Chapter 4.13: The Dead

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I briefly discussed plans with Kirk.  Ayva and I would be spending a few days up near Williston, renting a room somewhere nearby.  Exact dates unknown, but we’d be up there long enough to spend some time with his parents and him, as well as any side expeditions we might make.  Kirk was extremely clear that he was not going to be joining us in any real world expeditions, but he was also very clear that he was our go-to guy for any heavy work we needed done in the main virtual world.  In the virtual world, his regeneration and area effect entanglement abilities synched extremely well with Jaws’ ability to create up to three duplicate selves, and choose at any time for any of the four bodies to be real, while the other three were near-real illusion that would fool most symbiotes.  Apparently Kirk and Jaws as a pair were so far unbeaten, even when they fought two humans and two symbiotes.  His law firm was even allowing him on the clock time to hone his skills, because every now and then, they needed to send a symbiote representative to an embedded world, where humans couldn’t go.

“Do they actually track wins and losses?” I asked.

Kirk just stared at me for a second, then answered.  “Yes.  Let me show you.”

It wasn’t that hard, I had just never bothered to look for it, because it wasn’t my intention to do a lot of fighting of other people in the virtual world.  While there were certainly some ways that fighting certainly did matter, for the most part, the fighting that took place in the main virtual world was mostly thrill seekers.  The more benevolent ones adopted human communities to protect, while the less benevolent ones were more or less fringe predators.  Every now and then larger groups of one type or the other would form.  Typically, humans without symbiotes just hit the reset buttons on their personal little corners of the virtual world if damage occurred.  If the symbiote pairs fighting each other or doing random damage got too annoying, whole communities of humans would gather to take matters into their own hands.  The ‘neighborhood watch’ groups would grab claymores, coilguns, or other fairly simple to operate weapons of choice from a menu of weapons that was easily accessible within their private areas.  The community protection groups would gather in mobs to beat down the problems, or at least chase them away.  This behavior of massed low skill, invulnerable fighters with big weapons was called ‘zerging’ by the people who were frequently the targets of the groups, but ‘common sense’ by everyone else.  For the most part though, the human communities were happier to allow the benevolent thrill seekers to police their areas.  Being invulnerable, most of the humans would actually come out and watch the fights.

Kirk wasn’t exaggerating about his prowess.  The only time he hadn’t won a fight was when he’d forced a draw with a six man team long enough for help to arrive.  He wasn’t ranked in the top ten, but he was in the top fifty.  He’d always had an exacting eye and better hand-eye coordination than any other non-symbiote I’d ever met.  It translated well.

Frank was digging through submenus and different options rapidly on the pull-up interface, then after a couple seconds simply said “Thanks by the way, you two.”

Kirk looked at Frank for a second, deadpan, then grinned.  “Jaws told me you wouldn’t miss it, Frank, not after we showed you the ranking system and what it linked to.”

I was looking confused and looking at the various options on the ranking system.  Frank grinned.  “Our Win-Loss ratio was read by an unknown user two hours ago.  Ten seconds later, Shocker’s and Chess’s Win-Loss ratio was read by an unknown user.  Then all the other opponents Shocker and Chess had faced, both wins and losses were in turn checked for their Win-Loss ratios.  Match records were accessed.  Then a series of public board inquiries to see if Shocker and Chess had been seen recently, and where.  Thirty minutes later, Tangler and Lifelike defeated Shocker and Chess in a thirty-seven second engagement.”

“Most of the humans we have beaten really don’t understand that they have to fight like its real, not a game.  The good ones understand that.  The symbiotes all understand it, but the symbiotes always have the weaker powers, since they have so much more processing power.  I always go after the human half first if possible.  The symbiote will generally flee after their human is taken out, unless they are part of a team larger than just them and their human.”  He looked at me.  “Hint.  Remember what I said if you need to fight in here and it matters.”

“Thanks for the tips, Kirk.” And I really was grateful. “And thanks for kicking a little ass for us.  Frank, how goes those bike plans?”

“Finished, I think.”  Frank waved his hand, and a very strange looking bike appeared before us.  Almost entirely carbon fiber except for a few places where flexibility greater than carbon fiber was needed.  I picked it up with one hand.  It weighed about thirty pounds.  The engine was fully electrical, directly connected to the rear axle, powered by a series of superconducting capacitors under the seat of the bike.

Jaws looked up at it, briefly, then back to his pull-up interface.  “You’re using those superconductors that nobody else can create, I see.”

“It will take us a huge amount of power to create the bike in the real world though.  Reprogramming matter is energy expensive.”

I knew I had put my foot in my mouth when Kirk, Jaws, and Frank all looked at one another, as if to say “did he really say that” then looked back to me.

Frank spoke.  “Bob.  If we were to create, say, ten superconducting capacitors and embed them inside our body, they would appear here with us, correct?”

“Of course.” I replied.

“If you charged them in here, what would happen to them in the real world?”

I slapped my forehead “I had never considered that as a valid method for generating power for use in the outside world.”

Jaws spoke again without looking up.  “Without your superconductors, it’s still possible to generate power here, but far less efficient.  People are creating normal superconductors and insulating them within their bodies and using them to transfer power.  Some people are already simply using B’s virtual world as a power source, rather than as a place for storing and manipulating data.  Something about B proving himself to be an independent being, rather than a machine made a bunch of large companies and governments unhappy.  Embedded worlds are still critical for large scale construction studies and environmental studies though.”

I scratched my head while I thought about it.  “Makes sense to me.”

“How did you create all this and not understand it, Bob?” Kirk asked.

“That’s a funny question.  You know B is no longer me.  You talked to him face to face in the real world.  He’s grown a lot since Frank and I created him.  What he has built in here is almost entirely his doing, not mine.  I don’t have much use for the virtual world other than my private area, and the occasional temporary embedded world inside my private area.  It’s a matter of perspective.  Remember that I’m old enough to remember a world without personal computers or the internet.  A lot of solutions that seem obvious and straightforward to you, I don’t even think about.  Literally, I don’t even imagine them.  I’m comfortable here, but I’m not a ‘native’.”  I tried to change the topic.  “What are you devoting that much effort to over there, Jaws?”

“Planning our return route, using conflict density charts.  No need to fight if we don’t have a reason to.”  He looked over at Frank, who was quickly cycling through his pull-up interface, nodding and scanning rapidly.

Frank said “Got it.  Handy tool.  I need to spend a lot more time looking at all the information interfaces here.”

“There is documentation on the real internet too, for symbiotes whose humans are too busy in the real world to allow extended learning time in the virtual world.”  Jaws replied.

“I’ll definitely look for them, Jaws.  Thank you.” Frank replied.

I politely indicated I was closing the embedded world, and everyone left, leaving us in my studio, where Kirk indicated he needed to be leaving.  We shook hands.  Then I realized something.  “It took you less than two hours to get here?  How?  It’s a six hour trip by car.  You didn’t say anything about a movement power.”

“It’s sort of built in.  I make myself into something like a giant tumbleweed, Jaws gets inside and I use my tendril limbs to reach out and latch onto things to accelerate myself.  Regeneration takes care of damage caused to myself as I roll.  It’s not terribly comfortable, but I can move at almost two hundred miles per hour over moderately flat terrain, like roads, provided I can grip the surfaces I’m passing over.  I tend to stay off roads.  Too hard to grip them right.  This typically means I take routes which are safer as well, since most people without real movement powers tend to use the road network.”  He shrugged, then grinned as he continued.  “It’s kind of fun moving around that way.  I’m pretty darn good at judging how to move myself in tumbleweed shape.  The pool-playing days certainly paid off in that respect.  I can even carry others with me, provided they are not claustrophobic, and can turn off their inner ear.  Even invulnerable humans can’t deal with it though.  Apparently, their inner ears still report “real” movement even if perception based powers don’t work on them.”

I smiled.  “I want to watch you roll off then, before I log out.”

“Sure thing.  Jaws you got us a route and activity tracking set up?” Kirk asked.

“Ready to go, Kirk.”

“OK, Bob, we’ll head out then.”  He shook my hand again, then they walked outside.  Frank and I stood in the doorway and watched as Kirk and Jaws left.  Kirk rapidly grew to what would be almost thirty feet tall if he stood upright, but he walked in a hunched over pose on all fours with bent elbows and knees that looked deceptively slow, and left him closer to twenty feet tall at his tallest point.  At the same time, Jaws barely changed at all, simply growing strings from each of his major joints, which collected onto a pair of marionette controllers that suspended themselves above his head.  As he moved, the controllers moved, like he was being controlled by them.  I wanted to see him do acrobatics and forward rolls but figured the costume would cheat somehow.

Kirk stopped about twenty feet away from my door and Jaws walked underneath him, then Kirk rolled himself into a ball, gathering Jaws inside.  Hundreds of tendrils extended to the front and back of the giant ball of trees that was Kirk, in an hourglass pattern, pushing from behind, pulling from the front, and Kirk sped up fairly rapidly to about the speed of a car on the road, leaving bits and pieces of smaller branches and a scatter of leaves behind him.  I would have to ask him later if he really changed shape into that in the real world, if so, that would have to be a complete pain in the ass, but it might also be pretty damn useful, if he could maintain the shape and return his intelligence to it.  It didn’t look like a costume, but it probably behaved like one, somehow.  I could not see B allowing such a huge flaw as to allow people to transfer powers into the real world through transformation.

I just shook my head as I closed my door, then returned to the real world to speak with Ayva.  A couple hours had passed, and she had collected all the materials from the exploded walls out of the yard and the house.  She had also sorted them in the dining room, since there was no table in the room, and it was one of the two holes out of the building.

I walked into the dining room where she was getting off the phone, and waited for her to finish her conversation.

“That’s right.  The two dirt bikes from Moto Specialties, the thirty-six inch standard height external security door, and four replacement windows from House Plus.  They all come to my address.  The bikes will be ready in one hour, with all fluids drained into sealed containers that you should be able to ship without risk of spillage.  The windows and door are ready now.”  She listened for a moment.  “Yes, that sounds like a good price for two hour delivery.  Call me if either business gives you a problem.  They already know to expect you with the code key I provided earlier as authorization for pickup.”

“Been busy, have we, Ayva?  All that’s left is getting the replacement windows and door, then putting it all back together?”

“Yes to both.  I’ve also ordered you a replacement bike, same as what you had, and a second one for me, so I can keep up.  I called a local tow truck driver and paid a premium to have all of it delivered at once, ASAP.”

“Looks like I’ll be helping you put the house back together then.”  I couldn’t resist playing with Ayva a little bit.

She just looked at me with an irritated glint in her eye, obviously annoyed that I was suggesting not letting her do it herself like she had asked. “OK.”

I sighed.  She was not in the mood to be played with at all. “Ayva, Kirk knew one of the scents.  It wasn’t a client of his so he could discuss what he knew.”

Ayva was untying her carpenter apron before I finished the sentence, and pulling out her phone, presumably to call the people who would deliver parts.

“Wait Ayva.  Not so fast.  The guy died over six months ago.  He used to work for Bill, but died in a car wreck.  Fellow named Charlie.  Kirk didn’t know his last name.  The name was probably fake anyway, knowing Bill’s employees.”

She stopped moving.  Danielle’s processor activity had spiked before, when I mentioned Kirk knowing the scent, but when I mentioned that the scent belonged to a dead person, it spiked higher.

After a second she spoke.  “What’s the plan then?  Visit Bill and see if we can generate leads on the scent match there?  Try to meet people and go to places where this Charlie person went, to see if we can match up more scents, with live people?”

“Yes, and yes.” I agreed.  “But we’ll also be staying up there a few days I think.  Bill mentioned in an email last week that he wanted to go on a fishing trip with me, and you know that fishing trips with Bill typically end up being something important that he wants to talk about over a few beers in the boat while we pretend to fish.  I’m almost certain that it’s got something to do with taking on a symbiote, whether it’s him, his wife, or hopefully both of them.  It might be that either he or she needs some more questions answered, or concerns addressed.  Bill has always been especially concerned that he would lose some of his ability to ‘read’ people if he had someone else in his head.  That’s a skill that he really counts on.”

“I see.  When were you planning on bringing this up?  Seeing that I’m the only one of the two of us who can give other people symbiotes, I’d think that I would be brought into the planning a bit earlier.”

Thin ice here. “Bill wasn’t pushing for a time, just sometime within the next month or so.  I was looking at both of our schedules and trying to figure out when it could happen before I talked with you.”

“That would have taken Frank less than a second, and you less than five.” She put her right hand on her hip, staring at me, her head tilted a bit to her right.  Her left hand was simply hanging, holding the phone.

“I was, umm, distracted four days ago when I was planning on talking to you about it.  If you remember what happened four nights ago?”

She blushed cherry red.  I smiled broadly.  I was normally the more aggressive one when it came to initiating sex, but that night it had been the other way around.  She had sent me a message in the virtual world saying she wanted to show me something outside in the real world, then came down to my workroom as I disconnected from my quant.  She took me to a new grove of bushes she had recently planted, and when we got close, she said “Frank, it’s not real.”  Before I comprehended what was happening I had been thrown bodily into a pile of finely ground mulch in the center of the horseshoe of bushes, then tackled.  After the first couple seconds of panic while I was trying to figure out what the hell I had done to make her mad, I was fully onboard for the outdoor adventure, of course.  Sharp objects were threatened, so I was a good boy and removed my clothing.

She cleared her throat. “Ah, yes, I do remember that night.”  Then she laughed.  “OK, Bob, you’re off the hook.”

“For the whole night?”  I asked, fishing for another laugh.

I got the laugh.  “For everything except the comment about ‘Never turning down more bush from my wife.’ I’m still thinking about how to punish you for that terrible joke.”

“Good.” I said. “If you start growing herbs, maybe we can add some more spice to our love life too.”  I tried to deadpan it, but my mouth twitched.

Ayva slowly set the phone down on the counter.  “Danielle, seal the front and back holes in the house with the biofactory halves again please, and warn me when one hour has passed.”  Then she smiled.  “I seem to have heard something of a challenge there, Bob.”

“Ah, I’m not sure where you got that idea.  Trying to insinuate that sex with you might be boring would be a sure way for me to be inviting trouble.”  I pretended to be nervous and look back and forth like I wanted to find a path to escape.

Ayva stripped off her shirt, she had been braless around the house. “By the time all my clothes are off, all yours better be too.  And you’re handicapped, because you have to walk backwards to the bedroom, while you see these before you.”  She cradled her small, but full breasts, one in each hand.  “You also have more clothes on than I do right now.”  She removed her right hand from her right breast and poked me in the chest, hard, pushing me back towards the bedroom.  “Frank, don’t help him.  He needs to do this all by himself.”

I managed to make it back to the bedroom while only falling once, helped along by my wife, who pushed on my chest again while I was trying to take off my jeans while walking backwards.  As for the clothes count, she got down to one sock before I did.  By the time we got back to the bedroom, we forgot about our last socks.

Danielle and Frank let us know when an hour had passed, and we got cleaned up.  Danielle and Frank can surely clean us up fine, but washing each other in the shower is more fun every now and then, and it had been a while.  By the time we finished the shower, collected all the clothes from where we had dropped them, then put them back on, we only had a few minutes to wait before the delivery of bikes, fluids, windows, and doors.  I made coffee.

As we sat there, relaxed, both of us lost in our own thoughts, Frank spoke out loud.  “[Danielle, I believe we have just been witness to history repeating itself.]”

Ayva and I both looked at each other, I spoke. “What do you mean?”

Danielle spoke. “[Bill.]”

Ayva and I both looked at each other, and laughed for a full thirty seconds.  Every time one of us would look at the other, we both started to laugh again.

“I’ll go rent a room in a hotel up near Williston for a week, starting tomorrow if possible, OK, Ayva?”

She thought a second.  “I’ll move things in my schedule around a bit.  The only things I can’t shift are simple updates, which I can schedule and ask Danielle to provide at the appropriate time, with an apology that I am not available for a direct conference.  I’ll provide a cell number for emergency contact too, but I haven’t had an emergency that was work related since I started doing research.”

I nodded.  “OK, I’ll go set it up.  When the stuff gets here, call me and I’ll help move it.  I’ll need to prep the bikes too.”

Ayva nodded as I tossed back what was left of my coffee and walked back to my workshop.  I didn’t need to connect to the quant, I just grabbed my tablet and quickly did a hotel search for a week stay in the Williston area.  The cheapest rooms in places that were not dumps were highway robbery, pure and simple, but apparently the rooms sold at that price, or the hotels wouldn’t try to sell them at that price.  I arranged a nonreturnable payment, and paid for today as well as the next week.  We showed, or not, the hotel got the payment.  In return, I was guaranteed a room. Period.  Not subject to overbooking.

Money wasn’t a real issue with the fees that B generated, and the extremely low cost of providing for him.  We weren’t going to buy any Italian sport cars or yachts, but we had a substantial chunk of money stashed away.  Enough that working was an option, provided that inflation didn’t go nuts, like it had threatened to do a few times as the world adjusted to the new reality of symbiotes.  Ayva and I both expected the economy to go straight to crap eventually, at least once, so we were heavily diversified.

While my thoughts were wandering, there was a knock on the side of the house where the front door used to be, next to the organic wall of the biofactory.

I expected it to be the delivery, so I verified that I had received an email receipt, turned off the tablet, put the device in its charger, and then headed up go help with the delivery.

It wasn’t the delivery.  As I walked up, Ayva had commanded the biofactory at the front door to remove itself from the hole and move to the side.  Detective Connolly was speaking to Ayva, then he saw me.

“Excuse me, Ayva, it’s a pleasure to speak to you, but I need to speak to Bob about something.”

“Sure, Detective, I see my delivery coming anyway, I think, there are headlights and truck noises coming up the driveway.  Will you keep Bob long?  I’m going to want his help moving things around.”

“Won’t be long at all, Ayva.” The Detective promised.

“How can I help you, Detective Connolly?  And does this need to be private?  If so, we’re going to have to do more than just wait for Ayva to walk a few feet away.”

“No real need for privacy here.  I doubt Ayva had anything to do with this.  I got your email, and the station has gotten a couple of calls in response to your job board posting.”  He sounded a bit stressed.

“Good.  That’s what I was hoping would happen.  Why come all the way up here to thank me?  Or were you coming up for another look at the crime scene too?  You sound a bit stressed, is the data strange in some way?”

He just stared at me for a second, then spoke.  “I’m going to ignore the questions and just tell you why I’m here.  Firstly, don’t ever mess with an investigation that way again.  I know damn well that you were thinking ‘better to seek forgiveness than permission’ because that logic has found its way into a lot of your decisions over the years when you were doing things that people in positions of authority would have certainly objected to.  Do not go all vigilante and shit, or I will put you back in jail.  From my take on B’s actions last time, he almost certainly would not work to free you again.  He was very clearly indicating you were not guilty, because it was his fault, last time.  That won’t hold true this time.”  He paused.  “Frank, tell me if you think I am correct about B’s likely reaction?”

“[You are almost certainly correct, Detective Connolly.]”

I shook my head and looked him straight in the eyes with a bit of heat.  “You said yourself that there was no official system in place for tracking scent data or using it like fingerprints, detective.  I’m not going to apologize for doing it, nor admit that it was something I should not have done.”

Detective Connolly met my stare, and did not back down one inch.  “The only reason you aren’t going down to the jail right now, Mr. Benson, is because your wife was the victim of a serious crime, a crime that caused her a great deal of mental distress.  I understand that.  The other people in my chain of command understand that.  You get one pass.  If you have any other clever ideas about how to handle this case, you send those ideas to me and get a response from me, specifically addressing those ideas before you take any action on them.”

I nodded.  I didn’t trust myself to speak, because I was that angry.

Detective Connolly certainly understood the ‘pissed off and not speaking’ look because he softened his tone a bit before continuing.  “We understand that you and Frank operate on an extremely high level even compared to most symbiotes, but you do NOT understand all the reasons why things happen the way they do in police work.  Some of it is stupid crap that everyone agrees needs changing, but nobody can agree to a solution for.  Some of it makes sense to everyone.  A large part of it makes sense, but only if you know how it all fits together.  One of the most complex processes we have in law enforcement is how to create new processes.  That buffoonery you put on the job board was an example of something that will piss off the people who assess the need for creating new processes.  It was NOT police work.  It was based on an untrue statement about being related to identity theft.  It was public distribution of private data to the world.  DNA and fingerprint data is not distributed to the world at large.  Scent data, if used in an organized fashion, will certainly be the same.  Private.  Except when part of someone’s official government or perhaps employment record.”

He was right about the whole police thing.  Based on how he reacted, I bet Kirk didn’t pass the scent data to other lawyers either, knowing I’d get this speech from the police.  I turned my head a bit and blew out the breath I had been holding, while shaking my head a bit.  Doing that seemed to help me drop the anger down to merely frustration levels.  “Sorry, Detective, I was a bit of a loose cannon there.  I apologize.  I won’t do it again.”

“Bob, we will find them.  I promise.  Just let us do it our way.  If you have ideas, we want to hear about them before you take action.  Please.  You don’t have to take the ad down, we already had it removed, since it was interfering with an investigation.”

I nodded.  “Ayva’s looking at me.  Are we done?”

Detective Connolly turned and looked over towards Ayva.

Ayva, in turn, was looking at us, highlighted in the headlights of the truck, handing a sheet of paper back to one of the three people that came with the truck.

“I’m done here, Bob.  Sorry I had to come down so hard on you, but I have it on good authority that you don’t respond very well to subtlety.”

“I imagine that came from a guy whose name starts with ‘Colonel’ and ends with ‘Gantt’ and has a ‘Jim’ in the middle.  He’s got a good track record of understanding me.”  I motioned for him to join me walking back to his car, which was blocked in by the truck.  I commanded both biofactories to rejoin into a single unit and follow behind us.  We’d want the truck unloaded as soon as possible, so the detective could leave.

Detective Connolly nodded and chuckled. “Yes.  He dropped a seven thousand page DVD of your official record on my desk yesterday, then he and Samwise told me and Xerxes all we needed to know about you in about ten minutes.”

“Wish I had been a fly on the wall for that.” I grinned.

“Jim’s got a lot of respect for you, counterbalanced by a huge amount of frustration with you.” He commented, watching me.

“Yeah, I get that a lot from people in positions of authority.”  I shook my head a bit.  “Never really been able to understand bureaucratic bullshit.  Sorry.”

Detective Connolly laughed out loud at that.  “That was a large part of the discussion I had with Jim, yes.” He chuckled a bit after that. “Oh, I did check with the forensics teams.  We’re done with your back yard.  There will probably be people in the woods for the next couple days, looking for evidence, but we’re done with the taped off areas.”

I nodded, and connected my carbon fiber muscles.  The delivery team had taken the door and windows off to the side of the driveway and set them on a tarp.  They had also removed a few liquid containers and set them to the side as well.  Fluids for the bike if I was smelling the contents, rather than smells from the bikes or the truck.  I commanded the biofactory to collect the doors and windows, and take them to the house.

The delivery had been made on a flatbed tow truck with a bike rack chained to the bed behind the cab.  The bikes were chained to the bike rack, but those chains were getting removed now.  None of the three making the delivery were symbiotes.  No processor activity.

“I’ve got the bikes guys.” I said.  Some people have called it showboating, but I have always considered it propaganda.  When provided an opportunity to demonstrate casual strength or skill to small groups of people without symbiotes, I’ve frequently found myself able to coax people into asking the questions that help them understand symbiotes a bit better.  Ayva will never let someone request a symbiote for at least twenty-four hours after speaking with either of us, but I have a pretty good track record of convincing people without religious convictions that their fears about symbiotes are groundless.

The lead man of the crew looked at me, all five foot six of me.  He’d guess around one hundred forty pounds, and be twenty pounds heavy because my bones are carbon nanotube, graphene, and spider silk, not calcium.  Looking at me, you could tell I was strong, my muscles were not difficult to pick out since I typically wore fairly tight T-shirts without patterns.

He thought for a couple seconds as he watched me walk up to the truck.  “Insurance says I unload it.”

“Did my wife already sign for the delivery?”


“Then you unloaded it already, I guess.  Detective over there will surely stand up for you if I muck something up, is that right, Detective?”

“Sure, Bob.  Go ahead and show off.” Detective Connolly stopped and watched from a few yards away, as he waited for his turn to leave, grinning.

The lead man backed away and raised his hands a bit, lifting his palms in the time-honored “hands-off” or “you win” motion.  Then he backed his two helpers away and they all climbed off the truck to watch me.

I did an eight or so foot vertical leap onto the back of the truck, then walked between the two bikes, leaned over, and carefully got a grip on each chassis, then stood up, one bike under each arm.  One of the guys had his smartphone out, with the camera turned towards me.  I grinned right at it.  Then I shrugged a couple times to make sure I had the centers of gravity of the bikes where they needed to be for my own balance, then tightened my arms and hands and hopped off the side of the truck, far enough to clear the truck bed.

Ayva coughed.  My feet had sunk a couple inches into the lawn by the side of the driveway.

I looked down then back up with a guilty look on my face.  “Sorry about the holes, Ayva.”

She just nodded.

I didn’t put the bikes down.  I walked them into the garage without letting their wheels touch the ground, then set them down.  Engaging the kickstand of the one on my right, then continuing to hold the bike on my left upright as I walked to the other side of it and engaged that kickstand.

When I turned back to the driveway, the three guys were watching the video again.  The one who had thought to record it with his phone asked if I minded if I TheTubed it.

“No problem, but I’d like to record a little blurb at the end if that’s OK?”

He looked at his phone “I have plenty of memory left, sure, go ahead.”  He held up the phone, then a couple seconds later, nodded, which I took to mean I should start.

“No video editing or funny games with Styrofoam there folks.  I just like to show some of the simpler things that a mature symbiote can let you do.  It’ll take a couple years after synergy, at least, before a new symbiote pair can do that.  But you’ll have a lot of years to learn.  Frank and I have been in synergy for seven years now.  Every country has symbiotes now, but if you can’t find one to talk to, you can find me in the virtual world at BobandFrank.  All one word.  The first B in Bob and the F in Frank are capitalized.  Send us an email with your nationality and city, and I’ll find someone to speak with you.  Well, Frank will, he reads emails a lot faster than me.”  I grinned, stopped moving, than after a second said “Done.”

The recording guy wanted to ask me questions.  I had to politely turn him down.

“You are blocking in a police detective, and my wife and I would like to finish installing these windows and the door tonight.  We also need to get the bikes prepped for a trip, then get some sleep tonight.  We’ll be gone for about a week.  If you have questions, we’ll happily answer them by email, we check email several times per day.  If you want to stop by some time and talk in person, that’s fine too, but it will be at least a week before that can happen.  Email answer will come tomorrow if sent tonight.”

The two helpers nodded.  The older one gave me a bit of a hard look.  Then I noticed a family resemblance.  The two young men were either his sons or younger close relatives, maybe cousins or nephews.  I looked at him.  “If they aren’t eighteen yet, it won’t happen.  If they are, and you want to talk to me too, so you can better talk to them, I’ll answer your questions too.  Either email or in person.  I won’t talk all the rosy rainbows and ponies shit either.  It’s got a few downsides.  I don’t do religious arguments though.  That’s between you and your church, if you are churchgoers.”

He looked at me for a second. “I can live with that.  My sons are good boys, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested myself since I’m getting into the middle age years and the bones are starting to hurt when I do heavy lifting.  Just a bit scary, the whole having another person in my head thing.”

“Yeah, that’s a down side.  Frank has commented on it himself from time to time that there is a downside to being in my head with me.”  I smiled, and he grinned back.  “Symbiotes and their hosts get to know each other very well long before direct mind to mind communications are possible.  Even now, Frank can’t understand exactly what I’m thinking, though he’s extremely good at knowing what I will actually do.”  I paused.  “We’re keeping the detective and my wife waiting though, so I really do need to chase you guys off, politely.  Please be sure your chains and the bike rack are stowed properly, since I interrupted your unloading.”

He nodded. “OK.  We’ll be in touch, Bob.  Jamar, Dale check the chains and bike rack.  Jamar grab a flashlight and guide me back when everything’s stowed.”

Detective Connolly was sitting in his car with the window open, talking to Ayva as I walked up to her.

“Sorry, the lead delivery guy was the parent of the two younger ones.  He had concerns I needed to answer soonest, but I pushed him to send me email to ask questions or set up a time to talk after next week.”

Detective Connolly expressed interest in the statement “Going away?  You will have your phones if we need to reach you?”

“Yes, sir.  Going to Williston, North Dakota to visit friends.  The phones will stay on.”

He nodded.

“Ayva, like I said, if anything comes to mind that you think might be missed in your recording, let me know.  Humans tend to be able to read humans better than symbiotes can, and we don’t see those recordings exactly the same way your brain does, nobody sees exactly the same thing.”

“Don’t count on it, Detective, if you have viewed it, you know what I’m talking about, there wasn’t much ‘human’ in their interactions.  If I do remember something I’ll tell you.”

Detective Connolly nodded.  “I know.  I understand it probably won’t happen, but let me know if it does.”

Ayva nodded.

He turned in his seat and looked back at the truck being backed out to the road, guided by the young man with the flashlight.  “Time for me to go, I guess.”

“Oh, one more thing before you go, Detective.  You said the department did get a couple of calls from the ad I placed.  I know you can’t tell me specifics because it’s an ongoing investigation, but do you think you got anything actionable?”

He looked at me, then Ayva, thinking.  Trying to decide what he could tell us.  He was having a lively discussion with Xerxes as well, based on Xerxes’ processors spiking.  Eventually he responded.  “Don’t ask for details beyond what I tell you now.  You won’t get more, as I can’t give you much without creating potential evidence issues.  We have three leads that we are looking into.  None of them are very promising, all three have been dead for months.”

Last Chapter   Next Chapter


  1. underwhelmingforce

    “If your churchgoers”-> you’re diction is faulty.

    I actually really enjoyed seeing Bob getting a stern talking-to for trying to do the police department’s job, just because it highlights his human flaws. Also, gave me a lot more faith in the PD.

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed the broken sentence, and thanks for the comment on the police department’s response to Bob’s sticking his nose into police business.

      Of course since I’m trying to write noir fiction here, Bob will keep sticking his nose in anyhow, but perhaps with a little more care in the future, unless the information is actually worth a little jail time.

  2. Carly

    Noticed these:

    things to blow up annoying people with, and would out in zerg packs to beat down the problems,
    missing a word between would and out? Also, maybe I’m a noob, but what’s a “zerg pack?” I have a vague idea using context clues, but wouldn’t mind an explanation…

    The delivery team had taken the door and windows off to the side if the driveway
    if should be of

    • farmerbob1


      ‘zerg tactics’ is a term in gaming that refers to large groups of individuals grouping together in order that they can do more with less skill. Basically, it’s mob tactics. The origin of the term is from Blizzard’s StarCraft games, I think.

  3. murray

    Frank said “got it.  Handy tool.  I need to spend a lot more time… the g in got it should be uppercase.

    At the sale time, Jaws barely changed at all, simply growing strings… same time

    Yes, and Yes.” I agreed.  “But we’ll also be staying up there a few days I think… Second yes should not be capitalized.

    I got your email, and the station has gotten a couple of calls in response to your job board pasting… should this be posting?

    Yea, I get that a lot from people in positions of authority.”

    The one who had thought to record it with his phone asked if I minded if I tubed it… minded if HE TheTubed it, based on your terminology in past chapters.

    Yea, that’s a downside.

    You are correct about Starcraft. A zergling rush is basically a really fast attack with cheap, weak units before your opponent can build a defense. It’s also a fun little minigame on google if you type it in to the search bar.

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