By Richard Paolinelli
© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
There was no telling how many ships each side had lost, was losing or were even still capable of fighting. All Sinclair could do was keep firing at anything firing at him and hope that enough of the other assault teams had managed to commandeer their targets as well.
As it was, his ship had taken a fierce pounding and they’d exhausted every weapon on board. He had no way of knowing how much longer the ship would stay together.
Noticing a cluster of eight Kustani cruisers that had formed a tight circle around each other, Sinclair ordered his navigator to head straight for the ships and overload the engines the moment they were in the middle of them.
If they were going to die out here, Sinclair decided, then they were going to take as many of the Kustani with them as was possible.
“Did the ship get away,” Sinclair asked the clone who’d found the crucial information.
“It’s got everything on board sir, but we can’t launch it.”
“Why the hell not?” Sinclair roared.
“None of us were programmed to pilot fighters, sir.”
“He’s flying this bucket just fine,” Sinclair snapped, pointing at the clone stationed at the nav console.
“Yes sir, because he was programmed to fly a Kustani ship. He’d never be able to fly an Earth fighter.”
“Then send it back on autopilot.”
“We can’t do that either sir. The flight computer is damaged and requires a pilot to fly it. Sir, you are the only person on this ship who can fly it back to Earth.”
“I’m not leaving my command, mister.”
“You have to sir,” the clone said. “You have to take back the antidote.”
“What about all of you,” Sinclair said. “I’m supposed to run away and leave you all behind to die.”
“Yes, sir,” the clone replied, standing in front of Sinclair. “You ordered that we be given the choice to fight in this battle. We chose to do what we were programmed for, to try to save Earth. Now, we choose to die to do that. You’ve blamed yourself for the Kustani for all of these years and you chose to come out here as a way to punish yourself. Now, you have to choose to live and take back humanity’s only chance to survive.”
“Four minutes to impact,” the nav clone said softly. “You need to get moving sir. We’ll finish up things here.”
Without a word, the clone standing next to him clamped on to Sinclair’s arm and hauled his protesting commander off the deck and led him down the corridors toward the waiting fighter.
They’d nearly made it to launch bay when they ran into the last dozen Kustani left alive on the ship. Before either side had a chance to react, the clone back-handed Sinclair against the wall. Stunned, Sinclair slipped to the floor, but remained conscious enough to see the clone pull out a grenade.
“Stay alive, sir,” the clone said as he pulled the pin and dashed down the corridor. The grenade exploded as the clone hurled himself into the pack of Kustani. Sinclair was far enough away to avoid being injured in the blast, but was still wobbly from the clone’s blow.
Forcing himself to his feet he continued on toward the launch bay, trying to ignore the carnage underfoot. There wasn’t enough of anything left to say thank you to in the corridor.
Sinclair staggered toward the fighter and was barely able to pull himself into the cockpit. A quick check to make sure the antidote and data packs were on board and Sinclair launched the fighter out of the bay. Just as he thought he was going to be well clear of any trouble the shock wave from the ship he’d just left slamming into the eight Kustani ships caught up to him.
The fighter was tossed into a violent tumble and Sinclair’s head struck the cockpit, sending him tumbling into a black void darker than deep space. After registering the pilot’s loss of consciousness, the autopilot, which was working just fine after all, took over and settled the tumbling craft into stable flight, then set a course for Earth well away from the fighting.
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Sinclair awoke to a shroud of gray fog which gradually formed itself into the visage of the President, standing over him with a worried look. Slowly the background behind Takahashi came into focus, the medical equipment stacked against the wall and the sunlight streaming in through the window told Sinclair that he was lying in a hospital bed on Earth.
“Well now, I see you’ve decided to rejoin us after all,” a smile spread across his face. “You had us worried for a while, my friend.”
Sinclair tried to answer, but all that came out was a dry rasp. Takahashi reached for a glass on the table next to the bed and helped Sinclair sip some water.
Thank you,” his voice was still raspy, but at least he could form understandable words. “How long have I been here?”
“Ten days, General,” this came from a doctor standing at Takahashi’s left. A younger man wearing a green smock leaned across the bed bearing the typical stern look of a physician. “The President is correct, you gave us quite a scare. And don’t expect to leap out of this bed anytime soon, either. I want you to be ready for a nice, slow recovery.”
“Ten days!,” Sinclair ignored the doctor and looked back at the President, just now realizing that his being alive on Earth meant the self-destruct order had never been issued. “What happened?”
“If you mean why are we all still here,” Takahashi began, “then the answer is because the mission was a complete success. Squadron Five broke out as planned and proceeded to the Kustani homeworld without meeting resistance.”
Sinclair was shocked by that piece of information. He had felt sure that the Kustani, even short-handed as he now knew they were, would have better defended their home planet. His surprise must have shown on his face.
“Yes, I was surprised too. The Squadron Leader suspected a trap however and fired the missiles as planned,” Takahashi paused, troubled by his next words. “I’ve seen the recordings of the strike. Their sun ripped itself apart, nothing in that system survived.
“We didn’t learn until it was too late that there weren’t any defenses in place. The Kustani never believed for one moment that anyone would be able to strike their home system with such devastation as we did. I believe it was this along with the destruction of their flagship, and I trust you will tell us how you accomplished that miracle in short order, that broke their spirit and forced their surrender.”
“They surrendered? It’s over?” Sinclair said, after he finished telling them about the assault on the flagship, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice. It just didn’t seem possible after all of these years at war, to finally be at peace and to have survived to see it.
“Yes the conflict is over, but there is still much more to do. We have a planet and a civilization to rebuild and I intend to rely upon you heavily, once you’ve had time to recover enough to satisfy the good doctor here,” Takahashi nodded toward the doctor, who was fidgeting with one of the medical readouts above Sinclair’s bed. “Squadron Five made contact with other races after destroying the Kustani homeworld and were bringing help in our cause. They understand our reluctance to entertain new visitors, given our recent experiences, but they stand ready to begin relations with us when we are ready to invite them to visit us.
“I want you at my side when we do open relations with these races. I have come to rely upon your counsel and I believe I will need it even more in the days to come. But first I have someone here who very much wants to see you. Doctor, if you would?”
Sinclair was still digesting the news of Earth’s seemingly miraculous victory and missed the look exchanged by the two men. He did notice that wicked little gleam in the President’s eyes that he’d seen during the meeting on Earth One, but before he could wonder what the President was up to now, the door behind Takahashi opened and all thoughts fled Sinclair’s brain.
“General Duncan Sinclair,” Takahashi began, stepping aside with a sweeping gesture of his left arm toward a figure standing in the door, “allow me the pleasure to re-introduce you to Mrs. General Duncan Sinclair.”
Suddenly she was standing there and there was nothing else in the universe. Just him and her, alive and well and in his arms again. As she stepped up to his bedside, he reached up and took her head in trembling hands.
“Hey, long time no see,” she quipped, her voice trembling as much as his hands.
Sinclair couldn’t find his voice, all he could do was look at her, drinking in the fact that she was alive, real, not a hologram, but real flesh and bone. Realizing only just then that for the last decade the better part of himself had been missing and only now could he appreciate how much he had been missing. She was alive again and now he could start living again too. He drew her closer and buried his head in the nape of her neck and suddenly, the smell of her, the feel of her, was too much.
“Oh, my god,” he whispered, feeling the tears flowing and not caring who saw, “I’ve missed you.”
“Shhh. I know my love,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks too.
Takahashi and the Doctor withdrew to a far corner, giving the couple as much privacy as possible. After a few moments Sinclair pulled back to look at her again, shifting in bed to sit up. This movement drew protests from both her and the doctor, which he ignored along with a quick stab of pain in his ribs.
“General, you need to rest, the injuries you’ve suffered require a long time to heal,” the doctor began, but Sinclair merely waived the man away.
Tonia’s eyes were slightly bloodshot and there were dark circles around them, her skin was pale and she looked a little thinner than he remembered, all normal symptoms of a person recently awaken from prolonged cold sleep. Despite all of that she couldn’t possibly look any better and he told her so.
“I look terrible and you know it,” she replied, dabbing at the tears on both of their cheeks. “You always said you would never age well,” she teased, “you weren’t kidding were you.”
“It hasn’t been the age, baby,” he retorted, “it has been the mileage.”
Sinclair took notice of a small packet attached to the belt of her jumpsuit. A small tube ran from the packet up the suit, along the suit’s left sleeve, and to a point just below the crook of her arm where it plugged into a catheter, pumping a very familiar-looking blue liquid into her bloodstream. Sinclair shot a questioning look at Takahashi.
“The anti-toxin you brought back was all we had hoped and more,” Takahashi answered, stepping back to Sinclair’s bedside, “as you can see for yourself. There is no sign of the virus in any of the women we’ve awakened so far.”
“I don’t have an exact number, we’ve begun with unmarried women and those married women whose husbands are still alive,” Takahashi paused, as if considering how much to say. “In fact, I’ve been asked to make a decision concerning the women still in cold sleep whose husbands and fiancées perished in the conflict.
“This is one of those rare times where I am not forced to make a quick decision,” Takahashi continued. “I wanted your counsel in this matter before deciding, so I had intended to wait until you’d had time to rest and recover, but perhaps now is as good a time as any.”
“You know me, sir, I never can keep my opinion to myself,” Sinclair quipped. “Go ahead and ask.”
“I’ve been informed that we have enough DNA samples, as well as enough mental and psychological data on every deceased soldier,” Takahashi began, “and we have improved our cloning technology to the point, I am told, that we could secretly extract an egg from each woman after she is cured and quickly clone a duplicate of each man with such accuracy that none of the women would ever know that her husband was dead.
“There are many who think we should replace each man this way and let them live their lives out with neither one knowing the truth. It would require a great effort on our parts and a great blanket of secrecy from the ones who know the truth. The decision has been left to me it seems, and I’ll be frank with you my friend, I’m afraid it’s the hardest decision I’ll ever make.”
Sinclair was silent, looking past his restored wife and out the window at the park beyond. Suddenly, he was back on the Kustani ship, with a clone warrior who sacrificed his life so that Earth could survive. He’d known the truth of his existence and chose to give up his life, even though he couldn’t have known if it was to be in vain.
It was up to the survivors to decide what kind of Earth he’d sacrificed for and Sinclair knew that a lie was a poor way to honor that sacrifice. Knowing that everyone in the room would object, Sinclair stood up, albeit slowly, and weathered the storm of protests and pain that followed. He felt obligated to be on his feet for what was to come, he owed it to all of the men who had fallen over the past ten years in general, and to one man in particular.
“We tell them the truth, Mr. President,” he said, turning to face Takahashi. “We wake them up and tell them their husbands and fiancées died defending our world. Then we tell them they have a choice. They can have their husbands and boyfriends back, as clones fully aware of their origins and live their lives together that way, or they can choose to use the surviving genetic material to have their dead husband’s child. Either way, they know the truth and they make the choice, as is their right. It’s the only way, otherwise we dishonor the memory of those men.”
Takahashi held perfectly still, considering Sinclair’s words. Then he turned slightly to Tonia and smiled.
“I want you to take very good care of this man, dear lady,” Takahashi said before turning back to Sinclair and placing a hand on his right shoulder. “We will do exactly as you say. I can’t think of any better way to honor those men than to give those closest to them the right to make that choice. In the meantime, I want you to go home and regain your strength. When you’re ready I’ll want you and your valuable counsel ready to help rebuild our world.”
“There’s one more thing, sir.”
“Anything you want, just please get back into bed before your wife and the doctor throw me out of here and tie you down,” Takahashi helped Sinclair back to the bed. “Now, what would you ask of me?”
“When they bring Ken Rogers’ wife out of cold sleep, I want to be there. I want to be the one who tells her,” a pause, “everything.”
“Of course,” Takahashi soothed. “I will see to everything personally. They’ve earned it and so have you.”
…and so it was, on the eve of Earth’s entering into the Interstellar Alliance, that President Fumi Takahashi presented the first-ever Terra Peace Award to General Duncan Sinclair. Sinclair, in turn, accepted the award in the name of all the men, both natural-born and cloned, who had died during the Kustani War and gave it to Julia Rogers, seven months pregnant with the child of the late Colonel Kenneth Rogers.
– from A History of the Earth-Kustani Conflict
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Silver Empire’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale begins today! And no, it isn’t just their books you’ll find there.
You can find Reservations, written by me, in the Thrillers promo. It is the first book of the Del Rio series and sets the stage for the next two books in the political thriller series. I am planning on returning to Del Rio’s world with a fourth book, likely late 2020.
You can also find The Timeless, the first book of my Timeless series, in the Sci-Fi promo. This book was recently honored with Official Selection for Short Story in the 2019 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards.
Those are just two of several great books you’ll find there and they are all on sale this weekend!
Have a great weekend and happy reading!
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