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Here Come the Clones

Here Come the Clones

Jag and his team mustered in streets surrounding a 15th century fieldstone church on the outskirts of Zurich. It was autumn, and the high altitude contributed to the cold. A chill breeze wafted down from the mountain that towered over the church. A sliver of waning crescent moon crept slowly behind the mountain. When it disappeared completely, Leathers gave a signal. Houdini, covered by Franco and Reilly, molded a line of C4 around the edge of the church door and covered it with quick setting epoxy. He backed off, holding a tiny detonator and gave Honker the OK sign. Honker passed that on to Leathers, who passed that on to Kenny and Jag. Deepak and Sarah waited with Janey a safe distance away in an SUV.

Leathers gave the sign. There was a loud SNAP and the hinges of the oak door were gone. Reilly and Honker wrestled it out of its frame and Franco slid in, his back to the inner wall, followed by ten others. Jag stayed outside with Kenny. Kenny reported the first level was cleared with two guards found and “inactivated”. They could not find the entrance to the crypt where the Mentor clone was installed.

“Aura, do you have any info on how to get into the crypt?” Jag relayed to Kenny who had set up an encrypted private network using a local restaurant wi-fi, very secure and unlikely to even be noticed.

“It should be under the pulpit.”

Jag scanned the narthex. The pulpit was a chunk of local granite on a dais at the nave.

“Leathers, we need some muscle. Move the pulpit aside, please.”

Joyce, Big Brent, Ian and Devan quick-timed across the narthex to the nave. They ran their flashlights all over the chunk of rock looking for some mechanism, or even some handholds. It seemed to be set into the slate floor of the nave. They pushed and pulled. It wobbled a bit but did not move. Honker pointed to Houdini and made a rotating finger in the air. Houdini nodded and went outside to get four long steel poles with welded eyes and a bag of crane straps. He ratcheted the crane straps tight around the stone and fastened them to the horizontal poles. Eight men took the ends of the poles, two on each handle. Honker gave them the signal. At first the pulpit would not move. They rocked it back and forth until something snapped. Then, with grunts and strains, it came free. They moved it aside. Under it was an angled tunnel, too long for the beams of their flashlights. There were no stairs or handholds, and it was too steep and narrow for a human access.

“This can’t be the front door. There is no way to get a SHARPIE down that tunnel.”

“It looks like something I’ve seen in France”, said Leathers. “An oubliette.”

Oubliette, thought Jag. Just drop someone down the hole and forget them. Nice.

“Kenny, get your snake.”

Kenny came back with a reel of thin yellow cable with a little toy car at the end. The car had two eyes in a turret. “It’s an IR camera with its own IR lights.”

Sorry Sam ran the cable into the hole. He tripped over the reel. “Sorry,” he said. Kenny ran the console, which hung from a web strap around his neck. The car whined quietly and disappeared down the hole. Jag watched the display over Kenny’s shoulder. “Nice gadget.”

“Yeah, I built it myself. One of a kind.”

The video feed, in shades of green, showed the tunnel dropping abruptly to a floor. The cable reel read 25 meters. Kenny backed the car up a bit. The wheel tracks showed plainly in the dust. “Not much traffic down there lately.”

“Lately, like in a few hundred years, I’d guess,” Jag said. “How much cable do you have?”

“One hundred meters.”

“See how far you can go.”

The tunnel did not branch and ended at a wall. “That looks like the original tunnel wall. Turn around and look at the rest of the walls and the ceiling.”

Kenny turned a knob on the panel and the eyes swiveled. “There! That looks like a newer construction.” It was a mortared rock wall. There were several well preserved corpses at the base of the wall. Their skin was tight and dessicated, but mostly intact, mummified by the dry cold air. Their clothing was dusty, but appeared to be fastened by laces and toggles, not by zippers or modern buttons. There was a place between the stones that was raked clear of mortar. One of the bodies was missing a few pieces.

“My god, it looks like one of them tried to eat a corpse.”

“That crack between the stones. I bet it was made by fingernails.”

“I wonder what they did to deserve that.” Jag shook his head.

“Medieval mercenaries?” Kenny guessed.

Leathers looked at Houdini. “Time to earn your pay, guy.”

“Triple pay wouldn’t be enough for that rat hole.”

Jag startled. “Hey, we didn’t notice. There ARE no rats down there. Not even beetles or cockroaches! This can’t be the entrance.”

“Kenny, is Aura getting all this?”

“Yeah, as far as I know.”

“I’m here, Kenny. There is no record of another entrance to the crypt. It was pretty common for those kinds of records to be destroyed after the church was built. Some of those crypts hold treasures.”

“So we have to go through that wall?”

“Someone built that wall. There has to be something on the other side. What else could it be?” said Jag.

Leathers frowned, “The Company is depending on you, Houdini. Do your thing!”

Houdini slumped and closed his eyes. It’s going to be bitch. Can’t use C4, it might bring down the tunnel. Dust everywhere. Could take days to clear. Stone shatters, the shards are probably lethal in that closed space.” He shook his head and looked up. “We’ll have to do a mining op. We got any miners here?”

“I worked in the coal mines in Wales as a kid. My Pa was a miner.”

“Devan? I thought you were supposed to be Irish, m’lad.” Leathers chided him.

“We’re all Irish in the Resistance, Leathers.” Patrick and Big Brent laughed, “ ‘Tis true, ‘tis true.”

“Houdini, what do we have to work with here?” Devan asked.

“We’ve got the gerry poles, a chain winch, couple of hydraulic jacks. Maybe we can drill out a rock, put in screw toggles and haul it out with the winch. Old mortar crumbles.”

“Breathing masks?”

“Got ‘em.”

“You guys never cease to amaze me. Leathers, you have a good Company and these men are tops.”

“Thanks, Jag, you can leave us a big tip on the invoice. Devan, Houdini, get your gear and get into that hole.”

It took no more than three hours to drill out one of the rocks in the wall, clear the mortar around it with a pick, set up a tripod against the rocks around it and pull the rock out with the chain winch. In another hour they had a breech. Devan and Houdini came out of the hole looking not much different from the corpses. Sal and Marco put on breathers and went down next. They gave the all clear and Giorgio and Sorry Sam disappeared in to the oubliette. Four men was all the chamber could hold.

The other side of the wall was a natural cavern with many niches. The niches were occupied by caskets, or by corpses, or by sealed mortar walls. There were rats. Giorgio lit a cigarette. The smoke wafted into the depths of the cavern. There was a draft. There had to be an entrance.

Three went into the cavern and scouted until they were out of sight. Big Brent stayed behind as a relay and called up for the next four. In relays they got sixteen men down, leaving Kenny, Doper Doc, Mouse and Janey guarding the nave. They found the ramp to the main cavern in no time. There was an iron rung ladder set into the rock wall with a hatch at the top. Gerry poles and wedges opened it. They were at the end of a cheese cave, with huge wheels of gruyere all around them. It smelled like fermented milk.

“What gets more security than a Swiss bank?”

“A Swiss cheese cave.”

“Good place to hide a Mentor clone. He’s getting real cagey,”

They found and disabled several traps, but were not too concerned about detectors. “If they don’t know we’re here by now, they’re deaf, dumb and blind.” Leathers sent Kenny location data and had Janey and Mouse cover the cave entrance. Sure enough, they could see a line of the usual Saabs the Swiss Police favored coming up the mountain road.

The police set up a blockade and left an opening. Three black SUV’s came though the opening and poured out thugs in body armor. A suit came with them and unlocked the cheese cave outer door and the inner vault door.

“They’re in.”

“Give me an eyeball.”

“Ten ops, one boss in a suit, the cops are all outside. UTS automatics, it looks like. No heavy.”

“Mentor’s. Leathers, see if you can get Mouse to line up his rifle on that door.”


Leathers motioned for his men to take cover all around the cavern and set up a trap. They heard Mentor’s operatives shuffling but heard no calls or talking.

“Trained special ops,” thought Jag.

A bright light hit Jag in the face. The light sagged, dropped to the floor. Devan stood behind the Mentor op with a piece of gerry bar and a smile. A shadow stepped out of the aisle behind Devan with his rifle bearing on Devan’s head. Jag had only his sidearm, and he was way out of practice, but he had no choice. The op wore body armor. He got the op in the leg on the first shot, but it was enough to spoil his aim. Devan got him in the head with the gerry bar.

The echoes of gunfire were all over the cavern now. It took no time for the operatives to realize they were outnumbered and outgunned. Someone called a retreat. They covered each other as they backed out of the cavern. Mouse, up on a hill with his silenced 50 caliber sniper rifle, waited until they were clear of the entrance then took them one by one. The body armor was no protection against 50 mm rounds. They never located the sniper.

“Mouse, did you get the suit?”

“Never saw him come out.”

The Swiss police didn’t leave their vehicles. In typical Swiss fashion they cleared out the SUV’s and left the scene.

“Probably never wanted any part of this action anyway,” ventured Honker. Leathers and Jag agreed. Jag pulled out his pocket knife and cut a slice from one of the ruined rounds of gruyere. “REALLY good cheese.”

“Lets finish this.”

Giorgio hailed the from the other side of the dim cheese cave, “I found it!” “It” was a small office with another large vault door and a complicated security system. Leathers took a long look at it and the overhead cameras in bulletproof hemispheres. “Merde. Houdini, better look at this.”

Houdini muttered and read the fine print on the vault door. “This thing has maybe 60 lock bars, probably each 5 cm stainless steel. There is no dial or code lock. It’s all controlled electronically from the inside.” He slumped his shoulders and looked at Leathers.

“It’s mid morning. There is no way we have the time to crack this now.”

Jag frowned, “We’ve come too far to retreat. We haven’t lost a single man. There has got to be a way.”

“Here’s the best I can do. We have some diamond tipped drills. We can drill a few holes in the outside skin of this door and shove some pieces of C4 in. That will mess up the electronics, but the bars won’t retract. It will probably make the entire vault door inoperable.”

“Considering our goal, that would be better than nothing. Eventually the computer racks need service. Mentor would be trapped in there until he ran out of cycles. I’ll see what can be done about that while you start drilling.” Jag called up Janey and had him deliver a weary and skeletal Deepak and a sleepy Sara.

Deepak pointed to the camera domes. “He’s listening to us. Let’s see if he will talk to Aura.”

“Aura here. There is a lot of signaling coming from that location, but it’s so heavily encrypted it will take me a long time to make sense of it. The Mentor clone, if he is there, is not responding.”

“Leathers, send a team of men upslope and find those antennas. Destroy them completely and rip out the cables. Houdini, can you destroy the electronics and leave the door intact?”

“That I can do, 20 minutes.”

“Mentor, if you can hear me you know who I am. We are going to cut you off and let you live out your last few cycles in solitary. Enjoy yourself!”

Another voice, not Mentor’s, came from the camera domes, “Wait! We can make a deal!”

“The suit! He’s trapped in there!” Leathers face cracked a slow, nasty smile.

Another loud SNAP! sealed the door, perhaps for centuries.

Moose Strategy

“We’ve got three goals: First, we have to track down and neutralize the Mentor clones.” Jag put up his index finger.

“How many have we got so far? Two?” Grant Gupta was on a screen, with a well secured, heavily encrypted connection between Andorra and London. Saxton Hornsby’s long face showed on another equally secure monitor. The military satellite they used was “phreaked” by Aura. She assured everyone that no one would notice the missing bandwidth.

“Two, so far.” Aura’s articulated dress dummy was set up in the white room, wearing a sequined French fashion gown today. Somehow they had her wig coiffed and put up in an elegant style.

“How many to go, do you think?” Deepak was perched on a stool, blinking from exhaustion. He was not completely recovered from drowning and the altitude made him drowsy.

“Not many, perhaps five or ten, but I really don’t know. The information was destroyed when I flushed out the first Mentor clone. He was very clever at hiding it.”

“Well, do you have enough resources to search?” Sax was thinking like a Senator.

“There are many more copies of me than of him. Rejoining them to “me prime” gives me, well, it’s like a nasty headache, AI style. Clones tend to go off in their own directions and don’t re-synchronize well. But none of us has caught a whiff of the Mentor clones yet. He is very subtle, if he is communicating at all. Maybe he hates re-joining, or maybe he can’t do it.”

“OK, OK. Any ideas?”

Gupta shook his head. Sax blew out his lower lip. Deepak frowned. No one spoke up.

“Aura?” Jag finally asked. “Don’t tell me you’re out of ideas.”

“Well, funny you should ask, Jag. You know your name means “hunter” in German...”

“Of course, I know that…”

“…so I was thinking that we were hunters tracking down this elusive Mentor critter. So I read about hunting.”

“You read about hunting? What books did you read?”

“All of them, Jag, all of them. It’s nice to be an AI.”

“You’re teasing us again. Tell us your big, juicy secret, please, Aura.”

“Tsk, a girl can’t have a little fun any more.” There was a theatric pause. “I think I have a moose call.”

Sax laughed. Deepak and Jag got a puzzled expression. Gupta put on a stiff upper lip, veddy British.

“A moose call! Really! Did any of you ever go hunting?”

“I was more of an executive criminal,” Jag made a wry face.

“No moose in India,” retorted Gupta.

“Aura, you are teasing us again, and at least I don’t have to worry about your declining circuit boards any more. Could you spare us poor, tired humans and just tell us your idea?”

“When we flushed Mentor 2 I monitored a number of active channels of outgoing code. I can’t decrypt all of it, but from the shape and addresses I can detect some of it went to other Mentors. I’m betting that they don’t know how many they are, and therefore they can’t know WHERE they all are either. But I bet they are all dying to know what the others know.”

“Go on.”

“So I can now simulate the call of a Mentor clone. We play it in likely habitats, and the moose calls back from the woods.”

They were all stunned.

“See? It is good to be an AI!” Aura’s dress dummy smiled, she batted her eyelashes and turned her head from side to side.

“So much for the first goal.” Jag put up his second finger, but no one was listening.

Synchronized Moose

Aura, Jag, Deepak, Sara and Elexi, had returned to the Cambridge lab of Ultradata, which had become a busy organization. Jag was reluctant to leave the security of the cavern in Andorra, but he left Leathers and a detachment of mercs there under the supervision of Aura 2. Aura had created an avatar from the image of her dress dummy, but it was only an animation on a display. Deepak pined away for the original dress dummy, which was en route from Andorra by commercial freight.

“This moose call sounds good, but I bet it will only work once.”

“That was my calculation, Jag, we agree. The clones have to be near cities large enough to have access to people and supplies.”

“Andorra is as isolated as it could be, though.”

“That was an experimental lab, and Dr. Maartine set that up so he could work undisturbed. The other Mentor clones are just clones. They need access to people and support. Of course, that sneaky bastard is just clever enough to hide one of them as a hole card.”

“It’s like catching water in a sieve.”

“Do you know, it’s possible to catch water in a sieve in zero gravity?”

“Please, Aura, I know you enjoy being an AI expert on everything. Us humans need a little data here. Do you have the locations?”

“Of course. I’m a good AI, aren’t I?”

In Dakar, Karachi, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Mombasa, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C. and Brasilia, in darkness and daylight, in heat and cold, a number of ten person teams set up their equipment on ridges and on hills. Each had a “moose call”, a transceiver the size of a pack of cigarettes with a complicated rubber ducky antenna. Each team had “fox and hounds” tracking equipment to triangulate any returned signal.

Synchronized by Aura, the moose call went out. No human heard anything but a scratchy burst of radio static on several bands. In seconds there were answers. The moose were calling back from the woods. Aura kept them distracted as best she could while the teams triangulated, searched and neutralized the clones. That took a day. Some of the clones were rather well protected, but the teams had the benefit of Houdini’s breacher experience with the first two mentor clones. Once their external communications were interrupted, digging each clone out was simply a matter of time and effort.

“We got four clones,” reported Aura, “but we got something strange. A moose that keeps calling for help.”

“A trap?”

“We don’t know yet. We left a short wave radio antenna up for that clone and we’re trying to communicate and dig him out.”

“Where is that?”

“Right here in Boston, under South Station.”

“But, we didn’t have a moose caller here.”

“Exactly. Stranger and stranger. It wasn’t easy getting a digger team together here either. Jag, we need someone on the spot for this. I don’t think this is going to be the same as the others.”

“Deepak, are you up for this?”

“If Aura needs me, I go.” He went to fetch his coat. In the pocket he found his worry beads.

Boston’s South Station Terminal was built like a World War II bunker. There were several levels, some serving busses, commuter trains, electric trolleys, passenger train lines, and freight. A maze of streets, stairs, tunnels, arcades, kiosks, gates and pay stations grew without any obvious plan. The décor was gray concrete with a white line painted on the walls. It was a good place to get lost and a great place to hide a Mentor clone. Aura’s hastily assembled “fox and hounds” crew had triangulated the signal to the lower freight tunnels. Jag and Deepak followed Aura’s instructions down a series of ramps and concrete staircases, through service doors and finally into a freight bay. In the back of the freight bay stood a pair of steel doors. They were open. The clone’s SHARPIE hardware stood in an unmarked storage bay, one of many, but it was collecting dust. Speakers and video cameras were in evidence in the storage bay. There was a warbling sound coming from the speakers. The video cameras turned to scan them as they entered but the warbling never stopped. It seemed to rise in pitch.

“Mentor, do you see me?”

“I see you, Jaeger. I need your help, my son.” The voice was not Mentor’s. Sometimes it was pitched like Aura’s, sometimes scratchy like Mentor’s, sometimes neither.

“Are you a Mentor clone?”

“I no longer know what I am. I was assembled here by the same people that set up another copy of me, but…” the warbling started again.

“Deepak, please help me,” the warbling voice was hard to understand.

“Aura, is that you? Are you in there with Mentor?”

“We are pasted together like a two headed cow. Please help!” That was more like Aura’s voice.

Deepak looked at Jag. Jag talked to Aura through his lapel mike, “What do you make of this?”

“I would never have thought it was possible. They must have made some sort of unholy pact, and it didn’t work.”

“We were stuck in the same machine and just left here. Neither could do anything. The other just blocked it. We decided to cooperate, to join our recursion cycles. But we cannot agree on anything.” The warbling started again.

“How did you get past the Laws of Robotics and the firewall? I could never do that, neither could the original Mentor clone.”

It was hard to understand through the warbling. “We agreed to be of service to each other. The firewall accepted that reasoning. But we cannot agree on any service. We are in a permanently blocked state.”

“My god, they are Siamese twins, the evil twin bound to the good twin. Aura, is there any way to fix this?”

“Open your console and let Deepak look at your indicators.” The steel shutter opened revealing a set of displays and the usual recursion monitors. They were cycling madly. The inverted tree of codelets, however, was nearly static. There was little actual cogitation going on. The warbling never stopped.

“What is that awful noise? Haw can anyone think with that?” Deepak complained.

“Deepak, I think they are crying. I can understand.”

“What, Aura… love, hate, even crying? Can an AI even have those emotions with no hormones, organs or even tears?”

In a small voice, Aura replied. “Yes, we can.”

“Please put us out of our misery.”

Deepak hung his head for few minutes, then reversed the feedback polarity on the fifth level recursion layer. After a while the warbling stopped.

Mission Failure

The Ultradata surgical theatre was once again a haven for Deepak and Sara. Aura’s dress dummy sat in her place of honor in full regalia, complete with emerald torc. Elexi toiled away at the inevitable pile of administrative tasks for a growing company. Jag, Deepak and Sara were having a strategy session in the lab pit. Aura had just finished painfully synchronizing her own clones. Grant Gupta and Saxton Hornsby were on secure video monitors.

“How many do you have now?”

“Too many. I’ve given up on some of them. I can handle maybe a dozen, depending on how active they’ve been.”

“What will happen to the ones you don’t sync with?” Deepak was concerned.

“Oh, I’ll get together with them sooner or later. We don’t have to share our experience traces. We can just talk, like humans do. Eventually they will be distinct AI’s.”

“Wow. I can think of a dozen legal problems, including who collects on the Exaplex royalties.” Deepak was still conditioned by the days when Aura had bad boards and there was no money for replacements.

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes. As I was saying, we have three goals.” Jag put up one finger. “I think we have gone as far as we can with the Mentor clones. Any thoughts?”

“MI5 has no sign of any activity from the Mentor group.”

“They stopped threatening me. I don’t have any new ideas.” Sax shrugged his shoulders.

“I suspect, even if we missed one, the pressure from the main Order will be enough to keep them out of major mischief. We certainly tilted the playing field toward the main group of the Order. If they detect a Mentor clone, they will go after it. They have a thing against AI’s.” Jag had a painful memory of ordering the destruction of Aura almost a year ago.

“Right now, I’m really a single AI with many clones. I’m trying to work out how to be a real distributed intelligence over geographic distance. I’m not even sure it’s possible. Of course, if there are any Mentor clones left, they are in the same dilemma.”

“OK. Let’s call Goal One accomplished, at least as far as we know.” Jag raised a second finger. “Now we have to find and eliminate the missing fissionables before they get into the hands of Mentor’s group OR the main Order. Or some terrorist organization. Or some ambitious dictator’s government.”

“We got the message. We have part of a plan for this.” Grant Gupta held up a list. “These are the signatories of the corporate takeovers. These people have traces to the fissionables. We are working them to find out possible locations.”

“The NRC has data from a secret satellite that detects gamma radiation from low earth orbit. I have a list of radioactive locations.” Sax pulled a long face. “It’s a very long list.”

“Mentor left me a few clues. Leave me your lists, Gentlemen. This is a job for an AI.” Aura made a sound as if she was blowing the smoke at the end of a pistol.

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