The meeting went on for another three minutes or so, to solidify the plans that would hopefully fool Facet into thinking that we were either unwilling or unable to assault their facility. At the same time, we began taking actions that could be considered credible first steps towards containment to allow for a very energetic assault or bombardment. Jason and Mouse with an escort moved around the site perimeter, setting off seismic charges to build a better map of the place. His biofactory drastically modified itself, feeding off organics from the topsoil, trees, grasses, etc., that were available, as well as getting occasional modifications directly from Jason or Mouse using matter reprogramming. The carbon from the constructs was put to good use in the biofactory.
The biofactory that was once something very much like an inchworm with a big mouth was now something more resembling a mantis shrimp. It was creating a trench in the rock around the facility, with the assistance of a few smaller biofactories from some of the soldiers and Recovery personnel that were collecting discarded limbs from the mining biofactory, repairing them, and then returning them to the biofactory. The Buckyballs were being used to lubricate the high-speed limb joints that drove the graphene and carbon nanofiber rock cutting tools that were constantly needing repair. Jason and Mouse were working fast, but it would still take days to cut a substantial trench around a diameter as big as the underground facility. Most of the muscular power the mining biofactory was using was electrical, and Mouse was pulling a lot of power from the virtual world for Jason to feed it. None of this was wasted effort, if I failed. The trench would allow easier monitoring of the facility, and could be heavily trapped.
After Colonel Gantt uploaded his imagery of the first battle through the virtual world into an embedded virtual space for viewing, the military perked up and took notice, immediately requiring every active duty symbiote pair to learn to modify their storage nodes into processing nodes. Humans without symbiotes would not be required to leave the military, but they were removed from frontline combat duties, relegated to support. Most of the remaining human soldiers who had been in frontline military occupations took on symbiotes, predictably. They had seen what their companions could do, and psychologically they wanted to be in the front lines. That’s why they chose those military occupational specialties in the first place. Some, however, simply couldn’t deal with the thought of another intelligence sharing their body. The military didn’t mind, so long as the non-paired didn’t try to insist on staying in the front lines where they would be a liability.
With all the time and effort the military had put into coming up with ways to fight Frank and me, I hoped they had a few surprises I didn’t know about that would work against the AI. I had my doubts. The military had been developing systems with electronics designed for remote communications and remote control over the last few decades, and Facet would own anything with remote electronic interfaces. Like the laser satellite system A had taken out. I couldn’t exactly expect the military to just open up and let me evaluate all the systems they designed to deal with me.
I did mention my concern about the military’s dependence on command and control electronics to Colonel Gantt. He gave me a funny look, before telling me that he was well aware of that particular problem, and had already reported it. Then he apologized and thanked me for offering a good observation.
There was one important thing that I had to do to before trying to infiltrate. I needed to keep myself visible to the AI on the surface. It had certainly re-established at least some sensors on the surface, and it would be watching us. I linked by cable with Ayva and we had a very short conversation about me coming back, before starting what I hoped would be a believable subterfuge.
We started working with four Recovery triplets to create an absurdly huge biofactory, one that was far larger than even A or B had ever been. The Recovery agents would act as nodal intelligences, allowing Ayva and I to control the entire mass. It was nearly half a mile in diameter, and it was growing very slowly despite all the effort we were putting into it. The design was pretty clear. It would cap the top of the plug of stone that Mouse was creating with his moat, and slowly grind down the pillar of stone containing Facet’s complex, obliterating everything under it.
It was a plan that could actually work, but it would take weeks for us to create the biofactory. It would be clear to any advanced outside observer that we were having difficulties with design and cohesiveness, and those difficulties were not faked. Ayva and I brought Doctor Meilin into the connection as well, since she had a lot more practical experience with integration on a large scale than we did, and she delegated Jane and another of her lieutenants to split the rest of the Recovery cadre between them, monitoring the cave entrances with sparrows and sensors dropped by sparrows.
After Frank and I had organized the biofactory construction project, we started to create alternate selves again, another twenty-five of them. Frank had complete control of the process for the last duplicate we created. Splitting off alternate selves was tricky, and in this case, we were moving quants from our original body into the alternate, while at the same time creating upgrades in the current body. We wanted to do it this way, all at once, so the number of energy expenditure spikes would match the number of new alternate selves. The connection to Ayva and Doctor Meilin by cable was maintained on the alternate, which had also been left with a very advanced Frank shard that itself had within it a very capable model of my intelligence. It was almost indistinguishable from my old body, and would even respond a lot like me if directly addressed. It did have two newly created quants, giving it a total of four.
The advanced electromagnetic stealth surfaces were also able to absorb and retransmit vibrations to fool sonar and vibration detection systems. We carried more capacitors than any other body I had ever created, to power our equipment as long as possible. In addition to all that, Frank had created a special physical module to handle the stealth systems. Not only would it detect and retransmit incoming electromagnetic and vibration signals, it would preprocess the incoming data from all of the several million sensors into a format Frank or I could interface with directly, allowing us to see everything with the same fidelity that the stealth system could see.
My body would appear to remain connected to Ayva by cable, and Danielle would control its two new quants. As all the new alternate selves waited, Danielle navigated through my old body to one of the two new quants, activated it, and then did the same again for the other new quant. As I watched, it looked like the Frank shard, working with Danielle, were able to give a convincing performance. All four quants were now enabled, like as if I wanted much more redundancy in my body. Danielle was pulling power into my old body to charge the twenty-five new constructs, including me.
After charging, all twenty-five new bodies went into stealth, ran over to the trench Jason and Mouse were creating, and jumped across it, starting to patrol the inner perimeter. Every couple minutes, a sparrow designed to carry power would fly across the trench and one of the constructs would become visible, and then the sparrow would land on its cooler and top off the construct’s capacitors.
We wouldn’t have that recharge option where we were going.
“You ready, Frank?” I asked, internally. I had completely disabled my ability to speak out loud, just to keep me from accidentally blurting out something audibly if we ran into something ugly. I had also disabled involuntary muscle reactions that would result in movement of my body. Frank had seemed mildly surprised that I had done these things, but satisfied. I strongly suspected this was going to be a mentally scarring episode, worse than where we found Jason and Mouse.
“No. Way too many unknowns. Ready as I can be though. All systems are good. The sparrows check out too.”
I directed a little attention to the four construct sparrows in the kangaroo pouch. They might be handy. Scratch that, in a fight they would be invaluable. They were the advanced models Frank had been working on, with a stealth system. Not the best stealth system Frank could design, but the best he could jam into something the size of the sparrows without getting rid of other critical features.
Symbiote instincts were very strange. When faced with a being at or near their own level of capability, they generally tried to cooperate. When faced with a being significantly lesser capable than themselves, they would typically assume a command position if they could, unless presented with a good reason not to. When faced with something more powerful than them, or incomprehensible, their first instinct was to attack. This made me wonder what the original society of the Kor must have been like. How had they ever managed to build a civilization? Human civilization, for better or worse, had always been based on strong central leadership figures, supported by the masses. Maybe the Kor civilization had been like that as well, at one point? Had symbiotes been specifically engineered to change that, to force leadership to prove their fitness to lead by some clever subset of AI designers who were tired of top-down political bullshit? Symbiotes could have served their intended role as a space travel facilitation method without having any sort of aggressive instinct at all. I wondered how much thought A and B had put into that. If I got another opportunity one day, I’d try to remember to ask. The thought of politicians actually being forced to prove their ability to lead and make good decisions sent warm fuzzy sensations through me, and I smiled a bit.
“Bob, do I want to know why you smiled? I picked up some of that, but it wasn’t clear.”
“Just thinking about what the future might hold, Frank.”
As far as I could figure it, Frank was willing to do this, despite the real danger to our existence, because Facet was advanced enough to be dangerous. It had demonstrated some abilities Frank could not match, and attacked us. If it proved itself far too powerful for us to handle, Frank would undoubtedly engage full retreat mode and try to get us away, so we could regroup, rebuild, advance ourselves, and attack again later. If it had not attacked us already, Frank might have attempted a more cerebral route of attack, which wouldn’t necessarily have led to a fight. Way too late for that now. The fact that A and B wanted Facet dead or crippled in its ability to affect the world said a lot for the potential power of the being. What we had seen so far supported pre-emptive action, at least at my level of comprehension.
After a few more tests of newer designs, we slowly and carefully made our way into the facility, all senses active, including the enhanced input from the stealth system. The claws on our feet were bent backwards to prevent them from tapping stone, and sealed with the stealth material, as were the pads of our feet. I had never seen so clearly before. Everything was easily visible. Even the enemy units that were under active stealth. Our new stealth system was highest order, quantum input and output. It was able to defeat detection by parallax analysis because it operated at a level that selectively directed output at observers. It could detect observation, because observation had an impact on the quantum environment that the stealth system could quantify. The enemy units in stealth, however, were using molecular technology. We could see them clearly, because our own stealth system could detect that they were observers. Once we knew where an observer was, parallax calculations using data from the stealth system’s inputs measured against the immobile background as we moved clearly defined the observers. We didn’t even need gravity senses, but we used them anyway. There was too much we didn’t know about what Facet could and couldn’t do.
There were constructs everywhere, most of them working, the rest were in what at first seemed to be random places, perfectly still, carrying obvious weapons systems, and in stealth. All of the workers were communicating on at least some level by using sound, in addition to the sound they generated as they built more constructs, or cut into the walls, ceilings, or floors. After seeing a group of workers move, and then seeing three guards move slightly, Frank did some calculations, and determined that the guards were standing in places where large numbers of echoes intersectd. They were apparently using the workers as a source of sound for echolocation. If anyone entered the chamber without the ability to avoid interrupting the sound of the worker’s communications, they would immediately be triangulated, no matter how good their electromagnetic stealth might be.
Frank was carefully analyzing enemy movements, identifying unit types and their capabilities as well as he could, counting them. He was a very unhappy symbiote by the time we had reached several layers down into the facility, having counted more than half a million simple worker constructs, and at least fifty thousand combat constructs. As we got deeper into the facility, we saw constructs assembling computers from extremely precise components, nothing like the components of the constructs that were assembling them. The computers were being placed wherever excavations for coal and ores had apparently ceased. “Bob, this level of industry is crazy. If eighty percent of this much industrial capacity was devoted to reproducing itself, and the resulting additional capacity re-invested in reproduction at the same percentage, Facet could outstrip the current industrial capacity of humanity in a year.”
Eventually we got to a point where there had been a lot of recent filling in of holes in the rock, rather than digging. We moved back and forth across the level, and there was only one way deeper, a narrow tunnel with the sound of water coming out of it. There was no way we could dig without exposing ourselves, but Frank really didn’t like the idea of entering a narrow tunnel, which had constructs entering and leaving regularly. The emerging constructs were wet, every one.
There wasn’t any other way around it though, we had to go through the tunnel. Frank and I checked again, just in case there was a hidden alternate route, carefully scanning with gravity sight for evidence of concealed passages. Nothing.
We carefully went back to the tunnel, which, despite obviously being some sort of entrance to a higher security area had no guards at this end.
I consulted Frank, who was redlining his processors. “Frank, this has to be a trap. Why are there no guards? The only thing moving in and out are data haulers. This is the best place for a security checkpoint that I’ve seen, but there’s nothing here.”
“I agree. I don’t understand. We really don’t have any other choice besides leaving though. Maybe the security is all at the other end of this passage?”
I stood still for a moment, back and forth thoughts. Such a huge security effort above, maybe there really was no security at this point? This did not fit the profile of a smart enemy, but it was a damn AI, they sometimes had the strangest gaps in understanding when they were not sentient, would they be the same when sentient?
“Best I can think of is that it’s a psychological checkpoint. Facet knows we are aware it is highly intelligent, and capable of doing some things better than us. This may be unguarded simply because it really would be stupid to leave it unguarded, and Facet would expect anyone who got to this point to refuse to believe it is unguarded.”
“Bob, that’s ridiculous.”
“Frank, what are we doing right now? I believe we are doing nothing, trying to figure out what the fuck Facet was thinking here.”
“Fortunately, we have at our disposal an impulsive, moderately well-educated redneck with significant emotional control issues, and they are ready to guide us through the scary forest of incomprehensible psychological doublethink. Let’s do this. We just hit ninety-nine percent charge in the capacitors.”
“Bob, you scare me sometimes.”
“I scare me sometimes too, if it’s any consolation.”
“If you didn’t scare yourself thinking about some of the things you’ve gotten us into, you would be certifiably insane, but still… Not. Really. Comforting.” Frank intentionally allowed a brief pause to drive that point home to me. “That doesn’t mean you’re wrong about what we need to do though. It’s either go back, go forward, or start our assault here with no clear idea of where the target is.”
The data haulers moved through the passage fairly regularly, one in, and then one out. They were small, fat little constructs with flattish limbs that we hadn’t understood before we knew they apparently were designed to swim. We fell in behind one, and followed it. The fat little machine trundled down the narrow path, sloped at about ten degrees downwards, and after about fifty feet, it waddled into the water, immediately dropping from sight with strange grace, and almost no turbulence in the water’s surface.
The water wasn’t water, I realized. It was mineral oil. Frank and I clambered up the walls as we saw a data hauler under the surface of the oil, coming at us rapidly. We held ourselves in place by pushing against the walls with arms and legs, and the data hauler passed underneath us.
We let ourselves carefully down onto the floor. How did we miss that the liquid on the data haulers was mineral oil and not water? Were we missing something else?
I felt a shudder below us. I immediately climbed back up between the walls, higher than the data haulers could reach if they tried and prepared to stay there a bit while we figured this out.
“Frank, there’s some sort of a security door down there, I think. It’s letting the data haulers in and out.”
“Agreed. We should be able to figure it out within a couple passes of the data haulers.”
“Hopefully we will be small enough to get past the door.” I replied.
We considered our options for a minute, and then, immediately after a data hauler dropped into the oil, we dropped two of our birds, stealth systems active, and they slid into the oil, invisible, and started to slowly, carefully examine the surroundings, taking extreme high fidelity visual and audio recordings of everything. They returned to us twice, carefully climbing either out of or back into the oil only after the passage of a data hauler created turbulence, and then they would climb up a leg I dropped down to the passage floor for them. We didn’t need to splatter the hallway’s walls with mineral oil from the bird’s wings by letting them fly themselves back up to us. Each time we sent them back with more complex instructions as we learned more.
“I think we have it now, Frank. Anything else you can think of that we need to do?” I asked Frank as the sparrows moved back into the kangaroo pouch.
“I would like to watch a few more cycles for deviant patterns.”
So we watched. The pattern started with a data hauler from the other side sending a signal. The signal was received by an assembly next to the upwards-sliding door submerged in the oil. The door would then lift, and another signal was sent, in the direction of the way we had come. Almost certainly to a small room where we had seen many data haulers sitting idle. The hauler by the door would move through the door and out of the tunnel. The incoming hauler would arrive at the tunnel exit a few seconds after the outgoing hauler left. The hauler would then waddle down the hallway, plop into the water, transmit a different signal, and the door would open. The inbound hauler would pass through the door, and then the door would close. After we watched a few of them pass, it was clear, based on small differences in wear and tear on the haulers, that the entering hauler was also the next hauler to leave. There was no population of haulers on the other side of this door, only one at a time.
“Ready here, Bob.”
“Ready here as well, Frank. You’ve got this, I think. You’re much better with slippery surfaces than I am.”
“OK, I have control then.”
We waited for the next hauler to pass us, and then rapidly, carefully followed it into the oil while the turbulence of its passage had not yet settled. After we entered the oil, we no longer moved rapidly, but slowly, carefully, following the little construct down the short passage to the door, where it obligingly sent its signal. The door did not open. We detected a signal above our heads, next to a crack in the stone. The data hauler, four feet from us, exploded in our face.