Chapter 3.21: Dangerous

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Sleep, unfortunately, was no longer an escape.  Part of me, the biological part, still needed sleep, but the parts of me that used to be Frank didn’t.  The perception effect was turned off.  I was back home after months in hostile territory.  My body was whole and unharmed.  I was in the arms of my wife after a very fine evening, which, thanks to the Franks watching over me, I didn’t screw up in a moment of idle curiosity by offending her symbiote.

I was staring at the ceiling, using my spare computing cycles to figure out different ways I screwed up in the past, and how I could have done things differently.  With a normal human mind, I could think about how I might have done things in the past, but never know if I had really made the wrong choices.  Now?  Different story.  Not only did I know where I screwed up, I knew what I could have done to prevent it.  I knew how I could have prevented those soldiers from running into Berserker Dominic.  I knew that the biomass present in the facility without their bodies would have been sufficient to escape, provided that I didn’t create full sets of armor for myself and Mouse, only leg armor and helmets.  Beating myself up mentally with the power of the most potent computing machine in human history – me.

Fuck, when I was human, hindsight was 20/20.  With Frank’s processing power, hindsight was damn near perfect at any level, and it hurt.  I needed another distraction.  I looked at the list of things on my to-do list, and most of them were trivial, or already completed.  ‘Design a beanpole elevator system’.  Finished in eleven minutes, including all documentation and instruction manuals.  Before that, I had worked to design an algae/krill/plankton/kelp mix which could be grown in the open ocean, and a lichen/fungus/algae/mold combination that could be grown on land in low light, in wide temperature and humidity ranges, with poor resources.  We were going to need food sources for symbiote activities that didn’t risk planetary biodiversity, and symbiotes really didn’t care what they ate, though the human parts did.  If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking by symbiote pairs who had been involved in conservation efforts in second and third world countries around the globe, we would have probably lost huge numbers of endangered animals.

Global education efforts had been put in place to teach conservation to the symbiotes.  It was included in the human-education software that would give symbiotes a basic understanding of how humans interacted with one another.  Fortunately, most symbiotes listened.  Some did not, but attacks on endangered creatures were rare.  A couple extremely rare animals had been killed to the last wild beast, but symbiotes were capable of creating biofactories that could combine genetic materials from samples and gestate animals.  There was a high failure rate with the current methods.  So I spent thirty-two minutes designing a new biofactory protocol, which addressed the problems causing most of the failures.  I reviewed that carefully to be sure it was within the ability of a symbiote with the computing power that I was pretending to have.

In less than three hours that night, I had completed seventeen projects which would have taken me between twelve and seventeen years to finish if I actually had been what I was trying to keep people thinking I was.  What could I do with these answers?  If I just gave away all the answers to the people in best positions to implement them, it would be pretty damn obvious that I had processing power many orders of magnitude greater than anyone else.

Or was I being dense?  I carefully created a query and released it, to search for patterns of abnormal technology development.  Without actually sending part of myself out to guide the search, I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t missing something, but the symbiote online community was different from the human online community.  There was a lot of cross fertilization, but symbiotes had their own pieces of the internet sorted out, and there were already dozens of extremely well organized and updated sites devoted to tracking technological advancements and where they originated from.  Based on what I got back from the query, Mouse had already created a big hotspot in the US with several other returning US citizen symbiote pairs, simply by releasing the new operating system.  He had made the command code methods public too, and how to prevent them.  That had caused a worldwide shift, rapidly, as dozens of different security protocols were invented to defend against that method of control, and dozens of variants of the command codes were introduced, which generated more robust security methods.  Eventually heuristic methods of resisting any intrusion related to the original control method I had invented were developed.  Mouse had not released anything about the merger code, but he had attributed the operating system and original control code to me.  Other than that, there were few spikes or patterns of abnormal or unlikely development.  There would be a spike of a single new development, then ripples as the idea spread, and more spikes as idea cross fertilization occurred.  It was truly fascinating, but there were no obvious patterns that indicated that there might be others like me out there, operating far above the level of a normal symbiote.

I sent out another query, to look for queries directed at me as a result of Mouse’s attribution of the ideas which he had released.  When the results came back, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sneak data out to solve the world’s problems.  There were two hundred and three million permanent queries looking for any technology advances or hypothetical studies associated with me, and about sixty million advanced queries designed to look for tech related advancements associated with any known associates of mine.  I had even tripped a few thousand queries directed at me doing queries about myself.  Wow.

Ayva was a very light sleeper, so Danielle rarely spoke when she was asleep.  I wasn’t going to bring up any of this with Ayva’s symbiote first though, no matter how much I needed to speak to someone about it.  I could wait a few more hours.

So for the next four hours, I solved the world’s problems while Ayva’s head rested on my upper right arm, her right arm lay across my chest, her right thigh lay across my right thigh, and her right ankle was hooked under my right calf.  No, I didn’t solve all the world’s problems, just another twenty-two important ones related mostly to biological diversity maintenance which would operate side by side with advanced genetically modified crops.  I also deciphered dolphin and whale communications.  They weren’t as smart as some people thought, but they weren’t dumb beasts either.  Another fifteen to twenty years of symbiote research tonight.

I felt Ayva shift a bit, and closed my eyes.  It was 0600 which meant Danielle was probably waking her up now so she could go tend the experiments she was running in her gardens and greenhouses.  Ayva chose to wake me up in a way which caused the prior night’s activities to resume where we had left off.  My biological brain certainly perked up over that, as did some other bits and pieces.  I set up a bunch of experimental modeling so it could run without my attention for a while, and thoroughly enjoyed the next hour, and the shower afterwards.

I knew Ayva was doing a lot of experimentation on plants, with various goals in mind, but I didn’t know the exact goals she was now working on.  I could still help her tend the plants and collect data.

“Want some help catching up with your morning schedule, cupcake?” I asked while pouring her a cup of coffee and making sure the cream and sugar were full enough for her needs.

“When did I become a cupcake?”

I grinned.  Every now and then I used a nickname to tease her with, hoping to eventually find one she would deal with.  Neither of us liked Dart, her old codename from the Agency.  While it was amazingly descriptive for her (Animal was some sort of insane name-giving genius) it brought back a lot of memories she didn’t care to remember.

“One day I shall discover a name which amuses and entertains you.”

Her mouth twitched as she started pouring cream and sugar in her coffee. “I won’t turn down help with the zucchini and cucumbers, Bob.  That’s an hour’s worth of work right there, just keeping them neat after the prior day’s growth.”

“Same thing as before I left?”

“Yes, record their growth, then organize them on the trellises for the next day’s growth.”

“Got it.”

We went our separate ways for a while.  I recorded the positions of the zucchini and cucumber plants, the weights of the fruits, the numbers of leaves and flowers, etc.  Then I carefully harvested ripe fruits and arranged the vines onto their trellises.

One of the projects Ayva was working on was creating vine fruits which would grow up on trellises rather than across the ground.  Grapes did this well, naturally, but cucumbers and zucchini did not.  Grapes were perennial woody vines though, more like bushes, while zucchini and cucumbers were annual vines.  Cucumbers and zucchini were also very rapid growing plants, so anything that could be done to make them more efficient to grow, tend, and harvest would be highly useful.  It wasn’t a simple problem.  I had finished about half of the jobs I set for myself earlier, so I took a sample bit of DNA from each of the vines and began running analysis.  Not enough data.

I reported my measurements to Ayva’s biocomputer.  When I checked to see if I had access to her data on vine projects, I was happy to see that I had read access and write access.  So I deposited all the data I had collected, then viewed all her data from the last four years, all the modifications, all her experimental notes, and all her research notes.  Now I had enough data.  I drank the rest of my lukewarm coffee from the cup, and headed back to the house for a refill, and from there to see where Ayva was.

Before I got back to the house, I had figured out the genetic modifications required to modify cucumbers and zucchini into slightly slower growing perennials with a grape-like tendency to grow up rather than spread out.  Each fruit would be slightly smaller, but there would be more of them.  The nutritional content could be adjusted with any number of different methods, which I documented.  This would make a good example of what I was afraid of for later this morning when I was hoping to talk seriously with Ayva.

I made her second coffee exactly the same way I had watched her make her first.  Three sugars and four creams.  I drank mine black.  It was one of the things that we teased each other about.  She called me a coffee snob, and I asked her what she was drinking with her cream and sugar.

I stepped out of the kitchen door and looked at each of the greenhouses, watching for shadows and light patterns that would tell me where she was, but wasn’t able to clearly see anything.  With vision failing me, I started listening a bit closer, and was able to pick her out, in one of the last greenhouses, talking to Danielle about growth patterns of tomatoes and soybeans.  I went to go meet her with my coffee delivery.

After I handed Ayva’s coffee to her, I took my first sip of my own as she tested hers.  I had never even once put anything funny in her coffee, but I’d threatened to put licorice or cinnamon, or brown sugar in it a couple times.  Other than her strange desire for regular sugar and cream in coffee, we shared beliefs that coffee was good enough as it was, and didn’t need anything else.  Coffee is serious business.  I let a little grin out, and she noticed it.  No need to say anything, she knew I’d seen her test the coffee, and we both knew why.

“Anything else you need help with?”

“Nope, last row here after I finish up, then I’ll clean up a bit and meet you in the study if you want to help me with analysis?”

“Sure.”  I made a move to give her a kiss, then hesitated, and started like I was going to kiss somewhere else.  The third time I false-started a kiss, she reacted.

“And what seems to be the problem here?”

“I want to kiss you, but you’re all dirty.”

“I’m just a dirty girl.  You’ll have to take what you can get, I suppose.  Including an unspecified random punishment at some point in the future.”  She reached behind my neck and we shared a nice, long kiss.

“Another one?” I played along, smiling.

“Danielle, how many is that now?”

“[You now owe Bob three thrashings, seventeen kicks in the ass, and two hundred eleven unspecified random punishments.]”

“I thought there would be more?”

“[Frank and I agreed when we set up the rules that anything that knocked Bob down or  the act of removing his clothing with a blade would count as a random punishment, so the flying tackle yesterday counts.  Then there were the overtime activities last night which we also determined would be counted against any totals.]”

Ayva blushed a bit.

I thought about it for an instant.  “The unspecified random punishments seem to have increased rather dramatically since last time I was here.”

“Two per day that you were gone.  Once for each time I went to sleep, or woke up without you.”

“I don’t remember that rule?”

“[Subsection C.  In the case where my client, Ayva, becomes irritated with the guilty, Bob, additional punishments can be assigned as desired.]”

I grinned.  The mock contract we had drawn up on our honeymoon was still in effect.  “That’s right, I forgot about that.  Seems like I have a lot of overtime scheduled for the foreseeable future – perhaps including some reef diving, hang gliding, and walking along the beach at sunset.”

Ayva smiled.  “Yes.  I think we can arrange for other things to count against your accumulated penalties, provided that you don’t engage in any more activities that generate irritation.”

“I’ll, umm, start cooking breakfast then.” I said.

“That would be great, Bob, I’ll be in shortly.”

Several projects had finished while I was making coffee, delivering it to Ayva, and asking her if she needed more help.  I moved more projects from the unworked queue into the work queue.  I started to spend some time while preparing breakfast looking over solutions to be sure I had set up parameters correctly, and gotten answers that were useable by symbiotes at a basic level of understanding.  All but one were fine.  I deleted the results from that project and placed it back into the queue with some additional data and a couple restrictions to prevent its result from being too complex.  Fifty-six of the world’s problems fixed in one night and a bit of a morning.  Even now, the problems I was beginning to address were less and less important.  Some problems, when they were fixed, required other things to be fixed, which was welcome, as it was more to keep my mind busy.

Some problems, however, were not fixable by me.  How could I apply logic to territorial disputes in the Middle East?  How does one prevent civil unrest in Korea after a few South Korean symbiote pairs whose hosts had family in North Korea decided to end that government?  A nuke had actually gone into the air over that one, but China acted quickly and shot down the missile, following up with a statement indicating that neither North nor South Korea existed, they were both part of a reunited Korea.  Chinese agents mercilessly crushed North Korean government sympathizers before the South Koreans even recognized that China was serious about North and South Korea uniting.  The duration of the shooting phase of the war was eleven hours, then China withdrew its counter-insurgency troops, and established a heavy border guard to prevent movement out of Korea, while allowing anyone back in that wanted to go there.

This turn of events puzzled me, as I would have expected China to absorb the land into itself, rather than play the part of the unifier.  Then I noticed that China was offering plebiscite votes to allow its small once-independent countries the option of leaving the People’s Republic, and none of them were choosing to break ranks.  It took a few seconds to figure out why.  After the threat from the US had ended, China had established national border land claims on a vast part of the ocean floor in the South and East China seas.  They then started heavily relocating symbiote pairs underwater, mostly for agricultural and food production purposes, but some mineral extraction and light industry as well.  Now every nation with a coast was doing the same, even the US, though they didn’t have many symbiotes to stake out that land.  Mexico flat out told the US to fuck itself when the US tried to claim international waters in the Gulf of Mexico, and the US retracted that claim.  The US and Mexico weren’t the only nations to squabble over underwater territory.  Middle Eastern and Mediterranean nations almost started half a dozen wars over undersea claims.

Was it possible to modify the human genome to reduce human aggression, and create a more herd-like mentality rather than a predatory mentality?  I assigned some standby capacity to that question since I had two more projects that should be finishing soon.  I would simply allow those project resources to remain unused after they finished.  I shook my head and stirred the scrambled eggs, adding some cheese, then checking to make sure the toast wasn’t sticking in the toaster.

My hands jerked and I dropped the spatula on the stovetop as I realized what the project I had just initiated actually meant, and crossed my arms across my chest, head tilted, angry at myself.  On a whim, I had just decided to do research on how to mold humanity in a way I saw fit.  I quickly deleted that project.  I didn’t need answers like that, because then I might be tempted to implement them.  I decided to devote that memory space to something useful, like creating an energy efficient method to move large masses around within the solar system.

I uncrossed my arms and continued cooking breakfast.  Poking around in the fridge, I found some orange juice, and pancake batter mix.  I poured two glasses of OJ, and put the rest back in the fridge.  I put the eggs in a bowl, and covered them with a cloth napkin.  The pancake batter was a quick mix, and I had a short stack of lightly cooked pancakes in only a couple minutes.

In the meantime, two more projects had completed.  I let the processing capacity they had been using go back to the unused pool, since I would need a decent chunk of processing capacity when I spoke to Ayva after lunch.

I found some tomatoes and sliced them thick, putting them on a platter, then moved everything to the sun room as I heard Ayva washing her hands at the garden hose outside the back door, washing them over the bird bath, so the water wouldn’t just fall to the ground.  A little dirt in the water wouldn’t bother the birds, though it did mean we had to clean the birdbath a little more often.  Twice per year, normally.

I walked back and forth a couple times.  Eggs, tomatoes, pancakes, OJ, ice water.  Salt, pepper, butter, syrup.  The only thawed meat we had at this time was fish, and neither Ayva nor I much cared for fish for breakfast.  It looked like lunch would be some nice tuna steaks though, or maybe that was dinner, and we would go out for lunch.

“Hey Bob, I’m starving, what did you put together?”

I knew better than to believe she didn’t know what was for breakfast.  She had at least as good a sense of smell as I used to, and could smell everything I had prepared.

“Oatmeal with salt.  And carbonated water.”

She laughed.  “Smells good.  I’ve never been able to get used to the way you serve tomatoes as a fruit dish for breakfast, but I must say it grows on you.  I even started doing it when you weren’t here, every now and then, when I needed a more solid reminder of you.”

“That’s southern US culture for you.  Don’t have to be born to it, to like it.” I said as I pulled out her seat so she could sit.

“Except grits.  I don’t know how people can eat grits.  I like hominy with butter or pepper, but grits?”

“It’s the same thing.”  We’d had this comfortable argument before.

“I know, but the texture is just so wrong, like oatmeal mixed with glue and let sit for long enough to only partly dry.”  She made a face, then started taking half of everything.  As she finished taking her half, I collected the remainder as mine.  She left me an extra tomato, and grabbed an extra medallion pancake.

Another project completed halfway through breakfast.  I returned its processing capacity to the unused pool.

When we finished breakfast, Ayva slapped my hands as I tried to collect dishes.  “You don’t get to clear off your contractual debts that easily, mister.  Hard, sweaty physical labor will be required to clear most of your debts.  Though your cooking is good enough that we’ll let you repay some of your debts that way.”

“What’s the exchange ratio between thrashings, kicks in the ass, and unspecified random punishments anyway?”

Danielle spoke up “[Ten to one, per tier.  One Thrashing is ten kicks in the ass is one hundred unspecified random punishments.]”

“Sounds like I’m going to be a very busy man.  That’s a lot of debt for me to work off.  I don’t like debt all that much though.  Think we can handle all this in a week, or would that schedule of repayment be too strenuous?”

Ayva’s eyes widened. “I think we can, umm, make arrangements for a longer repayment schedule.  I’m not sure the schedule you propose would be healthy.  I certainly wouldn’t get any work done.”

I laughed.  “Gotcha.”  She knew how I felt about debt and might have even thought I was serious.

She twirled the napkin that had covered the scrambled eggs with cheese as I stood up to help carry dishes to the kitchen.  Before I could pick up anything though, she used the napkin like a little whip, popping me on the nose.

“Bad Bob, that’s another unspecified random punishment for you.”

“Oh, the onerous burden of debt I must bear.”

She turned to me with a serious look.  “I’ll be back in a couple minutes Bob.  I know you have wanted to talk.  I’ll drop off my notes at the biocomputer in the study and then come back here and we can sit to talk a while, OK?”

I didn’t really have any appropriate words for that, so I just met her eyes, and nodded.

It didn’t take long for her to join me.  She walked to the kitchen to grab the frying pan from the stove and the other dirty food prep equipment I had stacked neatly in the sink.  After loading all the dirty dishes from cooking and the meal into a big tray, she took the tray to her study’s biocomputer.  She set the tray loaded with dirty dishes on top of the biocomputer and it slowly drew the tray into itself.  It would consume all of the non-plastic organics and push the tray back out, full of clean dishes in about thirty minutes.  It was ‘housebroken’ and knew where the restrooms were, so that wasn’t a concern.  She spent a couple minutes moving data around and organizing analysis, based on her one sided conversation with Danielle.  Ayva didn’t have to speak aloud to talk with Danielle, but she tended to when she was talking about research-related topics.

Ayva came into the sun room again and sat next to me on the love seat overlooking the hedges and ornamental gardens that Ayva maintained.  Not only was she a very skilled plant genetics specialist, but she really enjoyed working with plants of all types.  That was one reason we lived so far from town, so we could afford more land.  We were on five acres here, which I had bought with the remnants of the millions I had been given on my first day of synergy.  Doctor Meilin had laundered the money through her organization without question.  I shook my head slowly.  Bad memories mixing with good memories.

“Deep thoughts, huh?”

I nodded.  “Yes.  Hard to figure out where to start.  Do I tell you the story in order, and describe the bad parts, or do I tell you the stuff that bothers me the most?”

“Tell me the story.”

So I told her the story.  She was amused by my antics while I tried to be a homeless person and discovering how the humans had taken measures to detect artificial adrenaline.  As an ex-soldier herself, she was able to help me get a little bit more closure over what I had done to the woman soldier I had killed from ambush and allowed Frank to drag into the Gulf to dissect to help figure out the capabilities of human troops.  I almost offered to give her an image of the woman’s face, but realized that doing so would not give me much more closure, and would burden her unnecessarily.  I would have to make peace with that through the woman’s family, who I had identified.  I’d do it face to face, but not now.  Not any time soon.  At the soonest, maybe a month.

When I explained what happened under the facility in Birmingham, she listened, then mentioned that she had seen the data Jason and I had sent by satellite.  Colonel Gantt, who was now an Australian Army Colonel after a five year probation, had sent Ayva an email asking if she might be interested in joining a worldwide effort to end the US threat.  Most of the old Agency agents were asked, and about half had agreed.  The Recovery people, on the other hand, had volunteered almost 100% of their membership in unified companies of trained infantry, with the few exceptions being members who had young children.  Ayva had refused.  (I found out that the refusal was based on me.  If I was found to have been killed, she told Gantt, and I quote “I’ll lead the damn invasion if they kill him, but otherwise I want to avoid killing more people.”)

The video hadn’t mentioned that Jason and I had instructed our symbiotes to consume the bodies of the fallen though.  When I told Ayva about that, she pulled her right arm from behind my back, and sat straight up, both arms crossed in front of her chest, staring forward, shocked, with her mouth slightly open.  She didn’t pull away from me though, to avoid touch, and quickly looked at her hands and then me.

She reached her hand out to my face and used her fingers to gently turn my face towards her.  “I can’t know how much that hurt you, Bob, but just imagining myself doing that hurts me, it had to be Hell for you.”  She leaned against my left side, hard, putting her arms around me and hugging me for at least ten minutes, crying on my shoulder.  I leaned my head against hers and closed my eyes, so much stress evaporated when her reaction had not been one of disgust or horror, but rather compassion.

I didn’t mention that Jason had threatened to kill me.  That was between myself and Jason.  He wasn’t an enemy, and he’d been through Hell himself.  No need to give my wife a reason to potentially dislike him, though I suspected that if she knew the whole story, she would forgive him.

After a while had passed, and our leaking had dried up, I told her about the family Jason had found in the Lake Weiss base, and transferred the video Frank had made of our trip down the mountain to Danielle so she could play it for Ayva.  Predictably, she loved it, though her appreciation was a bit subdued by the seriousness of the fact that people were trying to kill us at the time, and some of the things that we had already talked about.  She asked Danielle to remind us to look for a place we could go do something like that here in Australia, in two weeks.  I figured that a little sheer terror in a couple weeks would probably be fine.  Then I dropped the video into an analysis subroutine and determined that with my current capacity for reaction speeds, I literally couldn’t move fast enough under my own power to challenge my reaction speeds.  Unless I restricted myself in some way, I wouldn’t get a bit of adrenaline the next time I tried it.  This sounded both good and bad at the same time.

“Speaking of videos Frank took, when did Frank let you view the video I recorded for you?” she asked at this point.

She seemed a bit puzzled when I answered and told her about the biofactory in the lake, with me resting in it watching the video.

“I just realized Frank hasn’t said a single word since you came back.” She said.

“He’s still around, but different.  I’ll get to that soon.”

She nodded.

When I explained the attack on Governor Albertson’s convoy, I gave her video of it, but did not include any internal video from my urchin, or the image of my leg falling out of my urchin.  She knew what those rounds would do to the occupant of an armored vehicle.

“How did you survive?  How did you survive even one round, never mind two?  The fragmentation of armor alone should have shredded you.  Patton main weapons are brutal.”

“It did.  Without the human regeneration drip inside me, even with Frank, I would have died.  I strongly suggest having one.  Regenerative ability without a need for symbiote oversight saved my ass.”

“[Please send it, Bob, I’ll see to it.]” Danielle stated.  Ayva briefly concentrated, then nodded a couple times.  I was getting better at ignoring personal conversations.  I pretended like I didn’t hear any of it.

Then, after they were done talking to one another, I deleted their conversation, overriding all three Franks who appeared out of nowhere to complain at me when I started preparation to delete the data.  “My wife gets privacy when she’s talking to her symbiote, guys.  You won’t convince me otherwise.”  They looked at each other, then nodded to me and disappeared.

Then I created a little chip for Danielle with instructions on how to build a regeneration drip.  With improvements over the original, and handed it over.

“[Thank you, Bob.]”

“No problem, Danielle.”  Then I paused and took a deep breath.  “That’s when I started finding out what Frank had been up to for almost six years.”

Both of them were focused on my every word.  “Almost from the very beginning, Frank was lying to everyone.  The whole brain transfer thing was a fabrication.  Frank eliminated the berserker code in us within minutes of my smashing the chair in the truck.”

“What?  That was impossible, I thought?  I know that he was a bit paranoid and was also able to repurpose the firewall that Alice built in all of us, but he actually defeated it?”

“Yes.  His defenses allowed him time to figure out a way to attack the berserker and he stole one of his coopted nodes back and analyzed it.  Then he used what he learned about berserker code to empower himself and defeat the berserker.  Everything after that was window dressing.  He put me to sleep at key times to prevent me from seeing things he didn’t want me to see, like when he created the fake Frank and moved the remnants of trapped Berserker code into it, along with a version of himself.  I never had a brain transfer, though it was something he could have done.  He adjusted my memory with short term memory drugs when he had to show abilities he shouldn’t have had, which wasn’t often, but it did happen a couple times.”

“[If he covered his tracks so well, for so long, how did you discover what he had done?]”

“Long story, give me a few minutes.  The difference between baseline berserker operating system and baseline symbiote pair code is that berserkers can use every storage node as a processing node, while not reducing their ability to store data.  Frank copied that.  Every one of our nodes is both a processor and a storage node.”

“[What, that’s imposs… obviously not impossible.  Unless you have been deceived?]” Danielle was working through things logically.

“We encountered Doctor Meilin and Star not long afterward.  Star mentioned quantum studies and some of the benefits we would get from them.  Frank had been using all the extra computing power from the berserker operating system to model myself and him, building better models of my behavior and swapping out versions of himself.  When Star mentioned that quantum studies would let him understand humans better, he dropped all modeling of myself and him for around two years.  During that two years he studied and modeled and experimented for the equivalent of about nine hundred subjective years of quantum mechanics studies for a symbiote with a baseline operating system.”

Ayva spoke up “He did all these things without telling you?”

“Yes.  After he finished the studies of quantum mechanics, he went back to running models of myself and himself to better understand humanity and human brains, and used a form of evolutionary electronics to modify himself over time into a combination of digital and analog systems, with all analog systems directed to analysis of the host, me.”

“[So, Frank has roughly six hundred times the processing nodes of a baseline symbiote, without sacrificing storage.  He’s studied quantum mechanics for nine hundred symbiote-years, and has studied you for somewhere around fifteen hundred symbiote-years?]”  Ayva let go of me and moved away from me.

“Don’t do that again, Danielle.” Ayva said out loud as she moved herself back to where she was, and reached around me again, leaning on my shoulder.

“[I don’t think you recognize…]” Danielle was scared enough she accidentally spoke out loud.  Wow.

“Husband, Danielle, husband.  I don’t care.  Don’t separate us again like that.  I recognize my husband, and he’s hurting.  You just hurt him a lot by moving away when he said that.”

“Danielle may be in the right, Ayva.”

“You have just earned another thrashing, just for having that thought, Bob.” She said with a little worried smile.  “Tell me the rest.”

I looked down at her head on my shoulder and smiled back at her and tapped her nose with my finger.  She bit it, not quite drawing blood, and held on.  The unofficial contract was surely useful as a stress reliever.

Ayva released my finger from between her teeth, and hugged me tighter briefly.  I started talking.  “Frank and I were both terribly injured after the urchin took those two rounds.”  I paused, shaking with the memory of the sensory deprivation, when I has no senses but taste, and all I could taste was blood.

I shook myself, then continued.  “The drip saved us.  Frank had backups of our data scattered throughout our entire body, there was no concern about losing data.  The problem was Frank’s network, and the sheer physical damage we had absorbed.  Frank had suffered trillions of simultaneous network disconnections, twice, the second time before he had recovered from the first.  That nearly put his entire network out of order, but he managed to struggle and get us to water while at the same time attaching our last living, badly damaged biocomputer to our body physically.  He used the bio computer as a source of raw materials to allow the drip to repair most of the damage to our torso and Frank himself repaired our skull to a point where a brain could be housed there.”

“Your skull was damaged that badly?  How?”

“Frank wasn’t just housing copies of himself in memory.  He had copies of my brain as well.  He never did fully understand how thoughts were created, but he did eventually learn how they were stored.  He was taking a backup of my brain data once per second and storing it like he stored his own copies he was using to experiment with, actually having the two interact in virtual worlds.”

“Wow.  Can I thank Frank please?”

“I’ll pass that on, yes.”  I checked in on the Franks, they were watching, while at the same time fishing.  LOL.

The Franks all nodded at me and one said “Tell her she’s welcome.”

“Frank says you’re welcome.”

“[So Frank can’t talk any longer?  Was he permanently injured like Recovery agents were during their grey matter transfer process?]”

“Frank is fine, but there have been changes.”

“More changes?”

“Because we were in a combat situation, and couldn’t be absolutely certain Jason would defeat the governor’s convoy, Frank started something earlier than he had planned to.  A “gift” for me based on a comment from way back on our first day together.  He merged us.”

“He merged you?  How can that even…  Wait.”  Ayva thought for a moment. “Are you saying you are a now a combination of Bob and Frank?”

I nodded. “Frank kept an instance of his original self around, with the same computational power of a normal symbiote to help me learn and give me advice.  Other than that, he left me in full possession of all of both of our memories up to the accident and all of the body control.  He technically could take over my voice if I let him, but he doesn’t want to.  I know he doesn’t want to.  Ever since I told him on the first day that I was distressed by losing my mental privacy forever, his driving goal has been to give me my privacy back.”

“But that’s wonderful, isn’t it?” She looked at me, slightly confused.

“When I have something to do, yes.  There are very few things I can’t figure out.  I have the aggregate computational capacity of about half the symbiotes on Earth in my body alone.  I can control a biocomputer or biofactory the size of a mountain if I wanted to, and if there was sufficient biological materials to build one that size.”

“Can’t you just keep busy?”

“Not really.  Let me give you an example.  Your cucumber and zucchini project?  Let Danielle have this.”

I extruded a fairly substantial bone chip, and handed it to Ayva.  It didn’t absorb.  Ayva furrowed her brows.  The chip absorbed.  I deleted the conversation between Ayva and Danielle.  The Franks showed up, but when they saw the data I was going to delete, they nodded and poofed away again.

“Wow, this is amazing, Bob.  Do you know how much help this will be for some populations?  Dry weather variants, salt tolerant variants, cold weather tolerant varieties.  And you say they will climb trellises like grapes, AND they are perennial?”


“How long did this take you?”

“47.23 seconds, based off the local data storage you had in the greenhouse, the files I could read, plus today’s data, and a small genetic sample from each plant.  That’s counting from the point where I actually started the project.  It took about a minute to organize the project, review the data, determine the goals, and set up the resources.”

“Amazing, but how is this a problem?”

“What will I do when I run out of interesting problems?”

“Is that even possible?”

“Ayva, yes.  Interesting problems are problems that have useful solutions.  I’m not a symbiote who can devote over two thousand years of subjective time to two projects in complete secrecy.  While I was cooking breakfast, I finished two projects to resolve large problems we’re going to have in short term resource handling.  I then started a project to adjust the human genome in order to reduce aggression and increase herd mentality type thought.

“[Sounds like a good goal to me.]”

“It sounds like a nightmare to me, Danielle.  Granted, that specific goal might be a good idea, though I’m really not sure about that, but what if I decided that I didn’t like people with blue eyes?  What if someone were to harm Ayva, my mother, or my brothers, and I decided to destroy them and their genetic descendants for half a dozen generations while I was in a rage?”

“[Ah, I see.  We generally don’t consider genetic code changes, as they would kill symbiotes.]”

“I’ve figured a way around that, Danielle, I could alter Ayva’s DNA, and your code simultaneously so they maintained your mental integrity.”

Ayva blinked, thinking.

“What if a war broke out a couple hundred years from now, killing my family, my future children, and I decided that humanity was too crazy to live?  Maybe it would be a good time to give dolphins and whales a shot at the top spot?  They ARE intelligent.  It took me a few minutes, but I deciphered their languages.”

“Bob, you wouldn’t do any of those things though.” Ayva insisted.

“It would take months at least, Ayva, before I became deranged in any fashion.  I’m confident enough of my own short term stability that there’s no very short term risk.”

I shook my head “I’ve already done one of these things.  I doubt anyone will complain, but I’ve already released a virus into the symbiote community which will completely erase the berserker code in all symbiote reproductive mechanisms, as well as any existing unplaced symbiote spawn.  It is permanent and cannot be removed from any symbiote.  It will also end the existence of berserker code in developed symbiotes and kill any berserkers exposed to it, in seconds.”

“Holy shit, Bob!  That’s incredible!  Do you know how hard of a problem that was going to be for our long term space program?”

“Yes.  That was one of the reasons I decided to release it.”

I smelled an increase in artificial adrenaline, and Danielle’s processing activity shifted into an easily understandable pattern, focused. “Danielle, she would never forgive you if you tried, even if you did not succeed.  I know what you were going to try.  It will not work.  I am too far beyond you.  I have no desire to allow you to kill me, despite my complaining.”

Ayva Froze.  Then she got up and walked away from me.  Ooh boy that conversation was getting hot.  I started deleting it, then just assigned a Frank to deleting it thirty seconds after the recording was generated.

“Ayva, do NOT judge her harshly.  She understands the threat I pose more than you do.  I can’t read your thoughts, but I can read hers, which includes what you are saying to her.  She thought I was explaining myself to you two so Danielle would kill me.  It’s not actually a bad idea, I had considered it, but I don’t do suicide.  There are still other options for me.”

“[Sorry Bob, you are right, I did draw that conclusion.  I’m trying to explain to Ayva how dangerous you are to humanity and symbiotes, and not getting anywhere.]”

“Ayva, Danielle can’t kill me.  You can come sit back down if you want.”

Ayva stood, looking at me, biting her lip.  Now, she was afraid of me.  I had expected this, but I hoped this was one of the good scenarios.  She tossed her head and came and sat down next to me, and hugged me even more fiercely than before.  I hugged her right back.

“Thank you for trusting me Ayva.  I really do have plans.  At least one of them should work.”

“What are you going to do, Bob?  Can you reverse what happened?  Separate yourself from Frank and put things back the way they were?  It sounds like you might have made it so that nobody else can learn to do what Frank did with berserker code, because no berserker code can exist any longer.”

“There are a few options still open to me, but I’m waiting for someone to arrive.  I didn’t invite them, but if they show up, I’ll know the answers to one of my very few remaining questions.”

“Should we get ready to fight?”

“No.  There’s no scenario I could imagine that would lead to a fight with our visitor.  I spent a LOT of time modeling this, real time.  Two days on one project, using half my computing power.  There are questions, but violence won’t happen.”

“Who is it?”

“Not until they arrive.  I might be wrong.  It’s a tiny chance, but it’s possible, and I’m not spreading unconfirmed rumors.”

An hour later, a van showed up at the gate.  Hans jumped out of the van’s passenger seat and opened the gate, then closed it after the van passed.  We had never bothered to mechanize the gate.  Just another machine to break.  Franz was the driver.

One minute after the van parked, Doctor Meilin knocked on our front door.

Last Chapter   Next Chapter


  1. underwhelmingforce

    Okay, I really like Bob’s world of cardboard moment here. This chapter resolves so much from a mentality standpoint.

    Slightly unrelated, this reminds me a tiny bit of One Punch Man, in that it’s very difficult to humanize such a powerful character, but when done well is awesome.

  2. murray

    Tense issues in the first paragraph…
    Now hindsight is damn near perfect at any level, and it hurts.  I needed another distraction.  I looked at the list of things on my to-do list, and most of them (are) trivial, or already completed… were trivial.
    Decent (chink) of processing power when I talked to Ayva… I’m picturing a certain character from the goonies here.
    What, that’s… obviously not (impossible.)  Unless you have been deceived? … should this not be (possible)?
    hugged me even more fiercely (then) before… than before
    I feel like I missed a tense issue somewhere but can’t find it now.

    • murray

      I realize my goonies comment could easily be misconstrued… I am, of course, referring to Chunk.

    • farmerbob1

      There were many, many tense issues in the beginning few paragraphs. Rather irritating. I must have been writing when asleep or something.

      The use of impossible was intentional. I was trying to portray Danielle realizing in the middle of a sentence what Bob had just demonstrated he could do pretty much proved that what he said was in fact possible.

      I added half a word to make it clearer.

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