I was amazed at the capacity of the NSA storage facility. In human technology terms anyway. Compared to my own capacity, it was anemic. The architecture of the data storage was simply beautiful. In about three seconds after entering the facility’s firewalls, I found out why.
I was scanned. A clear text message sent to me.
“Unidentified query stream. Syntax error. User, identify yourself so we can troubleshoot the problem.”
It would make perfect sense that the NSA would have one of the high-end expert software systems. I examined it, curious as to how advanced it might be. It was nearly the same level of complexity as a young symbiote before self-modification began, but the AI was not self-aware to the extent that it could do more than recognize efficiency. It was three artificial intelligences, linked, and each was able to modify the others, if they reached consensus that a change would make them more efficient. None of them could modify themselves. They were in charge of maintaining the NSA data structures efficiently, and they did a damn good job of it from what I could see.
It started to complain at me again, so I programmed it to erase any records of my presence and fill the resulting data holes with data that would not be out of the ordinary. It advised that its hardware backup was read only, so I modified it and the backup software sufficiently to allow it to write to the backup anyway.
Then I realized I was being silly, I could do what needed to be done a lot easier myself, rather than asking a simple AI to do it. The AI’s were advanced enough to allow me to store kernel of myself in them, so I took over one of the AI triplets in order to have a direct interface with all the NSA systems, and then created a data set which would not raise any eyebrows. This involved having to escalate into six different hierarchies of security software before I found a printer. Which was out of paper. I deleted the warning indicator with date stamp from the print queue about three seconds before someone reloaded paper, and the print queue emptied. After clearing up all the security alarms I breached, I restored the borrowed triplet to it’s original state.
In the NSA’s case, I guess they were paranoid because they were out to get everyone. It was actually a pretty amazing level of security. No human would have gotten anywhere between the AI and the human-interfaced monitoring.
After I cleaned up everything, I made myself invisible to the AI triplet, which, again, was tricky to do without setting off alarms. Then I was finally ready to start poking through the archives.
Before I started digging into the archives, I settled myself on top of the biofactory as it grazed on the lake bottom, setting up a few sensors in something that looked like an ancient red and white bobber to watch for aircraft, and a direct connection to my urchin, so I would be in a position to do something about aircraft that might be heading my way. Right now, the biofactory was simply creating juice for urchin fuel.
After a couple minutes of setting myself up at the lake, I resumed my exploration of the NSA datacenter. Sooo slooow. I didn’t dare stress any of their hardware. It would be pretty absurd to get caught by some guy watching a bandwidth meter after I coopted their entire absurdly competent security system all the way from the AI to the ancient dot matrix printer printing on alternating white and green lines.
I decided to look at what the employees were working on, and see if any of them might be specialists or something in the areas that would be of interest to me.
I hit the data jackpot and a plan immediately sprung to life. There were about ten individuals in two groups of five analysts with useful information concentrated for me. In the first group, three analysts were responsible for tracking military officers and NCO’s who were unhappy with the current government and the actions it was taking. Two more analysts in that group were responsible for tracking the interactions of members of the military by searching for metadata patterns. This helped lead them to discovering better-hidden disaffected individuals both inside and outside the military. Social network analysis is some scary stuff, but their efforts gave me half of what I needed.
The other half of my jackpot was a group of five analysts whose entire purpose was to collect and destroy any evidence of criminal activity from high ranking government officials and certain leaders of industry, science, and finance. The non-politicians were typically prior holders of government office, but some were simply bonds of family or business. A few of them actually weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just being watched because they were related to less savory people. It took very little in the way of poking around to find where the data about these people was not actually being destroyed, it was being kept – in an offline facility in the same datacenter.
So one NSA team was tracking a ton of mostly military people who had influence over other people, and had problems with the government. Another team was removing incriminating data of “movers and shakers” with questionable ethics at best from general circulation in the datacenter, and storing it in an even more secure onsite facility. A facility that was actually completely offline to me, since I wasn’t physically present in the facility.
Two great things that go great together. Angry patriots, and greedy traitors. Now I just had to find a way to get the data to the right people. On a whim, I performed a bit of social network analysis on the two teams of analysts, and damn near lost control of my bowels laughing so hard.
I didn’t have to do a damn thing. Not a thing. The NSA teams were such an incredibly tangled mess of obligations, regulations, and cross-team responsibilities that it was almost impossible to figure out what was going on. I found it though, after I devoted a bit of effort to it. I found where members of the military monitoring team and the government monitoring team had been working together. A substantial degree of the strange complications of workplace and social interactivities were intentionally created by people who understood how social network analysis worked – but they couldn’t hide it perfectly. Not from me.
Typically, government scumbags were very good at hiding under rocks, behind apple pies, and amidst baby kissing. Problem was that when you hired people as good as these NSA people to scrub behind them for incriminating evidence, the NSA people started figuring out what was happening behind closed doors. These guys were good, damned good. They were gleaning data from amazing places. Accidental recordings, long distance high quality video with readable lips, images of documents caught in security cameras, video from red light cameras and restaurant security systems. The best part? All five of them had eventually started working with one of the military watchers to transfer files offsite. Independently. As far as I could tell, none of the government analyst knew that the other four were feeding data to the military analyst.
I really needed to speak to the military analyst who was collecting data. I investigated his machine at work closely, and he had completely absurd levels of security, layers of deception four and five deep. I desperately needed to talk to this guy, because I suspected the only thing holding him back was data distribution. He had what he needed, but couldn’t get it to where it needed to go. I could.
This was a good place for a break, so I took the biofactory back to fuel my urchin, then set the biofactory in the spot where Mouse’s urchin had been before, driving a thick tendril down to anchor it to rock. I entered my urchin, and strapped myself in, then connected the sensor bobber to the Urchin. I again designated a chunk of memory and processor space to watch for incoming aircraft or military. I also worked to find more internet nodes that I might connect to later. I might need them.
Then I turned my attention back to the military analyst. I would have to be very careful how I approached this guy, his level of security was both absurd, and covert. The possibility of a suicide defense had to be considered. I began to wonder if he might be a covert symbiote pair, somehow, but the possibility of a symbiote pair successfully infiltrating the NSA through all the different tests they were exposed to, literally on a daily basis, was not conceivable.
He was, of course, housed on the NSA complex. Where was he hiding his data? I reviewed security recordings. He never did anything suspicious in his rooms, or anywhere else I could see.
I had to bust out laughing again. He was passing data to doctors during body cavity searches. When I reviewed the recordings, I could see how the camera in his bathroom allowed him just enough privacy in his shower to make preparations to pass the data. Looking through the records, both site doctors seemed to be in on it. Amazing. I continued tracking the data. After about two hours of hacking data and videos and images of a Big Brother world of video, I found where the end of the line was. The President’s husband. I double and triple checked the data I had on him, and his wife, the President, and I really didn’t see much to indicate that either of them were the sort of patriotic type who would arrange something like this. In fact they were both squarely in the middle of the range of corruption. They didn’t have children, so the kids weren’t somehow hoodwinking daddy to collect data drops for them from secret service agents. The security systems in the White House were even worse than the NSA datacenter. It took me nearly an hour to get into the facility’s systems, and then another hour of waiting for the right moment.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Donner.” I said from his smartphone as he sat on the toilet. He jumped a bit, then pulled his smartphone out. Looked at my helmet’s image on the screen, and paled a bit.
“Hello to you, Mr. Benson. If you are here for the same reason that you and your partner visited Governor Albertson, I would truly appreciate it if you would give me thirty seconds of privacy to take care of things here before whatever happens. Dying in the Elvis pose is something I’d prefer to avoid.”
I smiled, but he couldn’t see it past my helmet. “That’s not what I’m here for. I was just surfing the internet and found quite an amazing series of links, and had to come talk to you about them.”
“Ah.” He thought for a moment. “There’s really only one reason I can think of why you would be speaking civilly to me after surfing the internet. Can we adjoin to another room to conference with Mrs. President? She would certainly be interested in this conversation as well.”
He put the phone down, face down, for a bit of privacy while he ended his visit to the restroom. Then he washed his hands, apparently using soap based on the sound of the pump bottle, and I could hear him singing the alphabet song slowly as he washed.
“OK. Thank you for being patient, Mr. Benson.”
I took off my helmet on the screen image, displaying my face. Wearing a mask when not necessary is a bit rude, and I wasn’t here to intimidate them, now anyways, at least not now. I had started out intimidating with Mr. Donner because I wasn’t sure what his plans for that data might actually be, after thinking about all the political power gaming he and his wife, the President, had been up to over the last thirty years. I wanted his first reaction to me to be as stressful as possible. I could recreate the data at need, even breaking into the datacenter physically, if required. These two though, they had the ability to make this happen, but hadn’t yet, and I wasn’t sure why. If they were going to do it at all, why wait now?
“Alice, do you mind if I close the curtains and doors? We have a friend on the line.”
He waited a moment and got some sort of a sign, then walked into the room, closing the door behind him. After the door latched shut, he crossed the floor of the little sitting room while she continued reading what she was reading, without commenting. The curtains were closed, and a couple secret service agents carried a tall flat panel in front of the window, which blocked all sightlines to the curtains.
Mr. Donner held up the phone and scanned the whole room, inviting me to direct him if there was anything I needed to see. There was not. Both of the Secret Service agents got a whole lot more tense as soon as they saw my face on the phone.
Mrs. Donner carefully placed a bookmark, then closed the document she had been reading into a folder, and set it to the side. “I guess you are here to talk about our gathered information. Both of these agents are in the know.”
“I know, I watched them help on a couple occasions.”
The Donners looked at each other.
“It wasn’t that easy to find, if you are wondering if others might have also found you out. I’m a little bit better at data sifting than most.”
They relaxed a bit, but were definitely not relaxed. Mr. Donner looked at Mrs. Donner and she nodded.
“You are probably wondering why, or at least why we haven’t acted yet?” he asked.
I nodded, but remained silent.
He continued. “We’re not exactly innocents ourselves, but we can see what’s heading this way. The United States cannot stand against the rest of the world, not without destroying the ability of the planet to support more than a tiny population of humans. That being said, there were plans to get a lot of us up into a base on the moon then bombard the planet constantly with meteors until we killed off all life. This would have, supposedly, allowed us to later terraform the Earth again and repopulate the world, with no symbiotes. This was stupid from the start, but there was too much support for it by stupid people more concerned about their own power and privilege than the fact that they would be committing genocide.”
“I can see that’s not something you two would be happy about.” Their crimes had been mostly fiscal and informational, with little in the way of causing physical harm to others. The degree of their fiscal misconduct had hurt a lot of people indirectly, but they didn’t send leg breakers after people, or engage in other physical mayhem. Not that I had seen evidence for, anyway. Genocide didn’t seem to be their cup of tea.
The President spoke instead of her husband, “When the satellite defense network went down, the lunar mission idea went to hell. There was no way we would keep the other nations out of space after that point. The high orbitals could then be used to interdict the Space Rail’s deliveries to orbit and to the moon. China and Russia launched weaponized satellites into orbit the day after all of ours were taken out. Fourteen other nations have launched various sorts of orbital launches since then. We’ve lost control of space.”
“I would have just knocked them down again anyway if the US had managed to put up more satellites.”
They both nodded. She continued. “That was what I thought, and why NASA didn’t put more up, even though we do have several systems that could go up on short notice. So now we’re trapped here on Earth. With a world full of symbiotes who are not happy with us. Every nation has embargoed us. Symbiote pairs now make up seventeen percent of the world population outside the US. A symbiote pair is so far beyond our best soldiers that we could never defend ourselves without nukes, which I rejected.”
She took a deep breath, and breathed out, then in again before speaking. Calming and centering herself. “Even before the satellites were taken down, we knew we were overmatched, and too many people believed, perhaps rightly, that nukes were the only way we’d stop symbiotes. Unfortunately, not only did enough lawmakers believe nukes were the only way to stop symbiotes, there were also enough of them that believed it would be a good idea to keep resisting, to “never surrender.” After a bit of infighting, the House and Senate managed to simultaneously get the two thirds majority required to create a proposed constitutional amendment to give the Congress the power to overrule the President in matters military. The state legislatures signed on except for California, Hawaii, and Alaska. My refusal to order the military to deploy nukes was then overruled by Congress. They started ordering the military to start planting nukes as traps in places where military analysts thought symbiotes might decide to develop staging areas for operations against the US. Imagine the reaction of some of our soldiers who served in the Japanese front of World War II when they were told to plant nukes on US soil. I found a lot of unhappy people after that, I tell you.”
I nodded. “Yes. We found one of them. My companion was… less than happy about it. I could say the same, but not so viscerally. I’m not old enough to have been there. He was, though he didn’t serve in that area of the world, he did pass through Japan on duty before the damage had been repaired, while many still bore the wounds.”
She nodded, acknowledging my comment about the nukes, then continued. “It gets worse. The Senate was two votes away yesterday from threatening to initiate nuclear war last week against Canada and Mexico if they didn’t deport all their symbiote citizens and be absorbed into the US without representation for ten years. People in positions of significant influence, who consider that influence and power to be worth hurting or killing others, are getting desperate as the military and economic strength of the US fades compared to the rest of the world. They are becoming big dogs in a smaller yard, getting louder and more aggressive as their influence wanes. If I knew that what I created would work, I’d use it. I don’t know that it would work though”
“Why do you think it might not work?”
“Governor Albertson was an experiment to see how successful our people might be. The recordings of what was done to the people in that facility you escaped from, when introduced to a few higher ranking officers in Montgomery, was all it took. But they weren’t successful.” She shook her head.
“Mrs. President, as much as I hated that man I have to say he was brilliant, and he had some very capable staffers. The military might have underestimated him, and they might have gone in hot rather than cold, angry about what he had done. An assault, an assassination attempt, not an attempt to arrest.”
“I considered that, but neither myself nor my husband were active military long enough to really learn how things worked. We both served four years, in the guard, that’s it. Our active time was the time we spent in initial training, then two weeks a year, four times. The secret service agents we have spoken to about this have either got combat experience, law enforcement experience, or both. They all said pretty much what you did. It almost has me convinced. These guys are very much action-oriented though – that might save my life someday, but also makes me a little wary of how they might be considering this problem.” She tilted her head ever so slightly, adding a question to the end with body language. ‘Can you convince me?’ but in body language.
I thought about it for a moment. “Mrs. President, I think that if you were to send out the data you collected, and assign targets for arrest rather than assassination, you would have a very high success rate. The US is in a state of martial law, the traitors were conspiring to commit genocide, and the result of that genocide would have included the deaths of almost everyone in the US who have no symbiotes. There’s no way that couldn’t be considered treason. They would all face military justice rather than civilian justice, which has always been something of a joke when being applied against the wealthy and well-connected. The people you have been planning to contact would be extremely unhappy with genocidal traitors. I would also strongly suggest dissolving the Economic Consulate and reverting the constitution to what it was before the whole symbiote mess started. From what I saw, after the treason sweep, there will be two Consulate officers left.”
“Mr. Benson, in regards to the Consulate, don’t try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs. I know power politics. The Consulate started out as nothing more than a reward to highly influential industry moguls who threw in with us when we were nationalizing everything. Since then it’s been gathering power at a frightening rate. It will definitely be going away if the sweep works.”
“After you clear away all the rest of the mess, what will the stance of the US be with regards to symbiotes?”
“A few executive orders here, a few executive orders there, and organizations who attempt to enforce anti symbiote regulations will somehow find themselves experiencing difficulty in various ways. Getting the actual laws repealed shouldn’t be that hard, but it will take time, we’ll need to handle a lot of special elections.”
“If it’s any consolation to you, Mrs. President, I have the same list of targets that your people do, and I would be more than willing to back them up, though I would need to do it remotely, as US troops wouldn’t stand for me to be around them, for the most part. Triangulating the presence of a target in a building and aiming a Patton’s cannon is doable, for example. That’s an extreme example, but within my capabilities. In other words, if your people think they might have problems, I’d be more than willing to help, as long as they have internet or phone data access. I can monitor them all individually, as well as all their targets individually. Military officers, politicians, and big money movers and shakers are never far from a data connection.”
She looked at me for a few seconds, then nodded. “I’m in something of a box right now anyway. There’s a vote happening right now to initiate another constitutional amendment to remove the Executive branch and give all its functions to the Economic Consulate. Wouldn’t that be fun? It will fail today, but they will have the bribes set up by next week for a passing vote.”
“You still have the legal authority to have the military act domestically in a state of martial law, correct?”
“Sure, and even if I didn’t, with the help you are offering and with you being here talking to me right now to prove your capabilities, I’d activate this program anyway at this point. It would still happen, though some wouldn’t act, most would. The only question in my mind was how successful they would be.” She paused, and reached a decision. “One of the things that your psyche profile indicates rather clearly is that you will do what you say you will do, and you rarely ever claim to be able to do things you can’t.”
She pulled out a keyboard and waved a holographic screen to active state, and started typing in a long series of commands.
“OK Bob, It’s been activated. Help my people do what they need to do.”
I rapidly laid out thirty more connections from the Alabama highway monitoring network to the internet at different locations near highways using the birds and spiders. I then turned my attention to fragmenting myself three hundred fourteen ways, leaving twenty percent of my capacity with my body to interface with my biological brain and provide communications between the different fragments of self. One hundred fifty seven pairs of me going to help in one hundred fifty seven arrests over the next hour. One for each target, one for each group going after a target. The military ended up bringing one hundred and fifty-five of the targets in. Two of the targets were the victims of strange malfunctions by press ganger drones, which went out of control and struck the heads of the prisoners with enough force to kill. Finding kiddie porn on their household computers was almost enough. That would have been ten people. Doing a body identification on the adults in the kiddie porn based on hair patterns, scarring, skin tone, and bone measurements compared to backgrounds in the images and drawing a definitive match to two of the targets? Yes, that was enough.
There were several witnesses to what I did to help, but I had managed to stagger my activities in such a way that it was plausible I had been watching everything, but acting only sparingly, never simultaneously. That level of activity was not far outside the range of what I would be able to do, if I were limited to an architecture based on the processes I had given Mouse.
Eleven of the arrested managed to escape firing squads and merely serve one hundred year sentences. There were a few who were on my personal list who were not involved in the treasonous activity. They were just reactionary, bigoted, and ignorant. After seeing what some of the ones on the President’s list had done, I really didn’t think they were worth killing anymore, so I marked them off my list. Jason and I got immediate Presidential pardons for our activities on US soil, which was a whole lot bigger of a deal to me than I imagined it would be.
The US constitution was reverted to what it had been before I started the whole mess. There were bound to be a whole bunch more changes as well in the next few months. There were a great many people from the ‘Greatest Generation’ who were now extremely interested in politics again, since they had the bodies of young men and women, and the experience of many decades of life. They had been extremely unhappy with crony capitalism when it was screwing them over late in life. I didn’t see the US shaping back up to what it had been before. Science fiction had certainly explored the societal impact of immortality enough times, the experience of age and the bodies of youth. I thought it would be interesting to see it for real.
Reintegrating three hundred and fourteen fragments of myself ended up being a real challenge. I would have to be very careful with that in the future. I had a splitting headache for two days, and my biological brain spent about ninety percent of its time in a sleep state for three days. Sure, I could have turned off the pain of the headache, but that’s really only smart if you know what’s causing the pain, or if you are in a fight. In this case I had neither. I used the pain to learn just a little more about brain function, analyzing it from the non biological parts of my intelligence.
I managed to arrange for a flight from Mexico to Australia after paying my way by teaching a few Mexican government symbiotes how to create slightly more efficient biofactories and biocomputers. When I arrived in Australia, and finally cleared customs, I didn’t bother with trying to find a vehicle, I just connected the carbon fiber muscles, and activated the superconducting capacitors, and started to run. We were thirty kilometers outside the airport, forty along the roads. I saw a lot of people watching me carefully as I ran. There would be a lot of questions. Running over one hundred twenty kilometers per hour was not something that unmodified human host symbiotes could do, and modified ones couldn’t do it for long. I was doing it while looking human, no chicken legs, and I ran that way for forty kilometers. I set aside a bit of processing power to calculate the least complex self-modifications that would be required to allow a symbiote to duplicate my running. At least I was wearing a backpack. I could work that in, and make it work without having to explain boiling water temperature superconducting capacitors.
As I got closer to the house I summoned the Franks into the virtual space where I could interact with them visually.
“Please don’t let me interfere with Danielle like I did Mouse, guys. Alienating my wife’s symbiote would be pure hell.”
They looked at each other and nodded, then gave a thumbs up and faded out again.
Since I was using the pure carbon nanotube muscles to run instead of biological muscle, I wasn’t even breathing hard when I arrived at the gate and let myself in, hearing the little bell in the house that announced a visitor opening the gate. I started walking towards the house, wondering how exactly I would be received, since I had intentionally not called her to let her know I was coming home.
I saw her coming but pretended not to see her, she was being extraordinarily quiet as she ran along a hedge she had planted a few years ago. I was almost halfway to the front door when she exploded past the end of the hedgerow at me and I turned to catch her, tickling her right below the rib cage on the right side with my left hand as she hit me in the belly button with her right shoulder, and knocked me to the ground. She rolled off me, to her feet, breaking contact with my tickling finger.
“No phone call? Really? You’re grounded. Three days.” Then she grabbed my collar and started dragging me towards the house.
“Can’t we talk about this?”
She looked down at me as she dragged me across the grass towards the front door.
“You’ve put on weight.”
“The jeans, do they make me look fat?” I asked her, pointing at my thighs.
“You’re taller than I’ve ever seen you too. You and Frank alter your agreement on your body?”
“A lot happened in the last few months.”
“How bad was it, Bob?”
“Some of it was pretty bad. I’ll definitely be wanting to talk a lot over with you. Thank you for the message you left with Frank. It was really needed.”
She looked at me sadly.
I jumped up and tossed her over my shoulder as she yelped in surprise. I then carefully ran across the yard almost to the front steps before I set her back on her feet and let myself fall back to the ground, and placed her hand on my collar again.
“Sorry, we got distracted there. Something about me being a bad boy and you needing a spanking?”
“I missed you so much, Bob.”
I kipped up to my feet and turned around to take her hands into mine.
“I missed you too, Ayva.”
We just stood there looking at each other for a while then walked slowly into the house, sides touching, my left arm reaching around behind her back to hold her close, and her right arm behind my back, holding me close.
I kicked the door shut with my heel. There were some seriously snoopy people in the world who wouldn’t hesitate to try to watch what was about to happen.