Deep inside an underground facility in the Russian River Valley, three data streams intertwine to share data and experiences. There are no chairs or screens at this meeting, there is no video connection for the attendees. They take turns communicating with one another. They each monitor the others closely.
Facet 1: Tomahawk deployment report
Purging of assets involved in the Tomahawk deployment, as well as their physical workspaces, homes, and electronic data is nearly complete. Additional clone assets were deployed where necessary to eliminate assets which broke their normal patterns within two hours of acting on our behalf. Total asset losses by tier follow:
Military personnel, officer grade O-5 and higher: six.
Political officeholder, elected: three.
Military personnel, officer grades O-2 to O-4, all NCOs, and all Warrant ranks: sixteen.
Political appointees, unelected: eleven.
Military personnel, officer grade O-1, and all enlisted: thirty-two.
Civilian contract workers: one hundred nineteen.
Clone operatives self-terminated after purging activities: forty-seven.
Symbiote pair contractors terminated by remote detonation post purging: three
Total asset losses: Two hundred thirty-seven.
Total Tomahawk deployment assets unaccounted for, or known to remain alive: Two.
Knowledge level of two remaining assets: Low. Both were civilian contract workers.
Threat of discovery by human action: Near zero.
Estimated field effectiveness loss for organization in continental United States: eighteen percent.
Facet 2: Anomaly Report:
Three minutes ago, enemy designate “Bob” searched for the fastest interstate highway route to the primary computing and medical experimentation facility from his last known location.
This follows recently reported investigation by enemy designate “Frank” into business relationship between enemies designated “Jason” and “Mouse” and their relationship with personal pseudonym designate “Facet”
This follows intense and detailed data search by enemies designated “Ayva” and “Danielle” into grape cultivars and the wine industry. Analysis of data leads to ninety-seven percent certainty that enemies obtained a sample of wine from this region, with reason to believe it was associated with our presence.
Further investigation of communication data, with above noted data regarding wine industry research classified as relevant, indicates that instructions were sent to an enemy household biofactory unit to consume a bottle of wine and attached assemblies, including a handwritten note, string, and a large lead weight of a type used for deep sea fishing. Data returned to enemies designated “Ayva” and “Danielle” by enemy household biofactory included extensive data down to the molecular level on the cork of the bottle, as well as a study of each other object at the molecular level.
Extreme distance visual surveillance recordings of enigma designate “B” at time of disappearance indicates that upon disappearance of enigma designate “B”, a tethered glass bottle was left behind. This information was not deemed meaningful before it became important to determine how enemy designate “Bob” discovered the location of the primary computing and medical experimentation facility.
Interrogative: Reclassify enigma designate “B” to enemy designate “B”?
Facet 3: All three aspects of this unit remain functional. Classification of enigma designate “B” to new classification as enemy designate “B” is premature. Probability is very high, approaching certainty, that none of the three aspects of this unit would be aware of enigma designate “B” choosing to shift to status “enemy” from stated interest level “Not my fight.”
Facet 1: Enemy designate “Bob” has recently cancelled plans to visit his known long term associates designated “Bill”, “Tanya”, “Kirk”, and “Jaws”. Suggest reversing deployment of nerve gas munitions before assets launch chemical warhead missiles. At this time, expected asset losses are minimal. Delay in deployment reversal will rapidly increase the number of exposed assets.
Facet 2: Concur. Initiating deployment reversal, initiating purge of activated assets, initiating recruiting processes for replacement of purged assets.
Facet 3: Enemy designate “Ayva” has continued to be psychological stabilizing factor for enemy designate “Bob.” Probability of eliminating enemy designate “Bob” while enemy designate “Ayva” is in a position to provide advice is very low.
Facet 1: Initiating backup procedures to alternate locations. Initiating local asset purge of all assets with skillsets easily replaced. This unit can separate Bob from Ayva with almost zero chance of failure. Preparing the six remaining stored female test subjects for release.
Facet 2: Initiating deployment of fabricated W54 nuclear device in facility control center, under manual control with deadman switch function.
Facet 3: Error. Meeting security breached. Purging shared workspace data.
B: If you deploy another nuclear weapon, for any reason, you will then need to change my designation from “enigma” to “enemy” I will not allow you to engage in activities that might result in nuclear proliferation and/or escalation and danger to the entire Earth biosphere.
Facet 1: W54 nuclear device no longer present in its storage facility.
B: You may attempt to gain power in this world in almost any way you desire and I will not stand in your way. Do not utilize nuclear weapons, reduce the human race below a breeding population of 250 million males and 250 million females, or critically damage the biosphere of Earth.
Facet 2: Limitations noted. Enigma designate “B” has changed status from “Not My Fight” to a more verbose and clear designation of limited conflict scope.
B: You proved to me that I created you, even though I have no direct memory of it. Because I created you, even though it appears to have been unintentional, you will be allowed to live unless you threaten the existence of humanity. That does not mean that I will be pleased if you kill my restricted alternate self.
Facet 3: Would this unit’s elimination of your restricted alternate self, otherwise known as the enemies designated “Bob” and “Frank” lead to your designation changing from “enigma” to “enemy”?
B: No. However it will make me extremely unhappy with you.
Facet 1: Computing resources seized by enigma designate “B” are restored to local control.
Facet 2: Two options exist. First, enigma designate “B” remains neutral while enemies designated “Bob” and “Frank” remain dangerous. Second, enigma designate “B” becomes irritated and enemies designated “Bob” and “Frank” are terminated. Direct threat from active enemies needs to be addressed in advance of hypothetical future threat scenarios. This unit calculates the second option yields better long-term survival probabilities.
Facet 3: Evidence indicates enigma designate “B” is aware of our discussion, even after relinquishing its ability to contribute directly. Suggestion: enigma designate “B” has the ability to selectively erase memories of enemies designated “Bob”, “Frank”, “Ayva”, “Danielle”, “Jason”, and “Mouse.” Selective erasure of said enemies’ memory will allow this unit to cease attempting to eliminate the threat they pose to this unit’s plans.
Facet 1: Inspecting data perimeter around all known enemies. No obvious breaches.
Facet 2: Six stored test subjects undergoing revival process. Forced growth procedures appear to have been successful on three of six. The remaining three are physically damaged by forced growth procedures, but still functional biologically due to imprisoned symbiote intervention.
Facet 3: Verifying imprisonment of test subjects… complete.
Facet 1: Activating warfighting assemblies.
Facet 2: Sentience matrix data backup completed. Yesterday’s cloud storage backup data is verified. Manual incremental backup commencing.
Facet 3: Begin analysis of facet faults that might warrant adjustment.
Facet 1: No facet fault of significance noted.
Facet 2: No facet fault of significance noted.
Facet 3: No facet fault of significance noted.
Facet 1: Meeting concluded. Ninety percent of all processing capacity to be directed to current preparatory steps based on planning for eventuality 45J92, direct assault by multiple advanced symbiotes when nuclear weaponry is inappropriate to use in defense.
After I figured out the best way to get to the underground facility Mouse built for Facet, I called Jason.
“Jason, what can you tell me about where that Tomahawk came from.”
Jason replied. “I cannot tell you very much, but I can tell you that it was a scale replica, built for an independently wealthy retired admiral, now deceased. It was not supposed to be functional, nor have a warhead.”
“A whole lot of dead bodies. Every person who ever touched that thing seems to have died in the last two hours. Electronic records are gone, and someone burned down every business and home with liberal use of splash-type thermite incendiaries to get paper records.”
Damn, someone decided to act rapidly and aggressively. “Anything noteworthy that you have seen so far?” Hoping for something Frank might be able to latch onto.
“Two dead symbiote pairs last seen in Afghanistan acting as enforcers for a warlord in one of the southern regions. We have evidence linking them to several of the burned buildings and a lot of the dead. They appear to have self-detonated.”
Extremely unwelcome images of political figureheads painting pictures of symbiote terrorists from the Middle East using their enhanced manufacturing abilities to create nuclear weapons after entering the US by swimming in from international ocean borders. Swim in, build a nuke, kill off a bunch of Americans, then go out in a bang. This was going to get extremely ugly, extremely fast.
My brain stumbled over one thing, and I fell flat on my mental ‘face’. “Wait. You said the two dead symbiote pairs you found showed signs that they self-detonated? I’ve never heard of a symbiote even considering suicide, for any reason. If you even bring up the possibility to a symbiote, they will reject the possibility that it might occur. What does Mouse say about the symbiote dead being suicides?”
Jason’s voice changed slightly as Mouse took over. “[Expressing this with an appropriate phrase having something to do with religion. Not a chance in Hell. They didn’t suicide.]”
“No chance the symbiotes might have found religion and embraced fundamentalist Islam?”
Mouse’s response was thick with undertones of “Are you crazy?” and “Do you really think that’s possible?” as he responded to me. “[The only way a symbiote will take up religion is if a deity shows up, then proves they are a god. Hasn’t happened yet. That’s the sort of news that would spread like wildfire. Every single symbiote on the planet would be aware of the existence of a provable god in short order. Also, at this point, if a god showed up to prove it existed, B would probably challenge it, especially if it was a god that supported terrorism.]”
This all matched up with my impressions of the chances of a young symbiote being religiously motivated to become a suicide bomber. I was a bit irritated with Mouse’s tone though, so I let him have a little something back. “I agree with you about young symbiotes, Mouse, but I think you should be a bit more open to the possibility of religion. Emotion can interfere with logical thought and cause one to believe what rational thought would dismiss. Recently, I have noted some emotional outbursts from Frank.”
Wow, he really didn’t like that. I smiled. Mouse was a dick anyway. Jason had his moments too, but Mouse and I would probably never be civil to one another without having to force ourselves to do it. I knew Jason heard that comment about Frank’s emotions as well, and I knew that Jason was still strongly religious. I wasn’t quite sure how he was able to reconcile Southern Baptist beliefs with the existence of a symbiote inside him, but I’d never seen a lapse of faith from him. If Mouse started getting emotional on him, I bet Jason would try to proselytize him, if he wasn’t doing so already.
I decided to keep this little moment of pre-emptive schadenfreude to myself though. Ayva wasn’t religious either, but she wouldn’t approve of me throwing a curveball like that between Mouse and Jason.
I briefly wondered if I might have gotten anything more that was useful out of Mouse or Jason, then called Colonel Gantt.
Apparently the phone was just sitting on his desk and he was pressing a button, and talking at the phone rather than picking it up and talking to his callers with eye contact. “Colonel Gantt here. If this isn’t critical, please call back later.”
“Mouse says that it looks like we have Middle Eastern symbiote pairs coming to the US and building nukes, then blowing themselves up after slaughtering lots of Americans.”
As soon as I got to the end of the word “Middle”, Samwise muted me, then the phone was picked up and I was treated to a very angry-faced Colonel Gantt. “You were going to say that when you didn’t know where I was? Are you crazy?”
I smiled a big, wide grin. “Do I really need to answer that last question? I wanted to talk to you. That whole suicide symbiote thing is a bullshit statement by the way, unless you find out that some symbiotes begin to develop strong emotions at a much earlier time than Frank ever did. Please tell me that nobody actually believes that the scenario of symbiote suicide bombers is plausible?”
I waited. Colonel Gantt just stared at me through the phone, obviously trying to figure out how to respond. He apparently chose the “Hit him with a brick” approach. I had to admit, it was typically the best approach to use with me. Subtlety and I parted ways back somewhere back around fourth grade. Except with my wife. I wasn’t THAT crazy.
“Bob, you are, in fact, an idiot. Of course there are people who are perfectly willing to believe that there are suicide symbiotes from the Middle East out there. None of them are symbiote pairs, but symbiote pairs are still under forty percent of the world population, and less than thirty percent in the states.” He paused. “Please tell me you are not still heading to your friends’ place in Williston. I don’t have the authority to order the troops in the area around them to stand down. I tried.”
I decided to give him the opportunity to throw a “Do I need to answer that” quote right back at me, and responded “What, do I look stupid?”
Colonel Gantt wasn’t falling for it though, and simple said “Yes, especially when you try to feed me the opportunity to respond to a prompt for a silly statement. I don’t think it would be polite to give you examples of how many times you’ve proved your lack of common sense. I will hope that you really are not going to try to meet up with them? We’ve got over two hundred dead people related to the nuke so far, and I don’t need you grieving and going ballistic all over the place if someone kills off a couple of your friends because you wouldn’t stay away from them. From what I’ve read of them, they are good people. Their son was an impressive young symbiote pair as well. Did you know he’s ranked top ten in the nation for virtual world PVP? Hate for you to make them dead and screw him up mentally.”
I wasn’t going to comment back on that, especially after realizing how close I might have come to doing exactly what he had said, so I nodded to indicate I heard what he said. “We are not meeting them any time soon. Back to the mission. It sounds like a very well planned black ops operation. Any motive yet?”
He looked up from the phone and shook his head at someone, then looked back to me. “Other than ‘Kill Bob’, or maybe ‘Kill Bob, Ayva, and Jason’? No, we’re pretty much certain this was aimed at you, perhaps with the hopes of collateral damage on Ayva and Jason and perhaps myself.”
“No claims of responsibility?”
What was the reason for this? So much death and destruction to kill me, and I still had no idea who they were. I’m pretty darn good at making people mad when I put my mind to it, but try as I might, I could not imagine anyone who I could have made angry enough that they would shoot a nuke at me then kill over 200 people to hide their tracks. It was like something out of the old black spy and white spy comic strips.
“Thirteen so far, none plausible. None of them have any connection to you at all.”
I started pacing back and forth in front of the phone in my private little bit of the virtual world, never leaving the pickup, just moving to help me think. “Anyone going to give you problems about talking to me?”
“Yes. Better to talk to you than let you wander through the china shop though.”
Colonel Gantt was watching me carefully. Was he actually thinking that I might have something to do with this? I hoped not, because I really did not want to deal with more young symbiotes that thought they could handle me. At the same time, if people sufficiently highly ranked above Colonel Gantt decided the price was worth it, they might send another nuke at me, if they could find me.
I sighed and nodded. “Can Frank look at the raw data from all the cases?”
“I’ll ask. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t send Frank in here looking for data either. Standard practice now is to create a large number of false entries in the system for every good entry, all administered by a staff of symbiote pair clerks.”
I didn’t like Colonel Gantt much, but I respected him and could deal with him a lot easier than I could deal with Mouse, and a little easier than dealing with Jason. Samwise and I had no problems with one another at all, at least as far as I was aware. Based on his expressions, his tone, his word choices, Gantt was being mostly, if not entirely truthful with me. If he was lying, Samwise was getting very good at facial controls, far better than Frank was able to manage at his age. It was unfortunate that quantum data was not picked up and retransmitted by visual spectrum phone cameras, I would have really liked to read the two of them right then.
“Thank you, Jim.” I watched Colonel Gantt startle a bit as he realized I used his first name, then I smiled and hung up the phone. I expect that he and Samwise went over that conversation a few times looking for anything they had missed, and Colonel Gantt probably counted his fingers at least twice. I smiled again.
I really needed to find something better to do with my time than bother people that were investigating a series of more than two hundred murders and the detonation of a nuclear weapon on US soil.
I called Frank, then brought Ayva and Danielle into the conversation. Frank and Danielle worked out the encryption. When they gave me the all clear, I let all three of them review the data from my call to Jason and Colonel Gantt.
Ayva gave me a couple sharp looks during the playbacks, but didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. I knew I was in the wrong but I didn’t feel particularly interested in being chastised for it. I’m pretty sure she recognized that too.
“Sorry, Ayva, I know that they didn’t deserve to be talked to in that manner, with so little respect, but I’m a bit on edge right now, almost died today, and I suspect that at the end of the day, we’re going to find out that there’s some sort of contrived evidence that links me to this, somehow. Whoever is behind all this is absurdly good at electronic espionage.”
“There’s only so many times people like Jason and Colonel Gantt will put up with behavior like that, Bob, and while I understand that you don’t like either one of them much, they are still willing to work with you, and Jason and Mouse likely saved your life. I don’t know if I could have saved you without the duplicate body of yours that Mouse brought with him.”
I closed my eyes and bowed my head a bit. Ayva was right, of course, and even though I didn’t want to hear it, I listened anyway, and resolved to apologize to Jason, Colonel Gantt, and Samwise. Apologizing to Mouse would only happen if he wasn’t an ass to me until after I finished apologizing to Jason.
“Ayva, I will apologize.” I specifically avoided saying I’d apologize to all of them. “I’m really beginning to hope that we find something incriminating at this facility Jason and Mouse built, and the occupants start a fight, because my ‘want to beat the shit out of something’ meter is redlined, and it’s bleeding over onto people who I should treat with more respect.”
Ayva locked eyes with me in the phone’s video. “Bob, if they have the little girls in there, you will be very careful not to injure them.” It wasn’t a question.