Bzrk, p.29
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       Bzrk, p.29

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
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  Vincent sliced a badly positioned nanobot open and grinned, as though sharing Nijinsky’s discomfort.


  Plath lay in the garbage.

  And she walked through the deep folds of a human brain. It was a long trek to the hippocampus. It was buried deep in the crumpled tofu. Wilkes had taught her the way, the long way down and under, to find the brain stem, that stalk a hundred times as thick as the largest sequoia.

  “Then just go north,” Wilkes had said.



  “How do you tell which way is up?”

  “Blow a bubble, see which direction it floats,” Wilkes had said, then she had added, “Of course, biots can’t blow bubbles.”

  Then Wilkes had relented. “If it seems like the stem is getting smaller, you’re going south. If you run into spaghetti the size of a subway train, you’re heading north.”

  Plath had found the cerebellum, the spaghetti bowl. She’d pressed on beneath, lost but maybe not, going in the right direction or not. Someday maybe to emerge. Or not, and if not then to leave her own sanity down here, down in the meat.

  Maybe Keats had escaped. Surely. Maybe he was free, but they might have him. She wished she was still tapped into the eye so she could see if Keats was suddenly dragged before the Armstrong Twins. And because then she would be within reach of light and air and escape.

  Was there something unique about the brain upon which Plath’s biots walked?

  This was a brain that had ordered kidnappings, beatings, and murders.

  This was the brain that had turned a silly cult into a tool for recruiting an army.

  This was the brain that dared to plot a new course for evolution itself. That desired the end of all human freedom. That might, by action or by error, unleash upon the world the catastrophe of self-replicating nanobots.

  This brain, those firing neurons, those crackling synapses, this mass of pink cells floating in organic soup, had ambitions that dwarfed those of history’s great monsters.

  This brain had murdered her family.

  And yet, to look at it, down here, it was no different than Keats’s brain. No different than her own.

  Where in this organ was the evil?

  That was what needed to be killed, Plath knew.

  And she knew that at the instant she decided that she had to change this brain, had to deprive it of its free will, her own brain would give no outward sign of having set out on a course of deliberate destruction.

  Was this, at last, the goal? Was she on the hippocampus? By the light of the biots’ dim phosphorescing organs it looked like Keats’s. It matched the memories of maps in her own brain.

  There was no time for a careful, cautious rewiring. Not even time to ensure that she was in the right place.

  There was only time for mayhem.

  Each of Plath’s biots began to extrude wire. She attached one end to a slightly protruding thumb of neurons and raced off to attach the other end … well, wherever she happened to.

  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong watched with avid, fanatical attention as the battle within the president raged.

  It seemed Bug Man had lost three nanobots.

  It also seemed one of Vincent’s biots had lost two legs on one side.

  It was all here, right here, right now, right before their eyes. If Bug Man succeeded, then victory was theirs, despite everything. The deaths of Kim and Alfredo would mean nothing.

  There had been delay as Dietrich marshaled Kim’s biots. The eyebrow of the Indian prime minister, Madhuri Chauksey, filled the monitor as Dietrich sent his biots toward an eyelid entry.

  “If we get Morales, Ts’ai, Chauksey, Bowen …” Benjamin said through gritted teeth.

  “Despite it all, we are only down by the Japanese.”

  “The British …”

  “Watch. One-Up is very good, you know. She lacks discipline, but she plays the game well.”

  One hand and then the other would tap the menu bars. One screen and then another would open, close, shift, focus, pull back. The Twins had their own game, and this was it: the assimilation of data from a flurry of inputs.

  “If we get the president …”

  “All we really need,” Benjamin reassured his brother. “Morales. If we take her alone, we have victory.”

  “We’ll take them all,” Charles declaimed loudly.

  On one screen, biots churned through brain as a dozen nanobots swam lazily toward them. It had a slow-motion, balletic feel. Pellets were fired but went harmlessly past. Beam weapons would be useless.

  Suddenly there was a full-face view of one of the biots. Eerie, semi-human brown eyes seemed to be looking at them. Vincent’s eyes. As if he could see them watching him.

  The twins sat back fractionally.

  And for some reason Benjamin said, “Arabella.”


  “The … that was the name of the horse. Grandfather’s mare.”

  Charles glanced at him, curious, waiting for the significance of this remark. But Benjamin’s eye seemed to be looking at things not present.

  The stress of excitement, Charles thought.

  Vincent’s biot grappled with a nanobot. Stabbed at the nanobot’s optics but missed. A second nanobot tried to latch on but lost its grip and floated away minus a leg.

  Charles shot a glance at Burnofsky’s screen.

  He had reached the brain of the Chinese leader. His nanobots, all in neatly ordered ranks, were tearing along, well on their way to begin the slow, cautious wiring of the second most powerful leader on Earth.

  And One-Up? Bless the girl, she had recovered quickly from whatever had so enraged her earlier.

  “Hah-hah!” Charles exulted.

  “They tried to make us read Tale of Two Cities. Remember?”

  “What has that to do with this?” Charles demanded, frustrated. He’d only ever had one person to celebrate victory with, and his brother seemed indifferent and distracted.


  “Tale of Two Cities?”

  “What about it?” Benjamin demanded. “Incontinence. It’s spelled e-n-c-e. Like ‘influence.’ Not like ‘ambulance.’ ”

  Charles stared at the mirror monitor, at the reflection of his brother’s eye. And suddenly Hardy was rushing toward them, a man who never rushed, whom the Twins would have thought lacked the capacity to rush.

  “Sirs!” Hardy said, but already the cause of the interruption was clear. The Twins twisted their body to see Sugar Lebowski and four of her men carrying the squirming, kicking, gagged body of a boy.

  They threw the body onto the Oriental carpet.

  “What the hell?” Charles bellowed. No one entered the Tulip without a specific invitation. They might have been indisposed! They might have been unprepared!

  It was outrageous. No: sacrilegious.

  But clearly that was not at the top of Sugar Lebowski’s mind at the moment. The Twins had seen Sugar furious, scared, sarcastic. They’d watched her cook with her daughter, shave her armpits, and make love to her husband. But they had never seen anything like the look of disordered panic on her face.

  Sugar patted her disordered hair into place. She was red in the face, her newly made lazy eye staring at the bridge of her nose. She was panting.


  Of them, of Charles and Benjamin.

  “What is this?” Benjamin demanded, furious.

  The dog came waddling over to investigate the boy.

  “There’s been a … a … a breach,” Sugar managed to get out.

  “A what?” Charles snarled even as he watched a killed, split-open nanobot twisting slowly inside the president’s brain.

  Sugar gathered her wits, took a steadying breath, and said, “One-Up was in an altercation at a coffee shop. The one across the street. She spotted what she believed were two BZRK twitchers. They attacked her and escaped.”

  “That’s why she was late?” Charles demanded. “I thought i
t was because of traffic disruptions caused by the UN debacle.”

  “No, sir. But she had a hard time getting through because the UN matter flooded the local cell-phone service. As you saw, I was busy coping with the UN situation. As soon as One-Up got through to me I—”

  “I’m sad,” Benjamin said. “I wanted to ride Arabella.”

  That stalled conversation for several seconds.

  “We believe one of the two was Sadie McLure,” Sugar said. “This is the other one.” She kicked Keats’s leg but without much conviction.

  Charles tried to stand, but Benjamin lagged behind and the effort failed. Then he stood, too, but now Charles was off-balance.

  This was something that never happened to them. Not since they were children.

  “What the hell is the matter with you?” Charles demanded sharply.

  “Remember the Morgenstein twins?” Benjamin asked.

  Something like a look of panic crossed Charles’s face. The twins had long since learned to move in synch. This kind of disconnect was humiliating. And Benjamin’s distraction was nothing short of bizarre.

  The slow-motion battle inside the president’s brain had turned into vicious three-on-one combat as nanobots ripped at a wounded biot. Pieces of the biot were coming loose—legs, bits of body, twirling slowly away, joined by shreds of cut-up nanobot.

  Charles stared at Sugar Lebowski. “You let … Are you suggesting …” Charles’s face could grow red without having the same effect on Benjamin. But it meant the heart they shared was beating harder and faster, and this in itself caused Benjamin’s eyes to grow wide with confusion.

  “They may be here,” Sugar said in a ragged half whisper. “I mean, right here.”

  To which Benjamin said, “Remember the GI Joes we got for Christmas?”

  The wire was formed by spinnerets derived from spider DNA. A cluster of tiny retractable spigots extruded strands of fiber that then were twisted into cable.

  Of course the result was not spider silk but a more complex structure that adhered like silk but conducted the minute electrical charges of the brain along a superconducting element.

  The wire could be simply stuck to the surface of a brain structure, or it could be pinned. Pinning was just what it sounded like— a pin (a biot could carry a dozen) with numerous barbs was stabbed into the brain matter like a piton holding a climbing rope. Each pin would contact a different neuron or cluster of neurons.

  In a careful, cautious wiring, each pin would then be sampled to get an idea of what memory or function was involved.

  Plath didn’t have time for that. No time to sample, no time to refer to brain maps or to pass the data through computer analysis.

  She had time only to stab and rappel with the wire and stab again. She had planted fourteen pins and strung seven wires so far.

  She had scattered her transponders. And she had also strung some random surface wire. There was no way to know what effect it was having, if any, because it was exactly what you didn’t do if you wanted the subject to be unaware of what was happening. There was no subtlety or art involved. This wasn’t wiring as Vincent or Bug Man might do it: this was amateur work. Panicked, terrified amateur work. Her biots were racing without a clue or a plan.

  P1 stabbed a pin deep and lit up all barbs. It attached wire and scampered away as fast as its spinnerets could produce wire. Stopped and stabbed again.

  And then it occurred to her: Why just A to B lines? Why not keep the wire running from pin to pin to pin? Like a cat’s cradle.

  So now, from her fragrant Dumpster hiding place, she stabbed and crisscrossed wire, with both biots nearly drained of fluid. Soon she would have to stop and wait for the silk glands to reload.

  But for now she ran and leapt and stabbed and listened to the sounds of running feet in the alleyway and shouted voices as far too many people searched for her.

  Vincent said, “V3 is in bad shape.”

  “I’m almost there, Vincent, pull back if you can.” Nijinsky was hustling them down the street, putting distance between them and the security magnet of the UN.

  “Later they’ll remember us,” Vincent said. “You need to look to your macro security, Jin. They’ll find you.”

  “Goddamnit, Vincent, focus on keeping your biots alive.”

  Vincent shuddered. Nijinsky saw it, a sort of spasm that twisted the impassive features into a human expression of fear.

  Nijinsky was sick inside. His biots were running so fast he was in danger of getting lost. His light organs couldn’t glow far enough ahead. It was like driving at a hundred miles an hour on a dark, back-country road with dim headlights.

  Vincent stopped moving.

  “Oh, Jesus Christ!” Vincent cried. “Oh, oh, oh.”

  The hollowed-out look in Vincent’s face told Nijinsky all he needed to know.

  “No, no, no,” Nijinsky cried, and put his arms protectively around Vincent as Vincent’s eyes filled with tears and he began a low, soft moaning.


  “Yeah, fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” Bug Man cried.

  The dead biot—so very dead, split into two barely connected pieces, dead, and floating legless, dead, through the fluid—was a miracle.

  He had lost half his force doing it, and the chiasmic chamber was dotted with legs and sensors and wheels and unidentifiable pieces of circuit and metal skin. The Bug Man logo floated by one of his screens, but none of that a mattered: he had killed one of Vincent’s biots.

  It froze him for a moment.

  No one had ever killed one of Vincent’s boys.

  No one! Only him. Only Bug Man.

  “Oh, fuck yeah.”

  He could take his time now, minimize risk, because unless Vincent was Clark Kent, he was sucking wind right now and more distracted than he had ever been before.

  Bug Man quickly took stock. He had eleven active fighters. All his spinners were safe.

  Eleven to one, and the twitcher, the mighty Vincent, was somewhere gasping and wheezing like he’d been gutshot.

  Vincent’s remaining biot had managed to propel itself to the upper surface. It was hanging from a neuron bundle, staring down at the eleven nanobots that now rose slowly through the goo.

  “I’ll be gentle, bitch!” Bug Man exulted. “Hah-hah!”

  He would form a perimeter on the surface first. Keep four of his nanobots floating, just in case Vincent launched off again.

  He had him surrounded.

  Hell, yes, he had Vincent surrounded. And Vincent’s biot seemed almost helpless. It stared with its insect eyes and with its human eyes, and it did nothing, not a damned thing, as Bug Man’s nanobots closed the ring.

  Keats’s biots tore across the cellular floor toward something towering and dark.

  As it happened he was facedown now on that very floor, though to him it was smoothly polished wood—very, very different in the macro than what he saw in the nano.

  In fact he was bleeding on that floor. Blood flowed from his nose and formed a pool that oozed around his cheek and the side of his mouth. Each time he breathed out through his mouth a red bubble formed. He saw a reflection of his eye in the dark pool. The eye looked scared.

  “My brother is … he’s not feeling well,” Charles said.

  Keats could not see his biots, of course. But he looked in every direction, trying to match up what he saw with his eyes and what he saw in his brain.


  Well, not nothing exactly. He saw three legs beneath the desk. Three legs wearing identical shoes. One left, one right, one … neither. The leg in the middle was thinner, but it wore not only the identical shoe in a smaller size but an identical sock and identical trouser leg.

  He couldn’t see anything above the knee. And he doubted that he wanted to.

  “Egg scramble, bamble!” Benjamin yelped suddenly. “What … what did I just do?”

  Plath’s nanobots were somewhere in Benjamin’s brain, that much was instantly clear to Keats. And in a seco
nd or two the Twins would realize what had happened. A few seconds after that they would begin to torture him to find out where Plath was.

  Or maybe kill him, if they concluded he was the twitcher.

  And they would bring in their own twitcher with nanobots to go in after Plath’s biots.

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