MLM – Chapter 34

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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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