Chapter 4.1: Virtuality

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“Ow, I think that was my favorite kidney.” I complained as I stood up, leaning on my staff and kneading the right side of my back, a little bit above my hips

My opponent, also dressed in sparring gear, just smiled.  He was roughly one point three meters tall, maybe thirty kilos, and quite possibly the fastest person I’d ever faced in a sparring match.

We faced each other and both indicated we were ready.  I turned on the perception effect again, for all the good it would do me.  A bell chimed and we both moved.  I was trying to use my extra reach and mass to counter his absurd speed and leverage.  It wasn’t working very well.  Provided that I did not become the aggressor, I could hold him off reasonably well.  A lot like the Recovery agents were able to do to me years ago when I was first introduced to them and we had a sparring exhibition.  But there was only one of me here.

I kept one end of my staff pointed at his center mass, and we slowly circled one another, each of us making tiny movements, false leading actions, trying to get the other to react and go out of position so we could strike a decisive blow.

I had learned not to try jumping backwards, because my opponent could take advantage of my lack of leverage and embarrass me pretty easily.  The first three times I had jumped back from them when we were circling and testing one another, I had landed on my face once, and my ass twice while they chuckled at me.

“You have the advantage of reach on me, as you requested, but you aren’t able to capitalize on it.  Why?”

I thought about it for a minute. “I’m thinking I should also be trying to counter your speed as best as I can rather than just capitalize on my own reach.”

“How do you think you can manage that?” my opponent asked.

I didn’t answer, opening my mouth like I was going to talk back to them, while striking forward with my staff as rapidly as I could in a short strike at their right shoulder.  No juice though.  Just enhanced muscles and carbon fiber bone.

The feel of my staff striking home was answered by a shorter staff smacking me in the forehead.  If we had been in a real fight, the balance of the exchange would have fallen to them.  But this wasn’t a real fight.  I managed the first touch, finally.  It was an improvement, the first time I’d been able to touch them this session, and a lot earlier than normal.

“I think I’ll claim my victory now.” I grinned.

“Only took you forty seven tries this time, you’re definitely improving.”

“Am I improving, or did your coaching make me better?”

“Is there a difference, Bob?”

I considered that.  “Point.  Good point, actually.”  I paused.  “This seems to have a lot of promise.”

“I would hope so.  We put a lot of effort into it.  Oops, gotta go, someone’s creating problems.”

“Need help, Frank?”

“Nah, just some teens that got together and are looking for trouble.”

“OK, Frank, I’m going to practice a few more minutes, then I’ll head back.”

“See you in a few minutes, Bob.”  He walked out the door of the studio and quickly disappeared.

So much had changed since we started.  It was hard to credit it all.  As far as Frank and I could tell though, we were done with fast track advancement.

As I went through different stances and strikes with the staff, watching myself in the mirrors along one wall, I considered where we had been.  On the first day, we’d both been lost, and fearful, with no answers and no history to explain why Frank was inside me.  Now though?  We had gone from that scared, immature pair to a mature symbiote pair, afraid of almost nothing.  Then we merged during a near-death experience, and became something like a demigod.  A demigod controlled exclusively by a human biological brain was not safe.  We didn’t have any memories of that time.  They had been erased by an intervention from Argoen, who had introduced symbiotes into the human population.  There was very little from that first time we were composite that we knew.  All we did know came from a recording from our old self, who clearly indicated that Frank needed to learn more before trying another merger.

I put aside the staff and started doing stretching exercises.

So we had… scratch that, Frank had spent six months expanding his understanding of quantum physics, and then another six months being the victim of a practical joke by the old Bob.  I actually didn’t have a clue about any of this going on at the time, but Frank, at that point, had been running a deep covert operation for years – against me.

I tensed up.  It still made me a bit upset when I thought about how Frank had lied for years, because it just didn’t seem like something I would do.  Frank was a mental mimic of me, almost perfectly since the final merger.  We had intentionally prevented a full merger.  Human mental capacity simply couldn’t handle being in charge of that much computing power.  I knew I wasn’t perfect, but it was hard to reconcile some of the things Frank had done, even if he had been far less of a copy of me back when he started the whole mess.

Darkness fell, startling me.  It didn’t just get dark like the sun passing over the horizon.  It didn’t even go dark like a light bulb being turned off, broadcasting useable light for a very brief time.  It went from light, immediately to darkness.

“This isn’t good.  Frank, you there?”  Silence.  Darkness.  Then several somethings popped in around me, displacing air.  I could feel them shifting the air more as they started to move.  I had a strong feeling this was going to hurt.

I leaned over as quietly as I could and picked up my staff.  Several of the shadows laughed.  I didn’t recognize any of the voices.

I started trying to track them by sound, and had marginally more success.  There were thirteen of them.

“He’s watching us somehow.  Seeing something.  Working…Sound. He’s using sound, passive sonar.  Modifying code so…”  A muffled voice, quickly becoming inaudible.

I was blind and deaf, but not really.  One of the benefits of joining with Frank was a few extra senses.  I activated the quantum sense to allow me to see quantum processors.  I stared.  Nothing.  I turned in a circle, no sign of any quantum processor activity.  Then I looked at myself and cursed.  I had forgotten that I couldn’t see anyone’s quantum processors in the virtual world, not even my own.  Duh.  Something hit me, hard, in the left leg, as I was shifting sight again.  Gravity sense as a vision mode this time.  It’s a desperate choice.  There are very few things with sufficient density to be highly visible to gravity sight on Earth.  But it did let me get a very washed out and faded view of my immediate surroundings.  Which looked very not pretty.  The one that had hit me was backing away from me.  Seemingly watching me for a reaction.

Whoever it was seemed to be able to rewrite code on the fly.  Rewrite MY code on the fly if their ability to edit my sensory input was any indication.  If they could rewrite my code on the fly, why the shadow-ghost thing?

They started attacking me in earnest now.  They did not fight well together at first, but I could see that changing.  I had an idea.  I had senses of touch, smell, taste, gravity, and strong and weak nuclear force senses.  The two last ones were pretty meaningless here, in a macroscopic environment, but the third might be handy.

I split off a shard, and gave it full control of the gravity vision, and gave the shard some instructions.  I started fighting by using only my senses of touch, smell, and taste.  Which made me a pretty crappy fighter.  Doing what I could for some better senses, I greatly extended my tongue and started flicking it in and out.  I elongated my snout and accessed some schematics to design it for better scent capture.  I kept taking hits, but I was fast enough to blunt the blows to some extent even when they hit me.  I could feel the air compressing ahead of the attacks and start moving to roll with the blows.  I really couldn’t do much to fight with the taste and scent enhancements.  I wanted data with those.  I wanted to know these people again if I ever met them.

I was using my staff like I was completely blind, spinning like a dervish, moving around the floor of the workout room, attacking all around me with fast sweeps.  I had done nearly as much damage to them as they had to me, but that was going to change soon.  Several of them who hadn’t been carrying weapons before, pulled them out.  The weapons would give them more reach.

As the bruises on both sides started to build, what I had been watching for, happened.  The shard I had given control of the gravity vision collapsed back into my mind, sharing what it had just seen, and I acted.  One of the shadows had stopped for a moment, pausing.  As it paused, my sense of touch disappeared.  With only a single sense left to me that was worth a damn in a fight, gravity sight, I charged straight through the others towards the one that had stopped moving, startling them all.

I wondered.  Had they been thinking they were playing with me?  Sure, I was limited right now, but they had certainly not seemed like they were expert fighters or anything.  They had been learning quickly.  Was that part of it?  Were they trying to use me as a punching bag?

I smacked the one who seemed to control my senses a few times with my staff, knocking it down, and decided to play mind games.  Get them thinking about something else, rather than thinking about what I might be using to detect them.

“Did you think that I was really blind and deaf?  That’s a pretty neat trick, but it doesn’t affect me.”

In the fuzzy vision provided by gravity sight, the one with the gizmo seemed to look at one of the others and frantically started adjusting the tool it was carrying.  Someone had figured it out.  I leapt forward, striking with my staff at the most clearly visible bits of whatever the tool-carrier was carrying.  The densest parts being the clearest for my gravity vision.  Hopefully important parts.

Success! I damaged the tool, I saw it change shape as it bounced across the floor.  My senses started to return and all my enemies rushed me as I was struggling to organize my returning senses.  They had apparently not been too terribly surprised by my attack on the tool carrier, though they surely hadn’t expected it.  Very adaptable, if unskilled.  The tool carrier was running towards the device.  No telling how long it would take him to fix it.  I leapt and tackled him, smacking his head against the floor hard enough to crack the skull of a human, but not kill them.  I had no idea how strong these guys were, not with all the sensory deprivation I’d been exposed to.

Having my sense of touch back was bad.  I was black and blue all over.  Having my vision and hearing back though…  Time to kick some ass.  I brought my staff down, hard, on the device, and watched it shatter.  Too dangerous to allow it to be potentially fixable.

I started in on them.  They were still not great at working together, though they were learning fast.  I gave them no mercy, breaking what seemed like arms, legs, and necks through their odd robes.  They seemed to be humanoid, but the ones with broken bones would just get up, shake their heads, adjust the broken limb, and come right back at me.  Even symbiotes didn’t heal that fast.  My enemies’ robes seemed to cover more details than they should.  I had been watching very carefully, and after three minutes of fighting, I still hadn’t seen a face.  Nor had I caught even the scent of fear.  I had, however, detected an individual scent for each of them.

I was being backed into the corner.  The enemies were now working very well together, fuck me very much, and I still wasn’t able to contact Frank.  I noticed the tool carrier putting pieces of the tool together, and they were staying put together.  Very. Bad.

I was struck four times solidly and rapidly in the neck and head area as my attention had shifted to the tool carrier, and I fell badly.  I lost my staff in the fall, and wasn’t thinking right from the head blows.

I turned off my pain receptors and started switching to carbon fiber muscles as I protected my head, neck and chest cavity from damage as best I could.

When the muscle switch was done, I activated the power systems, and kicked my legs against the floor, shooting myself across the floor with massive acceleration.  I grabbed the ankle of one of my assailants in passing, dragging them with me.  The sensation of its skin on my skin was indescribable.  I had to verify that my sense of touch was turned off.

“You thought I was done?  There’s a lot left if you think you can handle it.”  Had to try to intimidate these guys, I had about three minutes of power for the muscles.

I stood up.  I’d be slower now, less accurate.  I needed a weapon.  I smiled.  Using the carbon fiber muscles, roughly two hundred times stronger than human muscle, I gripped the ankle in my hand a bit tighter and jumped over to the tool carrier, and slammed him as hard as I could with my makeshift club, which slammed him through the wall of the workout room, leaving an angular human hole almost like what you might see in some old cartoons when characters got knocked through walls.  I couldn’t help but crack a smile.  Then the smile went away.  The thing whose ankle I was gripping was trying to fight me still, trying to get to my hand on its ankle with its hands. This was now life and death.  I used my club well.  It was a much better weapon than I imagined it would be, not breaking apart.  Unfortunately the rest were just as tough.  After another three minutes I was laying on my back again unable to protect myself effectively enough to stand.  I still couldn’t regulate heat from juice very well, but that’s all I had left, so I turned on the juice and tried to protect my head, neck, and abdomen.


“Bob, why am I smelling blood?” Ayva asked, after she noticed the smell.  With a deeper sniff, she was able to identify it as Bob’s blood… and juice?

The algae cultures could wait.  She was hearing noises from Bob’s workroom.  Her pace picked up as a series of crashes came from the workroom.  When she heard several more loud crashes and what sounded like hyperventilation from the workroom she jumped down the rest of the stairs in a single leap, and sprinted across the atrium to Bob’s workshop.

When she opened the door, the workshop was trashed.  Anything that was fragile was broken, almost everything that wasn’t fragile was broken too.  Bob was laying on the floor of his workshop, bleeding from dozens of wounds, his bruising was getting worse as she watched.  One of his arms was actually broken, and he seemed to be trying to protect his head and neck with it, the other was protecting his abdomen.  She watched his chest compress and heard the loud crack of a breaking bone.

“Bob!”  He didn’t react.  She was stunned.

Only stunned for a moment though.  There were only a few possibilities to explain what was happening, a few branchings, however unlikely that they might seem.  Most of them centered on the interface device he was wearing on his brow like a sweat band.

He was obviously trying to fight something, he would probably resist if she tried to touch him.  He was using juice strongly and starting to blister.  This might hurt.  She turned on the perception effect and her juice, explaining to Danielle what she wanted to do, and Danielle agreed to the plan.  She crouched, then leapt towards Bob’s head.  He easily blocked both of her arms, even under Danielle’s control but he didn’t try to hold her, he actually pushed her, allowing her to continue her path, using her momentum against her.

But that was exactly the plan and as Bob’s hands were busy trying to propel her and keep her hands from his head, she grabbed his hands, briefly then let go, pulling them far enough away from his head that as her body flew under a nearby counter, she was able to kick with her right foot, and knock the interface off his forehead, as her own head smacked the wall under the counter, stunning her for an instant.

Bob then went into spasms like he was having a seizure.  She had to get him to cold water.  Several calculations went through her head.  Bathroom closer, more water in the pond.  Bob’s seizures might damage the water fixtures in the bathroom.  Pond it is.

“Bob hang in there.  If either you or Frank are in there, try to resist beating the crap out of me while I haul you to the pond.”

He wasn’t listening.  She had to fight him every step of the way to the pond.  If he hadn’t been so badly beaten already, he would have hurt her seriously, carbon bones notwithstanding.  Bob fought dirty.  As it was, she had to throw him the last ten feet into the shallow water, face up, then sat at the edge of the pond, watching his lungs shift as he continued to spasm, prepared to go in and try to do CPR if need be.

After a minute or two, the massive veins and blood blisters were reabsorbed, and the light steam from around his body stopped.  The bruising fixed itself shortly after.  Then he woke up.

She threw a rock at his head.  A small one.  He blocked it.  That was against the rules, but under current circumstances, understandable.  “What the hell was all that about Bob?  You almost died there, I think.”

“I’m not quite sure, Ayva, definitely scary as fuck though.”

Frank broke in.  “[Ayva, Danielle.  Quarantine.  Immediate thorough heuristic analysis top to bottom.  You had to touch us to get us here, and we don’t know how it spreads.]”

Danielle and Ayva started setting up quarantined network segments, preparing for full quarantine and heuristic scanning.

“What the hell happened in there Frank?  Where were you?” Bob asked.

“[I was probably doing the same thing you were doing, getting the crap kicked out of me, by a virus.]”

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  1. Kunama

    “sight, it the one with the gizmo seemed to look at one”
    Not sure what ‘it’ is doing there

  2. murray

    staff and started going stretching exercises… doing stretching.
    which continues to leak useable for a little while… useable light?

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