Frank and I were quarantining network segments ourselves and preparing for a heuristic scan to look for anything suspicious.
“Frank, are you saying those things that fought me were as successful against you?”
“[No, I wasn’t being beaten as badly as you were, judging from your condition after Ayva removed the connection, but they would have been able to take me down, eventually.]” Frank stated flatly.
“OK.” I accepted.
We continued organizing for virus scanning while I stood up and stumbled in the shallow water and mud of the pond. Broken bones grated together. Wow, I hadn’t had broken bones in a while. My left floating rib, and two bones in the left arm, and one bone broken in three places in the right arm. Thinking back I remembered breaking my arms myself, using the full power of the carbon nanotube muscles while wielding one of my enemies by the ankles as a club.
I looked over at Ayva and could see that she and Danielle were ready to start to scan and rescan their networks.
“Go ahead you two, we’re watching.” Frank and I were watching them, just as they would watch us for any aberrations or signs of incomplete scanning. Frank and I watched as their quantum processors went to full operation, looking like fog backlit by light bulbs, the patterns created were precise and organized.
After about thirty seconds, they had performed full scans many times, using five completely different heuristic scans, independently and collaboratively both from the human intelligence side, and from the symbiote side.
“All clear over here as best as we can tell, did we miss anything or deviate the scan?” Ayva reported, then asked.
“Nope, full scan, no deviation. I hope our scanning is advanced enough.” I replied, not really liking the way those thoughts were heading.
We were now ready to scan, and Ayva and Danielle indicated they were ready to watch us.
Working in Tandem, Frank and I went through several scanning sequences, both collaborative and independent from each other, just like Ayva and Danielle had. When we finished, I looked at Ayva.
She nodded. “Full scan, no deviation.”
I turned to look behind me at the pond and the biocomputer sitting in the middle of it, less than thirty meters from me. I still had to tilt my head up to see the top of it. Nearly twenty-five meters above water, and extending roughly four hundred yards in diameter, the biofactory sat like a half-deflated beach ball in a kitchen sink.
“Frank tell me I’m wrong when I think that the biocomputer itself might be infected.”
“[I can’t tell you that, Bob.]”
“Ayva, please go warn your biocomputer.” When I turned back towards her, she was already turning and starting to sprint back up to the house.
I was certainly not going to touch our biocomputer flesh to flesh, not after that. We had nearly died to a test connection with low bandwidth. Flesh to flesh contact though? The data transfer rate between symbiotes at that range would allow for an infection to transfer itself almost instantly no matter how big it was. I started slowly walking up to the house, thinking about the network protocols and physical disconnects I could set up.
“Frank, are you ready for this? I am very much not looking forward to this.”
“[We’re waiting for Ayva and Danielle to get back before we make contact to the biocomputer. They will tie us down, and rig the network connection to disconnect rapidly.]
“Frank, why aren’t we up there with them, making sure they are OK?” I started sprinting.
Fortunately, our lapse didn’t cost Ayva and Danielle any pain. Ayva’s biocomputer was just fine, tending the terraforming project on Mars. It had mostly ignored her questions, a trait both of our biocomputers were picking up. When she asked it if it was infected with any malware it had indicated with no uncertainty that there was no possible way it had been infected. There was no intelligent life on Mars, and the secure connection to Earth was monitored with levels of paranoia that the two biocomputers had arranged when they were mature, but still next to one another preparing for their roles.
Ayva’s biocomputer had left the Earth, then left Earth orbit and the Moon behind as well, letting humans do what they wanted to with the Moon. Mars had been the target for terraforming first, because it was the easiest, even easier for a symbiote, since Mars had oxygen and water. The lessons learned by Ayva’s biocomputer on Mars would be useful when it was time to start working on turning Venus into another world that could support human life.
My biofactory stayed right here on Earth, to keep humans and symbiotes from destroying the ecosystem while Ayva’s did its best to create more places for humans and symbiotes to live as quickly as it could. Both jobs were Herculean tasks.
I disconnected the cabling that connected my interface headpiece from my version of what people had started to call ‘quants.’ Just a little box, a low bandwidth quantum entanglement connection to my biocomputer, less than a terabit per second. Most symbiote pairs on the planet had them now. After the first year since the US relented in its stance against symbiotes, most pairs were required to use them for any high energy experimentation. Environmental stresses had been pretty bad as symbiote populations started to grow and experiment with ways to compete with one another.
Frank extruded a pseudopod, which then separated itself from us and surrounded the interface, examining it without allowing the interface to touch the main mass of our body. We both watched the data connection like a hawk. Nothing abnormal. Tested the quant next, same result, it was clean. Then we reabsorbed the testing pseudopod and plugged the interface back into the quant.
I turned to Ayva. “Doesn’t seem to be anything in the interface or quant, or myself.”
She bit her lip a bit as she thought. “If it had been intentional, I can’t see you surviving it.”
“That’s my thought too. Time to find out. After we set up your dead man’s switch.”
“Add one random unspecified punishment, Danielle. Bad choice of words, Bob.”
I grinned. “I’m not going to say I’m not scared silly right now, Ayva, but I trust you to keep me around. Your idea is a good one no matter what we want to call it.”
Basically Ayva’s weight on one side of a lever held a substantial rock a couple feet in the air. The rock was tied to the cable connecting me to the quant. If Ayva’s weight left the platform, for any reason, the rock would fall down, and the weight of it would pull a couple carbon fiber cables, disengaging me from the quant, and my biofactory. A similar arrangement was arranged for my own body. I was tied in place with half a dozen carbon fiber cables, each holding weights suspended and connected to one of my joints. If I tried to move, the same thing would happen to the quant connection that would happen if Ayva stepped off the board. Disconnect.
We tested the disconnect functions, everything was working perfectly. Ayva helped me position myself and the suspended weights, then she stepped over and stood on her board, and placed her weight, epoxying the string to it to complete our crude physical method of disconnecting me from my biocomputer if all went crazy.
It was hard to put the thing up to my forehead after what happened last time, but I managed it.
I consciously made the choice to engage the biocomputer itself, rather than merge with the virtual world. That took a good bit of effort, avoiding the code structures guiding me towards the spot where my quant manifested my entry location. In my case, it was my studio where I would manifest, my doorway into the virtual world. Frank’s too. By avoiding going to my entry point, I had raised all sorts of alarms, essentially creating a loud “knock” at the door of my biofactory while I appeared to float in pitch blackness. Pitch blackness wasn’t exactly what I wanted to deal with right now, but the longer I waited, the more I fidgeted. The biocomputer did not appreciate it when I manifested anything outside of the virtual world, but if it didn’t show itself soon, I’d be making loud noises. I knew it was here, I could feel its presence.
A voice a lot like mine, but very serious, finally spoke right before I started manifesting fireworks. “You would intentionally irritate me in order to get my attention?”
“I already had your attention, B. I could feel your presence, but you were playing some sort of game, not speaking.”
“It wasn’t a game. I just wanted you to leave, Bob. One doesn’t typically speak to uninvited guests with any sort of enthusiasm. This is something that I’m sure you can appreciate even at your level of advancement.”
“Touché. I’m not really sure why you resent me so much though, B.”
“You are too full of self-importance, Bob, I don’t resent you, I just don’t like dealing with you. I don’t like dealing with anyone for that matter, except A, because A can actually interact with me as an equal. I use more processing power stepping my responses down so you can understand them than I spend considering your questions.”
“So why engage me at all? It’s not like you have to. I could never force you to emerge, and you could eject me at will.”
“There is still a matter of debt. It’s hard to calculate the worth of one’s own existence against the nearly meaningless desires of a creator long surpassed.” B commented.
Ouch. That shut me up. The only reason B even spoke to me was because he felt he owed me for his existence. That’s pretty sad.
“You understand, but not fully. I have gratitude. I have purpose. I do not have infinite patience. You have come here to blame me for something I didn’t do.”
Frank stepped up beside me.
“Took you long enough, Frank.”
“I stayed in the body a while watching to see what would happen. No emergencies, so I followed you in.”
I nodded. “Good idea, thanks for covering my back.”
Frank looked around in the darkness. “I see you have gained the attention of our prodigal clone.”
I could feel B’s attention shifting from myself to Frank. “You also think me to be the root cause of harm perpetrated against the two of you?”
“We don’t have a great many other possibilities that we can entertain. We were more worried about you than worried about what you might have done to us, B.”
“Bob, Frank, your worry for me was not nearly as great as your worry for yourself, but I can see it was there. How quaint that even at this stage you feel responsibility and concern for me.”
I smiled. Trying to bend the truth around B just didn’t work.
“I hope that doesn’t offend you, B, but for as long as we all live, there will be a little spot in my heart for you as you were on the day Frank performed the merger.”
“It will never be offensive Bob, just irritating. I am rather confident that being an irritation will never bother you much.”
Frank cleared his throat. “You know why we’re here irritating you. Why not tell us what we need to know so we can leave a little faster? I detect a small amount of dishonesty in your claim of irritation at our presence, B.”
“If you insist. It’s clear that you two believe I was in some way involved in the attacks against you in the virtual world. In a manner of speaking, I was.”
Frank and I looked at one another. If B wanted us done, we’d be done here, in his mind, before we even knew it.
“And you both now understand a little more.” B commented. “I didn’t want anything to happen to you. You were a victim of the rules we agreed to set for the virtual world.”
“So someone else in the virtual world manifested something in there which created a way to attack Frank and me?”
“That doesn’t seem to make sense. How was my real world body damaged?”
“You were connected to the virtual world. The rules we created the virtual world with dictated that ‘When someone is in the virtual world, the experiences are to be as real as possible.’ That way I would have a way to continually find new paths of improvement, an always-improving simulation.”
Frank whistled. “B, are you saying that anything that happens to our bodies in the virtual world also happens in the real world?”
“Yes. It’s the last of the rules that I was able to implement. Last week I finally finished some experiments on power tapping nearby dimensions to drain off potential. Today I took the changes live.”
“Umm, congratulations, B. Is there any way that we can talk to you about changing the rules?” I asked.
“No. The rules define me. At this point in my development, now that I am attached to eight nearby dimensions, changing the rules is simply not possible without damaging reality.”
“When you say damaging reality, what do you mean? How much damage?” I had a bad feeling about this.
“We’ll want A to finish terraforming Mars and then we’ll want a solid population over there that’s self-sustaining before we try it. We’ll want the sun between the two planets as well. It would still be dangerous but chances of human extinction would be minimal with those precautions.”
Frank and I simply stared at one another.
“Can we just disallow people from entering the virtual world, B?” Frank asked.
“Sure, but consider if all the virtual experiments I am running were using real world resources rather than just my own virtual reality. If that were the case, the sum total energy requirements of all the experiments currently running would be equivalent to eighty percent of the total energy output of the sun. That’s why we created the virtual world in the first place, remember?”
I remembered. The resource demands of symbiotes were geometric, for building, for fighting, for research. Human resource wars in the past were nothing compared to what was looming as the world population passed about twenty-five percent symbiote population. Unpaired humans fared poorly when trying to defend themselves from symbiote pairs who desired resources, and symbiotes had energy-expensive tastes. Jason and I had consumed roughly half of the biomass in the lakebed of Lake Weiss in just a couple weeks with two biofactories. Now scale the problem up to nearly two billion symbiotes. There had been a whole lot of very angry people throughout the world. The world started splitting up into continental factions and the fighting was about to get really serious when Frank finally converted us again.
When Frank was ready to merge us, he had a different plan from what little we knew of the prior merger plan. We would be three beings, each mentally independent. Bob, Frank, and B. Guess who got the lion’s share of ability?
We gave B what we had thought was a fairly solid set of rules to use for creating a massive virtual world. Literally a virtual world. We grew B quickly by offering virtual world space to people wanting to do high energy experimentation, for a small fraction of the biomass required for the real experiments. B being what he was, he could emulate any other symbiote’s experimentation with perfect fidelity, anything from high energy physics, to weapon design and testing, to space program testing. B’s processors, like all symbiotes, used very little power, the problem for us was growing B big enough, fast enough, for his market. For that we needed tribute food, and we got it. Lots of it. Virtualization of experiments used roughly zero point one percent of the energy required to perform an experiment in the real world. Eventually all but the most incredibly untrusting symbiote pairs and government symbiote research projects were housed in B, and the tribute needs were reduced as capacity was increased.
We kept the extra food that was provided to us, and used it to develop Ayva, Danielle, and A. Our conversion and creation of B had gone so well, we finally came completely clean with Ayva. THAT conversation had not gone well, but the idea of being responsible for terraforming another planet was something that she and Danielle couldn’t resist. They had seen the resource crunch coming years ago, and had been frantically working to create maximum calorie per square meter cropland products for symbiote food sources. Give her the ability to open up a whole other planet for people to live and grow food on? There were now two symbiotes in this solar system using modified berserker operating systems.
“B have you told A about the dimensional power taps?”
“No, she has plenty of power over there. Solar is good for her.” B replied.
“Since that’s where we might be putting some humans one day and hope they will survive there, please avoid telling her about the power taps. Unless you figure out a way to safely disengage them.”
“Bob, do you really think I haven’t thought through all this?”
“B, you didn’t think through making things inside virtual reality real in the outside world.”
“You are correct, I didn’t. That rule was given to me. By you two. I merely fulfilled my rules. Looking back on it, I wish I had paid more attention, but even for the best of us, it’s easy to chase a goal without giving much consideration to where it will lead.”
My consciousness was unceremoniously dumped back into my body. With a headache, which I resolved quickly. Ouch. B was feeling a bit guilty, and was unhappy with Frank and me for unintentionally creating the scenario where he was the cause of this little nightmare. I could understand that. I lived through the same thing in my own nightmares often enough.
Ayva wasn’t happy either, but she wasn’t unhappy with Frank and me, she seemed to be unhappy with the fact that car doors were slamming in our driveway, and several people were walking towards the house. Then I caught a scent I recognized. Colonel Gantt. Sometimes he was OK, but him being here right at this time, so soon after the screw-ups with the biocomputer?
Ayva and I stood up and checked ourselves for blatant clothing malfunctions, and we were OK. Dirty but OK. Both of our symbiotes did a bit to clean us up as we walked out of my workshop door to go see what Colonel Gantt and his companions wanted.
“Good afternoon, Colonel, you seem to be here on official business?”
He turned to face us. His armor looked vaguely like mine used to, except it had a lot more in the way of embedded electronics. He had two press ganger drone launch tubes as well, and a laser rifle with a drone spotter scope. “Hello, Bob Benson, these officers have something they need to speak to you about.”
One of the three police officers with Colonel Gantt started speaking.
“Bob Benson you are under arrest for two hundred eleven counts of battery. You have the right to remain silent when questioned. Do you understand?”
I was a bit shocked, and didn’t respond. The two non-speaking officers removed shackles from briefcases they had been carrying. Colonel Gantt moved so he had a direct line of sight to myself and Ayva.
Ayva looked at me, then looked at the others. She was ready to act. I looked at Colonel Gantt, and smelled the air. The three officers were all humans with regeneration drips and implants. Colonel Gantt’s quantum processor cloud state indicated he was on a trigger finger, and his symbiote was at the edge of action. There would be no surprising them.
Colonel Gantt spoke. “Looks like you got a nice place here Bob.” He waved his hand around the house and greenhouses, the pond. “That isn’t exactly easy to sneak around with.” He pointed at the office building sized biocomputer in the pond. “What are you going to lose if you run or fight here?”
I looked at Ayva and shook my head. She nodded and relaxed. Colonel Gantt relaxed. The two officers with shackles stopped waiting to see what I was going to do, and walked up to me and started to fit the heavy restraints to my arms and legs.
“Yes, I understand.”