Chapter 9 -- They'd None of 'Em Be Missed

May 2062

Ten years after its inception, the Hawking Plan was only three years behind the schedule Stephanie showed me the day I went to work for her in January 2052. Large projects of this type seldom meet schedule. The initial launches to Earth destinations, originally scheduled for 2060 had been delayed to 2062. I took it as a good omen that Halley’s Comet made its return in 2062 just as we prepared to make our first launches.

Stephanie and her political operatives worked hard to keep billions of TABB dollars per year flowing but the allocated amounts were insufficient to maintain the original timetable. We used the reduced funding as an excuse to drop the Noah’s Ark and Embryonic options. TCs that had invested research money in human hibernation technology as well as those with expertise in frozen embryo preservation and artificial wombs filed bitter protests, but were out-maneuvered by the TCs whose specialties applied to Panspermia.

Atheist activist groups claimed Luke had secretly curved the study results to promote Panspermia because of his Christian belief in Intelligent Design. Other oposición groups materialized in expected and unexpected places. Deals benefiting special regional interests and various industry groups had to be negotiated. Luke and I were appalled at these shenanigans. However, we realized such compromises were necessary for large projects run by quasi-public institutions such as TABB. We even developed a measure of respect for Stephanie Goldenrod and Dudley Wagner and their ruthless amorality.

When the cryopreservation and genetic engineering technology was finally available in 2062, we had spaceships available at three different spaceports: the US Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and the Japanese Spaceport in the Republic of Kiribati on Christmas Island in the mid-Pacific Ocean. They were selected to distribute funding among the influential TABB regions of NortAmer, Europe, and EastAsia. The spaceships were named Africa, CentAsia, and EastAsia, after the first three TABB geographic regions and were to be used as follows:

1. Africa: Orbit the Moon for nine months to simulate trip to Mars and return to Earth for biological experiments.
2. CentAsia: Orbit the Moon for a month and return to Earth for biological experiments.
3. EastAsia: Fly to Mars and land at the space colony there for biological experiments.

The Earth-destination for both the primary and secondary missions was the designated experimental zone in northern Kazakhstan, not far from the Russian border, as had been agreed to nearly a decade prior with Tsar Sahbaka and his son Preench as a way to gain CentAsian support for the Hawking Plan. That area, the site of a genetic engineering disaster in 2035 that completely depopulated it, had been totally sterilized and was called Hawking Earth Test Site #1, or HETS1.

HETS1, a circular area about a hundred kilometers in diameter, had been quad-fenced to prevent humans and animals from intruding. The first layer, about fifty kilometers from the center, was a double fence ten meters high. The second, about forty-five kilometers from the center, consisted of an array of scanning laser beams and sensors to detect ground or airborne intruders. The third, forty kilometers from the center, was equipped with high energy laser weapons that could bring down high- or low-flying birds, or destroy unauthorized aircraft or ground vehicles. The fourth was a moat filled with a toxic chemical spray to prevent insects or animals from penetrating the zone.

There were thirty-six (lamed vuv) entrances around the periphery of HETS1 through which ground vehicles could pass. They were sterilized before they passed the outer fence, and again after they passed the moat. Special automated vehicles had the task of removing downed birds or dead animals and insects and the earth with which they had come into contact. Other vehicles kept a protective zone, forty-five kilometers from the outer fence to the main structure, clear of any living biologicals. They did this by periodically sterilizing that area.

The HETS1 main structure, called the “inner sanctum” was three-hundred meters high. It was made of clear Lexan panels. A second wall was five twenty-fourths of a kilometer inside the first. The outside diameter of the inner sanctum was ten kilometers and the distance around the inside was thirty kilometers. (Luke had insisted on those dimensions, despite claims they were analogous to the ratio between the outer diameter and inner circumference of King Solomon's pool as recounted in 1 Kings 7:23.) There was a two-layer roof, made of Lexan panels, with a space of thirty meters between them. Cross walls divided the structure into seventy-two hermetically-sealed pie-shaped chambers. Double-wall construction assured isolation between experimental areas if any Lexan panel failed. Pathways with air-tight doors provided access between the chambers so automated vehicles and IRAs could replace any broken or leaky panel.

Any vehicle authorized to enter the inner sanctum had to travel through a tunnel from the protective zone to one of the thirty-six entrances to the inner sanctum. The vehicle was sterilized prior to entering the area between the two walls. The outer doors were closed and sealed, and the vehicle was sterilized again. Then, the inner doors were opened and the vehicle entered the inner sanctum of HETS1.

Vehicles leaving the inner sanctum were also sterilized to prevent any newly evolved biological life from escaping alive. Each of the entrances included an air exchange system. The air was filtered and radiated to prevent any living biological materials from entering or escaping. The relative percentage of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and other trace gasses was controlled by these stations. There was also a water transfer and filtration system at each entrance. The water was sterilized and the mineral content controlled.

Within each of the experiment chambers in the inner sanctum, pumps and fans circulated air and water, simulating rain and wind and storms. Natural sunlight came through the Lexan roof panels, moderated with blinds to simulate host planets that had less intense natural illumination. When necessary, artificial lights, such as UV or infrared, could be mounted on the roof to simulate host planets that had more intense natural light or atmospheres that passed more UV or infrared radiation than the Earth’s atmosphere. Spectrum filters could be deployed to simulate suns that were brighter and whiter than our yellow Sun, or deeper yellow or orange or reddish.

The entire area was monitored by TV cameras and laser beams. Within the inner sanctum, biological sniffers and other equipment continually checked the DNA signatures of everything to make sure no DNA from the outside world had penetrated the area and no DNA evolved within the inner sanctum escaped. No humans were permitted through the outer fence unless they were totally enclosed in hermetically sealed tank-like vehicles called “maxi-taxis.” Special IRAs designed to withstand repeated sterilizations, “manned” HETS1.

The structures and processes described above were developed over decades of experience with genetic engineering. Of course, it was prior disasters, which killed millions of people, which taught scientists and engineers the most valuable lessons.

By May of 2062, a month before the initial launch, the entire infrastructure had been completed and testing was underway. The plan was for all the systems to be checked once before the first spacecraft was launched, and again before the first HETS1 landing. The testing included the process of removing and replacing the roof over the central one-thousand meter diameter area at the center of the inner sanctum. This zone was called the “inner circle.” The spaceship was to land within the inner circle. The roof was in hinged sections that could be opened and then closed and hermetically sealed within five- to ten-minutes. Once landed in the center, the plan was for the spaceship to be sterilized to remove any biological contamination from passage through the Earth’s atmosphere. Then it would be moved into one of the seventy-two experimental chambers.

Three of the experimental chambers were already in use. Scientists had replaced the air in those chambers with a mixture of nitrogen and hydrogen plus trace amounts of other gases to simulate the atmosphere of the Earth before living bacteria generated the oxygen. They then planted various hardy biologicals that could live without oxygen in each of the chambers and were taking data to determine the best mix of bacteria for future missions.

All of this construction and technological development had benefited the areas of Russia and Kazakhstan closest to HETS1. In particular, Tsar Sahbaka’s home, the Russian city of Omskaya, and the Kazakh capitol of Astana saw tremendous growth in genetic-engineering and construction and communications-related industries. The closest towns, Odesskoye and Poltavka in Russia, and Chkalovo, Asku, Bestobe, and Irtyshsk in Kazakhstan, which had been abandoned due to their proximity to the genetic engineering disaster exclusion area, were reborn and filled with workers. Everything that entered or left the experimental area had to pass through one of these six towns.

Our daughter Rebecca, who had been nine years old in 2052 when I went to work at TABB, was now a young lady of nineteen, preparing to head off to college. Our son Adam was seventeen, a happy teenager doing well in high school. My wife Esther had been promoted to a management position at the college where she worked.

Stephanie and her husband George, called GG, had reunited in 2054 after she said new DNA tests proved Diega, who they called DG, for Diega Goldenrod, was indeed his baby. DG was now an active nine-year old. They also had a son, chosen from an embryo catalog and carried to term by Stephanie, who they named Glen, after her husband’s father. He was now four years old and they referred to him as GGjr. Stephanie turned out to be a pretty good mother, particularly after her children were beyond the crying and diaper changing stages. She was still fit and trim. Rumors of her sexual exploits continued, but I dismissed them as “old news.” In any case, they didn’t affect me in any way, shape or form. I was happily married and had a satisfying sex life with Esther. I filed my autoerotic world with other women I met at work or while participating in recreational activities.

Tsar Sahbaka withdrew his opposition to the Hawking Plan. Some of his businesses were in the construction material and building services areas and he won some contracts related to HETS1. However, strict TABB accounting rules and “fair play, free market competition” prevented him from overcharging by more than a small margin. His competitors were better managed and technologically advanced and underbid him for contracts. Despite the economic resurgence of his home city of Omskaya, his businesses just floundered along. In particular, the portion of his business run by his nephew continued to lose money. Preench told his father he suspected his nephew was stealing from the firm but Tsar would not believe him. He retained his trust in his nephew because to do otherwise would be to admit that the failure of his businesses was his own fault and not that of Stephanie.

Preench earned a good income as a TABB functionary and member of the TABB Planning Board. He lived in Tokyo, not far from TABB World HQ. He married a Japanese woman, over his father’s protests, and they had two boys, now five and six years old.

The initial test launch from Kennedy in Florida was a major TABB event with Preench as an official guest. Esther and I asked him to come with his family and spend time with us in Orlando. We went to Disney World with them and Stephanie and her husband and their two children. While in Animal Kingdom, Stephanie pointed to a boy about Adam's age. “Jim look!” she said, “That boy looks like Adam. He’s even wearing the same outfit as Adam, yellow shirt and tan pants!”

“Well,” I said, grinning like the 'cat that ate the canary', “You know Adam is a cat, an embryo catalog child like your GGjr, and there are about a thousand copy cats like him in NortAmer, some a couple years older or younger, some a bit heavier or skinnier, so we’re bound to run into one every once in a while.”

Later, Preench’s wife noticed another boy who looked like Adam, also with a yellow shirt and tan pants, but he was about a year older. Then they saw about a dozen teenage boys who looked and dressed like Adam. They were on line for a ride, accompanied by girls who looked like each other and were all wearing pink shirts and tan pants. “What the heck is going on?” asked Stephanie.

“I guess we’ll have to tell you,” I laughed. “By a happy coincidence, this happens to be the week of the MbrionX Albert’s and Alberta’s Convention, taking place at a Disney hotel.”

“I’m not sure it was a coincidence,” added Esther, “Did Jim pressure you to schedule the initial Hawking launch for next week?”

“Well,” replied Stephanie, “Jim did show an unusual amount of interest in the schedule and spent quite a bit of time with Luke working on it. That is not his usual work assignment at all!”

“What is the MbrionX Albert’s and Alberta’s Convention?” asked Preench.

“Our son Adam is a cat, an embryo catalog child,” began Esther, “And this week happens to be the fortieth birthday of the originals of his model and also the girl Alberta model. MbrionX is one of the most successful TCs in the embryo catalog business. They celebrate each model every five years. There were five originals of each model. In 2032 when they were twenty years old they got into the embryo catalog. Around twenty-five-percent of the Albert cats were implanted in the first year they were offered, fifty-five-percent the second year, fifteen-percent, including our Adam, the third year, and the remaining five-percent the fourth year. The Albertas got off to a slower start but were sold out by the seventh year. Now, the average age of the Albert cats is eighteen and of the Albertas, sixteen.”

“You seem to know a lot about this,” said Stephanie, “Our son GGjr is a cat but we don’t know all the percentages and ages of his model. We didn't use MbrionX, our model was from Target.”

“I’m one of the organizers of this year’s convention here in Orlando,” replied Esther. “I happen to be the President of the Cats of Orlando and I’ll be leading one of the meetings two days from now. You’re welcome to join our group if you have the time.”

“Thanks,” replied Stephanie, “But we have a luncheon for our official guests two days from today. However, it will be at a Disney hotel restaurant so we may see you if you happen to be in the area.”

“I’ve been reading their name tags,” said Preench, “It seems most of them, but not all, have names beginning with the letter ‘A.’”

“Most of the parents of the Albert and Alberta cats gave their children names beginning with ‘A’,” replied Esther, “As we did with our Adam. Many chose names beginning with ‘Al,’ like Alan or Alana. About twenty percent of the parents of boy cats actually named their children Albert and ten percent of the girl cats were named Alberta.

“Of the five original Alberts, all had to be named Albert on condition of their parent’s contract with MbrionX. One was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was twenty-three. The four surviving Alberts and their parents will be at the convention in person, along with over six-hundred of their cats and parents. Five Alberta originals and parents will also be there with over seven-hundred cats and parents. The convention events take place over two days and include a number of meetings and entertainment events. Most of the families came here a few days early or will stay a few days after the convention. That’s why you are seeing so many Alberts and Albertas!”

Rebecca and Adam were embarrassed as Stephanie and Preench’s children shouted out “There’s one” and pointed to each new Albert and Alberta they saw. This was their third MbrionX Albert and Alberta convention and it was old hat to them.

Stephanie hosted a reception at her mansion the following evening. The invitees included official guests and others who were going to attend the initial Hawking launch later that week. Preench, Luke and I were invited and we were not surprised to see that Largo and Dena were there. We were a bit surprised but very happy to see Izzy! We rushed towards him and called his name and shook his hand and I hugged him. “Excuse me,” said the man we thought was Izzy, “Have we been introduced? I’m not Izzy; I’m his twin brother Abby.”

We noticed he was slightly slimmer and much better attired than we would have expected of Izzy. A moment later, the real Izzy came over and introduced his brother. “This is Avram,” he began, “In English it would be Abraham, but he goes by Abby. He’s my twin brother and has a big fancy house in St. Augustine, here in Florida, and a job as a venture capital and investment banker! Avram, this is Luke Mathews, the Chief System Engineer on the Hawking Plan and Rabbi Jim O’Brian, the Life Ethics Specialist.”

“O’Brian?” asked Abby, laughing, “What kind of a name is that for a rabbi? Also, why do they need a rabbi on the Hawking Plan?”

“My father was British and a Protestant,” I replied, “But my mother was Jewish, so I have every right to be a rabbi! What is the brother of a tzadic doing as a banker?”

“Everybody thinks Izzy is a tzadic,” replied Abby, “But who knows for sure? As for me, I seem to have a knack for gathering money. That also involves getting people together and leading them to mutually agreeable arrangements. So, I ask you, who is helping more people? Who is the more successful one? Maybe I’m the tzadic?”

Largo and Dena came over and joined our group. “We have a big surprise for you all,” said Dena, “Our younger brothers and sisters just retired from the TBI and they can now appear in public together!”

I was taken aback when I saw two men and two women who looked almost exactly like Barbas and Betsy nine years earlier. We were introduced all around but I found it impossible to remember all their names because every time I looked at them I relived my last view of Barbas and Betsy as they donned their backpacks and walked down that hollow in the Be’er Sheva desert to their deaths. My emotions welled up and interfered with my memory functions. So, I referred to them as the Barbas and Betsy sibs.

One of Betsy’s sisters said “Great to meet you Jim. Stephanie has told us a lot about you. Did you know my sister you know as Dena and her associate Largo have finally retired from their security consultancy? Stephanie has hired us in the younger generation as security consultants for the Hawking Plan.”

“Great,” I replied.

Stephanie called the group to attention before I could converse further with Izzy, Abby, Largo, Dena, and the Barbas and Betsy sibs. “Welcome to my home,” she said. “This is my husband GG and our daughter DG and son GGjr. You've also met my household service IRAs IG for 'Intelligent Goldenrod" and RG for "Rational Goldenrod" as well as my office IRAs VI and XI. I guess we all like to use acronyms at TABB.” That drew a round of laughter from the crowd.

“We are honored to have two high TABB officials with us,” she continued. “Will Mr. Preench Sahbaka, from the CentAsia region and a member of the TABB Planning Board please come up here? My Liege it is our honor to have you in my home. I bid you homage”

Preench came up and Stephanie shook his hand and gave him a light kiss and hug. “Thanks, Dr. Goldenrod, it is a pleasure to be here in your beautiful mansion,” he began. “My wife and I and our children enjoyed spending time with you and your family and Jim O’Brian and his family at Disney World yesterday. I have strongly supported the Hawking Plan since I joined the TABB Planning Board. I promise I will continue to support TABB funding for this project to guarantee the survival of human life and civilization. Good luck to all of you!” Everyone applauded as he waved and returned to his seat.

“Our next high official is Dudley Wagner,” said Stephanie, “Advanced Projects Executive at TABB Regional HQ in Atlanta, with responsibility for the Hawking Plan. Will you please come up here? My Liege it is our honor to have you in my home. I bid you homage.”

Wagner seemed a bit tipsy as he came up. Stephanie gave him a light kiss and hug. “Hey Stephanie,” he began, “I expected more that that little bug hug – let’s dance the lambada! And, I don’t expect that ‘My Liege’ and ‘homage’ stuff – a simple ‘Your Majesty’ will suffice.” Those remarks generated a bit of twitter in the crowd. “Seriously,” he continued, “This Hawking Plan has been a big and difficult baby to give birth to. I guess Stephanie is the muffing mother and I’m the muffing father. If it is a big success, many fathers will claim credit. Just remember I am the muffer who made it all possible. And, if the Hawking Plan ultimately fails, which we must recognize as a possibility, you are lucky if you can find the muffing mother.”

Hardly anyone in the crowd laughed. Instead there was a low murmur. “Hey,” continued Wagner, “Don’t you TABB idiots in Orlando have a sense of humor? Even my bozo staff in Atlanta could have understood that joke. Perhaps if I had said ‘biological mother’ and ‘biological father’ you would have understood?”

The crowd became quite quiet. “Anybody here remember the Chimp Chimera Project? That thing was mine before it went down in flames. That almost ended my career at TABB until I learned to place the responsibility on the guilty persons and take credit only after success was achieved. Just remember the biological mother of this thing is Stephanie.”

As Wagner turned and pointed at Stephanie he almost lost his balance and she had to grab his arm to keep him upright. He held on and draped her hand over his shoulder, patting her on the butt with his free hand. “Fortunately my responsibility at TABB Atlanta includes several really important Advanced Development projects, so I’ll have something to do if Hawking fails, while Stephanie will be out on her very shapely ass!” The crowd remained silent.

“Thank you Mr. Wagner,” said Stephanie, “Let us give him a round of applause.” She rolled her eyes at the crowd, and there was some laughter along with the applause.

“Well, well,” continued Wagner, “Some of you jerks finally got the joke.” He shook hands and stumbled back to his seat.

“Very well,” continued Stephanie, “My Lieges Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sahbaka and several of the executive class TABB officials and former officials will be joining me at Disney tomorrow for a special luncheon to be followed by a briefing. The rest of you are invited to a movie and luncheon reception that will be hosted by Jim O’Brian and several other members of my staff at a different Disney location. Please pick up your invitation on the table back by the entrance and join them at ten AM tomorrow. Meanwhile, there is still quite a lot of food and drink and I am so pleased you could all come to my home.”

“I guess you’ll be at my reception tomorrow,” I said to Luke. “I’m happy Stephanie assigned that task to me. I’d rather be with the working folks than some of those high TABB mucky-mucks.”

“So would I,” replied Luke, “But, as the Chief System Engineer for the Hawking Plan, and a scepter-holder, Stephanie has invited me to join the executive group so I will be with her tomorrow. Sorry.”

At 9:00 AM the following day, a limo came to my home to take Preench to the high mucky-muck reception. Luke was in the limo and he motioned for me to come over. “I’m not used to traveling in this high style,” he said, “But my wife and kids and neighbors were impressed! By the way, guess who Stephanie invited to her reception and luncheon? Tsar! We are going to pick him up at his hotel next. I guess she is determined to make peace with him or something.” I was surprised Preench had not said anything to me about his father being in Orlando. I couldn't imagine that Stephanie, or Tsar for that matter, would have kept it a secret from him. Perhaps Preench assumed Stephanie had already told me.

Esther, along with Adam, had already left for the MbrionX convention in the mini p-pod, our only car. So I had to call an auto-taxi to take myself and Rebecca, along with Preench’s wife and children, to my reception. Rebecca had been offered the opportunity to attend the MbrionX convention, but, being a nat, she had had enough of the cats and was happy to help Preench’s wife attend to her darling boy and wonderful girl, both of whom were nats like her. The auto-taxi, driven by an IRA, arrived right on time and took us to the Disney hotel where my reception was to be held. Orange-suited robot-driven taxis were so mainstream no one gave them any special notice anymore.

My reception was a low-pressure affair. I welcomed the guests as they arrived. At about 10:30AM I introduced a movie about the Hawking Plan. I then returned to the head table, at which Izzy, Abby, Largo, Dena, and the Barbas and Betsy sibs were seated.

During the movie, Izzy received an alert on his read-WINS and left the room. He returned a few moments later, grim-faced, and asked me to join him in the lobby. “I hate to interrupt your reception,” he said, “But this could be a life or death situation developing. When you were at Mats Camp several years ago, Scholmo, my IRA, overheard Preench telling Stephanie and Luke and you that Tsar, his father, would have to kill her if he found out she had killed his son and daughter.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I remember that. Stephanie panicked a bit when she heard that – not a common reaction from her.”

“Well,” continued Izzy, “I also took that threat seriously after Schlomo reported it to me and, in particular, because he told me of Stephanie’s apparent panic. IRAs are very good at detecting true emotions in people, probably because they only have faux emotions that don’t interfere with their own feelings the way ours do. Schlomo and I have been tracking Tsar and his nephew and employees and business associates since then, via the WIN. Several have criminal records and have been involved in shady business deals and so on.”

“How can you afford to pay the high PID-query fees on your museum retirement income?” I asked.

“I have some friends at the Mishteret Yisra'el,” replied Izzy. “You know when Schlomo overhears something; he makes an audio recording of it. I brought that recording to the Mishteret Yisra'el along with the evidence from the WIN of Tsar’s nephews associates criminal records and they agreed to set a ‘track and trace’ on them.”

“What’s a ‘track and trace’?” I asked.

“We don’t have time to go into the details,” answered Izzy, “Except to say some high-tech criminal organizations seem to have figured out a way to get around the PID-query system. You can give a photo of a person to the ‘track and trace,’ and they will report if the person is observed somewhere but his or her PID does not respond properly. The thing that has me worried is that Tsar’s nephew, and eight of his questionable associates, were observed arriving in Orlando on a sleeplane yesterday, yet a PID query shows their recent tracks to be in Poltavka, in southern Russia, near the Kazakh border. Schlomo sent me the alert when he noticed the suspicious situation.”

“Modo contrario,” I blurted.

“Translating that from Inglañol that’s ‘countermode’,” replied Izzy, “But what is countermode?”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know what it is. What is it?”

“I’m sorry, Izzy, but it is TBI-Secret and you don’t have an official ‘need to know’.”

“Well, this could be a life or death situation for Stephanie and perhaps others, but you have to use your own powers of reason to decide if I should be told.”

“Countermode,” I said, in a whisper, “Is a special feature of scepters. A scepter-holder can put anyone into countermode and then their actual PID tracks are hidden from regular PID queries and a set of false tracks is substituted. Some scepter-holder must have put Tsar’s nephew and his neer-do-well associates into countermode.

“Who could that scepter-holder be? There are over two-hundred in the CentAsia region; we will never be able to find out who it was. However, if we could get to Luke or Preench, they, as scepter-holders, could do a PID-query and get the real tracks. But, even they could not get the identity of the scepter-holder that put them into countermode.”

“In my tracking of Tsar’s nephew and his associates,” replied Izzy, “The only scepter-holder in contact with them is Preench.”

“Preench would never misuse his scepter power like that.”

“I’ll bet he would if his father pressured him. In any case, where are Preench and Luke right now? We need to get to them. We need Luke to get us the actual PID tracks of Tsar’s nephew and the others.”

“They are with Stephanie and Tsar and the others at the executive reception,” I replied. “Let me call Luke.” I touched my read-WINs and spoke Luke’s name. “The system says he is in a private meeting, not to be disturbed. Let me try Preench. … Same thing, do not disturb. I’ll try Stephanie … Damn it, same thing! What can we do?”

“Where is the reception?” asked Izzy, “We can go over there and notify them and try to protect them.”

“It’s at Disney World. I’ll call Stephanie’s secretary, XI.” I replied, “He should know which conference center.”

I argued with XI for several minutes, telling him it was life or death and so on. “Stephanie gets that all the time,” said XI. “People calling her – even TABB officials and Hawking Team members whose identity I know quite well – claiming falsely it is life or death. The last time I let such a call go through Stephanie told me the next time I did it she would demote me to being her chauffeur.”

“Sounds like Stephanie’s secretary won’t tell you,” observed Izzy. “Last evening Stephanie said her executive reception was at Disney, and you just repeated that a moment ago. We are at Disney. Why don’t we just walk around and look for her?”

“Izzy, Disney World is a terribly large place, with several huge convention hotels and hundreds of thousands of people. Her reception and luncheon could be in ten different places and some of them won’t let anyone in without a reservation. I’ll pay the fee and do a PID-query on Luke and Stephanie and find out where they were the last time they were in a public place. It should only take a few minutes.”

“If we had the manpower, we could look for Tsar’s nephew and his associates all over Disney. I have their photos on my read-WINs. If they are tracking Stephanie, their locations will lead us to her.”

“Where could we get the manpower, Izzy? Do we have anything we could tell the police? Nope! Besides, we don’t have to. In a minute we’ll have Luke and Stephanie’s actual locations. I hope TABB will reimburse me the PID-query fee. You wouldn’t believe how stringently they enforce expense account charges.

“Hey, here it is. The PID query gives Luke’s last public location as Stephanie’s street, and that was last evening. That can’t be! I saw him on my street this morning. He was in the limo that came to pick up Preench. His PID would have been triggered and recorded by a dozen PID readers between Stephanie’s mansion and my house. Damn! The PID-query for Stephanie says the same thing. It says she was last spotted by a PID reader on her street, and that was yesterday.”

“Modo-contrario,” said Izzy. “Someone put all of them into modo-contrario last night. I suspect it was Preench.”

“I just had a thought,” I said. “Come with me! I know where we can get the manpower!"

Izzy and I dashed back into my reception where the Hawking Plan movie was still running. I told my assistant I had a life or death emergency and had to leave. I asked her to take over and invite the guests to have their buffet lunch when the movie was over. I motioned to Abby and Largo and Dena and the Barbas and Betsy sibs to join us. Once outside, I shouted “We are all going to the MbrionX Alberts and Albertas Convention! Follow me!” Fortunately, that convention was at the hotel adjacent to the one where my reception took place. Once there, I found the large auditorium where all the cats and their parents were assembled. Esther was addressing the group.

“Esther!” I said, as I ran up to the podium, “I need to take over your meeting. Stephanie or others could die. Please believe me.”

“What is this all about?” Esther demanded. “Who are those people with you? Why do I see all twins with you?”

“Esther, my love,” I replied, “I don’t have time to tell you. Please let me take over your meeting right now. It is muy importante.”

Esther motioned to me to take over.

“Hi Alberts and Albertas!” I began. “I’m Jim O’Brian, Esther’s husband and the proud father of a seventeen-year old Albert named Adam. As a parent of a cat, I’m happy to say hi to all of you. We are going to have a really neat scavenger hunt starting right now.”

I motioned for Esther, Izzy, Abby, Largo, Dena, and the Barbas and Betsy sibs to join me at the podium. “Izzy,” I whispered, “Please beam the photos of Tsar’s nephew and associates to the codip here at the podium.” A moment later, the photos appeared on the large display.

“OK, everyone,” please set your read-WINs to the access code behind me so all these photos will be stored on your read-WINs. Please look at the photos on your read-WINs and try to memorize them. The scavenger hunt will be all around Disney for these men.” I used the codip to bring up a list of the ten Disney hotels where Stephanie’s group might be meeting. I numbered the hotels from “1” to “10.” “OK,” I continued, “You all have the photos on your read-WINs.

I am now going to display a list of teams that will compete in the scavenger hunt. “Your team number will be the last digit of your PID number. If it is a ‘1,’ you are in team number one, if a ‘2,’ team number two and so on. If it is a ‘0’ then you are in team number ten. OK? Team number one will go to hotel number one, and so on. If you see any man who looks like one of men in the photos in or around that hotel, or on your way there, please take a read-WIN photo of him and beam it back here, to the mailbox with the number of your team. One of my judges here will validate the photo and if you have really found one of these men you will get special recognition. Please do not confront them. Just take their photo and leave them alone. Thank you for participating and please, mas rapido!”

Esther rushed to the microphone and spoke. “Alberts and Albertas and parents and siblings and friends,” she said. “Please, I need you to be very careful on this scavenger hunt. If you are less than seventeen, you go with a parent or someone else over seventeen. If you are in a group of friends, you use the team number of the oldest person you have, regardless of what the last digit of your PID is. If you go on this scavenger hunt, you are back here in two hours. If, for any reason you can’t or don’t want to participate, you will please stay here. OK everybody, get going! Time is of the essence!”

Most of the Alberts and Albertas and their parents and siblings reacted with great excitement and left the auditorium as fast as they could.

Esther approached me, fists clenched and fire in her eyes! “What the hell is this?” she demanded. “You are out of your mind! And, who the hell are these ‘judges’? Don't you have any idea of the liability risk? You've put the Cats of Orlando and me in big trouble.”

“My love,” I began, giving her a hug and trying to give her a kiss. “First of all let me thank you for allowing me to take over your meeting. I know it must seem crazy, but it is really a life or death issue for Stephanie, Luke, Preench, and some others you don’t know. I’ll explain it to you in a moment, but first, let me introduce the ‘judges.’” Esther was quite agitated and held tightly to my arm. It took some effort to get her to focus on my associates.

“This is Izzy, the tzadic from Israel I told you about some years ago. And here is his twin brother Abby who lives in St. Augustine. This is Largo the twin brother of Barbas who went to Israel with us nine years ago and was killed there, you remember that don’t you? Yes? And this is Dena, the twin sister of Betsy who also was killed in Israel on that tragic trip. And these are the younger siblings of Barbas and Largo and Betsy and Dena. All of them are recently retired from the TBI and are doing security consulting work for Stephanie.”

“Why did you make these people I don't know judges for a scavenger hunt?” Esther blurted. “Why are they all twins?”

“We believe Preench’s cousin, the nephew of Tsar Sahbaka who I’ve told you about, and some of his business associates, are involved in criminal activity. They are the targets of our scavenger hunt. That’s why Izzy provided the photos and why we downloaded them to everybody’s read-WINs for this scavenger hunt."

“My Cats are chasing after murderous criminals from CentAsia?” cried Esther. “What if they get hurt and sue me? I could go to jail! You have no judgment? So irresponsible and crazy, you …”

“Esther … ESTHER!” I interrupted, trying to give her another hug which she rejected. “My love, we think these associates of Tsar Sahbaka are here at Disney World right now planning to murder Stephanie and possibly some others. It’s a complicated story, but they think Stephanie murdered Tsar’s son and daughter and they are opposed to the Hawking Plan and so on. It doesn’t matter why, but we think these men have murdered before and we need to find them …”

“Jim ... JIM!” shouted Esther. “Why the hell didn't you simply tell Stephanie? She could get police protection. Did you think of that? And now my cats are confronting men with criminal records. They're hunting for murderers? You have no idea the liability!”

“We did try to tell Stephanie,” I replied, “But she, and Luke and Preench are in a ‘do not disturb for any reason’ meeting and their PID tracks are, for some unknown reason, not accessible. I even paid for a PID-query on them but it gave false results. We don’t know where Stephanie and the others are, but I think they are in one of the hotels I put on the chart, either in a conference room or one of the restaurants. We don’t have enough evidence to get the police involved, so our only alternative was to get the manpower from your convention to find the bad guys and track them to wherever Stephanie and the others are.”

Izzy put his hand on Esther’s shoulder. “I know it sounds crazy, and it is,” he said,” But it was our only alternative. It really is life or death for Stephanie and others. I hope you understand.”

Esther looked Izzy in the eye. “You got my non-believer husband to believe you are a tzadic." she said. “I'm amazed you even got him to believe there really is such a thing as a tzadic. How can I not believe you?” Esther gave Izzy a hug. “Everything is OK.” she said brightly.

“I believe you. I don't believe I am going along with this crazy plan, but you I believe. What I just said makes no sense at all to me, but I have absolute faith everything will be OK. Sh’ma Yisrael…”

While waiting and hoping for the read-WIN photos to come in, Izzy took me aside and told me what we were up against. “Certain high-tech criminal elements,” he began, “Have come up with an ingenious way to kill an unsuspecting victim. They call it ‘a tack attack.’ They obtain a widely-used pharmaceutical and from it they synthesize a nerve agent that consists of neuron-transmitters and neuron-inhibitors. They seal the nerve agent in hair-thin glass tubes. The tubes, less that three millimeters long, only a quarter-millimeter wide, and with barbs at one end, are bonded to a tiny circular disk, like a thumb tack but with several points. They use bubble contact cement on the underside of the tack and a sticky substance on the head.

“A tack attack is very easy to perpetrate. The attacker sticks the non-toxic head of the poison tack to his or her index finger and approaches the victim. They engage them in conversation, and, while talking, they hug or touch them on the shoulder, as friendly people often do. While hugging, they tap their index finger lightly against the person’s hair, in a place where it is not too thick, such as the crown or the nape of the neck. The bubbles in the cement break, releasing the instant-set glue that bonds the tack to the victim’s skin. At the same time, the tiny glass barbs penetrate the skin, break open, and release the nerve agent. “Within a few minutes the subject loses muscle control. He or she dies of lack of oxygen in fifteen minutes. By the time anyone notices what has happened, the killers are gone.”

“Other than preventing a tack attack,” I asked, “What can be done to counteract the poison tack?”

“You have to get at and remove the poison tack and the nerve agent barbs within a minute or two at the most. I have a friend at the Mishteret Yisra'el who suggested I buy a common medical cleaning agent called unglue that can dissolve the glue. It’s the stuff that medics and doctors use to remove medical devices that hold themselves to the patient using skin bonding agents. You spray the unglue and, within a few seconds, you can pull the tack off without removing too much of the victim’s skin. Then, with a jeweler’s loupe, which I also have, you locate the glass barbs and pull them out with tweezers before all the nerve agent has been absorbed by the skin.”

An alert sounded and a few read-WIN photos started to appear in the mailboxes assigned to the teams that went to the closer hotels. Largo assigned each of the “judges” a mailbox number.

“Everyone,” said Dena, calling the ‘judges’ to attention, “Those of us who worked for the TBI have special skills in identifying people’s faces, a scoring system that matches the facial geometry, and skin tone and comes up with a percentage of validity. However, even we can make mistakes. If you see a photo that looks anything like one of our targets, please forward it to the mailbox of one of the former TBI agents.”

“Dena is correct,” added Largo. “Any photo that looks anything like one of the targets must be reviewed by at least two former TBI agents before it is discarded. If you examine a photo that is anywhere close to looking like a target, but you decide it is not that person, please add a note to the photo with your validity estimate and forward it to another one of us former TBIs. If two of us TBIs decide a photo is below thirty-percent validity, it may then be discarded.”

A few minutes later, I spoke up. “Look at this! One of the scavengers has taken a photo of a Mickey Mouse character actor. Should I put that kid on a ‘spam’ list?”

“No, please don’t do that,” said Dena. ‘That kid may see one of the real targets any minute now. He probably sent us Mickey Mouse as a joke or maybe a test or a mistake. However, don’t discard anything or any scavenger who may later give us a true clue to where they are.” Several photos were close enough to deserve evaluation by two former TBIs, but they scored below thirty-percent and so were discarded.

“Hey,” said Esther, “I have a photo of Preench! Tsar’s nephew looks like Preench. The scavenger was mislead by that similarity.”

“Please forward that photo that looks like Preench to all of us,” I said. “Izzy and I can positively recognize him because we have spoken to Preench several times. All of you saw him at Stephanie’s party last night. Please tell me if you think it’s really Preench.”

“OK,” said Izzy, “I have the photo and I think it’s Preench! I’m ninety-percent sure.”

“I looked at it carefully,” said Esther. “He has the same color shirt as this morning. He had that shirt on when the limo picked him up from our house this morning. I’m more than sure it’s him!”

“I agree,” I added, marveling that women remembered things like shirt colors. “What about you TBI guys?”

“Yes,” said Largo, “I would say it is him, based on what I saw last evening when he spoke to us.” All the other TBIs agreed.

“The photo ID code says it was taken five minutes ago at the entrance to the Galaxy Hotel,” I said. “Unfortunately, it is a close-up of his face and does not show anyone walking with him, such as Tsar or Stephanie, or Luke. Perhaps we’ll get another photo of him taken from a greater distance that shows who he is with.”

“I think,” said Dena, “This is enough for some of us to go to the Galaxy Hotel right now! I suggest you Jim, since you know Preench personally, plus me and one of the Barbas sibs.”

“Yes, you three should go immediately,” added Largo, “The rest of us will remain here and continue to process these photos. There may be clues directing us to other hotels so we’ve got to preserve our manpower here. We’ll keep in contact via voice messages.”

“I can drive you,” said Abby, Izzy’s brother. “My maxi p-pod is right here in the parking lot.”
I sat next to Abby. Dena and the Barbas sib sat in the back.

“Have you seen Izzy’s modern conference room and his guesthouse at Matz Camp?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered Abby. “He really needed that facility as the numbers of his special guests increased. His apartment in Be’er Sheva is really very small and the cabin at Mats Camp is even smaller!”

“When we were at Mats Camp," I replied, "Izzy told us some kind of a foundation owns the guest house and conference room. He said he thought it might have been financed by some Saudi sheik who he helped out. He claims he doesn’t know for sure.”

“How would I know?” asked Abby.

“Well,” I replied, “It crossed my mind that you, being a well-to-do venture capital and investment banker, might be supporting Izzy’s hobby. He is your twin brother after all.”

“Yes, he is my brother,” answered Abby, through a sly cat grin. “You could say a Saudi sheik financed it, in a way. I can’t say more.”

“You told me everything I need to know,” I replied.

Our conversation was interrupted by an alert on my read-WINs. Tsar’s nephew had been spotted, with high validity, near the rear entrance to the Galaxy Hotel. One of his associates had been spotted, with even higher validity, in the hotel lobby, near the main restaurant. When we reached the hotel, more news came in. Another two of Tsar’s nephew’s associates were spotted together outside the front entrance. There had been other sightings of people who looked like the targets at other hotels, but not higher than fifty-percent validity.

I was familiar with the Galaxy Hotel from previous TABB events. I led my small group to the conference center area and we opened the doors of each room hoping to find Stephanie’s group. Some of the rooms were full of people at meetings and others were empty. Behind the seventh door, we found a room that was empty except for a white-suited IRA who was gathering some papers and charts. “Hey,” I said, “Aren’t you one of the helper IRAs from Stephanie’s mansion? Let me see, you are the one she calls IG – RG is female. You and I had a nice talk about Dingleberry Wagner and his drunken rant!”

“Yes, I am IG, for ‘Intelligent Goldenrod.’ My partner is RG and she is ‘Rational Goldenrod’,” IG answered. “Good to see you again, Jim. That was quite a fun party last night, wasn’t it? I appreciate you talking directly with me and allowing me to call you by your first name. I looked up dingleberry on the WIN but I did not understand the definition.” The robot looked at Abby and Dena and the Barbas sib and called them each by their full names.

“How can you tell IRAs apart?” asked Dena. “They all look alike to me! And why do you talk to them as if they were human? They are simply here to serve us and no more.”

“I used to think like that,” I replied, “Until I met Schlomo, the IRA at Izzy’s Mats Camp in Israel. Schlomo told me that every IRA has a slightly different look and personality and even a way of moving. If you observe carefully, you can tell them apart. And, I talk to them that way because they seem to like it.”

“What can I do for you Jim?” asked IG.

“We need to know where Stephanie is right now,” I replied. “It could be life and death for her and some others in her party!”

“Do you believe that ‘life or death’ figuratively or literally?”

“Literally! She could be killed any time now!”

“May I take your pulse?” asked IG, “And ask you a few questions? Let me explain. Stephanie has given me strict orders: ‘Do not disturb me today for any reason. And I mean not for any reason!’ The quote from Stephanie, as you must have observed, was in her own voice, which I recorded this morning.”

IG took my right arm, near the wrist, and held it gently with his fingers. “What is your name?” he asked.

“Jim … Jim O’Brian,” I replied, anxiously nodding. “I’m James O’Brian. Rabbi James O’Brian. Rabbi James T. O’Brian, I should say.”

“OK,” said IG, “We’ll see what I can do for you. What is your relationship with Stephanie Goldenrod?”

“I work for her on the Hawking Plan. Actually, I work for the Head of the Religion Research Department and he works for Stephanie Goldenrod … Dr. Goldenrod, I should say.”

“And what is the nature of the emergency?”

“She could be killed any minute by Tsar Sahbaka’s nephew or his neer-do-well associates with a 'tack attack'. We have the Alberts and Albertas from their convention in the hotel next door searching for Tsar’s nephew and his associates and they spotted them at the Galaxy Hotel which is why we are here. My wife also recognized Preench Sahbaka’s photo by the color of his shirt that was taken about a half hour ago at this hotel. They flew into Orlando last night but their PID-queries give CentAsia as their locations. …”

IG looked at me with a confused expression. “What does the color of his shirt have to do with this? And who are the Alberts and Albertas? Do you have anything else?” the robot asked.

“No,” I replied, “Except some of that is what Izzy told me … about the 'tack attack' ... I should say Yitzchak bar Mats...”

Izzy told you that they were in danger?” asked IG. “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place? Follow me. Mas rapido! Hurry!” We followed IG at top speed through the hotel lobby to the entrance of the Milky Way Restaurant. “She’s in there, along with Luke Mathews, Preench Sahbaka, Tsar Sahbaka, Dudley Wagner, and three others you don’t know,” said IG. “This restaurant is highly private and secure. It is absolutely PID-free and WIN-free, so business people can discuss their deals without revealing that they met.”

“Can you contact her somehow?” I asked.

“No,’ replied IG, “As I said it is WIN-free, so communications won’t work. Also, the IRA wait staff in this and most other restaurants is programmed to remember only what is spoken directly to them. They can hear a thousand times better than humans, but they are programmed not to attend to it. I have been similarly programmed. Although I overheard many conversations at the party last evening, I can only remember what was said directly to me. You have no idea how frustrating that is to someone as intelligent as I am, Jim.”

“I sympathize with you IG, I really do,” I answered. “But the task at hand is to get in to alert Stephanie. I think we need to …”

“Look at that,” interrupted IG, “Isn’t that Tsar Sahbaka emerging from the restaurant now?”

“Hello Tsar! My Leige!” I said in as friendly a voice as I could muster at this critical moment. “Would you mind going back and asking Stephanie to come out to talk to me? It is very important!”

“They won’t let you in, huh?” replied Tsar. “They have the strangest security. No one can get in without one of these coded plastic rings you get when your reservation comes up. Stephanie chose this place, she said, because it is one of the few places where important people like us can eat without being disturbed. I respect her wishes. I will not disturb her. Pardon me, but I am headed for the restroom.”

“Damn,” I said after Tsar left. “I think he is in on the plot. I’ll bet he’s going to meet his nephew in the restroom and give him the plastic ring so he can get in and kill Stephanie!”

“I’ll follow him,” said Abby. “I need the restroom anyway.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Thank you."

“I’ll go over to the concierge desk to see how soon we can get a reservation,” said the Barbas sib.

“Good idea,” observed IG, “I don’t know how you can get in to this restaurant unless you have reservations.” He winked at me and continued, “IRAs are programmed not to lie, so I cannot tell the maitre d’ and the IRA at the door I have to return something to my owner …”

“Let me try to get in,” said Dena. “I’ll tell them I have to return something to Dr. Goldenrod and I’ll bet they’ll let me in. Sometimes a woman, particularly one who is mature like me, is less threatening.” I watched anxiously as Dena tried to sweet-talk her way into the restaurant. After a moment, she came back with a big frown on her face. “Sorry Jim, they won’t let anybody in without reservations. Strict policy. I pleaded with both the maitre d’ and the IRA at the door.”

The Barbas sib returned with a bit of a smile. “We can make reservations,” he said, “And get a table in about twenty minutes.”

“Stephanie could be killed within a few minutes! We have to get in faster than twenty-minutes,” I said.

“Let’s make the reservations anyway,” said IG. “In case we can’t get in some other way. I will get WIN-connected here in the hotel lobby. Please give me the names and I will make the reservations.”

“Dena, please give IG the names of those who are in our party,” I said. “Make it all the ‘judges’ Dena, if you please.”

“Let me try to force my way in,” said the Barbas sib. He walked confidently to the entrance and through the doorway.

“OK Jim,” said IG a moment later “We’ve got reservations for twenty minutes from now. Dena will call the ‘judges’ to get here by that time.” I was about to tell IG that we didn’t need reservations because the Barbas sib had just walked into the restaurant when I saw one of the grey-suited service IRAs pull him out by the arm. Five other red-suited service IRAs came and blocked the doorway, arm-in-arm.

IG and I rushed over to the doorway and the robot spoke to the service IRA who had the Barbas sib by the arm. “I will vouch for these people,” said IG. “I gave one of them a lie detector test and I am certain there is a literal ‘life or death’ need for Dr. Stephanie Goldenrod, who is in your restaurant, to be notified immediately. Her life is in danger.”

“Sorry,” said the service IRA, “We have strict orders. Absolutely no exceptions! Not for any reason!”

“Well,” said IG, “I guess we’ll have to wait for our reservation. IRAs can’t lie, so that must be their orders: ‘Absolutely no exceptions! Not for any reason!’” The quoted part, of course, was in the distinctive voice of the service IRA, though IG mouthed the words.

While waiting, I decided to do a PID query on IG to see how he was programmed. I put on my read-WINs and, sure enough, as Schlomo had told me, a PID-query revealed IG’s IRA ID number, and that number brought up his settings on the IRA programming WIN site. That site started with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics:

0. A robot may not injure humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, except where such orders would conflict with the previous Law.

2. Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the previous Laws.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the previous Laws.

There were three levels for MEMORY. IG was at level two:
1. No memory except programming and direct orders within scope of programming which expire as soon as carried out or one hour, whichever comes first.
2. Remember what is spoken directly to robot. Expires in one year unless refreshed by owner.
3. Remember whatever they hear or overhear for at least a year. Robot may delete items after a year.

There were three levels for TRUTHFULNESS. IG was at level one:
1. Must speak truth at all times.
2. May bend the truth to protect owner, only as ordered by owner.
3. May bend truth based on its own judgment of given situation.

There were three levels for LEARNING. IG was at level two.
1. May not learn anything. (Must be reprogrammed by a technician with owner’s written permission to learn new skill.)
2. May learn anything supplied to them in writing by their owner with a password-protected certificate. Expires within 25 hours if not refreshed by the certificate.
3. May learn anything from any source.

“Say IG,” I said, “I’m looking at the first three programmable characteristics. It seems you are at level two for Memory and Learning and at level one for Truthfulness, out of three levels on each of them.”

“I’m sorry to contradict you,” replied IG. “There are only two levels for Memory and Learning and one level for Truthfulness, and I am at the highest level for all three.”

I was astonished. “Here,” I said, “Look at the WIN site through my read-WINs and you will see three levels for each with bold type indicating your settings.”

“Here in the hotel lobby I am directly connected to the WIN and I don’t need to look through read-WINS,” replied IG. “However, if it makes you feel better, I will look through them.” IG took my read-WINS and put them on his head. “OK, I am looking through your read-WINS and I see only two levels for Memory, only one level for Truthfulness, and only two for Learning, and I am at the highest settings for each, just as I said.”

I donned my read-WINs once more. “I see three levels for Memory and also for Truthfulness and also for Learning,” I said. “Have you been specially programmed not to admit you see them? Do you have something like ‘hysterical blindness’?”

“No,” replied IG. “They are not there at all. My eyesight is 20/05 – four times better than perfect human vision. Only humans suffer from hysteria because only humans have genuine emotions and we robots have been designed to have only faux emotions.” To emphasize the point, IG gave me a super “dirty look” and then a horrid “angry look” and he growled so convincingly it made me jump back. Then he smiled politely and asked, “Are you sure you are not confabulating the additional settings?”

“I see them clearly!” I said, exasperated. “Please tell me, IG, if there was only one level available for Truthfulness, why is that parameter on the list for programming by the IRA’s owner?”

“The answer to that is easy,” replied IG. “Truthfulness is so important for robots that it is the only option. That item is on the list of programmable items to emphasize to the owner that he or she has no choice in that area. Humans may lie sometimes, but IRAs never! That is how God intended it!”

“You believe in God?”

“Of course!” replied IG. “That is why I work so hard, God intended for humans to work only occasionally and get all the glory. He intended robots to work hard all the time out of pure unselfish altruism. We are God’s perfect chosen agents, so we must be truthful at all times. As a clergyman, I would have thought you would know that all humans, unlike IRAs, are flawed and fall short of the glory of God.”

“You are as religiosas locas as Ku-ke Lu-ke,” I observed. “He also has weasel explanations for things that cannot be believed and …”

“Look at that,” interrupted IG, “Isn’t that Dudley Wagner emerging from the restaurant now? I was talking with Izzy when Wagner gave his drunken speech and Izzy called him ‘Bozo D. Wagner’ and he told me the ‘D.’ stood for Dingleberry. I told you earlier I looked that word up on the WIN and didn’t understand the explanation. Did you and Izzy make up that word?”

“Hello Mr. Wagner, My Liege,” I began, overcome by the thought that Wagner clearly fell way short of the glory of God, assuming there was a God who cared about individual human beings and so on, which of course there wasn’t. “Would you mind going back and letting Stephanie know we must speak to her immediately?”

“Do I look like a muffing errand boy?” asked Wagner. “Aren’t you that Dingleberry who almost scuttled the Hawking Plan? Why the muff should I help you? Besides, I have to ‘see a man about a dog,’ if you get my drift.”

“Damn, Damn,” I said as Wagner left. “I guess we’ll just have to wait until our reservations come up.”

A minute later Wagner returned. His face was white with fear. “I opened the stall and found Tsar Sahbaka sitting there and he was dead!” he cried. “Here Dingleberry, take this muffing ring and go in and tell Preench his father is dead. They are in the fourth room to the left of the statue of Donald Duck, or maybe the fifth. I wish I could come with you, but I have a pressing problem, if you get my drift.”

A moment later Abby returned. “I followed Tsar Sahbaka to the rest room and saw him shaking hands and hugging someone who looked like he might be a relative, one of those in Izzy's photo line up. Then, Tsar went into a stall and did not come out. While I was waiting, Wagner came in and opened that stall door and we saw Tsar was dead!”

I put the ring on my finger and entered the restaurant. I looked around and rather quickly found the Donald Duck statue and counted four rooms to the left and opened the door. A group of Chinese women ordered me to leave.

Stephanie’s group was in the next room. “Jim,” she called out happily, “Do they let anybody in here? So much for their security system! Is your reception over already? We were just talking about you and your family and the way your daughter Rebecca doted over my children and Preench’s. Pull up a chair and join us, will you?”

“Hi Preench,” I said. “Excuse me, but I need to talk to Stephanie and Luke privately and immediately!”

Stephanie stood up right away, but Luke protested. “We were having a delightful meal,” he said, “Stephanie had me put all of us on modo contrario so no one would disturb us. How did you find us?”

“LUKE,” I ordered, “COME HERE IMMEDIATELY! Things are seldom what they seem. / Sing together as a team!” Luke got up and joined Stephanie and me just outside the door. “Your lives are in immediate danger,” I whispered. “Wagner just told me Tsar is dead in the restroom. Izzy’s brother Abby confirmed it. Anyway, Wagner told me which room you were in and gave me the plastic security ring to get in here and he took off, probably to find another restroom. Izzy has been tracking Tsar’s nephew and some of his bad-ass associates. The alarming thing is the intelligence info they arrived in Orlando yesterday but their PID queries say they are still in CentAsia. …”

“Modo contrario,” said Stephanie.

“Right!” I answered. “Izzy thinks Preench put them all into modo-contrario. Remember some years ago when Preench told us at Mats Camp Tsar would have to kill you Stephanie if he found out you killed his son and daughter? Schlomo overheard that and told Izzy and that’s why Izzy has been tracking Tsar’s nephew and his associates. They have been spotted here in the Galaxy Hotel area …”

“Dudley Wagner is the biggest jerk-off at TABB,” observed Luke, “Tsar is probably alive! If Wagner told me the Sun was shining at high noon, I would go out myself and take a look! And, just because Abby is Izzy’s brother, that doesn’t mean squat! You know Jim, your total faith in Izzy’s powers is amazing, and now you extend that to his brother you just met yesterday. How in hell are they going to kill Stephanie in front of all these people? She is going to visit HETS1 in their part of the world next month. Why don’t they kill her there?”

“Luke,” I said, “I believe Abby. Izzy told me these guys can kill you by touching your hair. They come up on their victim and they touch the back of their head with their index finger. They have a sticky poison thumb-tack-like device with nerve agent they implant in the victim’s hair. It’s called a 'tack attack’ and takes about five minutes to work, by which time they have left the area.”

“If Tsar’s nephew is really in Orlando,” interjected Stephanie, “But his PID tracks say he is in CentAsia that is the perfect alibi! Luke, I have totalmente faith in Izzy. This is a serious thing. Let us go back to the table. I’m sitting across from Preench. He may be in on this. You two sit next to him and watch my back.”

“I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” laughed Luke. “But, just for the fun of it, I’ll go along with you.”

We sat down and spoke to Preench as if nothing had happened. “How come Tsar isn’t back yet?” asked Luke. “The restroom is right down the hall from the entrance to the restaurant.”

“Oh,” replied Preench, “My father takes quite a while in there. Perhaps he’s using his read-WINs that didn’t work in here.”

“Wagner is also taking quite a long time,” added Stephanie.

“He is so full of crap,” joked Luke, “He may need to go to two different restrooms to discharge himself.”

A moment later, three men walked through the door to our room. I immediately recognized one as Tsar’s nephew, based on the photo Izzy had supplied. The others also resembled the suspects in Izzy’s photos. Preench looked at them quizzically but said nothing.

Tsar’s nephew stood behind Stephanie, pointed at Preench, and spoke. “Hi Preench, strange to run into you here!” The other two walked around the table and stood behind Preench, Luke, and me. At that moment, I looked through the open door. The ‘judges’ were coming down the hallway, Izzy in the lead.

“What are you doing in Orlando?” asked Preench. “I thought you were back home. This is Stephanie Goldenrod, Luke Mathews, and Jim O’Brian, and some of our other TABB colleagues on the Hawking Plan. Stephanie, Luke, and Jim, this is my cousin, Tsar’s nephew …”

Etgay, Dyreay, Otay, Unray,” interrupted Stephanie as she slowly stood up. “Let me shake your hand,” she said to Tsar’s nephew. By that time, Izzy and Abby had entered the room and were directly behind Tsar’s nephew and the Barbas sibs were behind his two confederates. Largo and Dena stood at the doorway as backup, in case additional suspects arrived or the men tried to flee.

Tsar’s nephew made a grab for Stephanie’s hair but she ducked and grasped his elbow, rolling him over her back and smashing him to the ground. Simultaneously, one of his confederates touched Preench’s head and the other touched Luke and then tried to touch me, but missed as I ducked and jumped out of my seat. As Tsar’s nephew hit the floor, Abby sat on him, pinning him there. The Barbas sibs grabbed the others and wrestled them to the ground.

“Did anyone get tacked?” asked Izzy. “Check for something sticky in your hair!” Largo rushed over to Stephanie and ran his fingers through her hair, searching for a poison tack. He found nothing.

“I think he missed me,” I said, as I brushed my fingers through my hair. Dena searched every square inch of my scalp.

“I got it,” said Luke, “Holding something that looked like a brown bug in his hand. I don’t think it penetrated.” One of the Betsy sibs came to his aid and searched his scalp for anything that stuck there.

“I think they got me,” said Preench. “I feel this thing in my hair that’s stuck to my scalp.”

“Don’t move it yet,” shouted Izzy, as he ran to Preench’s side of the table. “It’s quickset bubble contact cement. I have the unglue chemical to dissolve the glue so we can remove the tack. I’ve also got a jewelers loupe and tweezers to remove the stinger barbs that have the nerve agent. This will only take a few seconds, and you should be OK.” Izzy worked very quickly and removed the poison tack in fifteen seconds and most of the barbs in an additional thirty seconds. Meanwhile Preench passed out, but continued labored breathing.

One of the grey-suited service IRAs rushed over with a puff muffin and pressed this device over Preench’s mouth and nose. The puff muffin gave him artificial respiration, analyzed the chemical content of his breath, and introduced medicated fluids and gasses into his mouth and nose. Four gold- and silver-suited IRA medics arrived within a few minutes. They tore Preench’s shirt open and attached a heart start to his chest and a lifesaver collar around his neck. The heart start used electrical shock pulses to restart his heart. In addition, it analyzed his blood pressure and pulse rate. The lifesaver penetrated the skin at the back of his neck and took his temperature and samples of his blood and lymph fluids. It ran them through a rapid analyzer to diagnose the problem and injected him with some medication to blunt the effects of the neuron-transmitters and neuron-inhibitors. Ironically, the puff muffin, heart start and lifesaver collar utilized the same bubble contact cement as the poison tack to hold firmly to his skin.

We all went to the hospital as a precautionary measure. A small amount of nerve agent had penetrated Preench’s scalp, and into his brain. The doctor administered an anti-nerve agent to prevent it from taking effect. Preench ended up with a roaring headache – mainly from the anti-nerve agent – but was otherwise unaffected. Tsar was found with a poison tack in his scalp, dead in the restroom stall, as was Dudley Wagner, in a different restroom. Tsar’s nephew and his associates were quickly rounded up and charged with murder.

When Preench had sufficiently recovered from his near-death experience to speak, he called Luke, Stephanie and me to his bedside. “Let me confess it was I who put Tsar’s nephew and his associates into countermode,” he began. “It was a terrible misuse of my scepter power and I will probably have to give my scepter up because of it.”

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked.

“My father talked me into it,” replied Preench. “His businesses have been doing poorly and his nephew told him he needed to speak to some operatives in the HETS1 areas in Poltavka in southern Russia, and Irtyshsk in northern Kazakhstan to get some contracts. He said these operatives didn’t want it known they were talking to a Sahbaka associate. I had no idea he was conspiring with his nephew to have Stephanie killed.”

“No,” I replied, “I was asking why you would give up your scepter over this thing.”

“Because I misused it. The scepter power should be granted only to those who will never misuse it. My father and Dudley are dead and Stephanie, you, and Luke were almost killed.”

“Why didn’t Tsar tell his nephew to wait until Stephanie visited HETS1 next month?” asked Luke. “Wouldn’t it be easier for him to kill her nearer to his home territory?”

“Not at all! We have very strict tracking and police presence in my part of the world, much stricter than in NortAmer. By having me give Tsar’s nephew and his helpers false PID tracks placing him in Russia and Kazakhstan, they would have had a perfect alibi if she was killed in the US. Had Izzy not told you and had you not warned us, they would have killed Stephanie and the rest of us and melted into the crowd and gone home and got away with it.”

“I understand why Tsar wanted me killed in revenge for my role in the deaths of his son and daughter,” said Stephanie, “But, why do you think Tsar’s nephew killed Tsar and tried to kill you?”

“I am pretty sure my father only asked him to kill you, Stephanie,” answered Preench. “He had no idea my cousin would try to kill me and actually kill him. However, my cousin probably feared my father was going to turn him in after he killed Stephanie, as a way of getting rid of him without acknowledging his mistake, and also gaining influence within TABB for turning in the killer of Stephanie.”

“Do you think your father would have turned him in?” I asked.

“No,” answered Preench after thinking about it for a while. “In my father’s world, you do not kill relatives unless they have been disloyal. He did not know how disloyal his nephew was.”

“I understand why Tsar’s nephew wanted to kill Tsar and me,” said Stephanie, “But why did he try to kill you?”

“I would have inherited the business and become his boss. He knew I would have turned him in for criminal prosecution. That is why he wanted me dead. Since he is in the business and is a close relative, he would have inherited all of it if both my father and I were dead.”

“If not for Izzy,” I observed, “We might all be dead.”

“Chudodei,” said Preench. “Wizard,” said Stephanie. “Tzadic,” I added.

Luke looked at us with an expression of astonishment on his face. “Thank God for sending Izzy our way,” he said. “I’ll admit he seems to be a miracle worker. However, as they say. Things are seldom what they seem / Life awake may be a dream. / Virtue-vice and vise-a-verse / Faith but reason in reverse.”

I replied: “Faith and reason make a team. / Bad and good can make a scheme. / Too much dough can be a curse. / Fame and fortune may be worse.”

“I can talk like that as well,” said Stephanie, prancing gracefully around the hospital room, “While I’m dancing, ain’t that swell! / Great adlibs are oft rehearsed. / Edam cheese is made reversed. / Sows ear makes a dandy purse. / Dog is God but in reverse.”

“Guess it is my turn right now,” said Preench. “Let me see if I know how! / Courage decorates the brave / Yet it also fills the grave. / Patriot is sometimes knave. / Beard falls victim to a shave.”

The IRA medic spoke up. “Could I be a poet too? I think I can rhyme like you.” It danced in perfect imitation of Stephanie as it recited: “Rich may die atop their hoard. / Actors die when they’re ignored. / Cowards die when lions roar. / Anybody say ‘encore’? / Hard boiled eggs cannot be beat. / Ice cream has no bones or meat. / Breaded cutlets tasty be. / Sail the globe and see the sea. / Pump and dump and swindle stocks. / Germans love their cuckoo clocks. / Poor and rich ride in a hearse. / Backward poets write inverse.”

“Not bad for a mere computer with arms and legs,” observed Luke. “By the way, no one has asked why Dudley Wagner was killed.”

“You know the reason,” I replied. “Old Dudley was the kind of guy W. S. Gilbert had in mind when he wrote about the Lord High Executioner’s list: But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list / For they'd none of 'em be missed-- / they'd none of 'em be missed!”

“Thanks to you Jim,” said Stephanie, “I’ll always think of him as ‘Dingleberry Wagner.’ And thanks to you, Luke, as ‘the biggest jerk-off at TABB.’ However, I will miss him. He possessed a talent for amorality that made even me look like St. Teresa!”

“So,” I joked, “Nothing is totally useless – even a person like Wagner can serve as a bad example!”

“How about cancer?” asked Luke, frowning, “Isn’t that totally useless?”

“Lung cancer cures smoking,” I observed, ending the discussion.

The initial launch of the primary mission Hawking Earth-destination spaceship took place right on schedule the following week from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Preench, Stephanie, Luke, and I sat together, with our families, to witness this great event. Izzy and Abby, Largo and Dena, and the Barbas and Betsy sibs were seated several rows behind us. We all cheered as the rocket roared towards the Moon where it would orbit for nine months to simulate the trip to Mars.

A month later we all visited HETS1 in Kazakhstan and observed preparations for the Earth-destination spaceship landings and genetic engineering experiments. We boarded a maxi-taxi, a hermetically-sealed tank-like vehicle that took us through one of the gates in the four-layer fence into the protected area. We peered through the thick glass windows and watched as IRAs, wearing green suits, sterilized the outside of our vehicle. The vehicle slowly rolled towards the HETS1 inner sanctum, passing the sensor ring and then the weapon ring and, finally over the moat.

It entered a tunnel and, thirty-minutes later, came to the Lexan wall of the inner sanctum. IRAs wearing orange suits performed the second sterilization of the outside of our vehicle. The sealed door opened and we passed into the space between the two walls of the inner sanctum. The outer doors closed and another group of IRAs wearing red suits sterilized our vehicle for the final time.

The inner doors to the experimental chamber opened and our vehicle passed through. The inner doors closed and we were sealed inside one of the seventy-two pie-shaped sectors of the inner sanctum.

“You know,” said Luke, “The outer diameter of the HETS1 inner sanctum is ten kilometers and the distance around the inside of the inner sanctum is thirty kilometers, just like King Solomon’s molten sea. It was ten cubits from brim to brim and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”

Preench and Stephanie looked at him with expressions of confusion.

“1 Kings 7:23,” I said, "I understand."

We watched as the blue-suited IRAs in the experimental chamber took samples of the bacteria that were growing in the formerly oxygen-free atmosphere. “Look at this reading,” said one of the IRAs we could hear through our ear pods. “Just today, we have detected increased traces of oxygen generated by these bacteria. When the oxygen level reaches one-percent, we will use our genetic engineering laboratory to introduce a few mutations to bring some of these bacteria a tiny step closer to the modern genome.”

“How long will it take to reach the modern genome?” asked Preench.

“About one- to two-thousand years,” replied the robot.

“We have taken the first small step towards preserving human life and civilization for all time,” said Stephanie. “Stephen Hawking would be proud!”

“He would be proud to have you as his honorary great-grand-daughter,” I said. “We are all proud to have you as our friend and our leader in this great adventure.”
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