Archive for November, 2006

November 14, 2006: 9:58 pm: UMC

Chong had no idea how long he’d been waiting. Ever since Patel’s man had brought him to the low-slung metal shed, he had been sitting alone in a small room. They fed him and allowed him to use the restroom and showers and gave him a bed.  He wasn’t guarded, but only told that if he wished to see Patel, he must wait.  He didn’t doubt he would have been confronted if he tried to leave, but they seemed very unconcerned about the possibility of that happening.
He had little choice anyway.  He could try to find Ford, but that might attract attention, and if he did find him, they would just end up back here.  Without Patel, all their work was for nothing. He spent his time trying to gather as much information as he could. The shed was guarded at the entrance during the day by two young Canaans named Giuseppe and Hez. They were relieved after twelve hour shifts by a much less friendly German named Friedrich. Giuseppe and Hez were the only Canaans in the poutfit and were incongruously lighthearted.  They had spent some time trying to teach Chong they’r efavorite boyhood Canaan songs. They considered them extremly dirty by Canaan standards.  They involved poop and occasioanlly the titillating mention of girls. A man named Carlos had stopped that quickly and the Canaans were friendly but prefered not to talk to Chong now.
Carlos was definitely Venezuelan and definitely missing an eye, though the prosthetic replacement was very convincing for something inert. Carlos obviously had not the funds or freedom to get a proper robotic eye installed. Aside from Carlos and the guards, there were two other men who brought Chong his food and other necessities but said almost nothing.  One was the man who had met him in the street, whom Chong had discovered was named Benito. Chong hadn’t discovered the name of the other man, but they both seemed Venezuelan as well.
Carlos had given Chong a gruff but polite talk on his arrival but hadn’t spoke to him since. “Mr. Dewitt, you are welcome to stay and wait, but you live by our rules,” Carlos had told him.  Apparently those rules were wahtever Carlos said, because he never stated exactly what the rules were.
As Chong sat in his room trying to picture a memory of Samantha Malinao, Carlos burst in the door.
“Senor Dewitt. Will you come with me to my office, please.” He didn’t wait for an answer but strode out.  Chong followed. In Carlos office was perhaps the smallest adult man Chong had seen, that wasn’t a midget. His features were all proprtional to his size but his size was only 4 foot 9 at most. He seemed shrunken rather than short. The small man stood upon chong’s arrival.
“Mr. Dewiit, a pleasure to meet you. I am Sridat Patel.”
Chong shook hands with him and took a seat when offered.
“Carlos tells me your associate Mr. Baker was taken in for questioning. We’ve located him. He’s being held without bail at the Canaan Central Security Hall. It is unfortunate that this has happened.  I hope it doesn’t compromise your position in any way.”
Chong shook his head.
“Good.  I apologise for making you wait, but we had to be sure, no similar manhunt was out for you.  I’m happy to say there is not. So I assume we can proceed without Mr. Baker present?”
“Yes, if that’s acceptable,” answered Chong.
“Quite. My associate from Gabon informed me you are prepared to make a heavy investment with us in exchange for some scientific services,” Patel looked down at this last part as if too embarrassed to say the word cloning.
“Yes, we have.  Mr. Baker believes you may have the werewithal to — provide us with some security — for our health.  Especially our organs.”
Patel wiped his forehead nervously. “I must tell you Mr. Chong, this is quite  delciate subject for us.  We’ve undergone a massive change of perspective regarding these procedures, but it has not left behind its share of controversy.  Ther eare those in our organization that would turn you away flat for what you are suggesting.  They feel it is sacrilege.”
“And your opinion Mr. Patel?”
“Hogwash. How you can support part of our research without supporting it all. You are not proposing to animate the subjects, only to grow them.  That is no different from what my labe has done many times. And the payment you’ve mad already and are prepared to offer for completion, is quite generous.”
Chong had Patel in a snap. He had no morals but he was attarcted to money. He worked for the Fundys because they allowed him to carry on his work and get paid well where nowhere else in both worlds would let him.  He had convinced the Fundys to investigate cloning, and when they finally rejected him, had torn apart a splinter group, all to keep him paid.  His only reasoning for risking meeting with these strangers was the money. Chong bet himself that his next question would be about payment.
“I trust the situation of Mr. Baker does not affect that payment?”
Almost dead on. “No sir. The amount in question is registered in a South African Bank under confidentiality rules and held in escrow for you.”
Patel’s eyes brightened at the mention of escrow. “Excellent. Then there is just one more thing.”
Chong nodded.
“A DNA test. We know your name is most likely not Dewitt, and we understand the need for secrecy.  We will not try to identify you directly, only rule out the possibility of you being one of our many enemies.”
Chong tried to remain calm. “Is that absolutely necessary?”
“It is not only necessary, but already done. Your stay here provided the material we needed. The test results have been churning away.  No positives yet, you’ll be pleased to hear. Benito should be back with the results any moment.  I told him to meet with me here instead of at my office. If everything is as expected, we will go from here to meet with our organizational head and arrange the terms of the deal.”
This was exactly as Ford and Chong had planned. They would make payment and order clones for organ replacement, a highly illegal activity on both worlds.  However they would gain the identity of the Fundy leader.  They weren’t to take any action immediately, just record. Subdermal implants would take all the data they needed including skin flakes for DNA if possible. Another subdermal dart would stain the Fundy leader’s skin with a trackable quantum dot. Chong would then leave to go back to Earth and hopefully make it to Vatican City in time to meet the Pope.
That is, if Richard chong’s DNA wasn’t on the enemy list.  A thought struck Chong immediately.  If they did have him on the list it meant they had his DNA.  Could they make a clone of him then?  Or woudl they need more.  He never discussed enough of the workings of the clone machines with Ford.
Benito came rushing into the room panting and gesticulating. Chong braced to run if he needed to, but he wasn’t sure where he’d go.
“They’ve taken Baker to New Canaveral.  They extradited him this morning. It’s big.  He’s being taken into UMC governmental custody, which mean’s he’s an enemy of the state.
Patel looked at Chong with a raised eyebrow. “You’re need for secrecy is very great indeed.  Who is Mr. Baker, Mr. Dewiit? I think maybe we might have a case for needing to know.”
Chong paused. “I understand.  However, it is of such a nature, I would prefer to reveal it only in private. May we proceed to your organizational head’s office?  His identity would make more sense to your head I have a feeling.”
Patel considered this.  It was a huge gamble.  If they found out it was Ford, he wasn’t sure what they’d do.  They still thought Ford worked fro them, but it would lead to many questions, like why Ford needed a clone made when he had several already. But it also gave Chong time to think.
“Of course,” Patel nodded his head. “I see that is wise. However, I need to confirm your test came out clear. Benito?”
He was still out of breath. “I had to get over here as fast as I could.  I’ll have to go back and check.”
‘Very well,” said Patel. “Our time is valuable. Call me when you know. Meanwhile, Mr. Dewitt, if you please, we will head towards our office.  Carlos will drive,” he turned to Benito.  “We will hear before I arrive yes?”
Benito nodded and took that as his cue to leaves.

Carlos led them outside to a small mini-car.  The flew across Cana from the industrial section of the colony into the poorer section.  Cana had little crime, but it did have a large impoverished class.  The irony was that some Canaans lived that way voluntarily as part fo their religion, so it was an odd mix of people trying to get out and trying to get in. They landed in a parking lot across from a church. Carlos led them again over to a pet shop.  Small Beagle puppies played in the window and mugged for Chong’s attention.  He heard them whining as they passed.
The went up a set of stairs to the side and into a dingy unmarked office.
“Wait here Mr. Dewitt, I’ll call Benito and then bring in our leader.”
Chong had no idea what would happen at this point if he failed the test.  He imagined it involved killing him in some way, but he couldn’t put his finger on which way.  perhaps choking him with Carlos’ glass eye.
Patel put the phone down and looked Chong in the eye. “You’re clear as expected.  I’ll just be a moment.”
After a few seconds, Patel came back with a man dressedall in black, with shades and a dark hat on. This would be tougher to ID than Chong thought.  He activated the Quantum Dot and hoped for the best.
Patel’s voice shook as he made the introduction. “Your honor, this is the man who has inquired about our services.  I’d like to present–”
“President Chong,” said the voice from under the hat. “How very nice to meet you again.  Very distressing too though I must say.”
Chong recognized the voice.  It was British Minister Narang.

: 1:14 am: UMC

Baghdad was a pit. It had gone through many ups and downs in its history, but the Fundy’s had brought it to its lowest point ever. The UN had made sure water and electricity services worked but there was hardly a building worth serving with them left. Most of the damager had been done by the Fundys themselves.  The Battle of Bghdad had been one of the hardest fought as Touraeg himself had been caught in the city. IN a fit of rage he had ordered Baghdad leveled rather than let it fall into Alliance hands.  He almost succeeded.
Malinao and Lawrence were housed in the UN commission building in an old bus station on Rashid Street. They had a lovely view of the Dijla river, but other than that all seemed to be rubble as far as the eye could see. The only building over one story left in eyesight from the UN building was the Great Mosque which against all odds, had survived the war.
Malinao and Lawrence had taken a walk on their first day there, and had found only military walking through the wreckage.  No major rebuilding efforts could begin until the area was certified free of mines that the Fundys had left strewn throughout the city.  Every other day another family out foraging for food was blown up by a mine. The central city was a ghost town.  It reminded Lawrence more of an abandoned lunar settlement than a major Terran city.
It was his hardest test so far.  Until now, he had most been dreading Vatican City and his fear that the Pope or other dignitaries there would unmaske him.  But this was worse.  He needed Chong now. These people were truly hopeless. The stacks of bodies in Omaha filled him with anger, but Baghdad just made him sad. What hope could the President of the Moon offer a city damaged this badly.  Even more, what hope could a political aide pretending to be the President offer them.  He did not have the words for this.
He was to speak on the steps of the Mosque. That morning Malinao found him sitting staring out at the Dijla rolling by.
“Are you ready Lawrence?” She looked more concerned than he had seen her yet. The light of Baghdad turned everything a bit yellow and it gave her face  fresh glow.
He smiled.  He understood why Richard liked her. He wondered if they’re tasks had helped at all.
“I was just thinking of the President. Do you think he succeeded?  Whatever he was doing?”
She shrugged and smiled a little. “It’s hard to say?  I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Where’s your speech?”
Lawrence balked. “all up in here,” he managed to lie. The truth was he hadn’t been able to think of a word to say. The weight of the devastation had him tounge-tied.  He was too nervous to ask Malinao for help.  She was here to accompany him to the car that would take them across the river to the Mosque.
He decided to brazen it out.  Maybe the words would come to him. “Let’s go,” he said getting up.
“You don’t know what to say do you?” Malinao looked at him with no small amount of wonder. “Yet you’re willing to just carry on and do this for him.  You’re doing more than an aide would Lawrence.  You’re  atrue friend.”
Lawrence pondered how astute Malinao was. She could see through him very easily.
She walked over and took him by both hands. “Chong will be all right because he has a friend like you looking out for him. So will Baghdad for similar reasons.”
Like that Lawrence had his speech.
A little over an hour later, he stood on the steps of the Mosque looking down over a crowd of about 50 people in front of backdrop of broken biuildings, torn up pavement and unidentifiable rubble.  Almost every human within five miles had come to listen. As their applause died down there were no sounds but those of the desert and Dijla. He was almost finished.
“It is hard for friends in trying times. No matter what you do, you can’t always protect your friends.  Sometimes the best way to help them leaves them on their own. But true friends are never left alone. The UMC is a true friend to not only Baghdad but all of United Arabia. and after we get you back on your feet.  The Moon will be better for having a friend like Baghdad. May our friendship be unending insha’Allah. Ansalamu Allaikum.”
The assembled crowd applauded heartily and the Minister of Recovery in charge of the rebuilding of Baghdad slapped Lawrence on the back and had tears in his eyes.
Malinao gripped his arm and whispered into his ear. “That was fantastic Lawrence.”  He thought he could see a shade of a tear in her eye as well.
When they got back to the UN building, Malinao and Lawrence decided to have dinner in their room. There weren’t any restaurants open, and they were weray of the UN cafeteria. Plus they wanted to speak freely and could not do that int he common dining area. Many of the military men had gained a great new respect for Chong deciding to visit Baghdad, rather than the more comfortable Riyadh. All that admiration made Lawrence all the more sad that Chong was not here to benefit from it. Although he knew Chong wouldn’t let it go to his head if he accepted it or even noticed it at all.
As they sat down to eat, Lawrence thought Malinao seemed giddy.
“I had no idea you spoke Arabic,” she said grinning.
“Oh I don’t.  As an aide you pick up little things here and there.  Niceties, greetings, etc.”
“Well it worked wonders.  I thought the Minister was going to marry you.”
“That would have been unlikely,” laughed Lawrence.
“I’m nervous that we haven’t heard from Chong,” Malinao bit her nails. Lawrence decided her giddiness must be nervousness.  her ecstatic smile had changed suddenly to a frown. “Where is he?”
Lawrence started to say somethign but was interrupted by a scuffle outside and a shot. They both ran into the hallway to see John Ford lying in a pool of blood. Lawrence realized it was the killer clone.
“What happened?” he demanded of the guard.
“This man answere the description of John Ford.  We caught him attempting to sneak up to your room sir. Our orders were to shoot on sight.”
Lawrence knew they had to act fast he heard the UN officers barging up the stairs.
“Post guards at the entryways.  Nobody gets in.  This man is not John Ford, but a clone.  That’s been top secret info and I need it to stay that way,” barked Lawrence.  He was surprised at the confidence of his own voice. When the UN asks, it was a ruffian of unknown description.  I want this man in a body bag–”
“Sir, he’s not dead.”
Lawrence rushed to Ford’s side.  The guard was right, Ford was breathing.
He smiled when he saw Lawrence leanbing over him. “You do look kinda like him.  He started to chuckle but wince in pain instead. “Chong and Ford are being held in Cana,” he coughed, “separately.  They need you now.” With that Ford passed out. Lawrence looked up at Malinao.  He was paralyzed.  The rush of adrenaline that had gave him such decisiveness minutes before had fled.
“I’ll handle the coverup,” Malinao said. “I’m American, we’re good at it. Stay with him.”
Malinao rushed off to the stairs and Lawrence could hear her handling the demanding UN reps.
Ford opened his eyes one more time before he passed away. The only other words he managed to say to Lawrence were, “Here in Baghdad, passkey Wilfredo.”

November 12, 2006: 12:26 pm: UMC

This is an ongoing story as part of National Novel Writing Month 

Meanwhile back on the ground, Ford deflated his seersucker impact-resistant damage prevention suit, brushed himself off, and began the long trek back towards the city center. He pulled out a sub-phone and called Chong.
“They bought it Chong.  They’ll both be occupied on the false tasks you assigned them– Yes, yes, no suspicions at all – very good.  I’ll see you back in Libreville.”
He eventually found the vehicle they’d hidden and flew back into the Oloumi district. Chong was waiting in an empty warehouse, where they had been holed up for the last few days. Ford found him at a deskset, prowling through some data one of the Ford clones had delivered early that morning.
“Did they look all right?” Chong asked as soon as he noticed Ford was back.
“Yes, yes. A little weary, but otherwise fine.”
“I can’t believe you talked me into this.”
“But it’s working. We almost had them here. don’t worry, son.  Baghdad will deliver them to us.”
Chong turned back to the data, muttering.
“Try not to get too lost in that, we need to be in Cana soon.”
Chong waved a hand meaning he knew and he wouldn’t. The two men had developed a fairly nice rapport over the past week or so. Chong was still put off by the clones, especially the one that had tried to kill him.  He wasn’t too sure that Ford didn’t still wish to kill him. But he actually liked the original Ford.
Their strategy had formed on the fly in Caracas.  It almost worked there. So they had given it a try in Libreville as well. They’d had less success but not because the plan was bad. They hadn’t counted on a rubber shipment arriving and sucking up all the available labour.  They’d had to do all the footwork themselves.
The plan was elegant in its simplicity and Chong had to credit Ford with most of its construction. The killer Ford was assumed to be still working for the Fundy faction. They would send him out to plan an assasination attempt on Chong, based on the knowledge of the appearances. This would lead them to real Fundy-related contacts. The original Ford would then meet with thos contacts, pretending to be a high-level Fundy himself.  He would attempt to draw out one of the leaders and hence discover the headquarters of the clone movement.
In Caracas, they had pinned down the identity of the chief scientist.  He was hiding out on the Moon in the independent Cana colony. In Libreville they were hoping to get the name of the logistical head. With those two, Ford felt sure he could bluff his way into finding out the headquarters location.  However, because of the lack of help, they had missed a meeting with the Gabon cell chief of the Fundy clone movement and aroused suscpicions. Chong had come up with the idea of egtting Lawrence and Malinao to create some distractions to throw the Fundys off the scent. Ford had insisted that Malinao and Lawrence be led to believe what they were doing was real, in order to preserve the appearance of a real UMC movement against he Fundys.  This would have the negative affect of the Fnudys believing the UMC was aware of them,and this make the more secretive.  However, Ford believed he had gained enough trust not to worry too much, and hoped that it would also cause the logitical chief to make some moves he might not otherwise make, and reveal some intelligence.
The killer Ford clone was already ont he ground in Baghdad and had sent back reams of data onthe Arabian Fundy cells.  More than Chong or Ford could have hoped for, and unfortunately more than they could work through before they had to get to Cana to meet with the chief Fundy scientist.
“Dump it, Chong. Ford 3 can comb it for any other relevance back in Oakland.” Ford had his gear on and was heading towards an unmarked car parked at the rear of the warehouse.
Chong unwillingly logged off after a sending a message to Oakland. He knew they needed to hurry.  They would not be able to take an elevator. Instead they would catch a Moon flight from Lagos, Nigeria, probably connecting in Cairo, to Houston de la Luna, the major spaceport in the UMC. From there they’d take the M train through Armstrong out to Cana.
Cana was the only permanent colony on the Moon that was not part of the United Moon Colonies. It had a religious history and therefore was a popular hideout for Fundys.  But their refusal to associate with the Fundys had made it somehwat neutral ground during the war.  Now, Cana was having trouble keeping the former Fundys out.  Somehow though, the Scientist Sridat Patel had found his way in and was conducting high level experiments in Cana undetected.  It was from there that Ford duspceted his wife’s clone had originated.
After hours of grueling travel the M train finally deposited Ford and Chong in the spartan but clean Cana terminal. The still had an hour before their meeting with Patel in the Cana central plaza. They decided to get a meal, which was no easy task in Cana.
Restaurants per se were forbidden in Cana, based on some interpretatin of some particular religions precepts. It was deemed unseemly for one to require others to bring you food prepared by someone unseen in exchange for money. Something about it being to close to prostitution. That didn’t mean there was nowhere to eat in Cana, it just meant you had to know who was cooking your meal.  That could be trouble for two people trying to keep a secret identity.
However Cana did now suffer some tourism, a decadence decried by the conservatives in their government.  For that reason, a small industry of introductory services had popped up that would lead you to places to eat.  All in all it meant you got to find a nice restaurant with good food at a reasonable price, it just took you two hours to do it, and Ford and Chong didn’t have two hours.
Instead they would have to either ferret out a semi-legal food stand, or push through the crowd at an open market bazaaar.  A bazaar was not considered the least bit sinful, as long as 10 percent of the profits went to the Cana Assistance Department for feeding the hungry. If you could get through the crowds, you could find some pre-prepared foods masquerading as groceries. This could also eat up time, depending on the crowd size.
In the end Ford and Chong decided to risk a food stand. Patrons rarely got arrested at the food stands, especially if they appeared to be from out of town. The owners of the stands were adept at becoming old friends with you before they prepared your meal. It wasn’t an ideal situation for two men with a cover story, but they were hungry and figured the risk was small.
A large burly man with a moustache stood at an unmarked counter along a side street off the main plaza thoroughfare.  He eyed their hungry faces immediately.
“Hello old friends,” he shouted in the traditional call of the Cana food vendor. “Come come and sit and say hello.  It’s been ages.”
Ford and Chong liked the smells coming form the place and decided to sit.
“Boris welcomes you back to Cana.”
Chong knew how this went and he led. “John her and myself Frank are so glad to be back.”
The man smiled at Chong’s knowledge of the game.  This would make things much easier.
“John and Frank, what a pleasure to lay eyes on you,” Boris said taking each of them by the shoulder in the Cana greeting.
“But can you stay and sit awhile and catch up with old Boris on your business?”
Again Chong knew the patter. “Of course.  Our trading in textiles goes well. We hope to make a deal for distribution this week, if all goes well. My salesman here has the gift of gab.  I thnk everything’s going to go great. As a mid-level manager he makes my life so much easier.  But he has no wife or kids to burden him, like my wife Sarah and our two boys Jim and Bob.”
Ford admired the ease with which Chong weaved the story. Chong wondered if Ford knew this was a standrad story used for quick eating.  It was often possible to find a stand with the three textile dealers chatting about their wives all named Sarah.
Boris grinned, especially pleased at Chong’s adeptness with the story.
“But I am sor ude, won;t you stay and eat with me. It is the least I can share with you in my poverty.  It has been six days a piece I have been toiling with my troubles.”
This meant they could pay six coins each for their food.  Chong nodded acceptance and Boris disappeared.
“So what kind of food do we get?”
“Whatever Cana provides,” Chong said. “That’s the tradeoff with the speed of a food counter. You don’t get to pick.
Boris came back smiling widely with two bowls of nooodles, sauce and some kind of cooked meat. Just then a couple tentatively approached.  They seemed to be first-time tourists from somewhere in the UMC.
“Hello old friends,” shouted Boris as he went over to welcome them.
Ford and Chong ate silently.  The food was hot and greasy but very good.  A thick meal that would keep them full for awhile. Chong chuckled as he caught snatches of the conversation between Boris and the tourists.  They were far from adept at this game and Boris was bending over backwards to take their orders without breaking the law. At one point he heard Boris muttering lowly to the tourists, probably instructing them what to say next.
Unfortunately for Boris a Canaan constable happened to be strolling by and this caught his attention.
He approached the three and began berating poor Boris.  The tourists were dumbfounded and could hardly speak, which was probably lucky, because if they had spoken it might have landed Boris with a fine or a night in prison. After Boris identified them as his old friends Lois and Juan, the constable asked for their IDs.
“Uh-oh,” Chong said. “The diners never get in trouble but we will have to show an ID to see if old Boris is tellign the truth.  That could prove complicated.  Let’s go.”
They both regrtefully left their half-eaten bowls on the counter along with 12 coins Chong had withdrawn from his account at the train station. The constable noticed their hurried departure and shouted after them.
“Run!” Chong yelled and made for an alleyway.  He knew the constable wouldn’t chase after them long for such a petty offense.  He’d probably suspect they were scared tourists.  Chong made the corner and turned around in time to see Ford lying down on the side of the road holding his leg as the constable approached with his club held out. In no time, Ford was cuffed and being escorted away by the constable.
Chong thought about running after him, but he knew it would blwo his cover.  Thank god it was Ford that got nabbed though.  Chong felt a pang of guilt over this, but Ford had legit ID and experience getting out of these situations. As long as the constable was satisfied with this story and didn’t run a UMC check on him they’d be fine.  If he did run a UMC check, which Cana didn’t always so, certainly not for a petty thing like this, but if they did, they’d find a high priority presidential warrant out for Ford.
In Cana that could mean he’d be extradited, or it could mean they’d decide to try him under Canaan law.  If they did that, he’d be executed.
Chong let out a brief sigh. That would take weeks, and hopefully Chong would be able to rescinf the order by then.  But it made things extremely complicated.
“Mr. Dewitt?” a man had appeared out of nowhere at Chong’s side.  He paused for a moment before remembering that Dewitt was the name he had given the Fundys.
“Who wants to know?”
“I’m Mr. Patels’ assistant. I saw what happened to Mr. Baker.  I’ll see what we can do.  In the meantime would you come with me?”
“I have busines sin the plaza,” Chong said, being careful in case this wasn’t Patel’s man after all.
“Plans have changed.  You’re to come with me.”
Chong noticed the assistant held a small charge gun at gut level.
“I guess I’ll come with you then,” said Chong, absurdly wishing he could go back and finish the bowl of noodles.

November 11, 2006: 5:36 pm: UMC

“Will the world be a better, place?” Malinao exclaimed to the assembled crowd in Parque los Caobos. “Yes.  Will Venezuela be a better place?  Yes. Will caracas once again feel the flow of the world’s exonomy through her veins? Yes. President Chong has just finished meeting with your newly elected government, and committed continued UMC aid for the rebuilding efforts, and a UMC troop withdrawal plan for Caracas, that will be dictated by your government. I now, give you the President of United Moon Colonies, Richard Chong!”
The crowd’s uproarious applause stunned Lawrence a bit and he paused.  They began chanting Chong’s name.
“Come on Chong,” Malinao whispered as she pulled him toward the podium. “You have to talk a little or it won’t work.”
Lawrence approached the podium and waved to the crowd. He was dressed in a hat and coat.  They had died his hair, and from a distance he could be mistaken for Chong.  The problems were the video closeups. The hat and glasses helped with that and the explanation for both were the side effects of the abduction in Omaha. Lawrence had been imitating Chong privately to other staff members for years, but it was quite different to do it in front of a crowd of cheering Venezuelans.
“Thank you Speaker,” he managed in what he felt was a passible imitation.  He only had a few sentences.  He had to power through it.
“I am only sorry my health has not recoverd sufficiently to allow me to speak to you more. I feel the rise of Venezuela today!”  He even managed to give a Chong-like uptick at the end of the sentence that caused another round of cheering and applause.
“The Moon is committed to rebuilding the Earth. We start here, and in Omaha, and Africa, Europe and United Arabia. But our commitment will strengthen the entire world and make peace, both lasting and beneficial to all peoples.” Lawrence was just getting into it but he only had one line left.
“We will not quit before the job is done.  We will not stay after the job is done. We stand united with Caracas and the world!” That last little bit had been his own improvisation and he was smiling to himself about how Chongian it was.  He did write the occasional speech after all.  He felt the Speaker grab his arm.
“That’s enough Mr. President,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“Thank you, and Viva Venezuela!” She almost yanked his arm off after that last bit but it sent the crowd into a tizzy of noise and he yanked back so he could wave to the crowd before he departed. The Mayor of Caracas was next, thanking the President for all he had done and trying to soak up some of that crowd approval for himself. The Speaker led Lawrence off the stage and inbetween some UMC guards who ccompanies them down the steps.
The chief aide of the President pro tem of Venezuela stopped them before they could make a clean getaway to their waiting car.
“Mr. President, you promised to stay for the ceremonies.  Where are you going?”
Malinao butted in. “The President’s health is still precarious.  I’m afraid even that little bit of excitement was too much for him.”
Lawrence obligingly coughed, making it appear he was close to losing a lung or two.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.  Be well, Mr. President.  And thank you for all you have done for my country.” The Aide shook the President’s hand with the air of someone who is already telling the stories of how he once shook the President of the Moon’s hand.  Nobody might ever know that the story was a lie, including the aide himself.
When safely int he car, Lawrence took off the hat an dglasses and let loose a huge sigh of relief. The streets of Caracas swept by as they flew toward the airport.
“Not bad, but don’t go getting a big head and improvising whole speeches lawrence.  We can’t afford that much exposure,” Malinao chided.
“I’m sorry.  I got a little carried away.  Hopefully though my little touches of realism will help more than hurt Speaker.”
“I’m sorry?” Lawrence stopped fiddling with his clothes and looked up at her.
“If we’re going to be spending so much time together call me Samantha.  besides, the cover story is that we’re lovers, so I doubt lovers call each other ‘Speaker’ and ‘Mr. President’ when alone.
“It is just a cover story,” lawrence looked a tad frightened.
Malinao busted out laughing. “Don’t worry Lawrence.  I’m not putting the moves on you. Just trying to add some touches of realism, like you say,” she continued chuckling to herself.
Now Lawrence looked a bit put out at her laughter, but thought it wise to keep his thoughts to himself.  Instead he changed the subject.
“Have you heard from him?”
“Not yet,” Malinao’s tone turned suddenly sombre. “I’m sure he’s all right.  We aren’t supposed to worry until two days form now.  By then we’ll be in Gabon.”
The trip to Libreville, Gabon was uneventful and the meetings with the government, the tour, and the big speech went off without a hitch.  Luckily the President’s planned route included many areas he had never visited, so few people were even suspicious of Lawrence. The story of his illness took hold and spread like wildfire through the press. Lawrence gained som eentertainment reviewing the theories to what was really wrong with President Chong.
The toughest stop would be Vatican City. Many UMC officials were stationed there.  Too many to include them all in the cover story. Also, Chong had met with the Pope and would likely have to meet him again. Malinao and Lawrence discussed whether Chong should take a turn for the worse during their stay in the Vatican.  They decided to see how the trip to Baghdad went, before they made any firm plans.
The whole Libreville trip was over and they still had not heard from Chong. Malinao and Lawrence were awaiting their car in the lobby of the Hotel de Ville. Two UMC guards stood by while they waited. An old man in a seersucker suit was the only other person in the lobby.  Even the staff was on a break and a bell sta unattended on the front desk. Tourism in Gabon had not returned to normal levels since the Fundys left. There was much rebuilding to be done all over Africa.
Lawrence watched the old man page through a French newspaper occasionally spitting into a plant.  He found this odd behaviour but he had seen odder. The man’s dress also made him stand out.  Lawrence felt alarm bells go off.  Did he know the man? Maybe he was just paranoid. He was about to make himself stop thinking when the man looked over at him.
“Lawrence?” the man asked.
Lawrence barely caught himself before he answered.  He was in full Chong disguise mode from the hat to the shades to the coat. He was not supposed to be Lawrence. Malinao answered.
“I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid you have us mistaken.”
The old man nodded. “Oh.  of course.  I’m sorry.” Instead of going back to his paper, he got up and walked over towards them.  The guard’s snapped to attention.
“Oh my.  I’m sorry, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m John.”
A guard stepped in front of him. “The President is not taking any vistors at this time,” the guards spat out in a deep imposing voice trained to dissuade most people from continuing. Somehow it didn’t stop the old man.
“Oh, President eh?  My my.  President of the whole Moon then?”
Lawrence eyed him closely.  He looked so familiar but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He stepped a hlaf step back just in case.  Malinao interjected.
“We don’t mean to scare you sir, but the President has had some very bad experiences lately.  You may have heard of his ill health because of it.  We ask you to step away.
“You must be Samantha,” he said turning to her.  This knocked her back on her heels for a half second, but she recovered.
“Speaker Malinao, if you please sir,” she threw him a haughty look.
“I see why he likes you.”
The cover story worked.  Malinao tried to look embrassed and stole a look at Lawrence.
“No not him,” the old man said. “I mean Richard.”
The guards had the old man by the shirt collar and awaited orders. Malinao looked around.  Nobody else was here to witness the conversation, so no damage done there.  But what to do with the doddering old fool.  Did he really know something.
“What’s your name?”
The man looked mor eput out than scared by this point. “I told you, I’m John.  John Ford. I have a message from Richard.”
“Put him down,” Malinao yelled.

November 10, 2006: 10:35 pm: UMC

Chong found Lawrence outside the hotel and grabbed him. He almost screamed until he saw who it was who had him around the throat.  Chong pulled him off into an alleyway.
“Chong?  Is that you?”
The President had disguised himself with a stocking cap dark glasses and a new wardrobe, courtesy of Ford.
“Yes it’s me. Keep your voice down.” Chong motioned for Lawrence to be quiet.
“What happened to you?”
“I had a very interesting diversion but I’m not in trouble.  Well not in the trouble weall thought I was, and certainly not from the abduction.  I’ve been with Ford.”
“He’s brainwashed you!” Lawrence’s eyes grew wide.
Chong looked exasperated. “No no no.  Nothing of the sort. He let me in on a few secrets that I now understand he had to keep.  I’ll let you in on them too, as soon as we meet with Speaker Malinao. Here’s what I need you to do.”
Chong explained that he needed a meeting but he couldn’t risk being recognised. Lawrence knew how to take care of it. He was a master in how to get guards and waiters and a whole army of people in and out of important areas without being seen.
“You’ll need to lose that garb.  You may not look like the President of the Moon, but you sure don’t look unobtrusive.” Lawrence gave Chong some instructions and then left the alleyway alone and re-entered the hotel.
His mind was racing.  He only knew part of Chong’s plan at this point but he also knew Chong and that meant the rest of the plan would not be any saner. Chong was a very practical and levelheaded guy but he was also creative.  Adn that spelled danger for an aide trying to keep the wheels of government under control. He reached the President’s room, which had been kept reserved but unoccupied. He radioed down to the guards that he was ordering in a meal to the President’s room for the Speaker and himself to discuss some news on the President’s abduction out of Oakland.
Then he sent a message to Speaker Malinao requesting she meet him under the same pretext.  Finally he contacted the front desk and confirmed that a luncheon could be sent up. Then he sank down in a chair and caught his breath.  He hoped it all would work.  Chong had such confidence in him.  He hoped it was really well placed.
Within a half hour Speaker Malinao arrived, looking a bit skeptical.
“What’s this all about Lawrence? I thought we went over all the Oakland findings?”
“Something new has come up, please have a seat while I check on the luncheon.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather hear what all this is first.  I may have to miss the luncheon.  I have a meeting with the southern Omaha commanders council to discuss air security in the wake of Ford’s penetration of the hotel.”
Lawrence looked dismayed. “I assure the Speaker if she wait she won’t be disappointed.”  He didn’t know what he’d do if she bailed on him.
“Lawrence, I can plainly tell that something is bothering you, but what it is I can’t fathom. So please, stop playing these games and out with it.  It’s not like you.”
A knock came to the door.  Saved. Lawrence opened the door expecting to see someone else.  Instead it was a UMC guard.
“Sir, the luncheon will be late. There’s been a personnell change and we’re implementing knew security measures, so we’ll need to run a complete screen on the new waiter.  Our apologies, if you could give us about a half hour. Lawrence was devastated.
Malinao overheard and got up. “I’m sorry Lawrence but I can’t wait that long.  Whatever it is will have to be resumed later.” She made to move past him. And Lawrence slammed the door.
“Lawrence!” she protested but he held his ground.
“I need you to trust me Speaker. Do you trust me?”
“Normally I’d say yes, but today I’m starting to wonder–”
“Yes or no.”
Malinao sighed. “Yes.”
All right.  If you do what I suggest we will have a meeting you need to have.  You’ll just have to trust me on this.  Will you do what I suggest?”
“What is it?”
“Will you do it unquestioningly.  It’s not dangerous… just … odd.”
Malinao could see that Lawrence was sincere as well as troubled.  But he was not troubled by what he was doing but afraid of the fact that she might not cooperate.  She gave in.
“OK I’ll do it Lawrence.  It would take something extraordinary to make you act this way.  What is it?”
“Open the door and order the guard to send the luncheon up right away.”
“What?  that’s it?”
“Yes.  Tell him you can’t wait for the luncheon and that the new security protocols cna be excercised at another time.  To check ID and send the new waiter up immediately.”
The Speaker’s eyes twinkled. “Our meeting is with the waiter.  I see. How very old fashioned.  OK then.”
Malinao opened the door and instructed the guard to have the luncheon sent up right away.  LAwrence nodded his assent and the guard reluctantly complied.
Malinao had expected some special agent of the UMC, or a Minister but when the waiter entered the room her mouth gaped and she stood.  Chong could tell she was about to scream and cut her off.”
“Yes, it’s me.  Now be quiet please Madame Speaker.”
“Where?  What?  What’s going on?”
“Thank you Lawrence,” said Chong as he set the food out.
“It wasn’t easy Mr. President.”
“Speaker give you trouble?”
“She has a very important meeting.”
“I’m sure she does, so let’s get right to the point.” He finsihed laying out the food, sat down and turned to Malinao.
“I need your help.  I cannot come out of hiding not just yet.  But Ford is not the enemy and we have a plan to defeat the real enemy.”
Chong told them Ford’s whole story, then started in on his plan. Lawrence objected.
“I don;t think that can work–”
“It can.  It has to.” Chong cut him off.
Malinao smiled. “You know, I think it can.” She sized up Lawrence. “You’re just going to have to believe in this plan Mr. lawrence.  That’s all.  If you can get behind it, it will work.”
Lawrence looked dismayed.
Chong butted in. “The Speaker will bear the brunt of the scrutiny in this case. If she’s up for it, and as she says, you do your part, I think it can work.”
“We’ll have to move quickly though if we want it to have the effect we think it will have.”
“Yes, you’ll need to be at a press opp tomorrow.  I suggest you start in Caracas. That’s the first one I indicated in my speech.  Follow that order.”
Malinao frowned. “But everyone knows you’re here.  They’ll expect you to start here.”
“True, but the scrutiny would be a lot greater here and I’ll be expected to give a momentous speech, which I still intend to give.  The smokescreen of other news will dampen the questions of why I didn’t start here in Omaha.”
Malinao nodded.  “I’m in.  Lawrence?  Are you up for this?”
Lawrence sighed and looked form one to the other.
“I must be crazy.  I’ll probably get killed, but OK.  I’m in.”
“Fine,” said Chong getting up and clearing away the dishes. “I’ll just be on my way. Remember Lawrence, I’ll contact you using New Cav code.  got it?”
“Got it.” He stopped Chong. “Be careful.”
“You know I will.”
Malinao got up and saw Chong to the door. She held his arm as well before he opened the door.  A smirk crossed her face. “Goodbye darling.”
Chong froze. Al he could manage was a curt good-bye.
Malinao turned around and gave Lawrence  a studious look. “And hello darling.”
Lawrence groaned and sank into his chair.

November 9, 2006: 10:55 pm: UMC

They ran down a rickety pile of wood that was a close approximation of stairs. Chong was impressed at how fit Ford was. He found himself running out of breath trying to keep up.  After a hundred meters or so, the stairs ended in a flat dirt-floored room. Ford opened an old metal door and they found themselves in a tunnel. an old set of train tracks could be seen below the ledge they stoo don.  Ford motioned Chong forward into the gloom. Eventually Ford pulled out an LED torch and gave them some light.  Chong sighed in relief.  He was afraid of slipping off the ledge down onto the train tracks.  It wasn’t far but given the darkness he could have twisted an ankle, or worse broken a leg, or split open his head.
They passed an old sign that said ’19th Street’.
“Is this an old transit system?” asked Chong.
“Bart,” barked Ford. Chong could hear him breathing heavily finally, something Chong had been doing since halfway down the stairs.
“Who’s Bart?”
“Bay Area Rapid Transit.  Dates back to the late 20th century. Used to connect this whole area together with underground and overground trains. They’ve long since dismantled the system, but the tracks are still here, at least underground.”
“So what do we do, just hide out here?”
“No, too dangerous.  The cameras and sensors don’t reach down here.  What little crime there is in Oakland flourishes down here. I use it as a route to get places unseen.  Hence it’s attraction ot the criminal element.”
Ford jumped down onto the tracks and held up his hand to help Chong down.
Up ahead, Ford’s torch showed a glint of metal.
“What’s that?” Chong squinted ahead.
“It’s called a rail rider. I bought it from a hobbyist.  They use them to explore the tunnels.  It’s sort of like a motorbike, but grips a rail for it’s motion. It’s  a two seater.  Pop the hatch and climb in back.
The rail rider looked like a silver oblong capsule fromthe outside. Chong could just make out the change in tint where the front windshield must be.  He found the pop latch for the back seat and climbed in. Ford was already strappin into the driver’s pod.
“We’ll go about halfway down the tunnel and exit through service grate.  That’ll take us under a neighborhood just north of Lake Merritt.  I have a place there.  I rarely use it but we can stay there unobserved for awhile. Even if the UMC comes door to door looking for you they’ll have a hard time searching this place.  It’s got multiple apartments all behind double locked doors. Not an ounce of electronics in the place but damned secure all the same.
They took off down the rails and Chong hoped hard that ford wasn’t really a delusional old man.  Chong couldn’t see much anyway being in the passenger pod, but what little he could see was inky blank.  Ford must have noticed something because they slowed to a halt. Chong saw a dim bit of light from a grating once he got out of the rail rider. They climbed up steel rungs covered in muck and rust and pushed up out of the grate.  Chong half expected to see UMC guards there and was wondering what exactly he’d say if he met them.  Most likely they’d assume he was being forced to do whatever he was doing.
Ford helped him up onto a narrow ancient street paved in asphalt. It was a residential area with a mix of big apartment buildings and smaller houses. Ford led them up to an imposing grey block of apartments. Chong saw him pull small piece of metal out of his pocket, insert it int he fornt door and open the door.
“What was that?”
“This my friend,” he said holding up the metal, “is an honest to goodness key.  Not the encryption kind that’s more metaphor than item in today’s locks.  This is what the encryption is named after.”
Chong looked at it puzzled. “Can’t they just stick metal in themselves and open it?”
“has to fit.  You can pick a lock, but then you can break encryption too.  And there are so few mechanical locks these days, nobody’s learning how to pick locks.  It’s actually quite  a bit safer that way. ”
Ford pulled out a different metal key and opened another door that led into a dark stairway.  These stairs were solid and seemed to be made of metal unlike the rickety wood they’d taken down to the train station. One flight up, Ford pulled out a third metal key and opened another door.  It led into a dark hallway with several doors unevenly spaced along it. Ford went down a hallway and into a door at the end using a fourth metal key.
“I see what you mean about the security,” remarked Ford. He doubted even the UMC elites could break through four ancient mechanical locks very quickly. Ford’s apartment was as old as the building itself, sparsely furnished but quite comfortable.
“All I can offer you is water I’m afraid, said Ford from the small aisle of a kitchen. “As I said I don’t spend much time here, so don’t keep much perishable.”
“That’s fine,” chong said still looking around at the apartment’s fixtures.  It had a large window that looked out into a private courtyard that was overgrown with weed and a couple large trees.
“You were saying when my army so rudely interrupted us trying to rescue me?” prodded Chong as Ford brought him a cup of water.
“I don’t know how they foud you unless you’re tracked.  Are you?”
“Simple RFID, but difficult to pin down in that time.  They must have had help.  It should have taken them a couple days to narrow down my pellet’s signal.”
“My brother.”
“Yes, Minister Narang.  He’s my half brother and full annoyance. He doesn’t know about any of this and he’s determined to bring me back to the right ways of thinking. I’ve tried to explain, but I don’t want him to know.  I don’t want to implicate him.”
“But you shot him!” Chong exclaimed.
“One of me did yes,” Ford nodded. “He’s hard to control that one.  But he’s worth it.  He didn’t kill Narang, and right now he’s probably just finished cleverly hiding all my cloning work.  Your UMC boys and girls will find nothing.”
“and my part in this?  I’m still curious.”
“Of course. Well I can;t have you examine the cloning machines right now, so on to the second part. I believe I know several of their main operations centers. They know about me.  They think I’m still on their side but I’m rogue and compartmentalized.  If I get near them they’ll disappear. I’m only to make contact with them in  avery specific way after I’ve completed my task.  Or that’s what one of my clones tells me.  The one actually sent out to kill me and you.  The one you’ve met. I believe him.  It’s funny how well you can read someone just like yourself. In fact the shock of finding out he wasn’t me is what led him to join me.  Anyway, I Get sidtracked at my age. I can’t get near them but you can.”
“You don’t think a big old Presidential convoy into town would make them scatter?” Chong was skeptical.
“Yes it would, but that’s not how we do it. You’re going to go off on a tour.  you need to go off on that tour, or appear to.  Then I’ll guide you to the centers.  One of them is on the Moon. You’ll scout them and assess them, posing as a potential member.”
“And they won’t recognize the President of the Moon?” Chong shook his head.
“No they won’t and here’s why. You don’t look the same in person as you do on video.  And you’ll be on video touring, so they’ll know it isn’t you, because it couldn’t be you.”
“So how do I pull that off?”
“We clone you.”
“Ahh no.”
“It’s the only way.”
“No way.  I’m sorry, but we’ll have to do better than that.  I understand what you’re up against.  What we’re up against, but the cloning has to stop and we don’t make it better by making another clone.  Especially of me.”
“If you have a better plan I’ll hear it.”
“I’ll need more of your whiskey for that.”
“That I do keep here.”
“I thought you might.” Chong gazed out the window into the garden. Their had to be a way to do this without any more cloning.  Ford’s plan could work but was there a better way.  Yes.  There was.

: 9:37 pm: UMC

He appeared much older than the other two.  In fact, he appeared to Chong to be in ill health.
“Thank you both,” he said to his two copies.  “I want to talk with the President alone in my office.”
He motioned for Chong to follow him over through the emptiness to a small office built along one wall. Ford said nothing until they were both sitting down inside.
“Can I get you a drink?”
He pulled a bottle of brown liquid out and set it on the desk between them. He popped it open and poured a couple fingers in a paper cup.
“Sure,” said Chong.  For some reason he just absolutely trusted this version of Ford.  That’s what must have made him such a strong negotiator.  He just oozed good feeling s and trust.  Chong was dying to find out what had happened.
Ford poured the other drink and slid the cup over to Chong.
“Well I guess you must be pretty confused and angry about now.  For that I apologize.  As the other mes probably told you, I couldn’t see any other way. After I explain more, I hope you’ll understand.”
Chong shifted in his seat and took a sip.  Hot fire burned his lips and throat as the liquid raged down into his stomach.  Now that was whiskey.
He snorted a bit. “I’ve never tasted anything like this.”
Ford chuckled. “Of course you haven’t.  Scoth this good is outlawed from trade with the Moon.  Maybe a bootle of 12-year-old MacAllen every once in awhile is the best they’ll let you get.  Most of the time you’re stuck with blends. This here is 21-year-old Oban.  Pre-war. It’s my favorite. Dry and smoky.”
“It’s good,” agreed Chong. “I’m not all that angry right now.  But I certainly am eager to hear what all this is about.”
Ford settled in for a long talk. “A group of the Fundys started experimenting towards the end of the war, after you all entered in. They could see the writing on the wall with the UMC forces in play raining hell ont hem from above. Experimenting on their prisoners was nothing new for them, but this group of scientists in Omaha started something unique.  Investigations into stem cells.  I assume you saw the body fields in Omaha?”
“Yes,” Chong shuddered a bit at the memory. “We flew over them on the way to our hotel.”
“You’ll find similar scenes at various Fundy installations, but nothing quite so vast. Fundy scientists, with some kind of twisted religious justification, were learning how to duplicate the humans int heir care. I believe their rationalization ran something along the lines that the sinners they had captured had lost their souls, so reproducing their bodies would not be a problem.  They would sen these clone armies out to defeat the heathens and win the war.”
“How did they get around the protien limitations?”
“Rather clever that.  They only clone the ovum.  Easy enough.  After that they clinched away of replicating the womb conditions exactly.  Then they figured out how to speed the whole thing up. The cells think they’re int he womb, so they have all the protiens they need.  The speeding up is the extremely brillinat part.  After that, all you ned is the right machines and a little knowledge of biology and everyone can do it.”
“So why haven’t we seen the clone army?”
“The machines are quite power intensive. In the end you were battering at the electircal capacity so bad, they could only produce a few clones. A few of the ones seen here were created by the Fundys.  I’ve liberated them.  The clone of my wife you met on the train in Avalon was another. They’re sending out the clones now as spies to attempt to find them a new base where they can receive enough power without drawing attention. They’ve tried Cana colony on the moon, but as sympathetic as the reliogious Canans may be, they reject cloning out of hand. Anywhere else on the Moon would suck up too much power and draw attention.”
“So why do you need me?”
“It’s tricky. You are who they want more than anything. The Ford I’ve sent to lure you in was one of them.  I’ve barely kept him on my side.  He was programmed to hate the UMC. These Fundys–  well they’re really not Fundys anymore.  They’re radical cloners.  They want the UMC gone more than anything so they can slip back under the radar. I needed them to think their rogue Ford clone was just at large doing their work. They won’t think so much about his not contacting them.  It’s how they work.  To keep secrecy.”
Chong felt the liquor hit him an decided not to finish the glass quite yet.  He rarely drank. “So that’s all very interesting, it really is. But what’s the short version? Why do youw ant me?  What is this place?”
“I need you because you’re the President of the Moon.  I need to keep you safe and out of their hands.  I also need you to help me finish them off. They’r erunning very scared right now, but if we do nothing they will find their niche, grow bold and unlease something far worse than the Fundy war. Those body fields in Omaha are littered with failed experiments.  But they’ve learned much.  That clone of my wife really thought she was my wife. They’ve learned how to do that. I have one of their machines here.  I’ve made a few John Fords on my own.  But nothing compared to where they’ve advanced to. If they find a willing protector with enough power, the world is doomed.”
“But why me?”
“Because you’re talented.  Your smart.  And they fear you.  They really do.  In their eyes, you rained down destruction from above.  And they’ve found it almost impossible to infiltrate the Moon colonies. Not in any numbers. My family did die in Omaha, but not in the bombing.  They died in the body fields.  I almost did too. I got away with one of their machines and hid here. If we united, nothing could stop us.”
“I see.” Chong rubbed his chin. “So what’s the plan?” He wasn’t convinced yet, but he was leaning that way.
“We start by giving you a look at the cloning machine to see what you can figur eout.  Then–”
An loud crash outside interrupted them.  Chong and a handful of Fords ran to the security monitors. Chong’s mouth gaped at what he saw.  Outside a UMC command craft and a battle fighter had landed in the street in front of the building. A cadre of UMC troops were being led by LAwrence to surround th ebuilding.  Chong suddenly realized he wasn’t sure he wanted to be rescued.
“Do you have something I can write on?”
One of the Fords handed him a tablet.  He scrawled down a quick message then said, “Let’s go” to the original Ford. “Just you and me.”
“This way,” Ford made for a set of stairs near the back of the building that went down into a cellar.
“I’m very glad you’ve decided.”
Chong follwoe dhim and they sealed the door shut above them.

November 8, 2006: 8:19 pm: UMC

Chong was certainly not expecting this, but he was a bit more prepared. He touched his tounge to a sub-molar notification device in his mouth that would summon the guards.
“Your wife’s dead,” Chong tried.
“Of course she is. But that didn’t stop her from popping on your train and having  alittle talk did it?” Ford got up and waved his gun as he talked.
“How do you know that?”
“Thanks to your vigilant protection of the lunar populace, you have a camera on every train, no? I have connections.  It’s not hard to get copies of the video.  Although, I must say,” and here Ford frowned, “the audio is awful.  Enough to hear what you were saying, but still,” he shrugged.
“So you know your wife is not dead?” Where were the guards.  Chong touched his molar again.
“Don’t strain your tounge muscle, Mr. President. The frequency’s jammed. Good idea and all, but I was ready.”
“Why so much talk then.  Why don’t you shoot?”
“Good tactics Mr. president.  Youv’e been trained well.  And I must give you credit.  You’ve seen through me.  I don’t really want to kill you.  I needed to make you believe that.  And it doesn’t mean I won’t kill you.” Suddenly an invisible knife cut into Chong’s leg and casued him to fall to the ground in brief pain. Ford’s gun was capable of subsonics.  It could use sub-audible sound waves to incapacitate or kill the victim.
“A low setting Mr. President.  Just to show you I’m serious. Now.  I’m going to shoot you again, just to knock you out.”
Chong was screaming, but no sound came out. Then he realized he was in the back seat of a car.  The ride was very turbulent, he was bouncing around all over the place. He opened his eyes and sat up.  He was handcuffed in the back part of  truck cab.  It was an old fashioned ground car.  John Ford sat in the front driving.
“Good morning Mr. President.  Sorry for the acommodations.  I imagine you’re used to much better.  However it was necessary to get where we’re going unnoticed.
“And where’s that exactly?” Chong mangled the words as he worked the sleep out of his mouth.
“you’re probably working off the drug I gave you.  Perenity.  No lasting effects, but you will have a bit of a hangover.”
“I asked where we were.”
“Yes you did. We’re in Oakland, California. Uh… Grand and Harrison right at this point.”
“Why are we in Oakland, California?” Chong’s geography was good, but he wasn’t exactly sure where Oakland was.  He vaguely remembered it being in northern California.  Somewhere near San Francisco?”
“Well, Oakland has become a favorite for people to hide out in.  It’s got an old reputation for violent crime that long ago became untrue. So it’s instead become a perfect place for people to hide out for awhile. Nobody bothers you.  Everyone’s nice.  The restaurants are good.  Only issue is the police. You can’t get away with much here in the way of violence.  That should comfort you.  Killing someone in Oakland, is tantamount to turning yourself in.  However, non-violent crimes? Petty crimes?  That’s a different story.  You’ll understand. Amazing city, this Oakland.  One of the few untouched by the war.  Fundys focused all their might and anger on San Francisco, right across the bay.  Left Oakland untouched.  Sort of treated it as unimportant.  Another advantage in my mind. Closest the war came to me here was the internment camp at Emeryville. A few Fundys still over there actually. But I do ramble.  There’s water in the flap of the backseat for you.  I think you should be able to open it even with the handcuffs, but let me know.”
Chong opened the water and rank.  He noticed Ford was much different.  Much more affable.  A closer approximation to the Ford that was the negotiator before the war. Chong thought mayb e he imagined it but he looked a little different too.  Older maybe?  Chong couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was odd.
They pulled up next to an old power station downtown.  The truck moved through an alleyway, around the back and into a private garage. Ford helped Chong out of the truck and walked him through a door into an empty warehouse.
“Used to be the Western Power Station way way back in the day. Was used for all sorts of artsy and not so artsy things for a long time.  Now it’s my little laboratory.” Ford sat Chong and himself down on a set of church pews in one caroner of the empty hall. The rest of it was dark and gloomy.
“Here’s the thing Chong.  I can’t explain to you everything that’s going on.  You’ll have to piece it together for yourself.  And there’s no way you’re going to trust me right away, so I’m going to have to keep you locked up for now.  But I assure you,” Ford moved in closer to Chong with a determined almost manic look in his eyes, “I assure you with all I know and believe, there was no other way.  What I’m doing only I could do. And it’s not only for your benefit, but for the benefit of both worlds. The war is far from over. In fact, if you had attended the peace conference without incident, the worlds would be in dire straits now.  You did defeat the Fundys.  You did kill Touareg.  But there was a faction.  One even Touareg distanced himself from, that has persisted.  They have not surrendered.  They’re far too clever for that. You’ve met one now.  My wife.  And she was my wife, in a way.  You’ll understand.  But she’s not to be trusted. They may be impossible to defeat.  But I may know the way.  if I’m right, it’s the only way. And it must happen just so.”
Chong was overwhelmed with the mad rant. He felt mor ein danger here than when confronted by Ford previously.  At least he felt he understood the homicidal Ford.  But this Ford seemed insane and capable of just about anything.  He wasn;t just mad, but mad with an invented cause.  Chong tried to remember his training in psychology, but he had never meant to go into the discipline and only really mastered the interpesonal methods, not the clinical methods for dealing with the truly ill.
“Stand up,” Ford seemed nervous now. Chong obeyed.  He had not other choice but disobeying and that didn’t seem to gain him anything.
“Walk…” Ford tapped at his head compulsively as if he ahd a tic. “I’m sorry, it’s just that nobody’s ever seen this before.  I have to be confident I’m doign the right thing.  Walk forward about 10 feet.  Stop when I say stop.”
“Because I said so!” screamed Ford.
Chong had little choice now.  He could procoke and get into an argument with a man who claimed he didn’t want to kill him anymore, but acted like a madman.  Or hecould walk forward 10 feet and see what happened. He walked.
“Stop!” Ford commanded.
Chong was surrounded by darkness.  He could hear a low hum near him and felt the presence of something large in the gloom.  His heart raced.
“President Chong, Meet… the rest of me.”
A bank of lights came on suddenyl causing Chong to squint.  When he could see again, he faced a row of refirgeration units with translucent doors. In each unit was a copy of John Ford.  There were about a dozen in all with three units empty.
Chong gaped.  Ford was engaging in illegal cloning.  Or were these androids? It seemed more like cloning.  You wouldn’t need to refrigerate androids.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around to see three versions of Ford.  He immediately recognized two of them.  The youngest was the Ford who had attempted to kill him. Another was the older Ford who had driven him here.  The third stepped in front of the others.  His voice rasped out like dry paper.
“President Chong, it’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’m John ford.  The original John Ford.”

November 7, 2006: 10:11 pm: UMC

It was a rough landing in Omaha.  The spaceport there had been destroyed during the war, so Chong had pulled some strings and allowed the Rayburn to land at the military spaceport erected south of the city. Needless to say it had none of the comforts of even the smallest spaceport.
The group disembraked onto a gantry that led down to an open tarmac.  Not only was this rustic, but frankly somewhat dangerous. The military port was quite active and shuttles were large, loud and blind. Chong breathed an inward sigh when they finally made it to the temporary command structures away from the moving space hulks.
A car waited to fly them up into central Omaha.  Chong would stay in a hotel there and then tour the main sites of the bombing with Malinao. Along the way, Chong saw the effects of the war, and the bombing he had authorized. Streteches of normal suburban businesses and houses were punctuated by large tracts of empty land and charred earth. The rebuilding efforts were underway in the center of the city but had not reached out this far. Instead, cleanup crews had removed dilapidated structures and prepped land for rebuilding. The empty stretches were desolate with nothing but black soil and a few signs and markers left for fututre rebuilding crews to identify what property belonged to whom and what structures were meant to be replaced.
Just before the car flew over Mandan Park, Chong got his first look at the true result of the bombings. A neighborhood had not been cleared. Chong tapped on the window to get the pilot’s attention.
“Fly closer to that area, I won’t to get a better look.”
The pilot looked a question at Lawrence who just nodded.
Malinao scoweled. “Are you sure you want to see that right now Chong?”
Chong said nothing but kept his gaze fixed out the door.  He soon realized both why the are had not been cleared and why the pilot and Malinao were uncertain he would want to see this. Among twisted metal and mounds of ash were hundreds and hundreds of bodies, preserved in stasis bags.  This was an identification center for the war dead. The field of bodies seemed endless and could not have had a more macabre setting. Nothing lived down there, and workers wore clean suits to prevent themselves getting infected. As they swooped down to their lowest point in passing, Chong saw that not all the bags had bodies.  Some contained collections of limbs or merely charred skull-like heads. He shuddered.  Suddenly the field of bodies ended. and in a snap he was looking at  shopping center.  Granted it wasn’t bustling.  Doubtless people had little to spend and wouldn’t be too keen about shopping near the dead.  However, aside from the lack of people it looked untouched as if the war had never happened.
Malinao leaned forward and touched Chong on the knee, sending an electric shock up his spine. “Are you OK?” she asked.
He found himself frustratingly speechless, not because of what he’d just seen but from Malinao’s touch.
“There’ll be worse tomorrow you know,” she said concerned. She removed her hand and freed his tounge.
“I know. That’s what I cam for. We have to confront it in order to get past it.”
The rest of the trip was in silence until the car floated to a landing at one of the few hotels in business in downtown Omaha.
The streets in downtown Omaha were quite a contrast to the outlying areas.  People were everywhere working on construction projects, conferncing about plans, protesting about issues and some of them merely asking for handouts. The bustle lifted Chong’s spirits a bit and he saw a similar effect on the others in the group.
Lawrence handled the checkin and brought everyone there room cards.
“They weren’t terribly pleased to see me, I’ll say that,” said Lawrence as he doled out the cards.
“Don’t take it personally,” Malinao said. “They’ve been through a lot. I don’t think most of the Omaha residents have anything against the UMC.  Most of them blame the Fundys at this point. Ford is unique. Most of these people weren’t even living here anymore at the time of the bombing.”
Chong started to feel the weight of a long day of travel, planet change, emotional sites and more. He intended to retire to his room and get some sleep. A guard accompanied upstairs and stood outside his room.  LAwrence was even too tired to talk right now, and went straight to his own room. They would all meet in four hours to begin their tour.
Chong threw his things down on the couch and opened the doors into the suite’s bedroom.  Sitting on the bed was John Ford.
“Hello Mr. President.  I hear you’ve met my wife.”

November 6, 2006: 9:55 pm: UMC

ISS 5 had been launched a mere three years before the war. The Fundys had control of Venezuela and were a growing threat at the time, so it had been built with security foremost in its design.  Chong wondered if that’s why it looked like a spiky grenade or if that was just an accident of design.
Aside from the foreboding appearance, the docking procedure was almost impossible. Any ship not pre-cleared with a double-authenticated one-time pad International Space Agency key had to wait two hours to dock instead of 30 minutes. Chong got a special demonstration of this security by bureaucracy in action as he watched Speaker Malinao’s ship arrive and dock while his UMC shuttle waited. He respected that it didn’t matter whether the President or the janitor was on board, he just thought the overall security was a little overdone for peacetime.
The shuttle finally received an assigned spike near the Speaker’s, and after one hour in space and two waiting outside their destination, Chong, Lawrence and their guards set foot on the ISS 5.
It was in fact, a historic occasion that went largely unmarked.  No UMC citizen, much less a President had been on ISS 5 ever. The head of UMC’s space agency had visited ISS 4 in the decade before the war, but the ISA was never excited about UMC personnel on board, and the war had frozen out any chance of UMC citizens finding their way over to the Earth’s prime space outpost.
It was really just jealousy.  UMC troops could have guarded the ISS 5 during the war but the ISA resisted. When the colonie shad united and rebelled against the Earth, they had also rebelled against the ISA which had overseen most of the missions that founded the colonies. Many of the Moon revolution leaders were members of the ISA. So it was natural for the remaining ISA members to see the UMC as a rebellious and ungrateful child. The most loyal ISA leaders accused the UMC of setting back space exploration thirty years. Martian missions aside, it was true that no new colonies had been founded since the Moon revolution. It was also true that the two attempts to found a newcolony at the Ambrosius site, one before and one after lunar independence, both failed for lack of interest. Moderates agreed that the UMC’s independence was more a symptom of the stall in colonization, rather than the cause.
That didn’t change the chilly reception as the President of the UMC set the first lunar foot on ISS 5. A single Lieutenant met them and barely greeted them before instructing the pilot on the conditions and procedures for leaving. Chong felt this was more than hint, it was a push.
Speaker Malinao cam erunning in with a few aides in tow, huffing and puffing out of breath.
“I’m so sorry we’re late President Chong… uh Chong. I know we look close form outside, but they docked us 5 stories up and the lift is in use for cargo or something ridiculous, so we had to hoof it. I’m so sorry.  Anyway, how was your trip?”
Chong thought it remarkable how much she glowed after a little excercise.  Further thoughts along these lines were quickly stamped out, but not before it became apparent he was staring.
“The President and I had a lovely trip and were impressed with the strength of the ISA’s security protocols,” Lawrence broke the awkward silence.
“Yes, quite a wait,” Chong managed. “How was your flight.”
“Uneventful.  I’ll show you the way to our ship.  You know these ISS types, always in a hurry.”
Malinao led the way to the stairs back up to where the US ship was docked.  Chong found himself walking up the stairs behind Malinao and struggled for all five flights with not only carrying on a conversation while huffing an dpuffing, but trying to decide where his eyes should focus.
“Welcome to the USS Sam Rayburn, my home in the stars,” said Malinao gesturing at her ship. “It’s been in use by Speakers of the House in the United States for just over fifteen years. But they didn’t make it for us.  Before it was given to the Speaker, it was used as the Vice Presidential shuttle for five years.  It’s old but it’s spaceworthy.  They’ve kept it maintained and upgraded.  It should fit six nicely, but since we have about nine it may be a little cramped.  I hope you don’t mind.”
Chong admired the enthusiasm that filled her deep brown eyes when she spoke about her ship. “I don’t mind at all,” he said truthfully.
Lawrence looked like he disagreed, but they all made way through the entry.  The interior was velvet red and to Chong’s Moon-raised eyes seemed mor elike it was built for 12 rather than six. But there were only six seats, which meant three of the guards had to strap themselves into wall spaces for the departure. One of the guards took the invitation of the pilot to sit in the cockpit after Chong said it was all right.
They departure protocols took all of five minutes, considering that they were leaving in a pre-authorized ship.  He wondered how long the UMC shuttle would have to wai tto leave.
“Your pilots should be leaving right after us.  They won’t waste time on the way out,” Malinao said as if reading Chong’s mind.
It was an hour trip to Omaha. After departure they would have about twenty to thirty minutes to float about the cabin before reentry commenced. Malinao took the opportunity to show them around the ship.
At one point, Chong found himself alone with Malinao, looking at a viewport at the Earth rolling by beneath them. He wasn’t really alone, but the guards were in the cockpit and Lawrence was conferring with the aides on arrival logistics.
“Don’t you ever miss it?” Malinao asked.
“I never had it,” Chong said.  He got this question a lot from Terrans. “I grew up with a black sky and silver light.  It’s all I’ve known. The Earth’s beautiful to me but so are many things.” He realized what he just said as he also realized Malinao was looking up at him.  He turned quickly away and thought he caught the hint of a smile.
“The Mona Lisa is beautiful. A Martian sunrise is beautiful, but I don’t particularly miss either one of those things. I appreciate them but I never had them.”
“So you have to have something, to miss it?”
He inexplicable feared answering that question.
“Well yes, I suppose.  At least when it comes to planets– I,” he was interrupted, saved, by the announcement that reentry would soon commence and all passengers needed to secure themselves.
“We’ll continue this later,” Malinao said as they made their way back to their seats.