Chapter 4.26: Very Bad

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Ayva followed behind Mouse, but to the right a bit to stay out of the alcohol sweat fumes.  One of her pistols was drawn and held in a two handed grip, angled down and away from Jason’s body.  She watched as Jason and Mouse released more sparrows.  His sparrows were mostly organic, but Jason’s body had organic mass to spare, and then some, even if he weren’t being restored by Mouse from the virtual world.  Now that Jason and Mouse were actually running, the earth tremors with each step were far more easily noticeable – significant enough she had to account for the tremors in her own balance at this speed.  He had several sparrows flying about fifty feet ahead of him, and the data they were passing and the patterns the birds were flying made it clear they were acting as extra eyes to allow him more time to react, with his large, heavy body.  He was still having difficulty moving at this pace, nearly sixty miles per hour, and the alcohol / sweat fumes coming off him were thick and overpowering.

Danielle was being very quiet, but Ayva noted that all of her processors were nearly redlined.  Internally, she started a conversation.  “Is there anything I need to know, Danielle?  You’re awful active right now.”

Danielle’s processing activity shifted significantly for a moment.  “Ayva, I’m running five hundred simulations of Jason, Mouse, yourself, myself, Bob, and Frank right now, trying to make sure I don’t miss out on any opportunities to keep you sane for the next five minutes.”

“Was Bob hurt so bad that it’s likely he didn’t or won’t live, Danielle?” Ayva said in a mental whisper.

“Based on the materials he made the duplicate body out of, and assuming the materials used were a duplication of his own body, the damage I saw to his body from the blast, the resolution of the images, and assuming a few common sense procedures to mitigate radiation damage to his remaining organic parts, it’s possible he might still be alive.  It’s even possible that he’s not brain damaged.  It’s almost certain that Frank is not even able to manifest sentience due to the radiation pulse, closely followed by the damage I saw.”

“I… see.  Danielle.”  Ayva’s mind careened back and forth between hope and despair.  “If he’s that badly damaged, I’m going to have to leave all the rescue attempts to you, and go to the virtual world now, to feed you power.  We’ll need more internal capacitors?”

She could feel Danielle modifying the internal antennae systems.  There was only one reason that would be happening right now.  Ayva quietly holstered her pistol and engaged the stealth systems in her armor, and ran around and ahead of Jason and Mouse.  It was now very obvious based on the radio emissions from the sparrows where the search was happening.

“As for the capacitors, yes.  However, negative on you going to the virtual world now.  Real world visualization is critical for your future sanity here.  You must see his state, and know it’s a real viewing, then go to the virtual world.  If you don’t, and I cannot save Bob, you have almost no chance of remaining sane, and a very substantial chance of blaming me for his death, while going into a mental health spiral bad enough that I’ll eventually have to sedate you for at least three decades to keep you from going on a rampage.  If I simply keep you in an internal virtual world and show you Bob’s condition virtually, you will always doubt the images, if Bob does not live.  For your best chance to stay sane, no matter what happens, you need to see Bob, then you need to enter the virtual world and do all you can to give me what I need to keep Bob alive.”

“You already know where Bob is, don’t you, Danielle?”

Danielle responded in a rapid fire manner, reminding Ayva a lot of a few of the more intense combat missions with the CIA, and Agency.  “Within a few hundred feet based on the sparrows’ search pattern.  We don’t need Mouse’s help to search anymore, but I see you know that already.  I noted when you became aware of antennae adjustments.  Yes, the internal antennae is now able to act as a radiation detector.  Bob is going to be pretty hot, radioactively.  Can I take control and get us there?  Remember that once you see Bob, I need you to go to the virtual world.  We will need more capacitors, and a quant that is not yet configured.  Bob’s is certainly fried, and if I can get him back on his mental feet, he’ll fix himself with the quant far, far faster than we can help him, even without Frank, if Frank is still in distress.”

It wasn’t hard to see that Danielle was trying to adjust the feel of what was happening right now, make it feel more like a high stress mission than a desperate search for her critically wounded, perhaps dead husband.  For a brief moment Ayva resented Danielle for trying to alter perceived reality like that, but only for a brief moment.

“I see what you’re doing Danielle, turning this into an impersonal mission, rather than a rescue attempt.  Thank you for that, I think.  You have the body.  Do what you have to do.  After I see Bob, I’ll go to the virtual world.”

Danielle took control of the body, adjusted their position slightly, and accelerated harder.

“Seemed to be the right thing to do, based on the models.  We’ve never been in a situation quite like this before.  Sorry if I seem a bit cold, but, well, models. Sanity. I’m using everything I learned about you over the last sixty years to try to keep you sane.”

“I trust you Danielle.  Save him if you can.”

Far behind them they heard Jason shouting that the sparrows had found Bob.  Ayva asked for and got permission to tap into the incoming data from the sparrows.  Jason had apparently modified them to broadcast in the clear rather than encrypting the data.  Danielle was tapped into that data stream, made another minor modification to their direction, and seven and a half seconds later, they found what was left of Bob.

A broken and blackened lump lay on the ground, approximately the same size and shape as a small bed pillow.  It had no limbs, the legs were gone, as well as the pelvis. One arm had about three inches of stump below the shoulder, the other entire shoulder was missing.  Apparently the same forces that wrenched off the other arm at the shoulder, also took the head and the upper third of the spine as part of the same wound, based on the appearance of the visible surfaces of the wounds.  The remaining surfaces of the body were heavily cracked and pitted, small chunks and divots still falling off.  The radiation had scorched the entire surface of the body horribly, drastically reducing the structural strength of the body, which was probably the only reason the shoulder had been wrenched off.  There was no blood visible, at all, nor evidence that there had ever been blood from the wounds.

Despite her promise to go to the virtual world after seeing him, as soon as she recognized that the giant broken charcoal briquette that Danielle was looking at was what was left of Bob, Ayva attempted to strip control from Danielle and start screaming at the world.

Danielle herself was shocked at the condition of the body.  She had been expecting worse.  The structural integrity of the torso had mostly survived, which meant that Bob’s brain and oxygen transport systems deep inside the torso were apparently mostly intact.

Danielle was having difficulty keeping control over their body.  Ayva was going mad.  This had to be stopped.

Ayva’s vision went blank, then she lost connection with all her other senses rapidly.  She screamed curses at Danielle.

Danielle adjusted the small virtual world she had created to trap Ayva’s intellect, making herself visible.  Ayva, wild eyed, leapt at Danielle’s avatar with hands outstretched, reaching for her avatar’s neck.  “LET ME OUT. HE’S DEAD. LET ME OUT, DANIELLE!”

Danielle modified the program again, immobilized Ayva in midair, slapped her across the face, hard, and said simply.  “Ayva, he’s not dead, but he will be soon if you don’t go to the virtual world and send me a quant as soon as you can, put a lot of capacitors inside us, and then give me power.”

“Not dead?  How is he not dead?  All that’s left is a burnt lump.” Ayva screamed.

“No, his organic parts are still there.  I’ve been taking more readings and initiating probes for the last few seconds while I have been keeping you locked up here.”

While Ayva was immobile, Danielle showed readings indicating that even though the artificial lungs were not expanding and contracting any longer, one of them had been torn open by the trauma that removed the shoulder.  The oxygen transfer through the ripped open artificial lung was enough to provide oxygen to the synthetic heart, which was operating at near shutdown power levels.  That was enough to keep oxygen in the blood for the brain.  Barely.  Estimated time to certain brain damage, approximately three minutes.  There was also some system level background processing taking place in a few percent of Frank’s processing nodes.

Danielle analyzed Ayva’s cerebral activity, carefully comparing against the several hundred relevant models, and chose her words and tone with care.

“Ayva, get it together.  Now.  You’ve ‘seen the elephant’ enough times to know collapsing like this is the worst possible thing you can do for Bob right now.”

Hearing the slang phrase from her youth was just jarring enough to help Ayva take stock and calm down.

“Where did you hear that phrase, Danielle?” she asked in a small voice.

“We shared memories, remember?  Now. Go. One quant, not yet configured.  I’ve found Bob’s old one, and it’s nonfunctional.  Lots of capacitors.  Power and restoration.  Give me these things, and I think I can save Bob.” She carefully avoided mentioning Frank.

Ayva hesitated, a tortured expression on her face.

“I do not have time to test and see if either Bob or Frank are intact inside that body, Ayva, but I do have time to fix the body.  I can feel Jason and Mouse’s body shaking the ground as they run, they are about thirty seconds away now.  They have that Bob duplicate body I can use, if you help me.”

More hesitation.  Ayva stared off, at nothing, her mind racing, trying to do what she knew she needed to do, but unable to let go of the need to help Bob with her own hands.

Danielle carefully controlled the accent and tone of her next words to match the barely-remembered voice of Ayva’s own mother that she had pulled from their shared memory.  “Now, Ayva, help me save him.  GO!”  In Ayva’s tortured state, she failed to notice the trick.  For now.  She immediately followed her mother’s instructions.

Ayva disappeared.  Chance to save Bob, fifty-three percent, with several variables dependent on Jason and Mouse’s actions.  Chance to restore Frank.  Twenty percent.

The ground tremors caused by Jason’s running changed tempo, and she heard a rather loud curse from him, then he apparently stopped, then started accelerating back towards her again.  She was too busy to care at the moment, but consulted the overwatch program dedicated to Jason and Mouse to see if it had monitored any energy signatures.  None since the little power blips to create the last birds.  They had not created any new weapons.  She turned off the holographic stealth systems, and removed one pistol from its holster, and laid it on the ground next to her.  Then she continued to carefully clean the dirt and carbon dust out of the artificial lung, with several dozen tiny extensions from the tip of her index finger, significantly improving Bob’s oxygen transport capacity.

While she was cleaning the lung, Danielle felt the appearance of a quant under the skin of her ribs under the left arm.  It tested out as nonfunctional.  This was to be expected, unfortunately.  Ayva’s success rate with quant creation had been very low, they had only started being able to form them at all a couple weeks ago.  Danielle’s was barely any better, maybe one in fifty.  Configured quants were completely out of the question.  Frank couldn’t duplicate a configured one, and claimed to have a difficult time with the unconfigured ones too, with a stated rate of one in ten, or less.  It was worth a try though.  She felt the bad quant disappear.  Ayva had tested the one on her side and it failed.

Rapidly, one after another, about a quarter second apart, quants started appearing under her skin and disappearing.  Danielle ignored them.  When one finally stayed a second or two, she would test it.  Ayva was adding another small capacitor under their skin starting with her arms each time she tried to create a quant, connecting it into a power network with other capacitors and recharging them all to full every time a new capacitor was added.  Danielle was using that power as rapidly as it was provided, slowly cleansing Bob’s body of radioactive materials and repairing the radiation damaged processing nodes that remained.

Jason half-ran, half-walked up, rapidly stopping twenty feet away as her right hand reached towards her pistol.  When he was stopped, she took her hand way from the pistol.

Danielle warned Jason out loud. “[Sorry Jason.  No closer than that.  I’ll toss you a tether in a moment to tie the body to, and I’ll drag it in.]”

Jason looked at her, a bit irritated. “You did see what else I’m carrying besides the duplicate?  Did you think I stopped to sightsee?  I know you can track this body by the earth tremors it makes, especially when I’m running.”

Danielle looked sharply at Jason, reaching for the pistol again, thinking he had a hidden weapon, somehow.

“Whoah, whoah, hold the friendly fire.  No weapons here that are a threat to you in that armor.  I stopped on the way here because the birds found these.”  He held up the shoulder and upper spinal section of Bob’s body in one hand as he slowly and deliberately pulled Bob’s head, complete with half-disintegrated helmet out of a colossal pocket. All the time staring her in the eyes, watching her to see if she would finish picking up the pistol to start shooting at him.  He didn’t know if Danielle or Ayva was in charge, and she wasn’t telling him. “From what I saw of this duplicate body’s construction, losing the head wouldn’t have killed Bob.  But all these disconnected bones are certainly doing Frank no good at all.  I’d throw them to you, but they are in bad shape.  I’ll attach them to the duplicate.  Throw me a rope.”

Danielle immediately generated a thirty foot length of spider web twine, and tossed it out to Jason, who laid the duplicate Bob on the ground, feet facing Danielle.  He pulled some duct tape out of a grocery-bag-sized pocket and taped the pieces of Bob onto the duplicate body, then put the duct tape back into the huge pocket again.  Danielle carefully stored away the image of Jason duct taping Bob’s body parts together onto the duplicate body, then heavily encrypted it.  If he survived this, she wanted to see Bob’s reaction to that little video.  Jason then tied the spider web twine to the duplicate Bob body’s ankles.

Danielle started pulling the duplicate body towards herself rapidly.

Jason turned back around and faced towards the Tomahawk’s ground zero.  The fire started by the blast was rapidly approaching.  Jason’s sparrows were still seeking any potential pieces of Bob with bones in them, but finding none.  This was expected.  The video was fairly clear that the limbs had been burned off in the initial pulse of radiation from the nuclear detonation.

It was obvious to Danielle that Jason had been watching her work with one hand with surgical precision, cleaning the damaged section where the shoulder and spine and head used to connect with the rest of Bob’s body while pulling in the duplicate body with the other hand.  He knew who was in control of Ayva’s body now.  There was no conceivable way Ayva could be this calmly multitasking a fine medical task on her husband’s mutilated body and a brute task, in two different directions.

“Danielle, are you going to be done there in the next two minutes or so?” Jason asked, as predicted, he knew what intelligence was in her body now.

“[Certainly not.  Please start building a firebreak and begin a counter burn.]”

“Would a cave do?”

Danielle was silent a moment while finishing cleaning the cavity in the body where the shoulder had been.  “[No, I do not wish to be enclosed with you at this time.  Please do not be angry, but Bob is extremely vulnerable right now, and Mouse is known to be carrying a grudge.]”

Jason looked offended for a moment then deflated slightly, then walked to the forest’s edge and started to extrude a sizable chunk of flesh, obviously preparing a biofactory.  “Understood.  But for future reference, Bob very likely just saved our ass from this nuke.  We would not take advantage of his current weakness.  We don’t want him dead either, just controlled, which is looking a lot less possible these days.  Regardless, a debt is a debt.  For as long as Bob is sane enough to recognize debts, we will too.”  He stopped talking for a moment.  “I’m going to be pulling a lot of power to quickly create a biofactory for this work, Danielle, please do not get trigger happy.”

Danielle nodded, then concentrated on cleansing the radiation and repairing nodes in Bob’s original shoulder, spine, and head before slowly beginning to re-attach them.

Jason started using massive amounts of power, more than Danielle was able to handle, by a small margin.  His body was full of capacitors, many more than Ayva’s body currently had.  They were simpler tech, but not crude, and he had a lot more body volume to put capacitors in.  The chunk of flesh he had extruded flung itself against a tree, consuming the tree in seconds.  Danielle noted that there was an umbilical from Mouse to the biofactory, and the scent of juice was strong, as well as the scent of the alcohol they used as sweat.  The biofactory apparently was using juice from Jason’s body, and cooling itself with Jason’s alcohol too, and Jason was simply feeding it from his own body while he was being restored by Mouse.  Brilliant and low tech, no need for cooling tubes, though it certainly had some drawbacks too.

Danielle checked on Bob’s oxygen level, and it was low.  She checked the airways of the head and neck, and used the duplicate body to model how everything was connected.  With the next pulse of power, she made the final adjustments to bring the bones back into alignment, and started to see Frank’s network begin to knit.  Their body was still having some difficulty breathing though.  She spent the next pulse of power on a simple medical air pump, inserted the tubes into Bob’s lungs, then finished repairing the physically damaged lung and connected tissues.

The next unconfigured quant tested functional.  Danielle made a note for future discussion.  Ayva had managed to create a good quant on the seventy-second try.

Mouse’s biofactory was now eating several trees at a time, as well as all the ground litter, and apparently everything biological in the soil too, as it was leaving a brownish powdery substance behind it where dark, rich soil used to be.  Mouse was still connected to it by umbilical, and still pumping it juice, alcohol, and power for carbon fiber muscle strands as well as power-assisted digestion.  Alcohol sweat for cooling would cease being a good idea, very soon.  Danielle briefly tried to determine if they would change to water cooling, or maybe compressed air?

A more careful inspection of Bob’s duplicate body showed that it was created with a full network, but it was loaded with a dummy operating system, muscular control and environment analytics only, zero sentience.  Zero possibility to support sentience.  It was the functional equivalent of a marionette at best.

The network repairs in Bob’s body were taking place below the level of sentience still, but complexity was increasing rapidly.

The next two minutes was a frenzy of cutting apart the molecular bonds of the duplicate’s body, which took an absurd amount of power, then reattaching them to Bob’s body, which took even more power due to the damage on Bob’s body.

The longer the network rebuild took, the more worried Danielle got.  After connecting the legs and hips to Bob’s body, the network reached into the newly attached bones and their processing nodes, occupying them, but there was still a great deal of network repair activity on an automated level, all below sentience.  With that much processing power, Frank should have been active, even if he was damaged.

Danielle checked her own protocols to be certain, since she had never had to suffer through a low level network rebuild.  The network should be prompting for a neural connection to the host if it was this complete and not able to establish sentience.  She checked Bob’s brain, and yes, there was some activity going on that seemed to be a neural connection to the host.

Bob’s brain wasn’t in a conscious state though.  It was in a dream state, with no indication of wakeful activity, or sensory input from extremities.  Another quick glance showed her why.  All of his torso nerves were nonconductors, rather than superconductors.  He probably did that to reduce penetration and propagation of heat and radiation into his body.  Now, however, it was preventing his body from functioning properly.

In the meantime, while Danielle had been reassembling Bob from spare parts, Jason had built a fifty foot radius firebreak around them, and started counter burns so anything that would burn, would be gone without getting so close it would be dangerous to Bob.  He then started raising a berm around the inside of the firebreak circle to protect them from radiant heat.  His biofactory, after consuming the mass of hundreds of trees, was huge, looking a lot like a thirty foot long cross between a slug and an inchworm.  At the same time, it had apparently been fueling itself partly off the cellulose, not depending entirely on juice from Jason, or it would have been much larger.  There was still an umbilical connecting Jason to the biofactory.

While Danielle watched Jason and his biofactory very closely through a sparrow she, herself, had created, she started slowly and carefully tracing out Bob’s torso nerves.  She slowly modified them from nonconductors to regular conducting nerves.  Bob could make them superconducting himself later.  She could make them superconducting with a large effort later, as a last ditch attempt if he didn’t regain consciousness.

When she finished, she checked the nerve networks again, and the biological neural interface structures that allowed connections into the network infrastructure.  Everything seemed to be working properly, and the network coherency was improving.  She didn’t bother with re-attaching arms yet.  There was plenty of network capacity.  Bob could fix those arms himself as soon as he gained access to the virtual world.

Danielle stood, and saw Jason directing his biofactory to dig down.  He was preparing himself a place, in case the wildfire was intense enough to be a problem despite the firebreak, counter burn, and berm.  It would probably be smart for her to do the same, but she didn’t feel threatened, there were several options she could use to protect the body if Ayva was still providing power.

Bob coughed behind her and when she turned around to face him, his eyes were wide open, and there really wasn’t much intelligence in them.  He was simply staring past things, not reacting, a thousand yard stare.  She checked his auditory nerves and bones, and all checked out well.

“[Bob.  This is Danielle.  Ayva is supporting me from the virtual world.]”

There was no reaction at all from Bob until the word ‘Ayva’, at which his head turned towards her and he repeated the word. “Ayva?”

At least it was a reaction.  His eyes seemed to be tracking her now.  She held up the unconfigured quant in his field of view, and his eyes slowly drifted to focus on the device in her hands.  “Ayva is in the virtual world.  You also need to go there, and heal yourself.  You were terribly injured.  My repairs are not sufficient.  I have no idea how to even touch your brain, and I think your brain’s current state is impacting your ability to connect to your internal network.  Do you remember how to use a quant?”

He nodded, barely.

“It’s unconfigured.  Do you remember enough about yourself to configure it?”

Another nod, but less confident.

Danielle placed the quant on Bob’s stomach, where the burnt out remains of the prior quant had been removed from what had been inside of the burnt-off-and-yet-to-be-rebuilt kangaroo pouch.

Bob’s eyes closed.  About thirty seconds later they opened. “What name did I have before?” He asked.

The name he had before?  Oh, his last name.  The second question on a list of forty-seven questions.

Danielle popped into the virtual world briefly.  “Ayva, he’s back, and conscious, but…”

Ayva was already back in their body.  Danielle followed her, speaking internally so as not to tell Jason and Mouse, though they would certainly figure it out fast, anyway.

“like I was saying, Ayva, he’s back and conscious, but something that he did to his brain to make it durable enough to survive incredible accelerations is making it very hard for the network to connect, and there seems to be some minor brain damage on top of that, though the apparent brain damage might also have something to do with the quantum level reprogramming done in the brain.  I cannot believe he took the risk to reprogram a quantum thinking machine at the quantum scale.  Especially like that.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I can’t model it.”

Danielle got a ping from the program monitoring Jason, and turned to look for him.  He was standing at the inner edge of the firebreak next to the hole his biofactory had made for him, hands carefully held in clear sight, looking in over the top of the berm at Bob with pity on his face.  He simply asked, “Danielle, how bad it is?”

Bob picked up on that, and started chanting slowly.  “Bad. Bad. Bad.”

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9 comments

  1. thomas

    Bob talking implies everything is okay or will be soon. But if even a half-baked Bob knows it is bad then his goose is cooked.

    It seems like the biofactory should not be eating stuff inn the blast zone. Great chapter

    • farmerbob1

      The biofactory’s purpose was to create a firebreak and a berm to protect Danielle from the wildfire coming as a result of the fireball. Mouse also set counterfires. Eating mildly irradiated substances isn’t going to hurt a biofactory much in the short term. If Jason and Mouse choose to keep the biofactory long term, they do indeed have a lot of work ahead of them to cleanse that large of an organic mass of radioactivity. Chances are slim that they will keep it long term.

  2. underwhelmingforce

    Good stuff, though it might just be my desire to see Bob knocked down to size.

    A few typos, but I can’t copy-paste for some reason. “Brain” is unnecessarily capitalized once, and a paragraph or two before that there’s an unnecessary comma.

    Also, Ayva should use more exclamation point when she’s flipping out towards the beginning.

    • farmerbob1

      Found the bad Brain and fixed it, thanks!

      Did some rewrites in the sections around that too, punctuation, grammar, very little content change. I’ve never been a fan of lots of exclamation marks. It’s got it’s place, and I won’t say I’ll never use them, but whenever I see someone else doing it, it irks me.

  3. Kunama

    “He stopped talking for a moment.”
    Close and open quotes before and after, respectively, where Jason pauses.

    “They were cruder tech, but not crude.”
    You just said they were!

    “connection to the host”
    host.

    Capitalisation/punctuation around quotes

  4. Jesp

    Continuity problem:
    End of last chapter:
    “There was no response. He hadn’t even seen her accelerate around him in the brush.”

    Start of chapter:
    “Ayva followed behind Mouse, …”

    More later. Wowsers, this is a big chapter! ^_^

    • farmerbob1

      Ah, I played with time and perspective there. 4.25 starts centered on Jason. 4.26 starts centered on Ayva. There is some overlap to allow me to tell what is going through Ayva’s mind earlier

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