Lasko woke up to the sound of machinery running drifting in through the front door. He sat up, looking around the hut. Other than Lasko, the only inhabitant was Ford, who wagged his tail briefly in greeting when the dog saw that Lasko was awake.
Taking out another food bar, Lasko gave it to the dog, patting it on the head before headed out to investigate the noise.
PiRa was standing motionless in front of a flat box the size of a coffee tray. The noises were coming from the machine, she appeared to be waiting for something.
She must have been working on it all night.
When Lasko came out, PiRA quickly turned around. “Finally, you’re up. I have something to give you.”
Without moving from where she was standing, her large arm uncoiled, plucking an object from PiRA’s platform and extended it out to Lasko.
It was the visual-device, but it was clearly different, with various small components added to it, along with a larger cluster of parts attached in the back.
“I modified this, and now its custom fitted to you.”
Lasko looked at it, a bit depressed. “That’s not mine, you know.” What was he going to tell Sharp and Tunnel?
“Don’t worry about that for now, I didn’t break it or anything. Just put it on.”
Discomforted, Lasko took the headset, and cautiously placed it on his head. Indeed, it was a much more comfortable fit now. As soon as he placed it on, the synching message reoccurred. But now, instead of the previous data archive screen, his vision reverted to the actual view in front of him.
Huh? He looked down on his hands. Lasko didn’t get the sensation that he was looking at a display at all. There was absolutely no delay, at least not one that Lasko could detect.
[Cool huh?] An excited female voice sounded directly in his mind.
Pira? He thought cautiously. Is that you?
[It is me,] the AI said, the words conveying a sense of victory. [Since the technology and data storage in this visual reader was way beyond what was in my original hardware, I decided to transfer myself over into this device to optimize performance.]
Lasko watched the robot in front of him move. It was a crazy feeling, hearing her talk in his mind, instead of hearing her voice audibly.
If you’re in here, how are you still there? Did you… clone yourself? Suddenly Lasko got the image of hundreds of men in suits and sunglasses running around. Where did that image come from?
[Tsk tsk. Even though my limiter has been released, I can’t alter my core personality unit. Which says ‘no duplicating allowed.’ Along with ‘don’t hurt people,’ and ‘don’t lie,’ in case you were worrying about those issues too. Anyway, I’m just controlling that thing remotely. My old body, say hi!]
As Lasko watched, the robot that he once knew as Pira turned around and waved.
[This is my condition for not telling your secret.]
What is? Wearing this thing?
[Yes. since I need you to survive, and you need me to keep your dirty laundry hidden, along with some other things, we’ve entered a symbiotic relationship. It makes sense that we should stick closely together, doesn’t it?]
Being able to read my mind might be a little too close, don’t you think? Lasko said.
In his mind, he got the impression of Pira giggling. That was a first.
[There are obviously other logistical reasons. For one, I can nourish my growing need for thetans off of you directly, instead of wasting thetans by converting them to units first. The second reason is one that I think you’ll like. Look at an object, like that machine that I built last night.]
What? Lasko’s eyes unconsciously flitted to the flat box. Suddenly, a transparent display popped up. [DNA sequencer. Distance, 4 meters], it said in small green lettering.
[Not bad huh?] Pira said proudly. [Any data that my sensors pick up can be displayed here visually. But this isn’t the best part.]
What’s the best part? Lasko couldn’t help but think. A sharp piece of scrap lying a few meters from him highlighted itself in red in his vision.
[Pick that up, and throw it as far above you as you can.]
Doing as he was told, he grabbed the object, and making sure not to cut himself, he threw the object above him, hard. As it soared through the air, the object highlighted in green, making it easier to see, and a numerical display popped up, indicating the object’s distance and even the rate of rotation.
He watched it until the object began to fall back towards him, and then he began to move hurriedly well out of the way. It would be bad to get skewered.
[Now watch this.]
All of a sudden, it stopped. No, it slowed down. Waaay down. What is happening? Lasko watched as the falling piece of metal rotated slowly in the air.
It was surreal.
[By activating the time-lapse synchronization function, your brain is forcefully receiving about fifty times more information than usual, causing the slow motion perception.]
In wonder, Lasko reached out, his arm and hand moving slowly, positioning himself. With seeming ease, he caught the bar on its non-jagged end effortlessly with a single hand.
Then with a rush, time resumed to normal. He stared at the bar in his hands, completely blown away.
Wow. That was amazing, he thought to himself.
[With me here, certain things will become much easier for you.] Pira said smugly. She knew that Lasko was already hooked. [I’m sure we can find plenty of practical uses for my presence. Like keeping you alive.]
Lasko was still caught on the amazing experience. Wow, he thought again, remembering how it felt to catch the bar out of the air.
Can I do it again? He threw the bar in his hand back into the air.
PiRA laughed, obviously pleased with herself. Time froze again.
Pira spent the next thirty minutes with Lasko explaining many of the functionalities that the new headset would provide Lasko.
A clock for one. Lasko was extremely happy to see the familiar four digits in the upper right hand corner of his vision. There were plenty of other transparent text and symbols on the screen, which disappeared and appeared at a thought. Pira kept referring to this as a head up display or a HUD, a reference that seemed familiar, but Lasko couldn’t quite recall.
If he wanted to see the temperature, it popped up. Wanted it in Celsius? Boom, it converted instantly. Wanted a closer look at something? A little window popped up, enlarging the object of interest.
It was truly amazing. Pira seemed to have no end of functions.
[You can activate infrared sight, thermal imaging, as well as sonar imaging. X-ray vision isn’t available yet, but I’m working on it.]
[I installed a rudimentary mass spectrometer. It can conduct a rough breakdown of element composition, but only at close proximity. If I can get a hold of more sophisticated manufacturing tools, a modern spectrometer is definitely possible.]
[I can scan the area with radar up to a mile radius, and I have various directional microphones to enhance auditory functions. Last night I have also created a beta laser microphone, so if conditions are right, we can hear conversations from over two miles away.]
[Looks like the DNA is done sequencing.]
Huh? Lasko was trying his best to keep up, but the last sentence threw him off track.
[I built a DNA sequencer machine last night, and I took the liberty of harvesting a few DNA samples from the dog, and began testing.]
A window popped up in the HUD, and a 3d model of a multi-colored double helix appeared.
[Only .005% variance between all three samples? Not bad for a machine that I built in the yard. With this, I’ll be able to reprogram healing nanites to be able to fix up your giant pet dog.]
Lasko whistled. I have to admit, Pira, all of this is really impressive.
[I know.] Pira preened. [But you should know, that all of this is only really possible because of you.]
How do you mean?
[Right now, all of this is racking up quite the energy bill. Not including my own thetan requirements, I estimate that running all of this stuff is roughly 50 thetan units. But if you take into account my rate of thetan consumption, tack on another 40 units to that score. To run this setup, you’d need to be a 90 year old man, give or take.]
[Given that my thetan usage will keep increasing, I figure that eventually, there won’t be a person alive that can support this rig.]
Then a ping rang out. A small screen popped up, and on it where two red dots were moving.
[Hm, the radar is picking up two people headed this way.]
It’s probably Sharp and Tunnel headed back from their trip to find a new home.
[New home? What, are we moving?] Pira asked confused.
Ah, that’s right, she doesn’t know… Lasko filled PiRA in on the events that had happened the days before Lasko activated her: making the trip to Leonard’s for new tools, running into Vance’s men, escaping through the underground tunnels, and Sharp’s decision to relocate to a place where Vance wouldn’t be able to find them.
[So falling trash from the skies aren’t the only dangerous things that we have to look out for here], Pira said grimly.
At this time, two small figures came into sight. Lasko zoomed in his view. It was Sharp and Tunnel, the boys looking tired and dirty, but otherwise fine.
[These rugrats are your friends?] Pira said skeptically. [They’re not even fifteen?]
When Tunnel saw Lasko’s figure, he waved, but as the two drew nearer, Lasko saw their expressions change when they saw him.
Was it the robot? Lasko wondered. But then he realized that he was wearing the visual-reader headset. Does it really look that different?
[Want to see?] A window popped up, and in it was another viewpoint. It took Lasko a second to understand that it was a camera from the robot. The camera view swiveled to look at Lasko, and he laughed.
He definitely looked weird. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie. It looked like he was wearing a motorcycle helmet, with none of the sleekness and excessive clunkiness.
He waved at Tunnel and Sharp, hoping to dispel their worries. “It’s me! How was the trip? Did you find a good place?”
Upon hearing Lasko’s voice, their worried expressions turned to ones of relief. Then Sharp made a face. “What’d you do to the visual reader?”
“Hahaha…” Lasko gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, I wanted to introduce you to someone.” He pointed at the Pira’s old body, which was still waiting by the DNA sequencer. “This is Pira, she’s the robot that you guys found a while ago. I managed to fix her up.”
“You fixed it up!?” Tunnel asked excitedly. He hurried came over to take a closer look at the robot.
“Hello. I am PIRA, your friendly personal robotic assistant.” Pira’s female voice came out.
“It talks!” Sharp came over, also very interested. “What can it do?”
Why can’t she do is the better question, Lasko thought to himself.
[How true, how true.] Pira said in Lasko’s mind proudly.
Lasko struggled to keep his disgusted thoughts under control. “She’s very capable,” he said diplomatically. “Anyways, what’s the new on the new home?”
“Great!” Tunnel piped up energetically. “We found a great place way out by the mountains. It’s not in a drop zone or anything.” He looked at Lasko excitedly. “Did you get a chance to see the garbage drop? It happens once every couple weeks.”
Saw it? I was in it. A bit embarrassed to admit that he hadn’t heeded their instructions to stay in the hut, Lasko changed the topic. “Hey Sharp, do you have the fixer with you?”
Sharp nodded, handing it over. “Yea, here. Did you get hurt anywhere?”
“Uh… not exactly.”
Will this work? Lasko asked Pira mentally. In his vision, the fixer flashed green, as Pira began scanning it.
[Yes. This will be suitable.] The robot, suddenly moved, moving towards Lasko, surprising Tunnel and Sharp, who both quickly got out of the way.
The robot grabbed the device, and immediately began disassembling it.
“Hey! What the hell?” Sharp angrily shouted. He snatched out his spear. It looked as if he ready to fight the robot for it. Lasko hurriedly tried to calm Sharp down. “It’s ok, it’s ok. She knows what she’s doing. She can totally put it back together.” Right? You can put it back together, right?
[Of course I can. You don’t even have to ask.]
Out loud, Pira also reaffirmed Lasko’s claim for Sharp’s benefit. “Do not worry, young man, not only can I fix it, I can easily duplicate it.”
Sharp, totally unconvinced, sent death glares at Lasko.
No offense, but you really better be able to, otherwise this kid is going to kill me.
Tunnel got a confused look on his face. “But Lasko, how is Pira running? You don’t have any units?”
Oh crap. This again. Lasko put a fake grin on his face. “Actually, it turns out while you were gone, I started producing units! Crazy, huh?”
Both Tunnel and Sharp gawked at him. “Really? How many units you got?” Sharp asked.
Lasko quickly lied. “Uh… about 30, I think?”
Then something occurred to him. How was Lasko supposed to know how many units he had if he didn’t have a tester to check? Quick, he needed to distract them before they caught him at his terrible lying.
“Hey…hey, I have something to show you guys in the hut.”
Lasko hurried inside. Thankfully they followed after him, easily led down a different train of thought.
“That is Ford. He’s a dog I found.”
Sharp and Tunnel froze at the sight of the dog. They didn’t move. Ford didn’t move either. The dog stared at them carefully, like he wasn’t sure if they were friends or not.
“That’s a wild dog…” Sharp said very carefully and slowly.
“Yup.” I guess pet dogs really aren’t a thing here. I mean, I don’t blame them. They are freaking huge. “Ford doesn’t have any legs, so he can’t move. You guys don’t need to be scared.”
Sharp, of course, took offense. “I’m, I’m not scared!” he protested. But the boy made sure to confirm that the dog was missing its legs before relaxing.
“You named him Ford?” Tunnel asked, not showing the same fear as Sharp. He was a bit cautious, but still very interested.
“Yeah. We ran into each other, and I brought him here to get fixed up.”
“You’re going to use the fixer on it?” Sharp said incredulously. “Will it work?”
“Pira says it will.” How much longer until we can use the fixer? Lasko asked.
[It’s coming. Surely you can wait longer than five minutes.]
Just asking for a time frame.
[Fifteen more minutes.]
“Do you want to feed it?” Lasko asked. Tunnel looked at the dog with wide eyes.
“We can feed it?”
“Sure!” Lasko grabbed another bar of food.
“You’ve been feeding it our food supply? We’re short as it is!” Sharp said critically.
Lasko looked sheepish. “It’s all right,” he reasoned. “We’ve got enough for a couple months. We’ll get more by then. I’ll buy them.” He broke the bar into three equal pieces, handing a piece to Tunnel and Sharp each.
“I don’t know…” Sharp said in an unsure tone. Lasko was pretty happy that he had found a small weakness in Sharp’s normally hard exterior.
“Don’t worry, it’s really easy. He won’t bite you if you’re his friend.” Lasko moved forward, and sitting down by Ford, he held out the piece of food bar. Ford easily ate it out of his hand, and Lasko gave the giant dogs’ fur a good rub down. “See? Easy.”
Tunnel’s eyes lit up, but then they became cautious again. The kid was still uncertain about it. He looked to Sharp nervously. It seemed that Tunnel wanted Sharp to give the go ahead.
“Sharp, you should go first, you’re older,” Lasko encouraged. The older boy gulped, obviously a bit fearful. But now under Tunnel’s deference, it was hard to him to back down now.
Carefully approaching, Sharp slid closer and closer.
“Yeah, that’s it.” Lasko kept pushing the boy with encouraging words. Knowing how he himself had reacted in the cave, Sharp was doing terrific.
Finally Sharp was within reach. To Lasko’s amusement, he saw that the boy was sweating.
Wow, he must be really scared.
Sharp slowly reached out a trembling hand. The dog didn’t reach out to it right away. Ford seemed to be cautious for some reason. Is it because Sharp is nervous?
But then the large dog slowly reached its head out, and not taking his eyes off of Sharp, the dog gently took the piece of food from Sharp’s hand.
“There you go!” Lasko said happily. Sharp sat back, letting loose a big relieved breath. He looked back at Tunnel victoriously.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal!”
Now completely convinced, Tunnel came forward eagerly. Holding out the food, he watched with sparkling eyes as the dog took the food from him. Prompted by Lasko, Tunnel even patted Ford, getting coached by Lasko on making sure to groom along the grain.
Even Sharp tried it out, even though he stopped after a few pets.
Lasko noticed that fifteen minutes had passed. How are we doing on the nanites? Good to go?
[Good to go.] Pira acknowledged.
All right! Even though I never thought I’d say this… let’s do some animal experimentation!
The robotic shell came walking over. In its hands was a slightly remodified version of the fixer. It was handed to Lasko, before robot went back outside. Sharp, upon noticing the reassembled fixer, showed an expression of satisfaction.
This, this is it? Lasko questioned Pira, with a little trepidation.
[Yes, this nanobot transmitter has been modified to receive signals from me wirelessly. It is capable of flesh regeneration of any animal that I have a basic genome mapped. What seems to be the problem?]
I don’t know… just… this method tends to be extremely violent and painful. Is there another way to introduce the nano-bots? I don’t want to have to stab Ford if I don’t have to… Lasko whined.
Thankfully, Pira didn’t harass him or criticize him like he half expected, only considering the question carefully.
[Hm… the fastest way to introduce the nanobots would be injection… and any pain post-injection is likely to be due to the speed of the regeneration process…]
Pira trailed off, her voice fading into silence, apparently doing some calculations. Then she spoke up again. [If we want to reduce the amount of pain in the injection process, we can perhaps introduce the nanites via the respiratory process. As for the actual regeneration, it should be possible to reduce the severity of pain by slowing down the activity rate. To completely remove pain, it would require the use of an analgesic, which would require that we synthesize it, or the temporary disabling of the nervous system, which I do not recommend.]
Relief struck Lasko when he heard that there was a possibility. Great, let’s do it that way. What do I need to do?
Pira’s robotic frame came walking back in. Taking the fixer back from Lasko, the robot then promptly cut it open, not even bothering to disassemble like it had done previously.
“Hey!” Sharp shouted angrily. “What is it doing now?”
Ignoring Sharp, the robot continued cutting, and then extracted a small capsule the size of a pill from the remains of the now destroyed fixer. It carefully handed it to Lasko.
“Please place this against the dog’s nose, and keep it there for a minute.” Pira said out loud, presumably for the benefit of Sharp and Tunnel.
Lasko complied, gently holding the dog’s head, and placing the capsule against the wet nostrils.
Ford, seemingly uncomfortable, squirmed a bit, but Lasko did his best to keep the dog’s head still.
[Activating nanites now,] Pira said.
He felt the sensation of the object becoming smaller and smaller, until finally, there was nothing left in his hands, at which point Lasko let Ford go, and stepped back. If the dog started to feel pain, Lasko didn’t want to be within reach. The pain was truly agonizing. Tunnel and Sharp followed his example.
They waited for a full minute, but nothing seemed to be happening.
“Don’t worry, it’s working,” Pira reassured them, so they kept watching silently.
Finally, Ford started to show some discomfort, beginning to whine and fidget. The dog began to lick, and even gnaw at its stumpy legs.
[Please stop it from doing that], Pira told Lasko privately. [That would be a bit counterproductive.]
A bit unwilling, Lasko sat down next the dog, and firmly clasped the dog’s head to his own body. Ford began to growl struggling, and then whine, and then whine even louder and struggle more frantically as presumably the pain worsened.
“Look!” Tunnel whispered, pointing.
At the base of the leg’s stumps, the bald skin began to morph and move. It was grotesque, but also incredibly fascinating.
Ford’s whining grew worse, but emboldened by the visual effect the nanites were having, Lasko clung even tighter to the dog’s head.
At this point in time, the dog’s struggling grew weaker, and suddenly the dog went limp.
Sensing’s Lasko’s distress, Pira calmed him. [He just passed out. The reconstruction is using a large amount of calories, siphoning the energy from the bloodstream, and reducing the amount available to the brain.]
A display of numbers popped up in Lasko’s vision, detailing a set of numbers and measurements.
[Don’t worry, I am actively tracking the dog’s biometrics. It isn’t in any immediate danger. In fact, now that the dog is passed out, I will accelerate the rate of regeneration.]
Lasko breathed a sigh of relief. Both Sharp and Tunnel gave a gasp, and the man looked over to see what they were surprised about.
Like Pira had mentioned, the rate of the leg’s regeneration had increased drastically, growing longer and longer. Lasko could see the muscles being knitted together at an astonishing rate under the ever expanding skin.
Faster and faster. Lasko’s could feel the dog’s breath shuddering, and its body twitching uncontrollably. Thankfully the dog’s heartbeat was relatively stable, along with the dog’s blood pressure.
Finally, after a long fifteen minutes, it was done. The legs were completely regenerated, missing only the hairs. Gone too, were Ford’s other wounds on its body, the scars gone, leaving only the dried, scabbed blood behind.
Lasko gently lowered the sleeping dogs head to the ground, wiping the sweat off of his face. Although he hadn’t really done any work, the intensity of it had really drained him. He went to the storage, taking a long drink of water.
Pira, you did it, Lasko thought praisingly.
[Did you expect anything different?] Pira said confidently.
“Ford’s up!” Tunnel shouted, unable to repress the excitement in his voice.
The three of them watched as the dog slowly raised his head, waking up. It looked tired.
“Ford, want some water?” Lasko poured out of the water that he was drinking into the Ford’s water bowl, but he left it purposefully out of the dog’s reach.
Ford, reached out its neck, but couldn’t quite reach. Then the dog began to move its legs, scooting him closer to the bowl, and the dog took a drink.
Then the dog spotted its new legs, and just stared at them for a while.
Then Ford began to move them, back and forth, watching them carefully. Finally, after what seemed like eons, Ford placing his hind legs on the ground, began to struggle to sit up, placing his forelegs on the ground and pushing, his bald legs quivering with the effort.
Lasko wanted to help him, but Pira stopped him. [The dog needs to build up muscle mass, so helping isn’t going benefit it long-term.]
Finally, with painstaking effort, Ford managed to sit up. The dog sat there for a few minutes, resting, and then finally rose up, lifting up his hindquarters.
Lasko, Tunnel, and even Sharp, erupted into cheers, patting the dog who stood there stoically.
“The dog will need sleep and nutrients to recover,” Pira said out loud in a matter of fact tone.
Tunnel and Lasko looked at Sharp, who hesitated, before going to the food supply and taking out another food bar. He shrugged sheepishly.
“We’ll find a way more food. No big deal.”