“Hell, Mouse, what’s their status over there? I see flames.”
“Frank’s not talking to me. Their vehicle is still running, so there is some activity.”
“You OK over there Bob?” I asked over the intercom.
“No. Blind. Can’t feel anything. Mouse talking to you?” Serious damage then. Debilitating or crippling?
“Yes. Frank’s not talking to Mouse. You aren’t adjusting your second shield for the next incoming shot.”
A second passed, then a reply “[Jason, Mouse. Change in plans. Role swap. We’re not going in, you are. We’ll try to defend ourselves from the next round. We’re both hurting over here. Not sure if we can keep the next round from coring us. We’ll try to do your part if we make it through.]”
“Roger that, Frank.”
Mouse was fully in control of our vehicle and I couldn’t do anything to help Frank and Bob. All I could do was watch. Whoever was in control of the Pattons noticed the damage to Frank’s vehicle and the Patton that had been firing on us shifted its weapon to bear on their vehicle. Mouse used several waldos to throw our shield at Frank’s vehicle. Despite their damage and obvious difficulty, Frank was with it enough to recognize what was happening, caught the shield, and moved it into position to defend against the second Patton’s incoming fire. It was almost enough. Frank managed to reflect one round, but the other was too close to a center mass shot. The deflection that he could manage with the shield wasn’t enough to keep the penetrator from scoring the armor on the other side of their vehicle. Waldos went flying everywhere, and one of the legs blew off. More flames. No more shields. But they were still running.
Frank and Bob moved in front of us, they were still functional, but the inside of that pilot’s compartment had to be hell right now. I hoped they could pull their part, or we were probably both done for.
Frank and Mouse linked some of Frank’s rearward unused legs with some of Mouse’s forward unused legs, and then Frank performed perfectly. He drove four of his front non-running legs into the pavement, hard, and they impaled the road. Momentum started to take over, guided by Frank lifting with his running legs, and rotating the body of the vehicle around the point where the four legs impaled the road. The final piece of the maneuver was when we jumped our vehicle as Frank lifted us with the interlocked legs.
We shot into the air like a cannonball with enough acceleration to give me tunnel vision despite the enhanced vascular system Mouse was so proud of, and the Pattons couldn’t track us fast enough to fire on us as we fell into position ahead of them. Every vehicle leg that could touch the ground to absorb the energy of our fall did so, and we rapidly slowed down from nearly four hundred kilometers per hour as the two formations of Pattons and MacArthurs fell apart in evasive maneuvers. The Pattons could not bring their weapons to bear on us while still connected to the MacArthurs, not without hitting the MacArthurs with the barrel of the main gun. With showers of sparks the MacArthurs changed course and simply pulled loose from the Pattons. Mouse had this, and knew what to do, since we had made it into close assault range, undamaged, this fight was over.
I looked back at Bob and Frank’s vehicle. It was trashed. All four of the legs that had been jammed into the pavement to help create the slingshot effect had been torn loose. Huge chunks of armor were hanging suspended over the road on the twisted but mostly upright legs, looking like weird black mushrooms. The damaged shell of their vehicle had been weaker than the legs, so the shell became the point of failure. It should have been the leg joints between the two largest leg joints. It would have been those leg joints if their armor hadn’t taken two hits.
“Good Throw! Now get your asses into cover!” I yelled over the commo channel, hoping they would hear me. They were still maintaining balance as they attempted to slow themselves, and then finally stopped. One of Bob’s deadly chicken legs fell out of a hole in the armor. The vehicle shuddered and started moving off the road, leaking water, sparking heavily. A heavy stream of liquid began to jet from the vehicle, briefly, then stopped. A spark hit it and the puddle burst into flame. They had ejected their juice, leaving them with only battery power to move the vehicle.
“Mouse, if you can think of a way to make this faster than the current plan, with no reduction in success chances, do it. Frank and Bob are in a bad way over there, we need to get back to them soonest.”
“[You said faster, sir? Yes sir. Faster coming up.]”
Sometimes, I wondered why symbiotes bothered listening to us at all. The plan Bob and I had come up with for how he would take out the enemy formations after he landed in the middle of them was nothing like what Mouse did. Rather than run from vehicle to vehicle and stabbing them with the spiked legs, Mouse paced one Patton, started using fourteen legs to run with, then picked up the Patton with six legs and threw it into the other Patton. One hundred ten tons of main battle tank thrown about forty feet. Both Pattons tumbled off the road. We did lose one leg to the maneuver – it sank too far into the pavement and was ripped off.
The rest of the convoy sped up as soon as we disrupted the armored vehicle formations, or at least they tried to, without much success. We were on an uphill grade now, even the armored cars were barely able to accelerate. The governor’s heavy armored transport was, amazingly, accelerating away from the others; there was quite a power train in that machine, but it didn’t matter. Mouse had been watching this convoy for over an hour now, and the signal pattern told us that the governor was not in one of the other vehicles. Mouse ignored everything else and chased the armored transport. The MacArthurs started firing lasers at us. Mouse used the diamond shields to redirect the lasers, quickly taking out all the Strykers and the armored cars which had been arranging themselves to try to ram us in a coordinated manner. It would not have worked, but it would have given the governor’s vehicle time to accelerate a bit more. Which, again, wouldn’t matter, but these guys were trying to do their jobs. Had to give them respect for that. After all the light vehicles were taken out by redirected lasers, Mouse redirected the lasers at the laser emitters of the MacArthurs, because we were down to forty percent water capacity to boil off laser heat. Boiling off all that water also meant we could accelerate faster than before, so we quickly closed in on the transport.
The governor’s vehicle was much wider than a Patton, we didn’t have the leverage to simply pick it up. Flipping a vehicle about fifteen times more massive than us wouldn’t require as much leverage. Mouse ran up beside the transport, then used half of our legs not used for running to slam the side of the vehicle while the other unused legs pushed against the ground on the opposite side of our vehicle. It was a very fast strike, but it was effective. The transport flipped upside down, and started gouging huge strips out of the roadbed before it dug itself deep enough to flip again, at which point it started to pinwheel and bounce. Mouse followed the vehicle as it bounced, giving it plenty of room in case it started moving unpredictably as it slowed. The MacArthurs tried to ram us. Mouse just flipped them over if they got within reach as he moved after the transport. After the Pattons, the rest of this was paperwork. When the transport had almost stopped moving, Mouse ripped off its treads and flipped it right side up, and started tearing through the armor carefully. We had one target. No need to add to the casualties unnecessarily. We had all agreed to that.
The inside of the vehicle was a mess, but we found the governor conscious in a chair, secure in a combat harness. He looked up at us and I could read his lips. Begging for mercy. Right. Mouse had the same sentiment that I did. He used the spike of one leg to cut deep, clear trenches in the armor plate on the floor in front of the governor. “We begged for mercy too. Traitor.”
Mouse tapped the plate with the carved message, and the governor was still looking at our vehicle through the hole. A politician to the bone, to the death. Ignoring everything around him while he yammered incessantly to try to get someone else to do what he wanted. Mouse was forced to use the spike of another leg to turn the governor’s face, and tapped the message again.
The governor stopped for a moment as he read the massage. We saw his head fall forward as he realized he wasn’t talking his way out of this situation. Point made, Mouse crushed his head, and we went back to find Bob.
It didn’t take long to find them. Frank had gotten them to water, and left a very obvious trail doing it. The water was only a stream, and Frank had needed to dig it out some to allow the body of their vehicle to submerge. There were no communications. Mouse opened the door of our vehicle, I jumped out, and we walked up to Frank and Bob’s vehicle. I was expecting the worst, and I wasn’t disappointed. Bob was almost certainly dead. His armor was shattered. Pieces of armor and flesh and black carbon fiber bones were scattered randomly in the pilot’s area. He was missing half his skull, both arms, and both legs. His eyes were open, but unmoving. The least I could do was give them a burial. I wondered, briefly, if symbiotes had souls, and decided I would treat them as if they did, at least for final rites.
“How Frank managed to get them both this far, I have no idea, Mouse.”
“Losing that much bone structure would certainly have disabled me. I agree with you. Frank might have moved some of his core programming into the biocomputers, but the biocomputers didn’t fare much better, since they had no armor. There’s only one alive, and it’s in poor condition. It’s also connected to Bob directly, so that would probably explain Frank’s ability to pilot this far. They might have left messages if they were able to. I might be able to retrieve them from the biocomputer. Frank might request a coup de grace as well, if there’s any personality left in there. Most likely though, there’s nothing left.”
I moved fully under the water and Mouse gave us the gill transformation. I moved over to Bob and shut his eyes. They opened again. I couldn’t help but chuckle morbidly. Even when he was dead, he still refused to do what people expected of him. I tried to close his eyes one more time, holding them a second, then letting go. No luck. They opened again. It would have to wait. I put my hand on the biocomputer that had been connected to Bob’s body and Mouse started trying to see if there was any intelligence in there.
Bob’s head turned slightly towards me. This gave me a clearer view of his skull damage through the hole in his helmet, and it was sealed under still-pink freshly-grown skin stretched across his mangled skull like a tarp. At least half of his brain mass must have been removed. Oh hell. If he’s still alive he’s going to be a complete basket case with that much brain damage. Frank won’t be much better after losing so many bones.
“Mouse, did you see that?”
“Yes. Bob’s alive. At least his body is, and some instinctual behaviors like facing the source of stimulus. Frank seems to be functional on some level too inside the biocomputer, but I’m having a hard time initiating contact.”
On the backdrop of blackness, bright icons started to flash more regularly. I had stopped tasting blood shortly after I stopped drowning and started tasting muddy water. Now I didn’t taste anything. Floating in nothing. Sensory deprivation. Was I in rehab? I know Frank and I took some serious damage in that last fight. I hoped Jason made it. I guess he did if I’m in rehab.
“Frank are you there?”
An icon appeared in the middle of the blackness. It looked like an eye.
It blinked once.
“What’s happening Frank?”
Three blinks. Oh. Yeah. Yes or no questions. Silly me.
“We’re both severely damaged, aren’t we?”
“Think we’ll live?”
“Think we’ll want to live if we do?”
“Good enough for me. Can I do anything to help?”
“Does it have anything to do with the icons that keep appearing?”
“Do I just look at them?”
“Do I try to touch them like as if I had hands?”
“Do I have to touch them in any certain order when they appear?”
“Is it arbitrary which ones I touch?”
“Do I have to touch them all?”
“Ah, you want me to touch them all, but not in any particular order, just whatever strikes me as being right?”
“Anything else I need to do?”
So I started playing push the icons. They started out as being very simple, but rapidly became more complex, eventually developing into crude pictures, like cave paintings, or kindergarten finger painting. Shortly after that, I started to recognize things. A picture of the ashtray I made for my parents when they both smoked, before cigarettes were the devil. A napkin holder. A rocking horse. A picture of me, taken the Christmas where I opened every present under the tree. My first time fishing. My first time kissing a girl. Things started speeding up, and slowing down cyclically. More and more complex images. Larger numbers of images at once.
I stopped. The eye icon immediately popped up.
“Frank. Am I somehow doing therapy here or something?”
“OK. Can I get a clock or something to tell me how much time is passing?”
A long pause. The eye started spinning. Then it blinked once, and a timer appeared. Well, it looked like it appeared, but it didn’t obscure anything in my field of view. It was just there, visible where I wasn’t looking. It clicked off a hundredth of a second, then stopped.
“Frank, your timer’s broken.”
I watched the timer. Eventually it clicked over another hundredth of a second.
“Perception effect, Frank?”
One blink. Then the eye spun and two blinks.
“Yes and no?”
“OK, thanks for the timer, Frank, will we be able to talk soon?”
So I continued choosing images. As time passed, there were more and more images, the field of my awareness grew larger, each image was crisp and clear to my vision, all simultaneously, no matter how many there were. Then I started viewing videos. Sort of. I would look at a video, and recall it in its entirety, like as if it had been an image. I started getting a bit of a headache.
Videos of my life. Times of my life when I knew there were no videos. Times in my life when I knew nobody in my family owned anything that could record in color, but the videos were in full color anyhow. I was seeing things through Frank’s eyes, his memories. I started seeing images and structures from within my body, seeing how Frank grew. Frank’s images didn’t seem to be as chronologically ordered as mine were, but he hadn’t told me to change what I was doing, so I continued picking and choosing videos. The timer kept getting slower and slower. I was now looking at thousands of videos simultaneously, and understanding their content instantly. My headache was raging.
I stopped. The eye popped up instantly.
“Frank I am in pain. Are we almost done?”
I wanted to be done with this stuff. It hurt. I started choosing icons again. The number of icons increased exponentially, again. Now there were videos as well as stills. All senses were included. Even all of Frank’s, which was bewildering at first, seeing the entire electromagnetic spectrum in its natural color just can’t be described. Strong and weak nuclear force senses were also… surreal. Watching molecular construction was fascinating, it almost took my mind off the pain. It took me three hundredth of a second to be able to figure out the last sense, an ability to see matter density with some sort of gravity sense.
“Frank. Is there a way for me or you to stop the pain?”
“If I were to stop doing the rehab, would the pain stop?”
“Do I get to choose when to stop doing the rehab?”
“Can I resume rehab after I stop? This looks like you’re teaching me things.”
Two blinks. The eye spun. A single blink.
“So the longer I can do this, and bear the pain, the better the end result will be?”
Well, crap. Pain is pain. I’ll deal with it till I can’t. If this really is reintegrating me with my memories, and helping Frank too, there was one thing I hadn’t seen enough of.
“Frank, can you choose to some degree what I see?”
“Tell them I want memories of Ayva. There have not been enough of them. I know things are missing, there are huge gaps. I can feel the missing time slices.”
One blink. The eye spun a short time, then stopped and blinked again.
“There will be more memories of Ayva?”
I started on the icons again. There were lots of icons with Ayva in them. My headache kept getting worse, but I ignored it as I continued filling in data on Ayva, mixed in with data on quantum mechanics, molecular engineering, and thousands of different experiments. I started to notice some memories of Frank’s that didn’t seem to match my memories, and some of those activities had clearly been hidden from me. The toe claws, and arm claws I knew about. Other things I hadn’t. Some of those other things I was glad I hadn’t known about because I would have been extremely angry with Frank. He had kept his word, but twisted it. There had been layers upon layers of deception to allow Frank to do the experiments he wanted to do. I could see that. I could also see his reasoning, his desperation. His shame at my initial rejection of him. His desire to give me what I most wanted early in our relationship. Privacy. The experiments were the last thing I saw. Millions of images. All leading up to this. I paused before clicking the last icon. I had long since been able to tell how much data I was missing, and this would be the last icon.
The eye popped up when I paused.
“I will be able to speak to you after I complete this, correct? You know I now know what you did. I understand why you did it.”
A pause. A single blink. The eye flipped. A single blink. The eye flipped. A single blink.
“It was a crazy stupid thing to do, but I thank you for it. I do NOT want our relationship to end. This is not a question. You do not need to answer.”
I pressed the last icon, and everything went black again. No more icons or images or videos or whatever. Just blackness.
I started re-activating nerves, which was a very bad idea. Everything hurt. I turned it all on anyway, then filtered the pain, looking for useful sensations. I was under water. Part of me seemed to be a biocomputer. Someone touched my face. I started to turn my head then realized the timer was still barely ticking over. I didn’t want to waste energy and perhaps injure myself for no reason, so I built a new GUI to control my physical activity speed, and adjusted it to a level significantly below normal human reaction speeds. My skull and its contents were trashed, no need to make it worse. Then I moved my head, while reorganizing the helmet compound video input code to account for all the damaged and missing nodes.
Someone touched me on the biocomputer, and I felt an electronic touch as well, which was difficult to understand. Why was it difficult to understand? I searched through Frank’s memories for how to interact with other symbiotes, and I was doing all the right things, but they weren’t. Had Mouse also been injured? The video systems in the helmet came up, and I confirmed visually that Jason was the one in contact with me. He wasn’t moving. Neither was the water. Even the light shining through the water was barely changing. I reconfigured the GUI again to control my mental activity speed. I was not Frank. I didn’t have the patience to deal with waiting that long for input. I didn’t have enough things to do while I waited. I turned down the mental activity speed. I was going to have words with Frank after I thanked him for saving my ass. Even if he had lost both my arms, both my legs, and half my head. At least he saved my ass. I smiled.
I then recognized Mouse’s attempts to communicate, and acknowledged them as Jason stared at my smile.
Bob turned his head a little more towards me, and then he smiled. This is going to suck if he has any mind left and doesn’t know yet how bad he’s hurt.
Bob spoke over the com net. “Sorry about the communications problems, folks, I was a bit out of sorts there.”
What the fuck? “Uh, yes, we see that. You still seem to be a bit out of sorts.”
“But I’m feeling much better…” he said, in a terrible English accent.
I couldn’t hit him for that. I really couldn’t. “You did NOT just quote Monty Python at me when you are too hurt for me to hit you.”
“[I don’t even see how this is possible.]” Mouse complained.
“The original Frank pulled some shenanigans. I now know what he did but I need to think through the ramifications of what he did and how much of it I can safely reveal. I’m also going to have to speak to Doctor Meilin and Star.”
“Need to know then?” Probably was, sounds like Frank was doing something WAY out there, based on Mouse’s reactions.
“Afraid so, for now, but I’d really like to get back to Lake Weiss. If you guys could go grab that deer over there, I’d appreciate it.” One of the coilguns from our vehicle fired and killed a deer downstream a bit.
Mouse jerked us back out of contact with the biocomputer. “[What did you just do, Frank?]”
“Frank isn’t able to talk right now. That was me, sorry, I got confused about which vehicle was which.”
“[You got confused? There are three firewalls just to get to me from the com net, and then you passed that command to fire through me too. I can see traces of the commands.]”
I spoke directly to Mouse. “Mouse, if Bob is really running the whole show over there, and he really just passed a command through you to fire our weapons, it might be a good idea to not get too indignant right now. He did apologize. I think it would be a good idea to go get his deer.”
“Thanks Jason.” A pause. “Aw hell, that was a private conversation. Sorry. I’m going to have some strong words for Frank when I pull him out of virtual reality later. Look guys, I’m new to this whole machine intelligence thing. I know a lot of stuff but I don’t have practice actually doing it, and I’m gonna fuck up a lot before I get it under control.”
I just sighed. Bob was still Bob.
Well, I had just pissed off Mouse, and annoyed the hell out of Jason. That was a good start to the rest of my life. I didn’t even want to think what the first few days around Ayva were going to be like if I started reading her like that, or controlling her symbiote.
After a very short moment of mental paralysis due to the sheer strangeness of my current situation, I started having the biocomputer collect my pieces and parts and bring them back to my body, then I collected all the remnants of the dead biocomputers and digested them with the living biocomputer. I was missing an entire leg somewhere. A quick playback of the last hour found it when it had fallen out into the road. Not worth going back for. I had the biocomputer collect a few shards of the vehicle’s armor and started processing them into proper shapes for leg bones, spending a bit of energy to adapt the biocomputer slightly to do manufacturing a bit more efficiently, since I certainly didn’t need it for computing power. Most of the bones were in decent condition, they had been ripped off, not broken. My skull had taken a chunk of a tungsten penetrator that had fragmented when it hit the armor of the vehicle, it was a mess.
Fixing my personal armor could wait until we got out of the ambush zone, and back to Lake Weiss. With the biofactories and bits and pieces of me that I could find to put back together, I was able to put myself mostly back together, but the missing leg was still only a carbon fiber skeleton when Jason brought the deer back. The biocomputer ate the deer, and gave me the nutrients and raw materials to make a new leg. Jason just watched while I did that.
“You are doing this without Frank, Bob?”
I had already told him that. But I guess it wasn’t clear.
“It’s all me in here right now. I can activate a Frank program but he wouldn’t be controlling anything.”
“He might be a good teacher though. Hint.”
“Hint understood, and agreed with.” He was right, but right now I just wanted to fix my body.
“Thank you for the deer, Jason.”
“No problem, Bob. Will you be able to get this thing running again to get it back to the lake?”
“Should be able to, let me check it out. I’ll need some juice if you have any to spare.”
I spent a couple minutes checking out the machine and running tests. It would make it back to the lake. Mouse gave us about fifty gallons of juice after I repaired a problem with juice storage. I topped myself off with it as well. Body rebuilding had used pretty much all I had. I disconnected the biocomputer and controlled the urchin myself as we walked to Lake Weiss under cover of forest where we could, and carrying trees with us to break up our image where we couldn’t.
The idea to simply cut down a couple trees and carry them across open land amused the hell out of Jason, but Mouse wasn’t talking to me much. It would probably take quite some time to get back in his good graces after I accidentally forced him to shoot one of his weapons. He was probably trying to figure out what I did and how to stop it. I couldn’t even explain it to him, he didn’t even have the beginning reference points to understand. If I told him that his understanding of how he worked was too simplistic for me to explain what I did, he might actually force me to debilitate him to keep him from trying to harm me. Jason would side with his symbiote, almost certainly. Fuck.
Then I realized something. This hiding from satellites thing was stupid. I carried my trees over to an old house. Jason followed me, carrying his trees. I used one of the walking legs to rip the satellite off the roof, wired it up to one of the coil gun power system plugs, and set it on the ground, walking away far enough that my trees were not blocking its line of sight. First I uplinked to the satellites and stopped them from collecting data. Then I sent my own little data bits down with some surprises for good old Uncle Sam. Then started systematically using the existing US satellites to locate every other US satellite in orbit and de-orbit it. A few astronauts who may or may not have ever done anything wrong would suffer briefly to eliminate the US space threat. If the US didn’t sue for peace, I’d deal with the Space Rail next, even though I didn’t want that fight with Jason.
Before I de-orbited the last few US satellites, I routed some private messages:
Love you. Be home soon.
We need to talk.
Now there was no more US space presence. I tossed my trees aside.
Jason spoke “Umm, what did you just do.”
“I ended the US space presence, Jason. Hope you don’t mind.”
“All of it?”
“Yes. Didn’t touch the Space Rail, they can put stuff back up after they stop being stupid.”
Jason just grunted and kept his thoughts to himself. I didn’t try to monitor his communications with Mouse. I did, however, keep a very close eye on the control systems for their urchin. I didn’t think that they would backstab me, but the system resources to be sure they didn’t were negligible.
We got back to Lake Weiss without much trouble, parked the urchins, put the weighted camouflage over them, and went back into the base. Jason excused himself, and made it clear he didn’t want my company for the time being.
I went into the bedroom I had claimed for my own, and locked the flimsy door. There was plenty of room for me to stretch out on the floor. I had removed all the child’s possessions from the room and placed them in the master bedroom. Jason had done the same for the room he claimed. Respect for the dead, as best we could.
Then I activated Frank, and completely disabled my vocal cords, so I couldn’t even subvocalize.
“Hello Bob, I bet you have lots of questions!”
“No, Frank, I have one question. For now.”
“Oh. Umm. What would that be?”
“How in the hell am I going to explain to people that I am now based on reverse engineered berserker operating code?”