I consulted the map to find a useful place to stop, near water, so we could get rid of the dirt. Ayva took an exit ramp off the Interstate onto a Highway that had a stream passing under it on the map near the intersection. Like a lot of bridges over two lane highways, there was obvious signs of where people parked their vehicles, and walked down to the water to fish under the bridge. We stopped by the bridge and Ayva started carrying biodegradable plastic jugs of dirt down to the river, while I called the detective.
“Frank, where are you going to route our call through?” I asked internally.
“I was thinking about putting us on the road between home and Yellowstone, since neither of you have been there since you met one another. Just a trip out into the wilderness for a couple days to de-stress, then head up to Williston. What do you think?” Frank asked.
I spoke aloud to Ayva as she walked back to the van to get another four jugs of dirt. “We’re going to pretend we’re headed to Yellowstone for a couple days, Ayva. Frank’s going to hack cell tower positional data to make it seem legit.”
“OK, that actually sounds like a plan that I could get into for real when we have a chance.” She got a thoughtful look on her face. “I’ve never been to Yellowstone before. Was nearby a few times with the Agency, but never actually had the opportunity to get inside and look around.”
“I’ve never been either. Sounds like a plan!” I replied, grinning, and Ayva smiled back, then picked up four more jugs of dirt and walked them to the water.
Frank simply emulated our cellphone and connected directly to the cell network with the antennae built into our skeleton, rather than me using our actual phone. That would allow him perfect control over all signal data being transmitted. He hacked the cell network and created a false signal of our phone at the location between our house and Yellowstone along an interstate, at a gas station. He based the signal off the signal he detected through the tower network of around twenty phones of the same model as our phone in the area we wanted to pretend to be in.
After Frank was confident he would be able to properly mask us, we made the call. Barely after the second ring started, Detective Connolly picked up the phone. “Hello, Detective Connolly speaking. Who is calling?”
Speaking internally through Frank to control the sound, I spoke. “Hello Detective, this is Bob. Sorry it took me a couple minutes to get your message. Ayva and I were discussing changes of plans, and arguing about who was going to clean the van after we got the bikes back to the house.”
“Changes of plans, Bob? You know I wanted you to stay where I could talk to you, and where you could be reached quickly.”
“It took me…” I added up time between text and him picking up the phone. “twenty-three minutes, eleven seconds to call you back. I would consider that quick for someone to respond to any request not directly spoken person to person.”
“I agree. I would prefer faster, but I can’t complain. I’ve been in arguments with the wife a few times myself. My worry was with this trip to Williston that I thought you were taking.”
“We decided to take a trip to Yellowstone for a couple days first, to wind down a bit, get some of the great outdoors. Didn’t want to show up at our friends’ place still wound up tight.”
“I wish you had cleared that with me before you changed your mind.” Connolly spoke, with a bit of irritation in his voice.
“I thought I was a free man, and Ayva a free woman? We were the ones the crimes were committed against.”
“So you are on the way to Yellowstone now?”
I paused. Apparently things had heated up even faster than I expected. “I suppose where I am depends on what you meant when you said ‘You were.’ Are you saying Ayva and I are no longer free to do what we want? Is there a warrant out for our arrest?”
All of a sudden a burst of signal came out from under the van. Ayva had returned to the van for a few more jugs of dirt, and reacted immediately, throwing herself under the van and punching something hard enough to make the van wobble like it hit a speed bump. The signal stopped. Ayva wrenched something off the chassis, and I could see her hand change shape as Danielle enclosed the device for a complete inspection.
I was furious. “When did you put a receiver and transmitter on my wife’s vehicle, detective?”
“Bob, the local police didn’t do it, the federal government did. Colonel Gantt is assisting me here.”
I spoke directly to Frank “Frank, were you able to mitigate that in any way, or did they get a clean signal?”
“I saw the command incoming on the cell network for our provider, but not soon enough to stop the activation. I was able to spoof the returning data on our cell network, but the transmitter was transmitting to other phone networks as well. There was no way for me to spoof that. They know where we are now. I’ve tried to chase the data down, but wherever it went to is now offline.”
“Bob, I am being told that your van’s signal reported from two different locations. One confirmed by three different cell providers and a satellite, and the other from your phone provider. I think we’ll trust the data from off your network. Congratulate Frank on the rapid response to the unexpected. Then stay right where you are at, and we’ll pick you both up soon.”
“Making false statements to an officer of the law engaged in a felony investigation. There are more, but that’s enough to bring you in.”
“And Ayva? You said you wanted to pick up both of us?”
A pause. “Conspiracy to make false statements. I haven’t heard her say anything to deny what you have been saying.”
“You will have to do better than that. She can’t hear a thing I’m saying to you, and I can prove I’m capable of hiding it from her.”
Another pause. Then he started speaking again. “Bob, the officers that arrive at your location will explain the charges when you four are Mirandized.”
“For something related to a felony charge? Colonel Gantt was sitting in front of me when Ayva was attacked, and even Ayva and I would not have been able to create that crime scene perfectly.”
“Where is B, Bob?”
I Ayva was staring at me, rolling her finger, in a “faster, faster” animation. I asked Frank to milk the detective for information using my voice, while making it seem like we weren’t moving. Frank reminded me that they had a satellite that detected our position before – it was probably tracking our signal now, and he had no access to it. So I simply disconnected the phone call. The detective was trying to hook me and keep me talking. We couldn’t afford that. I sent the entire conversation in a data squirt to Ayva and Danielle, and we each grabbed some of the last few jugs of dirt and took them to the river, then ran up the hill to the van, jumped in, and Ayva took us back onto the interstate to mix with traffic.
Ayva spoke up a couple minutes later. “I don’t like being a fugitive, Bob.”
“I don’t like being a prisoner with thousands of gallons of liquid nitrogen over my head when we have enemies with unknown technology levels floating around. Either of us might easily trigger that system remotely. With a bit of cleverness, other symbiotes could too. I investigated it with a few fleas. Mouse did not design it to be symbiote proof. An extremely competent human with some engineering and hacking skills and good tools could hack the system too. ”
“Do you really think someone would do that to you?”
“Someone’s trying to frame us for murder. Actually killing us isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Remember how cold the ones that attacked you were?”
She pursed her lips, thinking briefly. “Explain that. Who is trying to frame us for murder, and how? The coldness of the ones attacking is certainly accurate.”
I thought about it a second to clarify my thoughts. “Whoever it is that is behind the attack on you, is framing us. Probably to try to either slow us down in our pursuit or make sure we can never pursue.” I paused. “I don’t think the cloning targets were chosen because of any special mental abilities that were wanted. They were chosen because our inevitable investigation would lead us straight to the conspiracy theorist community, and even a simple question would get them all riled up. If they were willing and able to target the conspiracy theorist community, and able to do it without said community realizing they were being targeted, then I bet there’s other bits and pieces of ‘evidence’ floating around out there where they will help to paint a picture of us as a villain here, rather than a victim.”
Ayva nodded as she drove. Danielle’s processors were redlining, then Ayva spoke. “So, If the conspiracy theorists found evidence like that after they realized they had been targeted, and reported it to the police, it would explain the felony charges that Detective Connolly wants to take us in for – whatever they might be. Probably something related to the deaths of at least some of the ones that were used for cloning, which would in turn link them to my attackers and the children, and I don’t even want to start wandering down that mental path.”
I nodded my head in agreement. “I can’t imagine anything that convoluted standing up to real scrutiny in court, but it could certainly tie us up for weeks, and perhaps give the opportunity for someone to attack us when we are in police custody. These people had access to some very advanced technology. I don’t want to be sitting around as a target somewhere while they calibrate some tech to try to kill us.”
Ayva thought about it a moment. “They didn’t try to kill me when they attacked. Sure, they didn’t blink when one of them broke the little girl’s neck, or when I popped the head off the one who broke her neck, but when all’s said and done, they left without shooting at me.”
“I think you scared the hell out of them, Ayva, or at the very least made them realize they really didn’t want to attack you directly. What was Danielle’s threat assessment of them after she saw the performance of their weapons when used against the sparrow?”
“Threat was nil. I would have killed them all if they had actually attacked me again, and saved maybe three or possibly four of the girls at best. Unless they were hiding capabilities.”
“I bet they realized that, and simply left half-finished.”
Ayva thought about that for a while and I let her think. Eventually she agreed that it was possible that the attack on her was also meant as an assassination – which was aborted when she demonstrated that she was a lot more formidable than they expected. If they had managed to kill Ayva, I would have gone hammer and tongs after the scents I picked up out of the yard, leading to the scent of the vans that had been parked by the road on the other side of the hill, which we had found evidence of. Investigation would have lead me right to where Ayva and I were right then, information-wise, except I would have been in a cold rage and looking to end some people for killing my wife, and I might have done some harmful things to the police if they had tried to restrain me.
The more I thought about how it had been put together, the more I respected the mind that had put it all together. Every time we turned around, something else seemed to drop right into place against us where someone had planned it. All those people must have been killed after their genetic material was harvested. Dead tissue was so much harder to work with, even for Frank and me. That meant they had managed around thirty killings while making every one look like an accident, all of them in a community that happened to be very good, at times, for seeing patterns of conspiratorial activity. We were not opposed by force, we were opposed by threats to others, misdirection, and false trails.
Ayva was also lost in her own thoughts, face pensive, as we drove along the interstate. Probably trying to make sense of things from her own perspective.
“When you get done worrying it for a while, let’s share thoughts and figure out where to abandon the van.”
At that moment, another transmitter went off. There was no way for Frank to spoof its signal.
Ayva felt it when I did and said “What? I checked for more receiver / transmitters before I got out from under the van. That’s coming from next to the back passenger side tire.”
Ayva pulled over on the side of the interstate as I concentrated on the signal. The source of the signal was rapidly moving up and down, about a foot in each direction. At the top and bottom of its travel it moved slowly. At the midpoint it was moving at its fastest. I knew how thorough Ayva was when she was looking for something, and Danielle might not be a match for Frank, but she wasn’t far enough behind to miss another obvious receiver/transmitter.
“Ayva, it’s inside the rear passenger tire.” I checked the time against both transmitter bursts. “It’s been one hour, roughly, since the first transmitter went off. I bet the first transmitter somehow triggered a timer on the second one. I know I didn’t feel an activation signal.”
As Ayva finished getting us off the road without causing a wreck, I started connecting carbon fiber muscles. When the van stopped, I opened the door, stepped out of the van, and holding my head to the side, ripped the back passenger side tire off its rim. As soon as the wave of compressed air passed my face, I turned to look at the device epoxied to the barrel of the rim.
“Frank – how long to get that off so we can look at it?”
“Faster to just rip the aluminum rim apart, it’s a multiple piece rim.” Frank replied.
I twisted and ripped the rim, tearing it apart using carbon fiber muscle strength. I wanted to see this device and see if I could get hints on who built it. Ayva was destroying all our portable electronics, and putting all the food from the chest cooler in two bags. We were going to need the fuel on the run, it wouldn’t go bad.
All the whole time, the transmitter was going off. I finally ripped the last bit of wheel away from the few square inches of aluminum that the device was attached to. I checked the other side of the barrel, and there was indeed a counterweight there, also epoxied in place.
The remaining piece of wheel and the transmitter would fit into the kangaroo pouch, so I carefully put the very hot metal with sharp edges into the pouch and asked Frank to analyze it, while I carefully removed my electronics from my pockets and destroyed them as Ayva had been doing with all of hers and all the shared equipment. We weren’t taking anything electronic with us after being twice bitten by some covert agent’s skillful application of their trade on the vehicle, and we sure weren’t leaving electronics with personal information in a useable form behind us.
All of a sudden, Frank took control of our body and ripped the device out of the kangaroo pouch and used one of its sharper edges as a knife to flay open the kangaroo pouch.
Ayva just stared, open mouthed in shock as Frank cut a chunk of my skin off. I was also just looking down and watching Frank cut me open.
Frank spoke out loud for everyone to hear. “[Bob, remind me to not kill Mouse the next time we see him. We’ve been dosed with fluorine-18. The device was trapped. When it received the signal from the first transmitter, it went completely inert after retracting a block and allowing activation of a power generator styled after the mechanisms of a self-winding watch. When the wheel started turning, that allowed it to build up a charge again, in a capacitor that had been uncharged before. When the capacitor reached a full charge, it discharged into the transmitter. The control wires from the components outside the control circuitry both ran to a lead shielded shell with a percussive tapper on its surface. It communicated through the lead with taps. Inside the lead was another tapper powered by a battery, and about ten cc’s of fluourine-18.]”
As he was saying this, Frank rapidly finished cutting the rest of the kangaroo pouch off and a sheen was forming on what used to be the inside of the kangaroo pouch. As soon as the outer pouch skin was cut away, Frank peeled off the substance formed on what had been the inside of the kangaroo pouch. It was a gooey semi-opaque substance that looked a lot like a thin sheet of lemon gelatin.
“Crap, Frank, how much radiation did we collect?” I asked internally.
“The kangaroo pouch lining absorbed most of it, but not all of it. I wasn’t prepared for a pressurized jet of radioactive liquid. Half-life of almost two hours. It will be detectable for at least a day in our system. It will be detectable at ranges useful for trying to hunt us down for about three hours, with a powerful enough detector.”
“Can we use matter reprogramming on it?”
“Not effectively. Concentrating individually on every atom will take a great deal of time. Faster to just create organic filters for it. I’ve included that in the calculations. I can’t deplete all our energy stores, or whoever wants to come get us won’t have much of a hard time managing it.”
Ayva handed me a small, heavy duty reusable grocery store bag loaded with food, then tossed me a couple small orange juice cartons, which I popped into the bag.
We looked back at the van one last time, then Ayva turned to me. “Enough of all this. Time to run. They knew the radius we would be in, based on time passage and where the original burst happened. You’re now radioactive enough to track for at least a couple hours, and they will have a helicopter on us any minute if competent people were in charge of this.”
Frank helpfully raised my hand and pointed out a helicopter on the horizon, coming straight at us along the Interstate, then commented, out loud. “[Like that one.]”