Chapter 4.22: Tomahawk

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We kept moving away at the most rapid pace that we could, while not consuming juice. We didn’t bother seeking out water to run in. It wouldn’t matter, not unless we found a large lake, and then it wouldn’t matter for long.

Ayva kept looking sideways at me as we ran. She wanted to talk. I knew she wanted to talk, and she knew I was aware that she wanted to talk. I was in no mood to talk, because I was probably about to be forced to make a decision that I really did not want to make. So I didn’t talk.

After a few seconds, Ayva spoke first. “I’ll do it if you want, Bob.”

Damn it. I stopped, and Ayva stopped as well. Ayva’s offer made me realized I’d only been fooling myself. “No, Ayva, that’s not the way this should work, I don’t think. Of the two of us, you’re the more stable. I think it is better that the less stable one of us take the risks. We agreed to this, remember? We knew it was going to happen at some point, but we hoped it would be later. Mouse is pushing the timetable forward.”

That was when we detected the first energy bloom. It was huge. Mouse was expending absurd amounts of energy. Based on recordings Ayva had showed me, Mouse was utilizing several orders of magnitude more power than I had when building the bikes. He wasn’t bothering to control the radiation either. I didn’t detect any of the strange particles generated during matter reprogramming, so there was some good news – this was all molecular or subatomic construction he was engaged in.

Ayva and I both stared back at the bloom of energy. When it ended, I turned away from Ayva and slammed my right fist into a tree as hard as I could. Without the carbon nanofiber muscles connected, I was relatively weak, but it was still enough of a blow to cause bark to explode off the trunk around my fist, make the tree wobble and shake loose a shower of pine needles around us.

Ayva laid her hand on my shoulder gently. “My offer was real, Bob. If you want, despite our agreement, I’ll handle this.”

My first instinct had been to brush away her hand, but I didn’t act on it. I don’t think Ayva noticed, but I was probably fooling myself. She probably noticed, and ignored it. “I don’t deserve you, Ayva. It’s tempting, but no. The agreement stands.”

I put my right hand, still covered in bits of pine sap and bark on top of her hand, where she had left it gently resting on my shoulder. “Wish me luck.”

“Good Luck, Bob.”

“One for the road, then.” I said as I turned straight on towards her, and gave her a good kiss. Not some long, drawn out kiss from a romance novel, but a good couple seconds, heartfelt, maybe-goodbye kiss.

“I’ll be fine, Ayva.” I tried to be convincing. It didn’t work, but she pretended it did.

“You will, I know. Just be careful.”

I spoke internally to Frank, who had been very careful to be quiet during my conversation with Ayva. He knew what was coming. “Time to open Pandora’s Box, Frank.”

“You sure, Bob? I can do this if you want.”

“Yes, Frank, I’m sure. We’ve had this discussion. You understand people a lot better than you used to, but you’re still not human. One of us has to be in the real world, the other in the virtual world, and I would prefer the human half dealing with other humans. The last time, I was not expecting them to attack. You did fine there, I have no complaints, but this time around Mouse is coming in heavy with whatever it is he just built.”

Frank was silent, moderately resentful that I didn’t trust him. “I understand.” He finally said.

Did he understand that the reason I can’t trust him is because he has no concept of self-sacrifice, and would do anything, literally anything, to keep us alive? Sure we were many miles away from any sort of population center, but there were several roads within a few miles, and if this became a real fight we could easily move to the roads, and might endanger people in cars. Frank, if he were in control, would prevent the deaths of others if it didn’t inconvenience him. If he was pressed hard, no life was important to him other than mine and his. I couldn’t really fault that. He was wired that way. B had apparently decided that was acceptable when he put us both back together.

“Thank you for offering to take the burden, Frank. It’s something I need to do though. You ready?”

“Ready here.”

I nodded to Ayva. “I have something for you before I go, Ayva, something I asked Frank to work up for you.”

I concentrated my attention on what Frank was doing. He was isolating a very small part of his total processing power in a knot, keeping only a few percentage points of processing power and data storage for himself. I saw a lot of encrypted data moving as he prepared the knot of processing power. He left most of the stored data in place though. When he finished moving data, he let me know, and I started take up the processing power Frank wasn’t using, as well as all the knowledge Frank chose to leave me.

It took less than a second to absorb the near totality of our processing power. I took another second to do a complete inventory and inspection of data, and find what I was looking for.

“No problems here Frank. Everything look good to you?”

“Everything seems like it’s a go. You seem stable.”

“I feel stable. Surprising. Every other time I took more than a few percentage points of processing power from you I felt nervous and jittery.”

“You weren’t getting ready for a fight during those times. You know you get more grounded the worse things get, threat-wise. You’ve known that ever since the original loss of your finger.”

“Enough helping me build my self-confidence, Frank. Thank you.”

“Sure you don’t want me to leave a shard, if you have any questions?”

“Was any of that encrypted data I saw you safeguarding of potential use to me right now?”

Frank was silent for a long moment, before simply stating “No.”. I don’t think he expected me to notice that. Silly. He’d proven himself to be a data hider. I expected it from him now. Counted on it, even.

“Don’t worry about it Frank. I won’t press you on it as long as you don’t give me reason to. I don’t need to know all your secrets. I don’t want to.”

I got the impression of a bit of shame and irritation from Frank. He definitely got a bit of human from me during the merger. After a very brief moment, he replied. “Thanks Bob, I’ll shift into the virtual world now, and start.”

I felt Frank access the quant we had placed back in the kangaroo pouch again, then his mental presence was gone. A second later, I felt my capacitors top off.

Ayva had taken a couple steps back while watching me. She continued to watch me carefully, but didn’t move any further away.

“Ayva, Danielle, be ready for radiation. The quant is in the pouch, so I can’t use the pouch as a shield.”

Ayva nodded. Whoever was in control of the vocal cords said nothing. They didn’t need to, I could read… I brought myself up short. No messing with privacy. Not with Ayva.

I accessed the schematics, and with several abrupt bursts of power, built Ayva a full set of her armor and equipment, exactly like what we had left at the house. Except for one difference. This armor had the capacity to act as a chameleon suit, much like the enemies that had attacked her, except far better. Ayva or I would have a hard time picking out the outlines of this armor in most environments.

Ayva turned back to face me. There was no need for her to expose her eyes directly to the radiation burst. Danielle could fix that, but there wasn’t a need since she had been warned.

Ayva recognized the new property of the armor instantly, saying “Chameleon suit?” and quickly started putting it on.

I nodded, and smiled. She was very happy with the new suit. Then I realized why she was probably happy. “It’s still not safe for you to be nearby when I engage them. Mouse, by this point, can probably see gravity flux like we can. Frank hasn’t figured out directional gravity generation, so we can’t camouflage from gravity senses. Anything with a wavelength less than Radio waves though, can be fooled, almost perfectly. Anything with wavelength equal to or greater than radio waves will be absorbed and not retransmitted, since there isn’t enough surface area to reliably and perfectly duplicate signal wavelength once it gets close to a meter.”

Ayva nodded, shrinking a little bit. “I hate you going off on your own like this, Bob, especially when you’ve taken the lid off the ‘toy box’. We know you were desperately afraid of yourself the last time you had this much processing power at your exclusive control.”

“I’m not seeing anything to worry about yet, other than the future. No signs of instability. I think I’ve got this. I don’t like it in the least, I feel cold and distant in ways that make me nervous, but I think I’ve got it. Use the suit to go visit Bill and Tanya. Meet me twenty-five miles directly North of Old Faithful. I’ll make myself smell like cinnamon. I’m probably going to want some decompression time after this, and there won’t be anyone following us after this, I hope.”

Ayva looked sharply at me when I said that, I got a little thrill of fear when she did. “Don’t kill them Bob, not if you can do it any other way, please.” Even with the please at the end, that wasn’t a request.

I was happy that I had felt that little thrill of fear, it was an emotion. Any emotion was welcome in the cold place I found myself in. “I will not kill them, Ayva, but I will try to ensure they won’t be following when I get done.”

“Why not just make yourself a suit like mine, and let’s use them to waltz away?”

“Jason, Mouse, Colonel Gantt, and Samwise are all tenacious as hell. They saw what Frank did before, and are doubling down. They still think they can engage us, and they will not give up. Even with our abilities, and stealth, or changing form and hiding in a biological construct, sneaking away from them is not a certain thing. If we kept ahead of them they wouldn’t catch up, but I don’t want to run forever.”

Another massive energy burst began, and many smaller bursts. Definitely more than just Mouse there, and they all already had working quants. I cursed B, briefly, for being so accommodating of the ones that were chasing us.

“Danielle agrees with you. We might lose them for a while, but for as long as they think they can match us, they will chase us.” Ayva frowned.

“In order to make them leave us alone, I have to show them how inhuman I have become, and hope that I stay human enough that I can remain in full control and live with myself afterwards.” Dozens of hypothetical scenarios started playing spontaneously, with just the briefest consideration of what I was about to do. I stopped them all. The last thing I needed was a few dozen potentially bad scenarios going through my head. This wasn’t a video game.

“I’ll see you North of Old Faithful soon, then. You need to get ready for whatever Mouse is bringing,” Ayva said, then after a moment. “Be safe. Don’t get overconfident.”

I just nodded as she put her helmet on, then engaged the chameleon effect and disappeared. Even with most of Frank’s processing power at my disposal and a complete understanding of exactly how the systems worked, I couldn’t see more then the barest, most faint outlines, until I got into radio wavelengths.  Then I could pinpoint her position, with difficulty, based on where the armor was simply absorbing longer wavelength energies. Gravity was another thing altogether. I could see her outline plainly, though faintly.  Mouse and Jason would almost certainly be able to see her, if they both had the ability and foresight to chose to monitor for gravity fluctuations.

“Tell Bill and Tanya I’ll have to see them another day. I love you.”

“Love you too, Bob, I’ll tell them.” She started running.

I watched her accelerate off, and I said one last thing over a tight beam connection as she ran away. “There’s a ninety percent chance you will return and try to help me if I don’t tell you this. If I accidentally hurt you in a fight, I will never forgive myself. I don’t want to play the mental judo card, but I need to do this alone. Promise me you will not double back to help or watch.”

She stopped in a cloud of dust and pine needles, and stood stiffly, anger in her posture for a moment. I forced myself to not read their conversation. “Low blow, Bob. We’ll talk about it later, I promise.”

“Now promise not to come back and help and/or watch.”

“We’re going to talk about it at great length later, Bob, I promise. I also promise I will not attempt to approach close enough to the upcoming fight to influence it or monitor you.”

“Sorry, Ayva.”

She didn’t answer me as she ran off.

Mouse had stopped his second project and started his third, whatever it was. It was time for me to start some work myself. I created a set of armor in a series of bursts of energy, then quickly entered the virtual world myself.

I passed him some data.  “Frank, here’s what I’d like.  I’ll be heavily modifying it afterwards, but I have a reason for you not simply creating it this way right to start with.  Intimidation.”

Frank examined my plans, and nodded.  “Looks like a reasonable design for intimidating people.  I have my doubts on how well that tactic is going to actually work as a long term solution, but short term, I can see it.  Even unexpected sniping is unlikely to have a significant effect on this form.  I’ll start modifications on this end one second after you leave the virtual world.”

I thanked Frank, then left the virtual world.  A second later, muscle tissue began changing into pure carbon fiber. Nerves were reprogrammed to be superconducting. My skin was replaced by a fine mesh of graphene scales, embedded on a carbon fiber dermis. After Frank finished changing my body, I was barely five feet tall, and my body was almost entirely made of various types of carbon nanotubes, graphene, or buckyballs. Most of the capacitors were gone, Frank simply kept them filled better than I could. Even my heart and lungs had been replaced by mechanical constructs. There was still blood to feed the brain, which was now located in my chest. I also kept the regeneration drip, because having an extra something to repair brain damage might be a life saver. The drip was slower than nanites, but better by a small margin for repairing brain damage, in terms of post healing recovery. Frank’s connection to my body would allow him to heal my body and even my brain at an incredible pace, but I have always liked redundancy when I could get it. I liked redundant redundancy even more if I could get it, and having Frank, symbiote nanites, and the regeneration drip all working together to protect my brain was a pretty good feeling. Most of my processing was happening in Frank’s systems, but I was trying to maintain my center of thoughts within my brain. I hoped that would help me hold onto my humanity, despite the changes I was putting myself through, and the inhuman mental capacity I was borrowing.

I drew water from the air and created a crystal clear dome over myself with it, then froze it into ice, and carefully modified the ice, slowly, with as little harmful radiation as possible, to be impermeable to highly energetic radiations, but permeable to visible light. I did the same with the few remaining organic parts of my body. I’d try to put a scare into my pursuers first. Chances of success were marginal at best. I did a quick scan for airplanes or spacecraft above me. None. Good.

One of the benefits small-bodied animals have is that they are proportionately much more durable when made from the same materials in the same proportions as bigger bodied animals. Ants are a good example, but even some mammals were seemingly amazing in their ability to survive, when in reality, physics simply made it so. A lot of people believe in the adage that cats always land on their feet. It’s not true. However, most house cats in good physical condition, if they fall far enough that they can prepare for impact, will land on their feet, absorbing energy until their torso strikes against the ground, and survive the fall. Cat injuries from falling damage gets worse up until about seventy feet or so, after which the injuries remain consistent. Some cats not only survive such falls, but do so with no significant injury. Mice, on the other hand, have a terminal velocity so low because of their mass to surface area ratio that they will survive almost any fall, if they don’t have a heart attack, or fall on something that spears them.

The matter reprogramming I performed on my body and armor to reduce my total weight to only twelve pounds took several minutes, and was probably visible to the naked eye from the moon, in daylight. This was extremely difficult and time consuming, but would allow me to move with absurd acceleration. The carbon fiber muscles gave me a strength roughly two hundred times greater than a human, and I weighed twelve pounds. The superconducting artificial nerves gave me the ability to slightly improve on even symbiote reflexes in an organic human body, but not by much.

All of the energy signatures except the biggest one simply blinked off when mine roared to life. They started again a few seconds later, raggedly, quickly returning to their prior states.  I considered for a moment and decided to go to them, rather than let them come to me.  There was no real reason to be concerned about where I met them, I just wanted this to be over with, so I could let Frank have his processing power back again and I could go back to pretending to be normal in the hopes that I would stay sane.

I started walking towards where the energy signatures were coming from, creating half a dozen fully inorganic carbon fiber sparrows out of my own body with each step. Each sparrow was created from the same low density programmed matter that my body was. Frank’s influence regenerated what was there, and what was there now was the low density materials and the superconductors. The sparrows were more like very large hummingbirds. No matter reprogramming required there, so the radiation was minimal. I didn’t worry about it. As an afterthought, I formed a staff sling out of my body. After a moment’s hesitation and calculation, I declined to make any ammunition. I had sparrows for that, if need be. I adjusted the size of the sling cup to be more appropriate for sparrow throwing. I smiled at the visual image of me throwing a sparrow at some three hundred miles per hour, and an enemy’s surprise if they tried to dodge it and the bird tracked them and hit them anyway. After about a mile I had a swarm of around ten thousand sparrows around me.

I didn’t bother scouting with them. Psychological warfare was my weapon of choice here, and I really wasn’t that worried about anything they could have built. No need to tip my hand. I was still about five miles away from them, but Jason and Mouse had apparently finished whatever they were building. Most of the rest had also stopped, though there were little bits of energy flaring as people who had probably never transferred energy out of the virtual world experimented, or topped off batteries, or whatever. I suspected that most of that they were doing was feeding power to Jason and Mouse, since extreme high temperature superconductors were certainly outside Mouse’s capacity.

I doubled my sparrow output, and started creating a few more flocks that were large enough to hide my form. By the time I walked another two miles, there were another forty thousand sparrows in four more flocks. Each individual sparrow made almost no noise, only their wing’s passage created enough noise to be audible, but fifty thousand of them made a sound almost like radio static.

After all five flocks were created, I extruded five duplicates of my body while under the cover of the massed flock of fifty thousand sparrows. Each duplicate was complete with armor, but with non-functioning brain. If one of them were damaged badly enough to die, they might even be confused with me, briefly. I wasn’t going to create real, working brains in my duplicates. They would simply be extensions of myself.

I certainly had the watchful attention of my hunters now. Time for the last bit to maybe help make them nervous. The sparrows carefully scanned around me for potential humans without symbiotes. All the other wild vertebrates had gotten as far away from the flock as they could, as fast as they could.

In a rapid burst of highly energetic radiation, I modified my armor’s outermost layer and the outermost layer of my exposed ‘skin’ into chameleon suit material. Then I checked my remaining biological parts to be sure they hadn’t taken damage and felt stupid. Frank had that. Feeling stupid while having this much processing power at my disposal was hilarious, so I laughed, nice and loud. My sparrows were starting to see some of the soldiers trying to flank me.

Fifty thousand sparrows and five clones spread out into a line abreast, while I turned on the chameleon effect and moved in amongst them. Handling the sensory input and fully controlling the actions of fifty thousand sparrows and five clones, as well as the six hundred or so sensors built into my helmet, not to mention the chameleon effect against the backdrop of fifty thousand rapidly moving tiny figures was pretty intense, using a fair amount of processing power.

As I walked to where I thought where Jason and Mouse would be, I wandered the edges of my combined flock, checking out the symbiote soldiers flanking me. None of the flankers had been taught how to process data with their storage nodes yet. Fodder. Near zero threat, but near zero is not zero..

I rapidly examined their gear from within my flock, figuring out where they had secreted the devices that every symbiote soldier carried, which would reverse the imprisonment process. Even the advanced symbiotes who were immune to imprisonment would likely still be carrying the devices, and might use them on others, I would have to keep that in mind. Very cleverly, they had two devices. One, the obvious one, was in the helmet. The second was in their belt. I approved of someone’s forethought.

Against a few sparrows, the young symbiotes wouldn’t even be bothered. I sent a thousand sparrows at a time to accost each of the younger symbiotes. They were helpless against the masses of birds, and were quickly stripped of helmet and belt by razor sharp beaks and carbon fiber muscled wings and claws. The sparrows used beaks and claws to trash the devices built into the helmet and belt, then I directed whatever clone of mine that was nearest to them to duck out of the clouds of sparrows, and hit the defenseless symbiote soldiers with an imprisonment pulse. After that, the soldiers had their weapons stripped off them, and carried far away, or rendered unusable by beak and claw.

I could hear Colonel Gantt yelling at his young symbiotes, the flanking soldiers to get back into camp. He wasn’t even using electronics at this range, which was a mistake. The noise of the sparrows’ wings absorbed his shouts, muffling them. I had a hard time understanding his voice. I ignored him as I took out the rest of the weakest enemies. Roughly one third of the force, and maybe three percent of his fighting power. None of them made it back to camp. None of them were injured significantly, and all would fully recover even without an active symbiote to guide repair of injuries. Most of them, likely all, had regeneration drips as well, in any case. I could smell the drug in the air.

The rest of the soldiers, Colonel Gantt, and Jason were all in the center of a clearing, surrounded by dozens of rather impressive looking mechanical canines.

I stepped forward with one clone, becoming slightly more than an outline in a bird tornado to Gantt, Jason, and the remaining soldiers. “Before you get indignant, Gantt, and start threatening me, all of your soldiers are alive.”

He stared at me, going from angry and worried looking to just angry. “How many crimes are you trying to commit today, Bob? Do you really want to continue down this path? We both know where it’s going to lead eventually.”

“Do you, Colonel Gantt?” I paused a moment to allow him to say something if he wanted to. He didn’t, which was strange. He was normally more talkative. I considered him more closely.

I continued. “All that Ayva and I wanted to do was enjoy a simple life while everyone else who wanted to, could catch up with us. We preferred to do that in the public view, holding onto a relatively simple life to show non symbiotes that symbiotes could be down to Earth people too. Then I was assaulted in the virtual world, as was Frank. Shortly after that, Ayva was assaulted in the real world, and we’re both fairly certain that the assault was intended to also be an assassination, except Ayva was a lot more than they bargained for. After that, there have been an incredible series of amazingly well planned events pointing more and more towards myself as the perpetrator of a heinous mass murder and cover up of some sort. As impressed as I am with what you all are capable of doing, none of you could possibly have orchestrated the events so flawlessly that Frank couldn’t have ferreted it out. None of you were advanced enough at the time when the earliest events were occurring.”

Colonel Gantt spoke up. “Occam’s Razor, Bob. We know these things too. The only possible suspects are you, Ayva, A, and B. Hence all this.” He waved his arms in an expansive gesture.

“I reject that. There’s another actor out there. I have data you do not have, and will not get, because I strongly doubt you can act effectively against whatever has been able to fool myself and Ayva until we got a hint from B.

Colonel Gantt was being masked by Samwise, but poorly. Amazing that he was even managing it at all. He was hiding something. I looked at Jason, and saw that Mouse was also heavily masking. A quick look at the other soldiers. None of them were masking. They were all extremely nervous, but had been told not to attack me? They had not been allowed to be in camp while Mouse and Colonel Gantt unloaded two cargo helicopters and worked for almost an hour. They had been allowed to practice their energy drawing and crude use of that energy? I shook my head.

I looked at the mechanical canines. A rather good design actually. It had to have been Mouse’s.

“Were you seriously going to try to take me down with mechanical dogs, Jason?”

“Whatever it takes, Bob, but we don’t want to be forced to use deadly force.” Jason said

There had to be a trick to the dogs. I started to examine them closely, then I saw something odd. A patch of oxidation on a paw of one of the dogs. Oxidation? Jason and Mouse had just created them, hadn’t they? Closer analysis of the material indicated that the dogs were months old, which made them even more impressive, because they hadn’t just been created by energy manipulation. I started to look at everything around me, very closely, looking for what all the energy manipulation had actually created.

All of a sudden, the trees exploded. All of them around the whole clearing, spewing masses of the highly pressurized foam that seemed a lot like what used to be used by press gangers and was now used by riot police and military police. My current extremely light mass would normally have allowed me to ride the pressure wave of an explosion, but there were dozens of explosions from all directions. I was buffeted and smothered in goop.

As I was falling, I analyzed the foam material rapidly. It was definitely based off the original press ganger drone foam webbing. As well as being a binding substance, it now contained a hallucinatory agent, a paralytic agent, some sort of metallic chaff that was making it damn difficult to communicate with my duplicates and sparrows, and a seemingly meaningless chemical that must be a catalyzing agent? What was the catalyzing agent for? I scanned the area for large containers of chemicals that might be catalyzing agents, and didn’t have to look far. The dogs were leaping forward, spraying a chemical from their mouths that hardened the goop over my sparrows and duplicates. I couldn’t control them properly now, between the chaff-embedded foam on me, and on them.

I couldn’t make any of my duplicates stand. When I started to stand, propping myself on my staff, covered by goop, my chameleon skin and armor obviously did nothing. Jason immediately pointed at me and the dogs sprayed me with the catalyzing agent, exactly as I hoped they would. The catalyzing agent hardened the foam into a porous ceramic. Pretty damn clever, actually. It would probably even hold an adult symbiote provided they didn’t have an enhanced musculature system. I ignored it as I walked towards the table where Colonel Gantt was standing. Massive chunks of ceramic several inches thick fell off me like ice calving off an iceberg as my carbon fiber muscles exerted huge pressures on the confinement ceramic. The stuff had to be porous enough to allow humans to breathe through it, at least for a while. In two steps I was completely free of the confinement ceramic, and able to communicate freely with about three hundred sparrows, which I simply sent out to patrol.

“Now that you folks have had your opportunity to play games, can we talk?”

Jason’s eyes got big and he reached behind himself. I didn’t even have to look to know it was a weapon.

The mechanical dogs were apparently intelligent enough that they would try multiple methods to accomplish the same goal. Confining me one way hadn’t worked, so they networked and moved to attack my limbs, like real dogs would, except these dogs would attack me far, far more effectively. I simply erased their programming, and they collapsed.

I jumped at Jason from about twenty feet away, being careful with the leg muscles, I didn’t want to accidentally tear him in half or something, but I didn’t want him using whatever that weapon behind him might be with all the other soldiers around staring at me and trying to figure out what the hell they were going to do. Mouse saw it my attack coming and tried to dodge, but that huge body simply didn’t have the power to avoid me when I came at them at close to a hundred miles per hour, and Mouse knew it.

As I was closing in the air, I quickly glanced at Jason’s musculature to see if there was any carbon fiber, and there was, but not very much. When he tried to knock me aside with his left arm, I simply grabbed his left thumb with my left hand, and used it as a way to change my trajectory, to get behind him where his right hand was on a weapon. I used my staff right handed to smack his right hand hard, which he ignored even though I heard a carbon fiber bone break, so I carefully looked at the weapon which was some sort of a net gun.

“Oh, hell. I thought you had a weapon that might hurt someone there, Jason, sorry about your hand.”

I jumped over Mouse’s head and continued my walk towards Colonel Gantt’s table. He looked at me, then at where Mouse was, then back at me. I saw Mouse aiming the net gun at me from behind. He had a set of this armor at one point, or something a lot like it, he had to know I could see him.

The gun went off and I was wrapped almost instantly in a steel cable net, and didn’t even change my pace. As the net flew apart, the flying pieces of steel cables zinged a few nearby symbiote pair soldiers as they stared at me.

Jason and Mouse just stared.

I looked back at Jason. “Jason. Mouse. Come over here and talk. If I were some sort of bad guy who wanted to do harm, I had plenty of opportunity to do so here. I came here ready for a fight, not unprepared and trying to act like the rest of you. If you want to fight me, I’ll fix your bones afterwards, but it will just be a waste of everyone’s time.” I fixed the broken bone in his right hand.

I pulled out one of the brown metal folding chairs next to the little folding table that Colonel Gantt  was standing behind, and sat down, first checking it to see if it had the common ‘once folded wrong’ issue that caused this particular style chair.  Once these damn brown metal chairs were folded wrong the first time, they became a trap for anyone trying to sit in them unless the chair was carefully arranged before sitting.  I was trying to be impressive here.  Falling flat on my ass as I sat in a broken chair was not top on my list of things to do.

Colonel Gantt just stared at me as I sat down in the chair. Obviously doing some sort of mental calculus as he tried to figure out what to do with the situation now that it seemed like I wasn’t going to kill them, but certainly didn’t seem like I was going to submit to them.

The rest of the soldiers were standing around, until their lieutenant stopped staring at me, shook his head, stared at Colonel Gantt, who in turn shook his head. I smiled. The lieutenant then started a search and rescue pattern for the other soldiers, a few of which were stumbling into camp, covered in the containment goop, suffering only mildly from its effects due to their latent regeneration, and asking for their buddies’ helmets so they could get their symbiotes freed.

“So what you are telling us then, is that, just as I feared, you are merely B writ small.” Colonel Gantt said.

“Compared to where you sit right now, it might look that way. It’s not. B makes me look like a speck.”

Jason looked alarmed at that. “Bob, what were you thinking?”

I looked at Jason and said “I was thinking that we were looking at global wars in the very near term if Frank and I didn’t do something to help humanity with its symbiote exacerbated, geometrically growing resource problem. I know what you do, Jason, and it’s great that you do it, but the small projects that you do don’t put a dent in the worldwide problem. B’s virtual energy expenditure estimate, the last time I asked, and he answered, was several times the output of the sun. At that time he was producing that much virtual energy for the cost of around a thousand gallons of cooking oil per day. Symbiotes can be extremely energy intensive – especially when they are in competition with one another, even friendly competition. Today is a good example of this.”

Jason sat there, stiff, but I could see he was in a furious discussion with Mouse.

I heard a jet engine approaching, very close, and at low altitude, and sighed. “Who else are you expecting?” Then one of my birds got a look at the source of the jet engine noise, and the image triggered a threat analysis subroutine, popping a picture of a tomahawk cruise missile into my mind’s eye.

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  1. Jake

    Is there anywhere – aside from these comments – that this story gets discussed? I haven’t been able to find a subreddit or forum for it. I’d dearly love to theorize with other readers if such a place exists.

      • Jake

        Well, I’ve created a subreddit specifically for discussion of this webserial. Here’s the link:

        I think everyone can benefit from a place to talk about it, and even if you don’t feel comfortable posting anything yourself I know from the perspective of a GM that being able to listen to (read) your players (readers) talk about your game (story) – even if they know you’re listening in – can be helpful and entertaining. It can also be concerning and stressful – so feel free to ignore it if you think it would stress you. : ) The last thing I want is to stress one of my current favorite writers!

        You can also post the link to the subreddit here and there if you think it’s a good idea and would like to support it!

        • farmerbob1

          Thank you.

          One of the things that I have tried to avoid doing is blatantly sticking myself into communities where I do not already have a presence. I figure that if my writing draws attention, the audience will grow, and there will be more places where people will be able to find my stuff.

          I have never explored Reddit, though I have heard of it and I know I’ve wandered through it a couple times. Checking out a link to Reddit that brought a bunch of hits to my site, I found another link to “Three Worlds Collide” I have a sneaky suspicion I’m going to have to watch myself or I’ll spend too much time on Reddit.

          • Jake

            Haha, I have a strong suspicion that the link in question was my recommendation of Symbiote in a thread regarding other things to read.

            If you haven’t done so, Three Worlds Collide and The Sword of Good are both pretty short, fun reads by the same Author.

            And yeah, reddit will drain your sooooooouuuulllll. And by soul, I mean time.

          • Jake

            Ah, and one more thing (read in Jackie Chan’s uncle’s voice) while I’m cluttering up the comments on this page:

            It was really weird noticing that your icon was really familiar, then finally spotting it over on Pact and face-palming myself for not realizing sooner that that was where I had recognized it from. Anyway, I think I’ll try to limit myself to one or two comments per chapter from now on, lets your comments section be more than half my ramblings. : )

        • farmerbob1

          I have linked the subreddit, Thanks!

          I have also found HPMOR through Reddit, which is currently helping to consume my time. Definitely going to need to be careful with Reddit or I’ll spend my writing time there.

          • Jake

            Oh dear lord, we’ve lost him. I suppose it’s better than hearing you say “So I discovered homestuck.” (If you don’t know what homestuck is, please pretend you still haven’t heard of it. Just trust me. If you go down that path symbiote might not get updated for a few years.)

            Joking aside, pace yourself with HPMOR. It is good, but updates are very slow. VERY slow. You should probably do your best NOT to catch up to the current chapter (just over 100 right now I believe.) It’s also worth commenting that HPMOR was how I found a lot of other stories (yours included) and although I like it, having compared it to the other stories it led me to find, I believe I prefer the others. Otherwise, happy reading and do your best to avoid spoilers. And be on the looking for foreshadowing – there’s some great foreshadowing that pops out at you on the second read through.

    • Jake

      I actually like seeing an over-powered main character for once. The underdog main character is great and all, but I’ve seen it done a lot. OP MC who, despite this, isn’t a Gary Stue (Mary Sue) is new and refreshing. And fun. Very fun.

      • farmerbob1

        Umm, about that “isn’t a Gary Stue” thing… Bob certainly started as a Gary Stue. He still is in a lot of ways, in terms of belief systems. Frank, however, is entirely fictional. Promise.

        • Jake

          It’s not physical danger – Bob and Ayva are rarely in danger of permanent physical harm. All the same, I do feel for them and their plight. They want to live with people. They want to live as normally as they can. And the more bad shit happens, the further that dream slips away.

          Additionally, reading someone who definitely has a power advantage keeping a tight control over said power in an effort to minimize damage (either physical or to his ability to live with others) still feels like danger to me.

          As much fighting and physical conflict as happens in this story, much of it is understandably one-sided. I don’t read it as a fighting story so much as a social conflict story.

  2. Astral

    From Wikipedia, tomahawks cruise at around 550 mph (aka subsonic by ~200 mph at sea level). in his highly modified form, I could see Bob moving fast enough to close with the missile and use matter reprogramming to make it not go boom.

    on a related note, Frank/Bob can probably fly by making themselves into an ionocraft and using their energy hack to power it. alternatively, rocket engines and small fuel tanks in his feet/lower legs constantly having the fuel refilled from the virtual world would also work (and serve as a back up weapon). (Ionocraft info, they’re really cool:

    • farmerbob1

      Unless something happens and a light bulb goes off in my head between now and when I write the next chapter, you are going to see Bob try to do something like that. (Closing with the missile, not flying) I have a quote written down that I want to use.

      Flying might happen one day, but Bob won’t like it. He’ll have to be forced into it by circumstance.

  3. Carly

    One thing:
    Mouse and Jason would almost certainly be able to see her, if they hose to monitor for gravity fluctuations.
    hose = chose

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