It had been a while since I experienced natural adrenaline because of something not fighting or sex related. Typically, whenever we did anything even moderately dangerous, Frank cranked up the perception effect that allowed me to experience the world at the same speed Frank did. That would allow me to communicate with him at a pace that allowed me to be relevant. It had the secondary effect of making everything around me slow, nothing seemed really dangerous or exciting. When we fought, natural adrenaline came with the aggressiveness. With the sex, well, saying that my wife Ayva is not a passive person would be a massive understatement. I’ve also proven on quite a few occasions that I’m not exactly passive either.
Frank ended my stretch of only feeling excitement during sex or fights as we came off the mountain. I had never been a big roller coaster ride fan. I had never really been a big speed fan either. I had never done anything with the sheer fear factor of that mountain run, not even combat. With the new running legs, Frank could take us from a full stop to seventy-five miles per hour in about three seconds. Mouse could reach about sixty to sixty-five in about four seconds. Both of those measurements were on flat ground. Going downhill on a barely-walkable slope? Mouse and Frank had both Jason and I screaming in about two seconds, then they took control of our mouths so we wouldn’t give away our positions screaming, while still allowing us to breathe.
After Frank took control of my speech to keep me from screaming, he apologized. “[Bob, I can’t give you the perception effect this time, sorry. I’m synched with Mouse, so I’m tracking twice as much, and we’ve got a lot of targets incoming. The flickers are watching the helicopters and the press ganger drones, and they are all coming our way. That data is going to get unreliable fast, because we’re moving much faster than the flickers are.]”
“I trust you to keep my heart beating through this heart attack, Frank. TREE! aaaa ROCK.”
“[You aren’t in cardiac distress, Bob.]” Then he laughed in my head.
After that pretty much everything I said was four letter words for the next few minutes. Lots of “Fuck!”, “Tree!”, “Rock!”, “Help!”, and “Shit!” I also mixed in a few five letter words in my terror. “Stump!”, “Cliff!”, “Mercy!”, and “Frank!”
I learned that day what it would be like to live inside a pinball machine. Frank recorded the whole thing, including the soundtrack of what I was saying to him as we careened down the mountain like a supercharged pinball. At one point during the whole mess, Frank took out one of the helicopters, and Mouse took out five. I didn’t remember it then, on account of my brain function being limited to screaming four and five letter words, but Frank let me watch it later, after he admitted to recording it. The two recon drones came back as well, and Mouse took them out. Mouse recorded Jason too. You might think that Mouse and Jason were slower than us going downhill? You would be wrong. Mouse cheated. Their mass gave them a bit of an advantage going downhill so steeply, especially at the 150 to 175 miles per hour that we were hitting, but that wasn’t all of it. Frank and I took down the helicopter that we were closest to, and the rest of the Apache helicopters chased us down the mountain. Every time Mouse shot one down, he did it while leaping away from the target. While leaping, he would fire the coil gun, altering his trajectory significantly, and gaining a significant amount of speed doing it.
Before the downhill adventure, I would have thought that going that fast downhill would make us easy targets for anything that could see us due to parabolic arcs we would have to be traveling to move like that on a downhill slope. I would have been right if it weren’t for the trees and rocks and other sturdy things that our symbiotes used to guide us. We were bouncing from tree to tree and rock, always at shallow angles, pushing off from every obstacle we touched, pushing a little down to help keep us closer to the ground. It was terrifying. We were moving at more than terminal velocity for a human in atmosphere for most of the time we were coming down off that mountain. Gravity + Juice + powerful running legs + symbiote reflexes + enhanced strength = OMFG fast. Mouse had some extra mass and muscle strength to push with as we raced downhill, but Frank and I had the staff, and he used it for more than taking out one helicopter and the half dozen press ganger drones that were close enough to catch up with us before they ran out of fuel. Frank abused the staff during the descent, using it as an extension of our reach – at one point, we actually ran sideways on tree trunks, taking fifty-foot leaps from tree to tree, with my clawed feet tearing massive divots in their trunks, while Frank used the staff on the ground now and then to keep our torso parallel to the ground. That was the fastest we got on the trip down, just shy of 175 miles per hour during that stunt, according to Frank, during the replays.
When we reached the end of the steeper slopes, we were about three miles from where we started, and it had taken us a bit more than one minute to get there. We had averaged about 160 miles per hour coming off the mountain, and we didn’t stop. Mouse had gone well out of range of his flickers, and we abandoned them. In order to try to prevent capture, Mouse gave them instructions to search for cats, and land next to them. We ran at top juice speed on the flatlands until Jason was at about ten percent capacity on juice, then swam across an old cow pond to drop armor temperature, and hit the blood coolers for a couple seconds to cool our cores, and settled in at a steady pace at a bit less than forty miles per hour, staying under cover, heading back to Lake Weiss.
“That was quite possibly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.” I said.
“Same here.” Jason said. Then he continued. “Mouse, we are going to do that again. I’ve never had a rush like that, not even in combat.”
“That confirms it Jason, you’re insane. I’m happy that there was nothing left inside me when we started, because there would have been a brown stain down that whole mountain, and you want to do it again?”
Jason grinned. “Yes. When this is all over, I expect there to be a lot of symbiote pairs that will join me.”
I spent the next few minutes collecting little bits of sanity from here and there, where they had scattered during the trip down the mountain, and letting Frank deal with the world. Not even once in the next thirty minutes did I have any thoughts about cannibalism or my being the cause of all the misery I was stuck in the middle of. Maybe Jason had a point after all.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We kept moving, because we wanted to be back in the water as soon as possible, to keep any effective tracking from dogs from happening. We started discussing between Jason, Mouse, Frank, and I where and how other nukes like what we had encountered would probably be deployed. We guessed that they would probably not be in any power-producing or municipal water supply lake. Lake Weiss was still a power producer, but automated now. It was also one of several water supply lakes for Birmingham, again, with pipelines and water treatment automated. The power producing and water supplying larger lakes would be nearer to population centers for the most part. The best guesstimate we had was that the trapped lakes would probably be in the most difficult terrain where there were lakes of substantial depth, far from humans. That wouldn’t stop Frank and Mouse from doing a very thorough investigation of Lake Weiss though. Better safe than sorry.
We had gotten almost all the way back to Lake Weiss and were stuffing ourselves with figs after having just stuffed ourselves with blackberries a few minutes earlier, when I realized we didn’t know whether or not we had been successful in our primary mission. I slapped myself in the head with the palm of my hand.
Jason looked over at me. “Facepalm, eh, what for? Frank practicing jokes again?”
“No, I just realized we have no idea how much of the signal got away, or if any of it was received by the people we wanted to receive it.”
Frank spoke “[We succeeded. There are no longer any non-US satellites above us. Those non-US satellites were capable of transmitting. They had not been shot down by the US because they had no military value. Until we gave other countries the data we did, and copied it over to the US as well so they knew what we sent.]”
“I see. I’ve been out of the loop too long to even begin to imagine what the reaction would be outside of the US to what we sent, but it won’t be all talk. Nor will it be a direct assault or attempt to occupy the US.” The problem being that the US still had a substantial number of nukes left from the cold war that we knew of, and probably many more that we didn’t, considering that the warhead we found was of a type that was supposed to have been disposed of right about the same time I had been born, according to Jason. Even symbiotes wouldn’t be terribly keen on attacking into potential nuclear bomb attacks. There were also a LOT of Iraq and Afghanistan vets back in the US military now with a great deal of experience dealing with IED’s. Nuclear IED’s would be insane, but the US was already deploying hidden nuclear bombs as traps – even if none had been detonated yet. Occupying the US was simply not going to happen, not without doing absurd amounts of damage to the entire nation, making ourselves worse than what we were fighting against, even if no nukes ever got used.
Knowing that the US was almost certainly safe from invasion was comforting in a way. For one, it meant that Jason probably wouldn’t think it was his duty to go off and kill invaders, starting with me, probably. For another, I really didn’t want to see the US completely broken. It was pretty mangled up right now, but in the time that I had spent wandering around as a homeless person, Frank had allowed me to listen to countless conversations that let me know, with no doubt, that there were a whole lot of people who weren’t happy with the current state of affairs. Even within some fairly high ranks of the military, for that matter. Problem was that there were way too many people in positions of power who were more than happy to keep things just the way they were.
The government controlled all reliable food sources, all reliable water sources, all news sources, and they were the only source of the regeneration drugs. This pretty much guaranteed that there wasn’t going to be any sort of revolution unless the government started shooting first, which wasn’t likely to happen either, considering how large the military was, and how large of a percentage of said military would probably immediately rebel if they were commanded to do anything more stringent than enforce martial law.
So it was pretty much a static situation, until the US government managed to develop something in one of the research facilities that would change things. Something like, oh, controllable berserkers.
I think Jason and I could find some common ground on this, but we needed a place to stay, to rest, and to work on a few things that Frank and I had been thinking about.
“You about done with those deep thoughts, Bob?” Jason interrupted me.
“Oh, sorry, yeah. You ready to start poking around and looking for signs of nukes in the water?”
“Sure am. Mouse finished his sparrows; I see yours are ready too.”
“Time to let them fly then, and let’s hope we were right about them not planting nukes in lakes that provide municipal water and hydroelectric power.”
The water’s edge close to us seemed clear – no wires leading into the water that looked recent, no warm satellite dishes, and no receivers that were easily detectable facing towards the water from any houses with satellites.
Jason and I snuck down to the edge of the water without being very visible. Not hard at this part of the lake where there was dense underbrush everywhere. When we were finally underwater, it was a relief. It was also pretty amusing to notice that both Mouse and Frank immediately formed small biofactories and dropped them in the muck where they slowly fed and grew.
We were in no hurry at all, the sparrows would move twenty or thirty feet along the shore, looking at everything, on both sides of the lake, and we would pop our heads up next to the rotted or storm damaged carcass of an old boat or pier to get reports from the sparrows, and give them more directions.
It took us two days to search the entire coast. Jason and I split up after our biofactories got large enough to create plastic fiber optic cable, and started discussing plans over the network as it grew, each of us using our sparrows for recon. With the success we had had with Mouse’s snake before, we used several snakes to grid the shore of the lake, all the way around it, in six inches of water, putting in a sensor network. It was about 450 miles of shoreline to cover, but after the biofactories had been going for about four or five hours, they were rather large and were able to pump out hundreds of snakes, each capable of laying out several miles of fiber optic plastic cable. We were not staying in this lake if it had a nuke in it, and we weren’t staying in the lake if someone tried to set one up either. This time the snakes were the sensors and the transmitters, and were capable of feeding themselves from fish and frogs. There were some things in or around the lake that would eat snakes –snapping turtles, gar, eagles, and a couple small alligators we spotted – but the snakes with their sensor packages should be able to avoid them easily.
After we were confident that we weren’t sitting ducks for a nuke in the water, we went back to the old burnt out house, and entered by the marked tunnel entrance. This time, rather than using a fish, I just had the biofactory extend a pseudopod above the water and wave around. No laser activity. The LED was still red. It had been green when we first saw it, and turned red when the laser shot the fish I held, and then it’s power abruptly arced out. Apparently that was a ready light, not a warning light. Green meant armed, not safe. Which said something about the psychology of the one who designed it.
Frank had the biofactory slowly and carefully check all the surfaces of the alcove, both in and out of the water. Literally all of them, even the ceiling, just in case there was anything else besides the one laser that we had found last time. Frank reconstructed the failure of the laser – it had fried itself because the lens had become covered with dust. When the laser fired, said dust had melted the lens, and the melted lens dripped onto the power cabling. Nobody had been out to look at it either, the heavy layer of dust was undisturbed except for where the bits of melted and broken laser had fallen.
“All clear Jason. Preparing to open the door now.”
Frank pressed a pseudopod of the biofactory against the door’s keypad, and verified it had power, then infiltrated the electronics and triggered the door opening sequence. As expected, nothing much happened, the door moved, but didn’t open, so Frank had to help it a bit. Opening the door allowed us access to a barely lit area. A few scattered LED lights were the sole illumination, but for there to be any power left here at all, after this much time, was impressive. There were a lot more lights that could be lit, but how to turn them on was not immediately obvious. There was no sign of disarray, just dust. Lots of dust. And several smaller rooms, filled with books and dust, computers and dust, machine tools and dust, and a bank of fuel cells, and dust. There was also a small generator in a room (with more dust) and a ladder up from that room, which didn’t lead anywhere exciting, just to the top of a very large diesel tank. Frank did some echo sounding and figured the tank to be about ten thousand gallons, and still mostly full. Everything was at least two feet above the current water level, and there was no sign it had ever flooded.
All very interesting. The books had the potential to be very useful. Jason was looking them over individually, sorting them into stacks. Technical books on modern things in one stack, preindustrial technologies in another, and random topics in a third.
“Not really. Might be worth reading some of the hands-on stuff for ideas. None of the tech is going to be of much interest to Mouse or Frank.”
Only one door wouldn’t open for us, and it obviously divided this section of the facility from another section. It was a heavier door than the other internal doors leading to rooms, a lot like the external door we had sprung to gain entry. Except this door was depowered completely. We went to go look at the entry door and verified. A depowered door would lock down and would need to be powered back up again to open it unless you cut into the door. There was a way to cut the door open without doing much damage, which would also allow one to repair it with a fairly simple welding job. Frank was impressed with the engineering of the door.
So, using what we learned about the door that we had already opened, Frank opened the next door, warning Jason and Mouse before doing so. They readied themselves, and Mouse’s biofactory, but there was no need. The air in the next room was foul. The room itself had no power at all. The entire floor was floor to ceiling lights and hydroponics, all powerless, the slowly rotting plants in the water were the source of the foul smell. There was a door on the opposite side of the room from where we entered, but before investigating the next door, we walked the floor back and forth, looking for anything other than plants, hydroponics tanks, and lights, but found nothing other than a few filing cabinets with preserved seeds in them, all clearly labeled.
We returned to the next door. Again, unpowered. Frank popped it open like the last one, and we found ourselves in a small stairwell with stairs going up from our level. There was a pile of rags on one corner under the stairwell. I just looked past it at first. There was a little natural light in here, and I wanted to see where it came from. Frank, however, adjusted my vision and turned our head back to the pile of rags. It was actually a pile of insect-eaten clothes and bones, Frank adjusted my vision again, flashing a little different brightness over the constituent bones of five skeletons, two larger then the other three, and one knife, its tip mangled, laying on the floor next to the right hand of the largest skeleton.