“OK Frank, you ready to do this?”
“Almost. Give me a couple minutes. I’m preparing the blades now, shaping the scoops.”
I checked in the pouch, and the berserker protocol cure image was there, protected by a clear coating. There was also a thin mesh copper bag, big enough to wear on our heads, but it wasn’t for us. There were also a pair of fingerless gloves with two thick half-circles of diamond on the back of each of them in the pouch. I put them on. Frank extended the blades out of the tips of our fingers, from under our fingernails, and used them to help speed up the process of removing the two almost sickle-shaped scoops from our femurs, where they were starting to make very large bulges.
The heat was pretty significant, but we were splashing around in a stream flipping over rocks, pretending to look for crayfish, and even catching them every now and then for appearances. We had no cooling tubes, but Frank had created a temporary, crude circulatory system that pumped stream water up one leg, into the torso, then back down the other leg. As long as we were standing in the water Frank could use a lot of juice without lighting us up as a thermal bloom for the compound’s security filter to identify.
Frank carefully removed the scoops from under our pants with a couple quick cuts through the pants and the skin of the legs, then hung them on our belt, one on either side, checking them both carefully. The flesh had already healed when Frank used a bit of epoxy to crudely glue the long cut in each of the upper pants legs back together.
“OK Bob, I’m ready. I’m getting signal from the bugs and I don’t see anything exceptional about the facility yet.”
“Well, one way or the other, we’re committed now. We’re going to smell like juice for days. Too bad the governor wasn’t coming up here on a tour or something. With any luck we’re here before they lobotomize the soldiers, and we’ll leave four allies richer.”
I could feel Frank moving soft tissues around, closing up the temporary cooling system since we were done with it while we walked out of the stream.
“They could also simply assume we are lying to them and fight us.”
“OK, so you are the empty half of the glass today, and I get to be the full half? We have the video data of the governor’s plans to show them if we can, but if we can’t use it, and they don’t believe themselves to be in danger, or attack us, then we just abort and get out. As much as I’d like to, we can’t save everyone.”
“Are we still going to free their symbiotes and clear the berserker protocol even if they resist?”
“If we can. I don’t like the idea of a quick-and-dirty berserker detox on these guys because they are going to turn FAST, and we have a really good chance of losing at least one of them to transformation. At the same time I can’t see giving the US highly useful experimental symbiotes with no real risk. If any of the four choose to continue helping the US after that, so be it, but I can’t imagine any symbiote would appreciate working for a government that doesn’t recognize them as having rights. They will almost certainly be either killed or forced to escape within days if not hours. There are only four of them anyway, which isn’t going to help the US much, regardless even if the US government somehow manages to hold onto them and keep their good will.”
The whole military thing was a sham anyway, to control the people, and provide cheap labor. When the ‘people that mattered’ got to the moon and got their space industry running well enough to feed a space based war industry, they would wash their hands of everyone left on Earth and start working on turning the Earth into a lifeless rock. The governor wasn’t the only one I’d overheard mentioning this plan, and as insane as it was, it logically held together if you were psychotic enough.
We started moving towards the main building, there was a picnic table we could sit on at the edge of the woods while the bugs did more recon, so we sat and bounced our legs and tapped our fingers on the table to the beat of some of the music that kids were listening to for a couple minutes, pretending to be looking for someone coming to meet us as we bounced our legs and hands to musical beats.
“OK Bob, I’m starting to build a shape of an area that’s killing off any bugs I try to send in, which means I’m almost certainly warning someone that something weird is happening.”
“Let’s go then. You seeing anything else of interest?”
“No, not really. Looks like most of the interesting stuff is underground.”
We stood up from the picnic table and started walking towards the wall of the facility.
The governor pointed at the monitor. “Jeff, look at that. He’s going in now? Why? That’s just crazy. He’s spent what, an hour at most learning about the place, and he’s going in with two hours of daylight left.”
Jeff turned away from the monitor filled with scrolling reports from specialists. “He’s got 200 or so sensor platforms in the facility, monitoring them all in real time. He could probably print out a blueprint of the entire aboveground facility by now, and darkness doesn’t matter underground.”
“I guess that makes sense. Is everything still going according to plan underground?”
“Yes. We’re still on track, Governor.” They both turned back to their monitors, watching.
When we got to within fifty feet, two laser turrets, one to either side of the point of the wall that we were walking towards, popped up out of their protective casings and rapidly pointed at us. Their speaker systems came to life. “YOU ARE APPROACHING A RESTRICTED AREA. IF YOU APPROACH TO WITHIN TWENTY FEET OF THE WALL, YOU WILL BE SHOT.”
“OK Frank, let’s see how well this works.” Frank took over our body fully, and everything slowed down. Facing anti-armor lasers without any armor was scary as hell, but if Frank’s idea didn’t work, we’d be cooked before it hurt too much. I could feel the shapes of our hands and wrists thicken slightly, tightening up the fit of the gloves. The two five hundred carat diamonds on the back of each wrist were then firmly controllable, no longer a bit loose. Frank tested the diamond controllers, watching them closely as they wriggled and rotated in test patterns. After a couple seconds, they stopped moving.
When we were twenty-five feet from the wall, both lasers closest to us fired, two narrow beams that were invisible to me carved lines in the turf five feet in front of us. The grass started to burn. The speaker systems came to life again. “DO NOT CROSS THE BURN LINE OR YOU WILL BE SHOT.” Both lasers redirected themselves to point at our center mass.
Anti-armor lasers could put out enough heat to smoke us in just a few seconds of exposure in our best armor due to heat transfer. Today we had no protection. If Frank hadn’t been in total control, I would probably have been practically drenched in sweat.
When we were one step from the burn lines on the ground, Frank raised both arms, aligning both hands extremely carefully. The diamonds on both hands made minute adjustments.
We stepped on the burn lines, and both of the lasers exploded. “Total internal reflection for the win, Bob. Told you it would work even with anti-armor lasers if the diamonds were perfect.”
“Glad it worked Frank, the alternative would have been pretty ugly I think.”
“Just a bit, yea, but I’m pretty sure we could have gotten away in any case.”
We charged towards the facility, and at about fifteen feet away, leapt to the top of the wall. There were half a dozen guards coming at a sprint from the center of the facility, pulling rifles off their shoulders and starting to sight down on us. Frank mostly ignored them. The more important targets were the other lasers on the wall, which were turning our way. Fortunately the facility buildings blocked most of the lasers from seeing us at the same time. This wasn’t a fort, it was a secure civilian facility. Frank had plotted a path around the wall and amongst the buildings which would expose us to at most two lasers at a time, and he started to run that path. Every time we exposed ourselves to a new laser, Frank would use one or another of the diamond gauntlets to reflect the beams into soldiers visible to us, burning off arms and legs, and melting weapons, but killing nobody. They could all regenerate, but they couldn’t chase us effectively with missing legs nor shoot us effectively with missing arms.
I was extremely unhappy causing this much pain, even to people wanting to shoot us. The smell of bacon cooking was strong enough that I really wanted to get done neutralizing the external defenses as soon as we could.
“Not sure I’m ever going to be able to eat bacon again Frank.”
“Sure you will. You said the same thing about sushi after we swam the Pacific. Might take a couple years though.”
“Maybe. We almost done up top?”
“Yup, last laser coming up now.”
Frank smoked the last laser, then ran over and ripped open the side of the housing and cut out several capacitors with his claws, dropping them into the kangaroo pouch.
“What are those for, Frank?” I asked, puzzled. We hadn’t discussed this.
“It’s a surprise, Bob, you’ll see soon.”
“Umm, ok. I let you watch too many episodes of Home Improvement, didn’t I?”
“What? No. Never too many episodes of Home Improvement. I have them all recorded in internal storage anyway.” Tim Allen standing next to a dishwasher with a wrench in his hand, briefly appeared, then disappeared.
I chuckled, then looked across the visible soldiers and scattered limbs and felt nauseous. “Sorry Frank, no more humor please. I know I started it, but no more for now.”
“No problem, I get it. Time to move.”
“You didn’t find any additional exits from the underground sections?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Finding them from the outside is a lot harder than finding them from the inside. We’re going to have to take out more lasers inside, but they are antipersonnel lasers – that’s what was killing off the bugs that managed to get inside. The fact that they were configured to take out insects is puzzling. That’s a lot of wear and tear on expensive components just to keep bugs out, when there are lots of other ways to do it.”
“Hrm, OK, that is strange, but not terribly so. Maybe there’s been a new breakthrough on the cost of creating smaller lasers?”
We wandered past the armless and legless soldiers, most of whom had gone unconscious from pain. None seemed to have died. All of them were showing signs of new growth on their limbs. We picked up a pistol from one of them and a few spare clips.
We walked up to the main underground entrance, a vehicle entrance and a personnel entrance, both armored, side by side. Frank placed his hand on the control pad.
“No luck, they already disabled it.”
“Can’t hack it?”
“Someone actually cut the leads for both door controls. Clever and quick thinking to get access this fast, probably didn’t even ask permission to do it, which makes them an officer or a senior NCO, I’d bet.”
“So, umm, can we get in? Did you smell any explosives?”
“Don’t need explosives. I planned for this. Watch.”
The shape of my muscles under my arms shifted, strangely. It was hard to tell what the purpose of the changes was. My bones were unchanged. I could feel the same changes elsewhere in the body.
“We’re going to have to have that talk again Frank?”
“No, this is temporary, a gimmick I thought up because I thought we might need it. You’ll like it I think, as a short term option we can use now and then.”
“OK, well, let’s see what you dreamed up then.” The shifting of the muscles stopped, and Frank stepped away from the door about ten feet, then ran at the door, accelerating at a completely ludicrous speed, faster than I’d ever seen him do before. We slammed into the door and it was smashed inwards slightly. There was no heat. Acceleration like that without cooling tubes should have made us hot as hell. It shouldn’t have been possible at all, actually.
“Spill it Frank. Where’s the heat? How did you accelerate like that?”
“Oh, I installed muscle tissue made of multi-walled carbon nanotube fibers, Bob. That’s what I grabbed the capacitors for. I can’t power these muscles with juice. It’s not permanent though, just something to let us break down security doors if I can get enough power.”
“How strong are we using the fiber muscles?”
“About 200x human, or about 20x what we would normally be. Problem is that it takes a lot of power, and I have to rearrange normal muscles out of the way to do it, or I’ll damage them badly as the carbon fiber muscles expand and contract.”
I whistled appreciatively. Being able to lift ten tons over our head every now and then would be nice. Frank put our back against the door and dropped our torso about two feet, crouching, so that we were pressed into the middle of the dimple in the door that we had created. Then he extended his feet to about half leg extension and started using the muscles in our legs to do a leg press against the door. The bottoms of our shoes simply tore in half, the heels separating from the toes and our bare heels started pushing into the concrete in front of the door. The door squealed for about two seconds, then popped open with a thunderous crash and a splatter of red.
Our first real casualty was behind the door, what was left of him, or maybe her. They had apparently either been trying to hold the door closed against us, or were going to try to ambush us from behind the door when it popped open, and had no idea how hard the door would open. Maybe they thought the hinges would fail completely and the door would fly across the room. Didn’t matter what they thought would happen though, they wouldn’t get a chance to regret it. At least it was fast.
Frank hit the next door the same way, and pressed it open like the first. It took longer though, two tries. Frank ran out of power for the nanotube muscles before the door popped. We had to tear the power cord off a coffee machine in the entry area and plug it in, then Frank created a power connection inside us for the power cord and we used wall power to pop the inner security door.
When the door popped, we fell through the door, and slid ten feet out into a wide open parking garage with all the vehicles against the wall opposite the entrance, they had been rearranged in the garage to give cover, apparently. We started getting shot immediately, and accurately, including some of the antipersonnel lasers which were scorching us pretty good. Frank jumped us back into the security door, then stationed a couple bugs on the warped doorframe to watch for anyone trying to rush us. We were burned to the point of charred muscle in several places. Frank ripped up the cheap carpet and padding and laid down flat on the cold concrete while healing and shifting muscles.
Frank commented, “OK, no more klutzy powerful muscles. Need finesse again, Bob.” while he started rearranging muscles back to normal. It took about three minutes. When the muscles were back to normal, the burns were gone, and our temperature was at a decent level, he unplugged the coffee maker power cord, rolled it up, and put it in the kangaroo pouch.
We jumped out the door and Frank was ready with the diamond gauntlets again, burning out the lasers as they burned into us. There were six to start with, but Frank already knew exactly where they were from when they had fired on us when we popped the door open and skidded across the floor.
While we had been healing, Frank had been listening to them plan. They had booby trapped the vehicles and moved everyone down the hallway behind the vehicles. We could hear them running. They were actually pretending to be panicking, which might have even worked if we hadn’t heard their plans. Frank simply used the last of the antipersonnel lasers to light off each of the fuel tanks, from a position behind a pillar, then had the last laser smoke itself with the gauntlet.
There was no security door behind the burning vehicles, so Frank grabbed the stretched-sickle looking scoops one in each hand. Then we went to the outside door, grabbed a deep breath of air, and ran across the parking garage, leapt across the burning wreckage into the hallway beyond, and started taking rifle fire with no cover. The soldiers had set up a makeshift barricade about 100 yards past the first dogleg in the hall, which was about thirty feet from all the burning vehicles.. They had cover, we didn’t, unless we stood directly exposed to the radiant heat of the burning vehicles. The heat from the fire behind us was oppressive, and the volume of fire every time we tried to step out to engage was withering. They apparently had plenty of ammo and were not afraid to use it.
Frank was constantly poking his head around the corner too fast for the troops to aim at. They just started shooting into the corner, trying to hit us with ricochets, which was actually pretty effective with twenty troops firing. Frank was in constant motion dodging, and these were not pistol rounds, they were much higher velocity. We were hit a lot. Frank was only trying to keep us from taking significant hits. We were creased by dozens of bullets. The spider silk sub-dermal armor performed extremely well. It didn’t stop rifle bullets that hit straight on, but Frank didn’t let many hit straight on. Direct hits on bones damaged the bones as well, but we only took a couple bone hits, on leg bones, which were able to take the bullet hits more easily. Anything that might hit our head was blocked with the sickle scoops. With the heat behind us and the withering fire from the front from soldiers with cover we were stuck.
Then Frank heard what he had been listening for – the thump of a grenade round being launched. We leapt out into the hallway, tracking and spinning as fast as we could. Frank caught the incoming grenade with one of the xisteras, without jarring the grenade enough to activate it. Then he sent the grenade right back to the soldiers, jumping back around the corner again. We connected both xisteras to our belt, pulled the pistol out of our pocket with the right hand, an extra clip in our left, and stepped out into the hallway immediately after the explosion.
Their cover was too broken to be effective, and about half of them were either dead or stunned. Frank and I sprinted, firing as we went, firing at hands or weapons when we could, disarming the troops. Several of them broke away in what looked like a real retreat. Half a dozen faced us with fists and knives.
“Where are the symbiote soldiers you have here?” I asked. They said nothing.
“I’d rather not kill you for something you have no control over.”
One of them stepped in front of the others, pulled a grenade, armed it, and held it half exposed towards me with one hand and put his other arm in front of his face and neck.
Frank laughed in my head. “Wow. Silly.” Our arms blurred, and we turned the grenade holder around to face the other soldiers. His grenade exploded, knocking the other five unconscious or stunning them, and blowing the grenade-holding arm off at the elbow, but the other arm protected him from enough damage to his head and neck that he would live.
We followed the trail of blood and boot scuffs after the other soldiers, hoping they were retreating to regroup at someplace important, either where the Project Boomerang soldiers were, or to where some leadership might be. Base leadership would surely know where the Boomerang soldiers were.
The trail ended at a cargo elevator. Fuck. We were already underground, and going further underground made me more nervous. We had only seen a few non-soldiers so far though, and they had all entered the underground complex while Frank was taking out lasers, so they were here somewhere.
“Frank, you got any bugs left?”
“No, almost all of the underground ones are dead due to the lasers, the fire, or to me crushing them in the fight. There are a few between the fire and the entrance, but I can’t communicate with them without going back up the hallway to the fire. Quite a few outside, but can’t talk to them either.”
So many different ways to trap an elevator shaft, and no windows to jump out of underground. We pried open the elevator door, and looked up. Short shaft, the motors visible about twenty feet above us. About fifty feet down, the elevator car was stopped. We climbed quietly down the shaft on the ladder mounted on the wall as an emergency exit, then stood on top of the elevator car, listening. Nothing.
We carefully opened the elevator car’s roof hatch and quietly dropped through, then manually opened the door. The hallway’s floor was so splattered with blood it looked like paint. At the end of the hallway, a figure turned to face me with symbiote reflexes. Frank zoomed in on the figure. It was Dominic, one of the Project Boomerang soldiers. He had been crouched over one of the soldiers I had chased down here. That soldier had been peeled open, like a frog on a dissection board, exposing all his augments. Dominic had been holding the soldier’s combat drug dispenser, sniffing it as he turned to face us. When he turned and saw us, he immediately threw the drug dispenser at us while charging.
“I don’t think Dominic’s home anymore, Frank.”
Then there was an overpressure wave from behind us. We were pushed forward, away from the elevator. Immediately after the overpressure wave, a massive chunk of concrete with motors and pulleys at the bottom of it crushed the elevator, blocking the shaft.