I read this story somewhere around 20 years ago. Trying to find it again.

The first-person narrator, referred to simply as "Al," was some sort of management for a company involved in futuristic work. It might have been asteroid mining, or something similar. They were dealing with a project that was having some difficulties being executed on-schedule and on-budget. Meanwhile, the central conceit of the story was being elaborated upon: when high-quality cloning technology became available, it was decided at some point that it was covered by copyright. So the company, and many others, would wait until historical figures' copyrights expired, and then find DNA samples of the best and brightest among them and clone them.

Not everyone worked out quite right. It's specifically mentioned that Albert Einstein never did anything particularly brilliant; just sat around partying and enjoying himself. (One person cynically suggests that maybe that meant he really was smarter than all the rest of them.)

At the end, the manager realizes that one of their competitors is trying to sabotage the project, and ruthlessly fires one of the people involved, and it's revealed that Al is in fact a clone of Al Capone.

1 Answer 1


Pretty sure this is Out of Copyright by Charles Sheffield, first published in the May 1989 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The story is set in the mid-21st century, and the first-person narrator heads one of four teams competing for a contract to transform Jupiter's moon, Europa, into a planet capable of supporting life.

Because this was only Phase B of a four-phase project. Phase A had been a system design study, which led to four Phase B awards for a demonstration project. The Phase B effort that the four combines were working on now was a proof-of-capability run for the full European Metamorphosis. The real money came in the future, in Phases C and D. Those would be awarded by the PNU to a single combine, and the award would be based largely on Phase B performance. The next phases called for the delivery of fifty asteroids to impact points on Europa (Phase C), followed by thermal mixing operations on the moon’s surface (Phase D). The contract value of C and D would be somewhere up around $800 billion. That was the fish that all the combines were after, and it was the reason we all overspend lavishly on this phase.

By the end of the whole program, Europa would have a forty-kilometer-deep water ocean over all its surface. And then the real fun would begin. Some contractor would begin the installation of the fusion plants, and the seeding of the sea-farms with the first prokaryotic bacterial forms.

In order to win the contract, they need to figure out a way to redirect the trajectory of a billion-ton mass of asteroids, on a tight timetable and budget.

All the troubleshooting teams were now pondering the same emergency. Our problem was created when the Pan-National Union suddenly announced a change to the Phase B demonstration program. They wanted to modify impact conditions, as their contracts with us permitted them to do. They didn’t have to tell us how to do it, either, which was just as well for them, since I was sure they didn’t know. How do you take a billion tons of mass, already launched to reach a specific target at a certain point of time, and redirect it to a different end point with a different arrival time?

There was no point in asking them why they wanted to change rendezvous conditions. It was their option. Some of our management saw the action on PNU’s part as simple bloody-mindedness, but I couldn’t agree. The four multinational combines had each been given contracts to perform the biggest space engineering exercise in human history: small asteroids (only a kilometer or so across—but massing a billion tons each) had to be picked up from their natural orbits and redirected to the Jovian system, where they were to make precise rendezvous with assigned locations of the moon Io. Each combine had to select the asteroid and the method of moving it, but deliver within a tight transfer-energy budget and a tight time schedule.

Each of the teams has the option to draft clones of some of the greatest scientific minds in Earth's history, to work with them on this and other projects. However, you can't legally clone someone while they're still alive, and even after they've died, you need to wait at least 75 years for the family's retention of copyrights to expire.

Magrit-Marcus Gesellschaft had now made their first draft pick, and chosen another Nobel laureate, John Cockroft. He also had died in 1967. So far, every selection was completely predictable. The three combines were picking the famous scientists and engineers who had died in 1966 and 1967, and who were now, with the expiration of family retention of copyrights, available for cloning for the first time.

Furthermore, only a single copy of any given individual can exist at any one time.

I looked around the table. My top troubleshooting team was here. I was here. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be headed for Jupiter, and I ought to be down on Earth. In less than twenty-four hours, the draft pick would begin. That wouldn’t wait, and if I didn’t leave in the next thirty minutes, I would never make it in time. I needed to be in two places at once. I cursed the copyright laws and the single-copy restriction, and went to work.

It's mentioned that the clone of Albert Einstein showed amazing ability in chess and music, but had no interest in physics or mathematics.

That doesn’t mean it always works out well. The most famous case, of course, was Albert Einstein. When his copyright had expired in 2030, BP Megation had had first choice in the draft pick. They had their doubts, and they must have sweated blood over their decision. The rumor mill said they spent over $70 million in simulations alone, before they decided to take him as their top choice. The same rumor mill said that the cloned form was now showing amazing ability in chess and music, but no interest at all in physics or mathematics. If that was true, BP Megation had dropped $2 billion down a black hole: $1 billion straight to the PNU for acquisition of copyright, and another $1 billion for the clone process. Theorists were always tricky; you could never tell how they would turn out.

And the clone of Guglielmo Marconi spent most of his time casually "fiddl[ing] about" with his own interests, those mainly being sports and women.

As for Marconi, even though he looked like the old pictures of him, and was obviously highly intelligent, the clone who emerged turned out to be so indolent and casual about everything that he ruined any project he worked on. I had placed him in a cushy and undemanding position and allowed him to fiddle about with his own interests, which were mainly sports and good-looking women. (As Pauli acidly remarked, “And you say that we’re the smart ones, doing all the work?”)

As for the first-person narrator, it's revealed near the end of the story that his name is "Al", that he's good at handling "unpleasant details" quietly, and that he was secretly cloned from someone with ties to the Chicago of the Depression years, who died in 1947.

He looked very thoughtful, and for the first time, I believe I could actually read his expression. “Leave MMG, you mean?” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know what I want anymore. Let me think about it. I’d like to work with you, Al—you’re a genius.”

Brunel was wrong about that, of course. I’m certainly no genius. All I can do is what I’ve always done—handle people, take care of unpleasant details (quietly!), and make sure things get done that need doing. And of course, do what I do best: make sure that some things that need doing don’t get done.

There are geniuses in the world, real geniuses. Not me, though. The man who decided to clone me, secretly—there I’d suggest you have a genius.

“Say, don’t you remember, they called me AL . . . .”

Of course, I don’t remember. That song was written in the 1930s, and I didn’t die until 1947, but no clone remembers anything of the forefather life. The fact that we tend to be knowledgeable about our originals’ period is an expression of interest in those individuals, not memories from them. I know the Chicago of the Depression years intimately, as well as I know today; but it is all learned knowledge. I have no actual recollection of events. I don’t remember.

So even if you don’t remember, call me Al anyway. Everyone did.


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