Duplex Alpha

Midlog: A Snippet from the Special Meeting of the Duplex Alpha Boston Council

......"Defensive it may be," said a Doreena, "but it is still a weapon, a powerful one. And you're proposing to give it to a people, a significant minority of whom think it is just fine to blow up people in the name of their god." The Doreena, lips pursed, shook her head. "And where a lot of others in that population don't seem overly inclined to condemn those horrid acts."
......"And because of that," said a Nevellin, " you're willing to let another nation walk all over them, steal their land, deny their basic human rights, incarcerate them without charge, deal out collective punishment, and even kill them with impunity?"
......A Frith sighed. "I admit. It is a problem."
......"Yes," said the co-president, softly. "It is a problem."

PART I: Darwin's Twins
Two Years Earlier

Chapter 1
......As Kimberly Robins welcomed the twins and their parents into her lab, her gaze locked on the boys. They were about ten and duplicates in every way. Standing side-by-side, they moved as one, bore identical smiles, and were dressed exactly the same: formally, as if they had just come from church, with white shirts and ties and polished shoes rather than sneakers. Even their unkempt blond hair was identically unkempt. Out of the corner of her eye, Kimberly saw Rolf and Sophie, her two graduate student assistants. They were clearly trying not to gawk. And Rolf, whose black-rimmed glasses gave him the intense stare of a raccoon, seemed particularly intent on not gawking.
......"Well, here they are, Dr. Robins," said Mr. Darwin, the boys' father. "Alvin and Alwin."
......"Please. Call me Kimberly." She tried to identify the man's accent. British. From Manchester, I'd guess. "I've only just gotten my doctorate and don't wear the title easily." She noticed a hint of perfume from Mrs. Darwin and, from Mr. Darwin, a hint of cologne. or maybe another form of alcohol.
......Mr. Darwin scanned the lab. The walls, tables and chairs were, for the most part, in primary colors. Cartoon animals adorned the walls, kid books and games were scattered on the floor, and model airplanes were suspended on strings from the ceiling. Mr. Darwin gave a not overly pleasant smile. "Looks more like a playground than a laboratory."
......"We research childhood development here," said Kimberly. "We test and observe a lot of children. We want our lab to be kid-friendly."
......"There are quite a few toy airplanes here," said Mrs. Darwin, gazing at the air armada.
......"Kids like airplanes," said Kimberly. "And so do I." She chuckled. "I confess, I'm a private pilot."
......"My goodness," said Mrs. Darwin, returning her gaze to Kimberly. "Why would you want to do that?"
......"Oh, I don't know. Airplanes are the dominant transportation means of this age." Kimberly paused, considering the question. "And as a scientist in this age, I feel I should know how to fly them."
......Kimberly guided the family around the lab, introducing the grad students as they went. "My graduate assistants will actually be administering the tests."
......"And what exactly are you testing the boys for?" said Mrs. Darwin. "The boys' teacher said it would be some sort of an IQ test. Is that right? You're measuring their intelligence?"
......Kimberly nodded. "But for measuring intelligence," she said after a pause, "IQ tests are garbage."
......"Then why—"
......"It's the only garbage we have."
......Mr. Darwin gave a harsh chuckle. "You can save yourself half the trouble, then. I'm sure the boys' IQs are the same."
......"Actually, it's not really IQ were interested in." Kimberly ushered the parents and twins to a couch and a few chairs. "It's Duplex IQ."
......"Never heard of it." Mr. Darwin plopped down on the sofa.
......"It's relatively new." Kimberly sat on a chair, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, then leaned forward, facing the parents. "It tries to measure the combined IQ of two people using their intelligences together."
......"Rather like two heads are better than one," said Mrs. Darwin.
......"Sort of. But we think DIQ measures true two-headedness. It's not like a committee. It's actually something of a measure of combined intelligence. A DIQ of 1.5, for example, would mean that their collective intelligence is one and a half times their average IQ. That's a very high value. The DIQs we've measured so far range from 0.7 to just under 1.3."
......"How could it be less than one?" said Mr. Darwin in a gotcha tone of voice.
......"It would happen if people working together get in each other's way." Kimberly threw a glance at the twins. "But your boys...," she said, trying to keep her excitement under control. "We've only measured two other sets of identical twins before."
......"And not just identical," said Mrs. Darwin with a chuckle. "Their teacher said they are the most identical identical twins she'd ever seen."
......"Interesting." Kimberly, eager to get started and not finding the twins' parents themselves particularly interesting, ritually checked her watch. 9:15 am. "It'll take a few minutes to set up for the test." She looked down at the twins. "Until then.... Well, maybe we can find something fun for you boys to read.
......The twins looked away at Kimberly's desktop computer. "Can we play :::video games," said the twins, one of them saying the first three words and the other the final two. Their voices were alike: treble with a British accent.
......Completing each other's sentences. Interesting. Kimberly nodded. "Video games. Sure. Good idea." She glanced at the first twin who had spoken. "Which are you? Alvin or Alwin?" Not that it matters. I'll never be able to tell them apart.
......The twins looked at each other and simultaneously uttered some monosyllables.
......Kimberly felt her eyes widen. Full duplex twin-speak. Absolutely perfect!
......"I'll be Alvin," said the first twin.
......Short words. Like Chinese, but without the tones.
......Darwin seemed embarrassed. "I'm afraid the boys have something of a language to themselves." She looked sternly at the boys. "And they don't seem to have developed the courtesy of not speaking until the other has finished."
......"Twin language," said Kimberly. "It's called cryptophasia. Many sets of twins have their own personal languages." But most outgrow it by age three or four. "And children can multi-task. Their speaking at the same time is probably for efficiency. I wouldn't call it rudeness."
......"I see."
......Kimberly waved over one of the lab assistants, Sophie, and had her take the twins to the computer and bring up a video game: Phantom Warrior.
......"One of my specialties is language development," said Kimberly after the twins had gone. "I'm very interested in how kids speak."
......"As to which is which," said Mr. Darwin glancing away at his boys. "You can just call each or both Al. That's what I do. It's bloody hard for even me to tell them apart."
......"But if you really want to tell which is which," said Mrs. Darwin, "Alvin has a small, brown mark on the back of his left hand."
......"A birthmark," said Kimberly, lightly. "How convenient."
......"It's a tattoo," said Mr. Darwin. "But as for telling them apart, why bother?"
......Mrs. Darwin flashed her husband a look of annoyance, then said to Kimberly. "I'd wanted to dress them differently and even send them to different schools. But my husband wouldn't have it. And the boys were dead against it." She smiled. "But they do look so appealing as carbon copies of each other."
......"It's rare being twins," said Mr. Darwin. "No matter what life brings, they'll always be able to rely on each other." He glanced over at his wife. "And they'll have to. They certainly don't need us to rely on."
......Kimberly could see an old argument surfacing between the parents, and she tried to sink it. She stood. "Well, I'd better prepare for the DIQ test. And I'm sure you'd like to do some sightseeing."
......"Yes, actually we would." Mr. Darwin creaked to his feet. "This'll be our first vacation in years."
......Mrs. Darwin stood as well. "And thank you for the two nights at a motel, the rental car, and expenses.
......"When would you like us to pick up the boys?" said Mr. Darwin, abruptly.
......"We should be finished by three or four. If you'll give me your cell phone number, I'll phone you when we're about done."
......"Don't have a cell phone," said Mr. Darwin, with the sternness of an Amish elder. "We live out on a farm where there's no mobile service."
......"It's very isolated," said Mrs. Darwin with a smile, seemingly forced. "A small farm. Only the four of us with daily visits of a school bus. It's.... It's been very hard."
......"I understand." Kimberly guided the parents toward the door. "Let's say four o'clock, then." She opened the door for them.
......"How about six?" said Mr. Darwin. "Gives us more time to see the city."
......"What? Sure. Fine." Kimberly chuckled to cover her awkwardness. The father didn't seem overly interested in his kids at the moment. "And not to worry. We'll feed them as well as test them."
......"I'm sure," said Mrs. Darwin, "that the boys will provide you with useful information."
......Kimberly glanced over at the twins. "Inshallah," she said softly into the air.
......"What?" said Mr. Darwin.
......"Oh, sorry." Kimberly returned her gaze to Mr. Darwin. "It means if Allah wills it Rolf, my grad student uses it more as a stronger form of hopefully. I've picked up the phrase from him." Odd, now that I think of it, as I don't believe in Allah. Nor does Rolf for that matter.
......"Is he an Arab?" said Mr. Darwin in a voice strongly suggesting he didn't like Arabs.
......"What? No. His mother is a Palestinian." Kimberly forced a smile to cover her annoyance at having to defend Rolf's ancestry.
......Mrs. Darwin seemed about to say something, but didn't.
......"I see," said Mr. Darwin. He turned and left.
......Mrs. Darwin followed.

Chapter 2
......Filtered through his noise-canceling earphones, the thrum of the engine resembled the low growl of a predator. But unlike in previous missions, Elliott Bax didn't thrill to the hunt. Instead, he felt—he searched for the word—sleazy.
......Bax glanced to his side, to Victor piloting the Cirrus SR22. The man grasped the steering-yoke white-knuckle hard, as if he were strangling snakes.
......"What's the matter?" said Bax, his voice sounding flat in the earphones.
......"Why me?"
......"You were available," said Bax, tersely, the engine noise discouraging chattiness.
......Victor gave an all but imperceptible nod, then yanked the yoke to direct the aircraft toward the beacon from KBED, Hanscom Field, Boston.
......Bax felt his shoulder strap press hard on his chest. "Victor! What the hell's the matter?"
......"Come on. Out with it."
......"Snuffing terrorists? Fine!" Victor blew out a breath, sounding like a storm through the earphones. "But I don't especially like the idea of kidnapping kids."
......Bax didn't immediately respond and, into the relative silence, Victor continued. "With all the stuff going on in the world, Islamo and Judeoterrorism, piracy, Iran Poland and North Korea going nuclear, we—"
......"It's not kidnapping," Bax asserted, having finally managed to frame an answer. "It's taking illegal aliens into custody and...delivering them into foster care."
......"With you and your wife," said Victor with a hint of an insubordinate snigger, "if I understand correctly." He busied himself with the instrument panel. "Rank does have its privilege, Commander Bax," he added under his breath.
......"Careful," said Bax in a growling voice, suggesting that Victor had better shut up for his own good. He saw Victor wince and pointedly fiddle with the instruments.
......But Bax took the point. Victor clearly knew about his wife's medical problem and her lust to adopt. It's hard to keep secrets in an outfit whose very purpose is to ferret out secrets.
......Bax, now alone with his thoughts, stared out onto the skuzzy near-fog at eight thousand feet and tried to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. Even though only ten-years old, the twins, presumably so-called Alphas, posed a possible threat. They had to be studied under controlled situations. But he had to admit that Emily was the driving force in this; she wanted trophy kids to show off to her friends, gifted and adorable, and old enough that she didn't have to deal with diapers. And the boys were indeed adorable. Emily had taken one look at their photograph and coveted them. Bax suppressed a sigh. And she'd gotten him to put forth an alternate to the Company's default plan...her foster care plan. And if the fostering works out, she says we'll adopt them. Bax thumbed the folder in his lap, stopping at the photograph. Adorable, yes, and as for gifted, they were certainly that...perhaps dangerously so.
......"Commander Bax." Victor cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. I was out of line."
......"Forget it." Bax checked his watch and verified its reading on the aircraft's chronometer. "Dead on time. We should get to the Boston office well before the briefing." He flashed a smile at Victor to show he indeed harbored no hard feelings. "And we'll have time to indulge in lunch at a good Boston steakhouse before our meeting at the motel."
......"Two pm, is it?" said Victor.
......Bax nodded. "Victor. I'll take the landing."
......"Got to keep in practice." Bax thought he detected a trace of amusement in Victor's expression. I'm still a competent pilot, damn it, pacemaker or no pacemaker.
......Victor shrugged and took his hands off the steering yoke.
......Bax continued to mentally rail against his pacemaker. It was a defibrillator pacemaker, which meant he'd had to get a Special Circumstances pilot's license. And that for Bax was a mark of shame, a documented sign that he wasn't the super-fit operative he'd once been, a sign that he was getting old. He'd told colleagues that the Special Circumstances license was due to his color blindness. There's no shame in color blindness. He tried to tell himself that the defibrillator was a benefit in his work. Urban legend had it that the defibrillator could revive someone fast if that someone happened to be knocked unconscious. Bax sighed. A dubious benefit, at best.
......"I wonder," said Victor, after a few silent seconds. "Why do you think they want to hand over the kids at a motel of all places?"
......"I don't know. Keeping up appearances, probably." Bax took a hand off the steering yoke and gave over the folder to Victor. "Our Mr. Darwin doesn't suspect that we know just how poor and shabby his home is. Dirt poor. Almost third world subsistence farming." A horrid environment for bright kids—not to mention an alcoholic taking care of them.
......"Yet," said Victor, thoughtfully, "they can afford to stay at a Boston motel."
......Bax began the descent into Hanscom Field. "With the fifty thou' expense payment we're giving them, yes, they can afford it."
......"Expense payment," Victor spat out. "What kind of parents would, essentially, sell their kids?"
......"Foster parents. When the boys' parents died in a supposed car accident, the Darwins took the boys in. Mrs. Darwin is the sister of the boys' father."
......"Oh," said Victor. "Poor kids." He turned to Bax. "But still...."
......"The twins never managed to bond with the Darwins...at least not with Mr. Darwin. He thinks they look down on him"
......Victor narrowed his eyes. "Supposed accident?"
......"Can't prove it," said Bax. "But evidence points to the Mossad. The parents were rather effective lobbyists for the Palestinian League."
......"So in a way," said Victor, "this mission could be considered Company business."
......Bax nodded. "You wouldn't guess it from talking to her, but Mrs. Darwin was also lobbying for the Palestinian League."
......"And Mr Darwin?"
......"Quite the contrary," said Bax. "He's something of an Islamophobe."
......"Strange," said Victor. "But are you suggesting that Mrs. Darwin might be in danger from the Mossad?"
......"Quite possibly." Bax shrugged. "Which might be why they've buried themselves away in the country."
......"The boys might also be in danger, then," said Victor, not quite as a question.
......Bax shrugged again. "Which is perhaps another reason the Darwins might want them in our care."
......Victor smiled. "I feel a little better about our mission, now." His smile morphed to a scowl. "You could have told me this before."
......"Yes. I could have."