Chapter 4.16: Cork

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I thought about what the red wine data might mean.  “I don’t get it.  Why leave us something like this rather than just tell us?  I’m guessing that the wine smell is supposed to be a clue to tell us to go somewhere, or something.”

Ayva thought a moment and spoke.  “A has been starting to get a lot more cryptic in how she communicates, a lot more symbolic rather than literal.  B is in advance of A, development-wise.  Is it possible that this wasn’t even meant as a cryptic clue, that B thought about this place, decided to leave a message for you, and when he imagined it, the message simply popped into being as a message in a bottle with a note and a scented cork that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the bottle it was kept in?”

I considered that for a minute.  “He still left though, and that’s going to be blood in the water to the conspiracy theorists.  He declared that he didn’t want to be a crutch for us.  Was he aware that his leaving would cause a negative reaction?”

Ayva spoke.  “I’m not going to waste a favor asking A about this.  Even if she gives us an answer, will we know that B is telling her the truth?  The wine cork seems to be telling me that he was giving us some information.  Maybe him leaving is telling us something else?”

“Let’s shelve this argument for a minute.  We’re spinning wheels, though if you and Danielle want to start research on that wine cork, then that would be wonderful.  If we could pinpoint where the wine was from.  I’d say it’s almost certain that B wants us to go there, wherever it is.  If you can get any answers out of A, that would be great too, but I agree that we shouldn’t use a favor for it.”

“Danielle already started analyzing it against various wine databases.  We’ve touched on wine research in the past when we did some work on yeasts a few years ago.  People track wines by the most amazing minutiae – isotopes, grape DNA, pH balance, yeast types, color, tannin content, you name it, it gets tracked, most likely.  With a sample to work from, we should be able to narrow this down to vineyards in a specific region.  With good DNA and isotope counts, perhaps down to a single vineyard, or a few vinyards very close together that have shared grape vine cuttings over the years.

We both ate a couple tortilla chips and salsa.

Then Ayva spoke up.  “I got caught up in the whole conspiracy theory thing, and the red wine, and didn’t mention earlier what I realized while I was working.”

“What was it that you realized?” I asked, prodding her to talk.

She paused.  “There were twenty scents.  There were twenty attackers.  There were also ten children.”

The ramifications of that hit me hard.  We had been under the impression that cloning was a strong possibility, almost a certainty here.  We didn’t realize that we had clear evidence that is was occurring right in front of us the whole time.  The ten girl children were apparently clones of ten of Ayva’s attackers.

“Frank, Danielle. Please work together to create a report for Detective Connolly.  Report Ayva’s realization that the ten children were clones of ten of the attackers.  Also report what the conspiracy theory folks are coming up with and point him at some of the more cogent sites, and finally, advise that B has apparently teleported himself to Antarctica, and that we’re going to travel up to Williston earlier than planned.  I think B might have just been trying to get us to leave before the lunatic fringe of the conspiracy theory crowd decides to try to take matters into their own hands.  The cork may be a completely different message, or it might be somewhere he thinks we’ll be safe.”

Ayva spoke up.  “Or it might be a hint leading us to wherever the cloning is taking place, or some villain base right out of a comic book or something.  They are so damn smart.  Why give us these bullshit clues?”  She pounded her fist on the table.  I felt like doing some pounding on the table myself, but Ayva was in worse shape.

“The wine wasn’t made in an existing vineyard that still produces wine for selling.  Danielle is digging into older data, as well as private stock vineyard records.  Some of that data is archived on very old machines.  Some of that is handwritten data on microfiche images.  We already know it’s a California Pinot Noir, but that leaves us a lot of possibilities, considering how many small vineyards there have started and failed over the last twenty years.  This wine has aged at least ten, maybe up to twenty years.”

I stood up, being careful to push my chair in, slowly, to draw attention to it.

Ayva looked at me, then the chair and back at me and laughed loudly.  Exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

“Ayva.  Ask Danielle to start her search with three priorities.  First, a vineyard or ex-vineyard with large buildings that might be large enough to house a significant medical facility.  Second a vineyard or ex-vineyard with a large cave that might be utilized for the same.  Third, very remote current or ex-vineyards that would be ideal if one needed to have enough privacy to build a big building, or a big cave.  This cloning operation is large enough to produce ten children of the same age.  Even with 100% cloning percentages, that’s going to be a big facility.  There will be failures.  Unless these people also have some sort of stasis to store successful clones until they had ten successes, which even Frank and I have no clue how to manage, they started a whole lot more than ten clones to get ten clones of the same age.  The best percentages I can possibly manage to come up with are around ten percent.  That’s our best.  If we assume whoever this is can match that, they need 100 iterations of high tech cloning equipment.”

I paced back and forth, nervously.

Ayva’s eyes tracked me but she didn’t move otherwise.

“Let’s make the trip to Bill and Tanya’s tonight, we should get there before daylight.  I’ll send them a text now.  I want to move.”

“Is this one of those ‘I just want to do something’ moments, or a ‘something is bothering me’ moment, Bob?”

“Nervous.  Feels like something is going to happen.  Too many things that I don’t fully understand, crowding together with us at the center of it.  I don’t want to be at the center of whatever is coming, I don’t think.”

Ayva just watched me for a few seconds then nodded.  “Danielle, Frank.  Continue developing the report as directed, but don’t send it until we are across state lines, and when you do send it, send it through a cell tower and spoof the location to Bangkok or somewhere else that neither of us has ever been.”

Frank immediately complained to me.  “She’s more than a century and a half old, how in the hell am I supposed to know everywhere she’s been?  She probably doesn’t remember everywhere she’s been.”

Ayva was smiling at a reaction from Danielle, then said “Somewhere that neither of us have been since Bob and I met one another?  I think my memory is good enough for that.”

I grinned, then said “OK, packing time.  We bought two bikes and were going to drive them openly.  It’s no secret that we bought them.  We even did the tube video thing with me jumping off the truck with them.”

“OK,” Ayva said, “I’ll toss the emergency kits in the minivan then.  Do you want to seal and sink the bikes?”

“Sink?  Oh, yeah, B’s not in the pond anymore.  Still, I bet they will search there, and probably very thoroughly too.  B was the size of an office building.  I can barely believe he moved without damaging the environment.  They certainly won’t, not without a bunch of digging and poking and prodding.  I’ll seal and bury them directly in front of the front door, which will probably be one of the last places they will look for anything to be buried.  Oh, remember the quants.”

Ayva nodded.  “You will need to wipe the memory of the biofactory after you’re done.”

On that note we split up.  I collected the biofactory and disabled Ayva’s controller, then gave the biofactory instructions to fill itself from the cooking oil reserve that B used to need, and meet me back at the front door of the house.  I turned off all the lights in the house except the bedroom, which allowed me to work while creating almost no silhouette in front of the house.  I rolled one bike at a time carefully across the concrete driveway and walkway leading to the front door.  On the second trip, I carried two tarps on the seat of the second bike.  By the time I got both bikes to the sidewalk next to the front door, the biofactory was back.  I directed it to surgically lift a six inch thick plug of yard, eight feet by six feet, and lay it out on one tarp.  It performed the task slowly and carefully, complaining to me when it found rocks, requiring that I assist it in deciding how to deal with each rock.  Exactly as I had instructed it.  Eventually the plug of sod was removed, and carried to the tarp, and carefully set down again.

Next, the biofactory dug out the ground where the bikes would go, to a depth of five feet, deep enough for the bikes.  No need to bury them deeper.  If they looked hard enough to find them here, they would find them at five feet, or twenty feet.  The dirt was placed on the second tarp, on the concrete walkway, so it wouldn’t kill the grass.  The sod plug was mostly flat, and not heavy enough in cross section to kill grass with its weight.  Next, I had the biofactory seal the bikes in a fast setting epoxy that would seal in gasoline, oil, grease, and new-bike fumes.  Each bike got triple coated, 100% coverage in epoxy, then carefully placed in the hole.  The biofactory then rapidly and carefully repacked the hole around the bikes with the dirt that came out of the hole, being sure to tamp down the dirt to an appropriate density so a rainstorm wouldn’t make a dimple in the ground.  Soon, there was no more room for dirt without overfilling the hole.  This left two dirt bikes’ volume worth of dirt in the second tarp.  I ignored it for now, and directed the biofactory to replace the giant sod plug, carefully lifting it off the tarp.  It’s amazing how effective a giant amoeba with carbon blades it can move anywhere in it’s body can be as a tool.

Ayva came over and asked if she could help, but there really wasn’t anything for humans to do here, the biofactory would do this work far better than we would, unless we expended huge amounts of energy to reshape our own bits and pieces.  Ayva went inside to fill an ice chest with food, but before I could say anything she said she would make sure it wasn’t obvious that she had packed food.

By the time Ayva came back out the door, the biofactory had replaced the sod clump, perfectly matching its rock irregularities into the molded surface of the ground that it was being placed on again.  The biofactory then used a cellulose glue based on the leaf litter under the grass to repair the damaged roots.  The roots would pass nutrients as normal, and eventually regrow around or through the glue.  Damaged grass shoots were removed, but there were few of those, the biofactory had made a very clean cut.  The first tarp was cleaned, folded, and packed.  The second tarp contained all the leftover dirt.  I tried to decide where to put it.  Mix it in with the mulch?  Toss it in the pond then stir it in?  Both of those places would be identifiable by chemical content.  We used organic fertilizer on the yard (cow shit and bones did wonder for grass) and that would have leeched into the soil.  It might not be noticed, but if it was, it would set off a frenzy of yard-digging until they found where this much displaced dirt came from – it was roughly the same volume as two dirt bikes, or two human bodies…

Ayva stepped out of the front door, looked at me, looked at the dirt on the tarp, and looked at me again, as I stood there indecisive, then laughed.  “Put it in the minivan, Bob, we’ll dump it somewhere tomorrow.”  Then she continued.  It’s heavy, but not too heavy.  Put both tarps under it though, please, and if possible let’s seal it.  I grew up around cows, and don’t mind the smell that much, but if we get stopped at a license check or something, a minivan as nice as mine that smells like dirt and cow shit might raise eyebrows.”

“Perfect,” I said, “But I’ll need to refuel the biofactory.  Did you check the fluids and lights on the van?”

“Yup.  Fuel’s almost full too.”

I had the biofactory ingest the dirt, and both tarps, then follow me to B’s food depot again.  It filled up one more time, then followed me back the way we came, straightening out the grass and removing signs of our passage until we got back to the dig site.  I had the biofactory search once more across the whole site to look for any signs of burial.  I borrowed a couple percentage points of Frank’s processing power and linked directly with the biofactory to look for myself.  There were no obvious signs.  There were faint signs, but that’s all we could do without absolutely enormous energy expenditures and time.  I was not going to use matter reprogramming to fix grass roots.  The glued together roots should prevent the sod from gapping if someone stepped next to the cuts in the sod.

I had the biofactory reverse the path I had taken the bikes along on the way from the garage to the front door, checking for any hydrocarbons or rubber residue on the pavement.  It found a couple black marks from the new tires, and removed them.  Finally, the biofactory and I made it to the garage, and entered, closing the door behind us.

Ayva had already removed the back bench seat, explaining.  “They will probably think we put the bikes in the van, if they find the bench seat in the garage.”

“Brilliant” I kissed her.  Then I looked in the back of the minivan, taking visual measurements.  Yes, both bikes would have fit, but they would have been leaning on their side, one on top of the other, leaking fluids everywhere, and if we tried to ride them immediately after standing them up, the engines would probably fail due to oil in the cylinders.  The biofactory gave me both spotlessly clean tarps, and I spread them in the back of the minivan, then it started raising up what looked like sealed one gallon milk jugs, made of opaque plastic.

Ayva cocked her head, looking at the milk jugs.

“The jugs are a water soluble, biodegradable sealant.  We toss them into water somewhere, they sink, and the jugs dissolve, leaving the dirt behind.”

“Good idea.” She nodded. “I’ll go lock up the house.  Oh, what about the sparrows, Bob?”

“Back in the cage, I think.  Someone might know to look for them.  One of yours made a bit of a fuss at the investigation, remember?  We can make more at need.”

I carefully made sure the biofactory was carrying no chemical evidence of the evening’s activities, then walked with Ayva back into the house, each of us calling our two sparrows back from perimeter patrol.  We directed the birds to the laundry room birdcage where they took turns recharging their capacitors.  I directed the biofactory into the area with a drain where the washer and dryer would be, if we had a washer and dryer.  Biofactories had biological needs too.  This one would be without us for a week, or more.  It might survive.  It would provide nourishment for the sparrows’ biological needs for as long as it could, that was built into the base code.  It could use the drain to keep from making a mess, at least while it was alive.

We both stared at our fighting gear, then looked at each other.

“We really need to make a second set for each of us, and hide it.” I said as Ayva commented “We really both need two sets, one in the open, and the other cached.”

We stared at each other for a moment, then laughed at ourselves.

We both walked out of the house after turning on a couple random lights, and being sure the blinds were all drawn so nobody could easily see if we were moving around.

Ayva locked the door.  I set a program through the house network to each of my sparrows and the biofactory, adding an instruction in their survival firmware to perform a memory wipe of non-permanent memory at two AM every night.  Survival firmware was stored in permanent memory with no date stamps.  I commanded a memory wipe immediately anyway.  At two AM, they would memory wipe again, removing the evidence that I had commanded a memory wipe.  I passed Ayva the code, so she could send it to her sparrows.

“Ayva, you have a license tag and a pair of faces and ID cards for us?”

“Sure thing,” she grinned, while pulling a locked moneybag out from under her seat cushion.  We traded licenses with the ones in the bag, then used the pictures to rebuild our faces, supplementing the terrible images from the driver’s licenses with high quality digital 3d images stored on crystal media.  The image data also contained voiceprint data.  Nice.

I swapped the license tags, and Ayva put everything back in the bag, locked it, and put it under her seat cushion again.  Then she asked, “Cash?”

I passed her a fat stack of $20’s and $50’s with a couple $1’s and $5’s, folded in a rich man’s roll, low denominations visible.

We turned out the garage lights, I removed the light bulb from the garage door opener, replacing it with a burnt out bulb we kept handy, and we both made low light vision adjustments.  Then we opened the garage door and carefully drove out of the driveway in the dark, as Ayva drove down the road in complete darkness, the garage door closed behind us.

We managed to drive a quarter mile before another car’s headlights were visible coming towards us, and Ayva brought up our lights at that time.  We headed towards Williston.

I wondered what we forgot.  Whenever you try to do something this complex, quickly, you forget something.  It’s a law, like Murphy’s Law.  I don’t think it has a name though.

We were halfway to Williston when we got a message from the detective in reaction to the data we sent him. “I am at your house.  We got your data and I need to talk about it.  We also have a lot of complaints about you and I noticed that B is gone.  I need to talk with you. Right. Now.”

That was when I realized we had left B’s bottle, string, and triangular fishing weight sitting on the kitchen table.  I had Frank replay the last trip out of the house in my mind.  The cork was in the bottle.

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11 comments

  1. underwhelmingforce

    So… Why are they leaving the bikes? They’re not going to be any less traceable than the huge van. I like that they’re getting out and about instead of hacking everything better from the comfort of their home, though.

    • farmerbob1

      They are leaving the bikes because they would be expected to take them. The van is a minivan. If it had been a full sized van, they might have made an effort to bring the bikes with them, because they could be strapped in, upright.

      Because they were obviously making plans to take the bikes somewhere. if the bikes are gone, then the bikes will feature in any search for them. It’s a distraction.

      If the heat hadn’t been turned up, they would have taken the bikes. They might have put the bikes in the van, but they would not be useable quickly, reliably, if they were laid on their sides. As it is, the trip to Bill & Tanya’s might never happen now. If it does happen, it will be a drive by, or a meet for a meal in a fast food joint or bar or something.

        • Ray

          I see them burying the bikes as a sign of overthinking a problem myself.
          For ordinary people like you and me, the bikes would need to be all together for us to use them quickly.
          Bob however has just finished a complete teardown and rebuild of both the bikes while polishing off any burrs and searching for other flaws all in one afternoon. If he was thinking a bit more clearly, simply removing the tires would allow the bikes to be stored upright. Instead of digging a hole, he could have grown a custom rack to hold the partially disassembled bikes upright in the back of the minivan and made or hunted up some power tools to help rebuild them quickly.
          Alternately, he could have modified the front wheel pivot to be easily removed and replaced as an even faster way to lower the height of the bike.
          I am sure there are quite a few other mechanical solutions to the problem of how to fit two full sized bikes into the back of a minivan, some of which would involve lowering the floor of the van, or raising the roof, possibly even grow a custom fit roof panel around the bikes after they are loaded up if you want them to stay intact.

          Although he can run over fifty miles an hour, the bike allows him to go even faster without overheating or running out of juice.
          That is huge advantage to give up just to provide a bit of misdirection. Its not like there isn’t going to be a BOLO for all of their vehicles if they try to avoid the law. Unless you plan to reveal that his minivan is a ‘Inspector Gadget’ type morphing vehicle, that would be a fun twist.

          Bob seems to have survived so far because he has kept moving, and because Frank is willing to use his HUGE brain power to find a way to make Bob’s ideas work even when they are pretty clearly not so great. Great fun, and fun to read but not even vaguely efficient many times.
          I am thinking the story is heading to the point where Bob and Frank have to work with others rather than run off as loose cannons, both because they are looked up to as leaders by a lot of people, and because they just gave up the edge that let them get away with so much before. Their opponents may not catch up anytime soon, but Frank will no longer be two or three orders or magnitude more powerful than everyone else, and thus not able to run circles around them all at the same time any more.

          • farmerbob1

            Bob and Frank are indeed guilty of overthinking things from time to time. This is a common problem with intelligent people who are not experts in their fields.

            In this case though, the bikes in the back of the van would be a bit of a hint of who they are. Bob and Ayva won’t pass a close inspection in their van, but they will pass a casual inspection. They won’t *trigger* a close inspection by having bikes or a large tarp-covered lump in the van. They have altered their physical appearances, their voices, their documents match those appearances. The license tag matches the vehicle and the faces because of Ayva and Danielle’s research into a couple that owned a minivan like hers, and lived in the same state.

            The minivan won’t be in the picture for long, I don’t think. It’s still not entirely certain how much trouble the conspiracy theorists are going to give Bob and Frank, and police generally look long and hard at people who tend to come to them with conspiracy theories. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome.

  2. DeNarr

    Wow, all caught up. Took a while and I’ve enjoyed the reading so far, but I am curious, what is your update schedule? I notice you did 3 in one day with these last ones, but it’s been 6 days since your last update. Not sure when I should expect to check for more.

    • farmerbob1

      I was updating roughly every other day, but things have been a bit up in the air recently, with me trying to deal with stress, and trying to figure out exactly what was stressing me and how. Work was part of it, but I thought writing was helping me de-stress, but that didn’t actually seem to be the case. I posted a “Not a Chapter” entry today addressing that.

      Updates will begin happening again. Perhaps still every other day, but smaller, or maybe the same minimum size (3000 words) and less frequently.

  3. Jesp

    “I had the biofactory ingest the dirt, …”

    Then why do they need to do anything else with the dirt? I’m sure there’s something in there it could use and the rest it could release down the drain in some fashion? Or scatter it in the garden or the other experiments Ayva is working on? Or roll over the entire yard adding some by the roots? Or turn it into a statuary? They could aerate the entire lawn and put the dirt in the plug holes. It just seems a bit incongruous that this would be a problem for them.

    Thanks for the chapter! ^_^

    • farmerbob1

      The time and energy cost to make the dirt undetectable in their own yard is much greater than the time and energy cost of simply carrying it away and dumping it. Remember, they are trying to hide what they are doing from Symbiotes that are rather aggressively ramping up their processing capacity.

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