Illicit AI: Part Eight

By William A. Lasher

D’Angelo and Fairburn have Codi’s apartment under surveillance. They’re parked in an alley behind a strip mall and can just see the second-floor exterior door through the limbs of an elm tree. They’re using an older, slightly beat up electric sedan to blend in better and have a couple of Annihilator weapons close at hand.  

A day has passed since Codi left town, and so far, the only visitor to the apartment was a young redhead named Piper Kemps. (They used facial recognition software to ID her as a dancer at Scarlett O’Day’s strip club.) Kemps rang the doorbell and knocked on the door a few times and then came back later and tried again. The second time, she peeked in the window before leaving and they haven’t seen her since.  

Fairburn uses compact binoculars and D’Angelo watches on his laptop—he pinned a small surveillance camera to the underside of the breezeway railing outside the door. It’s a tedious assignment, sitting in the car watching the rundown apartments for hours on end. They’ve been at it all day.  

“Before we leave, I want to go inside and grab a couple of things for Codi,” says D’Angelo. “She said there’s some cash and jewelry in a lockbox.”  

“I’m surprised O’Day’s goons haven’t come by yet,” says Fairburn. “If she’s out a quarter mil, you’d think she’d send some muscle over to toss the place.” 

“Let’s walk over there. You can cover the door while I go inside.”  

“Take the Annihilators?”  

“Probably a good idea.” 

They climb out of the car and walk down the alley towards the apartment building. They’re dressed in plain clothes and when a pair of kids on bicycles see the weapons the agents are carrying, they do fast U-turns, skidding in the gravel, and then they swiftly ride off in the opposite direction.  

After climbing the stairs, D’Angelo uses the key Codi gave him to go inside while Fairburn stays outside on the second-floor breezeway. He smells garbage going off in the kitchen. Should he seal the bag in the waste can and carry it out to the dumpster? He decides against it. It’s still possible that bad actors could be showing up at any time. O’Day’s goons or even KTs. 

He goes in her bedroom. He’s checking out Codi’s exotic western boot collection, lined up against the wall, when he hears something from outside and sees a bright flash out of the corner of his eye. He hurries back into the living room, “Marcus?” There’s no reply and when he steps outside, he sees Fairburn’s corpse lying on the breezeway with an eight-inch hole burnt through his torso. Before he has time to think about his next move, another laser blast hits him square in the chest and his body falls to the concrete. 

Within seconds, a KT appears, running up the stairs and then down the breezeway to the fallen agents. The andy rifles through D’Angelo’s pocket until it finds his smartphone and then takes off running down the breezeway and back down the stairs.  

 

*** 

 

Codi’s taking her time riding from Orlando to Rapid City. She’s staying on the pavement, keeping her speed down, and staying aware of her surroundings.  

She stops on the outskirts of Memphis the first night and rents a hotel room. All she had with her when the arcadia deal went bad were the clothes on her back, so she goes to a nearby Global Mart and buys a few personal items—an extra set of clothes, toothbrush, deodorant, basic stuff like that.  

Back at the hotel room, she double locks the door and takes a shower. Carrying the arcadia is making her feel extremely anxious. “My typically fucked up life,” she says aloud as she climbs out of the shower and grabs a towel. She sits down on a wobbly chair and dries her hair. “Nice TV anyway,” looking around the room. Even if the furniture is about to give out. 

She needs to sell the package as fast as she can. Get rid of it. But at the same time, she needs to be careful. She can’t sell it to a cop, and she certainly doesn’t want to sell it to an andy. 

The high humidity is making her hair curl. She stands up to comb it out in the mirror. Codi hates her hair curly. She’ll have to pick up another iron. And a decent pair of boots. All she has with her are sneaks because that’s what she had on when she rode to Miami to pick up the drugs.  

Never leave home without your boots onthat’s Codi’s new mantra. 

She ducks out of the room to buy a pizza and some cold drinks for the fridge. Turns on the TV when she gets back and tries to watch a movie, but she falls asleep fast and then wakes up in the middle of the night with a wicked case of insomnia. Lies there for hours worrying. There’s something about hotel rooms that makes her feel uncomfortable. Her friend Lacey says they do it on purpose, so you don’t hang around too long. Especially the cheap ones. You always sleep better in an expensive hotel room, that’s what Lacey says.  

She’s up early and back on the bike. The route across Arkansas is familiar. Truckers called it “The Yellow Brick Road” before they were replaced by the automated rigs. That’s why Codi knows the highway. It leads to L.A., and she wishes she could keep riding west. To San Berdoo.  

But instead, she heads north a few miles short of the Oklahoma line. Riding through the Ozarks, she feels lonely and glum. It’s an empty feeling, like she’s way out of place.  

She’s not too sure about Rapid City. Yeah, she needed to get out of Florida fast, but South Dakota is known for its bitter cold winters and Codi hates snow more than she hates the curls in her long blonde hair. She crossed the Rockies regularly when she was moving blue caps for Eddie and chaining up the semi to cross Vail Pass was always a nightmare. The upslope blizzards on the High Plains were even worse.  

The only time she saw snow in San Berdoo was when she looked up at the high peaks. Tall mountains define the east end of the L.A. basin, San Antonio, San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto, but on the valley floor it’s always warm—or blistering hot— but never cold. (Maybe a touch cool in the winter when the seasonal rainstorms blow through.) 

Back in the old days, if Codi felt down, she’d blast a rail of quick or two, but she gave up on the drugs after the bust on I-15. Except for alcohol, and she only drinks beer now. She put the meth in the rear-view mirror for good after she was arrested, and she knows she’s better for it. Her face looks healthier, and her mind cleared out. Like she cleaned out the cobwebs. 

She may have six pounds of arcadia concentrate in her saddlebag, but she’s not going to smoke any of it. No way. Not going anywhere near it. It’s supposed to be more addictive than crack cocaine and psychedelic drugs aren’t her thing anyway. 

She makes it to Kansas City by afternoon and decides to stop for the night. Finds a better hotel than the one in Memphis. There’s a western apparel shop nearby, and she buys a new pair of boots, designer jeans, and an acorn Stetson. Now that she’s west of the Mississippi, she’ll go back to the cowgirl look. It was too audacious for Orlando, but in Kansas City, she fits right in. Makes her feel more like herself. 

The size 9 jeans are skintight—she’s 33 now and not getting any leaner—and she slips a skoal can in her back pocket. Not because she dips, it’s for the look. There’s no tobacco in the container, only breath mints.  

She does smoke an occasional cigarette, and she puts a fresh pack of non-filters in her rolled-up shirt sleeve. Checking herself out in the mirror, she likes what she sees. Except for the curls. She’d look more butch with her hair ironed out straight.  

Codi finds a strip club, Wyatt’s Cabaret. It looks a little cheesy from outside and when she goes through the door, she discovers the interior is just as tacky. But that’s okay with Codi, she’s no snob. She’s more interested in the talent than the décor. It’s a slow night, and she spends a couple of hours at the bar drinking Coors in the bottle and flirting with the dancers. Before long, Codi has a new friend. Her name’s Aubrey, a busty brunette, ten years younger with a good sense of humor and an infectious laugh.  

They sit in a booth across the table from each other when she goes on break.  

“So, what brings you to K.C., Codi?” 

“Business.”  

“What kind of business are you in?”  

“The dangerous kind.”  

Aubrey laughs. “You’re a dangerous looking woman.” 

“You got that right.” Even with the curls, Codi carries an unmistakable aura of peril. 

Aubrey looks around to make sure no one’s eavesdropping, and then she leans in close. “Do you have andy detection software on your phone yet?” 

“Andy detection software? No, I don’t.” 

Aubrey pulls out her smartphone, taps an app logo, and lays the device down on the table, so Codi can see the screen. “If there’s an artificial within fifty feet, the andy detection software tells me with a text message. Including the make and model.” 

“You’re not trying to scam me, are you Aubrey?” 

“No, I’m not trying to scam you. It definitely works. The software tells me when there’s an artificial on the other end of a call too. There’re more and more artificials around all the time, and it’s nice to know who you’re dealing with.  

“Where’d you get it?”  

“Dark web. I can sell you a subscription if you’re interested.”  

“How much?”  

“Two hundred bucks.”  

“You’re not bullshitting me.”  

“I’m not bullshitting you. If there was an andy in here right now, I could show you how it works.” 

“I am interested… so long as it really works. Let me go grab a phone.”  

“It works, Codi. I’m not fucking with you. I’ll be here when you get back.” 

There’s a Global Mart down the street. She buys a new burner phone, and Aubrey is still on break when she gets back to the club. Codi gives her two hundred dollars and uploads the software. Aubrey gives her an email address and a PIN number and tells her to memorize them. If she loses the phone or needs to get rid of it, she can upload the program again whenever she wants.  

She feels fatigued from the insomnia she’s been suffering and decides to call it a night. When she gets back to the hotel, she checks out the new app and wonders if Aubrey just took her for a ride. Hard to say. She’ll need to come up with a way to try it out.  

The next morning, she’s back on the bike, headed north. The highway follows the Missouri River and there’s not much out there beyond the cornfields and grain elevators. Just farm after farm after farm. Omaha, Nebraska is the next big city along the route, and after passing through it, she gets off at a truck stop to take a break.  

She goes inside and buys a diet soda, and on the way back to her bike, she checks out a weather site on her phone to see if afternoon thunderstorms are in the forecast. If it looks like rain, she might stop for the night when she gets to Sioux Falls. 

As she walks by an automated tractor trailer pulled up at a charging station, the brand-new andy detection app on her phone sends her a notification: Generic androids detected in the vicinity. She taps the notification and reads the full message: Multiple John Doe 7200 generic androids detected in a nearby enclosed space.  

The only nearby enclosed space is the automated tractor trailer. There must be a load of illicit andys inside the rig. Blue caps.  

She keeps walking towards her bike and when she’s fifty feet or so away from the truck, the message vanishes. She stops, turns around, and walks back towards the truck. The same message reappears. Aubrey wasn’t scamming her and for two hundred bucks, she thinks the new app is a steal. She could have easily paid more.  

Discovering a truck load of blue caps in Nebraska is hardly a surprise. She moved thousands of them to McCook when she was working for Eddie.  

A few hours later, she stops in Sioux Falls and rents another room. After eating dinner at a barbecue joint, she goes back to the hotel, watches a movie, and turns in early.  

The next day, she makes it to Rapid City by early afternoon, and she stops at a rest area on the outskirts of town. Before she does anything, she wants to talk to D’Angelo. It’ll be good to hear his voice, and she keys in his number. He picks up after one ring, unusual for Brian, it’s not his style. Sometimes he doesn’t pick up at all.    

Codi immediately senses something’s wrong. It sounds like Brian’s voice, but he’s stiffer than usual, more mechanical sounding, and the first thing he says to her is, “Give me your current location, Codi.”  

She pulls the phone away from her ear, looks at the screen, and sees a new notification: An android has been detected on your call. She taps the notification and reads the full message: Caution, you’re connected to a malicious android. Positive identification, Robotamaton killer thug, Andy Smith model.  

She throws the phone down on the pavement hard. It breaks into two pieces, and she finishes smashing it with her boot heel. She’s back on her bike in a heartbeat, and once she clears the rest area, she finds an antigrav pathway into the ether.  

Where to now? If she can sell the arcadia, she’ll have enough money to disappear for a while, but it needs to be someone she can trust. She comes up with a plan in less than a minute—she’ll ride to L.A. and find Lacey. She locks in the destination on her auto navigation program and opens the throttle.  

The bike’s batteries are below 30%, so she’ll have to stop somewhere and recharge them. She checks her itinerary and sees that Rawlins, Wyoming is along the way. From there, a full charge should be enough to make it to the coast. 

The auto-nav route takes her out across the Black Hills and before she knows it, a restricted airspace warning appears on the bike’s touchscreen. Because she’s approaching Mount Rushmore. She passes within a hundred yards of the prominent granite edifice with the bike wide open at 175. The massive sculpture’s eight eyes seem to follow her as she zips past.   

Codi feels better in no time, and the blues are melting away. To hell with Rapid City, she’s headed home now, making a beeline for L.A. 

 

*** 

 

High in the Sierra Madre, at Chihuahua base camp, Chip’s showing Olivia the architectural animations he’s been working on. He’s designed a convention center and residential village for downtown Nogales, and a major expansion for Pancho Villa International Airport. They’re drinking coffee and eating Mía’s famous Culiacán style breakfast burritos as they look over the plans. 

It’s an interactive display on the Feature Screen. He manipulates the graphics like the viewer is flying overhead, then he zooms in, goes around individual buildings, and deconstructs them to show what the interiors look like. He’s lightning fast, peeling away the various components of the structures, and then putting them back together again in no time. 

“We can save a lot of money on construction costs by duplicating materials with my matter materializer,” says Chip. 

“But we’ll use real people for the labor, right?”  

“Of course. With the money we save on materials, we can afford to pay the workers top wages.” 

“That’ll be so good for the city, Chip. Give the people good jobs instead of using blue caps. I can’t wait to show your plans to Father Felipe.” 

Rodolfo walks into the great room and he’s immediately captivated by Chip’s architectural display on the huge screen. “That’s what you have planned for Nogales?”   

“Just the beginning. We’re going to turn Nogales into a vibrant international business and tourism destination.”  

“Have a burrito, Rodolfo,” says Olivia. “Mía made plenty.” 

Gracias, Mrs. McLane.” He selects one of the burritos and cradles it in a paper napkin as he takes a bite. 

“You can call me Olivia, Rodolfo.”  

When Oswaldo was alive, he always addressed her as Mrs. Contreras. Oswaldo insisted on it, but now that she’s married to Chip, it’s a more informal atmosphere.  

“I need you to drive down to Los Mochis and pick up a few things,” says Chip. “I made a list.” He hands a sheet of paper to Rodolfo.  

“That’s a lot of stuff.” He raises his eyebrows and scratches his head as he reads through it. “I could use some help around here, Chip. With Eddie and Benito in Nogales and everything.”  

“Yeah, I know it, but it’s not like I can post a help wanted ad or anything like that. Never know who might show up. It would be bad for security.” 

“What if I run into someone in Los Mochis? Somebody who seems okay?”  

“Do you have someone in mind?”  

“Not just yet. But if I went in the Blue Room and asked around, I might find someone.”  

“Okay. But don’t say too much about the hideout and let me know before you hire anyone… You need some money?” 

“Sí.” 

Chip reaches into a cash box on his desk and hands Rodolfo a stack of peso notes without counting it. Rodolfo’s eyes light up and he grins as he counts it. 

“Is that enough?” 

“That’s plenty, Chip. Gracias.” 

Rodolfo sets out for Los Mochis solo. He stops at the gate to unlock it, and then pulls forward and gets out to relock it again. When he climbs back in the pickup, he tunes the radio to a Hermosillo banda music station and turns the volume up when a familiar narcocorrido comes on. He knows the words to the melodramatic ballad and sings along.  

He drives with the window down—the mountain air is muy refreshing. The truck kicks up a cloud of dust as he traverses the forested plateau, and soon he’s negotiating the steep switchbacks that will take him down into the Rio Fuerte Valley. The view of the river valley and ocean beyond is spectacular. 

The summer mornings are still cool in the high country, but by the time he reaches the coast, it’s blazing hot. Bone-dry too—the monsoon season is still a month off. 

He’s dressed for the heat, in light colored clothes with shorts and a wide brimmed straw hat. He goes from store-to-store running errands for Chip, and by the time he’s done with the list, he’s muy thirsty and ready for a cold cerveza.  

He stops at El Club Urano and goes inside. First time in a while, because Benito, he doesn’t like El Urano, but going in the masculino strip club, it’s no big thing for Rodolfo. He didn’t mention it to Chip and Olivia, because he didn’t know how they’d react, so he mentioned the Blue Room instead, and he’ll stop there later too.  

The pole dancer is a slim young man wearing nothing but a G-string. Good looking muchacho and Rodolfo sits down at the bar and orders a beer. The place is dead. He’ll never find anyone looking for work because there’s no one to ask beyond a handful of gay ancianos who can’t take their eyes off the young hardbody dancer. He finishes his beer, and before he goes, he motions for the dancer to come closer, and he stuffs a 20-pesos note under his G-string before he heads out the door.  

La Cuarto Azul—the Blue Room—is crowded as usual. Rodolfo and Benito have stopped there many times in the past, and no matter what time of day, it’s always packed. He pays the cover at the door and goes in. A pair of topless chicas on two separate poles perform on an elevated platform above the long wraparound bar.  

As he walks up, he scans the drinkers and immediately recognizes two old friends from Tijuana.  

“Dante, Hernando. I haven’t seen you guys in ages.” He shakes hands with both and squeezes in next to Dante as he sits down on an empty barstool.  

“So, what brings you to Los Mochis, Rodolfo?” says Dante. 

 “It’s a long story. I’ve been living in the mountains east of here for almost a year now.” He catches the bartender’s attention and motions for him to bring another pitcher of draft beer. 

“We heard El Culto al Lobo was wiped out by the andys, and we thought maybe they killed you and Benito too.” 

“No, Benito and I were up at the lodge when the ambush went down.” 

“Glad you made it. Things in Tijuana turned strange after the andys took over the plaza. They did something to the cell phone network and fuck with you when you try to make calls. Hernando and I were working at the Gao Motors assembly factory, but they switched to blue caps and let us all go.” 

“Sí,” says Hernando. “That’s when we decided to leave town.”  

“So, you’re looking for work down here now?”  

“Sí,” says Dante and Hernando nods in agreement. “Finding work in TJ is too difficult. Everything’s become automated.” 

“Good timing, because we’re looking for help up at the lodge.”  

“What do you mean by ‘up at the lodge?’” says Dante.  

Rodolfo looks around and then leans in close with his voice lowered. “It’s a hideout up in the mountains, just over the Chihuahua line. Contreras took us up there after the Andy Smith Revolt, and his wife married his IT man after he died in the ambush in Torreón.”  

“What kind of help do you need?”  

“All kinds of stuff. You need to talk to Chip.”  

“Who’s Chip?”  

“Oswaldo’s IT man, a computer genius.” 

“How do we talk to him?” 

“You guys have wheels?”  

“Sí.” 

“Okay, then follow me up there and I’ll introduce you.” 

 

*** 

 

The interview lasts all of sixty seconds and Chip hires both men on the spot. The first thing he thinks when he’s talking to them is Dante would make a better cloning subject than Benito, he seems brighter, but he’ll keep it to himself for now. He doesn’t want to scare them off because he really needs the extra help.  

Rodolfo takes the new recruits out to show them around and Chip settles in at his workstation in front of the Feature Screen. He’s about to bring the architectural animations back up when he receives an automated alert from Nogales. His eastside drones have spotted a convoy of Winston February’s andys moving in on the city. An army of full-sized SUVs and military transport trucks, more than likely from Juarez.  

Using the cameras on the drones, he zooms in on the convoy and opens multiple windows on his screen. The vehicles are pulling into a mammoth parking lot that surrounds a shopping mall. KTs are driving the SUVs and trucks, and when they stop, scores of UGR military grade andys pour out of the vehicles. The human shoppers run for their lives.  

Chip engages the andys with the drones but there’s only three of them in the vicinity, the rest are spread out in a wide circle around the city. He starts picking off andys with the airborne Annihilators. He directs twenty more of his drones to fly in from nearby locations, firing up their mini-jet engines. It’ll take a couple of minutes for the reinforcements to reach the mall.  

He goes on the horn to Eddie. “We’re under attack. There’s a convoy of malicious andys moving in on the Rosarito Mall.” 

Eddie’s outside, in an open area in front of the mansion. He’s watching Heather lead the Benito Clones through their marching drills. “Roger, Chip. I’m on my way to the Feature Screen.”  

It’s the twelve-foot-tall deluxe model that Chip left behind in the compound’s custom auditorium. Eddie hurries in and turns on the computer that controls the screen. Chip links him in.  

“I see what you mean, Chip. Looks like they’re using their military grade generic andys.” 

“Yup, and there’s quite a few of them too.” Chip’s drone reinforcements are zooming in above the parking lot now, and they join the others in picking off the enemy andys with their airborne Annihilators. The UGRs’ reaction time with the laser weapons is similar to the KTs—a few seconds behind the fast-moving drones and it appears Chip has the advantage. He uses his custom touchscreen to skillfully gain the upper hand, but there’s a mob of them to deactivate. 

Eddie watches closely on his own screen at the compound. “The ones you’re not engaging are moving into the mall now.” He can see the KTs and UGRs running into the expansive buildings to take cover. Every now and then he sees another shopper running for his or her life on the other side. “It looks like their plan. To take the mall so they can hide from our air attack.” 

“I have more drones moving in from other locations.”  

“I’d be careful, Chip; they might try to out flank us in another part of the city.”  

“Ten-four. I’m still watching at the various locations.” 

“I’ll ride over to the mall with the Benito Clones. If I can open up the front of the building, can you fly a few drones inside?”  

“Absolutely. It’ll surprise them, because they won’t be expecting it.” 

Eddie alerts the clones to prepare for battle. They have five minutes to suit up and assemble in front of the compound. He has forty of them now, and soon they’re flying towards the mall on their levitation cycles with Eddie, Heather, and Benito Number One in the lead. A small army, and as they approach the massive parking lot, Chip’s drones give them cover from the air.  

The enemy andys have moved inside the mall, and Eddie lands his troops at the outer edge of the asphalt parking area, next to a line of palm trees. The buildings have no windows, typical of shopping malls, but there’s a huge glass entryway. 

Eddie brought a portable RPG rocket launcher along with him. He shoulders it and fires one of the missiles at the entryway. The explosion creates a sizeable hole in the building as the glass and metal framework come crashing down. He fires an additional missile to clear away hanging debris.  

Now Chip has a big enough portal to fly a drone through, and Eddie and his troops watch intently as he begins the air assault. One after another, he flies drone after drone through the gaping hole.  

Before long, Chip’s back on the radio to Eddie. “Good work with the RPGs. I’m securing the promenade with no problem, but the remaining andys are moving into the various stores to hide from my Annihilators.”  

“I’ll send in the clones.”  

All forty of them burst through the destroyed entryway with cover from the drones while Eddie, Heather, and Benito Number One watch from the command post. A devastating firefight ensues inside the mall. The Benito Clones take heavy losses but manage to deactivate every last one of the enemy andys. It takes a couple of hours, and by the time the battle’s over, they’ve lost another twenty-eight clones.  

Back at the compound, Eddie goes on the Feature Screen and has a face-to-face strategy conference with Chip. “We need to beef up our forces if we’re going to hold Nogales.”  

“I’ll start cranking out more drones right away. You think another hundred will be enough?”  

“Make it two hundred, and I’ll need at least another fifty clones.”  

“By the way, Eddie, Rodolfo found a couple of new men in Los Mochis.”  

“You think they’re trustworthy?”  

“Yeah, Rodolfo knows them from Tijuana. They’re old friends, Benito knows them too. Dante Jimenez and Hernando Montoya.”  

“That’s good news. We need the extra help.” 

“Yeah, Rodolfo’s been swamped with work. I’m thinking about using Dante as a new cloning subject. Nothing against Benito, but Dante’s a lot brighter, and he has an associate degree from a community college in TJ.”  

“Physically fit?”  

“Yup, he’s in good shape. I’m going to run it by him. See how he’d feel about being cloned.” 

Chip puts the design work on the back burner and cranks up his matter materializer machine instead. He starts by duplicating hundreds of drones and Annihilator weapons. There’s not enough room in the barn to store all the additional equipment, so he flies the drones off to Nogales as quickly as he produces them. Next, he goes to work making scores of new levitation cycles.  

He has a talk with Dante about becoming the new cloning subject and the new man is all for it. He says, “Sure, why not,” and Chip goes to work producing multiple Dante Clones. He’s pleased with the results because there’s no doubt about it, the new clones are much brighter.  

Benito Number One is wondering why Eddie hasn’t sent him back to Chihuahua to make more Benito Clones. Instead, he puts him in charge of cleaning up the bodies and debris at the Rosarito Mall. It’s a nasty job and he recruits a crew of locals to help. First, they haul all the dead clones to a mortuary where they’re cremated. Next, they collect all the weapons, the Annihilators and lasers, and take them back to Oswaldo’s place. After that, they haul the deactivated KTs and UGRs to an industrial incinerator.  

When they return to the compound, Eddie thanks the local laborers and pays them all in cash. He writes down their names and numbers and promises them good paying jobs when the construction work starts on Chip and Olivia’s new convention center.  

The laborers drive off, and Benito takes a break with Eddie. They’re sitting in the shade drinking iced tea, watching Heather lead the remaining twelve Benito Clones through their marching drills.  

Eddie hears the notification alert on his smartphone. It’s a text from Chip. The first wave of replacement clones will be arriving at the compound within minutes. They see them approaching on their levitation cycles and when they begin landing, and removing their helmets, Benito is at first speechless and then blurts out, “What in the fuck? …They look like Dante Jimenez!” 

“Oh yeah, I meant to tell you,” says Eddie, “Chip hired a new cloning subject.”  

“Dante Jimenez?” He looks heart broken.  

“Yup. Rodolfo found Dante and Hernando Montoya looking for work in Los Mochis.”  

“I know Dante well. We were both after the same chica in high school.” 

Eddie cracks a smile. “So, who got the girl?” 

Benito’s crestfallen expression turns to a scowl. “Dante.” 

Eddie’s starts laughing. “It’s nothing personal, Benito. Don’t take it so hard. Chip just wanted to try someone new… and uh, part of the reason was to take pressure off you.” He’s making it up as he goes now. 

“But what about the baseball uniforms? We just ordered another two hundred uniforms.”  

“And look, Benito, they’re wearing them. It’s still your team.”  

Eddie’s right. Heather’s taken charge of the incoming clones, and as they remove their jackets, Benito sees they’re wearing Benito Clone uniforms. (They’ve lost so many in battle, the numbers on the uniforms are up above seventy.)  

Benito feels better now. “Okay, Eddie. They make look like Dante Jimenez, but they’re still my clones.” 

 

©2022 Surreal Science Fiction

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