Chapter 6: Revelations
Caleb left the training hall with the four-man fire team behind him. He entered a conference room that had been selected for its interior building location, and its sound proofing. When the doors were closed, the silence was nearly absolute. Three rooms had been prepared for this process.
Everyone selected a seat, and Caleb asked, "So, were you impressed with the armor?"
Master Chief Sal Marconi answered with, "That is probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen. The fact that it's permanent, though, is troubling. It wouldn't cause me a problem, but some of the young bucks plan on having a life and a family some day. How would something like that armor affect that goal, or their children?"
"Good question," Caleb began. "Obviously I have the armor, and my wife has it too. We were two of the first, and the situation at the time required the armor, quickly. Since then, our son, Noah, was born. The armor actually morphed to protect Noah, too. That was surprising, because the armor is DNA encoded. The encoding had to change to accommodate our child. That wasn't one of the subroutines of the programming."
Caleb snorted before continuing, "The programming for the armor system has code for a rudimentary artificial intelligence built into it. It was necessary because damaged nanobots needed to be discarded through the body's normal waste system, and new nanobots generated from the body's resources to replace them. The consensus is the armor is evolving in some way. The inventor doesn't know how that is possible, but he's constantly looking for ways to improve the armor. He can't remove it, but he can introduce additional nanobots with updated programming."
"Did it ... um ... were there any issues with your boy?" Sergeant Jacob Upton asked hesitantly.
"Well," Caleb mused with a chuckle. "He's four years old, and other than being smarter than I am, no. He's a good kid, and seems to be normal in most respects; but, like I said, he's smart. I've never seen him deploy his armor, but tests have shown that he has the capability. Another child of armored parents fell from a playground slide. Her armor deployed before she hit the ground. She got up, unhurt, and the armor disappeared. Then she ran back to the ladder for her next turn."
"What happens if you get hit by an EMP, or someone introduces code to turn the armor against you?" the Master Chief wondered aloud, clearly doubting the whole process.
"EMP isn't a problem. An Electro Magnetic Pulse damages electronics by introducing excited electrons to circuits not designed to handle them. The nanobots use excited electrons to function. An EMP just makes them stronger and faster. Normally, they only use the power generated by the human body. As for being attacked by the programming," Caleb said, shaking his head, "The base programming is coded to interact in other ways. The programming can be changed, but requires that you consciously agree to the process."
"I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop," Gunnery Sergeant Duke Durand said in a gravelly voice.
"And there is another shoe," Caleb agreed seriously.
"Here it comes," the Gunny murmured with apprehension.
Caleb ignored his comment, and said, "Gentlemen, this is full disclosure time. The armor is derived from human technology, but it is enhanced with alien techniques. The armor also requires an alien symbiote to function. The human body doesn't have the capacity to use the armor on its own. It would still protect you internally, but not externally."
"Whoa! I didn't expect that!" Staff Sergeant Jim Hopkins blurted.
"No one can force you to accept the symbiote, even if they wanted to. I could have fooled you into accepting the symbiote, but we don't work that way," Caleb explained.
The other team members laughed nervously, but Caleb only smiled and waited for the questions that he knew the men had.
Sergeant Upton tentatively asked, "What is the chance of the symbiote turning on us, and eating his way out, like in the movies?"
"No chance," Caleb replied with a chuckle.
"What is it with humans, and their fixation on monsters eating their way out of their bodies?" Al asked Caleb grumpily.
Caleb laughed out loud, before saying, "My Companion, that's what we call the symbiotes, wonders about us humans' fixation on monsters eating their way out of us."
"You can talk to them?" the Master Chief asked sharply.
"Oh, yeah," Caleb said with a grimace. "The symbiotes are highly intelligent. Let me give you a little background, and then I'll have to ask for a decision. Companions are ethereal. They have no physical substance, but they cannot live without a host."
Caleb paused, and gathered his thoughts before continuing with, "My Companion is different than the others on earth. I met him when his host's ship crashed a few years ago. Al, that's what I call him, just did what he has done his whole existence. When his host was near death, he looked for a new host. If he hadn't found one quickly, he would have died. He asked to join me, and I agreed. I didn't know what I was agreeing to when I accepted him, but I don't regret it. Al has been migrating from host to host his entire life: over thirteen billion years. His species doesn't procreate. His species once numbered in the multi-billions, but now are down to just a few million. We have figured out that his species originated in another ... um ... universe. One theory of what caused the Big Bang is two universes collided, which created ours. We think there was some intermingling of universes, and species from those universes, during the Big Bang. The billions of Companions survived by becoming symbiotes for corporal species. They are allowed to live, and in return they amplify whatever natural abilities their hosts possess. In my case, and likewise for the other human hosts, I think we got the better end of the deal. Al was very surprised by the abilities found in humans."
Caleb paused, and sampled their surface thoughts before continuing. They were skeptical out of caution rather than because of fear or revulsion at the concepts. That was good.
"Among our advantages," Caleb continued, "We get extended life, beyond what the armor provides, by hundreds of years, and maybe longer. We get pseudo-mental telepathy, increased thought speed, better memory, and faster reaction time."
"That's how you grabbed that snake in mid-strike," the Gunny mused quietly.
Caleb smiled, but said, "There are a few disadvantages, though Al thinks they are only perceived disadvantages. The top of my list, among my perceived disadvantages, is that you will never be able to get drunk again. You can try, but your body will metabolize alcohol before it ever reaches your brain. A big thing is your Companion is always there, something like an overactive conscience. Humans aren't designed for that level of intrusion. That takes getting used to."
"So where do the new Companions come from?" Sergeant Upton asked hesitantly.
"We discovered, soon after I accepted Al, that humans have a very unique capability. It is unique in the universe, in Al's experience. Under certain circumstances, a host/Companion pair can open a portal into another universe. We think that it is the Companion's home universe. When a portal is opened, nearby humans that are not already hosts receive a Companion. These are Companions that are new to this universe. Oddly enough, each new Companion seems to be matched to the character and psychological profile of the host. If you guys accept, you get a brand new Companion, and I'm stuck with this old, worn out Companion.
"I am not old and worn out!" Al mentally declared angrily to everyone at the table.
Staff Sergeant Hopkins fell out of his chair, backwards, and rolled to his feet with his back against the wall. He had returned from Afghanistan a month earlier, and the edge was still on his nerves. Sergeant Upton also fell out of chair, but he stayed on the floor, managing to move back on his elbows and toes. Gunny Durand and the Master Chief had twitched, but hadn't moved a muscle otherwise.
"You did say these Companions enabled mental telepathy," Master Chief Marconi said drily. "I assume that was your Companion."
"It was," Caleb replied just as drily. "Like I said, he's pretty old, and is set in his ways. We're getting better. We don't argue as much as we did at first. I seriously considered finding an old mangy dog for his host, during the first few weeks. He was pretty hard to get along with, but I haven't noticed that with any of the new Companions."
"Companions can move to other hosts?" Staff Sergeant Hopkins asked hopefully, relief in his voice.
"Normally, the answer would be yes," Caleb answered. "Under normal circumstances, Companions can move from host to host, at will. They don't need to wait until the death of their host to move. The thing is, the DNA coding of the armor locks the Companion to you for the rest of your life. When you die, the Companion dies. Bran, the guy that designed the armor, with Al's help, thinks there should be a way to remove the armor with programming. That should also release the Companion. Until we find a way to remove the armor, the Companion is permanent."
"You can decide whether you want to go with the program. After you get a Companion, it will take ten to twelve hours before he can communicate with you. Then the Companion has to also agree to accepting the armor. It is a death sentence for your Companion. Al is over thirteen billion years old, yet when I die, he dies. In his case, being locked to me was an accident. We don't feel that it is right to force another sentient being to give up his life."
"Wow! That sucks!" Sergeant Upton exclaimed, as he stood and righted his chair.
The Gunny shot him an irritated glance, before looking back at Caleb and asking, "What's the rest of it? Why should they give up their lives so we can try to suppress a religious war in the Middle East?"
"Actually, there are two very important issues. The most immediate is an unpublicized detail behind that religious war. A young woman had received a Companion a few years ago. Between the time she received it, and before she could communicate with it, she was kidnapped and raped. A portal inadvertently opened, and a very evil man received something similar to a Companion, but different. It wouldn't have happened, if her Companion was past that initial phase. She would have been protected, and she could have avoided opening the portal. Like I said, the creature that came through was different than Companions. We think it was a demon. It combined with that man, and they escaped to Syria. We think he is the power behind the throne in ISIS, which would explain their barbarism. That demon has no respect for human life or social mores. Al said that, in the early universe, there were millions of them in hosts. Worlds were destroyed in the battle between the two species. They were extinct, but now one is in this universe again. He must be killed."
"And the other thing?" Master Chief Marconi asked.