Category: Man of Last Millennium

MLM – Chapter 39

It was the day afterward the impressive weaponry exhibition, and also the date of their departure. They had released the starved, captured rat a day ago, giving it a full 24 hours to hopefully find its way back into the nest, looking for food, after which the hunters would track it down using the radio waves being broadcasted from a chip implanted in the rat’s neck.
[So it wouldn’t be able to chew it out], PiRA had claimed.

Currently, Lasko and PiRA were finishing their preparations. Lasko had his suit and was making sure that everything was working the way it should, PiRA was gathering various materials to take with them.
PiRA had decided to take a number of drones down underground with them, in case they would be needed, or as use as meat shields in case they needed to make a run for it. It seemed as if, between the perfectionist AI and Leonard, they had planned for every scenario.
What about Leonard’s outfit? Doesn’t he need armor of some kind?
PiRA replied with an odd tone of voice. [He’ll probably be OK. I wouldn’t worry about him. Relatively, Ford is the one we should be worried about.]
Ford, their supplemental plan for finding the rats; nest, was sitting nearby. Except that now the dog had a completely different look to it.
The immense dog was now wearing a suit that was a very similar design to Lasko’s own, without the bells and whistles. Powered by the dog’s own thetans, with a small emergency battery pack of about 100 units, it would serve to deflect the rats’ teeth and claws.
In addition, PiRA had made a helm of sorts. It had a strong frame, protecting Ford’s skull, and at the jaw, a dangerous looking hinge hung with jagged teeth. The whole thing looked a bit like a stylish bear trap.
The suit and the helmet made the dog look quite unnatural and awkward. But Ford seemed completely oblivious, and other than the occasional hind-leg scratch, the dog showed no signs of discomfort.
Lasko had the suspicion that PiRA had somehow communicated the function of the suit using the chip implant.
The implant, a couple days ago, was claimed by PiRA to be a success and operational, however, it would take the dog’s brain some time to build new synapses referencing the tiny chip. Whether or not they could use the dog to read the rat’s copied memories had yet to be tested, but PiRA had said that a form of wireless communication with the dog would eventually develop, as the dog’s brain learned to interpret and respond to the various electric signals produced by the chip.
Ford didn’t seem to have any side effects, much to Lasko’s relief, and he hadn’t thought too much about it since there weren’t any visible changes. They were planning to undergo the first tests when they entered the tunnels, so hopefully everything would go well.
It was about time to head out… Lasko looked around the area, but didn’t see any sign of Leonard.
“What’s Leonard doing?” Lasko asked Tunnel and Sharp. Tunnel and Sharp were both seated nearby, watching Lasko make preparations a bit glumly.
“He went ahead, apparently. The old man said he’d wait for you at the ‘entry point’.” Sharp said.
Tunnel looked sad and worried, and was clearly holding back some tears. “Do you gotta go? I… I don’t want the weapon anymore… so just stay. Or take me with.”
Man… Tunnel was a good egg. Even PiRA quickly stifled something that sounded almost like an [aw…]
Lasko had to fight to keep the swell of sudden emotion out of his voice. “Sorry, kiddo. No take-backs on deals, remember? It’ll only be for a few days. We have to find this food, otherwise we’ll be in trouble.”
“Can’t we just eat the rats?” Sharp muttered.
Tunnel nodded eagerly in agreement. “I can eat rats. I like rat meat.”
Lasko’s wavering will solidified instantly as he was reminded what was at stake. He ruffled Tunnel’s hair, and began walking to the entry point, calling out his goodbyes over his shoulder. “I’ll be fine. See you guys in a few days! Stay in the base, and out of trouble!”
Ford and the drones followed Lasko out of the entrance, but PiRA’s original body hung back, waiting till Lasko was out of earshot.
[Don’t worry boys. I’ll bring him back alive,] the AI said in a warm tone, before turning to follow the rest.

The entrance to the rat tunnel was located a mile out from base. Upon arrival, Lasko immediately saw Leonard, who was waiting impatiently nearby. But what surprised Lasko was not Leonard, but what the old man had with him.
[What is that?] PiRA exclaimed. She was immediately interested in the modern equipment that she had never seen before.
“It’s a drooler,” Lasko said. And it was undoubtedly so, having the characteristic claws and red glowing eyes. But it seemed a bit different than the one Lasko had seen in the Gate town, having an expanded torso, and missing the shoulder turret. It also had a large object strapped to its back, which looked to be some kind of weird combination between a sword and shield. The large machine loomed over Leonard, who sat beneath it in its shadow, nervously tapping his leg.
“Finally, Lasko, you’re here.” Leonard stood quickly upon seeing the arrival of Lasko and his entourage of robots and dog. The nervous energy the merchant was exuding faded a bit, and he even offered a small smile to the approaching group.
“Leonard, where’d you get that?” Lasko asked, the amazement appearing in his voice.
“This guy?” Leonard now gave a full on grin. “Impressed? Droolers, they have a certain lifetime before they spit out their guts and shut down. Usually nobody ever sees it happen, but I was lucky enough to get to one before its buddies came to retrieve it.”
[So you stole it.] PiRA said drily.
Leonard stiffened up a bit, then relaxed. “I wouldn’t put it exactly like that… but you can call it whatever you want. Truth be told, I’d commit any crime to get a hold of this Gate-tech.”
He slapped the torso of the machine, which gave off a hollow sound. “I modified it, enlarging the holding pit to be a bit… more comfortable. Didn’t want to show it to Sharp and Tunnel, so I wanted to meet you here. Darn kids wouldn’t be able to keep their mouths shut, and I’d get the heat fer sure.”
[Well, I can’t wait to see it in action.] PiRA said, begrudgingly admitting her interest in the technology.
So was Lasko. It was definitely looking to be an interesting trip.

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    MLM – Chapter 38

    It was the third day into their planning, only two days away from the day that they decided to begin their expedition underground. Pira had used the past 24 hours to come up with a variety of ‘tools’ for self-protection. Even though the boys had not been interested in Lasko’s new suit, they were immensely interested in the objects that Pira had produced, probably in eager anticipation of their very own weapons that they were promised. Leonard had also joined them today, observing alongside the boys at some twenty meters away.
    They were all a makeshift shooting range that PIRA had created, which consisted of a number of solid brick targets of various sizes standing in front of a raised mound of relocated earth. Per Lasko’s request, Pira had used Lasko’s memories to laser-etch into the bricks, lifelike images of the three goons that had ambushed them the first day, much to the delight of Sharp and Tunnel.
    Lasko was wearing the new suit, which was now adorned with a number of additional compartments, some larger and most smaller. There was a larger packet placed in the small of his back, and one medium pack placed on each limb: on the back of each hand, and alongside each ankle.
    The most noticeable were the two octagonal cases attached on the side of his shoulders, broadening his shoulder width by a couple inches on each side. The rest of the modules were scattered symmetrically throughout his body, even on his front.
    Lasko couldn’t help but feel excited. Trying to keep his heart rate down, he spoke casually. “So, what’ve you got for me, PIRA?”
    [Why you trying to act cool all of a sudden? Is it because you’re trying to impress the crowd?] Pira mocked him out loud.
    As Tunnel and Sharp laughed a little, Lasko felt his cheeks flush inside the suit. “Just trying stay calm,” he said awkwardly. Out of the corner of his vision, he saw Leonard lean over to the boys with furrowed brows. ‘What does cool mean?’ Lasko saw him mouth.
    [So the improvements that I added to the suit all revolve around one basic principle. Pressurization. The suit, as a collective, is capable of pressurization to over a 250,000 psi. Try running to the closest target.]
    Lasko did as he was told, cautiously, not knowing what to expect. Nothing happened
    [No, you really have to run, otherwise it won’t activate.]
    Lasko put in a little more effort, and almost instantly he was propelled forward with an unseen force, his legs somehow moving with an intensity that barely required any effort on his part. He made it to the end of the range almost immediately, and he quickly stopped his feet, skidding to a halt in the dirt.
    [The pressurized system that I’ve installed into the suit has a variety of useful tools. The first and most important function, I call the ‘fitness enhancer.’ Using a network of over a hundred thousand hydraulic fibers that are placed throughout the suit, the system adds force to physical actions, carefully timed with your natural body movements, of course. When one of these fibers are pressurized, they return to their original forms, which adds the additional power.]
    [Your average performance over a range of physical activities can be enhanced to over 500% of your estimated current capacity. The hydraulics are more than capable of even greater output, but at that level there is a risk of damaging the body, not to mention you would probably find it very difficult to coordinate.]
    Lasko did a few more back-and-forths, testing it out, and even attempted some mild acrobatics. Although he wasn’t the most fit, he was able to pull off a couple of cartwheels, and even a standing backflip with ease. And he wasn’t even breathing hard. Tunnel applauded happily from the sidelines, and even Sharp and Leonard couldn’t help but change their expressions.
    This is really cool, Pira! Lasko exclaimed.
    [Don’t too excited yet, otherwise you’ll pass out when you see the rest of the stuff.] Pira said drily, but Lasko could still detect a smugness in her voice.
    [Now function number two. What do you do when your body can’t react fast enough to a foreseen danger? You get hit. But I created this function that operates separately from your natural body reaction. I call it ‘double movement.’ Try jumping into the air, and then try ‘jumping again’…
    Huh? Lasko jumped up, briefly admired his new vertical height distance, and then thought about jumping again. Before he could actually engage his body, however…
    PFFT! There was a sound of multiple high pitched hisses, and his body instantly rose in mid-air. The unexpected movement startled him entirely, and the large increase in height momentarily filled him with panic. He landed awkwardly, rolling on the ground.
    “Whoa!” There were cries of excitement from the peanut gallery.
    Pira, what was that?
    [That, was a series of incredibly high pressure jets released simultaneously at multiple points on your body, acting as a propellant. Basically, using the pressure jets, you can have an additional yet independent movement technique that can work with, without, or against your body movements. There are a number of practical benefits this has for you, and I hope that you’re smart enough so that I don’t have to explain all of them to you.]
    Lasko was having trouble wrapping his head around everything that Pira was saying. The adrenaline rushing through his body and high heart rate was causing a lot of noise.
    Can you just explain a couple? Lasko asked, trying to focus his thoughts.
    Pira’s female voice sighed exasperatedly.
    [One, you can change direction unexpectedly. While running forward, you’d be able to suddenly shift to the side. Or you could change directions entirely. Whilst in mid-air you’d also be able to implement these changes. Two, you can increase your movement speed, ‘dashing’ or ‘sprinting’, if you will. You’ll be able to move even in certain circumstances when your body simply cannot react quickly enough, for example when using the time perception delay. Lastly…]
    Pira paused. [It’ll be better to show you by example. Go over to the wall.]
    Lasko did as he was told, walking down to the wall.
    [Now, punch it as hard as you can.]
    “Oh, this is where you going with this. Lasko eagerly took position, but then a thought occurred to him. “Will this hurt my hands?”
    [No, the hardening scales of the suit will thoroughly protect you. Go ahead and let loose.]
    Okay! Lasko took aim, spreading his feet a bit for balance, and then smashed his fist against the wall.
    CRACK!
    The kids couldn’t help but run closer to get a better look.
    Lasko’s fist had imprinted a permanent indentation into the brick wall. Pieces of the brick crumbled and fell to the ground. Lasko couldn’t help but feel good, especially with the kids crowded around ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
    But Pira wasn’t done. [Now punch the wall again, in a different spot this time, but this time use ‘double movement’ as well.]
    “Stand back, kids.” Lasko said to Tunnel and Sharp, who both stepped back reluctantly.
    Repeating the same stance, Lasko once again aimed at the wall, but this time as he punched he activated the double movement.
    BAM!
    There was a difference sound than the first, but the actual result was very different. Lasko’s entire arm was buried in the solid brick wall up to the elbow.
    Wow. Lasko was amazed. He felt like Superman. The kids didn’t say anything this time, their mouths just gaping.
    Wanting to try again, Lasko tried to get in position again but couldn’t.
    Uh, Pira? My arm is stuck?
    After a few minutes of difficulty, they finally managed to extract the arm, by bracing both feet against the wall and pushing away, double movement activated.
    After the embarrassing incident, Lasko’s excitement had died down a little bit, and he was taking another perspective.
    “So my options are to punch, kick, and hit any rats that come my way?” Lasko asked. The extra strength was definitely powerful, but not that practical. He didn’t think he could pummel his way through swarms of rats.
    [Of course not.] PIRA said scornfully. [I’ll introduce the De-Pressurized Bullets, your long distance option. DPBs for short.]
    “You seem to have a name for everything,” Lasko said drily.
    [It’s important for efficiency.] Pira said, not skipping a beat.
    [Now, you might think that these bullets aren’t anything special. I know you 21st century folk associated powerful arsenal with fire, explosions, etc. But these have just as much destructive force, without the dangerous potential to set off a massive underground gas explosion. Target a spot on the wall.]
    With a thought, a marker appeared in Lasko’s vision, pinpointing a fresh piece of the shooting range wall.
    [Now disengage your safety]
    The floating marker turned red.
    [Now shoot a single round.]
    When Lasko thought to fire one shot, suddenly the box on his right shoulder suddenly spun open and a small ‘phut’ was heard, a tiny white line flashing out of the box for about a foot before dissipating.
    Tock! A small noise was heard from a distance. Then half a second later, there was a larger pop, and a small chunk of the wall cracked off, falling to the ground.
    That was it? After PIRA’s build up, Lasko had expected something flashier…
    [Try shooting something smaller.]
    Lasko aimed for a small brick, propped up on top of the wall, and with a ping, it spun and fell to the ground. Then…
    PAH!
    The brick exploded, shattering into a hundred different pieces.
    Oooh. That was a bit more satisfying.
    Lasko, without additional prompting, targeted a few marks at once, and to his surprise, multiple bullets fired out simultaneously, precisely hitting his targets, and then consequently exploding, sending a small cloud of debris into the air.
    [The depressurization bullet works by compressing air into a small bullet that made of a strengthening DVG effect that is constantly activated. When the bullet is fired, (also using compressed air), the strengthening DVG burns through the residual thetans, quickly losing its structural integrity, which results in a concussion blast.]
    Wow. 200,000 psi! How is the suit capable of building up so much pressure so quickly?
    [This was made possible due to Leonard’s DVG expertise,] Pira acknowledged begrudgingly. [Using a quickly expanding DVG in an unbreakable DVG shell, a number of tiny gas pistons are able to be made, with little to no precision work needed. The device itself is simple, yet incredibly effective. The expanding material provides the pressure, while the unbreakable DVG is how the pressure is able to build up so high. There is no maintenance needed, since there are effectively no loose parts. The whole suit system operates on this principle.]
    It was all quite impressive to Lasko, especially because the entire suit with all its additions didn’t seem to weigh more than 20 to 30 pounds.
    “Well, this certainly takes care of the long distance requirement. Thank you very much for your efforts PiRA!”
    [Hold on, there’s one more thing. Although the suit can replenish its ammunition rather quickly, it still takes too long. You won’t be able to mow down waves of continual rats; you need something with higher efficiency than one bullet per rat.]
    “There’s another thing?!”
    [Yup, but it may double as a type of tool while we’re underground. For example, what happens when we run into a barrier underground? We can’t use your traditional cutting tools based on heat, because of the combustion risk. That is why I decided to add the ‘Wet Cutter’. It is a highly pressurized, high density liquid jet that can be used to cut through obstacles, living or otherwise. It’s not new technology; it’s something you should be somewhat familiar with, but when mixed with DVG strengthened particles, the cutting ability of the liquid jet increases considerably compared to your time. It’s like a water jet mixed with diamond dust.]
    “How do I use it?”
    [The dispensers are located inside the widgets on your wrists and ankles. You can hold it still to bore a hole, if you’d like, or move your limbs to create a dynamic cutting motion. Imagine a blade attached to your arm.]
    “Like a sword?” Lasko made a slashing motion at a thick brick column nearby.
    SCHWING!
    There was a piercing sound and a fine mist drifted up into the air. And then the top of the brick pillar slid off, being neatly sliced in two.
    Lasko, shocked speechless, looked back to where Sharp, Tunnel, and Leonard were watching, equally silent.
    [Now that’s it.] PiRA said triumphantly. [I’d like to see the rats try to take us down now.]

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      MLM – Chapter 37

      [How’s it feel?]
      Lasko and Pira were standing outdoors some distance away from the house. In the distance, Tunnel and Sharp were bathing in a pristine pool of heated water, which Pira had constructed almost overnight. Playing with Ford had become their favorite past time, but when the pool had been introduced, and Lasko had showed them how to play in it, it had become their latest obsession.
      Ford laid some distance away, in between Ford and Pira’s warehouse. When Pira had taken the caged rat into her workspace (for the procedure), the large dog had finally relaxed some, but it still insisted on maintaining some distance to the building where the rat stood.
      Lasko eyed the giant dog a bit guiltily. The chip implant, Pira informed him, was already started, and Lasko had been watching Ford to see if there was any hint of negative reaction. Thankfully, there were none that he could notice; at most, the dog had been a bit overly alert. But that could easily have been explained by the presence of the rat…
      [How. Does. It. Feel.] Pira asked again, breaking Lasko out of his thought process.
      Lasko looked down at his hands and clenched his fists. Two lightly gloved hands balled up.
      Is this really going to be enough protection?
      [Who knows if it will be enough? All my data tells me is that ‘this’ is quite a lot, at least by 21st century standards.]
      Lasko was dressed in a thin suit. It was skin-tight, even tighter than a wet suit, but had additional flair in all of the right places. Pira had also remodeled the head display, which was now much more sleek, and connected directly into the suit.
      [I call it, the modern onesie.] Pira said proudly.
      It does look rather stylish. Lasko admitted. He had gotten one of PiRA’s drones to stream video to his monitor, and was rather enjoying how muscular the suit made him look.
      [Nobody likes a skinny superhero.] PIRA said.
      Superhero? Is that what you were going for?
      [Yes.] Pira said shamelessly. [I don’t have a lot of stylistic references for body armor in my data. I have to derive most of my inspiration from fiction. I wasn’t about to make you a set of body armor that looked like a tuxedo.]
      Lasko stretched his hands into the air, and leaned from side to side. To be honest, it was super comfortable. He didn’t feel any resistance, and the fabric was pleasantly cool and even soft on his skin.
      What kind of fabric is this?
      A diagram showed up in his vision; a 3D representation of various lines being woven together to create a tight mesh.
      [This material is made from a thread that is a blend of fibers that I had painstakingly manufactured using a nano-fiber production method from my time. As a result, the threads are able to be composed of a variety of different DVGs. The outer most ‘shielding’ layer is a mix of steel fiber with a flexing DVG effect and another fiber with a strengthening effect. This way when the suit undergoes too much trauma, it will be able to maintain its integrity, even when it cannot prevent damage to you. Damage can be healed with the regeneration nanites, but the suit cannot be easily.]
      Uh… what would be considered too much trauma? Lasko ventured weakly.
      Pira ignored him and continued explaining. [The internal threading has a few different DVG effects, but the most important fibers are the ones that wick moisture and regulate the temperature.]
      Pira paused to let that sink in, and then continued with her spiel.
      [But the crowning achievement is this.]
      The diagram changed, zooming in to the surface of a thread, where Lasko could see that it was dotted with countless particles.
      [I call these particles, molecular scales. I spray on the scales onto the fabric. These scales are incredibly hard when their DVG effect is activated, as hard as diamonds. In their normal state, they are dormant, but when they are compressed with enough force, they are forced against the threads with active thetan energy, and activation! The rat that has just latched on to your arm as just bitten into a rock.]
      Pira’s voice was beaming as it explained, and Lasko could tell that she was proud of her accomplishment.
      [The biggest downside is the high thetan energy cost. The average sixty year old wouldn’t be able to activate the scales sufficiently. But luckily you don’t need to worry about that.] PIRA hummed happily.
      It’s very cool. Lasko complimented mentally. Did you test it?
      [A couple trials,] the AI said dismissively. [The results were satisfactory enough to start human trials. So here we are.]
      A couple of trials? That’s it? What kind of testing are we doing?
      At his words, a drone approached with what looked to be a very sharp drill bit. At the sight of this, Lasko started to back away.
      No way. It’s way too early for human trials.
      [Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of time. What we do have a plethora of, are regeneration nanites. Live testing will tell us almost immediately what needs to be fixed, if anything. I still need to incorporate your weapons into the outfit, so we don’t have any time to waste.]
      The hammer drill activated and began pounding aggressively. The drone approached dangerously close, much to Lasko’s extreme discomfort.
      [Hurry up and start testing on the drill. I can’t do it by myself because my personality core is coded so that I’m not allowed to cause harm to any human being.]
      So you finally admit that this is going to cause me some harm!
      [Shut up and just do it. Be a man.]
      Guess it has to be done. Lasko breathed deeply, preparing himself, before finally throwing himself in front of the hammer drill.
      Ten minutes later, Lasko was laying on the ground, trying to let his mind recover. The pain caused by the intense beating had been traumatizing.
      Pira, though, was very satisfied. [Worked perfectly. Time for weapons!]

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        MLM – Chapter 36

        Lasko, Pira’s original body, and Leonard stood in front of a circular cage-like structure, inside of which a large rat the size of a cat hung in the center, rendered immobile by numerous fibers that trussed up the entire brown rat, including its head and snout. It was unmoving, having long given up attempting to change its current state. Only its black eyes were moving, darting back and forth at its surroundings.
        Ford lay nearby, his own alert eyes watching the rat. The dog could tell that the rat wasn’t a threat at the moment, but it was still ready to move at a seconds notice.
        It was the second day of planning their expedition. Lasko had woken up to Ford’s angry growling. Upon investigation, he found the cage ‘sitting on their front doorstep.’ Apparently since their conversation last night, Pira had scoured the nearby underground tunnels and had the good fortune to capture one poor unsuspecting rat, bringing it back to base to tag it, hopefully leading them to the rat nest.
        But what the three of them were discussing wasn’t about what to do with the tracker, and was something quite different.
        “You’re saying that you can do what?” Lasko asked, having a hard time accepting what he just heard.
        [Basically, I can use the rat’s memories, and try using that data to give us a path to the rat nest. Even if the data is not very precise, it’ll be a good support method to the tracking strategy.]
        “Is that even possible though? Has it been done?”
        Leonard also was unfamiliar with the process. “Ain’t natural,” he muttered.
        “I don’t have any records of this particular process being done before,” Pira admitted. “But there have been experiments done with results similar to what we would need. Obviously we’d be unable to interpret the entire rat brain. The whole thing is a bit more primitive than you’d think. We’d show the rat a stimuli, like food. Then hopefully the brain would respond with associated pathways, in our case, the location of the rat nest.”
        Lasko lapsed into deep thought, trying to follow. “We can pinpoint the location of the rat’s nest using the rat’s memories? How? It’s not like it’s going to give us a list of coordinates.”
        Pira’s voice began to get excited. “Here’s where it becomes quite ingenious. You see, animals use an interesting method of remembering locations, it’s not always based on a visual context, like humans. They have this fascinating method based on scents, magnetic fields, air pressure; all of their senses combined to form a very distinct sense of location. On a drastic scale, this is how pet animals are able to find their way home from foreign locations thousands of miles away.”
        “You can understand this type of data?” Leonard asked.
        “Nope. But he can.”
        Lasko and Leonard followed Pira’s pointing arm to the giant dog laying down next to them.
        “Ford?”
        The giant dog perked his ears up own having his named called, but didn’t take his eyes off of the cage.
        “Yes!” Pira said proudly. “This dog likely has the capacity to interpret the homing signals in the rat’s memory.”
        Lasko didn’t like where this was headed. “How are we going to get Ford this information?”
        Pira held up a microchip with her robotic arm. “We implant this…”
        “Nope.” Lasko shook his head. “That’s just messed up.”
        “No, it’ll be harmless.” Pira wheedled. “It’ll be just like how pet owners put microchips in for identification.”
        “Really? It’s just like that?” Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
        Pira hesitated. “Well… maybe not exactly…”
        Of course it isn’t.
        “There are a lot of permanent benefits to this, actually. We’d be able to communicate with the dog wirelessly. Isn’t that neat? Plus we’d be able to know what the dog is feeling. It’s your basic responsibility as a pet owner to know your dog’s needs.”
        Pira really knew how to make a case.
        “What are the risks?” Lasko had to make sure that it was safe.
        “There are absolutely no risks. In fact, there won’t even be a surgery. I will direct the nanites to construct a chip inside of Ford’s brain. It’s as non-invasive as you can get.”
        Leonard perked up at hearing about the nanites. “That’s amazing!”
        Pira nodded in agreement. “It will take some time for the chip to be constructed, but there is no need to keep the dog still, it can still run around like normal. I figure that if we start the process now, it can be finished in a few days.”
        Now both Leonard and Pira were looking at Lasko with expectant looks.
        “So?” Pira prodded. “What do you say?”
        Lasko sighed. It didn’t seem like he could say no.
        “As long as it doesn’t cause any harm to Ford,” he said begrudgingly, finally giving his permission.
        “Don’t worry,” Pira said reassuringly. “He won’t feel a thing. In fact, he’ll probably get even smarter. It’ll add additional memory storage. We’ll be able to clearly communicate our own thoughts and intentions. He might even be able to learn the English language!”
        Yikes. Now that was an incredible thought.
        “Pira, why do I get the feeling that you’re looking forward to the opportunity to experiment on Ford…?”
        “Do I come across that way?” Pira said dismissively. “I’m just eager to accomplish our goals, that’s all. If I happen to progress the entirety of the human race with my efforts in the process, that’s just an added benefit.”
        Right. Lasko looked down at where the giant dog was lying, vigilantly keeping watch over the captive.
        “Are you OK with this buddy?” Lasko asked, scratching the dog’s head.
        Ford didn’t say anything, the quiet dog simply accepting the scratch willingly, half shutting his eyes, but still watching.
        “You don’t understand me now… but it looks like you will soon. I guess I’ll find out then.” Lasko internally resolved himself. He didn’t like the idea of experimenting on Ford, but if it would ultimately benefit Ford, then he was willing to try. Pira hadn’t steered him wrong yet.

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          MLM – Chapter 35

          Lasko and Pira huddled together to find solutions for each of the three tasks that Leonard mentioned. The old man himself was “tired of talking” and wanted to finish settling in. Pira gave him an attending drone to be able to contact him whenever the two of them had questions, but secretly to [keep an eye on him, to make he’s not causing any trouble.]
          Lasko himself went outside to meditate, looking at the bustling activity in their homestead; the drones scuttling back and forth with various materials, the automated machines continuing their manufacturing processes, Tunnel and Sharp playing hide and seek with the giant dog.
          [So,] Pira started, [What are your big plans for finding this rat nest?]
          Lasko shrugged. I didn’t have anything extravagant in mind. Can you just go down there and explore with your drones?
          [Explore 125 cubic miles in one week? Even if I had enough drones and processing power to make that happen, the cost would be astronomical. The number of units that we would need for that project is too large, even for you.]
          Then how about some kind of geographical scan? I know that even back in the 21st century, we had ways of mapping caves… X-ray? Radio waves?
          [We have a map of the caves, for the most part. Leonard’s applied those techniques and more to create a 3D map that seems pretty reliable. The problem is that even with those technologies, there’s no way to pinpoint where the rats might be staying. Not to mention, any type of scanning that we attempt would have to be on a massive scale. The chances of us getting detected by an unwelcome 3rd party are rather large.]
          A bit frustrated, Lasko shot out his next idea a bit impatiently, fully expecting a negative answer. Can’t we just capture a rat, tie it a leash, and then let it lead us back to the nest?
          To his surprise, Pira took some time to ponder over that idea. [Hm… that is an interesting idea.]
          Really? Do you think that will work?
          [Of course that won’t work. But a variation of that premise might. If we attach some kind of tracker, we’ll have a tracer. One problem is that losing the signal is a definite possibility. If the tunnels are not linear, the total length of the tunnels could be much longer than 5 miles, not to mention any constant changes in direction would also dampen the signal.]
          What if we attach some sort of trail blazing device that will leave markers for us at intervals? Lasko suggested more earnestly, trying to make himself useful again.
          [Dumb idea.] Pira harshly rejected it. [If the rat’s way home takes him through a tunnel one mile long, but only the girth of an inner tube, are we going to drill our way through till we get to the nest? Even though there are times when that is unavoidable, we cannot practically take the same path as a rodent, even if that rodent is the same size as Tunnel. It would be incredibly unsafe for one. We could cause a cave-in, and then where would we be?]
          Lasko was getting the feeling that Pira enjoyed lecturing Lasko, and especially liked showing how his ideas were not up to par.
          [No, a signal of some sort is the only way that makes sense. That way we can keep our options open, taking alternative paths when available.]
          Sooo, we’re good then on this task?
          [No, we’re not good.] Pira snapped. [You always need a backup plan. Always. We also have to come up with a strategy for making our way back, in case our original point of entry is not reversible. But for now, what we have will suffice, and from our conversation, I got another idea that could prove extremely useful. We’ll revisit this.]
          What’s your other idea? Lasko asked, curious.
          [You’ll find out soon enough. Nobody likes a nosey neighbor.]
          Lasko gave up. Pira said the most incomprehensible things sometimes.
          [Now, to the outfitting task and the defensive ‘items.’ Any personal preferences?]
          You don’t want my suggestions? I had plenty of ideas for…
          [No need. This isn’t a problem like the last issue. The issue of the outfitting tasks and the transportation are just a matter of fulfilling our ‘requirements’. I don’t need to create something new, I just need to make sure that everything is on spec.]
          Oh… Lasko was a bit disappointed. For some reason, he had been very excited about describing various pieces of weaponry.
          [Don’t worry,] Pira said soothingly. [I’ll take care of you.]
          Fine. You don’t have to patronize me. Lasko said. It was his turn to be grumpy. Just make sure that it’s light. I want to be able to move freely quickly while I’m down there. It should also have some sort of temperature control. I’d rather not deal with the heat. Wouldn’t be good to feel like I’m stifling while I’m 5 miles under the ground.
          [Got it.] Pira said matter-of-factly. [I’ll work on the device transportation, and I’ll show it to you when I have a proto-type ready.]
          Lasko sighed. Pira was taking care of all three components of their expedition. Construction of machines and weaponry, it seemed that her abilities were getting more and more impressive as time went on. He assumed that it would only become more apparently now that Pira could pick Leonard’s brain about the latest three hundred years.
          [What are you going to do with Sharp and Tunnel? Surely you don’t plan on taking them too?] Pira said in a judgmental tone.
          Lasko felt like as if he was getting the ‘bad father’ treatment. No, of course not. He thought defensively.
          [Well then, you better figure out what you’ll be telling them, because from what I can tell, they’re not going to be happy getting abandoned here for a half week or so.]
          They were totally fine leaving me alone for a couple days! Lasko argued.
          [Is that so?] Pira reflected. [Something tells me that they won’t have the same reaction this time around.]
          She was totally right.
          “WHAT!?” Tunnel and Sharp exclaimed simultaneously.
          Lasko had just told them that he, alongside with Pira and Leonard, were going on a trip underground for a prolonged period of time. He kept the parts about it being extremely dangerous out of it, but Sharp caught on right away.
          “That’s rat territory.” Sharp said with narrowed eyes. “Why you going down there?”
          “We need to go,” Lasko said. “Otherwise we’re going to run out of food.”
          Tunnel and Sharp’s eyes gleamed a little bit.
          “It’s a hunting trip?” Sharp said. “Should have said so. When do we go?” He pulled out his knives, inspecting their sharpness, looking eager. Tunnel had already started to drool.
          Lasko was filled with a large amount of pity at that moment, tears came to his eyes. “No, it’s not a hunting trip. We’re not going down there to eat the rats, we’re going down there to find what the rats have been eating.”
          Tunnel wrinkled his nose. “Why would we want to eat what the rats eat?”
          Lasko was floored. If you said it like that… it was a bit difficult to explain.
          “No… the… rat food… I mean the food that the rats eat is probably normal food. Rats eat everything.”
          Now Sharp was in on it. “If rats eat everything, then why is it probably normal food?”
          Lasko held out his hands, stopping the questions, giving him time to regroup his thoughts. “Let’s start over.”
          “The rats have been living and growing underground for so long, it is likely that they have a food source down there, a food source that came from the past and is still working. Since we’re running out of food bars, we’re going down there to try to get more food for ourselves.”
          At this point the kids had already lost interest in his explanation and had moved on.
          “When do we go?” Sharp repeated his question.
          “Err… you guys aren’t going to go. It’s just going to be me, Leonard, and Pira.”
          There was silence for a while.
          “Huh?” Tunnel didn’t understand, and he looked at Leonard strangely. Sharp had understood, and his trademark evil look had appeared.
          “What are you trying to say?” Sharp said, obviously angry.
          “Nothing, nothing,” Lasko said quickly, trying to appease Sharp before someone got hurt. Namely himself. “It’s just that we’re going underground, and there’s not a lot of room, so there’s no point in all of us going, right?” It sounded like a weak argument, even to himself.
          Tunnel still didn’t understand, and tugged on Sharp’s sleeve, asking for an explanation. Sharp spit to the side.
          “He thinks we’ll be baggage. He doesn’t think we can handle it. Even though we were the one taking care of this drooler for the longest time.”
          A conflicted look appeared on Tunnel’s face. While Lasko had very subtlety taken the leadership role in the group, (mainly since the arrival of Pira), it was still a very recent development. To some degree, the kids still had the attitude of taking care of Lasko, and not the other way around.
          Now this change in relationship had finally become apparent, where the decisions weren’t being made by them anymore. As a result, Tunnel suddenly became resistant.
          “Rats? Those things are mean! Not safe.” Tunnel shook his head in refusal, denying Lasko permission to go.
          Looking at the two kids staring at himself angrily, Lasko could sense that this moment was very critical in defining their relationship. What happened next would shape their interactions going forward.
          The fear of rejection and unwillingness for conflict stirred together, and the pressure started to build, making Lasko start to sweat. In that moment, he was very uncomfortable, and didn’t know how to get them to agree peacefully. So he did what many beleaguered and relief seeking parents do in that situation.
          Bribery.
          “Pira said that she’ll make you two cool new weapons when we get back.”
          As soon as he said it, he regretted it.
          [Very Nice.] Pira said sarcastically, her scornful tone stinging.
          Both boys’ eyes got big. “She did?”
          “Yup.” Lasko lied through his teeth, hating himself as he said it.
          “Wow!” The two kids looked at each other with immense excitement.
          “Did she say what she’ll make us?” Sharp said eagerly. After seeing everything that Pira was capable of, there was no doubt in his mind that whatever he received would be awesome.
          “Nope, she said that she wanted it to be a surprise.”
          “I want a plasma gun!” “I want a missile launcher!”
          The two boys looked around eagerly for Pira’s original body, and dashed over to it, wanting to make requests.
          [I lose more respect for you every day.] Pira said scathingly. [And you consider yourself a caregiver.]
          Do you need to be so hurtful? Lasko yelled internally. I’m not perfect. I can’t do everything right.
          [If I don’t say it, you’d never know how badly you need to improve.] Pira said calmly, and with no regret.
          Must be nice to be a ‘perfect’ machine. Never have to deal with hard decisions. Lasko said, purposefully trying to be hurtful.
          Pira didn’t say anything back, which was very unlike her, and the two were silent for a while. Lasko felt some satisfaction from this, knowing that his retaliation had found its mark at the AI’s sensitive personality.
          Lasko could hear the kids drilling the robot, and to his relief, it seemed like the AI was playing along with his lie. Relief washed over him, and gratefulness. And then regret and guilt followed. He knew that he had messed up, and had lashed out at the AI unjustly. He had deserved whatever she had said about him.
          Hey, Pira. I’m sorry about what I said. I didn’t mean it.
          [I know. I can read your thoughts, remember? I know that you didn’t believe that and that you were just trying to hurt me.]
          Ouch. Why was Pira so good at pointing out his flaws?
          Thanks for covering for me.
          [We’re a team] Pira said simply. And they didn’t mention it anymore.

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            MLM – Chapter 34

            After Leonard coughed up some units, temporarily satisfying the greedy child, Lasko took the man around the house.
            When the old man saw the giant hammock, he just gave it a raised eyebrow, and continued on to the next room. Lasko inwardly sighed with relief. He wasn’t sure that he could take having another bedmate.
            Leonard chose an empty room in the corner, and dragged his giant backpack into it, barely squeezing it into the room. As he did so, Lasko finally got a chance to take a bigger look at how Leonard was carrying such a huge pack.
            There was a number of plates attached all over the pack, tugging upwards, and Lasko quickly realized that it must be an application of the thetan technology, similar to the floating hover cart.
            Leonard pressed something on the pack, and with a large whomp, it settled to the ground, and precariously tilted. Ignoring this, Leonard began unpacking the back with deft fingers, pulling out various amazing odds and ends, like a dispenser filled with a black liquid. Leonard poured some of it on the floor, and it inflated and spread over a large area, creating some kind of soft walking surface over Pira’s solid hard brick floor. There was a mat that instantly inflated into a large bed, and a cylinder that unrolled itself and extended six study legs, becoming a workbench, complete with tools.
            Wow. He really was prepared. Seeing that Leonard was well on his way to getting settled, Lasko went ahead and let the man do his thing. There were plenty of things to do, and the sudden arrival of Leonard had made him nervous.
            Pira, what do you think about blockading or making some kind of gate at the entrance? Also, maybe we could dig a secret escape tunnel?
            [I can understand the logic behind the escape tunnel, but what’s the point of making a gate? Considering the firepower that they seem to have at their disposal, anything that we could build would delay them all of one minute. Not to mention that they could just climb over the mountains and rappel down if they wanted.]
            Right… Lasko considered this. But it would take them some time right? I’d think I’d just prefer it if people couldn’t just waltz in here whenever they wanted.
            [Agreed.] Pira said darkly. [I’m with you on that one. I’ll start putting up a camouflaged gate immediately.]
            Camouflaged was a nice touch. It was nice having someone around that took and improved upon ideas. What was the word he was looking for?
            [Teamwork], Pira said dryly.
            Right! Teamwork. Lasko thought. Maybe Leonard can bring some synergy to the table.
            [I doubt that old geezer will be useful.] Pira said doubtfully. [I’m still not even sure if he is trustworthy.]
            Just give it time. He’ll grow on you eventually… maybe.
            Lasko had no idea what he was talking about. He only hoped that maybe his words would turn out to be true, and that the two ‘personalities’ would be able to get along.
            Four hours later, Leonard had taken refuge on top of the newly constructed roof of their brick home. He was surrounded by four or five drones, spurred on by an enraged PIRA. Leonard was fending them off using a weapon very similar to the ones Vance’s men had been using, a portable version of the immobilizing fluid. Lasko was desperately trying to talk down Pira from forcibly removing the ‘hazardous element’ from the premises.
            [YOU ARE AN IMEBICLE. YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND TO BE THREAT TO YOURSELF AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU, PLEASE CEASE AND DESIST YOUR RESISTANCE TO DETAINMENT! YOU DUMB-ASS.]
            “Don’t you tell me what to do, you robot! Is this how you treat your house guests? You sic your robot drones on me, don’t count on getting them back in one piece!” threatened Leonard, firing a few warning shots at the slowly advancing robots.
            The old man had been unable to stop his curiosity, and had encroached upon her mysterious warehouse, which upon entering, he found to be filled with colorless, sealed barrels filled with some kind of substance. Despite Pira’s repeated requests for departure from the premises, Leonard not only ignored her, but in an effort to determine the contents of the containers even cut one open using a handheld laser.
            Turns out, the warehouse was where Pira had been storing her unstable byproducts of her manufacturing processes. And instable meant flammable.
            Leonard had started a fire, which quickly spread to the other barrels. Luckily, Pira had put together a very concrete plan of action for various emergencies, and the drones were quickly able to extinguish the fire, but not before having lost a number of the barrels to the flames.
            She had apparently been storing them for eventual use. Lasko gathered this from the vicious string of insults that Pira was hurling at the unperturbed, unapologetic, older man.
            Pira, everything is going to be fine. Lasko tried to sooth the angry AI.
            [Don’t patronize me!] PIRA raged. [That idiot could have ruined over 400 units of effort!]
            Lasko sighed mentally, and immediately wished that he hadn’t. PIRA immediately turned on him. [Don’t pretend that this isn’t related to you. This is half your fault! If you had set rules for this guy to begin with….]
            Lasko winced. He supposed that PIRA was right. Even more importantly, it was essential that he find a way for the two to coexist.
            “Pira, calm down. Leonard will compensate for the damages.” Lasko tried to appease Pira using an argument that he thought she would accept.
            “Say what?” Leonard looked appalled. “I’m not-”
            Lasko quickly interrupted him. “-by acting as a consultant.” Lasko winked at the confused old man. “Leonard has a lot more experience and expertise with modern DVGs, and I’m sure that his know how will fill in a lot of blanks for us.”
            The robot drones suddenly stopped advancing. [That does sound reasonable…]
            “Doesn’t it?” Lasko said excitedly. He had just thought of the idea, but he found that he himself liked the thought.
            [Fine.] Pira agreed bitterly. [But he’ll work for 10 units an hour, and he won’t see a cent until the 400 units of damages are paid off. I’ll be monitoring you literally every second, so if you slack off, I’ll consider it as your own time off the clock.]
            “But-”
            Leonard looked like he was going to complain, but Lasko shut him up by shaking his head vigorously. Pira simply continued as if she didn’t see anything.
            [But we need to set some house rules.] The drones all lifted a mechanical leg and pointed threateningly at the tense old man.
            [Don’t ever touch my stuff.] Then the drones simultaneously turned and left.
            Leonard gave Lasko a look of shock.
            “What the heck is wrong with your AI? It is seriously out of control.”
            Lasko winced. “First, she can hear everything that you’re saying right now, so please be careful with your words if you want to keep the peace,” the young man hurriedly. Lasko was worried that yet another insult would upset the sensitive robot. “And second, PIRA has her reasons… I’m sure… for being like that. She’s an older generation model, remember?”
            Leonard eyebrows shot up. “That’s PIRA? It looks different than the sematic that you showed me. You made some real big modifications.”
            Lasko coughed sheepishly. “Actually, I didn’t make those, she made them to herself.”
            “Huh?” Leonard’s expression twisted up more and more with each bit of incomprehensible information.
            Lasko filled Leonard in on all the stuff that had happened with PIRA, from turning the robot on, flipping the limiter switch without the ownership code, as well as the agreement that he had struck up with PIRA for mutual cooperation. At the end of the conversation Leonard scratched his chin thoughtfully.
            “So it’s an ancient model that you managed to get going, and its acting strange has to do with the fact that the AI is built to be more human… It could also be due to the fact that some of her personality data might have been corrupted after all that time.”
            That sounded like a problem. “Can we fix that?” Lasko asked.
            Leonard shook his head. “Naw, unless you got the owner code, otherwise we’d probably run into the same issue security access you did.”
            The old man shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll be fine, probably. If the robot AI is up and running at all, that means that the personality core is clean. There’ve been safeguards to prevent crazy killer robots since ancient times. You just gotta be able to deal with the crazy part, minus the killer part.” Leonard winked at Lasko humorously.
            The old man rubbed his hands together. “So what kind of stuff I gotta do as a ‘consultant’?”
            “There’s a plethora of stuff…” Lasko had to think for a second before he remembered the biggest problem facing them right now. “Oh right! Food! Did you bring any of those bars with you?”
            Leonard’s hands stiffened in the middle of a rub. “No… I didn’t get a chance to, with Vance’s breathing down my neck, I only have a week worth of bar rations to my name right now.”
            Lasko’s face sank. “I see.” That makes things a bit more complicated.
            Leonard grinned and slapped Lasko on the back. “Don’t look so down, friend! We won’t starve out here. When we run out of bars, we can always eat the rats.”
            What? [What?] Both Lasko and PIRA said simultaneously mentally.
            “Rats? Eat the rats? Like the giant ones in the tunnels?” Lasko asked the older man who had said the gruesome thing quite nonchalantly. The pitch of his own was raised significantly, and his voice was heavy laden with disgust.
            “Yup.” Leonard said it as if it was the normalest thing. The older man nodded off in the distance, to where Ford was frolicking with the two boys. “How else do you think that wild dog over there got so big? Hell. Grilled rats go for a pretty good sum in the city. They ain’t too tasty, but they got quite a unique taste… Completely different than the ration bars. Dog meat is even better, but it goes for ten times the price.”
            Lasko didn’t like the way Leonard was looking at Ford. Gagging a little bit, he shook his head. “Um, is that our only option? I don’t think that I can do that.”
            Leonard chuckled. “You only say that ’cause you haven’t tried it. But something about it, it’s completely different than the food bars.”
            I’ll bet. Lasko pictured the rat skewered on a stick, roasted over a fire, the disgusting rodent’s arms and legs splayed out, the meat browning, and the fat glistening on the surface of the perfectly grilled, juicy rat skewer…
            He shook his head, trying to lose the image, but he couldn’t shake the transformed image of the rat meat. His stomach rumbled in desire, and Lasko realized that his aversion to the rat meat had somehow started to disappear, and started sounding like a very tasty idea…
            [Lasko, snap out of it!] Pira’s voice interrupted his reverie. [It’s filthy. Do you know what rats eat?]
            I know, I know… As he was nodding in agreement, there was something nagging at him at the back of his mind. Then it hit him.
            “Leonard, what do those rats eat?”
            The whole area was a wasteland of plastic and metal. Apart from the humans, there wasn’t any organic forms of life, at least Lasko hadn’t seen any. The humans ate the food bars. Ford, the giant dog probably had been eating the rats, but what had the rats been eating?
            Leonard gave Lasko a sharp look, then shook his head. “I don’t know. The rats live in the tunnels, and when I spent some time down there I was able to map the location to their nest. But it’s too big. It’s in a area five miles all round, and when you get closer, the rats get mean. I’ve never gotten near enough to figure out where they’re actually hiding in there.”
            Lasko got excited. “They must have some kind of food source! Otherwise, how would they be able to live there for such a long time? It has to be in their nest.”
            Leonard shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s just way too dangerous. The rats are no joke. There are hordes of them down there, and some of them are even larger than Tunnel!”
            “What?!” Lasko considered that new piece of information. Hordes of children-sized rats swarming towards him. He shuddered. It certainly sounded like a bad idea…
            What do you think PiRA?
            [Going into narrow tunnels miles underground into a nest of countless mutant rats, to look for a food source that may or may not exist, sounds a lot better than eating foresaid mutant rats to me.]
            I’m in agreement, Lasko said. I definitely would prefer not to eat rat meat, but if I was starving… Why are you so against it? It’s not like you’d be eating it.
            [If you think about it… I eat the thetan units that your body produces, which is sustained by the food that you eat. So yes. I do have a problem with you eating it. I may be an AI, but I have principles.]
            Right… Lasko smiled at Leonard, who was looking at him with a suspicious expression.
            “I’ve decided… that we’re going to go for a trip!”
            Leonard groaned. “It’s a dumbass thing to do.”
            Lasko shrugged. “That may be, but the only other option doesn’t sit right in my stomach.”
            [Cheesy.] Pira said.
            “Besides, I think that with your help, we can come up with plenty of ideas on how to protect ourselves.” Lasko slapped Leonard on the back. “We have only a more week until our food runs out, so that’ll give us some time.”
            Leonard furrowed his brow, confused. “Wait, you only have a week of food rations left? I gave you at least a month’s worth last time… What happened to all of it?”
            Lasko tried to keep a poker face, but his eyes flickered towards where the dog was now pulling Tunnel and Sharp on a makeshift sled with a rope. Leonard didn’t miss the action.
            “Wait…” Leonard face when from confusion, to conflict, to anguish. “You fed them… to your new pet?!”
            “Uh… it was kind of a complicated scenario…?” Lasko began to give his excuses but was waved off by Leonard.
            “Ugh…It doesn’t matter. Going down into the rat’s nest is an idiot’s quest. You’d be eaten alive before you got through the maze of tunnels.” Leonard shook his head, writing off the suggestion.
            “If the two of us went, wouldn’t we find a way?” Lasko wheedled him.
            Leonard stared at him shocked. “You mean you expect me to follow you down there? If that is what you meant by being a consultant, then I quit. We’d be dead for sure. Don’t underestimate those rats… Some of the larger ones I’ve seen could give your dog there a good bloodying.”
            [Lasko, make this guy an offer. Buy him off with Units] Pira suddenly said urgently to Lasko.
            What? Weren’t you at this guy’s throat just a little bit ago?
            [Yeah, but that was before I knew that our existence depended on eating rodent meat.] Pira’s voice was filled with disgust. [This old geezer seems to have a better idea than us about what’s down there. And if he’s scared, then we should be too. But if we can convince him to come down, then at least we’d know that there was a possibility of getting out alive.]
            You make it sound so dangerous. Lasko half-laughed, taken aback by the seriousness.
            [Isn’t it?] Pira didn’t say anything else.
            Sigh. Lasko turned to Leonard… “I’ll give you 1000 units as payment.”
            Pira, please count out 500 units. Lasko held his hand to his belt, where Pira had ‘hacked’ into previously, modifying the thetan converter so that it could dispense the units by an exact measure. Leonard’s eyes swiveled to the growing orb of deep blue units.
            Lasko held it out to Leonard, effectively getting the greedy man’s attention. “Half now, half when we get back to the base with whatever we find down there.”
            Leonard quickly swiped the orb from Lasko’s hands and admired it. “This deep color…” the older man purred. He quickly put the orb out of sight, and shook Lasko’s hand. “You got yourself a deal.”
            Lasko was briefly surprised at how quickly Leonard changed his mind. What, no negotiation?
            [Greedy bloodsucker.] Pira sneered.
            “All righty then,” Leonard said, rubbing his hands together eagerly. Once he received his down payment, the old man was ready to buckle down and get planning. “The first task that awaits us is…”
            Leonard very efficiently laid out the tasks needed to undertake the expedition.
            One. Narrow down the location of the rat nest.
            “The tunnels that the rats primarily live weave in and out of a huge space. I got a rough idea of the outskirts.” Leonard had pulled out a 3D hologram of the tunnels underground, highlighting an empty area where the rats supposedly lived. “They’re all connected, so we could walk around for months and never be able to find the main nest. Before we go down there blind, we’d need to map it out somehow.”
            Two. Outfit for the expedition.
            “Obviously, we’re going to need some heavy duty gear, if we want to get down there and back without getting eaten alive. I have something that I can use back in my underground storehouse…” Leonard eyed Lasko’s casual outfit. “But the question is whether you do… Rat teeth can bite through steel. You’ll need something better than what you’re wearing now. You’ll also need some heavy weaponry. From how angry I’ve seen the rats get closer to the nest, I wouldn’t settle for anything less than a high powered rail gun.”
            Heavy weaponry… Lasko began to get excited. I like the sound of that. I’ve always wanted to use a flamethrower.
            His thoughts were interrupted by Leonard, who seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. “But nothing flammable! There’s tons of funky gases down there. Don’t want to blow us all up.”
            Lasko was slightly disappointed, while Pira focused on the issue at hand.
            [Heavy weaponry, but nothing flammable? That doesn’t give us a lot of options, does it?]
            Three. Transportation was needed to carry whatever they found down there back to the surface.
            “Since this food source is far down, whatever it is, chances are that it’s ancient tech, which means it’ll be heavy. If we’re unlucky, it could be a solid chunk of metal the size this house!”
            Leonard slapped the thick, sintered brick floor with his hand, illustrating its sturdiness. “Better plan for something big.”
            “Great!” Lasko said positively. “So we have to find out where this nest is, gear up on weapons, and also figure out a way to bring it back home. Sounds simple enough.”
            [‘Cause I’ll be the one doing all the heavily lifting,] Pira said grumpily. [What are you going to do, may I ask?]
            Lasko shrugged mentally. “Helping you brainstorm ideas?” he said a bit sheepishly.
            [That’s what I thought.]

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