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250 kilometers, and no transportation. It will take me days to reach it on foot, Jacob thought. He began looking around for some other mode of transportation and cursed these peoples' dependence on the good graces of the transapient that ran the place. People had no need for any sort of transportation here - the utility fog moved them wherever they needed to go.
Jacob stopped running and considered this.
He looked around the deserted hallway in which he stood. The walls, floor and ceiling were starkly white, and the illumination was slightly dimmer than on the concourse behind him. Along the walls, about every thirty feet, on both sides, were doors. Jacob assumed they led to resident apartments.
The dolphin said I had somehow gotten the angelnet to ignore me, Jacob thought. No, he didn't say it, he implied it.
Maybe...? No, it's too risky, Jacob thought. Too risky by far. Downright reckless.
Jacob closed his eyes, and concentrated on his DNI socket. He was surprised when he didn't feel his body go rigid, when he didn't feel his mind violated. He opened his eyes.
The world had come alive. Gone were the white doors, the white walls and white floor - a cascade of light and color filled his vision. Doors glowed with ethereal paintings, scenes of pastoral beauty, portraits of people; some animated, some still. Walls were covered in various murals, everything from mathematical fractal plots to scenes of public orgies.
Jacob slowly turned, taking it all in, and nearly screamed in fright when he found Doctor Watson standing behind him.
"You killed my wuppista," Doctor Watson said in a plaintive voice. He was still dressed in the blue smock, with the same unidentifiable instrument hanging around his neck. Jacob was more convinced than ever that Doctor Watson was far from human.
"He shouldn't have attempted to assault me," Jacob said, backing up slowly.
Doctor Watson smiled. "I knew you'd see it that way."
"Look, I just want out of here. Where's the spaceport?" Jacob said, his voice a poor medium for carrying the anger he felt.
Doctor Watson leaned towards him, smiling widely. When his face was about a foot from Jacob's, he said quietly, "Find it." He held up his left hand, and an image formed in the air, a swirling gray blob coalesced into a three dimensional model of Jacob's body. "I'm activating my security systems. They will persue you. You might have tricked my angelnet into ignoring you, but what's coming is worse."
"This is a game to you?" Jacob asked.
"Consider it more of a game FOR you," Doctor Watson said.
"I won't play," Jacob said.
"You already are, my boy. You already are." Doctor Watson said with a laugh.
"How can you toy with me like this? I'm a man, not your plaything!" Jacob demanded.
"Oh, you are, are you?" Doctor Watson said with a smile. "And that makes you special, I take it? Of course you think that makes you special. Others would disagree, you know. Others - and not just the evil transapient artificial intelligences - would find you disgusting in the extreme for the simple fact that you live. They would utterly destroy you because you are an affront to all they hold sacred.
"Of course, your concerns are much more immediate. Here comes my security forces," Doctor Watson said, indicating the corridor where it connected to the concourse. "I'm pretty certain they will kill you," Doctor Watson said calmly.
Around the corner came three men. At least they looked like men. They didn't move like men, however. They were dressed in black overalls, much like Jacob himself. They moved like oil flowing over water.
"What are we doing today?" Jacob asked father as they walked out into the snow.
"Systema. Today we learn an 'artificial' fighting style called Systema. After we learn a few of its moves, we'll practice some Capoeira footwork. If you aren't too tired once we finish that, we'll take the hounds for a run in the snow." Father said calmly. Jacob knew that even if he were exhausted, when it came time to run with the hounds, father would be right there with him, pushing him on. And after that, it would still be time to work - after that would be time to study with mother.
"First thing to remember is this - Systema isn't pretty. It's not an art. It's a weapon. It's brutal and ugly, but very effective. This weapon was devised by a baseline hu organization on Old Earth whose job was to safeguard the secrets of a major nation of people. It was designed to incapacitate or kill with little effort. Today, we will go over some of the defensive Systema moves. Forget Karate. Forget Judo. Forget Western Boxing. Today we learn something new. So, stand like this," Father assumed a stance similar to the ready stances of hundreds of different martial arts. Jacob arranged his body to mimic his father.
"You have to stay mobile. That's the key," Father patted Jacob on the legs, "so bend your knees a little. Yes, that's right."
Father stepped in front of Jacob and faced him, assuming a much less clumsy version of the stance Jacob was in. "Watch my shoulders. They'll move first. But keep in mind, if you aren't fighting a human, you might have to watch some other body part. Now, hands up and try and block," Father commanded.
Over the next few weeks, Jacob learned all Systema had to teach him. Attack the joints for they are weakest. Mobility means life, to lose mobility is to die. Apply power judiciously. Apply grace liberally. Mixed martial arts usually had none of the silly philosophy behind them that traditional martial arts imparted. Jacob found it somewhat hollow and empty. Though martial arts training with father was exciting, studying history and poetry with mother was more entertaining. He would never tell his father that. He had already decided to cherish his time with father, and learn all father had to teach him. Besides, Jacob thought, you never know when your life might depend on this stuff.
As the three man-shapes came closer, Jacob noticed their featureless faces - smooth masks of flesh-tone substance. They had no eyes, no ears, no mouths, and no hair. And they moved entirely wrong to be human. For one thing, they were too fast. For another, their knees seemed to flow freely both backwards and forwards.
They are faster than I am, Jacob thought, and probably stronger.
Jacob assumed a low stance, and brought his open hands up before him. As the first of the three humanoid figures charged him, Jacob lashed out and grabbed it by the right wrist. He pivoted, pulling the humanoid forward into what would have been a perfect hip-throw.
Jacob's assailant had other things in mind. The fingers on its right hand curled around backwards, grabbing Jacob by the wrist. Its legs spun, planting it's feet on the floor between Jacob's just as Jacob made contact with his hip. The force bounced Jacob up into the air, and the humanoid drove his left fist into Jacob's stomach and lifted him further.
Jacob felt himself twisted in the air, and he was swung around by the wrist into the floor. The impact threatened to jar Jacob's teeth from his skull.
Jacob came to his feet, still gripped by the wrist, and aimed a kick at his opponent's head. At the same moment, the blank-faced humanoid's right leg bent at an awkward angle, and struck Jacob in the stomach, spoiling his kick.
As Jacob recovered from the blow, the humanoid aimed a blow at Jacob's mid-section. The blow connected, and then Jacob felt fingers grasping at his clothing.
Moments later, he was held suspended above the humanoid's head with a hand on his stomach and a hand wrapped vice-like around his wrist.
The other two humanoids stopped ten feet away, assuming a stance similar to the Systema ready stance. At that point, Jacob heard Doctor Watson speak to the three, "Kill him if you can."
Jacob began to feel a burning sensation at his wrist and stomach - where the humanoid had made contact with him. He looked at his wrist and saw the thing's flesh oozing and flowing over his own. Realization bloomed in his mind. His assailants were some form of nanoborg. Their flesh was living nanobots, and those nanobots had begun disassembling his body like a powerful acid.
There was nothing Jacob could do. He struggled, but the humanoid would not let go. He would soon die without some sort of aid.
"This is the Vorina Mark III gauss rifle. It uses a linear magnetic accelerator to fire a metallic projectile from the barrel at hypersonic velocities. The velocity is adjustable with this dial here on the side. There's not much by way of wearable armor that will stop one of these projectiles. As far as I know, this is the only rifle of it's kind on our entire planet," Father explained as he held out the weapon. Jacob had fired the weapon many times before, but he had never really been told how the weapon worked.
"Where did you get it?" Jacob asked.
"Before I met your mother I was a soldier. My last...commander gave it to me," Father said. He had that tone in his voice that told Jacob not to ask any further. After a moment of uncomfortable silence while father fiddled with the controls on the side of the weapon, he continued, "This weapon was designed for killing a target at extreme range with a single shot. It is the weapon of choice for the modern sniper. That's what we're going to learn today: The techniques and tools of the sniper."
"What's this?" Jacob asked, pointing to a silly looking suit that looked more like a bush than clothing.
"That's a very old tool used by snipers for the last four thousand years. It's called a 'Gilley Suit'. The idea is to break up the outline of the human form and allow the wearer to hide in plain sight. Sometimes snipers must hide for a long, long time to get the perfect shot on their target."
"So, the idea is to be like an Arrankalean needler? You pretend to be a bush and you wait and wait until the perfect opportunity, and then you fire?" Jacob asked, thinking about the security bushes father had planted around the Montgomery farm and around Schwee's property.
"We have much more effective tools to this end now, though..." Father explained, and moved on to the newer, more effective tools.
"Take the body to the spaceport and place it on the vessel. I must prepare a message explaining the failure of the subject and make it ready to send with the body," Doctor Watson said to the featureless humanoid. Doctor Watson didn't so much speak to the humanoid as he simply willed it to do his bidding. Somehow, Jacob was aware of the Doctor's will and still he managed to hide in plain sight.
The three humanoids ran, carrying Jacob down the hallway towards the spaceport. They moved on foot much faster than a human could run, and within a very few hours, they were standing before a door. Vaguely, Jacob knew that on the far side of the door was the spaceport, and a vessel that was supposed to carry his body someplace. He would take that vessel by force if necessary.
Jacob wasn't entirely clear on what had happened during his fight with the featureless humanoid. He had somehow managed to hide the fact that the featureless humanoid had not defeated him from the other two and Doctor Watson emself. He wasn't entirely certain about the flow of events at the end of the fight, but somehow, he had managed to switch places with the featureless humanoid and pass himself off as it. It was all a blur....
But Jacob found himself standing behind the other two humanoids, facing a door. One of the humanoids was working a control panel to open the door.
As the door came open, Jacob realized that in his right hand he held a large crystal. It was a crystal sphere, probably some kind of diamond, but it was white, with a pearlescence to it. He understood that this was the body of the faceless soldier he had somehow beaten.
At Jacob's side hung a pistol. It was some sort of directed energy weapon. He wasn't sure of the type, but he understood that it would be lethal to the faceless soldiers in front of him. He drew the pistol with his left hand and fired from the hip. Before he could depress the trigger, the two humanoids jumped backwards at him. He realized the things neither had a back nor a front, and were perfectly capable of moving in either direction.
The pistol in Jacob's hand buzzed and made his fist tingle. He didn't actually see the energy the weapon discharged, but its effects were very apparent. The head of the nearest humanoid exploded in a shower of steam and sparks. The body fell inert.
The second humanoid was drawing its own weapon, but Jacob managed to react slightly faster. His right foot lashed out, kicking the enemy's gun out of line. Jacob brought his pistol up and fired it, point-blank into the thing's chest. He could feel intense heat and an electrical tingle on his left hand, but his enemy fell dead with a smoking hole in its chest.
Jacob looked up just in time to see the door to the spaceport slam shut and Doctor Watson to appear from nowhere in front of it.
"Astounding. You actually beat them - and used them to bypass the rest of the toys I had devised for you. But honestly, what do you intend to do? Kill the archialect that rules the Solar Dominion? How can you accomplish that? You will surely die in the misguided attempt. I can use a trained archeologist - especially one with your unique abilities. I will give you a large expeditionary force, if you will lead it to investigate the anomalous transmissions originating 2000 light years spinward of the Sagittarius Transcultural Cooperation." Doctor Watson spoke slowly and plainly, and Jacob could detect no overt attempts at manipulation.
Jacob smiled, raised the pistol, and fired at the image of Doctor Watson. The image wavered and faltered, but when Jacob ceased fire, the image remained. He dropped the pistol. "I'll take the job as soon as I get back from Fons Luminus and from pruning the Metasoft Version Tree." Jacob stepped up to the console that opened the door and keyed in the sequence he had seen the humanoid key in. The door opened behind the image of Doctor Watson. Jacob simply stepped through the image and out into the spaceport.
"Space vessels come in all shapes and sizes. They don't have to worry about friction with an atmosphere, or being aerodynamic - so there have been some very odd forms of vessel," Mother said, displaying a plethora of them on the computer monitor.
"Which one was father a soldier on?" Jacob asked eagerly, marveling at the vessels on the screen. Which one had father commanded during the war? Jacob had that childish certainty that his father was the best of fighters and had commanded the largest of warships.
"I'm not certain. And please don't ask him. He doesn't like to talk about that kind of thing," Mother said.
"Yes mother, I won't." Jacob spent the rest of the day lost in fantasies of what his father's warship had looked like. Would it be long and pointed and sharp like a snake fang? Would it be blunt and fat like a clubbing weapon? Would it be tall, or long and skinny? He ran through hundreds of designs in his head and completely ignored his lessons about propulsion systems and the systems the transapients designed and used.
There was a multitude of vessels, almost all alike, spread out in the largest single room Jacob had ever seen. The ceiling was hundreds of meters above him, and the wall that held the door that he entered the spaceport by stretched out in both directions father than he could see.
Jacob was standing on a balcony a couple hundred meters above the ground. A stairway went down to ground level off to his left. Arrayed out in front of him in a grid pattern were thousands of vessels - each of them an inky black sphere exactly one hundred meters in diameter. The field of vessels stretched out into the distance father than he could see.
However, four rows in, and two columns over from his current position, was the one vessel that wasn't a sphere. It was a needle, and it took up the space of two of the spheres.
The odd vessel was pointed on each end. In the center was a single sphere a hundred meters in diameter. In front and behind the sphere were two smaller spheres, one fifty meters in diameter, and the one closest to the end twenty meters in diameter. All five spheres were connected to each other by a series of columns or pipes - each ten meters in diameter. The outer hull of the thing was a mottled pattern of black and white.
That is the ship I will take, Jacob thought to himself. Jacob put both hands on the railing of the balcony and vaulted over the edge. He fell the hundred meters to the floor and hit the ground at a sprint.
Moments later he was standing at the side of the odd vessel. It wasn't exactly symmetrical - one end was longer and thinner than the other. In the fifty-meter sphere towards the longer, thinner end a door stood open. Jacob stepped through the door into the darkened interior of the strange vessel. Lights came on immediately, and the simplicity and crudeness of the interior of the vessel startled Jacob. There was one chair and one console, and the interior volume of the vessel was less than five cubic meters.
The vessel began to hum and Jacob could feel a slight vibration in the floor beneath him. He turned to look back towards the door, but the door was gone - replaced with the smooth black-and-white mottled wall.
It might all be a game, Jacob thought, but that won't stop me from being who I am. The murderers must pay.
Jacob sat down in the chair, and felt it liquefy beneath him. The liquid crept up and over his body, and flowed over and through him. He felt his mind and body expanding, encompassing the entire vessel. His muscles were the matter conversion reactors in the central sphere. His legs were billions of mote-sized reactionless drive engines floating in space around his body. His fists were a terrible array of weapons that could crush or burn. His mind contained maps of the entire known portion of the galaxy, with charts of wormholes and their destinations. He could literally go anywhere.
Jacob reached upward with his new hands and tore the roof off of the hanger. Then, with a mighty push, he flew through the hole and up into the night.
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