The bikes were everything I had hoped they would be. They were almost exclusively carbon except where other materials were required for reasons of channeling electricity. Potentially, with enough time and power, Frank could have created the bikes exclusively from carbon. It would have taken substantially more power and time though. Collecting carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide out of the air and disassociating the carbon, was a lot less energy intensive than actually reprogramming matter. Taking all the oxygen molecules and disassembling them into their constituent protons, neutrons, and electrons then reassembling those atomic building blocks into the atoms he needed for the rest of the bike parts was also far less energy intensive than matter reprogramming.
The only real quantum level matter reprogramming Frank had to do was to protect us and the people around us from the energies being released by our matter manipulation. When he was prepared for it, and had the energy from the virtual world to reprogram the skin of the inside of the pouch, the kangaroo pouch was quite radiation proof, thank you. There was still some heat and energy that Frank couldn’t completely harness, so he programmed our inner epidermis and all mucous membranes and other entrances to the body to be complete nonconductors, and our external skin was programmed to be a conductor that would let us ground ourselves through our feet. The matter manipulation Frank did yielded a lot of energy, which was mostly transferred into charging the capacitors for the bikes. The waste energy was radiated from our skin, as infrared, UVA, UVB, and some UVC, as well as visible spectrum light.
What we had done was pretty ham handed and crude compared to what B had done. If one wanted to be generous about our relative abilities with energy and matter manipulation, one might say that Frank was finger painting with a few primary colors, B was generating full motion video in trillions of pixels per second at natural light wavelength precision, and me? When I did matter and energy manipulation, the skill of my work was more like a monkey slinging poo against a white wall. Ayva really didn’t like that example when I muttered it within her hearing once. I’m better at matter manipulation than she is. She didn’t talk to me after dinner that night, until I figured out what she had heard and apologized for it.
As we drove, Ayva and I spoke between each other. The bikes were not entirely silent, because we were travelling over solid ground. However they were quiet enough we could speak in a low tone and hear each other just fine. Sure, we could have just talked by any number of different ways. Frank and Danielle could bridge us together with any number of different applications of physics besides simple sound transfer. Ayva and I could create a communications bridge in radio or a few other frequencies ourselves for that matter. That wasn’t an option if there wasn’t an emergency though. One of the things that Ayva and I both had always agreed on was that we would try our best to “stay human”.
Right now, Ayva was very unhappy. So was I.
“Frank, I’ve reviewed what I did to remove the radiation and create the extra capacitors in our body, and what you did to cut tendons and empty the juice reservoirs of those soldiers. I’ve looked at what you did to create the bikes. I simply don’t get it. Was there no way to do it without so much waste energy, or is B that much advanced over us that you don’t have a sense of what he does differently than what we do.”
Frank replied out loud for all of our benefit. “[I have no real observational evidence of how B does what he does with matter reprogramming. That being said, I suspect that he’s shifting the waste energy into one of the eight additional dimensions he mentioned being able to tap for energy. After all, for there to be any net energy gain for him from being connected to multiple dimensions, some must be at higher energy levels than others. Others, presumably will be at low energy levels. So he might simply be shifting waste energy into other dimensions that are at a lower energy state than our dimension. That’s just a guess. For all I know he can actually process the reprogramming at a level I can’t begin to comprehend, and create no waste energy. Danielle, has A mentioned anything about dimensional power handling or matter reprogramming techniques to you?]”
Danielle borrowed Ayva’s voice to speak. “[We, ah, offered the fact that B had mentioned being able to connect to eight other dimensions, and let her see what he had done with his Avatar in an effort to try to maybe get a future offer of assistance from her. Of course it was completely transparent to her. We knew it would be and didn’t pretend we weren’t trying to curry a bit of favor for the future. She was amused at Ayva and my ‘cheekiness’, and advised us that she had already pried that knowledge out of B, and offered us a future favor anyway, with her choice of implementation method. She did clearly state that she wouldn’t be using dimensional energy for terraforming Mars though. B had already taken sufficient measurements of the dimensional energies to determine that while there was no hard limit to the dimensions’ energy content that he could perceive, there were apparently local limits. Using a lot of energy too rapidly causes measureable drops in potential, which stabilize rapidly. Terraforming Mars with the energy available from other dimensions would be easy, but it would be hugely energy intensive and might upset some sort of balance. Since she rarely deals with humans directly except for us, she has little use for dimensional energy. There’s plenty of solar power for her to do what needs doing.]”
I grinned. “So A is an Energy Star compliant biocomputer then? You raised her well, you two!”
Ayva shook her head and accelerated her bike a bit beyond mine, breaking off conversation. A few seconds later she slowed down a bit and came back next to me. “While it might be interesting to discuss the differences between how we do things and how A and B do them, we’ve got some more immediate things to concern ourselves with. I’ve sent a command back to the house and was able to get the biofactory to consume the bottle, cork, note, string, and weight then break them all down. I had it pay special attention to the cork. It was, in fact, not some homogenous cork construct like the bottle. It was new, but had growth features, mineral content, and DNA that allowed Danielle and I to isolate its growing region in almost no time. The cork appears to have come from Algeria about twenty years ago, based on growth patterns and mineral content.”
“Has that allowed you to isolate the vineyard, based on the wine, the cork, and the size of the facilities, access to underground caves, or the ability to dig or build unobtrusively?”
“Yes, there are seven candidates. None of them actually produced pinot noir for sale at any time, it was purely private stock, a side effort of very small scale, all in areas around, but not in, the Russian River Valley. It was apparently some sort of contest between them to see whose growing environment, agricultural techniques, and wine making techniques would produce a higher quality pinot noir. They all bought and shared the same supplies. Barrels, yeast, bottles, corks. Everything was bought in bulk for the pinot noir experiment, and shared between the contestants so that nobody would have an unaccounted-for variable. Not foolproof by any means, but it saved them money at the same time, so worth doing financially, even for a small project. The intent of the contest was apparently to share what they learned about cultivating a difficult to grow grape in an area that wasn’t ideal for it, but the two consistent winners chose not to share their secrets, and the entire arrangement fell apart.”
Ayva shook her head a little, with a bit of a smile. “Ironically the two with the consistently best pinot noir wines went out of business first because their other wines were subpar and were not able to consistently command a price high enough to support their operations. Only one of the vineyards we’ll be considering is still producing wine, and they don’t have pinot noir grapes at all any longer. The rest now just produce table grapes.”
I thought about it. “So all of the potential hits are still active grape or wine producers? None are abandoned or being used for less manpower intensive agriculture, or privately owned land?”
“Exactly. Which makes this whole thing with the wine clue seem a whole lot less useful. Danielle and I have been looking at all the research we can lay our hands on in regards to cloning, and turning up no human technologies with better than a one percent success ratio for true clones of any vertebrate. We also looked into cryogenic freezing, and there’s no conclusive evidence that it’s ever been made to work by any human for any vertebrate other than berserkers. Extended cryogenic freezing of symbiotes tends to damage the host human mind, which had made freezing symbiote pairs a very unpopular subject of study. This will probably change as more symbiotes become capable of high quality recordings of grey matter state data.”
“Understandable, certainly.” I shuddered, remembering Jason and Mouse’s three squad mates who had been forcibly restrained, removed from imprisonment, and allowed/forced to develop into berserkers. When they converted, they were frozen solid with liquid nitrogen. Even frozen solid, the berserkers’ processors had still been fully active, and while frozen, they had been educated with all the combat footage of me they could find, as well as all other combat footage of berserkers that they could find, showing tactics used to defeat them.
Jason and Mouse having to shoot down their old squad mates, even though they were no longer human in their minds, was a terrible experience for Mouse, and he had nearly killed me afterwards, just to send them off in ‘good company’ with me, the one that they were supposed to have been hunting down. Jason and Mouse certainly linked me with the deaths of his old squad. Not a direct link, but I was related to their deaths through a couple event chains. Between that and the fact that I had now violated Mouse’s mind twice, there would probably never be a reconciliation. Maybe, eventually, a lack of hostility.
Ayva snapped her fingers at me. “Self-recriminations later. Planning now. The vineyards are still a valid clue.”
I snapped back to full attention, and replayed the relevant discussion under the perception effect while I was nodding in agreement and saying “Yes, agreed.” To Ayva.
She smiled. She knew I was under the perception effect. Something about how my eyes blinked differently, she said. I’d watched myself in the mirror, and couldn’t see it. Frank couldn’t either. But we’d tested her, and she could tell nine of ten times correctly if I was in or out of the perception effect. It drove Frank crazy almost. She was seeing something he couldn’t quantify, or Danielle was, and was telling her. They weren’t telling. I told Frank it was probably “mommy senses” that Danielle had figured out, and he scoffed at that idea. Until I pointed out that he didn’t have a better explanation, and that I tended to have some pretty odd moments of nonlinear thinking myself. He conceded that it might have some merit, and spent a week digging through all the research he could find on ESP in regards to people knowing about what was happening to close friends, relatives, children, siblings, etc. Fruitlessly, but it kept him engaged, and I know that he was constantly watching Ayva and I for signs of transmissions between us that might explain such things.
“So, we have found no way to reduce the facility size required to create ten same-age child clones. They would have needed, at an absolute minimum, one hundred cloning facilities, and potentially as many as a thousand without some sort of stasis or cryogenic storage. Unless of course they are more capable than either you or I in terms of being able to create clones based on other people’s DNA. And your research doesn’t point to that being likely.”
Ayva nodded. “I think we fixated too much on the vineyards. I believe the object might have just been to get us into the right geographical region.”
I thought about it, trying to remember what I knew about grape cultivation. “Or maybe the pinot noir grape vines were sold to another vineyard, and there might be a clue there?”
Ayva thought about it for a minute. “I think that’s grasping at straws. If that were the case, I’d imagine that we would have gotten a slightly different wine and cork from B.”
“I think you’re right. Trying to think too deep. So we make our way to the Russian River Valley, and start poking around looking for signs of black-hat-wearing, pencil-thin-mustache-twirling, beady-eyed-staring bad guys watching us from poorly-chosen points of concealment, right?”
Ayva laughed. “Something like that. So we’re still in agreement to follow the wine trail then?”
I thought about it before nodding. “It’s the only hint or clue that we’ve gotten that didn’t come from what appears to be a carefully laid series of traps and some extremely good planning and execution of black ops.” I hoped we could still consider A and B to be above consideration for the role of ‘black hats.’ If either A or B wanted Ayva or me dead or gone, or wanted to simply reprogram us however they wanted to, it would be child’s play for them to do it.
“OK, Bob, you can try to self-recriminate now. You know you didn’t make Jim or Jason attack you, they chose to, and I think it was due to the energy signature you threw off. They weren’t expecting it. Neither was I, for that matter. They almost certainly read my physical reaction to your energy output well enough to realize that I didn’t know what you were doing, and decided you had cracked or something.” Ayva looked at me for a second, straight into my eyes. “I reacted in a startled manner and moved towards you myself before the other two did. Frank was able to see me approaching, I’m sure. I’m also fairly sure that if I hadn’t stopped a couple feet away from you, you would have woken up to see me on the ground with the soldiers, if Danielle hadn’t done some really fast talking.”
I asked Frank, internally, to let me see the recordings, and I’m fairly sure she was right. Colonel Gantt has apparently reacted after Ayva did, and based on his eyes, he reacted based on what Ayva had done as she moved quickly towards me, arms outstretched to grab me, before stopping when Frank turned to face her and told her “It’s only waste energy.” I nodded. The attack made sense now.
After another couple seconds thinking about it while avoiding a few stumps. “You’re probably right about what set them off. A combination of the unexpected from me, and your reaction to my unexpected appearance and behavior.” I thought for a moment. “Does Colonel Gantt know about our agreement to monitor one another for instability?” If he did, I’d be mad, because he wouldn’t have gotten it from me. I’ve been mad at Ayva before, and I’d get over it again, but I’d damn well have a reason from her about why she betrayed my trust if she had told him.
“Absolutely not, unless he somehow picked it out of how we act towards one another, which would be extremely unlikely, I think. It’s not like either of us has had to consider it to any significant degree yet. We’ve both been remarkably stable, all things considered.”
Ayva and I had both realized that either of us could do terrible damage to humanity if we chose to. We were also both well beyond the ability of law enforcement or the military to handle without extremely absurd force levels. So we watched each other. It was one of several very good reasons why we chose to live and act like as if we were just as human as the next Joe and Jane. The biggest reason was that we simply felt no need to display our superiority on a day to day basis. Every now and then, sure, in a controlled fashion we would show off. Usually me, doing things to show off to non symbiotes what they would eventually gain from taking on a symbiote. We enjoyed being “normal” though we both fully understood that a lot of our enjoyment about “being normal” was because we knew that at any time, with any sign of extreme discomfort, we could stop being normal, fix whatever problem was irritating us, then return to being normal again.
Ayva was not allowed to experiment in the real world. All of her experiments were modeled in the virtual world. B offered perfect control over experiments anyway, with zero possibility of data corruption. I was also forbidden from engaging in real world modeling of microorganisms.
Frank and Danielle watched over each other as well as us at the external data level. In essence they shared all incoming and outgoing data. They absolutely refused to share their internal thoughts though, and I couldn’t blame them. Ayva and I wouldn’t do that either, even if we could. Frank and Danielle were not emotional about each other either. They were more like good friends. When discrepancies were discovered, Frank and Danielle clarified them, and on the very rare occasions when they couldn’t, Ayva and I sat down and talked with one another about them. The only discrepancies we had discovered about Ayva had been centered on Doctor Meilin’s visit to us after I returned to our temporary home in Australia after Frank and my first merger. We had figured out that Argoen had hidden herself in Doctor Meilin somehow. We wrote off Ayva and Danielle’s few discrepancies between mine and Frank’s memories and theirs to the reprogramming. Human memories were a bit creative sometimes, and Argoen might not have done a perfect job. Ayva didn’t like them, but they were minor inconsistencies.
My memory discrepancies were a whole lot more worrisome. There were entire hours of my history, during the time when Frank and I had merged, as told by others, which I had zero memory of. I had apparently crashed the NSA server farm, provided data collected during that process to the President, then assisted the military to make arrests of more than one hundred fifty traitorous individuals. I had zero memory of any of this. I guessed that Argoen realized she couldn’t give me false memories of what I was doing at those times, or it might have had an impact on my sanity as more and more evidence developed from outside sources that my memories were false. So she had simply given me amnesia. The amnesia was bad, bothersome, and I hated it. At the same time, I wasn’t able to do anything about it, and B indicated that he wasn’t able to either. Argoen might not have done a perfect job in our minds, but she had done a very good job, and there simply wasn’t enough left to reconstruct, not even for B.
Ayva spoke again, sadness in her voice. “You realize that every time we have to do something like this, the worse it’s going to be for us when everyone else finally starts to catch up a bit, right?”
I could only nod. “Yes. In another year’s time, thirty well trained and coordinated symbiote soldiers will be able to take us down unless we use deadly force, and maybe even then. Frank and Danielle are slowing down in their advancement, and everyone else is going to be improving at the pace Danielle and Frank did for their first year after upgrading storage nodes to allow both storage and processing. If there’s nothing else that humans can do well, its working together to take down prey bigger and more dangerous than we are. The only way we’d stop that from happening is if we went on a killing spree. Which I can’t see either of us having any interest in. It would probably trigger our agreement in any case, and I don’t see either of us wanting that.”
Frank and Danielle stayed out of that discussion, though I could feel Frank’s irritation, even anger, at the discussion of the agreement. Danielle was almost certainly feeling the same way. They had fought Ayva and myself tooth and nail throughout the entire time that we had discussed the terms of our agreement. If either of us started to lose control, and couldn’t be restored to sanity by A or B, the other would attempt to take them down.
I thought about it and finally decided to bring it up. There’s no way Ayva wouldn’t think about it on her own anyway. “If they really wanted to, they could snipe us down with massed hypervelocity weapons even now. Surprise us with a couple urchins driven by good pilots with infantry support, and they could gun us down. Do enough damage and Frank and Danielle would no longer be able to maintain backups of our mental state to write back into regrown grey matter.”
She didn’t look back at me. “Yes, you’re right. We knew it would happen sooner than later, but I was hoping that it would be a lot later than sooner. Jason and Mouse were planning on using that weapon they grew. That was very clearly obvious by their thought patters. They weren’t masking at all.”
As we drove, we began discussing how our lives would be changing, where we might live, and how we would interact with others. Trying to decide if we wanted to simply shape shift into some animal form and live in the woods or oceans for a few years, or maybe we might simply go sink a shaft into a mountain somewhere remote and hide there a few years.
A couple minutes into the discussion, my jaw dropped.
Ayva looked at me, then looked at where I was facing, and looked back to me, puzzled.
After a couple seconds going over what had just struck me to be sure it made sense from all angles, I laughed and told Ayva, “One mystery solved, I think. B didn’t move because of some strange reason that we could never understand. He moved because we would feel obligated to watch over and protect his body if he was still there.”