Ayva considered my idea about B’s motivations in leaving, Danielle obviously contributing to discussion based on her processor activity. After a minute, they stopped internal discussion and Ayva said “That makes a lot of sense based on what we know now. It begs the question though – how much of what we know now, did B know before? We know, or think we know, that B can’t see the future, or predict it reliably enough to prevent at least some problems.”
I thought about it. “I’m not even considering the environment or events, only psychology. B is based fairly strongly on my own personality, with some of the more obnoxious primate instincts adjusted so that he’s devoted to protection of the human race as a whole in much the same way as a parent, rather than the strange and convoluted biological instinctual crap that twists human relationships. He’s also strongly opposed to being in debt or putting himself in debt.”
“Debt being knowledge, power, or influence debt, I assume? It’s not like he needs anything physical from the world other than things he can create with dimensional energies and mass reprogramming.” Ayva commented thoughtfully.
“Any debt. Frank and I didn’t really understand at the time of B’s creation exactly what he would become. We still have no idea what’s out there in the rest of the universe, other than at least one more race of aliens, far in advance of our own in terms of how long they have had access to symbiotes.”
“So you basically just left your debt aversion intact when you and Frank made adjustments?”
I grinned. “Pretty much. Between the debt aversion and the parenting instincts, it makes perfect sense that B would simply move on to somewhere away from us once he was capable of supplying all of his own needs. I think I can put myself in his headspace as far as that goes, at least for a hypothetical reaction based on simple psychology. Even if he gets confused and sends us cryptic messages made from wine bottles.” I realized I might have been overreaching my actual understanding of B’s mental processes after thinking that, but I still felt confident, so I let it stand.
“So B moved himself down to Antarctica. Is there a symbiote community there yet? I think I heard something about starting one.” Ayva spoke, not really asking me, but talking to herself loud enough that I could comment if I wanted to.
I had actually looked into that briefly after B left. “Not that I’m aware of. There are definitely plans for coastal settlements, but even for us, living inland in Antarctica would be extremely difficult. We need food for energy. A and B are beyond that. A simply grew food within herself, and B recently figured out how to work with dimensional energy. B wouldn’t need to stay on the coasts. He’ll probably find something in the middle of the continent and settle himself there, and prepare defenses. At this point, he has to be considering that other races might come to interfere with humanity. I can only hope that Frank and I didn’t leave anything in B that will cause an inappropriate reaction to aliens. I’m sure they must trade something, or travel, or whatever, and Argoen is going to tell others about us, I would think. That’s a lot more guesswork though.”
We rode in near silence for a while, thinking our own thoughts. I could tell something was bothering Ayva.
“Want to talk it out?” I asked. I wasn’t going to go fishing and asking random questions. She had plenty of things she could be worried about right now.
“I know it’s silly, with all the other things going on, but I feel really bad about ducking the arrangement we made with Bill and Tanya. Most of the other things happening around us right now are fuzzy and imprecise problems, unknown data, unknown motivations, etc. With Bill and Tanya, it’s really simple. We both know that they are probably going to ask for me to provide them with symbiotes. They can get them from other adult female symbiotes as well, I’m sure, but I gave Kirk his. The human community seems to think that there is a difference between the symbiote offspring provided by different female symbiote adults. That’s not the case now. It could be, if either of us experimented. In a couple more years, others might be able to make changes too.”
I held up my left index finger next to my ear for a moment, and nodded, indicating that I needed to think a minute before responding. Ayva nodded and continued to think.
There were quite a few ways we could dodge law enforcement and approach Bill and Tanya, but each of them had downsides. We could simply go straight to Bill and Tanya’s and deal with whatever got put in our way. Going down that path led to a very dark future relationship with authority figures. Providing an example of civil disobedience just because we felt like it wasn’t exactly something either Ayva or I would want to do either. We had strong reasons for not wanting to be taken into custody, but Joe and Jane human or new symbiote pair would see us manhandling law enforcement or the military just because we didn’t want to be captured. From their point of view, there was good reason to capture us at this point. We gave them that just a brief while ago when we resisted the military.
So we would have to go in covertly. We could simply mask ourselves as normal humans, except for our scent. Hiding the scent could be done in many ways, all of which were highly difficult and prone to failure. The easiest sounding way would be to simply use the resources in our private virtual world space to modify our bodies into animals, and completely seal our human bodies inside. There were really only two choices of animal types massive enough to disguise our bodies, which wouldn’t cause a great deal of excitement if a pair of them were seen to be moving rapidly across public lands. Deer and canines. Two large unknown dogs or wolves running together would potentially get some sort of animal control people after us though. Mule deer or white tailed deer would work. Mule deer were a bit larger and travelled in the open more. Various farm animals might work too, but any farm animals seen out and wandering would have people getting out to gather them up. We could, of course, do the same thing with human bodies larger than our own bodies, with a separate organ set for the external “costume” body, but we needed to travel a couple hundred miles to Bill and Tanya’s place, and two humans making that trip might actually gain attention. This really wasn’t hiking or biking territory.
We would also need to leave the bikes somewhere. I looked over at Ayva’s bike and watched the energy signature it was releasing and did some calculations. Drones or satellites would be able to pick them up with a bit of calibration, if Mouse or any of the other symbiotes we had left behind provided the military with data. This was guaranteed to happen. Jason and Mouse would, with zero possible room for doubt, do exactly that. Especially after what I had just done to Mouse. Again.
I really needed to find a way to try to patch things up with Mouse and Jason. I could not possibly imagine friendship there, but I could see a chance for respect and neutrality. I realized something else that I hadn’t considered.
I asked Frank, internally, “Frank, could you tell, based on our meeting with Mouse, whether he was using the method of processing that we invented and provided to him after the attack on the governor, with intentional drawbacks, to throw him off the track of your true capabilities? Or was he using what we taught to Colonel Gantt, the real method?”
I could feel Frank reviewing data. Mouse had not been masked, so Frank had a lot of data to work with.
Frank churned through observations rapidly, I could feel him working. “Bad news, Bob, they used the method that we provided them, the invented one. It’s been at least a year, too. At the same time, it’s clear that they had heavily modified the process before implementing it. They are not a full merger intelligence. They had the foresight or common sense to avoid that. They are certainly a bit off balance though. There’s a greater sharing of traits than we have. Mouse is more analog than I am, and Jason is more digital than you are. However, in their defense, Jason was always a lot more clear of thought than you were on matters technical. He was an extremely talented engineer in many fields in his own right, even before Mouse was released from imprisonment.”
Ayva looked at me, confused. I should have had an answer by now, or given her a visual signal to indicate that I was still thinking.
“Sorry Ayva, I got sidetracked. We can ditch the bikes, and use the virtual world to alter ourselves into mule deer, create an actual shell of deer tissues, and make the trip to Bill and Tanya’s if you want. It’ll be a bit of a hassle, but shouldn’t be a terrible problem. The biggest problem might be the fact that it’s hunting season. Not that anyone is going to stop us with hunting weapons, but if we encounter a symbiote hunter, it could blow our cover if they wound us and can get our real scent. Doable but with risk of discovery. Risk of discovery is actually even greater if we stay on the bikes for another few satellite passes, and let the military get more drones reprogrammed and into the air to follow up on satellite data.”
Ayva looked at my bike, at the back wheel where the drive motor was, and she and Danielle considered everything for a few seconds. “Agreed. Staying on the bikes won’t work long term. Everything has risks. I’d like to visit Bill and Tanya. I promised them I would.”
I hadn’t been aware that Ayva had spoken to Bill and Tanya since I had last discussed the trip with them. Apparently she had. Apparently she had also made a promise. Ayva keeping her promises was as much of a sticking point with her as telling the truth used to be for me. I gave myself a couple bitter moments to be irritated with Frank. When we merged, one of the biggest personality conflicts we had was my truthfulness and Frank’s tendency to lie and conceal things. Even after B did the modifications to separate us again when he created a new body for us, he left a degree of compromise in there. Frank tended to be a bit less likely to lie and conceal things. I, on the other hand, was a lot more comfortable lying. B had apparently, unilaterally, decided that I didn’t need to be as devoted to truthfulness as I had been before he existed. Since B was me, except presumably saner, with less primate mental baggage, I liked to believe that he knew what he was doing, but I still did not appreciate the change in my mental wiring.
I smiled. “Since a promise is involved, I guess that settles it. Does Danielle have any suggestions for the plan?”
Ayva and Danielle thought between themselves for a few seconds. “Not really. It’s a very simple, easy plan. Complex to implement, but the base plan is simple deception which has a good chance of working just fine. Where do you want to leave the bikes?”
“Anywhere, really. When we’re well away from them, we can simply put their GPS coordinates out there and let someone find them. We wouldn’t be able to return for them safely, not without needing to be worried about beating up on a bunch of people trying to do their jobs.”
So we ditched the bikes and simply started running at the thirty mile per hour ground-eating pace that we could maintain without juice. I set Frank to figuring out the parameters of the mule deer design, and he pulled in Danielle to help. It would require a complete skeletal rebuild, and our shape inside the deer would not be the same as the shape of what would normally be inside of a deer, because there had to be deer organs for oxygen transport to keep the deer tissues alive, in addition to all our human organs. In the end, we would have a small pair of deer lungs and a deer heart, plus a deer liver for energy storage so the deer flesh could be kept alive. On the inside of all that would be our human systems and symbiote systems. It seemed very clever and useful, but it would also reduce our ability to act decisively without demolishing the deer disguise. Since we were in the forest anyhow, Frank collected deer DNA samples from hair and velvet bits and pieces he found. I saw Ayva and Danielle doing the same.
My mind kept drifting back to Jason and Mouse. I asked Frank for a couple percentage points of processing power and he agreed, reluctantly. I started modeling potential capabilities of Jason and Mouse against what we had seen from our mysterious new enemy. Thankfully, it didn’t add up. Jason and Mouse were certainly capable of the technical accomplishments, but the human involvement and the emotionless state of those humans just didn’t fit. With the right medical tools and knowledge, humans could have their ability to feel emotions damaged or disabled, but that almost always caused severe issues with other aspects of brain function, and those issues were not the same for each individual. The humans Ayva and I had been attacked by all seemed very uniform, with no clearly identifiable mental issues other than a lack of emotions. Even Frank and I couldn’t alter humans to make them unemotional like that. B probably could, but I couldn’t possibly imagine why he would do so. Again, if B wanted something to happen, he didn’t have to play games to make it happen.
“Ayva, I’ve been thinking about Jason and Mouse, while Frank and Danielle design the costume. They are using the old operating system and merger technique that Frank and I gave him as a distraction to explain how we were more advanced than other symbiotes. It’s heavily modified. They fixed most of the flaws in it and prevented a complete merger. They have been active in the new operating system for around a year, Frank says.”
Ayva remained silent a few seconds, as we continued to run. “Do you suspect Mouse has something to do with what has happened to us?”
“I do not, but I wanted you to consider it as well before I write it off.” I replied, as we both jumped over a fence.
“As far as I remember, neither Jason nor Mouse had any problem with myself or Danielle. Everything I’ve been able to see indicates he has issues with only you. From what I know of him, he’s not likely to hurt you through collateral damage techniques, he’ll go after you directly if it becomes a priority of his to deal with you.”
This all made sense to me, it matched my thoughts almost exactly, but Ayva wasn’t done yet.
“He could be an unwitting agent though. If he’s a bit unstable, he might be convinced to develop technologies or build facilities and not question them as thoroughly as others with comparable abilities might do.”
Frank popped in at that point, out loud. “[Overhearing this conversation, I did some more close looking at Mouse’s processing patterns. They were, in fact, masked. Based on the complexity of the masking, Mouse is far more advanced than he pretended to be. He wasn’t masking his thoughts, he was masking the depth and breadth of his processing capability. Hiding in plain sight. Letting us see what he thought we would want to see. It worked, almost.]”
“Does this change the assessment of the potential that he might be involved in the attacks on us?”, I asked. I thought I knew the answer, but wanted to be sure Frank didn’t disagree.
“[No. Still almost zero chance of that. It’s simply not the way either of them think, and they weren’t hiding their surface thoughts.]”
Ayva spoke up a couple seconds later. “Bob, how long have Jason and Mouse been that big? Wouldn’t that massive size allow them to develop Mouse’s capabilities much more rapidly simply due to Mouse having more available volume for processors?”
“That’s a good question. I don’t know how long he’s been that big, but he’s got about fifteen times our mass, and that might translate into a very impressive boost in learning capacity. In fact, I can’t imagine any other real reason for that size increase. The comment about being his own bulldozer is absurd. Mouse is perfectly capable of creating a biofactory that could be a far better bulldozer than a human shape could ever be.”
“So we know he’s hiding a large amount of capacity from us, with a highly effective partial mask, a mask that Frank didn’t even notice until he looked twice.” Ayva said, looking at me, watching for a reaction.
I had to consider that for a moment. “I still can’t imagine that Mouse would have anything to do with hunting down humans, killing them, then cloning them and forcing you to give the clones symbiotes when the human clones were far too young to support immediate development of the symbiotes into existing bone structures. Jason had several wives over the years, children with each of them, all well taken care of when he faked his death every couple decades. He actually reconciled to some extent or another with all of them but the first, who died before the regeneration drip became available and he was allowed by the government to try to reconcile with them. He has a lot of family, and cares for them. He also maintains his religion, or he seemed to be doing so when I worked with him. I really cannot see the Jason half of Jason and Mouse agreeing to that much carnage to other people’s families in some sort of attack on us.”
Ayva nodded with a painful look on her face. Even though she hadn’t told me about her actual age until just the other day, she had been clear that she was one of the oldest symbiote pairs, and was not a young woman when she was introduced to Danielle. That much was in the records, even if her actual origin wasn’t. According to her, an early childhood disease had rendered her sterile. She had been fertile for many decades now because of Danielle, but without a biological clock ticking, hadn’t really considered a family. That had changed. There would be children, but right now her concern was whether or not children of ours would become a target for our enemies. The recent attack on her with children being involved had been a very unwelcome addition to her fears about children we might have.
I closed the gap between us as we ran, and reached out my hand to her. She accepted the contact, gripped her hand around mine, squeezed once then let go and said “Thank you, Bob.” I just nodded. She knew, and I knew, what I was offering comfort for, an apology for bringing up painful memories.
We ran in silence for a while. I considered my position on Jason and Mouse, and decided that it would be stupid to not give at least some time over to ruling out Jason and Mouse’s involvement. It was even possible that they might have been involved without realizing it. Whoever it was, they were certainly capable of hiding their motivations and activities from Ayva and myself. Jason and Mouse, based on what we knew now, were apparently the third-most-developed symbiote pair on the planet, even though they were based on a suboptimal operating system. It was even possible, though unlikely, that they were more developed than Ayva, but if so, they had completely missed matter reprogramming. That would certainly no longer be the case though. Mouse couldn’t conceivably have missed figuring out what happened to his host body when Frank cut the tendons of his major muscle groups, not if he were developed to anything close to Ayva’s level.
All of this would make our next encounter… dangerous. They had also seemed unfamiliar with duality, one half in the virtual world while the other was in the real world. That would almost certainly no longer be the case at our next meeting, since there had been clear evidence of what we had been doing. I was not looking forward to our next meeting. If Mouse and Jason chose to do so, they might be able to force me to kill them if they learned all the lessons they could have learned today. Mouse didn’t miss much, and they were both very tenacious.
I asked Frank to see if he could backtrack Jason and Mouse’s activities. Nine foot tall humanoids weighing nearly a ton did not travel easily or anonymously amongst humans. Specifically, I wanted to know if he had been to the Russian River Valley.
I had a very unpleasant thought immediately after that, and interrupted Frank as he started to connect to the cellphone network. “Frank, do you think it’s possible that Jason and Mouse might have spun off their own system node J before A and B released the changes to control the potential formation of new system nodes?”
There was a brief, very uncharacteristic, near-complete cessation of all of Frank’s side processes, as he immediately turned all of his attention to what I had just proposed. He didn’t answer me as he ripped away my control of all the processing power I had been borrowing.