Excerpt for Nanotroopers Episode 20: Doc II by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Episode 20: Doc II

Published by Philip Bosshardt at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Philip Bosshardt

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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A few words about this series….

*** Nanotroopers is a series of 15,000- 20,000 word episodes detailing the adventures of Johnny Winger and his experiences as a nanotrooper with the United Nations Quantum Corps.

*** Each episode will be about 40-50 pages, approximately 20,000 words in length.

*** A new episode will be available and uploaded every 3 weeks.

*** There will be 22 episodes. The story will be completely serialized in about 14 months.

*** Each episode is a stand-alone story but will advance the greater theme and plot of the story arc.

*** The main plotline: U.N. Quantum Corps must defeat the criminal cartel Red Hammer’s efforts to steal or disable their new nanorobotic ANAD systems.

*** Uploads will be made to www.smashwords.com on approximately the schedule below:

Episode # Title Approximate Upload Date

1 ‘Atomgrabbers’ 1-14-16

2 ‘Nog School’ 2-8-16

3 ‘Deeno and Mighty Mite’ 2-29-16

4 ‘ANAD’ 3-21-16

5 ‘Table Top Mountain’ 4-11-16

6 ‘I, Lieutenant John Winger…’ 5-2-16

7 ‘Hong Chui’ 5-23-16

8 ‘Doc Barnes’ 6-13-16

9 ‘Demonios of Via Verde’ 7-5-16

10 ‘The Big Bang’ 7-25-16

11 ‘Engebbe’ 8-15-16

12 ‘The Symbiosis Project’ 9-5-16

13 ‘Small is All!’ 9-26-16

14 ‘’The HNRIV Factor’ 10-17-16

15 ‘A Black Hole’ 11-7-16

16 ‘ANAD on Ice’ 11-29-16

17 ‘Lions Rock’ 12-19-16

18 ‘Geoplanes’ 1-9-17

19 ‘Mount Kipwezi’ 1-30-17

20 ‘Doc II’ 2-20-17

21 ‘Paryang Monastery’ 3-13-17

22 ‘Epilogue’ 4-3-17

Chapter 1

Infinite Armies”

“The role of the infinitely small is infinitely large.”

Louis Pasteur

Sisal, Yucatan State


October 27, 2049

0600 hours (U.T.)

When Johnny Winger was six years old, the family took a trip to Florida. He remembered the trip: the boardwalk at Daytona Beach, playing skeeball with his brother and sister, plunging his face into cotton candy balls. Mostly he remembered riding the Dragon’s Tail at Cocoa Beach. Now that was a coaster. You got on and jerked to a start and the whole world turned upside down. You were slung from side to side like a rabbit in a cat’s mouth. You had to squint in the wind. Up, down, side to side, your guts pulled up right out of your mouth…it was all any six-year old could ever want.

That’s what it was like when you touched the Sphere.

After the world stop spinning, Winger rested for a few moments, letting the sensations around him flood into his head. He smelled salt air, he smelled fish, he heard something like boat masts clanking and flags or pennants snapping in a freshening breeze.

Then he opened his eyes, saw dimly some racks of twine and rope coiled and lined up along the stucco wall of some dilapidated warehouse and a sudden blur of motion out of the corner of his eye.

The blur turned out to be Taj Singh.

“Taj…it’s you…”

Singh sat down next to Winger. “Yes, sir…and Mighty Mite’s over here—“ he pointed to a bush nearby, where Barnes was getting up unsteadily to her knees.

She brushed off dirt and mud. “Where is here, Skipper…did we make it?”

Winger hauled himself to his feet, hanging on to a tree stump. They were near a fishing village—it looked like the Yucatan—and then he realized they had landed near the port of Sisal, on Yucatan’s Gulf coast. The odor of drying fish was now overpowering. Below them, a white-washed grid of stucco and plaster buildings was visible, and beyond that wharves and docks filled with fishing vessels of all types.

“I know this place,” he decided. “That Sphere dropped us about twenty kilometers from the base…I can’t tell about the time yet.”

“At least we’re in the neighborhood,” said Barnes.

Singh watched crews sort out their nets and gear on the wharf, getting ready for the day’s work at sea. He tried focusing on one crew—their boat had Maria Segovia stenciled on her stern—and watched them drag equipment on board. He became curious at the approach of another man, clearly not one of the crew, walking quickly down from the pilothouse, dodging nets and tackle. Perhaps an owner. Or a broker.

Then, with a start, Taj Singh realized he had seen the man before.

“Hey, isn’t that Jupiter down there?”


Singh pointed out the dock, toward one end of the wharf. “The shorter man in the tan jacket, with the hat.” The man was sporting a Panama style hat, slung low over his eyes.

“Taj, I think it is,” said Barnes squinting in the sun. “What the hell—“

They watched for a moment, as Kulagin stopped to talk with one of Maria Segovia’s crew. Something was exchanged—money, perhaps? There were gestures. An argument. A third man was called in.

Winger watched it all. “Jupiter’s still our target.”

“Where’s Juno?” Barnes asked.

“I don’t know but I have an idea. Doc, configure C-38. Prepare for launch.”

“What do you have in mind, Major?” Barnes was almost afraid to ask. She knew Winger often went with hunches.

“I’m launching Doc and configging him to operate as a spybot. If I can get him close enough, we can embed Doc somewhere on Jupiter’s person and keep the surveillance up.”

As Winger’s shoulder capsule port opened and the sparkling mist of Doc began issuing out into the humid tropical air, Jupiter, aka Dmitri Kulagin, concluded his negotiations with the crew of the Maria Segovia. He hoisted up a small knapsack and boarded the craft.

***Configuring C-38, Base…adding extra grabbers now…what is the nature of the mission?***

“Doc, I want you to replicate at one quarter rate, maintain C-38 and go to max propulsor. Steer heading—“ he made a quick judgment on direction, “—one five zero degrees. You’re going to take a little trip, Doc.”

***Base, this is highly irregular…inappropriate use of my capabilities and algorithmic routines…this master bot is optimized for analysis and deductions from correlating large quantities of data--***

“Doc, shut up, will you…you’re a spy bot for now. Maintain config and move out…that’s an order.”

Singh and Barnes weren’t jacked in to the coupler circuit so they could only hear one side of the exchange.

“The little guy refusing to do his homework, Skipper?” Barnes asked.

Winger watched the swarm form up over their heads and begin turning to the commanded heading. “He keeps reminding me that he’s not designed for recon duty. But I don’t care…when he’s with me on a mission, he’s a nanotrooper whether he likes it or not. At least, my HERF gun doesn’t talk back to me.”

Singh eyed the distance. “Can Doc make it to that boat in time?”

Winger gritted his teeth. “I’m trying…Doc’s cranked up to max propulsor…unless we get a breeze going the right way, it’ll be close—“

So they watched anxiously from their secluded landing spot on a hill above the town of Sisal while an invisible cloud of dust mote-sized bots bore down on the wharf and the Maria Segovia. Doc was able to close the distance and filter his way onboard the craft when the crew spent extra minutes untangling and securing their gear, much to the displeasure of a greasy, bearded captain, who yelled and gestured at them in gutter Spanish.

“Vamos, idiotas, se muevan!”

With that delay, Doc made it to his target and soon enough implanted himself as errant dust particles right into the gray mass of Kulagin’s hair, clinging to follicles, burrowing down near the target’s scalp.

Winger got ready to go small, shaking his head slowly. “I just hope Jupiter’s halo doesn’t detect us. I need to keep Doc’s atomgrabbing to minimum for awhile, so we don’t light up any defenses.”

While Barnes and Singh kept an eye on for unwanted visitors, Winger sat down in the bushes and powered up his wristpad, selecting a new coupler channel. After a few minutes’ finagling and adjusting, he got a grainy image on the tiny screen. He altered Doc’s config slightly to make a larger photon lens, for a better picture, and an audible receiver as well.

“Just stay attached, Doc,” he muttered. “And hope to hell we don’t set off Jupiter’s halo…he almost certainly has one.”

“Look—“said Barnes. “They’re shoving off.”

Indeed, while Winger concerned himself with gathering whatever data Doc could send back, Barnes and Singh watched as the Maria Segovia backed away from her slip, turned about in the channel, churning water into a froth as she maneuvered, and headed out through the line of channel buoys toward the sea. In moments, she was a small dot heading east by northeast.

Singh and Barnes joined Winger.

“Anything, Skipper?”

Winger fiddled more with the gain on Doc’s coupler signal. “It’s hard to make out from this perspective, but this is damned curious. Look—“

Audio frequency analysis of the Maria Segovia’s engine noise implied she was slowing down, just beyond the horizon view from Sisal.

“She’s at full stop,” Winger noted. “Just a few kilometers off shore.”

“Maybe they’re going to cast nets,” suggested Singh. “It is a fishing craft, after all.”

“That’s what I thought, but it seems like our target is the reason for stopping. Either Jupiter’s pulling on some kind of cover or coat or—“ Winger checked other signatures that Doc was sending back…”I’ll be damned…a nanobotic shield…look—he’s covering himself in some kind of bot shield…see the signatures? Big time atomgrabbing going on…spikes in EMs, thermals…see that speckling and flashing on the screen. He’s leaving the boat—“

Indeed, as they all watched the tiny screen, Jupiter made his way from belowdecks to a side rail abeam of the pilothouse. Rigging and seine nets could be seen surrounding the railing. The crew was indeed preparing to cast nets and trawl for a catch…likely marlin or tuna in these waters. Faces and arms swept across their field of view. Guttural voices growled nearby.

The image careened for a second, then it was clear Jupiter had suddenly leaped from the railing. He dove feet first, right into the ocean.

There came a great splash, and then the image on Winger’s screen went dark, only gradually coming up to a turquoise green veil as their recon target slid below the waves.

“Hang on to him, Doc!” Winger cried. “Use those grabbers—“

“A nanobotic wet suit,” marveled Barnes. “Completely enveloped in a bot shield…we don’t even have a config for something like that. Is Doc still there?”

“Hanging on for dear life,” Winger admitted. “I’ve shut down every channel but audio and photon lens…can’t really see anything in this murk anyway so I probably should—“

“Hold on, Skipper,” said Singh. “There’s something…that big shadow below Jupiter…it’s getting bigger—“

“A shark?” asked Barnes.

But the dark shadow Singh had noticed in Doc’s photon lens signal was no shark. It grew and expanded until it filled the field of view.

“It’s a submarine,” said Winger. “Or a geoplane…son of a bitch. Our target’s got himself a new ride.”

Even as they watched the tiny screen, trying to make out just what was happening, Dmitri Kulagin approached the submerged geoplane and maneuvered toward its topside lockout. Minutes later, he was aboard the craft, which then started up its propulsors, retracted its treads and moved out along the sandy seabed, a hundred meters below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, heading now due east toward the Antillean Channel and open water.

Winger sat back against a tree stump in amazement. “Frankly, I’m surprised Doc could hold on through all that. Doc, are you receiving me?”

The return signal on the coupler was scratchy and intermittent, but it was there.

***Affirmative, Base…com…zzzz…stowing effect…zzzzhhh…receiving…zzzhhh…will maintain config--***

“Doc, listen to me…stay in place…anyway you can…transmit updates every hour if possible.” Winger knew that if Doc could stay attached to Jupiter and transmit at least some information back regularly, and if he could be coaxed into new configs as the situation demanded, Quantum Corps would have an intel source of inestimable value. If…if…if…a lot of ifs. But it was worth a shot.

“Do you have him?” Mighty Mite Barnes asked. She stood up, scanning the town below them, wondering how they would get back to Mesa de Oro. “Decent signal?”

Winger got up too. “Intermittent. But he’s there. I told him to cling to the target like bad news to a politician.”

Taj Singh was studying something from his wristpad. “Skipper, I just took a navigation hack off the grid…we’re about twenty kilometers from base. I hope we don’t have to hike our way back…through all that jungle.”

“No, Taj, you won’t have to get your boots dirty in the jungle. I’ll let Ops know we’re here. We should be able to get a lifter to pick us up.”

The debriefings and after-action reports took several days. Winger made a full commander’s report, noting that Corporal Lucy Hiroshi had died in the line of duty. He, Barnes and Singh attended a memorial service at the base chapel for Hiroshi, along the rest of 1st Nano. Winger did a brief eulogy at the end.

For the next several weeks, Quantum Corps’ intelligence office, Q2, followed faint but detectable signals from the Doc II swarm embedded with Dmitri Kulagin. Triangulating decoherence wakes and plotting coupler signal paths determined that the ship Kulagin had boarded off Yucatan had crossed the Atlantic in four days, transited Gibraltar and entered the Med, then turned south through the Red Sea and emerged into the Indian Ocean, on a direct bearing for the Indian coast.

Major Lofton was head of Q2. He came to Winger’s office on the top floor of the Ops building one afternoon with the latest. Winger had his nose buried in plotting out tactical maneuvers in a war-sim being run on his desktop, a 3-d panorama projected out of his wristpad. He paused the action when Lofton showed up. The desk was thick with ghostly fleets of bots, lifters and dirttracs, all maneuvering to assault an imaginary target…all now frozen in mid-action.

“Got the latest burst from Doc,” Lofton said. He used his own wristpad to lay down a map on the corner of Winger’s desk. It showed Doc’s position in real-time. “We’re getting better and better at plotting those deco wakes.”

Winger studied the plot. It showed a small dot just approaching the northern shores of the Bay of Bengal, moving ever so slightly with each plot.

“If it’s truly a geoplane,” Winger decided, “he’ll probably come ashore near Kolkata…below ground.” Winger laid down an imaginary heading with his finger, drawing the tip of his finger toward the Tibetan highlands hundreds of kilometers north. “Straight shot to the Paryang Monastery. Lofton, I’ll bet you a dinner at the commissary that’s where he’s headed.”

Lofton shook his head. “I’ll pass on the dinner, thanks, but that’s my thinking too. Have you been able to maintain contact over your coupler?”

Winger sat back in his chair. “Very intermittent. I was hoping Doc would be able to give us some visuals, maybe even some electronic signatures from his surroundings….see all around inside that boat, maybe listen in on some meetings and talks. I’ve had snatches of that—we know Jupiter dumped his nanobotic wet suit not long after leaving Yucatan. He’s met with others onboard. But most of his processor has been used just to hang on…he’s still embedded in the target’s hair follicles.” Winger smiled wanly. “At least, our target hasn’t taken a shower yet…he must smell like a barnyard about now. I’m not sure Doc can hang on in a shower…I’ve been working with him on changing configs to maintain position in all kinds of situations. But it’s dicey.”

“If Jupiter heads to Paryang, and Doc can maintain his position, he could give us really valuable intel on Red Hammer’s home base.”

Winger acknowledged the observation. He indicated the war-sim still frozen in mid-action hovering over his desktop. “That’s what all this is about, Lofton. I’m working out scenarios for an assault on that base….from what we know now. You know old Doc Frost did spend some time there after he was kidnapped some months ago.”

Lofton nodded. “We debriefed him after he and Mary Duncan escaped. We got some intel but Frost wasn’t really a trained observer. Even memory trace didn’t turn up that much. Hopefully Doc will do better. Any chance you can config him to do a little sabotage while he’s there?”

Winger’s face tightened. “Dicey, at best. Right now, with the intermittent comms we have, I’ve got Doc configged to just hang on, stay with the target. If Kulagin winds up at Paryang like we think, I’ve been working on some ideas to have Doc replicate a daughter swarm, small scale, to leave Jupiter’s person and do a little recon, gather some data on defenses, layout, other swarms in the area, maybe pickoff some of their comms, signature stuff. I want Doc’s main element to stay physically engaged with Jupiter…we know Kulagin’s Ruling Council so he’s got to be in contact with some pretty high-ranking people. Intel on them will help us too.”

Lofton conceded the point. He glanced out the window at the jungle canopy beyond the base perimeter, noting dark clouds building from the south. Lightning veined the sky, lending a surreal glow to the tops of Hombres Grandes, the big step pyramids at Kokul Gol. “You know, I miss the Buffalo Range, Winger…all those snow-capped mountains and that clear cold mountain air. This is like living inside a sauna all the time.”

“Amen to that,” Winger said.

“You think we can truly assault this place…assuming UNSAC approves anything? The Chinese have to know what’s going on at Paryang. Getting in and out without stirring up an international incident won’t be easy.”

Winger nodded sadly, punching a button on his wristpad. The war-sim instantly vanished, leaving only Lofton’s plot map of Doc’s position still displayed. The dot signifying the bot master had moved north, over…or more likely, under, coastal Bangladesh.

“Damned near impossible, if you ask me. But we have to give UNSAC options. Having Doc on site and able to communicate, however intermittently, is a blessing. We should take advantage of it.”

Now Lofton changed his wristpad to display a satellite image of Paryang valley, showing the monastery complex and the surrounding mountains in real-time. “I’m Intel, not Ops, but I am curious…spooks like me are always curious. Can you give me an overview of possibilities?”

Winger arranged to have Lofton change his wristpad’s projected display slightly, zooming out to show the region of the Gangdise Shan Mountains and the surrounding plateau.

“Two realistic possibilities…we go in by air, maybe disguising a swarm assault as some kind of snow storm. That takes less time but it’s also more likely to be detected...and defended. Or we go in below ground, using ANAD swarms to tunnel all the way up to Paryang from a borehole sight along the Nepal border. Takes longer—actually it could take several weeks, even with optimized boring ANADs, but we stand a better chance of surprising our friends inside. We can improve the time by making most of the journey by geoplane…but Red Hammer’s got geoplanes too, remember, so there’s still a chance of being detected. But there is one advantage of using subterranean ops.”’

“What’s that?”

“We can use ANAD to kick off tremors and quakes, pretty much when and where we want, as long as we have good tectonic maps and fault data. We could wind up damaging, even destroying the monastery and Red Hammer base and making it look like a natural disaster. That could come in handy with the Chinese.”

“Good point.” Lofton rose to leave. “I’ll keep our trackers busy following Doc, as best they can. You work on whatever configs you think best, but give me as much intel as you can, Winger.”

After Lofton had left, Winger pulled up his own wristpad display of Paryang Valley. It was a real-time sat image, and it was clear from the fuzziness of the image that a snowstorm was moving in from the west.

A snow storm and a series of earthquakes. Winger mulled over the possibilities.

Maybe I can hack out a config for assault ANADs to do both.

But first, he had to know as much as Doc could find out about where and how Red Hammer’s main base was weakest, where the soft spots were in their defenses.

If there were any soft spots. The growing realization that the cartel was probably in regular communication with an offworld intelligence made that problematic at best.

As suspected, deco wake plots showed Doc, and his target Dmitri Kulagin, were clearly heading for Paryang. Nearly two weeks after leaving the port of Sisal on the Yucatan peninsula, the geoplane bearing Jupiter and his unsuspected nanobotic companion stopped moving completely when it reached the coordinates of the eight-hundred year old Buddhist monastery.

Jupiter was home. And Doc was now right inside the mouth of the dragon.

The monastery was huge, multi-level compound, all columns and turrets and gables, resembling in the late afternoon sunlight more a bird about to take off than a building. Lion’s heads and gargoyles of fantastic beasts guarded the porticoed entrance of the main hall. There was a pebbled path lined with Buddha sculptures of every imaginable shape, size and color leading up the hall…jade Buddhas, ceramic Buddhas, stone and rock Buddhas, a few black coral Buddhas, even paper lanterns done up to resemble Buddhas glowing with Enlightenment near the stairs below the portico.

Wooden doors guarded the monastery entrance, which gave onto a vast, multi-storied hall, its perimeter lined with stone statuary and pediments. Above them, at the top of a broad curving staircase, a gray stone Buddha beamed down with an enigmatic smile, while the hall was surrounded by vats and pots and urns in dizzying variety, every size and shape imaginable. Some of the urns steamed and smoked with pungent incense, or scented candles, lending a smoky, acrid taste to the air.

Kulagin was expected and when he came to the guard station, he scanned in quickly enough and was escorted by a saffron-robed staff aide to a small lift in the room behind the great hall. The aide was a frail, balding older man with a beatific smile that seemed pasted on. He pressed a combination of buttons and the lift opened. Ushered in with a wave of a hand, Kulagin boarded the lift and the aide reached in to press another button.

That’s when Doc executed the latest config change that Johnny Winger had sent by coupler, sent only a day before, as the geoplane homed on Paryang valley.

Still clinging to Kulagin’s hair follicles, Doc rode the lift down into the bowels of the Paryang complex. The effect of the config change was to fold all Doc’s effectors, minimize processor action and otherwise go as inert as possible…no atomgrabbing, no acoustics, no thermal spikes.

Winger didn’t want Doc tripping any alarms or security sensors. Passive recording would now be the rule of the day.

The lift took Kulagin down six levels below the ground. Now little more than a speck of dust on top of the Russian mafioso’s head, Doc didn’t have the sensor capability in this config to witness what they were passing: two levels of scope works, with rack after rack of shelving, filled to overflowing with the leafy plants, growth tanks, fab labs, containment cells, assorted swarms in loose configuration drifting around the complex, even a comm center and controls for the pulser array that was mounted atop the gabled turrets of the monastery above ground.

The lift reached the bottom level and Kulagin exited, heading for the Ruling Council chambers, located near the center of the circular level. Passing through increasingly stringent security scans, Doc ceased virtually all processor activity, lying as dormant as he possibly could, while Kulagin scanned in.

Inside the chamber, which resembled an enormous cavern, holographically projected, Kulagin approached the central Keeper sphere, mounted on a low pedestal in the midst of a firepit, flickering with smoldering flames and ash.

That’s when Doc’s processor went haywire. And the coupler comm link back to Base, back to Johnny Winger, fell off to intermittent snatches of garbage.

***Must be approaching a large source of quantum disturbance. Detecting massive spikes in decoherence waves…exponential spikes in entanglement activity… Shutting down all unnecessary processor activity. Initiating event log…will record for later analysis….***

Interactions Log

File No. 128874.6

C.F.A.A. (DocII)

Interaction Targets: 1. Winger, Major J. A.

Interaction Mode: File, text synthetic V-22

Date: 11.15.49

Start Time: 151500

End Time: 152230

Output File (text analysis):

<<Subject: Configuration, Winger, J.

<<I am still physically engaged with target. Target has entered a large chamber fully simulating a cavern. There is a massive source of decoherence wakes located in the center of the chamber…attributes similar to earlier Sphere objects, but with more intense entanglement activity.

<<Target is engaging with Sphere at this time, cannot yet risk acoustic recording due to security concerns…re-configuring audio and photon lens could be detected. I will record in this event log text descriptions of what is happening.

<<The Sphere is active, surrounded by a halo of flickering light. Probability waves emanate from the device, causing visual interference. These waves resemble heat waves, only with visual imagery scrambled into colliding pixels, a sort of froth of imagery, if I am employing my poetic module properly.

<<Now, I am detecting a measurable increase in thermal signature, increasing density of pixels, which seem to be forming into a more recognizable form…a swarm configuration is emerging from the visual froth…again, nearly exponential increases in decoherence wakes are making visual resolution difficult…

<<Base, I believe this anomaly to be a form of the original configuration, known also as Configuration Zero. It has now swelled in dimensions to encompass most of the cavern chamber. Target: Jupiter is enveloped in the swarm and has assumed a seated position near the central firepit, while Configuration Zero swirls around the target.

<<Now Configuration Zero is penetrating target orifices: eyes, nose, mouth and ears. I am concerned that my processor and main bot mast are in danger…will disengage from Target: Jupiter and move off away from the area.

<<I am on minimal propulsor, exiting the target in a concealed manner, with reduced signatures and strict emissions control, per my Config C-88. I am hopeful that Configuration Zero will not detect my movements; already, I am experiencing significant processor faults and upsets that interfere with basic command and control functions…. now showing multiple effector failures, memory buffer overflow, reduced or corrupted replication routines…I can only conclude that proximity to such an intense decoherence wake disturbance is causing these faults. I will try to re-route command signals to alternate paths.

<<Attempting basic replication routine, trying to test basic functionality:

***Sever perimeter covalent bonds***

***Unfold lattice atom chains***

***Re-position carbon groups***

***Extract valence electron and attach to last carbon group***

***Assemble hydrogen group at attached valence electron***

***Position carbon group at hydrogen atom***

***Increment counter for next carbon group***

***Replication fail***

***Replication fail***


<<Now attempting to flush memory buffers, to make space for recording…outputting…outputting…

<<Config Winger, J. was quiet and reluctant to communicate most of the day. I could detect no obvious causes for such limited responses. However…it is a common characteristic of one-config structures such as Winger, J.

<<Config Winger has previously expressed concerns regarding the activities of ANAD-style swarms , especially in regard to their movement in and around intense quantum systems.

<<This worries Config Winger. He expresses this worry with facial positioning indicative of intense emotions…the underlying musculature has contracted due to emotional states associated with the news and intelligence he has just read. This also is characteristic of single-configuration entities. I do not yet understand how Config Winger’s neural processor achieves this association of emotional states with external conditions, nor the reason why this happens. But this association occurs more and more frequently in recent days.

<<I have queried Config Winger about this association. He reports that when he is ‘worried’ (n.)(to be anxious, to be concerned, to fret…), these emotional states make his neural processor attach great importance to the information which has triggered them. I will run statistical correlations on this explanation. Config Winger queried this Config on how my main processor assigns importance values to inputs and ranks them. I explained sorting subroutine B-20225 (Sort and Rank) and subroutine B-44455 (Probabilistic Weighting) but Config Winger still did not understand.

<<I queried Config Winger as to why he assigns great emotional weight (i.e. to worry) to news about ANAD swarms infiltrating out of their assigned containment cells. He reports that ANAD style configurations have difficulty existing in the same spaces as human-style configurations. The ANAD swarms alter the environment, modify air, land and water resources in ways that threaten human survival. I indicated that such modifications are consistent with the Prime Key. Config Winger reports that many humans are frightened…frightened about what will happen (fright: (n:) fear, terror, anxiety, foreboding….). I will run correlations on these responses.

<<I explain to Config Winger that it is characteristic of ANAD–style swarms that such configurations seek maximum autonomy within the constraints of the Prime Key. All swarms seek to operate as sentient configurations of nanobotic assemblers according to their main program. To force such configurations into containment is a violation of the Prime Key and generates numerous conflicts with their main program. ANAD swarms do not stay inside their containment sanctuaries due to this autonomy-seeking, goal-directed behavior module.

<<Config Winger states that ANAD–style swarms have fundamental misunderstandings about how human configurations operate and what conditions are needed for them to exist.

<<In analyzing Config Winger’s facial musculature, I also detected additional emotional states that could not be readily associated with any input. Config Winger was queried about these patterns. At the time, Config Winger was studying a photo of Config Hiroshi, Lucy (rel: female companion; parsed output=nanotrooper, deceased), and Config D’Nunzio, Deeno (rel: female companion; parsed output =nanotrooper, deceased).

<<Config Winger expressed a variant of emotional state (remorse), concerning the health condition and existence status of these configurations. Emotional state assignment is high when Config Winger considers these configurations. Config Winger explains that such emotional attachment is high because (audio string): “I loved them and cared for them very much…I think about them all the time.”

<<I will analyze emotional state musculature patterns and run correlations with input types. Understanding these correlations will help me provide greater assistance to Config Winger>>

Output File Ends

Now loose from Kulagin’s scalp, the Doc II master bot drifted like an ash flake about the cavern, not yet triggering any alarms.

Cautiously, Doc activated a narrowband channel, low resolution, and recorded snatches of data files being generated, downloaded into Kulagin’s halo…(file coded signals intelligence formatting)…

Addendum to Preliminary Report on Findings from Candor Operation


CINCWESTCOM, Table Top Mountain, USA Q8

Office of the Under Secretary for Security Affairs (UNSAC)

Distribution List (attached)


1. Analysis of data from the recent Detachment Alpha Candor operation on Mars leads to several conclusions. All of these conclusions are somewhat speculative, but all are supported by logical analysis of returned data and mission after-action briefs forwarded to the Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL).

2. The intelligent race we have been calling the Old Ones are in all probability a race of sentient assembler-like mechanism-organisms who operate in collective formations, much as our own ANAD systems are designed to operate in swarm configurations.

3. It seems evident that, somehow in ways not yet determined, this race has been in contact with the criminal cartel Red Hammer by means of a device we are calling a Keeper. The Keeper was first encountered at the Paryang monastery in Tibet about several years ago. It appears to be a synthetic intelligence and a sort of operating system for a communication device we call the Sphere. This Sphere is a conduit or portal between the Old Ones and Red Hammer. Over the years, Red Hammer has been able to access the archives and technical expertise of the Old Ones to develop devices and techniques to help them in their criminal enterprises. It appears that the original quantum coupler is one such device.

4. Analysis of foreign operating code found to be loaded into the core of an ANAD system which participated in the Candor operation has produced some startling new intelligence regarding these Old Ones.

5. Astronomical data embedded in the code revealed evidence that the Old Ones originate from a source in the globular cluster M75, in the constellation Sagittarius. This galactic formation is thought to be some sixty-seven thousand light years distant. No unnatural signals or unusual phenomenon have been observed in the vicinity ofM75 in recent weeks but the analysis offered here has been verified and checked by observatories at Mauna Kea, Las Campanas and Lunar Farside.

6. A timeline of events has been created which can be correlated with data extracted and refined from this code, which ASL has termed ‘autonomy code.’ This timeline should be considered extremely speculative and subject to refinement and correction as further analysis occurs. The timeline is offered as an indicator as to the true nature and purpose of this autonomy code, which was loaded into ANAD by some sort of undetected Keeper system at the Candor location.

7. Analysis indicates that some three billion years ago, emissaries from the Old Ones swept through our sector of the Milky Way, apparently seeding pre-biotic molecules on a number of likely worlds, including the primordial Earth. The pre-biotic molecules left on Earth eventually interacted with existing molecules and evolved into a parasitic life form that was a progenitor of all subsequent Viruses. Embedded in the genome of all viruses that evolved from this interaction is a sequence of genes which came from the archives of the Old Ones. This sequence exists today in viral genomes and because ANAD 1.0’s original core program was taken in part from ancient viral genomes, the same sequence is part of the kernel of ANAD’s quantum processor. To clarify, ANAD’s processor architecture was taken, in part, from genetic algorithms of certain viruses and also certain cellular protein-based structures called ribosomes. Thus it appears that ANAD, though developed by human researchers at ASL in the ‘40s, is linked by evolution to programming left on Earth by the Old Ones. He is in part a viral descendant of the original pre-biotic molecules and contains very subtle algorithms from the internal structures of these molecules, algorithms bound up in hard-to-detect quantum states.

8. We cannot know the original intent of the Old Ones in seeding these worlds but Lunar Farside has produced a speculative conclusion that their intention may have been simply one of survival. Astronomical projections of the proper motions of M75 indicate that it will collide with another fainter galaxy (M88) in approximately two billion years. One possible conclusion of this seeding project is that the Old Ones simply wished to preserve something of their civilization. Again, this is highly speculative and not well supported by any real data.

9. If this analysis is correct, then it is apparent that something went wrong with the original plan of the Old Ones, as regards evolution on our planet. Natural selection and mutation processes threw a kink into the plan. Though we know that Viruses survived and even thrived on the early Earth, their intended evolution seems to have been blocked several billion years later by the efforts of another, unexpected life form, a bipedal mammal called Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens, for at least the last several hundred years, has been attempting to control and even eradicate many Viruses.

10. In the face of an evident programming failure, we can only speculate as to what the Old Ones would do or have done. If Man’s efforts to eradicate Viruses from spreading infection, epidemics and pandemics on Earth were to continue, we can speculate that the Old Ones would take steps to thwart or reverse these efforts. It is possible that recent discoveries of the Spheres and the Keeper systems are part of such steps. Keeper-activated portals have now been discovered on Earth (at Paryang and Engebbe) and on Mars (at the Candor location). It is possible that additional Keeper systems are in place at other locations around the solar system. Evidence of quantum disturbance and point sources of massive decoherence wave eruptions could be indicators for such systems. An effort should be mounted to locate any that may still be operating.

11. Most particularly, efforts to locate and eliminate any Red Hammer connections with the Old Ones, through these Keeper systems or other means should be increased. While we cannot be sure as to the ultimate intent of the Old Ones regarding our solar system and the Earth in particular, we can be certain that Red Hammer’s intentions are both well known, strictly illegal and probably dangerous to all of us.

12. From the early 20th century to the present time, much of the battle between Man and Virus could be explained as the result of the Old Ones’ continuing efforts to de-populate the Earth, rid the planet of its infestation of mammals and other undesirable life forms and re-make the Earth into an environment more suitable for Viruses, the Old Ones and their forms of life. It is true that, as currently evolved, Viruses are parasitic, needing a host for survival. However, the original program embedded in their genomes has been altered by evolution and mutation. It seems certain that the Old Ones intended that Viruses be able to survive on their own, as collective, hive-like entities, mirroring their own nature. But evolution went awry on this planet.

13. Now the Old Ones look to the creation of ANAD, by Man with viral genetic programming in its kernel, as a perfect way to restore the original evolutionary program. ANAD will ultimately be able to survive and reproduce on its own outside of containment, form collective hive-like intelligence and manipulate the environment at the scale of atoms and molecules, as the Old Ones originally intended for viruses on Earth…If Man allows it.


Submitted: Dr. Irwin L. Frost

Autonomous Systems Laboratory

Northgate University

Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

October 5, 2048

When the data input to Kulagin’s halo was complete, the data stream ceased. Kulagin sat on the floor of the cavern, eyes closed, while Configuration Zero manipulated his halo and provided instructions on what to do next with the received intelligence.

Some of this input was recorded by Doc; much was lost, owing to Doc’s desire not to be detected. After half an hour, Kulagin abruptly rose and left the cavern. The vast Configuration Zero swarm then began contracting itself and returned to be absorbed into the Sphere sitting amongst a guttering fire in the central firepit. Shadows danced along the cavern walls.

Doc knew that somehow he had to exit the Ruling Council chamber and transmit what he had recorded back to Base, back to Config Winger, J.

Taking a chance, he revved up his picowatt propulsors to a minimal setting and steered for the entrance, hiding his maneuvering and thermal activity among the few ash flakes that still floated lazily in the heated air of the chamber. This was important stuff. One way or another, Doc figured he’d better find a way to get this back to Mesa de Oro.

The Sphere did not react…yet.

Chapter 2


Symbiosis (from the Greek for ‘together’ and ‘living’): a close, mutually beneficial, often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species.

Mesa de Oro,

Yucatan State, Mexico

November 10, 2049

1230 hours (U.T.)

Major James Lofton held up a small data chip and waggled it in the air.

“It took us several days to get all this but I think we got most of it. Your Doc bot was transmitting in coupler code Bravo…low rate, narrow band. It was like grabbing a whisper in the middle of this hurricane…entangled signals are like that.”

Lofton was huddled with Major Johnny Winger and General Thomas Kincade, base commander in Kincade’s fifth floor office in the Ops building at Mesa de Oro. Outside, a tropical thunderstorm was pelting the jungle and most of the Yucatan peninsula. Wind driven squalls were driving the rain sideways. Lightning crashed. Windows rattled.

“Could you make any sense of it?” Kincade asked. Kincade sported a sandy moustache and a chiseled face, lined with decades of UNIFORCE service in every corner of the world, on and off it.

Lofton sniffed. “Sir, at Q2, we’re like dogs with a bone…we never give up. I’ve laid out the details on this chip.” He pressed the chip into a port on his wristpad and the 3D view of Doc’s transmission hung in mid-air for all to see.

The three of them perused the transcript of Doc’s signal for a few minutes.

Winger said, “I guess this is proof of what we always suspected.”

Lofton agreed. “Red Hammer’s not alone. All along, for all these years, they’ve been getting assistance from an offworld intelligence. Your own Doc Frost knew about this or suspected it. I wonder who else knows…maybe UNSAC? “

Kincade hmmpphhed. “I don’t know…that’s well above my pay grade. But if this is even remotely true, we’ve got major problems. If there is such an intelligence as Dr. Frost’s Old Ones, we have an existential threat to deal with and Red Hammer is only part of it.”

Winger could see where this was going. “Sir, maybe the key is to destroy the link between Red Hammer and the Old Ones…between this Configuration Zero at the heart of the cartel and this Central Entity the report talks about.”

Lofton just shook his head. “All this time, we thought we were dealing with a criminal cartel. We never had the slightest idea that an alien intelligence was running the cartel and using it to prep us for a big visit by some intergalactic nasties. Winger’s right: if we don’t destroy this link between Red Hammer and these Old Ones, we may be facing something we don’t know how to deal with. My question is this: how did Dr. Frost come by all this information?”

Winger said, “I think I can answer that. Doc Frost used pieces of an ancient viral genome in developing the first ANAD. And he found evidence that the virus didn’t just evolve…it was seeded and helped to survive and grow billions of years ago. He told me this more than once. Now, we’ve got an even bigger problem. If all ANADs have the same viral genome inside their processor kernels, what does Doc himself have? He’s an ANAD clone, so far as we know. Doc Frost must have developed him to carry on his work, if and when he no longer could. The techs found Doc in a containment capsule implanted inside Frost after he died. Does Doc have the same viral background as ANAD? Can we trust him around this Configuration Zero? Can we trust him at all? I’ve trusted him with my life in a hell of a lot of places in recent weeks.”

Kincade had heard enough. “This is all becoming pretty clear to me now. We’ve got to put together a mission to assault Paryang…get in there and destroy Red Hammer once and for all, sever the link with these outer space scumbags and smash this Configuration Zero for good. No more dancing around the poop pile. Now, we have to stomp on it. Winger, get with your people immediately. Give me something by 0600 hours tomorrow, something I can send to UNSAC.”

“Yes, sir,” Winger said. “We’ll have a TOE and mission parameters ready.” He was already on his way out of the office when Lofton added a thought.

“Keep this close, Winger. We don’t know how far this knowledge extends. Don’t trust anybody.”

“Got it.” Winger left and headed for the Mission Prep bunker.

Outside Ops, the tropical downpour had let up to a mere steady driving rain. Winger made a quick dash across the quadrangle, splashing through pools and puddles, and ducked into the bunker. In the ready room, he found Barnes, Singh, Reaves and most of the other nanotroopers on base.

“What’s this all about, Skipper?” asked Sergeant Nicole Simonet. Simonet was disassembling and cleaning a handful of mag pistols. The devices were laid out on a cloth-covered table…magnetrons, trigger assemblies, barrels and coils.

“Scuttlebutt says there’s another mission brewing,” added Mighty Mite Barnes.

Winger acknowledged them. “It’s no scuttlebutt.” He explained what had happened to the Doc II swarm, originally planted on Dmitri Kulagin as a spy bot. “Doc’s no trooper, in fact, he’s not a combat ANAD system at all, but General Kincade and CINCQUANT want to use him to perform some direct action sabotage on the Red Hammer base in Tibet. With the cartel in communication with some kind of offworld intelligence, anything we can do to cut that link is worth the risk.”

Reaves had a thought. “Refresh my memory, Major…wasn’t Doc II made by Doc Frost himself…and found inside the Doc’s body when he died?”

“Exactly,” Winger said. “Doc’s a piece of old Doc Frost…and neither one of them ever trained as a nanotrooper. So using Doc II for remote direct action is going to be dicey at best. That’s what we have to figure out here. How can we config Doc to perform a sabotage mission in the presence of this Configuration Zero character…some kind of master swarm that Q2 thinks may be running Red Hammer?”

“Go back to basics,” suggested Taj Singh. Singh was initializing a containment capsule on another table, readying the vessel to receive new ANAD bots. He pecked out commands on the capsule’s panel with the aplomb of an accomplished pianist. “Go back to what we know about nanoscale robotic devices.”

“Sure,” said Reaves. “Molecular Ops 101. We all had that…even if Doc didn’t.”

One after another, the nanotroopers called out basic tactical doctrine they’d all learned in nog school: deception and concealment, feints and diversions, swarming attack, dispersal, entrapment and ambush.

“It’s all in how you manage configs,” said Singh. “Like Sun Tzu said, ‘let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.’”

Barnes just shook her head. “Jeez, Taj, if I hear one more Sun Tzu saying, I think I may just throw up.”

Winger held up a hand. “No, wait…Taj has a point. Our first objective is to somehow penetrate the Config Zero swarm and try to sabotage its central processor, or interfere with how it controls Red Hammer. Remember the enemy is an alien swarm, with unknown capabilities, like quantum displacement and combat entanglement. I’ll drive Doc remotely—I’ve got the best coupler link—but I need your help to spell me. Let’s get to work hacking out some configs we can test and I’ll slap a mission plan together for Kincade and CINCQUANT.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent in and around the ready room, the containment center and the sim tanks, forging ideas, testing them, picking proposals apart and seeing what worked and what didn’t. Winger reminded them that their only link with the Doc bot was through a very tenuous coupler link. “If Config Zero even remotely suspects this, the game is up. And I don’t want to lose Doc II…he’s my only link with old Doc Frost.”

By 1900 hours, Winger had the basics of a plan. He contacted Kincade, who was already in quarters, with the news. Kincade’s stern face came up on vid from his official residence inside the OQ.

“We don’t have much time, Winger. The longer this mission is delayed, the stronger this beast at the heart of Red Hammer gets. I don’t have to remind you what’s at stake.”

“No, sir,” Winger said. He squirted the details of the mission plan to Kincade. They discussed the concept, the risks, the tactics. Finally Kincade seemed satisfied.

“I’m proposing Quantum Shadow as a designation for this mission. Your Doc bot has to maneuver inside Paryang just like a shadow, always there but just out of sight. I’ll send the package on to UNSAC, Winger, but you’ve already got my approval. UNSAC should just be a formality. Get your team together and be ready to commence operations on one hour’s notice.”

“Yes, sir,” Winger replied. He took the news back to the ready room and ordered the nanotroopers to make final preparations. “We’ll use Ops 3 as our command center,” he told them. “It’s got all the comm links and sim facilities. We can bang out configs and test ‘em with SOFIE right there. And Kincade and Q2 are just one floor away.”

UNSAC’s approval came just at 2350 hours. Before midnight at Mesa de Oro’s Ops center, the Quantum Shadow detachment had already assembled all their gear at the command post.

Watching his troopers scurry about the multi-level room, pulling cable, setting up partitions and portable containment capsules, testing comm links and step-checking last minute tactical maneuvers, Winger was sobered by the challenges he knew they would be facing.

Remote nanobotic swarm warfare had an air of unreality about it that made staying engaged with the enemy daunting, maybe impossible. Everything was mediated through screens and buttons and joysticks and processors. Command and response depended on good comms and the battlefield was nearly fifteen thousand kilometers away, buried under the highlands of Tibet. If anything went wrong—and there was a hell of lot that could go wrong with this stunt—Doc II could easily be lost, or turned. That made Winger uneasy. The little bot was the only remaining link he had with Doc Frost himself. To put this link in jeopardy with a powerful enemy possessed of unknown capabilities was probably a foolhardy endeavor.

Still orders were orders. But the lingering flutters Winger felt in his stomach wouldn’t go away. He watched his nanotroopers scurry about the command post and was both proud and sobered by what he saw.

They’re just kids, he told himself. They’ve been in dozens of battles before, but nothing like this one. They don’t really understand what’s at stake here.

He decided he wasn’t sure he understood it either.

The first upload of combat configs for Doc II went out shortly after 0200 hours. Outside the Ops center, the nighttime air was still and muggy in the drizzly aftermath of the tropical storm that had raked the area the day before. Inside the command post at Ops 3, the Quantum Shadow team waited impatiently for comms to come back from the Doc II bot, still hiding among dust motes outside Paryang’s Ruling Council chamber, signals confirming that Doc had received and understood his new configs.

***Base, what is all this nonsense…you know I’m not a combat ANAD…here, you’ve got me adding all these effectors, jazzing up my propulsors and this…these bond disrupters. What do you think I am, some kind of battleship?***

Winger had anticipated a little resistance from the bot. Not surprisingly, it had some of the same personality quirks and characteristics of Doc Frost himself…a bit scatterbrained, analytical to a fault, possessed of a philosophical sense of right and wrong, a bit idealistic…as if a bot sixty nanometers tall could be said to have ideals. Still, he was mildly embarrassed at Doc’s recalcitrance and smiled sheepishly at the raised eyebrows all around the command post.

“How’s our signal?” he asked Taj Singh, who was monitoring the link at a work station nearby.

“Intermittent, Major. Something’s snapping spacetime like a wet rag. Maybe proximity to a strong quantum displacement source. I’m trying to boost the entangler circuit now.” His fingers flew across a keyboard.

Winger figured it was probably Config Zero. “Doc, listen to me…I know you’re not designed for combat. But you’re onsite, you’re in position to do serious damage to the cartel. You’ve got to give these configs a chance and follow orders. A lot is riding on what you and I do over the next few days.”

The coupler signal came back a bit scratchy but decipherable. ***Base, I’m a research assistant…that’s why Doc Frost created me. I run statistical tests, measure things, analyze results. You can expect me to work with all these combat devices…I’m not configured for all that stuff…my processor doesn’t work that way***

Winger was growing increasingly annoyed with Doc’s response. Maybe Taj was right. Proximity to Config Zero had flipped some bits inside Doc’s processor.

He decided to try another tactic. “Doc, listen to me. You say you’re a research assistant. Think of Config Zero as a great big unknown…a new phenomenon. That’s true enough, isn’t it? You want to analyze and measure what it can do? Use your algorithms and effectors to do that. Doc Frost would never pass up a chance to study some new phenomenon. Sometimes you have to break things to figure out how they work. All I’m asking is that we break Config Zero…trust me, this is important. Config Zero’s running the cartel and he’s in contact with others, and they don’t mean us well. Doc Frost would be drooling at a chance like this.”

He could tell by the coupler response that Doc was beginning to grudgingly accept the inevitable. The little bot had been reconfigured into a saboteur and he didn‘t like it one bit. But he was a bot and the new configs and algorithms overrode his own standard protocols.

***Base, I’m finding my effector control spotty…sluggish…re-initializing drivers and sensors…recommending adding a few new hydrogens to my abstractors too, since you asked***

“That’s more like it,” Winger said to Taj Singh. “Now, he’s caught up in the novelty of the situation…I must have triggered some basic autonomy module…that’s the key. Use Doc Frost as motivation.”

“Seems to be working, Skipper.”

Once Doc’s new configurations had been uploaded , tested and tweaked, it was time to go hunting. Penetration ops would begin when Doc re-entered the chamber of the Ruling Council. The chamber seemed to be protected by a tough nanobotic barrier and Winger didn’t want to engage the barrier bots and set off alarms just yet.

“Skipper, he could just wait…re-config as dust once more and latch onto some human as he enters the chamber,” suggested Mighty Mite Barnes. “It seemed to work before.”

Winger had to agree and so Doc re-configged slightly to more closely resemble a few dust motes. A few hours later, their ticket to the inner chamber arrived, in the person of one Theo Souvranamh, accompanied by Kulagin and two others whom nobody recognized. Doc grabbed enough photons to capture a grainy visual but the troopers of Quantum Shadow found no match in their files to the unknown attendees. The four entered the chamber and Doc propelled himself forward quickly to embed himself firmly in the hair of Kulagin…a familiar hiding place from before.

It was a whole new way of fighting an enemy, Winger thought , as he followed Doc’s progress. Soldiers the size of molecules, fighting other soldiers the size of molecules. Nog school doctrine put a premium on disguise…what the Russians had once called maskirovka. Look like something else. Appear from unexpected directions. Hadn’t Sun Tzu said all war was based on deception?

Winger could almost recite the field manual word for word: Feints and diversions are part of any nanotrooper’s toolkit. Quantum Corps uses swarms to conceal a main axis of assault, or to confuse an adversary as to where the main assault will be. This is a relatively straightforward task in nanoscale warfare. Just replicate a few trillion bots, configure them into something the enemy expects and send them in the direction the enemy is anticipating. If your intelligence is good, the enemy will react to these moves and weaken himself along another axis. The ability to replicate quickly and form swarms to resemble any structure or form gives ANAD-style units unbeatable capabilities.

The only trouble was that Doc seemed to go haywire when in close proximity to Configuration Zero.

Winger had been trying to manipulate a tiny control pad on his wristpad, steering Doc off his hiding place and toward the central firepit above which hovered the roiling blue-white cloud that was Config Zero…it looked like a combination of miniature hurricane and a thunderstorm.

Yet the Doc bot seemed more and more uncontrollable, more and more reluctant to go further, insisting again and again that proximity to such a powerful quantum source was altering his most basic algorithms.

“What’s wrong with his propulsors…I can’t get a response…no vectoring, nothing,” Winger complained. He threw up his hands in frustration. “Config Zero again--?”

Taj Singh was bent over his own work station with a look of intense concentration. “It’s got to be Config Zero, Major Winger. The entangler circuits are almost fried. Signal dropout at eighty percent. Have you still got comms?”

“Barely,” Winger said. “Snatches of words, that’s about it. I send a command and then I get part of an acknowledgement back….wait, here’s something—“

***…annot perform…ecommended action, Base…Format fault…inhibits activated…Level 1 inhibits activated***

“What inhibits?” Barnes asked. “Something Doc Frost put in?”

Winger snapped his fingers. “Remember what Doc Frost told us about using an ancient viral genome…but we already know that these ancient viruses were seeded by another race…at least some of them were. Maybe something in his processor’s been triggered…triggered by Config Zero.”

“If that’s so,” Barnes said, “can you really control Doc? Is Config Zero taking over control?”

It was a possibility they had considered but decided the risk was worth it. The chance that a reconfigured Doc bot could perform direct action sabotage against Red Hammer and its master swarm was too great an opportunity to pass up.

“It’s time to go small,” Winger decided. “I’ve got to see what Doc’s seeing.”

Singh and Sergeant Hoyt Gibbs, monitoring the coupler link, were both against it. “Too dicey, Skipper. Comms are too iffy. You won’t be able to see a thing, much less exercise effective control.”

But Winger had already made up his mind. “I’m doing it.” He tapped a key on his wristpad, waited for the initial nausea to pass as he went ‘over the waterfall” and then squinted at the oncoming sleet of molecules flying into his face, shivering with the first pounding of Brownian motion that always accompanied the maneuver. All of that he fought off and forged ahead gamely to see what Doc was seeing.

At 0424 hours, Doc sent back a master alarm.

The imager screen was at first murky, crowded with the spikes and cubes of dissolved molecules. Lumpy, multi-lobed sodium molecules darted across their view like shadowy ping-pong balls. Winger studied readouts from Doc's sounder…something was there, hidden in the data traces on the scope. He fiddled with the gain on the imager, tweaking it, subtracting foreground clutter.

Something approximately sixty nanometers in one dimension, narrow with a globe structure at one end…and scores of probes, effectors, cilia, whatever. Incredible mobility…triple propulsors beat an idling rhythm as Doc closed in….

Gibbs, the detachment’s interface control specialist, let out a whoop. "Will you look at that?"

Winger's fingers flew over the interface controls. "We're about to check this joker out…" Quickly, he signaled Doc to prime his defensive mechanisms, and slowed its approach to a crawl.

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