By Richard Paolinelli
© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
In the week following Rogers’ death, Sinclair drove himself and his command. Every man able to pilot a fighter or a shuttle was briefed on his part of the mission. Anyone else left, save those needed to keep things running on Earth, was going through a crash course on hand-to-hand combat and would make up the assault force that would attempt to board Kustani ships.
By the end of the week, one hundred and twenty-six fighter craft had pilots. Twenty-six of them would make up Squadron Five with two support shuttles, one for the cold-sleep capsules and the other loaded with survival gear would join the little task force scheduled to launch, as Sinclair glanced at his watch, in less than a day. The remaining one hundred fighters and the seventy-two shuttles would link up with Earth Fleet’s seven heavy cruisers and three dozen support ships and launch what could be the final defense of Earth. With less than a day left, and having done all he could on Earth, Sinclair found himself back on Moon Base and heading for Iacola’s lab.
“Here you go Doctor,” Sinclair said, slipping a data disk from his jacket pocket and handing it to Iacola.
“Ah, excellent,” Iacola replied as he took the disk. “I’ll download it into the training program in a few minutes.”
“What’s their status?” Sinclair asked while looking over the rows of tubes, each holding one of Iacola’s super-clones. Sinclair counted over 200 tubes.
“They’re just awaiting their final programming and your message to them,” Iacola replied. “They should be out of the tubes and ready to go in three hours.”
“Good,” Sinclair said. “As soon as the last one walks out of the lab I want you and your staff to join General Blaine. He’ll be waiting on the last shuttle out of here for Earth.”
“Of course, sir,” Iacola said. “General, if you don’t mind, what did you say to them?”
Sinclair paused for a moment, looking at the disk in Iacola’s hand before answering.
“I told them everything,” he said. “I told them what they are, why they were created, what they’re being asked to do and why. I figured it was the least I could do. I never was one for asking a man, natural-born or cloned, to die without telling him why.”
“I understand,” Iacola said. “Is there any chance we might survive this?”
“There’s always a chance,” Sinclair said. “We might be able to pull out a miracle tomorrow, who knows. The only thing I do know is that we’ll go down fighting and either way they won’t win. We’ll give it our best shot Doctor, and we’ll see what fate has in store for us.”
Sinclair turned away to leave, but before he reached the corridor Iacola’s voice stopped him.
“Good luck tomorrow General,” Iacola said. “I’ll see you back on Earth.”
Sinclair looked back long enough to nod his head and left without another word. He spent the rest of the day prowling around the base, making sure everything was ready, watching as two hundred and thirteen super-clones boarded shuttles to wait for the launch and saw off Blaine, Iacola and the rest of the non-essential staff on the last flight back to Earth.
Finally, with eight hours to go before launch, Sinclair ordered everyone to get some rest. Setting a final briefing for ninety minutes before launch, Sinclair headed for his quarters to try to get a few hours of sleep.
He resisted the temptation to go to VR-Med and say a last goodbye to Tonia’s VR ghost. Like Rogers, he had visited her cold-sleep capsule before leaving Earth. He’d said goodbye then and took some solace that at least if the assault was a complete failure, she’d never feel any pain as the end came. Instead, he found himself in his bunk, staring at the ceiling and trying to force himself to sleep. He was still trying when the alarm sounded, telling him two hours remained until launch.
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Sinclair stood on a gangway above the main shuttle bay, cameras sent his image to monitors stationed in every shuttle bay across the base. Men were gathered around the fighters and shuttles, making any last minutes preparations needed for the launch. As Sinclair appeared in the main bay, work around the base halted as the men waited to hear what he had to say.
Sinclair thought of all of the men in the fighters and the shuttles, wondering what must be going through their minds right now. He didn’t wonder about the super-clones though.
They were built for muscle, programmed to do one job and one job only. Fight the Kustani. They had super-strength, agility and speed because those were the qualities Iacola had focused their growth on. Their brains were strictly for absorbing battle data and creating battle-tactics for their bodies to carry out. Because of this genetic-pushing, they had a life expectancy of one year. Sinclair didn’t expect any of them to live long enough to see the end of the day. Of course, he wasn’t expecting humanity as a whole to fare any better.
He thought of saying something inspirational, something profound, something to equal the stirring message Takahashi had delivered an hour ago near the end of the final attack briefing. In the end, he settled for simplicity.
“We have a job to do today gentlemen,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”
Striding down the gangway, Sinclair crossed the bay and entered the first shuttle lined up for launch. Sealing the hatch behind him, Sinclair spared a quick glance at the thirty super-clones jammed into the shuttle before slipping into the co-pilot’s seat.”
“General,” said the major seated in the pilot’s chair. “We’re ready to go when you are.”
Sinclair waited for the signal that all ships had been boarded, the bays were clear and ready for launch before giving the order to go. The shuttle hurtled out of the bay and headed for the rendezvous point. In less than an hour, he estimated, the final battle would be joined.
NEXT WEEK: THE LAST BATTLE
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