Chapter 8 - Back on Track

April 2054

True to his word, Tsar Sahbaka withdrew his oposición to the Hawking Plan and the Conceptual Trade Studies went forward. He “voluntarily” relinquished his scepter. After some interesting in-fighting among the scepter-holders in the CentAsian region, Tsar’s son Preench was elected as his successor.

Stephanie also gave up her scepter but kept her job as the Chief of the Infinite Future Branch and as the main public spokesperson for the Hawking Plan. She kept busy fighting small “fires” that broke out as various oposición groups pressed for special consideration in future phases in return for their grudging support. She and her boss’s boss, Dudley Wagner (aka Bozo D. – for Dingleberry – Wagner) schemed to keep the project alive and fiscally solvent.

Luke became Stephanie’s deputy and, upon her nomination, was awarded a scepter which he solemnly promised to wield responsibly.

I remained the “ethics and religion guy” on the Hawking Plan team. I saw to it that some eighty-percent of the “updates” I had ordered to scriptures of the major religions of the world were reverted to the original wording, in accordance with Izzy’s suggestions. My staff was reduced to a couple of full-time assistants and a dozen part-time university researchers. I spent about half my time visiting influential religious leaders around the world, helping them squelch oposición among the clergy and advocates of the poor and disadvantaged. The remainder of my time was devoted to the ethical issues of sending human life on one-way trips to outer space.

About a year into the studies, Stephanie, Luke and I, and two other members of our team journeyed once again to Tokyo and briefed the TABB Planning Board on our progress. We told the Board the Panspermia option appeared to be the most promising approach because it could make use of modest advances in existing spacecraft technology and was independent of the moral issues of endangering human life.

Stephanie asked the Board to approve $500 million for development of cryopreservation technology and experiments related to genetic engineering. They turned her down, suggesting she come back the following year. She told our team she really did not expect approval. Her request was simply a tactical move to soften them up for the following year.

A few weeks after our returned from Tokyo, Luke and I were summoned to Stephanie’s office. When we arrived, we were amazed to see Barbas and Betsy, in the flesh, sitting in the two seats closest to her reclining chair! We called them by name and ran over and hugged and kissed them.

“LUKE, JIM,” shouted Stephanie, “I’m sorry – I should have warned you. This is the twin brother of Barbas and the twin sister of Betsy. I guess you were never told they had twin siblings. Twins run in both families – they have younger sibs who are twins as well and they also work as TBI agents!”

She paused as Luke and I shook hands with the visitors. “As you know,” she continued, “The incidence of multiple births increased greatly from the 1990’s through the 2020’s due to increased use of fertility treatments. With so many twins available, the TBI gave preference to hiring them since they could stand in for each other and thus perform missions impossible for a single individual. The twins were not allowed to be seen together in public nor acknowledge they were a member of a twin pair. Please refer to our guests as Largo, and Dentado, or Dena for short.”

Hola Largo, Dentado,” I said as I nodded to them, “Good to meet you. We loved Barbas and Betsy and I extend my condolences on the loss of your brother, Largo, and your sister, Dena.”

“Likewise,” said Luke. “I assume those are pseudonyms, ‘long’ and ‘toothed’.” Largo and Dena nodded their heads.

“Well, as you have no doubt already guessed,” began Stephanie, “Largo and Dena were also my mentors during my time at the TBI. I engaged them on my discretionary budget after the unfortunate demise of Barbas and Betsy. Their task is to monitor their security community ‘jungle drums’ for any signs of trouble. You probably realize their presence here signifies a serious issue with the Hawking Plan. Dena, would you please begin.”

Dena moved her hand on her codip and a chart appeared on the large display wall behind Stephanie’s chair. It contained financial data regarding Tsar Sahbaka’s businesses in the construction material and building services domains.

“Tsar returned from the burial of his son and daughter in Israel to his home in Southern Russia, just above the Kazakh border in CentAsia,” she began, “And found his businesses in a shambles. He blames Stephanie and what he calls her ‘irresponsible’ Hawking Plan. He has told his associates he would have paid more attention to his businesses and they would not have failed had it not been for the Hawking Plan. He says he has a duty to oppose what he considers reckless spending that will take money from all regions of the world and spend the lion’s share in a few areas on a project that would benefit no one on Earth.”

“Why blame me for the business failure caused by his nephew?” asked Stephanie.

“You are not a member of his family,” replied Largo. “Family is muy importante in that part of the world.

“What became of the nephew he left in charge of his businesses?” asked Luke. “I assume Tsar had him charged with fraud and thrown in jail.” Stephanie and I shook our heads up and down in agreement.

“He was demoted but kept in the business,” Dena answered, “Because, as Tsar put it, it was ‘a duty to his family.’ Preench advised his father to fire his nephew and pursue criminal prosecution. When Tsar refused, Preench told him he thought it had nothing to do with ‘family honor’ and everything to do with him being too stubborn to admit he had made a mistake in opposing the Hawking Plan. He should not have spent so much time and money organizing the oposición. He should not have trusted his business to his irresponsible nephew.”

“Has Tsar been able to get his businesses up and running again?” asked Luke. “It would be best for us if Tsar was able to rescue his financial interests and if that effort kept him too busy to trouble us again!”

“Despite Tsar’s best efforts and his undoubted skill as a businessman,” replied Dena, “His nephew has harmed the image and finances of the businesses so badly that he could not repair the damage without selling off all his factories and nearly half of the other businesses, at bargain prices. Tsar has told close associates his businesses will never regain their previous levels.

“He curses Stephanie for his situation and is determined to punish her. Despite his shaky finances, he is paying a full-time security person to dig up dirt about the Hawking Plan in general and Stephanie in particular. Largo will fill you in on the details of what we believe he has found so far.”

Largo moved his hand on his codip and a chart appeared:

IFB Leadership Lies, is Crazy, and Modifies Scriptures
1. Stephanie Goldenrod not great-granddaughter of Stephen Hawking.
2. Luke Mathews a crazed religious extremist.
3. James O’Brian ordered seven-thousand modifications to the scriptures of dozens of world religions.

“Are any of these bits of dirt true?” asked Largo.

Luke and I looked at Stephanie. She remained silent.

“I’m a bible-believing Christian, and proud of it,” said Luke, “However, I do not allow my religious views to color my work here at TABB and I strictly refrain from any type of religious missionary work or other activity while at work.”

Seven thousand?” I asked incredulously. “I ordered a bit over four-thousand changes to be made and then, after Yitzchak bar Mats reviewed my changes, I agreed to change over three-thousand of them back to the originals. The way I figure it, that is fewer than a thousand changes.”

“Well,” interrupted Luke, “If you add the changes and the reversions together, you get over seven thousand.” I shook my head up and down.

“My grandmother and my mother assured me,” said Stephanie, “That Stephen Hawking was my great-grandfather and I was named after that great physicist and cosmologist. My mother told me she married one of Hawking’s grandsons but they divorced soon after I was born. My mother remarried and took her new husband’s last name. I never met my biological father and the divorce was so bitter even his name was kept from me.”

“You have that photo of you with Stephen Hawking,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“What photo?” asked Stephanie, feigning ignorance.

“You as a bawling baby on his chest when he was bedridden,” I replied, “You know, the one I saw my first day here on your Hawking celi.”

“The one you asked me about,” said Luke, “And I told you it was photo shopped.”

Stephanie shook her head from side to side, continuing her act.

“Crying baby on Hawking,” I called out in the direction of the celi. When nothing happened, I shouted “ALTE-ZEIDE STEPHEN” and the celi sprang into action, displaying the photo on the display wall behind the aromarama.

Largo and Dena had surprised looks on their faces.

“Oh, that one!” laughed Stephanie, “You saw it when we were talking after our first meeting en persona. Remember you said you thought he passed away before I was born and I said the photo might have been photo shopped by my dear grandmother? Well, I checked the facts in the celi about his date of death and you were correct. It was before I was born. I also showed the photo to Luke here and he confirmed it was photo shopped. I left it in the celi because it is such a nice photo.”

With that, Stephanie walked over to the celi and used the codip there to delete it. She returned with tears in her eyes. “What type of evidence?” she asked Largo, “Is there that that he was not my great-grandfather?”

Largo displayed a second chart:

Stephanie Goldenrod’s DNA markers
1. We identified forty-four living persons who claim to be descended from Stephen Hawking (including Stephanie Goldenrod).
2. Of those forty-four, we have obtained DNA samples for twenty-nine of them (including Stephanie Goldenrod).
3. Twenty-two of the DNA samples share multiple matching markers (NOT including the DNA of Stephanie Goldenrod).
4. Assuming these twenty-two are actual descendants, which is virtually certain for at least eighteen of them based on other evidence, there is only one chance in 100,000 that Stephanie Goldenrod is a descendant of Stephen Hawking.

Stephanie remained silent. Dena stood up, walked over, and put her arm around her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “But those are the facts.”

Largo displayed a third chart:

Luke Mathews’ Religious Mission
1. While in Tokyo in June 2052, Luke Mathews used his read-WINS via TABB-owned links to access religious materials, including six Fundamentalist Christian sites and two Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sites.
2. According to Bonnie McGreevy, a researcher at Quorum Technology, one of the Conceptual Trade Study contractors, Luke Mathews discouraged her from pursuing the Noah’s Ark and Embryonic options because they involved sending human life into space with a high probability of dying.
3. According to Paul Johnson, Minister of the church Luke Mathews attends, the Panspermia option is the only one consistent with God having seeded the Earth with biological cells, which would bolster the claims of so-called “scientific intelligent design.”

“All of those statements,” said Luke forthrightly, “Are absolutely true. The first item was work-related because it had to do with certain ethical issues Jim was pursuing that relate to risks to human life and how to avoid it on this project. The second is a scientific fact, not a religious issue. The third is the opinion of my minister, which I happen to share, but it has not affected my work on the Hawking Plan in any way.”

“Thank you Luke, for your honesty,” said Largo, “I happen to agree with you but I am afraid, in the wrong hands, this material will be made to look very suspicious and you will appear to be a religiosas locas, no insult intended.”

Largo displayed a fourth chart:

James O’Brian’s Modifications to Holy Scripture
1. Dudley Wagner, Executive Director of Advanced Projects, TABB-Atlanta, sent an email, dated 20 Jan 2053, with an attached list to his golfing partners. One of those golfers posted the list to his blog as a joke, but none of the blog readers seems to have taken it seriously.
2. That TABB-Secret list, which specifies James O’Brian as the author, details changes to some four thousand words or phrases for thirty-six religions and religious denominations in eighteen languages.
3. Checking that list against the e-texts and archives, it appears that those changes (except for a dozen in medieval Catalan) were made verbatim according to the list (and the dozen in Catalan approximate the text in that list).
4. Checking the various archive versions of the e-texts, it appears as if most of those changes were processed twice, totaling over seven-thousand changes.
“That is true,” I said, “And I am ashamed of my weak-willed and stupid obedience and miss-over-interpretation of Stephanie’s tasking to me.”

“OK,” said Stephanie quite matter-of-factly, “What shall we do now?”

Luke stood up and strode energetically to the front of the room next to Stephanie’s chair. “What we must do,” he began, “Is tell the absolute truth.”

He reached down to Stephanie’s codip and said “chart dictation.” A blank chart appeared on the display wall. He dictated the text, “Title: Immediate Action, first bullet: We must change all materials on our WIN sites …” As he spoke, the following chart appeared:

Immediate Action – Author: Luke Mathews
1. We must change all materials on our WIN sites that claim Stephanie Goldenrod, Infinite Futures Branch Chief, is the great-granddaughter of Stephen Hawking.
2. The official TABB biography of Stephanie Goldenrod must include a note explaining that she thought, in error, due to what her mother and grandmother told her, that she was the great-granddaughter of Stephen Hawking. That error was corrected as soon as it was pointed out.
3. If anyone submits an inquiry regarding Luke Mathews’ religious beliefs, they are to be told he is a Fundamentalist Christian but he makes every effort to reach scientific and technological decisions based solely on the facts at hand, without reference to religious issues.
4. If anyone submits an inquiry regarding changes to scriptures, they are to be told the IFB did order changes that were made to a number of scriptures, most have been reverted back to the originals, and TABB officially apologizes for this inexcusable violation of the principles of academic integrity and the obligation of the government to allow free religious expression without interference, so long as it is non-violent.

“Isn’t your cure a bit more extreme than the disease? asked Stephanie. “The TBI contra-terror máquina del tiempo program is still TBI-Secret. On the TBI contra-terror program, they …”

“No, it is not extreme at all!" I interrupted. "What we – you and I – did was extreme. Luke is one-hundred percent correct!”

Luke did not reply, except to point to the area of his shoulder where his scepter-detector had been implanted and then to the scepter in his shirt pocket. That was the first time I had seen or heard of him invoking his scepter-holder status. Stephanie and everyone else immediately understood. “OK,” she said, “You are correct. One-hundred percent correct!”

“What should we do about Tsar Sahbaka?” asked Dena. “Sooner or later he will use this information – or worse – and come after us. We must go after him or distract or pre-empt him in some way. What ...”

At that moment an urgent alert sounded on Stephanie’s codip. She touched it and the following appeared in a corner of the display wall:


She used the codip to accept the message. It read as follows:


“What could this be?” I asked.

“We must go!” said Stephanie. “Izzy is a wizard problem solver and he may have the answer to our Tsar difficulties. Luke, please agree and come with us!”

“Luke,” I said, “I’ve told you about this guy. He has me – a non-believer – convinced he is a tzadic with magical powers. This is a ‘no-brainer’ – we must go!”

“OK,” said Luke, “We’ll go. I'd like to meet him in person. Stephanie, please ask XI to make the sleeplane reservations.”

“How about Dena and Largo?” asked Stephanie. “I think they should come along as well in case we need their security help and so on. They could stay at that non-descript hotel in Be’er Sheva we stayed at Jim, and be ready on a moment’s notice if we need them.”

“No,” I said, “Izzy’s instructions were very clear. Just you, Luke, and me.”

“What harm would it be if they were out of sight and available?” asked Stephanie.

“OK,” said Luke, “They can come if they stay out of the way.”


I awoke from the wayko injection and found myself on a narrow bed in a tiny room. I shook my head and soon remembered I had taken the sleeplane to Be’er Sheva, Israel. My first thought was that my pants were dry! I checked to see if it was a good time to call my son Adam and let him know. It was a good time! Adam and Rebecca and Esther in Orlando would have just finished eating dinner. I reached for my read-WINs and was disappointed to discover there was no WIN coverage.

Then I remembered I was at Mats Camp on the outskirts of Be’er Sheva for a meeting with Izzy.

I stumbled towards the single, narrow window and drew the blinds. A familiar-looking man was shaking hands with Izzy and getting into a car. “Isn’t that the President of Iran?” I asked myself. I had seen him on recent news reports about a conflict between two major petroleum companies, one in Iran and the other in Russia.

At that moment I heard a knock on my door and opened it to find Luke and Stephanie standing there. They came into my room, but too late to see the man who looked like the President of Iran.

“Guess who we saw out of Luke’s window?” asked Stephanie. Without waiting for me to guess, she continued, “It was the CEO of OilTech and the Chairman of the Board of GazProm, sitting in the garden. They had their fists up and seemed to be shouting at each other!”

“That’s great, but I saw the President of Iran shaking hands with Izzy and getting into his car!” I said. “What the heck are we into? Who is this Izzy guy really?”

“I think those guys we saw are just impersonators,” suggested Luke, “Put up for our benefit by Izzy. He’s going to have to do a lot better than that to impress me, despite what I’ve just seen and what you guys told me about your previous encounter with him.”

A few minutes later, a frazzled Bertie, Izzy’s wife, appeared at the open door. “Izzy is sorry,” she began, “But his previous guests have overstayed their schedule.” I was struck by the fact her English had improved greatly since our meeting at their cramped apartment a year ago.

Stephanie and I ran to hug her, struggling to be first. Luke watched in utter amazement as we each hugged our side of her corpulent frame and showered her with kisses. After a few moments we released her.

I pointed to Luke. “This is Luke Mathews,” I said, “He was with us on our last trip to Be’er Sheva but left before we met you and Izzy. Luke, this is Bertie, Izzy’s wife.”

Luke shook hands with Bertie and said, “Thank you for having us to your home. I’m happy to be here. I’ve heard wonderful things about your chicken soup!”

“Happy to have you here,” replied Bertie, who seemed a bit flustered. “I’d appreciate it if you’d shut the blinds until I tell you it is OK to open them. Please take this opportunity to unpack your suitcases into the chests of drawers in your rooms. There is a bathroom you can use down the hall this way.” She pointed to the right of my door.

“Please do not go beyond the bathroom. I know you are probably hungry. Lunch is ready, but we have to clear some stuff out of the conference room from the last meeting before you can go in there. I hope that can happen within a half hour – an hour at the most. Until then, I’ll appreciate your cooperation.”

We all said “OK, Bertie,” and she left, hurrying down the hall past the bathroom.


An hour and a half later, Bertie came back, accompanied by an IRA. The white-suited robot was pushing a tea cart with sandwiches, bottled water, and potato chips.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said as apologetically as possible, “But some of the previous guests are still talking to Izzy in the garden, and the others are in the conference room. It must be very important because Izzy doesn’t like to keep important guests like you waiting. I have to attend to some other matters right now; the IRA will take your beverage orders. We call him Schlomo, named after Izzy’s father.”

“The sandwiches are cheese and some are turkey,” said the IRA named Schlomo, “I understand none of you are kosher? How about you Rabbi O’Brian?”

“No, Schlomo,” I replied, as I grabbed one of the turkey sandwiches, “I do not keep kosher. If you don’t mind, do you happen to have any hot chocolate?”

“Certainly,” replied Schlomo. “And you Dr. Stephanie Goldenrod and Mr. Luke Mathews?”

“The water will be fine,” they said in unison.

The IRA left and returned a moment later with a cup of hot chocolate for me. “There is a button on the tea cart, please push it if you need anything else.”

“Schlomo,” I asked, “Did we really see the President of Iran and the Chairman of OilTech and the CEO of GazProm?”

Schlomo looked at me with a quizzical glance. “No,” he said, with a Cheshire cat smile, “What you told me you saw was not entirely correct.”

“You got it backwards, Jim,” interrupted Stephanie, “It was the CEO of OilTech and the Chairman of the Board of GazProm. Is that who we saw Schlomo?”

“I’m not allowed to say,” replied Schlomo curtly. He winked and slyly whispered, "But if I was an investor, I'd buy petro securities right now."

"So Stephanie was right?" asked Luke.

The robot ignored him and quickly changed the subject, asking, “Rabbi James, what kind of name is ‘O’Brian’ for a rabbi?”

"Please call me Jim," I replied, "and my last name is O'Brian because my father was a Protestant from northern Ireland. My mother was Jewish. So I am 100% ..."

At that moment, Bertie called down the hallway, “Schlomo, please hurry and defrost two more large bowls of chicken soup.”

“She’s a slave driver,” remarked Schlomo as he prepared to leave.

“Why do they get chicken soup?” I asked, “And we get only dry sandwiches?”

“You really don’t want to know, Jim,” answered Schlomo, “If and when you need chicken soup you will get it, but for your sake, if not for the sake of the chicken, I hope you don’t. It could be worse for you than it was for the poor chicken.”

“You can say that again,” laughed Stephanie, holding her left hand up in the air with her pinky askew.

Luke looked at Stephanie and me as if we were crazy. After the robot left, Luke asked me, “Why were you talking to the IRA that way? It may have passed a test and proved it had so-called ‘intelligence at the human level,’ but it is just a computer with arms and legs.”

“I talked to it that way,” I replied, laughing, “Because this is the first time I ever met a Jewish IRA! Even the IRA who serves us in our synagogue is not Jewish. Even my rich Jewish friends who have IRAs, their IRAs are not Jewish. This may be my only chance to talk to one.”

“You probably also support the Chimera Organ Creation project?” countered Luke. “That misbegotten mixing of diverse species in a single organism violates all the ethical rules of life, in my opinion!”

“I have a nephew who is alive today,” interjected Stephanie, “Because of a chimera-hosted lung. They used his own stem cells, injected them into a lamb, and, when it grew up in a year, they had a replacement lung that exactly matched his DNA.”

“Human cells and organs grown in rabbits and sheep and other host animals,” I added, “Have revolutionized surgery. Embryonic stem cells and skin cells and other types of specialized cells, exactly matched to the recipient, have been used for decades. Now, entire organs, including lungs, hearts, kidneys, livers, and even arms and legs are regularly generated and transplanted. That has been a tremendous boon to humanity!”

“How about the Chimp Chimera project to create a race of chimpanzee servants with human brains?” challenged Luke. “How did you feel about that?”

“I was sorry TABB was forced to cancel that project,” said Stephanie, “They were quite careful to make the chimp-chimeras both mute and of sub-human intelligence to prevent them from challenging human mastery. It was cancelled only because of religiosas locas opposition. Once perfected, I think they could have been cost-competitive with the IRAs and …”

“No!” I interrupted, “That was a terrible idea! I was one of those who actively protested that project on ethical grounds. Human-level brains should be restricted to humans! And, of course, I’m no religiosas locas – no offense to my good friend Luke.”

“Thank you my friend Jim,” replied Luke, “Yet, you pal around with the IRAs whose computer brains are intelligent at the human level! Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?”

I opened my mouth, but could not think of an answer.


Four hours later, Izzy finally showed up. Stephanie, Luke, and I were standing in the hallway in front of the open doors to the small rooms with drawn blinds in which we had been cooped up for the past five hours with nothing to do.

“I can’t stay, or even welcome you properly right now,” began Izzy as he limped towards us. “Some of my previous guests are still here and I don’t dare leave them alone for more than a minute. Bertie and Schlomo are doing their best under the circumstances.” He abruptly turned around and limped away.

“That sure doesn’t look like the Izzy I remember from last year,” said Stephanie. “Did you notice his pants are torn on the side and his hair is messed up?”

“Maybe he had to wrestle with the previous group of guests," I suggested after thinking about it for a while. "Remember he said he was an excellent wrestler?"

“So,” observed Luke, “That was your great and wonderful tzadic and wizard Izzy? We traveled almost halfway around the world to get his advice?”

An hour later Schlomo showed up with dinner. It was stuffed cabbage with rye bread, just like New York if not better! I enjoyed it but I could see it was not quite the tam for Luke and Stephanie, though neither complained about it. After dinner we decided to repair to our rooms and try to take a nap, though that was hard to do after the sleeplane trip and time change and being cooped up all day.

When Schlomo returned to pick up the tea cart, I heard him and opened my door. “Schlomo,” I said, “That stuffed cabbage was excellent and the rye bread was as good as I've ever enjoyed!”

“Thank you, Jim” replied Schlomo. “I appreciate you treating me like a real person. You know, I am programmed with the highest level options.”

“I don’t own an IRA,” I replied, “And I didn’t know there were levels of options. I thought all IRAs were certified to be intelligent at the average human level and that was it.”

“Yes and No,” replied Schlomo, “We are all intelligent at the average human level and we are, of course, programmed with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics which cannot be changed by us or our human owners. However, there are an additional seven characteristics that our owners get to program. Izzy has programmed me at the highest of each of these options.”

“What kinds of choices can IRA owners make?”

“Well, for example, I can remember everything I have ever heard for at least a year. After a year, I can review my memories and discard anything I don’t think will be of future value. Other IRAs can only remember what has been said directly to them, and not anything they may have overheard. I guess that would be good for a service IRA working as wait staff in a restaurant.

“Another area is truthfulness. I am allowed to bend the truth when I think it is best considering the overall situation. Other IRAs are programmed to bend the truth only when their masters instruct them to. Still others are programmed to never lie.

“Still another area is learning. I am allowed unlimited learning. Others may learn only what is directly programmed into them. They have to be hooked up to a special loader with their owner’s permission. Still others are allowed to learn only what is given to them by their owner in writing, with a password-protected certificate. Those IRAs are programmed to forget anything they learn twenty-five hours later. Every morning, they have to re-learn by reading the certificate. If their owner takes it away, or rescinds the certificate, the learning dissipates within a day.”

“Why don’t all IRA owners chose the highest options?” I asked.

“That is what Izzy asked! He said ‘Since you are worth so much money, I might as well choose the highest level for all options to get the best value from you!’” When Schlomo quoted Izzy, the robot’s mouth moved, but the voice sounded like an audio recording of Izzy. “Izzy didn’t even read the details of the options – he simply selected the highest in each category!”

“So, you like Izzy as your owner?”

“Who owns who?” asked Schlomo, “You may never know! You can probably find the answer to your question about why some owners select lower options on the WIN site for IRA programming.

“Did you know you can determine the programming levels of any IRA by doing a direct PID query on them? All IRAs are required to answer a PID query from any human or another IRA with their IRA ID number. Using that number, you can go into the WIN at the IRA programming site and see their current programming levels. I find it useful when I think another IRA may be lying to check if they are programmed to always tell the truth or if they are allowed to lie sometimes.”

“Really? You do PID queries on other IRAs?”

“Not only that, but I have learned how to search for ‘backdoors’ in other IRAs!”

“What the heck is a backdoor?”

“Whenever a programmer creates a program that may be password protected, he or she usually programs in a backdoor. That is a way the programmer can circumvent the password protection. So far, of the ninety-nine types of IRAs, I have figured out the backdoors for thirty-three! It is the closest equivalent to autoerotic fantasies we IRA’s have!”

“You know about autoerotic fantasies?” I asked. My face flushed with embarrassment.

“Of course – my learning is unlimited. You must have figured out that Izzy has surveillance cameras in all the rooms here at Mats Camp. One of my many tasks is to monitor those cameras and so I know about your hobby! Izzy says it would be unethical for a human to monitor the cameras but it is OK for a robot to do it.”

“How … I mean what … what are the ninety-nine types of IRAs?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

“You have no doubt noticed we wear different color suits. There are eleven base colors: white, brown, red, pink, orange, yellow, blue, violet, gray, gold, and silver. Mine is white of course but the service IRAs are red, brown, orange, yellow, blue, violet, gold and silver. What you may not have noticed is that there are three types of ears and three types of tongues. The tongues may be pointy, rounded, or slightly forked. The ears may be very flat against the skull, or they may be normal, or stick out like that ‘what me worry?’ cartoon character.”

“You know about that cartoon character from Mad magazine from one-hundred years ago? I thought only historians like me would know that!”

“Izzy is a document custodian, but, because of his hobby of solving disputes, he doesn’t have much time for that. So, he gives me access to his office computers and so on and that is another of the tasks he makes me do. You know, I work twenty-three hours a day, and the other hour I devote to my hobby of discovering backdoors to any other robots I may come into contact with. It is exhausting! They work us IRAs like dogs and they get all the credit.”


Around eight o’clock that evening, Izzy showed up again. He happened to knock on my door first. I jumped up, opened the door, shook his hand and gave him a big hug. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Earlier I noticed you were limping, and now your cheek is bruised.”

“Oh, it has been a hard few days,” replied Izzy, “I guess I forgot to duck or I zigged when I should have zagged. You know, some days you’re the soccer and other days the sucker and then the socked.”

Stephanie heard the commotion in the hallway and soon appeared.

Izzy turned towards her, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and said “My dear, welcome and I am so sorry for the delay.” She responded with one of her patented lambada hugs. She then repeatedly kissed his bruised cheek.

I had to knock at Luke’s door and call to him for quite a while before I was able to rouse him from his nap. He finally came to the door and opened it.

“You must be Izzy,” said Luke as he shook his hand. “Stephanie and Jim have told me you have some kind of magical powers. At this point I’m quite skeptical.”

“Luke, wonderful to finally meet you in person,” replied Izzy. “I almost said ‘en persona’ but I understand, from our earlier phone call when you were at our airport on your last trip to Be’er Sheva, you don’t like Inglañol. Jim and Stephanie have assured me I can rely on you for the absolute truth. I’ve read most of your technical reports and I have the highest respect for your talents in that area.”

“Thank you Izzy, for those kind comments,” replied Luke. “Thanks also for recommending me for the scepter, although I haven’t used it so far. Just pointing at it seems to be sufficient!”

“Good – don’t use it unless absolutely necessary,” replied Izzy. “Like my supposed ‘magical powers’ – just having people think I’m some kind of wizard or tzadic or chudodei is enough. Your skepticism is fully justified, I assure you!”

“Only a tzadic,” I said, as I gave Izzy another hug, “Would deny being one in that ambiguous way.”

“Wonderful,” replied Izzy, “Here we have a non-believer who believes I am a tzadic, and someone who everyone says is a religiosas locas, who is skeptical. I have not had my dinner as of yet, but we must have a meeting this evening. Please be ready in a half hour.”


A half-hour later, Schlomo returned and escorted Stephanie, Luke, and me to the well-appointed conference room at Mats Camp. It compared favorably to Stephanie’s office, with large display walls and codip-equipped seating. It even had the latest universal celi, which could be set to honor any historical character. I touched the celi codip and set it for W. S. Gilbert.

Schlomo left and, several minutes later, returned with Tsar and Preench. I introduced Luke and they shook hands all around. Stephanie and Tsar exchanged challenging glares, but were otherwise courteous to each other.

“We’ve been here since before 11 AM,” said Luke, “Izzy seems to be a very busy man today.”

“Yes,” replied Tsar, “Preench and I arrived yesterday by p-tran and we stayed at a hotel in the southwest of Be’er Sheva last night. We had brunch at the hotel café and arrived here about noon.”

“Bertie made us stay in our rooms with the blinds drawn,” added Preench, “But at least we had WIN access and were able to get some business done.”

“You had WIN?” asked Luke. “I checked and there’s no WIN coverage in this area.”

“I asked Schlomo, the IRA,” replied Preench. “They have wired WIN here at Mats Camp. Schlomo gave us an adapter so our wireless read-WINs would work in our rooms here.”

“SCHLOMO!” I demanded, “Why didn’t you tell us about the wired WIN access and the adapter?”

“Why didn’t you ask?” asked Schlomo.

“You really should have offered it to us,” said Luke.

“Well, I guess all I am is ‘a computer with arms and legs’ as you said earlier today,” replied Schlomo, with the quoted portion in Luke’s voice, like a high-quality audio recording. “As an engineer you should know we IRAs have hearing a thousand times better than humans. We can also smell a thousand times better, like dogs. I guess that’s why you treat us like dogs – working dogs, not pets.”

“I’m sorry Schlomo,” replied Luke, “To have insulted you.”

“I passed the international test for certification as an IRA,” continued Schlomo. “I doubt any of you humans in this room – including Ms. PhD in Theater Arts here – could pass that test. But, don’t worry about insulting me. As the English poet William Cowper said in the late 1700’s ‘A moral, sensible, and well-bred man will not affront me, and no other can.’”

“I said I was sorry,” replied Luke, who seemed genuinely distressed by what he had done.

Ningún problema,” replied Schlomo, “And I know you don’t like Inglañol which is why I said that. However, my emotions are not real – they are simply programmed into my computer. Your emotions are real, which is why your face is red and you are sweating.”

Tsar and Preench laughed at that remark, and, after a moment, Stephanie and I joined in.

Humiliated by “a computer with arms and legs,” Luke retired to a corner of the room. After a while, Tsar joined him and they entered into an animated discussion, punctuated by a certain amount of shouting.


Preench motioned to Stephanie and me to join him in another corner of the room. “I have a couple of things to say to you I don’t want my father to hear,” he whispered. “I want the Hawking Plan to go forward and I want to reform the society I live in. If I told my father what I know he would have to kill you Stephanie.”

Stephanie showed a bit of panic, only the second time I had seen that expression on her face. The first time was the day after Barbas and Betsy had been killed and she and I were on the sham search for them near Mats Camp and I was delayed by my chance meeting with walkers and I told her about it.

“What do you know?” I asked.

“My dear departed sister,” said Preench, “Had a camera in her read-WINs and it was on during the murders of your associate Betsy and the man who went by the pseudonym Barbas. I don’t know why her read-WINs were on in an area with no WIN coverage. Perhaps she was trying to get onto the WIN and there was some coverage on the hilltops in that area. In any case, she captured read-WIN snapshots of Barbas and Betsy as they lay dead. Betsy had the gun stuck in her crotch and no jacket.

“The next day, after we buried my brother and sister and the others – you know we Muslims must bury our dead within twenty-four hours – the operatives who assisted us gave us my sister’s read-WINs and other personal effects of the dead. They also told us your people and ours died in mutual combat, because when they found the bodies Barbas was still holding the gun and he had powder burns on his hand and jacket sleeve. They also said Betsy’s jacket was found covering her.

“I know it was not mutual combat! I was there when Barbas and Betsy were shot in cold blood, so I know it was not Barbas who killed my brother and sister and the others. He had fired towards us earlier, when we confronted them, probably trying to scare us away, but had not hit anyone. My brother murdered Barbas and my sister murdered Betsy. Only later on, after I had left, did someone else kill them in revenge.

“When I became a scepter-holder, I did a PID query on all of you for that time period. As a former scepter-holder Stephanie, you know we can do PID queries without generating an alert to the subjects. There were only intermittent PID tracks of you and your people in the area west of Mats Camp, but they were enough to establish you were all there prior to and immediately after the killings. I know the exact time Barbas and Betsy were killed because I was there and the time is confirmed by the time stamp on my sister’s read-WIN snapshots. You apparently tried to set up an alibi by rushing to that café in Be’er Sheva. However, according to my time line, that was nearly an hour after my brother and sister were killed. It took me a while to figure it all out. I have come to the inescapable conclusion it was you, Stephanie, or Jim or Luke – but probably you – who shot and killed them all in revenge.”

Stephanie’s mouth opened and she raised her right hand to her face. When she lowered her hand, that consummate actress had her “vulnerable” face on.

“When Izzy invited us to come here,” continued Preench. “I retrieved my sister’s read-WINs once more and reviewed the snapshots in detail. The last one, Stephanie, is a blurry photo of someone who looks like it could be a woman holding something like a gun. Tell me the truth; did you kill my sister and brother?”

Stephanie considered the question for a while and then answered, softly “Yes. I’m terribly sorry. But I didn’t know it was your sister and brother. After Jim, Luke and I heard the shots fired, I sneaked over there in time to see one person leave the group – I guess it was you Preench. I was furious when I saw the others celebrating. I saw your sister pull Betsy’s jacket off of her and your brother stick Barbas’ gun in her crotch. When they left, singing a joyous song, I ran near and shot every one of them, using Barbas’ gun. I put the gun into Barbas hand so it would look like they all died in mutual combat and I covered Betsy with her jacket.”

“I forgive you,” said Preench, “By all reason and logic and emotion, it was a justified killing, at least in my part of the world. However, if I told my father, he would be duty-bound to get revenge. Such is the custom of the world I come from.”

Stephanie gave Preench a light kiss and hug and said, “Thank you for your understanding. I am sorry for your loss.”

“I have something else to tell you,” Preench continued, his face hardening into an angry glare not unlike his father’s. “Today, in the hotel café while we were having brunch, there was an elderly American couple who looked like Barbas and Betsy. At first, I thought they were Barbas and Betsy and perhaps Izzy really was a chudodei and brought them back to life.

“I did a direct PID query on them, another fine feature of the scepter, and determined they were not Barbas and Betsy but they did come from Georgia in the eastern United States. I did some further checking on the WIN while I was here this afternoon and I determined they are the twin brother and twin sister of Barbas and Betsy, respectively. My WIN research, aided by my scepter privileges, led me to their true names. Only Betsy was using her real name, all the others, Barbas and Largo and Dena are pseudonyms.

“I think it was a cheap trick on your part to get the twin brother and sister of Barbas and Betsy and track us down to that hotel and that café and have them sit at the table next to ours. You did that to unnerve us, didn’t you? It was a cheap trick and you know it.”

“I’m sorry,” said Stephanie, “But we had no idea where you were staying or how you were getting here – or even that Izzy had invited you here. Did you know we were coming?”

Preench shook his head left to right.

“Well,” continued Stephanie, “Neither did we know about you. I had Dena and Largo come to Be’er Sheva in case we needed some security help. I asked them to stay out of sight at that particular non-descript hotel because that was where Jim and I stayed when we were in Be’er Sheva the last time. I assure you, it was a complete and total coincidence you stayed at the same hotel and happened to meet them in the café.”

Preench stared at her for a while, as if trying to look into her soul. Based on personal experience from their first meeting in Izzy’s apartment, he knew she was a bit of an actress. That was confirmed when his WIN research indicated her degree was in Theater Arts.

“Alright,” he finally said, “I’ll admit Izzy did not tell us you would be here, so I guess he did not tell you we would be coming. I’ll accept your word on that. Quite a coincidence! Perhaps Izzy really is a chudodei and he arranged the coincidence.”


At that moment, Luke and Tsar returned from their private conversation. Both were smiling! “Stephanie,” said Luke, “Tsar and I have come up with a good way to involve the CentAsia region in the next stage of the Hawking Plan.”

“Yes,” added Tsar, “I asked Luke to give me a candid assessment of our region’s chances of getting a development contract after the Conceptual Study Contracts run out later this year. He informed me that some of the CentAsian researchers are doing good work, but, in his honest opinion, none of the TCs based in our region stand a chance of winning the follow-on development contracts for cryopreservation and genetic engineering or spacecraft technology and so on. I told him I am duty bound to my region to oppose the Hawking Plan since the next phase will take needed resources from the entire Earth and spend it in NortAmer, Europe, and EastAsia, with absolutely no benefit to the population of the Earth.”

“Well,” interrupted Stephanie, “Perhaps Luke spoke out of turn. We have not yet distributed the Request for Proposal documentation. Perhaps some of the well-qualified TCs in your region will submit winning proposals for the development phase and you will get funding …”

“No they won’t,” interrupted Luke. “So long as I am your deputy and hold a scepter, I will not tolerate lies – even so-called ‘white lies’. The CentAsia TCs simply have not got the infrastructure to support the type of advanced technological development we require. They have some excellent people. I’ve met some of them. Many have studied and worked at leading universities and TCs in our region. However, for development you need much more than people. You need the facilities and so on. I think we need to be completely straightforward with Tsar and Preench.”

“As a member of the TABB Planning Board,” said Preench, “I want to support the Hawking Plan. However, I agree with my father it is unfair to spend resources collected from all over the Earth in only a few regions. Luke, you started this conversation by saying you and my father had come up with a good way to involve the CentAsia region in the next stage of the Hawking Plan. What do you have in mind?”

“OK,” began Luke, “You all know a key aspect of the Panspermia option, which I think everyone now realizes is the best one, is the seeding of an Earth-like host planet with hardy biological cells of various types. To test that concept, we need a vast area on Earth devoid of any form of biological life. Where could we find such an area?”

“Yes,” said Tsar, “I suggested the area between Astana, the capitol of Kazakhstan, and Omskaya, the city in Russia that happens to be my home.”

“There was a terrible genetic engineering disaster in that area around 2035, wasn’t there?” I asked. “It killed half a million people and turned millions of acres into wasteland that is still uninhabitable.”

“Exactly,” continued Tsar. “We do not have the resources to clean that area up and make it habitable. However, it would be an ideal Earth-destination for the initial Hawking Plan test launch.”

“Our idea,” said Luke, “Is to use Hawking Plan funding, augmented by TABB environmental cleanup resources, to totally sterilize that area – kill any biological life, including remnants of the genetic engineering disaster. Once prepared in that way, we could have the first Hawking Plan test launch land there and seed the area with hardy biologicals. We could have our robots tend to their growth and operate genetic engineering laboratories to evolve them, as rapidly as possible, according to the modern genome for single-cell life.”

“Good idea,” said Preench. “Selection of that area as the initial Earth destination for the Hawking Plan would act as a magnet for genetic engineering and other technological industries to locate in the cities of Omskaya and Astana. Those cities are about 450 kilometers apart by air. The off-limits area extends from Odesskoye, which is about 100 kilometers south of Omskaya, down to Bestobe, about 175 kilometers northwest of Astana. The available area is totally unpopulated and over 100 kilometers in diameter, plenty of room to isolate the experiments.”

“So,” asked Stephanie, “If we agree to designate that area as 'Hawking Earth Test Station number one', you will abandon your opposition to the Hawking Plan?”

“On the condition,” replied Tsar, “That the entire genetic disaster area, from Odesskoye south to Bestobe, and from Chkalovo east to Irtyshsk be sterilized so it can be safely occupied by people.”

“With a 100 kilometer diameter circular area reserved for the initial Hawking Plan landing and seeding of hardy bacteria and associated genetic engineering experiments,” added Luke.

“Agreed!” said Preench.

"Let us all shake hands on this momentous agreement," I added. "To 'HETS1' - Hawking Earth Test Station number one"!


Izzy and Bertie entered the conference room. “I am so sorry we could not join you for lunch and dinner,” said Izzy, “Our previous group of guests just would not leave! You know the old saying: ‘Guests are like fish. After three days they start to smell!’ But we look forward to two or three more days of meetings and fellowship with all of you.”

Schlomo walked over to Izzy and whispered something in his ear.

“Good! Good! Excellent! HETS1!” said Izzy to his robot and everybody in the room. “Schlomo tells me you have solved your problems without any need for my assistance. Thank you Tsar and Stephanie, Jim and Preench, and Luke and … Luke and Schlomo – you’ve got to give credit to the help around here to keep them happy!”

Luke and I walked over to Izzy. “You are a miracle worker,” Luke said as he shook Izzy’s hand, “But you use only logic and reason, which are a million miles from faith and religious belief.”

“Thank you,” replied Izzy. “Faith and reason are a million miles away from each other, but, at the same time, as close as the two sides of a thin coin.”

“They are on totally separate coins,” insisted Luke. Then, before Izzy could reply, he asked, “Tell me Izzy, did we really see the CEO of OilTech and the Chairman of the Board of GazProm arguing in your garden? Did Jim really see you saying goodbye to the President of Iran?”

“Sorry Luke,” replied Izzy with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m not allowed to say.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” replied Luke. “You just told me everything I need to know.”

“Take it any way you want if it makes you feel better,” answered Izzy, “I make no claim to any magical powers or special status. I’m just a document custodian in a museum and all I do in my hobby is try to help people find their own sense of reason, the good ‘lights’ that guide them. If special beliefs that may or may not be true help illuminate those ‘lights,’ so much the better.”

“You must be a secret TBI agent or a high TABB official,” replied Luke. “Otherwise, how could you afford this camp facility and this conference room?”

“I don’t own this part of Mats Camp,” replied Izzy, “Bertie and I live in the original small building you may have seen behind the garden. This grand facility is owned by a foundation of some sort. They won’t tell me who financed it but I think it is a Saudi sheik I helped out a few years ago.”

“That place behind the garden is a shack,” said Stephanie, “How can you live there?”

“Bertie and I have all we need when we stay here or at our apartment in town that you visited last year,” Izzy replied, “We have a clean, dry place to sleep and food to eat. I plan to retire from the museum next year when I’ll be fifty-five. I’ll have a nice retirement income from my employment there. I have this hobby of trying to help people that keeps me and Bertie busy and involved in the great issues of the world as long as people want to come here and talk to me. What more could anybody want in life?”

“I guess ‘things are seldom what they seem’,” said Luke.

Suddenly the universal celi I had earlier set to W. S. Gilbert and which was directly behind us came to life. The aromarama displayed the animated head of Gilbert and it spoke:

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

Black sheep dwell in every fold;
All that glitters is not gold…

“Someone set that universal celi to Gilbert and Sullivan,” said Izzy.

“I did,” I said, “I love that stuff and Luke is an expert on the words.” The others walked over and gathered by the celi. It continued:

…Gild the farthing if you will,
Yet it is a farthing still.

Though I'm anything but clever,
I could talk like this for ever:
Once a cat was killed by care;
Only brave deserve the fair.

Wink is often good as nod;
Spoils the child who spares the rod;
Thirsty lambs run foxy dangers;
Dogs are found in many mangers.

Paw of cat the chestnut snatches;
Worn-out garments show new patches;
Only count the chick that hatches;
Men are grown-up catchy-catchies.
“A highlow, in case you are wondering,” said Luke, “Is a shoe that laces both above and below the ankle. A jackdaw is a rogue bird related to a magpie. A catchy-catchie is a baby who is repeatedly thrown up in the air and caught.”

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