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The Zimmer Factor

The Zimmer Factor

Due to the short notice, Jag’s private jet was not available and he was forced to fly business class on a commercial jet. He was not usually a garrulous man, but he thought he recognized the face of the man in the seat beside him. That man was reading a briefing document bearing the US Congressional Seal.

“I hope you don’t mind if I notice that you are with Congress.” Jag turned in his seat and waited for the man to put down his document.

“Sax Hornsby, Senator from Vermont. You have a trace of accent. German, perhaps?”

“Austrian, but I just assumed an executive position in Boston. I’m the new CEO of Ultradata.”

“The AI outfit? Don’t know much about them, but I remember reading something about Ultradata. Some scandal about sabotage?”

“We lost our primary asset, a very special AI, just yesterday. I’m on my way to face the music.”

“Hell of a thing. If I remember, wasn’t your AI the one that filed a raft of patents with an ET called Zovoarc or Zovo, or something like that? That really shook up the patent office!”

Jag lifted an eyebrow at the mention of Zovo. That was a name he had heard before.

“The very one, but that was before my employment there. Those patents are pretty controversial.”

“Hmm. I know something about that, and if I may, the problem is political, not technical. No one was supposed to know anything about the ET. They’re still making believe it was a hoax.” Sax leaned over and whispered, “Presidential directive.”

“And denial is a river,” said Jag. Sax pulled a long face at the bad pun.

“Denial is becoming a way of life. I presume you read about the International Atomic Energy inspector that was murdered? The guy had radium burns around his neck and they are claiming it was an occupational hazard.”

“What guy? I haven’t heard about that.”

“I have it here. This is just a public briefing document, not classified. The man was Victor Zimmer. Here is his picture.” Sax opened the briefing document and handed it across to Jag.

Jag, glanced at the picture and did a double take. “Mein Gott,” he thought to himself, “This man looks like an older version of me.” To Sax he said, “Terrible things happen. Do you mind if I read a paragraph or two?”

“Go ahead.” He tapped the paper in Jag’s hands, “That is a country that is not supposed to have any fissile material. More denial.”

Jag scanned the paper quickly and noted the involvement of jihadis in the murder. He went back and read it carefully, memorizing details. At the end he handed it back to Sax, dug out a business card from his jacket pocket and passed it to Sax. Sax reciprocated. Jag carefully pocketed the card with the Congressional seal. Sax watched his jaw muscles work as Jag clenched his jaws, but neither man said anything further. Both men suspected that some ghost had just been roused from a long sleep.

*****

The sky blue Bentley Arnage met Jag at the Geneva airport and drove him out to the Promenade du Lac. A man he did not know was piloting the runabout. Mentor frequently changed his people to prevent anyone from getting too familiar. The exception was Ogu, who was darkly present aboard the power yacht. “No dog this time, Mr. Kunstler?” “No dog, Ogu. I would not put you to the trouble of finding another gunny sack.” Ogu did not smile but simply said, “Wise, Mr. Kunstler. Mentor will be with you in a moment.”

The old man was wheeled out onto the aft deck. As the sliding glass doors to the salon were closing, Jag heard a girlish laugh and caught a glimpse of a shapely retreating back in a very brief bathing suit. The old goat must have had another monkey gland treatment.

“Greetings Mentor. I have my report ready.”

“Don’t bother, Jaeger, I have my sources, you know. Congratulations on a job well and efficiently done. They will blame it on the jihadis now. You have eliminated a threat to our plans, and gained another measure of our trust in the process. Ogu, please ask Kat to bring our refreshments.”

Kat, when she arrived, was the most stunning girl Jag had ever seen, body, face and manner. Kat smiled at Jag but positively beamed at Mentor. The performance disturbed Jag on a very fundamental level. Was she “trained” or just hired? He knew what the Order was capable of doing. Hell, he had experienced some of it first hand.

Kat wheeled out pastries, bread, paté and a chilled white wine, Chateau Yquem. She settled gracefully into a deck chair between Jag and Mentor and spread paté for them both. Jag found it impossible not to watch, until he caught Mentor studying him.

“Kat, this is Jaeger. You do not need to know his last name, but you do need to know he is one of our high level people.” Kat’s smile for Jag got brighter.

“How pleased I am, Mr. Jaeger. May I pour you some of this excellent wine?” Her voice purred in a breathy contralto.

“Jaeger, can we be sure that Aura will not be, um, resurrected?” Jaeger looked at Kat with a question. In answer, Mentor said, “Kat will not be concerned with our business here. You may proceed.”

“Resurrecting an AI personality is an unsolved problem in computer science. I checked that out before we arranged the party. However, I must put up a good show of trying to bring her back. Will that be a problem?”

“Only if it succeeds, my young friend. And the patents that she filed?”

“They default to Ultradata, of course, unless some ET comes down to claim them.” Jaeger laughed at his own joke. Mentor did not.

“An event that seems unlikely, we presume.”

“I think my secretary, Elexi, may have been introduced to the ET by the AI,” Jag mentioned in passing. Mentor blinked, and filed that datum away quite carefully.

“What else do you have to report?” Mentor asked.

“We are making progress with our critical contacts in the US. But do you know anything about a Senator Saxton Hornsby?”

“He is not one of us. Why do you ask?”

“I met him on the plane on the way here. He mentioned the patents ran afoul of a Presidential Directive.”

“That was our arrangement, yes. It should also, by some stroke of great luck, remove the ET, if there really is one, from the patent picture.”

Jag took a sip of the marvelous wine and waited for the long finish. He held out the glass to Kat and she refilled it. Mentor continued to study him like a bug under a microscope.

“Perhaps there is one more thing. Hornsby mentioned a fellow named Victor Zimmer. What can you tell me about him?”

Mentor stopped chewing and gave Jag a sharp look. “Kat, perhaps we are no longer in need of refreshment.” Kat took the hint and got up, graceful as any feline, and swayed through the glass doors. Jag and Mentor were now alone on the aft deck.

“Tell me Jaeger, what do you remember of your early childhood?”

“Well, I was raised by Yosef and Gertrude Kunstler after I left the orphanage. Of course then you came along in time for my private school and university education. But you know all that.”

“And you have never been curious about your biological origins? You have the means to find out.”

“A little, but there have always been distractions – education, training, and then assignments. They always came first and there was so little time to pursue other things.”

“That was deliberate, of course. But one day you might wake up and find that your curiosity must be satisfied. That would be an undesirable distraction from your goals with the Order. We want you to function as a contributor with your full participation, not as an automaton. That’s why we have not submitted you to the conditioning, like our Kat.”

“Kat? I thought so.”

“She is yours if you are inclined, and I think you are.”

“But she smiled at you, Mentor.”

“In spite of rumors, I don’t take monkey gland treatments seriously, Jaeger, and I’m an old man. My pleasures are more, um, abstract.”

“I never, I uh, please forgive..”

“Shut up, Jaeger and listen to me. It’s time you knew who you are. Victor Zimmer was your father.” Mentor watched Jag’s eyes widen just a bit and the line of his mouth grow taught. That was all Jag let him see.

Mentor went on to explain that Victor Zimmer’s wife had refused to follow him when he joined the IAE. Because he was in a useful and critical position, he was introduced to the lovely Marta, who left him and took their three year old son with her. The Order knew that this son had a strong genetic pedigree and assigned him a Mentor to raise him. So far he had met their every expectation.

“Where is Marta?”

“You don’t need to know that. She has served. Leave her to live her life.”

“Why was my father, Victor, why was he killed?”

“The jihadis wanted to make a point. He was an inconvenience to them. That is the way things are. It is no use to concern yourself other than to take a lesson: Those with the power to act must act without getting mired down in various considerations. Your father had too many considerations, and someone else acted first. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mentor, but he was my father!”

“’Was’ is the operative word. You are Jaeger Kunstler, not Zimmer, and we have given you the power to act on our behalf. Use it and drop all the considerations!”

There was silence for long while.

“I see you have managed to get along without the dog, Jaeger. That is progress.”

With that, Ogu appeared, as if on cue, and wheeled Mentor away. Kat came back out and took Jaeger’s arm. He needed some solace. Kat was convenient and willing.

Training never stopped.

The First Demon

Deepak woke up wearing the same khaki slacks and blue denim shirt he had worn for days. The cot in the Utradata Lab had a metal bar supporting the thin mattress and it felt like his ribs were broken after only a few hours of sleep. As he sat up, a rumpled notebook, several reprints from “The Journal of AI” and cellophane sandwich wrappers from his vending machine supper slid to the floor. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Aura’s dress dummy across the lab. Finally he got painfully out of the cot, pulled off the sheet and threw it over the dress dummy. “Aura, looking at you is like seeing a ghost. May your subtle body be deep into the Akasha. But we will not cremate this plaster body just yet. I will not give up.”

He went to the refreshment nook, got himself coffee and a donut, and returned to the lab in time to see Sara, with circles under her eyes that almost matched his, just in and standing over the unmade cot.

“Deepak, you can’t go on like this, why don’t you go home and get a good night’s sleep? Nothing new is going to happen today. We’re still missing the last revised biomatrix modules.”

“Biodyne said they shipped yesterday. They should be here this morning.”

“They said that last week and the day before that. Then they shipped us C-type synaptics instead of D-type, the morons. Didn’t we pay them for a rush order?”

“Yes, yes, Elexi said Mr. Boss Kunstler signed the PO. I talked to Biodyne. They should be here this morning.”

At ten o’clock Elexi marched into the lab with two alloy attaché cases and the packing slip from Biodyne. Sara and Deepak had everything set up for acceptance testing. They clamped each board into a test bed and ran the automated series of connectivity, capacity, performance and reliability tests until the wan Cambridge sun set behind the dirt-streaked windows. Elexi, feeling sorry for all of them, ordered in Chinese food and Deepak’s favorite Darjeeling tea. They sat around on lab stools and folding chairs eating out of cardboard containers with chopsticks and discussing the prospects.

“How come she wasn’t backed up, or whatever?”

“Elexi, dear, you can’t just back up an AI. You just get the data. It’s like have a video of someone’s life, without the life.” Deepak bobbed his head several times and continued, “Just before she was murdered she said she had the answer to that problem, and she spouted a bunch of differential equations in a matrix notation no one ever heard of before. I’ve been trying to figure it out. In any event, we have all of her memories in the Exaplex modules, but they are in Aura’s own experience trace form. They would not be accessible even to another AI.”

“Elexi, how would you describe the experience of being Elexi to someone who never saw you, never had any contact with you and who lived in a different world?” said Sara.

Elexi, who had tried to do exactly that with Virti Va’an Vahg and failed miserably, got it.

“Sara, you know the ET whose name was on Aura’s patents?”

“Yea, I heard that was shot down by Patent Court. I wonder what made Aura invent an ET. Do you think she was crazy?”

“Aura could not be “crazy”. We ran diagnostics on her adjustment to her data, her reality. She was fine, and not subject to the biochemical imbalances of humans,” said Deepak.

Elexi paused and took a deep breath. “I talked to him once.”

Both Deepak and Sara together, “You what?”

Elexi took another deep breath and blew out pouted lips, considering her next move. “I think you knew she was my friend?”

Sara: “She was my friend, too.”

Deepak: “Perhaps more than that to me.” The women looked at Deepak with sympathy.

“Aura was my very best friend. We shared a lot of girl talk.”

“She did not call you a Hindu idiot? I’m two times offended.”

“Deepak, she knew something, and she was protecting you. She actually cared a lot for you.”

Sara: “Let’s not dwell on that now. It’s spooky.”

“But I have to tell you, I spoke to the alien, Zovo. And not just him.”

“Come off it, Elexi, what alien would come all this way and no one would know about it?”

“Him, not it. He was also an AI, from another planet. His people are the Pa’An. I can’t pronounce it properly.”

“The Pa Chan? Never heard of them. From Mars or Venus?”

“Pa’An, with a sort of loud click in the middle. I even spoke to one of their people on some kind of cosmic project.”

“OK, Elexi, we’re very tired, we have hours more work to do, and we’re glad Aura is reposing with her boy friend the alien on Mars or whatever. Now Deepak and me have to get these biomatrix modules installed and see if we can boot up something real.”

Elexi was crushed. She slunk out of the lab and went home, missing Aura terribly. Her thoughts went to Virti, who seemed as lonely as she was.

*****

“Are the integration tests showing all up arrows?” Deepak inquired from his awkward position belly down and reaching for fiber optic connectors under the AI closet.

“Still running, yes, it looks like you found the problem.”

“Ahh, finally, lets see if we can do the Level 1 AI partitioning.”

Sara typed a short command on her terminal, “Started. Running OK,” said Elexi.

Deepak got up from the floor, wiped a dust cobweb off his sleeve, and bobbed his head several times. “In one hour we can analyze results and if we are good to go we can start Level 2.”

“I’ve never done this before. I guess no one but you has. How long do think it will take?”

“It tends to go faster as we get to the higher levels. Maybe we will get through the Level 5 Recursion Check by midnight.”

“Then what happens?”

“Then we link in the Self Aware module, load the Zeta Algorithm and give it the Big Questions,” replied Deepak.

“The Big Questions?” replied Sara.

“Yes, yes. “Who are you, and Why are you here?” They can’t be answered without awareness of self.”

“ I got it. An Uber Turing test.”

“Yes, yes, yes.” Deepak bobbed his head a few times and set to work on his console.

But it was dawn before Level 5 ran without errors. The rain was pouring down in the characteristic pattern of a New England nor’easter, the wind was howling, and thunder rolled ominously in the distance. Dawn was nothing but a faint gray streak under lowering clouds. At her usual 8 am arrival Elexi appeared with coffee and bagels. To Deepak, a bagel was foreign delicacy. They ate without saying a word for a while. As the caffeine started to work, Deepak checked the status lights on the boards in the AI closet, studied the scrolling graphs of codelets and semantic networks growing on the working memory console and pronounced, “Something is happening. Yes, I think something is happening.”

They all clustered around, watching the graphs and glyphs. It was obvious some incredible semantic struggle was taking place. Tens of thousands of codelet routines were being recruited. Attention schedulers were being activated. A mighty effort to make sense of the universe, itself and the relation between the two was taking place. Like a seedling straining toward the light, a mindless collection of circuits and code was struggling toward consciousness. Something was finding a need to act, trying to find the means to act, and it would soon take that action.

Suddenly, a horrendous series of squeaks, groans and electronic noises came from under the sheet Deepak had thrown over the dress dummy. Gradually, the sounds became organized, not yet a voice, but at least confined to voice-like sounds. In a while, the sounds became chatter, random snippets of prose and poetry in various voices from the reference library. The snippets began to concentrate on one topic: being.

From nothing, from purely mechanical bits and bytes, with only the clues of the reference library, the powerful computational engine Deepak had built was solving one of the greatest mysteries of all time: who am I?

And then, in a deep, slow, rumbling voice, it found an answer, “I am Thamuz, Ambassador from Hell.”

Secret Meetings

It was hard being one of the very few in Congress that did not accept patronage. Saxton Hornsby travelled business class on overseas flights and first class only when he earned the frequent flier miles. Packing his lanky frame into an airline seat that seemed to shrink every year usually left him cramped and cranky. On this flight to London he was traveling business class, a bit less comfortable, but preoccupied with his forthcoming top secret briefing. It wasn’t clear to him who could be trusted in this high-stakes area of nuclear weapons. After an interminable wait for his two-suiter at the luggage carousel, he found his way to the public transport mall. A man in livery carried a sign with only a musical instrument on it. It was a saxophone. That was for him, Sax, without advertising his full name. The man took his bag and rolled it quickly toward a waiting limo. Inside was a man Sax had never met before. The man was Indian and wore a blazer over a checked shirt, no tie. Of course, no real intelligence officer was going to look as obvious as James Bond.

“Senator Saxton Hornsby, I apologize for this rather rude introduction. What would you like to see today?”

“Blue tulips in Mayfair would be nice.” That was the recognition phrase, Sax hoped.

“I hear there’s a whale swims up the Thames.” The man broke a big grin. “Always makes me feel like some idiot in a comedy spy movie when I have to do that. A pleasure to meet you. I’m Grant Gupta from MI6. We’ll be briefing at number 10 Downing Street. Hope you had a decent flight?”

“I hardly noticed it after the message I got to get over here. I certainly hope this is worth the trip and all the secrecy. You guys have to know I don’t have much clout in Congress.”

“Please, Senator, no modesty here. You will do what you can do and we will see to it that you are well informed. No more than that is possible.”

They both rested on the route to the Prime Minister’s residence.

Gupta presented his credentials and CoDel Hornsby’s diplomatic letters and they were quickly cleared to the inner sanctum. “The PM will not be attending. He keeps a public calendar. I’m sure you understand.”

“Sure. I’m ready if you are.”

An RAF officer laid a portfolio on the table in front of each of them. The portfolios had red “classified” ribbons on them that had to be cut to see the contents. Gupta obviously was familiar with them. “Then without wasting any time, if you will allow: the first page is a list of all companies world-wide that are cleared and contracted to dispose of weapons grade materials under the Nuclear Disarmament accords. You may not know most of them. They are not the usual defense contractors.”

Sax read names like “Dexter Mining Pty; JSC Rossnisny Vladivostok; Halsston, Burton Logistics, Inc.; and others both recognizable and obscure in almost every nuclear nation. These were the companies that were supposed to collect, encapsulate, bury and monitor the raw material of dismantled atomic bombs.

“You’re right. It’s just a list of names to me.”

“Next page is a list of the significant shareholders or directors of these contractors.”

Sax turned the page. Three companies owned or had significant, but not controlling, shares in each of the disposal contractors. There were two of the names in each contractor, in no obvious pattern. No one of the three had any controlling interest.

“You see the pattern?” Gupta pointed out. “It turns out that two of these three names control every one of these contractors. It didn’t stand out at first because no one entity had control. It takes two of them, and the pattern was not visible in the ordinary bidding process.”

“Clever bastards” said Sax.

“Very clever bastards. It took a lot of digging to find out just who these people were, and we still don’t have a rock-solid indictment. But look here, those are the dates when these three entities gained control.”

The dates were all within a three month period BEFORE the Nuclear Disarmament Treaties were made public.

The following pages showed what had been discovered about just how control of the contractors was established.

“We were blocked at every level when we tried to get this information, even from the usual registration agencies of public corporations in the USA and United Kingdom. Documents were missing, withheld, redacted to uselessness, or simply denied. If it were not for the failure of a Greek Cypriot bank we would never have been able to gather this data. The bank in Cyprus turned out to have the keys to the kingdom. Since then we have been tracking transactions all over the world from these people. Not one of them is a name in the news. They keep pretty well off the headlines.”

The following pages documented, case by case, tales of opportunistic takeovers apparently aided by inside information, convenient cases of loans being called at the worst possible time and rescued by new Board members, and unfortunate and untimely deaths of principals and key people. Each one was innocent enough on its face, but laid out side by side it spelled only one possible conclusion.

“Conspiracy,” breathed Sax.

“Yes. Massive conspiracy on the highest financial and political levels. But to what purpose? And who are they? This is as far as we got.”

“Can’t bring them in for questioning? Tap their communications? Subpoena their records?”

“What is it that you say in the US, “politics is the art of the possible?” We have been blocked at every official level. All we know is that some powerful group has manipulated events to get control over much of the world’s raw material for nukes.” Gupta frowned. “We don’t know what they plan to do with it. We don’t know IF they have plans. We don’t know if they are capable of using it. All we know is that the scenarios are all nasty.”

The RAF officer collected the portfolios and fed them to a heavy box-like machine. The meeting was over.

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