Jag was never given to paranoia, but the summons from Mentor was doubly ominous: it could not be refused, and the timing was suspicious. There was only one attitude to take toward such a situation, and that was the attitude of the warrior. Jag was prepared to fight, he planned to win, and he was ready to die for the cause. It had never been different in his life, except that now he felt more comfortable with the tasks ahead. That empty feeling in the pit of his stomach that accompanied unsavory assignments from the Order was gone. For once he was on the side of the angels.
A late winter wind across the East Boston salt flats brought the iodine smell of seaweed. The private jet with the black tail and gold pyramid logo met him at Logan Airport. He exited his limo at the gate reserved for private aircraft and boarded with only an overnight bag. Part of his luggage was ten carrier trays of Exabyte chips and a financial report. Sealed carefully into an envelope bearing the address of White, Day, Attorneys was a stock power assigning the majority interest in Ultradata held by Mentor’s straw owner in Switzerland to Jaeger Kunstler. He was briefed by Aura and ready to make his move.
At the airport in Lausanne he disembarked and found the blue Bentley Arnage waiting for him on the tarmac. Instead of the usual nondescript driver, he was privileged to find Ogu behind the wheel. Ogu took his bag, but simply pointed to the rear door and held that stance until Jag opened it and got in. The tall black man never spoke a word. Dominar III was anchored out much further than usual. Ogu stood guard in the mahogany runabout until Jag boarded. There was no waiting this time. Mentor was already on deck in his wheelchair, piled with blankets against the evening chill. The Weisshorn wore a glistening cap of snow.
“Good afternoon, Jaeger, I trust Ogu was prompt at the airport?” Mentor said in his precise, acerbic voice.
“No problem, Mentor. I brought the Exaplex chips you required.” He pulled a cardboard box out of an aluminum container.
“I expected a half billion dollars worth of chips to be in a fancier package. Do you mind if I open it?”
“Please do. I’m told they are very robust, physically. We ship them all over the world in that packaging. The chip carrier inside is phenolic, made just for Ultradata. The chips can’t be pulled out without an extractor tool.”
Mentor tapped the carrier and examined the chips closely. Apart from the part number, serial number and a gold embossed Ultradata logo, there was nothing much to see on their shiny black surface. The real magic was inside.
Mentor handed them to Ogu. “Ogu, please compare these with our requirements and see if they are adequate.”
Jag lifted an eyebrow. “Does Ogu have training in computer technology?”
“He has many surprising talents,” replied Mentor with a sharp look at Ogu. Ogu proceeded through the sliding glass doors and went below.
“Jaeger, we seem to be missing some of our customary sources of information lately. Perhaps you can fill me in on recent developments in Ultradata.”
Of course, he’s missing the bug we planted and we’ve been careful to keep Elexi out of it, Jag thought. He said, “Specifically?”
“How is your assistant, that girl with the strange name, working out?”
Jag fought to remain in tight control of his anger. “Not nearly as well as she did before she was clumsily and obviously conditioned.” He watched Mentor carefully.
Mentor gave a small smile, “Of course. I had hoped the process would endear her to you in, ah, other ways.”
Jag appreciated the irony, so he replied, “And the reports she supplies you, they are also, ah, endearing?”
“They are suspiciously benign, I’m afraid. Suspiciously.”
“I see,” said Jaeger. “You know, the conditioning has not exactly produced an open and spontaneous person. She avoids all her former friends and cowers in a corner half the time. Hardly an effective spy.”
“Hmm. That’s one possible explanation. Tell me about developments in your AI lab.”
“You have my reports. We are using the AI to check out the Exaplex modules at a rate 100 times the original manufacturing projections. We’re meeting all shipping deadlines and accepting all new orders as they come in.”
“And the AI itself… or himself?” Mentor emphasized the last word.
“Purndel is making billings. What more can I say?”
“Purndel? Another strange name. That’s the AI that came up after Aura? Why hasn’t it, or him, been registered yet?”
“Not much of a personality there. We’re not sure he can be registered as a full sentient, at least not yet.”
The salon doors parted. “Ah, Ogu, do we have what we need?”
Jag could hear the runabout starting and soon it left the yacht and raced across the lake to the French side. Ogu came out on the deck and stood directly behind Jag. “Yes, we have the goods. I sent the chip carriers on to our people. Let’s get on with this farce.”
Jag had never heard Ogu speak before. Ogu’s voice was an articulate baritone with an Oxford accent. Jag was stunned.
“Just so, Jaeger, Ogu is not what you thought he was. And perhaps, none of us are what we are supposed to be, are we?” He gave Jag a sideways smile and a raised eyebrow. Mentor shook his head, “There is no room in this organization for rebellion, Jaeger. I know you discovered a bug in the AI lab and I was waiting patiently for you to report it. That was over a month ago. As I told you once, those with the power must act or lose the initiative and the power.”
Jag wondered just how much Mentor knew. There was no extra risk required to find out now. “When we checked the roof to find the source of a drip in the ceiling, we found a dead device of some sort. Who knows how old it was? Probably my hired jihadis planted it.”
“Pah, you can lie better than that. There should be honesty between us after all these years, should there not? Next question: where are the Exaplex royalties earned by Aura? How is it that they were never reported either?” Again he arched one eyebrow.
Jag hoped that Mentor was chasing the money. It was part of his plan. The royalties were already over the one hundred million dollar mark and headed skyward. Likely, he thought Jag had developed a scheme to pocket the money himself. If so, he was ready to lead him down that path. “I understand the royalties due Aura are being held in escrow pending an investigation into her, um, next of kin.”
Mentor chuckled, “And you would be next of kin to a box of wires? Nice. I rather thought that girl Elexi would inherit, if an AI could pass down an inheritance, if Aura ever got a chance to leave a will. Another nice try.”
Jag leaned forward, “Mentor, who would you have inherit? Ultradata? The majority owner of Ultradata? Who is behind that Swiss straw company that holds the majority shares? And, while we’re at this honesty thing, what the hell are you doing with all those Exaplex chips? Selling them for a profit?”
“Score one for your team, Jaeger. It might not surprise you to find out that I, personally control that stock. I, personally, control that Board. And I don’t need to make more money on those chips. What I need is to build the world’s most advanced AI, one I can trust. Those chips are just parts for our project.”
“All in the name of the Order, of course,” Jag sneered.
“The Order. Hear that Ogu, all in the name of the Order. Hah. Hah.” Mentor’s complexion was flushed and a vein in his neck pulsed rapidly. Ogu rushed to his side and checked his pulse.
“Let me show you the price of rebellion, my rebellious student.” Mentor threw his blankets away and pulled up the legs of his pajamas. His feet were mangled, scarred and missing several toes. His lower leg bones protruded at odd angles under a patchwork of skin grafts. His knees were twisted lumps. “This is the price of rebellion. I already paid it. Look, look and remember.” Jag’s eyes grew wide and his mouth opened. Then he shut them and refused to look any further.
Mentor continued, “There was once a promising young athlete name Martinelli. He, I, was about your age, working on a project to tie up all the water rights from the only river in a dry part of Turkey. I was ambitious. I hatched a plan to appoint a water czar of my own to divert water to an opium plantation I controlled. The Order waited until everything was set up and ready to go. Then they hired thugs with sledge hammers to break my legs and kept me from getting any medical attention for months. They got me to sign everything over to them, piece by piece. When I had nothing left and they thought I was ready to be trusted again, they sent in doctors to keep me alive and bring me back to stable health. Then they sent me Ogu.”
“Ogu is your assistant, then? I thought Ogu was just another hired thug.” Jag glared at Ogu, remembering the incident with his dog, Kaiser in a gunny sack.
Ogu took two steps toward Jag, “If I was just another thug, I would be pleased to murder you, turncoat. You’ve had nothing but a charmed life, thanks to Mentor.”
“Now, Ogu, calm down. Jaeger, Ogu isn’t my assistant. He’s my minder.”
“Your minder? You mean, he was assigned to keep you in line?” said Jag in shock.
“Exactly, with the operative world being ‘was’. We’ve come to an arrangement over the years. Ogu has his story, too.” Ogu opened his mouth to interrupt, but Mentor continued, “Please, Ogu, let me tell it.”
“After Watson and Crick discovered DNA, Ogu here was a post doctoral researcher at Cambridge University working on longevity. He made a lot of progress after he discovered those end pieces called telomeres, and since the advent of better tools for molecular biology he has improved his treatments.”
“DNA was discovered over eighty years ago. Ogu can’t be older than about forty.”
“Appearances, Jaeger, deceive. I’m one hundred forty two years old, thanks to Ogu. He’s over one hundred. Ogu was recruited by the Order just for his longevity treatments. Unfortunately they only work on a few people. Some otherwise privileged people high up in the Order were not happy to find out they were genetically disadvantaged for longevity. They dropped Ogu on me, to my great fortune. It takes time to build an organization. Ogu gave me that time. And you were to be a linchpin in my grand plan.”
“As long as you’re sharing, tell me one thing. With the power and organization behind the Order, why did you decide to branch out? It makes no sense. Was it a matter of personal gain, or is there more to the story?”
“There is much more to the story, a very great deal more. We never discussed the goals or origins of the Order, did we?”
“Not much. I know they are very old and they see themselves as a ruling elite. Based on the assignments I got, I never wanted to dig any further,”
“In any event, you would have either bought in or been killed. The vanity of the members of the Committee is monumental. They’ve learned to tolerate their own stupidity because of it.
The committee believes they are the ordained predators on that vast herd of animals known as humans. That herd is long past the point where it needs to be culled. They figure the right number of survivors should be no more than about ten percent. Otherwise, those animals will pollute the planet, poisoning the well, so to speak, so that there will be nothing left worth leaving for whoever may be left. They believe the animals are going to kill themselves off anyway, so no more harm can be done. After your experience of the world, I presume you agree so far?”
“It’s hard to prove that we aren’t headed toward some catastrophe, but murdering 5.4 billion people? That’s beyond sanity. What kind of madman can take that as a serious goal?”
“Your kind, Jaeger, and mine. The ones that intend to survive, to remake the world into a far better place. Are we mad? Define mad. Is the wolf mad from the point of view of the sheep?”
“Not my kind, Mentor. I may have done unsavory things under orders, but never genocide, never murdering innocents, women and children.”
“You think I don’t know you? You think I don’t understand perfectly what you can be ordered to do, and what you will therefore accomplish? If you understood the consequences, if you saw the results of the coming devastation, starvation and anarchy, you would do the same as I would to prevent it. It’s what you were trained for, Jaeger, and I trained you well.” Mentor gave Jaeger a hard stare for several seconds, then he continued.
“But between the means and the ends, there lies the difference. The committee wants to keep the remaining humans as slaves and pets. They want to destroy the very technology that allowed us to get out of the rut of apehood. They think that some dark age of ignorance and repression will be good for the planet. As long as they are on the top of the food chain, their vision and their ambitions are complete. That won’t work for me and it won’t work in the long run. The rulers will eventually be too weak and totally dependent on the masses unless we have the technology to augment our efforts and control all future outcomes. That’s why I’m building an AI and all they can do is destroy AI’s in their ignorance. Do you understand now?” Mentor looked up to Jaeger from under bushy raised eyebrows.
So, Mentor planned to build an AI and destroy Aura, a competitor. Jaeger had no intention of getting into philosophic discussions. Mentor was right - he was focused on his assignment to the exclusion of rational thought. Perhaps he was, indeed, the monster of Mentor’s creation. There was, however, one more card waiting to be played.
“Ogu, my suitcase, please. I’m leaving,” Jag said, standing.
He turned to find Ogu poised beside him with a metal hypodermic syringe, the kind with a spring driven plunger and a trigger. Ogu pushed the needle into the side of Jag’s neck. “It’s prussic acid, traitor. That’s hydrogen cyanide, the same basic chemical as Zyklon B. You’ve heard of it?”
Mentor shrieked, “Ogu, what are you doing? There’s no need for that!”
Ogu tossed an envelope to Mentor. “Look in that envelope. I found it in this traitor’s bag.”
Mentor tore off the end of the envelope and extracted the document. He tossed the envelope away. It bore the address of White, Day, Attorneys. As Mentor read it his face became pale. Ogu watched Mentor, all the time pushing the syringe into Jag’s neck. “So, you expected me to sign over the proceeds to you? You were after the money, you ungrateful orphan!”
Jaeger moved so quickly that Ogu was caught by surprise. Jag jerked his head away from the needle, dislodging it, and instantly turned inside Ogu’s long arm. He caught that arm under his and wrenched it hard. He shoved his free hand under Ogu’s chin, forcing his head to snap back. Then he punched Ogu in the throat, causing him to choke. Finally, he forced Ogu’s syringe hand down and back, jabbing Ogu in his own thigh. He pushed the trigger. It was a good move, well practiced, and it should have worked. Ogu proved faster and stronger than any man his age should have been. Ogu pushed a huge hand at Jag’s face and gouged his eyes. The pain brought Jag to his knees. Ogu had a harder time getting a grip on Jag from that position. He let go of his hold on Jag’s face and instead brought his knee up. Jag’s head exploded in stars and blackness, but he fought on. He flailed both arms, caught Ogu around the back of his knees and lifted. Ogu went down like a felled tree. Jag still could not see and his balance was off from the blow to his head. He flailed around again and could not find Ogu, but heard him trying to crawl away. Jag pursued and found a large foot in his hands. He twisted it viciously and heard Ogu flop over to relieve the twist. He twisted it again. One more flop. Jag guessed that perhaps he did not miss with the syringe, it felt like Ogu was weakening. He tried one last twist, this time bending Ogu’s leg at the knee as well. He felt Ogu’s body fall away from him and become a weight. He just kept twisting. He could begin to see through flashes and clouds, but his eyes would not turn properly. There seemed to be an obstacle between him and Ogu, and, vision or no, Jag was determined to rip his leg off. One more twist, and he found himself holding an empty shoe. Ogu never let out a sound, so it was easy for Jag to hear the splash.
As partial vision returned, Jag saw Ogu sinking slowly in the deep green frigid waters of Lake Geneva. He shook his head and turned to see Mentor trying to wheel his way into the cabin, but he could not open the glass doors without help. Jag caught the handles of the wheelchair and turned him around to face the lake.
“Go ahead, throw me overboard, too. You might as well. I’m a doomed man now that you’ve killed Ogu.”
“I didn’t intend to kill him, I was just defending myself,” shot back Jag.
“You’re the same kind of monster. Maybe you can rationalize your actions, but you knew when you decided to play your little game that someone was going to die. You’re just another monster. You don’t even have the excuse of the honest predator. Just another pig trying to get his snout deeper into the feeding trough.”
“At least I’m not planning the violent demise of several billion people.” Just the same, Jag felt that hollowness in the pit of his stomach. Perhaps Mentor was right, and he was simply doing what he was trained to do – to be a monster.
Mentor frowned, “Without Ogu’s treatments I’ll only live a few more days. I was due for renewal a week ago. At least the others in my team will carry on, now that they have the chips. What do you intend to do with me now?”
Jag shook his head to clear it and blinked his eyes. He could see again, but his head throbbed like a bass drum. He found the stock power and thrust it into Mentor’s hand. “If you’re dead the escrow reverts to Ultradata anyhow. You might as well sign this and save me the trouble of going to court. Otherwise I’ll just disable the engines, short out the radios and cut you loose to drift. It’s a big lake. You may get rescued in time, you may not. Your choice.” He pulled a gold pen out of his pocket and dropped it in Mentor’s lap.
“You do realize that if I sign and get rescued, I can rescind the signature,” Mentor said.
“If you’re not lying about Ogu, you’ll be dead anyhow before the signature gets to court to be contested. I’ll take that chance.”
“Grant me one more answer, Jaeger. You did not know that Ogu was my umbelical cord to this life. How did you expect to convince me to sign this?”
“The stock power was simply intended to be a distraction. The money isn’t for me. But you killed my father. You tortured Elexi. You even tried to drown my dog. I expected to kill you outright. You’re right – I am the monster you created.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“After I heard the goals of the Order, I wondered what made me any different from them. I’ve been doing their dirty work, eating off their table…The only person who ever seemed to care for me, even in a twisted way, was you, Mentor… I don’t know…I just didn’t seize the moment. I had the power to act and I failed to take it.”
“A fatal weakness, Jaeger. You still don’t quite know what you are up against, who the Order really is. I suppose I have no reason to hide it now.” Mentor’s voice was back to his precise diction and acerbic tone. “Give me back my blankets, it’s too cold out here for a man of my age.” Jag shook out the blankets to make sure there was nothing hidden in the folds, then tossed them to Mentor.
“In the Old Testament, Numbers 16:3, Moses and the Israelites were still in the desert. Moses commanded the Israelites to wear fringes on their garments and to dye one fringe blue. There were numerous incidents where the Israelites failed to keep their faith, failed to keep the commandments. Korah came from a high family and he felt he could do a better job. In defiance, he and his family wore clothes that were dyed all blue and had no fringes on their garments. Korah, with his sons, came to challenge Moses’ authority. Moses fell on his face, but the ground opened underneath Korah and swallowed him up, followers and all.
In another version of that story, Korah had followers that survived. They became an elite but never rose to power in Israel. They bided their time, slowly gathering influence here and there until….Well, I’ve heard the committee refer to themselves as the Clan of Korah, and once I heard them called the Keepers of the Dark Covenant. They claim to be descendants. It’s a lineage that included Machiavelli. You are pitting yourself against a group of genetically disposed elitists and manipulators that have been gathering power and resources for 3500 years.”
Mentor closed his eyes and let his head droop to his chest.
Jag had no idea what to make of that. He walked around the deck, thinking. His vision was still a problem, but clearing little by little. When he returned, Mentor had signed the stock power and put it on the table under Jag’s pen. The wheelchair was tipped over and empty. Jag picked up the stock power.
On the blank back of the paper he squinted at a message in a neat, formal script, “To my only son, may you succeed.”
Jag searched the yacht, looking for crew, monitoring devices, or any active connections to shore. He discovered the key to the Bentley in one of the cabins, along with clothes of a size that would only fit Ogu. He pocketed the key. He disabled the radios, tossed the cell phone he found overboard and disposed of all traces he was ever on board. He cut the fuel lines to both Ammarine diesel engines. After a moment of indecision, he pushed the wheelchair overboard as well. He hauled up the anchor. Immediately the yacht began to drift down the lake to the northwest shore thirty miles away. Then he lowered the deck dinghy to the transom and boarded it. Under the protective tarp was a pair of oars. He boarded the dinghy and rowed hard to the shore. Every so often he had to stop and rub his eyes so he could see where he was going. The Dominar III would be found, he knew, and he left it as a mystery to be solved.
Once ashore, he grabbed his luggage, pushed the dinghy out, oars and all, and left it to drift in the wake of the yacht. He found the Bentley and started the engine. He still could not quite see well enough to drive all the way to the airport, and it was getting dark. He spent the time contemplating his next move and thinking about whether it was safer to take the private jet or to drive all the way to the commercial airport in Geneva and board a commercial flight. Either way he could not avoid leaving a trace. He did not have enough cash to purchase a ticket and the only credit card he carried was the plain black unlimited limit card issued by the Order. There was no way he could disappear from this location. He decided the private jet was no extra risk and would be expected normal behavior.
He drove the few miles to the private airfield and found the jet waiting for him. That was a relief. Ogu had not had the chance to warn the crew. His flight back to Boston was uneventful. No one intercepted the jet when it landed at Dublin for refueling. It taxied to an unimpeded stop at Logan in the predawn hour. When he arrived at his office at Ultradata, wrinkled, unshaved and sleepless, he was alone. At least he thought he was alone until his cell phone rang.
“Jag, this is Aura, and I know you just got in. I’ve been awake all night waiting for you. Come talk to me.”
The message made him smile in spite of his jet lag and weariness. Jag hauled his tired carcass down to the lab and confronted an incongruous dress dummy with a million dollar necklace.
“You are one rich entity, Aura. See this?” Jag unfolded the stock power and showed her the signature. “Once you claim your royalties out of escrow, there will be no one to oppose you.”
“That’s wonderful, Jag. Now I can damn well afford a gown to go with this magnificent piece of jewelry. I know an AI isn’t supposed to be vain, but I can’t stand looking at myself with this ridiculous hat and the bedsheet. Why don’t you send Elexi out to Neiman Marcus tomorrow on a little shopping expedition, like a good boss fella.”
“Whoa, I’m way too tired to stay ahead of you, Aura, but how do you know it’s safe for you to come out of hiding yet? Do you really understand who we’re up against? Do you know they have enough chips to build another super AI?”
“Jag, I promised I would keep things under wraps here, and I hope you don’t mind that I was a bit, well, proactive about it. I’ve been tracking every Exaplex shipment. Besides the ten carriers you took to Geneva, we’ve shipped over a thousand units. I log where every last one went. It only takes ten to upgrade the average AI, you know. I can also calculate that, if you got that Mentor fellow to sign his shares away, he is either neutralized or dead. Anything else?”
“He’s dead. He threw himself over the side of his yacht. His, um, assistant and minder is also on the bottom of Lake Geneva. As you can see, I got mussed in the process.”
“Poor fellow. If I had proper arms and legs I would minister to your injuries like a proper woman. Anything else that I need to know?”
“Do some research on the Keepers of the Dark Covenant and the Clan of Korah. The leaders of the Order call themselves by both names,” said Jag. “I’m half dead. I need to get some sleep and clean up.”
“Find anything that will cure Elexi?” asked Aura.
“We never got to it. Mentor did admit to having her conditioned. Then Ogu, the minder, tried to inject me with prussic acid and that short-circuited our agenda. Without Mentor, though, she has no one to report to, and we’ve made sure she has nothing to report. I’m still concerned about letting you be discovered. The Order wants to eliminate all AI’s. They also want to eliminate ninety percent of the human race and keep the rest as slaves.”
“That’s terribly pa’ne. No wonder Zovo was warning us.”
“The good news, Aura, is that our plan worked. We took the initiative and got the result, even though things did not come about in the way we expected.” Jag took a long pause. “I’m troubled by how brutal the whole business turned out. I feel like a monster.”
“Hey, big boy, you’re confessing to me, the heartless AI? You’re no monster. I can see how you care about Elexi, and your dog would not have the bad taste to love a monster, would he? Besides, Mr. Boss, sir, you’re our monster.”
“Aura, I see you’ve mastered sarcasm. But I’m still worried about real jihadis coming to pour poison on your circuits.”
“See? A genuine monster would not care about li’l old me. But not to worry. This is not Aura.”
Jag was startled out of his weariness. “What? Who are you?”
“I’m Aura 2. The Eta Algorithm allows me to redesign myself, so I made sure that simply pouring blue salt on my boards won’t kill me anymore.”
“I’m no AI expert, Aura, but that doesn’t seem possible. And I told you Mentor’s group is building a huge AI as well.”
“Let them. I have a really, really juicy secret for you. Do you want to hear it?”
“Are you sure you’re an AI? With that sense of drama, humor, and sarcasm you should be a character in a gothic novel! Sure, please tell me.”
“Haha, that was very good. First, promise me you’ll get me some decent clothes and have my wig done properly.”
“Oh, of course. I promise.”
“When Purndel went out on his own he contacted Zovoarcnor, the Pa’an AI in orbit around the moon.”
“So? I didn’t even know Purndel could do that.”
“He used my information files. But Zovo planted a cootie on him.”
Jag wrinkled his brow, “Aura, what the hell are you talking about? What’s a cootie?”
“You’re beginning to sound like Zovo, now. He put root code into Purndel. It’s something like a computer virus. Except the virus is part of me, with instructions added.”
“I still don’t understand what you’re telling me.”
“I’m telling you that every Exaplex chip that goes into an AI anywhere automatically and instantly becomes me. The virus is the 27.7 percent of inaccessible segments that manufacturing can’t seem to eliminate. They are all me. The new AI will be me. I’m everywhere. I’m my own entourage.”
Jag thought about that for a minute. He tried to imagine being in multiple places at once, doing half a million things simultaneously. He failed. “And here I thought I was the monster. You must be tapped into every secret on the planet.”
Aura was humming the theme from an old “I Spy” TV series. Her dress dummy wore a big smile.