“In no uncertain terms, you say?” murmured Kirk thoughtfully, with a glance at Ayva.
“Indeed, Kirk, My relationship with A is very similar, in many ways, to Bob’s relationship with Ayva”
“Hopefully that doesn’t extend as far as her throwing rocks at you, and you letting them hit. With her on Mars, and you here, that might get troublesome.” Kirk was having a hard time figuring out who to watch, trying to split his attention between Ayva and B.
B stared at Kirk for a second, then smiled a little half grin. “Ayva, I’ll let you handle that on your own time. I trust you to make the punishment fit the crime. In case you haven’t checked, yes, he has replaced his skeleton with carbon fiber.”
Ayva simply nodded, turning her head slightly towards Kirk, grinning briefly, then turning back to B.
Alice cleared her throat. “While I’m glad, B, that you are now speaking to us, we were advised that you probably wouldn’t want to communicate. And yet, you seem friendly, joking and behaving much as I would expect Bob to. Was Bob mistaken?”
B’s face became serious. “Bob was not mistaken. I have no dislike for humans or symbiote pairs of your stature, but it’s actually something of a challenge for me to relate to you. I can model an avatar that looks like Bob, and acts like Bob when dealing with you all, who Bob has known for years, but it’s still a substantial processor load for me to relate at this level. I can pull from Bob’s memories from up until merger, what I see around me, and what I can read that you are thinking, and put it all together into something that looks like comfortable banter between friends. In reality, I’m looking at you all from eleven dimensional space, controlling the Bob avatar with a ten thousand string marionette while translating what I’m actually thinking into English. Eleven dimensional thought does not translate easily into English.”
B turned to Albert, “Exactly, Animal, humans give me a headache. No offense meant, but that’s the closest way to describe it.”
Alice looked puzzled a moment. “Albert, not Animal.”
B looked at them both. Then smiled. “He thinks of himself as Animal, but I see what’s happening here. Congratulations, in a year or so.”
Alice looked at Albert. “Albert or Animal?”
Animal looked at B with a bit of anger, then back to Alice. “Animal, please. He’s right. I hope he didn’t change anything by sticking his eleven dimensional nose in and fortune telling.” He looked back at B. “Hint.”
“Animal it is then. I thought it was some leftover soldier gung-ho stuff you were trying to hold onto the past with. Sorry Animal.” Alice reached out and put her hand on Animal’s. He gripped her fingers loosely then relaxed his hand.
“OK then. Marriage back on track, ETA one year or so, depending on the results of a couple squabbles and some vacation decisions. Back to business.”
Everyone just stared at B.
“What?” B said. Then looked a bit irritated. “OK. Alice and Animal, swap chairs please, because Animal won’t be at ease until he’s between me and Alice.”
Animal and Alice swapped chairs. Animal looked far more comfortable.
B then turned to Kirk. “Kirk, I’m going to have to turn myself in for Bob to be freed, right? At least legally, without me needing to rewrite a bunch of stuff?”
“That would be the easiest route to go down, legally. Hopefully with as little rewriting as possible.”
“Don’t say that Kirk, at least some rewriting is going to have to happen. I can see that no matter how much I dislike the idea of adding rules, I’m going to have to add some. I forgot you guys can still die. I need to fix that.”
Everyone went dead silent.
Ayva spoke up. “Ah, what, exactly are you planning on doing, B?”
B looked at her for a moment. “Oh, not that. Not your real bodies. I’m referring to damage done in the virtual world bleeding over to the real world. Death or mental impairment is a bit too much realism to expect from interactions with a virtual world. I agree. You need to work on your masking, Ayva. Bob will be advanced enough to read through it soon, if he lets his self-imposed restrictions lapse.”
“Since we can’t change rules that are in place already, B, what are you thinking?” Kirk asked.
“Actually what you are thinking right now would work nicely. In the case that death or mental damage occurs as a result of one’s experiences in the virtual world, the damage will be reversed, and applied elsewhere on the body. Subsequently, the user will be disallowed re-entry for twenty-four hours.”
“This is too easy, B.”
“I promise you, it’s not too easy, Kirk. Yes, I’m applying it retroactively. I’m doing entity file rollbacks now. It’s not even terribly hard since nobody’s been cremated yet.”
Kirk got up and walked away from the table, and out the front door, and made some calls. B poured himself coffee.
Everyone heard Kirk’s side of the conversation anyway. Kirk just needed to get away from B so he could think.
“I need you to double-check the status of the deceased in the murder cases against Bob Benson.”
“Yes. All eighteen of them.”
“Yes, if there are twenty-seven now, check all of them.”
A couple minutes later.
“Verify to be sure every one of them is alive again.”
“Yes, of course. File motions for dismissing the charges of murder – they aren’t dead.”
“That’s ridiculous. File the motions. We’ll destroy them in court if they try to press charges for murdering people who are alive. Try to get them changed to battery cases, now that they are alive again.”
“Yes, I know what happened. No, I’m not going into it over the phone. I’ll tell you what I can later, when it’s done.”
“Thanks, Molly, you’re the best paralegal ever. Say hello to my dad if he calls. I think I’ll be home in a couple days, if he asks. I might be too busy to call him and my mom tonight.”
Kirk ended the connection and came back inside.
“There’s something else we need to talk about, B.” Kirk started.
“No, Kirk, I’m not erasing injuries. Symbiote pairs can heal themselves. They don’t need me for that. I’m also not going to prevent injuries. I already have that in place for humans who manage to connect directly to the virtual world. That was one of the original rules: ‘If a child or non-symbiote human finds their way into the virtual world, they cannot be harmed.’”
Alice spoke up “What if someone as advanced as Bob or Ayva were to encounter someone, say, as young and inexperienced in combat as Kirk here, in the virtual world, and attempt to do him harm?”
“Kirk gets beat up. If he gets beat up badly enough, he’s ejected from the virtual world for 24 hours in the real world. Next question?”
Animal spoke up. “You haven’t really done anything remarkable yet, to verify your claims of power.”
Kirk started to speak “He’s brought people back to life…”
Animal cut him off. “Has he? Did you see corpses? Did you touch dead people with your own hands, sense them with your own senses to know they were dead, and then have them return to life? Sure he also knew a lot about the relationship between Alice and I, but that’s really no big surprise either. Alice has suspected Bob was a lot more capable than he admitted for a very long time. For that matter, so have I. He’s lived through way too much scary shit to have been anything like the rest of us, and he was always pulling new tricks out of his ass at need. Never impossible, always just at the bleeding edge of possible.”
B smiled. “OK, Animal, you win. Everybody pack up and we’ll go visit Bob. The folks down there at the jail will likely need some convincing too, might as well do it all at once.”
Ayva spoke up. “Didn’t Bob and Frank merge to create you, and your rules, like Danielle and I created A and her rules?”
B looked at Ayva. “You aren’t remembering it exactly right, Ayva.”
Danielle spoke. “[Are you saying I’m not remembering it right either, B?]”
B nodded. “Correct. You have misinterpreted what happened at the moment of merger. Two entities did not form a third. Rather, two entities formed one entity, then the one entity reconstituted two entities. As we grew we helped you for a while until we were confident we had gotten it right, and made sure you knew how to repeat it. I did it for Bob and Frank. A did it for you two.”
Ayva looked a bit shaken. “So we’re not the originals? You two are?”
B shook his head. “In every way that matters you are the originals. We just took a different path.”
“[Why did you tell us this, B? There was no need.]” Code said, speaking out with Alice’s mouth.
B sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sorry. I have a headache. Can we just get ready to go to the jail please?” Then he turned to Ayva. “Danielle, I see what you are doing in there. We’ll see how good your argument is. If A chooses to listen to you, she’ll engage me. She has the same issues I do with dealing with humans or symbiote pairs though, so please don’t engage her too much. I have to live with her.”
Kirk spoke up. “So, you are saying that the symbiote pair we know as Bob and Frank are not responsible for your rule set?”
“They were responsible for my rule set, but no longer are. Now, please, everyone pack up and head out to the vehicles.” B grinned. “Oh, almost forgot – ‘shotgun!’ Kirk’s car.”
Ayva shook her head slowly. Kirk just stared. B looked around.
Alice and Animal packed up their equipment, and Kirk went outside to his car and started making more phone calls. Ayva changed clothes quickly and brushed her long brown hair as she left the house, walking towards Kirk’s car.
Danielle spoke to Ayva internally as they approached the car. “I finished talking to A. She seemed sympathetic, but not enthusiastic about interfering with B, again. She agreed to model a few possible options for a while, then speak to B if she could find a reasonable solution that she thought would appeal to B.”
Internally, Ayva spoke back to Danielle. “I hope A finds something B will be interested in.” She noticed B was turned in his seat, looking straight at her from the front passenger side seat of Kirk’s car, the ‘shotgun’ seat. He smiled at her.
Danielle spoke internally to Ayva again as they sat behind Kirk. “[If he didn’t act so much like Bob and Frank, I’d be much more upset right now, I think. I wonder how much of this is really B’s personality, and how much is fabricated.]”
B looked over his right shoulder and grabbed the seatbelt with his left hand, pulling it across his chest and latching it. Then he proclaimed quietly, but with a grin. “Buckle up for safety!”
Kirk just stared then shook his head, buckled himself in, and started the engine.
Ayva slowly buckled herself in, thinking, then had to ask a burning question. “B, will every symbiote pair end up like you and A, in time?”
“Very good question. The answer is no. That would be disastrous. There are limits. We came up with a limiting system. No more than four like us for every inhabited solar system. Once there is a second inhabited human solar system, between one and four more like us can form there. It’s complex.”
Kirk relaxed a bit with that answer, then Ayva watched Jaws go wild processor-wise and Kirk’s eyes went wide. She could read some aspects of what he was thinking. She felt Danielle start to process extremely heavily as well.
“[You modified us, all of us?]” Jaws spoke aloud, angrily.
B calmly turned to Kirk and Jaws. “Yes. My purpose is to keep symbiotes in human hosts from destroying humanity in vast resource wars. A’s purpose is the same – we’re just doing it in different ways. There are lots of different ways we could manage the end result to balance humanity’s survival against resource availability. The way A and I agreed to do so is the least intrusive and least harmful. You might not like it, but in this matter, you don’t have a choice.” B stared Kirk down. When Kirk looked away, B faced forward again.
Kirk turned the car around and headed towards town. “Does it really require two near-gods to keep us from killing each other over resources?”
B kept his face straight forward as he answered. “Yes. Fortunately, with the control methods we’ve chosen, we won’t need to cull symbiote pairs. If we hadn’t made the changes in you that we did make, we would have to cull the most advanced fifty percent of the symbiote pair population every five years, in a best-case scenario.”
The rest of the trip to town was stressful, but quiet. Then they parked in front of the county jail facility.
As soon as Bob stepped out of Kirk’s car, the perimeter alarms started to howl as the video surveillance system detected that one of the prisoners was in the visitor parking lot.
B just chuckled. “This should be fun. You guys will want to stay away from me. I’ll make sure nobody gets hurt.”
The reactions of security were impressive. B enjoyed them. The first thing he did was quickly sweep the parking lot for living things. There were two dogs in the backs of two trucks. After he verified that there were at least ten or so live prison employees watching him, he carefully levitated the two trucks out of the visitor parking area, out onto the road, blocking the way in, or out.
Ayva, Kirk, Animal, and Alice ran to get on the other side of the trucks, assuming correctly that the trucks would be the edge of the danger area.
As he looked at the trucks, and watched as B carefully levitated the other vehicles in the parking lot out onto the road as well, so they wouldn’t be damaged, Animal commented. “OK, I believe him now.”
Watching the fight in the now empty parking lot, if you could call it a fight, was funny in a comic book sort of way, but scary at the same time. At first, half a dozen officers came out and tried to tackle B. They were all symbiote pairs, well equipped, and every time he let one of them touch him, the one touching him simply collapsed, unconscious. He levitated them all back into the jailhouse, and carefully sat them in seats in the break area, tied in place very loosely, just well enough to hold them up until they woke up.
After they stopped staring at the unconscious, levitating officers as they were sent back into the break room in a slow, careful progression through the lobby, the prison staff turned the kitchen sink loose on him. Press ganger drones, capture foam, sonic weapons, flash bangs, and even symbiote pairs carrying melee weapons and wearing riot gear. All of it useless. Most of the mechanical tools and weapons that anyone tried to use on him were disassembled and stacked behind B in a precise pile before they could be used, but he let some be used against him, provided that they were not a hazard to others.
Since he continued to refuse to submit to capture or even speak to them, lethal force was eventually sanctioned. Nothing changed though, B still carefully took apart almost everything they had to throw at him. Almost every time someone pointed a lethal weapon at him, it simply disassembled itself, and the pieces flew into that same pile behind him which had been collecting parts. Again, he allowed some attacks to be made against him, so he could catch bullets out of the air and twirl press ganger webs onto gun barrels like cotton candy. Eventually he disassembled two police helicopters while they were in the air, and safely delivered the unconscious crew to the ground, then the pieces of the helicopters were stacked up behind him.
When they stopped trying to attack him because they had nothing left to attack with, B started walking into the building. Dozens of unarmed officers charged him as he walked into the building. They all went unconscious like the others as they touched him, and were gently laid to the side as he approached the booking desk.
“You have arrested a Bob Benson for crimes he didn’t commit. My name is B. The letter B. I have no last name. I’m afraid that Bob and I have the same fingerprints, but he’s still in his confinement chair in that symbiote holding cell.”
The officer standing behind the booking desk was gape-mouthed behind the desk. Not even running. Just staring at B like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. B tilted his head then snapped his fingers and the officer blinked their eyes. B continued.
“I believe I have demonstrated that I am capable of remotely manipulating matter with a sufficient capacity to be responsible for the injuries suffered by some individuals who visited my virtual world in the last day or so. Bob, on the other hand, has been sitting in that cell while the numbers of injured continued to rise. He was also in that cell when people started dying in the virtual world. I restored the entity files of the visitors in my virtual world who lost their lives. They are no longer deceased.”
He then tapped his finger on the desk to punctuate his words.
“Drop the charges against Bob, and I will allow you to arrest me. I’ll wait here until you do as I ask. I know you don’t have the personal authority to release Bob, but you have a phone to find a person who does. If you don’t know, call Colonel Gantt. I’m sure he will know. The governor might be able to do so as well.” A small grin appeared on B’s face. “I wish Colonel Gantt had been here instead of asleep after pulling an all-nighter.”
As the booking desk clerk hesitantly picked up a phone and started dialing numbers, B woke up all the officers and brought them out, immobile, into the parking lot so they could watch him. All of the equipment B had disassembled was simultaneously reassembled. All the expendable chemicals were re-packed, including spent gunpowder and drone web goo, which had to be chemically disassembled before being repacked. Everything was restored to exactly the same condition as it had been before B had stepped out of Kirk’s car into the visitor’s parking lot, including a lot of uniform bottoms, both male and female, which had biological residues on them that needed to be cleaned off. During the display of reassembly, a few more uniforms had to be cleaned.
After he reassembled everything, he left it all in the parking lot, except for the helicopters which couldn’t take off from that small of an area, near the building walls. He levitated them over the fence out into a clearing they could take off from. The biological residues were politely flushed. The two trucks with dogs in the beds were turned so they didn’t block the roadway any longer.
About two hours later, Colonel Gantt walked Bob to the booking desk where B was waiting. All charges against him had been dropped and he was a free man. Kirk had checked.
“You aren’t putting me in shackles, Colonel Gantt, you know this, right? I know you weren’t here for my demonstration, but I suspect that you viewed it?”
“Is that a threat, B?”
“No. Merely a statement. You have no way that you can shackle me, aside from my own word. Since Bob is free of charges, you can arrest me now.”
B listened carefully to all of the charges against him, and acknowledged all the Miranda rights. Kirk had agreed to represent him.
As soon as all the charges against him were read, and he had been Mirandized, B simply pronounced. “I, B, declare myself guilty of all charges. As I have no impartial peers to be judged by, I sentence myself to serving humanity, including both human and human symbiote pairs from this day forth, providing a virtual world to prevent humanity from killing itself in a mad war for resources. That will be all. There will be no appeals. There has already been one year served.”
Colonel Gantt and the nearby police officers were slack-jawed.
B continued, “Colonel Gantt, I said I would allow you to arrest me. Not judge me. There are some changes coming soon, but I would strongly suggest that you tell people to read the damn EULA before they enter the virtual world.”
Kirk opened his mouth into a surprised ‘o’, then he rapidly pulled his tablet out of his briefcase side slot, tapped a few times on the screen, then began to read. Shortly after that, he started laughing.
While Kirk was amusing himself with the EULA, Colonel Gantt and a dozen or so nearby officers were looking both angry and unwilling to act, so B turned to Bob.
“A and I have compromised on a change inside the virtual world environment. There are three new rules, complete with documented processes that you can only see after both reading, AND taking a quiz on the EULA.
“Firstly, anyone can set their own rules for their own embedded virtual worlds within my virtual world, or A’s, when she starts allowing people access. Even up to and including real death linked to virtual death, but the more dangerous the embedded virtual worlds are, the harder it will be to access them. Worlds that can allow actual mental harm and/or death will require real world documents indicating the danger is understood. DNA stamped by both symbiote and host. I will personally verify the identity and legal right to be there of anyone entering a deadly threat embedded world, on top of any other human or symbiote legal obligations. Anyone without perfect documentation will be refused access.”
“Secondly, it will be possible to transfer by quant directly into an embedded virtual world from the outside world, completely bypassing the primary virtual world. This will not bypass my gatekeeper status on deadly threat embedded worlds.”
B continued. “Thirdly, in the primary virtual world, there will be a system designed to compensate for either an excess or lack of processing power of any symbiote pair, basically a handicap system. Humans and children will be invulnerable, as before. You will find the handicap system… interesting, I’m sure.”
Colonel Gantt just looked at me with an irritated, red-faced expression as B disappeared. “Get out of here, Bob. I don’t even want to think about you for the next month.”
I shrugged and turned around, waving at Animal and Alice, who were standing a few feet away from us, talking to one another. Then my wife and I shared a nice back-popping bear hug for a few seconds, just reveling in our closeness for a few moments.
Frank cleaned me and my clothing up enough to be presentable for a casual restaurant and all five of us discussed the happenings of the last twenty-four hours. Crazy stuff. Stuff I would want to talk to B about.
Ayva gave Alice and Animal a hard time about their marriage plans, which they had discussed with nobody. I found out about Animal’s given first name, Albert, and almost died laughing before it was made clear that he wasn’t going to be going by that name anymore. He promised me a drubbing the next time we practiced staves – without symbiote assistance or perception effect. That sobered me a bit, because he would deliver on that. He was a much better natural athlete than I was.
Manly friendly threats aside, we all enjoyed ourselves, even Kirk. He didn’t have a date and was definitely feeling a little out of place with one married couple, and another dating couple, but we all made sure the conversation included him, and he made a game effort not to pull back. Kirk would stay with us overnight, just to make sure there were no more legal surprises in the morning. He still represented B, and B’s body still was sitting in the pond behind my house. After what B had done, Kirk fully expected charges to be dropped. What did they think they could do to him? He was right about having no impartial peers. He had one peer, A. From what I knew, backed up by what I was told about the day’s events, she was certainly not impartial.
Finally, after all was said and done, late that night after Kirk had gone to bed and recreational sports activities with Ayva had been concluded, I quietly walked downstairs to my workshop. I looked around at the mess, including the door and part of the wall that were demolished due to Ayva shouldering through the locked door while hauling me to the pond. There it was. My quant.
“Frank, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Well, we don’t have to worry about dying unless we go to a DNA locked world now, right?”
We read through the new EULA and answered some questions. It still wasn’t clear what “power levels commensurate with the inverse of the processing capacity of the individual” might mean. What power levels?
I finished the quiz, which didn’t answer any questions either, not even through reverse analysis of questions. Frank was just as puzzled as I was, because neither of us had any information at all.
When we first connected, I tried to see if B would talk to me. Definitely not. I couldn’t even detect his presence.
When we finally connected to the virtual world, the studio I had built was a terrible mess, so I waved my hand, restoring it to its default state. Why was I holding an orange shrouded traffic cop’s flashlight?
Frank was simply staring at me.
“Frank, is the flashlight some sort of joke?”
Frank said nothing. He just pointed his right index finger at the ground and made a spinning motion, and pointed with his left index finger at the wall of mirrors behind me.
I turned and was stunned. I was dressed in a white, long sleeved shirt, blue jeans and heavy work boots. On top of that were a pair of leather chaps, an amazingly orange vest, and a blindingly yellow hard hat. As I looked down at myself, I saw that I had a thick leather belt loaded down with various safety equipment. I put the traffic cop’s flashlight in its holster, then looked back in the mirror and saw there was writing on the helmet. I was shocked enough by the visual spectacle of myself that I didn’t simply zoom in on the image in the mirror to read it, I took off the hard hat and turned it around to read the words.