Bzrk, p.14
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       Bzrk, p.14

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
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  “Is it looped in?”

  “Damnit, get back in there, Bug, or I’ll do the job for you,” Burnofsky snapped.

  “And have you end up wasting two dozen of my branded nanobots? Have Vincent think he took me down?” Bug Man stormed back into the playroom.

  He slipped on the gloves and slid back into the seat. Burnofsky watched over his shoulder as he tested the communications. Twenty-one of the twenty-four screens lit up. Most showed other nanobots. Some had views of the brain fold where they were hiding. Down in the meat. Brain mapping was off for the moment.

  “Now bugger off, old man, you can watch from the other room.”

  “Macro is on its way.”

  “The fuck?” Bug Man raged. “I thought you said there was no way!”

  Burnofsky shrugged. “I ran your suggestion by the Twins. They agreed with you: they thought it was worth the risk to go macro as well. So I guess if you want credit for the kill, you’d best hurry, because it may be a bullet not a nanobot that does the job.”

  Bug Man quickly formed the nanobots into four platoons of six each. Not even the Bug Man could handle twenty-four individual nanobots. The platoons would perform identically, which sometimes ended up with the tiny robots getting in one another’s way, but there were techniques to minimize that. If you had the skills.

  He would send them in waves, a platoon at a time. The first group would locate Vincent’s biots. If Vincent spotted them, they’d engage immediately. If not, they’d wait while the remaining forces were moved up. Then, bam! Waves of four, maybe ten or twenty seconds apart. Boom, boom, boom, and down goes Vincent.

  Bug Man had a fantasy: he wanted to take one of Vincent’s biots alive and haul it out into the macro.

  Keep it alive and play with it for a while. As Vincent went slowly mad.

  Plath pushed Renfield’s hands off her shoulders. She wasn’t going to freak out, but she didn’t want to be touched.

  The pain in her healing arm helped keep her focused. And maybe Vincent’s soothing tone, but not being touched; and then she slipped to her knees, bent her face forward, and retched again on the floor.

  What was that she was seeing? Some nightmarish beast, and another beside it. Standing on tall, clean, pyramidal spider legs on a long field of bumpy, grainy material that made her think of leather.

  Vincent’s voice, urgent, no longer soothing, said, “It’s a trap.”

  And he was on his feet, grabbing Anya Violet as she turned to run, snatching her trailed arm. She almost got away, wriggling out of her lab coat. But Vincent caught her and yanked her violently toward him and locked her neck between his forearms.

  She squirmed but could not get away.

  “Is she—” Renfield snapped.

  “Nanobot sign,” Vincent said. “No contact yet, but any second now. Contact Caligula. We have a problem.”

  Renfield tapped his phone. “You should kill her,” he said, not looking at Vincent, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “Snap her neck and retrieve your biots. Let AFGC come and do cleanup. Let Plath and Keats grab their babies—they’re viable by now in their crèches. Then we get out of here.”

  Plath stared at Vincent. She and Keats just stood there, helpless, not really knowing what was happening, not knowing what was coming, sick in stomach and heart, minds swimming.

  Was she going to see a murder? Right here in front of her? Was she going to see Vincent snap the woman’s neck?

  “Get their biots,” Vincent said to Renfield. “We’re getting out of here. We’ll take Dr. Violet with us.”

  “Let go of me,” Anya cried. “Get off me!”

  “And have them track their nanobots?” Renfield drew a gun from the back of his belt. Not the Taser he’d shown before. This was the real, very real, thing.

  Vincent said something that sounded like, “I’m not Scipio,” which meant nothing to Sadie and not much to Renfield or Noah, judging by the blank expressions. “Unless you’re taking over here, Renfield, get their crèches.”

  Renfield looked shocked by the suggestion that he was taking over. He licked his lips, nervous.

  He pushed Keats aside to punch commands into the console. The drawers that had slid open to take the crèches now slid open to release them.

  Renfield glanced at them, read the labels, and handed them to Plath and Keats respectively. “I’d hold on to these real carefully if—”

  “I’m under attack,” Vincent said.

  And there they were, zooming into Vincent’s split field of vision, four … five …

  At that moment Vincent was seeing three different realities.

  There were Keats and Plath staggering from the mind warp that was the biot quickening. And Renfield with a gun dangling in one hand while he passed the crèches to the two teenagers. And Anya’s hair, right in his face, and the smell of her, and the surge of her blood pushing to squeeze past the pressure of his strong forearms.

  And in the micro, two visuals, V1 and V2. Color-enhanced to full. The true view in the nano was gray scale—cells had color only in large numbers and seen from a distance. But with enhanced color the nano world became vivid: greens, reds, eerie yellows, and startling pinks.

  The only way to fight a battle: Technicolor.

  The nanobot twitcher must have realized that he’d been spotted by Vincent’s biots. Now they were wheels down and zooming toward him along the cable of nerve, their daddy longlegs arms trailing as stabilizers.

  Vincent pushed Anya away, spun her around, set his biot legs to grip, and punched her hard in the eye. Hard enough to cause her to drop to her knees.

  In the micro it was two impacts. The first, the punch, was much the harder. Hard enough that even after it was absorbed by the skull bones and the giant gooey mass of the eyeball, it still hit like a magnitude-nine earthquake.

  The nanobots, caught off guard, toppled off their unstable unicycle wheels. Two crashed together. A leg went flying. A sensor array twisted.

  V1 and V2 shot forward, six legs each, powering ahead, measuring the seconds before the next impact.

  The easiest kill on a nanobot was the sensor array: the little robots weren’t much good without eyes. The array was two triangular visual sensors, plus UV emitters, and what was believed to be a sort of microwave sonar.

  This entire mass sat slightly elevated on a short, thick mast. Breaking the mast, snapping it off, was almost impossible. But it had a weakness that allowed it to be twisted.

  The second-easiest kill was to jam the leg gear. A nanobot had a single motor that ran all its functions, but it was well shielded. On each side were three articulated legs, all attached to a single hub.

  The single wheel was in the center. It extended below the belly of the tiny robot and would make contact whenever the legs lowered the body.

  Down in the micro they looked big, of course, as big as tanks. Giant spiders made of strangely pebbly steel. With their legs trailing and wheels spinning, they moved at what seemed like freeway speeds.

  Wheel-up and running, they were still very quick, but slower than a biot.

  To Vincent’s inner eye there were two visual screens showing the nanobot attack from the target position, and separately from an off angle.

  He had one, maybe two seconds before Anya’s knees hit the floor and there would be a second impact.

  Both Vincent’s biots zoomed forward, legs a blur. They hit the two crashed nanobots.

  V1 stabbed a cutting blade into the leg joint of one.

  Leap! And V2 landed, all legs joined to form a single point of impact on the second.

  And there! A flash of color betrayed a crudely drawn logo on the side panel of one nanobot. It was a grinning face with an insect exploding from its head: Bug Man.

  Vincent’s biots gripped nerve again, and the second impact came, gentler than the first, just enough to make an onrushing nanobot swerve.

  It zoomed past, and Vincent tripped its trailing legs. It spun, and as it spun, Vincent fired his saddle-back beam weapon. I
t hit the only thing it could kill: the nanobot’s sensor array.

  Three down and two to …

  And then, the swarm was coming up from both sides, a rushing torrent of nanobots.

  “Could use some help,” Vincent said.

  “Left or right?” Renfield replied, and touched his finger to his ear, picking up his biots.

  “Right,” Vincent said.

  Renfield grabbed Anya’s face. He stuck a finger into her right eye as she yelled and kicked at him and cursed furiously.

  But Dr. Violet was irrelevant now. She was no longer a person: she was a battlefield.

  “I’ve got you, Vincent, got you so good,” Bug Man said.

  The impact—that had been clever, Vincent must have punched the host body, playing the macro as well as the nano. And that had cost Bug Man three nanobots.

  So forget the wave upon wave, time to swarm for a quick kill. He sent the three intact platoons down the side of the nerve, walking on the vertical—gravity didn’t mean much down in the meat.

  Now Bug Man saw nineteen screens, all filled with the two enemy creatures. From one nanobot he had a nice, clean, close-up of one of Vincent’s biots. Almost handshake close, it seemed. Close enough to see the face, with its insect compound eyes huge above the smeared brown mockery of its pseudo-human eyes.

  The close-up view cost him: with superhuman speed Vincent’s biot leapt sideways, charged, and ripped the nanobot open.

  Another screen dark. But it didn’t matter. It may have been a kill, it may have been a blinding, but Bug Man was playing his troops as four platoons now, and even blind nanobots could still follow directions.

  Swarm, Bug Man thought, and saw his screen fill with the desperate biots as his entire force charged, following four variations on that core instruction.

  He saw Vincent’s two biots spin, stab, leap. Goddamn, he was good. A bloody ninja, he was! Two more nanobots were crippled.

  So fast!

  Not fast enough, though. Not this time.

  Nanobots ripped an arm from one of the biots. It waved on Bug Man’s screen as it flew away, and he laughed.

  Two legs gone from one of Vincent’s children, so now it wasn’t moving nearly as fast, firing that little popgun laser and missing, and burning stripes into the nerve tissue.

  Bug Man understood: Vincent was drawing the immune response. They would sense the damage and send macrophages oozing up to kill the invaders.

  Stupid and desperate. The macrophages were a hindrance to nanobots, but they could actually kill a biot—if they managed somehow to glom on.

  What was Vincent playing at?

  What did he know?

  For just a few seconds, Bug Man hesitated.

  “My eyes!” Anya Violet cried.

  “I’ve got two on—” Renfield shouted.


  The door of the lab blew inward.

  Not from impact like a battering ram, but from explosives.

  The concussion knocked everyone flat. Ears ringing.

  Plath screamed. No one heard.

  Keats shouted, grabbed his head with both hands as blood gushed from his nose.

  Men in Land’s End khaki and polo shirts under L.L. Bean down jackets came rushing in, guns drawn, a swarm of thugs in colors called jonquil, bright leaf, and lavender ice.

  Down in the meat the swarm of nanobots and the two biots were rocked. The hit wasn’t as hard as the punch, but Vincent wasn’t prepared this time. V2 snapped two legs, caught, and twisted in the first arriving macrophages.

  Lymphocytes—white blood cells—came in various shapes and sizes, and these were called macrophages. They looked like squashed sea sponges, all rough and bumpy. They were the size of flattened roadkill raccoons. They oozed and squirmed along the nerve highway like slow, stupid attack dogs.

  The crippled V2 struggled with one leg to get free, but two of the phages had grips and were enveloping a stump, making purposeful movement all but impossible.

  V1 had been sent tumbling into a jumbled pile of nanobots.

  Platooned, Vincent realized as they reacted en masse, six acting as one. This close in, unprepared, he had the edge over them, and stabbed and cut in a frenzy, even as he felt, felt it as though they were on his own legs, the macrophages. And now men with guns shouting, “Don’t move! Freeze! Down on the floor!”

  Then a McLure security guard, blood all over his chest and gray uniform, gun drawn, lurched into the doorway, and BAM! BAM! BAM!

  One of the TFDs went down. And then the back of the McLure man’s head exploded.

  Vincent felt the macrophages reach his body, tendrils of Silly Putty that tried to draw him in as if he was a gigantic bacterium.

  He felt the stabs and rips of the pile of platooned nanobots, random, stabbing and cutting each other, too, in their frenzy, but hitting him again and again, and now his vision was blurring as Anya screamed, and Keats staggered, and Renfield raised his gun, took aim at the TFDs, and BAM! BAM!

  Explosions everywhere, like being inside a drum, gunfire at close quarters, and Renfield was down like a brick, a hole in his chest pumping like a fountain, and a TFD was on one knee feeling around with bloody hands in the area of his own groin and Plath—out of nowhere—with Renfield’s gun and BAM! BAM!

  More McLure security, a definite step up from the usual rent-a-cop because they were standing there in a gun battle and giving as much as they took, cursing, screaming, shooting, the stink of gunpowder and blood, machinery holed.

  Vincent was on his face, on the floor, deaf to everything but the loudest noises.

  And there, amid the crazy, he saw Keats. Keats with hands trembling and yet doing the exact right thing, somehow knowing, picking up the Taser that had fallen from Renfield’s hand as Renfield fell, and now Keats looking right at Vincent and Vincent nodding and the Taser jolt hitting Anya’s body.

  Light traveled from the Taser’s firing points to Vincent’s eyes and he sent his biots leaping clear as a split second later the Taser’s charge sent the nerves beneath his spider legs into spasm.

  Nerve fibers twitched, yanked the legs from nanobots, hurled others into flesh walls. What seemed like meters m-sub became mere inches m-sub as the spasm contracted nerve and wracked muscle.

  Vincent sent both his biots, half-crippled, but not dead just yet, no definitely not dead, straight into the confused mass of nanobots, plowed bodily into them with all the speed they could manage and kept thrashing ahead, dragging the macrophages with them, scraping them off in the tangle of thrashing titanium.

  The biots erupted through the platoons of nanobots that now added the goo of macrophages to their difficulty unraveling themselves.

  Aftershocks, spasms, as Anya’s nerves tried to gain control.

  V1 was down. Legless now. Immobile.

  Vincent saw it, turned V2 to grab it with his pincers and kicked backward, hauling V1 after it, macrophages eating into it still.

  Bug Man stared in horror. He was down to twelve active visuals. Maybe three or four of the blind nanobots were still functioning, but he had a choice now: take a few seconds to replatoon them or just send them all pell-mell after the retreating Vincent.

  The tectonic shock—Bug Man still had no idea what had caused it—had made a mess of his forces.

  “Looking a little rough there, Anthony,” Burnofsky drawled. “Maybe time for a little macro help of our own, eh?”

  That decided it. No way Bug Man could let Vincent escape. He’d started with a twenty-four-to-two edge. He would never live it down if he lost now.

  Mass attack, Bug Man ordered. A banzai charge. A solid wall of nanobots. They surged toward the retreating biots.

  But they’d have to leg it. The cleverness of summoning the macrophages was clear now: the spongy, brainless monsters made it impossible for him to switch to wheels.

  Race on: wounded biot, pulling its twin away, versus nanobots.

  Bug Man knew he would win the race, would eventually catch up, even without wheels. But
how many of his nanobots were still functioning? How many would be tripped up? Was this a banzai charge or a kamikaze attack?

  “Tell them to shoot Vincent,” Bug Man said, grinding out the words.

  “You tell them, boy genius. You give the kill order.” He held a phone to Bug Man’s ear.

  Macrophages ate into Vincent’s biot flesh as he motored backward, dragging his other biot. The nanobots would catch him. He was moving too slowly. If he dropped V1 …

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