Archive for November 9th, 2006

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.