Archive for November 26th, 2006

November 26, 2006: 10:42 pm: UMC

The train pulled into New Canaveral on time and without a hitch. Chong and Malinao had been ready for a search of the train in Chang-Ngo but it hadn’t happened.
“So what are we going to do now?” Malinao asked.
“The announcement is happening in one hour at the official plaza.  We’ll get there and look for an opening to talk to Lawrence.  If I show Lawrence I’m really with you, I think I can convince him.”
“You’re not going to walk around looking like that are you?”
“Like what?”
“Like the President of the freakin’ Moon.  You won’t get ten feet like that.”
“Good point.”
They went to an Army surplus store and got a coat and hat to keep Chong under cover. The clerk started speculating that Chong looked familiar though, proving Malinao’s point. They left in a hurry and walked over to the public plaza.
“Not much of a crowd,” Malinao noticed.
“The President talking on cloning isn’t likely to draw folks in person,” Chong replied. “But they’ll all see it on the news.”
They found it easy to position themselves close to the stage and kept a lookout for the staff and especially for Lawrence. It was about a half hour before the staff arrived.  Lawrence was accompanied by Ford and Ford Junior.
“Who’s that?” Malinao pointed out Junior
“I have no idea.  He looks like Ford, though.  Did they find Ford’s son maybe?” Chong wondered.
Malinao decided to take the initiative.
“We’re going about this all wrong, Chong.  I’ll approach Lawrence alone.  He’ll be thrilled.  I’ll get him to meet us over at that cafe across the street.  Go wait for us there.”
“Brilliant.” Malinao walked towards the staff members and started introducing herself. They looked at her a little strangely.  She hadn’t had a chance to clean up, but they still took her over to Lawrence.
“Madame Speaker!” Lawrence looked more than thrilled to see her.
“Lawrence,” she said tenderly. “It’s so good to see you.”
“I’m so happy to see you alive.  We thought you were dead. Have you heard from the Vice President?”
“Look Lawrence, can you break away for a few minutes.  There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Of course,” Lawrence said. “There’s something I need to talk to you about too. I just need to take care of one quick thing.”
“Great, meet me over in the cafe across the street.”
Malinao went back and sat down at a table with CHong.  Lawrence appeared a few minutes later and tenatively approached the table.
“Who’s this?”
“A friend.  Sit down Lawrence.”
Lawrence looked suspicious but sat down anyway.
“Hi Lawrence,” Chong blurted out. Malinao shook her head.
“The clone!” Lawrence almost shrieked standing back up again.
“Sit down Lawrence, this is not a clone.  It’s me Malinao.”
“What if you’re a clone?”
“What if you are, sit down!”
Lawrence had no real suspicions that Malinao was a clone so he decided to sit after all. He kept his eyes on the stranger with Chong’s voice.
“Now Chong, shut up an dlet me talk,” Malinao chided him.
“Lawrence, when we got separated on the train we went on to Tranquility met up with the Vice President and attempted a rescue mission by drilling under Cana.  We arrived too late.  On the way back there was a cave-in that killed the Vice President and several other men. We survived and got back to Tranquility only to find an imposter has taken Chong’s place as President. I’ve been with Chong the entire time.  You haven’t.  This is the real President.  You have to trust me.”
Lawrence looked at Chong and Chong removed his sunglasses so Lawrence could get a better look.
“It is you isn’t it Mr. President?”
“Damn right.”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“So how many people are on the lookout for a duplicate Chong now?” Malinao asked.
“None,” lawrence said. “I couldn’t bring myself to put out the alert.  Something in me has known that this other Chong was the clone.  I could even tell you were the real President over the comm line from Tranquility.”
“Funny way of showing it,” Chong said.
“That’s just the thng though.  It goes against all logic.  I was suspicious of the clone Chong from the moment he arrived in Armstrong.  But I sat talking to him for hours.  And he remembers everything we, you and I, ever did together.  How is that possible.”
“I don’t know.  I imagine they must have somehow been able to scan my brain in Cana and transfer memories ot him.  I don’t know how that’s possible, but it’s the only explanation.”
Malinao leaned in. “What’s his version of the story?
Lawrence told them about Chong showing up in Armstrong and how he explained his arrival and separation from Malinao.
“And the young Ford you’re with?” Malinao asked.
“It’s a clone that Sira’s group liberated.  He’s a young version of John.”
“I doubt that.” Chong shook his head. “My bet is he’s another plant.  The Fundy faction is very good at all this.  I’m starting to wonder if the Narang leading them is even the real one.”
“So how do we do this?” Malinao asked.
“I’ll lead you two into special VIP seats behind the stage. After the speech, we’ll–”
“Before the speech,” Chong said. “I can’t let an imposter delvier an important policy presentation.”
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing binding, sir” Lawrence said. “I already have a spin draft prepped in case we need to backtrack and change our minds.”
“You’re the best Lawrence.” Chong smiled.
“So you sit in the VIP seats.  After the speech, Chong is scheduled to have a reception with some one on one meetings with Cabinet members and Assemblers. I’ll put Speaker Malinao top of the schedule and get you in alone with just him and us.”
“Good work Lawrence,” Malinao patted him on the back.
“Don’t thank me yet.  I’ve got some juggling to do.  Give me fifteen minutes then come on over and I’ll see you to your seats.”
Lawrence left and Chong and Malinao soaked up the bright lights of the New Canaveral Plaza.
“The black sky above,” Chong pointed out. “That’s the sky I grew up with.  You wanted to see it.  There it is.”
Malinao looked up and felt the incongruity visitors from Earth always commented on. Bright sunlight filled the plaza but it came from sunlight concentrators that took the natural light of the sun, collected it, mixed it with extra machine-generated light and delivered a balnced white that was attuned to the perfect mix for human and plant life. But past those lights was the black starlighted dome of space beyond.
“A couple of the domes, like Avalon and Septendecim give a false blue, but it doesn’t look like Earth. I don’t like it.  I grew up here in New Canaveral.  This is where I feel at home.”
Malinao held his hand and looked up into the black.
They eventually got to the plaza where more of a crowd was beginning to gather. Chong got a first glimpse at his clone double and felt a lurch of something close to vertigo.  Malinao noticed him too.
“He’s not as cute as you,” she said. “They got the jaw all wrong.”
Lawrence greeted Malinao and paid almost no notice to her companion.  They were seated in the VIP section at the rear of the stage. Malinao made small talk with some surprised looking Assemblers and Cabinet Members and refused to introduce the real Chong no matter how hard they hinted.  Eventually all the commotion settled down and the clone Chong took the stage and began to speak.
Chong watched him.  Watched his mannerisms and saw what Lawrence saw.  It wasn’t him.  How could this double fool people.  It looked like him and maybe had false versions of his memories, but it wasn’t him.  He had led the UMC through the war.  He had toiled in the mines right below his feet.  He had watched his Father die.  This Chong now pretending to make policy for the UMC had done none of those things, even if he thought he remembered them.  His personality had not been shaped in the same way.  It disgusted Chong.  He knew Lawrence had a backup policy plan that would work.  He knew the safest way to accomplish this was in a closed room after the speech.  But he couldn’t let it go on.  He couldn’t allow someone to speak for him. No mater how irrational it was he couldn’t help himself.  He stood up, threw off his hat, galsses and coat and yelled.’
“That is not the President of the United moon Colonies.  I am!”
The crowd gasped and then cheered.  They thought this was a ploy. A demonstration of cloning at its most dramatic. Chong boggled to think if they’d planned something so outrageous how it might have worked.
The clone Chong swiveled and saw Chong.  Rage filled his eyes.  He forgot his speech and leaped over to the real Chong.
“You will die,” the clone said.
Chong punched him and decked him.  The crowd’s enthusiasm waned.  This was in poor taste.  What was the President trying to demonstrate.  They still didn’t get it.
The clone started to crawl back to his feet and Chong kicked him. Ford Junior started to race towards Chong but Chong saw him and socked him as well.  This was really too much for the crowd.  Hadn’t that young boy been the whole point of the speech?  That’s what all the press releases said.  Why was he hitting a young boy.
John Ford was outraged and started to join himself, but Lawrence held him. “Don’t interfere.” Ford raged at him but held back.
By now Chong had kicked the clone again and was about to go in for a knockout.  The clone Chong scooted away to buy extra seconds. He reached inside his suitcoat and pulled out something metal. Blood spilled out his lips and he could barely speak.  A tooth fell out as he rasped at Chong. “I can be made again.  You’re going to die.” With that he leaped up and his Chong prepared to deflect him he realised what the metal thing in his hand was.
Malinao did too. “Chong, it’s a detonator!  A bomb!”
It was too late, the handheld flesh-tearing personal detonator went off as soon as the clone Chong touched the real one. The difference between the two became hard to distinguish as they were torn apart by the explosion.

: 4:34 pm: UMC

Lawrence sat waiting in the President’s office. He had immediately ordered Tranquility armed forces to search for a Chong imposter, but for some reason he had stopped before changing the access codes or putting out a general alert.  Something was nagging at the back of his mind. When Chong had showed up in Armstrong, he’d had those nagging suspcions caused by the idea that something wasn’t quite right. Now, in the face of all reason, Lawrence had the opposite feeling.  The cadence and tone fo the man calling from Tranquility had sounded real. He considered some sort of temporal disturbance, but that was the stuff of fiction and highly unlikely.
Before his doubts could take him further, Chong entered the office.
“What’s this I hear about an imposter in Tranquility?” he asked.
Again Lawrence got the nagging feeling that what Chong had said just din’t sound liek Chong. “Probably nothing sir. I believe it to be a prank.  I’ve asked the museum security staff to look into it.  IF they report back anything worth knowing, we’ll be sure to follow up.”
“Very good. I’ve asked Ford Junior to meet me down here in a moment.  Do you mind if we have some time alone.  I want to get his advice on a few things from the clone’s point of view.”
“Of course sir.”
Lawrence decided to head down to the cafeteria and happened to run into Junior as he was leaving the office waiting room.
“You can go right on in Junior. He’s waiting for you.”
Ford junior nodded and headed in. As soon as Lawrence was out of ear shot, he opened the door and let in Narang. They locked the door and Ford Junior led the way into the President’s office.
“Hello Junior,” Chong smiled and stood up, then stopped. “What are you doing here?” Chong’s tone was deadly but he found himself immobilized.
Narang smiled. “Good to see you again Mr. President.  Memory Release Code Alpha Wipe Center Gold Devil Fawn Beta Indeterminate Reprogram and Restart.”
Chong’s eyes glazed and he dropped a pen he’d been holding.
“You’re right Ford 18.  We will have to see to that muscle repsonse system won’t we. I’ve told Patel about it, but I shall remind him. Chong?
Chong’s eyes fluttered and then he spoke in a dull, not quite monotone voice. “Basic system accessed. Reprogram stream spooling. Ready for further instruction.”
“Excellent. We’ve heard a little trouble may be coming our way.  I want to know I can count on you.  Sometimes if a clone sees himself clones, or see the original unprepared, it can break programming. We don’t want that to happen. If you saw a duplicate of yourself, what would you do?”
“That’s what I was afraid of.  This clone mind control is tricky business.  But we’re going to give you a patch Chong.”
Narang pulled a small flat metal box from his pocket and held it front of Chong’s glazed eyes.
“Please look deep into the light Chong.”
The glazed eyes focused on the box. Narang pressed a button on the side and Chong’s eyes began to dart back and forth.  In a moment there was a low chime from the box and Narang removed it and put it away.
“Thank you Chong, you can return to normal input state.” Chong’s eyes glazed over again. “now, Chong, let’s see what happens here. If you saw a duplicate of yourself, what would you do?”
“Assess danger and eliminate duplicate target unless counter-instructed by handlers,” Chong droned.
“Excellent.  Did you see that Ford 18?  The pacth took in a jiffy.  Ocular reprogramming works.  It bloody well works. Patel will be overjoyed.”
“was I ever like that?” Ford Junior asked.
Narang raised an eyebrow and turned. “Like what?”
“All slack and programmed like that.”
Narang looked sympathetically at the boy.  It had really been only a few days since his programming had been broken.  He was starting to doubt.  Narang needed to stop this kind of thinking at once.
“Never. You were programmed yes, but only a false program that could easily be broken so that they could be taken in. I’m sorry we haad to fool you in that way at all, my boy.” He patted Ford Junior in a fatherly way.
Junior smiled. “It’s OK.  I understand its for the greater good.”
“That’s the spirit.  Now. One last thing before I go.  Chong. Self-diagnose and identify fundamental mission layer.”
Chong closed his eyes for a few seconds then opened them. “Diagnosis complete. Normal. FML – Startegic INtegration of Fundamentalist Union officials into UMC governemtn starting with research institute for cloning.”
“Excellent,” Narang stood to go.  “Ford 18?  You can carry on from here.  Reactivate him I assume?”
“Of course sir.”
“Excellent, excellent. Be sure to back step him a frame or twoi so he doesn’t remember me walking into the room.  It will give him a momentary jolt, but it’ll pass.”
“Will do sir,” Ford Junior ackknowledged, and accompanied Narang until he was safely out of sight in the hallway. He returned to the office and approached Chong.
“Affirmative, memory wipe to semantic request three frames prior to access code.  Control returning to biological imprint in five seconds.”
Chong blinked a few times then appeared startled. “What?  What just happened?”
Ford Junior bent to pick up Chong’s pen. “You dropped your pen sir.  Here.”
“Is that all thank you.  I could have sworn– but anyway.  Where were we?”
“You had called me in to consult about the cloning speech.”
“Yes of course.  Have a seat.  I want your unique perspective on this.  I’m not a clone of course.”
“Of course not sir,” Ford Junior grinned.

: 12:49 pm: UMC

“That was quick,” said Chong, looking down at the body of Friedrich on the floor. Malinao had delivered a kick to the head just as Friedrich had finished his last sentence. He had fallen to the ground in a heap.
Malinao was holding her side. “I think I pulled a muscle.  I haven’t really been stretching lately.”
Chong was on his knees examining Friedrich.
“Who was he?” Malinao asked.
“His name was Friedrich. I saw him briefly when they had me in the shed.”
“He’s dead,” Chong said.
“Oh,” Malinao had never killed anyone.
“Good kick.”
“I– guess so.”
“Look, you did what was necessary.  You saw what he did in that room.”
“You’re right it’s just that–”
“Never mind that. Let’s get to the communication center.”
Chong led them back downstairs and into a large locked room full of electronic equipment.
“I need to get a coded message to New Cav right away,” he paused. “Um– would it be weird if I asked you to wait outside?”
Malinao laughed, breaking the tension she’d felt since she drop-kicked Friedrich.
“Of course not, Nr. President. I guess I’ve sort of forgot our roles there for awhile.” She moved closer. “Don’t be long.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek.
Chong could only manage a whisper. “Yes, Madame Speaker.”
He turned back to the equipment hearing the hush of the sliding door lock behind him. He found the emergency coded line to New Canaveral and activated it with his personal code.  He was hoping they hadn’t revolved off the previous formula because of his capture.  The line activated and he heard Lawrence pick up.
“Tranquility this is New Canaveral. It’s about time we heard from you.  The President’s been worried.”
Chong found this rather odd. “Yes I have been worried, Lawrence,” Chong replied.
“Who is this?” Lawrence snapped.
“It’s me Lawrence. We just got out of a mining tunnel between here and Cana.  Hashimoto didn’t make it but the Speaker’s OK.”
“I repeat, identify yourself.”
Lawrence sounded scared and confused. “Lawrence, this is your boss, the President of the United Moon Colonies. Richard Chong.  What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know who you are, but the President is with me here, so it’s not going to work.  I’m going to cut the channel.”
“Wait! Chong yelled. Lawrence, you furball, what do I have to do to prove its me, remind you of why you don’t want to be President? All those eyes you see in your dreams? Or should I finally break my word and tell Laurie at the Station Stop in New Cav you have a crush on her!” Chong had thrown out as many of the secrets only he could know as he could come up with on a moment’s notice.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’m Rich Chong, that’s how. Who’s pretending to be me?”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but the real President Chong is here in New Canaveral and he knows all those things you just said.  So however you got your information, I commend you, but it’s not going to work. Investigators will be there shortly, stay where you are.  Channel cutting now.”
Chong received nothing but static as the channel protocols were refreshed.  That also meant all his security codes would be changed in moments. He needed to get out of the building before he got locked in. He ran out of the communications room and grabbed Malinao by the elbow.
“We have to run!”
She didn;t ask why, trusting him and sprinted along with him. They made it outside in time to see samll group of museum security coming up the street.
“They haven’t spotted us yet, around here.”
Chong dragged Malinao into a side alley next to the building.
“Care to tell me what’s going on?” Malinao asked in a whisper.
“Shhh.” Chong listened to the footsteps as they came up the street.  Once they went inside he risked looking. One guard stood in front of the building.  If they came out and turned left immediately, they could get away unseen.
“I’ll tell you in a minute, just follow me fast,” Chong hissed.
They raced out and around the corner.  Chong didn’t hear anyone shout after them so he guessed they hadn’t been seen.
“We have to get over to the train station and get to New Canaveral as fast as possible.”
“What happened?” malinao asked.
“Someone has tolen my identity I guess,” Chong wasn’t so sure himself. “I tried to contact Lawrence and he said I’m already there in New Canaveral, and he didn’t believe me at all.  Even the things only he and I know, he claimed the me that’s already in New Cav knew too.  Thats one hell of a clone, if that’s what it is.”
“So you’re not you anymore.”
“Not in the eyes of the government. As soon as Lawrence cut the channel he would have to change all the codes and put out an alert for an imposter.”
“Why aren’t we going to the Capitol in Serenity?”
“During the war we opened a Presidential office in New Canaveral because it was closer to the military.  We really haven’t moved out yet. Shh.”
Chong pulled up short and ducked down behind a corner.  They heard the man from the airlock talking coming towards them.
“I swear it was him.  He was a dead ringer.  And he had someone with him he claimed was the Speaker of the the USA or something,” the airlock manager said.
“Possibly another clone.  We’ll check into it. They murdered the Vice President and possibly more.  We’re getting reports of a slaughter at headquarters here,” said another voice
“I can’t believe I let him in.”
“Not your fault. You couldn’t have known.  Don’t worry.  We’ll catch him.”
They passed and Chong raced off in the other direction. They made it to the train station and Chong blessed the inefficiency of the private train lines.
“Better hurry folks,” said the woman at the gate. “I’m hearing they might shut the trains down for some damn reason.  I’m going to make sure the next line gets out but that may be it.”
Chong thanked her and kept running hoping she didn’t look to closely at him. They jumped on a Lunar Link train waiting for them. “Thank god it’s an L,” said Chong. “It only has one stop in Chang-Ngo. An M would have at least three stops.”
“Your train system needs work,” Malinao needled as they borded.
“Thankfully.  Let’s hope they don’t stop the train in Chang-Ngo for inspection.  My guess is they won’t.”
The train lurched forward, taking Chong towards a meeting with himself.