After the detective drove away, I walked over to the two deep footprints I had left in the yard next to the driveway when I jumped off the flatbed tow truck with a dirt bike under each arm.
Internally, I asked “Frank please do what you can to restore the turf and fluff the ground underneath slightly. I hit the ground pretty hard here.”
“Sure, Bob, will just take a couple seconds if you stand next to it.”
As I walked over and stood next to the footprints smashed into the turf, Ayva smiled at me and shook her head, looking at the big trench in the yard where I had come across the yard with the dirt bike and thrown myself at the house.
“There is a difference you know. I was doing that when I thought you were in danger.” I pointed to the big trench in the yard. “I was doing this while I was showing those three what taking on a symbiote might mean to them in a few years.” I waved my right hand down towards the ground underneath me where Frank was working, as tiny pseudopods extruded from my lower legs and pushed themselves underground. Frank took a few seconds to loosen the dirt I had packed, then did what he could for the grass I had crushed. Some of it would die, but with the ground compaction removed, nearby grass would quickly fill in the empty spots.
“Do you want me to attempt intensive repairs on a cellular level for the grass, Bob?” Frank asked.
I considered how much energy might be involved in fixing the grass on a cellular level, and spoke internally to Frank again. “No, Frank, it’s just grass. It’ll grow back. Now that we’ve removed the ground compaction and done what we could to rearrange the damaged grass, it should recover pretty quickly.”
“I know, Bob, I just wasn’t expecting you to remember it after what the detective just told us.” Ayva spoke, with a slightly distracted tone in her voice.
Two conversations at once. A bit distracting, but I didn’t fail to note Ayva’s tone. After Frank pulled in the pseudopods, I checked body temperature out of habit, and there was only a slight uptick. Frank had probably pushed the heat into the ground as much as he could when doing the work. I didn’t ask, he wouldn’t have damaged the grass, since the purpose of the work was to repair the grass.
“I sort of pushed what the detective said to the back of my brain to think about it. You obviously weren’t attacked by zombies. Not in the popular fiction sense of the word, anyway. Have you ever considered just how well designed a human and symbiote pair is for a classic zombie invasion?” Ayva just stared at me. I might have gone a bit too far off into left field in an effort to distract her.
“Bob, not funny. Berserkers were basically zombies with deranged symbiotes.” That shut me up for a second. Yeah, she was right.
“Open mouth, insert foot. Sorry, Ayva, you’re right.”
“I know, Bob.” She said with a bit of a smile. “But if we’re going to head up to Williston tomorrow, we need to get to work on the house and prep the bikes. I’ll get the house, you handle the bikes.”
“I didn’t look when I offloaded them. Did you buy used or new?”
“New, Bob, sorry. I know you prefer used so you don’t have to go in and perform artificial wear on the engine rather than drive it for five hundred miles at low speed, then change the oil, but they didn’t have any used street legal dirt bikes, and I didn’t want to try to buy from random people, spur of the moment, sight unseen, at night.”
I considered that very briefly, then nodded. “That’s fine, it will keep me out of your hair as you fix the house up anyway.” I grinned.
Ayva smiled as I walked back to her from the repaired spot in the lawn. “Plenty for each of us to think about while we work anyway, Bob. Let’s think independently at first, see what we come up with, then we can share ideas after the work is done.”
“Sounds like a plan” I said as I hugged her briefly and then we gave each other a quick kiss.
Public displays of affection were generally not something Ayva liked to do, but little hugs and kisses to raise her spirits in the face of what had happened seemed to be welcome, so I’d have to be sure to watch for opportunities when we were in public and she was distracted. A bit more hand holding, hugs, and chaste kissing. Since I knew how old she was, and how she must have grown up, I thought I understood her a bit better. Maybe. I probably knew less than I thought. Civil war era popular culture was way, way outside general knowledge. It was also highly regional. They didn’t have the high speed communication to tie the nation together back then. The movie ‘Gone with the Wind’ was probably about my best cultural reference, and I had never liked that movie. Ayva had been unenthusiastic about it too, so I doubted it brought back good memories, if it even applied to her at all. I had never gotten the impression that Ayva had been wealthy before in any case. It had taken her a while to get used to the wealth that we were able to amass while A and B were still growing.
Ayva walked back to the house and I walked to the garage. She reasserted command of the household biofactory through the control interface Danielle had made, and I had disabled, and started moving the doors and windows next to the house where they would be used. Then she walked into the house. I tapped into the house network, and asked Ayva to release my sparrows.
“Why not completely remove the door of the birdcage, Bob, it’s not like the door is needed to keep them in. They aren’t going anywhere without commands.”
“Umm. Good point.”
I watched through the eyes of one of the sparrows as Ayva walked up and opened the bird cage door, then broke the door off. Danielle extruded a pseudopod and smoothed over the broken metal, then epoxied the door back on, as a little ramp in front of the entrance to the cage. She once again smoothed the broken metal on the door itself, where its hinge was twisted, except she just covered it with epoxy rather than smoothing the metal itself. The ledge in front of the door was not needed for the sparrows, but for larger, heavier bird constructs it might be handy.
“That will certainly be handy for bigger bird constructs Ayva, I hadn’t thought of it.”
“You would have.”
“When I made bigger birds, sure.” I conceded.
She just smiled. Ayva was more of a planner than I was, that’s for sure. We knew each other’s strengths. We knew our own strengths too, mostly. I liked to think I knew my own weaknesses, but every now and then I proved myself wrong.
I brought my two sparrows to me, and Frank did some adjustments to their eyes to allow better night vision, then I set them to patrolling. Ayva had created a second sparrow, then sent both of hers out to do the same. We coordinated patrols outside the turf pressure sensors. That had been one of Ayva’s little pet projects, designing a system where the grass roots themselves would report stresses to a monitoring system. She had designed it the first time some of the local wild pigs came through the yard and trashed her garden. The whole yard was a neural network for pressure sensing.
While there was no reason to suspect another attack, there hadn’t been any reason to expect an attack the other day either. Our enemy was also decidedly strange and potentially unpredictable to a degree that made us both nervous.
I worked on disassembling the bikes’ motors and transmissions to give them a working over at the molecular level. Making new bikes like Frank had designed would take a lot of time, food, and juice, even if I could cheat like had been discussed in my meeting with Kirk earlier in the day. It would still require a lot of resources to build them, and Frank couldn’t harness electrical power directly into construction. Electrical power was certainly handy for some types of construction, but it couldn’t do the whole job, the nanomachines he controlled had to do the assembly of everything. Electricity was generally used to assist in creating or destroying chemical bonds so the nanomachines wouldn’t have to work so hard.
Frank was working on trying to figure out some way to use the tiny bit of data we had that might be useful to us. We knew there were three, possibly four dead people who were potentially associated with the organization or organizations that had orchestrated the attacks on Ayva, Frank, and myself. We didn’t know if Bill’s employee, Charlie, was one of the people reported to the police.
I thought about it for a moment. The ad I had placed had been taken down. But how many people had seen it before then?
I spoke to Frank internally. “Frank, have you considered doing a trawl through the conspiracy theory fringes of the internet and see if anyone picked up on the ad I ran and hauled it off to conspiracy theory land?”
“No, I try to avoid those places. They make my head hurt more than they make your head hurt.” Frank replied. “In this case though, with as little as we have to go by, yes, I’ll go poking around and see if I can find references to the ad or the scent data we supplied.”
Symbiotes generally didn’t have much to do with the conspiracy theorists on the internet, but there were some exceptions. Most of them were merely trolling the humans, of course, but there were some symbiotes that actually studied conspiracy theory in an effort to understand human thought, and some who claimed that there was useful information to be gleaned from conspiracy theory. Frank and I could now tentatively consider ourselves amongst the latter, hoping to find something useful amidst the cluttered wasteland of conspiracy theory.
Digging through any significant part of those sites would take even Frank a lot of time, so I settled down with a couple percentage points of Frank’s capacity and worked on the bikes, performing tiny bits of artificial wear and tear in order to simulate a few hundred miles of wear and tear at low speed. There really wasn’t a lot to worry about. Most of the concern in the first few hundred miles of operation was for floating bits of manufacturing process leftovers from the factory. It was a really good idea to collect loose factory trash in the filters of a new machine before redlining anything from a dirt bike to a bulldozer.
I did find a couple bits of trash and imperfections, and repaired them. The imperfections were not severe enough to be a problem, but I fixed them anyway. It felt good working with my hands and I buried myself in the work. I avoided improvements. There was no need for experimentation here. Frank already had designs for the new bikes. These bikes I was working on now would just be resold after I got around to the new bikes. Improving the designs of these bikes significantly would require reprogramming matter or a nontrivial redesign. I did break down and bore the cylinders out slightly and adjust the rest of the motor to match the change after doing some calculations on the cylinder wall and power transfer system designs. That would add a few horsepower.
A couple hours later, when I was nearly finished reassembling the bikes, I pinged Ayva to see if she wanted to talk.
She replied “I’ll be done in about an hour.”
No extra comments, so that meant she was in work mode, concentrating, and didn’t want distractions. That would give me a bit more time to myself after I finished the bikes then. I’d probably cook dinner. Then we would talk a bit about what the other had found after dinner.
As I was finishing filling up the fluids on the bike, Frank started talking to me again. “That was a good call to check the conspiracy theorist sites, Bob. We now have eleven potential matches, all of them with names.”
“We’ll still need to verify that information. Especially considering where it came from.” I said out loud, talking to myself and Frank.
“Possibly less verification necessary than you might think. All eleven potential matches were unpaired humans, and moderately active posters on conspiracy theory sites. The community knows itself, and the scents are starting to go international. One match was a French woman, and it arrived only thirty minutes ago.”
“How did we get the scents then? Humans wouldn’t be able to identify those scents.”
“Some symbiotes study conspiracy theory. And they aren’t always wrong, though they are rarely fully accurate either.”
“Yeah, the reconstruction of our activities after our crash and burn in the urchin while taking out the governor with Jason and Mouse certainly points to that. The fact that we don’t know the full story of what happened in that time period makes it hard to say what we didn’t do.”
Frank replied to me. “Mouse spiked our heels on that a couple times too, when he said we had done something different from what we thought we had done. The whole brain/processing damage due to our injuries made it hard to defend ourselves, that’s for sure. The conspiracy theorists love it when symbiotes don’t agree on things. In some cases, admittedly, they point out things that make sense.”
The unspoken thought between us was that the conspiracy theorists were all over Frank and I in regards to what Mouse and Jason had divulged, in addition to the accounts of me assisting the military in the arrest of 157 corrupt government officials simultaneously. Add to that the Presidential pardon that specifically thanked me for assisting with said arrests. It only got worse when B became known, and apparently the word was out about A as well, and some people with telescopes were trying to see signs of it on Mars.
Not even Frank and I were sure what had happened then. B also claimed ignorance, and in an exercise of curiosity early on when he still communicated with us regularly, he had worked hard to figure out what we had done, which didn’t get far. We knew we had been in a bad merger at that time, and not “brain damaged” at all, other than self-inflicted mental issues due to my human part not being able to deal with so much usable processing capacity. That slightly cracked version of ourselves, however, had not been stupid. It covered its tracks very well in some of the things it did. In others though, it was mysteriously open and obvious. I still smiled sometimes at the practical joke the other us had managed to play on Frank. After our merger to create B, I had all of Frank’s memories prior to the merge. After B recreated Frank and me post-merger, he created us as separate beings again, as before, but with limits instated to prevent another merger. I knew everything Frank did about our prior self, up to merger.
Every now and then we tried to set the story straight in regards to what we had and had not done, but when it got back into the period of the Symbiote Cold War, we typically had to plead brain damage.
I shook my head as I considered the implications of what Frank had discovered. In the English part of the conspiracy theorist underground, the part who didn’t have to translate the data into other languages, we had ten matches in a short time. We just had a French language match.
“Frank, did it seem like there was an active attempt to get that information leaked around into different languages?”
“Yes. Someone’s pushing it. At the speed it’s moving, it’s either a large group of humans, or a symbiote either trolling or pushing the data to study how humans will react to it when Symbiotes recognize people.”
“The trolling symbiotes worry me. Bad data?”
“No, none of the matches come from them, they come from the symbiotes that seem to be studying conspiracy theory. A lot of them travel around and actually speak to the people themselves, so they have direct contact, and an opportunity to identify people by scent. The conspiracy theorists as a group actually seem to respect the symbiotes that study conspiracy theory, to some extent, and humor them, even welcome the interviews. This is almost certainly due to the fact that the conspiracy theory studying symbiotes don’t antagonize them, and try to follow up mostly on things where the conspiracy theorists have been right.”
“Have any of them picked up on the fact that roughly a quarter of the scents have been identified as being ex-members of their community?”
Frank responded after a brief pause. “Yes, in fact I just caught a reference to why this is promulgating across the internet into different languages so quickly. Some of the conspiracy theorists with some clout and a bit of history of being right from time to time have seen the pattern that these scents come from people in their community, and actually managed to convince a couple of the more palatable trolling symbiote community to help spread the word, and the trolls seem to be agreeing to do it. The symbiotes that study conspiracy theory refused to spread the data, but were willing to sign off on the fact that the trolls are acting at the request of the English speaking conspiracy theorists, and the translations and scent data are accurate.”
“Amazing. Surreal, even. So if this continues to shape up, we’re looking at kidnappers, or perhaps an extremely high tech cloning operation, which has literally, somehow, built itself on the bodies of dead conspiracy theorists?”