Chapter 4.23: Heat

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Threat analysis subroutine alarms automatically triggered maximum perception effect settings, so there was no significant time lost while I tried to deal with the ramifications of an incoming Tomahawk cruise missile. I almost got lost trying to figure out where it came from or who might have ordered it to be fired, but cut those thoughts off at the knees. This was time to act, not a time to think.

Colonel Gantt was merely beginning to turn his head from side to side to isolate where the jet engine sound was coming from, not acting like he knew what was happening, and Jason was still arguing with Mouse about something, with no reaction at all to my statement.

Neither of their symbiotes registered any sort of processing spike that might indicate this was a planned event. If this was a planned event, they would be having a whole lot to think about right now, with me sitting next to them.

Stop Thinking. Act. I sent commands to every sparrow to intercept the missile if possible, and jam themselves into the air intakes if possible. I let them sort that out, it was a simple geometry problem, and likely had no solution, but while they were trying to do that, they would be reporting the exact position of the missile to me so that was critical. It was now two point three kilometers away from me.

I counted on Samwise and Mouse to decipher what I said for Colonel Gantt and Jason, and simply squeaked the words many times faster than would be comprehensible to an unpaired human. “Incoming Tomahawk coming from eleven degrees west of southwest. Unknown warhead. Will intercept. Get your people under cover.”

I jumped and almost literally exploded out of chair. Somewhere around two hundred thousand pounds of thrust were available to me through the large muscles in my legs, but I couldn’t use anywhere near that much. At twelve pounds weight in mass at this altitude, two hundred thousand pounds of thrust would put by entire body under roughly 12,000g’s of acceleration, splattering the remaining fully biological components I maintained in this combat-ready form. Even the carbon fiber bones would fail under such stresses unless I was exceedingly cautious in their exact orientation.  I had allowed myself 75g’s of acceleration for impulse acceleration, constant acceleration was limited to 15g’s. Despite the limits I had placed on myself, 75g’s of acceleration gave my brain multiple simultaneous strokes and brain bruising as I created a huge divot in the ground accelerating away from Colonel Gantt and Jason. A twisted brown metal folding chair flew away from me as my body crushed it while I twisted from a seated position to a position much like a sprinter’s starting position, then jumped.

Before the first time my foot hit the ground after the initial leap, Frank had already restored my brain. I had expected brain damage, and shifted processing to parallel my grey matter brain with symbiote processors. Despite the strange sensations and lack of response of my brain when it was traumatized, I had used Frank’s processing capacity to calculate that there was no possible way for me to intercept the missile at more than 1 km away from the soldiers unless I could accelerate much faster than 75g. If that Tomahawk was hauling a nuclear warhead, I wanted it at least 1 km away from the soldiers to give them the best chance for survival. With the carbon fiber muscles and superconducting capacitors, I had enough power in my legs to accelerate to 1 km/second in a single step, but there were… problems that I need to solve first.

The first thing was my brain and circulatory system, the regeneration drip, and even the red blood cells. I did not have time to model this, I could only hope it worked and didn’t turn me into an automaton or something. I did take a current backup of my brain’s state, before making the adjustment.

I reprogrammed my brain’s tissues to have the same structural strength as carbon fiber. It felt… strange in a way I could not quantify, but I ignored it. I added structural supports which were nonreactive to the rest of the brain structure to help the brain keep its shape. I quickly inspected the work after my second 75g leap, and everything held together. Fuck the radiation. I’d have to deal with that later if need be.

The next thing I needed to worry about was being able to create the acceleration my body was capable of. The first two steps I took had created massive divots in the ground, spewing clouds of dirt, colds of dirt, and rocks which Colonel Gantt and Mouse were currently dodging as I accelerated away from them. Those were from foot pressure on the ground that would accelerate me at 75g. The rocks spewing behind me were dangerous. I saw one pass through Colonel Gantt’s leg. I would kill them if I tried to accelerate at full power, and would simply dig a hole in the ground while doing it, like a muscle car spinning its back tires on a dirt road.

I calculated where my next footfall would be, and reprogrammed the properties of a carefully shaped plug of Earth, creating a knot of earth at the surface that would match the shape of my foot while I pushed off. Attached to that foot stop, there was a huge, yet narrow blade of earth that had been modified, bonding a shell of earth around a core of unmodified earth into a single shape like a buried shovel blade. The modified, bonded earth was a few hundred kilos, but it surrounded about four tons of unmodified earth. This completely drained my capacitors, and created a huge flare of energy, even though most of the changes occurred underground. I used a quarter of my leg strength for the next step off the top of the assembly, and the entire constructed assembly shifted by neatly a foot, but it did not come out of the ground. That would have to do.

I checked on Colonel Gantt and Jason, far behind me. They only had about one more second before the Tomahawk was within range to potentially kill a symbiote pair if it was carrying a W80 nuclear payload dialed to maximum yield of 150KT. After Jason and I ran into the nuclear landmine years ago, Frank and I had both looked up everything we could find about every type of nuke ever designed. The W80 was supposed to have been retired. That being said, a non-nuclear Tomahawk missile would be a complete waste of time and effort against either myself or Jason. It might kill less developed symbiotes, but not if they realized it was incoming more than a second or so in advance, and had even a tiny bit of cover to get behind. That Tomahawk was carrying a nuke, or someone was a complete and utter moron. Assuming your enemies are morons doesn’t have much future in it.

Jason had grabbed Colonel Gantt by the arm as Gantt was yelling into a lapel mike, and had leaped towards the collection of stumps that marked what had once been the tree line around the clearing. Mouse was broadcasting an omnidirectional signal with instructions for each individual soldier, showing them exactly where their best cover was, overriding Gantt’s radio signal. I had nothing to add to this, Gantt’s people were being directed by Mouse into gullies, streams, dips in the ground, and in worst case scenarios simply behind tree stumps. All of them were pulling out some sort of small square of metallic cloth sheet, large enough to cover their heads, and starting to move into cover Mouse designated. It looked like all of the symbiotes I had imprisoned had already been freed, and were able to receive Mouse’s instructions. I calculated their cover and determined that it was enough for them to survive a 150KT blast with any luck at all, if I could keep it from hitting them from within a kilometer or so.

Only three of the sparrows would be able to potentially intersect with the missile, and the closest ones were getting clear enough images to show that that the intakes were protected, the sparrows were mean little birds with their claws or beaks, but they had little mass and not a lot of individual strength, I aborted attempts to block intakes, at the missile’s current velocity and heading, blocking an intake would make little difference. I simply had the sparrows get closer, signaling in relay through each other to give me the best data they could.

I was accelerating by about 150 miles per hour with each step I took after the second, creating a new shovel-blade-shaped structure for each place where my feet touched the ground, and completely draining my entire capacitor energy capacity with each “stepping stone” that I created. Frank was keeping up with the energy transfer so far. My body temperature in the inorganic parts was almost up to boiling water temperatures. Problem. If boiling water temperatures were reached, with this power being channeled in my body, I would literally explode. I dedicated half of my processing power to begin looking for ways to reduce body temperatures, while the rest considered my approach to the missile and the data incoming from the sparrows. I had covered about four hundred meters in four steps, and my foot was going to hit the ground soon for my fifth step.

The radiation shielding and superconducting heat transfer conduits for my organic parts were keeping the temperature of said organic bits at levels barely over normal human body temperatures. The blood cooler’s heat transfer system was now connected into the superconducting heat transfer conduits rather than blood vessels, since I no longer had much blood at all within me. The heat transfer system in the blood cooler was operating at maximum power, the fans howling as they gulped air to push over exposed superconducting elements.

Problem. The exhaust from the blood cooler was oriented in such a way that when I was standing, the fans would pull air from below the blood cooler, and blow the heat upwards. At the time, I was moving forward at well over 300 miles per hour, accelerating so hard that my chest was only a foot off the ground, and I had to keep my arms and hands in front of me like a diver preparing to hit the water, in order to create an airfoil effect to hold my body against the ground. I was using my staff, held by it’s center by both fists, to tap branches and trees as well, to guide my movement where airflow and legs couldn’t. The exhaust from the blood coolers was acting as a scoop to draw air in, rather than a heat transfer system. Design inappropriate to needs. Adjustment required. Redesigning with priority to minimal time for maximal impact. New design complete. Adjustments commencing. Exhaust port modification initializing. Matter reprogramming to reverse fan blade pitch complete. Problem resolved. Shard purpose null. Returning processing power to the main pool.

I felt the rumble of harmonics passing through my body as the blood cooler fans changed the direction that they were trying to push air, while never changing the direction of their spin. Body temperature dropped by three degrees in half a second as the blood cooler became functional again, drawing air in through what was once the exhaust, and pushing air out from what had been intakes. Now that the airflow was moving a way that the blood cooler was actually working, the fans were spinning fast enough to move air with sufficient power to help me guide my position slightly. Low powered vector thrust jets. A use I had never considered for them, but which I was happy to take advantage of and improve. I reprogrammed the matter in the fans and fan bearings when I saw they would degrade soon, toughening them, and making them perfectly shaped, removing what few tiny irregularities I could find. Then I improved the motors and control circuits a bit and finally reconfigured the cogeneration power system to draw waste heat energy more efficiently from my body to increase the available power of the fans even more. The fans nearly doubled their thrust, allowing me even better control over my lateral movements by changing the position of my torso.

The sparrows noted a position change of the Tomahawk. It was adjusting its approach laterally when it was within 1.5kmfrom its target? My understanding of cruise missile technology, while imperfect, seemed to indicate that this made no sense. At this range the only movement should be vertical as it started a popup maneuver.

I took just a brief instant before my fifth footstep hit the ground on its prepared stepping stone to consider what that meant, and almost missed my footstep as I put two plus two together. The missile’s minute positional adjustment had been an adjustment towards my position. It was tracking me. How? How does a missile track a person?

I gathered enough concentration to make sure I didn’t break my leg (at these speeds and with the forces involved, I could break even a carbon fiber bone), and calculated my new trajectory. I split off a small chunk of processing power to determine how the missile was tracking me, then set the shard free to try to find an answer and report back to me. About three inches before my foot hit the ground, elapsed time less than one hundredth of a second, the shard returned the answer. The missile was an anti-radiation missile of some sort, and was apparently configured to track the energy emissions from matter reprogramming.

I was an idiot. The missile wasn’t closing in on where I had been, it was closing in in me, and was now at less than 1500 meters from me, about 1900 meters from the clearing where the soldiers were. Too far for me to try to do matter reprogramming on it. I damn well didn’t want to get within around 500 meters of it if it were targeted at me. Even I wouldn’t survive entering the vaporization radius of a nuke, and I wasn’t really sure what the vaporization radius of this one might be.

Even better, I was running straight towards the missile at three hundred miles per hour, while it was coming at me at a bit over 500 miles per hour. 800 miles per hour closing speed, and I was one kilometer, or only zero point six miles from entering the 500 meter radius that I wanted desperately to avoid. I had roughly two point five seconds at current closing velocity to reverse my velocity from 300 miles per hour towards the missile to 500 miles per hour away. Zero to 800 in two point five seconds? I had the muscle to do it. Did I have the leverage? Not without using every trick I knew of. I hoped Frank was on the ball, because I was going to be breaking a lot of things.

I turned off my ability to feel pain in my lower body, and intentionally hit the next stepping stone with my right leg in a way that broke sixteen foot bones, shattered both calf bones into more pieces than I cared to calculate, wrenched my knee severely, broke the femur in three places, and dislocated my right hip as I pushed off. In a single step, I managed to modify my heading by around twenty degrees, and reduced my relative velocity towards the missile by nearly 100 miles per hour while rendering one leg completely useless. The plug of dirt that I had been planning on using to accelerate forward with, spun out of the ground behind me as I used it to accelerate to the side. This new heading put me on a heading directly towards a massive oak I had picked out. I altered my torso position slightly, and took advantage of the small amount of acceleration the blood cooler was providing to adjust my incoming vector as I used matter reprogramming to adjust the properties of the oak, drastically improving the strength and mass of its woody fibers. I would have rather used the ground like before, but I was limited by circumstance. My other leg wouldn’t hit the ground until fifty feet beyond the oak if I didn’t use the oak itself, and the tree was massive even without my help. The oak would likely break me in uncontrolled ways difficult to compensate for if I hit it at this speed, unless I intentionally used it.

I adjusted the position of my arms, bringing the staff into contact with my arms at both wrists and elbows, then dropped my left elbow down, dragging the staff firmly but carefully on the ground. My body started to spin counterclockwise, and I carefully lifted my staff from the ground when the spin was almost perfect, twisting my torso slightly to use the blood cooler’s fans as a finer control.

My left leg fared better than my right, but not by much. Ten broken bones in the foot, one of the calf bones broken in three places, the other in two, my knee wrenched terribly, my left femur was still in one piece, but both hips were now dislocated. ‘Now would be a really good time for a pulse of restoration, Frank’, I thought to myself. I had managed to adjust my heading away from the missile by nearly thirty more degrees and reduce closing velocity by another 150 miles per hour that time.  I briefly watched the oak fall over behind me and used the sparrows to determine where the missile was.

Accelerating at right angles to running motion was one of the things the human body was simply not designed well for, I mused to myself as I saw that the missile was now much closer to me in the last 0.3 seconds. I wondered how it would detonate itself, and what the trigger was. It was, unfortunately, too far away for me to use matter reprogramming on it, and the tree canopy was too dense for me to fire at it with any sort of weapon I could create in the next couple seconds. My effective range with reprogramming was far less than the roughly 1500 foot range that I desperately wanted to stay out of.

I received another pulse of restoration energy from Frank, recharging my capacitors and repairing my legs. I reprogrammed another section of ground, running a constant calculation of how fast I could turn, allowing any damage that would not impact mental capacity since Frank was still keeping up with restoration pulses.

One of my sparrows saw a crow and pulsed it with an interrogative signal. It responded. I wasn’t going to talk to Mouse, but I quickly generated a text message indicating that the missile was homing in on matter reprogramming energy, and was now chasing me. I advised that the soldiers might need to change their positions as I drew the missile off – if it detonated more than a few degrees away from where we expected it to be coming from, several soldiers would have reduced cover. I allowed him access to the sparrow network recon data so he could see what was happening and make adjustments to the positions of Gantt’s soldiers as needed, if they could act fast enough. Mouse was pinging me but I didn’t have time to talk.

More broken bones as I continued to accelerate both away from the missile and perpendicular to its path. My hips and knees dislocated with each of the next four steps, with an average of fourteen broken bones in various places with each step.

After those four steps, I was free and clear, running at well over 500 miles per hour ahead of the missile, which was directly behind me, trailing by around 2000 feet. No more broken bones or wrenched joints required since I was running in mostly a straight line. If my body still had the capacity to generate adrenaline, I would have been so highly pumped at that time I would probably have to be concerned about a heart attack if I were only human, and would certainly need to be concerned with mental clarity unless I was very, very careful to filter the blood moving to my brain, but I had intentionally left all adrenaline out of the current body design, even Symbiote artificial adrenaline. This body was almost 100% carbon fiber muscle and bone with carbon fiber superconducting nerves and carbon fiber superconducting power conduits as well.

I reviewed incoming messages, and looked at them in order of newest to oldest.

“This is Mouse. Bob, you are two point three miles from the highway. Over.”

“This is Mouse. Bob, you are two point four miles from the highway. Over.”

“This is Mouse. Bob, you are two point five miles from the highway. Over.”

I cut the feed. I got the point. Crap crap crap crap.

I connected to the sparrow feed and had them all gain altitude for a better view, while bringing up maps which I damn well should have been looking at already. I was actually running into an intersection of two highways, the closer one was two point… two miles from me now, the one running perpendicular to it was four miles from me now. At five hundred miles per hour, I could break a whole lot of bones and dislocate or wrench a bunch of joints to turn around in that radius and never cross a highway, but that missile certainly could not. Its turning radius would take it directly over one highway or the other if it tried to follow me. Now that it seemed to be in some sort of chase mode, chances are pretty good that the missile would detonate if it ceased getting signal from me to chase on a regular basis, or if I started to get farther away from it. Or if it started to run out of fuel, and was still close to me.

I made my decision. Time to play chicken. Important things to do first though.

I connected to Jason’s crow again, hoping Jason and Colonel Gantt were monitoring. Pure electronic messages at highest transmit speed that the others would be able to reliably understand. “Colonel Gantt. Jason. Are you there? Over.”

“Gantt Here. Over.”

“Got Mouse’s most recent messages. Not going to lead the missile over a highway when it’s in pursuit mode. Only got one thing left to do. Hope I can get inside my matter reprogramming range and take out the warhead before the warhead detonates. Handing over control of my sparrows to Mouse through his crow. He should be able to hand off some to you if he can’t control them all. Wish me luck. If Murphy decides it’s my time to go, tell Ayva I love her. Enough talk. Its two miles from the highway now, longer I talk the closer it gets to people a lot more helpless than me. Out.”

I saw a rock outcrop ahead. The mass of the largest rock in the group was sufficient for my needs, at around sixty tons. Strange that a pile of rocks that big was just in the middle of nowhere here. Glacial detritus from the last ice age, probably. A quick scan with gravity senses to get a sense of its structural integrity proved promising. I used a minimal amount of power to stabilize its surface and link it to a couple other nearby stones, and used my staff and the blood cooler turbines to adjust my body so I could hit the rock with both feet at once.

Then I turned off all pain receptors in my brain, rather than turning off pain in certain parts of my body. At best, this was going to be insanely painful. At worst, I was about to die. It did not escape my attention that this was almost exactly the situation I had been worried about when I decided to be the active one in the real world, and have Frank in the virtual world feeding power. I wished there was some way that I could speak to Frank right now. I had to leave him in the virtual world though, or I’d certainly die.

I reprogrammed the sparrows except the two closest to me to accept commands from Jason, Mouse, Colonel Gantt, or Samwise, then released their controls to Mouse through the crow. They were too far away from me and the missile to be of any assistance to me now other than as spotters, and I could spot with only a couple. I’d have a direct view of what I needed to see, soon enough.

I wondered if I had forgotten anything as I threw my staff to the side, and hit the rock with both feet. I watched with curiosity as my bones began deform and shatter, one at a time, each shattering creating a minor disruption in my network, easily recovered, as the processing nodes didn’t move that far from their original positions. I wasn’t trying to leap off the rock so much as I was trying to bounce off it at an angle, slowing me down a little bit, and launching me above the tree line for the next step.

Everything went according to plan as I finally left the rock, I had absorbed almost three hundred miles per hour of forward velocity, and shattered every bone in my body below the hips. The broken bones included the hips themselves, as my last contact with the rock had been my ass bouncing off the surface about a foot beyond where my heels had hit. Every piece of my leg armor was shattered as well, from the forces involved where the bones had been attached to the armor while my legs twisted and broke themselves.

I was certainly glad I couldn’t feel that. I still needed to slow down and reorient myself rapidly, as rapidly as possible, so I gathered humidity out of the air again, as planned, and created a drag chute, adjusting and reprogramming the water molecules to make them hold together as well as possible. The parachute started small, and I could hold it with my hands, but I wanted to be absolutely certain I wouldn’t lose it, so I created a chest harness for it. I devoted half of my processing power to expanding the drag chute and reprogramming it’s water molecules to make them bond as strongly as carbon fiber and also make it impermeable to radiation while I turned my senses to the missile, engaging every available sense from strong and weak nuclear to gravity, just to make sure I missed nothing of importance. At this range, the strong and weak nuclear senses were useless, as I suspected, so I turned them off.

Popping a chute at three hundred miles per hour in air not much above sea level, even a small one, has a drastic effect.  I was rapidly slowing, and had almost instantly reoriented to be facing directly at the missile. The missile was at 1800 feet from me now, I could see with gravity senses that it definitely had a nuclear warhead, the plutonium was clearly visible as a much more dense material than the rest of the missile.

That’s when I saw something else, a strange shaped device attached to the body of the missile. It wasn’t large, and it didn’t create a big lump of air resistance, but I compared it against every image of Tomahawk missiles that Frank had, and came up blank. I carefully considered it, looking at the shape, and noticed faint bits of radio scatter that seemed to be coming off it. Then it hit me what the thing was. It was a tight beam radio transmitter/receiver on the missile, and it was receiving data, and likely sending data. I was too far from it to capture enough signal to analyze for content, but I could certainly analyze potential positions that the device could be sending and receiving data from. Based on what I could see, the missile had to send and receive from a position behind it, and about thirty degrees above or to the right or left of it.  That was a pretty big cone to search, but not big enough to hide a nearby plane from me in, on a moderately clear sky.

I scanned the sky for planes, and saw three. Only one was in a position to send and receive data from the missile. I connected to Jason’s crow again, and sent a series of images of the missile, the transmitter, the warhead’s plutonium positioning, documented the radio scattering with markings on the transmitter, and lastly showed the best images I could of the plane in position to give the missile directions. It appeared to be a high end private business jet, but it was facing directly towards me. It was too far away to resolve an image of the pilot, but I did the best I could with what I had, and sent that image too.

Then I realized that if the missile was in direct control, I was officially fucked, unless this guy in control got overconfident and let me get within around six hundred feet, then I should be able to take out that warhead by reprogramming the matter in the explosives or plutonium.

I isolated one capacitor from the rest to use for matter reprogramming on the missile, and used the rest to improve the drag chute and radiation shield.

Fifteen hundred feet. I had slowed down to about 100 miles per hour, the missile was now closing at over 400 miles per hour.

Were they really going to let me get close enough to destroy the missile?  With the capacity Frank’s processing power gave me, I could generate large and precise effects up to around 200 meters or 600 feet away with near zero margin for error.  At longer ranges, my control and capacity dropped off dramatically, geometrically.  Simple, uniform adjustments of multiple pounds of material with a single charge of all of my capacitors.  That’s what I had been doing with each step as I ran, first chasing, then racing the Tomahawk.  How much did whoever was guiding this missile, or providing overwatch for the missile, understand about my abilities?  How much did they understand about nuclear warheads?

A nuclear warhead wasn’t just a couple pieces of dense material that when you put them next to one another would explode, the process of bringing multiple pieces of fissionable materials together in exactly the right way required a great deal of precision.  That’s one reason why every government on earth didn’t have nukes.  Creating bomb grade materials was difficult, yes, but it was a mechanical process, time consuming but not terribly hard to manage even in secrecy if you had time, materials, and marginally capable physicists and engineers and technicians.

Creating the bomb though?  That was hard.  If the materials didn’t come together in a certain way, they would generate a paltry explosion compared to their potential.  When dealing with mobile bombs, the engineering requirements for the mechanisms went up drastically.  Everything had to be perfectly aligned, despite acceleration effects.  And the Tomahawks, they actually had variable yield warheads, the W80 series warheads, which were even more complex.  If I got even close to within my matter manipulation range, I would simply enclose the pieces of plutonium with carbon, and if there was an explosion at all, it would be a fizzle instead of a bang, and I could use a few restoration cycles of energy to modify the plutonium into platinum or something.

If I wasn’t allowed to get close enough, I would have to act when I saw the plutonium start to move inside the warhead.  I was still too far away to map the structure inside the warhead clearly, but I could see the plutonium with gravity senses at this range, because it was so dense.  The best action I could come up with, in the fractions of a second I had left, was an antimatter explosion between myself and the nuke.  As far from me as possible, with a tiny mass of antimatter, enough to destroy the missile if it’s blast wave hit the missile before the plutonium detonation occurred.  Enough to mitigate the nuclear blast slightly and provide me a better chance to survive.  There were limits to what matter could do, regardless of how clever one was, and nukes were beyond that limit within their vaporization zone.  My matter reprogramming range and the vaporization radius of a 150kt blast from a W80 warhead were close enough to the same to be extremely worrisome for me.  The closer that missile got, the scarier this was going to get, until it got close enough for me to interfere with the warhead’s function, at which point there was no longer any danger.

When I was in high school, I heard about kids dying or being maimed for life when they played “chicken” and drove cars at one another.  It wasn’t just an urban legend, it happened.  Two kids with more guts than sense got paired up with one another, and someone would get hurt or die.  Here I was, playing chicken with a fucking nuclear weapon.

One good thing about having Frank’s processing power was that I had access to the perception effect, and Frank’s accelerated processing capacity beyond that to allow me to think far faster than I could possibly act.  So here I was, watching that Tomahawk missile approaching me at the apparent speed of a running man, plenty of time to think, almost no time to act in the physical world.  I had already made my plans for how to deal with the missile, so it was now time to consider how it was that I found myself in this position.

After a very brief moment of introspection, I saw the answer was simple.  I was an idiot.  I would never again, ever, be caught without some sort of long ranged weapon.  If I had one of Ayva’s coil gun pistol designs, I would have simply jumped straight into the air in the camp and fired the weapon a couple times at the warhead, then gone to find and reprogram the plutonium.  I bet Mouse had thought the same thing – though because of their body mass, despite their body’s strength, they might not have been able to jump high enough to clear the tree line and get a clear shot.  They didn’t have a coil gun with them though, I had checked, because hypervelocity weapons and lasers are dangerous to me.  Gantt might have forbidden it, hoping to take me alive, and not wanting me to see that Jason and Mouse had the capacity to escalate to deadly threats.

My enemy was either a moron or they knew my psychology and capabilities so well they could predict my actions with improbable precision, even better than Ayva could.  Ayva and I had been travelling together, and Ayva was known to carry ranged weapons and use them with extreme precision, though she had been mostly inactive in the last couple years.  If she had been the one to deal with this warhead, it would already be over.  Based on prior observations, I really had to rule out the moron enemy possibility, or I wouldn’t be playing chicken with a nuke.  So the enemy had been prepared enough to have a Tomahawk ready, an aging technology missile, no longer in production, with a nuclear warhead, a warhead of a type that was decommissioned years ago.  The missile had been customized with a tight beam communications device to allow it to communicate with a spotter plane, and some sort of radiation detection capable of picking up on the waste energies from matter reprogramming.  They knew Ayva and I would split up, they knew I would not choose to carry a ranged weapon capable of antimissile fire, or think of creating one in time to create one.  They also apparently understood virtual world and real world duality like Frank and I were engaging in right now, because they had to be counting on Frank not being here as well.  Frank would certainly have created a ranged weapon.

I considered the scenario again.  The enemy plane was still head on to me, I could see no markings, only a profile.  The Tomahawk was at around 1000 feet.  I was continuing to slow, rotating to hang under the drag chute instead of perpendicular to it.  I realized at that point what the enemy was waiting for. They probably understood that the drag chute would probably be programmed matter designed to protect me in some way from the nuke.  I had now slowed down enough that the radiation shielded drag chute rotated around me, moving above me as my movement vector in the air changed from sideways to vertical, just like a paraglider behind a speedboat when the paraglider lets go of the rope. I was now nearly in full view of the missile.

When the missile hit 900 feet, despite shortening the cords and trying to change the shape of the chute, my entire body was exposed to the missile. I flipped the missile a bird, hoping there was a video pickup capable of seeing that much detail. I could not believe I let myself get outsmarted like this.  At the same time, if I did survive this, there was absolutely zero possibility that this large of an expenditure of assets and favors was going to be untraceable.  Way too many things that Frank and I could follow up on.  Way too many possibilities for patterns and loose ends.  The enemy had gone all in on this one, and I had called him on it.  It was almost time to see who had the better cards.

At 887 feet, gravity senses allowed me to see the pieces of plutonium inside the missile starting to move together. A restoration pulse shortly before had restored my legs and hips to full function.  I doubted my legs and hips would matter anymore at this range, but I would be damned if I just gave up. I used every bit of my remaining energy and all available computing capacity to attempt to reach the warhead, but the slightly more than one hundredth of gram of antimatter I managed to create manifested at only 697 feet from me, immediately exploding in roughly a half kiloton explosion.  Not close enough.  The blast wave from the antimatter explosion would not reach the missile before the plutonium detonated in a controlled manner.  The blast wave from the antimatter would mitigate the blast wave from the nuclear weapon, but it would have zero impact on the initial radiation pulse.

I did one last scan of the area while I let go of the chute and oriented my legs and hips towards the Tomahawk, to put as much mass between my shielded brain and the nuke as possible. I was a bit less than two miles from the nearest road, and about the same from where the soldiers were under cover.  I checked a second time, and I didn’t see anyone on the road. Didn’t look like anyone was going to die here, except probably me. The radiation pulse from the half kiloton antimatter explosion had already hit me, it had been significant but not a real problem.  The radiation pulse from the nuclear explosion would hit me very soon now, before the antimatter blast front.  If I wasn’t simply evaporated by the nuke’s radiation pulse, the physical blast front from the antimatter would hit me, accelerating me away from the blast front. If I survived the antimatter explosion blast front, then the nuclear blast front, I would then have to survive hitting the ground with all the momentum imparted on me by both blast fronts.  I held my arms out like wings, with my hands held so they would collect as much explosive force as possible, hoping that the blast front from the antimatter explosion would accelerate me enough to get me out of the worst of the nuke’s shock wave, without killing me, and that I’d survive the follow up blast wave from the nuke when it did hit me.  I didn’t bother trying to do calculations on my likelihood of survival.  I didn’t want to know my chances, I just did the best I could.  Knowing the chances right now would only discourage me.

First things first though, I had to survive the initial nuclear explosion radiation pulse, which meant I needed to be far enough away from the epicenter that I wasn’t in range for complete vaporization, and that was a variable I could still improve on.  Frank’s restoration pulses had been extremely regular.  If he stayed on the same timetable one more time I’d be able to dramatically improve survival chances.  I started counting milliseconds as I watched the plutonium components of the warhead get closer to one another.

Another restoration pulse. Even though he couldn’t hear me, I thanked Frank for being predictable and reliable, then modified every superconductor and conductor in my legs, arms, hips, and the outer parts of my torso into nonconductors, as well as the protective shell around my remaining organic bits. One fiftieth of a second later, the nuke’s radiation pulse hit me. Despite the fact that they were now nonconductors and there was zero nerve activity of any sort there, I was acutely aware that my feet were evaporating because processing nodes in my feet simply dropped off the network, starting at the bottom of the foot, and moving up the leg.  I realized that the same would happen to at least my arms and flanks that my feet couldn’t fully block before all thought ceased as more and more of my processing nodes rapidly dropped off the network.

Last Chapter   Next Chapter


      • farmerbob1

        It’s my impression that a cruise missile has at least a little armoring up front to allow it to survive passing through a bit of flack, and it has a turbulence wave traveling in front of it as well which would offer some protection from lighter projectiles. Since it was following him, he didn’t have an opportunity to hit it from the side. He probably should have simply created some sort of one-shot coil gun or something, but Bob’s not into big high powered long distance shooting weapons, he prefers melee. His initial intent was to take it out from the front by running underneath it and using mass reprogramming. When it turned out to be tracking him, that turned into a no-go. Then he started running, and when he successfully got in front of it, he realized he was out of options.

        Bob (at this point, using Frank’s processing) can hit a target at 300 meters with his staff and ball bearing ammo, but he dropped his staff to reduce his mass when leaping (err, bouncing) into the air, and had no ball bearings.

        I try to write characters intelligently, but I have to be careful not to write Bob too intelligently, or he will win every time.

      • farmerbob1

        I had to reconsider reasons for Bob not simply using a rock, and change them to simply that he didn’t think about it because he got caught up in the moment with a clever idea, rather than really looking for the best possible way to deal with the situation.

        He could have used a rock, the power in the pure carbon fiber muscles in his body would allow him to throw a rock at speeds at least as fast as a high powered rifle bullet, even without the staff. The superconducting nervous tissue would allow him to do so with near perfect accuracy as well, which had been a problem with carbon fiber muscles in the past.

    • farmerbob1

      Nope, the nuke was detonating unless he could stop it. He wasn’t able to get close enough to simply disable it so he pushed his abilities as far as he could and created the largest explosion possible with the smallest amount of mass he could. If he’s managed to get it within a few feet of the missile, it would have worked. He didn’t get it close enough.

      The antimatter explosion will actually help mitigate shock wave of the nuclear explosion. Twice. The first mitigation will be the shock wave from the antimatter explosion counteracting the nuclear bomb’s blast wave. The second will be the weaker blast wave hitting Bob first, throwing him farther away from the nuke, so the nuke’s shock wave will be farther from epicenter when it hits him, and significantly weaker, he hopes.

      • underwhelmingforce

        Sorry, I still don’t understand the logic. In terms of energy release, an antimatter detonation is much, much more powerful than a fusion or fission detonation, not to mention the resulting strange matter. This is like… Trying to put out a fire with napalm- or thermite. Why would he want a larger explosion?

        • farmerbob1

          The antimatter generated an explosion of about half a kiloton, the nuke in a Tomahawk was rated up to 150 kilotons. Antimatter is a LOT more efficient, but Bob was only able to make a tiny bit at such long range.

          I expanded my answer above some.

          • farmerbob1

            Nukes require an extraordinarily precise sequence of events to make them detonate explosively with any significant force. If you don’t do it right, they will release a bunch of energy, but it won’t be an explosion.

            Bob was trying to disrupt the process of the explosion. If he had been able to hit the missile with enough force, it might have jarred the plutonium as it was being brought together and compressed, resulting in a fizzle and a lot of hot plutonium, rather than a boom.

            The explosion had the secondary effect of being a buffer for him. If he’d gotten to within around 600 feet of it, he could have simply plucked the warhead apart. I might have to rewrite the end of this to clear this up.

            The required precision of the mechanical compression of the fissile material is real, it’s one reason why it’s so damn hard to make a nuke

          • underwhelmingforce

            Maybe explain his reasoning a bit, yeah. But I’m not sure how well that would work for him. All it takes to detonate a nuke is a lot of pressure and heat, which unless I’m mistaken a kiloton antimatter blast would produce in spades. Most nukes actually just use a whole bunch of TNT packed around the plutonium core to detonate it.

          • farmerbob1

            The explosives used around the nuclear fissile material is extremely precisely organized. It really does require a great deal of precision to cause fissile material to explode with great energy. Not making it up.

  1. Anonymous

    The radiation shielding and superconducting conduits for my organic parts was keeping the temperature of said organic

  2. Cultist

    I spent a good bit of time researching antimatter thanks to you, and I have double checked the math. A 1/100 of an ounce annihilation of antimatter would actually yield somewhere around a 12.1~12.2 kiloton explosion, 24x as big as what you have written. Please amend.

    • farmerbob1

      I can amend it with words rather than with numbers, if that’s OK 🙂

      I used ounces rather than grams. Yes I recognize that I bounce back and forth between metric and standard units. I’m one of those folks stuck in the middle who use both. It’s one of those things I need to address in my writing. Known fault.

  3. Carly

    I swear I’m on pins and needles to find out what happens!!! Noticed these:

    large enough to cover their heads, and starting to move into cover mouse designated.
    capitalization of Mouse

    Then I turned off all pain receptors.
    A few paragraphs earlier Bob turned off pain input – input and receptors are two different things, but what’s the difference in regards to him being able to do what he needs to?

  4. Kunama

    “human body is simple not designed well for”
    human body was simply not designed for

    “keeping up with restoration pulses”

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