“Frank, you still got those finger blades, and can you make them work through the gloves?”
“Sure, no problem” He replied.
I eyed the propellers on a couple of the old outboard motors.
“I see what you are looking at. No. I’d rather just use rocks if we can’t find some nails or something. Those propellers would work, but they are big and heavy, and would take a lot of energy to throw.”
“Make a regular sling from wire? There’s another roll of wire laying over there”
“That definitely works, though I’d rather use cloth or rope. Wire isn’t as flexible, and my aim will be off.”
“Would hair work?”
“Fresh hair, yes.”
“Force grow us some hair? Or wait, spider silk? You wouldn’t even need to force grow that, you could simply extract some from the subcutaneous armor?”
“I’m not seeing any better way to make a good, flexible sling, so yes, I think that’s a good idea. Let’s go pick up some slinging stones.”
Frank removed our right glove, and tacked it onto the armor of the left arm with a tiny dab of epoxy. Then we went to the water’s edge and picked up four nice sling stones. By the time we found four good sling stones, Frank had a spider silk hand sling extracted and ready.
“You must have talked to Animal about how he grew his dreadlocks already braided and tied.”
“Yes, I did. It was pretty simple actually.” Frank went into some very not-simple explanation of protein growth theories that would probably make an organic chemist’s ears bleed. My head was spinning. The only words that made sense were not put together in a way that made sense – left handed proteins?
“Um, good to know it was that easy.”
“Oh, sorry, I should know better than to try to explain organic chemistry and molecular engineering things to you.”
I smiled. “As long as it works Frank. My brain can’t handle the math that yours can, not without years and years of training, and then I’d know how you make hair, and probably not much else.”
“Silk, not hair.”
“You’re trying to keep me from thinking about something, Frank. Don’t worry about me right now. Let’s concentrate on bagging a deer or wild pig for Jason to use as fuel for the carbon transfer. He’ll need a lot of extra energy to deal with that much rebuilding.”
The hunt didn’t take long. The animals in the area were not very fearful of humans. In twenty minutes I had a buck with its legs tied together draped over my back, with its legs to my front like a bandolier, and two small wild pigs carried one in each hand by silk string wrapped around their legs. There was still about thirty minutes left before we were supposed to meet, so I dropped the dead animals off at the shed with the outboard motors, then entered the water long enough that all the fleas and ticks got off me and the armor, and swam underwater twenty feet or so and resurfaced, coming out along a different part of shore.
It amazed me that at one point in my life I thought wild animals were clean, when in reality they are typically infested with fleas and ticks. When I picked up the carcass, which was starting to cool, the blood suckers looked for their next warm target. Guess who? Swimming under water would make them release you though, unless they were tightly attached, and Frank wouldn’t let them attach. Any that got that far, and bit us, Frank simply absorbed.
I started thinking about what we would need to transmit a signal accurately to a satellite, looking around for anything that might be useful. “Hey Frank, if we want to locate a working communications satellite and send a tight beam signal to it, we’re going to need to build a telescope of some sort and a dish. Can we use just a regular rooftop satellite dish, if we can find one?”
“Yes, we can, but we’ll want to build a Faraday cage around it except for the signal path. Even then we’ll certainly want to move immediately after sending signal, because the signal will scatter in atmosphere, and the US military is really good at determining the location of signal data if they get any sort of look at it.”
“Faraday cage. Metal screen from windows or sun rooms would work, right?”
“Copper, glass, circuit boards as well? Anything else I should look for?”
“Batteries – even if they are corroded – I can use them to make batteries we can use. If you happen to see a set of high power binoculars or a telescope of any type, grab them, but high end optical equipment is not cheap, so it’s probably not going to be left behind here. For that matter if you see a cheap set of binoculars or a cheap telescope grab it too, I can probably adjust them to the required sensitivity about as fast as I can build a new one. A few feet of copper wire. That should be easy, just bash in a wall next to an outlet and rip some out of the wall.”
We both knew that Frank could do the work and look for the items far more effectively than I could. It was actually fairly likely that he had already seen every single item he just asked me to find. It was something to keep my mind busy – I didn’t mind, despite my earlier comments, I didn’t want to allow my mind to wander.
I did find everything except for a telescope or pair of binoculars by the time our time was nearly up. I had even found a ratty old duffel bag to carry stuff in. As we were walking towards the landing, Frank took control over my body briefly, lined up a finger under my eyes, and pointed out a binocular case on the dash of an old, beat-up rusted-out pickup truck with a “DUCKDOC” custom license tag in the front. When we got there, it was locked, so we broke the passenger side window and pulled the case out. It was empty. I laughed at Frank, but was too fast to write off the find. Frank found the binoculars under some newspapers in the passenger side footwell.
On the front page, the headline was in red ink, which I didn’t even know newspapers could do. “REGENERATION TREATMENTS ONLY AUTHORIZED FOR RESIDENTS OF RECOGNIZED URBAN AND SUBURBAN AREAS”
The paper was from three years ago. I took a moment to read the article. This paper was printed out of Atlanta, Georgia, and had a list of all the Georgia cities that were eligible for their residents to get regeneration treatments. There was a reference to a full list of all cities on a full page ad in section C, page six. The editors of this paper were rather unhappy with this decision. Every guest commentator was as well. Apparently however hard they had fought against the decision, it had stood.
I asked Frank to record the paper for later, and quickly flipped through the pages. We were already a couple minutes late. Jason, being somewhere around a seventy to seventy-five year service veteran would probably not deal with lateness well.
I jogged towards the landing, and tossed a rock into the water near the shoreline, on the concrete of the landing. Jason might not hear it but I knew Mouse would. Sure enough, as I got to shore and dropped the duffel, I saw Jason walking in towards shore, water draining from his torso gills.
Jason looked at the duffel bag, then at me as he walked up to the water’s edge. By the time he got to the duffel bag, and nudged it with his toe, he was able to speak. “Trouble?”
I shook my head. “No, no trouble. I just ran across a newspaper headline that caught my eye, and I lost track of time reading the article. I’ll tell you about it shortly.”
“Do you need me to carry the duffel?”
“Yes, please. Hunting was good.”
I entered Jason’s view, neatly carrying the deer and both pigs like before, and Jason smiled. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone carrying their catch quite so much like a tourist before. Next time we need to get you one of those little snap out luggage carriers with wheels.”
“If I’d had more storage space, I could have brought more back.”
I did a double take as I walked towards the water. Jason was much shorter than he was earlier.
“Mouse didn’t waste any time, did he? Let me guess. He’s put the kangaroo pouch in, you found some high carbon something, somewhere, and he’s reduced your body mass and burned excess fat and muscle for energy to start replacing your skull, with carbon?”
“Pretty close, yes. He’s already finished the skull, spine, and hips with carbon from the now-smaller armor pieces. We would like to make a trip up to the house there for more carbon while it’s still dark. He pointed up at the burnt down house on the other side of the inlet. We already swam around and scouted it, the house is on a teardrop of land, which was created artificially. It was a big house, and there’s definitely some highly concentrated carbon up there that Mouse wants.”
“Sounds like a plan. I want you to make a biofactory to absorb these pigs and the deer so you can finish the carbon bones. I don’t want to just leave them in the water. North Alabama is too cold for alligators to breed, but they can survive if they were captured elsewhere and kept as pets, then released up here, and if it’s been three years since they were released, they could easily be big enough to run off with the deer corpse. Some larger catfish might manage to swallow one of these pigs, they aren’t that big.”
“Already ahead of you. C’mon, I’ll show you.” Jason pulled a twenty foot length of wire out of his pouch and handed the other end to me. “Plug in so we can talk while we swim to the other side. Toss the pigs in the duffel, I’ll carry them.”
I handed the pigs over, Jason tossed them in the duffel then clipped the top of the duffel together, then wore it like a backpack. Now we each had both of our hands free. I realized that my right gauntlet was still glued to my left arm. I broke it off the arm armor, and put it back on my hand.
We both submerged, our helmets reconfiguring at the direction of our symbiotes to allow water in large volumes to enter, then our bodies started forming the larger throat and mouth required for incoming water while shaping lungs into gills and creating vents out of our backs, and vents through our armor for our back vents to push water through. Our diaphragms still provided the muscle action for breathing, in through the mouth, one way valve, out through the back, one way valves. The entire inside of our lungs had been transferred into water based oxygen transport.
“Frank, where you want me to connect this wire?” I asked, internally of course, since I had no air lungs to speak with.
“Push it against your left hip, and stay on Jason’s right side.”
I pressed the wire against my left hip. A spot of heat in the water at my hand holding the wire, then the wire was pulled inwards. When I looked, Frank was gluing the wire in place.
“…Do you Copy”
“Bob here, just connected. Do you copy? Over”
“Jason here, Roger that, we copy. Do you copy? Over”
“Roger that. Going to informal mode communication. Over.”
“OK Bob, I already have a biofactory going, and it’s got plenty of energy stored for me. It looks like you have another project in mind for yourself, so you get to keep your kills for your own project.”
“Where did you get the biomatter to feed your biofactory? I didn’t think that the vegetable detritus would be enough to feed it.”
“I’ll show you in a minute, it’s a handy thing to know. Most people in your generation, or younger, have never heard of this.”
“Hrm, OK. Are you going to show me an underwater alligator call, or something?”
“Haha no. Be patient. It won’t take long.”
I was patient, we swam across the inlet. Then we got to his biofactory and I noticed it was wrapped around one of the more solid looking pylons in the water. Jason hadn’t been exaggerating, the biofactory was of significant size, and almost certainly would be able to provide him with all the energy he needed for the carbon bones.
“Should I make my biofactory here?
“Yes, test the pylons first, a couple I tested looked good but fell over with just a bit of force.”
I found a solid pylon, and Frank extruded a blob which attached itself to the deer and started to grow.
Jason unclipped the duffel and pulled out the pig corpses, handing them to me then putting the shoulder strap around the pylon my biofactory was growing on, and resealing the duffel with the shoulder strap clip.
The biofactory quickly covered the deer, not consuming all of it immediately, just containing it, then it extended a thick pseudopod to the pylon as an anchor and one thin pseudopod to each pig corpse to encapsulate them.
“[No problem Bob]”
“Show me your surprise, Jason”
Jason led me over to the coast, and I could see what he meant by the island being artificial. There was a constructed wall all along the coast, with two foot wide holes about three feet apart from one another. The holes were flat at the bottom, curved at the top into arches. Fish were everywhere in and around the holes, most of them.
“OK watch this, it might take a few tries.”
Jason stuck his arm deep into the hole, and left his arm there for a minute, not moving it. Nothing happened. We moved to the next hole with no small fish moving in and out, and he stuck his hand in and let his hand simply float in the water, relaxed. All of a sudden, his arm started to flop around and he got pulled into the hole hard enough that I heard his helmet smack the surface of the wall.
“Haha this is a good one.” He braced his knees against the side of the hole and pulled his arm out. There was a fish attached. A very large catfish. One of the largest I’d ever seen.
“This fellow might go seventy pounds. That’s nearly as much as you weigh right now, right?”
“You just caught a giant catfish, with your hands? I’ve never caught one that big with a fishing pole.”
“It’s called ‘noodling’, and a fish this big might have killed a normal human trying it, you saw how hard it pulled me into the wall. That’s part of what makes the sport dangerous. Snapping turtles, alligator snapping turtles, and sometimes alligators and crocodiles in warmer waters can live in the same kind of holes catfish do. Despite the danger, it’s an easy way to catch big catfish especially if you are able to breathe underwater and regenerate. I caught four hundred pounds of fish in fifteen minutes here. These guys haven’t been fished for years, either by rod or hand. We’ve only scratched the surface here. Hunting above ground won’t be needed. The organs and oils in the fish are more than enough energy.”
“Jason, I want to try this, if you don’t mind.”
“Don’t mind at all, go ahead. Stick your arm into a hole that you don’t see small fish moving into and out of and then just let it hang there flopping a bit, suspended in the water for about a minute. Your fingers should stick mostly straight out. When something pulls your hand into its mouth, grab hold with your hand, and pull it out of the hole. I’d warn you about alligators and turtles, but If either of them is in the hole, in your armor, with Frank helping, it will just mean your biofactory gets a turtle or alligator instead of a catfish.”
I moved down, watching the small fish moving at the entrances of holes, until I saw one hole where small fish entered, but only about half of them came out again. I positioned myself at the side of the hole and stuck my hand in, then let it go limp with fingers mostly extended. Then I just let the hand sit there, waving lightly in the water motion. All of a sudden something grabbed my hand and I remembered to grip my hand on whatever it was. It pulled back, and I slammed my head and torso against the wall, just like Jason had done. I shook my head and then let myself get pulled into the tunnel, so I could see what had my hand. It was another catfish, about the same size as the one Jason had caught. Awesome.
“Frank. This thing might outmass me, and it’s got a lot more swimming surface area, you mind killing it for me before it beats me against the walls some more?”
“Heh, sure thing Bob.” Frank reached out with the other hand, claws extended, and cut the fish’s spine as it continued to pull us further into the tunnel.
Jason laughed. “Yes, that one would have killed you if you had tried it at your weight as a normal human. Of course you always noodle with a partner, and a rope. A buddy hauling on a rope won’t save you from a gator but it might save you from a turtle or a really big catfish.”
“I see. Actually. I do see. Something. Frank, what is that?” Further up the tunnel, past the fish, there was a slight light. “Is that bioluminescence, is there a cave up there?”
“[Not sure Bob, but it looks like green LED light, not any sort of bioluminescence]”
“Jason, you said this whole outcrop looked to be artificial?”
“Think so, the wall goes all the way around, the shape is uniform. It’s either artificial or it’s largely artificial, but built on a natural outcrop.”
“Fair enough. I think there’s a cave in the middle of it.”
“I heard. Pass me your fish. Actually, you mind doing the same thing for mine? If I kill it, it will be messier.”
Frank reached a hand back when Jason got close, and cut his fish’s spine too, then we pushed our fish back to Jason, so he had both fish. Then Frank started looking more closely at the tunnel.
It was too quiet so I started to talk. “If someone put this place together and wanted it to be secure, there would have to be something to stop fish from hitting triggers, so there can’t be anything in the water. There could be all sorts of stuff above water though.”
We slowly entered the cave, staying underwater. Once we cleared the cave entrance from the tunnel, the water dropped off again, to about twenty feet in depth. Several feet above the top of the tunnel, we could see the surface of the water, with the green LED.
We got near the surface of the water, and I decided to try something.
“Hand me one of the fish, please, Jason.”
“Um, sure.” He passed me a fish.
I stuck my hand down its throat, and then pushed its tail above the water by trying to push my arm out of the water. Nothing happened to the fish. The LED light turned red. I pushed the fish tail up again. It got warm, but there was a shower of sparks from another part of the room. There was a hole in the tail of the fish, laser. I pushed the tail up again. A few more sparks, no more holes.
I couldn’t see Jason’s face, but the angle of his head as he looked at me made the expression obvious. “I’ve never seen anyone successfully disarm a trap with a monster catfish before, and I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit, Bob.”
“Frank, have I ever claimed to be sane?”
“[Nope, Bob. I’d call you on it if you tried, I think.]”
“You’ve been awful quiet in there Mouse, anything you want to add?” I asked.
“Umm, no, he hasn’t been quiet. He’s been carefully cataloging your mental illnesses to me for the last couple minutes since you let the fish haul you into the tunnel.” Jason said, chuckling.
Mouse then spoke. “[Are you guys sure you want to try to break into the hopefully abandoned secret base that used to be guarded by automatic lasers before we finish what we came here to do in the first place? What order should we do these three things in? One. Tell the world about an atrocity. Two. Give my host an improved chance of survival for the next time we do something crazy. Three. Do something crazy, just because it looks dangerous.]”
I thought about it, then laughed. “Mouse, you’re a spoilsport.”