“Well, fuck.” I said as I saw the helicopter Frank pointed out. I could hear at least three more coming from back in the direction we had come from, closer to where the first transmitter had gone off.
I looked at Ayva. She knew what I was thinking. She shook her head.
“I’ve got my quant, Bob. Here’s yours.” She tossed me my quant. I rolled it up and put it in the kangaroo pouch that was re-growing after being cut off to reduce radiation contamination of our body. Frank would inspect the quant for sabotage, but we didn’t even understand how a quant really worked. I doubted anyone else was going to be able to sabotage it without leaving clear signs of messing with it. Unless B was helping them, in which case everything would be turned upside down figuratively and Ayva and I would be in for a very unpleasant day. Ayva’s quant went in her fanny pack. I had never convinced her to create her own kangaroo pouch. In my mind’s eye I replayed the first time Ayva saw the kangaroo pouch used. She had seen me take the key to my RV out of it, and gotten her hands a bit sticky when I handed her the key. Hindsight is 20/20. I should have insisted Frank clean it off completely, or cleaned it myself on my jeans before handing the key to her, but on that day I had succumbed to a desire to display a petty resistance against feeling trapped in a bad situation by the Agency and circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Ayva and I had talked about that day a few times, and it didn’t matter. First impressions. Kangaroo pouch = icky sticky keys and that was that.
I liked to think I was conservative about maintaining my humanity in the face of Frank’s desires to make me a better place for him to live. If anything, Ayva was more conservative about her natural body than I was about mine. I was more concerned with external appearances, since humans are visual creatures. This allowed me to have all sorts of gizmos and widgets scattered throughout my body without triggering any real irritation with Frank. A carbon fiber skeleton with an antennae system built in. A secondary circulatory system and storage for masses of juice far beyond what a symbiote would normally store in the human body. Artificial carbon nanotube muscles embedded in my meat muscles. Frank still kept a single retractable blade in each forearm, and velociraptor-style cutting claws were kept pre-built in my calves between the bones. The toe claws could be removed from storage there and attached to my skeleton within a couple minutes. Then there were the capacitors to power the carbon fiber muscles. Ayva occasionally called me a walking toy box. Ayva limited herself almost exclusively to the carbon fiber skeleton and organic volume enhancements to her juice system. I had only recently convinced her to implant a single, small internal capacitor after she was capable of creating her own boiling water temperature superconductors. It would allow her to activate and power her quant for a long time, or allow a very minor matter reprogramming feat without needing to stress Danielle’s systems to get the required energy.
Ayva was looking at me. “Live in the now, Bob. We have to move. Run. Frank, follow me if Bob goes off into Lala Land again.”
I snapped back into the now after my spate of internal thoughts. “Sorry Ayva, bad time for a moment of reflection. Let’s go. You set the pace. Let’s see how good their radiation tracker is.”
Ayva nodded, and sprinted towards the side of the highway, jumping over the chain link fence that was all that there was separating the highway from the mixed growth forest. It was beautiful. Ayva’s jump that was. There’s something about people performing incredible feats of physical prowess that just seems to press buttons inside most humans. Atavistic primate mate selection mental circuitry at work, most likely. Symbiotes were capable of things that humans could only witness in media before, never see in real life. Watching a symbiote in real life pushing the envelope on physical activity was like watching some fantastic human in anime or science fiction movies. I chuckled to myself. Ayva heard me subvocalizing the laughter, and glanced behind her to make sure I was following her. I was.
“I’m right behind you Ayva, still thinking but still moving.” I said.
She just said “OK. Picking up the pace now. Match me, we’ll see if we can evade them long enough to let Frank get the radioactive tracking crap out of your system.”
Ayva sped up to a near maximum pace after we passed through the bushes and dense growth at the edge of the forest. I looked at the ground in her wake, as I followed her. Running at this pace, human feet left big divots that a toddler could follow. Sure the divots were many feet apart, far longer than the pace of a normal human at a sprint, but her path of travel, and mine as well, was still easily tracked. Ayva’s thermal signature was rapidly growing as well, as was mine while pacing her. We both rapidly ate from the bags of food we were carrying as we ran. The unbalanced weight was slowing us down a bit, and we would need the energy anyway. When we both finished off the food we had been carrying, Ayva put it into overdrive.
I had been in this sort of chase before, with competent human troops, highly artificially augmented and extremely well trained, supported by vehicles and with canine trackers. I had been forced to enter the Gulf of Mexico to get away from them. We almost certainly had symbiote pursuers this time around, who would be far more difficult to evade. I kept my mouth shut though. Ayva needed to try this, and I would let her try it. Because we both tried to be low key about what we could do as we lived our lives, Ayva had really never had the opportunity to test her ability to evade pursuit from skilled, modern hunters. She knew what I could do, but she also knew I was far in advance of other symbiote pairs, even her and Danielle.
I certainly didn’t mind giving her the opportunity to surprise me. She’d done it before, and might have a plan this time too, some trick or another she’d learned, so I kept my lips zipped, and did what I was told.
Ayva and I managed to evade pursuit for about an hour. Eventually there were ten helicopters and half a dozen high endurance drones tracking us from the air, as well as around thirty symbiotes on the ground. Some of those symbiotes had scents I recognized from the last time I had been chased. Colonel Gantt had apparently recruited symbiote pairs for this from the soldiers that had been merely augmented the last time they chased me.
“Ayva, some of the ones following me have chased me before, and I killed a couple of their companions in the last chase. They are symbiotes now, not just augmented. Colonel Gantt either chose very well for potential tenacity, or very badly in terms of loose cannon potential.”
“Understood.” Ayva didn’t waste any more time talking, she just turned on the speed again and kept us moving.
We couldn’t get away from them this way. The helicopters were actually trailing cables under themselves, and whenever we pulled away from a group of pursuers, the helicopters would pass over the lagging pursuers, who would leap up, one at a time, climbing overhand up the cable, until four of them were hanging under the helicopter, and they would be carried forward of our position to try to block us. So far, no lethal weapons had been employed to try to stop us. Danielle and Frank had been very clearly instructed not to use lethal force, but since our pursuers were symbiotes, they were allowed to do anything short of that.
It’s pretty amazing how effective a pair of symbiotes at Danielle and Frank’s level could be, working in tandem, with weapons as simple as thrown rocks. Whenever we passed a creek bed or any other location with exposed rocks, we would pick up a few golf ball sized stones, and Danielle and Frank would throw them simultaneously at pursuers. Between the two of them, the momentum of the pursuer, and simple physics, they typically either scored a debilitating hit with a stone, or caused the pursuer to break their pace to dodge, giving us a way to bypass them without needing to engage in hand to hand.
Some of the symbiotes, however, did engage us in hand to hand as we pushed through the rapidly evolving chase perimeter. Those engagements were all very brief and painful for the ones chasing us. Either Ayva or I would be a match for most of these guys, without Frank or Danielle assisting. With Frank and Danielle acting in parallel with us, it was almost comical.
However, we were still in a losing situation. Ayva was down to about ten percent juice capacity. I was at around fifty percent, since my stores were far larger than hers and she had been pace setting. Neither of us were in armor. So far, our pursuers had avoided using any weapons. It was almost like this was a game to them.
In a way, I’m sure it was a game. Colonel Gantt was confident that these people would exhaust us eventually, and wanted them to see that they could do it. If they could chase down Ayva and I, there would be very few challenges to them in the future. It was a confidence building exercise for them, apparently, and Colonel Gantt thought he was in control of the situation. We hadn’t given him any reason to suspect otherwise, yet.
Ayva sent a message to me through Frank and Danielle’s connection, as we were pacing each other from about forty feet apart, in order to give Frank and Danielle significantly different sight pictures to merge into tactical situational awareness.
“I really don’t like this, Bob, but we’re going to have to expose more capabilities to get away.”
“I know, Ayva. I know you don’t like it. I don’t either. I don’t think we have much choice here. Someone is acting against us with extreme foresight and planning. I really don’t want to be held in custody somewhere to give them the opportunity to act against us directly with a nuke in a van driven into the prison facility or something. Suicide bombing certainly seems as if it would be a perfectly acceptable tactic to the ones that attacked you.”
We discussed tactics, briefly, and Ayva simply stopped in the next farmer’s field that we passed.
I removed the quant from the kangaroo pouch, unfolded it, and Frank used a flexible organic glue to attach it to my forehead, it’s thin power cables ran down the side of my head and neck and connected to the capacitor network in my shoulders . Losing connection with the quant was not a good idea at this point.
We didn’t waste any time preparing for what was coming. There wasn’t any real rush though. The biggest problem here was the damage that we were going to do to our reputation and ability to fit in with society while the rest of the world caught up.
By the time three of the chase helicopters and one cargo helicopter set down, we were ringed by about thirty symbiote soldiers, all of them fresher than Ayva and I appeared to be, since they had helicopters to help carry them around. A few of them favored certain joints that Ayva and I had attacked to debilitate them in passing, but overall they seemed very confident and serious. As far as they knew, they had beaten us. We had not resorted to deadly force yet, and had stopped moving. Some of those who I recognized from the last long chase I had been in were watching me like a hawk, a couple of them with expressions of anger.
As expected, Colonel Gantt was in one of the chase helicopters. Detective Connolly wasn’t present. This appeared to be a military only operation to capture us. A surprise came when I noticed the cargo helicopter shift from side to side slightly, after it had come to a complete halt on the ground. The figure that stepped out was huge and ungainly looking. I looked at it with all my senses, getting a couple percentage points of Frank’s processing power to handle the analysis of the data. Before the analysis was complete, I knew who it was from the scent carried to me by the still spinning rotors.
Ayva was faster on the uptake than me though. “Oh, Jason, what have you let Mouse do to you?” She said with genuine sorrow, under her breath. Jason and Ayva had barely met, but Jason had definitely gone down the trans-human path that some symbiote pairs chose.
Jason’s form was certainly not devoid of sensor enhancements as I could see. He simply responded to Ayva in a loud conversational voice. “Mouse has done nothing to me that I didn’t ask him to do, Ayva. He has the ability to make my body better able to do what it needs to do, so I take advantage of it.”
“What do you do that requires you to mass nearly a ton, Jason?” I asked.
“Civil engineering projects in less developed nations, mostly. There’s not always a bulldozer handy when you need one. Also, of course, side forays into dealing with threats to national security when Colonel Gantt or others like him request my assistance. I’m interrupting a project in Cuba to be here, so stop fooling around, give yourselves up into custody, and let me get back to helping build infrastructure for people who need it.”
Jason walked up to stand near Colonel Gantt, who was staying silent and letting Jason speak while carefully watching Ayva and I. Gantt was looking extremely tense. There was a lot to be tense about here. Jason looked impressive as hell, and Mouse and Jason both had a bone to pick with me. About half of the soldiers around us had lost fellow soldiers to me when they chased me into the Gulf of Mexico a couple years back. And Colonel Gantt and I have never been on good terms, though I respected him, and I think he respected me.
This was too important to give up though. Too dangerous. There was an enemy out there that was absurdly good at espionage, supported by fearless, absurdly competent normal human troops, with several types of very advanced technology. Based on what they had done to get symbiotes in small children, and the fact that there was no sign of symbiote presences in their soldiers so far, I suspected there was going to be some sort of effort to use imprisoned symbiotes to improve the abilities of the mystery enemy’s troops. The biggest logic hole with that was that even Agency-style imprisoned symbiote troops with the discipline and confidence we had seen already wouldn’t add much force-wise to what we had seen so far. The success of the enemy up until now had been due to planning and execution, rather than force. The fact that Ayva and I, and our symbiotes, still had no clue who our enemy was, indicated how good they were. We had put huge efforts into trying to track them down, and come up with nothing. Except a wine sample in a cork stuck into a message bottle from B. If B figured out who they were, that data was critical, and we needed to follow it.
I turned to face Jason and Mouse directly. They were pointing some meaningless area effect entangling device at me as they stood there. Even though they had already adopted the massively parallel processing method that I had taught to Colonel Gantt and a few others only a couple days ago, unlike Ayva, they couldn’t mask their processor activity from me. Even though I didn’t dig too deep, it was clear that Mouse, and by association Jason, thought themselves to be in control of the situation, confident in their ability to take both myself and Ayva down at need. I needed to shake that optimism before the next step, or we would get into a real fight
“For the last couple years, Ayva and I have attempted to be ‘good neighbors’ and humble. We like human company, human interaction, and we like to provide an example to people who are afraid of symbiotes that even the most advanced symbiote pairs need not forget their humanity.” I locked eyes with Jason, his face four feet higher in the air than my face. He averted his gaze, uncomfortably, after a couple seconds.
Colonel Gantt merely watched the interaction. He almost certainly thought this was endgame of the chase, and was definitely going to try to analyze this interaction to try to more clearly understand me. His models of me were certainly dated in some respects and he knew it.
“Samwise and Mouse both have advanced processing capacity now. I have a question for you two symbiotes. If you had been as powerful and knowledgeable as you are now, six years ago, and had the opportunity to spend those six years mostly in study, how advanced would you be now, compared to your current capacity?”
Mouse immediately spoke. “[Unknown. We do not know how dedicated Frank might have been in study. We don’t know how difficult advanced study is, more than a few steps beyond what we currently know. We can extrapolate data but the range of potential is not known.]”
I nodded while I considered what my next actions would be. Ayva watched me carefully, as well as Jason and Colonel Gantt. Jim. Whatever. I was not friendly enough with him to call him Jim, despite our earlier conversation.
“Samwise. What are your thoughts?”
“[Agreement with Mouse. Not enough data to draw a concrete conclusion about your current capabilities. Too many unknowns.]”
“I imagine that both of you have noticed that you can read the processors of less developed symbiotes, and mask your own thoughts from others. You have probably even worked with other symbiotes to test these abilities. If that’s the case, you have certainly noted that Ayva and I are not letting you see much about our processing.”
Both of them nodded.
“I’m going to remove my personal masking now, which will allow you to see my processing. Frank, however, will not allow you to see his processing. You will be seeing roughly two percent of Frank’s processing capacity, which I am currently using.”
I removed my personal masking. I watched Samwise and Mouse’s processor activity redline as they viewed my current processor capacity and activity. Ayva also looked at me funny. I realized that I hadn’t explained independent masking to her. I would hear about that, later, I’m sure, and be expected to teach her how to do it.
Jason and Colonel Gantt both took a couple steps back. Jason’s body was actually heavy enough to create minor tremors in the ground I could easily feel through my feet. Samwise and Mouse were practically screaming at them to flee. The other soldiers I could see around the perimeter were watching our interactions. Most of them were not massively parallel symbiotes yet. The ones that were, simply stared gape-mouthed at me, and their symbiotes were trying to back them away from me. The rest of the symbiote soldiers stiffened in confusion and started asking questions of the ones that were reacting with concern and fear. Even just a couple percentage points of Frank’s capacity was thousands of times their own capacity. It didn’t matter if I was lying about how much of my capacity they could see.
“As I said, Ayva and I have put a lot of effort into fitting in. We don’t like being Übermensch. We have a desire to interact with society at roughly the same level as everyone else.”
Colonel Gantt spoke up, in a calm voice. “So why resist being taken into custody like this?” I had to give the man kudos, he had balls of steel to be calm and collected while Samwise was screaming at him to kill me or run away. I kept a close eye on Jason. He had a bunch of weapons built into his body, as well as a host of tools. None of them would be particularly effective against me if I saw him start to use them, but if he surprised me, a couple of them might do a lot of harm.
“I didn’t resist the last time law enforcement took me in. B sort of embarrassed everyone and made a mess of things after that, but in doing so, he sorted out some real, serious problems with how the virtual world was implemented. Even B is not perfect.” I thought a moment, trying to think about how much they might know about the criminal investigation.
“I was attacked in the virtual world, as was Frank.” I squirted them the data feeds. Samwise and Mouse tried to shield themselves from the upload, but I simply bypassed their defenses.
“Ayva was attacked in the real world.” More data feeds. Samwise and Mouse had enabled much more potent defenses, which were still paltry. I bypassed their defenses again, and gave them the data.
“Someone out there has cloning tech, advanced holographic camouflage cloth, advanced microwave weapons technology, and has been extremely successful in hiding an elaborate scheme of collecting biological samples from people in a very paranoid community.”
I squirted data to Samwise and Mouse again. It was actually moderately difficult to bypass their security this time. They were devoting about half of their processor capacity to simply create a massive virtual fortification to try to prevent me from injecting data directly into their system, against their will.
“I know forcing this data on Samwise and Mouse is pissing you all off, but I am getting tired of being chased around, and you are damn well going to at least have some understanding of where we are coming from.”
Jason spoke up, angrily. “So you are done humoring the children and want us to go bed?”
“Damn it, Jason, that’s not it at all. If we didn’t respect other people, why would we try to fit in and be a part of the community? If we wanted to, Ayva and I could be completely self-sufficient. We chose to not set ourselves apart. It’s beginning to look like this is an untenable situation.”
I masked my processes again. I was confident they wouldn’t attack now. I spoke internally. “Frank, watch the real body for a moment, I’m done with this radioactive crap, and being chased.”
I activated the quant, and quickly entered my own private space. I was radioactive here too, but here I had complete control, so I simply erased all the radioactive materials from my system. Then I modified my body, bulking it up with a huge number of capacitors, all fully charged. I put a note on my right eye that Frank could read.
“Make two of the new bikes. Minimal radiation exposure to the ground and observers please. I’ll keep the capacitors charged.”
The capacitors started to discharge rapidly and I kept them charged. About ten seconds later, the capacitors stopped discharging. I removed the capacitors from my body that I had added, while being sure the remaining capacitors were fully charged, and made sure that my juice levels were topped off.
I returned myself to the real world. It turns out that I was a bit overconfident when I thought the soldiers wouldn’t attack. Ayva and I were surrounded by prone soldiers. I quickly scanned them all, and they were all still alive. Jason and Colonel Gantt were among them.
“Ayva, what happened?” I asked.
Ayva was extremely unhappy. Not with me directly – I’d have known that in a heartbeat. She was looking around, carefully watching for any symbiotes with holdout weapons or something that might effectively be brought to bear on us. “Whatever you did to make the radiation go away was extremely energetic, Bob. You started glowing like an incandescent light bulb and scared the shit out of Gantt, who ordered Jason and the soldiers to help him try to subdue you. Before they were able to engage, you started bulking up and your energy signature went even higher. Frank just started using matter reprogramming to cut major skeletal muscle groups from their bones, internally. He also apparently drained their juice to keep them from accelerated healing. None of them can move their limbs, but all of them will recover fully. Frank then made a couple bikes, the new design he had come up with. The energy output from your body when he did that was even more absurd. It actually gave me sunburn.”
I thought about it. “Transferring energy from the virtual world to the real world at that scale is apparently pretty damn inefficient then. Something to remember for the future.” I thought about something else, and asked out loud, “Frank, while you had the excess power, did you do anything about the helicopters and drones?”
Frank replied out loud as well. “[Yes, the drones and the helicopters in the air have all developed significant fuel leaks, and I put paper notes over the fuel gauges in the helicopters with a big red ‘E’ on them so nobody can say they didn’t know. Nobody will follow us. The bikes have a full charge as well, including several spare capacitors and I designed a recharging station we can connect to power lines while I had the extra power.]”
It looked like we had around a minute before the damage Frank had done to muscle connections was repaired in the soldiers, and we would need to be away by then. That’s when I noticed Jason’s body beginning to generate a massive energy signature. Mouse and Jason had apparently figured out what I had done, and were doing their best to recreate it, fixing their body from within the virtual world. I could see everything rapidly repairing itself, and some extremely nasty looking weapons systems starting to form, along with very bulky, crude power cells, but Jason’s body could carry a whole lot of very bulky, crude power cells without a great deal of effort. They made zero effort to keep the human shape either. Pure design efficiency. Their left hand disappeared, replaced by the barrel of a coilgun.
Colonel Gantt was staring at Jason’s body with almost as much concern as he had been staring at me when I stepped over to check on everyone.
Enough of that. Mouse wasn’t advanced enough to manipulate matter directly in the real world, so I simply spiked his wheels by destroying the guts of his quant, the parts I didn’t understand. He could initialize another, but he wouldn’t be able to build it himself. Even I couldn’t make a quant yet, only B could, and maybe A. I checked every soldier present, including the ones in helicopters that had rapidly flown to the field we were in and landed, trying to get out of the air while they still had fuel. A few of them were carrying quants. I borrowed a large chunk of Frank’s processing power to act with precision at range, then disabled the other quants that might have been used by other soldiers to create fuel, or whatever.
Jason and Mouse returned to the real world and tried to stand up. They had both been in the virtual world. Apparently they hadn’t figured out how to split their personalities to allow one or the other to occupy the body while the other went into the virtual world. It was trivial for Ayva or me to do it, but the others just didn’t have the ability to do so yet. I simply cut Jason’s muscle connections again, and made sure that none of his new weapons were going to be functional within the next minute or so. That completely drained my capacitors, so I took a charged spare from under my bike seat and tossed it in the kangaroo pouch. I would access the quant again in a while and recharge all, but I didn’t want to do it immediately. We needed to move, soonest.
Ayva was simply staring silently at everything around us, the aftermath of what Frank and I had done, and I could see she was still upset. I was extremely relieved that we hadn’t been forced to kill anyone. Killing people who were just trying to do their jobs might have completely changed what happened here, perhaps even to the point of Ayva working to try to help the others restrain me. Fortunately we didn’t have to deal with that possibility.
She looked down at Colonel Gantt. “Sorry, Jim. I want to say something here before we go. More than just ‘Sorry.’ Look at all the things happening. There’s an unknown out there with significant intelligence capabilities who has been able to hide himself from both Bob and I. We’re trying to figure out who they are. We have some information you do not have, that we’re not going to let you have, because they are too damn dangerous, potentially.”
Colonel Gantt’s mouth was still working just fine. “So, Ayva, you are going to go off and do vigilante justice, like Bob?”
Ayva responded. “It looks like I need to, Jim, look over that data Bob gave you. Compare notes with Detective Connolly. Bob didn’t feed you any falsehoods.”
“Unless it’s all faked.”
Ayva paused. “If you believe either Bob or I are capable of malicious deceit at that level, then this conversation is over until I get an apology from you, Jim.”
Colonel Gantt said “After this demonstration, what do I really know about you, other than that some of my fears and guesses were true? I’m not convinced that Bob and Frank aren’t also B, and you two aren’t also A.” then he looked away, not saying anything else.
Ayva looked at him, then looked at me, then looked at the odd looking dirt bike closest to her. “Bob, let’s go before they can move again.”
As we drove off on the nearly silent bikes, I thought about how cleanly we had just cut ourselves off from any sort of support from either the military or law enforcement. After that display, even if we were forgiven for resisting capture or arrest or whatever it might be called when the military tried to capture someone for law enforcement, we would never be allowed to fit into society as we had managed before. We’d be lucky to be allowed to live unmolested by the law or military, and might have to move to another country if things got bad enough.
I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head. Was I getting even more paranoid or was our enemy actually good enough to plan for something like this to happen, so they could isolate us?