Illicit AI: Part Four

By William A. Lasher

Chip’s making Benito Clones on his Mobile Matter Materializer machine. They’ll make good fighters because as fast as the andys waste one, he can produce another. He’ll have an unlimited supply of men.  

He has eight empty cabins to fill following the ambush in Torreón and each one has two bunk beds. That means he’ll start with thirty-two; he doesn’t want to make too many. They’re as human as the prototype, and each one needs adequate food and lodging.  

Eddie thinks they should be careful about telling the clones too much – how dispensable they are and how easily they can be replaced. It might make them reluctant soldiers. Should they pay them? It’s probably a good idea. They’re not slaves. He thinks they should pay each one a competitive monthly salary and Chip says why not. They have plenty of cash. 

Though they all look the same, each one has a unique brain, and they don’t know that much about the world they’ve been hatched into. They have reasonable vocabularies and can read and write, but they know little about current events or social norms. 

Every clone’s physique is a carbon copy of the real Benito Luna and Chip wants to find an easy way to tell them apart. He’s talking about it with Benito and Rodolfo, and Benito comes up with an idea.  

“There’s a place in Los Mochis that sells custom baseball uniforms. We could give every one of them a numbered baseball shirt and hat.” 

“Good idea, Benito. Why don’t you and Rodolfo drive down there and see if you can order uniforms for the clones.”  

“Sure thing, Chip, but how should we pay?”  

Chip opens a cabinet and pulls out a cash box. He hands Benito a stack of American one-hundred-dollar bills. “Is that enough?” 

Benito’s eyes light up as he counts the cash. “Sí, that’s plenty, but they might want pesos.  

Chip pulls another box out of the cabinet, opens it, and hands him a stack of Mexican one-hundred-peso notes. Benito tries to give him back the American money, but Chip shakes his head. “Hold on to it for spending money.” 

Gracias, Chip.” He grins at Rodolfo as he stuffs the dollars in one pocket and the pesos in another. 

“Money’s not an issue,” says Chip as he puts the cash boxes away. “If you need more, just ask.” 

They take Rodolfo’s pickup, with Benito riding shotgun. There’s no one left to guard the gate ever since the ambush in Torreón, so Rodolfo stops the truck and Benito gets out to unlock it. It’s another thirty-five miles to the main highway, on a narrow dirt road.  

The gangsters travel across a high mountain plateau that’s studded with outcroppings of volcanic rock. It’s heavily forested with Apache pine and Mexican Douglas-fir. They see deer feeding in occasional open meadows blanketed with colorful wildflowers.  Twenty miles into the drive, they cross into Sinaloa and the plateau gives way to steep descending slopes and deep canyons.  

They wind their way down out of the high country through a long series of switchbacks, and the heavy forest turns to bunch grass and scrub oak. When they reach the highway, they wave as they pass two local cops sitting in a black and white on the shoulder. The cops wave back at them enthusiastically – they’re happy because Chip increased their weekly pay-off after Oswaldo was wasted. 

On a paved highway now, they continue their descent. The road follows the route of El Chepe, the Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad, in the Rio Fuerte Valley. Finally, they reach the coastal plain, where it’s a bone-dry desert at sea-level. May is the driest month of the year in Los Mochis, and the only significant rainfall comes later in the summer.  

The downtown streets are lined with palm trees, and they can smell the ocean a few blocks away. It’s sweltering hot in the midday sun, and they’re dressed for cooler mountain weather, in flannel shirts and lace-up boots. They find the athletic supply store. Rodolfo locates a parking spot, and they go inside. 

An amiable clerk stands behind a glass display counter. The shop is loaded with sports equipment and paraphernalia. Benito walks up to the counter while Rodolfo stops dead in his tracks to look over an athletic underwear display – fascinated by the buffed-up polyethylene mannequin, he reaches out and snaps its spandex jockstrap. He likes what he sees. 

“How may I help you gentleman today?” says the clerk in Spanish. 

“We want to order uniforms for our baseball team,” replies Benito. 

“I can help you with that.” He opens an order form on his computer. “What’s the name of your baseball team?” 

“The Benito Clones.”  

“That’s an interesting name,” he says as he taps it out on his keyboard. “Do you want each player’s name to appear on his uniform? I’m assuming it’s a men’s team.” 

“Yeah, it’s a men’s team, but we don’t need names, just numbers.” 

“So, you want the team’s name, Benito Clones, and then each player’s number on their uniform?” 

“Not plural, singular. Benito Clone and then the clone’s number… On their hats and their shirts. We’ll supply the pants.”  

“Do you have sizes for each of the players?” 

“Every clone is the same size as me – large, and I want my uniform to say, Benito Number One.”  

“You’re the coach?”  

“Yeah, I guess you could say that. Just use a plain numeral on the rest of them, you don’t have to write it out. Benito Clone 2, Benito Clone 3, and so forth.” 

“And how many sets of hats and shirts do you require?”  

“Let’s start with fifty. We may need more in the future.”  

The clerk raises his eyebrows. “I can process that right away, sir. And how will you be paying today?”  

“You take cash?”  

“Of course we take cash.” He smiles. “Give me a few days and we’ll have your first fifty sets ready to go.” 

“And a package of these jockstraps too,” says Rodolfo as he saunters up to the counter with an assortment pack of the athletic underwear he’d been admiring. 

“Certainly, sir.” 

On the way out of town, they pass by a notorious Los Mochis strip club that’s a bit different than the rest. The neon sign out front says El Club Urano, and what makes the place unique, is instead of scantily clad chicas, the dancers are young men.  

Rodolfo slows down and surveys the half-empty parking lot. “Hey Benito, you want to go see what’s shaking at El Urano?”  

Benito says no. “I don’t even wanna be seen in that place. Forget it.”  

“What’s wrong with El Urano? It’s never crowded, and the beer is muy cheap.”  

“Hey Rodolfo, we have plenty of money to spend.” He pulls out the wad of pesos Chip gave him earlier and holds it up for his pal to see. “Let’s go to the Blue Room instead.” 

Rodolfo feigns disappointment and keeps driving. 

They pass by a row of shops and a fuel station and come to another bar. The neon sign says La Cuarto Azul and the parking lot is packed. Rodolfo pulls in and finds a place to park. They go to the door, and after the bouncer checks their IDs, he charges each one of them a hefty cover. 

Inside, there’s a dance stage with a wraparound bar. It’s dimly lit and has a bass heavy sound system turned up loud. Unlike El Urano, the Blue Room is a traditional strip club, the dancers are young women.  

The place is packed with rowdy drinkers. A handful of the customers are female, but the lion’s share are men. Mixed drinks are ridiculously expensive. 

They spend a couple of hours in the club, drinking beer and stuffing 20-pesos notes in the dancers’ g-strings. Before they leave, Benito gets a private table dance from a slinky young chica named Gabriella. The dancer asks Rodolfo if he wants one too, and Rodolfo yawns and checks his watch. “Maybe next time.”  

They head back up the two-lane blacktop that parallels the Rio Fuerte and El Chepe. The sun is setting when they reach the turn-off and this time, they pass two cop cars pulled over on the shoulder. After exchanging friendly waves with the policía yet again, they take off up the dirt road in the potent orange glow of a Sierra Madre sunset. 

Benito is falling asleep in the passenger seat. They’re halfway up the switchbacks, and it’s dark now. Rodolfo sees a mountain lion crossing the road. The big cat’s eyes flash in his high beams. 

“Whoa, did you see that, Benito?”  

“See what?”  

“Mountain lion in the road.” 

“I was almost asleep.”  

He looks like he’s about ready to nod off again, so Rodolfo starts a conversation to keep him awake. “You’re a key player in the organization now, Benito. With Chip cranking out the clones and everything… Well, what’s left of the organization anyway.” 

“Sí,” he says yawning. “Benito Number One.” He gives Rodolfo a playful punch on the shoulder and smiles. “Stick with me, buddy, and I’ll make big things happen for you to.” 

“I was kinda worried that Chip might expect too much out of us, after Oswaldo and the rest of them were killed. Because me and you are it. All that’s left of the original gang.” 

“Nothing to worry about, Rodolfo. We have the Benito Clones now, and they’ll do the dirty work for us.”  

“And Eddie Dominguez too. We have Eddie and his ultimate companion.”  

“Heather, she’s a hot looking chica, eh Rodolfo?”  

Rodolfo shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, for an andy I guess she’s not too bad.” 

“I was wondering if she’s built for sex, but I asked Chip and he said no.  

“No shit? I thought Eddie was banging her for sure.”  

“Nope. Tenth-degree black belt in Taekwondo, but she has no coñito.” 

Rodolfo is quiet for a couple of minutes, and then he decides to change the subject. “So, maybe someday we’ll make it back to Tijuana.” He glances over at Benito, but his best buddy is fast asleep now on the other side of the truck.  

 

*** 

 

Chip’s growing accustomed to married life with Olivia. He moves out of his cabin and into the expansive lodge, setting up his Feature Screen in the great room. Olivia thinks the trophy mounts are offensive, so Benito and Rodolfo take them down and move them over to their cabin, where they find places to hang them on the walls. 

The numbered uniforms arrive within a few days, and Eddie puts together a basic training regime for the clones. He teaches them how to march in the big parking lot in front of the lodge and discovers they’re most responsive to military discipline with Heather as their drill sergeant. The faux nineteen-year-old blonde leads them through grueling calisthenics and long trail runs through the forest. She has boundless endurance and always wears a smile.  

Eddie’s sitting next to Olivia on a sofa in the great room. Chip’s hard at work on his computer, and Eddie and Olivia are watching Heather and the clones through a window. They’re marching around the perimeter of the parking lot reciting drill cadences in unison: 

 

I don’t know, but I’ve been told.  

Benito Clones have no soul. 

Eat my chow and comb my hair. 

Benito Clones are everywhere. 

Sound off, one, two. 

Sound off, three, four. 

 

“The clones really go for Heather,” says Olivia.  

“Yep,” replies Eddie. “She has ‘em eating out of the palm of her hand.” 

Benito Number One appears, walking across the far end of the parking lot. He holds his head high with a haughty air about him as he struts across the macadam. The clones all turn to salute without missing a beat in their marching drill. Benito returns their salutes and continues walking towards the cabins sporting a wicked grin. 

Manzanillo is a busy seaport in Jalisco state, a few hundred miles down the coast from Los Mochis. The blue caps and KTs are manufactured by Robotamaton in Karachi, and they arrive in Manzanillo in steel cargo containers. Chip’s successfully hacked into the shipping company’s computer system and sent one of his compact surveillance drones to spy on them. He streams live video from the seaport on his Feature Screen when the drone arrives.  

“I’ve located the ship that’s bringing the latest load of andys from Karachi.” The drone flys high above the harbor and Chip zooms in on his target, the Tropical Star, a mammoth container ship registered in Hong Kong. Steel cargo containers are stacked high on its main deck.  

“Your cyber reconnaissance abilities never cease to amaze me,” says Eddie.  

He shrugs his shoulders. “Hacking the shipping company’s computer network was easy. I could have pulled it off when I was in high school.”  

“How many of the containers are from Robotamaton?”  

“Seven. Three of them are bound for South America, they’ll be transferred to another ship and wind up at the port of Buenaventura in Colombia. It appears that the remaining four are scheduled to be loaded on conventional semi-trucks bound for Nogales.” 

“Blue caps?”  

“That’d be my guess, but the only information available on the site says the contents were ordered by February’s corporation.” 

“That’s all we need to know. We can hit the trucks in the hills north of Los Mochis.”  

Eddie’s plan is to disrupt February’s supply chain by attacking the trucks as they move the cargo containers up Highway 15. It’ll give them a way to test their equipment and strategies close to home, before they make their move on Nogales.  

On his way out of the lodge, Eddie passes Rodolfo who’s on his way in. “Hey, Rodolfo.” 

“What’s up, Eddie.” 

Rodolfo silently ducks into the great room. He stands near the back with his ball cap in his hand and a sheepish expression on his face. Chip’s alone now, Olivia’s gone off to watch television in another room. He’s aware of Rodolfo’s presence but continues to work on his computer. After a couple of minutes, he turns in his seat to address him. “Hi Rodolfo; how’s it going.”  

“Okay.” He takes a few steps forward. “I have something I want to ask you about, Chip.” 

“Fire away.” 

“Is there anything else you need to get done around here? Like, uh, can I do some type of work besides being part of Eddie’s hit team?”  

“You’re not chickening out, are you Rodolfo?”  

He moves in closer and summons a bit of courage to speak his mind. “The clones are good for Benito, they’ve made him a big man around here, Benito Number One. But for me, not so much. I’m just another face in the crowd, and it makes me feel like I’m at the same level as the clones… and maybe I am a little chicken too, I admit it. No way I want to get wasted by one of those laser weapons.”  

Chip cocks his head to one side as he pauses to collect his thoughts. He can sense how anxious Rodolfo is and he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. He certainly doesn’t want to lose him. “You’ve been part of El Culto al Lobo for a while, haven’t you? 

“Sí, four years now.”  

“And you and Benito and Carlitos were the only ones to make it out alive when the andys took over in Tijuana.”  

“That’s right, Chip. Me and Benito, we snuck Carlitos out of the compound by jumping across the rooftops.” 

Chip sits back in his chair, folds his hands behind his head and smiles. “How’d you like to be my personal assistant?”  

“Your personal assistant?” He brightens up. “Like I can stay here and work for you when Eddie and Benito take the clones into battle?”  

“If you don’t mind doing a few menial jobs like clean up and stuff. There’s maintenance work around the lodge to do too. Plumbing and carpentry, things like that. I’ll make you my right-hand man. You’ve been good at running errands for me in the past.” 

Rodolfo’s anxiety melts away fast. He’s as happy as a bird with a new song. “Gracias, Chip. I’ll be the best right-hand man you ever had.”  

Chip feels good about giving Rodolfo a break, and he brings the subject up with Olivia later. “What do you think Oswaldo’s reaction would have been?”  

“Rodolfo would have never asked Oswaldo.”  

“You think he would have said no?”  

“He would have laughed at him. Called him a panocha and told him to get out of his sight.”  

“Do you think I was right to give him a break?”  

“I think so, Chip, but Mexican men are different than you. They’re much more macho and hide their true feelings because they’re afraid of showing weakness.” 

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that, but Rodolfo seems a bit unusual.” 

“It’ll be good to have him around doing chores. It’ll make life easier on Mía. I’ll have him start by vacuuming and dusting in here if it’s okay with you.” 

“That’ll be fine. Anything you want.” 

Rodolfo’s back at the cabin. Benito’s wearing his new Benito Number One baseball cap, admiring himself in the mirror. Rodolfo’s reluctant to tell him about his new job at first, but finally, he lets the cat out of the bag. Benito is appalled. “You’re going to stay here and be Chip’s servant while the rest of us fight February’s andys?” 

“The rest of us? I’m not one of your clones, Benito.” 

“I never said you were. Eddie was ready to give you an important man’s job like squad leader or something, but now you want to hang around the lodge and be Chip’s little puta?” Why don’t you ask Mía if you can borrow one of her skirts?”  

“Hey, fuck you too, Benito. You think you’re really something now with thirty-two clones that look just like you, but it don’t make you nuthin’.”  

Rodolfo storms out of the cabin and slams the door hard enough to rattle the windowpanes. Benito wears an expression of mock disgust as he watches his friend walk off towards the lodge, but when he’s out of sight, he bursts out laughing. Benito, he really knows how to push Rodolfo’s buttons. 

 

*** 

 

Four semis are making their way up the Pacific coast on Highway 15, and Chip’s bird dogging their progress with a surveillance drone. Every truck is towing a flatbed trailer, and there’s a large sized steel cargo container on each one of them. When the trucks are within fifty miles of Los Mochis, he sends Rodolfo over to the barn to alert Eddie.  

Taking out the trucks won’t require all thirty-two of the clones, but Eddie wants to bring them along anyway. It’ll be a good way to break them in, he thinks. He’ll have them circle overhead at a higher altitude while a smaller contingent goes after the cargo trucks. He should be able to disable the convoy with just Heather and Benito, and at the most, maybe three or four of the clones, but if the need arises, he’ll be able to call on more.  

Eddie’s not sure about the clones. He’s a retired military officer, and his experience in undercover espionage taught him to prepare for any eventuality. They’ve been shaping up fine in the drills, but it’s hard to predict how they’ll handle a live fire battle situation.  

Every levitation cycle is equipped with an Annihilator weapon. Its barrel projects forward and protrudes a few inches past the front of the bike. The weapon is controlled by an automated targeting system and can lock in on any enemy object that’s within a 180° radius of the direction the cycle is traveling in. If the driver can see it, he can hit it with a blast of high voltage electricity, the vehicle doesn’t need to be pointed directly at it, because the Annihilator barrel has an oscillating delivery contact. 

With batteries fully charged, they take off into the ether one by one, using the parking lot outside the lodge as a runway. They fall into an antigrav formation over the forested plateau and make a beeline for the Rio Fuerte Valley. Eddie and Heather are in the lead, followed by Benito Number One, and then all thirty-two of the Benito Clones. Thirty-five levitation cycles in all, and they’re accompanied by a trio of jet powered surveillance drones.  

Chip’s watching their progress on his enormous Feature Screen. He opens multiple windows to watch the stream from each one of his drones, including the one eavesdropping on the convoy. He opens a radio connection to Eddie. “There’s something conspicuous I’ve been noticing about the cargo convoy.” 

“You’re coming in loud and clear, Chip. What’s up?”  

“One of the trucks has been hanging back from the other three. The driver’s keeping his distance, up to five or ten miles.”  

“Are the drivers human or andy?”  

“I zoomed in on a couple of them, and I think they’re andys. Two in each cab and they’re dressed like Scottsdale office executives on their way to play golf.” 

“Andy Smith model killer thugs.”  

“Yup, I would assume they’re artificials, and if they are, it’s likely they’re armed with laser weapons.”  

“We need to avoid getting innocent bystanders hurt in the operation, that’s why I chose the hills north of town. The trucks will be geared down in the right-hand lane as they climb the grade, and there’s a passing lane. The traffic is usually light through there too.”  

“Should I alert the police?” 

“Wait until the shooting starts and then call Enriquez, but don’t tell him too much. If they want to shut the highway down, it’s up to them.” 

There’s an abrupt drop-off at the edge of the plateau, and as the formation passes over it, a spectacular view of the arid coastline and the ocean beyond. They cross the Rio Fuerte and El Chepe, and before long, they’re over Highway 15 as it winds its way through a patchwork of tawny desert hills north of Los Mochis.  

Chip can open a universal radio connection to all the cycles, and Eddie asks him to send a group message to the clones. He went over it with them on the ground, but he wants to make sure they understand – maintain your altitude and keep your flight path from interfering with others. The levitation cycles have a hover function but remaining stationary uses three times as much juice. The clones need to be accustomed to conserving their battery power.  

Eddie and Heather take Benito Number One and two of the clones, and they dive down towards the highway on their cycles. The timing is perfect, Eddie can see the three trucks in the lead gearing down and climbing the grade, but as Chip had warned, the fourth truck is nowhere in sight. Eddie swoops in close and hits the lead truck’s engine compartment with an Annihilator blast. The high voltage current fries the vehicle’s electrical system and immediately disables it.  

The driver pulls the truck over to the shoulder side of the highway as it slows, and then leaps out the door after it comes to a complete stop. It’s a KT with a laser weapon, and before the artificial can calibrate its device, Heather soars in on her cycle and nails it with an Annihilator blast. The deactivated KT crumples and falls to the ground. The passenger door flies open, and as quickly as the second andy steps out on the running board, Heather fries its circuits with an additional bolt of raw electricity.  

There’s confusion among the clones circling above them. Distracted by the spectacular view, some of them aren’t paying attention to their flight paths and before long, there’s a stunning mid-air collision between two of the bikes. They plummet to the ground and both clones die on impact.  

Back at the lodge, Olivia walks into the great room. “Did I miss anything?”  

“We just lost two clones in a mid-air crash,” says Chip. “Beyond that, it looks like Eddie has everything under control.” 

A silent Rodolfo sits close to the Feature Screen in a hardback chair, he has a ringside seat. He takes a drink of Coca-cola, then turns and nods at Chip, a sly smile forming at the corner of his mouth.  

The confrontation continues to unfold as the drivers in the second and third trucks see what’s taking place and pull their rigs over to the shoulder. The occupants in both jump out and look to the sky. They can see their fast-moving adversaries, but before they can calibrate their weapons, Eddie and Heather pick them off with Annihilator blasts.  

Eddie’s on the horn to Chip: “What’s the status on the fourth truck?”  

“They must have been in contact with the others, because the driver just pulled off into a vacant lot north of town.” 

“Did you call Enriquez?”  

“Yup. I told him we encountered malicious andys on the highway, and they’re setting up roadblocks. One on the northside of Los Mochis and another on the other side of the hills.” 

“A few cars came by, but all of them kept moving.” 

High above the ground, another mid-air crash occurs between two of the clones and they both plummet to their deaths. 

“Eddie, there’s been another clone collision.”  

“Yeah, I saw them coming down. I assumed the clones could handle the levitation cycles, but it looks like I was wrong.” 

“What do you want to do?”  

“Call them back in. All of them except 5 and 17. Tell them to return to home base and exercise caution on the way.” 

“Roger that, Eddie.” 

He watches from the lower altitude as the clones receive Chip’s message and begin heading back towards the hideout. The remaining team members fly towards Los Mochis with Eddie and Heather in the lead. They find the fourth truck in a broad vacant lot at the bottom of the first hill. The traffic on the highway has completely stopped, meaning the local cops have successfully set up their roadblocks.  

Eddie swoops in for a closer look and sees the truck’s cab is empty and the drivers have apparently vacated the area. “I’ve located the fourth truck, but the drivers are missing.”  

“There’s an outcropping of boulders a couple hundred yards to your west.”  

“Yeah, I can see it.”  

“I followed them into the rocks with my drone but then lost them. They’re hiding in there somewhere.”  

“Okay, I’m going to order the clones to land by the truck and see what happens.” He opens a connection to Heather: “Instruct your weapons system to fire on anything that moves in the boulder field. We’ll use the clones as bait.”  

Eddie radios Benito Clones 5 and 17 and tells them to land their cycles behind the parked truck. He watches as they bring them down. Number 17 spills his over on the dirt as he contacts the surface.  

A few moments pass, and without warning, the two missing KTs pop up out of the rocks and hit both clones with neon yellow laser blasts. As quickly as the clones go down, Eddie and Heather’s computer systems lock in on the enemy fire and eliminate both KTs with Annihilator blasts. Pop! Pop! It all happens within a few seconds. The clones go down and instantaneously the KTs are hit.   

He’s back on the horn to Chip: “Both KTs are down.”  

“I saw it on the screen. Good work, Eddie.” 

“That’s it for the KTs now?”  

“I think so. You should be in the clear to check out the cargo.” 

“Ten-four.” 

“And, uh, Eddie, there’s been more trouble with the clones.”  

“What now?”  

“Five of them flew into a cliff face on the way back. Apparently, they were following faulty GPS. Two more of them collided with fir trees in the forest, and another smashed into the barn.”  

“Any survivors?”  

“Negative. All eight of them bought it.”  

Eddie lands his cycle next to the fourth truck and Heather and the real Benito come in behind him. Heather uses a portable torch to burn the locks off the cargo container, and when she’s done, Benito swings the door open. They’re expecting to find a load of blue caps but are startled to find something different – UGR military grade androids.  

“Chip, we’ve come upon something unexpected in the container.”  

“What’s up?”  

“It’s a load of sleeping andys, but they’re not blue caps. They’re dressed like soldiers, in fatigues, and carrying what appear to be laser weapons. Ask Enriquez if he can keep the highway shut down for a few hours. I’m going to leave Benito here while Heather and I check out the other trucks.”  

They ride back up the hill on the pavement, and one by one, Heather burns the locks off the other shipping containers. After swinging the heavy steel doors open, they discover that each of the remaining containers is carrying the expected cargo – sleeping blue caps.  

Eddie has Chip call Jorge Maldonado, the owner of a trucking company based in Los Mochis, and an old friend of Oswaldo’s. He says he’s awfully busy, but Chip offers to double his normal rate and they make a quick deal. He shows up at the vacant lot with four tractor trailers in less than an hour and he’s brought a crew of helpers as well.   

Maldonado looks inside the fourth container and takes a step back. “Hostia! The robots are carrying guns!”  

“They’re in sleep mode,” says Eddie. “Nothing to worry about, Jorge.  

“They can’t come to life all of a sudden?”  

“No, they have to be activated with the proper software.”  

“Okay, well let’s get this done fast before someone comes around and starts asking questions.”  

The andys are packed into the cargo containers with plastic dividers that keep them upright, and Maldonado’s crew manages to load them in the tractor trailers in the same manner, with the dividers stuck between them to keep them from falling over on each other.  By sundown, the surviving Benito Clones are helping the trucking crew unload the sleeping andys at Chihuahua base camp.  

Chip pays Maldonado and asks him to keep his mouth shut about what he’s seen – 450 sleeping blue caps and 150 sleeping UGRs, each one carrying a laser weapon. 

“No problema,” he says as he counts the stack of 500 pesos notes. “You need more contraband moved in the future, you know who to call.” 

There’s nowhere near enough room to store the andys inside the barn. It’s already loaded with levitation cycles, Annihilator weapons, and drones.  

“So, what do we do with all the robots?” says Eddie. He’s standing in the parking lot with Chip and Rodolfo, watching Maldonado’s trucks drive away. 

“I’d like to disassemble a couple of them to see how they work,” says Chip. “But there’s no need to keep the rest. We could have the clones bury them I suppose.”  

“Make sure they’re permanently deactivated first.”  

“Yup, just shoot each one in the head with an Annihilator blast and toss ‘em in the hole.” 

“But keep the laser weapons.”  

“Absolutely. I’m sure I can figure out how to fire them. It’ll level the playing field when we make our move on Nogales.” 

“How many clones did we lose?”  

“Fourteen in all, but it’s no big thing. I can make more.” 

“Looks like I should have spent more time teaching them how to man the levitation cycles. I’ll have Heather put together a driver’s education course.” 

Rodolfo speaks up: “I knew things with the Benito Clones were bound to get screwed up.”  

“How so?” says Chip. 

“I’ve known Benito since we were kids in Tijuana. He wasn’t exactly the smartest kid in school, and he don’t know how to drive for shit, either. I knew making thirty-two Benito Clones meant trouble.” 

“You think I should have made thirty-two Rodolfos instead?”  

“No way, Chip.” He smiles and shakes his head in negation. “One Rodolfo is plenty for me.” 

To be continued…

©2021 Surreal Science Fiction

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