Frank pulling away all the processing power like that wouldn’t normally be a problem, but I had been using a tiny bit of it for the perception effect, to allow me to casually move through the woods at nearly thirty miles per hour. When he abruptly yanked the rug out from underneath me, metaphorically, I was completely unprepared. I ran face first into a tree that I had known was there and I was preparing to move around, but my timing was completely thrown off, and the brief shock of losing all processing power and how Frank had done it made the collision inevitable. I might have avoided it if I had been warned. Rather than allow myself to bounce off the tree and land flat on my ass, I wrapped my arms around the tree and held on.
Ayva slowed and stopped, then came back to look at me, a worried look on her face. “You OK, Bob?”
“Mostly my pride hurt. Frank just pulled all the processor power right when I was about to dodge this pine.” I bumped my forehead against the tree for emphasis. Then I let go of the tree and stepped back, brushing myself off, creating a small shower of pine bark around me.
Ayva tilted her head. “OK, I was worried you might have become a ‘treehugger’ all of a sudden. What set Frank off? Danielle’s never done that to me before.”
I laughed. Straight from humor to seriousness. The treehugger thing wasn’t that funny. At least not to me. The fact that she transitioned that fast, straight from humor to serious, was. “Well, I guess I did become a ‘treehugger’ for a couple seconds there. Can’t be denied. You saw it.” I smiled as I reached for a little processing power to interface with Frank’s nanites and check myself for injuries, only to hit a wall. No processing power for me.
Ayva cut her eyes at me, waiting. The patience wouldn’t last long. Danielle was pretty heavily engaged too, probably trying to figure out what might have made Frank cut me off.
“One second, I’m having to check for injuries the old fashioned way, by seeing where I hurt. I’m also having to organize my thoughts without processing power to help. A few seconds, please.” I did a couple stretching exercises. Plenty of soreness, but nothing to indicate an injury. I could feel the euphoric effect of the regeneration drip acting. I had apparently suffered enough bruising injuries for the regeneration drip to kick in at more than just the base drip level. Frank normally shielded me from mind altering effects unless I specifically requested them, which was rare. I had been stripped of all contact with Frank. I couldn’t even feel him working.
Ayva walked up to me. “Stand up straight.”
I did. She reached toward my face with one hand and lifted up one eyelid, then the other with her thumb, then moving her right index finger in front of my eyes. I followed the finger with my eyes without saying anything. She was obviously checking me for brain damage or a concussion. “No obvious concussion. You seem to be moving without debilitating pain.”
“Thanks Ayva. Chances of any serious damage after a collision at that speed were pretty minimal, I think, but without any processing resources to work with, I’m happy for a second opinion. Let’s get moving. If I am not counting on the perception effect, I think I can manage to keep the pace.”
“Bob, tell me first. I’m not going to start running again until you tell me what set off Frank. That way if it sets off Danielle the same way, I don’t face plant on a pine tree like you did.”
“We need to keep moving, we’re slower off the bikes, and it won’t take them long to figure out the bikes have stopped. Isolate your running from Danielle and let’s move.”
Ayva agreed, and we both started to run. I let Ayva lead, since she still had Danielle to speak to.
Speaking of Danielle, it was only seconds after we started running when Danielle spoke up, addressing me directly. Ayva appeared a bit startled when she did, as neither Frank nor Danielle tended to start conversations with anyone except their respective hosts. They would join a conversation we started, or say things unbidden when there was danger, but typically they were moderately vocal with us internally, but not externally. “[Bob, I hope you realize that the suspense is not quite killing me, but I’m losing my patience with you. I want to know what question you posed to Frank, because based on his processor activity, it’s pretty big. I can’t see details but I can tell everything he’s doing right now is centered on a central concept. I’ve never seen Frank put all of his processing capacity towards a single question before, and he’s not being very cautious about his internet activities either. It’s traceable if anyone wants to look. I could probably figure out what you asked based on his queries, but it would take time, and you are right here. I know it’s about Mouse and Jason and their development and history. Tell me details.]”
“OK Danielle, I won’t let Frank have all the fun, but try to synch with him if you can. After this much time he has to have done a huge amount of analysis. The fact that he’s still going at it means he has not been able to rule it out, or prove it. Mouse was masking processing capacity. We don’t know how much. Frank was able to see signs of about a year’s worth of development, and we don’t know how much of what Frank saw might have been a second layer of deception. I just asked Frank whether or not it might be possible for Jason and Mouse to have created a system node, J, in much the same way we did with A and B. I figured that with the giant body, and all the potential processing power that would give him simply based on bone volume, he might have been able to accelerate Mouse’s development and create a system node before A and B’s countermeasures would have prevented it.”
Ayva stumbled but kept running. Then she started to laugh. “Yes, Danielle just did the same thing to me that Frank did to you.” She looked up at the sky and along the bases of several oaks that we passed, obviously looking for the position of the sun, and where moss was growing, respectively.
After a couple minutes, “It’s so weird being cut off from all of their processing power, isn’t it, Bob?”
“It does feel strange. Like a missing tooth. I keep feeling for processing power, and being surprised when it’s not there. We’ve become dependent on it, at least to some degree, apparently.” I responded.
“It feels good though, doesn’t it? I wonder if we could convince Danielle and Frank to occupy each other for a while every now and then, leaving us in this state? I know that they derive a lot of stimulus from us, but I imagine that they might be able to occupy one another for an hour or so every now and then.”
I had been thinking almost exactly the same thing. “It’s possible. It’s happening right now. I’m not sure how agreeable they would be to doing it regularly. Definitely worth asking though.”
We briefly considered stopping right then and there and having sex without spectators for the first time in our relationship, but decided that we really needed to keep moving. Now that we knew Frank and Danielle could leave us completely alone in our heads if they wanted to, we could work on making them want to. The fact that Frank had never even told me this was possible was irritating. I looked back at the memories I shared with Frank. They were not clear as they should have been since I was filtering them organically, without a digital filter for Frank’s memories which would normally have popped right into place at need. Apparently this isolation wasn’t possible before B spun us back out. That was interesting all by itself, but not interesting enough to keep my attention.
It was another ten minutes before Frank and Danielle returned back to us with their answers. The first thing Frank did was release a little processor power to me, and I could tell that Danielle and Frank were still collaborating. By the shape of the conversation that I could follow without prying, they were sharing conclusions and finalizing their investigation.
As processor capacity became available to me, I took careful care to note my reactions to it, setting aside a snippet of processing power to track what I did with loaned processor power. Definitely very much like an addiction. I’d beaten a marijuana habit in college, then brushed up against a bit of a drinking problem in my early twenties, and finally busted a smoking habit as a fortieth birthday gift to myself. The worst addiction though, that had been computer gaming. I would definitely need to speak to Frank about this, and watch it carefully.
I wondered if Ayva was doing the same, but did not ask. Her business. As I started to understand my own reactions to what appeared to be a case of processing addiction, I’d be in a better place to discuss it with her.
“Frank, let’s keep this open for all. Please speak out loud with what you and Danielle found.” I really hoped that we weren’t about to discover that Mouse and Jason had unleashed some unhinged, merged version of themselves into the world. I wasn’t sure if A and B would even help us with that. Would they work against another being much like themselves? Could they, without employing energies that would result in serious problems for humanity? Imagining B in a real fight with another being of comparable abilities scared me. A lot. Especially if the enemy was amoral and was willing to use humans against B like they had used children against Ayva.
“[It was within the realm of possibility, but they didn’t do it. There is no J. There is no way you could have forced that data onto Mouse earlier so easily if he had developed to the point where they might have create a system node. Even if they had created one from themselves, then been reconstituted as we were. I also see no evidence of any sort of large biological constructs in any place where Mouse has spent time in the last year or so. This included a very intense search of large volume purchases, or serial small scale purchases, of foodstuffs sufficient to feed a newly created system node. Remember how much A and B consumed when they started, and how difficult it was at times to even arrange for the food, until we made an arrangement with the cooking oil company?]” Frank came right out and answered the question. No hesitation or waffling. Solid reasoning. Good.
“You spent a great deal of time fully involved in the investigation. Did you find out anything else that might be of interest to us?” I asked.
“[Yes. Jason and Mouse did spend several weeks in the Russian River Valley last year, doing paid work for a company called Combine Corp. Apparently he uses his income from his paid work to allow him to do charity work. He was involved in excavating and creating the power and communications infrastructure for a large underground complex for use as a server farm, powered by geothermal power.]”
“How large, Frank?” I asked. It couldn’t be this easy, could it?
“[About a square mile of space on four levels, not including the geothermal facilities. I was able to find a rough schematic of the facility’s initial design as proposed to Jason and Mouse. I also found a few of the emails back and forth between Mouse and the person paying him, referencing enhancements to structural stability, security and redundancy of systems, but no additional schematics. Whoever contracted with Mouse on this had to be a symbiote, based on the responses. They were answering complex questions about specific subsections of the project with only a few seconds of consideration. This occurred several times.]”
“Any idea who their customer was?” Ayva asked.
“[None. Neither Danielle nor I could find any data on them at all, other than a corporate email address and their name. Facet.]”
“Only one name, for a symbiote pair?” That certainly seemed odd. Especially for a symbiote pair with the resources to engage Jason and Mouse on a project that large and complex. They had some serious real world resources backing them up, and symbiote pairs operating on that level on the world stage typically were very clear to indicate the name of the human and symbiote in any correspondence, so nobody would be unclear about the fact that they were dealing with a symbiote pair. It saved a lot of litigation time if potential scammers recognized they were dealing with a symbiote, and just moved on to the next target. There had been cases where symbiotes had engaged each other directly in conflict over corporate resources, but they were rare. There was normally a compromise that could be made, or other targets that were easier targets.
Danielle fielded that question. “[Mouse challenged them on that as well, wanting to know more clearly who he was dealing with. He was simply told that his human host had no interest in this project.]”
I thought about that for a moment. It was plausible that a symbiote might take on a project completely independently from its human host. Hell, Frank had done that himself inside me for years when he hid the fact that he was far more capable than he pretended to be.
“What was the purpose of the facility? Why would a symbiote want something like that when they could just create a biocomputer?”
Danielle spoke up, “[This facility was going to be monitored by biocomputers. A square mile of modern human supercomputer rack space is far more processing power than a biocomputer created by a young symbiote can manage. Think about a full square mile of Datacenter rack space. Also remember that the symbiote that Mouse was dealing with was probably young, likely hosted by an already successful businessman or wealthy individual if they had access to resources like that. If they had the resources to populate that datacenter, that much human processing capacity would be a huge boost to them.]”
Frank spoke briefly to indicate his agreement. “[It’s strange but plausible.]”
“So, the purpose of the facility was to essentially provide raw processing power, controlled by a biocomputer, and presumably maintained by biofactories? A dark site?”
“[Exactly. The problem is that after contracting Mouse, arranging for the excavation and infrastructure, and paying for it, there have been zero references to any ‘Facet’ symbiote with sufficient resources to have such work done that I can find anywhere. The company also disappeared into some absurdly complex corporate takeover that ended up being litigated, and all details are under a gag order that is being honored by all parties.]”
I tried to sort it out in my head. An apparently young symbiote with access to a lot of financial resources, acting independently of its human host to establish a massive datacenter that it would use to supplement its own processing capacity, using biocomputers to interface, and biofactories for maintenance. In essence something a lot like what Frank and I had done for the biocomputer we had rigged up to monitor John, the symbiote that had allowed us to watch them become a berserker, because he had no desire to live without a mentally active host.
Frank had designed a biocomputer that was a combination of human computing technology and symbiote technology. It was not implausible that this ‘Facet’ might have just been thinking bigger, with the resources to act on it.
Ayva asked a new question that grabbed my attention. “Danielle, if B hadn’t introduced the wine data to us, how likely would it be for you to have stumbled across this? Same for you, Frank.”
Danielle and Frank answered at the same time, Danielle started a bit faster, and Frank stopped talking. “[Near zero probability. We wouldn’t have just thrown out a random search without being led there by some sort of data. B led us to the wine and the region, and Mouse led us to the region and his interactions there.]”
Frank simply replied “[Agreed.]”
I asked several questions, one after the other, to see if there were answers to any of them. “Did you see any indication about what this facility was going to be helping to research? What did the company do? Was there any sort of mission statement? Did the project ever go live?”
Frank fielded that one. “[No. Unknown. No. Unknown]”
I parsed the answer. “We don’t even know if the project went live?”
Frank replied, “[It’s off grid, and a dark site. No humans go there, except rarely, based on what I can see of satellite imagery. There are only four parking spaces outside the facility. Last year, many hundreds of large volume deliveries from human companies specializing in high end human computer equipment entered the facility, some of which I can find purchase records for, all leading back to Combine Corp. There are also records of purchase and delivery of half a dozen industrial sized 3D printers, and huge masses of metal and plastic stocks for the printers. That doesn’t include the sorted minerals prepared for use by industrial 3D printers that had been left behind by contract by Mouse and Jason. We don’t know what material stocks those might have been, but it was probably a mixed bag of metals, gems, and silicon, perhaps with some coal mixed in. No telling what the deep shaft for heat transfer might have yielded. Mouse could tell us, but he’s not exactly in our corner right now.]”
I started to get a headache. Ayva was looking a bit cross-eyed as well. I understood why the research had taken Frank and Danielle so long. They hadn’t been able to unravel it.
I tried to put what I was thinking out there for others to comment on. “So Mouse and Jason did a massive excavation job, with off grid geothermal power generation, plus internal power systems and communications infrastructure for a company that has dropped off the face of the planet. There was definite involvement by a symbiote named ‘Facet’ based on the complexity and rapidity of the few emails that were able to be found dating from before the litigation that has led to a lot of data being stored off grid so we can’t hack it. We don’t know who Facet’s human host is. Facet seemed to be interested in a large scale utilization of human technology to expand their own capabilities. The exact purpose of the facility, and what Facet wanted to research, was never indicated clearly in any place Frank or Danielle can find. The facility was seen to be accepting large quantities of computer equipment and 3D printing equipment. The facility is based in the Russian River Valley.”
Ayva nodded. “Sounds like we have a clear target to investigate. They might be legit, but if so, it’s close enough to our problems to warrant us looking really close.”
Frank and I noticed something moving behind Ayva, but Frank reacted faster, picking up a green pine cone that had fallen, unripe, and throwing a fastball right past Ayva’s shoulder. There was a cloud of black feathers where Frank’s fastball had blown the crow off its perch. If fell to the ground, but quickly righted itself and started running along the ground, trying to get into the air. It didn’t display any sign of injury. Ayva and Danielle were extremely fast on the uptake as soon as they saw the crow moving after it took a two hundred mile per hour unripe pine cone to the breastbone. They hit it with another thrown pine cone as Frank and I charged it, knocking it to the ground again, keeping it from getting airborne. When it recovered from the second fall, it stopped trying to pretend to be a crow and burned a substantial amount of juice taking off from the ground with a rapidity that we couldn’t match. When we reached where the crow had taken off, I could clearly smell Jason and Mouse’s scent.
As the crow sped off into the woods back towards where we left the bikes, it was completely silent, and avoided everything we threw at it, dodging rapidly in and around the trees.
After a few seconds, we realized that we were being led back towards the bikes, and broke off pursuit. I expected the crow to follow us but it didn’t. Maybe we had damaged its transmitter.
“Well, Mouse knows where we are now, or he will soon, if that crow has to find him to report. Having a body that big certainly allows him a lot more luxury in how much mass he can use to create off-the-cuff constructs.”
Ayva commented. “That crow was damn good work, Bob, I was impressed. I wish we’d been able to bring it down, not just to keep it from reporting, but also to see how they made it.”
I agreed, but only nodded. I was more worried about how many other surprises Jason and Mouse might have for us, what their mental state might be right now, and how much force they were willing to utilize.