As I held my arms behind me so the shackles could be put on my wrists, I examined them. They were quite well designed and would hold me indefinitely if I didn’t spend an absurd amount of energy to reprogram a little bit of the mass in them.
I almost spoke, then remembered I had been Mirandized. So had Frank.
Ayva was watching me and thinking though. “Bob, Frank, I’ll call Kirk and see if he can help.”
Then Ayva turned to Colonel Gantt. “Jim, where will Bob be held, so I can arrange for our lawyer to meet him?”
Jim. Colonel Gantt. I wasn’t on first name basis with him, but Ayva was. No surprise really, Ayva was part of the Agency, and had unofficially helped teach hundreds of new symbiote pairs before a real training system had been put in place. Colonel Gantt was one of the earliest symbiote pairs. It had been my choice to capture him instead of kill him in response to an attack on the Shreveport Plantation. It had been a good choice on my part, institutionally, but we still didn’t like each other much. Due to all the research he had done on me and the Agency while planning a mission to kill us, he might know me better than just about anyone other than Ayva, Frank, Danielle, my mother, or my brothers. I added A and B to that list as well.
Colonel Gantt responded. “Bob and Frank will be held at the county jail, and court proceedings will take place at the local federal courthouse.”
After the officers had finished shackling my arms to one another, and my legs to each other as well, they brought out two more chains and a collar. I saw the extra chains, and cut my eyes at Colonel Gantt. He noticed.
“Bob, don’t look at me like that. You know damn well I take any job I’m given seriously, and my job today is to make sure you stay in custody until you stand in front of a judge. You’re too good at escaping from traps and confinement for me to do anything less than the best I can do. Which means you get the full chain harness, sorry.”
I frowned, and left it at that.
The officers then put a heavy collar on me, and connected its chain to the chain between my arms. After that, the officers connected the last chain from my wrist shackle chains to my ankle shackle chains. To finish it all up, they adjusted the length of the chains to allow me to walk comfortably with steps of no more than a half a normal walking pace.
The officers turned me towards the prisoner van, and Ayva cleared her throat. The officers and Colonel Gantt all tensed up a bit.
Ayva didn’t move, just said “Mind if I give my husband a kiss before you load him in the van?”
They all relaxed. Heh. Colonel Gantt knew Ayva, and I’m sure the others had been briefed. They obviously planned on trying to do this without a fight or there would be a whole lot more symbiote pairs here, not just Colonel Gantt. Anything unexpected would put them on edge.
“Yes, Ayva, feel free, but don’t touch the restraints. Please don’t try to pass anything to Bob while you are kissing. I doubt you are thinking about that, but Samwise will be watching.”
Ayva nodded and gave me a farewell kiss, following the rules. Definitely raised my spirits. She backed away and watched as I walked off. I looked back and waved a bit with my right hand, as much as allowed in my shackles. She smiled and waved back.
The officers offered me hands up into the back of the van, and I accepted them. Hopping neatly into the van wearing eighty kilos of chains and shackles would not have been a big deal, but there was no need to act any differently than a normal human for this.
Colonel Gantt was apparently expecting me to showboat a bit, because he seemed a bit confused, and bit his lip a bit, indicating he was talking to his symbiote. At least that’s what it used to mean, years ago, the last time I had interacted with him regularly.
As I climbed into the van, Ayva turned away and jogged back up to the house, probably to make phone calls.
The back of the van had a confinement chair, and I was fitted into it. The chair sat on a heavy metal pallet, had no electronics, and was very well designed to hold symbiote pairs. The shackles I was wearing integrated into the chair. Since my capacitors were discharged, and couldn’t power my carbon fiber muscles, I couldn’t try brute force, or matter reprogramming. I would need several hundred pounds of biomatter to change body shape sufficiently to escape that way.
I considered the structure of the chair and how it held my limbs. With a full charge on the capacitors, I could almost certainly break free by strength alone, but I’d be crippled for hours afterwards while repairing broken bones. If I miscalculated, there was a chance I would end up trapped by one arm or leg, with no power left, and crippled. I wasn’t getting out of this chair anytime soon, not without help. Hopefully all these thoughts of escape would end up being unnecessary, idle speculation.
Colonel Gantt rode in the secondary enclosure in the cargo area of the van, separated from me by a carbon fiber and tungsten steel cable mesh, watching me closely. Chewing his lip when I started obviously looking at how the chair was put together. He just remained silent and attentive though.
Frank and I had discussed this before, if we were ever arrested, we would remain silent even with one another, because it was possible to tell when we were communicating with each other. Since both of us had been Mirandized, neither would talk to the other. If only one had been Mirandized, the other would offer advice and talk.
Something else I was curious about was answered as we drove away. Shortly after we left, after travelling a few kilometers, I heard the engines of many vehicles idling. As the Doppler Effect associated with their noises indicated we were passing them, I heard twenty-eight different engines engage into gear, and the sounds of many vehicles accelerating. We had an escort. I was curious about how many people they had brought around to try to apprehend me if I had chosen to run. However, I’d been Mirandized, so I was keeping my mouth shut. I wasn’t able to keep from looking at Colonel Gantt, and smiling.
He apparently knew what I was smiling about, and chuckled. “Yes, Bob, there was concern that you might run. I didn’t think you would, but others wanted to be sure.”
I just nodded, and he nodded back. I adjusted myself ever so slightly in my restraints, then gave up trying to be comfortable and just put a one hour temporary nerve block on the places where the restraints were bothering me. I wasn’t going to waste energy changing body shape to better accommodate the restraints.
We stopped after a few more kilometers on the road. Based on the momentum changes, a local map overlay, and the sounds of motorized gates we were indeed at the county jail.
There was a lot of noise, and Colonel Gantt exited the vehicle, walking around to the other door to the cargo area of the van.
As expected, I was not allowed to leave the chair. The pallet the chair was riding on was unbolted from the frame of the van, and a forklift was used to take me out of the van, me in the restraint chair, and the restraint chair still on the pallet. I was moderately impressed. I’d heard that there had been a lot of improvements on how symbiote pair criminals could be handled by the justice system, but until seeing them up close, I had been dismissive of the rumors. After so many years of my life where most ‘improvements’ in the law enforcement system had just been thinly disguised pork barrel projects, it was difficult to believe in meaningful and effective change.
This time when I smiled, Colonel Gantt looked nervous, and spun in a circle looking at everything when he was chewing his lip, talking to Samwise. I had to admit, that was a pretty damn good name for a symbiote, and it had very much surprised me when I found out about it. I had never figured the same man who tried to kill off the Agency at Shreveport would be a Tolkien fan, but he most definitely was.
I looked at his processor cloud and was able to read enough from their interaction to tell he was worked up, thinking I had arranged something. I considered saying something, then remembered I had been Mirandized. So I simply smiled again and closed my eyes, and concentrated on seeing everything based on passive echolocation, building a map of the facility as best I could. The forklift engine interfered with that pretty badly at first, but I was eventually able to use its engine noises as a source for active echolocation. Based on activity along the route, with armed guards walking in advance, and some people opening a cell and inspecting it and its lock, I could tell where I was being delivered to. I was impressed.
As we got closer to the cell, I was able to see it much more clearly. There was no intent to release me from the palletized chair. There was no bed, no toilet, nothing other than an almost featureless stainless steel plate wall at least half an inch thick, based on the frequencies they vibrated at when exposed to the forklift’s motor noises. The plates were attached to a heavy frame that connected to rebar inside the high compression concrete wall, which itself was over a foot thick. The door looked like a bank vault door. That was a crude analysis though, based on what I was able to see and hear while looking at where the walls and vault door came together as I was carried through the vault door into my cell.
When they finished bolting the pallet down after the forklift positioned it, Colonel Gantt came in and explained the last little bit. There was a liquid nitrogen containment vessel above my cell. If I tried to break free, it would be released into my cell until I stopped trying to break free, one way or another.
I wasn’t able to let that pass, it seemed excessive. “A cryogenic freeze threat? What happens if the storage unit fails and I am given the deep freeze treatment for no reason? Do you have a way to quickly clear the nitrogen and provide me with oxygen in the event of failure? This seems a bit lethal, at least for me. Frank might survive it.”
Colonel Gantt paused a moment. “Samwise and I were consulted on the design, and we brought in symbiote pairs with engineering and cryogenic storage technology experience to make sure this is as safe as it can be, Bob. That doesn’t mean I like it. I know you’re going to remember the facility in Birmingham where you rescued Jason and Mouse from. I brought them in as the engineering pair. He was almost apoplectic that they would threaten a symbiote pair like this, but in the end agreed to work with us to make it as safe as possible. This system is safe. If it makes you feel any better, the only reason this system is here is because you live near here. Other symbiotes or humans held in this cell would not be subjected to the nitrogen system, the nitrogen would be pumped out of the storage above the cell, back into primary storage, at a lower elevation.”
I didn’t respond verbally, just nodded my head. With the sheer amount of chaos I had been responsible for, unintentionally and intentionally over the last few years, I could understand why the government might have gone into maximum overkill mode when designing a holding cell specifically to hold me in. Still, a deadly threat holding cell when I haven’t been convicted? Kirk would have a ball with that if he was able to help.
Before the last officer accompanied Colonel Gantt out of the cell, I was advised of the meal schedule and provided with a choice of menu items to select from. I just told them to bring me whatever the other inmates complained about the least. I would have to consume it by pseudopod. My restraints would not be released. The officer also advised me that Ayva had contacted the department, and that my lawyer, Kirk Douglass, would be arriving the next day.
At least they hadn’t said any deaths had resulted, only many injuries. Only symbiotes could interface directly to the virtual world through a quant, so anyone injured should recover fully – unless the damage was mental. Humans could interact with the virtual world as well, and often did, but they used an avatar system in much the same way as massively multiplayer games did in the past. In fact, almost all massively multiplayer games now were housed in B’s virtual world. The resource cost savings for any type of computing within B was absurd. There were lots of indie gaming companies run by symbiote pairs out there though, using smaller biocomputers dedicated to their own games even though it was more expensive for them to do so. It wasn’t that much more expensive to keep a small biocomputer running rather than outsourcing to B, and it allowed the symbiote of the designer pair to have access to the code without needing a quant.
I chewed my lip and hoped that nobody had suffered mental damage from the attack. Some mental trauma was almost certain, and that by itself would be bad. If anyone had suffered any sort of real damage to mental capacity, I would not be a happy person, and it would be my fault, even if it was B that enabled it.
For the first time in hours, Frank spoke up. “Our fault. I was involved in creating the rules before we activated B. I never imagined he would figure out a way to feed actual physical damage back into people’s bodies through a direct data connection.”
I spoke internally to Frank. “Even though they can’t tell what we are saying, Frank, they might be able to tell we are communicating, so let’s keep this brief. Thank you for stepping up, and you’re right, we’re both responsible for this. At the same time, you know me, I always want to grab all the fault for anything bad that happens around me.”
“Ayva at least got you to realize that in the last year, yes. Not that it keeps you from still trying to do it, but at least you recognize it now. That’s all for me.” Frank replied, then was silent.
We both spent the next eighteen hours or so independently trying to figure out what exactly had happened in the virtual world, and trying to figure out how that might be related to injuries to other people. We didn’t have enough information, but we at least figured out what questions we might try to ask B, and what experiments we might perform.
Kirk arrived the next day, looking sharp in a black pinstriped suit and gold trimmed black leather briefcase. I wasn’t allowed to communicate directly with him at first. They tried to put us on closed circuit TV. The resulting conversation, which I saw on the closed circuit TV was amusing, as Kirk used federal and state law to tear down restrictions preventing him from speaking to me face to face.
When they explained that he might not be safe in the room because of the cryogenic trap, he made a call to his law firm, asked a senior partner for help, and about five minutes later I could hear pumps running. The tiny noises of the ceiling above me decompressed slightly as the weight resting on it was reduced was music to my ears.
A few minutes after that, Kirk was allowed access to my cell, then sealed in.
The first thing he did was state clearly. “If there are any recordings of the activities in this room, other than that of myself, Bob Benson, Frank, or Jaws, please be aware that you are jeopardizing client-lawyer privilege, and my firm will aggressively pursue a case against any individual or organization who does so.”
Then he looked at me and smiled. “Good to see you again, Bob, Frank. My father wanted me to say hello for him as well.”
“Tell your father hello right back, if I don’t get the opportunity to do so before you can.” I paused. “Been a few months since we spoke last, Kirk, I see you have settled in at the law firm. I love your symbiote’s name. Brings back memories of when we met during the pool tournament.”
“After seeing what Jaws could do for me at the billiards table, and in the courtroom, there really wasn’t another name for him.” He grinned.
While Kirk smiled, I checked to be sure he hadn’t filed his teeth. Now that he had a symbiote he actually could give himself inhuman teeth if he wanted, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. Kirk was a pool shark, and a shark in the courtroom as well, at least in the minor cases that he had been allowed to try solo as of the time we last spoke. He had finished law school during the time of martial law in the US, and been practicing for a year by the time I helped the President make the decision to arrest and try over a hundred fifty high ranking politicians for treason and intent to commit genocide. Another two years had passed since then, one year for Frank to get ready to perform a merger again, and another year after that where we worked with Ayva, and established both A and B.
“If you two get along well, I couldn’t agree more.” I smiled.
“Well, the first thing we need to do is try to get you bailed out of here. Did you do it?”
“Nope. Neither Frank nor I intentionally harmed anyone.”
Kirk’s smile went away. “OK, Bob, I know that it’s hard for you to let go of the whole truth, but I need it here. Otherwise I don’t have what I need to provide the best defense. I normally do prosecutorial work as you know, but when I do defense work, it’s even more important that I know every detail possible, because otherwise, it’s the other side that gets to find the blood trails in the water.”
“One moment. I need to discuss something with Frank. What you are asking for is a lot bigger than you think.” I answered.
Internally, I spoke. “Frank, I think we’re at a point here that we’re going to have to let people know that it is possible to convert storage nodes to combination storage nodes and processing nodes. Ayva seemed to handle it well enough, with the data we gave her. We’ll be telling Kirk here, and whoever is listening in on our conversation for Kirk’s safety. Even if they delete the recording, the observer will know. The cat will be out of the bag, and Kirk might have to use the data in court.”
“We knew it would be happening soon anyway. Last week B said that there were at least three different organizations running emulations within him specifically for the purpose of determining if that was possible. One of them being a small engineering firm that Jason and Mouse started. There have also been two dozen experiments attempting to reverse engineer how B himself worked.”
I almost laughed out loud. “I remember B was having a great deal of fun with those guys, sending them little notes reminding them of the EULA and deleting their projects. So we spill the beans? And we do not mention the berserker protocol at all, correct? That seems to both be the best course for us at this point, and is only slightly suboptimal for releasing the data to the world before anyone else gets it and can abuse it over others.”
“Yes, it’s bad enough that we had it before everyone else and got to abuse it for our own benefit.”
“I think we paid a high enough price for it, and I think we’ve done good things, but I’m sure there will be plenty of people making lots of noise over it, I agree.”
“The reaction of the world community to A and B might be a bit extreme once they discover they are sentient. That’s the only disruptive part of this that worries me. The ability for other symbiotes to use all nodes for processing and storage both is coming soon no matter what we do. People know we’re severely understating our processing power. They know we have a unique operating system, and the things we’ve come up with are frequently on the bleeding edge of possible for us to have managed with the capacity we indicated. Once is lucky, twice is amazing, three times is cheating or lying. We’ve established eleven different documented abilities that fall into the bleeding edge of possible for our stated capacity.”
“A and B are going to scare some people. Agreed. A is pretty much out of harm’s way, but B might be in danger.”
“B now has access to enough power to feedback physical damage into symbiote hosts through a quant connection. I strongly suspect that with our memories at its core, however much data it’s piled on top of all that, it’s going to be ready for pretty much anything with that much power available. Think about how much power must have been used to reprogram mass in your body to emulate the damage you were taking? He wasn’t forcing me to change us. He was reprogramming mass in our body.”
I was speechless for a moment. I had figured Frank had been coopted by B to change us, but he was right, I looked, neither of us had been commanded to do anything. We’d simply been molded like clay, as required to match the requirements of B’s virtual world rules – without any consultation. Fuck. We really needed to get back to B and try to figure out a way to get around this.
“True. He did tell us that bit about taking safeguards to protect the human race if we wanted to try to change the rules. I didn’t fully consider that. B doesn’t exaggerate. Taking that statement at face value, as I should have when he first said it, is a bit scary. The power requirements to reprogram our mass like that is… astronomical.”
“B is not in danger if people try to damage him. He’s beyond that now. He’s probably far enough beyond modern weapons technology that he wouldn’t even be upset if humans came after him and attacked him. It would be like a three year old human with no symbiote coming after us with a stick, even if humans tried to use nukes.”
“I hope we’re as stable as we thought we were when we chose to merge and create B, Frank.”
“I hope so too. I think we need to just let the cat out of the bag at this point. That might put us in a position where we would be allowed to work with B and try to mitigate this a bit.”
Kirk had been waiting patiently. He was in an in depth conversation with his symbiote, but didn’t demonstrate any quirk like me scratching my head (when my hands weren’t bound), or Colonel Gantt and his lip-biting.
I smiled. “I see you don’t have a telltale habit for when you speak with your symbiote, Kirk.”
He startled a little bit at that. “No, Jaws noticed it and trained me not to do it. No need to let other lawyers or judges know you’re consulting your symbiote.” Then his eyes narrowed. “You knew anyway.”
I replied “Like I said. What you asked for is much bigger than you think. I’ll paint it in broad strokes, and we can answer specifics later.”
“Firstly, Frank can use every single node in our body for both storage and processing, not just the one processor to six hundred storage nodes others have.”
Kirk nodded. “The specific numbers are new, but everyone knows you were hiding something about how much processing power you had in Frank’s custom operating system.”
“Secondly, Frank used that six hundredfold processing speed advantage to put ourselves about three thousand years in advance of where another symbiote, working by itself, might be. This increased our processing power by absurd degrees. At this point, Frank and I have the raw computational capacity of the rest of the symbiote community combined, but we have placed restrictions on ourselves so we can interact with people more normally. About ninety-nine percent of Frank’s computational capacity is typically devoted to research, which has been doubling our capacity for processing and storage about once per week in the last few months. The rate of growth is slowing down, however.”
Kirk raised his right hand, extending his index finger “Wait a minute. Let me talk to Jaws.” He was in a very rapid conversation with Jaws for a few seconds, then dropped his hand. “That’s an incredible statement. I would suggest not mentioning it to others unless it becomes a requirement in our defense. If you are telling the truth, when this is over and done with, we need to talk.”
“I’ll teach the multiple processor bit, but not the rest. You need time to adapt to the changes. Not kidding or playing games here. If you increase your capacity too much, too fast, it will destabilize you. If it were not for Argoen’s interference, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Argoen isn’t dead?” Kirk was in rapid fire communication with Jaws again.
“No, the ship that departed Jupiter into a solar slingshot maneuver two years ago was Argoen leaving. I think.” I didn’t know that, and it bothered me. We had set B to looking for evidence of Argoen still being on planet or in the solar system somewhere with no results. B had stopped looking actively after a primary search, but said he would maintain a passive watch for Argoen or other aliens and warn Frank and me if he found any. Without knowing Argoen’s abilities, it was hard to say if we could really be confident they were gone.
Kirk replied, “OK. So you two are far in advance over the rest of the symbiote pairs on the planet, but you have governed yourself. Anything else I need before we get into details about this case? Oh, and how does that explain how you could tell I was talking with Jaws?”
“There’s more, and it’s directly related to this case. The reason I can tell when you and Jaws are speaking to one another is because Frank figured out how to see the state data of your processors.”
Kirk jerked slightly with that data. Heh, the internal dialog between Jaws and Kirk was furious now. I added, carefully and slowly. “Frank and I have disabled our ability to clearly read processor state data, but we kept the ability to see usage patterns on a macroscopic scale, and detect the general flow of a symbiote’s thought. When it comes to the grey matter bits, we are limited to seeing activity rates and basic interaction metrics between your human brain and symbiote processors. We also know how to hide our own state data from others, and THAT is a simple process to describe even though it took Frank years to figure it out. Humanity isn’t ready for zero mental boundaries.”
Kirk and Jaws were still in furious conversation. Kirk’s hand went back up with the right index finger extended. “Wait a second, Bob, a bit of a crisis here.”
“Jaws wants to kill me, I bet.”
Kirk just stared at me.
“I didn’t need to read your conversation to know that. Symbiotes do not like unexpected threats to their hosts, and I’ve just gone from moderate potential threat mitigated by friendship to the most dangerous individual on the planet in the space of a few sentences. Ayva’s symbiote, Danielle, wanted to kill me too when I explained all this to her last year after Frank and I had merged fully.
Kirk continued staring at me. “Merged? Explain.”
“There are only two of my three parts here. Frank and I are separate intelligences, but we are nearly identical.”
“Three parts. What is the third part? Wait. Oh, crap, Bob.”
I was pretty sure he had figured it out, but I said it anyway. “The biocomputer that I created to help preserve world resources? Its name is ‘B’, and it’s a thinking entity itself, sharing all our processing advantages and knowledge. Its processing power originally exceeded ours by a factor of its volume, and that enhanced volume allowed it more processing power to advance itself. The last time we asked it to compare our computational ability to its own, it only replied that the question was irrelevant.”
Jaws lit up every processor simultaneously and we could see the activity spike in Kirk’s brain as well. I let them think about it.
Kirk spoke about a minute later. “Bob are you telling me that you and Frank managed to, in essence, create a god in a virtual world in order to preserve the resources of Earth from symbiote biomass and energy needs?”
“That’s a pretty good way to describe it, but it gets better.” I couldn’t help but smile, because when things get bad enough all you can do is smile.
“Better? You’re smiling. Tell me this is a joke.”
“Not a joke. Frank and I were attacked inside B’s virtual world as well as the people who think we were responsible for attacking them. We were investigating what had happened to us when law enforcement arrived and we were arrested. Before our arrest, we found out that B is now able to siphon energy from nearby dimensions, and use it to reprogram matter in the real world to duplicate damage in the virtual world over onto the real world participants – but only through a quant, we think. For now. We hope.”
“So now, B, the god of the virtual world, is a little less virtual and it’s already harmed a great many people. And it can reprogram matter?” Kirk was not taking this well.
“Not exactly. B has allowed other people to do harm. I can reprogram matter too, but it’s extremely energy inefficient, and very short ranged for us.”
“You can… irrelevant for now.” Kirk and Jaws stood there for a minute with finger raised again. “Did this B tell you who it was that had been hurting people?”
“No, no real answers. All we know is that Frank and I were attacked directly by unknowns. We had just finished sparring, and had not injured each other because we wore pads. Silly to wear pads in the virtual world, I know,” I paused. “Maybe not so silly any more. Anyhow, I try to train in the virtual world like I do in the real world, so I don’t forget some day and spar in the real world without protective gear. If B turned on the real damage rule in the virtual world yesterday, I’d say most of the people getting hurt are going to be people playing massively multiplayer games, first person shooters, and tactical combat sims.”
Kirk sighed. “That explains the 3,745,268 additional charges of battery.”