored figure, and turning them into four rapidly gyrating comets moving in four different directions. They all fell quickly, unable to survive such heat, even briefly, after building up so much heat in their long run to the gate at sixty miles per hour.
There was no more resistance. Everyone in the compound except the five black armored ones and the six perimeter guards were taken out by either the kinetic strike from Project Thor, or the napalm from the A-10’s. The entire complex was checked with ground penetrating radar and special acoustic systems for any possible deeply buried hideaways, but there was nothing. Apparently Bob and the other four with him had survived in an underground cistern, breathing through gills as the world around them burned, until they could get out and get to their gear.
Dogs checked the perimeter around each building and tunnel exit just to be sure no Agency personnel got away. No traces of the artificial adrenaline could be found to indicate any escapees. No long escape tunnel was found, though one had been started. One of the five armored figures matched Bob’s DNA. The least armored one, the first to fall. He had apparently given away all the armor he could to better protect the others, who were identified as Anton, Guiliard, and two other agents that went by code names Archer and Daredevil. They were all roughly the same size as Bob, despite Archer and Daredevil both normally being drastically different in size from each other, and Bob for that matter. Those other four must have been the first ones to have their symbiotes restored by the new process Bob and his symbiote had figured out after his meeting with Recovery. Apparently they adjusted their sizes and body composition to match Bob, based on his success in combat.
Colonel Gantt picked up the microphone as the last of the survey teams reported in. “General Nordstrom, Operation White Lightning is a clean sweep. There were five individuals armored like Bob, one was a positive DNA match for Bob. Over.”
General Nordstrom replied. “Please move the command post into the center of the plantation and set up the stage so the press will be able to get good images of the destruction. The senators and I will be there shortly, the press shortly after. How bad were our casualties? Over.”
“I see your priorities, general. Planning on moving into politics soon?” Thought Colonel Gantt to himself.
“No deaths, thirty-seven total injuries reported, mostly broken bones, three lost A-10’s. Damage to all flying vehicles that remain. Each will require significant repairs before they can fly safely again. Over.”
“Well done Colonel, you might as well start imagining a Brigadier General rank on your cap. I have already spoken to the President about it in advance of this mission, and he agreed to an immediate promotion if the mission was a total success. Flawless execution requires recognition. Out.”
Colonel Gantt turned to his Staff. “Please see to the General’s requirements. I’ll be back in three minutes. If I don’t leave now, there will be a puddle under the seat.” His staff laughed. He had a stack of ten disposable coffee cups at his desk, and hadn’t stood up for at least four hours as the mission was building up until after it was verified flawless.
He wasn’t really that badly in need, but it was a good excuse. He went to the restroom. After finishing, he stepped out into the sunlight and looked up at the clouds, wondering how history would judge him.
“Damn if that wasn’t a well-planned operation,” Anton said. “If we had actually been there, they might have successfully taken us all.”
Guiliard was still reviewing different angles of footage from the sparrows we had created as viewers and relays. “Agreed. The timing was nearly perfect. A huge amount of training and some damn fine troops. Could have used discipline like that in several fights I can remember.”
Animal spoke up. “Bob, you sure we can’t kidnap and try to recruit that Colonel rather than kill him? Look at him there. That man’s doing some soul searching.”
If anyone else had said it, I would have probably discounted it, but it was Animal talking. The more outlandish something he said sounded, the more likely it was to be true, it seemed. He definitely saw things a lot of us missed. I looked and the man standing outside the portable toilet, staring up into the air, certainly didn’t look happy. He looked rather miserable actually.
“Depends on how he reacts when we get there. Nobody else kill him. I’ll make that call. Everyone knows the targets and the non-targets?”
“Visual scan. Check your buddy. Anything out of place let them know, or fix it for them.”
Everyone’s uniform checked out properly, so all four of us got into the HMMVW staff vehicle and headed to the plantation. Security was tight, but I’d used one of the birds perched on the roof of the guard shack to get a look at the orders and driver’s license of a legitimate vehicle, as well as listen to the voice of the driver. Another landed on the hood of the HMMVW to view the nametags, ranks, and appearance of all four of the people in the vehicle. All four of us changed our appearances to match those of our counterparts, and our symbiotes created the nametags and field ranks, then epoxied them in place. Frank adjusted my voice and created the orders and license.
We passed without comment, though one of the privates did look puzzled and told his sergeant that we must have left by another way and returned – he thought this was the only gate people were supposed to be using for entry and exit.
I chuckled as the sparrow on the guard shack roof overheard his sergeant’s response. “There are officers in that hummer, private, I’ll keep them out of anywhere if they aren’t supposed to get in, but I won’t keep one in without real specific orders. Good catch though. Put it in the written shift report, I’ll sign off on it being a possible violation of orders, but we won’t take it any farther than that unless someone comes to us.”
The others looked at me funny when I laughed, and I told them what I’d overheard, and they also laughed.
“OK folks, serious time. Remember, we hit the stage, then we hit the West side wall exit. If I decide not to shoot Gantt, who wants to carry him?
“I’ll carry him,” said Animal, “I can’t match you three in accuracy by myself, but I’m stronger.”
Anton spoke up. “If there’s any chance you will take Gantt, you best not shoot his subordinates. If he’s an officer worth saving, he’ll hate us forever for that.”
I chewed my lip over that one, then agreed. “Animal takes out Nordstrom, Anton takes out Bixley, Guiliard takes out Winder. I have Cross. I’ll see how Gantt reacts.”
We parked the HMMVW in the motor pool, and got out. The other three were dressed as officers, and had pistols in their holsters. I was their driver, and only rank PFC, so I had a small pistol in my pocket instead, since privates who weren’t in specialized MOS’s rarely ever carried pistols. The soldiers had set up a substantial field stage with a press box directly in front of it for camera crews and reporters. It looked like a bunch of heavy duty card tables connected together, with adjustable length legs to accommodate moderately bumpy terrain. The stage was about thirty feet wide and ten feet deep. General Nordstrom was standing and congratulating the troops on a job well done, which perversely I had to agree with, from what I heard of it. Everything I heard him say about how well the operation had been handled was accurate. Colonel Gantt, several of his higher ranking staff, as well as Senators Bixley, Winder, and Cross were seated in a row to one side of the stage, and on the other side of the stage there was a row of lower ranking soldiers who were probably going to be recognized for excellence.
Nordstrom finished with his brief speech and introduced the three senators, who each took the opportunity to engage in a token recognition of the accomplishments of the troops, while patting themselves on the back about how they knew that the men and women in uniform would protect us all with the right leadership. They followed up with a few short hatemongering stump speeches attacking symbiotes in general, and warning about what the future will bring, but projecting confidence that the men and women in uniform would rise to the task. It was an election year, after all, and fear wins elections.
There was a mass of about a thousand troops from various branches of the military in a large crowd in front of the stage, behind and to the sides of the press box. None of them had long weapons, only officers had pistols. They all ignored us completely since we weren’t the only ones walking around with things to do. We just walked towards the side of the stage and by the time the MP’s on that side of the stage started paying attention to us we were only twenty feet away. I pulled out a sheet of paper as I walked towards them, and one of them held out his hand for it. I gave him the paper, then before he could even start to read it, each of us sucker punched one of the MPs and injected them with sleeping agent. Several soldiers in the crowd noticed what we had done and started to point but it was too late. Surprise was ours.
All four of us leapt up onto the stage and leap-frogged over the low ranking soldiers in their row of seats, injecting the soldiers with a sleeping agent as we leapt over them, using them as hand plants for our leap. We quickly drew our pistols and each of our pre-chosen, high-ranking targets were looking straight towards us, not really understanding they were in danger, even at the moment we shot them. Understanding their danger wouldn’t have helped them at that point, but it was still a bit difficult to pull the trigger on someone who didn’t realize they were in danger of dying. At least there were no painful wounds, as each of us shot our target squarely between the eyes. There wasn’t any suffering, there wasn’t any doubt. General Nordstrom fell, and I noticed one of my black staves leaning against the podium. The staff fell to the floor of the stage with a clatter as the General’s falling corpse knocked the podium off the stage. The staff rolled to a halt against the sole of the general’s left shoe before the corpse’s upper body weight dragged it’s lower body off the stage in the strange, boneless motion that you only see from the newly dead. Senators Bixley, Winder and Cross were dead in their seats, still seated, heads leaned way back almost like they had fallen asleep.
We all stopped. Anton turned to make sure none of the soldiers behind us in the seats were still capable of acting. Frank changed my face to my real face as I watched Colonel Gantt’s reaction to the chaos. His staff was simply staring at the dead senators, still trying to make sense of what happened, but Gantt reacted fast for a middle aged unpaired human, standing abruptly, and taking two long steps to put himself between me and his staff.
I walked forward to stand in front of Colonel Gantt, and all he did was nod. I could smell his fear, but it was not evident in his eyes. He was still planning, even now. I could see his eyes darting back and forth minutely as he tracked where the troops starting to rush the stage were. “I guess it really was too easy. Do what you have to do, I remember what you said. Leave my staff out of it though, they did what I told them to do.” Despite his words, he was not going to passively let me kill him. I could see him tensing up – he was almost certainly trying to delay as long as he could to give the troops time to get into position. He wasn’t thinking right about what we would do to his troops in close quarters, but he wasn’t tensing up to escape, that much was obvious.
“We already took out the targets we had a clear reason to kill today. I’ll take your word for it that your staff was acting at your direction. Leaving such a good enemy command team behind us is troublesome, but there’s only so much killing that we want to do, even in self defense.”
The soldiers from the crowd were mostly unarmed, but they weren’t afraid of us. They didn’t know what we were, all they saw was humans in uniform who just assassinated their general and three senators. They were starting to flow in a mob towards and around the stage, a few of them even being thoughtful enough to sprint around behind the stage to try to get into position along our most likely line of retreat. Others were intentionally blocking our sightlines to the journalists with their bodies while hustling them away from us as quickly as they could through the crowd. Damn good troops. A couple of the journalists were not happy. Several of the troops around the journalists had smartphones out, pointing them at us while pushing journalists and talking rapidly. Gantt and his staff must have cherry picked the best troops from across all the services for this. There was near zero panic and a rapid response.
I decided that Gantt would get another chance. “We need to talk, Gantt. Somewhere else.” He tried to block the attack as Frank poked him in the neck with our finger, injecting him with a sleeping agent, but he was way too slow. Animal grabbed him in a fireman’s carry without bothering to wait for him to start feeling the effects of the drug. He struggled a bit, but not enough to bother Animal. I removed Gantt’s pistol and knife from his holster and harness, throwing them both to the ground. Animal, Anton, and Guiliard ran and leapt off the back of the stage like they were an American football powerback between two linemen, crashing through the soldiers who had gotten into our escape path like a weak goal line defense.
While the others started moving, I took two steps back and crouched to grab my staff from next to the edge of the stage. Four soldiers getting ready to climb onto the front of the stage managed to get their hands onto it as I picked it up, trying to keep me from acquiring a weapon, I suppose. So I took a good solid grip with both hands and did a handless cartwheel in midair while jumping a bit backwards, directly away from them. They couldn’t hold onto the staff while it was both twisting and pulling away from them, and they let go. I started towards the others, jumping around a few times, dodging soldiers trying to grapple me as I rapidly accelerated towards the other three.
When the other three saw I was clear, all four of us took off at Animal’s top speed while carrying Gantt, which was actually pretty damn respectable, close to forty miles per hour. Anton had to take Gantt at about two thirds of the way to the West wall, to let Animal cool down, but we were well ahead of any pursuit. Frank only had to knock a few bullets away, though having to run backwards at almost forty miles per hour had him cursing me.
“Frank’s been learning Sailor, guys” I said as he knocked another bullet away.
“You sure it’s not Mechanic?” Anton shouted back.
“Very, funny. Now watch where you’re going. Oh, sorry, we can’t do that, because we’re running fucking backwards.” Ooh, Frank really was mad.
“Go ahead and make eyes back there Frank, until we get to the tunnel.”
I felt a brief spot of heat and Frank stopped cursing, and my running gait got a lot smoother.
The soldiers had looked for tunnels coming from the buildings, but not outside the wall. We had dug in carefully from far away, up close to the wall, but not into the plantation.
We got over the wall, then opened the tunnel, quickly entering and closing the concealed tunnel door. We had made tracks the prior night leading away, so if they did bring dogs, or if there were soldiers that actually knew how to track, there would be sign for them to follow. We walked about two hundred feet down the tunnel to the beat-up looking white minivan parked there, and stripped, putting the spare clothes on, leaving everything else, including the staff and guns here. Nothing in the van to draw attention at a traffic stop. Anton went bare chested so we could give Gantt a nonmilitary shirt – fatigues were not uncommon and would draw no comment. Neither would Anton’s bare chest, in a beat up old white minivan with advertising for a painting company on the side. Anton grabbed Gantt’s shit-brown Army t-shirt and ripped it, putting a few more holes in it for good measure to make it look like a work rag and threw it back to me. If we were stopped, I would put it over Gantt’s face like he was trying to sleep. Well, he was asleep already, even snoring. Perfect disguise. I buckled him in and leaned his seat back.
“Frank. Eyes. I haven’t felt them go away yet.”
I chuckled. The spot on the back of my neck got warm.
Animal drove down the tunnel. He had another music player. From somewhere. Bouncing his head as he drove, his long red dreads regrown and bouncing, even before we exited the two mile long tunnel up through the floor of the barn behind the old house we had bought. How in the hell did he grow dreads already braided?
Guiliard commented, deadpan. “Animal, if we get pulled by the cops because they think you’re a pothead, I’m going to hit you. Many times. Less head bounce.”
Animal grinned a huge grin at Guiliard and started bouncing his head a lot less.
Gantt woke and after he was fully awake and tracking conversations, got his name from Animal. “Gentlemen, meet ‘Komainu’.” Everyone, including Gantt just stared at him. “What? It’s the name of one of the types of guardian temple dogs. You didn’t even flinch when we came on that stage, and you stood in front of your staff to protect them.” Animal’s eyes met mine in the rear view mirror. “That’s probably why you didn’t die there.”
I nodded “It fits.” Anton and Guiliard agreed. Gantt just glared and was understandably upset with us. I ended up having to put him to sleep a lot, but eventually he realized he wasn’t going anywhere and listened to us.
“When we get to Australia, if you want to go back to the US, we’ll arrange it, but if we let you go before then, you will just help authorities pinpoint a search area better. If we wanted to kill you, we had a better opportunity on the stage, yesterday.”
“I don’t particularly care for the thought of torture either.” He said, when he finally decided to talk.
“You know me better than that. Based on my profile, how likely am I to torture someone, stand by and let someone do it, or transport you to someone who I know plans to torture you?” I paused. “That can’t erase all of your fears, but I will tell you this. If anyone tries to torture you, even my allies, I will defend you. We don’t need information from you. We need good people.”
He grunted. “OK, fine, point made.”
“Animal’s already given you a name, which means he expects Doctor Meilin to offer you a symbiote, and thinks you would accept if offered one. I believe you have read enough about me to know a lot of the things that a symbiote can offer?”
With only a moment of thought, Gantt replied. “Yes, I know more than most. It’s not enough to bribe me.”
“Not a bribe. You get a symbiote if you want, no strings attached. The Aussies would gladly take an officer of your caliber, even if you won’t get any choice assignments outside of low security think tanks for years. They have a great deal of respect for us, and we’re doing a lot for them too. You’ll have a lot of years. Think about it. We’ll respect that a lot more than a quick answer. You’re alive because Animal saw you struggling with your conscience outside the portable toilet after you thought you killed us.”
Animal’s eyes darted to meet mine in the mirror, and he frowned a bit. I ignored it. I damn sure wasn’t going to take credit for everything.
Gantt jumped. “What? How?” He thought about it. “Actually, I’d like to know the ‘how’ of the whole thing, if you don’t mind me asking. We found DNA-verified remains of a large majority of Agency members in the wreckage.”
I smiled. “Hey guys, we get to brag now!”
Anton and Guiliard chuckled and Animal gave a thumbs up.
“All four of us are fully integrated symbiotes now. Animal is analog, Anton, Guiliard, and I are digital. Analog symbiotes have a really handy adaptation they figured out which allows them to focus the mental and sensory abilities of several symbiotes together to make them share processing and sensory data, as well as allowing multiple bodies to be controlled by one mind. There’s more to that story, I’ll let Animal tell it if he wants, later.”
I paused. Gantt gave me a rolling hand/wrist motion with his right hand to continue. My eyes snapped down to his hand motion, and Gantt saw it, then smiled. “Sorry. Never been much of one for people that take too much time telling stories or giving me reports. It’s a hard habit to break.”
I smiled. “Well, Animal was able to teach Frank how to do that, so we made about eight hundred sparrows, and a huge biocomputer. Every Agency member created a fake body of themselves, with no brain, and left it in a bed. Frank designed a collar made of our flesh which would connect to the spinal cord of each agency member’s doppelganger so he could keep them moving and alive.”
“So while you slowly got everyone away, you actually controlled the entire doppelganger population of the facility, using the sparrows as your eyes, ears, and transmitters. You used the big biocomputer to give Frank the computing power to handle the load required to keep all the doppelgangers moving around and doing what we expected to see. The other three of you changed your physical looks as necessary to give the appearance of different people coming and going occasionally.”
“Right in one. We’re four of the last six Agency or Recovery agents in the US, everyone else is in Australia now, staying low key so the US government isn’t alerted.”
“Impressive, Bob. We never considered that you could do anything like that.”
“We didn’t know either until very recently.”
“How did your perimeter guards have regeneration? I thought I read that you need a symbiote actually in the body that matches the genetic code, to control the body like that, don’t you?”
“Good, you caught that. Mako figured out how to program always on regeneration into a body with no symbiote presence. He was able to show others how to do it. The symbiote associated with the genetic code of the doppelganger still has to make the change. Frank still has no idea how it works, but it does.
“I know how it works. I don’t know why it works. There’s a difference.” Frank, being pedantic. I smiled.
We made it to Torrey Pines where Dante and Mako were renting a house with a pool, and had been buying masses of bagged dog food and fry grease. Two rooms of the house were literally full of dried dog food after several days of buying in small quantities from many stores, and a five hundred gallon palletized container was nearly full of fry grease. We had discovered dog food was actually very good for creating biofactories and doppelgangers from, since it had most of the raw materials needed for building muscle, fat, and bones (no surprise there, dogs live off it) while being reasonably dense, and it rapidly became malleable in water. Fry grease was an incredibly good source of fats and energy for the symbiotes to work with.
The night we arrived, we threw all the dog food into the pool, along with all the veggies, vitamins, fry grease, and other things Frank had instructed them to buy, and between us all, we created seven one ton blobs that we loaded into a rental truck at about 0400.
There was no need for Komainu to get all excited if he figured out what we were about to do. For all I knew he was afraid of water or something, so I put him to sleep and Frank reformed his blob into a shape to hold him on the way to the state park beach. I’d wake him again when we got to Australia.
When we got to the beach, it was about 0500, and nobody was around, so we navigated the blobs into the water. Frank reshaped ours, then merged into it, then linked to the others and showed them how to shape theirs and merge while he built a different design for Komainu, as he couldn’t directly interface with his blob. Keeping him unconscious was simple. Feeding, hydration, and waste removal was something of a problem, but Frank eventually came up with something that worked after a few revisions of the basic design. I was glad I put him to sleep after Frank told me how everything had to be connected. We all agreed to keep him unconscious for a couple days after we got to Australia to let various parts of his body readjust. What he didn’t know wouldn’t make him want to hurt us. He eventually figured it out when he had his symbiote for a while and talked to it about how he made the trip. There were a few hilarious conversations involving unexpected training with staves for about a week.
At about 0600 a new pod of strangely small orcas started on a three month trip across the Pacific from California to Australia. It was years before I could even look at sushi again without my stomach flipping back and forth a couple times.