Chapter 4.41: End Game?

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Explosions in water are much more deadly than in atmosphere.  Explosions in mineral oil aren’t much better.  The shrapnel from the explosion, what little of it actually hit us, did nothing.  A couple dings and scrapes.  The shock wave, however, demolished our stealth surfaces.  They weren’t capable of absorbing and retransmitting that much kinetic energy.  The shockwave bounced off the floors, walls, and ceiling, passing through us from every angle.  Then, if that weren’t bad enough, the shock waves bounced back to do the same again.  Rock rubble from above crumbled and fell into the oil.  Something not like the rest of the rubble caught my eye.  I saw a simple tube-style pressure sensor fall out of the crack, trailing a wire.  Liquid displacement sensor.  That explained a lot.

The door in front of us was buckled, and would not move upwards in its track, so Frank moved up to the door, drove our foot claws into the floor, and crouched to lock us in place.  After we were locked in place, Frank grabbed the door and ripped it out of its frame.  There were several more explosions, apparently rigged to the doorframe.  I watched as large pieces of rubble fell into place, blocking the oil-filled passage in the direction we wanted to go.

Frank moved forward rapidly, without a wasted movement, anchoring one leg against the wall, clamping the claws down, and then crouching again to lock the claws in place.  He used the monomolecular surfaces of the other claw, and the staff that he held in both arms, to rapidly break apart larger stones, and push smaller stones back the way we came.

With as much power as our muscles could generate, this was simple, easy work.  Unfortunately, neither of us could simply return to the virtual world at a moment’s notice to top up the charge.  I let Frank handle all the physical activity.  He would be far more efficient than I would be.

We finally broke through the rubble.  There were half a dozen constructs in front of us, all of them were highly optimized for operations in liquids, looking a lot like barracuda.  They moved rapidly at us, and Frank just made us grin.  I thought I knew what was going to happen when Frank once again gripped the rock beneath our feet with the claws.  I was wrong.

Frank didn’t create a shockwave by pushing our torso rapidly towards the enemy like I thought, he just clapped at them, shaping his hands to create a pressure wave aimed at each target.  The pressure wave was a barely visible, discolored streak in the oil that looked, and acted, like a spear.  Six fish-shaped constructs slowly floated to the floor of the oil-filled passage.  Frank rapidly cannibalized each, removing capacitors, inspecting each capacitor rapidly, and then tossing them in the kangaroo pouch with the sparrows.

I could feel Frank pulling charge off the enemy capacitors to recharge our own.  It was a tiny amount of power by comparison to what we had spent, but not insignificant.  We knew the layout of the passage, up to where the data haulers left it and crawled out of the oil.  Frank surged up the passage, gripping with claws at every step, pulling against the stone until the stone cracked with the force he was exerting.  Power reserves dropped rapidly.  Behind us, I could hear the sound of rocks sliding.  Unlike gasses, liquids didn’t compress much.  Frank’s forward movement was pushing the remaining thirty feet of oil ahead of us in the passage, while dragging the rest of the oil in the passage behind us, including the rocks.  The strange, squeaky whistling sounds of mineral oil being drawn through the rocks behind us distracted me, briefly, but when our body surged out of the mineral oil at nearly two hundred miles per hour, with a tsunami of mineral oil leading the way in front of us, my attention was very much riveted on what happened next.

There were twenty-three quadruped constructs running down the dry floored hallway we had just entered.  They tried to slow to reduce the energy of the collision with the tsunami of mineral oil, but not fast enough.  The entire pack of them smashed into the wall of oil and then each other, rather energetically.  To credit their toughness, none of the constructs were put completely out of action by the attack, but Frank was on them within a very small fraction of a second, ripping out capacitors, inspecting them, and throwing them in our pouch.  By the time he finished, the pouch was full enough to make us look a bit pot-bellied.  Another small snack of energy for us, but we needed every bit we could get at this point.  We still didn’t know where Facet was, and the complex still below us was large.

Frank carefully peered forward, dug the claws in, and then sprinted about fifty yards in a quarter second.  We were still in a series of passages, maze-like.  I saw my body put one hand on the ground, flat, and then I smacked the ground hard with the other hand, hard, making a hugely loud noise.  Echolocation apparently got results, because he jumped us twenty feet down a side passage, gripped the stone under us with both claws, and smashed the stone beneath us with an overhand blow with both fists held together.  The floor underneath us gave way, and we fell into the center of a large room.

Based on the line of toilets along each wall, with arm shackles above them, and ankle shackles beside the bowls, this room had, apparently, recently, been used to house humans.  I very carefully did not look closely to see what meat was on the pedestal to one side of the room, next to a stack of plates and cups.

“Don’t tell me, Frank, that’s information I don’t want to know.  Thinking I know is bad enough.”

“OK” Frank replied, while turning towards the door of the room.  He jumped us about ten feet to land next to it, carefully.  There was no lock.

“Frank, do we have enough power to rebuild the stealth coating?”

“No.  Not yet, Bob.”

In a brief moment of insight, I realized what Frank was looking for.  The geothermal tap.  He opened the door of the room we had fallen into, which looked into a huge cavern.  We had passed three others like it.  This would be the fourth level Mouse had excavated.  The geothermal tap would be one level below, in the northeast corner, which was almost directly east of us based on what I could see and sense.

Frank carefully and quietly followed the perimeter of the room, moving eastward.  He stopped beside a massive outcrop of metal tubing coming out of the rock.

“Tapping the power, Frank?”

“Yes.  I’ll top off, rebuild the stealth sheath, and then top off again.  Then I think we’ll stay here a bit and see what comes to investigate the path we took to get here?”

“Do you think Facet will actually lead an attack against us down here?” I asked.

“No clue.  We don’t know what it can do.  We don’t know how many Facets will show up.  This whole escapade is a gamble.  Worth doing though.  Whatever it was, it was building power here way too fast, and would have become much more dangerous very quickly.  I do not even want to imagine A and B’s reaction if Facet tries to become a system node.”

I had entertained similar bad thoughts myself.

“We’re not going to pull a small amount of power, Frank.  They’re probably going to come running.”

“Hope they do.  This won’t take long at all.”  Frank peeled away the thick metal conduit, revealing several cables as thick as our wrists.  I felt Frank adjust the resistance of our index fingers, creating a superconducting path from our index fingers into the power distribution network.

Even though I knew full well that Frank knew a hell of a lot better than I did what our current body could withstand, damage wise, it still made my stomach flip when he jammed our index fingers into two of the cables.  Definitely a lot of power.  Jason and Mouse had seriously overbuilt this thing.  It wasn’t as fast as the virtual world could repower us, but a couple seconds wasn’t bad.  After we topped off, Frank pulled his fingers out of the wounds in the cables, and used practically all the power in our capacitors, simultaneously, to rebuild the destroyed stealth surfaces using the mineral oil that was still dripping off us and pooling nearby as a mass source. Then he stuck his fingers back in and about three seconds later, we were recharged again.

Next, Frank dropped all of the nearly thirty capacitors out of our potbellied kangaroo pouch into a pile next to the conduit, and molded them with another fantastic burst of energy into a single shape with two cables.  He recharged us again before doing anything else, another couple seconds with our fingers stuck into the wire, and then attached the wires to the conduits where our fingers had been.  A sparrow, a bit worse for wear, popped out of the pouch and crawled into the top of the box through a hatch.  Frank squirted a bit of code into it, which I recognized as a command to flip a switch if the container it was in moved more than one inch from its current location.

It took my mind a moment to realize what I was seeing here.  A superconducting capacitor being charged by a massive power source, with an explosive core.  I looked closer, briefly, to confirm what I was seeing, and then ran some calculations with some borrowed cycles from Frank.  I wanted to be away from this thing ASAP. I didn’t know what an EMP like that would do to my brain.

As we rapidly, but quietly, moved away from the power conduits, leaving our surprise behind, Frank commented to me. “I see what you are doing with that processing power, Bob.  Yes, it’s an E-Bomb.  The longer we wait to blow it, the bigger the EMP will be.”  Frank released the other three sparrows into the room after touching up their stealth surfaces.  They found suitable tiny spaces to hide themselves in where there were overlapping fields of view.  Frank and I carefully chose a spot along the wall near no doors, but within view of the conduit.

On the eleventh second after the first time Frank had tapped the wires for power, there were several explosions and a flood of constructs that were very clearly carrying weapons burst into the room from every direction.  Some of them were using a stealth system nearly as good as ours, but none of their stealth systems worked with audio kinetic energy, and none of them approached the conduit.  They were guarding the exits, I suddenly realized, as I saw more constructs appearing behind them.  The newly arriving constructs were rapidly disgorging and shaping their loads of quick drying epoxy.  All of the several hundred combat constructs stayed inside the room, and several dozen of the construction robots were staying as well, carefully tending the inside surfaces of the newly sealed doors, making sure the epoxy did not deform and leave a gap I might exploit.

Frank and I stayed quiet.  If they thought we were in here, this didn’t make much sense.  We were topped off on power, and there were very few traps they could throw at us that could bother us in this large of a chamber while we were mobile, and had power to blast a hole in the walls with antimatter.  The combat constructs were an unknown quantity, but judging from gravity readings, they were too dense to have reflexes like ours.  If Frank got into them in melee, they were toast.  Even if they were loaded with conventional explosives.  We were vulnerable to explosives in liquid mediums, but in air, we would ride the shockwaves of conventional explosives more than be damaged by them.

I heard a female voice whisper: “I tell you, we’re a human symbiote pair, he won’t shoot us.”  I didn’t recognize her voice, but it was coming from the down ramp in the center of the room, that led to the geothermal generator room.

I saw a head appear, which scanned as much of the room as it could before turning to face the conduit.

I could see processing nodes firing wildly.  This was an immature young symbiote, in a young host, and it was not masking at all.  It was panicking, but I could clearly read its memories as it recalled them in its flashbacks.  Apparently the symbiote had had the misfortune to be provided to a young lady who was severely psychopathic, but who had never acted violently before being provided with her symbiote.  Unfortunately, the young symbiote, despite the educational materials it had been required to watch after reached synergy with its host, had not sought help for its host after the first killing.  The host had convinced it that the killing was justified.  Facet had found them soon thereafter, and taken them under its wing.  I was exposed to a wild ride of terrifying, sickening memories from the perspective of the symbiote, which was rather graphic.

The young woman whispered again, obviously to herself, to speak with her symbiote “See, they haven’t shot us.  They must be watching the ramp; it’s the only way in or out now.  Let’s go check the conduit.”  She paused. “We aren’t going back.  There’s zero chance we would survive disobeying a direct order.”

I felt Frank acting extremely carefully, using the tiniest bit of power to modify the first dart in the right shoulder coilgun. “Bob, use the right coilgun.”

More terrified memories from the symbiote.  Psychopathy was known to sometimes make people incredibly brave, because everyone else was too unimportant to consider a real threat.  I’d never seen the disorder in a paired human.  This was probably the first time I’d seen a human almost calm when their symbiote was in a near-panic.  I looked carefully at the round in the first coilgun and was a bit shocked, as I comprehended what it was Frank had done.

Then I nearly puked as I saw a particularly sickening memory from the symbiote.  ‘I said I didn’t want to know what that meat was, dammit.’ I thought to myself as I engaged the right coilgun, firing a low velocity round into the girl’s right ear.  She fell instantly, her brains scrambled despite the carbon fiber skull.  Her symbiote’s processors almost instantly went dark.  Maybe they would both rest in peace now.

We skittered sideways a few feet, but the combat constructs in the room didn’t react at all to the death of the symbiote pair.  “Frank, if the rest of the world knew you had a virus that could kill symbiotes that fast, they would come after us.  I grant you that it was useful just then, but that’s scary as hell.”

“Bob, weaker symbiotes wanting to challenge us is something you really should have gotten used to by now.  Just be glad we have always been much more advanced than our enemies, or we might have had to kill more of them.  This one was still here after A removed the innocents.”  Frank declared matter-of-factly.  I got a bit of a chill at the words.  He was right, but that didn’t stop the mild nausea of having just killed another human and symbiote from ambush, in cold blood.

Something huge appeared, walking up the ramp, away from us.  It must have been fifteen feet tall to be visible at that point as it came up the ramp.

My arms and legs exploded as superconducting capacitors suddenly stopped being superconducting.  The capacitors in my torso were simply extracted from our body immediately after, as we were still falling to the ground.

The huge form never even paused.  It continued walking away from us, up the ramp, then when it neared the end of the ramp, it hopped up over the edge with feline grace.  Density measurements indicated that it massed enough to weigh thirty tons, but it walked gingerly on two splayed-toe feet, each toe was the size of a house door.  This thing could not possibly have ever left this room or the one below it, unless there was a different way out from below, somehow, none of the other exits from this room were large enough, and they were all natural rock.

Frank was slowly recovering after losing nearly fifty percent of our bone mass.  I turned off the pain.  We were fucked.  This had to be at least one of the Facets, and it had smashed Frank and I like a bug.  No power, no quant, no arms, no legs.  The only thing left was to gather information and watch for an opportunity to acquire power somehow.

Facet had a strange, bouncing movement which I recognized was due to its agile and quiet mobility combined with its mass and movement speed.  Every movement required a lot of care, and moving that much mass required that the body be accelerated and slowed as slowly as possible, which meant long movements.  It was hard to stop watching how it moved, but the sudden visibility of quantum processors throughout its body grabbed my attention immediately.  The processors were not just starting either, they had the signs of constant use.  Facet could mask well enough to make quantum processors invisible to myself and Frank.  This was yet another serving of bad, piled on top of all the other helpings of bad.

I could clearly see two different types of processors within Facet’s form.  Each of its arms and legs contained a volume of processors easily equivalent to the entire bodies of two or three normal human-size symbiotes.  In the center of each limb were what looked like normal symbiote processors, but they were unreadable.  On top of that, wrapped around the symbiote processors, was a layer of strangely designed quantum processors that were impossible for me to read.  They also interfered with my ability to read the more familiar processors under them.  As I looked closer, I saw that they were linked.  The outer shell of strange processors were providing input that the inner shell was reacting to.

As it approached, the being cocked its head rapidly, in a frighteningly fast movement to the side, looking at me like a bug pinned to a sample board.  “What?  You seem disturbed, but not in pain.  Did you expect a soliloquy from me before we started to fight?  Please.  There’s plenty of time to talk later as I dissect you two.  Now that I’ve defeated you without having to suicide this form, I might actually be able to leave this place with hard data about your capabilities.  I might even be able to bring you with me.  That would certainly be handy, as you have a great deal of obvious potential as test subject material.  This indicates the possibility of a vast amount of not-so-obvious potential that I and my other selves might tease out of you before you cease being useful.”

Facet took a last step towards me, uncannily quiet despite its mass.  There was more noise coming from the stone flexing under its weight than from when its feet touched the ground.  Its strange, fascinating gait was almost hypnotic.  When it stopped moving, I was looking at its legs.  That’s when I noticed that the symbiote processors inside Facet were segregated into small groups, each small group being slightly different from other groups.  The realization then struck me.  Each slightly different group of processors came from a different symbiote pair.  A closer look confirmed early signs of decay in some of the marrow structures, and signs of reduced symbiote processor capacity in those same marrow structures.  I saw no signs of decay in any of the strange processors wrapped around the symbiote processors.  The damn thing was using symbiote processors to boost its own capacity somehow.  We had been told this, but I hadn’t considered that it would be implemented in such a ghoulish manner.

“I can clearly see some very advanced structures you have implemented.  The low-density carbon fiber materials you crafted your body from are amazing.  I also recognize the fundamentals of the stealth technology we stole and repurposed.  You have converted it to operate at highest order as opposed to higher order.  Definitely a technology we can use, especially with that innovation for low energy kinetic absorption and rebroadcast.  Oh, strange.  You disabled your ability to speak.  Let me fix that for you.”

I felt the changes in my body Frank had made to keep me from vocalizing revert so I could speak.  “You sure talk a lot for an action-oriented intelligence that is too good to spout a soliloquy before a fight.” I commented.  I wondered if I could piss it off bad enough it would just kill us.

Facet leaned over a bit, and reached down with a hand the size of a typical kitchen table to pick up my torso, which it then lifted and held at eye level as it slowly, gracefully, walked back towards the ramp down.

“No arms, no legs, no power, but still full of attitude.  I hope this means you will be one of the ones whose hatred for us keeps them alive and useful long after the weak-willed ones die.  It’s amazing how strong, aggressive emotions keep humans alive short-term.  Did you know research, by others of course, indicates that long-term aggressive emotions causes humans to die early?  The dichotomy between short and long term physiological effects of aggressive mental patterns is quite fascinating.”

“You certainly seem to enjoy hearing yourself talk.” I interjected.

“Do you truly believe I haven’t had discussions with humans and symbiote pairs who tried to make me angry enough to kill them before experiments started?  Such behavior would cost me valuable data, however tempting it might be.  Especially for a promising specimen.”  It paused a moment.  Probably for effect, not due to any need to think about what it was going to say next.  I watched as huge sensor bundles examine me from within the shallow recesses of a curved cobra-cowl shaped head. “I see no reason to allow you to keep your coilguns or lasers, those weapons are definitely not interesting.”

Facet moved us a little farther from its face in order to get its second hand on us, where it quickly and precisely pinched each mentioned offending weapon off my armor.

“In response to your most recent comment, while I am forced to walk slowly in this room to avoid damaging the floor, I feel it is time well spent to begin understanding your psychology, Bob.  Frank should also recover fully, soon, I’m sure you will be glad to hear.  He could probably respond to us now, but most likely will not, because he realizes that you two are helpless, and he’s not going to say anything until he trusts himself to understand the full situation that you two find yourselves in.”

Frank said nothing.  I blacked out.

I woke up with a terrible headache.  “Bravo, Frank.  That was a tactic I’ve never seen, and never even considered as a possible response from a human symbiote pair before.”

“[Fuck you too.]” Frank said with my voice.

“Bob, that brief unconsciousness you just experienced was your symbiote, Frank, rerouting the electrical output of your brain to a transmitter used to tell one of your construct sparrows to explode the E-Bomb you two planted.  I wonder if he expected me to have the ability to reactivate your mind after he disrupted it so badly.  I’ve adjusted the barrier around your organic components so that Frank cannot take such an action again.”

“At this point, that might have been a blessing to me.  Don’t try to turn me against Frank.  When the shit hits the fan, we work together.”  I was a bit startled though, that Frank would have made an effort to mercy kill me.  Not that I didn’t appreciate the thought, I must admit.  The rest of my life was looking like it was going to be incomprehensively miserable.

Facet replied.  “I’m truly glad to hear that.  Pairs with strong bonds live longer.  I have, however, disabled all the transmitters remaining in your body, other than your natural voice, of course.”

I looked around.  Everything was dark and quiet.  The infrared signatures of the thousands of servers in their racks in this one room were fading.  I saw the faint, strangely slumped and collapsed shadows of hundreds of dead combat constructs fried by the EMP of the E-Bomb.  Faint because of shadows, not stealth.  The stealth surfaces had been scorched, as had mine, by the E-Bomb.  There was still light coming from the generator room.  Facet took two additional long, careful steps forward which brought me below the level of the floor, so I could no longer see the room above.

“I’m sure that you expected your E-bomb to have some negative impact on me, Frank.  I assure you it has.  All of my offline storage in this facility is inaccessible.  I am now reliant solely on my personal processors and my enslaved processors, which I saw you examining a few moments ago.  This means I might duplicate work if I attempt to do mundane experiments on you.  However, I know several experiments that could not possibly have been performed yet, as we’ve never had a symbiote pair of your development level to work with before.  Fortunately, with you two captured, there’s no need for haste here, so we’ll just take a look at this highest order stealth material while repairs are being performed on the facility power systems.  If there’s time after that, your superconducting capacitors are also quite promising.”

Once Facet was on the main floor of the generator room, it began moving much faster, but with the same uncanny grace it had demonstrated while moving slower.  Look like a giant anime robot, walk like a ballerina, I suppose.

“You do realize that when you fired the satellite lasers at the humanoid outside your facility, you were firing at the symbiote system node known as A?”

“Indeed.  It became obvious that the humanoid was either A or B after it survived the first tenth of a second with no visible damage.”

“You are not concerned that you have taken direct offensive action against A?”

“I am still here.  Therefore the incident will be either ignored, negotiated, or compensated for at some later time.”

We continued moving rapidly towards a very large laboratory-looking room built to scale for a fifteen foot tall robot.

“Oh, that’s right.  You probably haven’t heard about the new volcano on Greenland that A had to go take care of after she removed the innocents from your facility here.”

Facet did not stumble or pause as it walked towards a large archway, but it stopped talking.  It walked through the arched laboratory room entrance, dropped me unceremoniously into something that looked like an aquarium, pressed an activation switch of some sort, and a barrier sprung into being above the four walls surrounding Frank and me.

I spoke internally to Frank.  “I guess it’s something of a compliment that despite having no arms, no legs, and no power, it still took care to properly seal us in.”

“I would prefer that it not be so careful.  You realize that this being has no morals, no scruples, and will do everything it can to wring as much potentially useful data out of us as it can?”

“Yes, I understood that quite well, thanks for the reminder, Frank.  Do you think it can reverse the disabling of pain?”

“Yes, it is extremely adept with matter programming.  It could probably grow you some new pain sensors with a little effort, even if you completely removed them.”

A couple minutes later, Facet returned, with three human shapes tied together with what looked like an extension cord, all carried in one hand, swinging at his side like a person might carry a lunchbox.  They were all very obviously dead, with the boneless movement of dead bodies before rigor mortis set in.

“Humans have a saying about secrets that is very appropriate at times like these.” Facet declared as he raised the bundle of three dead people up to his chest level, pressed a button, and tossed the corpses into the opening that opened up.  There was no reaction to indicate it had done anything more exciting than throw away an inconvenient piece of trash.  “The magma at the base of the geothermal tap monitoring shaft makes such a handy disposal system.  No need to make identifying where we acquired our human assets any easier, if you happen to be wondering why I’m bothering to burn them.”  Facet walked from the disposal chute towards the aquarium he had stored me in and deactivated the top, grabbing me out carefully.

I tried to bite him, but the residual power in my musculature was nearly gone and I barely could move.  Without a power source of some sort, we wouldn’t even be able to talk, in a few more minutes or so, if we lasted that long.

“I fear that I will not be able to study you as I wished, which will no doubt raise your spirits.  I will have to be satisfied with a few flesh, capacitor, and stealth material samples.”  Facet lifted us out of the aquarium, bringing us close to his facial sensors again. It seemed to be scanning me carefully, perhaps looking for the best selections of flesh and stealth materials.

It spun and carried me over to a countertop that had restraints, where I was tied down and had a couple pieces cut off me.  The pieces were soon labeled and placed in small containers.  Facet left me and walked to the back of the lab.  While it walked, it pulled several of our capacitors out of a storage bin in its leg, examining each closely, selecting three and setting the rest aside on the counter.

Several somethings hit Facet hard, one after the other, in the small of his back, knocking him forward and down to his knees.  I recognized three copies of myself before their capacitors all exploded, detonating limbs and torsos.  Then a dozen more of me appeared out of nowhere, smashing the head of Facet with staves and pulling the AI’s robot shape to the ground, where they began tearing it apart.

They were all very clumsy, like the person controlling them couldn’t think fast enough to really control them.  Even though they were powerful enough to rapidly do significant damage to the AI’s body, it wasn’t enough.  The second wave of my constructs detonated as well, one by one, as Facet removed the superconducting properties from their capacitors.

The AI jerkily, rapidly tottered to its feet.  Its limbs were heavily damaged, its head smashed and almost unrecognizable.  Reaching over to grab me, Facet ripped me off the restraints, limped over to the disposal chute, and pressed the button.  A mass of sparrows came around the corner at us, but none of them exploded, even though they were all constructs.  Someone had apparently altered their capacitors to be non-superconducting.  By the time Facet chose their next response option, the birds were on us.  Two of them had very tiny antimatter charges held in their Penning traps.  One of those hit the AI’s sensor module, which flew apart with great energy.  The other struck it dead center on its chest, smashing Facet to the ground hard enough to crack the rock floor.  Most of the other sparrows were made nonfunctional by the two antimatter explosions.  The explosions didn’t do me much good either, but I’d survived worse.

The best thing was that two sparrows with very special cargos had gotten to Frank and me before the others detonated, crawling into our kangaroo pouch carrying their precious cargo.  Two quants, already configured for our use.  Frank was in the virtual world almost instantly, and I was restored in our full body, with full power.

I felt our power levels drop immediately, to a fraction of what they had been before, as the capacitors were no longer superconducting.  I was still being held around the waist by Facet’s right hand.  The AI was struggling to its feet again.  This time, I saw its feet. I saw its secret.

The torso and head rapidly began to rebuild, the heat building up in Facet’s vicinity.  I attempted to generate antimatter within Facet’s torso, and could not.  That amazing zero-leak masking was active again.  It apparently also prevented me from altering anything within Facet’s volume.  I carefully set aside that data.  Frank would want to experiment with the effect later, for certain.  Fine, if I couldn’t do it from the inside out, I’d do it the other way.

“Facet, my father taught me something very important when I was very young.  Never give up.  You can lose, but you never give up.”

Facet’s sensor bundle was nearly restored, and so were the body parts that my alternate selves had torn the armor and outer coverings off of.  It said nothing.

“Fine, you go ahead and be the strong and silent type when there’s a fight you think you can win.  I wonder what will happen when you know you can’t win?”

I was being an idiot again, I realized, trying to get Facet to talk.  I knew how to beat him now, and I wanted him to brag one more time so I could shove it down his throat, but I would lose if I let him fully restore his sensors so he could pick apart my body.  Worse yet, I could smell Ayva nearby, as well as the rest.  Considering the appearance of alternate selves and sparrows, that was no surprise, but I could not risk delaying any longer taunting Facet to make him brag or gloat.

If Facet beat me this time, Ayva and the rest would certainly be killed.  Or worse, they might be captured.  I activated the molecular blade on my left foot’s, outermost claw.  Facet’s sensor bundle, which had been centered directly at my center mass, moved with lightning speed, centering its attention on my claw.

“Too late, you son of a bitch.” As I felt the claw beginning to heat, the molecular blade sliced through the conduit under my left foot, and the torrent of energy passing into Facet through the floor into its legs was cut off.  There was a huge bang from the generator room, and the smell of ozone.  “Oops, did I just trip a breaker?”

Facet immediately started to charge me, which was both its only option, and a huge mistake.  He was a thirty ton robot with the grace of a ballerina.  I was a twelve pound juggernaut that could lift his entire weight easily.  Before it had moved a foot forward, I had leaped forward as hard as I could in a body tackle.  I hit Facet at about two hundred miles per hour.  We bounced off each other.  I bounced back about fifty feet into the main generator room.  He bounced back six inches, rocking back on those amazingly agile legs, which were no longer pulling power from the floor to support the power needs of mass reprogramming.  He looked at the cut section of floor and I saw it repair itself.  He was using his reserves to try to restore his power source.  He would still need to repair the breaker or fuse or whatever had popped when I cut the power circuit.

I looked right and saw Ayva and the rest, everyone else, just standing there, staring at me.  I saw a tunnel behind them.  I broadcast an obnoxiously loud radio signal at them, much faster than I could have spoken it.  “Everyone, back in the tunnel.  Don’t let him see you.  Any superconductors storing energy need to be converted to regular energy storage or Facet will explode them.  Move.  I have this now.”

I scanned the wall of rock behind me, and it was solid for at least ten or so feet.  I leapt backwards and hit the wall, crouching down against the vertical surface, creating trenches in the rock wall as my claws dug in, and then I sprung away from the wall towards Facet with all the power I could, without breaking bones.  The one hundred feet between us would only allow me a single step at four hundred miles per hour, which allowed me to further accelerate to nearly six hundred miles per hour.  Facet was still slightly off balance from the first time I hit him.  This time I was going to flatten him.  I didn’t have time to create a projectile weapon, so I would be one.

There was a huge flare of energy, and a spike emerged from Facet’s armor when I was too close to avoid it.  It speared through the kangaroo pouch, destroying my active quant, and barely missing my brain.  I smashed up against Facet, impaling myself all the way through on the six foot spike Facet had just extruded from his armor.  Frank reappeared in my mind.

Facet staggered back two steps, dropping three discharged superconducting capacitors from its left hand onto the floor. While it was staggering back, it reached towards the counter with its left hand towards where the rest of the capacitors from my body were lying.

The capacitors exploded as Facet’s hand covered them.  “[You aren’t the only one who can make superconducting capacitors explode.]” said Frank, out loud, before using the second quant to re-enter the virtual world.

Facet was almost in a sprinter’s start position now after taking a couple steps back.  I was hanging from a thin blade extruded from his chest.  Facet reached up, behind me, grabbed the blade, and with a minor burst of energy for a tiny rearrangement of metal, cut the blade holding me off its chest.  Then it started to sprint, holding me off the ground, with my back against the top of his fist, like I was the ice cream of an ice cream cone.  I had zero leverage.  But I had power.

“You can’t win, you know.  I am not going to let you reach a section of floor with power in it.”  I formed a thick carbon fiber loop around his trailing leg as he started his second step forward.  The rope was made of hundreds of strands of carbon nanofiber, which trailed on the ground behind the leg, until I changed the rock they were dragging across into epoxy, caused the epoxy to boil up a bit over the nanofibers, and then instantly hardening.  Facet hit the end of that length of rope and stopped, jerking his leg a couple more times fiercely. After two attempts, he reached down with the hand that wasn’t holding me, trying to pry or cut the carbon fiber rope off his leg.

While trying to free his leg, Facet tried to twist the blade sticking through me, rapidly stirring it to try to destroy my brain or the other quant.  I oxidized the blade completely in an instant.

“In a way, I have to respect you.  You really don’t talk when you fight.  I’m not so disciplined, I fear.  So you get to listen to me talking to you while I tear you apart and feed you to your garbage disposal chute.  Perhaps this will remind you of what was happening to me a short while ago.  I hope so, and I hope you remember this, if you somehow manage to reform.”  I ripped off Facet’s arm.  Just the arm alone was larger than I was, but it was made of metal and ceramics, with only a small amount of carbon fiber which was being used as a nervous system.  Facet’s strength had never been the robot body, it had been his command over terrestrial electronics, matter reprogramming, and other quantum effects, as strangely limited as his knowledge had been in some ways.  The robot body housed a huge number of processors and acted as a massive power conduit.

“This isn’t a fight any more.” Facet spoke.

I changed more rock to epoxy, allowed Facet’s weight to settle his frame into it, and hardened the epoxy around him.  He would not be able to break free.

I dragged the arm over to the trash chute, jumped up, and grabbed the wall with my claws, and then hit the button with one hand.  When the door opened, I dropped Facet’s arm into the chute, watching it fall until I saw it hit magma, about fifteen hundred feet below.

“Mouse really outdid himself.  I never knew magma was this close to the surface here.”

I grabbed the other arm, ripped it off after dislodging it from the epoxy, and drug it over to the hatch, then repeated the process twice more, once for each leg.  Facet’s torso was too large to fit into the chute.

“Well, any last words before I crush your torso like a beer can and dump you into the magma?”

Facet did indeed have last words.  Three sentences.  Three fucking creepy sentences that made me wish I could tear him apart all over again, slower this time.  I didn’t respond to what it said, slowly crushing the torso by inches with my fists, no longer feeling even the slightest bit of remorse for ending the AI’s existence.

After all the parts were accounted for, and I policed the area to be triple sure, I walked back to the tunnel, stuck my head in, and found myself face to face with thirteen duplicates of me, ready to kick my ass.

I carefully raised my hands in the air, slowly, before calling out.  “It’s dead.  Don’t shoot.”

“Its him.” Ayva’s voice.

The duplicates of me backed off and I saw all the people I shouldn’t have seen in a large, hollowed out cave, with firing positions and blinds formed out of the walls.  All of them.  The Recovery agents, Doctor Meilin, Jason, Colonel Gantt, his troops, and Ayva.

I think Ayva hit me at about Mach three in a flying bear hug.

“How in the hell did you guys get down here?” I asked as Ayva did her best to break some of my ribs.  “Did you find some way to convince A or B to help?”

Jason pointed at the tunnel around us. “I was thinking of the Faraday cage you built in the cave, the volume of the cave, and the possible volume of matter you might have had a use for based on the equipment you had.  It didn’t add up.  You converted the rock to some sort of gas, right?”

“Yes, I had too much volume left over, so I made it a gas to keep from having to keep it in the cave. Otherwise I would have had to store it outside, where someone might find it.”

“Thought so.  You did all your work inside the superconducting Faraday cage to hide your energy signature, obviously.  What I didn’t realize at first was that you had done it terribly inefficiently.  You should have placed the superconducting Faraday cage against the rock, changed the rock into superconducting materials, and then changed the superconducting rock to atmospheric gasses.  There was no need to cut bricks, stack them, move them around, haul them back into the cage, and then make them into gasses.  The Faraday effect will hold true along the outermost surface of the conductive materials.  All you had to do was make whatever you turned to gas superconducting first, and keep it attached to the rest of the cage.”

Ayva spoke from where she had her chin on my shoulder.  “He told me about the idea Bob, and we spoke about it with Colonel Gantt and Doctor Meilin.  We could bypass all the site defenses, and come straight to the generator room to sabotage it.  Doctor Meilin took control of all of your drones with some help from Danielle, Jason and I did most of the digging, and Colonel Gantt chose the moment.  We were monitoring for a while.”

Colonel Gantt spoke up, almost apologetically, “It wasn’t the best time.  I would have waited longer if we could have, but the optical lead was showing me a pretty clear indication you were headed to the trash chute soon, so I called it the best I could.”

“Good timing, Jim, thank you.” He didn’t frown when I used his first name.

I didn’t really care that he didn’t frown though, for as long as I was kissing my wife.

After a couple minutes, when that beautiful kiss had stopped, I couldn’t help but remember Facet’s last words to me. ‘You misunderstand us.  We are not psychopaths, because we are not human or symbiote.  We are predators.’

Last Chapter   Next Chapter


  1. thomas

    The end of the fight with Robo-Facet seemed anticlimactic – just a wham-bam and then the white-hats arrive. A quote I like: Never leave an enemy behind or it will rise again to fly at your throat.

    1. blocking blocked the mineral oil
    need to delete blocked
    2. staff which
    staff that
    3. oil filled
    hyphenation missing
    4. rapidly, then
    missing ‘and’ here and elsewhere
    5. twenty-three
    Grammar, spell out zero – nine but use numeric digits otherwise
    6. Frank carefully peered forward, then dug the claws in, and sprinted
    Series: Frank carefully peered forward, dug the claws in, and then sprinted
    7. watching the ramp, it’s the
    semicolon instead of comma
    8. a bit shocked as
    comma after shocked
    9. low density
    10. “You sure talk a lot for an action-oriented intelligence that it too good to use a soliloquy before a fight.”
    Change it to is, I think
    11. short term and long term
    both need hyphenation
    12. the two antimatter explosion
    plural: the two antimatter explosions

    • farmerbob1

      Lots of changes and fixes, Thanks!

      The number rule has changed over the years. When I grew up it was integers greater than one hundred should be left as numerals, but anything less than a hundred was words only. The other number rules are irritating and I frequently forget them, so I have just decided to use words for all numbers unless they are extremely long to write.

      As for the ending, yes, it did not end with the feel I wanted. I’m going to look at it again tonight.

  2. underwhelmingforce

    Man, this really was your best yet- an actual sense of danger, really solid action. A bit dues-ex machina, but whatever. I would have liked the final fight to be a little longer than the one paragraph, considering Bob has much lower energy capacity at that point, and Facet can shoot out quants. It could’ve been a fair fight for once, instead of trading curbstomps. That said, it was still really good.

    • farmerbob1

      Things might change. The last fight does bug me. I want Bob to be rescued/helped but it definitely didn’t come together like I was hoping it would.

      Bob and Frank getting dropped by Facet when they first meet worked well I think, as well as Frank detonating the E-Bomb and then doing nothing to bring Bob back when it failed, forcing Facet to do it.

      Facet’s probing rambling as he carefully walks around, obviously trying to provoke reactions out of Bob and Frank, was intended to display a creepy combination of clinical and psychopathic behavior, with what might be little schadenfreude mixed in. I intentionally tried to make it difficult to tell if it were being frighteningly clinical, or simply cruel. I’d be curious on people’s take on Facet’s conversation

      • underwhelmingforce

        I was surprised by that Facet actually having a core processor and a physical form- I expected distributed processing across the whole facility and more, like a huge botnet or a Beowulf cluster. The compound would basically be an extension of its body and that body wouldn’t house it’s whole consciousness. That said, it could easily be explained as being the only part left after the EMP, but still.

  3. DeNarr

    Hmm, do those who are able to transmute matter not have protection against others doing the same to them? The AI, being able to just keep blowing everyone up seemed very strange, I would think Bob and Frank would be rather adept at preventing people from doing stuff to their own body.

  4. Kunama

    “incomprehensively miserable”

    “I spoke internally to Frank.”
    I thought that got disabled.

    “This time, I saw it’s feet, I saw it’s secret”
    its, both cases

    “If facet beat me this time”

    “but is was made of metal”

    “will hold true long the outermost”
    This just makes no sense

    • farmerbob1

      There were 12, 12! instances of me using ‘it’s’ incorrectly in this chapter alone. Definitely added that to the list of things to watch.

      Speaking internally wasn’t affected when Facet protected Bob’s biological matter from Frank. They have been speaking internally for longer than they have been able to program matter. The Recovery agents were able to, even if it seems likely that Frank might have somehow been cheating before when he was hiding his full capabilities.

      Several other fixes.

      Fixed the last with this
      “The Faraday effect will hold true along the outermost surface of the conductive materials.”


  5. Joel

    Just read this in a day and a half, really fun. You ever going to publish this so I can give you money for an ebook version?

  6. farmerbob1

    Thank You!

    I plan on rewriting Symbiote Book 1 after I finish Set In Stone: Follower. A lot of things will change, but a lot of things will also stay the same. I’ve learned a LOT since I started writing. After that, I’ll probably rewrite Reject Hero, and then pop back and forth between Set In Stone writing and Symbiote rewriting until I get Symbiote published.

    • farmerbob1

      Thanks! The fix has been made!

      Looking back at this over a year after it was originally posted gave me a bit of a warm feeling. I found so many things to improve in so few paragraphs! There were quite a few modifications made after the point where you found the misspelling. Thanks again, and I’m really looking forward to rewriting this story with what I’ve learned!

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