“Jason, I’m going to go check on the supplies and see how much we have in the way of biological consumables. I know you and mouse have got oxygen making under control. If I can put together a biofactory, and grow it to a decent size, we can make ammonia and explosives. Making a biofactory will need a lot of oxygen, so electrolyzing needs to start ASAP. Can the cistern simply absorb the hydrogen for a while? Until we get a biofactory to start pulling hydrogen out of the air as part of generating explosives, releasing the oxygen into the air, and the hydrogen into the water would probably be for the best.”
“Bob, oxygen and hydrogen don’t spontaneously combust, they need significant heat, or a spark.”
“If I get a decent sized biofactory going and use electrical power to help reduce the metabolic needs, we might see a lot of sparks. We’ll need to get wires from somewhere and we don’t have time to play games with tracing wires and circuit breakers”
“OK. Mouse and I will be freeing up some oxygen shortly, and we’ll set it up so that the hydrogen is bubbled into the bottom of the cistern. The water should absorb a decent amount of it, for a while, and there are more than enough metal and pressurized containers around here that we can cobble together a mechanical system to start the Haber process. What are you thinking for explosives? We can probably manage Ammonium Nitrate and Nitromethane and make fertilizer bombs if your biofactory can do what Mouse is saying it should be able to do. He’ll want to play with it if you don’t mind, but he’s more than willing to let Frank build this one, since he’s got experience building them, and we’re short on resources.”
Jason started digging through workbench tools and exploring the small storage closet for anything useful.
I walked out the door, and looked up and down the hall. I didn’t want to think about the dead soldiers right now, but that was hard, as bits and pieces of them were strewn all over the place. “Frank where were the medical supplies, office supplies, and any other supplies that you can think of stored at?”
“All supplies were kept in the same area, except the gasses, which have their own storage area.”
“None now – I could see in the monitoring system that they were all broken open, apparently by the robotic arm normally used to store and retrieve them from the safe storage. Nothing interesting though. Atmospheric gasses mostly – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. There was some halon for fire suppression that hadn’t been broken open, but I used all that to stop the fire. The containers, however, will be easy to repair, we may want them later.”
“What about the storage area where everything other than gasses were kept?”
“Not really sure, Bob, it was a pretty chaotic mess in there with all the exploding pressurized containers and whatnot.”
“OK, lead the way.”
Frank took us to another room, and we opened the door. The air inside was foul, unbreathable even to Frank and I, almost zero oxygen, and lots of halon and other gasses released from the burning of the supplies. We had to hold the door open for several seconds before we entered, and Frank took care to epoxy the door handle to the wall in an open position.
“Chaotic mess was right.” I muttered.
“No significant heat signatures, chance of the fire restarting in the presence of oxygen is low, unless there are hypergolic compounds in here, which would seem very unlikely, since I can’t smell any.
We poked around in the storage room for a while, and found some useful organic compounds, lots of printer paper which had failed to burn completely because it was one huge block on a pallet, and hundreds of gallons of intravenous sugar solution. Several of the IV sugar solution containers had burst, but none had combusted. The majority of what had burned was containers, and some complex hydrocarbons and alcohols, as well as about half the pallet of printer paper.
“Got enough to work with here, Frank?”
“Probably. Depends on the plan.”
“Let’s go talk with Jason and Mouse. Can you give them plans for a carbon dioxide scrubber biofactory? One that works using mostly electrical power input, and will store carbon for use in chemical processes?”
“Sure, I’ll make a chip for that now. They do the scrubber, we do the explosives?”
“I think that’s the best way to do it. Any suggestions otherwise?”
“No, it’s a good division of labor. I’m a bit worried about the whole explosives thing though. Are you really planning on trying to blast your way out of the facility, with who-knows-how-much firepower upstairs? They obviously want us intact, but I’m sure they will not hesitate to blow us up if they can’t just collect us with minimal fuss.”
“We definitely need to speak with Jason and Mouse before making more plans. For the time being though, if you want to start building a biofactory in here that runs on electrical power as much as possible, and have it start absorbing materials and separating them in preparation of making explosives, that would be good.”
“OK. Stay here a minute then.”
Frank quickly formed a small mass of flesh, then pulled the electrical cord that we had used to power Frank’s carbon fiber muscles out of the pouch. He plugged the cord into the wall, then connected the mass of flesh to it and dropped the nascent biofactory in the thin puddle of the sugar solution, where it immediately started to grow. The puddle coated most of the floor, mixed with ash and many other foul smelling substances. The mass of flesh was leaving the floor spotless as it moved, consuming everything it passed over that was organic, and most things that weren’t.
We left the room and let Frank’s biofactory grow itself. As we stepped out of the room, Jason was investigating the corpses of the soldiers Dominic had killed.
“I knew some of these guys. We played spades from time to time when the government originally brought us here for the medical folks to investigate the different chemicals our symbiotes generated for us. We helped them perfect the regeneration drugs actually, they had been at a dead end of development for fifteen years, abandoned by Medco, but the chemistry of our regeneration helped them understand the process well enough they were able to create a non-nanite regeneration method.” He sounded angry and his voice was shaking with emotion.
“You didn’t do it. You know who was responsible.” I felt my own features tightening in anger. “I didn’t know these guys, but even if we didn’t do the deed, Frank and I made it possible simply by surviving the berserker protocol with Frank in a high functioning state.”
We stared at each other. Not aggressively. Just trying to get an idea of what mental state the other was in – at least that’s why I stared.
After a few seconds, Jason swept his left hand through the air in a wide arc over the vista of soldier bits and blood. “The worst thing is that we’re probably going to have to desecrate these guys with our symbiotes in order to have a chance of surviving.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it. We’ll do what we have to do to survive. If we end up doing that though, I’d suggest reassembling the skeletons and keeping personal effects with each skeleton.”
“I agree,” Jason said, “If we need to. I hope we don’t, but I’ve been thinking about the energy we’ll be requiring just to get out of the lab here, past the elevator block, not to mention fighting our way out past whatever defenses have been set up. And the longer we wait, the worse it will get.”
I looked at the soldiers’ bits again and shuddered. We had absorbed one human body, once. John, the symbiote trapped in a brain dead body. We absorbed it to kill the berserker that we had captured in much the same way that Jason and the others had been captured. I had never even really considered him as a human, despite the body he was in. These guys though? I’d seen them fight, yell, suffer pain. I’d shot a couple of them myself when I charged their position earlier. They were never really enemies to me, they were obstacles. Letting one of Frank’s biofactories eat them so we could survive would give me more nightmares than I cared to think about.
“I hope we can find a way to avoid it, but yes, if we have to, I agree to it. Oh, yes. Frank has another chip for Mouse.”
Frank reached out our hand with another tiny chip of bone on it, speaking as he did so. “[Encoded to standard data format. Plans for a variable size carbon dioxide scrubber biofactory. It uses mostly electricity for power, but can be converted quickly to process organics as well. You will have to write your own code to operate it, but it’s a simple device. Mouse will probably be ready to start in about five minutes.]”
Jason accepted the chip, which immediately was absorbed into his body by Mouse. A few seconds later Mouse commented “[Pretty simple, yes, faster to learn it this way than learn by trial and error though. Thank you. We’ll get started. Jason and I have already decided we aren’t leaving the other three in a state to be studied. They should provide more than enough organics to establish the scrubber, then a bit more besides.]
“The electrolysis process is active?” I asked.
Jason responded. “Yes, we’re making a lot of oxygen already, but if we are going to build explosives, we’ll need more oxygen than we can get from the water, or the hydrogen will build up and cause a hazard.”
“What about just separating hydrogen and oxygen and using that as an explosive?”
“We could do that, but it would require lots of pressure vessels, and a whole lot of safety equipment, as well as cryogenic storage. I think simple ammonia based explosives would be best with what we have to work with down here. If Frank doesn’t agree with me, let me know why.”
“I agree with him.” Frank said.
“Frank says he agrees with you. No argument then. How much more time on the generator fuel?” I asked.
“OK, Jason. Frank and I will manufacture the Ammonium Nitrate and Nitromethane, and store it in repaired gas storage tanks. After you get that started, I would like you to create something to image the rock between us and the buildings in this compound, looking for potential paths between this laboratory and the other buildings, sewers, caverns, or anything else we might exploit to get out of here some other way than up that elevator shaft. What you find will tell us how we want to shape and use the explosives.”
“We’ve only got two hours of power remaining. As much as I hate it, I don’t think we should wait. We may need the power and energy, and breaking them down into chemicals using the power from the generator would be hugely more efficient. Dominic tore them apart so badly that reducing them to skeletal remains that are actually assembled neatly and stored with personal effects will be less traumatic than letting them be found like this. Then he nodded at the corpses. Frank is better with biofactories than Mouse, but if you can’t do it, we will.”
I shuddered and crossed my arms. “Yeah, Frank and I will handle it, and we’ll seal the elevator shaft too, just in case anyone tries to spy on us or pump chemicals or gasses in.”
“I’ll document what our choices were, and why we made them. Mouse is already working on it. We’ll leave it on the network, and Mouse will pass you a chip as well. He says he should be done by the time the biofactory for carbon dioxide scrubbing is completed, in a few minutes.
“OK.” I really wasn’t up to saying anything else.
Jason checked the four office doors near us, the ones leading towards where we had fought the berserkers. None of them were unlocked, so he bashed the lock out of the last one, entered the room, and came out carrying a couple power cables. He tossed one to me. I let it fall at my feet.
Jason stood there a second, looking at me, then sighed. “Bob, war is hell man. I been doing it off and on, mostly on, since World War two. I’ve done some things I wasn’t proud of, but I’ve never been a cannibal. What was done to my squad was at least as bad as what I am about to do to them. Thing is that what I’m about to do to them will hopefully let me live, so I can kill the sadistic fuck that made all this happen. These troops had no clue. Look at how they are dispersed. Their expressions, their hands were empty, no weapons. They came down here expecting to find us four, most likely, and were going to join with us to fight you. The berserker that looked like Dominic tore them to shreds. Most of them probably had no clue that it was no longer Dominic. They were fleeing in terror from you, entered what they were hoping would be a safe haven, and were slaughtered by a monstrosity wearing the body of a guy they knew and had played cards with.” He stopped a second. I nodded, acknowledging him. He continued. “Bob, we need you and Frank to have the resources to fight, to build. If you can’t make yourself do it, let me know and have Frank give us plans to teach Mouse, and we’ll do what we can.”
I just stared a second, and shivered violently, then made myself pick up the cord laying in a pile at my feet, coiled like a rattlesnake. “Thank you. Wounding or killing when necessary is one thing. This is something completely different. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for doing it, but I can see the need for it. When we get out of here I’ll want Frank to work with Mouse, to combine the imagery of both of our symbiotes to produce a documentary of what happened here that we can send to the rest of the world. We should be able to find a satellite up there we can broadcast to, the US hasn’t taken them all down yet, since they have been concentrating on launch facilities. This shit is going to stop.”
I walked to the nearest electrical outlet by the elevator. “Frank, do it. We’re going to go through this entire complex and absorb everything organic except the personal effects of the soldiers and their bones. Reassemble the bones with some connective tissue as well, please, and keep personal effects with them as best as you can determine their ownership. Position them laying on their backs, arms folded over their chests, at rest.”
“I will, Bob.”
“How’s the other biofactory doing?”
“Doing fine. It’s about half done now. It’s using the IV sugar solution containers for storage, but running out of space. We will need to give it the gas containers soon.”
Frank created another ball of flesh and attached the power cord to it, then set it on the ground next to one of the corpses. It didn’t start to move yet. Frank turned us around, and we sealed the elevator door entrance. I didn’t even try to sneak a peek up to the top. Electronic sensors were more than good enough to pick up my fake or real bugs in the space of an elevator shaft, and would probably even detect the movement of a fiber optic thread. No need to let anyone know we were looking back. I didn’t really need to see them anyhow. Standing next to the elevator shaft, I could hear dozens of voices speaking rapidly, and hear metal on metal as well as metal on concrete. They were making a lot of noise up there. I really didn’t want to even try to fight through all that. I remembered the exploding napalm decoy vehicles Gantt had used against my doppelgangers a few years ago. Humans could kill us if they were ready, and planned well, and I suspected whoever was leading these troops wasn’t stupid.
The concrete block was a very precise fit, and was massive enough that it had obliterated the elevator car – so rapidly that the elevator doors for the floor were undamaged. They were only open because they were unpowered, so we pulled them shut slowly and quietly, and sealed them.
Then I put my forehead against the cold metal.
“Bob, I can’t actually dig around in your brain’s storage, but I can alter your brain chemistry so you have no short term memory, for a while, if you want.”
“We can’t even give up Frank. If we do, at best we’ll end up like we found Jason and Mouse. At worst? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. We’re like rats in a hole, and we know the cat’s hungry.” I stood up straight again. “No Frank, thank you for the offer, but I think Jason’s right. We take this and we channel it. If you made me forget it, I wouldn’t be able to channel it. I’m going to need to figure out how to use this. To do what we need to do, I think.”
“We’re way outside anything I know about human reactions Bob. I’d try to offer consolation but don’t have a clue how.”
“Thanks Frank. In a situation like this, if you can’t figure out how to make me feel better, I’ll be content if you just keep me strong and alive.”
“That, I can do. You want me to end visual input until the hallway is clear?”
“No, let me see it.” I turned around. Frank’s biofactory was already large enough to block the entire hallway. It had absorbed all the wooden and fabric parts of the furniture, as well as the drop ceiling materials and even the tile, which was probably made with some sort of petrochemical. It was moving at a walking pace down the hallway, collecting everything organic into it, as well as a lot of inorganics. I wanted to yell at Frank and tell him not to mix up the body parts, but realized it wouldn’t be productive. Frank knew what to do.
As the number of pieces of soldier were reduced, furniture absorbed, drop ceilings and tile and wiring absorbed, the biofactory increased its size. I could see that Frank had ripped a bunch of wires and cables from above the drop ceiling, and at any given time, the biofactory was connected to half a dozen to a dozen or more outlets in the walls, or above the ceiling.
The bio factory burst into each room and stripped them of everything organic, replacing plastic insulation around the wiring with inorganic materials stripped from the floor and ceiling tiles, creating wires that reminded me of old fiberglass wrapped wire from early twentieth century homes. We passed by Jason, who initially looked startled when he saw what the biofactory was doing, but then nodded and continued taking readings of the floors, outer walls, and ceilings.
Frank advised that all data on the paper and books in the four offices on the way to the lab we had fought in had been stored before the media was ingested, but most of it looked mundane and meaningless. He also advised that he had copied the contents of the storage drives of the non-networked machines, but it would take a few minutes to decrypt them, which he would do later. Then he immediately came back and said that he had found the passwords for encryption in the paperwork found in the offices. He would tell me the findings later. Nothing that impacted our current situation – he was pushing his computational ability running a biofactory as large as the one we were collecting biomaterials with, without a separate biocomputer to help him.
We left the metal bones of Donaldson, Slade, and Dominic where Jason had arranged them, but stripped everything else organic from the room, except the carbon dioxide scrubbing machine, which was having a hard time keeping up with the metabolic rate of the biofactory we were collecting biomaterials with. The amount of plastic in modern computers, medical equipment, and furniture is amazing.
After stripping everything organic in the facility, we had the biofactory collect the damaged gas cylinders and then carried everything into the storage room. The biofactory in that room had finished everything it could do with its limited programming. Frank consumed it with the much larger biofactory that he was directly controlling, and started filling the gas cylinders with fertilizer bombs. At the same time, the combined biofactory moved to one corner of the room and carefully deposited a line of skeletons wrapped in white cloth, each with dog tags epoxied onto the cloth next to a stenciled name and social security number. At the bottom of each body bag, a smaller bag with personal effects was attached to the main bag, and also stenciled with the soldier’s name and social security number.
Since we still had electrical power, Frank tore apart all the shelving in the store room with the biofactory and built a metal frame over the skeletons, to protect them as well as we could from the explosion that we would be releasing soon somewhere in the facility.
“Thanks Frank, I think that’s about all we can do for them.”
Jason stuck his head in the door. “Scanning is complete. Scan data and the video we mentioned is on the chip.” He held out his hand with a small bone chip, and Frank accepted it.
Touching the bone chip made me shiver. I turned and looked at the skeletons in their bags as Frank absorbed the chip and looked at the scan data. Jason looked at the arrangement. Frank had left spaces under the protective assembly for three more skeletons.
“Are those three spots for my squadmates?” Jason asked, quietly.
Frank replied. “[Yes. They were victims as much as the soldiers were. You need help bringing them over?]”
“No, Mouse can bring them with our biofactory. Can you make them body bags as well?”
“[Yes. I would be happy to give them the same honors as the rest.]”
“Thank you Bob, Frank.”
I spoke, my voice cracking a bit. “I agree with Frank, but it was his idea, Jason. I’ve been out of it, trying to get my head straightened out while Frank ran things for a while.”
Jason nodded. Mouse’s biofactory entered the room a couple minutes later, and pressed against Frank’s biofactory, receiving materials. A few seconds later, Mouse’s biofactory moved over and placed three more bagged skeletons under the shelter.
Jason saluted the dead for about ten seconds, silently, then muttered “Godspeed boys, I’ll see you again one of these days.”
I just saluted. It seemed like the least I could do to say goodbye.
Jason turned to me. “We done in this room?”
“I believe so.”
After we left the room, we paused at the intersection, and Frank spoke. “[Mouse, it looks to me like the best place for us to try to blast out of the lab is one of the two center cells where they were keeping you four imprisoned. They are substantially armored top, bottom, and sides, so if we rip the armor out of the top of one, we will have an excellent blast containment chamber to push the blast wave directly up.]
“[Sounds like pretty much the same thing I was thinking. Jason also thought that looked to be the most promising route.]” Mouse replied.
“So, after we tear the armor our of the ceiling of the room we want to detonate the explosives in, should we use the electrical power and the biofactory to excavate upwards, and fill the other rooms to either side with rock? That will reduce the amount of rock we have to break through with explosives, and increase the ability of the side walls to resist deformation.”
Jason looked at me funny. “That’s a good idea, actually. We should have about an hour or so left. I’ll go check the generator.”
Mouse’s biofactory rolled quickly down the hall to the cells. Frank’s biofactory, on the other hand, was moving ponderously, and deliberately ripping all of the metal drop ceiling pieces from the hallway, as well as ripping the doors out of the walls. Anything made of metal got dragged into the biofactory.
“Frank this thing must weigh several tons, it’s the biggest factory I’ve ever seen you make. I thought you said that anything over a couple thousand pounds was too much for you to handle well.”
“The actual biological parts of the factory only weigh about a ton and a half. A stress, but not terrible. The other seven tons is inorganics and explosives.”
The biofactory started forming an electrical connection to every outlet it passed, extruding cables from its body as it moved, disconnecting power cords from three out of four lights in the hall as it passed them, rebuilding power connections. The heat from the biofactory was starting to grow oppressive, the cooling fans were redlining. Frank grew a couple more fans and then a couple more beyond that, there were at least twelve large fans now, pulling huge volumes of air through the factory.
Jason jogged up behind us, dodging the cables epoxied into every outlet along the walls and above the level of the old drop ceiling, where lights used to be plugged in. “We have about 45 minutes of fuel left. Probably less if this factory is going to keep using power at this rate. Mouse wants the specs on this thing by the way.”
Frank commented out loud. “[Sorry, it’s slow, electrical power isn’t as efficient, but it doesn’t run as hot either, so it works out in the end I suppose. Right now, I’m having it build drilling components, reinforced structures to shape the blast of the explosives, and lots of carbon fiber strands and pieces.]”
“[Mouse here. Before you detonate, you want the scrubber to feed your biofactory oxygen for a while?]
“[No need, I’ve been separating out chemicals that will improve the power of the explosion. Plenty of different chemicals available after the clean sweep we made of the facility. I’m actually preparing a dense shaped charge that will lead the main explosion by a fraction of a second. We’re about 75 feet underground here, about 60 feet of that is solid rock. The fifteen feet above that is fairly densely packed dirt, sand, gravel, and clay at different levels, according to my read on the data. What you should do is start storing oxygen in your biofactory. Also, take this.]” Frank extruded fifty or sixty feet of black ribbon and another bone chip from the side of the biofactory.
Jason picked up both items. The bone chip was absorbed, and Jason’s eyes got big. He ran down the hall past us and by the time we got there, he was standing next to Mouse’s biofactory, testing power connections from his right side battery to the biofactory.
“What did you give them, Frank?”
“Carbon fiber muscle tissue for their biofactory. Hand them these bones for their biofactory as well please.” A flesh shelf extruded from the side of Frank’s biofactory with several simple carbon fiber shapes. I grabbed them and gave them to Jason, who nodded and tossed them onto Mouse’s factory, which absorbed them.
By the time Frank’s biofactory made it to the door of the cell he wanted to mine up from, it was trailing about a hundred power cables.
Frank then had the biofactory pop out two shelves. Each with a full set of armor and blood cooler. Pairs of extremely large diamonds at either wrist, on both sets.
“Oh shit, Frank, you are awesome! Jason, come here. These are too big for me, the ones on this shelf are yours.”
“[Mouse, did you read the armor data I gave you before? Any questions?]” Frank asked.
Mouse spoke aloud. “[Yes, Frank, I read it. No questions right now. You two probably want to show Jason how the blood cooler attaches before I show him though. I will also need to increase his blood volume from our biofactory, I think.]”
I laughed. “Hope you don’t have a queasy stomach, Jason. Remember your symbiote can completely block the pain of this.”
Jason stared like a deer in the headlights as Frank fed the eight large artificial blood vessels into my torso. In my small body it was easy to see them moving under the skin. Then we removed the blood cooler again, and put the armor on in the correct order. Frank increased my blood supply from the factory, and Mouse did the same for Jason after he had suited up and attached his blood cooler.
Finally, I felt whole again. Wearing ratty, torn up clothes held together by epoxy was annoying. Jason probably wasn’t any less happy, considering all he had for clothing before putting on the armor was a hospital smock (which I had carefully avoided mentioning to the guy who had been pointing a coil gun at my head.)
Then I noticed something in the weak light. The armor was not black, it was silver.
“Silver armor, Frank?”
“[Mylar and silver reflective layers in the carbon fiber. It’s to give you a few seconds to localize incoming lasers so you can reflect them with the diamonds. It won’t stop lasers, but it will slow down how fast they will cook you.]” Frank explained.
By the time we had finished discussing the armor, and the uses of the diamonds (Mouse knew, Jason didn’t) Frank had positioned the biofactory inside the second of four rooms, removed the top armor from the room, cut through the armor into the two rooms beside it, and started to rapidly excavate upwards, using carbon fiber muscle strength combined with the reshaped metal he had collected, including shards of the armored roof section.
Frank spoke out loud “[I could actually mine out with the power I have available, but there will almost certainly be a welcoming committee. What we’re doing is not going to be unnoticed. They probably won’t have the ability to pinpoint it, but you can count on there being a lot of troops looking for a hole in the ground.]”
“So you’re going to dig most of the way up, then detonate a shaped charge to crack the rock, and then the main charge to blow a huge hole in the ground, which we will flee through?”
“[Yes. Exactly.]” Then Frank continued. “[Mouse’s Biofactory will break into the tunnel through the blockage at the door, and lead us to the surface if there are any additional blockages. Bob and I will take point. First priority is to get away. The most broken and difficult to pass terrain will be to the northeast, but it might be expected we would go directly into the mountains, so start northeast, but then after we break contact, we’ll head southeast for a while, then turn north when we hit the mountains.]”
The grinding noise and rattle of falling rocks stopped. Metal plates were placed against the hallway leading to the second room where the tunnel started. Frank directed Jason and Mouse’s biofactory to an alcove in the room next to a support girder, and our symbiotes both opened our mouths and pulled the lobes of our ears a couple times preparing for the overpressure wave as we crouched against a wall, with Mouse’s biofactory gripping the girder, folded over us, shielding us.
“[On three]” Frank said. “[One…Two…]”
Fifteen hundred kilos of mixed fertilized bomb, nitroglycerine, and nitrocellulose cut loose in a sealed oxygen rich chamber fifty feet long and ten feet in diameter, with innermost walls of woven metal, a secondary inner wall of carbon fiber, and those two walls pressed against solid rock or armored plate. The vast majority of the force hit the rock above the tunnel exactly as planned. The nitroglycerine charge cracked the rock, and the rest of the explosives pulverized it, spewing a huge mass of rock and dirt out into the daylight.
After Jason and I finished literally bouncing off of a couple walls, we shook our heads and could see natural sunlight shining through falling dust and dirt that looked remarkably like a brown waterfall. We looked at each other. Time to move.