Bzrk, p.6
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       Bzrk, p.6

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 

  He walked a bit awkwardly from the bed to the concealed computer. A tiny red exclamation point pulsed in the upper-right corner of the screen. Bug Man cursed again. But he sat down in the chair, popped earbuds in, and tapped in a thirty-two-character code.

  He’d expected to see Burnofsky’s ugly face. This was worse. Far worse. Because there on his screen were the Twins: the freak of nature comprising Charles and Benjamin Armstrong.

  He masked the look of revulsion on his face. He’d met the Twins face-to-face on two occasions. This was an improvement—he couldn’t see that three-legged body—but not much of one. Not so long as he had to look at the nightmare that was their heads. The image barely fit on the screen. Two heads melted or melded or something into one.

  “Anthony,” Charles Armstrong said. He was the one on the left. He usually did more of the talking.

  “Yeah. I mean, good evening, sirs.”

  “We are sorry to intrude. You deserve rest and relaxation after the important work you did earlier today. Truly, we are grateful, as all of humanity will someday be grateful.”

  Bug Man’s mouth was dry. He had long since stopped giving a damn about the Armstrong Twins and their vision for humanity, all that Nexus Humanus bullshit. He was a twitcher, not an idealist. He loved the game. He loved the power. He loved the beautiful creature in his bed. The rest was just talk. But you couldn’t say that to Charles and Benjamin Armstrong. Not unless you had a much bigger pair than Anthony Elder happened to have, because Twofer—as the Twins were called behind their back—it, or they, or whatever was the correct way to say it, scared the hell out of the Bug Man.

  “It seems that Vincent is in London,” Benjamin said. “As well as at least one other. We don’t know who.”

  “Okay,” Bug Man said guardedly. The earbuds were crackling. Bad connection. He pulled them out and let the voice go to speaker. It wasn’t like Jessica would understand or care.

  Charles smiled. When he did, the center eye—the eye they shared—swerved toward him.

  Jesus. H. Christ.

  “Time to press our advantage,” Charles said. “We are going ahead with our great plan, Anthony. Our latest intelligence is that the main target will be in New York.”

  Bug Man rewarded his freak bosses with a sharp intake of breath. Jessica was suddenly forgotten. It had been all depression and frustration when word came that POTUS—the president of the United States—would skip the UN General Assembly and send the secretary of state instead.

  “I thought she was Burnofsky’s target,” Bug Man said.

  In order to shake their conjoined head, Twofer had to move its, his, their entire upper body. The effect could have been comical. It wasn’t. “No, Anthony. Burnofsky has other duties as well. And as it happens, we’ve for the moment lost the pathway to your original target.”

  Pathways were the macro means to a nano end. A nanobot couldn’t cross long distances. They didn’t fly. They didn’t go very fast in macro terms. In the nano a foot was a considerable distance. So pathways had to be found—carriers, people who would, wittingly or not, carry a nanobot to its target. For the kind of targets they had in mind the pathway had several steps, each step a person who would take the nanobots one stage closer.

  Bug Man stared at that massive indented forehead. Tried not to look at that eye that so should not be there. But tried to imagine what was going on inside that creepy-ass head. People whispered that Twofer actually shared a part of their brain, just like they shared that center eye and, if legend was true, at least one other part as well.

  The faces were framed against night sky and the green-lit spire of the Empire State Building, in what everyone called the Tulip. The Tulip was the top five stories of the Armstrong Building, what would have been floors sixty-three through sixty-seven, except that the pinnacle of the Armstrong Building was made of a polymer nano composite that was transparent looking out, and rose-colored frost for those looking in. The Twins lived their entire lives within that space, high above the city, invisible to outside eyes but wide open to spires and sky.

  Bug Man’s original target had been the British prime minister. It had seemed right, what with Bug Man being British by birth.

  But what had happened to the pathway? They’d had a clear one to the PM.

  Anthony had been studying up on Prime Minister Bowen, looking through the man’s well-documented history, searching for the triggers he could pull in the old man’s brain. Oh, you like horses do you, Mr. Prime Minister? And you had a bad experience with your sister’s drowning? And your favorite chocolate bar is a Flake? All of that data was stored up in that wrinkly wad of goo called a brain.

  A lot of wasted schoolwork, that, if someone else would be taking Bowen.

  “What happened to the pathway?”

  “As my brother mentioned, Vincent was in London.”

  “It was not done at the nano,” Benjamin said, correctly guessing Bug Man’s thought. “Our friend Vincent did it the old-fashioned way. He stabbed her in the brain, Anthony. You should remember that. Because these are the lunatics we are fighting.” The Twins leaned forward, which put that third eye right up way too close, way too close, to the camera. The Bug Man leaned away.

  “They are ruthless in a demonic cause,” Benjamin said, getting heated, getting worked up. “We would unite humanity! We would create the next human, the next step in evolution: a united human race! They fight to keep humanity enslaved to division, to hatred, to the loneliness of a false individuality.”

  The sound of a fist pounding. The image wobbled.

  “It begins as soon as you can come in,” Charles said. Calmer than his brother. “There’s a car waiting out front. You will come?” A simultaneous Twofer grin. “As a favor to us?”

  “Yes, sirs,” he said. Because Bug Man didn’t want to try to guess what happened to people who refused to do “favors” for Twofer.

  Bug Man emerged, serious and shaky, from behind the screen. Jessica was waiting.

  “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve got to go. Big problem at work.”

  Jessica pouted, and that was about enough to break Bug Man’s will, but no, he wasn’t ready to keep the Twins waiting.

  “But I only need you for five minutes.”

  The next five minutes, and all the rest of the conversation, was overheard by a single biot.

  The biot—a specialized model adapted to picking up the kinds of large sound waves made by a vocal cord longer than their entire body—had spent six weeks inside Jessica’s right ear. Six weeks of earwax and near misses with Q-tips the size of blimps and earbuds blasting music that was sheer vibration.

  Six weeks, weakening day by day, holding on despite everything, and now just days from death unless the biot could be taken out in a clean extraction.

  In the coffee shop across the street, Wilkes sat typing away on her laptop, pretending to be working on a novel, headphones on her ears.

  Wilkes wasn’t the best twitcher—she wasn’t looking for a battle with Bug Man. But little Buggy hadn’t found her, had he? He had come close a few times, close enough that she could read the serial numbers of his nanobots and clearly see his creepy exploding head logo. But she had lain low. She had frozen in place. And the nanobots that might have killed her biot and driven Wilkes to madness had gone scurrying past.

  Wilkes was not a great fighter down in the nano. She was much more capable in the macro, because when pushed, Wilkes was a little rage-o-holic. She affected a tough-girl style that wasn’t just style. She didn’t wear those big Doc Martens to look cool, she wore them to make her kicks count when she applied them.

  Wilkes had a few interesting tattoos. Her right eye had dark flames painted downward, maybe more like shark’s teeth or the stylized teeth of a ripsaw. On the inside of her left arm she wore a QR-code tattoo. Shoot a picture of it with your phone and you’d be taken to a page that just had a picture of Wilkes’s raised middle finger and a circular logo that showed a Photoshopped pic of Wilkes st
abbing a dragon in the eye.

  There was a second QR-code tattoo in a, shall we say, less public location. It led to a different sort of page altogether.

  She was a troubled teen, Wilkes was. Troubled, yes. And trouble, too.

  But she could be patient when she had to be. Six weeks of this coffee shop, and a crappy little basement hole-in-the-wall apartment next door to Bug Man’s home.

  In a weary voice Wilkes said, “Gotcha, Buggy. Got you good.”

  (ARTIFACT)

  To: Lear

  From: Vincent

  Summary:

  Wilkes’s surveillance of Bug Man’s girlfriend has paid off.

  1) Confirmed: Bug Man was the twitcher for the McLure hit.

  2) Bug Man is being given a strategic as well as tactical role.

  This may indicate a serious problem with Burnofsky.

  3) Confirmed: AFGC plans move at UN. POTUS is target #1.

  Other heads of state as well.

  Recommend:

  1) Given our need for biot resources, especially in view of the AFGC initiative and paralysis at McLure corporate, I recommend finalizing the Violet approach.

  2) Accelerated training of new recruits.

  Note: I am not Scipio.

  SEVEN

  Inside Sadie McLure’s head was a bubble. Sort of like a water balloon. Only it was the size of a grape and filled with blood.

  It was thirty-three millimeters long, about an inch and a quarter. It was a brain aneurysm. Quite a large one. A place where an artery wall weakened and blood pressure formed the water balloon of death.

  Because if it ever popped blood would go gushing uncontrolled into the surrounding brain tissue. And Sadie would almost certainly die. And if not die, then lose parts of her brain, perhaps be left a vegetable.

  There was an operation that could be done in some cases. But not in this case. Because the balloon inside Sadie’s head was buried down deep.

  She had seen the CT scans, and the MRI scans, and even the fabulously detailed, nearly artistic digital subtraction angiography. That had involved shooting dye through an artery in her groin.

  Ah, good times. Good times.

  If she had stayed in the hospital, they’d have done a CT looking for bleeding. Then they’d have done an MRI to get a closer look at the aneurysm.

  That’s when they would have noticed something unusual. A certain thickening of the tissue around the aneurysm.

  So they’d have done the digital subtraction thing and then, yep, then they’d have had a pretty good picture of something that would make their hair stand up.

  They’d have seen what looked like a pair of tiny little creatures, no bigger than dust mites, busily weaving and reweaving tiny strands of Teflon fiber to form a layer over the bulging, straining, grape-size water balloon.

  They’d have seen Grey McLure’s biots, busy at the job of keeping his daughter alive.

  Sadie could see them now as Dr. Chattopadhyay—Dr. Chat to her patient—swiveled the screen to show her.

  “There are the biots in the first image.” She tapped the keyboard to change pictures. “And here they are half an hour later.”

  “They haven’t moved.”

  “Yes, they are immobile. Presumably dead.” Dr. Chat was in her fifties, heavy, dark-skinned, skeptical of eye and immaculate in her lab coat over sari. “You know of course that I and my whole family mourn for your father and brother.”

  Sadie nodded. She didn’t intend to be curt or dismissive. She just couldn’t hear any more condolences. She was suffocating in condolences and concern.

  Over the last twenty-four hours she had absorbed the deaths. Absorbed, not coped with, accepted, gotten over, or properly mourned. Just absorbed. And somehow seeing those tiny dead biots was one step too far.

  What her father had created was a revolution in medicine. It had taken him years. He had thrown more than a billion dollars into it, which had required him to buy back his own company from stockholders just so he could spend that kind of money without having to explain himself.

  He had worked himself half to death, he and Sadie’s mother. Then, the cancer, and he was even more desperate to finish the work, to send his tiny minions in to kill cancer cells and save his wife.

  The pressure he had endured.

  But the biot project was too late for Sadie and Stone’s mother, Grey’s wife.

  For three months after Birgid McLure’s death Grey was virtually invisible. He lived at work. And then … the miracle.

  The biot. A biological creature, not a machine. A thing made of a grab bag of DNA bits and pieces. Spider, cobra, jellyfish. But above all, for the control mechanism that allowed a single mind to see through the eyes of a biot and run with a biot’s legs and cut with a biot’s blades, for that, human DNA.

  The biot was not a robot. It was a limb. It was linked directly to the mind of its creator. It was a part of its creator.

  Grey McLure’s biots had been injected as close to the aneurysm as was safe. They had set up a supply chain that ran through her ear canal to shuttle in the tiny Teflon fibers. And then they began to weave, a sort of macro-actual tiny, but micro-subjective huge, basket around the aneurysm.

  “You’re lucky the overpressure from the explosion didn’t cause a rupture,” Dr. Chat said. “There’s some bleeding, but it seems to have stopped. Lucky.”

  Sadie wanted to say something mean and sarcastic about her luck, luck that had left her an orphan, but stopped herself.

  “Did it do anything at all to the aneurysm?”

  “It seems mostly unchanged. But as you know, the weave needs constant tending to remain strong. And in any case it was only sixty percent done. So I have to prescribe the blood pressure medications to lower your BP.”

  “I had an allergic reaction,” Sadie said.

  “There are other medications we can try. There’s a whole range of—”

  “Whatever,” Sadie snapped. “I can read Google as well as you. I know that I already have excellent blood pressure, and that these meds won’t have much effect, and they’re really only there to make me feel like I’m doing something. I don’t need a placebo, Doctor.”

  Dr. Chat sighed and looked at her from under disapproving eyebrows. “You have a responsibility now, you know.”

  “Yeah. I know.”

  “This company employs almost a thousand people in six countries.”

  “Seven,” Sadie said. “Dad opened a lab in Singapore. That’s where he and Stone were headed.”

  Dr. Chat sighed. “Is there anyone we can call to come be with you? Friends? Your grandmother?”

  Sadie shot her a defiant look. “Not really, no. Not the kind of friends I want to see right now.”

  So the doctor left, and Sadie was alone. It was a luxurious room. The bed might be hospital style, but there was a forty-two-inch plasma screen on the wall, sleek Jasper Morrison chairs, a pad, lovely orchids in crystal vases, soft lighting, a view through a floor-to-ceiling window of the McLure Industries main New Jersey campus. And through a side door was a marble bathroom that could have graced a suite at a Ritz-Carlton.

  If you had to be sick, this was the place in which to do it.

  Sadie felt her gaze drawn to the image of the tiny dead biots. The last little bits of her father.

  She wondered why she didn’t cry more. She had cried, but in sniffles and single sobs. She had cried so long, so much for her mother. Maybe she was cried out. Maybe she had just accepted the fact that life was pain and loss.

  Or maybe she was numb, waiting with calm acceptance for her own death. The last of the McLure family.

  Sadie rolled out of bed. Not exactly an easy thing to do. A painful thing to do. Her arm was one long, dull ache punctuated by waves of stabbing, stabbing, stabbing that caught her breath in her throat.

  The cast had been replaced with a lighter version that could hang from a shoulder strap.

  The rest of her body was just one big bruise. She moved like an old woman as she
made her way to the toilet. She peed a little blood, but less than last time.

  She hesitated at the shower. She wanted very badly to take a shower. But it would be easier to keep her cast dry in a bath. Nurses had given her a sponge bath, but really that wasn’t quite what she was looking for.

  Wincing and moving with arthritic slowness, she turned on the water. There was of course a selection of Bulgari bath oils and beads. She spread the green-tea-scented salts in the water.

 
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