By Richard Paolinelli
© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
“We aren’t going to win this time, are we, Duncan?”
It wasn’t a question. There were no hysterics, not from Ken Rogers. A simple statement of fact and try as he might, it wasn’t in Sinclair to repeat the same drivel spooned out by the War Ministry’s Press Department. Keep up the fight, hold off the Kustani until a peace accord can be reached, or intervention from another race forces the Kustani to go away or some other such damn nonsense.
“No,” Sinclair said, sitting back in his chair with a heavy sigh. “No, we’re not, old friend. It seems that all we may have left to us now is to die well.”
To die well. God, what a horrible epitaph for a planet. How many other planets left behind in the Kustani wake had nothing more to be remembered by than we died well.
Silence slammed into the room leaving two men, friends for over three decades, unable to find the words to pierce it and bring some sort of comfort to the other. At length, Sinclair fell back upon duty to break the oppressive silence.
“Tell Westbrook to have my shuttle ready to go on Pad Two in half an hour. I’ll want you to pilot it, so get yourself something to eat and meet me there. Inform Commander Johansen that he’ll have command until we return.”
“Yes, sir.” Rogers turned to leave but stopped short when the intercom buzzed for attention. The damned thing hadn’t been the bearer of good news lately and neither man was expecting that trend to end anytime soon. Sinclair shot a quick glance at Rogers before snapping open the comm.
“Yes, what is it?”
“General Sinclair? I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir.”
“Not a problem Doctor Iacola, I was preparing to leave for Earth Base. What I can do for you?”
“Well you see General,” the Doctor began, obviously struggling to find the right words. “It seems there’s been an oversight in Medical Records…and I’m afraid that you’re a few weeks overdue sir.”
Distracted and impatient to get underway, Sinclair snapped out a reply, “Overdue? Overdue for what, Doctor?”
There was a long, uncomfortable pause on the other end of the comm. Sinclair still couldn’t figure out the purpose of this conversation but Rogers had and, knowing Sinclair’s reaction when he found out, suddenly found Sinclair’s map of Moon Base utterly captivating.
“VR-Med, Sir.” The Doctor’s tone said he too knew what Sinclair’s reaction would be
and he wasn’t looking forward to it either.
“Doctor, I’m due to meet the President in four hours,” Sinclair began sharply. “I don’t think he’d appreciate being held up while I visit VR-Med. You’ll have to reschedule for later.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Sir.”
“I beg your pardon, Doctor,” Sinclair’s voice had turned ice cold and razor-sharp.
Rogers had to give the doctor credit, he stood his ground where most men would have turned and fled as far from the General as possible.
“Regulations Sir, especially since you are going off base. If something should happen to you we would lose a sample and as you know we are in desperate need of as many diverse samples as we can get.”
“We’ll just have to chance it then,” Sinclair reached to snap off the ’com but the Doctor’s reply brought him up short.
“I needn’t remind the General that regulations give me the authority to have Security escort you to VR-Med.”
“Blackmail Doctor, was that a required course at University?” Sinclair shot back. “I see then. I’ll be there shortly, Sinclair out,” Sinclair cut off the ’com before the doctor could reply.
“My apologies Colonel, it appears we’ll be leaving in ninety minutes instead of thirty, please make the necessary arrangements.”
“Yes, sir,” Rogers replied, trailing out of the office behind his commanding officer. The two men’s footfalls echoed eerily in the empty grayish-white corridor. At length, Rogers realized that his friend was muttering under his breath, but the words were impossible to make out. Acutely aware of Sinclair’s mood, Rogers braved a question.
“Was there something else, sir?”
Sinclair stopped short, causing Rogers to veer sharply to the right to avoid a collision.
“As a matter of fact, Colonel there is. You can report to VR-Med and I’ll go get the shuttle ready. What do you say?”
I knew I shouldn’t have said anything, Rogers thought. Fortunately, Sinclair spared him from coming up with a safe answer.
“Never mind, Ken,” Sinclair began with a wave of his hand. “I know I have to do this. I just don’t have to like it. Damn Kustani. It wasn’t bad enough they’ve set out to annihilate our world, they had to resort to biogenetic warfare as well.”
It was one of the Kustani’s first shots in the war. Somehow they had introduced the human race to a fast-acting, highly contagious virus. How or when they had done it was still a mystery, but its effects were undeniably devastating.
Within six months every human being on every colony and every base, even on Earth itself, was infected. The males were the carriers but the disease’s real target was the females of the human species. It was the perfect attack, one the Kustani had used many times before from what little they knew of their foe. Kill off the females of a species and you kill that species’ ability to reproduce. Eventually, through attrition, that species dies off.
No cure had ever been found, but six months after the disease had claimed its first fatality a stop-gap had been introduced. To prevent total disaster, it had been decided to put as many women into cold sleep as possible. The priority had been women still young and able enough to bear children.
Two million women had been placed into cold storage, an impressive number by anyone’s standard until it was measured against the nearly five billion women that had been alive before the Kustani had arrived.
With a fraction of the women in suspended animation and the rest dead or dying, it was left to a little less than four billion men to hold off the Kustani. At the death rate of the time, Earth had little time left before all of the men would be dead.
By harvesting and storing eggs from the women prior to cold sleep and from those who hadn’t yet perished, Earth’s scientists had used cloning to keep Earth supplied with male soldiers to defend her. While the scientists had stored as many eggs as they could, they needed sperm from natural-born males, sperm from cloned males produced one clone per egg, while the natural-born sperm was able to produce six.
Thus was born the VR-med labs. With only a little over a million natural-born men still alive, each was required to visit VR-Med for sperm extraction on a regular basis. The scientists who created VR-Med had managed to kill two birds with one stone. Knowing that some form a sex life, even a computer-generated one, would be healthier for the men, they created a virtual reality program so sophisticated, that the men would believe they were really having sex with their spouse, or any mate of their choice.
Sinclair was realistic enough to accept the necessity of VR-Med, but he was still old fashioned enough to deeply dislike it. Sinclair and Rogers quickly made their way to the base’s medical section and entered the VR bay.
The bay held six stainless steel chambers, each with its own array of indicator panels and monitors surrounding the entrance hatch. Four of the chambers were in use, the fifth’s hatch was open and was being serviced by a pair of technicians while Doctor Iacola stood in front of the sixth’s main control panel.
Another technician was engrossed in watching the virtual orgy in progress on the third chamber’s monitor and failed to notice Sinclair’s arrival. Only after the monitor faded to black, indicating that the occupant inside was finished and was about to exit, did the technician turn away from the screen.
“General, sir!,” the man exclaimed, startled.
“Enjoying the view?” Sinclair tilted his head, indicating the now blank monitor.
“Well, uh, no not really, sir,” the man stammered as the occupants of the four chambers exited behind him. “But I have to make sure the monitors are working for the recordings.”
“You record what goes on inside these things?” Sinclair’s voice was colder than the vacuum outside of the base. Rogers winced in sympathy as the young man struggled to find a way out of the General’s wrath.
Fortunately for him, one of the men behind him came to his rescue.
“Yes, Sir,” he said, putting on the black and gray uniform that identified him as a pilot, the white block lettering above the heart identifying him as Lieutenant Baker. “We pretty much all do. Sometimes we even trade programs and the guys record themselves with the other guy’s girl.”
“And none of you have any problem watching your wives and girlfriends with other men?” a surprised Sinclair asked.
“No sir,” one of the other men, a sergeant, replied. “It’s no big deal, it’s just a computer program. It isn’t like we’re really cheating on them or anything like that.”
“I see,” Sinclair replied dubiously with a shake of his head. “Very well then. But if I were you gentlemen, when we bring those women out of cold sleep, I’d make damn sure none of those recordings ever saw the light of day again.”
“Aye, sir,” all the men sheepishly replied in unison.
“Alright, get out of here before I start feeling like a 17th Century Puritan. Dismissed,” Sinclair said, turning back to the technician.
“I trust my wife isn’t part of the library and there aren’t any ‘recordings’ lying around that I need to be concerned about?”
“No, sir,” the man squeaked.
“Very well, I think you have a short circuit on the other side of the base that requires your immediate attention,” Sinclair said.
“Yes, Sir,” the technician said, scurrying past the General and quickly followed the four soldiers out into the corridor.
“What the hell are you smiling at,” Sinclair said, turning just in time to catch the grin on Rogers’ face before his old friend could remove it.
“I was just thinking,” Rogers jibed, without missing a beat, “that perhaps a change of pace was just what the General needs.”
Stone cold silence and Sinclair’s infamous scowl was all the reply Rogers received.
“Right,” Rogers said, moving toward the corridor. “I think I’ve got a shuttle to preflight.”
“Do tell,” Sinclair replied dryly, allowing only a ghost of a smile to pass across his face when peals of laughter from his friend made their way from the corridor and back into the bay.
“Ah, General, there you are,” Iacola said, only now realizing Sinclair had entered the bay. “Everything is set up to your specifications, you may begin whenever you are ready.”
Sinclair strode over to the hatch and grasped the handle to enter.
“But before you go in,” Iacola added. “I have that report regarding the cloning program that you asked for earlier. We have enough material to produce about three dozen of the new super-clone species in less than a week’s time, but it would completely drain all of our resources to do so. We would not be able to make any more clones of any kind after that.”
“And if we don’t make the super-clones how much longer can we produce normal clones,” Sinclair asked.
“About six months, sir,” Iacola replied dourly. “Either way, we’re running out of material and time. We have more than enough sperm supply, but we only had so many eggs left to work with and we have no way to replenish the supply and continue producing the clones we need.”
“I thought as much,” Sinclair said. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll let you know when, and if, we’ll proceed with the super-clone program. For now, let’s get this over with so I can get to Earth.”
Next Week: Chapter 3: A harsh truth.
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